Tag Archives: Aleksandar Kolarov

Pride Despite a Defeat

The 1881 banner in the family stand

The 1881 banner in the family stand

Early evening kick offs on a Saturday always play merry hell with my nerves.  I must have checked the kick-off time a dozen times in the morning, but I still made sure that I was in Watford in plenty of time should the kick off actually be at 3pm.  This meant that I was in the West Herts rather earlier than was strictly necessary, all the better for tracking the progress of our rivals for the European spots <cough>.

It had been a foul afternoon with persistent rain soaking me on the way to the West Herts but, thankfully, it eased off as we made our way to the ground.  It appears that the Christmas break has been so relaxing that my brain has ceased to work as, for the second game in a row, I tried to use my Oyster card to get through the turnstile.

Team news was that Holebas came in for the suspended Aké and Nyom replaced Anya.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Britos, Cathcart, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.

Cathcart after launching a free kick

Cathcart after launching a free kick

Before the game, I wondered how our approach to this fixture would differ from the game at Eastlands where we looked to contain the opposition and I don’t remember us passing the half way line in the first half.  So I was delighted to see us attacking in the first minute as a lovely move from Jurado found Abdi by way of Deeney but sadly Almen shot over the bar.  Kolarov then had a couple of chances for the visitors, first a shot from distance that was well wide of the target, then a cross that Gomes gathered at the second attempt.  Ighalo’s first chance of the game came as a misclearance reached Abdi who played the Nigerian in but his shot was cleared for a corner.  Abdi then found Deeney in the box, where he was hacked down.  There were screams for a penalty from the home fans, but nothing was given.  Watford threatened again as Abdi found Ighalo who shook off his marker but the shot was saved by Hart.  Ighalo then won a free kick on the edge of the area.  A number around me were asking for an Abdi special, but it was Watson who stepped up and fired just over the bar.

Holebas making his way into the box for a corner

Holebas making his way into the box for a corner

Chants of “Where were you when you were sh*t,” were aimed at the Man City supporters, which was rather unfair given that City have always attracted good crowds.  The chant came straight back at us with, I have to say, somewhat more justification.  There was danger in the Watford box as Gomes parried a shot from De Bruyne but, thankfully, Aguero was unable to connect with the rebound.  Ighalo’s persistence won a corner for the Hornets, Cathcart connected with Watson’s delivery but the header was downwards and Hart was able to gather.  At the other end, Silva broke into the box but good defensive work by Britos and Watson meant that the ball rolled harmlessly through to Gomes.  Fernandinho then broke forward, his shot was saved by the feet of Gomes and Sterling’s follow-up was high and wide.  Aguero got the ball in space in the Watford box, but Cathcart closed him down brilliantly and the ball ended up in the side netting.  The only booking of the game came when Nyom took a dive and was shown a yellow card.  Lads as big as Nyom always look rather foolish when they take a tumble like that, so I really don’t know why they do it.  Watford had a chance to take the lead just before half time as a Watson free-kick was punched clear and Jurado’s follow-up was just wide of the target.  So we reached half-time goalless, just as we had at Eastlands in August, but this game couldn’t have been more different as we had been lively in attack, had matched the visitors and had the better goal chances.

Tony Coton with his trophy

Tony Coton with his trophy

At half time, Tommy Smith was on the pitch drawing the 50-50 tickets and reminiscing about his appearances in both of our previous Premier League seasons.  He was then joined by Tony Coton, who had been a star player during our spell in the top flight in the 80s.  When asked why he signed for Watford, his simple answer was “Graham Taylor.  You sit down and talk to Graham and he sells the club to you and you have no choice but to sign.”  Tommy then presented Tony with a trophy marking the fact that he is the only player to date to win the Player of the Season award on three occasions.  I think it was that man himself who mentioned that Deeney might match him if he continues playing as well as he has been.  Since Coton had also played at Man City, he was given a good reception by both sets of fans and said he had to hope that the score stayed as it was.

