Tag Archives: Alberto Moreno

Football is Fun Again

A young GT and his coaching badges

The first day of the season and, on arriving in Watford, it was grey and drizzly.  I was at the Hornet Shop before 9:30, so it was rather bizarre to see the programme sellers and burger stands already setting up.  Having bought the new home and away shirts, a woolly hat (just in case) and a Watford coffee cup, I headed to the museum to get in line for the Graham Taylor exhibition.

We were there as the doors were opened so had plenty of time to enjoy the display.  It was very much a celebration of the man, with memories from other clubs, although his time at Watford was paramount.  It was lovely to see everything from his coaching badges and certificates to the robes from his investiture as Freeman of the Borough.  There were other lovely treats, a family photo of GT crossing the line at the London Marathon in a time of 3:21:11, plus his sponsorship form, as he was raising money for the family terrace, and his medal.  The Norfolk Horns flag, signed by the stalwarts of that group, was tucked away.

GT and Rita at the Palace and the OBE

My niece had come along, so was ‘treated’ to the old people reminiscing.  To this end, I was delighted to spot the Terry Challis cartoon from the weekend after we beat both Spurs and Man Utd 5-1 in May 1985.  Her reasonable question was if those teams were good then.  Oh yes, and the cartoon still makes me smile. But the highlight was the photo of GT and Rita at Buckingham Palace when he received his OBE, which was displayed alongside the award itself.  It was a lovely exhibition and so kind of Rita, Joanne and Karen to share their memories with the fans.  The comment book that was available will be shared with the family, so gave us a chance to say thank you.  There was an additional treat with the presence of some old Watford friends who I hadn’t seen in a while.  So lovely to catch up.

So to Vicarage Road for the early kick-off.  The new season ticket worked, which is always a good thing.  As I entered the gangway to our seats, our usual steward wasn’t there.  The new incumbent asked whether I knew where I was going and, when I said that I did, demanded to see my ticket.  In the 15 years that I have had that seat, I have never been asked to show evidence.  Silly, but it really irritated me.

One of the delights of the first game of the season is to catch up with our Rookery neighbours after a Summer apart.  It was good to see them all present and correct.

Team news was that only one of our new signings was in the starting line-up and, given that it was our old friend Chalobah, it didn’t seem like a new face at all.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Kaboul, Britos, Holebas; Chalobah, Doucouré; Amrabat, Cleverley, Pereyra; Okaka

Somewhere in the distance, Okaka is opening the scoring

Watford started the game brightly and created the first chance in the 5th minute when a cross from Janmaat was headed clear before Okaka could reach it.  Okaka then played a through ball to Pereyra whose shot was deflected wide.  Having discovered in the museum that my camera battery was dead, I decided to try out the camera on my phone as the players gathered for the corner.  I was faffing trying to focus, so missed seeing Okaka connect with the delivery from Holebas to head home and open the scoring.  I wasn’t too late in joining in the celebrations though.  Janmaat went down injured after a quarter of an hour, nothing new there, so had to be replaced by Femenía.  I had been impressed with what I had seen from the Spaniard in pre-season, so was not too concerned at this early change.  The substitute’s first action was a great tackle to stop Mané advancing down the wing, he was rewarded with a foul by the Liverpool man.  Watford threatened again with a cross from Amrabat, but Mignolet gathered with Okaka lurking.

Femenia takes a throw in

Just before the half hour mark, there was some activity among the stewards who had their eye on some miscreant in the rows in front.  I wondered whether they had been alerted to two blokes sitting in front who were clearly Liverpool fans.  It was the ideal time to watch them, as Liverpool scored from their first chance of the game, Mané beating Gomes after a lovely passing move.  The Liverpool guys didn’t react and a man and child who were sitting in the wrong seats were moved.  Having been distracted for the first two goals, I am pleased to say that I was fully engaged when we regained the lead a couple of minutes after the equalizer.  Doucouré, who was impressing, found Cleverley in the box, the return pass led to a bit of a scramble, but eventually fell to the Frenchman who beat Mignolet.  The first booking of the game went to the visitors as Mané was cautioned for a crunching tackle on Doucouré.  Liverpool had a couple of chances to draw level before half time.  First as Salah broke forward and fired over the bar.  Then, in time added on, when Mané met a Firmino corner with a header that flew just wide.

So we reached half time with a deserved lead.  We were playing some superb football and there were smiles all around in the Rookery.

