Tag Archives: Adam Smith

A Win to Make GT Proud

My favourite photo with GT and Rita (and Don)

The nightmares started on Friday night.  I have a recurring dream in which I am at a match but am unable to see the pitch from my vantage point which is often in a stand that is facing away from the pitch.  On this occasion, the Watford crowd at Bournemouth had been housed in a container.  Now, there have been some issues with our fans at Bournemouth in the past, but putting us in a metal box seemed a little excessive.  Saturday night I struggled to sleep but, when I did, I had my other recurrent dream of trying and failing to get to a destination.  These are usually football related, although this time the destination was a bit vague, but I knew what it meant.  There is quite a lot going on in my life at the moment.  I am in the process of buying a flat and readying a house for sale.  Work is busy with some crucial deadlines coming up.  But I am having nightmares about a football match.  I fear that there is something wrong with my priorities.

I left home at 8:40 to catch the train.  It seemed a little early on a Sunday, but I could hardly complain as Jacque had to leave Leighton Buzzard on a rail replacement bus at 6-ish in order to make the connection with the train she had booked from London.  Needless to say, at that hour on a Sunday there were few people on the platform for the train to Slough and I was able to occupy my ‘lucky’ seat, so all was right with the world.  As I checked social media it was full of fellow Watford fans expressing their love for Graham Taylor on the anniversary of his passing.  This added an extra significance to the day.

Capoue prepares for kick-off

We had arranged to meet in the usual pub but, due to the 2pm Sunday kick-off, the timing of my arrival meant that I would arrive before the pub’s scheduled opening time.  Alice was arriving by car at a similar time, so arranged to meet me at the station so that we could kill some time together.  Just before my train arrived in Bournemouth, there was a message from Pete telling me that he had found a table in the pub, which was already open.  So, I met Alice and, after a short walk, we had a drink and a seat in the pub.  My recollection had been that the pub menu was rather limited (mostly burgers), so I asked whether they had any food on.  The news that there were a couple of roasts or a burger if we wanted one was very welcome.  I had had no breakfast, so the lovely plate of meat and several veg which was served to me set me up very nicely for the afternoon.

I left myself plenty of time to get to the ground and through the security that is always in place in Bournemouth.  Thankfully, on this occasion, we arrived to find a very short queue and were soon through the turnstiles.  It was Alice’s birthday, and she had left for the ground a little earlier than I did to meet some friends.  When I found her inside with Mr Fincham, a man known for starting chants, she recounted that he had regaled her with a booming chorus of Happy Birthday that was soon picked up as the entire concourse joined in, much to Alice’s embarrassment/delight.  There was also another song being sung in the concourse, “Super Nigel Pearson” which was catchy and simple and, by the time I took my seat in the stand, I knew (nearly all) the words.  Our party soon gathered in the stands including my niece who lives in Bournemouth so it was a home game for her.

Doucoure and Lerma tangle

Team news was that Pearson had made two enforced changes from the Wolves game with Masina and Mariappa in for Kabasele (suspended) and Femenía (injured).  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Dawson, Mariappa; Capoue, Chalobah; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Sarr; Deeney.  I was disappointed to see that Aké had returned for Bournemouth.  I still hurts that he is playing for them rather than us and he always plays brilliantly against us.

The Hornets made a bright start to the game as Deeney played the ball out to Doucouré who put in a low cross but Deulofeu, who was charging into the box, could not reach it.  Then Deeney released Sarr on the wing, the first touch was a bit heavy but he managed to win a corner that came to nothing.  The first chance for Bournemouth came as a miskick allowed the ball into the Bournemouth box, it looked worrying for the Hornets as Solanke almost reached it, but he slipped over and Foster was able to gather.  Then Bournemouth won a free kick about 30 yards out.  Harry Wilson blasted the ball towards the Watford goal, but Foster managed to push the ball around the post.   Then there was a bit of niggle between Lerma and Doucouré which threated to get out of hand and Mike Dean had words, but no cards were shown.  The first caution of the game went to Adam Smith for a nasty looking tackle on Sarr.

Celebrating Doucoure’s goal

The Hornets had a decent chance on 18 minutes when Doucouré found Deulofeu at the near post, but stand-in keeper, Travers, was able to block the shot.  The resulting corner was met by the head of Masina whose effort flew wide of the far post.  The home side threatened again as a shot from distance by Harry Wilson was deflected for a corner.   With five minutes to go to half time Lerma got the ball in a dangerous position on the edge of the box, but his shot was woeful flying high into the stand behind the goal.  It was the Hornets who took the lead just before half time.  Francis played a back pass to Travers, Deulofeu closed him down forcing a hasty clearance that fell to Sarr who raced forward and crossed for Doucouré who controlled the ball before shooting past Travers and sending the travelling Hornets into delirium.  It was noted that, unlike previous visits, the goal was not greeted with a flare.  But, with my niece not making as many games this season, it was really lovely to share a goal celebration and hug with her.

Cathcart, Deeney and DAwson challenging in the Bournemouth box

So, we went into the break feeling very happy.  It hadn’t been a classic half of football, but there had been some very good signs and the goal had left us all feeling very positive.  The half time entertainment consisted of a “beer goggle challenge” in which disorientated fans tried to score a penalty against the mascot.  Most of the efforts were woeful and it was won by the Watford fans due to a single goal which followed a very clever run up and, it has to be said, he was the only fella who managed to get a decent strike on the ball.

The Hornets created the first goal-scoring opportunity of the second half as Sarr tried a shot from distance that deflected off Aké for a corner.  The Senegalese youngster then had a great chance to double Watford’s lead after receiving a pass from Deulofeu, but the shot was weak and easily cleared.  Then Bournemouth won a corner, but Fraser’s delivery was met by a header from Wilson that flew over the bar.  A lovely passing move from the Hornets deserved more as Sarr found Doucouré who fed Deulofeu, but the final shot was poor with Geri shooting high and wide of the near post.  Then Sarr found Deeney who tried to lift the ball over the defence, but the effort was cleared and a frustrated Deeney was booked for pulling Harry Wilson down as he attempted to escape.

Celebrating Deeney’s strike

The home side made a double substitution on the hour mark bringing Billing and Cook on for Lerma and Gosling.  Billing’s first contribution was a dangerous run into the Watford box that was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Capoue.  Chalobah then tried his luck with a shot from the edge of the area that cleared the target.  The second goal for the Hornets came on 65 minutes after Sarr rode a tackle and made his way to the bye-line, he cut the ball back towards Doucouré who was crowded out but managed to divert the ball to Deeney who came flying in and powered the ball past Travers.  This time a flare did go off, so we were unable to see the restart.  But the smoke had cleared by the time Deulofeu went on a terrific run into the opposition box, his shot was blocked but the ball rebounded to him and he crossed for Deeney who volleyed goalwards but Travers made the save.  At the other end there was a half chance for the home team as a headed clearance fell to Billing but he shanked his shot high and wide.  As the clock ticked over towards 72 minutes the travelling Hornets blasted out a loud chorus of one Graham Taylor in memory and appreciation of Watford’s greatest ever manager.  The Hornets created another great chance as Deulofeu found Deeney in the box, the ball was returned and Geri hit a wonderful shot that a defender managed to head to safety.

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal

With 15 minutes remaining, Bournemouth made their final substitution replacing Harry Wilson with Surridge.  Soon after, Pereyra replaced Sarr and then Quina came on for Doucouré.  I noticed that Pearson had given both of the players who were substituted a cuddle and talked with them as they came off.  What I hadn’t noticed, but have read subsequently, was that Sarr had reacted badly to his withdrawal and that Pearson had a word with Doucouré who went and chatted to the youngster and smoothed things over.  Following his introduction, Pereyra was immediately involved with an uncharacteristic (and impressive) defensive tackle.  In time added on Deulofeu made way for Gray.  Then Pereyra went on a storming run before crossing for Gray who was tackled, but managed to get a shot in that was cleared off the line but Pereyra was following up, chested it down and volleyed for our third which extinguished any lingering doubts about where the points were going.

The final whistle went to loud cheers and hugs and Alice declaring “Happy birthday to me!”.

Chalobah takes a corner

There was much excitement after the game as phones were proffered displaying the table showing Watford out of the relegation zone for the first time this season.  Nobody in the away end wanted to head for the exits as we stayed to cheer our heroes.  The Nigel Pearson chant had had a good airing, but there was always time for another chorus as well as chants for Deeney, Doucouré and anyone else who attracted our attention.  Then lovely Nate Chalobah came over and pumped his fists at the crowd and was greeted with a cheer.  A repeat fist pump elicited the same reaction.  He headed away from us and the crowd responded with ‘oooooooohhhh’, he turned around and pumped his fist and was rewarded with another cheer.  This was repeated another couple of times before he reached Pearson in the centre of the field and the two of them pumped their fists in unison.  I know that this loses a lot in the telling but it was a gorgeous moment and I had a tear in my eye at the togetherness.

