Tag Archives: Adlene Guedioura

A Dismal Afternoon at the Den

Ben Watson leading the team out at the Den

Ben Watson leading the team out at the Den

When this game was moved for television, the potential for a good sized crowd immediately disappeared.  It is an easy enough journey from Watford, but a midday kick-off on a Sunday in January is enough to make most people opt for the sofa.  So I was delighted (and not a little proud) when my niece said she would join us.  Especially as it wasn’t even a new ground for her.

I had been pleased to hear the announcement earlier in the week that the controversial compulsory purchase order by Lewisham Council relating to land around the New Den that would have threatened Millwall’s future residence had been abandoned.  So it was rather sad to go there and see the stands so sparsely populated.

Before the game, Mazzarri had been reported as saying that he would make 11 changes if he could.  In fact, he made 7, a great chance for some of the fringe players to make a case for more game time.  The starting line-up was Pantilimon; Kaboul, Mariappa, Britos; Djédjé, Doucouré, Watson, Guedioura, Mason; Okaka and Sinclair.  I was pleased to see Watson back in the team, as well as Mariappa making his second debut.  The tannoy announcer decided to make a big deal of the fact that he would struggle with all the foreign names in the Watford team, although pretending to struggle with Costel Pantilimon was rather lame.  This, and a repeated request for the lads to bring their ladies to the Den on Valentines Day, felt like a throwback to the 80s.

Mason and Onyedinma tangle

Mason and Onyedinma tangle

Before kick-off, there was some discussion among our party of the 6-1 win, which it is hard to believe was in 2010.  I missed that game due to a work trip to Tokyo (I’m still seething).  The pessimist in me couldn’t help but say that we wouldn’t get a similar result.

The Hornets took the kick-off, but almost immediately Millwall launched a counter-attack through Morison whose cross was met with a strike from Gregory that, thankfully, rebounded off the crossbar.  The fear at this point was that 6-1 was a possibility, but that it would favour the home side.  This fear grew as a corner was headed off the line by Mariappa.  Then a shot from Craig took a nasty deflection causing Pantilimon to have to tip it over the bar.  The resulting corner was headed just wide by Cooper.  The first goal attempt from the visitors didn’t come until the 16th minute with a shot from distance from Guedioura that flew well wide.  The Algerian came closer soon after with a free-kick that took a slight deflection before hitting the outside of the post.  Okaka was having a torrid afternoon, going down far too easily under challenges by players he should have been able to shrug off.  The home crowd decided to join in the persecution with a chant of “You’re just a fat Danny Shittu!”  Sinclair should have done better after breaking into the box, but fell over as he attempted to shoot, his pleas for a penalty were waved away.

Gones takes a goal kick

Gones takes a goal kick

With 10 minutes of the half remaining there was a mix up as Britos played the ball back to Pantilimon, Gregory nipped in and, in the scramble to clear, the keeper was injured and Mariappa’s intervention had the home crowd screaming for a penalty for handball.  The Millwall fans lived up to their vile reputation chanting ‘let him die’ as the clearly injured Pantilimon was helped on to a stretcher.  Gomes took his place in goal and was called into action almost immediately to stop a shot from Gregory.  From the corner, Morison headed goalwards, but Guedioura was on hand to head the ball off the line.

It had been a frustrating first half.  The visitors had the bulk of the play but failed to test Archer in the Millwall goal.  The Watford players were spending far too much time passing the ball around, while Millwall launched pacy counter attacks and actually looked like scoring.

The home side started the second half in a similar manner to the first with a shot from Gregory that just cleared the bar.  At the other end there was a decent chance as a cross from Djédjé was diverted goalwards by Cooper, but Archer made the save.

Okaka knocked off the ball

Okaka struggling with the Millwall approach

Watford had another chance when Mason crossed from the opposite wing, but Okaka just failed to connect.  The Italian then felt that he was pulled back as he challenged for a cross from Guedioura and complained loudly to the referee or anyone else who would listen.  By this point, he should have worked out that he was going to have to fight his own battles as the referee wasn’t going to help him.  In the build-up Djédjé had gone down injured and the Millwall fans continued their charm offensive cheering as a stretcher was brought on to the pitch.  Thankfully it wasn’t needed and nor was Janmaat who had readied to come on.  From a Kaboul cross, Okaka again appeared to be held down allowing the keeper to punch clear.  Half way through the second period, Djédjé did make way for Janmaat.  He hadn’t had the best of games, so it was to be hoped that the Dutchman would provide more of an attacking threat.  An attempt by Sinclair to break into the box was stopped by an excellent tackle on the edge of the area.  Jerome was replaced soon after by Deeney, whose name had been sung with some enthusiasm as he warmed up.  Troy was involved almost immediately as he headed a ball from Watson goalwards, but it was a fairly easy catch for Archer.  Mason then went flying into a tackle and was lucky only to see a yellow card.  Then a bit of pinball in the area finished with a save from Gomes.

