Tag Archives: Abdoulaye Doucoure

Honouring GT at Selhurst Park

Meeting GT

Saturday marked the second anniversary of GT’s passing, so my early morning perusal of social media was full of my Watford friends paying tribute to our hero.  All the happy memories and lovely photos brought both a tear to my eye and a smile to my face.

On the train travelling to the game I usually have noise-cancelling headphones on and listen to a podcast, the choice on the way to Selhurst Park being the previous week’s Danny Baker show.  On arrival at Twickenham, I was distracted as a familiar looking woman boarded the train and sat in the row in front of me.  I took my headphones off in order to hear her speak and, as I had thought, it was Jane Horrocks.  I am going to see her in the Pinter plays at the theatre of the same name on Monday, so was curious to hear any backstage gossip.  Sadly the conversation seemed to revolve around cold sores and tight boots.  The glamour of the actor’s life.

Deeney, Mariappa, Cathcart and Capoue

I arrived at the designated pre-match meeting place rather early, so I had it all to myself.  It was a café rather than a pub and, as my late arrival at the station on the way to game meant that I hadn’t had a coffee yet, I was immediately drawn to the coffee with cinnamon and chili that was on the menu.  My first instinct that this may be a little brutal on an empty stomach went out of the window when I asked for a whisky to be added.  The lovely woman serving me said that she had already had someone in who had whisky in their hot chocolate, so I didn’t feel like a complete lush.  Anyway, when my innocent-looking cafetiere arrived, my choice was vindicated.  It was warming and gorgeous.  As the others in my party arrived, all started with a tea or coffee, but we soon moved on to a bottle of Georgian red wine (really), which was rather sweet so had to be washed down with some merlot.  This was accompanied some rather delicious Polish food (the others went for the beef stew, I had the mixed pierogies).  All rather lovely.  From the café it was a short walk to Selhurst Park, a ground that I rather like, while being very aware that opinion is shared by a very small minority of away fans.

Team news was that Gracia had made one change from the Bournemouth game with Hughes in for Sema.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Capoue, Pereyra, Doucouré; Deulofeu and Deeney.  Crystal Palace had the unloved ex-Watford loanee, Townsend, in their starting line-up and the much-loved Ray Lew in their dugout.

Ben Foster launching the ball upfield

As we were taking our seats, which were at the front of the stand, I was a bit surprised to see that there was a group of young lads standing on the steps at either side of the gangway, blocking the way.  This looked like a recipe for trouble, but I assumed that the stewards would notice and clear the access.

Watford fans had been encouraged to bring scarves to the game in honour of GT, and these were raised in tribute as the teams came out.

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets who should have taken the lead in the third minute when Deulofeu broke into the box and unleashed a shot which hit the post, Pereyra looked sure to score the rebound, but his shot also hit the post.  The first chance for the home side fell to our old friend, Zaha, who cut inside before shooting straight at Foster.  At this point, I was distracted by the sight of Javi having a very animated conversation with the fourth official.  He appeared really unhappy about something, which seemed to be out of character.  This may or may not have been related to the subsequent appearance of two Watford physios on the pitch when there did not appear to be an injury.  They were there to take off a very reluctant Hughes.  We speculated that he must have a cut that needed attention, but it seems that he had taken a blow to the head and was showing signs of concussion.  So, 20 minutes into the game, he was replaced by Sema.

Troy Deeney

Palace then had a couple of chances to take the lead.  First Milivojević crossed for Ayew but the header was over the bar.  The next to try his luck was Kouyaté with a shot from distance that also missed the target.  Watford’s next chance to open the scoring came on 34 minutes as Deeney met a cross from Holebas with a header that flew just over the bar.  At the other end, Palace had a decent chance from a corner, it appeared that the header from Tomkins had missed the target, but Foster had got a touch to it, so the home side were awarded another corner.  From the set piece, there was an almighty scramble which ended with Doucouré blasting the ball off Cathcart into the net.  Foster got a hand to the ball to push it away, but it had clearly already crossed the line.  Not a good way to concede.  The Palace fans started goading us with “It’s just like Wembley.”  The only similarity being the poorness of the game.  When Palace score there is a call and response with the tannoy announcer naming the goal scorer and then repeating the first name so that the crowd can yell the surname.  They did something on this occasion but I must have been mistaken in thinking that they shouted ‘Own’ with the crowd shouting ‘Goal’!  Watford tried to break back immediately as Deulofeu went on a run before shooting wide of the near post.  In the last minute of the half, Palace were forced to substitute their goalkeeper, replacing Guaita with Hennessey.  The home side had a chance to increase their lead before the break as a shot from outside the area by Milivojević took a couple of deflections, but Foster was equal to it.  Watford then had a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery was dreadful and we went into the break a goal down.

Pereyra and Deeney preparing for a free kick

So the football had been pretty awful, but the behaviour among the away fans was even worse.  We were sitting near the front, just behind the area that I assumed had been designated for those less able to stand.  A couple of men, one right at the front, were standing at the start of the game and were politely asked if they would sit so as not to block the view of those who did not wish to/were not able to stand.  The reaction of both of them was aggressive and abusive.  One eventually moved, but the other, who was mostly seated, still spent the whole game arguing with the elderly couple sitting behind him.  It was a very unpleasant distraction and made it difficult to concentrate on the game.  At half time, I noticed another row going on in the block next to us and friends who had braved the concourse at half time said that there were arguments going on throughout the stand.

Palace had the first chance of the second half as Zaha broke clear, but he couldn’t beat Foster.  Watford then had a decent chance as Capoue fired through a crowd, but his shot was deflected for a corner.  A cross from Doucouré only needed a touch from Mariappa to draw the Hornets level, but he couldn’t connect.

Cool Craig Cathcart doesn’t want congratulations after scoring. We have a game to win.

Just before the hour mark there was a flypast of parakeets from behind our stand.  As we were wearing our green away kit, I was hoping that this might be a good omen.  The first booking of the game went to Femenía who ran into Zaha to stop a break.  It was a stupid foul.  Palace should have increased their lead as Milivojević hit a volley from distance that took a superb save to keep it out, although it looked as though Foster’s good work would be in vain as the ball broke to Ayew who found Zaha with an open goal in front of him, but young Wilf managed to miss, much to the amusement of the travelling Hornets.  He must have been mightily relieved that the flag was already up for offside.  The second caution for the Hornets came after Townsend robbed Sema and tried to escape but was knocked over for his trouble.  On 67 minutes, the Hornets drew level as a deep corner from Holebas found Cathcart rising to head past Hennessey and cancel out his unfortunate own goal earlier on.  Needless to say, the lads who had been gathering in the gangway took the opportunity to bundle down to the front.  This would surely be an indication to the stewards that some action was needed and a group of stewards gathered and walked up the steps of the gangway, but made no effort to move anyone who was standing blocking the way, which seemed ridiculous.  Gracia made a second substitution at this point with Sema (who was a substitute himself) making way for Cleverley.

