Tag Archives: Ahmed Elmohamady

Thank-you, GT

Banner for the great man

I have to admit that I was furious when this game was changed from Vicarage Road to Villa Park.  I had booked my holiday after the announcement of the Graham Taylor tribute game, so to find that I would now be unable to attend was a bitter pill to swallow.  But an opportunity to go to Villa Park, a ground that I love, was not to be missed.  On the train to Birmingham, my podcast of choice was Colin Murray at home with Luther Blissett.  It is a great listen.  My annoyance at Murray’s lack of research when asking Luther about the first time he played at Old Trafford was tempered by his gleeful reaction when Luther told the story of what happened on that occasion.  Needless to say, they finished up talking about GT and both with great fondness. Since GT’s passing, Luther takes every opportunity to pay tribute to his friend.  Marking anniversaries of triumphs and just saying thank-you for the memories.  It has been lovely to see and is a mark of the great characters of both GT and Luther.

Our pre-match pub is lovely and it was great to have my sister, brother-in-law and niece joining a very reduced travelling party.  A gin festival was taking place which, added to the real ale and lovely food usually on offer, meant that everyone was happy after lunch.  As we waited at the bus stop to go to Villa Park, we struck up a conversation with a lovely couple.  It was a mixed marriage, she was a Villa fan, he was a blue-nose.  We talked about our mutual admiration for GT.  She told us about the tribute they had at Villa Park.  A wreath was laid on the pitch and Rita, Joanne and Karen were there.  As we parted company she wistfully commented, “I wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t taken the England job.”  That gave me pause for thought.  I wonder if he would have stayed at Villa and maybe moved on to a bigger club.  In that case, we wouldn’t have had that wonderful second spell.  But he didn’t and we were all there to celebrate the wonderful memories that he left us with.

Chalobah on the ball

The crucial piece of team news was that Pereyra would be making his first public appearance this pre-season after featuring against Rangers at London Colney earlier in the week.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kabasele, Kaboul, Mason; Cleverley, Doucouré, Chalobah; Amrabat, Sinclair, Pereyra.  Villa included former Watford loanees, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Henry Lansbury in their starting XI.

As soon as the teams emerged from the tunnel, they lined up and there was a minute’s applause for GT with both sets of fans singing “There’s only one Graham Taylor” at the tops of their voices.  It was very moving.

Villa had a very early chance as Agbonlahor broke free to challenge Gomes, but it was the Watford keeper who came out on top.  Watford had to make an early substitution.  I must admit that I was rather disappointed to hear Pereyra’s name announced as the player leaving the pitch.  He looked baffled himself and, to my shame, I was relieved when it turned out that it was Kabasele going off.  In my defence, he was being replaced by Prödl!

Waiting for a ball into the box

Sinclair should have opened the scoring after quarter of an hour.  Doucouré found Pereyra who played a through ball for Sinclair who only had the keeper to beat, but fired wide.  On the half hour, here was a stir in the away end as Deeney appeared pitch-side and, after some negotiation with the stewards, made his way into the stand to sit with the Watford fans.  Needless to say, it took him some time to get to his seat.  Watford had another chance as Chalobah got into a great shooting position, but he fired over.  We reached half time goalless.  It had been a pretty dull half of football.  The home side had the majority of the possession, but neither keeper had been tested.

At the restart, Pereyra made way for Success.  The Nigerian made an immediate contribution, crossing to Cleverley, who played the ball back to Chalobah who, again, fired over the bar.  Then Cleverley took a free kick from a dangerous position, but it was directed straight at the Villa keeper, Steer.  Disaster struck as Kaboul tripped Hutton in the box and the referee pointed to the penalty spot.  In the away end, we were singing the name of Heurelho Gomes with all our might and our man celebrated his new contract by guessing correctly and diving to his left to save Henry Lansbury’s spot kick.  We were located in the away section closest to the home stand.  When the penalty was awarded, they took the opportunity to taunt us.  So, when the penalty was saved, I was a little taken aback (and rather proud) when my usually mild-mannered niece, after celebrating the save, gave them some grief back.

