Tag Archives: Alex Iwobi

Another Self-inflicted Defeat

Doucoure gets stuck in

After a weekend off, it was good to get back to the West Herts even if, after the last two games, I was no longer feeling optimistic about our chances.  The pre-match discussion about the end of the transfer window was brief as it had been fairly quiet for the Hornets, although there was a lot of sadness at the departure of Seb Prödl who went from Player of the Season to invisible after injuries.  I do hope that he goes on to great things.  There was also some discussion of Ighalo’s move to Manchester United, which took me by surprise, and a hope that Richarlison’s head had been turned by the interest from Barcelona.

As we reached Vicarage Road on the way to the ground, you could tell that it wasn’t one of the bigger clubs visiting, as there was only one tout in view and even he may just have been a bloke trying to offload a spare ticket.  As we reached Occupation Road, there seemed to be a big crowd blocking the way but, once we passed the first turnstile for the SEJ stand, the crowd reduced to usual size and we were soon through the turnstiles.  As I was unable to find a programme at the home tie against Tranmere and then threw coffee over the programme I bought at the away game, I went to Doreen Pym’s programme stand at the GT end of the Rookery to try to get replacements.  Sadly, they did not have either publication, but the journey was not wasted as I bumped into a friend on the way.  The detour and chat meant a delay in getting to my seat and, when I arrived, I was told that I had just missed the lovely Seb Prödl saying goodbye to the Watford fans.  That made me very sad, as I have a very soft spot for Seb.  I was greatly cheered when my lovely friend, Alice, later told me that she had made him some Vanillekipferl as a goodbye gift.  I am told that they went down very well with Seb and he kindly shared them with his countryman, Daniel Bachmann.

Celebrating Masina’s opening goal

Team news was that Pearson had made just the one enforced change from the Villa game with Kabasele in for Dawson, who was missing due to injury.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Chalobah, Capoue; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney.  It was great to see both Welbeck and Hughes on the bench, although we were short of defensive options with only Holebas included.  Former Watford starlet, Richarlison, started for Everton and was booed as he has been ever since he left.  Something that baffles me as we got very good money for him when he moved to Everton.

The visitors had the first chance of the game as Richarlison got on the end of a cross from Iwobi, but his shot flew over the bar.  At the other end a great corner from Masina was met by the head of Kabasele, but he couldn’t get his effort on target.  Christian was then in action at the other end as Richarlison tried to break into the box, but Kaba was on hand to steal the ball from him and snuff out the danger.  The Hornets took the lead after 10 minutes and it was a wonderful goal that started with Capoue playing a lovely cross-field pass to Deulofeu who brought the ball down before passing back to Masina who shot past Pickford into the opposite corner.

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal

The Hornets threatened again as Capoue played another lovely ball, this time for Pereyra, but Pickford was out to gather.  The visitors created a decent chance as Sidibé crossed for Calvert-Lewin, but the header was easy for Foster.  Off the pitch, the first sight of Danny Welbeck warming up was greeted with applause.  Watford had a chance to increase their lead when a free kick from Masina was cleared as far as Doucouré whose bicycle kick cleared the bar.  The hosts threatened again as Deulofeu found Doucouré on the edge of the box, but the shot was blocked at close range.  VAR was then invoked as a nasty looking tackle by Digne on Pereyra was checked, but no punishment ensued.  Maxi returned after treatment and exacted revenge on Digne.  Again, VAR was called into action but, again, the offence was not deemed worthy of a red card (or a yellow for that matter).  The second goal for the Hornets came after Deeney latched on to a loose ball and played a lovely pass to Pereyra who finished beautifully to put the Hornets in a commanding position with two minutes to go until half time.  The goal had been against the run of play, but it was all looking so positive at that point.  Sadly, 2-0 is a dangerous score and there followed two minutes of madness.  The clock had reached 45 minutes when Everton won a corner.  The Watford defenders failed to clear and the ball pinged around the box until Mina turned it in.  It was a very scrappy goal to give away.  It got worse almost immediately as Everton won another corner, Sigurdsson’s delivery was met by Mina, who was allowed a free header which beat Foster to level the score.  The scorer was milking the celebrations right in front of the 1881 which irritated me immensely even if it is likely that he had been jeered by the home fans.

Everton Speedo Mick interviewed by Emma

There was shock at half time, we had appeared to be in control of the game and had been defending very solidly, but that was all undone by two corners when the defence went missing.  So frustrating in such an important game.

The first topic of the half time interviews was the National Citizen Service (NCS), a programme for 15-17 year-olds which has been one of the projects run by Watford Community Trust.  It is a very positive project that has benefited many local youngsters.

The legend on duty was Gary Porter talking about his distinguished career with the Hornets.  He was a part of some amazing teams and is very fondly remembered, although it shocks me to realise how long ago he retired as I think of him as one of the youngsters!

Last up was Everton Speedo Mick who is walking 1000 miles from John O’Groats to Lands End while dressed in Speedo swimming trunks to raise money for Leave the Light On which contributes to community projects that help disadvantaged young people.  His excitement at Everton’s comeback was a little hard to listen to, but I let him off as it is a tremendous charity https://www.gofundme.com/f/speedomick-1000-ml-charity.  I was a little embarrassed when the two guys in front of us commented on my taking photos.  It was for the blog, honest, not because I want photos of a middle-aged bloke in a Speedo.

Pereyra on the ball

The visitors had the first chance of the second half and, again, it was from a set piece.  Sigurdsson took a free kick which reached Calvert-Lewin, whose header was deflected over the bar.  There was then a tussle between Deeney and Mina, not the first of the afternoon.  The Everton man was rolling around trying to get Troy into trouble and Troy’s look of contempt mirrored my feelings.  Nigel Pearson made his first substitution just before the hour mark as Chalobah made way for Welbeck.  Nate did not look happy at being replaced, but the introduction of Welbeck was warmly received by the crowd.  The first booking of the game came soon after and went to Delph for a trip on Pereyra.  The visitors made two changes in quick succession bringing Kean and Schneiderlin on for Iwobi and Sigurdsson.  There were a couple of rash-looking tackles from the Hornets as Everton broke forward, but the referee finally blew up for a nudge on Richarlison on the edge of the box, with Masina booked for the most innocuous foul in that sequence.  The resulting free kick was taken by Digne who hit it straight into the wall.  With 20 minutes remaining, the visitors were reduced to ten men after Delph was shown a second yellow card for a clumsy foul on Capoue.  The resulting free kick was repelled as far as Capoue who shot over the target.

Danny Welbeck back in action

Each side then made a change with Keane replacing Calvert-Lewin for the visitors and Success on for Pereyra for the home side.  The first contribution from Success was unimpressive, he lost out to Sidibé and so brought him down and was shown a yellow card for his trouble.  Pearson made his final change replacing Deulofeu with Pussetto.  Geri left the pitch by the goal in front of the Rookery and walked half the length of the stand where he was applauded the whole way around but didn’t once acknowledge the crowd.  Late in the game the Hornets had a few decent chances to regain the lead.  First a corner from Masina was cleared to Doucouré on the edge of the box, his shot was hit well but flew wide of the far post.  The next yellow card went to Mina, who was seriously annoying me, so I was glad to see him booked for a foul on Success.  The Hornets threatened again as a lovely free kick from Pussetto was punched clear to Capoue who squared for Doucouré whose shot was wide of the near post.  The visitors picked up another yellow card as Holgate was booked for a foul on Doucouré.  There was another half chance to grab a winner for the Hornets when they got the ball into the Everton box, but no Watford man could get a meaningful touch on it.  The Hornets had been pushing for the winner, but it was the visitors who took all three points with a goal in the 90th minute.  Masina lost out in the middle of the pitch, Richarlison advanced and played in Kean who moved the ball on to Walcott, at first he appeared to have run wide of the goal, but that proved to be wishful thinking on my part as he finished past Foster.  There was a roar of encouragement from the Watford faithful as the fourth official held up the board indicating 5 minutes of added time, but the Hornets created nothing of note in added time and the final whistle went to boos from the home fans.

Pussetto lines up a free kick

The reaction after the game was mostly anger.  Listening to fans as we left the ground, Nigel Pearson has gone from football genius to being utterly clueless.  Again, the withdrawal of Chalobah was questioned especially as he didn’t take advantage of the presence of Hughes on the bench who would have firmed up the midfield, but that could have been criticised as like-for-like when Pearson was making a change to the formation.  But most of the fury was directed towards the appearance of Success.  Given the amount of criticism Gray has attracted recently, I was rather amused to hear a comment that Andre must wonder what he has to do if Isaac is coming on ahead of him.  My assumption was that Success was brought on due to his strength and, given that Gray was awful at Tranmere, the greater likelihood that he would cause the Everton defence problems.  But when he does nothing it looks to be a poor substitution.