The second half at Eastlands had started with a goal for City, so I braced myself, but the first chance of the half was a shot for Watson that was pushed around the post by Hart.  The superb Watson was involved again as he took a free kick that was headed on by Cathcart in the direction of Deeney, but a last gasp clearance prevented the ball reaching Troy.  City had their best chance of the game so far on 52 minutes as a Silva corner was met with a great header from Fernandinho that was just over the bar.

All smiles after the goal

All smiles after the goal

But it was the Hornets who took the lead two minutes later.  Jurado had played a through ball to Ighalo, who won a corner.  Watson’s delivery found its way past Hart via the head of Kolarov.  There were mad celebrations and a period of bouncing in the Rookery although that petered out as all eyes were on a City attack that, thankfully, came to nothing.  Watford continued to attack as Nyom played the ball in to Ighalo, but there were two City defenders in attendance to stop him shooting.  The first substitution came on the hour as Sterling, who had been so influential in the earlier tie, was replaced by Navas for the visitors.  A brilliant run by Holebas finished with a shot that was blocked by Ighalo of all people.  At the other end, De Bruyne cut the ball back to Touré who hit his shot well over the target.  De Bruyne was the next to threaten the Watford goal with a shot that was tipped wide by Gomes.  Touré then tried a shot from distance that was wide of the target.  It occurred to me at this point that it was a while since I had sat down, which is unusual in the Rookery as the crowd tends to stand only during periods of high tension, then the penny dropped.  Watford had another decent chance as Holebas played the ball in to Abdi, but the shot was wide of the target.  City made their second substitution as Bony came on for Mangala.  Watford had a great chance to increase their lead as Capoue broke into the box and beat the defender, but the ball took an awkward bounce and his shot was not as clean as it could have been and flew wide of the target.  Watford’s first substitution came after 80 minutes with Guedioura coming on for Jurado who went off to an ovation and his name being sung.  It was a nice contrast to the grief that he often gets from the crowd, but this was by some way his best performance to date in a Watford shirt.

Man of the Match Watson lines up a free kick

Man of the Match Watson lines up a free kick

I blame myself entirely for what happened next.  I dropped my pen and could not locate it, so felt in my bag and retrieved the pen that I had used for the Tottenham game.  I thought about rooting about for an alternative but decided against it, I was soon to regret that decision when City hit their equalizer.  I couldn’t see it properly as it was at the other end of the ground but television pictures show that Touré met Kolarov’s corner with a stunning volley.  Hearts broke in the home stands as City got their second a couple of minutes later as Sagna broke forward and hit a gorgeous cross for Aguero to head past Gomes.  Given the performance of the Hornets, it felt beyond cruel that we were behind and, for the first time in the game, the City fans were in full voice.  Almost immediately, Pellegrini made another substitution which appeared designed to waste time as Demichelis came on for Aguero after a false start when Silva’s number was shown.  Neither of the possible substitutes was in a hurry to leave the field.  Watford pushed for an equalizer as Guedioura played Ighalo in, but Hart was able to block the shot.  Deep into injury time, Deeney tried to find Ighalo but the ball was headed clear and the visitors left Vicarage Road with all three points.  Despite the disappointment, many in the crowd stayed to cheer the Watford players for what had been a tremendous performance.  Ben Watson was, quite rightly, given Man of the Match, but special mention should go to Jurado for a sparkling display and Holebas who, earlier in the season, had been rumoured to be on his way out due to his poor attitude put in a tremendous shift and meant that we didn’t miss Aké as we might have done.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

As we made our way out of the ground there was a feeling of dejection and many comments along the lines that we hadn’t deserved that defeat.  To go in to the last 10 minutes in the lead and then conceded two goals in quick succession was very hard to take.  But, once the dust settled, I felt a lot happier.  Before the game I had been thinking back to the match at their place earlier in the season when we didn’t have a shot on target.  While I understood the approach, it had been very difficult to watch.  In this game, we had matched City and were beaten by two excellent pieces of skill as our defence tired.  Prior to the tough run of Christmas games, there was an expectation that we would see what this team was made of.  As we finish that period with 4 points and disappointment as we deserved more from the two defeats, I find myself bursting with pride and the feeling that we can take on any team in this division.  As we left the ground, we went through the GT stand and enjoyed the wonderful banners that commemorate the great man’s time at the club.  I have always regarded those banners with a tinge of sadness that we would never witness times like that again.  On Saturday, I found that sadness no longer existed.  This is a truly wonderful time to be a Watford fan.

