Tag Archives: Alex McCarthy

Quique’s Last Stand (Again)

Sarr and Doucoure waiting for a ball into the box

A 5:30pm kick-off in Southampton meant a later than usual departure from home.  The train journey, while easy enough, did require four changes in order to get to the pre-match pub.  The penultimate leg was subject to delays due to problems at Clapham Junction, so I spent more time than was desirable sitting in the cold on Basingstoke station and, on boarding the train to Southampton, it was clear from the animated conversations and the cans of Fosters that I was now on  a “football special”.  I met up with the rest of our travelling party at Southampton Airport Parkway and, having missed the hourly connection to St Denys, we piled into a taxi.

As we entered the pub of choice, there was a large group of Watford regulars gathered at the bar.  After greeting them, we headed for a table at the back.  The pub had a decent menu, so I was rather disappointed that, on a matchday, they only offered hot dogs, burgers, chips and peas.  I have to say that my disappointment was misplaced as the hot dog was excellent and it was served with proper chips, so we left for the game replete and ready for whatever the evening would bring.

Our route to the ground took us on a path alongside the River Itchen.  We have definitely been to evening games here in the past, but clearly not in the Winter as the path was incredibly dark.  Still, we soon emerged and saw the lights of the stadium.

Deulofeu looking animated at a corner, Holebas taking it in his stride

Our seats were at the back of the stand where we met up with Amelia, who had turned down the opportunity for a pre-match pint with her aunt.  As I got my breath back, I was a little concerned when the floodlights dimmed.  When it happened again, I realised that it was in time to the music and we were caught up in a stadium disco light show.  I found it rather off-putting and can only hope that there were no epileptics in the crowd.

Team news was that Quique had made two changes from the defeat to Burnley with Masina and Sarr coming in for Dawson and Gray.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Mariappa; Holebas, Doucouré, Capoue, Femenía; Hughes; Sarr, Deulofeu.  There were some concerns about Quique persisting with a back three, given our paucity of fit central defenders.  In a similar vein it was noted that we had only Foulquier on the bench, should one of the starting defenders succumb to injury.

 

A blurred but happy celebration of Sarr’s goal

The Hornets had a great chance to take an early lead as Højbjerg gave away possession to Sarr, but the youngster took his chance too early and shot straight at McCarthy in the Southampton goal.  The Saints’ Captain had an immediate chance to make up for his mistake when the ball dropped to him outside the Watford box, but his shot flew over the bar.  The home side threatened again as Redmond played a one-two with Ings before shooting from distance, but it was an easy catch for Foster.  At this point, very early in the game, the chants ringing out from the away end were, “You’re going down with the Watford”, “We’ll see you in the Championship” and “We only lost 8-0.”  Quite how that was supposed to spur the Watford players on to victory is beyond me.  On the pitch, a short corner was played to Holebas who put in a cross that was met with a defensive header that dropped to Capoue, he crossed back for Doucouré whose header was weak and easily saved by McCarthy.  The Hornets took the lead in the 24th minute, a lovely ball from Capoue released Sarr who advanced and shot across McCarthy into the net.  It was a terrific goal and prompted wild celebrations and lots of hugs in the away end.  I felt massively relieved, hoping that the goal would calm the nerves and set us up nicely.  Sarr was soon in action at the other end of the field repelling a ball into the box with a strong defensive header.  That’s what I like to see.  He had a chance to double Watford’s lead on the half hour as a deep free kick from Holebas found him in space, he volleyed goalwards, but McCarthy made the block and the ball went out for a corner.  The Hornets had another chance soon after, as Deulofeu broke forward and unleashed a shot that was pushed wide by McCarthy.  At the other end a low cross from Bertrand was blocked by Mariappa.  The home side threatened again as Redmond tried a shot from just inside the area, but his effort was over the target.  The Saints had a great chance to grab an equaliser just before half time when a low cross from Soares was flicked towards goal by Ward-Prowse, but the ball drifted just wide of the target.  The half time whistle was greeted with boos from the home fans, while the travelling Hornets were pretty happy with the state of play.

