Tag Archives: Alexander Merkel

Whites-wash

Yesterday was a very sad day for me as I handed the Supporter of the Season shield back to the club ready to be engraved with the name of this year’s winner.  I have to admit that I had it sitting on my desk at work all day, just to eke out the final moments with it in my possession.

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

Team news was that Beppe had made four changes from Saturday’s team, the most significant of which was Abdi’s first start since August.  The announcement of Almen’s involvement was greeted with loud cheers from the Vicarage Road crowd.  The starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Riera, Tözsér, Abdi, Murray, Faraoni, Anya and Deeney.  The Leeds line-up included the evil Poleon, whose actions last season in causing Bond’s injury cast a pall over the last game of the season.  But, as always, it was lovely to see Watford legend Nigel Gibbs back at Vicarage Road, even if it pains me to see him with that crest on his chest.

Gibbsy and Sannino exhibiting their national characteristics

Gibbsy and Sannino exhibiting their national characteristics

Watford started brightly and, in the third minute, Anya released Abdi on the left, he crossed for Faraoni whose shot was blocked.  Anya then received a pass from Deeney on the edge of the box, but was taken out by a sliding tackle.  We were a goal up after 8 minutes as Abdi played a lovely ball to Anya on the left wing, he advanced and crossed and there was Abdi to head the ball past Butland.  It was a lovely goal, made all the more enjoyable by the identity of the goalscorer.  It is great to have Almen back.  For the next twenty minutes, Leeds had a lot of possession but were not allowed to do anything with it.  Then Marco Cassetti executed a high tackle on Tonge and found his way into the referee’s book just in time to earn himself a suspension for his tenth caution of the season.  Just before the half hour, Deeney played a lovely through ball to Anya, but the Scot got the ball caught under his feet and the defence got back to thwart him.  Then McCormack saw Almunia off his line and launched an audacious shot from the halfway line that had the Watford keeper back-pedalling to get

Celebrating Anya's Goal

Celebrating Anya’s Goal

behind it.  We went two goals up as Anya played a short pass to the overlapping Riera, his low cross reached Murray who played it short to Faraoni whose cross back to the far post was met with a header from Anya that flew past Butland.  Watford attacked again as Deeney released Murray who advanced before playing a through ball to Faraoni but his shot was put out for a corner.  At half time, there was satisfaction that we were comfortably two goals ahead.  Leeds had had a lot of possession, but our defence had restricted their shooting opportunities so that the only shot that Almunia had to deal with was a punt from the half-way line.

Challenges in the penalty area

Challenges in the penalty area

Leeds were immediately on the attack at the start of the second half as Riera lost out to Poleon who played a through ball to Hunt whose shot was wide of the near post and bounced behind the goal.  Deeney played a ball over to Anya but he was tripped by Wootton, who was booked.  Then Murray played a lovely ball to Deeney in the box, but Butland came out to block.  The clearance eventually reached Tözsér who, with shouts of “shoooot” ringing in his ears, curled a shot just wide of the target.  Then Riera intercepted the ball, it reached Deeney who tried to release Anya, but the pass was too far in front of him.  At the other end, a low shot from the substitute, Stewart, was straight at Almunia.  On the hour mark, Faraoni put the ball out to allow McCormack to receive treatment and was rewarded with a kick from Hunt, who was lucky to escape with a yellow card.  Hunt was involved in the next attack but his header from a free kick was straight at

Deeney is under there somewhere

Deeney is under there somewhere

Almunia.  Watford’s third goal was a testament to the persistence of two men.  First Abdi intercepted and then battled a defender to keep the ball, he passed to Deeney who went past a couple of defenders in the box, while never appearing to have control of the ball, before hitting a shot from an acute angle that hit the roof of the net.  By way of celebration, he leapt into the Rookery and was engulfed in the celebrating crowd.  When he emerged he was given a yellow card.  Then Anya beat a defender and cut the ball back to Deeney who tried to find his strike partner with a through ball, but Butland was first to it.  Poleon tried a shot at Almunia, which was parried, and, when he lined up to shoot from the rebound, he was tackled and Watford launched a counter attack which finished with Anya playing a square ball to Deeney who looked certain to score but Butland stood tall

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

and blocked his shot.  At the other end, Warnock tried a shot that was well over the bar.  In the last ten minutes, both sides made substitutions as White replaced McCormack for Leeds and McGugan and Pudil came on for Abdi and Riera.  McGugan’s first action was to latch on to a throw-in and hit a cross that was blocked by Pearce with no little pain for the defender.  Leeds then put themselves into trouble as a corner bounced off the back of Tonge’s thigh and needed an intervention from Butland to prevent them from going further behind.  Merkel replaced Murray for the last couple of minutes of the game, but there was no subsequent action of note.

Applauding the crowd

Applauding the crowd

At the final whistle, there was a feeling of job done by the home team against an opposition that had had a lot of possession but were very poor.  But, sometimes, you have to give credit to a team in that situation.  I was impressed with the performance as, despite their possession, the Leeds players were allowed no time on the ball to create anything and never really threatened Almunia.  A feature after the final whistle of recent games has been the rage that Angella demonstrates when we underachieve, so it was nice to see him celebrating with his team mates rather than them running from his fury.

After the players had been applauded off the pitch, Cristian Battocchio made his way on crutches along the front of the Rookery and was greeted with warm applause and the faithful chanting his name.  Despite his injury, he was smiling broadly as he acknowledged the crowd.

Don and Johnno

Don and Johnno

On the way out of the ground, I went to meet Don Fraser in the Lower Rous.  During the game, he had been joined by Richard Johnson, a corporate guest for the game, who chose to watch from the disabled platform rather than the posh seats in the Upper Rous.  As we left through the lounge, I greeted Johnno, although I wasn’t sure that he could hear me after 90 minutes of listening to Don barracking the referee.  As we left through the hospitality entrance, there was a bloke surrounded by a crowd of people having photographs taken with him.  I assumed he was a retired footballer and that I would kick myself when I found out who he was.  Then I read the report of the game on the BBC website and saw a photograph of Massimo Cellino and the penny dropped.  Although why on earth anyone would want to have their picture taken with him completely baffles me.

Six Goals but Not a Thriller

The construction of the East Stand is progressing

The construction of the East Stand is progressing

Pre-match gatherings before midweek home games are always a rather subdued affair as those of us who neither live nor work in Watford have rushed to get there after work.  So it was a pleasure to be joined by Rod and his son, Luke, who were on holiday from New Zealand and had Toddy on hand to ensure that they experienced the best that the UK has to offer.