 

No Goal Attempts but Impressive Defence

A gorgeous pre-match pub

A gorgeous pre-match pub

Another departure at the crack of dawn.  A rail strike and bank holiday engineering work threatened to disrupt the journey but, fortunately, everything ran to schedule.  On our last visit to Manchester, we had been turned away from our designated pre-match pub and ended up in a Wetherspoons.  So this time we had chosen a meeting place that was slightly out of town.  As I approached the pub and saw that the doors were closed, I was a little concerned that we would end up finding that the walk out of the city had been in vain.  However, just before John and I reached the doors, they opened to welcome us and we were soon sitting in a comfy corner of a beautiful pub with a couple of lovely pints in front of us and all was right with the world.

On arrival at the Etihad, I instantly regretted buying one of the seats in the top tier as it was a hell of a trek up there, although good practice for our trip to Newcastle.  When the teams were announced on the big screen, there was a duplication of Christian names so we had Heurelho Nyom and Sebastian Jurado.  I was a little disappointed not to see Valon Deeney in the team.  The starting line-up showed one change as Abdi replaced Anya so was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Capoue, Behrami, Abdi, Ighalo, Jurado and Deeney.  When the team lined up, the apparent 4-2-3-1 formation became 4-2-4-0 as Deeney was playing out wide on the right.  The tannoy guy repeatedly welcomed us to the ‘newly expanded’ stadium.  It has to be said that the new upper tier was pretty deserted and so far from the pitch that I needed to find the distance glasses that I rarely use.

The pre-match huddle

The pre-match huddle

Prior to the match we also found out that Daniel Pudil had moved (on loan) to Sheffield Wednesday.  I will miss muttering “Who killed Danny?” as he collapsed under an innocuous challenge.  But, I will particularly miss seeing the photos of his family in and around Watford.  To see a player who has moved from overseas proudly posting photos of his wife and son in Cassiobury Park made me ridiculously happy.  Sadly Dan never looked likely to be part of the Premier League plans, but he will be remembered fondly for his contributions on the pitch and his proudly embracing Watford as his home.

As may have been expected, Agüero was an immediate threat on the Watford goal.  His first foray forward was closed down by the Watford defence, the next resulted in a shot that was blocked by Cathcart.  Watford’s first attack saw Layun play the ball out to Holebas whose cross was headed clear by Kompany.  The resulting corner led to a bit of a goalmouth scramble with a couple of shots blocked before the ball was cleared.  At the other end, a cross in the direction of Agüero was cut out by Prödl.  The corner by Silva was also headed clear by the Austrian.

Abdi on the ball

Abdi on the ball

The Watford goal was threatened further as, first, Navas played a cross into the box which flew off target, then a free kick from Kolarov curled wide of the far post.  Watford caused themselves problems as Jurado gave the ball away, Sterling broke into the box but was tackled by Cathcart for a corner.  Then Gomes was called into action, dropping to save a shot from Sagna.  The best chance of a goal so far came as Sterling broke into the box with only Gomes to beat, the keeper stopped the shot, but the ball squirmed out of his hands and, thankfully, rolled out for a corner.  A rare Watford attack ended when a Nyom cross from distance was easily gathered by Hart.  The home side threatened again as the ball was taken off Abdi’s feet and Agüero hit a shot that flew just wide of the target.  The first booking of the game went to the home side as Kompany was punished for a foul on Jurado.  The cards were evened up soon after Nyom was booked for flying through the back of Sterling.  The Frenchman’s reaction was priceless as he expressed his outrage by mimicking Sterling’s dramatic collapse.  I have a certain sympathy with his annoyance at the player’s dramatic reaction, but he probably shouldn’t have knocked him flying in the first place.  The Hornets had their longest spell of possession in the half in time added on, but, typically of their defensive approach to the game, it finished with a pass back to Gomes.

Half-time conversations expressed pleasure at the strong defensive performance of the Hornets, but concern that we had no player up front so never looked likely to score.