Doucoure, Cathcart and Masina getting ready to defend a cross into the box

The first action of the second half was a foul by Redmond on Femenía that earned the Southampton man a booking.  Ten minutes into the half Sarr beat a couple of defenders and unleashed a shot from distance which was just over the bar.  Just before the hour mark Southampton made a double substitution with Redmond and Obefami making way for Boufal and Long.  I was glad to see the back of Redmond, who always does well against us, not so glad to see Long coming on.  There was some concern among the away fans when Capoue was knocked to the ground after blocking a shot from Ward-Prowse with his face.  He was initially flat out with his arms outstretched but, once he got his breath back, he was able to continue the game.  Southampton threatened as Djenepo broke forward and crossed for Long who was unable to connect, so the chance went begging.  The Hornets nearly engineered their own downfall as Foster held on to the ball for too long in the box, tried to beat Ings with a Cruyff turn, then both men fell to the ground, I was sure that the referee would point to the spot, so was massively relieved when the outcome was a free-kick.  Needless to say, the relief didn’t kick in immediately as I waited for an intervention from VAR that, thankfully, never came.  With 25 minutes to go, Flores made his first substitution replacing Deulofeu, who had been ineffective, with Gray.  Southampton had their best chance of the game when Boufal cut the ball back to Long (of course) whose shot was stopped by a wonderful save from Foster who tipped the ball onto the bar.  It looked as though Ben’s efforts would be in vain as the big screen indicated that VAR was checking for a penalty for an earlier incident, but the decision was that there was no penalty.  Watford should have scored a second with twenty minutes to go when Gray played a lovely ball back for Sarr who missed the connection and the ball was put out for a corner by Bertrand.  With 15 minutes remaining Quique made a second substitution bringing Chalobah on to replace Hughes who, again, had to leave the field on the opposite side to the dug-out and was given a huge ovation as he walked past the travelling Hornets.

Chalobah back in action

Watford threatened again as Gray ran around the back of the defence and tried to sneak the ball into the net but, instead, hit it straight to the keeper.  Southampton then made their final substitution bringing Valery on in place of Soares.  Southampton should have drawn level when a shot from Ings, that appeared to be going wide, so Foster left it, reached Long who flicked it goalwards but, thankfully, Cathcart was on the line to make the block.  Sadly, Watford’s lead didn’t last much longer as Djenepo advanced and nipped around the back of the defence, as Gray had earlier, but his shot went under Foster and reached Ings who turned it in at close range.  Television pictures showed that Djenepo had used his hand in the build-up (quite an outrageous scoop, if truth be told), but I am not going to complain about VAR in this situation as the goal was a result of poor defending from the Hornets and it felt like it had been coming.  Sadly, at this stage, the confidence drained from both the team and the crowd and none of us believed that we would get anything out of the game.  With less than 10 minutes to go, Flores was lining up his final substitute and my heart sank when I realised that Foulquier was the answer.  To be fair, he was the only defender on the bench and Femenía had picked up an injury, but this was the last straw for a lot of the travelling Watford fans who greeted the decision with loud boos and chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing”.  Prior to the substitution, Capoue had fouled Højbjerg on the edge of the box.  There seemed to be some confusion in the setting up of the wall, or at least the bloke behind me was unhappy with the way that the defenders were lining up.  His concerns proved justified when Ward-Prowse stepped up and curled the free kick over the wall, Foster managed to get his hands to the ball, but could only help it into the net.  At this point, while the home fans celebrated, the travelling Hornets were telling Quique that he would be sacked in the morning.  When the fourth official held up the board indicating that there would be 6 minutes of added time, my only thought was that it was plenty of time for Southampton to get a third.  The Hornets did create a couple of chances in time added on.  First, from a corner, Sarr played the ball back to Gray but he shot wide of the target.  Then one final chance when Foulquier played the ball out to Sarr who took a shot that was pushed over the bar by McCarthy.

Foster up for a late corner

The final whistle went to celebrations among the home fans and total deflation in the away end.  I did have to admire the decency of those among our fans who applauded the players.  My applause was sporadic and half-hearted until Troy came over to thank the crowd.

There was no time for a post-match analysis as I made a swift departure in order to catch the train that would allow me to arrive back in Windsor before 10pm.  Travelling back home on my own, I had plenty of time to think about the game.  Yet again, following a decent first half, the second period had been disappointing, and we had lost to a very poor team.  Once we took the lead, we should have been in control of the game but we didn’t get a second goal and, such is the fragility of the squad’s confidence, once Southampton drew level, we never looked like getting anything from the game.  I always thought that the reappointment of Quique had been an odd move.  While he had a reputation for making us hard to beat early in his first tenure, the final third of the season was a dreadful trudge and that is what we are seeing now.  Despite the injuries, we have enough quality in this squad to be winning more games than we lose.  The fact that we are not has to be down to the coach.  By Sunday morning Quique was gone and I cannot imagine that there were any Watford fans who were saddened by that news.

Gino Pozzo slumming it

Sunday afternoon, at my Dad’s house, it was clear that someone needed to get hold of me.  When I finally answered the call from the private number that I was trying to ignore, I discovered it was someone from FiveLive who wanted to talk about the sacking of Flores.  I told him that I thought it had been an odd appointment in the first place.  He then asked what I thought of the owners.  I had mentioned that I was previously the Press Officer for the Watford Supporters Trust (hence why they had my number) and I assume that he was expecting me to criticise the Pozzos.  But, having been rather too close to the club when we went through those troubled times under the previous owners, I am still incredibly thankful for what the Pozzos have done for our club.  We have a stadium to be proud of with stands named for legends from another era, a team of players of a quality that we have no right to expect and a club that, with ventures like the sensory room and the work of Dave Messenger in connecting with the fans, still feels like a community club off the pitch and not a “foreign-owned Premier League business”.  For that I would still fall on my knees in worship in front of Gino Pozzo.