Holebas lining up a free kick

Watford were forced to make another substitution early in the second half as Pereyra pulled up and left the field to be replaced by Richarlison.  I do hope that this will not lead to another long lay-off for Pereyra, but I was very interested in seeing the young Brazilian in action.  While the substitute was being given the tactical talk, Liverpool attacked against the 10 men with Wijnaldum finding Salah who fired wide.  The Egyptian was involved in the next key moment in the game as he broke into the Watford box, Gomes appeared to save at his feet before he took a tumble.  The referee pointed to the spot.  It appeared to be a very harsh penalty from our vantage point in the away end, but replays showed that the referee made the correct decision.  Firmino stepped up and sent Gomes the wrong way to level the game.  It went from bad to worse a couple of minutes later as Firmino ran on to a ball over the top from the Liverpool half, He lofted it over Gomes and Salah turned it in to give the visitors the lead.  There was some confusion on the sidelines at this point.  The board had gone up indicating that Okaka was to be replaced by Gray and Emma Saunders had announced the change, but Silva changed his mind, opting to delay the substitution while they took stock after the goal.  A few minutes later the change was made and the former Burnley man became the third substitute to make his Watford debut.

Andre Gray takes to the field

At this point in the game, Liverpool were in the ascendancy and had a chance to increase their lead as Moreno tried a shot from the edge of the area that was tipped over by Gomes.  From the corner, Matip struck the crossbar.  Liverpool threated again from a corner, on this occasion Lovren’s shot was blocked by Gomes.  Salah had a further chance to increase the lead, but shot over the bar.  On the 72nd minute, the Watford faithful got to their feet to chant Graham Taylor’s name, the minute of chanting being interrupted by some oohing and aahing as Watford attacked the Liverpool box, but the ball ended up with Mignolet.  With a couple of minutes to go, the Liverpool keeper was shown the yellow card for time wasting.  He was to live to regret the 5 minutes that were added on.  Three minutes in, Britos unleashed a shot that took a smart save from Mignolet to push it clear.  He wasn’t so fortunate from the corner, as he pushed Richarlison’s shot onto the bar but Britos was on hand to turn the ball in from point blank range and send the Rookery into ecstasy.  Richarlison had a chance to snatch a winner but his header, following a cross from Amrabat, was wide of the target.  He was injured in the process and spent some time receiving treatment.  This meant some additional added time and one last chance for the visitors but Wijnaldum’s shot was blocked and the game ended in a draw.

Gathering for a corner

Well I certainly didn’t see that coming.  It was a tremendous team performance from a group of players who were working their socks off.  They fought for every ball and, when they were in possession, showed no little skill.  Given that a number of these players have barely met, the teamwork was very pleasing indeed and bodes well for the rest of the season.  Doucouré was given the Watford man of the match award for the sort of assured performance that we have come to expect of him, but a special mention has to go to Richarlison for a very impressive debut.  He fought for absolutely everything and took all that was thrown at him, while displaying skill and power.  He did not look like a player new to English football.  It is early days but if Silva’s men can continue marrying hard work with skilful attacking play, this will be a very enjoyable season indeed.  The game was summed up by comments from more than one of the fans around me, before the equalizer, that they would take a defeat as it had been thoroughly entertaining.

During the week, a friend, who is a Liverpool fan in Madrid, had asked me to answer some questions for their match preview on their website.  My prediction for the day was that the trip to the museum would be the only highlight.  I am very happy to have been proved so wrong.

 

A Better Performance at Anfield

Justice for the 96

Justice for the 96

Liverpool’s progression to the semi-final of the Europa League meant that our trip to Anfield was delayed to Sunday.  Thankfully, I had bought refundable train tickets, so was able to reschedule with no hassle.  It also meant that I had a Saturday afternoon free to see The Caretaker at the Old Vic which I had missed (slept through) after watching the U18s lose in their play-off a couple of weeks before.  The play was marvellous, Timothy Spall absolutely brilliant, and it made a lovely start to the weekend.

The train journey north seemed overly leisurely with a number of stops at intermediate stations to remain on schedule, so I was happy finally to arrive in Liverpool.  Even better to find that the pre-match pub was pleasantly empty, so I joined the advance party and was soon happily sat with good beer, a nice lunch and wonderful company.

The build-up to this match was oddly devoid of discussions of the home game against Liverpool, which seemed like a distant memory.  That was an amazing game and, sadly, our league form since has been rather poor, meaning that the achievements of this season have been overshadowed by the recent disappointments.

