Tag Archives: Albert Riera

Honours Even Against our Italian Brothers

First pre-match huddle of the season at Vicarage Road

First pre-match huddle of the season at Vicarage Road

Saturday saw the long-awaited visit of Udinese to Vicarage Road.  But, before that, was the joy of our first pre-match gathering of the new season.  Time to catch up on what people had been doing during the Summer and to speculate on the season to come.  Then it was off to Vicarage Road to see what changes had occurred since our last visit (most of which were additions to the new stand and the squad).

When the starting line-up came through, it appeared a bit odd, mainly because Beppe had abandoned the 4-3-3 that we’ve seen for most of the pre-season to revert to 3-5-2.  But also because some of the standout players in pre-season so far were left on the bench.  We started with Gomes, Angella, Tamas, Ekstrand, Pudil, McGugan, Andrews, Abdi, Anya, Deeney and Vydra.  Udinese’s team featured Watford old boy, Albert Riera, as well as Di Natale, much to the excitement of the Vicarage Road crowd.  It has to be said that, given the popularity of the new away shirt, it was very difficult to distinguish the Watford fans in the crowd from those from Udinese.

Gomes gathers the ball

Gomes gathers the ball

The first attempt on goal from either side was a weak shot from Fernandes that drifted over the bar.  A free-kick soon after was easily gathered by Gomes.  We had to wait until the 18th minute for Watford’s first attack of note as McGugan fed Vydra who played a through ball to Anya but the Scot’s first touch was too heavy and Brkic gathered safely.  The visitors threatened as a shot from Fernandes rebounded off the crossbar and Di Natale’s follow-up was gathered by Gomes.  On 23 minutes, Udinese went ahead as Widmer nodded a cross past Gomes.  I was a little surprised by the warmth of the applause that this elicited from the Watford fans.  The ironic chants of “sign him up” were less surprising.

Udinese on the attack

Udinese on the attack

We had a chance to hit back almost immediately as Vydra won a free-kick, but McGugan floated it into the arms of Brkic.  On the half hour, Adbi found Deeney who turned and shot but the ball looped into the keeper’s arms.  Di Natale looked to break into the box but Ekstrand was on hand to stop him.  At the other end, the ball was taken off Vydra’s feet on the edge of the box.  A defensive header from Deeney in our box reached McGugan who played a through ball to Anya to set up a counter attack, but the ball was too far in front of him and the chance lost.  In the dying minutes of the half, McGugan played a ball across the box to Pudil who cut back to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  On the stroke of half-time, Tamas gave the ball away to Fernandes but, thankfully, his shot was caught by Gomes so we went into the break just one goal down.  It has to be said that the first half had been rather lack lustre.

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

There were no personnel changes at half-time and we started the second half brightly as Anya went on a run down the right and pulled the ball back for the strikers but it rolled behind both Deeney and Vydra, so was left to Pudil to run in and unleash a shot that was deflected over.  The subsequent corner was punched clear by Brkic.  At the other end, Di Natale tried a shot but it was well off target.  A corner from McGugan was cleared with Angella challenging, it reached Ekstrand who wellied his shot over.  We should have equalized on 50 minutes as Deeney knocked the ball down to McGugan whose shot flew just wide.  A stinging shot from distance from Muriel was parried by Gomes.

McGugan congratulated on his goal

McGugan congratulated on his goal

On 58 minutes, Watford equalized.  Vydra was taken down and McGugan stepped up to take the free kick and curled it perfectly into the top corner.  That was his last involvement, as he was replaced by Battocchio, while Dyer and Ighalo came on for Anya and Vydra.  The subs were involved almost immediately as Battocchio found Deeney who passed across to Ighalo whose shot sadly hit the side netting.  At this point, Riera was replaced by Silva and left the field to very warm applause from the Watford faithful.  Deeney also left the field to be replaced by Ranegie.  Muriel went down injured and was replaced by Thereau.  At the same time Udinese swapped keepers with Scuffet coming on for Brkic.  At this point there was a delay in proceedings as Muriel was still down injured, but the ref finally stepped in and dragged him from the pitch by his arm to the sidelines where he was “looked after” by Harry Hornet.  I almost felt sorry for the guy.

Ighalo on the ball

Ighalo on the ball

Fernandes curled a shot from distance just wide of the near post.  Watford went behind again as Ranegie lost out to Allan who played a through ball to the substitute, Thereau, who fired a shot across Gomes into the far corner.  With 15 minutes remaining, Hoban and Fabbrini replaced Tamas and Abdi.  The next piece of skill was in the home dugout as a ball flew in and was controlled and returned to the field by Forestieri, who gloried in the cheers from the crowd.  Watford drew level again as Fabbrini went on a run down the left and crossed for Pudil whose header looked as though it was on target but Ranegie nodded it on, just in case, with Scuffet appealing for offside.

The architects of the second equalizer

The architects of the second equalizer

That was Pudil’s last contribution as he was replaced by Doyley.  We had a great chance to win the game as Scuffet came out to meet Ranegie who dinked the ball past the keeper and crossed back for Ighalo, but the Nigerian was unable to reach the ball and, with the goal begging, the chance was lost.

It had been a more enjoyable second half and a draw was a decent result against our Italian brothers.  But I left Vicarage Road with little idea of what our starting line-up or formation will be next week.  However, on a positive note, well done to the club for the pricing of this game, my ticket was £3 in contrast to the £14 asked for the Coventry game at Boreham Wood.  This encouraged a crowd of 11,085 into Vicarage Road, a very impressive attendance at a pre-season friendly.  Now bring on the Bolton.

 

Glutton for Punishment

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

The previous two away games served up very different performances, so I travelled to Charlton hoping for something more in the style of QPR than Derby.  There were five changes in personnel from Saturday with McGugan and Ekstrand injured, Cassetti suspended and Pudil and Ranegie rested.  The starting line-up was Bond, Belkalem, Hoban, Doyley, Riera, Murray, Tözsér, Battocchio, Faraoni, Anya and Deeney.  Charlton’s team included Watford Academy graduate, Sordell, and former loanee, Jackson.