My great annoyance was at the fact that we have lost to Everton on three occasions this season and they haven’t had to play well in any of those games.  On Saturday we beat ourselves and that hurts.  We had scored two lovely goals in the first half and had kept Everton completely at bay through effective defending, but that was undone with some sloppy play at the end of the half.  Watford looked most likely to win the game late on, but we wasted our chances and one mistake allowed Everton the opportunity to grab the winner.

So, we are back in the bottom three and the visit to Brighton is looking to be crucial, given that it is followed by a trip to Old Trafford and the visit of Liverpool.  Consider me fickle, but I hate football again.

Should Have Stayed in the Pub with Prowsey

A rather gorgeous quilt at St George’s Hall

During the weeks that the rail companies are expecting leaves on the line my morning train to work leaves two minutes earlier than usual.  For someone who needs every minute in the mornings, this causes me issues.  As I prepared to leave the house with my bag packed for the overnight stay in Liverpool, I realised that I had forgotten something so, by the time I left, I was cutting it very fine.  Sure enough, I arrived at the station to see the train start to pull out.  As I had half an hour to wait for the next one, I decided to collect my tickets for the journey to Liverpool.  That was my second mistake of the morning as my credit card was damaged and became stuck in the machine, much to the displeasure of the woman in the ticket office.  At that point, I boarded my train, sat down with a coffee and hoped that was the end of my bad luck for the day.

After a shorter than anticipated morning at work, I arrived at Euston where I bumped into Mick Smithers, our Police liaison officer.  I almost didn’t recognise him as he was in civvies.  We had a chat speculating on the likely small away attendance and then went our separate ways.  I caught up with Adam, my travelling companion for the day, on the train and we settled down for the journey north.

As we arrived too early to head for the pub, I tried to do something cultural.  I didn’t fancy the clothing exhibition at the Walker, so headed for St George’s Hall as we believed there was a photography exhibition there.  The signage wasn’t good, so we scaled the three flights, had a look around the courtroom and into the gallery before descending and finding that the exhibition was on the ground floor.  It was diverting enough, but I found myself spending more time with the educational display about crime and punishment in Victorian Liverpool.  Of particular interest there were the cautionary tales of the punishment of habitual drunks, most of whom appeared to be female.   With this still fresh in my mind, we headed for the pub where we met up with Mike.

While sitting in the pub, we saw a man knocking on the window trying to attract someone’s attention.  The young lad sitting behind us went out to see him and returned to inform us that he had been summoned to see the Watford team boarding their coach which was parked opposite the pub.  It was only about 75 minutes to kick-off, so it seemed that they were also cutting it a bit fine.

Gomes back in goal

I am a big fan of the musician Ian Prowse of Amsterdam and Pele.  It just so happens that Mike is a friend of his, having worked with him on an educational video some years ago.  Ian had promised to drop in to say hello, but as time went on it appeared that he had found something better to do.  Just as we had given up on him, he appeared and told a few stories as only Scousers (and the Irish) can.  It was very tempting to get another drink and stay in the pub with him, but we dutifully headed to the ground at the appointed hour.

The seats that we had been allocated were at the back of the stand, so the view was somewhat restricted by the low roof.  Luckily, due to the small crowd, we were able to find seats at the front of the block where we could see most of the pitch (around the pillars) and at least we could sit when the ball was down our end.

Team news was that Quique had made eight changes but was sticking with first team players.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Cathcart; Foulquier, Chalobah, Quina, Hughes, Femenía; Pereyra, Gray.  Dalby, who has been impressing in the U23s had travelled with the team but only made the bench.

Kiko takes a throw-in

Everton had an early chance as a counter-attack finished with a shot from Kean that was blocked by Cathcart.  A mistake from Richarlison was greeted with jeers from the travelling Watford fans, which set the tone for the game as he was booed every time he touched the ball.  The animosity towards that young lad really baffles me.  Watford’s first chance came in the 17th minute, a low cross from Pereyra reached Quina at the far post, but he couldn’t sort his feet out and could only turn his shot wide.  It was a very cagey first half, so the next action of note was after half an hour.  Pereyra intercepted the ball, found Chalobah, who hesitated before shooting and was crowded out, the ball broke to Foulquier who won a throw.  The throw-in reached Pereyra, whose shot was very poor.  The fact that this uninspiring passage of play was deemed worthy of note highlights how poor the rest of the half had been.  At the other end a cross from Iwobi was easily caught by Gomes.  Each side was forced to make a substitution towards the end of the half.  Quina, who had been struggling for a while, made way for Doucouré and Mina was replaced by Keane.  The home side had a chance to open the scoring just before half time when Hornets gave the ball away on the edge of the box allowing Iwobi to get in a shot, but Gomes made the catch.

Pereyra prepares to take a corner

So the half ended goalless.  It had been a very dull half of football, and the cagey approach had led to a shout from behind me of “Don’t play for 0-0, it’s a cup game.”  There were some suggesting that the game should go straight to penalties rather than making us sit through another half of tedium, but we weren’t to be so lucky.

Everton made their second substitution at the break as Walcott replaced Kean.  On 54 minutes, Watford had the best chance of the game so far, and their first shot on target, as Gray went on a run before hitting a powerful shot that required a good save from Pickford to keep it out.  Then Gray tried to play Doucouré in, but it was a poor pass that was easily dealt with.  Everton had a decent chance from a Digne free kick, Keane had a free header, but he headed downwards and it bounced into the arms of Gomes.  Then Hughes picked up a loose ball and released Gray who played a square ball which went begging.    At the other end, Digne tried a low shot, but Gomes was down to gather.  The home side should have taken the lead when Richarlison cut the ball back to Gomes but the shot was cleared off the line by Mariappa.  Watford made another substitution bringing Kabasele on for Prödl.

Dmitri Foulquier

The second half was much livelier than the first but, unfortunately, it was the home side who were creating the most threat.  Their next chance came from a shot from Iwobi that rebounded off the crossbar.  Flores made his final change and it became clear that we were not to see U23 goal machine, Sam Dalby, instead Deulofeu replaced Pereyra.  The Spaniard took to the field to applause from the Everton fans.  That warm greeting for former players used to be the practice among Watford fans, I don’t know when we morphed into a group who jeer nastily.  The first booking of the game went to Doucouré for a foul on Gomes.  Digne took the free kick which was deflected off the Watford wall and, again, the crossbar saved us.  Everton took the lead in the 72nd minute as Walcott crossed for Holgate to head home.  The goal was greeted with a sense of resignation in the away end.  It had been coming and, given what had gone before, it seemed highly unlikely that Watford would get back into the game.  Silva made his final substitution bringing Tosun on in place of Calvert-Lewin.  Everton won a free kick in a dangerous position but, before they could take it, Hughes required treatment, which was of some concern as the Hornets had already used all of their substitutes.  When the free kick was eventually taken, it was a terrible delivery that flew wide of the near post.  As the game reached the 90 minute mark, Mariappa was booked for a clumsy tackle.  He protested the decision, I have no idea why.  There was 4 minutes of added time which was not welcomed in the away end.  The Hornets did have a half chance to draw level when Deulofeu exchanged passes with Chalobah, but his shot was straight at a defender.  Instead Everton broke downfield and Tosun fed Richarlison who finished past his mentor, Gomes, to seal the win for the Toffees.  The travelling Watford fans streamed out at that point.  I did stay around long enough to applaud the team off.  There was some consolation for the fans who had stayed to the bitter end as a number of the players came over to give away their shirts.

Deulofeu comes over to take a corner

We headed back to the pub a disappointed bunch.  It had been a miserable performance.  Everton were very poor, but we were worse.  Apart from the Gray shot early in the second half, we didn’t look likely to test Pickford.  That is what I am finding so frustrating this season.  Even if we are short on strikers, we have players who can create chances and they aren’t doing so.  The cup defeat means that we can now concentrate on the league, but I am increasingly concerned that this is a relegation season in the making.  We often joke about staying in the pub rather than going to the game and I couldn’t help thinking that we would have had a lot more entertainment if we had continued drinking with Prowsey.

On Wednesday, I had a lazy morning but caught a train in time to get to work for the afternoon.  At least that was the plan, but a combination of a broken-down train on the line and signal failure meant that I didn’t arrive back in London until after 3:30, so ended up having to book another half day off work for a game that certainly wasn’t worth using that much holiday.  This was certainly not the best trip I have ever been on.

Tremendous with Ten Men

Remembering the 96

When a match falls on 15th April, you can’t help but think of the events at Hillsborough 30 years ago.  On that day, I was standing on the terrace at the County Ground, Swindon.  Don was propped up on a crush barrier next to me and a police officer told us that a wall had fallen down at the cup semi-final between Liverpool and Forest. On the coach on the way home we listened to the horror unfolding on the radio.  I still find it hard to believe that 96 fans just like me went to a game that day and didn’t come home. What is even harder to take is that those lives were used for political grandstanding and their families have had to fight for justice for so long.  As Bill Kenwright said, “They picked on the wrong mums.”  I have always thought that what happened to them could have happened to any of us, so we all stand together in the fight for justice.