The return of Mariappa

The return of Mariappa

Just as we were contemplating a replay at Vicarage Road, a cross reached Morison in the box and he finished through the legs of Gomes.  The home side were celebrating a second soon after as a corner was bundled home by Wallace, but it was ruled out for handball.  The home side had one final attempt to finish the game as Wallace tried a shot from distance, but Gomes was equal to it.  There was a flurry of activity as the visitors tried to equalize, first through a header from Deeney that was caught by Archer.  Then, in time added on, Troy looked sure to score with only the keeper to beat, but a last ditch intervention from Webster allowed him to block the shot and the Hornets were out of the cup.

The final whistle was met with loud boos from the travelling fans.  It had been a shocking performance mostly due to a distinct lack of effort.  Despite having the majority share of possession, they had managed only a single shot on target.  The players drafted in had not impressed.  Okaka couldn’t cope with the physical attentions of the Millwall players which, for a man of his stature, is just shocking.  Sinclair was anonymous and Djédjé offered little.  Guedioura put in more effort than most, but his execution was found wanting.  Watson, Mason and Mariappa were the only ‘fringe’ players that didn’t let themselves down.  It wasn’t until Deeney came on that Watford really threatened the Millwall goal.  Given the quality of the team that was selected, that is just unacceptable.  The action that summed up the afternoon for me was when a Millwall attack broke down with many of their players committed forward.  Instead of immediately breaking downfield, the Watford players decided to play the ball about between themselves giving the opposition plenty of time to regroup.  Having watched Millwall threaten on the counter all afternoon, you do have to wonder.

Next up a trip to Arsenal on Tuesday.  I’m dreading it.

A Spirited Performance Spoiled by Defensive Lapses

The teams emerge from the tunnel in Stoke

The teams emerge from the tunnel in Stoke

Memories of the recent dreadful performance at Vicarage Road against the Potters and the capitulation to Spurs on Sunday meant that I set off on my journey to Stoke with no hope of any pleasure to be gained from the evening’s entertainment.  But the afternoon started rather well, as I unexpectedly encountered a friend at Euston so we spent a very pleasant journey chatting about our various activities over the Christmas period.

The designated pre-match pub (for the two of us) had signs on the doors indicating that it was home fans only.  However, a previous visit had shown that they did not enforce this terribly strictly.  This was very pleasing as the real ale, the food and the atmosphere were all first class and it was no surprise that it was soon populated with familiar faces from our travels.  We decided to take the bus to the ground which, due to traffic, seemed to be within touching distance of the stadium lights for quite some time before we were dropped off.  Once in the ground, I donned my Watford regalia (scarf, shirt and socks) and was wrapped up warm at a stadium notorious for being cold at the best of times.  The pre-match flag wavers around the ground were not kitted out in Stoke uniforms, but appeared to be a random selection of local children in colourful coats and bobble hats which was rather nice.

Kabasele and Kaboul

Kabasele and Kaboul

Team news was that Mazzarri had made three changes from Sunday with Cathcart and Ighalo replaced by Britos and Kabasele, and Behrami, who was rumoured still to be carrying an injury, taking the place of the (presumably more severely) injured Amrabat.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Kabasele, Britos; Doucouré, Guedioura, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney.  The chants in the concourse prior to the game were all about parking the bus.  Whatever the tactics, we needed to see a far more committed performance than on Sunday.

The news that Behrami was starting, injured or not, had me punching the air and that reaction was justified as soon as he took the pitch as he was immediately organizing and harrying the players.  We really miss him when he is not there.  But the first chance of the game fell to Stoke as Crouch headed wide after a corner.  Watford’s first shot came from a Guedioura free kick that was repelled to Holebas who, unfortunately, launched his effort over the bar.  The home side were almost gifted a goal due to a misunderstanding between Behrami and Prödl, who went for the same ball then left it for each other allowing Allen to sneak in and feed Arnautovic who went on a dangerous run into the area where he was stopped by a great tackle from Britos.