 

Greeting the crowd

Greeting the crowd

The first incident of note was in the sixth minute when Faraoni pulled up injured and spent some time receiving treatment.  Watford were the first to threaten as Tözsér played a ball over the top to Deeney, but Hamer was out to challenge and won the battle on this occasion.  For the home side, Cousins cut the ball back for Harriott, but Faraoni tackled and put the ball out for a corner.  That was the Italian’s last contribution as the injury caused him to be replaced by Ranegie.  There was a scare for the Hornets as Bond appeared to have safely gathered a Jackson free-kick but then fumbled and the ball was heading for the goal when he recovered and gathered it at the second attempt.  At the other end, Ranegie knocked the ball down to Deeney whose shot was saved by Hamer.  Jackson headed a cross from Solly goalwards, but Bond kept it out.  On 22 minutes, Charlton went ahead as Harriott shot through Doyley’s legs and past Bond.  The

Defending a free kick

Defending a free kick

visitors should have equalized soon afterwards as a through ball from Battocchio was blocked and rebounded back to him, he passed to Deeney whose shot was pushed around the post by Hamer.  From Tözsér’s corner, Belkalem’s header was on target and had to be pushed onto the crossbar by the keeper.  Another corner from Tözsér was a little too deep, but was knocked down to Anya whose cross flew over the bar.  Murray was the next to try a cross, but it was caught by Hamer.  On the half hour, Battocchio played a short pass to Murray whose shot was just wide of the target.  Watford had another chance to draw level, but a lovely cross from Anya was headed back across goal by Ranegie, when he should have tested the keeper, and went out for a corner from which Hamer pushed the ball out for a throw.  In time added on at the end of the half Belkalem was booked for a foul on Wilson who went down as if he’d been punched following what appeared to be minimal contact.

Tozser lines up a free kick

Tozser lines up a free kick

So we reached half time a goal down.  In the away end, a singing section had gathered, but they had positioned themselves at one side of the stand which meant that very few of the songs were taken up elsewhere.  So, despite my attempts to join in, it was rather quiet where I was located just to the left of the goal.

The first action of the second half was the substitution of Doyley by Angella.  I am one of Lloydy’s biggest fans but he’d had a mare.  Soon after, there was a lovely Watford move as Murray played a through ball to Battocchio who fed Deeney.  Hamer came out to save, but Troy had already been flagged offside.  Harriott threatened again with a swift break, but Hoban intercepted and won a goal kick. That was good work from the youngster.  On the hour, Watford drew level as Deeney controlled a ball from Angella, shrugged off the attentions of the defenders and hit a lovely shot into the roof of the net.

Celebrating Deeney's wonder strike

Celebrating Deeney’s wonder strike

It was a rare moment of quality that appeared to come from another game.  Riera was booked for a trip on Poyet.  Sordell had failed to make an impression against his former team and was replaced by Obika.  Deeney tried a shot from the right of the box that was over the target.  Troy had another chance as he received a through ball from Ranegie, but he couldn’t control and it rolled through to Hamer.  The home side launched a counter attack that culminated in Jackson shooting past Bond to regain the lead.  There was a frantic period in the Charlton box as Angella and Deeney exchanged passes, but a defender took the ball off the Italian’s feet to stop the threat , Anya had a shot that was blocked and then Hamer was called into action to punch away a couple of crosses.  With 15 minutes to go, Murray was replaced by Diakite, a move that was met with great excitement from the woman sitting behind me who was raving about the loanee and clearly must have seen something that I’ve missed in his previous outings.  Diakite’s first action was to give away a free kick from which the ball reached Harriott who powered a shot past Bond for Charlton’s third.  We never looked like getting back into the game after that.  Diakite had a shot blocked before Riera came in to make a clearance, Poyet ran across and appeared to bounce off him and went flying.  The referee bought the theatrics and Riera received a second yellow.  He remonstrated with the official and Deeney approached Poyet and looked as though he was going to inflict an injury commensurate with his dramatic reaction.

Murray puts in a cross

Murray puts in a cross

Less than 5 minutes later, Poyet succeeded in adding Ranegie’s name to the ref’s collection.  Then, as Angella failed to clear, Fox shot wide of the far post.  In time added on, a Hoban cross came to Anya with his back to goal.  There were some in the away end who believed he’d propelled the ball across the line, but it appeared to me that Ikechi had actually kept the ball out, possibly using his arm in the process, although I would be interested to see a replay.  The last action of the game was a shot from Anya that was straight at Hamer.  So we lost our last away game of the season and the home crowd celebrated survival, which was some consolation as I quite like Charlton.

Reading my notes back, we were competitive in the first half but, once we went a goal down, we never looked like getting back into the game.  We’ve been poor on our travels for most of the season, but those last two performances were abject and have had me questioning why I bother if the players don’t.  Still, I know that come the end of May I’ll be itching for pre-season.  I’m a glutton for punishment.

 

Behind Enemy Lines

Taking the field at Loftus Road

Taking the field at Loftus Road

I must admit that I love going to Loftus Road, but it smacked of over enthusiasm to arrive in Shepherds Bush before the pubs opened.  The lush hanging around waiting for admission was denied entry to our hostelry of choice by a bouncer demanding to see a QPR season ticket.  Thankfully, the next place that I tried hadn’t quite organized themselves, so I breezed in and found a table only to see each of my companions denied entry.  Twice I ran to the door to plead them to let my friends join me.  The lady was immediately admitted, the “old fella” took a bit more persuasion, but we were ultimately successful and the beer and the lunch were well worth the hassle.  While supping our pints, our attention was drawn to Police riot vans parked on the Green which heralded a group of Watford fans being escorted to the ground.  Quite why that was necessary, I have no idea.  But it was rather incongruous to see a bunch of Watford youths giving it large to a group of their fellow fans who were enjoying another pint before strolling in the sunshine to the away entrance.