My departure from the office was a little later than I had planned so, when I arrived at the West Herts, the jerk chicken had run out and I had to make do with a burger.  Most disappointing.

 

Ben with Maddie and Amelia

Prior to the game, my sister had arranged for our nieces to recreate a photo they had taken with Ben Foster in 2007.  He was a good sport in doing it and the resulting montage was rather lovely.

Team news was four changes from the semi-final with Foster, Kabasele, Janmaat and Masina in for Gomes, Mariappa, Holebas and Pereyra.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Kabasele, Cathcart, Masina; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Femenía; Deeney, Gray.

As the players ran out, there was a shocking change as Z-cars was replaced by I’m Still Standing.  Now I love Elton and have seen him live on many occasions, but it just didn’t feel right.  All previous attempts to drop Z-cars have ended in tears, so I hope that the club rethink this terrible decision.

The game started very positively for the Hornets who created an early chance as Hughes received a cross from Femenía, but the shot was wide of the target.  Unfortunately, in the 10th minute, it seemed that an encounter with my family had quite put Ben off his game as he received a back pass and dwelt on the ball far too long giving Aubameyang time to nip in, tackle him and put the ball in the net.  It was an awful mistake.  To add insult to injury, a minute later the referee blew up for an unknown infringement.  He went to consult the linesman who indicated that he had seen an elbow.  The referee returned and showed Deeney a red card for an offence that nobody else appeared to have seen.  At that point I wished that I had gone to see Ian McEwan at the Southbank Centre, which had been my plan for the evening before the game was rearranged.

Cathcart. Capoue, Hughes and Doucoure

Arsenal had a chance to increase their lead as Iwobi broke down the wing and crossed for Aubameyang whose shot was deflected for a corner which came to nothing.  The Hornets should have equalised as Cathcart hit a volley that Leno tipped onto the post.  Watford created another great chance as Gray broke forward and tried to tee up Doucouré but Monreal put the ball out for a corner.  The delivery came back to Femenía whose shot was deflected by Mustafi and ended up on the roof of the net.  From the resulting corner, Kabasele took a shot but it was deflected wide of the target.  This time the corner was cleared and led to an Arsenal break that finished with a shot from Iwobi that was saved by Foster.  Hughes went on a tricky run and was tripped on the edge of the box.  Capoue took the free kick, a brilliant strike that was heading for the top corner, but Leno managed to get a hand to it to tip it wide.  Then a lovely move by the Hornets as Janmaat clipped a ball to Femenía who crossed for Kabasele, but the Watford man was penalised for a high boot.  The last action of the half was a low shot from Xhaka that was straight at Foster.

Christian Kabasele

When Ben appeared for the second half, he greeted the applause from the crowd by blowing a kiss and saying he was sorry.  Emery made a change at the start of the half replacing Troy’s “victim”, Torreira, with Özil.  The first chance of the second half fell to the visitors as Iwobi crossed for Aubameyang who touched the ball just wide.  Capoue then earned a booking for knocking Mkhitaryan over.  The visitors had a great chance to increase their lead as Aubameyang crossed for Mkhitaryan, but Foster pulled off an excellent save to keep the score down.  Just before the hour mark, there was a substitution for each side with the visitors bringing Guendouzi on for Mavropanos, while Femenía made way for Success for the Hornets.  An interesting change from Javi.  Watford should have drawn level as Masina hit a brilliant shot from distance, but it crashed back off the crossbar.  Then Janmaat played a lovely ball through to Gray, but his touch was poor and he could only direct his shot wide.  Emery made his final substitution replacing Ramsey with Maitland-Niles.  Watford threatened again as Janmaat crossed for Hughes, but the Arsenal defence were back to clear.  The visitors then looked to increase their lead as Aubameyang slid in to meet a cross that he turned wide with the flag up for offside.  Then Xhaka tried a shot from distance, but Foster was equal to it.  The Hornets created another great chance as Success headed the ball down to Gray, he rounded Leno but Maitland-Niles was back to block his shot.  Then Janmaat crossed for Hughes whose header was just over the bar.  Watford made a final substitution bringing Sema on for Masina.  But the last chance of the game fell to the visitors and was a terrible shot from Aubameyang that nearly hit us in the centre of the Rookery.

Masina whispering secret instructions to Janmaat

The final whistle went to loud cheers for the Hornets in appreciation of a tremendous performance with 10 men for 80 minutes.  Arsenal had been poor and, but for the intervention of the post and some terrific saves by Leno, Watford would have won the game.  The applause and chants for the Watford players at the end of the game continued until the last player left the pitch and were only interrupted in order to boo the officials.  It is odd to feel quite so positive after a defeat, but the reaction of all the fans that I spoke to was of pride in a committed and entertaining performance.  If only Troy had stayed on the pitch, it could have been very different.

I got back to my hotel in London quite late and, after seeing a link on Twitter, listened to Peter Jones summing up after the game at Hillsborough.  He finishes by mentioning the stewards gathering up the possessions of the victims, the red and white flags, scarves and rosettes of the Liverpool fans.  His last words are, “And the sun shines now.”  Just as heart breaking 30 years on as it was at the time.  The events of that day must never be forgotten.

Lucky, Lucky Arsenal

Watford fans invading Highbury

During the week, I received an email from a Watford friend who lives in one of the apartments at the old Highbury stadium inviting our party for a pre-match tour.  As arranged, we met outside the main entrance which is part of the old East Stand facade and were taken into the marble hall to see the bust of Herbert Chapman and the Arsenal insignia that adorn the floors.  Then out to “the pitch”, which is now a communal garden.  We stood on the centre circle, noted the spot at which GT had his altercation with Steve Williams in 1987 and admired the memorial bench that has been added in memory of all the Arsenal fans who had had their ashes scattered at Highbury.  It was all rather lovely, and pleasing that so much of the façade has been retained.  Apparently, you don’t have to be an Arsenal fan to live there, but a couple of residents who turned up after a game wearing their West Ham shirts found that they could not get past security, so they do have some standards.

From there we made our way to one of the few pubs around the ground that allows away fans in.  It wasn’t the most salubrious of venues and the selection of beer was limited and not particularly appealing, it certainly reminded me why we usually have our pre-match pint further afield.

As expected, team news was that Gracia would make his first change to the starting XI this season, with the enforced omission of the injured Janmaat who was replaced by Navarro.  Thankfully, the red card shown to Kabasele during the week had been rescinded, so he was available for selection.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Navarro; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deeney, Gray.

Pereyra and Holebas preparing for a free kick

Watford started the game brightly, but had an early scare as Lacazette burst into the area, he was tripped by Kabasele but stayed on his feet and shot wide.  I suspect that if the Arsenal man had gone to ground, the referee would have awarded a penalty, so we were grateful to him for his honesty.  Watford then had a terrific chance to take the lead as Deeney headed a cross from Holebas back to Hughes but the shot was just wide of the target.  The hosts then had a great chance as Lacazette robbed Cathcart in midfield and advanced towards Foster, he lifted the ball over the keeper, but it drifted just wide of the target, much to the relief of the travelling Hornets.  At the other end, Deeney found Hughes whose shot was deflected over, but the flag was up for an infringement anyway.   The first caution of the game went to Deeney for a foul on Monreal.  A free kick from Holebas caused some concern in the Arsenal defence, but Cech was able to make the block as Kabasele challenged, before also blocking the follow-up from Deeney.  At the other end, Xhaka tried a shot from the edge of the area, but Foster was down to gather.  The first card for the home side went to Torreira, who was booked for a foul on Deeney.  Arsenal were forced to make a substitution in time added on at the end of the first half, when Cech pulled a hamstring while taking a free kick and had to be replaced by Leno making his debut in the Arsenal goal.

I must admit that at the end of the half, I felt that Arsenal had more of the play, which may have been due to my position low down in the stand at the end which Arsenal were attacking. Although, I seemed to have been unduly intimidated by their attacking prowess as others around me were bemoaning us not taking our chances and feeling that we should have had the lead.

Deeney and Success ready for a ball into the box

The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as a corner from Özil was headed over the bar by Holding.  There was a much better chance for the Hornets as Deeney met a Holebas free kick with a shot that was heading for the bottom corner until Leno made a great save to put it out for a corner.  At the other end, an Arsenal breakaway finished with Lacazette heading wide of the target.   Mustafi was booked for a protest and then Emery made his first unforced substitution bringing Iwobi on for Ramsey.  Watford threatened as Gray latched on to a through ball from Deeney, but Leno was out to block the shot.  Leno was called into action again soon after, gathering a cross from Holebas.  Then Pereyra had a terrific chance to open the scoring, cutting inside Torreira before shooting just wide of the far post.  Gracia made his first change with 20 minutes to go, bringing Success on for Gray.  The substitute made an immediate impact as he received a pass from Deeney and took a shot that was blocked by Holding.  Watford threatened again as a Holebas free kick broke to Cathcart who poked the ball goalwards, it was blocked and his follow-up was caught by Leno.  Success should have given Watford the lead when he broke into the box, but he aimed for the far corner and the shot bounced agonizingly off the post.