 

Controversy in the Rain

Pereyra versus Hojbjerg

Another Saturday, another away game.  This week the somewhat shorter trip to Southampton.  Due to engineering work, there was no easy train route to the station nearest to the pub.  My last experience of trying to get a taxi at Southampton Central had been hideous so, when I arrived and left the station by the rear entrance, I decided to walk the mile and a half to the pub.  I had a brief moment of regret as the rain started, but it soon cleared and I arrived feeling very deserving of my pint and lunch.  As it did last year, the heavens opened in time for us to leave for the walk to the ground and, despite Alice kindly sharing her umbrella, I was properly soaked by the time we reached the ground.  Pete’s comment to the local Police officer that it always rained in Southampton was met with the response that we must have brought it with us as it had been lovely the previous week.

Team news was that Gracia had made only the one enforced change with Chalobah coming in for the suspended Capoue.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Mariappa, Femenía; Pereyra, Doucouré, Chalobah, Hughes; Success, Deulofeu.  It was good to see Chalobah back and I couldn’t help wondering whether Capoue, who has been excellent so far this season, would live to regret giving his place away.

Deeney waiting for a ball into the box

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s silence to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War which was accompanied by a rendition of The Last Post.  The only other sound that could be heard was the rain on the roof of the stand.

Watford started well and had an excellent early chance when Femenía released Deulofeu who broke into the box, but his shot was blocked.  Deulofeu had another chance soon after, this time with Success as provider, but the shot flew over the target.  Then Success burst forward and tried his luck himself, but his shot was deflected over the bar.  The home side had their first chance after 15 minutes with a shot from distance by Gabbiadini that flew over the bar.  Then, from a corner, Hoedt headed goalwards, Foster parried and Cathcart headed out conceding another corner.  From the delivery, the danger appeared to have passed when Pereyra claimed the ball, but instead of putting a boot through it, he dwelled too long, Ings dispossessed him and found Gabbiadini who finished past Foster.  Very frustrating after the bright start that the Hornets had made to the game.  The novelty of the lead for the home fans was reflected in the chant of “We scored a goal.”

Ben Foster launches a ball upfield

Watford should have struck back almost immediately as Deulofeu picked up a misplaced pass and broke forward but, instead of shooting, he tried to play Success in and the pass was intercepted.  A lovely passing move by the Hornets finished disappointingly as Pereyra’s cut back was just behind Deulofeu.  At this point, the Saints fans regaled us with a chorus of “You only came for the weather.”  Oh yes!  Success released Deulofeu again but, when he found a position from which to shoot, the angle was narrow and the shot was blocked.  At the other end, a Yoshida header from the edge of the area flew wide of the target.   I thought we had the equaliser as a lovely curling shot from Pereyra headed for the bottom corner, but McCarthy was down to parry.  Almost immediately there was a similarly good chance for the Saints with a shot from Armstrong that was saved by the legs of Foster.  The first booking of the game went to Bertrand for a foul on Doucouré.  With 6 minutes to go until half time, each side made a substitution, presumably due to injuries, as Deeney replaced Hughes for the Hornets and Austin came on for Ings for the home side.

Doucoure on the ball

The half time whistle went with the home side leading by a goal and, yet again, Watford fans were feeling frustrated at the wasteful finishing as, like last week, Deulofeu could have had a hat trick before the break.  There was a similar problem with finishing for one of the teams taking part in the half time relay around the pitch.  The lad who was well in the lead shot wide of the far post allowing his opponent to catch up, dribble the ball to just in front of the goal and drop to the ground to head the ball over the line.  Cheeky so and so, but his opponent gave him the opportunity.

The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as Gabbiadini tried a shot from distance that just cleared the crossbar.  At the other end, Success did well to battle his way down the right wing before crossing for Deeney whose close range shot at the near post was smothered by McCarthy.  The first booking for the visitors went to Chalobah who was cautioned for pulling Redmond back as he tried to escape.  The same two players then tussled again in the Southampton box, on this occasion the travelling Hornets were shouting for a penalty as Chalobah went down under a strong challenge from Redmond, the ball broke for Pereyra whose shot was blocked and the referee pointed for a corner instead of to the penalty spot.  The Watford fans were baffled and Deulofeu was incandescent with rage and was shouting at the linesman, which seemed to be a pointless exercise.