My first look at Femenia

On the hour mark, Silva made five changes with Gomes, Kaboul, Cleverley, Doucouré and Amrabat making way for Pantilimon, Femenía, Watson, Hughes and Okaka.  There was a lovely move as Success released Femenía who advanced down the right wing before delivering the return ball for Success to try a shot from distance that flew wide of the near post.  The game had livened up since the substitutions and there was another nice move as Femenía crossed for Success, whose side footed shot was blocked and rebounded to Hughes who, unfortunately, was unable to follow-up.  Another chance fell to Success but, on this occasion, the shot was weak.  Just before the 72nd minute struck, the Villa fans started the applause, the travelling Hornets joined in and the chorus of “One Graham Taylor” rang out again in earnest.  The next decent chance fell to Villa as a cross reached Amavi in front of goal, but he slashed the ball wide of the near post.  Sinclair had a golden chance to open the scoring as he ran on to a ball over the defence from Success, but the keeper arrived first.  The final chance fell to the home side as Hourihane hit a shot from the edge of the area, but Pantilimon was equal to it and the game ended with honours even.

The shame of buying a half and half scarf

It had been a typical pre-season game with nobody taking any chances.  From a Watford perspective, the second half had been livelier than the first.  It was good to see Pereyra back.  The first impression of Femenía was very positive and there was some nice interplay between him and Hughes.  If Sinclair had been sharper in front of goal, we would all have gone home happy.  But this game was not about the result, it was about 10,900 people gathering to pay tribute to Graham Taylor.  The legacy that the man has left will never leave Watford and Villa also have reason to thank him hugely for rescuing them from the doldrums.  On the way out of the ground, I spotted some people with half and half scarves.  I usually sneer at these, but this scarf had a picture of GT sewn into it, so I had to have one.

On the train home, I opened the match programme.  I had to close it again pretty quickly as the sight of a middle-aged woman sobbing on the train would not have been a pretty one.  Typical of the man, among the tributes from former players were those from the kit man, the club secretary and the programme writer.  There was one word that featured in the majority of tributes, it was ‘gentleman’.  There was also a lovely piece written by his daughter, Joanne.  A fitting tribute to a wonderful man.

It was Graham Taylor who introduced me to Watford.  In the years that have passed, I have laughed and cried over football.  I have made many wonderful friends and spent time bonding with family over a shared passion.  But, behind it all, there was the man with the big smile, who always had time for you whoever you were.  The huge amount of love that his many fans feel for Graham is a mark of the warmth and kindness of the man.  He will be greatly missed for a long time to come.  The only thing I can say is “Thank-you, GT.”

 

A Disappointing Trip to the City of Culture

Phillip Larkin in the City of Culture

I had a very cultural week all in all, with plays by Tom Stoppard, Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare followed by a cracking evening spent with the Saw Doctors.  I just had to hope that my visit to the city of culture finished the week in style.

It all started rather well.  Being an unsociable type, I usually try to find an empty carriage for the journey, but the Hull Trains service was absolutely packed, so I took my assigned seat and found myself opposite a pleasantly chatty guy who kept me entertained.

On arrival in Hull, I headed for the designated pub, which was in the opposite direction from the ground and meant that I walked through some of the older areas of the city centre that I hadn’t visited in the past and, I must say, that it is a lot more attractive than I remember.  The pub was a cracker, a good selection of beers and lovely fresh fish (“skin on or off?”) for lunch.  The company (Happy Valley and West Yorks Horns) was delightful as always.  So we were in very good spirits as we set off for the walk to the ground.

Despite Hull’s precarious league position, the arrival of Marco Silva had heralded an upturn in form and Watford found themselves facing a manager who hadn’t lost a home game in more than 3 years.  Given Watford’s variable performances in recent weeks, it would have been a brave fan who predicted a positive result from this game.

Challenging in the Hull box

Team news was just the one change with Britos returning from suspension in place of Mariappa, who had been terrific since he was drafted into the starting line-up and was rather unlucky to have lost his place.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Janmaat, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Cleverley, Doucouré, Capoue; Amrabat, Deeney and Niang.

There had been speculation in the pub prior to the game about whether there would be a minute’s silence/applause following the tragic death of Ugo Ehiogu.  As he had no direct connection with either Watford or Hull, there was not, but the players were all wearing black armbands.

There was a very nervy start from the home side as a terrible back pass from Maguire looked to be sneaking in to the Hull net when Jakupovich managed to slide in and put the ball out for a corner which, sadly, came to nothing.  Watford’s next corner was marginally more effective as the delivery from Holebas was met by the head of Britos but the ball flew over the bar.  The next half chance went the way of the home side as Clucas tried a shot from distance that cleared the crossbar.