Deeney passing instructions to Pereyra

At this point the voice of Cassandra could be heard behind me, “We know what will happen now.”  Arsenal’s final substitution came with quarter of an hour remaining as Aubameyang made way for Welbeck.  Then the normally mild mannered Doucouré went into the book for a protest.  With nine minutes to go, Cassandra’s prophesy came true as Iwobi crossed for Lacazette and Cathcart’s intervention only served to deflect the ball into the net.  So irritating.  Watford had had their best spell of the game and looked totally in control, but the home side were ahead.  Watford had a chance to break back as Pereyra played the ball out to Doucouré who shot well over the bar.  But it wasn’t to be and insult was added to injury as Arsenal scored a second two minutes later after another quick break as Lacazette exchanged passes with Iwobi before sliding the ball to Özil who side-footed home. Watford made a second change with Femenía coming on for Navarro.  At this point, the Arsenal fans could be heard for pretty much the first time all afternoon with a chant of “Deeney, what’s the score?”  The visitors had a couple of late chances to reduce the deficit.  First, Pereyra went on a run before firing over the bar.  Then Doucouré met a cross from Holebas with a header that flew over the bar.  Into time added on and the final chance of the game fell to the home side, but the shot from

Herbert Chapman in the Marble Halls

Lacazette was just wide of the far post.

It was a cruel finish to the game.  Watford had been the better side for most of the second half and had considerably more shots on goal, but the hosts made the most of those that they had and it was the finishing that proved the difference between the teams.

Still, it was difficult to be too upset.  It had been another terrific performance with the Hornets yet again showing themselves to be easily the match of one of the top six.  On the evidence of the performances so far this season, we have little to fear when facing the majority of the teams in this division and I never thought that I would be saying that when we were first promoted.

 

Deeney’s Words Come Back to Haunt Him

Gathering for a corner

During the week the Sports Quiz took place at Vicarage Road.  The club usually try to get a couple of players to come along and, on this occasion, it was Deeney and Mariappa.  The former was livid when he didn’t identify all the Premier League players from their pixilated pictures.  As I often do on these occasions, I wondered how many premier league clubs would have the captain picking out raffle tickets on such an evening.  As we were on the next table, I took the chance to have a chat with the lovely Adrian Mariappa.  As usual, I asked about Lloyd Doyley.  I knew he was at Hemel now and just wanted to make sure that he was happy.  There was a smile and “Lloyd’s always happy”.

On Sunday, I left home bright and early and was in the pre-match pub before 11.  My party had not yet arrived, but the Norfolk/East Anglian Hornets were out in force, so I was welcomed into their fold, which is always great entertainment.

Team news was just the one change for the Hornets with Femenía in for Carrillo, so the starting line-up was Karnezis; Femenía, Prödl, Mariappa, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Janmaat, Pereyra, Richarlison; Deeney.   Interestingly, Bachmann filled the goalkeeping spot on the bench leading to a tweet from Gomes that indicated that he was not happy at that decision.  Arsenal’s line-up showed six changes from the team that started the Europa League match in midweek and they had more than one substitute with a shirt number in the 60s.  I guess Watford are not AC Milan.

Richarlison lines up a free kick

There was also a milestone in the commentary box as it was to be John Motson’s last live radio commentary.  I could only hope that Watford would give him something interesting to talk about (in a good way).

As we took our seats in the stand, it was notable that there were vast swathes of empty seats in the upper tier of the Emirates.

There had been a discussion pre-match about the line-up which indicated that Femenía was playing at right-back.  As the team lined up for kick-off, Pete commented ‘Femenía won’ as it became clear that Kiko was playing on the wing and Janmaat had taken up the defensive position.

The home side created a very early chance as a lovely passing move finished with Özil setting Aubameyang up to challenge Karnezis, the Watford keeper won that duel saving the shot with his legs.  Watford’s first chance came as Pereyra played the ball out to Richarlison whose shot was wide of the near post.  Arsenal took the lead in the eighth minute as an Özil free kick was headed home by Mustafi.  It was a simple goal and rather frustrating.

Holebas comes over to take a corner

Watford looked to break back quickly as Pereyra found Richarlison in space but, as so often recently, the youngster hesitated and the space was gone, so he played the ball back to Doucouré whose shot was blocked by the keeper, Cech.  At the other end a through ball found Kolašinac whose cross was just too far in front of Aubameyang who could only poke the ball wide of the near post.  Watford really should have equalised in the next passage of play as, first, Richarlison hit a free kick that was on target, Cech managed to push it out but only as far as Pereyra who, with the goal gaping, belted the ball high and wide of the target.  Arsenal could have increased their lead as Özil, who had been a menace all afternoon, was through on goal, but Mariappa managed to put him off and Karnezis was able to block the shot.  Nearly half an hour into the game the upper tier was still sparsely populated and the seats behind us were finally occupied by a young couple who were clearly not Watford fans.  Very strange as there was plenty of space for them in their own end.  The home side had another decent chance to take the lead as Aubameyang got the ball inside the box, but he was denied by a superb tackle from Mariappa.  At the other end, Richarlison and Pereyra combined again, this time the young Brazilian was provider playing a through ball to his colleague whose shot was blocked.  The visitors threatened again as Capoue found Femenía whose volley was deflected over the target.  The Hornets were finishing the half strongly and a decent break finished with a cross from Janmaat that was plucked out of the air by Cech.  The last chance of the half came as a lovely cross from Femenía was met by the head of Richarlison, but his effort was pushed around the post by Cech and the half time whistle went with the Hornets still trailing by the early goal.

When Watford conceded in the eighth minute, it looked as though it could be a long afternoon but, even though Arsenal had the better of the early exchanges, the Hornets had put in a strong show later in the half and really should have scored.  I hoped that we wouldn’t come to regret the missed chances.

Deeney and Mustafi

Arsenal had the first chance of the second half with a shot from distance from Xhaka that Karnezis caught at the second attempt.  Watford then had a decent chance as a ball from Doucouré was headed on by Richarlison to Femenía whose volley was blocked.  The first caution of the game was earned by Mustafi who stopped Richarlison escaping by tripping him.  The Hornets had another decent chance as Capoue dinked the ball to Femenía whose shot was deflected wide.  After a bright start to the half by the Hornets, it was frustrating to see the home side increase their lead as Mkhitaryan launched a counter attack before playing a through ball to Aubameyang who rounded Karnezis and scored.  Watford had a chance to pull one back as Pereyra ran into the box and encountered two Arsenal defenders so leapt between them and was adjudged to have been fouled.  From our (rather good) vantage point, it appeared to be a very soft penalty.  As Deeney stepped up to take it, I had a feeling of dread with the word ‘cohones’ going through my head.  The Arsenal fans behind the goal were on their feet jeering trying to put Troy off and, sure enough, Cech went the right way and the shot was at a decent height for the keeper who made his first penalty save for the Gunners.  Interestingly Deeney’s miss got a bigger cheer from the home crowd than either of the Arsenal goals that preceded it.  While nobody was looking, Gracia made his first change bringing Hughes on for Femenia, who had put in a very impressive performance.

Okaka, Deeney and Mariappa gather for a corner

Watford could then have conceded a penalty themselves as Mariappa made a rather robust tackle on Mkhitaryan, but the referee gave nothing.  Richarlison again had a chance to pull one back for the visitors, but he didn’t take the early shot and was closed down.  In the pub before the game, Pete had been talking about the bet that he had laid which required both teams to score and both Deeney and Holebas to be booked.  Jose kindly fulfilled his part of that bargain with a foul on Mkhitaryan.  There was a substitution for each side at that point as Welbeck came on for Iwobi for the home side and Okaka replaced Pereyra for the visitors.  Watford had a great chance to reduce the deficit when a Richarlison cross was knocked on to Janmaat but the shot was poor and cleared the bar.  Arsenal then scored a third that was totally undeserved with a shot from distance from Mkhitaryan that bounced off Karnezis, who probably should have done better with it.  Holebas then did his best to get sent off with a red mist moment as he charged in to a challenge but, thankfully, was unable to inflict the intended damage, so stayed on the field. Each side made further changes with Chambers and Wilshere replacing Mustafi and Mkhitaryan for Arsenal and Britos coming on for Janmaat for the Hornets.  The Arsenal fans finally started a chant and, needless to say, it was to goad the Watford captain with “Deeney, what’s the score?”  Watford continued to try to get a goal back as a cross from Mariappa reached Okaka, who stabbed the ball goalwards but it was easy for Cech.  At the other end, Karnezis was called into action to block a shot from distance from Welbeck.  Richarlison again broke forward, his initial shot was blocked, the ball rebounded back to him but he was closed down before he could finish.  The final chance of the game fell to Prödl in a great position, but he belted the ball over the bar.  It was that sort of afternoon for the Hornets.