Team news was that Beppe had made 4 changes from Saturday with Ekstrand, Hoban, Murray and Merkel in for Belkalem, Faraoni, Battocchio and McGugan.  The changes sounded a bit odd until we realised that Ekstrand and Hoban would go into the back three

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

with Cassetti taking up Faraoni’s position as right wing-back.  The starting line-up was Almunia, Angella, Ekstrand, Hoban, Pudil, Merkel, Tözsér, Murray, Cassetti, Anya and Deeney.  Lee Williamson started for the visitors and was given a decent reception by the home crowd.  In fact it was a warmer welcome than he had in some games when he played for us.  But more on that theme later.

Blackburn almost scored in the first minute but Almunia leapt to get a hand to a speculative shot from Kane.  At the other end, Angella met a corner from Anya with a header that flew wide.  The first goal came in the third

Cassetti after scoring the first goal (I was so thrilled I forgot to get my camera out)

Cassetti after scoring the first goal (I was so thrilled I forgot to get my camera out)

minute and from an unexpected source as a throw-in from Anya was flicked on by Merkel to Cassetti who knocked the ball past Robinson.  It was a goal that brought a smile to all our faces as much for the goalscorer as the goal.  The visitors almost struck back immediately as Gestede was one-on-one with Almunia, but the keeper stood strong to make the save.  Gestede had another chance soon after with a header from a corner that flew over the bar.  At the other end Murray tried a shot from distance that was just wide of the far post.  Then Tözsér played a ball over the top to Deeney, who beat the defender but shot into the side netting.  Rovers equalized on 27 minutes, Almunia came to punch a free-kick clear but it fell to Dunn who shot into the opposite corner.  Rovers could have taken the lead as Gestede met a long throw from Spurr with a header that he glanced just wide of the target.  Just before half time, Almunia was first to a cross into the box so Gestede came in hard and knocked him flying.  Rhodes picked up the loose ball and put it in the net, but it was long after the referee had blown up for the foul.  In time added on Kilgallon met a corner from Conway with a header but Almunia was equal to it.

 

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

As Robinson came out to take his place in the goal at the Rookery end at the start of the second half, it was really nice to see him applauding the home crowd before we greeted him.  The teams were all in position before the officials appeared and he endeared himself even further by chivvying along the lino who was checking his net.  We thought we’d regained the lead soon after the start of the second half as Pudil played a one-two with Anya who passed the ball back to Deeney who buried it past Robinson.  Our celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s flag.  My brother-in-law, who was listening to the lovely Jon Marks, informed us that it was Anya had been flagged offside but that Jon had seen a replay, courtesy of the Blackburn analyst, which showed that he was nothing of the sort.  Deeney then turned provider with a pass to Anya who shot wide of the far post.

A Cassetti throw-in

A Cassetti throw-in

Deeney had the ball in the box again but was challenged and the ball broke to Cassetti who juggled it before finding Murray whose shot was deflected.  Then Pudil and Tözsér exchanged passes before crossing for Deeney who was crowded out before he could shoot.  Battocchio replaced Murray after an hour.  On 64 minutes, we were a goal down as Hoban lost the ball to Dunn in the box, he played it into the path of Conway who slotted past Almunia.  We were not behind for long as Kane handled Anya’s cross and the referee pointed to the spot.  Deeney made no mistake hitting the ball to Robinson’s right as the keeper went the wrong way.  McGugan replaced Hoban and then boos from the Rookery greeted Diakité as he prepared to come on for Merkel.  The loanee had received the

Celebration of Battocchio's goal

Celebration of Battocchio’s goal

same treatment at Wigan.  It really baffles me why a section of our fans would rather abuse their own player than support the team.  As it so happened, he had his best showing so far in a Watford shirt and, although he was involved in a yellow card incident, he was the victim having been fouled by Evans.  The visitors threatened as Rhodes tried his luck with a shot from the right which Almunia claimed.  Then Kane was booked for a foul on McGugan.  Watford’s third goal came with a couple of minutes to go and was a joy to behold as Anya released Battocchio, who had a lot of ground to cover before he reached the edge of the box and unleashed a shot that flew past Robinson into the goal at the Rookery end.  By way of celebration, he was buried under a crowd of players plus a certain mascot.

On the attack

On the attack

We wondered where the referee found 6 minutes to add on and, half way through the additional period, the visitors equalized as a Gestede header hit the inside of Almunia’s right-hand post and bounced across the goal into the net on the opposite side.  The frustration in the stands was equalled on the pitch at the final whistle as Deeney aimed a kick at a goalpost.  But Angella went one better.  He was furious and took it out on Pudil aiming a verbal volley that left the Czech defender standing in the middle of the penalty area appearing to tell his team mates that he wasn’t going back into the dressing room until Gabriele had calmed down.

For the second home game in a row, there were complaints about the entertainment value from a game in which we’d scored three goals.  The consensus was that it was the most boring 6 goal “thriller” that we’d ever seen.  It is an odd time as most of the people that I know like the manager and most of the players but there is something missing on the pitch.  We have watched much worse football than this and cheered the teams on, but maybe the gorgeous football that we saw for much of last season has spoiled us.  At this point the season is over for us so we can relax in the upcoming games, the next of which is probably my favourite away day of the season.

 

Trumping The Tykes

After the unpleasantness of the midweek trip to Doncaster, it was lovely to return to Vicarage Road on a gorgeous Spring day.  It was also great to see the progress of the new East Stand.  Signs are that it will be an impressive addition to the ground.  Team news was the return of Almunia after illness with McGugan and Faraoni coming in for Merkel and Ranegie.

Congratulating Battocchio on a beautiful strike

Congratulating Battocchio on a beautiful strike

Watford started well and had a decent chance in the second minute, but Deeney’s shot from the right of the area flew over the bar.  We were a goal up in the fifth minute as a Pudil cross was met with a horrible miskicked clearance that fell to Battocchio who curled a beautiful shot into the top corner.  It was one of those strikes that make you wish you had been sitting behind it.  But even from the opposite end of the ground it was a joy to behold.  Barnsley tried to strike back immediately as a free kick from Kennedy was met with a header from Nyatanga that flew over the bar.  We had another great chance as a cross from Pudil reached Faraoni in the middle of the area, but his shot was stopped by Steele at point-blank range.  Next Battocchio was tackled in the middle of the pitch and, as he lay on the ground, Deeney picked up the ball, played a short pass to

Celebrating Deeney's stirke

Celebrating Deeney’s stirke

Anya who found Faraoni, but his shot from a very tight angle was blocked.  A minute later, we doubled our lead as Pudil intercepted a pass and advanced upfield, he found McGugan in the box who knocked the ball to Anya who cut it back to Deeney who, with his back to goal, had time to turn and shoot past Steele.  We had another chance soon after as McGugan found Anya on the left but his shot was just over and he had been flagged offside anyway.  At the other end, Dawson broke free of the Watford defence and found Lawrence at the near post, but he stabbed the ball wide from a couple of inches out.  Then McGugan made an interception and went on a run down the middle of the pitch, but was eventually closed down.  On 35 minutes, Pudil was shown a yellow card for a foul on Frimpong.  Soon after, Barnsley failed to clear a Pudil cross, it fell to Deeney who tried an overhead kick that was easily gathered by Steele.  So we reached half time two goals to the good but with next to nothing having happened in the previous half hour.