Cleverley getting a well deserved smacker from Capoue

The home side should have regained the lead almost immediately as a low cross from Zaha only needed a touch from McArthur to beat Foster, but the Palace man managed to miss.  At the other end, Deulofeu went on a great run before cutting the ball back to Deeney whose shot was cleared off the line.  Watford took the lead on 74 minutes when Cleverley hit a half volley into the net.  It was a fantastic strike and I couldn’t quite believe that we were in the lead.  But the joy of our goal celebration was cut short as the bundle for this one was worse than the first as others got in on the act and people located on the end of rows were being knocked flying.  It was dangerous and unpleasant.  Palace made two late changes bringing Benteke and Schlupp on for McArthur and Ayew.  Watford looked to increase their lead as Deulofeu went on a great run that was stopped by Milivojević, conceding a free kick on the edge of the area and earning himself a yellow card.  Palace had a great chance to equalise in the last minute of normal time as a cross from Townsend led to a scramble in the Watford box but, on this occasion, the ball ended up in Foster’s arms.  Another chance for Palace was thwarted as a dangerous looking break by Zaha was stopped by a gorgeous tackle from Femenía.  Gorgeous and brave as he was on a yellow card at the time.  Into the four minutes of time added on and Pereyra was booked for time wasting and, soon after, replaced by Masina (to waste some time!)   Cleverley was booked for a clumsy foul on Wan-Bassaka and we held our breath as Palace took the free kick and exhaled when it came to nothing.  The last action of the game could have seen the Hornets increase their lead as Deulofeu found Doucouré whose shot hit the stanchion.  The final whistle went and there were great celebrations in the Watford end, although the over-exuberance among some of the youngsters made this quite unpleasant for a number of the older fans.  As the players came over to celebrate with the fans, we greeted them with “One Graham Taylor” as the scarves were held aloft.

Deulofeu studying the ball

After the game we headed back to our café where we found that they were almost out of red wine (oops), all that was left was an open bottle.  So we had that to fuel our post-match deliberations.  It had been a dreadful game of football, but a win over Palace brought a smile to all of our faces.  After we went behind it had been a gutsy performance and one that GT would have enjoyed.  Given how wonderful Craig Cathcart has been this season, it seemed unfair that he had been unwittingly responsible for the Palace goal, so I was delighted that he got the equaliser.  I was also thrilled that Cleverley grabbed the winner.  He has had a hard time with injuries, so it is great to see him back playing and contributing.  I hope that he is soon a regular starter.

So we are now seventh in the table with 32 points.  Before the game Pete had commented that 32 points might be enough this season and, if you assume that Newcastle will not improve their current points per game tally over the rest of the season, it will be.  But, given how disappointing we have been after new year in recent seasons, I really hope that we continue to impress and maybe we can achieve our highest points tally and position since the 80s.

Back home watching Match of the Day I notice, during the interview with Javi Gracia, that he is wearing a Graham Taylor matchday badge on his jacket.  I must admit that made me cry.  Javi has been a joy since he arrived at Vicarage Road.  His football is enjoyable and his conduct is exemplary.  I think that GT would have loved him and, from me, there can be no higher praise.

 

A Bonkers Evening in Boscombe

A friendly welcome to Bournemouth

Football on New Year’s Day is a thing of the past in the Premier League.  Due to the knock-on effect of the games that were shown on television over the weekend, most of the matches had to be moved this year and, of the three games that actually took place on New Year’s Day, only one of them was a 3pm kick-off.  Moving the games means more time off work, expense and inconvenience for travelling fans, but it was still a sell-out.

I arrived in Bournemouth mid-afternoon and relaxed at the hotel before heading for the pub at a respectable time to find that there was already a decent crowd there.  Luckily we were still able to find a table in the lovely room at the back of the pub (that used to be a boxing gym).  While there we were notified of a fire alarm at the ground which had delayed the arrival of the players and would result in a 15 minute delay to the kick-off.  We left plenty of time for our walk to the ground and as we turned the corner to the away stand were greeted with the customary queue for the search.  I left the queue for a moment to wish Mick, our Police liaison officer, a happy new year.   Then, following the usual comprehensive search, I was finally through the turnstiles.  Our seats in the ground were right at the back of the stand so I braced myself for 90 minutes of uncomfortable standing.

For some reason, I had convinced myself that we never get anything against Bournemouth (bad memories of Angella receiving red cards have coloured my view).  We are also usually accompanied by Pete’s son, Matt, who hasn’t seen us win since 2006.  So I was surprised to find that, apart from the thrashing at Vicarage Road in October (luckily the only league game that I have missed this season) and the win away last season, most of our recent games have ended in draws.

Deeney celebrates his first goal

Team news was the reinstatement of the players who were left out on Saturday, so five changes with Femenía, Holebas, Doucouré, Sema and Deeney replacing Janmaat, Masina, Quina, Hughes and Success.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Sema, Capoue, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.  Former loanee Nathan Aké started for the home side.  It still hurts that he went there.

The game started brightly for the home side as a quick break finished with Brooks curling a shot just over the target.  The Cherries had another early chance as a cross was cleared only as far as Lerma on the edge of the box, but his effort was well over the target.  On 14 minutes, the Hornets took the lead against the run of play.  Some good work from Doucouré ended with Sema receiving the ball, he put in a lovely cross for Deeney who headed home.  As has become a tradition at Bournemouth, the goal was greeted with a flare.  The stringent searches failing yet again.  Watford had a decent chance to increase their lead as a shot from Sema was blocked, Pereyra picked up the rebound but fired over the target.  At the other end Wilson played the ball back to Fraser whose shot was straight at Foster.

Etienne Capoue

The second goal came after good work from Deulofeu who intercepted the ball in the midfield and advanced into the box, he was crowded out, but the loose ball broke to Deeney, who powered his shot home to put the Hornets in what appeared to be a comfortable lead.  The first caution of the game went to Doucouré for a foul on Fraser.  I haven’t seen any replays of the incident, but those watching television pictures reckoned that it could have been a red card.   Bournemouth tried to hit back as King broke into the Watford box, but he was stopped by a brilliant tackle by Cathcart.  At the other end, Watford had a decent chance of a third goal as Doucouré hit a curler from the edge of the area that just cleared the crossbar.  Deeney was the next to see a yellow card for a foul on Fraser.  But, just when Watford were looking to be in total control, the home side hit back.  Foster made a brilliant save from Gosling, but his great work was for nothing as Aké was on hand to nod in the rebound.  It was noted that the former Watford loanee did not celebrate.  Four minutes later and the hosts were level as a Brooks free kick was headed home by Wilson.  At this point I noted that what I was watching was “unbelievable”.  I spoke too soon as the goal spree hadn’t finished and the travelling Hornets were soon celebrating again as Watford retook the lead when a free kick from Foster was headed on by Deeney to Sema who volleyed past Begović.  I don’t think the celebrations in the away end had finished when Stanislas broke forward and found Fraser who beat Foster to draw the game level again.  Having seen four goals in six minutes, it felt as though every attack would finish with the ball in the net, so I was relieved when a cross from Stanislas was headed wide by King.  When the half time whistle went, we all drew breath.  It had been exhausting to watch and you had to feel sorry for Javi.  What sort of team talk do you deliver after a half like that?