Capoue and Holebas prepare for a free kick

It was a rather odd game.  Arsenal played better than they had of late and Özil and Aubameyang were a menace all afternoon.  But Watford had some great spells of play and a confident Richarlison could have had a hat-trick.  If Deeney had scored the penalty at 2-0, it would likely have been a different outcome, but we were left to rue our misses.  It didn’t feel like a 3-0 defeat, the score greatly flattered the home side.  But, with Bournemouth losing to Tottenham later that afternoon, we finished the weekend in the top half of the table so there were no complaints.  With a trip to Liverpool on St Patrick’s day, I am not expecting any points next week, so we can just look forward to our upcoming run of home games and hope that we finish in style.  After the disappointing ends to the past couple of seasons, we deserve a decent finish.

 

Silencing the Gunners

Richarlison inspired by a cuddle from my niece

My niece was unwell last week, so was home from university for a few days to recuperate.  She decided to make a trip to St Albans and found herself captured on Heurelho Gomes’ Instagram live.  A cuddle from both Richarlison and Gomes certainly helped hasten her recovery, the photos with them were gorgeous and made her aunt smile.  I don’t have a photo with Richarlison yet!

The evening kick-off on Saturday meant that I was arriving in the West Herts at the time that I am usually leaving for the ground.  An odd and unsettling feeling, but the other Watford fans in the bar reassured me that I hadn’t misunderstood the kick-off time.  Given the two away games and the international break, this was the first home game since Toddy passed away, so it was a sombre crowd that gathered.  There was a huge contingent of Norfolk Horns in attendance and Toddy’s son, Chris, came along, which was just lovely.  I doubt he has ever been hugged so much before.  Glasses were raised, happy memories exchanged and there was a determination to sing our hearts out for Toddy as well as the lads.

Team news was three changes with Britos, Pereyra and Gray coming in for Capoue, Carrillo and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kabasele, Mariappa, Britos; Femenía, Doucouré, Cleverley, Holebas; Pereyra, Gray, Richarlison.  A change in formation to 3-4-3.  The Watford connection at Arsenal came in the shape of former loanee, Hector Bellerin.

Holebas preparing for a throw-in

We arrived in the Rookery to find that the large flag was already in place.  It certainly looked magnificent in the photos.  Well done, yet again, to the 1881 for a fantastic display.

The first action of the game anywhere near the goal came as an Arsenal cross was missed by the head of Lacazette before being headed clear.  At the other end a cut back from Richarlison was blocked by Mertesacker before it reached Gray.  A better chance for the Hornets came as Holebas found Doucouré on the left, he delivered a decent cross that was headed just wide by Pereyra.  Twenty minutes into the game, there was more action in the stands than on the pitch as it appeared to kick off for the second time in the Rookery, presumably due to the presence of away fans in the home stand.  I hoped that the Arsenal fan who was sitting next to me would get the message about making his allegiance obvious.  Back on the pitch, Femenía crossed for Richarlison, but the ball was too far in front of the Brazilian and he was unable to apply the finish.  Then Richarlison got his head to a ball in the midfield before racing towards the penalty area, but Bellerin was able to get back to stop him from shooting.

Mariappa, Pereyra and Richarlison in the box

Arsenal’s first goal attempt came just before the half hour as Elneny tried a shot from distance that flew just over the bar.  Then Welbeck received the ball in the box in a dangerous position, but was stopped by a terrific block from Holebas.  The visitors came closer as Iwobi tried a curling shot, but Gomes was equal to it.  At this point the bloke behind us, who spends 90 minutes loudly spouting drivel, commented, “You’ve got to be more intelligent.”  Oh, the irony!   Watford threatened as a cross was met by Richarlison, but the header was poor and flew wide.  Some good work from Holebas led to a corner, the delivery from Xhaka was met by Mertesacker who was allowed a free header which he hit past Gomes to put the visitors in the lead.  Arsenal had their tails up now as Xhaka tried a shot that was blocked, Bellerin shot wide from the follow-up.  Xhaka threatened again, but this time his shot was caught by Gomes.  In time added on at the end of the half, Pereyra crossed for Richarlison, he crossed back in to the box, but Cech gathered.

It had been a fairly dull first half, the goal being the only shot on target.  Arsenal were slightly fortunate to have the lead, but had made the most of their chance from a set piece.

Celebrating Deeney’s penalty

Watford started the second half well and Richarlison was the first to threaten as he cut in from the left and curled a shot just wide of the target.  A lovely ball over the top from Cleverley to Gray deserved more than to be cut out by Mertesacker.  A cross from Holebas had to be tipped wide by Cech as Doucouré was challenging.  Wenger made the first personnel change on the hour, bringing Özil on for Welbeck.  There were shouts from the Rookery for a penalty as there appeared to be a handball in the box, but the referee blew up for an earlier free kick.  Silva then made a tactical change bringing Deeney and Carrillo on for Gray and Mariappa, who had been excellent yet again, and changing to 4 at the back.  Arsenal had a great chance of a second goal as a shot from Iwobi was flying in until Gomes made a fingertip save to keep it out.  Arsenal’s second change saw Giroud come on in place of Lacazette.  Özil really should have scored a second for the visitors as he found himself in space with only Gomes to beat, but the Watford keeper kept him out.  At the other end, Richarlison broke into the box where he was tripped by Bellerin and the referee pointed to the spot.  My Arsenal-supporting neighbour didn’t do himself any favours at this point by indicating that he thought it was a dive.  I may have made him feel less than welcome.  Deeney stepped up, sent Cech the wrong way and levelled the scores.

Another mad celebration with fists in the way

Watford had a great chance for a second soon after as Richarlison broke into the box again, but his shot hit the side netting.  A dangerous looking Arsenal attack was stopped by Britos who calmly came away with the ball.  Silva made his final change as Pereyra, who looked exhausted, was replaced by Capoue.  The Frenchman was soon in action with a shot that came off the head of Mertesacker and rebounded off the post.  The last substitution for the visitors saw Holding replace Koscielny.  Richarlison had another decent chance as he received a throw from Holebas, turned and volleyed over the bar.  Richarlison then found Carrillo whose shot was also too high.  A rare second half chance for Arsenal came from a corner, Britos headed the ball clear but only as far as Monreal who, thankfully, shot over the bar.  But the momentum was with the home side and when the fourth official indicated 4 minutes of time added on, the Vicarage Road faithful roared their encouragement.  The winner wasn’t pretty, but who cares.  There was a bit of pinball in the box as a series of shots were blocked before the ball fell to Cleverley who powered it into the roof of the net causing total pandemonium in the Rookery.  There were screams and hugs and smiles.  The Arsenal fan redeemed himself as he said that we deserved it as we’d been the better team in the second half.  The visitors had a chance to grab a point as a cross from Özil was met by the head of Giroud, but Gomes gathered safely and the final whistle went to confirm the win for the Hornets.

Doucoure and Mariappa

There were joyous scenes at the final whistle.  Phones were out with the Premier League table displayed showing Watford in the heady heights of fourth.  There were breathless discussions, heads shaking and “How good was that?”  The people that sit around us have been there for more years than I care to remember and we have suffered some very bad times together, so it is lovely to see all these people smiling and enjoying the football as much as we are.

We were being driven home by an Arsenal fan, who did his best to bring us down by telling us that the television verdict was that Richarlison had dived and could well face a retrospective ban.  I have to say that hadn’t been my view from behind the goal and the footage on Match of the Day certainly appeared to show contact.  It may have been a soft penalty, but it seemed legitimate.  When we arrived back at my sister’s she told us that Troy had given his shirt to a little lad who looked absolutely delighted (I have seen the footage on Twitter and the boy and his Dad couldn’t have looked happier).  We then listened in interest as Troy spoke with great honesty and insight about the game and his career.  I was highly amused to hear that his son, Myles, had texted that he hated him after scoring against his team, Arsenal.

Carrillo

It was a magnificent performance.  Yet another last minute goal, the third in successive games, underlines the resilience of this team.  The football is a joy to watch and the players are all working as a team.  It is hard to pick players out, but Cleverley has been a rock for weeks now and it was lovely to see him get a goal to crown an impressive performance.  Deeney also deserves praise.  He could have sulked being left out of the team, but he came on and made a difference, Arsenal found his physical presence hard to cope with and he wasn’t going to miss that penalty.

After we lost to Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final in 2007, I was invited on to Radio Five for a programme that featured Rogan Taylor, on which I bemoaned the fact that the young Watford fans of today would never experience the highs that I had following the Watford team in the early 80s.  It turns out that I was wrong and I couldn’t be happier.