As we made our way out of the ground, there were more celebrations with broad smiles and warm hugs with friends.

We headed back to the pub for a celebratory pint/glass of wine and to cheer City on against Villa.  It felt odd to be cheering one of the bigger teams against one that was struggling but needs must.  The crowd in the pub was a mix of fans of the two teams and was absolutely lovely.  The landlady even commented that she was sure we were enjoying our day after the result.

Adam Masina

The post-match discussion centred around how impressive our team had been.  There were times when we played some absolutely gorgeous football and the team are actually playing as a team.  A criticism earlier in the season had been that they were playing a lot of clever passes that just went to the opposition.  On this occasion there was some exquisite passing and it was a joy to watch.  The defence had been really solid and there has to be a special mention for Adam Masina, who was quite brilliant, as well as Dawson who has turned into the solid defender that we were expecting when he arrived.  The midfield was magnificent.  Capoue was excellent as always, Doucouré is back to his best after a terrible start to the season, but the special joy for me was seeing Chalobah finally putting in imperious performances.  I had worried that, after too many injuries, he would never return to his best but his recent performances have been just wonderful to watch.  Sarr started a little slowly and seemed to be struggling against Aké in the first half, but once he started taking on the defenders he was brilliant and made two of our three goals.  Similarly, Deulofeu wasn’t getting as much of the ball as he would have liked, but he worked his socks off and was a constant threat to the Bournemouth defence.  Then there is Troy Deeney.  During his absence with injury there were some that doubted that his return would make that much of a difference as he was not the goal scoring phenomenon that he had been.  He has proved all the nay-sayers wrong as his organisation and leadership has made a huge difference.  Of course, I cannot finish this without heaping praise upon Nigel Pearson.  Before he arrived, we were watching a team of talented individuals who had lost their way.  He has added a focus and organisation that has transformed those individuals into a formidable team and watching Watford is an absolute joy again.

We headed home at a reasonable time and I decided to accompany my friends on the London train as far as Basingstoke rather than taking the (slightly earlier) train directly to Reading.  It was only when we took our seats in cattle class that they all mentioned that they had first class tickets and were slumming it for me.  Still we had a great time eulogising our performance, watching the highlights and listening to Jon Marks’ commentary for the goals.  We were also joined by another regular away fan and discovered that we all had a mutual dislike for ‘plucky’ Bournemouth and their manager and how special a win over them felt.

When I changed trains at Basingstoke I was left alone with my thoughts.  This was one of the most enjoyable days out this season.  The game was a “six-pointer” against another team who are struggling and we beat them comprehensively.  The talk after the game was of a top half finish, which may be a stretch but does not sound impossible as it would have done a couple of months ago.  But, on the anniversary of Graham Taylor’s passing, we reflected on a team who worked hard and worked together and a fanbase that were totally engaged and felt part of the team.  It was a performance on and off the pitch that would have made GT proud and that is the ultimate praise from me.

The Wait for a Win Continues

Winners of the WFC Quiz

The Wednesday before this game was the Quiz Night at the football club.  It is always a good evening, with an interesting set of questions, but I generally go for the craic.  There is a team called the Untouchables, who are not Watford fans but quiz fiends, who turn up every year and usually win, having the trophy presented to them by a football player that they have no interest in.  Of late, Shaun Wallace from the Chase has become a regular on one of the teams and another team included Beth Webster, one of the Eggheads, who is a Watford fan.  Against all odds, our team (City ‘Orns) ran out winners.  I am still not sure quite how this happened, but I was rather pleased with my winner’s medal and the prize of hospitality on New Year’s Day.

Friday night, I had a lovely meal in London with some of our usual crew, so decided to stay over, rather than heading home.  This allowed me to spend the morning at the Royal Academy catching the Helene Schjerfbeck exhibition before it finished.  I reached Euston only slightly later than I usually do, but disruptions to the trains meant that I was still waiting around when a friend arrived and observed that I was late on parade.  So late that I arrived at the West Herts to find that Don had already left for the ground.  The good news was that there was a free seat at our table and a bag of pork scratchings, which was my appetiser as I waited for my jerk chicken, which was excellent and plentiful and set me up for the afternoon.

Gathering for a corner

Team news was that Quique had made only the two enforced changes from the Tottenham game with Masina and Deulofeu replacing the suspended Holebas and the injured Welbeck.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Kabasele, Dawson, Cathcart; Masina, Chalobah, Cleverley, Doucouré, Janmaat; Pereyra, Deulofeu.  Bournemouth’s line-up included the lovely Nathan Aké, who had the chance to catch up with his former manager, Quique.  It still upsets me that we didn’t manage to sign him.

The Hornets had an excellent start to the game and could have opened the scoring in the first minute as a cross from Deulofeu was parried by the Bournemouth keeper, Ramsdale, Doucouré latched on to the rebound, but could not keep his shot down and it flew over the bar.  Bournemouth also had an early chance with a shot from Lerma which was just wide of the target.  The Hornets threatened again from a corner, Deulofeu’s delivery almost sneaked in, but hit the post and rebounded to Dawson whose shot was blocked.  Pereyra was the next to try his luck with a low shot that was easily gathered by Ramsdale.  For the second game in a row, Watford lost a player to injury early in the game.  On this occasion it was Tom Cleverley who was forced to leave the field, a big blow to us as he has been magnificent so far this season.  Will Hughes came on in his place.

Pereyra escapes upfield with Masina in pursuit

On 15 minutes, Bournemouth had a great chance to take the lead from a corner that was met by the head of Cook, but rebounded off the crossbar.  The Watford faithful were yelling for a free kick when Aké pulled Deulofeu to the ground rugby-style but referee, Mike Dean, decided that it was a legitimate challenge.  The Hornets threatened again as Janmaat hit a cross into the box, but there was no Watford player to challenge for it, so it was an easy catch for Ramsdale.  At the other end, Billing tried a shot, but Foster was equal to it.  Then Masina played a lovely cross-field ball to Janmaat who put in a low cross, the ball bounced around the box, but no one could turn it in.  Lerma went down under a very benign challenge from Deulofeu, prompting a chant of “Same old Bournemouth, always cheating” from the home fans.  Rico took the free kick which was deflected off the wall for a corner.  The corner was cleared to Rico whose shot was stopped by a great save from Foster.  A good move from the Hornets came to nothing when Gerry passed the ball out to Pereyra who hit a very poor shot that flew high and wide of the target.  The first yellow card of the game was awarded to Dawson who was booked for taking down the escaping Callum Wilson.  The resulting free kick was blocked.  Pereyra and Deulofeu launched another promising break, but this one ended with Deulofeu giving the ball away.  The visitors should have taken the lead in the last minute of the half when a cross from King reached Danjuma at the back post, but Foster was able to make a point blank save.

Man of the match, Ben Foster

So, we went into half time with the game goalless.  After a good start from the Hornets, Bournemouth had the majority of the possession and the better of the chances.  After his mistake for the Spurs goal last week, Foster had redeemed himself with a couple of great saves to preserve a clean sheet.

The only change at the break was one of the linos, who had picked up an injury so had to swap places with the fourth official.

The Hornets made a bright start to the second half as Deulofeu went on a dangerous run down the left and put in a shot, but Ramsdale was down to make the save.  The next action of note came just before the hour mark when each side made a substitution as Chalobah made way for Gray for the Hornets and Harry Wilson replaced Danjuma for the visitors.  The Hornets created a half chance as Deulofeu played a back heel to Gray who couldn’t fashion a shot but managed to win a corner.  There was a protracted period of handbags soon after.  I am not sure what set it off, but Callum Wilson was booked for his part.

Kabasele lines up a free kick

Watford looked to break the deadlock as Gray played a ball through for Deulofeu, but Aké kept pace with the Spaniard and shepherded the ball back to Ramsdale.  Doucouré then tried his luck with a shot from distance that was high and wide of the target.  The visitors then broke downfield, but it came to nothing as King shot straight at Foster.  There was another booking as Rico was penalised for sliding in on Hughes.  With 15 minutes remaining, each side made a change with Masina making way for Foulquier for the Hornets and Callum Wilson was replaced by Solanke for the Cherries.  The best chance since the start of the half came when the ball broke to Hughes whose shot required a decent save from the Bournemouth keeper.  The corner from Deulofeu didn’t beat the wall, but it rebounded to him, he cut in to get into scoring position and hit a terrible shot over the bar.  Bournemouth had an appeal for a penalty (of course they did) as Fraser claimed that the ball had hit a Watford arm.  The referee did not agree but Deulofeu was booked for dissent in the discussions.  There was another booking for the visitors as Billing fouled Pereyra.  Watford looked to make the breakthrough with a lovely low cross from Gray that flew across the front of goal, but Deulofeu was unable to reach it to apply the finishing touch.