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

There were two changes from the team that beat Ipswich on Saturday as Hoban made way for Cassetti, who was returning from suspension, and Pudil replaced Faraoni meaning that Riera swapped wings.  So the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Abdi, Riera, Ranegie and Deeney.

We started the game very brightly with a McGugan shot from distance and a Deeney volley both of which flew over the bar.  Then Ranegie got on the end of a cross from McGugan but a defender’s challenge ensured he shot over.  Deeney latched onto a backheader from Dunne and Green had to be smart to push his shot wide.  QPR’s first attempt was a soft shot from Austin that was straight at Almunia.  Then Abdi intercepted the ball and passed to Deeney who broke forward, but the defence closed ranks before he could shoot, so he passed back to McGugan who shot way over.

Dunne launches a clearance

Dunne launches a clearance

McGugan played a lovely cross towards Ranegie, but he couldn’t get a touch on it.  Another cross, this time from Angella, appeared to have reached Deeney, but Onuoha took it off his feet.  Just before the half hour, Austin was tripped and tumbled in the box, appealing for a penalty, as the ball was cleared to Simpson who tried a shot from distance that was easily gathered by Almunia.  Watford launched a counter attack but McGugan’s shot took a deflection and was easy for Green to deal with.  Everyone in the away stand was screaming at Ekstrand to pass to Pudil, who had a free run, but he delayed which allowed the defence to get back to block Pudil’s shot.  Watford had dominated the half, but QPR nearly made the breakthrough on the stroke of half time as Carroll curled a free-kick goalwards but, fortunately, Almunia was equal to it.

Almunia on the ball

Almunia on the ball

Half time entertainment was an interview with Phil Parkes, who I’ve always rather liked, made all the more entertaining as it was conducted while he tried to dodge being showered by the sprinklers.  I was also intrigued to see advertisements for the QPR stadium tours that were available in English and Korean.  Given the impossibility of sitting during the game, half time was also an opportunity to rest tired legs ready for the second half.

The only change at the start of the second period was the removal of Angella’s head bandage.  It had been moving around his head during the first half, so he clearly decided he was better off without it.  We had an early chance as Ranegie knocked Angella’s cross back to

Deeney congratulating Ranegie

Deeney congratulating Ranegie

Abdi but his shot hit the bloke in front of me in the upper tier.  Ranegie then sent a cross towards Deeney but Barton headed it for a corner.  The Frenchman was sporting a rather bizarre top knot so, while waiting for the corner to be taken, he was regaled with “Your hair’s embarrassing.”  He turned to the crowd and asked whether we were referring to him or Onuoha, whose hair was immaculate.  Tözsér took a quick free kick that was met with a powerful volley from Deeney that Green did really well to keep out.  A minute later we were ahead as Deeney nodded an Ekstrand cross down to Ranegie who swept it past Green.  There was a fairly mental celebration in the stand, which was in danger of tipping some of us into the lower tier.  Watford continued to push as Angella battled to keep the ball in on the sideline, passed to Riera who found Abdi whose shot flew wide of the target.  Ranegie was booked as Onuoha bounced off him.  McGugan tried to

Angella and Doyle tussle

Angella and Doyle tussle

release Ranegie, but the Swede was flagged offside.  Then Abdi was booked for a soft foul on Morrison.  From the free kick, Barton shot over the bar.  On the hour McGugan was replaced by Battocchio and was applauded off by Cassetti and Tözsér, which was a nice touch.  Battocchio’s first contribution was a lovely pass to Pudil whose shot was caught by Green.  From a corner, Morrison evaded a couple of tackles before shooting straight at Almunia.  Austin connected with a Barton corner, but his header was blocked and the follow-up was punched clear by Almunia.  At this stage I noted worriedly that we were sitting deep and inviting them to attack us, which would only become more risky as Zamora and Hoilett replaced Doyle and Simpson.  The next chance for the home side fell to Austin whose terrific shot was well saved by Almunia.  With quarter of an hour to go, QPR were level as Barton took a free-kick just outside the area which he hit through the ragged end of our wall

Attacking a corner

Attacking a corner

into the opposite corner.  Watford tried to strike back immediately as a shot from Deeney was parried by Green, the ball reached Abdi whose shot was headed off the line by Onuoha.  Austin then broke free of the defence but shot wide of the far post.  Ranegie played a through ball to Deeney who shot just wide of the far post, but the flag was already up for offside.  Austin broke into the Watford box, but Almunia dropped to save.  Austin was then booked for a very late tackle on Riera.  In the final minute of normal time, with Watford having failed to make the most of a couple of corners, QPR broke forward, there was a bit of goalmouth pinball, Watford failed to clear the ball and it fell to Austin who curled a shot past Almunia to win the game for the hosts.

I must admit that I left the ground furious that we’d sat back and let them get back into the game.  My notes don’t back up that version of events, but it was certainly the case that we had prevented QPR getting a sniff of goal for over an hour and, while the winner came after we’d committed forward for a corner, they had a number of chances in the last 25 minutes.  Still, on the plus side, we had played some lovely football and looked the better team on the day.  It is just a shame that we don’t capitalize on our periods of dominance.  If we did, it would have been us confirming a play-off place instead of languishing in mid-table.

A Win with no Caveats

Abdi on the attack

Abdi on the attack

There was a cricket match going on at the West Herts, which is always a sad sight as it means that the season is nearly over.  When I arrived to get my programme from Doreen at the Bill Mainwood programme hut, she had run out.  This interruption to my pre-match routine always puts my nerves on edge as I assume that the rest of the afternoon will go equally badly.

Team news was that Sannino had made one change with Ranegie replacing the injured Anya.  So the starting line-up was Almunia, Angella, Ekstrand, Hoban, Riera, McGugan, Tözsér, Abdi, Faraoni, Ranegie and Deeney.