That Was for You, Graham

Pre-match huddle at the Emirates

Pre-match huddle at the Emirates

In Graham Taylor’s first period in charge, wins against the Gunners were commonplace, but times have changed and we travelled to the Emirates with very little hope of anything other than a harsh defeat.  After the dreadful game on Sunday, I had spent my day at work with a very heavy heart, wondering why I was subjecting myself and, more importantly, my niece to another night of misery.  The fact that the club had decided not to move the game to Wednesday, despite playing on Sunday, seemed to indicate that they had written it off and would concentrate their efforts on Saturday’s game at home to Burnley.

The match had taken on an extra significance as it was on the eve of GT’s funeral.  For that reason, the scarf that I bought from Peter Percy in Hemel in 1979, which has not left the house in many a year, got an airing.

Pre-match the City Orns gathered and shared predictions.  Most were for a heavy defeat.  Mike mentioned that he had got in the habit of betting on 2-1 for every game, but thought he’d give it a miss for this one.

Team news was that there were nine changes from Sunday, with only Britos and Kaboul keeping their places.  This would be our first chance to see our intriguing new signing, M’Baye Niang.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Behrami; Janmaat, Cleverley, Capoue, Niang; and Deeney lining up in a 4-1-4-1 formation.

Returning upfield for the restart after taking the lead

Returning upfield for the restart after taking the lead

There was a positive start to the game from the Hornets, but it took us all by surprise when Cleverley played a short free kick to Kaboul who, with the assistance of a slight deflection, fired past Cech to put the Hornets into a totally unexpected lead.  I couldn’t help but despair at the modern football fan, as the away crowd decided that the most appropriate chant to celebrate going a goal up against Arsenal at the Emirates was “How sh*t must you be, we’re winning away.”  The voice of reason/Cassandra next to me warned, “It’s too early.”  But, no sooner had we come to terms with the fact that we had scored, than we had a second.  Capoue went on a storming run from the halfway line, his shot was blocked by Cech, but rebounded to Deeney who poked it into the empty net.  This goal was greeted with a mental celebration and “This is the best trip I’ve ever been on.”  Much better.  There was a long way to go, but this was incredibly impressive from the Hornets.  The home side were forced into an early substitution as Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for the Ramsey, who had picked up an injury.  The Arsenal players were becoming increasingly frustrated as Watford continued to dominate, and Gabriel was booked for hacking down Niang.  My heart was in my mouth as Monreal went down in the Watford box.  The referee blew up and I thought he was about to point to the spot but, instead, he pointed at the Arsenal man and brandished a yellow card for diving.

Cleverley takes a free kick

Cleverley takes a free kick

Watford continued to threaten the Arsenal goal as Janmaat played a short pass to Capoue on the edge of the area, but his shot was comfortably saved by Cech.  The Frenchman then went on another run, this time down the wing to the byline, before crossing for Prödl whose header had to be tipped over by Cech.  Watford had another great chance to increase their lead after a corner was repelled to Britos, who belted a shot that was blocked by Giroud.  Janmaat was the next to try his luck, meeting a cross from Deeney with a shot that required a great save from Cech to keep it out.  Capoue, who was playing a blinder, again won the ball in midfield before finding Janmaat who crossed for Niang, whose first shot for the Hornets flew over the bar.  There was a rare foray by the home side into the Watford box, but Sánchez’s effort was well over the bar.  The Chilean had another chance to threaten the Watford goal when he received the ball in the box, but Cathcart just took it off his feet.

The half time whistle went to finish a breathtaking half of football from the Hornets.  The slow, ponderous performance we witnessed in the Millwall game had been replaced with all action attacking married to a pressing defence, and it was an absolute joy to watch. At half time, the fans in the concourse were bouncing and celebrating loudly.  I saw Pam.  Her response to my question “Where did that come from?” was an emotional, “GT.”

Deeney and Niang waiting for the ball to drop

Deeney and Niang waiting for the ball to drop

Wenger made a substitution at the start of the second half, replacing Giroud with Walcott.  The substitute was involved almost immediately as a ball from Koscielny found him on the right of the box, but his shot was wide of the near post.  Arsenal were a changed team since the restart and Iwobi beat Cathcart on the wing before crossing for Walcott whose shot was blocked by Gomes.  The Watford keeper was in action again soon after, stretching out a hand to grab a shot from Iwobi.  Özil was the next to threaten the Watford goal with a shot from the edge of the box, but Gomes was equal to it.  The home side finally got the breakthrough on 58 minutes as Sánchez chipped a ball over the defence to Iwobi who volleyed in off the post.  Mazzarri’s first substitution was an odd one, replacing Behrami, who had been excellent, with Doucouré.  I can only think that Behrami was flagging as I would have preferred his defensive presence.  Watford had a rare second half attack as Deeney ran into the box before going to ground, but the referee waved play on.  Both sides made substitutions around the midpoint of the half with Lucas replacing Coquelin for Arsenal and Watford new boy, Niang, making way for Success.  The customary chants and applause for GT rang out soon after, although they were a minute early by my reckoning.  Arsenal’s next goal chance came with a shot from distance by Gabriel, which flew a mile over the bar.  At the other end a corner from Capoue was headed well wide by Cathcart.

Deeney

Deeney

At this point, my nerves were shot and I turned to my niece, “I’m too old for this!”  “I’m too young for this!” was the retort.  Into the last 10 minutes and Arsenal won a free kick on the edge of the Watford box.  It was in a dangerous position, so I was greatly relieved when it hit the wall and went out.  The resultant corner was headed out, but only as far as Monreal whose shot was, thankfully, well wide of the post.  Mazzarri’s second change was to replace Deeney with Okaka.  After the Italian’s poor showing on Sunday, I was doubtful about this change as well.  Lucas had a great chance to grab the equalizer as he latched on to a throw and unleashed a powerful shot that rebounded out from under the crossbar.  Having been counting the seconds since the Arsenal goal, it was almost physically painful to see the board held up informing us that we would have to survive for another five minutes.  But the nearest the home side came to the equalizer in time added on was a weak shot from Lucas that was easily gathered by Gomes.  As the various injury time stopwatches among the away crowd ran down to zero, Watford won a corner and there was hardly time to take it before the final whistle went to ecstatic cheers from the away end.  “That was for you, Graham,” yelled my sister, echoing the thoughts of every Watford fan in the ground.

Cleverley lines up a free kick

Cleverley lines up a free kick

As we applauded the players, I spotted a bloke in a black puffer jacket with a huge smile on his face.  Flipping heck, that’s Walter!  Although it has to be said that Paolo de Toffol completely outdid him in the mental celebration category.  All of the players came over to applaud the fans and to give their shirts away.  It had been a magnificent performance by the whole team.  The energy and attacking purpose in the first half had Arsenal in disarray.  In the second half, when the home side were in the ascendancy, the defence had been solid and well organized and Gomes was rarely troubled.  A special mention must go to Capoue who, having been largely anonymous for some time now, put in a man of the match performance running the Arsenal defence ragged, particularly in the first half.  The newcomer, Niang’s, debut was very pleasing with one particularly memorable moment when he beat Gabriel on the wing and went on a run that was only stopped when he was fouled.  On tonight’s showing, I am expecting great things from him.

As the crowd and the players celebrated together at the end of a wonderful night of football, there was only one chant that seemed appropriate and “One Graham Taylor” rang out from the away end.  This was a performance that he would have been proud of and there is no higher praise for a Watford team than that.

A Day to Forget at the Emirates

Welcome to the Clock End

Welcome to the Clock End

Groundhog Day.  Three weeks after the trip to the Emirates for the FA Cup match, we were back in the league.  We arrived for pre match drinks to see a couple of early arrivals and, as time went on, others arrived and we gathered a good group before leaving for the game.  My niece, Amelia, was present for the pre-match festivities and I looked at her surrounded by all the old folk and commented, “This is the worst part of your day.”  How wrong I was.

On the tube to Arsenal, I met a former colleague.  After catching up on our career moves since last we met, he asked my prediction for the game.  “We won’t win.”

Arsenal’s new home is a bit of an oddity.  As you emerge from Arsenal station, it feels like a proper old school ground with narrow streets and lots of food outlets, as well as the requisite ticket touts.  Then you turn a corner and are faced with the bright shiny new stadium, which is an estate in and of itself.  As you walk past the statues and the celebratory cladding on the stadium, you have to weave in and out of the tourists taking selfies, something that would never have happened when we were regulars in the 80s.  We made our way to the away turnstiles to be greeted with a sign welcoming us.  Again, I couldn’t help thinking that wouldn’t have happened in the 80s.

Daddy and mascot Myles

Daddy and mascot Myles

As we found our seats in the stand, one immediately apparent difference from the cup game was that, due to the smaller allocation, we were only allocated seats in the lower tier, which has very shallow raking and would not be my choice.  Our one benefit was that we were near the corner flag so at least had some view of the game.