Goal hero, Sema, and Cleverley

At half time, a number of supporters from each team were invited on to the pitch for a “beer goggles” penalty shoot-out.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the defenders had been wearing these goggles for the last 15 minutes of the half.

The first action of note in the second half was a booking for Capoue for a foul on Gosling.   The first substitution came on 56 minutes as Doucouré, who was on a yellow card and looking in danger of picking up a second, made way for Cleverley.  The first chance of the second half for the Hornets came from a Holebas free kick, but Deeney’s looping header was saved easily by Begović.  There was finally a caution for the home side as Gosling was booked for a really nasty challenge on Cleverley.  Thankfully Tom emerged unscathed.  Then another Holebas free kick was met by the head of Deeney, this time the effort was wide of the target.  At the other end, a close range header from Wilson was stopped by a brilliant save from Foster.  When Deeney went down in the box clutching his head, there were some weak shouts for a penalty.  It would have been a very soft decision, but the referee had been falling for the theatrics from the Boscombe divers all evening, so it would have felt like sweet revenge if it had been given.

Holebas lines up a corner

Watford’s second change came on 70 minutes as Hughes came on in place of Sema, who had a decent game and had scored a lovely goal.  Bournemouth had a great chance to take the lead as King broke into the box, but Foster was down to make a brave save, even if he needed a couple of goes before he finally gathered the ball.  Foster was in action again soon after making a low save from a Gosling strike.  A lovely move by the Hornets saw Deulofeu find Deeney who played Pereyra into space, but he was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Cook.  Into the last 10 minutes and Eddie Howe made two substitutions replacing Wilson and Fraser with Ibe and Mousset.  Watford had a great chance to regain the lead as Deeney played a square ball to Deulofeu but the shot was just wide of the near post.  At the other end King tried his luck, but his shot was straight at Foster.  Deulofeu broke forward again, but was too greedy and ran into a crowd of defenders when Pereyra was in space to his left.  Watford had the ball in the net for a fourth time, but Deeney’s header came after the whistle had gone for a foul on Aké, so the goal wasn’t given.  Watford made a final substitution on 90 minutes, replacing Deulofeu with Success.  Pete had been calling for this change, but I wasn’t so sure as the stature of Success seemed likely to encourage the Bournemouth players to bounce off him calling foul.  The first contribution from the substitute was a dangerous-looking run, but he was stopped by the always impressive Aké.  There was another half shout for a penalty as Cleverley was fouled in the box and the ball bounced up and hit Aké’s hand.  But, again, it would have been a soft one and the referee was right to deny it.  As the three minutes of injury time came to a close, Watford had one last free kick which came to nothing and the whistle went on a surprisingly goalless half with the score still at 3-3.

Wonderful Ben Foster

My first reaction at the end of the game, after a huge sigh of relief, was that I wished I had been a neutral.  It had been a properly bonkers game of football and must have been thrilling if your nerves weren’t on edge every time either team got near the goal.  When the Hornets had taken the early two goal lead, it looked as though it was going to be a comfortable win as Bournemouth were looking really poor.  As soon as they got a goal back, the tables had turned and Watford looked in shock.  The defence were in pieces and even the normally reliable Craig Cathcart had some dodgy moments.  The second half was much calmer.  Bournemouth had the majority of the possession and chances, Ben Foster made a couple of excellent saves, but the Hornets had also created a couple of decent chances and could easily have grabbed a winner.  The man of the match for the Hornets was probably Deeney, who took his goals well and was absolutely immense all over the field, although his post match interview could have done with some editing.

So, we now have a break in league action for the FA Cup third round this weekend and a trip to Woking.  Pete’s reminiscences about the visit to Northwich Victoria in 1977 have made me a bit nervous about this one.  I just hope that we don’t go expecting an easy game and that we put on a decent show as a cup run would be rather lovely.

 

Held at Home by the Magpies

Pereyra and Masina line up a free kick with Harry Hornet watching on

With Christmas all done and dusted, it was back to the West Herts for the last pre-game drinks of 2018.  I had arrived pretty early, but there were already a couple of friends at our usual table, including Don who is always there waiting for the doors to open.  One of my jobs of the day was to pass on the tickets for Woking to my group.  Being something of a control freak, I usually make the bookings for away games for my group of friends.  This does tend to make me a little anxious in case I forget someone.  The small number of tickets available for the cup tie increased the anxiety levels considerably.  There had been a sigh of relief when all the tickets arrived, and a weight lifted from my shoulders when I was able to pass them on.

Mike had spent Christmas in Lisbon and I had thoroughly enjoyed reading his blog posts about his trip, which had convinced me that I must make a proper visit, having only ever been there for work.  One of the features of his trip had been his daily consumption of pastel de nata, and he had kindly brought back a box to share.  They were absolutely delicious.  It was also a day to raise a glass to his lovely wife, Dee, on her anniversary.  She is greatly missed by us all.

When the team was announced, we were all rather surprised to hear that Gracia had made six changes from Boxing Day with Janmaat, Masina, Mariappa, Quina, Hughes and Success coming in for Femenía, Holebas, Kabasele, Doucouré, Sema and Deeney.  So the new look starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Masina; Hughes, Quina, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Success.  I must say that I was somewhat concerned at the number of changes.

Challenging in the Newcastle box

The first chance of the game fell to the home side as a corner from Pereyra reached Quina whose volley from distance cleared the bar.  It wasn’t long before the visiting Newcastle fans were in full voice, although I am sure Daryl Janmaat could have done without the chants that were being aimed at him.  Back on the pitch, a gorgeous ball from Hughes found Deulofeu, but Dummett was on hand to put him off and he poked wide of the near post.  Newcastle’s first attack of note came as Ritchie tried to release Rondón, but he was stopped by the linesman’s flag.  Deulofeu threatened again as he latched on to a through ball from Pereyra but his shot was blocked by the keeper, Dúbravka.  The visitors took the lead just before the half hour mark as Atsu broke forward and found Ritchie who crossed for Rondón to head past Foster.  Although the home side had been dominant up to that point, they had gone behind to the first on-target shot of the game.  The Watford players looked a bit shaken at going behind and a rare mistake from Cathcart looked as though it would cause more trouble, but Foster came out to make the tackle.  With 5 minutes to go until half time, Rondón had the ball in the net for the second time, but this time the flag was up and the goal was disallowed, which came as a great relief.  Watford tried to hit back as Hughes found Success but his shot from distance was saved by Dúbravka.  The first booking of the game went to Masina for a foul on Yedlin.  The last chance of the half came as Hughes found Success but, again the shot was blocked and we reached half time a goal down.