Prodl on the ball

During the next ten minutes of the game, the only things even remotely worthy of note were the chants from the away end.  I rather enjoyed “We’re only here for the culture.”  A later chant of “It’s just like watching Brazil” was countered by a more realistic and downcast “more like Italy” from the bloke behind me.  On 25 minutes, there was a potentially game-changing incident as a challenge by Niasse on Niang, that hadn’t looked particularly nasty from the stands, was greeted with an immediate red card from the referee.  Watford’s approach to the game up to this point had been rather cagey, so my hope was that the reduction in opposition numbers would lead to a more attacking approach.  The first few minutes following the sending off were not promising as the Watford men continued to play the ball around at the back.  But things brightened up as a corner was met by a header from Prödl that required a smart save from Jakupovich tip it over the bar.  Niang, who was getting abuse from the home crowd every time he got a touch, didn’t let it faze him as he played a through ball to Deeney who finished, but I think I was the only Watford fan who hopefully punched the air as the flag was up for a clear offside.  Niang then found Amrabat whose shot was blocked for a corner.

Waiting at the back post

Watford won another corner and, as Cleverley lined up to take it, he was greeted with the latest in a series of loud complaints from the home fans about the positioning of the ball so, on this occasion, the referee decided to check that there was no infringement.  Much to the amusement of the away fans at the other end of the ground, he nodded approval and indicated that the kick should be taken.  Britos managed to get a head to it but the ball flew just wide of the target.  A promising move started with Troy coming away with the ball after a tackle, he found Amrabat in a good position in the box, but Nordin decided to pass instead of trying a shot and the chance was gone.  In time added on at the end of the half, Grosicki went down in the box following a challenge from Amrabat, but the referee waved appeals away.   As if the Hull fans weren’t already angry enough, Niang then went flying in the air after a challenge, so the half time whistle went to loud boos from the home fans and the stewards coming on to escort the referee off the pitch.

It had been a disappointing half of football.  Watford had most of the possession, but were being rather cagey, which made for a very dull spectacle.  There was some increase in attacking threat after the sending off, but not the high tempo that we were hoping for.

Capoue and Niang

Silva made a substitution at the start of the second half bringing Hernández on for Evandro.  The first meaningful action of the half came with a lovely ball from Capoue to Amrabat but the cross was blocked.  The first goal attempt came from the Hull substitute, but he chipped the ball into the arms of Gomes.  Watford should have taken the lead just before the hour mark as a throw from Holebas reached Capoue in the box, the Frenchman looked sure to score but he was being tackled and so just swung at the ball and Jakupovich was able to block with his feet.  The Hornets were to rue that miss as, against the run of play, the home side took the lead after Watford lost the ball following a free kick allowing Hull to launch a counter attack, Grosicki crossed for Marcovic whose header rebounded off the crossbar and he made no mistake at the second attempt.  The Hornets attempted to get back into the game as Amrabat crossed for Deeney, but a well-timed nudge from a defender ensured that Troy failed to make contact, the ball came back into the area but, again, there was nobody to apply the final touch.

Cleverley lines up a free kick

The travelling Hornets had been crying out for a substitution and were rewarded when Success replaced Amrabat.  But it was Hull who had a great chance to increase their lead with a free kick from a dangerous position which Clucas directed over the wall and just wide.  The relief was short-lived as, soon after, a clearing header following a free kick reached Clucas who curled a beautiful shot past Gomes.  It was a moment of quality in a game that had been sadly devoid of it.  In an effort to save the game, Mazzarri replaced Doucouré with Okaka, but Watford goal attempts remained at a premium.  Capoue tried a shot from distance that was well over the bar.  Then a Capoue free kick reached Prödl whose shot was easy for the keeper.  Mazzarri’s final throw of the dice was to bring Zúñiga on to replace Holebas.  The Hornets had one last chance to reduce the deficit as Deeney volleyed just over.

As the final whistle went on a humiliating defeat for the visitors, it was greeted with loud boos from the travelling fans.  A young lad who was sitting behind me had been complaining loudly throughout the game and, on the final whistle, he went charging down to get himself into prime position to lambast any players who came over to greet the crowd.  Prödl was the first to approach us, making a gesture of regret but, despite having little to apologise for, was given the full force of the crowd’s invective.  This happened to each of the players in turn.  Troy quickly turned to leave the field, but had second thoughts and came back with Gomes holding something that he was clearly intending to gift to a young fan.  When he reached the perimeter, he hurdled it and walked up to the youngster, but was soon facing a number of very angry fans who were yelling at him.  It had the potential for a very nasty outcome but Troy just listened to what they had to say before returning over the wall at which point he was given an ovation by those still in the crowd.