Challenging at a corner

Southampton appeared to have scored a second as Austin shot past Foster.  The celebrations continued for some time before any of us noticed that the linesman’s flag was raised and the goal had been disallowed.  What a relief.  Gracia then made a second substitution bringing Gray on for Pereyra, who had a disappointing afternoon.  The Hornets had a decent chance to draw level as Deulofeu chipped a cross for Deeney, whose back header was caught by McCarthy, although the flag was up for this one as well.  Deeney then found Gray in a good position, but he kicked the ball into the ground so it lost momentum allowing McCarthy an easy save.  Mark Hughes made his second substitution bringing Ward-Prowse on for Armstrong.  Southampton threatened as Yoshida appeared to connect with a cross, but Holebas made enough contact to put it out for a corner. Femenía then had a chance from a decent position but volleyed over.  I didn’t see what prompted the altercation, but Femenía and Redmond squared up to each other.  Seeing this, Deulofeu belted over and angrily pulled Redmond away.  Others have described this as breaking up the confrontation, but Deulofeu had seemed to be spoiling for a fight all afternoon.  He had rowed with the referee after he felt he’d been fouled early in the game, then with the lino when the penalty wasn’t given and his aggressive pull on Redmond was well deserving of a yellow card.

Doucoure congratulating Holebas on his goal

Watford grabbed an equaliser with 9 minutes to go as Deeney found Gray in the box, he passed back towards Doucouré and, just when the chance appeared to have gone, the ball bounced off Deulofeu and fell to Holebas whose shot took a deflection and beat McCarthy to send the travelling Hornets into raptures.  Southampton had a chance to break back immediately but Gabbiadini’s shot from outside the box was stopped by Foster.  The Hornets could have had a winner as a Holebas corner was headed goalwards by Gray, but it came back off the bar.  The home side made a final substitution bringing Obafemi on for Redmond.  The Hornets were pushing for the winner in added time, so it was very frustrating to see a powerful shot from Success rebound back off Deeney.  The captain tried to make amends by crossing for Gray, but the shot flew wide and the final whistle went with the points shared.

It was probably a fair result, although Charlie Austin didn’t agree.  His interview on Match of the Day berating the referee for disallowing his goal was brilliant for its passion.  Someone set it perfectly to Blur’s Parklife and it was great to see Austin himself tweet #Parklife in acknowledgement.  However, he had overlooked the fact that Watford should have had a penalty and that Redmond may have seen red for the challenge, which would have set up a completely different game.  It was another odd performance from the Hornets.  Deulofeu made some brilliant chances, failed to take any of them and then almost got himself sent off with a series of displays of petulance.  Capoue was greatly missed in the midfield.  Chalobah is not match fit and did nothing to indicate that he should continue in that role.  The passing was sloppy and the team seemed to lack leadership until Deeney came on.  Troy does not always earn his place on footballing grounds, but his leadership is greatly missed when things are not going well and there was a clear improvement when he was on the pitch.

But, for all our disappointment at the outcome of the last two games, there were a series of odd results over the weekend, so this result still sees us sitting in 7th place in the table equidistant from the top and the relegation zone which is fine with me.

A Horrible Day on the South Coast

Richarlison strikes a free kick

Due to unfavourable rail connections, I ended up reaching Southampton ridiculously early and my first attempt to enter the pub of choice was greeted with a locked door and a dog barking to warn me off.  Luckily Richard arrived very soon after me, so I had delightful company as we waited in the cold and wet for the clock to strike 12.

Arriving early meant that we secured a great table for our party, which soon filled up as subsequent trains (and a car from Cheshire) arrived and we raised a glass to absent friends, particularly remembering Toddy whose last away trip had been to St Mary’s.

Pre-match talk was about the new manager and whether he could arrest the current slide, so the team news was eagerly awaited.  Gracia’s first team showed four changes (two enforced) as Wagué, Deeney, Zeegelaar and Pereyra made way for Mariappa, Holebas, Capoue and Gray.  So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Mariappa, Kabasele, Holebas; Doucouré, Watson; Carrillo, Capoue, Richarlison; Gray.  So, the new manager was also opting for one up front, although, in the absence of Deeney, that seemed a sensible choice.

Kabasele on the ball

The game started in the worst way possible as a free kick from Boufal was met by Long whose shot was parried by Karnezis, Stephens was first to the rebound and beat the Watford keeper to open the scoring.  From two rows in front I heard “Are you Silva in disguise?”  It was going to be a very long afternoon.  The home side threatened again as Long crossed for Tadić, but his effort missed the target.  Watford’s first chance came from a free-kick, Richarlison stepped up to take it and curled his delivery just wide.  At the other end Long met a cross from Cédric and headed just wide.  A foul on Kabasele was met with a chant of “Same old Watford, always cheating,” which I guess was deserved after the Watford fans had gleefully sung “He scores with his hands” in honour of Doucouré.  Watford finally had some time on the ball but a lovely passing move finished with a terrible shot from Watson that flew well wide.  This was greeted with “What the f*ing hell was that” from the away fans.  Southampton threatened again after Doucouré lost out to Long who broke into the box, but Karnezis was able to make the save.  The Watford keeper was called into action again soon after as Cédric tried a shot from distance, Karnezis dropped to make the save.  The home side were forced into a substitution due to an injury to Bertrand who was replaced by Pied.  Southampton had a great chance to increase their lead as Cédric hit a cross that flew just past the far post as Long failed to connect.  As half time approached, Mike was urging the team to get an equalizer and, as Richarlison hit a cross, there was an exasperated cry of “Not like that,” but he was made to eat his words as McCarthy had to back pedal to tip it over the bar.  Watford had another chance as a cross from Richarlison reached Holebas whose header from the byline was straight into the arms of McCarthy.  Not for the first time in recent games, the half time whistle was greeted with boos from the away end.