Team news was that Flores had made one change from the Villa game, bringing Prödl in for Paredes, meaning that Cathcart moved to the right back position.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Prödl, Britos, Cathcart, Jurado, Watson, Suarez, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo.  The inclusion of three centre backs did not go down well with many in the pre-match pub, but I’d trust Cathcart anywhere across the back.

The Kop pre-game

The Kop pre-game

We got on the bus to the ground with some friendly Liverpool fans and were dropped off to meet the rest of our party who had driven directly to the ground and visited the Fan Zone to pass the time.  As we waited at the away turnstiles, we saw the East Anglian Horns with a banner celebrating the final achievement of justice for the Hillsborough 96.  Well done to all involved in the banner for paying tribute to their fellow fans.

Prior to kick off, the rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” made the hairs on the back of the neck stand up.

Watford had the first shot on goal as Ighalo made an audacious attempt to lob Mignolet that was only just over the bar.  The visitors had another chance to take the lead as Ighalo played the ball out to Anya who crossed for Abdi whose shot was disappointingly over the bar.  I noticed, at this point, that the entire Kop was sitting down.  It puzzled me for a minute as it was such an unusual sight but, of course, Liverpool fans are passionately anti standing following the Hillsborough disaster.

Ighalo challenges for the ball

Ighalo challenges for the ball

Liverpool’s first chance came on 11 minutes with a shot from Coutinho that was deflected just wide.  At the other end, a cross from Abdi flew just over the head of Jurado.  For the home side, Moreno’s shot from just outside the area flew well over the bar.  Then Anya broke forward and tried a shot from a tight angle which flew over.  There was a very odd interlude as Coutinho prepared to take a free kick.  The referee marked the spot the kick should be taken from with his spray.  The player chose his spot and was told to move the ball.  But, as the referee walked away to mark the line for the defence, Coutinho picked the foam spot up and moved it and the ball to where he wanted to take the kick.  Bizarre.  A ball over the top reached Ighalo in the box, but it was taken off his feet by a defender who conceded a corner.  The corner was cleared to Abdi whose shot was blocked on the line.  Suárez conceded a free kick when he tripped Ibe just outside the box.  Benteke hit both the set piece and his follow-up into the wall.  Liverpool opened the scoring soon afterwards and it was a poor goal to give away.  A cross from Coutinho was knocked down by Benteke into the path of Allen and he finished past Gomes.  Watford almost hit back immediately as Anya found Jurado on the wing, his cross was headed just wide by Ighalo.  It was Watson’s turn next as he made up for his initial mis-kick with a better shot that was blocked.  At the other end Coutinho had two chances: first a shot from distance that was saved by Gomes, then a shot that was blocked by Prödl.  There was a shout for a penalty from the Hornets faithful as Skrtel appeared to be on Deeney’s shoulders in the box, but nothing was given so the Hornets went in at the break a goal down.  Despite the moans at the team selection, it had been a much better performance than of late and we were unfortunate to be behind.  In particular, Ighalo had been much livelier and I lived in hope that he would find his shooting boots in the second half.

Abdi lines up a free kick

Abdi lines up a free kick

The home side had the first chance of the second period as Coutinho played the ball out to Benteke before receiving a return ball which he put wide.  The Brazilian had another chance soon after, but this time his shot was easily saved by Gomes.  Ojo made a dangerous break before shooting high and wide.  Flores made his first substitute on 52 minutes bringing Guedioura on for Suárez.  Ighalo had a great chance to equalize as Anya crossed from the left and Deeney dummied leaving the Nigerian to hit a sweet shot that was heading for the top corner when Mignolet got his fingertips to it to push it behind.  Guedioura was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that flew high and wide.  Flores made a second substitution replacing Jurado with Berghuis.  Britos was the first to find his way into the referee’s book, although he was a bit unfortunate as he was swinging his leg at the ball when Benteke came running in and was kicked.  Liverpool’s first change came on the hour as Firmino replaced Coutinho.  The substitute tried his luck immediately but his shot was comfortably saved by Gomes.  A promising Watford move was stopped by a cynical foul by Flanagan on Abdi.  The Kosovan had a decent chance soon after as, with the Watford fans chanting his name, he hit a free kick just over the bar.  That was his last contribution to the game as he was replaced immediately by Amrabat.