Capoue patiently waits to take a free kick

It was another frustrating half of football.  Watford had been rather lacklustre, but had still dominated the first half hour without creating any meaningful chances.  They fell apart a little after the goal and there were some nervous moments late in the half.  The performance would have to be much better in the second half if we were to get anything out of this game.

The visitors made a substitution at half time replacing Fernández, who had picked up an injury, with Schär.  Watford won a free kick on the edge of the area at the beginning of the second half, Pereyra stepped up to take it, but blasted it in to the wall.  Newcastle had a chance to increase their lead from a corner, but Rondón’s header flew just over the bar.  Gracia made two changes on 54 minutes replacing Hughes and Quina with Deeney and Doucouré.  The guy behind me summed up my feelings with his comment “We can play football, why aren’t we?”  There was a glimpse of what we can do as a good move ended with the ball with Deeney in the box, but he was crowded out before he could shoot.  Yedlin received a silly booking for throwing the ball away.  Then Ritchie tried a shot from distance, but it was straight at Foster.

Goalscorer Doucoure

Watford were playing more positively now and a ball into the Newcastle box was punched by Dúbravka but fell to Janmaat whose cross was met by the head of Deeney, but his effort was easily gathered by the Newcastle keeper.  With 12 minutes to go, there was a substitution for each side as Shelvey replaced Hayden for the visitors and Masina made way for Holebas for the Hornets.  With only 8 minutes of normal time remaining, Watford finally got the equaliser as Deulofeu put in a lovely cross and Doucouré rose to head home.  Game on!  Watford were pushing for a winner and had a decent chance when a Holebas free kick dropped for Success, but his shot was over the bar.  Then Pereyra ran on to a ball into the box and went down under a challenge, he appealed for the penalty, but his appeals were rightly waved away, it would have been a very soft penalty if given.  Pereyra tried his luck again after receiving a ball from Success, but he ran into traffic in the box.  Schär was then booked for a nasty foul on Success, who had been going down far too easily when challenged, but actually had my sympathy on this occasion.  Holebas took the free kick, but Doucouré was unable to connect on this occasion.  The Frenchman had another chance to put the home side in front as he met a ball from Deulofeu, it rolled agonisingly just wide of the near post, but wouldn’t have counted anyway as the flag was up.  The Hornets had one last chance to grab a winner as a ball upfield was headed on by Deeney to Success but his low shot was saved by Dúbravka and the game ended with honours even.

Masina and Pereyra eyeing the Newcastle wall

That is the second time that we have played Newcastle this season and the second time that we have come away frustrated.  The visitors were certainly more impressive than they had been at St James’ Park, but we should have challenged them more.  They had come to put 10 men behind the ball and Watford just couldn’t find a way to break them down.  While there had been a lot of changes, the starting XI should have been good enough to create more than they did in the first half.  The performance was considerably better when Deeney and Doucouré came on.  They battled more when the opposition had the ball and we generally looked more dangerous.  We also missed Holebas’s attacking prowess.

There were some very odd results this weekend, with Cardiff beating Leicester and Wolves getting a surprising win at Spurs on Saturday and then West Ham losing to Burnley on Sunday, which all made me feel a bit better about our draw.  That was also helped by the fact that the result didn’t see us losing any ground, so we finish the year in the top half of the Premier League.

After the game, it was back to the West Herts for a couple of post-match pints accompanied by Liverpool’s frankly terrifying performance against Arsenal.  As I eventually made my way home, I reflected on the day as a whole.  I love football and the Hornets have given me many happy memories with their performances on the field over the years. But, even if the game is poor or frustrating, my match days are spent in the company of some lovely people and that is what makes them so very special.  So, as the year comes to an end, I will raise a glass to my football family and thank them for making even the worst football match a good day out.

I extend those good wishes to all who read this blog.  I hope that you have a very happy new year and that the Hornets continue to give us much to celebrate in 2019.

A Tale of Two Penalties

Ben Foster about to launch the ball upfield

I always look forward to the Boxing Day game, so the news that it had been moved to an evening kick-off for the television cameras was met with some irritation.  A lovely afternoon walk through the Hertfordshire countryside proved a pleasant distraction from the action at the other grounds, but I was soon back to following our changing position in the table and worrying about what time to arrive for a 7:30 kick-off on a bank holiday.  Thankfully the roads were quiet and there were still seats in the West Herts when we arrived.  It was lovely to have Amelia back with us as her university studies and Saturday job have limited her attendance this season.

As we walked to the ground, it still seemed very quiet until we reached Vicarage Road and encountered a group of noisy Chelsea fans.  I was rather surprised only to see one tout on the way, they obviously take Christmas off too.  We didn’t arrive long before kick-off, but it was clear from the number of empty seats that a good number of people had decided to stay at home and watch this one on television.

Team news was that there were no changes from the win at West Ham.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Sema, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deeney and Deulofeu.  But the hottest news as the team arrived was that Pereyra disembarked from the bus wearing a santa hat.  He is a little bonkers.

Holebas in deep conversation with the referee

The travelling Chelsea fans immediately endeared themselves to me with a first minute chant of “We’ve won it all.”  At times like this my mind goes back to the mid-eighties when they used to stop the clock at Stamford Bridge 10 minutes before the end of the game so that the fans didn’t get on the backs of their struggling team.  The visitors had the first chance of the game as Pedro exchanged passes with Willian before curling a shot wide of the far post.  Watford’s first chance came from a howler by the Chelsea keeper, Arrizabalaga, who gave the ball away to Deulofeu, but the Spaniard tried a back heel that went to no one and the chance was gone.  There was a nasty incident 10 minutes into the game, as Willian rounded Foster and hit the post, Kabasele slid in to try to cut out the shot and collided heavily with the post.  He needed lengthy treatment and the stretcher was brought around, but he was able to get to his feet and return to the field.  Unfortunately, that didn’t last long and he was soon replaced by Mariappa.  Watford had a half chance as a cross from Femenía was headed down by Doucouré but the ball rolled through to the keeper.  Then Doucouré and Deulofeu combined before the Frenchman hit an angled shot that was blocked.