Gathering for a corner

The half time entertainment at Southampton was a relay race in which participants are stationed at the corners and on the half way line.  A football is carried and passed between team mates until the last player gets the ball and then dribbles towards the goal to score and win the game.  On Saturday, the green team went off like a rocket and were well in the lead when the final player received the ball, but he appeared to want to score the perfect goal, while the lad in purple belted towards the goal and took an early shot and won the game for his team.  I hope that Gracia gets a video of this to show the lads as there was definitely a lesion to be learned.

The other action of interest at half time was Okaka coming on to warm up and being greeted with joyous cheers from the away end.  I suspect that those who were so thrilled at his impending introduction had missed the trip to Leicester.  But he had the second half to dispel that memory as he came on to replace Capoue.

Andre Gray

The first action of note in the second half was a penalty appeal for the Saints as Boufal fell over in the box under a challenge from Carrillo, but the referee waved play on.  The first chance of the half fell to Long but his shot was straight at Karnezis.  There was a rare bright moment for the visitors as Janmaat played a lovely through ball to Carrillo but the cross was punched clear by McCarthy as Okaka rose to meet it.  Southampton had a decent chance to increase their lead as Boufal tried a shot from distance, but Karnezis was equal to it.  Gracia made a second substitution just before the hour mark replacing Carrillo with Pereyra.  Holebas should have done better when, with the ball in a dangerous position, he ballooned his cross over the bar.  As poor as the effort was, it was embarrassing to hear Watford fans chanting about how hopeless the team were (I am paraphrasing to remove the expletives).  There was a card for each side as, first, Watson was booked for a foul on Tadić.  Then Cédric was cautioned for taking Richarlison down, which appeared harsh as the Southampton man had won the ball before he made contact.  The Saints were close to a second goal as a shot from distance from Hojbjerg rebounded off the crossbar.  Then Okaka exchanged passes with Pereyra before trying a shot from a narrow angle that McCarthy was down to save.  This was greeted with a chant of “We’ve had a shot.”

Holebas cherishing a ball

Watford’s final substitution saw Janmaat making way for Sinclair.  Watford threatened as a cross from Richarlison was deflected for a corner.  The delivery from Holebas was headed goalwards by Doucouré, but was blocked by a defender and he protested that it had hit a hand.  The irony!  Richarlison then played a cross-field pass to Sinclair whose shot was terrible, flying high and wide, but he was hardly going to be encouraged by his own “supporters” singing “f*ing useless” at him.  Southampton made their final substitution replacing Tadić with their new signing, Carrillo, to great excitement from the home fans.  But it was Watford who finished the game more positively, with a couple of late chances to earn a replay.  First a shot from Richarlison was charged down.  Then a Pereyra cross was met by an overhead kick from Okaka that flew over the bar.  Finally, in time added on, the best chance of the lot as Kabasele met a cross from Holebas with a header that flew just wide of the near post.

The final whistle prompted some ugly scenes in the away end.  There were three men behind my niece and I, screaming abuse at the players.  As this went on, Amelia was infuriated shouting, “Don’t come to games then,” as she applauded the players with more enthusiasm than the performance deserved.  Those men then got into a heated argument with another fan in our row.  Meanwhile, a couple of rows in front, an exchange of profanities between a couple of fans evolved into a punch-up.  The players were not immune from the unpleasantness as Kabasele came over to applaud the crowd and was subjected to a volley of abuse that clearly upset him.  Holebas was on the end of the same treatment and looked furious, with Ben Watson pushing him away from his abusers.  As poor as the performance on the pitch had been, this was disgraceful behaviour from some in the Watford crowd and must have made Gracia think twice about the “family feel” that he said pre-game he had experienced at Watford.

More than one person mentioned yesterday that I usually find something positive to say about games.  Sadly, I cannot find anything good to say about that game either on or off the pitch.  But I will be off to Stoke on Wednesday, more in hope than expectation of a win, but very hopeful that the travelling fans will get behind their team instead of spending most of the ninety minutes abusing them.

 

One Year On – Thank You, GT

The Norfolk Horns flag

With Friday being the first anniversary of Graham Taylor’s passing, this game took on a greater significance than normal.  The Saints being the opposition had an added poignancy for our group of friends as the fixture at St Mary’s had been Toddy’s last away game.  That had been a magnificent performance that sent us all home believing that this team could do great things.  That belief has been sorely tested over the past few weeks.