Kabasele, Pereyra and Dawson anticipate a corner

Watford had a great chance to take the lead when a free kick from Deulofeu was flicked on by Pereyra, Gray was closing in at the far post, but couldn’t get a foot to it.  At this point, the rain had become torrential which was obscuring our view of the proceedings on the pitch.  Not only that, but the problems with the Rookery roof meant that those in the middle of the stand were standing in the middle of a downpour.  Bournemouth were awarded a free kick in a dangerous position and Doucouré was booked when he fouled Lerma on the edge of the box.  Harry Wilson took the free kick which hit the outside of the post with Foster a spectator.  Wilson was causing the Hornets problems, but an attempt to break forward was stopped by a foul from Hughes, who was booked for his trouble.  The Hornets picked up another booking as Pereyra was cautioned for a foul on Smith.  In time added on, Bournemouth could have snatched the points when they launched one last break, Fraser tried a shot from a tight angle, but Foster was equal to it and the game ended goalless.

Chalobah and Dawson

The final whistle was greeted with some half-hearted boos from the home supporters.  The Hornets had the better of the second half but, after the promise of the performance against Tottenham, it had proved to be a very disappointing game.  The good news is that we are now three games unbeaten and the defence is looking far more solid.  Losing Cleverley early in the game was a big blow to us, his replacement, Hughes, was guilty of misplacing a lot of passes, although he also had one of our best chances.  But the main problems were with the forward line.  While I enjoy watching both Pereyra and Deulofeu, having the two of them upfront seems like a luxury that we cannot afford.  Their decision making is often poor.  Deulofeu should have done much better with a couple of chances, as should Gray.  If they had been more clinical, we would have been much happier after the game.  That said, a draw was a fair result, but the wait for a win is getting increasingly concerning.

As we walked up Occupation Road, a young girl was asking her Mum why they were going to Everton mid-week.  We have watched this girl grow up and her family are regulars at the away games.  They are going because that is what they (and I) do.  I just hope that we have something to cheer on Tuesday as this season has been far too short on enjoyment.

A Brilliant Brazilian beats Bournemouth

On Friday this week I took the day off work and spent the afternoon/evening at Glyndebourne for La Traviata, which was absolutely delightful.  As I was staying overnight in Brighton before the game on Saturday, I had to make sure that I packed my posh frock and high heels alongside my Watford shirt and that I didn’t pack anything that would cause problems at the security check at the turnstiles.

I left Brighton early on Saturday to take the train to Bournemouth via Southampton.  I had a naïve expectation of a picturesque journey along the South coast, but the view out of the window was sadly free of sea views instead dominated by housing estates.  On arrival into Bournemouth, I bumped into Richard and we made our way to the pre-match pub, which is one of our favourites.  As we settled down to enjoy our pints, we were puzzled to see a number of St Albans City fans in the pub until they explained that they were playing Poole Town and there were no decent pubs in that area.

Man of the match Richarlison

Due to the time it took us to get through the security line at the stadium last season, we left in good time, just as Mike arrived, having taken 4 hours to drive from South London.  When we arrived at the ground, the line was long and I did wonder how I would get through with the luggage from my overnight stay.  My first offering for inspection was a tote bag that contained my opera handbag.  This caused confusion and required a number of labels to be attached before it was considered safe.  Then I presented my rucksack which I opened up to reveal toiletries.  There was a look of horror. “Do you have any cans?  Any sprays.” “No.”  That was the search over, so she didn’t get to admire my posh frock and kitten heels.

Team news was that Silva had made four changes with Femenía, Prödl and Richarlison replacing the injured trio of Janmaat, Kaboul and Pereyra.  Gray was preferred to Okaka up front, which seemed a bit harsh after his tremendous performance against Liverpool.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Doucouré, Chalobah; Amrabat, Cleverley, Richarlison; Gray.

Richarlison, Holebas and Britos waiting for the ball to drop

For a few seasons now, the travelling fans at Bournemouth have been uncharacteristically unpleasant and there was an early attempt to enforce that reputation as a bloke along the row from me started screaming at the female lino to get back in the kitchen.  She was the other end of the pitch from us so wouldn’t have heard anyway, but it wound me up.  I’m afraid that my response to this abuse was neither reasoned nor nuanced, but it was to the point.  On the pitch the first chance fell to the visitors as Cleverley turned and shot but it was blocked.   Bournemouth had an excellent chance to open the scoring as King advanced and found Fraser in the box, his shot was parried by Gomes, the ball fell to Afobe, but Britos was on hand to block the shot and send it over the bar.  It went quiet for a while after that, until Amrabat crossed for Chalobah who directed his header just wide of the near post.  The first booking was earned by Britos for a rather desperate tackle on Arter.  On the half hour, Afobe latched on to a long ball from Cook and advanced to shoot but Gomes pushed the ball to safety.  At the other end Gray cut the ball back to Chalobah who turned to shoot, but the strike was weak and easily gathered by Begović.  Richarlison impressed with a lovely move to beat a defender before cutting back to Doucouré whose shot was deflected over.  Holebas swung the corner in and Richarlison met it but nodded over the bar.  Bournemouth’s reputation for diving wasn’t done any favours as Afobe collapsed in the box with his hands to his face and no Watford player anywhere near.  Play continued.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead at the end of the half as a cross-field ball from Cleverley found its way to Richarlison, he beat a defender on the byline before playing the ball back to Gray who blazed over when he should have done better.

Richarlison at the bottom of a pile of celebrating players

So we reached half time goalless after an end to end half which, judging by the reactions of my friends, I judged rather harshly as it wasn’t as good as the first half against Liverpool.  The Watford fans were very loud throughout the half, although the repertoire was dominated by a chant that was new to me “Oo-oo-oo Abdoulaye Doucouré <repeat> never gives the ball away” to the tune of Earth Wind and Fire’s “September”.  It is very catchy indeed.

The home side started the second half brightly as Cook met a corner from Ibe with a header that was on target, but Gomes was down to save.  At the other end, a Holebas cross was headed on by a Bournemouth player to Amrabat whose shot was terrible, flying across the box and out for a throw.  There was a baffling moment as Amrabat pulled the ball back to Chalobah who, while in a great position to shoot, opted to leave it for the man behind him, Harry Arter.  Television pictures showed that the Bournemouth man had called for the ball.  All the Watford fans who have been complaining on social media about this unsportsmanlike behaviour have clearly forgotten how funny it was when the loathsome Dai Thomas did the same thing at Kenilworth Road.  Chalobah had a golden chance to put his team in the lead soon after as he robbed a player in midfield and found himself one on one with Begović, but he had too long think about the shot and his strike was blocked by the keeper.  He had a second bite as the ball found its way back to him, but this time he curled the shot just wide of the target.

Andre Gray

The referee was in action then, booking Grey for dissent after he was fouled by Cook.  There was time for Pugh and Defoe to come on in place of Afobe and Ibe before the Bournemouth man was finally booked for the foul.  There was a lovely move for the Hornets as Cleverley and Amrabat exchanged passes on the overlap before crossing for Richarlison on the other flank, he played the ball back to Chalobah who blasted his shot over the bar.  The youngster’s day went from bad to worse as he was then booked for a foul on King.  Watford were severely testing the Bournemouth defence and came close from a Cleverley corner which Richarlison met with a shot that was blocked on the line.  The Brazilian was a constant threat and had two decent chances after receiving a long ball from Holebas, his first shot was blocked, the second saved.  But he wasn’t to be denied and the GT chant had to be delayed as Gray crossed and Richarlison slid in to attempt to make contact. as he was on the ground with a defender and Begović in close proximity, it seemed that the chance had gone, but he stuck out his foot and prodded the ball past the prone keeper to give Watford a well deserved lead.  The celebrations were passionate and a large number of fans decided to pile down to the front to celebrate at pitch side.  The problem with that is that the disabled fans are located in the first row and, in the ensuing melee, were either trampled or found themselves no longer able to see the pitch due to the fans who remained standing in front of them.  As in previous years, it got ugly at this point with fans arguing among themselves and with stewards, and the police got involved.  It was all so unnecessary.