Capoue and Guedioura line up a free kick

Capoue and Guedioura line up a free kick

The first card of the game went to Diouf who stopped a break from Holebas by pulling him to the ground.  A great header from Kabasele reached Prödl who battled his way into the box, but his shot flew harmlessly across the front of the goal.  There were loud appeals from the away stand for a penalty as a cross from Kabasele appeared to be handled in the box, but the referee waved play on.  There was a scary moment for the Hornets as a header from Crouch was parried by Gomes and ricocheted off Behrami back in the direction of the goal before it was finally cleared.  At the other end, there was a gilt-edged opportunity for the visitors as a lovely through ball from Holebas reached Doucouré in space but, instead of going for goal, he hesitated before cutting the ball back to Guedioura and the chance was lost.  I was becoming increasingly frustrated at this point as the lads seemed to be determined to score the perfect goal when taking a shot would at least give us a chance of scoring.  With four minutes to go to half time Behrami, who had been limping for a while, went down in need of treatment.  On a number of occasions this season, it has taken far too long for the substitute to get ready to replace an injured player.  In this instance, Ighalo was stripped and ready on the touchline before Behrami had left the field, only for Valon to turn around and come back on leaving Odion to return to the bench.  Just as it appeared that the game would reach half-time goalless, the Watford defence fell asleep at a corner and Shawcross was given the freedom of the area to finish past Gomes.  It was almost the last kick of the half as the whistle went straight after the restart.  I braced myself for the crowd’s reaction to this setback and was very pleased that as the players walked towards the tunnel, which was in the corner in front of us, they were greeted by loud, encouraging applause and chants of “Watford FC.”

Guedioura 'assisting' Holebas at a corner

Guedioura ‘assisting’ Holebas at a corner

The goal felt like a real kick in the teeth after a very even half in which my major criticism of the team was that they were reluctant to shoot when getting a sight of the goal.  With all the injury woes, the players didn’t deserve that.

As expected, Ighalo replaced Behrami at the start of the second half which began brilliantly for the visitors as Doucouré unleashed a terrific curling shot that Grant did really well to keep out of the net.  Sadly, Watford were two goals down a couple of minutes later as a routine cross into the box was inexplicably missed by Prödl and Crouch, lurking behind him, had an easy finish.  The crowd’s frustration started to build in the away end.  Their ire was particularly provoked by the corner routine that consisted of a second player standing just in from the touchline, but playing no role in the delivery which was launched straight into the box.  I can only assume that the tactic was designed to draw defenders out of the box, but the single defender standing just outside the box didn’t seem to create any advantage that would outweigh the presence of another Watford head to meet the corner.

Folivi joins his team mates waiting for a corner

Folivi joins his team mates waiting for a corner

In contrast to the reaction on Sunday after conceding, Watford heads did not go down and they were making every effort to pull a goal back.  From a free kick, Capoue played a short ball to Guedioura whose powerful shot was blocked.  Then Kaboul played a through ball to Deeney who crossed for Ighalo, but the Nigerian’s shot was into a group of Stoke defenders.  Each side made a substitution at the half way mark in the second period with Afellay replacing Diouf for the home side and Sinclair coming on for Guedioura for the visitors.  With 20 minutes to go, there were chances at both ends as a decent free-kick from Holebas had to be punched clear by Grant and then a lovely shot from Stoke substitute, Afellay, curled just wide of the near post.  Stoke had a great chance of a third as a cross was headed down by Crouch to Walters, but Gomes smothered the shot.  Watford then had a couple of great chances of their own as Capoue’s corner was met with a header from Sinclair that was cleared off the line, Capoue sent the ball back in to the box and this time it was headed just wide by Prödl.  Then a punched clearance from Grant was headed down by Deeney to Igahlo whose shot was disappointingly weak and easily saved.  Mazzarri’s final change saw Folivi come on in place of Prödl.  In the times that I have seen Folivi play for the U18s and development teams, I have enjoyed watching him, so was delighted to see him make his debut for the first team, although it was under very difficult circumstances.  From pre-match songs about parking the bus, the travelling faithful were now extolling the benefits of having four strikers on the pitch.  Sadly it wasn’t to lead to a change in fortunes in front of goal.  The final chances of the game fell to the home side as Walters got the wrong side of Holebas and bore down on goal before Gomes made an excellent save to deny him.  From the resulting corner, Shawcroft fired wide.

Folivi leaves the pitch after his debut

Folivi leaves the pitch after his debut

There was disappointment at the final whistle.  Unusually Mazzarri applauded and waved to the crowd as he left the pitch, although the position of the tunnel right in front of us was likely the prime reason for this.  The players looked despondent but many of them showed their appreciation by giving their shirts to some of the travelling fans.  The post-match reaction among those that travelled was generally positive.  The team had picked itself due to the dearth of fully fit players.  Mazzarri also admitted that he had played Behrami knowing that he wasn’t fully fit but, assuming that it doesn’t mean a lengthier lay-off for the player, it was a gamble worth taking as he brings leadership and organization to the midfield that has been lacking in recent weeks and he ran his socks off.  Doucouré was also a different player when in the position that he was expecting to play, and he fashioned Watford’s best chances of the game.  The disappointing thing was that, yet again, we were punished for a couple of defensive mistakes.  No tactical game plan can overcome a lapse in concentration.  Still, we asked for a reaction after the Tottenham game and we certainly got what we asked for as there was no lack of effort among the players on show.