Anticipating the arrival of a free-kick

Anticipating the arrival of a free-kick

At the start of the second half, Angella played McGugan in, but his shot was straight at Steele.  Barnsley launched a rare attack as Kennedy advanced and put in a cross.  Lawrence came flying in at the far post but got nowhere near connecting with the cross.  Mellis was penalized for a foul on Tozser, he reacted by slamming the ball down and earned a yellow card for his petulance.  On the hour, Barnsley made two substitutions as O’Grady and Noble-Lazarus replaced Lawrence and Frimpong.  Tozser played Anya in then ran into the box to meet the cross, but his header flew wide when it looked easier to hit the target.  McGugan’s return from injury was over after 63 minutes as he was replaced

Celebrating Merkel's goal

Celebrating Merkel’s goal

by Merkel.  The substitute was in action almost immediately as he clipped a shot goalwards and, with Deeney closing in, Steele came out to gather.  Barnsley launched a counter-attack which finished with Jennings trying a shot from distance that was well over the bar.  Anya got himself into a dangerous position but, instead of shooting, hit a poor low cross.  He made up for it soon after as he went on a run down the left, cut the ball back from the byeline, it took a slight deflection before reaching Merkel who buried it past Steele for Watford’s third goal of the afternoon.  As the temperature dropped in the stands, attention was drawn to the touchline where Sannino had dispensed of his jacket and was rolling up his sleeves for the rest of the game.  This attitude was in stark contrast to the

Lucas Neill

Marco Cassetti

torpor on the pitch.  With seven minutes remaining, Lucas Neill made his Watford debut replacing Doyley.  Barnsley had a great chance for a consolation goal as a long ball fell to Proschwitz on the edge of the area, he tried to chip Almunia, but his shot came back off the crossbar and Pudil’s challenge prevented him from hitting a follow-up shot.  From the corner, Mvoto headed wide.  Pudil made way for O’Nien to make his debut for the last couple of minutes of the game.  He made his mark immediately with a foul on Kennedy.  The last chance of the game fell to the visitors, but Almunia dropped to gather Proschwitz’s shot from a narrow angle.

Luke O'Nien on his debut

Luke O’Nien on his debut

After the final whistle, a number of the players went over to the Lower Rous and Tözsér and Angella were there for ages signing autographs.  The post-match discussions were mostly about how dull the game had been.  We had won it in the first 15 minutes and, despite a slight Barnsley fightback in the second half, they had been poor opposition and we were coasting for most of the rest of the game.  But it is churlish to complain about a 3-0 home win, especially as that is our fifth in the row.  O’Nien’s brief cameo was an absolute delight.  He has impressed in the youth games that I have seen this season and looks like a great prospect.  He was clearly thrilled to get on and was tormenting the poor Barnsley defenders, running around fighting for everything.

Next up is a trip to Wigan, which won’t be easy with their current form.  We haven’t won away since October, and I missed the trip to Huddersfield, so it would be a real treat for those that travel away to see a win.  But, when all is said and done, this season is over for us, so let’s just relax and enjoy the remaining games.

A Nasty Night in Doncaster

Doncaster Minster

Doncaster Minster

When I arrived in Doncaster, it was a beautiful Spring afternoon.  My pathetic sense of direction meant that I took a bit of a detour on the way to the hotel.  Parts of the town centre were quite attractive, but the overall impression was of a depressed place with nothing going for it.  Except, perhaps, a one-legged man playing a recorder who lifted my spirits, so I threw a few bob into his collecting tin.  As I walked past the designated pre-match pub, there was a bloke slumped on the ground with two police officers trying to help him as he ranted and launched his wallet into the middle of the road.  Thankfully, the coast was clear when I returned and our pre-match gathering was delightful despite the pub running out of our chosen beverage on more than one occasion.

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

Team news was that Bond was in goal, replacing Almunia, who was ill, and Merkel was in for Murray who has a groin strain.  So the starting line-up was Bond, Angella, Cassetti, Doyley, Pudil, Merkel, Tözsér, Battocchio, Anya, Ranegie and Deeney.  I was a bit disappointed not to see Forestieri make a start, but he had a place on the bench.  As the teams emerged for kick-off, it was noted that we were wearing yellow shorts.  Somehow these didn’t look as unpleasant as they have on previous outings.

Pudil challenging

Pudil challenging

Watford were the first to threaten as a cross from Anya was headed back across goal towards Deeney who couldn’t quite get on the end of it.  Then Tözsér and Merkel combined to find Ranegie whose shot came back off the defender.  Merkel then played a one-two with Deeney before unleashing a shot that Johnstone did well to keep out.  In the 18th minute, there was a tackle on Ranegie.  As the referee walked over, I assumed that he was about to penalize the Doncaster player, but chants of ‘off, off, off’ from the home crowd indicated otherwise.  The Swede had kicked out and was immediately shown a red card.  He had been a hero in the Blackpool game, so this was more than

Surrounding the ref

Surrounding the ref

frustrating.  The remaining 10 players tried manfully.  Troy received the ball in midfield and launched a speculative shot that was easy for the keeper.  Then a scare in the Watford box as an attempted clearance by Angella flew straight up into the air, Bond flapped at it but didn’t make a decent contact, fortunately the ball was eventually cleared.  The respite was brief as Doncaster took the lead in the next move.  Coppinger put in a cross that was met by Brown, who was allowed a free header that flew past Bond into the goal in front of us.  We wobbled a bit after the goal.  Cotterill went on a run and hit a shot that swerved away from the goal.  Angella was booked for a high foul on Brown, who lay down as if he was mortally injured until the card came out.  Doncaster threatened again, but Bond pulled off a good save from a free-kick and then got a hand to

Tozser and Merkel line up a free kick

Tozser and Merkel line up a free kick

the corner to keep it out.  Watford then had a chance as a Tözsér free-kick was repelled as far as Angella whose shot was blocked.  Then a lovely Watford move finished with a ball to Doyley in an attacking position where he did really well to win a corner.  Tözsér’s delivery was met with a header from Angella that was just wide of the near post with the Italian complaining that he was being held.  Then the home side conceded a goal kick right in front of the linesman who, instead, indicated a corner.  I’m not usually one to get on the back of officials, but at that point it felt like it was 10 versus 14 on the pitch.  This feeling was intensified just before half time.  Deeney challenged the keeper following a poor back pass, pushed the ball past him and was goal side when the keeper threw him to the ground.  As we waited for the penalty and red card, the referee did nothing.  Absolutely baffling.  At half-time, the fury of the travelling Hornets was equally apportioned to Ranegie and the ref. 

