Tag Archives: Alex Neil

Norwich Down but No Thanks to Watford

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

In contrast to the blazing sunshine of Sunday, I arrived in Norwich on a very muggy afternoon.  I had a quick wander around the town and then headed for the pre-match pub to meet up with our much depleted party and the Norfolk ‘Orns.  The pre-match beers in the sunshine, were very enjoyable and we had the added pleasure of cheering the team bus as it passed on its way to the ground.  I must admit that, of the three teams still under threat, Norwich were my first choice for the drop, but I did have to feel sorry for the bloke in the pub who was begging Watford fans for mercy.

When we reached the turnstiles, we encountered a sniffer dog.  I know that it is a no-no, but the hound was so adorable that I asked the handler whether I could pet it.  She asked me, in return, if I would do her a favour and give the dog something to find.  She explained that, when the dogs don’t find anything for a while, they get a bit bored and she wanted to make sure that her charge was still paying attention.  So I was given a scent to put in my pocket and asked to come back in again.  Once I was assured that this plant would not lead to my arrest, I did as she asked and, sure enough, the hound leapt up at me, identified the scent and was suitably rewarded and I got a doggy cuddle.

Team news was only the one change with Nyom coming in at right back and Prödl making way for Cathcart in the centre of defence.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Jurado, Watson, Suarez, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo.  It was not a selection to quell the doubts of those calling for Quique’s head.

Celebrating the first goal

Celebrating the first goal

The travelling Watford fans started goading their counterparts early on with chants of “We are staying up.”  And the game started rather well for the visitors as Troy had an early shot from distance that the Norwich keeper, Ruddy, just kept out.  We took the lead on 11 minutes as a long ball from Britos was headed down by Deeney to Ighalo, Ruddy smothered his shot, but the ball broke to Deeney who finished into the empty net.  At this stage, it looked as though Norwich could be in for a comprehensive defeat to send them down.  That couldn’t have been further from the truth as, a couple of minutes later, an innocuous looking Norwich attack finished with Redmond exchanging passes with Naismith before scoring through the legs of Gomes.  The home fans started singing “The Great Escape” at this point.  Unbelievably, the home side were 2-1 up soon afterwards as Watford failed to clear the ball allowing Redmond to hit the post and the rebound was buried by Mbokani.  Watford tried to hit back with a ball into the box that was gathered by Ruddy with Deeney challenging.  There was an immediate counter attack which finished with a shot from Redmond that flew just wide.  More lax defending from Watford allowed Redmond to hit the post again, on this occasion the follow-up from Olsson was kept out by a smart save from Gomes.  At this point, there were boos ringing out in the away end.

Watson on the ball

Watson on the ball

Watford gifted Norwich a third in the 37th minute as Watson gave the ball away, Jurado failed to tackle when given the chance and Nyom slipped allowing the ball to run through to Hoolahan, whose cross looked unlikely to trouble the defence until Cathcart intervened to power it past Gomes.  You’d have thought that the Watford team had a bet on Norwich to stay up.  But, soon after the goal, it became apparent that that was out of their hands as a chant of “1-0 to the Sunderland” went up in the away end indicating Sunderland’s breakthrough against Everton.  This was followed by “We are Premier League”.  Hmm, not on the evidence of tonight’s showing.  Watford attacked again as Watson crossed for Deeney but his shot was saved by Ruddy, and the flag was up anyway.  The travelling Hornets continued to console themselves by goading the opposition.  This time with “Burton Albion on a Tuesday night,” which sounded rather appealing to me.  Norwich had a couple more chances before half time.  First Hoolahan played a through ball to Naismith whose shot was saved by Gomes.  Then the Watford keeper was called into action again to stop a long range shot from Hoolahan.  The half time whistle went to boos from the away end.  I never boo my team, but this was one occasion when I had sympathy with those who did.

At half time, I went to chat with Don.  You know that things are not going well when even Don can’t find anything positive to say.  Although he did manage a complaint about the ref, so I knew he was OK.  Our summary of the first half was that the majority of the Watford players were on the beach.