A very blurred celebration of Pereyra’s strike

There was an even better chance after Deeney did well to win the ball and release Pereyra who crossed for Doucouré who was in a great position, but his shot was disappointingly high and wide.  The action was straight down the other end where Azpilicueta hit a low cross which flew across the front of the goal with no Chelsea player there to apply the finishing touch.  Watford attacked again as Deulofeu intercepted a pass and broke forward before squaring for Deeney, whose shot was blocked.  The visitors were being frustrated by some great defending as first Cathcart and then Capoue (twice) snuffed out chances with brilliant tackles.  Towards the end of the half, Chelsea were forced to make a substitution replacing Pedro with Hudson-Odoi.   We were then distracted by the sight of Kabasele being wheeled out on a stretcher wearing an oxygen mask.  The Rookery rose to applaud him.  I suspect that his team mates were as perturbed as we were as, almost immediately, Capoue played a poor pass to Doucouré, Kovačič intercepted and fed Hazard who advanced and rounded Foster to open the scoring.  We were already in time added on at the end of the half, but there was still time for Watford to equalize.  Doucouré broke into the box, but the keeper dived at his feet to concede a corner.  The corner was taken short by Deulofeu, Holebas crossed and Pereyra volleyed brilliantly past Arrizabalaga.  Hopefully the cheers for the goal would have brightened Kabasele up as he made his way next door to the hospital.

So we reached half time with honours even after a decent enough half of football, even if all the shots on target had come in injury time.  My sister had kindly packed turkey sandwiches for us, which certainly hit the spot.

Deulofeu running on to a ball

Watford were shouting for a penalty after 54 minutes as Luiz flattened Deulofeu in the box.  Television pictures suggested that there was some wrestling between them, but you can’t help thinking that, had the same incident occurred in the Watford box, a penalty would have been awarded.  Needless to say, the next passage of play saw Hazard breaking into the box, Foster had no need to come out as Cathcart had it covered, but he did and pushed Hazard over.  There was no arguing with that one, it was an obvious penalty even from the opposite end of the ground, and Hazard made no mistake from the spot allowing Chelsea to regain the lead.  Foster was also booked for the foul.  It was very frustrating to be behind at this stage as the Hornets had dominated the start of the second half.  Watford fought back and Doucouré tried to find Deulofeu in the box, but the keeper just got there first.  Gracia made a second change half way through the half replacing Sema, who had a great game, with Quina.  The visitors had a decent chance to increase their lead as Willian had the ball on the edge of the box but whipped his shot wide.  Deulofeu then tried a shot from distance, but it was weak and easy for the keeper.   A mistake from Holebas allowed Hazard to break and find Kanté who shot wide of the far post.  There was a great chance for the Hornets to equalize as Doucouré played the ball in to Deeney at the near post, but Troy flicked his shot just over.  With 10 minutes to go, each side made changes as Kovačič and Hudson-Odoi (who had been the first Chelsea substitute) made way for Barkley and Emerson, and Success replaced Deulofeu for the Hornets.  Chelsea had a couple of late chances to increase their lead as, first, a corner came out to Jorginho who shot over the target.  Then Willian hit a low shot that Foster pushed around the post.  In time added on, Watford won a corner and Foster came up for it.  As the ball bounced around the box, Foster tried an overhead kick, such a shame that didn’t go in, but it certainly made me smile.  So the final whistle went on a narrow defeat for the Hornets.

Femenia, Sema and Doucoure keep an eye on Willian

Yet again, we were ruing missing our chances as we could easily have won a point in that game.  But, on the positive side, we were reflecting on a game in which we had matched one of the best teams in the country.  Watford no longer look like plucky underdogs in these games, but are playing with a similar quality to these household names.  There were regrets regarding the two penalties.  Watford’s would have been given on another day.  Chelsea’s was an unnecessary challenge by Foster but, given how well he has done for us this season, it is hard to criticise.

So we reach the half way stage of the season in the top half of the table with over twice as many points as the team in 18th place, so allowing us to continue to look up rather than down.

But the best news came this morning with a tweet from Kabasele that announced that he didn’t think that there was anything broken and “Great gesture of the goal post who visited me at hospital.”  I do love his sense of humour and it was wonderful that he let the fans know that he is better than might have been expected when we saw him taken out of the ground.  I wish him a full and speedy recovery.

Jingle Bells

Challenging at a corner in front of the home fans

I had started a cold on Friday, so was very grateful that the last Saturday before Christmas was mild and sunny, absolutely gorgeous.  I made my way to the designated pre-game pub to find Pete and Mike had made themselves comfortable on a sofa in the corner.  Even better when one of them went and bought me a beer.  Mike had not enjoyed his first pint so had opted to try something else, but got more than he bargained for when it turned out that he had bought a packet of smokey bacon crisps in liquid form.  I was sceptical when he described the beer, but one sip confirmed the truth of his taste test.  My brother-in-law is a West Ham season ticket holder, so joined my sister and I for the pre-match drinks if not for the game.  Being a local, he was a great help on the way to the ground, sending us on what appeared to be a huge detour but actually meant that the queue to get through security was very small.  I have to say that the young man who ‘searched’ me only glanced in my bag and waved his security wand in my general direction before letting me through.  Clearly I didn’t look likely to be smuggling anything in.

Team news was that Gracia had made one change with Capoue returning from suspension in place of Quina.  A slightly surprising move as the lad had played exceptionally well and most thought that Sema would have made way, although this would have meant a change in formation that Gracia clearly didn’t want.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Sema, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deeney and Deulofeu.

Celebrating Deeney’s penalty

The home side had an excellent early chance which was snuffed out as Kabasele intervened to prevent Hernández from connecting with a cross.  Their first goal attempt came from a corner that was met by the head of Rice, but Foster was equal to the header.  The Hornets’ first chance of the game came in the 18th minute as Deeney met a cross from Femenía with a shot that was deflected for a corner.  Antonio then tried a shot from distance that was met by a terrific save from Foster.  Just before the half hour mark, Pereyra played a one-two with Deulofeu and was through on goal when he was taken down by Balbuena.  The referee immediately pointed to the spot, but Troy had to wait an age to take the penalty as the West Ham man had picked up an injury making the tackle and needed treatment.  After a long wait, Troy stepped up and, with the West Ham fans behind the goal doing their very best to put him off, coolly smashed the ball into the top corner to give the Hornets the lead.  Balbuena was unable to run off the injury, so soon made way for Ogbonna.  A theatrical tumble into the box by Antonio was only rewarded with a free kick on the edge of the area which Snodgrass powered into the wall.  The home side had an excellent chance to draw level when a cross from Anderson was headed down by Antonio to Hernández who hit a sweet volley goalwards, but Foster pulled off an excellent save.  In time added on, Watford had a great chance to increase their lead as Deulofeu released Deeney, his first shot was blocked and, sadly, he curled the follow-up wide of the target.