Celebrating Capoue’s goal

Back to the action on the pitch and Richarlison had a chance to increase the lead as he met a cross from Holebas with a header that flew just over the bar.  The visitors created another opportunity as Amrabat played the ball over the top for Gray but, as on so many other occasions this afternoon, Aké was on hand to stop the attack.  Silva made his first substitution with 10 minutes to go, as Capoue replaced the goal scorer, who had been suffering from cramp.  Richarlison was given a well-deserved ovation as he left the field.  The home side had a chance to draw level as Defoe flicked the ball on to King who headed just over the bar, much to the relief of the travelling Hornets.  Silva made a second change, bringing Kabasele on for Amrabat, whose place on the wing was taken by Femenía.  Watford made the points safe with four minutes to go, a shot from Gray was saved, but the clearance was only as far as Capoue, who chested it down before hitting a powerful shot past Begović.  One of those belters that causes an explosion of a celebration in the crowd.  Watford had one final chance to increase their lead as Holebas tried a shot from outside the area, but Begović was equal to it.  Silva made one last change, bringing Watson on for Chalobah for the six minutes of stoppage time, but there was no further goal action and, after the misfortune of recent visits to Boscombe, it was great to see the Hornets leave with a deserved win.

The players came over to celebrate with the travelling fans, who were loud and proud, as they had been for most of the game, and shirts were tossed into the crowd.  There was a lovely moment as the players were heading towards the tunnel.  Chalobah was one of the last to leave the field.  He had a very frustrating afternoon and was trudging away when the away end burst into a rousing chorus of “Chalobah, my lord.”  The youngster turned to face the fans with a beaming smile on his face.  It was good to know that we sent him home happy (and that was before he met Alice!).

It took a while for the away crowd to vacate the stand, the stewards were pleading with us to leave so that they could go home.  We headed back to the pub where we were joined by the victorious St Albans fans celebrating their position at the top of the National League South after a 100% start to their season.  We congratulated them and then returned to the reflections on our deserved win and impressive performance.  It had been another entertaining game.  Richarlison’s first start had built on his impressive debut as substitute the previous week.  He was certainly the man of the match.  The goal was typical of his hard work for the whole game, during which he never gave up.  At times last season the players appeared only to want to score perfect goals so to see a young Brazilian happy to score the scrappiest of strikes was a lovely contrast.  Andre Gray had an assist for the goal and had worked really hard, but was up against Aké who was tremendous and gave him very little space.  But the most pleasing aspect was the teamwork.  This looks like a group of lads who are playing for each other and their manager.  After the misery of the end of last season, that is just wonderful to see and bodes well for a terrific season.  The future certainly looks golden.

 

You Don’t Get Cramp at this Club

img_8679After the emotion of last week as we tried to come to terms with the loss of Graham Taylor, it felt a little odd to be attending a game of football where all that mattered was the result.  I must admit that I had downloaded last week’s Football Focus to my tablet for the train journey, so that I could watch the montage of his interviews that started the programme for one last time before it disappeared from iplayer.

On my arrival in Bournemouth, it was a short walk to the lovely pub that has become our local.  Most in there had Bournemouth shirts on, so it was gratifying when one of the locals came over and wished us luck.  He said that he was happy to see opposition fans there as it is a friendly pub.  As we chatted, it was clear that none of us was particularly confident about our prospects for the afternoon.  The reasons for that were fairly clear.  They had conceded three goals in their last three matches, and we have struggled horribly in front of goal.  On this afternoon, something had to give.

We thought that we had left plenty of time to get to the ground, but when we arrived we found a massive queue to get through the turnstiles, mostly because of the strict security.  As we discussed the possibility of missing kick-off, we consoled ourselves that we were unlikely to miss a Watford goal, although we could miss a sending off!  When I reached the stewards, my bag was searched a lot less thoroughly than I was.  I don’t know why, but Bournemouth always seems to attract the most unpleasant away crowd of the season and the rest of us suffer as a consequence.  So, having arrived at the ground with more than a quarter of an hour to kick-off, we finally entered through the turnstiles at 14:58.  My irritation was tempered by the sign outside the turnstiles welcoming us that showed a photo of Graham Taylor alongside their condolences.  This was replicated on the television screens inside, which was a really lovely touch.

Deeney and Okaka waiting for the ball

Deeney and Okaka waiting for the ball

Team news was just one change from the Middlesbrough game with Cleverley replacing the injured Behrami.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Kabasele, Cleverley, Doucouré, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney and Okaka.

The home side started very brightly and fashioned an early chance as Wilshere chipped a ball into the box which was met with a looping header from Fraser that had to be tipped over the bar by Gomes.  Callum Wilson has gained a reputation among Watford fans for simulation, so there were jeers from the away support when he went down in the box in the 16th minute.  Since he appeared to be in an offside position and there was minimal contact, the referee was having none of it.  Wilshere, who had made a superb start to the game, was the next to threaten the Watford goal as he unleashed a shot from distance, but Gomes was behind it and did well to parry.  Against the run of play, it was the visitors who took the lead.  A corner from Holebas was headed back across goal by Britos to Kabasele, who nodded it past Boruc in the Bournemouth goal.  After the excessively thorough search that I had undergone, it was extremely irritating to see three smoke bombs thrown on to the pitch.  This led to a gathering of stewards in front of our stand, one of whom was filming the crowd, although you couldn’t help thinking that he was a bit late to the show.

Deeney in a discussion with the ref which wasn't quite as confrontational as it appears

Deeney in a discussion with the ref which wasn’t quite as confrontational as it appears

The home side had been dominant before the goal, but Watford took the initiative at this point and had a great chance to increase the lead when Cleverley tried a shot from distance that flew just wide of the far post.  The Hornets very nearly gifted their hosts an equalizer as Prödl gave the ball away to Stanislas who advanced and struck a shot that bounced off Britos and was looping into the net until Gomes pulled off a decent save to keep it out.

So the Hornets reached half time a goal to the good and we were all feeling positive as it had been a much better performance than we have seen of late.

Sadly, the hosts drew level early in the second half as Smith beat a couple of defenders before hitting a cross through a crowd of defenders in the box where it was met with a tap in from King.  As has often been the case of late, it was a poor goal to give away.  Holebas tried to make amends at the other end as he cut inside before hitting a lovely shot that was turned around the post by Boruc.  Bournemouth threatened again as Wilshere found Fraser on the left of the box from where he hit a curling shot that was tipped around the post by Gomes.

Celebrating Deeney's header

Celebrating Deeney’s header

The first substitution came just after the hour mark, when Okaka made way for Janmaat.  At this point, Deeney took the forward position and Janmaat replaced him on the wing.  The change immediately paid dividends as, from a Cleverley corner, Deeney rose above the Bournemouth defence to head home.  As with the first Watford goal, it was totally against the run of play, but none of the Watford fans were complaining.  Despite having scored both goals from corners, Watford next tried a short corner routine as Holebas passed to Cleverley, which would have been fine had the loan man whipped a cross into the box, but he passed it back to Holebas who was soon dispossessed and had to foul the escaping Wilshere, so earning his tenth yellow card of the season, meaning he will be suspended for the next two games.  In the 72nd minute the travelling Hornets burst into applause and chants of “One Graham Taylor”.  Eddie Howe’s first substitutions came with 15 minutes to go as he replaced King and Stanislas with Ibe and Afobe.  There was a delay in play as the ball was hit into the away stand and some idiots there indulged in a bit of time wasting, first refusing to return the ball and then, when it was finally thrown towards the pitch, it was caught by another fan who threw it back into the crowd.

Waiting for a corner to be delivered

Waiting for a corner to be delivered

Bournemouth’s final substitution saw Pugh replace Fraser.  Just when it looked as though Watford would hold on for a rare away win, Kabasele went down with what appeared to be cramp, Surman played a through ball into the area that Kabasele should have been covering and Afobe ran on to it and finished past Gomes into the far corner.  GT would have been livid.  I certainly was.  After a spell of treatment, Kabasele was replaced by Cathcart and, a couple of minutes later, Ighalo came on for Doucouré.  The home side appeared to have snatched a last minute winner as a punched ball was headed in off the crossbar.  I thought that Gomes had punched the ball but, much to my relief, it had been Bournemouth’s Cook, so the goal was disallowed and the game finished with honours even.  A draw was probably a fair result and I would certainly have taken a point before the game, but, having lost the lead twice during the match, it felt like 2 points dropped.