We now have a couple of weeks to regroup as it is likely that the Burton game will see more of the youngsters given a chance.  We have some tricky fixtures coming up, so both players and supporters need to band together to get through this sticky patch.  With the transfer window open, hopefully we can bring some players in to make up for some of the longer term injuries.  But I truly believe that a positive support from the stands is an essential element and it is the only thing that the fans can do to help the team so let us all make this our new year’s resolution.

A Miserable Start to 2017

Amrabat launches a throw-in

Amrabat launches a throw-in

My Watford family suffered a very sad loss this week, so the pre-match gathering was rather subdued.  But as we reminisced about happier times spent with someone who was always the life and soul of a party, there was laughter and glasses were raised to toast a life well lived.

With all the injuries that Watford have suffered recently, there were questions as to who would start and it was no surprise to hear that Doucouré would make his first league start of the season in place of Behrami and that three youngsters had been named on the bench.  There were three other changes to the team with Cathcart in for the suspended Britos, Deeney returning in place of Janmaat and Zúñiga preferred to Ighalo.  By the time the warm up had finished, an injury to Zúñiga meant that Ighalo was restored to the team and Folivi had been added to the substitutes.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Cathcart; Amrabat, Doucouré, Capoue, Guedioura, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.

Guedioura lines up a free kick

Guedioura lines up a free kick

The first chance of the game fell to Son whose shot from outside the box was saved by Gomes.  There were claims for a penalty as a shot from Erikson hit Capoue’s arm in the Watford box, but it had been a close range strike and was definitely ball to hand.  The first twenty minutes were pretty even and we looked to be in for a quiet afternoon, then the visitors began to get the upper hand.  The first chance fell to former Watford loanee, Rose, who shot well over the bar.  Eriksen was the next to threaten with a shot from wide on the right that flew over the bar.  The visitors came closer to scoring as Guedioura gave the ball away to Son who fed Dele whose shot rebounded off the crossbar.  But it was only a brief stay of execution as Spurs took the lead with the next move as Trippier fed Kane who finished from a tight angle.  The visitors were two up soon after with the same two players combining, this time Kane volleyed home from close range.  Spurs had another great chance from a free kick, but Son’s shot was just wide.  The third goal came just before half time as Kaboul gave the ball away to Dele who finished past Gomes.  The half time whistle was greeted with boos from the home fans.  I didn’t join in, but couldn’t help sharing the sentiment.  The first 20 minutes had been fairly even, but once Spurs had scored, Watford had been dreadful.

Brandon Mason's performance was a lot better than this photo

Brandon Mason’s performance was a lot better than this photo

The second half started disastrously as Kane crossed for Dele who finished with no defence in sight.  At this point two of the guys in front of us left, I doubt they were the only ones.  They actually missed a decent Watford move as Doucouré played a lovely square ball to Deeney, but he was tackled before he could shoot.  Kane found Dele again, but this time the shot was wide of the target.  There was another decent chance for the Hornets to pull one back as Deeney played the ball back to Ighalo, but the Nigerian shot wide of the target.  Just after the hour, Dele was replaced by Winks to a sigh of relief from me at least.  Soon after, Ighalo was tripped in the box, but the referee waved play on.  Watford’s first substitution saw Brandon Mason come on to make his debut in place of Holebas.  At the same time Davies replaced Rose for Tottenham.  The Watford youngster got a great reception and his first action in the game was to put in a nice challenge on Son in the box, coming away with the ball (a rarity on this afternoon).  The next Watford substitution came as Amrabat limped off to be replaced by Sinclair.  Gomes was called into action as he stopped a shot from Son.  There were two final substitutions as Kabasele came on for Capoue and Janssen replaced Kane for the visitors.

The goal celebration tells you all you need to know about the game

The goal celebration tells you all you need to know about the game

Late on, Watford had two decent chances to reduce the deficit.  First a Guedioura free kick was headed back by Kaboul but Lloris claimed the ball.  There had been so little to applaud from the Hornets that this effort was cheered as if it had gone in.  A cross from Deeney was dropped by Lloris under a challenge from Sinclair, the ball was cleared before it trickled into the net, but the whistle had gone for a foul anyway.  Finally there was a great break from Deeney which finished with a decent cross but, sadly, Ighalo wasn’t close enough to connect in the box.  In between these decent moves there was a goalmouth scramble in the Spurs box, I couldn’t tell whether the ball crossed the line, but the referee’s device indicated that it had and the goal was credited to Kaboul.  It was a horrible scrappy effort that summed up the performance of the home side.