Merkel's free kick cannons off the bar

Merkel’s free kick cannons off the bar

At the start of the second half, Johnstone came out to take up his position in the goal at the end of the ground occupied by the away fans.  Usual practice among Watford fans is to applaud the goalie on arrival, but Johnstone was greeted with shouts of “cheat”.  Early in the half Duffy went down like he had been shot after a challenge from Cassetti who was booked more for the apparent outcome than the challenge itself.  A couple of minutes later Tözsér was about to take a shot as his heel was clipped.  A free-kick was given but, despite this appearing to be denial of a goalscoring opportunity, there was no card.  Merkel took the free-kick, which cannoned back off the crossbar then fell to Deeney who hit it over the bar.  Another lovely move had Cassetti, Tözsér and Anya

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

combining to feed Pudil whose low cross was easily gathered by Johnstone.  Then Coppinger went on a run for Doncaster, but was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Pudil.  Just before the hour was up, Merkel, who’d had a great second half, was replaced by Forestieri.  Tözsér was the next player to find his way into the referee’s book presumably for protesting the award of a free-kick to Doncaster.  Forestieri made an immediate impression, beating a couple of players before finding Battocchio on the edge of the box and then running in to receive the cross but a defender got his head to it first.  For Doncaster, Cotterill tried a shot from the edge of the area that was well over the crossbar.  At this point, attention was distracted from the pitch to action in the stand.  A group of burly men with “Crowd Safety” on their jackets, who made me feel anything but safe, had already

Celebrating the goal

Celebrating the goal

taken one trip up the steps beside me.  On their second trip they returned dragging (and I mean dragging) a young fellow out apparently for banging on the metal wall at the back of the stand.  There had been no trouble in the stand at all but, suddenly, there was aggression and anger all provoked by heavy-handed stewards.  Thankfully, there was soon something to distract us on the pitch.  Our equalizer was a thing of beauty.  Pudil made a brilliant tackle in our area to thwart Billy Sharp, we launched a counter attack that finished with Forestieri aiming a lovely chip into the path of Anya who hit it at an angle past Johnstone.  Ikechi’s celebration was short as he ran back to retrieve the ball and get on with the game.  Straight from kick-off, Doncaster tried to restore their lead as a shot

Forestieri waiting for a free kick

Forestieri waiting for a free kick

from Sharp hit the net, but fortunately for us it was the outside of the net.  Forestieri broke forward again and was cynically fouled by Keegan, who was booked for his trouble.  Forestieri then found Deeney in the area, but McCullough was on hand to put in a tackle.  With 15 minutes to go there was a real let off for the visitors as there was a bit of a scramble in the box but no Doncaster player could apply the finishing touch.  The home side should have regained the lead in the next move as Duffy’s low cross beat Bond and reached Brown who had an empty net to aim at but managed to put the ball wide.  Then Doyley was robbed and Wellens hit a lovely shot that was brilliantly saved by Bond.  Keegan was the next to try for the winner but his shot was cleared off the line by Deeney.  Bond then

Battocchio picking up the ball

Battocchio picking up the ball

pulled off another brilliant save to deny Duffy from a free kick.  Cotterill then shot through a crowded box, but Bond was behind it and gathered safely.  Cotterill threatened again as he went on a run and shot wide of the far post.  With a couple of minutes of normal time remaining, Battocchio was replaced by Faraoni.  Pudil tried to advance down the left, was fouled, got the ball back and was then hacked down by Coppinger who was booked.  Doncaster had thrown everything at the tiring 10 men of Watford since we’d scored the equalizer.  They finally made the breakthrough in time added on when Bond parried a shot from Duffy into the path of Sharp who made no mistake.  Tempers boiled over as Pudil was fouled and there was a bit of handbags for which Wellens was booked.  Faraoni was booked soon after, maybe for the same action but at this point the ref was handing cards out like sweets.  Watford had one last chance to win a point from the free-kick but Angella did not make a good connection with Tözsér’s delivery and the ball flew over the bar.

Angella giving his shirt away

Angella giving his shirt away

The players were clearly devastated at the final whistle.  They had given everything in that second half and earned the appreciation of the travelling fans who were loud and proud in supporting them.  Pudil and Angella came over to give their shirts to kids in the crowd.  Pudil was not so kind to the advertising hoarding.

There was a nasty atmosphere outside the ground, so I removed my scarf immediately.  As we reached the car park where my friends had parked we saw a group of Doncaster yobs running out having attacked some young Watford fans and then smashed the windscreen of their car.  As the Watford lads went back to their damaged car, the local yobs strolled away with the big stewards who had been so active in the away end conspicuous by their absence.  A nasty end to a horrible evening, which left me wishing relegation on Doncaster so I never have to go back.

Tangerine Dream

Progress of the new East Stand

Progress of the new East Stand

After the sheer boredom of our last two matches, there wasn’t a great appetite for this one and I had the cynicism of a beleaguered employer as the sick notes started coming in from our usual companions.  Blackpool’s horrendous recent record stacked up neatly against Bolton and Yeovil’s in the ‘we really should win this, but ….’ stakes.  All the positive talk pre-game surrounded the progress on the East Stand which had been witnessed by those of us who went to the Quiz Night in the week.  After weeks when the only visible change was the position of the digger there was suddenly a structure in place which caused such joy among the home faithful that it even had its own chant during the game.

Team news was that Battocchio was in for Merkel and Ranegie would replace Park up front to make his home debut.  So the starting line-up was Almunia, Angella, Cassetti, Doyley, Pudil, Tözsér, Murray, Battocchio, Anya, Ranegie and Deeney.