Amrabat and Proedl challenging

As someone who is very much in the “happy-clapper” camp, I don’t boo the players but I am also not inclined to applaud them after a dreadful performance like that.  After the sending off, we should have been attacking at pace in order to tire the ten men and gain an advantage.  Instead we used our dominance of the possession to play the ball around at the back allowing Hull to sit back and wait for an opportunity to break and, when they did, it was at pace and decisive.  There have been accusations that the players were already on the beach, but the performance looked very much as if they were following instructions from the head coach.  Deeney was isolated up front with very little service and there was a distinct reluctance to break forward.  So, to my mind, blame for the defeat sits very firmly with the head coach.  The fact that this abject performance was delivered by the team in 10th position in “the best league in the world” is an indication of the dreadful lack of quality in the Premier League this season.

The post-match discussion in the queue for the Ladies came back to a theme that has been visited a number of times in recent weeks.  We miss the Championship.  Another theme in the post-match discussion was the behaviour of the travelling Watford fans.  Many of the people that I see week in, week out at games have been going for many years and have witnessed dreadful seasons of football, so tend to be rather circumspect.  But, since promotion, we seem to have attracted a large number of people whose lofty expectations leave them open to regular disappointment which leads to outbursts of (often irrational) anger.  Of course it may be that these people were always there, it was just that in times past we rarely sold out our away allocation so you tended to choose your position in the stand to sit with likeminded people.

Anyway, back to on pitch affairs.  Last season, when survival was the aim, we finished the season in 13th position with 45 points.  We have five games remaining this season to better that record but, given the opposition that we will be facing, it is hard to see us gaining any more points.  Maybe, for the next month, we should trust our instincts and just stay in the pub!

Back Home to Beat the Tigers

Pereyra and Holebas preparing for a corner

Pereyra and Holebas preparing for a corner

It seemed like an age since we’d last played at Vicarage Road.  Indeed, with the international break and two away games, it had been four weeks since the Bournemouth game.  So it was nice to be back in the West Herts again on a gorgeous October afternoon.

After we left the club, it was lovely to join the crowds making their way to the game.  There is always something special about the sense of anticipation in a pre-match crowd.  Also, as it was Watford playing Hull, there was neither a ticket tout nor a half-and-half scarf anywhere to be seen.

Team news was that Mazzarri had made one change bringing Amrabat in for Zúñiga.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Amrabat, Pereyra, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.  It was also good to see Janmaat back on the bench after recovering from his injury.

With Hull’s dismal form of late, the perception among some Watford fans was that this would be an easy win for the Hornets, but I have been watching Watford long enough to know that we never win bankers as easily as we should.

Holebas takes a throw-in

Holebas takes a throw-in

After the relevations in the Telegraph about the baffling case of the forged bank letter regarding Gino Pozzo’s finances that is now being investigated by the Football League, it was pleasing to see the 1881 displaying banners in support of the Pozzo family prior to kick off.

Watford started the game like a rocket and the ball was in the Hull box within the first minute, but Amrabat’s cross just evaded Deeney.  There were two great chances to take the lead in the fourth minute as, first, a corner was met with a header from Kaboul that slammed off the crossbar and bounced down and out of the goal.  Then the ball reached Pereyra who curled a lovely shot that hit the far post.  There was another decent chance as Amrabat cut the ball back to Behrami but his shot was rather weak and easily dealt with by Marshall in the Hull goal.  Then Amrabat ran at the Hull defence and unleashed a shot that was blocked.  Hull’s first real chance came on 20 minutes with a shot from the edge of the box by Mason which was comfortably caught by Gomes.  It all calmed down a bit after the frantic start and the home crowd started to get impatient with a shout of “Get him off” aimed at Ighalo as he lost the ball on the half hour.

A rare Hull attack being snuffed out

A rare Hull attack being snuffed out

Dawson appeared to pull Ighalo over on the edge of the box, the ball fell to Deeney who shot wide and the referee seemed satisfied that constituted playing advantage and awarded a goal kick.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead as Amrabat crossed for Prödl whose header was just wide of the target.  Another lovely move from the home side led to a Pereyra cross that was cleared to Amrabat who shot into the ground causing the ball to bounce up giving Deeney the perfect chance to score his 100th goal for the Hornets but he directed his header wide of the near post.  The Hornets had one more opportunity to take the lead just before half time as Ighalo played a one-two with Deeney but the Nigerian appeared a little surprised to get the ball back and shot wide.

It had been an amazing start to the game by the Hornets, who had totally dominated possession without testing the keeper, although the crossbar and post had both taken a thumping.