While the defensive mistakes are still a cause for concern, this was a decent performance.  I was particularly pleased to see what Tom Cleverley added to the team.  When his return was mooted, I had seen some comments from Watford fans suggesting that if he couldn’t get into the Everton team, then we shouldn’t consider him.  I am glad that we did.  He was a joy to watch, acting as a midfield fulcrum with an assured touch, playing passes that allowed us to build momentum.  If you add to that his deliveries from set pieces, I think he will prove to be a great addition to the squad.  With his arrival and the likes of Janmaat returning from injury, I feel pretty confident for the rest of the season.

An Entertaining Draw with the Cherries

Awaiting a ball into the box

Awaiting a ball into the box

As we waited for the doors to open at the West Herts, we were thoroughly entertained by a fellow fan who knew Stuart Attwell’s father.  Apparently he had been a referee and encouraged his boys down that route rather than actually playing the game, which all sounded rather sad and explains a lot.  There was also a meeting of the Burnley survivors who reflected on their Monday evening.  It has to be said that those of us who gathered in the Cricket Club concluded that it had been a cracking evening until the football started.  However there was a lot of sympathy for Don, who had taken the coach, so he didn’t have the pre-match fun and wasn’t home until after 4am.  That certainly convinced me that spending a night in Burnley was the right decision.

In the run up to the match, there had been concern about widespread injuries to our defenders.  Also, after the Burnley defeat, a lot of fans were calling for Ighalo and Amrabat to be dropped, so Mazzarri’s selection was hotly anticipated.  It wasn’t a great surprise to hear that the only two changes were those enforced by injuries to Cathcart and Britos who made way for Zúñiga and Kaboul who, thankfully, was fit to play.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Zúñiga, Kaboul, Prödl, Holebas; Amrabat, Behrami, Capoue; Pereyra; Deeney and Ighalo.  Former loanee, Nathan Aké, was named on the Bournemouth bench and was given a very warm reception by the Watford fans.

Holebas takes a corner

Holebas takes a corner

There has been a lot of discussion recently about Watford wearing their change kit at away games on many occasions when there is no clash with the home team.  Those unhappy with this cite the fact that we have a very distinctive kit and lose some advantage when not playing in yellow, so it was interesting to note that the “Cherries” walked out at Vicarage road wearing blue.

Watford started the game well and had a very early chance as Deeney flicked the ball on to Ighalo whose instinctive shot flew wide of the far post.  There was then a bizarre incident as Prödl was knocked flying and punched the ball as he went down.  When Mike Dean blew the whistle the Watford fans were expecting a free kick to go our way, instead Bournemouth were awarded the free kick and Prödl was cautioned for deliberate hand ball.  Mazzarri was furious at the decision although, if the referee didn’t believe that there had been a foul, then deliberate hand ball was the correct decision.  It could have cost Watford dearly as Gomes had to be smart to tip the free kick clear.  Bournemouth’s first caution was earned by Wilshere for a cynical foul on Zúñiga.

Capoue takes a free kick

Capoue takes a free kick

Watford had another chance to open the scoring as Ighalo laid the ball back to Holebas, but the shot was well wide of the target.  I was rather surprised soon afterwards to see sarcastic celebrations from the Bournemouth fans on winning a free kick.  Given that the Rookery had witnessed a disproportionate amount of soft fouls being given against their team, seemingly every time one of the Bournemouth players dropped to the ground, it was a perfect example of how two sets of fans can see games completely differently.  Bournemouth took the lead just after the half hour as the Watford defence failed to stop a break down the right, Stanislas crossed and Wilson headed past Gomes, who will likely be disappointed as it appeared that he could have stopped the shot.  It was (another) frustrating goal to concede, made all the more annoying as Wilson decided to goad the crowd in the Rookery by way of celebration.  Watford had a great chance to equalize as Ighalo exchanged passes with Capoue, then did some good work holding the ball up before passing to Amrabat whose shot was saved by Boruc, the ball rebounded to the Dutchman but Boruc also saved the follow-up.  At the break in play, Smith was booked for a nasty foul on Holebas in the build-up.  There was a scare for the Hornets as Prödl allowed Wilson to win the ball, he passed back to Surman whose shot was, thankfully, well over the bar.  The visitors earned another caution, this time for Francis who had taken Capoue out.  Watford had a further chance to equalize in time added on at the end of the half, but Kaboul’s header was gathered by Boruc.

Deeney and Amrabat after the first goal

Deeney and Amrabat after the first goal

It had been a frustrating half, but the Watford performance was a considerable improvement on the Burnley game and I felt that we were unlucky to be behind.  Interestingly, Amrabat who had been berated on Monday and whose inclusion was rather unpopular was playing very well.

Watford made an excellent start to the second half as a free kick from Holebas was met with a header from Prödl that flew well wide of the target.  That was followed by a corner that Prödl headed on to Deeney who attempted a spectacular acrobatic kick that flew over the bar.  The Hornets were level soon after as Amrabat received a throw in before brilliantly beating a defender and skipping along the byline then cutting the ball back to Deeney who beat Boruc to score his 99th goal for the Hornets.  It was a gorgeous goal.  The visitors had a great chance to regain the lead almost immediately so it was a relief to see Wilshere’s shot hit the post.  Just before the hour, Isaac Success replaced Ighalo.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead as Amrabat crossed for Deeney whose header was saved on the line by Boruc.

Watson joins in the applause for Success

Watson joins in the applause for Success

We were then treated to another strange decision from Mike Dean as two Bournemouth players collided allowing Amrabat to come away with the ball, but the referee deemed the Dutchman to have committed a foul and awarded the visitors a free kick.  Eddie Howe made his first substitution bringing Josh King on for Jordan Ibe.  The substitute made an immediate impact, coming away with the ball after a mistake from Holebas, and going on a run before unleashing a shot from distance that took a deflection to beat Gomes.  It was very disappointing to be behind again when we’d made such a good start to the half.  But we weren’t behind for long.  A foul on Success led to a free-kick which was beautifully delivered by Holebas for the Nigerian to nod home.  Watford fans were celebrating taking the lead soon after as a terrific through ball from Amrabat found Pereyra who crossed for Deeney to head home.  I didn’t see the ball cross the line, but Mike Dean appeared to be signalling a goal.  Sadly, it soon became apparent that he had actually given a free kick for a foul by Deeney on Boruc.  Watford had another great chance soon after as a lovely move finished with a cross from Amrabat that flew a fraction in front of the head of Success.  At the other end Pereyra lost out to Smith, he crossed for Wilshere who hit the post for the second time and was substituted almost immediately, making way for Gosling.

Deeney and Amrabat challenging in the box

Deeney and Amrabat challenging in the box

Mazzarri’s second substitution saw Guedioura on for Capoue.  Given Bournemouth’s talent for winning penalties, my nerves were on edge when Smith was fouled on the edge of the area.  Thankfully, only a free kick was awarded, although Stanislas did manage to hit the crossbar.  Watford’s last chance to get a winner came as Pereyra played a wonderful crossfield ball to Success who controlled and found space before unleashing a shot which Boruc saved.  The final whistle went to appreciative cheers.

In the end a draw was probably a fair result.  The game had been pretty even and great entertainment, particularly in the second half.  While there was a lot of discussion of Mike Dean’s decision-making after the game, irritating as it was, it did not influence the result.  It has to be said that media darlings, Bournemouth, don’t get any more likeable on repeat viewing.  We seem to come away from every game angry at their gamesmanship, but they never get called on it.  Still, there were many positives to take from the game.  Amrabat, when allowed to concentrate on attacking, was a joy to behold.  He was a constant menace and his contribution to the first goal was a thing of beauty.  Success was wonderful to watch when he came on.  He is strong with a brilliant first touch, although I did comment to my neighbour that I wondered if he would be able to maintain that level of performance for ninety minutes.  Post-match comments from Mazzarri suggest that he is sceptical about that and has concerns about the lad’s defensive contributions.  But that is to be expected for a youngster and he certainly appears to be a very exciting prospect.

So we go into the international break in mid table and looking forward to the rest of the season.  Even if our next fixture does mean a Sunday lunchtime in Middlesbrough.

 

Yet Another Draw with the Cherries

Two Taylors

Two Taylors

After the cup win, we were back at Vicarage Road for a match against Bournemouth who, since our 6-1 win at the Vic in 2013, we have failed to beat in the league.  Not only that, there have been a number of incidents of gamesmanship in recent games that mean that the plucky underdogs are not well liked in our corner of Hertfordshire.  During our pre-match preparations in the West Herts, it was noted that one of the guest beers was “Win Win”.  We could only hope that was an omen.