Deeney attacks

Deeney on the attack

At the start of the second half Pellegrini made a change, bringing Nasri on for Navas and changing the formation to put two up front.  This immediately paid dividends as Sagna crossed to the far post and Sterling ghosted in to tap the ball past Gomes.  The home side were soon two goals ahead as a Touré free-kick hit the wall, Watford failed to clear so the ball reached Fernandinho who hit a powerful shot across Gomes and into the far corner.  At this point it looked like City may score a hat full, especially when Agüero attacked again but on this occasion he mishit his shot which spun before being caught easily by Gomes.  A rare forward passing move by the Hornets finished when a cross from Layun was cut out by Kompany, the City break was stopped (not for the first time) by a tackle from Cathcart.  On the hour mark Flores made his first substitution replacing Abdi with Anya.  This appeared to be an uncharacteristically attacking substitution.  City’s next break by Agüero was stopped by Prödl who was booked for the infringement.  Silva took the resulting free kick, which flew just wide.  Watford’s best move of the game came as Jurado broke into the box, his low cross was dummied by Deeney and reached Anya whose cross was blocked for a corner.  Watford’s second substitution saw Layun on for Ighalo, much to the disappointment of many in the away end who would have liked to have seen Vydra given a chance.  City brought Delph on for Silva.

Anya down the wing

Anya down the wing

City had a great chance to increase their lead as Nasri released Kolorov, his cross was met by Touré whose shot flew just wide.  The final substitution for the Hornets saw Watson come on for Capoue to loud boos from the home fans who haven’t forgiven him for winning the FA Cup for Wigan.  Some of the Watford fans were equally unhappy at this substitution as Vydra’s name rang out again in the away end.  Another Watford attack came to nothing as Jurado played the ball out to Layun whose low cross was straight at Joe Hart.  As City seemed to settle for a two goal win, there were a couple of late attacks by the Hornets.  First Anya broke forward but his cross was behind Deeney and cut out before it reached Layun.  Nasri tried a shot from outside the box that was saved by Gomes.  The last action of the game was a shot from distance by Layun that was weak and flew well wide of the target.  At the end of the game, a frustrated-looking Deeney tried to cheer up a couple of people in the away end by throwing his boots into the crowd.

It was hard to know how to feel after this game.  The defensive set-up had worked in so far as we only conceded two goals against the best team in the division.  However, for someone who came to football watching Graham Taylor’s attacking teams, it is really difficult to watch a team that not only don’t have a shot on goal but don’t look as though they want one.  We have now gone two games without a shot on target, although in the Southampton game that wasn’t for lack of trying.  Between now and the next game are the end of the transfer window and an international break so predictions of what we will see in the Swansea match are futile at this point.

On the way home I heard that Forestieri had joined Pudil at Wednesday, with Fernando’s being a permanent move.  This was another sad piece of news if only because Forestieri never reached his potential.  Fernando was a player who was loved for his enthusiasm while he irritated for his poor judgement.  But he is probably the only player in history to have tweeted a photo of himself buying a toaster in the pound shop and he also had a crucial part in *that goal*.  For those reasons he will always have a place in Hornet history.

 

Testing Ourselves Against the Best

 

The Maine Road Chippie

The Maine Road Chippie

When I heard the draw for the fourth round of the cup, my heart sank.  Such is the gulf between teams like City and those battling a division below that an upset seemed impossible.  I’ve heard the argument that if you want to progress you need to test yourself against the best.  That is fine if you are ready for the test.  But nothing that I have seen from my team this season suggests that we are and there is nothing worse than seeing your side given a footballing lesson.  Our tie against the same opposition last season saw an arguably stronger side play well and still lose 3-0 to a City team that didn’t get out of second gear.   Listening to the pundits before the game didn’t help my mood.  On Radio 5Live, there was talk of Kidderminster getting a result at Sunderland, while we were given no chance.  Equally, on breakfast television on Saturday morning the suggestion from a presenter that Watford may get a result was countered with the comment that this was the game which was least likely to see an upset.