I headed into Watford a little earlier than usual so that I could spend some time at the museum, which was presenting the exhibition of GT’s memorabilia again.  On entry to the exhibition, I noticed the visitors’ book and was touched to see an appreciative message from Luther after his visit earlier in the week.  I had loved my previous visit but, on this occasion, there were a couple of extra little things that I noticed which greatly appealed to me.  One was a commemorative cocktail shaker from the Division 4 Championship.  Another was a plaque honouring Graham and Rita presented by the disabled fans on the occasion of his retirement.  But the one that I kept returning to was in a cabinet with Terry Challis cartoons of both GT and Elton.  It was a flag with the message, “Thanks, Gaffa, I enjoyed every minute.  Steve Todd.”

While wandering around the museum, I bumped into a familiar face in Steve, a season ticket holder who travels from Swansea for every home game.  He had left home at 5:30 that morning and, when I left him, was heading straight for the ground.  That is dedication for you.

The magnificent display of scarves for GT (thank you, Alice Arnold)

To the West Herts and I just wanted to hug all of my friends.  After making toasts to absent friends, we were having a lovely chat about theatre and a patchwork exhibition in Prague when the peace was shattered by the arrival of the Norfolk Horns.  Having seen photos on Facebook, I knew that they had travelled by train and, from previous experience, it was clear that they would arrive in a rather jolly state.  As if to prove a point, Russell appeared with a tray of Sambuca shots.  It all became rather raucous and, by the time we left for the ground, I wasn’t sure how many of them would be allowed in.

We left in plenty of time to ensure that we were in our seats well before kick-off so that we could join in with the “scarves for GT” display that had been planned by the 1881.  I had brought my first scarf with me which, if my memory is not playing tricks, was bought in Peter Percy gentleman’s outfitters in 1979.  As this is so precious to me, it was tucked into my bag for safe keeping while I wore my “everyday” scarf.  As the build-up to the players’ arrival continued, I noticed that the man who sits next to me had no scarf to raise, so I loaned him one of mine.  As Z-cars played, scarves were raised which seemed to cover each stand.  It was a magnificent sight that has the hairs standing up on the back of my neck as I write about it.  I was rather choked up to see how many Southampton fans also raised theirs.  Well done to both sets of fans for a wonderful tribute to GT.

Wague with the ball

Team news was three changes from the cup win last week with Watson, Richarlison and Gray coming in for Capoue, Pereyra and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Wagué, Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Doucouré, Watson; Carrillo, Cleverley, Richarlison; Gray.  With emotions running high at Vicarage Road as we remembered GT and the tremendous teams that played for him, these guys needed to put in a very good performance or the crowd was likely to turn on them.

The visitors had a decent chance to open the scoring in the third minute when Long had a shot from close range, Gomes made a good save, but the referee blew the whistle for an offside that had not been flagged by the lino.  There was another chance for the Saints as a defensive header from Zeegelaar fell to Cedric who shot over the bar.  Nearly 20 minutes had passed before Watford launched an attack worthy of the name and it was a decent one.  Camped in the Southampton box, Gray and Carrillo both managed shots that were blocked before, finally, the ball reached Janmaat whose shot from distance was tipped over by keeper.  Needless to say, as soon as Watford missed a decent chance, the opposition took the lead.  A cross from Long found Ward-Prowse in space and he finished with a shot across Gomes into the opposite corner.

Challenging at a corner

The visitors continued to threaten as Zeegelaar failed to cut the ball out, allowing Tadic to cross for Long whose header had to be pushed to safety by Gomes.  At this point, there was the unusual sight of a bloke being escorted out of the SEJ stand.  I can only assume that annoyance at the performance had pushed him over the edge.  Southampton threatened again as Hoedt spotted Gomes off his line, so tried a lob from distance which looked as though it might sneak in until the Watford keeper rose to tip it over the bar.  A rare bit of quality passing by the Hornets allowed Cleverley to break, but he was stopped by a trip from Højbjerg, who was booked for the offence.   Cleverley took the free kick launching the ball into the box where it was easily gathered by Southampton keeper, McCarthy.  There was another decent chance for the visitors as Long hit a shot from close range and Zeegelaar just got a foot in the way to divert it away from the goal.  With ten minutes remaining in the half, Silva opted to make a substitution.  The board went up indicating that Watson was to be replaced by Pereyra, but Cleverley spoke with Silva and walked off instead.  There were loud boos from the Rookery, but Cleverley had been clutching his hamstring, so this was not Silva’s decision.  There was despair on faces around me.  We cannot afford to lose Cleverley for any length of time.  A rare chance for the Hornets came as a free kick from Watson was met by the head of Kabasele, but his effort nestled on the roof of the net.  Gray tried his luck with a turn and shot that was blocked.  Then another cross from Janmaat looked as though it would reach Richarlison in a dangerous position, but the keeper was first to the ball.  Southampton’s second goal was almost a carbon copy of the first, this time it was Wagué who lost his player, Long crossed for Tadic who laid the ball off to Ward-Prowse to score his second goal of the afternoon.  There was a shout from behind me, “GT would be giving you all a bollocking.”  I think he spoke for everyone in the Rookery and the half-time whistle was greeted with angry boos.