During the week, there was a lot of upset amongst residents of the Upper GT at the news that they are all to be moved to provide extra seats for corporate hospitality.  It is an interesting decision to move (upset) all 1400 ST holders in that stand instead of only those in the blocks affected and does seem to be an unnecessary disruption.  As someone who is not a fan of the corporate seats at football (it is very telling that they don’t bother to announce the arrival of the teams for the second half in the lounge), my sympathies are with those who are being forcibly moved to accommodate the prawn sandwich brigade.  It would remain to be seen whether the anger expressed on social media would manifest itself in the form of some protest during the game.

Challenging at a corner

Challenging at a corner

Team news was that there were four changes from the cup game with Gomes, Aké, Behrami and Ighalo in for Pantilimon, Holebas, Suárez and Abdi.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Paredes, Behrami, Watson, Capoue, Deeney, Amrabat and Ighalo.  As the teams emerged prior to kick-off, Bournemouth’s shocking pink away kit was quite an assault on the senses.

There was a pleasing start to the game for the Hornets as Ighalo went on a run and beat a couple of players before unleashing a shot that was pushed over by Boruc.  Soon after, Paredes ran down the wing and crossed for Ighalo who volleyed wide.  At the other end, a clearance only got as far as Arter on the edge of the box who shot well wide.  Deeney played a one-two with Capoue before finding Amrabat, whose shot was deflected for the corner.  As previously mentioned, Bournemouth have not endeared themselves to Watford in recent games with their gamesmanship so there were angry shouts from the Rookery when Stanislaus pulled up with a hamstring strain, appeared to limp off before collapsing on the pitch a couple of feet from the dug-out, apparently on Howe’s instructions.  He was soon replaced by Gradel.  On the half hour, there was a promising break from Aké who crossed for Deeney whose shot flew over the bar.  In the last action of any note, in a half mostly devoid of incident, Capoue found Amrabat who won a corner from which Watson’s delivery was easily caught by Boruc.

Luther shows his trophy to the Rookery

Luther shows his trophy to the Rookery

After a lively start, it had been a half of very little action, the one shot on target coming from the Hornets.  Thankfully there was something to cheer us up during the interval.  Towards the end of the half, a chant of “One Graham Taylor” had gone up from the 1881.  The reason for this became apparent when GT and Luther were introduced so that “the Gaffer” could present Luther with an award as “Watford’s Favourite Son”.  The Bournemouth game was likely chosen for this as he is also very fondly remembered on the South Coast.  Tim had a few words with Luther during which he picked out the League Cup match at Old Trafford as his favourite, but couldn’t be drawn to choose a winner of today’s game.  After the presentation, Luther did a circuit of the pitch with his name ringing out throughout the stadium.  A heart-warming moment.

The first chance of the second half went to the visitors as a cross from Ritchie was volleyed over by King.  Then Aké found Amrabat whose cross was headed clear by Francis.  Paredes then showed a lovely piece of skill to beat his man on the wing before crossing for Amrabat, who looked odds on to score, but swung his leg and missed the ball completely.  At the other end, there was a decent chance for the visitors as Surman found Gradel who directed his shot over the bar.  Watford’s first substitution came just before the hour mark as Suárez replaced Capoue, who had a very poor game by his standards despite the loud chants of “We’ve got Capoue ….”  Perhaps the repeated claim that he’s better than Zidane is putting undue pressure on him.  The visitors had a great chance to take the lead as a shot from Arter appeared to be heading for the top corner but, as so often this season, Gomes came to the rescue with a superb one-handed save to keep it out.

Paredes takes a throw

Paredes takes a throw

Suárez played a lovely through ball to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  Then Aké exchanged passes with Amrabat before his cross was cut out.  Suárez tried a long pass to Ighalo, but Boruc was first to the ball.  Troy appeared to be fouled as he tried to reach a ball into the box but the referee penalized Deeney instead of the defender.  Watford really should have taken the lead on 67 minutes as Amrabat did well to skip past a defender on the by-line before delivering the perfect cross to Ighalo who was unmarked.  From where I sit, behind the goal in the Rookery, I could see Odion through the net and, when the ball was delivered, there seemed only one destination for the header but, unbelievably, it was directed over the bar.  Watford had another chance after Deeney was fouled on the edge of the box.  The free-kick was taken square by Watson to Deeney whose low shot flew wide of the target.  The same move was tried in the last game, with the same outcome, so I can only assume that this has been working in training.  Bournemouth had a decent chance with a cross from Daniels that Ritchie directed over the bar.  At the other end, a long distance volley from Aké cleared the target.  Bournemouth’s next substitution saw Gosling replaced Afobe.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead with quarter of an hour remaining as a Watson free kick reached Britos who shot just wide.   Soon after, a quick free kick found Ighalo who manoeuvred into position for a shot but hit it over the bar.

Cathcart and Cook challenge for a header

Cathcart and Cook challenge for a header

The first booking of the game came on 77 minutes for a foul by Watson on Gradel.  The referee had been blowing up for fouls every time a player went to the ground and was pretty consistent in that, but this did seem like a fairly run of the mill challenge and hardly worthy of a card.  From the free kick, the clearance went back to a Bournemouth player, so it was a relief to see Gomes finally gather.  A lovely ball towards Amrabat went begging as he lost sight of the ball, which was a shame as he was in a great position.  Gomes kept the Hornets in the game again as he pushed a header from Gradel clear.  Watford’s second change saw Abdi replacing Amrabat.  Almen’s first involvement was to be hacked down by Surman, who was, rightly, booked for the challenge.  There was anger in the home stands as a push on Paredes was ignored before a similar challenge on Gradel earned Cathcart a yellow card.  Gradel then did well to beat Paredes before unleashing a shot that Gomes turned over the bar.  The corner was delivered into the box, but Gomes rose to catch it and the game finished goalless.

The final whistle went to shrugs around Vicarage Road.  Watford shaded the first half and Bournemouth the second, but a draw was probably fair.  During the second half it felt like Gomes had saved the game for us, but both Ighalo and Amrabat had chances that they should have finished which would have guaranteed the three points.  Bournemouth had put in a good performance and, on this showing, both of the teams that gained automatic promotion last season should stay up, something that no pundit would have predicted in August.

So, while there was disappointment that we didn’t take all three points from this game, we remain 13 points clear of the relegation zone with 11 games left to play.  This season has delivered beyond our wildest dreams.  The annoyance at the relocation of the fans in the Upper GT did not lead to any obvious protests on Saturday and was tempered somewhat by the news that we can renew our season tickets for the same price as we paid last season.  Premier League football at Championship prices for the second year running was a very pleasant surprise, as was the retention of the 75 mile season tickets for current holders.  Well done to the Pozzos (and Scott Duxbury) for that decision.

A Tale of Two Goalkeepers

Luther Blissett, a hero to Hornets and Cherries alike

Luther Blissett, a hero to Hornets and Cherries alike

It has been a gorgeous week weather wise and, for once, I was only carrying a small bag, so I decided to leave my scarf at home.  Then I stepped out of my front door and felt the Autumn nip in the air, so went straight back indoors to collect it.  While on the train, I received a text from Toddy informing me that there was a beer festival at the pre-match pub of choice, so this rather lovely venue was enhanced with some great ciders.  My only disappointment was that I was not able to get a view of the antique urinals that were the talk of the males in the bar!  It was only a short walk to the ground and, on arrival, we mistakenly took the long way around to get to the away end.  Luckily this had the benefit of allowing us to walk past the wall of fame outside the ground and spot the picture of Luther.  A thing of beauty.

Team news was that Jurado was injured, so Anya slotted into his position and Aké started as full back.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Anya, Deeney, Abdi, Ighalo.  Pre-match the thoughts were of a couple of recent frustrating encounters memorable for two incorrect dismissals of Angella and some gamesmanship from the Cherries which left a sour taste in the mouth.

Bournemouth started the better of the two teams and were soon threatening the Watford goal.  Gomes comfortably caught an early cross from King, but then Murray was allowed a free header that he directed over the bar when he really should have got it on target.  A free kick from the right was easily gathered by Gomes before Cathcart got his body in the way to block a shot from King.

Anya holds off Daniels

Anya holds off Daniels

For the first 20 minutes, it was all Bournemouth, who were attacking at will while we were penned back in our own half.  In Watford’s first foray forward, a Nyom cross found Ighalo with his back to goal, he juggled the ball around until he was facing the right way, but was closed down before he could shoot.  A blocked shot from Capoue rebounded to King who sprinted upfield where he was stopped by a superb tackle by Cathcart.  Pugh was the next to threaten the Watford goal, but Gomes dropped to make an easy save.  The Bournemouth goal had been coming, but the manner of it was irritating in the extreme.  A cross came in from Ritchie, Murray rose to meet it and head past Gomes while Prödl, who appeared to be in a position to at least attempt to cut it out, stood and watched.  In contrast to last week when the Palace goal was met with a wall of encouraging noise from the Watford fans, there was an icy silence in the away stand.  However, the next attack of note did come from the visitors as Deeney played a one-two with Ighalo but, instead of shooting, he appeared to just pass the ball to a Bournemouth defender.