When the final whistle went the home stands were virtually empty.  I stayed to the end, but can’t blame anyone who left.  It was a cold, wet afternoon and that has to be the most abject performance I have seen in a long time.  None of our party hung around in the West Herts for a post mortem, so I set off on the journey home alone with my thoughts.  I usually try to find something good to say about the game, and I had plenty of time to come up with something, but I am really struggling with this one.  I have no problem with being beaten by a good team, but Spurs didn’t have to play well to beat us on this afternoon.  They were gifted goals by a team that looked totally uninterested.  The one bright spot was the appearance of Mason, who put in a decent shift when he came on.  The rest were utterly dreadful and, due to this game being moved for television, I have the joyful prospect of a day off work for a trip to Stoke to come this week.  I am not relishing that at all.

Ton Up Troy

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

Christmas was spent with family, so we travelled en masse to the early kick-off on Boxing Day.  The roads were surprisingly empty but as we got nearer to the ground, the crowds were gathering and the pulses quickened.

Despite Palace’s poor performances this season, the news that Pardew had been replaced by Allardyce was not what we needed going in to this game and I approached it with low expectations.

The main team news was that Deeney had been named on the bench, with Janmaat taking his place in a front three.  Mazzarri’s other change was to bring Guedioura in for Zúñiga.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Capoue, Behrami, Guedioura; Amrabat, Ighalo and Janmaat.

Challenging for the ball

Challenging for the ball

Mazzarri’s game plan was scuppered in the first couple of minutes as Janmaat picked up an injury while tackling Zaha and was stretchered off to be replaced by Zúñiga.  I was gratified to see that a good number of the Palace fans joined us in applauding Janmaat off the pitch.  There was an early scare for the Hornets when Zaha, who was booed from the start by the Watford fans, was tripped by Guedioura in a dangerous position.  I held my breath as Clattenburg pointed to where the offence was committed but could breathe again when he confirmed that it was outside the box.   Thankfully, the free kick did not trouble Gomes.  There were more injury woes for the Hornets on 13 minutes as Behrami went down holding his hamstring.  He was replaced by Deeney, whose first touch was a lovely ball to Ighalo, but the Nigerian’s cross was blocked.  There was nothing in the way of notable chances before the 24th minute when Prödl tackled Benteke on the edge of the box, the ball broke to Cabaye whose shot was just wide of the near post.  The Palace man was more successful in the next move, Townsend broke forward and played a lovely through ball to Cabaye, who looked a mile offside when he slotted home, but our hopes were dashed as the linesman kept his flag down and the visitors took the lead.  Cabaye also had the next chance with a shot that was well wide of the near post.

Etienne Capoue on the ball

Etienne Capoue on the ball

Watford’s first meaningful chance of the game came on the half hour as Holebas played the ball out to Guedioura who shot wide of the far post.  Another chance came Watford’s way when Ighalo was tripped on the edge of the box, the ball fell to Amrabat but his cross-cum-shot hit Zúñiga and ran through to Hennessey.  The home side looked to be the architects of their own downfall on 36 minutes as Prödl played a terrible back pass to Gomes, Benteke ran on to it and was tripped by the Watford keeper.  The referee had no choice but to point to the spot.  Benteke stepped up to take the penalty himself and, with the Rookery doing their best to put him off, hit a terrible shot that was easily saved by Gomes on his 100th appearance for the club.  Boos greeted the half time whistle.  It had been a very poor half from the Hornets who had created next to nothing.  Salt was rubbed into the wound by the half time entertainment, which was a montage of goals on the big screen.  As I watched it, I despaired that the same players were now incapable of hitting a barn door.

Celebrating Troy's 100th Goal

Celebrating Troy’s 100th Goal

The Hornets made a much better start to the second half but the lively play didn’t translate into many chances.  The first was a shot from distance from Guedioura that flew wide of the far post.  Then Prödl played a ball the length of the pitch, Ighalo latched onto it in the box, but could only shoot wide of the near post.  The next chance fell to Zúñiga, as a Prödl free kick was headed down to him by Deeney, but he shot into Row ZZ, so I didn’t have to duck.  Amrabat went on a lovely run and crossed to the opposite wing where Zúñiga picked the ball up, but his cross was blocked.  Then Watford got the break that they needed as, at a corner, Prödl was dragged to the ground by Delaney and Mark Clattenburg pointed to the spot.  The significance of the penalty award was not lost on anyone in the Rookery as Deeney picked up the ball and the tension grew.  Trevor in the row in front said he didn’t have a good feeling about this.  “Shut up, Cassandra!”  Our Cate wasn’t sure she could look.  I was just concentrating on the man with the ball muttering a mantra, “Come on Troy. Come on Troy.”  Deeney kissed the ball and placed it on the spot, sent Hennessey the wrong way and the Rookery into raptures as he finally scored his hundredth goal for the Hornets.  It had been a long time coming, but it was richly deserved as he had worked incredibly hard since he came on.