Gomes takes a free kick

The conversations at the break all had the same theme.  There was no passion being shown by the Watford players, they didn’t look like they wanted to be there.  I have to say, I have never heard so many complaints in the queue at the Ladies.  Kate was making a rare visit from Saudi Arabia and bemoaned the fact that she had made a huge effort to get there, but the players were doing nothing of the sort.  The consensus was that the first half performance had been an absolute disgrace.

Silva made a significant change at half time, bringing Deeney on for Watson and there was an immediate change in the approach to the game with the players demonstrating an increased level of energy and commitment.  The Hornets created a chance in the first minute of the half following a cross from Janmaat, unfortunately both Gray and Richarlison went for the ball and the header flew over the target.  Gray then fought his way into the box, but was muscled off the ball by Hoedt, illegally in the view of the Watford faithful and you got the feeling that if he had gone down he’d have won a penalty.  On this occasion the boos were directed at the referee.

Pereyra prepares for a free kick

Watford were getting closer to reducing the deficit as Carrillo laid the ball off to Pereyra who curled a shot just wide of the target.  Then Deeney played the ball back to Richarlison whose shot was blocked.  The goal had been coming and it was Gray who made the breakthrough nodding home from close range after Janmaat’s shot had rebounded off the bar.  The fans celebrated wildly, the players just ran back to the centre circle.  There was still work to do.  The Hornets continued the pressure as a cross from Doucouré was blocked and fell to Carrillo who shot well wide.  The first substitution for the visitors saw Davis replaced by Lemina.  But still the Watford dominance continued.  Gray broke down the left and put in a dangerous cross that was turned wide.  From Pereyra’s corner, Wagué rose and headed wide of the target. The visitors had a rare second half chance as Højbjerg headed just over the bar.  At the other end, a cross from Janmaat was met by the head of Gray but he was stretching and the effort was well wide of the target.  Silva made a final substitution replacing Gray with Okaka.  I am not sure I agreed with that one, but it would give the visitors something else to think about.  The 72nd minute was greeted with a rousing chorus of “One Graham Taylor”, this time with scarves held aloft.  It was very moving.  Watford pushed for the equaliser as a Zeegelaar cross was headed back by Deeney to Okaka whose shot was gathered by McCarthy.  Southampton had been doing their best to run the clock down all half and, finally, both McCarthy and Tadic were booked for time wasting.  There was a brief break in the game as Okaka needed treatment after challenging the keeper for a header in the box and receiving a punch to the face.  As we reached the last minute of normal time, Pereyra chipped the ball into the box, it was headed on by Deeney to Doucouré, who bundled it home.  I thought at the time that the ball hit his hand, although it didn’t appear to be deliberate (television pictures may tell a different story).  I looked nervously at the lino, but there was no flag, the goal stood and the Hornets won a point that was just reward for a tremendous second half performance.

Thank you, GT

The players left the pitch at the end of the game to warm applause.  In a game of two halves like that, it is always preferable that the good half comes at the end.  It was hard to believe that those performances had come from the same team, but the introduction of Deeney had been the difference.  Apart from his energy and leadership, it made a difference to Gray to have another forward player alongside him.  Silva persists in playing one up front, but none of our strikers suit that role.  I can only hope that the improvement that was apparent when we played two up front gives him pause for thought.

But this was not a day when the result was the most important thing.  The tribute to GT by the fans showed how much he meant to us and it is his legacy that we celebrate.  My day was spent surrounded by friends and family brought together by a shared passion.  It was a day filled with laughter and tears as we appreciated the friends around us and paid tribute to the absent friends with whom we shared so many happy memories.  Graham Taylor and the club that he created in his image have given me so many wonderfully happy times over nearly 40 years, and for that I will be eternally grateful.  Thank you, GT.

Another Home Defeat

Pre game handshakes

Pre game handshakes

After a poor display at Bristol last week, I wasn’t really looking forward to this game. However hearing my dentist, a Reading season ticket holder, tell me in the week that he was thinking of giving up going to the Mad Stad as they were so awful gave me some encouragement.  Also,the addition of Merkel to the squad and the return of Bellerin and Pudil meant that we weren’t trying to fit square pegs into round holes.  The starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Angella, Doyley, Pudil, McGugan, Merkel, Murray, Bellerin, Fabbrini and Deeney.