Riera being congratulated on his goal

Riera being congratulated on his goal

The first goalmouth action was an odd juggling match at the left hand post between Almunia and Wordsworth which, fortunately, ended with Manuel knocking the ball out for a corner.  A lovely Watford breakaway started with Riera passing to Faraoni who advanced and played a through ball for Ranegie who was stopped by a brilliant tackle on the edge of the box.  There was danger at the other end of the pitch as a shot rebounded off Ekstrand to Williams whose shot was blocked by Almunia.  Watford took the lead on 21 minutes with a lovely goal, which started with a brilliant interception by Hoban who found McGugan, he released Riera who advanced before cutting inside and curling a wonderful

Tozser takes a corner

Tozser takes a corner

shot into the corner.  From kick-off, Ipswich tried to strike back as Williams broke into the box and played a low cross that nobody could get on the end of.  Abdi played in Ranegie, who mishit a shot which fell to Riera but his shot flew past the far post.  Then Deeney did well to hold the ball up before passing to McGugan who whipped in a cross that was put out for a corner just before it reached Ranegie.

At half time, it was great to see my lovely friend, Sarah, on the pitch with the NCS youngsters who had raised money for the Teenage Cancer Trust with an event at the museum.

Deeney congratulates Angella

Deeney congratulates Angella

Ipswich started the second half brightly as Nouble broke into the box and fired a shot over the bar.  Watford nerves were jangling as a ball bounced dangerously around the box before being cleared off the line by Hoban.  Then McGugan released Deeney who controlled the ball before shooting, but his effort was straight at Gerken.  The visitors were level five minutes into the half as a cross from Nouble was flicked past Almunia by Wordsworth who was wandering lonely as a cloud in our box.  Soon after, Deeney was prevented from reaching an Angella cross by a push that went unpunished.  Angella then made a rare error in losing out to Murphy who was stopped by a great saving tackle from Ekstrand.  Angella was booked soon after for a push on Williams who had been winding him

Tozser breaks into the box to set up McGugan

Tozser breaks into the box to set up McGugan

up for a while and whose play-acting was seriously getting on my nerves.  Just after the hour mark, Ipswich should have taken the lead as a header from Hyam was pushed up onto the bar by Almunia and bounced out.  After these scares, it was a relief to see Watford score again as Angella appeared out of nowhere to nod a Tözsér free-kick past Gerken.  His mental celebration is becoming a bit of a trademark, but always makes me smile.  We had hardly sat down from celebrating that goal when Tözsér broke into the box and cut the ball back to McGugan who shot past Gerken into the far corner for Watford’s third.  Given the start that Ipswich had made to the half, they must have wondered what had hit them.  It was Watford who looked like increasing the lead as Angella bust a gut

McGugan congratulated by his team mates

McGugan congratulated by his team mates

to get on the end of a Tözsér corner at the far post, but didn’t quite make it.  Then McGugan did really well to keep the ball in play on the sideline, cut in but shot well over.  With 10 minutes remaining, Abdi was replaced by Battocchio, it was so good to see the youngster make such a rapid recovery from what had looked like a nasty injury two weeks ago.  Green replaced Wordsworth for the visitors.  A ball over the top from Tözsér was won in the air by Deeney who continued to fight off the attentions of the defender before getting in a cross that deserved more than to be blocked.  The evil Williams went down theatrically again and this time earned Tözsér a booking.  As a fan in the stands most of my shouting is reserved for encouraging our lads so I was greeted with open mouthed surprise from my sister and our neighbours in the row in front as I let Williams know in no

Angella  challenges almost out of shot :-)

Angella challenges almost out of shot 🙂

uncertain terms what I thought of him.  Sannino made another substitution as Pudil replaced Riera.  A Williams cross was met with a header by Nouble that the attentions of Hoban ensured was directed over the bar.  There was a final rash of substitutions as Murray replaced McGugan for the home side while Hyam and the obnoxious Williams were replaced by Watford’s old friend, Hunt, and Taylor for the visitors.  In the final minute of the game, Hunt tried a shot from distance which bounced off the roof of the net.  Then Ranegie and Murray combined to feed Battocchio, whose shot was blocked and rebounded to Murray who volleyed just over.  After the start that Ipswich had to the half, I had been concerned that this would be another disappointing afternoon, but the two quick goals killed them off and they didn’t muster another chance worthy of the name.

Post match congratulations

Post match congratulations

In recent games, I have been drawn to watching Gabriele Angella’s reaction at the end of the match.  When we lose, he is livid and his team mates are better staying well out of his way.  But at the end of this game he joined a number of the others in front of the Lower Rous.  It was so lovely to see so many players signing autographs and Gabriele was the last to leave.

We have had a couple of decent home wins recently in which any praise of the team has been tempered with comments regarding the poor quality of the opposition.  The win over Ipswich had no such caveat.  They are a decent team and we thoroughly deserved that win.

Disappointment at the Den

Borough Market

Borough Market

It was a little chilly on Saturday, but pleasant enough to have our pre-match pints standing outside the pub in Borough Market watching the world go by. The cider was rather lovely and the food stalls there are a delight, which is just what you need before making the short trip to the depths of South Bermondsey.

The pre-admission bag search was carried out by a woman who, in her quest to find bottles, repeatedly asked me if I was carrying deodorant. I tried not to interpret this as a pointed comment on my personal hygiene.

The minute's silence for the 96

The minute’s silence for the 96

In common with all games this weekend, there was a minute’s silence at 15:06 to remember the 96 who died at Hillsborough. As someone who was at a football match on 15th April 1989, standing on a terrace at Swindon, the horror of what happened that day will never leave me. Over the intervening 25 years, that horror has been married to increasing levels of anger at the way that the victims and their families have been treated. I hope that the new inquests will finally give the families some closure.

Cristian Battocchio in with the away fans

Cristian Battocchio in with the away fans

As we awaited the kick-off, a chant of “Cristian Battocchio” went up behind me and sure enough there was the young midfielder looking for a seat in the away stand. I’m pleased to say that he was walking without crutches and had no trouble walking up and down the steps as he chose his vantage point.