A blurred celebration, excuse my shaking hands

A blurred celebration, please excuse my shaking hands

The frustration was building in the away stand and there were boos as Capoue played the ball back to Prödl in our half.  There was some handbags as Murray went down dramatically after a coming together with Capoue which prompted a chorus of “Same old Bournemouth, always cheating.”  The home fans countered with “Championes” although, to be fair to them, it had taken them 40 minutes to crow.  Soon after, the same two players met again and, on this occasion, Capoue went flying and Murray was booked.  Watford scored a totally undeserved equalizer on the stroke of half time as Boruc received a back pass and, for some unfathomable reason, passed it to Ighalo who rounded him and slotted home.  It was a truly ridiculous goal which meant that, despite the dreadful performance of the Hornets in the first half, they left the pitch to cheers at the break.

The home side were first out of the dressing room at the start of the second half and there were loud cheers from the travelling Hornets for Boruc as he took his place in goal.  The Hornets retook the field having made no changes in personnel and my heart sank.

Challenging for an incoming ball at a corner

Challenging for an incoming ball at a corner

The first incident of the half was a lovely tackle from Aké which, because Ritchie went down hard, earned him a talking to from the referee.  As Michael Oliver lectured the youngster, Troy Deeney was standing by his side shaking his head.  Five minutes into the half Murray was allowed another free header, but this time Gomes gathered.  Ighalo received the ball on the left of the Bournemouth box, feinted a couple of times before dribbling past the defender, but his shot was turned behind for a corner.  From the set piece the ball dropped to Watson whose shot rebounded off the crossbar and came out to Abdi on the left who shot well wide of the far post.  I don’t know what Flores did at half time, because there were no changes in personnel, but whether it was a rocket or an arm around the collective shoulders it worked as, suddenly, Watford were playing with confidence, snapping into tackles, closing the Bournemouth players down and generally competing in a way that they hadn’t earlier on.  During the first half, the fans around us had moaned incessantly (for good reason), but nine minutes into the second period the travelling Hornets were so encouraged that they started bouncing.

Anya with a throw in

Anya with a throw in

On 55 minutes, the Bournemouth fans had planned a minute’s applause for Mick Cunningham, a former club photographer and programme editor who recently passed away.  As his photo was displayed on the big screen, those in the home stands rose to applaud and were joined by enthusiastic applause from the Watford fans.  While this was happening, Anya went storming through the middle, played the ball out to Ighalo who crossed back for Anya but he could only head wide.  Deeney and Ighalo exchanged passes, but the ball was taken off Troy’s feet before he could shoot.  An Abdi free kick was headed out only as far as Ben Watson whose shot was blocked.  Then Abdi released Anya, who was one on one with the keeper, but Boruc managed to block the shot and put it out for a corner.  Murray then broke forward but, seeing the Watford defence marshalled in front of him, could only attempt a shot from distance that was straight at Gomes.  Watford’s first substitution saw Ibarbo replacing Nyom.  Abdi found Ighalo who tumbled on the edge of the box, but nothing was given.  The Nigerian was then in action at the other end as he charged down Ritchie’s shot following a short free kick.  Back on duty in attack, his next shot was poor and wide of the target.

Gomes looking unbelievably calm after his heroics

Gomes looking unbelievably calm after his heroics

An injury meant that Anya had to be substituted, he was replaced by Paredes.  The hosts threatened as Francis was allowed to break forward and cross for Murray whose header was just wide of the target.  They had an even better chance soon after as the ball fell to Cook on the edge of the box where he launched an audacious overhead kick that was heading for the top corner until Gomes pulled off a superb save.  It appeared that Heurelho’s heroics were to be for nothing as the inevitable Bournemouth penalty was awarded.  The first player to tumble in the box had his appeal waved away by Michael Oliver and, when Capoue and Smith came together I was confident that the free kick would go our way, but the referee pointed to the spot.  Murray stepped up to take it but there were to be more heroics from Gomes as he saved the penalty before Cathcart cleared the rebound.  The resulting corner was punched clear by Gomes, Gosling’s follow-up flew wide and the travelling Hornets could breathe again.  As Watford also pushed for a winner, Ighalo played the ball back to Abdi, but his shot was blocked.

Ake about to go in for a challenge

Ake about to go in for a challenge

In the last minute of normal time, O’Kane cut inside and shot goalwards but it was an easy stop for Gomes.  Watford’s last chance for a winner was a free-kick from distance from which Abdi decided to go for goal but hit it wide of the target.  Guedioura came on in the last minute of time added on to replace Abdi.  The game finished with honours even and the name of Heurelho Gomes ringing out in the away stand.

It was a classic game of two halves.  We had been completely woeful in the first period, Bournemouth having most of the possession and any time that Watford did pass the ball forward, it was swept up by the Bournemouth defence.  In the second half, we were snapping in to tackles and not allowing the opposition to have any time on the ball while our balls upfield were finding their men with Ighalo and Deeney finally having some success in holding the ball up.  Bournemouth won’t have won any more friends among the Watford faithful as they lived up to their reputation for theatrics.  But a draw was a fair result and I was more than happy to leave with a point.

All the way home I found myself suddenly bursting into song, alternating “Heurelho Gomes baby” with “Lo, lo, lo,lo Quique Sanchez Flores.”  Great stuff.

Frustration on the South Coast

Jon and Rene in the media area

Jon and Rene in the media area

A Friday night game in Bournemouth meant that I had to take the morning off work to travel and then spend the afternoon in my hotel room calling into work teleconferences.  All of that ensured that there was no time for a walk on the beach, which was rather sad.  But the pub of choice in Bournemouth was delightful even if the cider was a little strong.

Team news was that there were two changes from the magnificent win over Blackpool with Munari and Watson replacing Paredes and Vydra.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Tözsér, Watson, Munari, Layun, Deeney and Ighalo.  As we took our place in the stand, I was surprised to see that we were adjacent to the press area and that Jon and Rene were required to commentate on the game while sitting between the banks of home and away fans.

Layun's extensive pre-match prayer

Layun’s extensive pre-match prayer

We’d been looking forward to this game all week, but it went horribly wrong in the first minute when Kermorgant dispossessed Tözsér, played Miller in and Angella took the escaping player down.  The whistle went and the Bournemouth players surrounded the referee who emerged brandishing a red card.  It seemed very harsh, especially as Cathcart was covering.  You have to wonder what the sea air does to referees facing Angella.  Although, at least on this occasion, he wasn’t dismissed for his remarkable resemblance to Fitz Hall!!!  With such an early dismissal, it felt like the game was over already.  Kermorgant took the free-kick himself which deflected off the wall for a corner from which Pugh headed over.  Watford rejigged the defence with Layun and Anya dropping into a back four.  Bournemouth threatened immediately with a curling cross from Ritchie that was palmed away by Gomes.  Then Deeney broke down the other end and played the ball out to Anya who shot wide of the far post.  The lovely Ighalo then indulged in a spell of showboating to cheer up the travelling Hornets.  Bournemouth threatened again as Ritchie cut inside and shot wide.

06 - Ighalo tries to beat FrancisBut Watford also had chances as Ighalo fed Munari who tried a shot from distance which was blocked.  Then Anya floated a high cross into the box that was caught by Boruc.  The home side had a great chance to take the lead in the 24th minute, but Kermorgant’s shot rebounded off the crossbar.  A great run from Deeney was stopped by Cook who only received a yellow card for the offence, which was greeted with anger from the Watford fans.  From Tözsér’s free-kick, the ball broke to Watson who shot just wide.  Soon after, the ball flew into the Watford crowd signalling a Bournemouth throw.  The away fans decided to indulge in a spot of volleyball and showed no sign of giving the ball back, so Ighalo came over and requested that it be returned in such an endearing manner that the ball was immediately thrown back onto the pitch.  With 10 minutes remaining in the half, Wilson was tripped by Cathcart in the box and the referee pointed to the spot.  With the team down to 10 men and working their socks off, a penalty against us seemed just cruel.  Kermorgant made no mistake from the spot to give the home side the lead.  Arter was very lucky not to follow Angella to the dressing rooms as a two-footed tackle on Munari was deemed worthy of only a yellow card.  Bournemouth had another goal chance but Wilson’s header flew wide of the far post.  Watford could have been in further trouble as Gomes parried a cross, but Cathcart was on hand to put it out for a corner that was easily gathered by the keeper.

