I had a very cultural week all in all, with plays by Tom Stoppard, Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare followed by a cracking evening spent with the Saw Doctors. I just had to hope that my visit to the city of culture finished the week in style.
It all started rather well. Being an unsociable type, I usually try to find an empty carriage for the journey, but the Hull Trains service was absolutely packed, so I took my assigned seat and found myself opposite a pleasantly chatty guy who kept me entertained.
On arrival in Hull, I headed for the designated pub, which was in the opposite direction from the ground and meant that I walked through some of the older areas of the city centre that I hadn’t visited in the past and, I must say, that it is a lot more attractive than I remember. The pub was a cracker, a good selection of beers and lovely fresh fish (“skin on or off?”) for lunch. The company (Happy Valley and West Yorks Horns) was delightful as always. So we were in very good spirits as we set off for the walk to the ground.
Despite Hull’s precarious league position, the arrival of Marco Silva had heralded an upturn in form and Watford found themselves facing a manager who hadn’t lost a home game in more than 3 years. Given Watford’s variable performances in recent weeks, it would have been a brave fan who predicted a positive result from this game.
Team news was just the one change with Britos returning from suspension in place of Mariappa, who had been terrific since he was drafted into the starting line-up and was rather unlucky to have lost his place. So the starting line-up was Gomes, Janmaat, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Cleverley, Doucouré, Capoue; Amrabat, Deeney and Niang.
There had been speculation in the pub prior to the game about whether there would be a minute’s silence/applause following the tragic death of Ugo Ehiogu. As he had no direct connection with either Watford or Hull, there was not, but the players were all wearing black armbands.
There was a very nervy start from the home side as a terrible back pass from Maguire looked to be sneaking in to the Hull net when Jakupovich managed to slide in and put the ball out for a corner which, sadly, came to nothing. Watford’s next corner was marginally more effective as the delivery from Holebas was met by the head of Britos but the ball flew over the bar. The next half chance went the way of the home side as Clucas tried a shot from distance that cleared the crossbar.
During the next ten minutes of the game, the only things even remotely worthy of note were the chants from the away end. I rather enjoyed “We’re only here for the culture.” A later chant of “It’s just like watching Brazil” was countered by a more realistic and downcast “more like Italy” from the bloke behind me. On 25 minutes, there was a potentially game-changing incident as a challenge by Niasse on Niang, that hadn’t looked particularly nasty from the stands, was greeted with an immediate red card from the referee. Watford’s approach to the game up to this point had been rather cagey, so my hope was that the reduction in opposition numbers would lead to a more attacking approach. The first few minutes following the sending off were not promising as the Watford men continued to play the ball around at the back. But things brightened up as a corner was met by a header from Prödl that required a smart save from Jakupovich tip it over the bar. Niang, who was getting abuse from the home crowd every time he got a touch, didn’t let it faze him as he played a through ball to Deeney who finished, but I think I was the only Watford fan who hopefully punched the air as the flag was up for a clear offside. Niang then found Amrabat whose shot was blocked for a corner.
Watford won another corner and, as Cleverley lined up to take it, he was greeted with the latest in a series of loud complaints from the home fans about the positioning of the ball so, on this occasion, the referee decided to check that there was no infringement. Much to the amusement of the away fans at the other end of the ground, he nodded approval and indicated that the kick should be taken. Britos managed to get a head to it but the ball flew just wide of the target. A promising move started with Troy coming away with the ball after a tackle, he found Amrabat in a good position in the box, but Nordin decided to pass instead of trying a shot and the chance was gone. In time added on at the end of the half, Grosicki went down in the box following a challenge from Amrabat, but the referee waved appeals away. As if the Hull fans weren’t already angry enough, Niang then went flying in the air after a challenge, so the half time whistle went to loud boos from the home fans and the stewards coming on to escort the referee off the pitch.
It had been a disappointing half of football. Watford had most of the possession, but were being rather cagey, which made for a very dull spectacle. There was some increase in attacking threat after the sending off, but not the high tempo that we were hoping for.