The home side had an early chance on goal as Edwards tried a shot from distance that flew over the bar. Edwards was also involved in the next incident of note, as he tried to escape from Riera and was cynically taken down, earning the Spaniard a booking. Watford’s first goal attempt was a shot from McGugan that was wide of the target. Angella had a great chance from a McGugan corner but headed just wide. Deeney released McGugan, but the defender got the better of him and set up a counter attack that finished with Martin shooting just wide of the

McGugan celebrating his goal

McGugan celebrating his goal

near post. On 16 minutes, Watford went ahead as Deeney cut the ball back to McGugan who buried it past Forde. McGugan could have increased the lead soon after with a lovely shot that curled just wide. On 25 minutes, he tried another shot from distance that also curled just wide of the target. Millwall’s Martin was booked for a rant at the referee after a throw was given against him when he headed the ball out. I can only think that he believed that Abdi had got a touch to it. The home side had a great chance to equalize as Malone unleashed a powerful shot that Almunia did well to block. On the half hour, Almunia came for a corner by Martin, his punch fell to Woolford but his shot was blocked. Then Millwall had

Abdi on the ball

Abdi on the ball

another decent chance as Garvan got on the end of a cross from Maierhofer but again the shot was saved by Almunia. Tözsér was penalized for a high tackle on Williams which the Millwall players thought was inside the box, but the referee indicated otherwise. The free-kick came to nothing. Then Angella intervened to divert a shot from Martin for a corner. Deeney and McGugan combined, but Troy’s shot was straight at Forde. Just before half-time, with Anya on the ground injured, Millwall launched an attack that seemed to go on forever but ended when Woolford shot straight at Almunia, who kicked the ball out to allow Anya to receive treatment. That was Ikechi’s last involvement as he limped off to be replaced by Forestieri.

A Tozser free kick

A Tozser free kick

At half time, Morison replaced Garvan. Early in the second half, Almunia and Hoban both went up for a cross with Maierhofer challenging and Hoban went down injured. It was a worrying sight but, thankfully, after a period of treatment he was fit to continue. Millwall had a great chance to equalize as Maierhofer met a free kick with a header that was just over the bar. Then a nice move from Watford as a throw-in from Faraoni allowed Abdi to get behind the defence and cross, but Deeney’s header was over the bar. On the hour, Jackson replaced Martin for the home side. Millwall were level soon after as, from a corner, the ball dropped to Morison who shot across Almunia into the opposite corner. It has to be said that the equalizer had been coming and, all of a sudden, there was a wall of noise in the

The wounded warrior

The wounded warrior

Den. For the visitors Pudil replaced Riera, who had been disappointing. On 69 minutes, Watford launched their first real attack of the half as Abdi found Forestieri whose shot was blocked and rebounded back to Abdi whose shot was also blocked. We were on the attack again immediately as Pudil advanced and crossed for McGugan, but Forde was down to save his shot. Maierhofer was replaced by Easter for the home side. There was a clash of heads between Angella and Beevers which resulted in the Italian returning with a heavily bandaged head. As the first high ball came his way after his treatment, I wondered if he’d hesitate, but not our Gabriele. He seemed even more determined to get his head to every ball that came anywhere near him, as if to test out his new headgear. Millwall substitute Jackson attempted to break the deadlock, but his shot was high and wide. Murray replaced McGugan

Celebrating Adbi's Goal

Celebrating Adbi’s Goal

for the final few minutes. Millwall really should have taken the lead as a great shot from Dunne required an equally good save from Almunia to keep it out. But it was the visitors who, totally undeservedly, took the lead as a swift counter attack finished with Pudil cutting the ball back to Abdi whose shot took a deflection before flying past Forde. Millwall went for the equalizer but Almunia denied Woolford. Watford couldn’t hold on. Deep into injury time, a Millwall corner bounced around the Watford box before dropping to Woolford whose shot should have been held by Almunia, but bounced out of his arms and into the goal.

 

More celebrations of Abdi's strike

More celebrations of Abdi’s strike

There was a lot of frustration among the travelling ‘Orns at the end of the game. But, annoying as it was to concede so late again, the hosts were fully deserving of at least a point as we had been dreadful in the second half. Equally, no blame should be attached to Almunia who, despite his lapse, had pulled off some great saves to keep us in the game.

Hopefully, people will finally stop talking about promotion and what ifs. We have not been strong or consistent enough this season to gain promotion and I certainly don’t want to see another unprepared Watford team losing week in week out in the Premier League. Next season will be very interesting. If we can keep this team together with a couple of quality additions, I’d like to think that we could do what Leicester have done this season. But that is a big ‘if’. Next Summer will be very interesting.

 

Whites-wash

Yesterday was a very sad day for me as I handed the Supporter of the Season shield back to the club ready to be engraved with the name of this year’s winner.  I have to admit that I had it sitting on my desk at work all day, just to eke out the final moments with it in my possession.

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

Team news was that Beppe had made four changes from Saturday’s team, the most significant of which was Abdi’s first start since August.  The announcement of Almen’s involvement was greeted with loud cheers from the Vicarage Road crowd.  The starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Riera, Tözsér, Abdi, Murray, Faraoni, Anya and Deeney.  The Leeds line-up included the evil Poleon, whose actions last season in causing Bond’s injury cast a pall over the last game of the season.  But, as always, it was lovely to see Watford legend Nigel Gibbs back at Vicarage Road, even if it pains me to see him with that crest on his chest.