Deeney crosses for the second Watford goal

Deeney crosses for the second Watford goal

Flores made a change at half time bringing Aké on for Nyom.  There was a bright start to the second period as Anya played a ball down the wing to Deeney who cut back for Igahlo to score his fifteenth league goal of the season, which was also his first in the league since January.  The Watford fans greeted the strike with, “We’re gonna win 4-3.”  Flores made his second substitution to loud cheers as Jurado made way for Berghuis.  Norwich nearly did us a favour as a long ball from Abdi was headed back towards Ighalo by Deeney and Bennett’s attempt to clear flew just over the bar.  As it happened, it wouldn’t have counted as he was deemed to have been fouled by the Nigerian.  Norwich scored their fourth just before the hour mark as Redmond played a through ball to Mbokani, who dinked it over Gomes.  The Norwich fans were doing an impressive job of supporting their team despite knowing that Sunderland were three goals up against Everton, so their fate was sealed.  Watford attempted to hit back as Berghuis found Abdi but the shot was just wide of the far post.  Watson was booked for a frustrated tackle on Naismith and, soon after, made way for Guedioura.  While Norwich’s first change saw Brady coming on for Hoolahan.  The home fans continued their impressive support with a chant of “One Alex Neil”.

Berghuis, Guedioura and Abdi discuss a free kick

Berghuis, Guedioura and Abdi discuss a free kick

An extended period of possession for the Hornets finished with Abdi exchanging passes with Berghuis before hitting a volley straight at Ruddy.  I thought that Norwich should have been awarded a penalty as Naismith was tripped in the box, but the referee waved play on.  Soon after, the Scotsman was replaced by Odjidja-Ofoe and Jarvis came on for the excellent Redmond.  Late in the game, Aké was booked for a stupid tackle on Mbokani.  There was a great chance for Watford to strike back after Abdi was fouled on the edge of the box.  But the ball was placed considerably further back for the free kick and Guedioura hit it into Row Z, summing up the evening.  A cross into the Norwich box was met by the head of Anya but he could only direct it back to Ruddy.  Then Deeney had one last chance to cut the deficit with a shot from outside the area that Ruddy spilled towards the goal, but managed to recover.  In the last minute I, again, thought that we had conceded a penalty, but the trip was outside the area and the free kick was straight into the Watford wall.  It was a relief when the final whistle went.

Ighalo

Ighalo

I usually take defeats in my stride and try to take positives from any game.  But my patience ran out last night.  The dedicated souls who travelled to Norwich took time off work, spent a lot of money on travel, tickets and, in many cases, hotels and were rewarded with an abject performance from a bunch of lads who looked like they were on holiday.  I can take being beaten by a better team, but not such a sub-par performance from players who are so much better than that.   I was so irate that, as Britos came over to offer his shirt to a fan I found myself shouting “It’s your pay packet you should be giving us, not your shirt”.  To be fair, the young girl who went home with the shirt was very happy indeed.  The most shocking aspect of the evening was the performance of the defence, which has been excellent for most of the season, but played like clowns on the evening.  Even Gomes had a very rare off day.  Deeney was the only player to come out of the game with any credit.  I’m sure I will calm down by Sunday and, of course, I will be at Vicarage Road to support the lads in the last game of what has been a very successful season.  I just hope they end on a high.

Silencing the Canaries

 

Lloydy at City 'Orns

Lloydy at City ‘Orns

On Thursday evening the City ‘Orns had their traditional Christmas curry.  This year the usual delightful company was enhanced with a visit from Lloyd Doyley who, for many years, was sponsored by the group.  He was in good form, he’s still training at Watford while he searches for a new club.  He’s had offers, but is waiting for the right one.  After chatting away all evening and submitting to an excess of photos, as we left the restaurant he asked if anyone wanted a lift back to Watford.  What a sweetheart.  One of our newer members declared that it was the best night of his year.

Back to Saturday and, having missed the last home game, it has been over a month since I was at Vicarage Road, so it was good to be back home.  The West Herts was packed when I arrived, but it was good to see all the usual suspects and a special treat to see Tim and Jemima visiting from Norway.  A number of our party are Norfolk ‘Orns, so this is a Derby game for them.  The Canaries have also been a bogey team for us so, despite our relative positions in the table, there was no complacency in the pre-match discussions.

Ake taking a throw

Ake taking a throw

Team news was that Gomes was fit to start, while Anya and Jurado came in for Paredes and Abdi.  There was a lot of muttering about the inclusion of Jurado, who has not impressed to date, over Abdi and Guedioura who, it was said, were not being risked due to knocks that they had picked up at Villa.  This caused much muttering, “If they are on the bench, they must be fit.”  The starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Anya and Ighalo.  When Gomes’s name was read out pre-match, it was greeted with an even louder and longer cheer than usual.  Norwich’s starters included former Watford loanee, Sebastien Bassong, who was given a good reception from the Hornet faithful.  I was also interested to hear that the visitors had Rudd in goal in place of the more famous Ruddy.  Do they share shirts?