New boy Alexander Merkel

New boy Alexander Merkel

Reading gave us a fright in the first minute as McCleary whipped in a cross that Almunia had to come and palm out.  At the other end Murray played a through ball to Deeney, a defender got a touch which only helped it into Troy’s path but the lino was flagging for offside.  Watford went a goal down in the fourth minute.  Bellerin headed a cross from Obita out for a corner.  Obita took the corner himself and Gorkss rose to head the ball past Almunia.  The next two chances came from players who seem to inspire similar reactions in the Watford crowd.  First McGugan hit a shot from distance that went past the far post.

Ekstrand on the ball

Ekstrand on the ball

Then McAnuff intercepted a pass from Merkel, went on a run and shot across goal with the ball again going just past the far post.  On 17 minutes, Watford won a free-kick which was delayed as Adam Le Fondre repeatedly stood over the ball while critiquing the make-up of their wall.  He was eventually booked for time wasting.  McGugan took the free kick which flew up off the wall and was easily caught by McCarthy.  On 19 minutes, Deeney was beaten to a cross from Bellerin but the ball was cleared only as far as Merkel whose shot was straight at McCarthy.  Reading continued to threaten as a free-kick from McAnuff was met with a powerful header by Pogrebnyak that went over the bar.  On 37 minutes, Merkel fed Bellerin whose cross was headed wide by Angella.  Then Fabbrini passed to McGugan who shot across the goal.  A minute later McGugan and Fabbrini combined to get the ball to Pudil who also hit a ball across the six yard box but there was no Watford player to connect with it.  Just before half-time Merkel was booked for a foul on Pogrebynak.  The free-kick was taken by Obita and Pogrebynak headed it over.  It had been a disappointing half for Watford fans.

Second half kick-off

Second half kick-off

Five minutes into the second half, Deeney got on the end of a cross by Bellerin but headed it straight at McCarthy.  Bellerin then went on another run, but McCarthy was first to his cross.  Le Fondre was the next to threaten, hitting a knock down from Pogrebynak well over the target.  Ten minutes into the half, Forestieri replaced Bellerin, the formation changed to a 4-3-3 and the game became a lot brighter for the home fans.  Akpan received the first yellow card of the second half after clipping McGugan’s heels.  It seemed a bit harsh.  The resulting free-kick was headed out by Gorkss.  McAnuff was the next to enter the referee’s book as he took Fabbrini down when the Italian tried to break forward.  On the hour mark, Forestieri tried a shot from distance that went way over the bar.

Waiting for Almunia to launch the ball

Waiting for Almunia to launch the ball

Next McGugan back-heeled the ball to Forestieri whose low cross reached Pudil on the other side of the box, he turned it back in to Deeney whose close range shot was tipped over by McCarthy.  Then a Fabbrini through ball reached Deeney who crossed to Forestieri who should have scored, but got under the ball and his shot flew over the target.  McGugan then tried a shot from distance that flew wide of the far post.  Next a Fabbrini shot was blocked, the ball fell to Doyley who ignored the Rookery’s pleas to shoot instead cutting the ball back to Deeney who shot over the bar.  Then a ball from McGugan towards the near post was turned into the side netting by Angella.  On 72 minutes, Battocchio replaced Murray.  Soon after, Forestieri broke forward and tried to play Deeney in but McCleary put the ball out for a corner.  As the corner was taken, Deeney’s shirt was being pulled to the extent that it was half way up his back, but the referee gave nothing.

McGugan takes a free-kick

McGugan takes a free-kick

Then, from a Pudil throw-in, Forestieri  unleashed a wicked shot but McCarthy was equal to it.  At this point Doyley made way for Faraoni.  Soon after, we were fortunate not to concede a second as a dangerous cross from McCleary was headed wide by Pobrebnyak.  At this point Blackman replaced Akpan.  The referee was quick to show his card again as Forestieri tried to run into the box, was blocked by two defenders and fell down but was adjudged to have dived and was very harshly booked for his “offence”.  Reading made two further changes with Cummings and Taylor replacing Obita and McCleary.  Taylor was immediately involved, putting in a cross for Pogrebnyak who headed over.  Then Merkel fed Forestieri, who had plenty of time to control the ball and shoot but, infuriatingly, decided to go for the spectacular option instead and volleyed well over.  In time added on, Faraoni tried a shot from a narrow angle which went wide of the far post.  Then Merkel went in for an idiotic sliding tackle on Blackman in the middle of the pitch and was shown a straight red.  A number of Watford fans applauded him off.  I’m sorry, but that level of stupidity does not deserve applause no matter how good the performance that preceded it.  Blackman then took his revenge on Angella with a very similar tackle, but was only shown a yellow.  The final card of the game, the third in time added on, went to Pudil who protested when the referee blew the final whistle without allowing us to take a corner.

Full time

Full time

It had been another frustrating afternoon for the Hornets.  The second half was a vast improvement on the first, but we are far too wasteful in front of goal and there seems to be no real understanding between the players.  Having seen the way the U-18s interacted and worked as a team the night before, it was disappointing to see that their senior colleagues could not do likewise.