Ranegie congratulated on his first goal

Ranegie congratulated on his first goal

Watford had a great chance to take the lead on 11 minutes as Doyley played a long ball to Deeney who controlled and then shot just wide of the far post.  We weren’t to be denied for long, though.  Anya won a corner.  Tözsér’s delivery was beautifully placed in the middle of the area where it was met with a header from Ranegie that beat Gilks to put the Hornets a goal up.  Soon after, the Hornets threatened again as Pudil stole the ball and ran into the box to get into shooting position, but he seemed to keep running and just shot straight ahead, so the ball flew well wide of the goal.  Then Tözsér found Anya on the right, he broke into the box shrugging off the attentions of a defender who was trying to pull him over, but his cross was straight at Gilks in the Blackpool goal.  The first chance for the visitors came on 21 minutes as Fuller took a shot from just outside the area that was just

Deeney celebrating

Deeney celebrating

over the bar.  On 35 minutes, we were two up as Pudil passed back to Deeney just outside the area, and he buried the ball past Gilks.  Watford continued to attack as Deeney and Ranegie exchanged passes but Troy was crowded out before he could shoot.  Two goal leads have been problematic for us this season, so it was a relief when we scored a third soon after.  MacKenzie, under pressure from Ranegie, played a horrible ball out of defence straight at Battocchio who played a through ball to the Swede who, one-on-one with Gilks, slotted the ball past the keeper for his second goal of the game.  Just before the end of normal time in the first half, we had another free-kick that Tözsér took quickly, taking

Ranegie congratulated on his second

Ranegie congratulated on his second

everyone by surprise, but he put his delivery well over the bar.  In time added on at the end of the half, Angella took Fuller down on the edge of the box.  Dobbie’s free-kick was low and through the wall but wide of the target.

There were lots of happy faces in the Rookery at half-time.  I went for a chat with a friend of mine who said he’d been hoping for 4-0 before the game.  That sort of brave optimism deserved a decent performance in the second period.

A Tozser corner

A Tozser corner

Before kick-off in the second half, the Blackpool players got into a huddle.  Whatever it was that they discussed, it didn’t help.  They also made two substitutions with Basham and Bishop (yes, really!) replacing Haroun and Keogh.  Basham’s first contribution, almost straight from kick-off, was to live up to his name taking Pudil down and earning a yellow card.  Blackpool had a free-kick soon after that was lofted straight to Almunia.  From the Spaniard’s clearance, Deeney headed the ball down for Anya but Gilks came out and was first to the ball.  Then Battocchio played a ball forward to Deeney, who skipped past two defenders before being dispossessed by the third.  Blackpool then threatened with a shot from Fuller that Almunia parried.  It was Fuller on the attack again soon after as he got on the end of a corner from Dobbie, but his header just rippled the side

Doyley on the ball

Doyley on the ball

netting.  Ten minutes into the half, Ranegie broke into the Blackpool box and was pulled over, but the referee waved away appeals for a penalty.  On 58 minutes, Anya put a corner over for Ranegie but his header was deflected onto the top of the goal.  Anya’s next corner was met by Angella, but Gilks was equal to the header.  On the hour, it was the visitors who threatened from a corner but Broadfoot headed Dobbie’s delivery wide of the target.  Then Dobbie got the ball just outside the box, turned and shot but it was easy for Almunia.  MacKenzie’s header from a Dobbie corner also failed to trouble Almunia

Deeney congratulated on his second goal

Deeney congratulated on his second goal

flying high and wide.  Watford had been quiet since half-time but, on 70 minutes, Tözsér put a ball over to Deeney who outran Broadfoot to get in a shot that Gilks just got a hand to and kept out.  In the next move, Battocchio played a neat ball to Deeney who lofted the ball over Gilks for his second and Watford’s fourth.  There was a rash of substitutes soon after as Pudil and Angella were replaced by Faraoni and Belkalem for the Hornets and Goodwillie replaced Dobbie for the visitors.  Bishop got on the end of a cross from Foley, but put it over the bar.  Belkalem’s first action of the game was to pick up a booking for a foul on Fuller.  Blackpool substitute, Goodwillie, tried a shot from distance but it was well over Almunia’s bar.  Watford’s final substitution of the game came with nine minutes remaining as Merkel replaced Murray.  He was involved in the next chance of the game as Deeney and Ranegie exchanged passes, the ball fell to Merkel but he shot wide of

Defending a set piece

Defending a set piece

the target.  Just before full time, Tözsér tried a shot that was wide of the target.  Then Battocchio played Ranegie in, but MacKenzie prevented him having a shot.  The last action of the game was on the touchline as the crowd chanted “Beppe give us a wave.”  As we commented that he would have no idea what we were saying, he turned to the bench and when he turned back, the Rookery was greeted with a two handed wave that would have graced an Olympic podium.  I wished I’d had a bunch of flowers to throw to him.  If the smile on my face wasn’t wide enough after what I’d witnessed on the pitch, that guaranteed that I went home beaming.  I was also rather gratified when the Blackpool keeper, Gilks, applauded the Watford crowd at the end of the game.  A very sporting gesture indeed.

Belkalem in action

Belkalem in action

After the misery of recent weeks, this was a real treat.  It has to be acknowledged that Blackpool were truly dreadful, but that shouldn’t stop me from taking great positives from the game.  Tözsér continues to impress, his set pieces are a joy.  But the highlight for me was the performance of Ranegie, who had been disappointing in his first couple of appearances, so it was great to see him stamp his authority on the game.  He was constantly fighting for the ball and getting into great positions, but the best aspect for me was his interplay with Deeney.  The two of them seem to have built up an understanding that bodes very well for the rest of the season.

Due to Charlton’s continued involvement in the cup, we have a Saturday off next week so our midweek trip to Doncaster is the next opportunity to see the team and I’m rather looking forward to it.

Nat Lofthouse Saved my Day

The spirit of sport statue

The spirit of sport statue

I felt like Franny-no-mates at Euston on Saturday morning as there was not another Watford scarf or shirt anywhere to be seen.  I hate that when I’m travelling to an away game as I find myself wondering if I’ve got the wrong day/time/venue.  Thankfully, when the train stopped at Milton Keynes, my usual travelling companions appeared and the journey passed with discussions of games recent and in distant memory.  Every stop on the way to Manchester elicited different recollections.  As we changed trains, they were discussing going for pre-match beers in Manchester, but I’d arranged to meet friends in a pub near the stadium and convinced them that there was somewhere to get a drink in that wasteland.  When we arrived at Horwich Parkway and they found themselves walking through a deserted industrial area, I sensed that they were doubting my word.  But we turned a corner and there was the promised pub just a short walk to the ground and everyone was happy.  On reaching the Reebok, we found Section H which was marked on our tickets, but all the turnstiles in that section were closed.  Thankfully we soon found the ‘proper’ entrance for the away fans.  There were no female stewards outside the ground, so I escaped the frisking, and the friendly male steward who searched my bag was only interested in whether I had any chocolate.  The inevitable question about flares seemed to be an afterthought.