Gibbsy and Sannino exhibiting their national characteristics

Gibbsy and Sannino exhibiting their national characteristics

Watford started brightly and, in the third minute, Anya released Abdi on the left, he crossed for Faraoni whose shot was blocked.  Anya then received a pass from Deeney on the edge of the box, but was taken out by a sliding tackle.  We were a goal up after 8 minutes as Abdi played a lovely ball to Anya on the left wing, he advanced and crossed and there was Abdi to head the ball past Butland.  It was a lovely goal, made all the more enjoyable by the identity of the goalscorer.  It is great to have Almen back.  For the next twenty minutes, Leeds had a lot of possession but were not allowed to do anything with it.  Then Marco Cassetti executed a high tackle on Tonge and found his way into the referee’s book just in time to earn himself a suspension for his tenth caution of the season.  Just before the half hour, Deeney played a lovely through ball to Anya, but the Scot got the ball caught under his feet and the defence got back to thwart him.  Then McCormack saw Almunia off his line and launched an audacious shot from the halfway line that had the Watford keeper back-pedalling to get

Celebrating Anya's Goal

Celebrating Anya’s Goal

behind it.  We went two goals up as Anya played a short pass to the overlapping Riera, his low cross reached Murray who played it short to Faraoni whose cross back to the far post was met with a header from Anya that flew past Butland.  Watford attacked again as Deeney released Murray who advanced before playing a through ball to Faraoni but his shot was put out for a corner.  At half time, there was satisfaction that we were comfortably two goals ahead.  Leeds had had a lot of possession, but our defence had restricted their shooting opportunities so that the only shot that Almunia had to deal with was a punt from the half-way line.

Challenges in the penalty area

Challenges in the penalty area

Leeds were immediately on the attack at the start of the second half as Riera lost out to Poleon who played a through ball to Hunt whose shot was wide of the near post and bounced behind the goal.  Deeney played a ball over to Anya but he was tripped by Wootton, who was booked.  Then Murray played a lovely ball to Deeney in the box, but Butland came out to block.  The clearance eventually reached Tözsér who, with shouts of “shoooot” ringing in his ears, curled a shot just wide of the target.  Then Riera intercepted the ball, it reached Deeney who tried to release Anya, but the pass was too far in front of him.  At the other end, a low shot from the substitute, Stewart, was straight at Almunia.  On the hour mark, Faraoni put the ball out to allow McCormack to receive treatment and was rewarded with a kick from Hunt, who was lucky to escape with a yellow card.  Hunt was involved in the next attack but his header from a free kick was straight at

Deeney is under there somewhere

Deeney is under there somewhere

Almunia.  Watford’s third goal was a testament to the persistence of two men.  First Abdi intercepted and then battled a defender to keep the ball, he passed to Deeney who went past a couple of defenders in the box, while never appearing to have control of the ball, before hitting a shot from an acute angle that hit the roof of the net.  By way of celebration, he leapt into the Rookery and was engulfed in the celebrating crowd.  When he emerged he was given a yellow card.  Then Anya beat a defender and cut the ball back to Deeney who tried to find his strike partner with a through ball, but Butland was first to it.  Poleon tried a shot at Almunia, which was parried, and, when he lined up to shoot from the rebound, he was tackled and Watford launched a counter attack which finished with Anya playing a square ball to Deeney who looked certain to score but Butland stood tall

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

and blocked his shot.  At the other end, Warnock tried a shot that was well over the bar.  In the last ten minutes, both sides made substitutions as White replaced McCormack for Leeds and McGugan and Pudil came on for Abdi and Riera.  McGugan’s first action was to latch on to a throw-in and hit a cross that was blocked by Pearce with no little pain for the defender.  Leeds then put themselves into trouble as a corner bounced off the back of Tonge’s thigh and needed an intervention from Butland to prevent them from going further behind.  Merkel replaced Murray for the last couple of minutes of the game, but there was no subsequent action of note.

Applauding the crowd

Applauding the crowd

At the final whistle, there was a feeling of job done by the home team against an opposition that had had a lot of possession but were very poor.  But, sometimes, you have to give credit to a team in that situation.  I was impressed with the performance as, despite their possession, the Leeds players were allowed no time on the ball to create anything and never really threatened Almunia.  A feature after the final whistle of recent games has been the rage that Angella demonstrates when we underachieve, so it was nice to see him celebrating with his team mates rather than them running from his fury.

After the players had been applauded off the pitch, Cristian Battocchio made his way on crutches along the front of the Rookery and was greeted with warm applause and the faithful chanting his name.  Despite his injury, he was smiling broadly as he acknowledged the crowd.

Don and Johnno

Don and Johnno

On the way out of the ground, I went to meet Don Fraser in the Lower Rous.  During the game, he had been joined by Richard Johnson, a corporate guest for the game, who chose to watch from the disabled platform rather than the posh seats in the Upper Rous.  As we left through the lounge, I greeted Johnno, although I wasn’t sure that he could hear me after 90 minutes of listening to Don barracking the referee.  As we left through the hospitality entrance, there was a bloke surrounded by a crowd of people having photographs taken with him.  I assumed he was a retired footballer and that I would kick myself when I found out who he was.  Then I read the report of the game on the BBC website and saw a photograph of Massimo Cellino and the penny dropped.  Although why on earth anyone would want to have their picture taken with him completely baffles me.

The Return of Dyche and Attwell

 

Watford managers past and present

Watford managers past and present

All the talk before this game was about the return of two men, the much loved former manager, Sean Dyche, and equally much reviled referee, Stuart Attwell, who was making his first appearance at Vicarage Road since awarding the ghost goal.

On arrival at my seat in the Rookery, I was delighted to see the elderly couple who sit in front of my sister. They have been absent for a considerable time and we feared the worst.  As so often with the people you see at every game, we only knew their first names, so had no way of finding out how they were.  It was such a relief to see them back where they belong.

Waiting for a ball into the box

Waiting for a ball into the box

Team news was that Beppe had made only one change from the win at Sheffield Wednesday with Cassetti coming in for the injured Doyley, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Battocchio, Anya, Ranegie and Deeney.  Former Watford loanees, Chris Baird and Michael Kightly, started for Burnley.