Silva made a substitution at the start of the second half bringing Hernández on for Evandro. The first meaningful action of the half came with a lovely ball from Capoue to Amrabat but the cross was blocked. The first goal attempt came from the Hull substitute, but he chipped the ball into the arms of Gomes. Watford should have taken the lead just before the hour mark as a throw from Holebas reached Capoue in the box, the Frenchman looked sure to score but he was being tackled and so just swung at the ball and Jakupovich was able to block with his feet. The Hornets were to rue that miss as, against the run of play, the home side took the lead after Watford lost the ball following a free kick allowing Hull to launch a counter attack, Grosicki crossed for Marcovic whose header rebounded off the crossbar and he made no mistake at the second attempt. The Hornets attempted to get back into the game as Amrabat crossed for Deeney, but a well-timed nudge from a defender ensured that Troy failed to make contact, the ball came back into the area but, again, there was nobody to apply the final touch.
The travelling Hornets had been crying out for a substitution and were rewarded when Success replaced Amrabat. But it was Hull who had a great chance to increase their lead with a free kick from a dangerous position which Clucas directed over the wall and just wide. The relief was short-lived as, soon after, a clearing header following a free kick reached Clucas who curled a beautiful shot past Gomes. It was a moment of quality in a game that had been sadly devoid of it. In an effort to save the game, Mazzarri replaced Doucouré with Okaka, but Watford goal attempts remained at a premium. Capoue tried a shot from distance that was well over the bar. Then a Capoue free kick reached Prödl whose shot was easy for the keeper. Mazzarri’s final throw of the dice was to bring Zúñiga on to replace Holebas. The Hornets had one last chance to reduce the deficit as Deeney volleyed just over.
As the final whistle went on a humiliating defeat for the visitors, it was greeted with loud boos from the travelling fans. A young lad who was sitting behind me had been complaining loudly throughout the game and, on the final whistle, he went charging down to get himself into prime position to lambast any players who came over to greet the crowd. Prödl was the first to approach us, making a gesture of regret but, despite having little to apologise for, was given the full force of the crowd’s invective. This happened to each of the players in turn. Troy quickly turned to leave the field, but had second thoughts and came back with Gomes holding something that he was clearly intending to gift to a young fan. When he reached the perimeter, he hurdled it and walked up to the youngster, but was soon facing a number of very angry fans who were yelling at him. It had the potential for a very nasty outcome but Troy just listened to what they had to say before returning over the wall at which point he was given an ovation by those still in the crowd.
As someone who is very much in the “happy-clapper” camp, I don’t boo the players but I am also not inclined to applaud them after a dreadful performance like that. After the sending off, we should have been attacking at pace in order to tire the ten men and gain an advantage. Instead we used our dominance of the possession to play the ball around at the back allowing Hull to sit back and wait for an opportunity to break and, when they did, it was at pace and decisive. There have been accusations that the players were already on the beach, but the performance looked very much as if they were following instructions from the head coach. Deeney was isolated up front with very little service and there was a distinct reluctance to break forward. So, to my mind, blame for the defeat sits very firmly with the head coach. The fact that this abject performance was delivered by the team in 10th position in “the best league in the world” is an indication of the dreadful lack of quality in the Premier League this season.
The post-match discussion in the queue for the Ladies came back to a theme that has been visited a number of times in recent weeks. We miss the Championship. Another theme in the post-match discussion was the behaviour of the travelling Watford fans. Many of the people that I see week in, week out at games have been going for many years and have witnessed dreadful seasons of football, so tend to be rather circumspect. But, since promotion, we seem to have attracted a large number of people whose lofty expectations leave them open to regular disappointment which leads to outbursts of (often irrational) anger. Of course it may be that these people were always there, it was just that in times past we rarely sold out our away allocation so you tended to choose your position in the stand to sit with likeminded people.
Anyway, back to on pitch affairs. Last season, when survival was the aim, we finished the season in 13th position with 45 points. We have five games remaining this season to better that record but, given the opposition that we will be facing, it is hard to see us gaining any more points. Maybe, for the next month, we should trust our instincts and just stay in the pub!