The improvement of the ground by the Pozzos continues with the addition of a big screen over the Police control room at the Rookery end of the ground.  Lucky me as, from my position in the middle of the Rookery, I can see both screens.  I am spoiled.

Deeney waiting to take the penalty

Deeney waiting to take the penalty

The start of the game seemed to be dominated by the visitors but they only had one effort anywhere near the goal, a cross from Grabban that went begging.  The first chance for the home side came when Watson hit a shot from distance that was deflected wide by Bassong.  Soon after, a shot from Aké was blocked to shouts of ‘hand ball’, but the referee gave nothing.  There were more pleas directed at the referee as Capoue put in a looping cross and Deeney went down under a challenge from Bennett but, again, play was waved on.  Then Nyom played a lovely through ball to Anya, but he slipped as he put in the cross, so Rudd was able to gather the ball as Ighalo closed in.  On 28 minutes Capoue played a ball to Ighalo in the box, where he became the meat in a Tettey-Bassong sandwich and the referee finally pointed to the spot.  Rudd delayed the taking of the penalty for as long as he could but, when Deeney stepped up, he coolly put the ball to Rudd’s left sending the keeper the wrong way.  Watford had a great chance to increase the lead as Deeney headed the ball down to Ighalo who broke free of the defence but was flagged offside.  At the other end a ball into the box seemed to bounce past Gomes with a Norwich player closing in, but the keeper turned and gathered the ball.  Watford looked to have increased their lead on 36 minutes as a Nyom cross was slotted home by Ighalo, but the celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s flag.

Deeney sending Rudd the wrong way

Deeney sending Rudd the wrong way

The next chance fell to Capoue, who is an absolute hero everywhere on the pitch except in front of goal, he tried a volley from outside the box which was way off target which he acknowledged to the Rookery.  Ighalo’s harrying caused Rudd to make a poor clearance that went straight to Jurado, who passed to Deeney who tried to play it through to Anya, but the ball was cut out before it reached the Scotsman.  A lovely period of pressing from Ighalo and Deeney frustrated the Norwich defence who could not find a way to get the ball out of their half, eventually Watson got involved and forced Olsson to concede a throw-in to loud applause from the Hornet faithful.  Ighalo threatened the Norwich goal yet again in the dying minutes of the half but, again, Rudd managed to block.  In time added on, Norwich had their first shot on goal as a Brady free kick was headed over by Bassong.

So we reached half time a goal ahead.  Apart from the first few minutes, Watford had completely dominated, Ighalo should have had a couple of goals and Gomes hadn’t had a save to make.

During the break, Malky Mackay was on the pitch with his son, Callum, making the half time draw.  He said nice things about both of his old clubs and predicted that we would both survive.  He paid tribute to the Pozzos for what they have done since they came in and was also very complimentary about his fellow Glaswegian, Anya.  There were a few boos from the back of the Rookery as his name was announced, but he received warm applause as he walked along the front of the Rookery.

Gomes in goal

Gomes in goal

There was a lively start to the second half.  A quick throw from Ighalo set Anya up, but his shot was over the target.  At the other end, Capoue and Cathcart both let a ball go over their heads under the assumption that Gomes would gather, but they hadn’t seen Brady lurking and there were huge sighs of relief in the Rookery when he shot wide.  There was a worrying moment as Aké and Wisdom challenged for a header, the Watford man was knocked flying and fell very awkwardly.  We could see his legs moving, but he was keeping his head and neck rigid and there was soon a stretcher on the pitch.  Thankfully, on this occasion, it wasn’t required and Nathan was able to continue in the game.  Almost immediately he showed that there were no ill effects as he went on a storming run down the left before putting in a great cross that Ighalo was unable to convert.  Soon after, Jurado won the ball and broke clear, he found Ighalo who battled against a defender to get a shot in but the ball was deflected into the side netting.  A Norwich break was stopped as Deeney bundled Brady over and was shown a yellow card for his trouble.  A lovely passing move from Watford, including a trademark nutmeg from Capoue, finished disappointingly with a welly from Aké.  Watson slid into a tackle on Olsson, he won the ball but the Norwich player fell over his trailing leg so Ben received a yellow card for what appeared to be a good tackle.  From Brady’s free kick, Mbokani was challenging but Gomes caught the ball.