Capoue beating Snodgrass

So we reached half time a goal to the good.  It had been a pretty even half with few chances but it has to be said that the best of them had fallen to the home side.  Again, Foster was performing heroics.

West Ham almost had an equalizer five minutes into the second half, as a corner from Snodgrass was headed against the post by Antonio, from our angle it appeared to have gone in so we were very happy to see the clearance.  The first caution for the Hornets went to Kabasele for a foul on Snodgrass.  The resultant free-kick by Anderson was straight into the wall.  Before the free kick was taken, West Ham made their second change bringing Carroll on for Noble.  West Ham looked to draw level with a shot from distance from Masuaku, but again it was saved by Foster.  Holebas received his customary yellow card, likely for a foul on Hernandez, but he didn’t do himself any favours by then having a row with Snodgrass.  Watford had a decent chance of a second goal when Doucouré found Pereyra whose low shot was parried by Fabianski, and Deeney was unable to take advantage.   West Ham should have equalized when Anderson made his way into the box and laid the ball on to Hernández who completely miskicked and Foster was able to gather easily.

Waiting for a corner

Watford should have increased their lead on 71 minutes as Deulofeu found Doucouré whose magnificent shot was met by a blinding save from Fabianski.  Doucouré then turned hero in the other box, taking the ball off Hernández when he looked sure to score.  Each side made a substitution with 15 minutes to go as Sema made way for Cleverley for the Hornets and Diangana replaced Hernandez for the home side.  Carroll had a chance to break back with an acrobatic shot but it was a rather poor effort and cleared the bar.  Watford should have put the game to bed when Deulofeu put Deeney through into the box but, with only Fabianski to beat, he hit a low shot straight at the keeper to screams of frustration from the away end.  Cleverley then tried his luck with a shot from wide on the right but again it was straight at Fabianski.  The Watford goal was living a charmed life as Foster did well to save a shot from Snodgrass, but the rebound dropped to Antonio who looked sure to score but the shot rebounded off the post much to the relief of the travelling Hornets.  Gracia made his second change at this point replacing Deeney with Success to howls of protest from our section of the away end.  Why on earth would he replace Deeney?  It should really have been Deulofeu who had not had his best game (my thoughts at the time, which have been rather discredited as I reread my notes).

Celebrating Deulofeu’s strike in front of the away fans

Foster was in action again almost immediately tipping a header from Carroll over the bar.  Then we had one of those, “what the hell do we know about football” moments as Deulofeu played a one-two with Pereyra before beating Fabianski right in front of us and sending the away end into raptures (while readying to eat a large slice of humble pie).  Surely that lovely goal had to seal the win.  Certainly the home fans thought so as, when I had finished celebrating the goal, I looked up at the stands to see that the home sections of the stadium were almost empty.  It was quite shocking.  The announcement of 3 minutes of added time was greeted with hysterical giggling from one of our party who couldn’t quite believe our luck.  There was just time for goal hero Deulofeu to be replaced by Mariappa, and Diop to be booked for a foul on Success before the final whistle went to confirm Watford’s win.

As we left the ground, there was much festive joy among the travelling Hornets and the concourse rang out to a loud chorus of “Jingle Bells (Oh what fun it is to see Watford win away)”.  My sister was trying to get all of her celebrating out of the way before meeting her husband (who is a really good bloke and takes defeat very sportingly), particularly as she had a text from her (Watford supporting) daughter telling her to “Be nice to Dad.”

Applauding the fans after the final whistle

Transport ninja, Richard, had us back in the pub, via a quick train hop, in no time at all.  Made all the more impressive when the others, who I assumed must have gone straight home, turned up about 10 minutes later.  The post-match gathering was very happy indeed.  West Ham had been on a great run of form, so this had to be considered to be an excellent win and three very welcome points.  The match had been pretty even, with some great chances for both teams, but a combination of Ben Foster and the woodwork had ensured that we kept a clean sheet.  Again we played some lovely football, while showing resilience at the back, and Capoue returned from suspension playing as if he had never been away.  So we go into Christmas with 27 points and in seventh place in the table.  Happy Christmas one and all!

Three Worldies in the Rain

Rita and Pagey with the play-off trophy

On Wednesday evening was the 20 year (almost) reunion for the squad that won the play-off final in 1999.  I have been to a number of wonderful evenings following the club, but this one was exceptional.  All of the players had come back for the evening, including some (Bazeley, Hazan, Gudmundsson) that had come from overseas.  The overwhelming impression from the players was a deep affection among the whole group and they seemed genuinely happy to be with each other again.  The way that all of them spoke about Watford as a club was heart-warming, even those who were only here for a short time had left with very happy memories.  There were also some heartfelt tributes to Graham Taylor, which must have been lovely for Rita, Karen and the other family members who were present.  There were also entertaining interviews with Andrew French (who was the media officer at the time) and Ciaran Cosgrove (pink shirt man) who is totally bonkers.  The culmination of the interviews and reminiscences was Robert Page and Rita Taylor on the stage lifting the play-off trophy.  At that point I am not sure there was a dry eye in the house.

In Javi and Gino we trust

On to the weekend and my pre-match routine on Saturday differed from the usual as, after meeting in the West Herts, we headed for the ground and the Elton John Suite as Mike had been offered hospitality courtesy of the Community Trust.  It was a chilly day with driving rain for most of the afternoon, so the comfort of an executive box was very welcome indeed.  We shared the table with Derrick Williams who is employed by the Trust as well as being the brains and driving force behind Kit Aid, so it was lovely to meet him and learn about his various roles and their contributions to the local (and not so local) community.

Team news was that Gracia had made one change bringing Deulofeu in for Success.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Sema, Doucouré, Quina, Pereyra; Deeney and Deulofeu.  There was also the very welcome return of Tom Cleverley to the bench.  A lovely early Christmas present for the Watford faithful.

Before kick-off, it was lovely to see banners unfurling in the Rookery celebrating Gino and Javi.  I am normally under these, so it was lovely to actually see them for once.

Celebrating Deulofeu’s goal

Despite our relative league positions, this was going to be a tricky game as Cardiff had had a recent upturn in form and Watford, despite some terrific performances, had not won since October.  But the Hornets started the game well and had a very early chance as Deulofeu played a one-two with Doucouré before curling a shot just wide of the target.  Watford took the lead in the 16th minute as Deulofeu got the ball just outside the box, then went on a mazy dribble, it looked as though he would run into trouble but, instead, he breezed past a couple of defenders before slotting the ball past Etheridge in the Cardiff goal.  It was a terrific goal and served to calm the nerves among the home fans.  The Hornets had a chance to increase their lead soon after as Pereyra exchanged passes with Deeney, but his final touch was too heavy and Etheridge was out to gather.  Cardiff threatened for the first time as Arter played a low ball across the goal, but the chance went begging.  The visitors had a better chance to draw level when Gunnarsson’s long throw reached Paterson in the box, but his header was wide of the target.  The Hornets continued to attack and some lovely passing between Deulofeu and Pereyra culminated in a shot from the Argentine that was deflected for a corner.  After a period in which Watford had been passing the ball around for fun, Cardiff finally won a goal kick and, as Etheridge readied to take it, there was an ironic chant of “We’ve got the ball” from the away end.