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

Team news was that we would see Park’s debut.  The starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Anya, Merkel, Tözsér, Murray, Faraoni, Park and Deeney.  As the teams emerged from the tunnel, I was puzzled that I could only see Bolton players then noticed that there were two tunnels.  It was one of those days.

Jutkiewicz gave Watford an early scare as he broke into the box but Almunia was quickly down to save at his feet.  Tözsér delivered a lovely free kick for Watford but Baptiste put it out for a corner which came to nothing.  At this stage, Cassetti spent some time off the pitch receiving treatment and came back with his leg strapped up.  Bolton threatened again as Davies played a through ball to Mason who was one-on-one with Almunia but the Spaniard got down to thwart him.  From the corner, Mason headed over the bar.  At the other end, Angella met a free-kick from Tözsér with a header

Deeney waiting for the ball to drop

Deeney waiting for the ball to drop

that was straight at Bogdan.  Then Anya broke down the left and put in a cross from the bye-line, Deeney headed goalwards and Bogdan pulled off a smart save to keep it out.  From the corner, the ball broke to Mason who ran the length of the pitch before Ekstrand tackled him in our box to prevent a shot.  Mason threatened again as he latched on to a ball over the top into the area but this time Faraoni was on hand to make a saving tackle.  From the corner Mason’s header was straight at Almunia.  Then a backheader fell to Deeney on the edge of the box, but his shot was horrible, flying well wide of the near post.  It was all rather frantic, but had been quite entertaining.  On 23 minutes, Bolton made a substitution replacing the injured Pratley with Danns.  Soon after, Faraoni intercepted a clearance and went for goal, but Bogdan was on hand to save again.  Murray then played a lovely ball to Faraoni whose progress was stopped on the edge of the box by a foul from Medo, who earned a yellow card.  Tözsér’s free-kick cannoned off the wall, his follow-up was

Ream on the ball

Ream on the ball

narrowly wide, rippling the side-netting from the outside.  The masked man, Ream, then took a free-kick which was met with a header from Jutkiewicz straight at Almunia.  Just before the half hour, Danns tried a looping shot but, again, it was straight at Almunia.  Watford’s next attack finished with a shot from Murray that was well wide of the target.  On 33 minutes, Medo beat Merkel on the right and fed Jutkiewicz, who looked well offside as he hit a shot off the crossbar and then the follow-up past Almunia.  I thought he would be booked for time wasting, but the referee brought play back for a free-kick, presumably for a foul by Merkel in the build-up. From the free kick, Spearing crossed for Jutkiewicz who turned and shot past Almunia to put the home side a goal up.  The anger in

Park in action

Park in action

the away area at this turn of events was mainly aimed at the ‘cheating’ referee.  Five minutes before half time, Ream took a free-kick which Wheater headed over the bar.  Soon after Faraoni was penalized for hand ball and stupidly protested.  The referee let him know in no uncertain terms why he had blown up and pointed out the fouls that he had committed up to that point. We were two goals down just before half time as Mason outran the defence and placed his shot under Almunia and into the net.  At this point, Graham was texting to update one of our friends.  He said he only needed two words … ‘Dreadful defending.’  The other female in our party articulated the two words that had come immediately to her mind. They were the same as mine and a lot less polite than Graham’s.

Anya taking a throw-in

Anya taking a throw-in

Straight from kick-off in the second half, Jutkiewicz broke forward but Faraoni was on hand to clear.  Soon after, Cassetti’s injury got the better of him and he was replaced by Pudil with Ekstrand taking up position in the middle of the back three.  On 55 minutes, Ekstrand pulled Danns over then yelled at the ref when he penalised him and received his tenth booking of the season.  Medo took the free kick putting it just over the bar. Just before the hour, Jutkiewicz crossed for Danns whose volley was caught by Almunia.  On the hour, Sannino made a double substitution replacing Merkel and Park, both of whom had been disappointing, with Battocchio and Ranegie.  The chances were still coming for the home side as Mason played a low ball across the box, but Faraoni was on hand to clear.  At the other end Ranegie headed a ball towards Deeney, it came back to him off a defender

Defending a free kick

Defending a free kick

and he shot tamely wide. From another Bolton corner, a weak header from Wheater was easy for Almunia.  For the visitors, a long ball from Angella reached Deeney, but he couldn’t control it and was tackled so the ball went out for a corner.  From the set piece, Battocchio received the ball on the edge of the area and, to the exasperation of the travelling Hornets, just launched it way over the bar.  At the other end, the ball fell to Danns on the edge of the Watford area, but his shot was also well over.  Pudil then played the ball into the box, it was cleared as far as Murray who unleashed a decent shot but it was blocked by Bogdan.  Battocchio tried another shot from distance but it just looped into Bogdan’s arms.  Bolton’s next attack started when Ranegie lost the ball to Danns, he released Mason who was one-on-one with Almunia but the Spaniard dropped to block at his feet. A cross from Anya was met with a header from Ranegie that was cleared. With 12 minutes remaining, Davies was replaced by Chung-Yong Lee.  Into the last ten minutes, Anya

Bogdan launches a free-kick

Bogdan launches a free-kick

went on a run and crossed for Ranegie, but Bogdan was first to the ball.  Then Bolton seemed to play the ball about in our box for an age before it was finally cleared. With four minutes left on the clock, Trotter replaced the excellent Mason.  Watford pushed again as Ranegie passed to Deeney in the box, but there were two defenders on him and the ball was cut out.  Then Ranegie and Deeney both battled challenges to keep possession but when the ball was played to Pudil, he just gave it away.  Then Battocchio found Deeney whose shot was blocked, Anya’s follow-up cross was cleared.  The board went up indicating 6 minutes of time added on at which point Faraoni passed the ball into Bogdan’s arms and I just wished that we could do what the curlers did and put an end to the misery.  In time added on, Angella was booked for taking Trotter down on the edge of the area.  The free kick came straight back off the wall. Frustration got the best of Faraoni as he jostled with Ream who was trying to waste some time by the corner flag and the Italian was booked for his actions.   The final action of the game was Ekstrand lumping the ball into the box where it was caught by Bogdan.

Nat Lofthouse

Nat Lofthouse

The final whistle went to boos from the travelling fans. I didn’t boo but neither did I applaud at the end.  That display was not worth taking my hands out of my pockets.  To be fair, I’d enjoyed the first half hour of the game.  But once Bolton scored the rest had been just dreadful.  A number of people commented after the game that if Deeney’s early header had gone in, it would have hit Bolton’s confidence and the game would have been totally different.  But it didn’t and we were left with a long trip home wondering why this talented team is putting in such abject performances.

Still, to end on a positive note, the Nat Lofthouse statue is lovely.