The Pre-match Handshakes

The Pre-match Handshakes

Our time in Manchester didn’t start well as our pre-match pub of choice refused entry to Southerners so we decamped to a less interesting hostelry to numb ourselves.  The texts from Toddy informing me that the U18s were 3-0 up in their cup game helped to enforce the notion that I had chosen the wrong match to attend.  Given that City had scored 106 goals and an average of 4 a game so far this season, more than one Hornet mentioned their hope that we would keep the score down to single figures.  When we reached the Etihad, which is an impressive stadium, I enjoyed the sight of the Maine Road chippie and hair salon opposite.  It seemed to be positioned to remind the Etihad where they had come from and bring it down a peg or two.  Before we were permitted entry to the ground, there was an impressive search procedure.  Bags were searched, we were all patted down to ensure we had nothing illegal concealed about our person and, a first for me, a friendly sniffer dog was set on me, presumably to see whether I was concealing any flares. When the team was announced, we had made 5 changes.  To be honest, it was difficult to work out what the formation was, but at least the much discussed midfield included some midfielders.  Our starting line-up was Bond, Ekstrand, Angella, Doyley, Pudil, Anya, Murray, Battocchio, Faraoni, Forestieri and Deeney.

Waiting for a Free-kick

Waiting for a Free-kick

We started brightly and, some gallows humour from my companions encouraged me to make a note at 1 minute and 40 seconds that City hadn’t got out of their own half.  In the second minute, Forestieri was felled on the edge of the box.  He took the free kick himself, hitting it straight at the wall but the ball fell to Battocchio whose shot was high and wide.  In the sixth minute, we had a shout for a penalty as Forestieri found Anya in the box where Pantilimon brought him down, but Kevin Friend waved the appeals away.  At the other end Richards went down after being tackled on the edge of the box.  While waiting for the free kick, there was a bit of pushing between Dzeko and Angella in the box that earned the City player a yellow card.  On 10 minutes, Bond was called into action for the first time as a shot came in following a free-kick, which he blocked and then dropped to

Forestieri congratulated on his goal

Forestieri congratulated on his goal

claim the ball.  Soon after, a corner from Navas was met with a header by Kolarov which flew across the box, but nobody was able to get a touch.  Then Murray and Deeney combined to feed Anya whose cross was caught with Forestieri challenging Pantilimon.  At this point the City fans started up a chant of “You’re just a stop off at Wembley.”  Good one!  On 15 minutes, City finally showed a glimpse of their quality with a lovely move that finished with a shot from Toure that was blocked.  Watford continued to threaten as Forestieri broke downfield and fed Faraoni whose shot was straight at Pantilimon.  In City’s next attack Angella was on hand to intercept a cut back from Navas.  On 20 minutes, Watford went one up as Forestieri ran on to a through ball from Deeney and

It's official

It’s official

shot into the far corner.  The celebrations in the away end were a mixture of joy and disbelief, but there was no doubt that the goal was well deserved.  Soon after, Rodwell tried a shot that was deflected into Bond’s arms.  Then Aguero received a pass from Toure and, despite the attentions of Angella, managed to shoot but Bond turned it around the post.  Watford were then on the attack again.  Forestieri picked up the ball from a throw-in and shot just wide of the near post.  Then Sean Murray played a cross-field ball to Anya who found Deeney who slipped the ball between Pantilimon and the post.  If the first goal celebration had been joyous, this one was properly mental.  Thirty minutes in to the game and Watford are 2-0 up at the Etihad.  The disbelief was palpable throughout the stadium.  Watford continued to attack as Murray again found Anya who passed to Forestieri,

Celebrating Deeney's goal

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

but his cross was cut out.  A chant of “What the f*ck is going on” started.  For the life of me I can’t remember which stand it came from, but both sets of fans would have been equally justified in singing it.  Towards the end of the half, Kolarov tried a shot that Bond bravely came to gather.  Then a shot from Anya was blocked, the rebound fell to Faraoni who shot wide of the far post.  Next it was City’s turn with a Lopes shot that went wide of the near post.  In the last minute of the half we could have been three up as a lovely Watford move ended with a Pudil shot that hit the side netting.  I almost passed out at this point.  Just before half time Kolarov had another attempt that was wide of the far post.  Then a Lopes break was stopped by a tackle from Murray, who had been totally fearless all afternoon.  Very impressive for such a young player. 