Domingos Quina

When an injury to a Cardiff player led to a break in the game, I was amused to see Ben Foster take the opportunity to towel himself down, although with the rain lashing down it would only have been a momentary respite.  Deulofeu and Pereyra combined again but this time the shot was saved by Etheridge.  Then Quina, who had been lively in midfield, had his first sight of goal but his shot from distance was wide of the target.  Late in the half, Pereyra won a rather soft free kick.  He took it himself and it was a wonderful strike that appeared to be heading for the top corner, but Etheridge made another excellent save to keep it out.  So we reached half time with a narrow lead for the Hornets, which was a bit frustrating given the amount of possession that we had had.  But credit must go to Etheridge in the Cardiff goal as, without his efforts, the game would already have been out of sight for the visitors.

Our seats at the back of the Upper GT meant that we were protected from the torrential rain, but there had been a cold wind blowing during the first half, so I was very happy to be able to escape into the box for half time refreshments.  The hot drinks and cheese and biscuits went down very well indeed, but I kept an eye on the pitch to ensure that I was back in the stand for start of the second half (I almost made it).

Celebrating the strike from Holebas

The visitors made a substitution at the break bringing Mendez-Laing on for Murphy.  The Hornets started the second half as they had finished the first with a shot from Pereyra that was stopped by another excellent save by Etheridge.  But the Hornets were not to be denied for long as Deulofeu laid the ball off to Holebas who curled a gorgeous shot into the top corner.  It was a magnificent strike and it is always nice to see a happy Holebas.  Watford had a chance for a third as Sema dribbled along the edge of the box but he shot wide of the target.  Just before the hour mark, Cardiff made a second substitution bringing Peltier on for Bennett, who had picked up an injury.  Cardiff had a rare shot on goal with an effort from the edge of the area by Camarasa that flew just wide.  The Hornets’ third goal was another cracker, Sema played the ball back to Quina who curled a beauty past Etheridge, leading to a joyous celebration as he ran over and hugged the substitutes on the touchline.  The chances continued as Deulofeu found Holebas who stuck his foot out and diverted the ball towards the top corner, but yet again Etheridge made a save.  Hoilett had a great chance to pull one back for the visitors, but his header cleared the bar.  Watford made their first substitution of the day with 15 minutes to go, bringing Success on for Sema.  The substitute was immediately involved in a one-two with Deulofeu whose shot was disappointing, especially as he really should have passed to Doucouré who was in an acre of space in the box.

Holebas prepares to take a corner

The visitors made their final change of the afternoon replacing Gunnarsson with Reid.  Just when we thought this would be a comfortable afternoon for the Hornets, Hoilett hit a beautiful curling shot from outside the area to the top corner.  So no clean sheet, but it was to get worse almost immediately as another ball into the Watford box led to a goalmouth scramble.  There appeared to be two players in an offside position when Foster blocked a shot from Bamba, so we were waiting for the whistle to go, but the ball rebounded to Reid who scored to put the visitors back in the game and to reboot the nerves.  Between the goals, Deeney had made way for Okaka and the Watford fans cheered up somewhat at the sight of the return of Cleverley who came on for Deulofeu.  Tom was in action immediately with a shot that was blocked before Quina put the follow-up wide.  Then Doucouré could have calmed Watford nerves with a terrific shot but, yet again, it was met with a terrific save from Etheridge.  There were groans as the fourth official held up the board indicating that there were 5 minutes of added time and the visitors had a chance to grab an equaliser that would have been a travesty, as Camarasa put a free kick into the box, but Foster was out to make the stop although it took him two attempts to gather it.  There was much relief when the final whistle went.

Elton entertaining at his spiritual home

At the end of the match there was complete bafflement.  Watford had been coasting until the first Cardiff goal, which seemed to give the visitors confidence and the home side jitters.  While we weren’t exactly hanging on at the end, the memory of the last minute at Goodison Park on Monday was too fresh for me to feel comfortable until the final whistle had gone.  It has to be said that the players (with the notable exceptions of Kabasele and Cathcart) made a rapid exit from the pitch, but that was probably just to dry off after the soaking.  But, with time to reflect, apart from that dodgy 3 minutes this was a superb performance by the Hornets.  They were playing some lovely football, but there were also plenty of shots and three goals so gorgeous that there was a comment on Match of the Day that there could have been a goal of the day competition that only included goals from this game (Hoilett’s wasn’t too shabby either).  It was a great team effort, but praise must still go to Deulofeu who was absolutely excellent, Doucouré who is back to his best and the wonderful Quina who is not just very skilful, but also plays with an assurance that belies his tender years.

At the end of the day, there was massive relief that the winless streak is over and the performances in the past week have been excellent and deservedly lifted us back into the top half of the table.  Let us hope that we continue in this vein as football is suddenly fun again.

Battling Snakes on a Monday Night

Holebas launches a throw-in

A Monday night game at Everton was a good excuse for a weekend in Liverpool.  Things didn’t go quite to plan, but I had a fun weekend of comedy, music, art, film and hoped to finish it with a decent game of football.  After a lovely morning at the Tate and visiting the studio of an artist friend of a friend on the waterfront, I returned to the hotel to meet up with our much depleted party.  We were in the pub bright and early and found a table in our usual area where we were soon joined by a number of North-West and Happy Valley Horns, travelling fans who so rarely see us win in their neck of the woods.

Team news was that Gracia had made two changes with Sema and Quina (both making their Premier League debuts) replacing Hughes (who had picked up an injury against Man City) and Chalobah.  I must say that the inclusion of Sema was a surprise to everyone.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Doucouré, Quina, Sema; Deeney, Success.  Needless to say, the Everton line-up included former Watford starlet, Richarlison, and our former manager, Marco Silva, was in the home dugout.  It was clear that neither of them was going to get a good reception from the travelling Hornets, which was more understandable for Silva than for Richarlison who made the club a tidy sum when he was sold.

The meal voucher from the club

As we entered through the turnstiles, we were greeted by Dave Messenger who was handing out vouchers for £10 for food and drink.  A really lovely gesture from the club to reward those who had made the journey to Liverpool on a Monday night.  The smallish crowd meant that it was like the old days in the away stand, with us able to take any seat we wanted.  So we headed to an empty section further back where we could stretch out and move about in comfort.  Bliss!