 

Our First Visit to Huish Park

Jostling in the box

Jostling in the box

As I sat at work on Tuesday morning listening to the rain, I feared another abortive tip to Yeovil.  In the event, I had a decent journey and arrived to sunshine and blue sky.  Our party gathered in the pub which was soon home to a host of other Watford fans, a number of whom I had also seen in there on New Year’s Day.  We’d been told that the ground was only a couple of hundred metres from the pub, so it was odd to set off and not see any evidence of a stadium.  But as we cut through an industrial estate, I finally caught sight of some floodlights.  The security procedure prior to the game was completely over the top with every man, woman and child being frisked before they were permitted entry to the ground.  I questioned the necessity of this and was told that a grandmother had smuggled a flare in for her grandson and so we were all to be treated as suspects.  On taking my first look inside Huish Park, it has to be said that it’s a lovely neat little ground and it was absolutely wonderful to be on an open terrace right on top of the action.

Team news was that Almunia and Ekstrand were back from injury and Ranegie was to make his debut.  In fact there were six changes from Saturday, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Pudil, Tözsér, Merkel, Ranegie, Battocchio, Anya, and Deeney.

 

Ranegie tries to break into the box

Ranegie tries to break into the box

There was an early scare for the Hornets as Miller poked the ball past Almunia in the second minute, but the goal was ruled out for offside.  Miller threatened again as he broke forward and cut the ball back for Hayter but the shot was blocked.  It was Miller again, but this time he went for goal himself and shot over the bar.  Watford’s first chance fell to Merkel who latched on to a header down from Deeney and lashed it over the bar.  Then Yeovil’s Lawrence tried a shot from distance which went just wide.  On 13 minutes, it was the turn of the visitors to have a goal disallowed as Anya found Merkel in an offside position in the box, he turned and shot past Stech but everyone in the ground knew the flag would be raised.  At the other end Lawrence broke into the box and cut the ball back

Yeovil line up a free kick

Yeovil line up a free kick

to Edwards who shot just wide.  The visitors tested the Yeovil keeper for the first (and last) time as Merkel got on the end of a cross from Anya and Stech had to pull off a flying save to keep it out.  Watford were having a decent spell as Angella had a shot that was just wide of the target, and then Merkel tried a shot from distance that was well over the bar.  Then there was some great defending by Yeovil as Deeney received a pass from Battocchio but Duffy just took the ball from his feet.  At the other end, a free kick from Lundstram curled dangerously goalwards and Almunia had to leap to get a hand to it.  Then Deeney had a shot that was deflected for a corner.  Lawrence tested Almunia with a shot from close to the bye-line which the Spaniard got a hand to and kept out.  The first half passed quickly but there hadn’t been a lot in the way of goalmouth action.

 

Ranegie and Duffy

Ranegie and Duffy

In the second half, Watford were shooting towards the goal in front of the terrace accommodating the travelling Hornets.  There was a decent move early on as Anya received the ball on the right and crossed for Pudil whose shot was blocked.  We barely saw anyone down our end after that.  Yeovil threatened as a shot from Hayter was parried by Almunia before being hacked clear by Ekstrand.  The ball broke to Deeney in a dangerous position, but he was closed down and couldn’t find room for a shot.  Then Watford lost the ball from a short corner, Yeovil broke on the counter and Lawrence shot over the bar.  Next Edwards fed Miller who advanced goalwards, but his shot was deflected just over and into the netting on top of the goal.  The defender, Duffy, had a header on target but it was straight at Almunia.  Soon after Lawrence, who had been a constant threat,

Lining up to defend

Lining up to defend

shot wide of the far post.  On 70 minutes, Anya found Battocchio who put in a cross that was caught by Stech.  Then came the first booking of the game as Ranegie had his legs taken from under him by Webster.  Watford’s first substitution saw Murray replacing Merkel.  There was a rare glimpse of action down our end as Anya broke forward, his cross was deflected before being punched clear by Stech.  Then Yeovil had a decent chance after Murray gave the ball away, Ralls crossed for Miller who headed wide of the target.  A double substitution was announced for the home side although at this time only Hayter made way for Moore.  From a Yeovil corner, Almunia got to a glancing back-header to punch clear.  Then Almunia had to dive low to save a free-kick from Ralls.  Yeovil then made their second substitution with Lundstram making way for Morgan.  Cassetti picked up a booking for a foul on Lawrence.  Boredom had set in at this point, so my attention was drawn to the delightful sound of a Dorset cow bell.  This coincided with a chant starting in the away end: “If we score, we’re on the pitch,” which was greeted with a comment that the pitch was safe.  With four minutes remaining, Cassetti took Lawrence

Almunia lines up to take a kick

Almunia lines up to take a kick

down again and was very lucky to escape with just a final warning.  With a couple of minutes left on the clock, Faraoni replaced Pudil.  Miller then went flying into Tözsér and was booked for his trouble.  In time added on, we finally saw some action in the Yeovil box as a Faraoni cross was clearly handled by McAllister.  The linesman was in a perfect position to see it, but didn’t flag and the referee just gave a corner.  If truth be told, a Watford win would have been a travesty since I could only remember Stech having to make a single save and it had been all Yeovil in the second half.

While I haven’t particularly enjoyed the past two home games, our performance against the team bottom of the division was like watching paint dry.  Ranegie showed some good touches on his debut, but he didn’t seem to want to get involved.  The highlight of the evening was definitely the experience of being in the ground.  There is something about standing on an open terrace right on top of the action that makes you feel less of a spectator and more a part of the game.  The other plus point was that I was staying over and only 10 minutes’ walk from the pub.  The pints of post-match cider were very welcome as we tried to banish the memory of the game.

Beating the Blues

Ekstrand on the ball

Ekstrand on the ball

When this game was rescheduled due to our meeting with Man City, I realised that it would coincide with a visit by colleagues from the US.  It goes without saying that everyone who works with me is aware of my passion for Watford FC and I try to share the joy by dragging inviting them along.  An e-mail went out to each of them and I had four affirmative answers, so I left work yesterday with a full car hoping that my team would put on a good show.   First stop was the West Herts where the strangers received a very warm welcome from the locals who helped with advice on how to get served at the bar.  We had also ordered food, which took an age to be served, so we had a rapid walk to the stadium, but timed our entrance perfectly as we took our seats in the Upper Rous just before kick-off.  Although a regular in that row lived up to the UR stereotype by tapping his watch and asking what time we called this.

Team news was Murray making way for Merkel, and Pudil replacing the injured Anya.  So the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Pudil, Merkel, Battocchio, Tözsér, Faraoni, Forestieri and Deeney.  Captaining the opposition was one of Watford’s favourite sons, Paul Robinson.