Capoue lining up in the box with Ake and Deeney

Capoue lining up in the box with Ake and Deeney

Capoue showed his skills again, taking the ball from between a Norwich player’s legs and disappearing up the field, he skipped past two players before playing a through ball to Ighalo whose shot was saved.  Ighalo threatened again as he received a ball over the top from Deeney, he did well to get into position for the shot but it was rather weak and easily gathered by Rudd.  A dangerous clearance from the Norwich keeper was gathered by Gomes as Brady challenged.  Deeney played another ball over the top to Ighalo and this time the Nigerian’s shot was wide of the far post.  Flores’s first substitution was to replace Anya with Paredes.  A break from Ighalo was stopped as he was sent flying by Bennett who was booked for the offence.  Watford’s second substitution saw Jurado replaced by Abdi.  It has to be said that, after a ropey start, Jurado had grown into the game and put in his best performance to date.  Watford’s next chance came as Aké played a cross field ball to Paredes, who crossed for Ighalo whose shot was saved by Rudd.  Yet another chance fell to Ighalo and, yet again, Rudd blocked it.  A rare threat by the visitors was wasted as a ball into the box was met with a back header by Jerome that went out for a goal kick, when Brady was lurking behind him in a more dangerous position.

Watson takes a free kick

Watson takes a free kick

Gomes gave us another worrying moment as he went down needing treatment but, thankfully, he was able to continue.  Abdi had been a man possessed since he came on, putting in an uncharacteristically aggressive performance, and after a battling run down the wing alongside Brady his opponent was booked for a petulant push.  In the last moments of the game, Ighalo took another tumble in the box, but this time the referee waved play on.  There was a spell of pressure in the Watford area as we failed to clear but it finished with a looping ball into the area from Bennett that was easily gathered by Gomes.  As Emma announced six minutes of time added on, my heart sank, but our nerves were soon calmed as Deeney found Ighalo in the box who worked his way into position and shot past Rudd.  He thoroughly deserved his goal as he had been working his socks off and he celebrated by throwing his shirt away.  I’m sure the booking didn’t faze him.  Soon after, he was replaced by Guedioura and went up to shake the referee’s hand before he left the field.  Bless his heart.  Norwich never looked like striking back and the last goal chance of the game came when a poor clearance from Rudd reached Guedioura, he tried to chip the keeper who was out of his goal but the ball flew over the bar.  It was worth trying.

Deeney and Britos ready for action

Deeney and Britos ready for action

The final whistle went after the quickest 6 minutes of injury time that I have ever experienced.  Despite the scoreline, it had been a convincing win.  In the celebrations on the pitch, the Quique hugs were in evidence.  First a very warm embrace for Gomes.  Then he approached Harry Hornet, who dropped his drum like a brick in order to enjoy his hug.  Well done to Flores for recognizing the incredible work that Harry does during games.  The performances this season have not generally needed the addition of his entertainment, but he is always there in a quiet moment to make the crowd laugh and encourage them to cheer their team on.

The table on Saturday evening showed us in 9th place.  Due to the number of games played at odd times, the position at 5pm on Saturday can be misleading but examination of the remaining fixtures for the weekend indicated that only Everton, playing on Monday, could overtake us, so we are guaranteed to be in the top half at the end of the weekend.  I expected us to make a good fist of it this season, but this is beyond my wildest dreams.

Canaries do the Double

Ben Watson has his eye on the ball

Ben Watson has his eye on the ball

This fixture was always going to struggle to live up to the excitement of the last few games.  Norwich certainly promised to be tricky opponents having been in decent form since Alex Neil took over.  Team news was that Deeney was restored to the starting line-up which was Gomes, Angella, Ekstrand, Cathcart, Anya, Abdi, Watson, Layun, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney.  Former loanee, Sebastien Bassong, started for the visitors.

It all started rather brightly as Watford fashioned a chance in the second minute but Deeney headed Layun’s cross over the bar.  The first goal attempt for Norwich came from a controversial free kick that was taken short to Whittaker whose shot was high and wide.  Ighalo did really well to retain the ball under pressure from the defenders, played it out to Paredes whose cross was disappointingly hit straight to the Norwich keeper, Ruddy.