There had been much pre-game talk on social media about giving Attwell a hard time and, sure enough, the first time that the ball went out for a goal kick it was greeted with cheers and a rendition of 1-0 to the Golden Boys.  This elicited a smile from the referee.  Early in the game, Burnley won a free-kick in a dangerous position but Treacey delivered it

Celebrating Deeney's goal

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

straight into the arms of Almunia.  On 9 minutes, Watford were ahead as Deeney hit a shot from distance, which took a nasty deflection and looped over Heaton and into the net for Troy’s 20th league goal of the season.  The visitors appeared to have equalized almost immediately as a cross from Treacey was booted into the net from point blank distance by Barnes, so we were relieved to see that the flag was up for offside.  Immediately the Rookery started a chorus of “There’s only one Stuart Attwell.”  We had a couple of great chances to increase the lead.  First, McGugan brought the ball down and hit a lovely curling shot that was just wide of the far post.  Then Battocchio found Ranegie with his back to goal on the edge of the box, he played a short pass to Deeney

Anya on a run

Anya on a run

but his shot was just over the bar.  Then McGugan put a dangerous cross into the box but Ranegie couldn’t quite get his head to it.  At the other end, Barnes got on the end of a Kightly cross, but the presence of Angella ensured that his header was wide of the target.  Battocchio then played a ball over to Pudil, who didn’t have time to control and poked it wide.  Ten minutes before half-time Battocchio collided with a Burnley player and stayed down.  It was a while before play stopped and the physio could come on.  The treatment went on for some considerable time before the stretcher was waved on and Cristian was carried off and straight out through the gap between the Rookery and the Main Stand.  It is horrible to see a player carried off like that and it put a dampner on the rest of the half.  Abdi took his place in the midfield.  There were 6 minutes added on at the end of the half, during which a Tözsér corner was flying around the Burnley box as a number of shots were blocked, but McGugan’s final attempt flew over the bar.

At half-time, there was much satisfaction in a good first half performance tinged with worry about Battocchio’s injury.  Cristian had been playing really well before he went off.  Deeney was playing like a man possessed and the often maligned McGugan had been excellent.  In addition, Almunia did not punch a single cross, each time assuredly catching the ball.

A Watford attack

A Watford attack

At the start of the second half, the Watford players were out early and found themselves kicking their heels waiting for their opponents.  It nearly started badly for Watford as a clearance by Ekstrand rebounded off Barnes and went just wide.  Then a shot from Arfield curled just wide of the far post. At the other end, Ranegie released Deeney who played a low cross to McGugan who shot wide.  A scramble in the Watford box that appeared to include a handball by the home side, finished with Kightly shooting into the side-netting.  McGugan received a pass from Abdi but his shot from distance was well over the bar.  Then Anya exchanged passes with Deeney who crossed for McGugan, but Baird cut it out.  Then a Tözsér cross was met with a lovely header from

Ranegie challenged for a header

Ranegie challenged for a header

Ranegie, but Heaton was equal to it.  With 15 minutes to go, Faraoni replaced Ranegie for the home side and Burnley brought on Stock for Jones.  There was anger in the home stands as a ball crossed the sideline, but play was allowed to go on and Burnley won a free-kick in a dangerous position.  It could have spelled disaster as the deep free-kick was on target, but Abdi headed the ball off the line.  From Kightly’s corner, Ben Mee sent a header goalwards, but Almunia pulled off a fabulous save to keep it out.  McGugan then played a brilliant through ball to Anya, who rounded the goalkeeper, but his shot lacked pace and Baird had time to get back to clear.    From the corner, Pudil’s header was well saved by Heaton.  At the other end Edgar’s header flew just wide.  The Clarets got the equalizer with five minutes remaining as Arfield found space on the edge of the box and shot into the

The lovely Stuart Attwell

The lovely Stuart Attwell

corner past the diving Almunia.  Riera came on in place of the excellent McGugan for the last minutes of the game.  The first booking of the game went to Faraoni after what looked like a soft foul, although I was informed that he threw the ball away.  In the last minute of time added on, Angella released Pudil who advanced and found Deeney who played a one-two with Anya before shooting just wide.

After the final whistle, Sean Dyche graciously applauded all four stands and the Watford faithful loudly applauded him in return.  It was disappointing to come away from that game with only a point, but pleasing to see such a positive performance against a team that will likely claim the second automatic promotion spot.  If we continue to build and key players stay fit, next season could be very interesting indeed.

 

What’s It Like to Win Away?

The trip to Sheffield Wednesday is my favourite away day of the season, so I was booked on a ridiculously early train and irrationally furious when it was running 10 minutes late.  I met up with some friends at the station and had a lovely walk in the spring sunshine to the pre-match pub, which is a cracker.  It is located in an unprepossessing area but is a brewery tap with a wonderful array of real ales and ciders, the food is home cooked and delicious with plenty of vegetarian and gluten free options and the bar staff are delightful.  There was soon a large gathering of friendly Hornets in the back room.  Then another familiar face

The memorial to the 96

The memorial to the 96

appeared.  It was lovely to see Nick Cox, former head of the Watford Academy and now at Sheffield United, who didn’t move quickly enough to avoid a drunken hug from me.  He spoke fondly of his time at Watford and said that there was no way he was going to miss this game.  When we arrived at the ground, we paid a visit to the memorial to the 96 who died at the cup semi-final.  The wording was similar to something you would see on a war memorial and my blood ran cold at the memory of all those fans who went to a football match and never came home.

Team news was that Beppe had made four changes with Doyley replacing Hoban in defence, McGugan and Battocchio replacing Merkel and Murray and Cassetti making way for Ranegie.  So the starting line-up was Almunia, Angella, Ekstrand, Doyley, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Battocchio, Anya, Ranegie and Deeney.

