After a week dominated by cold weather and snow disruption, it was a relief to end the week with some football. Although for that we need to give thanks to the large number of kind souls who were at Vicarage Road early in the morning to help clear snow from the stadium and ensure that the game could be played. Before 10am there was a notice on social media thanking the volunteers and saying that no more were needed. Well played Hornets fans. There was also a request from the 1881 for donations to the local foodbank. When I arrived with my tins just before midday, there was a nice collection beginning and, at the end of the day, the foodbank thanked the fans with a message that “nearly a quarter of a tonne of food” had been donated. A tremendous effort.
When I arrived at the West Herts, there were a couple of unfamiliar faces who turned out to be Norwegian friends of Trond. One of them had been to Kaiserslauten home and away, which were his last Watford games before this one!
After the unwelcome information midweek regarding the severity of Deulofeu’s injury, it was very disappointing when the team news came through to find that there was no sign of Femenía. Thankfully a follow-up message said that it was due to sickness rather than injury. Let us hope that he recovers very soon. I was greatly cheered by the news that Hughes was fit enough to take a place on the bench. Gracia’s only change from the Everton game was to replace Deulofeu with Carrillo. So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Prödl, Mariappa, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Carrillo, Pereyra, Richarlison; Deeney. Former loanee, Ben Foster started for the visitors, who also had Allan Nyom on the bench.
It looked as though our injury list was to have a further addition when Capoue needed treatment in the second minute but, thankfully, he was soon fit to continue. There was then some danger for Watford as a series of attempted clearances rebounded to West Brom players before a shot from Krychowiak was blocked by Mariappa, who was making his 250th start in a Watford shirt. Watford’s first chance came from a Holebas cross, Carrillo’s header was poor, but the ball broke to Pereyra whose shot deflected off Gibbs. Soon after,
Mariappa was in action at both ends of the pitch, flicking on a corner that didn’t quite reach Deeney and then clearing Rondón’s cross after Capoue had lost out in midfield. A lovely attacking move for the Hornets finished as Doucouré found Deeney whose shot looked more like a back pass to Foster. The first card of the game went to Capoue who was booked for a clumsy collision, which seemed rather harsh. West Brom had a decent chance to open the scoring but, thankfully, Rondón’s header was wide of the near post. At this point attention was drawn to an advertising hoarding that appeared to be on fire, much to the amusement of the travelling Baggies who were singing “Watford’s burning down.” Back on the pitch, Doucouré tried a strike from distance that was blocked. There was then a great chance for the Hornets as Pereyra broke and found himself in space, he played the ball to Janmaat whose shot was goalbound until Foster stuck out a leg and deflected it wide. The resultant corner was headed just over the bar by Prödl. In the last minute of the first half, Holebas was penalised for a challenge on Rondón. He wasn’t impressed with the decision and let the officials know in no uncertain terms and was very lucky not to talk his way into the referee’s book, in fact he probably would have seen a card had Deeney not manoeuvred him out of earshot. The free-kick was taken by Brunt and landed on the roof of the net, so the half finished goalless.
At half time, we were introduced to Lewis Gordon, the latest Academy graduate to sign as a professional. We also had the rather sorry sight of St Bernadette’s school taking part in the half time shoot out with only 2 of the 5 penalty takers. At first this appeared to be a ruse as the first penalty was excellent, but it was beginners luck and they were soon knocked out of the competition.
As he approached the goal at the Rookery end for the start of the second half, Ben Foster was greeted with a tremendous reception to which he reacted with applause and by blowing a kiss to the crowd. How lovely. Watford had the first chance of the half from a Holebas free kick that Richarlison headed wide. The young Brazilian had another decent chance soon after, but ran into a crowd of players and lost the ball. At the other end there was a low shot from Rondón that was easily gathered by Karnezis. The West Brom man then had an identical chance from the opposite side, he struck this one with more power but, again, Karnezis was equal to it. Carrillo then broke on a counter attack and crossed for Doucouré who headed the ball down to Richarlison whose overhead kick appeared to be deflected wide by Livermore, but a goal kick was given. Rondón really should have opened the scoring but, again, directed a header wide of the target.
Watford made their first substitution on 54 minutes as Richarlison made way for Okaka. Young Ricky was not happy and threw his gloves to the ground as he reached the dugout. Thank goodness his Uncle Heurelho was there to look after him. Okaka made an immediate impact playing a lovely through ball for Deeney who, sadly, wasn’t ready for it. Then Doucouré tried to play in Okaka, but the ball bounced off the Italian and the chance was gone. Watford were coming closer to breaking the deadlock and the next chance came as a cross from Pereyra reached Carillo whose shot was just over the bar with Foster beaten. That was the last contribution from the Peruvian who was immediately replaced with Hughes. We then had the bizarre experience of a player doing the time-wasting trudge off the pitch when there were still 24 minutes to go and he game was goalless. Even his own fans were booing Carrillo before he reached the dugout. West Brom had a great chance to take the lead as a cross came in for Rodriguez, but Janmaat made a vital intervention to stop the shot. Mariappa earned a booking after losing Rondón and then hauling him down to stop his escape. Watford should have taken the lead with 15 minutes remaining as a corner from Holebas reached Okaka in the box with the goal at his mercy, but his shot was blocked by Gibbs on the line. The Hornets took the lead in the next move as a mistake in the West Brom midfield gifted Hughes the ball and he played a perfect pass for Deeney to run on to, Foster came out to meet him, but Troy was focussed on the goal and lifted the ball over Foster to send the Rookery wild. The first substitution for the visitors saw McClean on to replace Krychowiak.
Mariappa, who had been tremendous, nearly put the Hornets in trouble with a terrible back pass but Karnezis was off his line to prevent Rondón taking advantage. West Brom made two late substitutions with Livermore and Rodriguez making way for Field and Burke. A deep corner from West Broom looked threatening, but Karnezis came confidently to claim the ball. In time added on there was a decent chance for Hughes to increase Watford’s lead but his shot was deflected to Foster. Gracia had intended to make a third substitution, bringing Lukebakio on for the final minute or so, when Holebas went down injured, so Britos was brought on to replace the limping Jose. In the final minute of the game Watford won a free kick and I was baffled when Okaka went over towards the ball, leaving no one in the box, until the ball was played short for him to keep it in the corner until the final whistle went.
It had been another poor game, but another great three points. On his 250th start, it was rather lovely that Mariappa was given man of the match. It was also pleasing to see Deeney score his second goal in successive games. His goals have been few and far between this season, but these were crucial to our survival in this division. And there was a warm welcome back to Will Hughes, who provided the pass that led to the goal.
This win took us to 9th in the table and really has to mean that we are safe from relegation, which is a bit of a relief as our next two games are against Arsenal and Liverpool, although neither of those clubs are models of consistency, so points against them are not out of the question.
On our way back to the station, we met a group of West Brom fans trying to find their way back to The Flag. They were very philosophical about our putting the final nail in their coffin which made me even happier that we could look forward to the last few games without stressing about the results.