Britos lines up a free kick

Britos lines up a free kick

Deeney did brilliantly to keep the ball while being challenged, his cross reached Ighalo, but the Nigerian couldn’t convert.  Deeney played the ball out to Berghuis whose shot was straight at Mignolet.  The Dutchman was then booked for a late tackle on Ibe.  It had been a lovely spell of play for the Hornets, so it was a great disappointment when Anya gave the ball away and it reached Firmino whose shot beat Gomes, who got a hand to it but couldn’t keep it out.  Again the Hornets tried to hit back as a shot from Ighalo was deflected into the side netting.  Britos met the corner from Berghuis with a header that flew over the bar.  Amrabat crossed for Ighalo who didn’t catch the ball properly, so the shot looped into the keeper’s arms.  At the other end a cross from Benteke was gathered by Gomes.  The home side could have increased their lead as Firmino’s cross drifted along in front of goal and Ibe met it with a powerful shot that came back off the post.  At this point, there was an announcement over the tannoy for the Watford supporters thanking them for their support for the 96 and particularly the banner and wishing us a safe journey home.  This was met with warm and lengthy applause from the travelling Hornets.  There was one last chance in time added on and it fell to the home side with a cross that Benteke somehow turned over the bar when it would have been easier to score.

Flores consoling Deeney

Flores consoling Deeney

So the final whistle went to a 2-0 defeat which was met with a chant of ‘3-2 on aggregate.’  It had been a much better performance, let down by a couple of mistakes which led to goals, and poor finishing from a Watford perspective.  Ighalo had the best game he has had for months but, earlier in the season, would have converted at least two of his chances.  After the final whistle we stayed behind to applaud the team.  Troy is normally the last player to come to the away end after he has completed his captain’s duties, but this afternoon was different.  I saw him standing talking to Flores, he had his head down and looked distraught.  Flores spoke to him for a while and then they came towards us together to take the plaudits.

As we left the ground we were wished a safe journey home by some of the nicest stewards that I have encountered all season.  That was also the most positive that I have felt after a defeat for some time.  It is hard to believe that there is only a week left of the season.  It has flown by and, at this stage, our only relegation concerns are regarding where we will be visiting next season.  That makes me very happy.

 

Embarrassing the Reds

The flags fly in the SEJ Stand

The flags fly in the SEJ Stand

Sunday lunchtime games always feel a bit odd.  I usually spend most of Saturday worrying that I have somehow misunderstood the fixture list and am missing the game.  So it is always a relief to arrive at the West Herts early doors and see a host of Hornet fans.  Prior to the game I indulged in the breakfast of champions, a pint and a ‘bumper breakfast baguette’, which went down a treat.  The addition of black pudding was what sold it to me, it set me up for the day.  It was a little odd to be watching the build-up to the game on the television, but every appearance of Quique, Troy and Odion was greeted with cheers. It was also lovely to see Johnny Barnes back at Vicarage Road.

Team news was that the team was unchanged from the Sunderland game so the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.

As requested by the 1881, we were in our seats in plenty of time for kick off and, as the teams came out to Z-cars, those of us in the Rookery held up our foils which, I discovered later, showed an Ighalo celebration.  At the front of the stand, some of the 1881 were holding a banner thanking the Pozzos.  A really lovely touch.  From our perspective in the Rookery, it was also good to see the flags waving in the SEJ stand.  We are usually behind them so it was a pleasure to see how good they look.

Celebrating Ake's goal

Celebrating Ake’s goal

Watford had the best possible start to the game as Aké forced a corner, Bogdan dropped Watson’s delivery and Nathan was on hand to turn the ball in to the net.  Cue mad celebrations and a bit of celebratory bouncing.  Watford continued in a positive vein and Škrtel had to throw his body in the way to stop a cross from Deeney.  Liverpool’s first forward foray ended with a cut back into the box that was cleared by Capoue.  The resulting corner was headed clear by Ighalo.  I always enjoy seeing forward players helping out in defence.  Coutinho had Liverpool’s first shot on target, but it was an easy catch for Gomes.  After our early goal, I had commented that I hoped we wouldn’t be hanging on for the next 87 minutes,  so I was very grateful, after a quarter of an hour, when Deeney played a ball over the top for Ighalo who battled past Škrtel and scored with a shot that went in off the far post.  At this point, there was a joyful rendition of “Jürgen, Jürgen, what’s the score?”  Liverpool’s first attempt to strike back came from a corner by Coutinho that went straight to Gomes.  At the other end, an Abdi back-heel reached Capoue whose shot was blocked.  There was a great chance for a third Watford goal as Deeney played the ball over to Ighalo, his initial shot was blocked and then Bogdan blocked Jurado’s shot at the far post.