Angella congraulated on the opening goal

Angella congraulated on the opening goal

The first few minutes of the game were littered with misplaced passes and I was just resigning myself to another disappointing away performance when a Tözsér free-kick was headed down by McGugan to Angella who knocked it past Kirkland.  Wednesday threatened to strike back almost immediately as Helan left Doyley on the ground injured and ran into the box where he was stopped by Ekstrand.  I must admit to having been a little concerned that the Swede would be penalized, he usually is, but the referee waved play on.  In the eighth minute, a shot from Palmer was deflected wide.  The home side threatened again after a quarter of an hour, when a Mattock corner was met with a shot from Maguire that was blocked in the box.  At the other end, Anya played a ball to Deeney

McGugan congratulated after scoring

McGugan congratulated after scoring

who headed straight at the keeper but was flagged offside anyway.   For Wednesday, Palmer got on the end of a Buxton cross but Almunia dived at his feet to save.  At this point, a loud chant went up for Almen Abdi who was warming up.  We were two up after 22 minutes as Pudil charged down the left wing and crossed for McGugan to head past Kirkland.  At the other end, Afobe tried a shot from distance that Almunia dropped to save.  On the half hour there was a bit of a scramble in the Wednesday box as shots from both Deeney and McGugan were blocked.  Then Afobe took the ball off Anya’s feet and found Palmer who shot just wide.  Angella was first to find his way into the referee’s book for what looked like an innocuous trip.  As is his wont, he looked distraught.  But asking the home crowd in front of him to intervene on his behalf was probably not his best move.  From the resulting free kick, Best headed straight at Almunia.  Ekstrand then gave away a free-kick on the left of the box with a cynical foul that looked far more worthy of a card than Angella’s,

Beppe trying to get on the pitch

Beppe trying to get on the pitch

but the referee just gave the foul.  Maguire’s free kick was headed clear by Doyley.  Pudil then tackled Lee and won the ball, but Lee went down as if he’d been poleaxed, so another card was shown.  From the free kick, Best headed wide but he was flagged offside anyway.  As the teams went off at half time, Angella was still protesting his innocence to the referee.  The fans were delighted to be two goals up, but still far from convinced that we’d win the game.

A pet hate of mine at modern football is the trend for negative chanting.  “How shit must you be …” when your own team is doing well does my head in and there had been plenty of that in the first half.  At half time, the concourse was rocking with a chant of “Sannino” to Spandau Ballet’s “Gold”, which was catchy as hell and I despaired that they were saving the best chant of the day for a time when the team couldn’t hear it.  Why oh why had we not heard that in the stands in the first half.  Thankfully, the half-time rendition was just choir practice and this was the theme tune for most of the second half.  It was raucous and brilliant.

Deeney receives congratulations from the scorers of the first two goals

Deeney receives congratulations from the scorers of the first two goals

The second half started perfectly for the Hornets as Anya released Deeney who ran clear of the defence and, with only Kirkland to beat, rolled the ball past him into the net.  I’ve heard the goal described as “audacious”.  From our position behind the goal, the ball appeared to be moving so slowly that I was convinced that either it would stop before reaching the goal line or that Kirkland would stroll back to stop it, but neither of those came to pass and Deeney had bagged his 19th goal of the season.  The 20th was not long in coming as a cross from McGugan into the box led to a number of shots being blocked before Deeney finally poked the ball past Kirkland and the away fans finally allowed themselves to believe that we might win the

Deeney after scoring his 20th of the season

Deeney after scoring his 20th of the season

game.  In contrast, a number of Wednesday fans gave up and were seen streaming out of the stand to our left with “Is there a fire drill” ringing in their ears.  Deeney could have completed a hat trick in a five minute period as he ran on to a ball over the top into the box, but Kirkland was first to the ball.  Wednesday struck back a couple of minutes later as Afobe headed Palmer’s cross past Almunia and some niggling doubts started in the minds of those in the away end.  I think I am becoming a bit soft on our players when it comes to bookings as, when the next yellow was shown to Tözsér, I noted that he was booked for tripping over.  Just before the hour mark, McGugan battled past a couple of defenders to get into scoring position, when he could easily have gone down and claimed a penalty.  Sadly his honesty was not rewarded as his shot was saved.  Watford’s first substitution saw Pudil replaced by new signing Riera while the home side replaced Maguire with Nuhiu.  The Wednesday substitute was immediately in action with a header that was straight at Almunia.  On 69 minutes, Abdi replaced McGugan to huge cheers from the away crowd but slight trepidation from me as I’d like to see him wrapped in cotton wool to emerge firing on all cylinders next season.  His first action was to latch on to a back heel from Riera and play a lovely pass that was greeted with a chant of “sexy football” from the travelling ‘Orns.  It is a while since we’ve heard that one.  Lee was booked for a foul on Battocchio.  Then Angella lost the ball to Nuhiu, who found Best whose shot was blocked.  The follow-up cross was headed clear by Doyley.  Lavery replaced Helan for Wednesday.  From the corner there was a shout by the home fans for a penalty against Angella, but we couldn’t see the incident from the away end and the referee signalled for another corner.  At the other end, a clearance dropped to Deeney who crossed for Ranegie whose powerful shot stung Kirkland’s

New signing, Riera, takes a throw-in

New signing, Riera, takes a throw-in

palms.  With 13 minutes to go, Faraoni replaced Anya for the visitors and Afobe made way for Johnson for the home side.  Wednesday had a great chance to pull another goal back as Onyewu and Almunia both jumped for a ball into the box but the defender connected with a header that came back off the crossbar.  Watford launched a counter attack as Battocchio played a lovely ball to Deeney whose shot was saved when he really should have had his hat trick.  In time added on, Ranegie tried to release Deeney but his pass was too far in front of his strike partner.  Ranegie’s next attempt saw Deeney flattening Kirkland in his eagerness to get to the ball.  The last chance of the game fell to the home side but Kieran Lee’s shot was saved by the feet of Almunia.

The players thanking the travelling faithful

The players thanking the travelling faithful

At the final whistle, there was a great outburst of joy in the away end and Beppe and all the players came over to thank us for our support.  Having missed the game at Huddersfield, it has been six months since I saw us win away and I’d forgotten how much fun it was.  Apart from the fun, there were some very good signs from the game.  Riera’s little cameo was a joy, Ranegie and Deeney again looked like a partnership, Doyley was Doyley and Abdi played 20 minutes unscathed.  I have written off this season, but can’t help feeling that the signs are good for next year.  But the best news of all is that both Wednesday and ourselves are safe in the middle of the table so there will be another trip to Sheffield next season.