When the half time whistle went, there were loud boos from the Watford fans targeting the referee for his appalling decision in sending Angella off.

Deeney and Ighalo waiting for a corner

Deeney and Ighalo waiting for a corner

At the start of the second half, Munari made way for Pudil, allowing Anya to move to the right and Layun to move up to the midfield.  Bournemouth had a good chance to increase their lead on 50 minutes as a Cathcart clearance fell to Ritchie who shot wide of the target.  At the other end a shot from distance by Tözsér was caught by Boruc.  Bournemouth increased their lead in the 56th minute as Ritchie received the ball on the right of the box and buried it in the far corner.  As much as it pains me to say it, it was a quality goal.  Watford tried to hit back as Ighalo played a through ball for Deeney, but he was tackled before he could shoot.  A lovely Bournemouth move finished with a shot from Francis that Gomes dropped to smother.  It looked as if Bournemouth would increase their lead with a powerful header from Kermorgant that Gomes did brilliantly to push wide.

Tozser and Layun line up a free kick

Tozser and Layun line up a free kick

Jokanovic made his second substitution bringing Vydra on for Ighalo.  I must say that I didn’t see that coming.  Bournemouth threatened again with a low shot from Francis that was gathered by Gomes.  Ritchie tested the Watford keeper again, but Gomes was equal to his shot.  Watford had a rare attack as Vydra played a square ball to Deeney who shot wide of the far post.  Bournemouth’s final attack started with a push on Anya that should have been penalised, but they broke forward resulting in a shot that needed another excellent save from Gomes.  In injury time, Mensah replaced Deeney, presumably for some first team experience.  After the final whistle, the Watford players all came over to thank the Watford fans who had continued to sing in support of their team for the entire 90 minutes.

We went into this game anticipating an exciting top of the table clash.  The sending off in the first minute meant that we will never know whether we could have overcome Bournemouth with eleven men.  With the game being changed to Friday evening for television, it also meant that most fans attending had to take time off work and possibly find accommodation for the night due to the lack of public transport home after the game.  In these circumstances, when a refereeing  decision has such an impact on the outcome of the game, you feel doubly cheated.  Let’s hope that we can take this anger into next week’s game.

A Lunchtime Stalemate

The teams (and mascots) emerge from the tunnel

The teams (and mascots) emerge from the tunnel

I hate lunchtime kick-offs.  I missed the Blackpool game due to work commitments on the other side of the Atlantic, but drew the line at taking the red-eye on Friday night and travelling straight to Vicarage Road.  However, even after a night’s sleep in my own bed, I was not impressed at having to leave home earlier than I do for most away games.  There is then the confusion about whether coffee, tea or beer should accompany your pre-match brunch.  I’d had a coffee on the train, so the beer won that argument.

In the absence of our hospitalized manager (get well soon, Òscar), Ruben Martinez was in charge for the day.  There were three changes from the Blackpool game with injuries to Angella and Deeney meaning that Tamas and Dyer deputized and Murray was preferred to McGugan.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Pudil, Tamas, Ekstrand, Paredes, Murray, Tözsér, Abdi, Dyer, Vydra, Anya.  Rather surprisingly, Gomes was given the captain’s armband.

Wilson shielding the ball from Ekstrand

Wilson shielding the ball from Ekstrand

The game did not start well for the home side.  Bournemouth had chance in the first minute as the ball fell to Ritchie in the box but he shot wide of the target.  In the second minute Wilson, with the help of a hefty shove, beat Tamas to get into the box where Tamas returned the shove and conceded a penalty.  Fortunately Harte hit the spot kick wide of the target.  I can only speculate on how much those in the Rookery who were waving, trying to put him off, contributed to the miss.  Watford’s first foray forward was a ball over the top from Murray which Vydra could not control and the chance was lost.  A free-kick from Tözsér found Murray at the far post but his header was over the bar.  Watford looked in trouble as the ball bounced around our box, but Ekstrand finally cleared.  Pudil played a lovely through ball to release Dyer, he crossed for Vydra but the Czech could not connect.  Stanislas cut in from the left and hit a low shot but Gomes was down to gather easily.

Boruc gathers with Cathcart challenging

Boruc gathers with Cathcart challenging

At the other end, Tözsér played a ball over the top to Vydra who spun and knocked it goalwards, but Boruc was equal to it.  Ritchie was the next to threaten for the visitors, but his shot was well over the bar.  Just before the half hour, Tamas went down injured.  As soon as Kevin the physio reached him, he signalled for a substitute at which point some morons in the Watford crowd actually cheered.  Tamas had been having a bad day, but to cheer a nasty injury to a player beggars belief.  After a long delay for treatment, he was stretchered off and replaced by Cathcart, making his second debut for Watford.  With 10 minutes to go to half time, the ball dropped to Pudil on the edge of the area from where he shot just wide of the near post.  Dyer went on a great run before playing the ball in to Vydra, but Cook made a great saving tackle to thwart him.  Bournemouth really should have taken the lead as Francis broke into the box and chipped the ball over to Wilson whose header was flying into the net until Gomes appeared out of nowhere to make a terrific save.  As the half time whistle went, a suited and booted Troy Deeney got up from the dugout to give his opinion on the first period to Sky Sports.  We’d missed him desperately on the pitch.

Troy on TV duty when we needed him on the pitch

Troy on TV duty when we needed him on the pitch

Early in the second half, the visitors had the ball in the net as a clearance from Ekstrand reached Surman whose shot was parried by Gomes to Wilson who knocked it past the keeper, but the flag was up for offside.  Gomes had to stretch to keep out a free-kick from Harte, Ritchie’s follow-up was blocked.  Watford’s second substitution saw Forestieri replacing Dyer, who did not look happy to be leaving the field so Martinez went to the dugout to put a consoling arm around him.  Anya whipped in a cross that was headed goalwards by Vydra, Boruc caught the ball but Anya had been flagged offside anyway.  We’d just had a decent spell in the game when we went behind as Arter unleashed a brilliant shot from 25 yards into the top corner.  A Tözsér free-kick was blocked and bounced to Forestieri whose shot was also blocked.

Paredes covering Pugh

Paredes covering Pugh

Forestieri then went on a run down the right that was stopped when Cook flew into him.  For some baffling reason, Arter decided to remonstrate with Fernando and there was a spell of handbags after which Cook received a yellow card for the nasty tackle, while Tözsér and Surman were similarly punished for the follow-on.  Tözsér took a free-kick that was headed out for a corner.  The follow-up was bouncing around in the box, but no Watford player could get a decent touch to send the ball goalwards.  It was clearly open season on Forestieri as Arter took his turn to knock him flying and make his way into the referee’s book.  With 20 minutes remaining, Ighalo replaced Abdi.  Anya found Murray whose shot was blocked by Ighalo who was unable to turn and finish.  Forestieri tried a shot from distance that was well over.  Anya did well to beat two players on the left wing, his first cross was blocked, his second attempt went begging due to a lack of Watford players in the box.  We had a strong shout for a penalty as Tözsér played a ball to Anya in the box where he was felled but the referee waved play on.

Cathcart congratulated on his goal

Cathcart congratulated on his goal

Our equalizer came from an unexpected source as a headed clearance fell to Cathcart who volleyed past Boruc.  It was an excellent strike from Cathcart whose debut had been very impressive indeed.  Anya crossed for Vydra whose shot was more of a cross which was met by Forestieri flying through the air with his arm outstretched.  If you weren’t there, it is really hard to describe this move except to say that Fernando reminded me of Christopher Reeve as Superman.  He really should have avoided the yellow card due to the shear comedy value.  Anya found Pudil on the overlap but his cross was straight into the arms of Boruc.  We had a great chance to win the game as Forestieri passed to Ighalo in the box, but his shot was weak and straight at the keeper and he turned to find Fernando indicating that he should have passed it back to him.  As the clock struck 90 minutes, Elphick hauled Vydra to the ground and was booked.  The last action of the game came when the ball fell to Ekstrand who wellied it over from distance.  It had been a very disappointing afternoon with the highlight being a tremendous performance from the returning Cathcart topped off with a terrific goal.

On the way out of the ground, I bumped into a lovely family that I know whose children had been mascots for the day.  The children were beaming as their Mum told me how well they’d been looked after, particularly by Ikechi Anya who had gone above and beyond in looking after his charge.  After a disappointing afternoon, that put a huge smile on my face.