Layun lines up a free kick

Layun lines up a free kick

Ighalo won the ball from Bassong in the midfield and played it to Deeney whose shot from an acute angle went wide of the far post.  On 35 minutes, Abdi was hacked down by Tettey on the edge of the box.  The Norwich players surrounded the referee protesting ridiculously at a cynical foul ensuring that Johnson joined Tettey in the referee’s book.  The free-kick was in perfect position for Abdi, but his shot was deflected off a Norwich head and clear.  The half-time whistle went after a total non-event of a half.  Watford had had the better of the possession but Norwich, using fair means and foul, had done a very good job of disrupting our play so there had been little in the way of goalmouth action.  The fact that I had managed barely half a page of notes during the half tells its own story.

Paredes baffled and Jokanovic questioning the fourth official following another odd decision

Paredes baffled and Jokanovic questioning the fourth official following another odd decision

Watford also had the first goal attempt of the second half as a cross from Anya was headed clear.  The corner was disappointing with Layun’s set piece going straight to Ruddy.  Deeney did really well to keep the ball under pressure, he played it in to Ighalo in the box, but the ball was taken off his feet by a Norwich defender before he could shoot.  A break by Johnson was stopped by Cathcart who was booked for the foul.  Tettey shrugged off a challenge from Ighalo, knocking the Nigerian to the ground as he ran into the box, before wellying his shot over the bar.  On the hour, a cross from Anya was blocked, the ball fell to Abdi but he was off balance as he shot and it was an easy catch for Ruddy.  The game changed in the 64th minute as Hoolahan broke into the Watford box and executed a dramatic dive.  It was clear from our vantage point that he was play-acting, but the referee was behind him and pointed to the spot.  Grabban stepped up and hit the penalty to Gomes’s left.  The keeper went the right way but couldn’t reach the ball which nestled in the bottom corner.

Gomes takes a free kick

Gomes takes a free kick

The referee continued to endear himself to the Watford fans as, following a nasty foul by Howson on Abdi, the yellow card was shown to Ben Watson.  I have no idea what he had done, but most likely he had critiqued the referee’s performance.  Jokanovic made his first substitution at this point bringing Munari on for Layun.  The visitors were two goals to the good soon after as Johnson played the ball to Jerome who chipped over Gomes and into the net.  Watford’s second substitution saw Vydra on for Ekstrand.  Watford’s goal was threatened again as Cathcart passed a clearance straight to Grabban whose shot had to be turned around the post by Gomes.  Watford’s final substitution came on 77 minutes as Tözsér replaced Watson.  Watford had a chance to hit back as Vydra received a pass from Ighalo in a decent position to try a shot but he elected to pass to Deeney instead and the ball was cut out.  Norwich had a great opportunity to further increase their lead as a Redmond free kick was met with a smart header from Johnson, but Gomes pulled off a great save as he dived and got a hand to the ball to keep it out.  Norwich scored their third with the next move as Cathcart failed to cut out a cross from Whittaker which reached Grabban, who turned it past Gomes.  Grabban could have had his hat trick soon after as he broke forward but his shot from an angle flew just over the bar.  The last chance of the game fell to Watford, a cross from Anya was headed away from goal by Deeney, it fell to Tözsér who shot wide of the target.

Deeney breaks forward

Deeney breaks forward

There were no boos at the final whistle, mainly because those who indulge in such behaviour had set off for home some time beforehand.  After some terrific performances in the last few weeks, it is difficult to be critical.  The penalty that shouldn’t have been was definitely a turning point, but it was disappointing that we capitulated rather than fighting back as we did at Bolton and Brentford.  Norwich came to disrupt our play and we allowed them to do so a little too easily.  The scoreline flattered the visitors, but we barely had a shot on goal so didn’t deserve anything from the game.  Thankfully, we have another home match on Tuesday in which to get this out of our system.

As there was so little to say about the game, there is time and space to mention a couple of off pitch incidents.  I am reliably informed that there was a fight between Watford fans in the SEJ stand.  Stewards involved and everything.  What is the World coming to?  I was also surprised to hear that Beppe Sannino was at the game.  He told Don afterwards that he was “Sorry Watford lost,” but that we would soon be a Premier League team.  At least Don thought he meant us, not Norwich!  It is good to see that there are no hard feelings there anyway.