Team news was that Flores had made three changes bringing Prödl, Watson and Abdi in for Britos, Behrami and Jurado.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Suárez, Watson, Capoue, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.  Former loanee, Hector Bellerin, started for the Gunners and it has been a delight to see him establishing himself in the first team as that has been a rare experience for our former loanees from the ‘Top 4’.

As the teams came out I didn’t see the Watford mascot and it was only as they were kicking about that it was apparent that Myles Deeney had accompanied his Dad on to the pitch.  I was a bit disappointed that the only photo that I had was of the two of them walking away from me for the coin toss.  The disappointment disappeared when I saw the photo of Myles with “Daddy 9” on his shirt.  How lovely.

Ake takes a throw

Ake takes a throw

The Arsenal onslaught started in the first minute with the first real threat on goal being an early cross that was taken off the head of Welbeck by Cathcart.  But the Gunners were ahead on 4 minutes as a cross from Iwobi found Sánchez in space, Gomes saved the header but Alexis buried the rebound.  It was not a good start but, even that early in the game, it had been coming.  Watford spirits rose briefly as Suárez went on a run but his cross went begging as there was nobody in the box to meet it.  Arsenal had another decent chance, but this time Monreal headed a cross from Sánchez over the bar.  Then Welbeck broke into the box but his shot was between the legs of Nyom, which slowed it, allowing Gomes to gather easily.  Arsenal could have been two up when Welbeck played the ball back to Iwobi but his shot was stopped by a terrific save from Gomes who tipped it clear.  Arsenal had yet another chance as Özil played the ball back to Welbeck whose shot was deflected just wide.  So, with 15 minutes gone, the home side could have been three goals ahead.  Watford finally had an attempt on goal as Deeney connected with a cross from Nyom, but the shot was straight at Ospina.  Arsenal threatened again from a free kick that Sánchez curled over the wall and Gomes had to push to safety.  Just before the half hour, Suárez found Deeney who played a ball over the top to Ighalo but the Nigerian was offside.

Watson lays the ball off to Guedioura

Watson lays the ball off to Guedioura

At the other end, Welbeck squared a ball for Sánchez, but Cathcart was on hand to clear.  A rare foray into the Arsenal half saw Nyom cross for Abdi who was stretching to meet the ball and couldn’t manage a shot.  Arsenal had completely dominated the half but, just as it appeared that we would reach half time trailing by a single goal, Sánchez received the ball in space in the Watford box before cutting it back to Iwobi who buried the ball past Gomes.   Watford did try to strike back but Watson’s header down to Deeney found the striker in an offside position.  Flores made a substitution just before half time as Anya replaced Capoue who, due to his history with Spurs, left the field to boos from the home fans.  Arsenal had a late chance to increase their lead but Iwobi’s shot from outside the box was easy for Gomes.

It had been a terrible half for the Hornets who had shown next to nothing, but were being taken apart by an excellent Arsenal team.  Last Tuesday I joined Jeff Stelling’s Men United March for Prostate Cancer UK, where we walked from Kenilworth Road to the Vic via Clarence Park.  The From the Rookery End guys had arranged to meet me for an interview at half time so I had little time to brood.

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

Due to the interview, I missed the start of the second half.  As I returned to my seat, I witnessed Anya winning a corner, but it was a poor delivery from the normally reliable Watson.  Soon after Amrabat, who had replaced Ighalo at the start of the half, went on a decent run but shot wide of the near post.  The home side then increased their lead as a shot from Bellerin took a nasty deflection to beat Gomes.  The Gunners had a great chance to increase their lead further a couple of minutes later but Iwobi’s shot came back off the crossbar and Özil put the rebound wide.  Gomes was in action again soon after as, first, a shot from Özil was saved by his feet, then a curling shot from Sánchez was parried, finally a header from Welbeck that flew straight into the keeper’s arms.   There was a brief respite for Watford fans as Suárez found Amrabat, but he was at a narrow angle when he shot so it drifted out for a throw.  Watford’s best chance of the game came on 56 minutes as Deeney met a Watson free kick with a header on to Prödl whose header was cleared off the line by Monreal.  The clearance fell to Aké whose shot was wide of the far post.  The first booking of the game went to Nyom for a kick on Özil that was borne of frustration.  There was a substitution for each side on 69 minutes as Abdi made way for Guédioura while Giroud replaced Welbeck.  The Arsenal substitution provoked the comment from the guys behind me that it wasn’t getting any easier.

Guedioura taking a corner

Guedioura taking a corner

Almost immediately there was another decent chance for the visitors as Aké crossed for Deeney who turned and unleashed a shot that required a good save from Ospina to keep his clean sheet.  At the other end, an Arsenal corner was met by a header from Giroud, but Gomes was equal to it.  Wenger made another change bringing Walcott on for Iwobi.  Another brief moment of positivity from the visitors as a cross from Aké was met by an overhead kick by Deeney which Amrabat was just unable to reach and so the ball went out for a goal kick.  Arsenal’s final change saw Campbell replacing Sanchez.  Watford had been brighter since the break and Amrabat came charging into the Arsenal box with Anya alongside him, but his pass was disappointingly short and went out for a goal kick.  Elneny stopped a break by Amrabat and was booked for his trouble.  Watson played the free kick short to Guédioura whose shot was deflected wide.  From the corner, Guédioura hit a shot from distance that went just wide of the near post.  Another Watford chance went begging as a cross fom Amrabat reached Anya, who opted to head back across goal instead of trying to hit the target and the ball was cleared.  Arsenal scored their fourth goal on 90 minutes as Campbell crossed for Walcott who finished past Gomes.

Ake on the wing

Ake on the wing

It was a relief for the travelling support when the final whistle went and, despite the poor performance, the players were applauded off with chants of “Wemberley” ringing in their ears.  It is hard to critique a game like that as, bad as Watford were, they were playing an Arsenal team who were on fire and, we were never going to be able to compete with that.  Arsenal had shown plenty of skill in our cup game, but there had been a lack of organisation and leadership.  In this game, they fought for everything and their passing was incisive, meaning we had no chance.  As an Arsenal fan, you would have to ask why they couldn’t have put that performance in during the cup game, which was their last realistic chance of silverware.

We walked back down the Caledonian Road to convene for our post match drinks.  The game had not been fun to watch, but it was never one that we would expect to win so there were no recriminations.  It was the first real tonking that we had experienced and that fact alone makes this season a success so far.  I was also interested to note that, despite complaints of recent relegation form (and it has been awful), there are still three teams below us in the table who have a worse record over the last 10 games.  So, while we can’t be complacent, relegation still looks highly unlikely and we have a cup semi-final to look forward to.  However you look at this, it remains our most successful season since the 80s.

 

1987 All Over Again

The pre match huddle

The pre match huddle

The build-up to this game had been distinctly odd.  There was some annoyance when the draw for the quarter final paired us against the winner of the only game in the previous round that required a replay.  This irritation was exacerbated by the fact that there was a full Premier League programme in the midweek that the replay would normally have been played, meaning that we only knew our opponents late on the Tuesday night prior to the quarter final weekend.  Hearts, if not wallets, wanted an away tie at Hull, but Arsenal’s comprehensive win meant that wouldn’t be the case, so we had an easy journey but considerably more formidable opponents.  Watford committed to take an allocation of 9000 tickets which, with only 4 days to sell them, was a risk as they were committed to pay for them.  They also subsidised the cost of adult tickets in the upper tier, so made a financial commitment towards ensuring that a large number of fans followed the team and that faith was repayed with a high take up and only around 700 tickets remaining unsold.

Social media indicated that there was a lot of excitement building up before the tie.  But I was not relishing the prospect.  Much as I enjoyed reliving the 1987 win in the build-up to the match, while wondering how we escaped Highbury in one piece.  That win was not unexpected as we always beat Arsenal in those glory years.  This season they are a different proposition and, while they lack consistency, the comprehensive defeat at Vicarage Road filled me with pessimism for the outcome and meant that I awoke on Sunday morning with a feeling of impending doom.

Lovely Paddy Rice

Lovely Paddy Rice

The day did not start well as we arrived at the pre-match pub to find that they were only serving soft drinks until midday and we could not move on as this was the designated venue for distributing the tickets for the City ‘Orns.  Given the state of my nerves, a caffeinated beverage would not have been a good idea, so I was parched by the time all tickets had been collected and we only had time for a swift pint at Kings Cross before leaving for the match.  The tube journey was remarkable only for the delightfully polite and gracious Arsenal fans that we met on the way.  It is always a pleasure to go to an away ground and feel like a guest rather than the enemy.  On arrival at the stadium, as we walked around to get to the away turnstiles, I was drawn to the photo of lovely Pat Rice, a man who is, deservedly, a legend at both clubs.