On arrival at the ground, I had discovered that I did not have my purse with me.  The inconvenience of having to cancel and replace cards was overwhelmed by the fact that I now had no cash and no train ticket home.  My first thought was that I had left it on the bus to the ground, but a few minutes into the game I remembered exactly where I had left it.  A quick call to the pub to tell them that a wallet bearing a Watford crest had been left on an armchair by the fire and they confirmed that they had it and it would be behind the bar on my return.

Panic over, I was able to concentrate on the match, the start of which had been dominated by chants against Silva and Richarlison.  A number in the crowd had brought snakes with them to wave at Silva, which led to my first experience of seeing an inflatable snake being confiscated in a football ground.

Doucoure, Cathcart and Deeney in the box

There was an early chance for each side as, first, Pereyra had a shot from the edge of the box that was held by the Everton keeper, Pickford.  Then Walcott met a cross from Digne with a header that was easily saved by Foster.  The home side took the lead in the 15th minute when Gomes cut the ball back to Richarlison who blasted the ball past Foster.  The young Brazilian celebrated by patting the badge over his heart.  Oh Ricky, what a short memory you have.  Watford should have equalized within a couple of minutes as Quina crossed for Deeney who, with an open goal in front of him, somehow managed to clear the bar with his shot.  Richarlison could have had a second soon after, but a tremendous block by Holebas averted the danger.  The first caution of the game went to Everton’s Mina who had handled a cross from Sigurdsson.  Watford had a decent chance to draw level as a cross from Sema was met by Pereyra but his header was just wide of the target.  Watford threatened again as a cross from Femenía fell to Deeney whose shot was blocked by Mina for a corner.  Deeney was then in action at the other end of the pitch, snuffing out an Everton attack with a great tackle.  Richarlison then tangled with Kabasele and, as is his wont, executed an outrageous dive (not his first of the evening).  Kabasele’s expression as they made their way back upfield in conversation indicated that he was letting his former team mate know exactly what he thought of his actions.  Watford had a great chance to grab an equaliser just before half time as Deeney received a long ball from Quina but he volleyed just wide.  In the minute added on at the end of the half, Deeney found Success on the edge of the box where he was fouled by Mina.  If the referee had given the free kick, he would have had to show Mina a second yellow and Everton would have been down to ten men, but he waved play on and the half-time whistle went with the Hornets a goal down and feeling rather aggrieved.

Sema lines up a free kick

It had been a decent half of football.  The home side had dominated the early exchanges, but the Hornets had grown into the game and were the better side at the end of the half.  The half time discussion was around two crucial decisions and benefited from reports from those watching at home.  By all accounts, Everton’s goal should have been disallowed as Walcott, who had been involved in the build-up, had been in an off-side position.  So, that and the fact that Mina had got away with an obvious foul on Success that should have earned us a free kick and him a second yellow card, meant we were feeling very hard done by.

At half time, the shoot-out involved a lad in a wheelchair, which was rather lovely.

The first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets as Pereyra hit a free-kick that went into the side-netting, although a good number in the away end were celebrating as they thought it had gone in.  Watford continued to threaten as a long throw reached Doucouré in the box, but his shot was blocked.  Then Deeney played a one-two with Doucouré before taking a shot, but Pickford was down to make the save.  Gracia made his first change just before the hour mark with Sema making way for Deulofeu.

Celebrating the first Watford goal

I won’t say that the substitution was inspired, but the Hornets equalised on 63 minutes as Femenía crossed for Pereyra, whose shot hit the post but rebounded out to Coleman and bounced off the Everton man into the net.  For once it felt like luck was on our side and it has to be said that the equaliser was well deserved.  But that wasn’t the end of it, as the Hornets took the lead a couple of minutes later as Pereyra crossed for Doucouré who rose above the defence and headed past Pickford.  Needless to say, the celebrations in the away end were brilliant.  When the travelling Hornets started chants of “Silva, what’s the score?”  I couldn’t help feeling uneasy.  It is never a good idea to crow over the opposition that early in the game.  Sure enough, while I was distracted noting that Calvert-Lewin had come on for Bernard, I heard a cheer from the home fans.  At first I thought that they had scored, but it then became clear that the referee had awarded a penalty for a foul by Kabasele on Mina.  I had everything crossed as Sigurdsson stepped up to take the spot kick and was joy was unconfined when the shot was saved by Foster’s trailing leg.  In the confusion, I had missed that Silva had made a double substitution, as Walcott had made way for Lookman.  Quina, who had impressed on the ball, also showed what he can contribute to the defence as he tackled Richarlison in the box.

Holebas congratulates Doucoure on his goal

Each side made another substitution as Everton brought Tosun on for Gueye and Success made way for Chalobah for the Hornets.  The Watford man’s first action of note was to get booked for time wasting.  Richarlison looked to bring the home side level as he ran on to a ball into the box, but Foster was out to save at his feet.  As the clock ran down, Everton won a series of corners, but only one (a Sigurdsson header from a Coleman cross) required a save from Foster.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, the board for extra time was held up indicating 6 minutes.  Oh, for goodness sake, my nerves were already in tatters.  Gracia made a final substitution replacing Quina with Mariappa.  Just when we thought we would finally see a win at Goodison Park, Kabasele needlessly handled a long forward ball and the referee awarded a free kick on the edge of the area.  Again, I had everything crossed, but when Digne stepped up I knew that there was only one outcome and, sure enough, his free kick cleared the wall and found the top corner to level the game.  There was just time for one last attack from the visitors as Deulofeu surged forward and found Pereyra, but he could only direct his shot across the front of the goal and the game ended in a draw.

Several of the players dropped to the turf in despair at the end of the game.  Most notably Holebas, who didn’t move for ages until Zigor Aranalde went over to commiserate when he reacted angrily.  The players were right to be angry and upset.  They had done more than enough to win the game and had been easily the better team in the second half.  But they were beaten by a mistake from the officials and a moment of madness from Kabasele.

Deeney and Success wait for a ball into the box

We headed back to the pub, where my purse was returned to me, so the least I could do was to buy a round.  We then settled down to analyse the game.  The overwhelming feeling was one of frustration.  It had been a terrific evening’s entertainment and if someone had offered me a point before the game, I would have bitten their hand off.  But, after that performance we deserved to come away with all three points.  Concentrating on the positives, Pereyra and Doucouré both put in their best performances in some time.  Quina continues to impress, for such a young man he plays with great assurance and is a tremendous addition to our squad.  Watford were clearly the better team, but we have to start translating that into victories.  This is a likeable and talented team, probably the best that Watford have ever had.  But the players are also working hard, so surely it must only be a matter of time before the talent translates into positive results.  Please let that start against Cardiff on Saturday.