The half-time score

The half-time score

At half time, the concourse was full of song.  Although most people that I spoke to either wanted to know when they’d wake up or to go home, because surely we couldn’t keep this up. As the players came out for the second half, Kompany and Zabaleta had replaced Rodwell and Richards.  The tannoy announcer originally stated that Zabaleta was on for someone “as yet unknown”.  Given the size of Richards, I would have thought he was pretty hard to miss.  The substitutions indicated that our first half performance had rattled Pellegrini.

A second half corner

A second half corner

Early in the second half, Pudil was booked for a tackle on Navas that had looked decent from our vantage point.  On 53 minutes, a Murray corner was cleared and fell to Anya, but his shot was weak and easy for Pantilimon to deal with.  Then Deeney found Anya, whose cross was cut out by Lescott.  On 55 minutes, Aguero passed to Navas who found Dzeko whose shot was pounced on by Bond.  At this point young Lopes was replaced by Jovetic.  From a City corner, we twice cleared but the ball came back and finally fell to Jovetic who hit the shot wide of the target.  On 58 minutes, City pulled a goal back.  Kolarov crossed into the box, Bond did well to save Dzeko’s shot, but Aguero pounced on the loose ball to score.  It had taken City an hour to breach the Watford defence and suddenly the home crowd could be heard.  Soon after, Watford made their first

Sannino wanting to join the action

Sannino wanting to join the action

substitution as Cassetti replaced Forestieri.  Aguero threated again almost immediately, getting on the end of a cross from Kompany but Doyley was on hand to block the shot.  Doyley also foiled the next attempt as Dzeko got on to the end of a cross from Toure, but Lloyd’s attentions ensured that he headed wide of the target.  A great rear-guard action by the Hornets couldn’t stop Kompany getting in a cross, but Dzeko’s shot was straight at Bond.  On 75 minutes, Abdi replaced Murray, who had been excellent.  Soon after, City were level as Navas advanced and passed to Aguero who struck an exquisite shot into the top left-hand corner.  I have to say that we’d done brilliantly in matching them to this point but, gutting as that goal was, you couldn’t help admire it.  Into the last 10 minutes and Cassetti got his customary booking, sticking out a foot as Kolarov attempted to run past him and then doing that look of horror at the injustice that we love so well.  On 84 minutes, Fabbrini

Battocchio on the ball

Battocchio on the ball

replaced Faraoni.  With five minutes to go until we’d earned a replay, disaster struck.  Kolarov hit a speculative shot from outside the box.  Bond dropped and appeared to have caught it, but the ball squirmed through his legs and into the net.  That was a cruel way to go behind and Bond didn’t deserve that based on his performance.  Neither did the travelling fans, but we were not downhearted and launched into loud chants in support of our team.  On the pitch we battled on, as Deeney played a through ball to Anya but his shot on the run was high and wide.  Anya broke again and played a through ball to Fabbrini, but the Italian was offside.  Then Toure fed Navas whose initial shot rebounded back to him and Bond caught the follow-up.  In time added on, City added a fourth as Aguero claimed his hat-trick with a header from a Navas cross.  Straight from kick-off, Angella tried his luck with a shot from distance that was well wide of the target.  The final whistle went and there was no upset, but every Watford fan in attendance left the stadium with their head held high as our lads had given City a game and, despite their second half dominance, the Premier League high-fliers were flattered by the score.

Applauding the travelling fans

Applauding the travelling fans

At full time, Deeney went to swap shirts.  Since the first player he approached didn’t take his, he ended up with two City shirts.  Pudil and Doyley came over and handed their shirts to kids in the crowd.  I then saw Deeney reach down the front of his shorts and my imagination went in to over drive about quite what he was going to throw into the crowd, so I was relieved when he extracted the two City shirts that he had placed there for safe-keeping as he applauded the fans. When I arrived home, I turned on the news and heard the newsreader talking about “an amazing comeback by Manchester City.”  That was certainly not what anyone had expected on Saturday morning, but that is what keeps us going to games like this.  Despite the final score, we were magnificent.  Hell, we even won the first half and that made me very happy indeed.