Congratulations to Troy on his milestone

Congratulations to Troy on his milestone

The visitors tried to hit back as Puncheon took a free kick, but it was headed over the target by Dann.  A Palace substitution saw former Watford loanee Jordon Mutch replace a less fondly remembered loanee, Andros Townsend.  There was a rare moment of quality as Zúñiga played a clever back heel to Guedioura whose cross was met with a flick header from Ighalo that was easily gathered by Hennessey.  Mazzarri’s final substitution saw Sinclair come on for Zúñiga.  The next action of note was Zaha going down in the Watford box, my heart sank and then swelled when I saw the referee indicate a Watford free kick and brandish a yellow card at the Palace man.  The final chance of the game came with a lovely bit of ball juggling from Guedioura, but his volley was saved by Hennessey and the game finished with honours even.

A draw was probably a fair result.  The visitors had the best of the first half, but the Hornets had been the better team in the second.  The game would probably have been very different had Watford’s starting XI lasted a bit longer, but there was a great deal of frustration at the lack of service to the forwards.  Amrabat and Holebas have been two of our better performers this season but they managed one decent cross into the box between them.  One positive for me was that there were some indications of a revival of the understanding between Deeney and Ighalo.  But when I start fretting about recent results, I look at the table and marvel at the fact that we will finish the year in 10th place in the Premier League so, despite some awful performances, we are doing something right.

Home from Wales with a Decent Point

Troy returns up the pitch

Troy returns up the pitch

Swansea away is one of very few games for which I don’t need to travel through London, but it was still an early start to get to Reading to pick up the train.  As I boarded, I spotted a couple of our regular away travelers, so was treated to some unexpected but very welcome company for the trip to Wales.  As we left Reading, the sun was in my eyes but the fog soon descended and, added to the fact that it had been bitterly cold on Reading station, it looked like we were to be in for a very unpleasant day weather-wise.  Due to engineering work on the railways there were no trains running to Swansea, so we were turfed off the train at Port Talbot.  While the term ‘rail replacement’ is usually met with dread, the arrangements on this occasion went rather well with a bus waiting for us that ran straight to Swansea meaning that we arrived 20 minutes ahead of schedule.  Even better, the weather had improved considerably and we arrived to bright sunshine.

I parted company with my travelling companions on Wind Street to make my way to my party’s chosen pre match venue.  On arrival I was delighted to discover that it was an old-fashioned pub populated with locals which served decent beer and properly home cooked food and, bizarrely, had the cricket on teletext on the TV in the bar.  After a very pleasant lunch, we set off along the Tawe for a lovely walk to the stadium.

Gomes and Prodl

Gomes and Prodl

Team news was that Mazzarri had made two changes with Zúñiga and Ighalo in for Amrabat and the injured Success.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Zúñiga, Pereyra, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.  It was Bob Bradley’s first home game in charge at Swansea, so there were concerns that we may fall victim to the boost that a new manager often gives a team.  He was certainly making his mark with five changes from the Arsenal game.

Before kick-off, there was a minute’s silence to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster.  I was very young indeed when it happened, but it still made a strong impression on me and, as an adult, the thought of a town losing a whole generation of children is beyond heartbreaking.  The silence was observed impeccably and it was good to see both teams wearing black armbands.

Britos lines up a free kick

Britos lines up a free kick

The first half was pretty dull.  The home side had the first chance with a shot from Barrow that, from our viewpoint, appeared to have flown wide, but the referee believed that Gomes had made a save, so awarded a corner.  The next chance of note came on 22 minutes as a terrible ball from Behrami allowed the home side to gain possession and Sigurdsson unleashed a shot that was stopped by a flying save from Gomes.  Watford’s first shot came just before the half hour when Capoue won a free kick, which he took himself just clearing the bar.  Capoue also had the next shot with an off-balance volley that was nearer to the target than it had any right to be.  Late in the half, a terrible clearance by Fabianski hit Deeney, but Troy was taken by surprise and wasn’t able to take advantage.  Just before half time, Capoue played a short free-kick to Kaboul who hit a shot that rebounded off the wall.  The first card of the game went to Capoue for a foul on Routledge which consisted of him lifting the player off the ground.  The offence was almost as hilarious as Capoue’s outrage at being penalized.  So we reached half time goalless.  Swansea had started the half the better team, but the Hornets certainly had the upper hand later in the half, although they didn’t test Fabianski in the Swansea goal.

Capoue beats the Swansea wall

Capoue beats the Swansea wall

At half time, I noticed that the banner display around the pitch was showing positive facts about Swansea in head to head matches against Watford.  The one that particularly caught my eye was that the last time they had failed to score in a home game against Watford was in March 1923.