Celebrating Ighalo's first

Celebrating Ighalo’s first

A Liverpool break was stopped by a biting tackle from Aké.  With 5 minutes remaining in the half, Klopp was forced to make a substitution bringing Origi on for the injured Škrtel.  The frustration of the visitors was clearly demonstrated when Henderson was flagged offside and reacted with a prolonged show of petulance.  In the last minute of the half, Abdi and Deeney exchanged passes but the cross was put out for a corner.

So we reached the break two goals up after a wonderfully controlled performance that thoroughly justified the lead.

At half time, Robbo was on the field to draw the 50-50 tickets.  It was great to see him back and he was greeted with a tremendous reception.

When Ádám Bogdán took his place in the goal at the Rookery end before the start of the second half, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the lad as he arrived to great cheers after his contribution to our first goal.

Gomes takes a kick

Gomes takes a kick

The visitors started the second half very brightly and had an early chance as Henderson played the ball over to Moreno in space, but Gomes narrowed the angle so the shot was into the side netting.  Origi fought off the attentions of Britos to get in a shot, but Gomes was down to save.  At this point. The Liverpool fans could be heard for the first time all afternoon.  At the other end, Watson released Nyom whose cross went out for a corner off the chest of Henderson.  A Liverpool break was stopped as Nyom closed the player down and prevented the cross.  Then Deeney tried a dink into the box for Ighalo, but there were three Liverpool players on him to stop him shooting.  Ighalo broke into the box again and tried a shot from a narrow angle, it was blocked and broke to Jurado who tried to poke the ball in but, somehow, it was kept out.  On the hour mark, a dangerous Henderson cross was headed wide by Lallana.  Then Jurado played a lovely through ball for Ighalo whose shot was saved by Bogdan.  It took until the 66th minute for Liverpool to really test Gomes and the Watford keeper was equal to the shot from Henderson, tipping it over the bar.  Then Troy won the ball on the wing and advanced, but his cross was blocked.  We almost shot ourselves in the foot as a terrible clearance went straight to Can, but Gomes was on hand to push the shot clear.  Klopp made a double substitution as Ibe and Benteke replaced Lallana and Firmino.

Harry joins the celebrations as the game is won

Harry joins the celebrations as the game is won

Watford threatened again as Capoue played the ball out to Ighalo but he had to run wide of the goal and his cross was over Jurado’s head and went begging.  Flores made his first substitution bringing Anya on for Jurado, who had another decent game.  The next attack by the visiotrs finished with a shot from Henderson that was blocked.  The only card of the game went to Britos who was booked for rather an innocuous challenge.  The visitors had a great chance to pull a goal back as Henderson hit a dangerous free-kick, but it was headed well wide by Benteke.  Flores made his second substitution replacing Abdi with Behrami.  At this point, my sister told me that she’d checked her heart rate and found it was 134 bpm.  Ighalo kindly calmed us all down as he won the ball, played it to Deeney, who found Behrami who crossed for the Nigerian to head home and seal the win.  Once I had stopped screaming, I started bouncing and was amused as I looked around the ground to see the Lower GT, the SEJ stand and, unbelievably, the Upper GT all bouncing.  The Upper GT??  Seriously, where were the stewards?  Flores made a final change bringing Guedioura on for Igahlo who went off to a standing ovation.  The game finished with the Rookery singing ‘We’re all going on a European tour.’

Flores with one of his goalscorers

Flores with one of his goalscorers

The final whistle sparked huge celebrations.  We were all looking at each other, not quite believing what we had just witnessed.  Not only had we beaten Liverpool 3-0, but it had been such a convincing performance that the margin could have been higher.  Suddenly I found there were tears in my eyes.  My niece, Amelia, was laughing at me, but it was she who had prompted the tears.  I have always felt really lucky that I watched Watford playing in the first division in the 80s when we went out every week expecting to get a result.  The thought that the youngsters following Watford now, such as Amelia, would never experience what we did has saddened me.  But this afternoon, it felt like 1982 all over again.

Back to the West Herts where the smiles were so wide, that I don’t know how some of them got through the door.  But the reflections were on a great win against a Liverpool team that was very poor or, at least, that we made to look very poor.  Every Watford player deserved plaudits, they all did their jobs and worked their socks off.  No Liverpool player who got the ball was given time to work with it.  The visitors were comprehensively beaten.

We go into Christmas, a point off the Champions League places and 13 points off the relegation zone after a string of performances that mean that we need fear nobody.  These truly are the good old days.

To all you lovely people who read my reports, I wish you a very happy Christmas and a wonderful 2016.