As the inclusion of Pantilimon in goal had been announced earlier in the week, it was a surprise when Gomes was named in the starting line-up.  However this was corrected prior to kick-off, and there were 3 further changes from the last game with Cathcart, Behrami and Guedioura in for Holebas, Suarez and Amrabat.  So we started with Pantilimon, Aké, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Behrami, Watson, Guedioura, Deeney, Capoue and Ighalo.

Arsenal started the game very brightly, and crafted a chance in the first couple of minutes as Chambers put in a dangerous cross that was just missed by Sánchez.  Watford, in contrast, looked nervous and some sloppy play almost put us in trouble on 9 minutes as Watson gave the ball away, Prödl missed a chance to clear and allowed Sánchez to play a through ball to Giroud, but the flag was up before he slotted it past Pantilimon.  Watford’s first chance came soon after through Ighalo, but his shot was blocked.  Capoue had the next chance as a cross from Nyom was headed back by Deeney, but he was unable to shoot and, given his misfortune in front of goal, would probably have missed anyway.

Guedioura and Nyom appearing pensive

Guedioura and Nyom appearing pensive

Ighalo got the ball in the box again, but held onto it a little too long, losing out in a tackle when Deeney was in space.  For the home side, Chambers hit another cross, but this one was an easy catch for Pantilimon.  Gibbs was the next to threaten with a cross that caused some panic in the Watford box, but the danger was snuffed out by a decisive tackle from Aké.  Ighalo was frustrated again as he tried to latch on to a Deeney header, but the keeper, Ospina, was first to the ball.  Arsenal had been a constant danger down the right and Chambers threatened again, but his cross was safely gathered by Pantilimon.  At the other end, Guedioura whipped in a cross which was caught by Ospina, with Deeney lurking just behind him.  Then Capoue played a lovely ball to Ighalo and the man who never passes opted to play the ball towards Deeney, allowing Mertesacker to intercept, while every fan in the away end was devastated that, for once, he hadn’t gone for goal himself when it seemed the better option.  Just before the half hour, what appeared from our vantage point to be a 50-50 challenge in the middle of the pitch, left Deeney needing treatment.  Replays showed that Gabriel had launched a two footed tackle on the Watford captain, who was lucky to avoid serious injury while the Arsenal man was fortunate still to be on the pitch.  The home side had a decent chance to take the lead as a corner was cleared to Elneny who shot over the bar with a horrible miskick.  Capoue released Ighalo who, again, passed instead of shooting, this time a dreadful ball that rolled behind Deeney so the chance was gone.  One of our party declared that he was doing it deliberately so that nobody would ever again berate him for shooting instead of passing to a team mate.  Aké was nutmegged by Özil who found Elneny but the Egyptian, again, shot over from the edge of the box.  Arsenal had one last chance to go in at the break with a lead as Campbell got behind the defence, but Pantilimon was able to put him off and he fired over the target.

The celebration for Ighalo's goal

The celebration for Ighalo’s goal

So we reached the break goalless.  Arsenal had much the better of the first half and had looked very dangerous on the break.  There had been far too many misplaced passes from the Hornets.  Particular culprits were Prödl, who appeared to have put his boots on the wrong feet, and Guedioura, who was looking very rusty.  However the Gunners had failed to capitalize on the mistakes from Watford and neither goalkeeper had faced a shot worthy of the name.

The home side came out early for the second half and they had the first chance with a corner from Özil that was headed over by Giroud.  But it was Watford who took the lead on 50 minutes.  It started with a dangerous cross from Guedioura which was taken off the head of Deeney and put out for a throw-in, which Aké took, it was headed on by Deeney to Ighalo who held off the defender, turned and fired past Ospina to send the away end into rapture.  It was so good to see Ighalo on the score sheet again and a joy that the players were celebrating directly in front of the away fans.  The goal unnerved Arsenal and injected a new confidence into the visitors and Ighalo could have had a second soon after as a Nyom cross was headed down by Deeney but, this time, Ighalo shot over the bar.  Just before the hour, Deeney and Ighalo came storming up the field with a lovely exchange of passes, it was a great shame when a tackle stopped the break.

Pantilimon lines up a goal kick

Pantilimon lines up a goal kick

There was another great chance for the Nigerian as Capoue released Aké who broke forward and crossed for Ighalo but he couldn’t quite connect.  It wasn’t all Watford, though, as a cross from Campbell found Giroud whose close range shot was stopped by a decent save from Pantilimon.  The second goal was a thing of beauty.  Deeney did tremendously well to hold the ball up in the box then he passed it out to Guedioura and WELLY!!!  The shot nearly burst the net and would have knocked out someone in the upper tier if it had.  If the first goal celebration had been joyous, this one was truly mental and, suddenly, the Watford fans started thinking that we could actually win this, and those of us who had been calling for Adlene’s replacement were left with egg on our faces.  Arsenal had a rare second half foray into the Watford box as a Sánchez shot was deflected wide before Giroud’s volley from the corner missed the target.  Wenger had seen enough and made three substitutions with a quarter of the game remaining as Elneny, Campbell and Giroud were replaced by Iwobi, Welbeck and Walcott.  Soon after, Flores also rang the changes replacing Capoue and Guedioura, both of whom left the field to loud cheers from the travelling Hornets, with Anya and Abdi.  In between the substitutions, Özil had been booked for a late challenge on Behrami.

Deeney gets into position

Deeney gets into position

As the game entered the last 10 minutes, Gibbs had a chance to reduce the deficit, but his back header was straight at Pantilimon.  Flores made his final substitution replacing Ighalo with Amrabat as the home fans left the ground in droves.  Arsenal had a decent chance as Sánchez cut the ball back to Chambers but he shot well wide.  At this point, Lynn commented that it looked like it was our day.  My look of horror was greeted with, “I hope I haven’t jinxed it.”  So did I.  My heart was pounding at this point and I couldn’t bring myself to join in the chants of “Que sera, sera”.  Watford then threatened again as Anya released Amrabat who broke forward before cutting the ball back to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  Deeney then turned provider playing a through ball to Anya who tried a shot from a narrow angle, which was stopped by Ospina, when a pull back to Amrabat may have been a better decision.  The count down to the 90th minute was stopped short at 88 when Welbeck pulled a goal back with a close range shot past Pantilimon and the nervous tension in the away end went up a (large) notch.  It was a relief that the next attack came from the Hornets, but Amrabat’s shot from distance was well wide of the near post.  There was almost collective heart failure among the travelling fans as a shot from Iwobi rebounded off the inside of the post and hit Pantilimon before Welbeck turned the loose ball wide when he really should have buried it.

The celebration run towards the crowd

The celebration run towards the crowd

The fourth official indicated an additional four minutes, which was the minimum we could have expected.  Welbeck had another chance to equalize as he latched on to a long pass, but Prödl and Pantilimon combined to ensure that his shot was off target.  There was one final chance for Arsenal as a shot from Iwobi was deflected for a corner which came to nothing.  I didn’t hear the final whistle over the thumping of my heart, but I did see the referee catch the ball and the Watford bench belting on to the pitch and over to celebrate with the Watford fans.  Ighalo’s beaming smile was back, I don’t think I have ever seen him so happy, and Capoue was dancing joyously while I was trying to choke back happy tears.

The celebrations in the ground continued as the players finished the handshakes with the opposition and the officials and the hugs among themselves and the players lined up to do one of those German-style rush to the crowd celebrations, which clearly hadn’t been practiced so was endearingly rubbish which, strangely, added to the joy.  The advertising continued on the big screen in the ground and I couldn’t help but laugh when it flashed up “Next match: Arsenal vs Watford.”  They even played “Yellow” over the tannoy.  But I must give a special mention to the Arsenal fans who hadn’t left with 10 minutes to go as there was still a decent number who stayed to applaud the Watford players.

The Cally

The Cally

As we left the ground there was a large group singing and celebrating outside, which was all rather lovely.  We decided to walk back to King’s Cross (it was only a couple of miles and I am down to do 27 in a couple of weeks).  It seemed oddly fitting to pass a pub called “The Cally” and we were congratulated by numerous people on the way, all of whom I assumed were Spurs fans.  We arrived back to the pub to see a lot of familiar faces and a number of strangers in yellow, red and black who elicited big smiles.  Everyone there, in their own way, was trying to come to terms with what had just happened.  Because, the apparently one sided stats notwithstanding, we came away feeling that we had thoroughly deserved that victory as we had created (and finished) the best of the chances and had shown incredible strength of character in holding out after Arsenal scored.  I have seen too many Watford teams that would have collapsed at that point.

A day later, I have been congratulated by so many neutrals (as well as the odd lovely Arsenal fan) and have to keep pinching myself.  When I started following a small town club in the late 70s, I could never have known how much joy they would bring me.  We have had so many ups and downs over the years, they have made me ecstatic and broken my heart.  But, in March 2016, I find myself supporting a little club that appears to be about to have a second season in the Premier League and I am planning to attend my fifth FA Cup semi-final.  Plus we are doing this while still feeling that our owners respect the history of our small town club.  And that is just remarkable.