Early in the second half Sigurdsson was shown a card for pulling Pereyra back.  Ten minutes into the half Capoue played for a free kick, as he appealed in vain, Swansea went on a break which finished with an acrobatic kick from Borja that flew wide of the target.  Deeney and Ighalo combined to find Capoue in space, but the Frenchman hesitated as he looked to the lino for an offside flag and the chance was lost.  Just before the hour, Ighalo went on a run into the box and executed a trademark Iggy Scoop but, instead of shooting, tried a second scoop and his shot was blocked, the ball dropped to Pereyra in the middle of the box but he got it caught under his feet and couldn’t get a shot off.  Mazzarri made the first substitution of the game bringing Amrabat on for Zúñiga.  This was a brave move in an away game as he was sacrificing defence for a more attacking player.

Kaboul readies to take a throw

Kaboul readies to take a throw

On 64 minutes there were cheers from the home fans as they thought that van der Hoorn had turned a Sigurdsson free kick home, but a terrific save from Gomes kept the score goalless.  Bradley’s first change saw Llorente come on for Routledge.  Holebas gave away a needless corner which led to a scramble in the Watford box, but the clearance allowed Amrabat to break before he was stopped by a pull from Britton who was booked for the foul.  Amrabat went on another break before playing the ball to Ighalo, there were appeals for a penalty as Naughton appeared to handle the ball, but nothing was given.  At the other end, Swansea threatened and Gomes had to drop to save a snap shot from Sigurdsson.  Watford had a second appeal for a penalty soon after as Behrami appeared to be tripped in the area but, again, the referee wasn’t interested.  Mazzarri’s second substitution was to replace Capoue with Guedioura.  Kingsley should have done better for the Swans when the ball found him in space in the box, but he swung his foot at the ball and missed.  Not for the first time that afternoon the claims for this division being the “Best League in the World” looked ridiculous.

Chasing a ball in the air

Chasing a ball in the air

The hosts should have taken the lead as a promising break finished with a shot from Sigurdsson that rebounded off the post with Gomes beaten.  There was frustration for the Hornets as a cross from Amrabat was chested down by Ighalo in the box and the whistle went for hand ball from a referee who had a considerably worse view than we did.  Watford had a terrific chance for a late winner as Ighalo played in Amrabat whose shot was just over the bar.  On the stroke of 90 minutes Naughton tried a weak shot that was straight at Gomes.  In time added on, Guedioura hit a cracking shot but it was straight at Fabianski who made an easy save.  So the game finished goalless and Swansea failed to score against Watford at home for the first time since 1923 (talk about tempting fate!).

All in all, it had been a lively match which was sadly devoid of goal chances.  Swansea’s Barrow was the pick of the players, a constant menace on the wing but there was no outlet for him.  For the Hornets, I thought that Holebas was the pick of the outfield players, and Gomes has to be credited with preserving the point.  Whatever Swansea’s current position in the table, a point there is a decent result and is an improvement on our performance and result last season (I distinctly remember leaving the ground and meeting someone who told me we’d definitely be relegated now).

I am happy to report that the return journey went without a hitch and, again, I was fortunate to bump into some lovely Watford people who considerably enhanced my trip home.

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.

 

Pereyra Strikes in a Game of Two Halves

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

As I boarded the train at Euston on my way to the game, I assumed that it was standing room only as the vestibules were packed with blokes holding cans of beer.  Not at all, the Arsenal lads were starting the day as they meant to go on but were very polite as they moved to let the tutting old woman through to take her seat.  I thought I had timed things perfectly this week, but still managed to arrive at the West Herts before the doors opened.  There had been a recent change in their catering that meant, on the last two visits, all food was delivered in styrofoam cartons with plastic cutlery.  The horrors of adding to landfill meant that I bought lunch on the way to the game, only to find that they had reverted to using plates and metal cutlery.  Hoorah!!  Even better, after the brief loneliness of Tuesday evening, all the usual suspects were back in position.

Team news was that there were two changes from the Chelsea game.  Both in defence and both enforced (Cathcart had a groin injury and Britos’s partner was about to give birth).  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Kabasele; Amrabat, Guedioura, Capoue, Behrami, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.