Emma Saunders, Richard Lee and Harry Hornet clutching his "Unsung Hero" award

Emma Saunders, Richard Lee and Harry Hornet clutching his “Unsung Hero” award

At half time, Richard Lee was back at Vicarage Road being interviewed and doing the half time draw.  He mentioned his goalkeeping business but, oddly, failed to mention coffee.  He said how good it was to see Mariappa back at Vicarage Road and that he was looking forward to catching up with him.  He was also tasked with presenting Harry Hornet with an “Unsung Hero” award that was greeted with loud and warm applause from the Vicarage Road crowd.  Harry has become a Watford legend and can be guaranteed to brighten up even the dullest game at Vicarage Road.  It is good to see him receive recognition from outside the club.

Watford had the first chance of the second half as Pereyra played the ball to Amrabat on the wing, Nordin cut it back to the Argentine on the edge of the box from where he hit a disappointing shot over the bar.  Hull went on a counter attack finishing with a shot from Hernández that Gomes dropped to save.  The first caution of the game went to Behrami for a trip on Clucas who had the beating of him in a brief respite from being roasted by Amrabat.  Watford fashioned another promising chance as Pereyra broke forward and crossed for Igahlo who played the ball back to Deeney in the box, but the Hull defenders were present en masse and crowded out the shot.  There were then two yellow cards in quick succession first to Mason for a foul on Capoue, then Clucas finally had enough of Amrabat running past him and pulled him down as he tried to escape.

Celebrating a late goal

Celebrating a late goal

The Dutchman had more joy in his next attack as he went on another cracking run, beating a couple of players before putting in a disappointing cross that didn’t reach Deeney.  Another cross from Amrabat was met by a header from Ighalo that was high and wide.  Kaboul should have done better when the ball dropped to him in an acre of space but he hit a dreadful shot well wide of the near post and was substituted immediately afterwards, making way for Janmaat, who took up position in the back three.  The substitute was in action straight away going on a terrific run down the middle of the field before finding Deeney in the box whose cross was blocked for a corner.  Hull’s first change saw Meyler come on for Keane.  Amrabat continued to cause the Hull defence problems, holding the ball up before finding Janmaat whose shot was blocked.  Just when I was starting to think that this wasn’t our day and Hull would nick it, Watford finally made the breakthrough.  After seeing some lovely play throughout the game, it was a shame that the goal was so scrappy.  A cross from Janmaat was turned goalwards by Pereyra before being deflected into the net.  At first I thought that Deeney had provided the finishing touch and finally scored that elusive 100th goal, but it turned out that Dawson had provided the definitive touch so it was an own goal.  A rare foray by the visitors into the Watford box raised concerns that they may draw level, but all action Amrabat was back on defensive duties and snuffed out the danger.  That was his last action of the game as he was replaced by Zúñiga, leaving the field to rapturous applause.  There was a great chance for a second goal as Zúñiga found Ighalo who executed a scoop before blasting a shot into the side netting.

Ighalo controlling the ball in the box

Ighalo controlling the ball in the box

Watford were forced into a late substitution as Kabasele replaced Prödl, who went off holding his thigh.  The visitors had a chance to level when they won a corner in time added on, but Mason’s delivery was met by a header from Davies that was nowhere near the target.  An equalizer would have been a travesty.

The body language of the Watford players at the final whistle was more in keeping with a defeat than a victory.  A number of them were collapsed on the turf.  While they had all put in a shift, it was an unusual reaction which indicated some disappointment at the performance.  There were a lot of complaints post-match about the lack of a single shot on goal, but I felt that was a bit unfair as it ignores the fact that 7 of their 22 shots were blocked and the goal was a just reward for their persistent attacking.  I am probably in the minority, but I was entertained by the game, which featured some tremendous performances.  Amrabat was immense on the wing where he spent the entire game beating Clucas and anyone else who attempted to get in his way.  He throroughly deserved his Man of the Match award.  Pereyra, who has been shackled in recent games, also showed what he could do when he gets some time on the ball.  While Deeney and Ighalo had disappointing afternoons, they both had chances that were very close and, had they gone in, would have put a completely different complexion on the game.

So Watford finished the afternoon in seventh place climbing above Manchester United who could only draw with Burnley.  Some have questioned whether we are in this position on merit.  I seem to remember that Leicester last season had a good number of games in which they defended solidly and nicked a late goal, so I am not going to criticise Watford for doing the same (although this was not one of those games).  In my opinion we are seventh on merit and long may we remain in the top half of the table.