Guedioura and Kaboul

Guedioura and Kaboul

The first notable action of the game was a foul by Amrabat on Sánchez in the box.  It was an age before the referee pointed to the spot which provoked fury among the home fans.  It has to be said that, even from our vantage point just behind the goal, we didn’t really see the challenge and it appeared that the dramatic reaction by the Arsenal player had influenced the referee, but footage of the incident showed that it was the correct decision.  Cazorla stepped up and sent Gomes the wrong way giving Arsenal an early lead and the Hornets a mountain to climb.  Kevin Friend, the referee, didn’t endear himself to the home crowd as Walcott appeared to run into Prödl and the Austrian was shown a yellow card.  Arsenal could have been two up as a cross from Bellerin was cleared off the line, then a shot from Walcott was saved.  Watford’s first goal chance came following a break from Amrabat whose cross was almost turned home by Koscielny but Cech managed to keep it out.  Deeney’s follow-up was just wide.  Soon after, a shot-cum-cross from Amrabat landed on the roof of the net.  Mr Friend had been very quick to blow his whistle for anything remotely resembling a challenge on an Arsenal player, so there was annoyance when Amrabat was knocked to the ground with no consequences.  This was compounded when the next challenge on Nordin, which looked powder puff, was punished with a free kick.  Watford had had a really good spell around the half hour culminating with a corner from Capoue that was headed just wide by Kabasele.

Capoue takes a corner

Capoue takes a corner

At the other end, Sánchez broke into the box and shot, but Gomes saved with his feet.  Against the run of play, Arsenal increased their lead with five minutes of the half remaining, as Sanchez met a cross from Walcott, the shot appeared to have been cleared off the line but, for the second game running, the goalline technology indicated that a goal had been scored.  The visitors could have been further ahead as Walcott had a shot from a tight angle saved by Gomes.   The third goal came in time added on at the end of the half as Özil appeared out of nowhere to head a Sánchez cross home.  It was a quality goal, but the scoreline was very harsh on the Hornets who had made a game of it once they had gone behind.  My reaction at half time was “Please make it stop.”  Most others among the home fans were booing the referee.

At the start of the second period we saw the introduction of Pereyra in place of Guedioura.  The lad who sits next to me remarked, “Unless he can walk on water, I’m not sure that he can live up to these levels of expectation.”  Soon after, the less heralded Janmaat replaced Kabasele.  Watford had a great chance to pull one back after some great work from Ighalo who beat a couple of challenges before passing to Amrabat who found Capoue whose powerful shot was saved by Cech.

Congratulating the new boy, Pereyra, on his goal

Congratulating the new boy, Pereyra, on his goal

Watford finally made the breakthrough on 57 minutes as a shot from Capoue was blocked, but the ball dropped to Pereyra who beat Cech to score with his first shot for the Hornets.  The home side could have pulled another one back when a lovely cross from Janmaat was met by Holebas whose shot required a good save from Cech to keep it out; Ighalo’s follow-up was blocked.  Watford had another great chance as a throw was headed on by an Arsenal player to Ighalo whose overhead kick was only just over the bar.  Amrabat’s last action of the game was a foul on Wilshere.  As he was about to be substituted he ran off the pitch and had to be recalled from the depths of the dugout to be shown the yellow card.  Well it made me smile.  Success was the player who took his place, and he almost made an immediate impact as he met a corner from Capoue with a header that flew just wide.  Pereyra, who had made an impressive debut, turned provider as he laid the ball off to Behrami who shot just wide.  At the other end, there was a rare second half chance for the Gunners as a mistake from Kaboul allowed Sánchez a shot on goal, but a flying save from Gomes stopped it.  As we reached time added on at the end of the second half, Arsenal received their first booking of the game as Wilshere was punished for a foul on Capoue.  This was met by loud, ironic cheers from the Rookery faithful.  In a game that was far from dirty, Watford had managed to amass 6 yellow cards while, Sánchez, who stats showed had committed the most fouls in the game, remained card-free.

An attacking corner

An attacking corner

The game finished to applause for the second half performance and boos for the officials.  As the players congratulated each other, it was interesting to see Gomes and Cech deep in conversation and then swapping shirts.

It had been a very encouraging performance from the Watford lads, especially in the second half.  Some commented that Arsenal were already three up at the start of the half so didn’t have to do much, but that seemed rather churlish and unfair to the guys who worked so hard and didn’t let their heads drop when 3 goals behind.  Amrabat and Capoue continue to perform well and the new guys all looked good.  If Pereyra didn’t actually walk on water he certainly showed why he is so widely admired within the game.  I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do once he gets to know his team mates.  Ighalo also had an encouraging game creating a couple of decent chances, which was pleasing to see.

Sadly, there was also confirmation of the news that Vydra had moved to Derby, so those that believed he was saying goodbye as he was substituted on Tuesday were proved correct.  This was rather disappointing if not surprising.  I must admit that, while I have very fond memories of that stunning half season, I have been a little surprised at the hero’s welcome that he has had on every appearance this season.  It is a real shame that he never built on the great start that he had.  He has a chance of a new start at Derby.  I wish him well and hope that he finally realizes his potential.

After the international break, we have the last of our run of nightmare games to start the season and it will be in the following run of games that we see what this team is capable of.  On the basis of this performance, I am very much looking forward to it.