Forestieri defending

Forestieri defending

The first chance of the game fell to the visitors as Ekstrand lost out to Macheda, the ball reached Burke who tried a cross that Almunia had to stretch to keep out.  From the resulting corner, Martin shot wide.  In Watford’s first attack, Battocchio found Deeney who tried a through ball to Forestieri, but Birmingham keeper, Randolph, was first to the ball.  Soon after, Deeney headed down to Merkel whose shot was wide of the target.  Birmingham had a great chance to take the lead on 11 minutes as a powerful shot from Caddis careered back off the crossbar.  As Rusnák tried the follow-up he appeared to be felled in the box by Faraoni, but the referee waved the penalty appeals away.  Then Forestieri won the ball in the middle and played a through ball to Deeney who was tackled by Packwood, but the offside flag was already up.  Birmingham won a free kick in a

Battocchio lining up a free kick

Battocchio lining up a free kick

dangerous position, which Huws delivered but it was an easy catch for Almunia.  There was an early substitution for Watford as Ekstrand left the field, presumably due to injury, to be replaced by the wonderful Lloyd Doyley.  Watford threatened as Merkel passed to Battocchio who headed down to Deeney but his pass was too far in front of Forestieri.  Then a good corner from Tözsér was headed wide by Angella.  On the half hour, Battocchio flicked the ball to Forestieri who appeared to be fouled by Robbo in the box, but the referee was having none of it.  Watford went ahead on 32 minutes as Forestieri found Deeney on the edge of the box.  His first attempt to connect missed the ball

Goal!!

Goal!!

completely, but he recovered and buried it at the second attempt.  Not the most elegant of goals, but they all count.  It went a bit quiet after that until, on the stroke of half time, Deeney found Forestieri on the edge of the box, but his shot was disappointing flying well wide of the near post.  At half time, one of my colleagues, looking to enhance her knowledge of the rules of ‘soccer’, asked whether you were only allowed to keep possession for a certain amount of time before giving the ball to the other team.  I had to laugh, but I thought that summed up the quality of the passing in the first half quite beautifully.

Lloydy moving so fast he is blurred

Lloydy moving so fast he is blurred

At the start of the second half, Birmingham made a substitution bringing on Reece Brown for Rusnák.  This caused me some confusion as I thought one of our players had defected without any publicity but, apparently, this Reece Brown is a 17 year-old from Dudley.  Early in the half, a free-kick from Huws was headed out by Angella who gave the resulting corner the same treatment.  The next corner was punched clear by Almunia.  Then Deeney found Forestieri close to the bye-line and, with a defender in attendance, he did really well to flick the ball up the line to Merkel whose shot from distance was poor and well wide.  For the visitors, Huws took another free-kick that was gathered by Almunia.  Then a shot from Macheda was straight into Almunia’s arms.  From a corner, the ball broke to Burke whose pass found Howard whose shot was weak and straight

Huws lining up a free kick

Huws lining up a free kick

at Almunia.  Ten minutes into the half, Watford launched their first attack of the second period.  A shot from Forestieri was blocked, Doyley did well to win back possession and return the ball to Forestieri who shot straight at Randolph.  Just before the hour, Forestieri fed Battocchio who went on a great run but, instead of shooting, he passed to Deeney who was, sadly, in an offside position.  Sannino made a further substitution as Battocchio was withdrawn and replaced by Murray.  On 67 minutes, there was a most bizarre incident.  Forestieri was off the field for what seemed to be an age as he waited to come back on after receiving treatment for an injury.  The referee finally indicated that he could come on, but there was a Birmingham player just in front of him and he immediately launched in to a tackle.  This seemed to infuriate the referee who stopped play and was reaching for a card before he realised that the error was his and the game restarted with a drop ball.  Faraoni should have done better soon after as he headed wide

Robbo unimpressed with the ref

Robbo unimpressed with the ref

from a Tözsér free kick.  With quarter of an hour remaining, Lee Clark made his remaining substitutions as Løvenkrands and Novak replaced Howard and Adeyemi.  Watford should have scored a second as a corner from Tözsér was met by a Forestieri header that was cleared off the line.  With 8 minutes remaining, Sannino made his final substitution replacing Merkel with Bellerin.  The young Spaniard’s first act was to control a clearance from Almunia with his hand and earn a yellow card for his trouble.  In the last minute of normal time, a ball in to the box from Bellerin was being shepherded out by the defender, but Deeney fought to keep it in and crossed back in the general direction of Forestieri, but it was too far away for him to connect.  In time added on, Forestieri ran into trouble allowing the visitors to counter, Løvenkrands broke into the box but the ever reliable Doyley was back to clear.  Forestieri received a silly yellow card after a blatant hand ball in the centre circle which he followed up with a run and a lob over Randolph.  As Birmingham were lining up the free kick, Caddis clearly felt that Forestieri was too close so walked up and pushed him back.  When Randolph finally took the kick, Packwood met it with a header that, thankfully, flew into the side netting so we preserved the clean sheet and put another three points on the board.

Applauding the crowd

Applauding the crowd

As welcome as the win was, that had been a horrible game to watch and I was a bit embarrassed that I had subjected my poor colleagues to it, so I was delighted when they told me how much they had enjoyed the experience.  During the game, they had admired the effort and enjoyed the chanting.  You don’t really get the latter at US sports.  But what made my evening was to hear my visitors talk about the wonderful welcome that they’d had from all the Watford fans that they had met and how they couldn’t imagine experiencing something similar in the US.  So the football may have been disappointing, but the lovely Watford community made me very proud indeed.

An Unexpected Point

Taking the field

Taking the field

The success against Brighton last week gladdened the heart, but we could have done without following it up with a trip to Leicester.  Based on their performance at Vicarage Road earlier this season, they are the best team in this division by a considerable margin and the Championship table certainly backs that view.  Leaving the station on arrival, I was confronted by high winds that made walking difficult and didn’t bode well for the game, but I was soon tucked up in a warm pub with a pint of real ale wondering whether I should stay there all afternoon.

On arrival at the ground, I was told that the official supporter coach hadn’t made it.  Terrible traffic had meant that it arrived for the pick-up in Watford ridiculously late and that the driver was out of time by the time they got to Toddington, so they turned around after he’d had his break.  I really feel for those who use the coach, a number of whom are friends, as they missed a cracking game.

Tozser lines up a free kick

Tozser lines up a free kick

When the team was announced, I was disappointed to hear that Hall, who had been immense on Sunday, had been dropped to the bench with Cassetti moving back to take his place in the centre of the back three.  Merkel was the other to make way with Faraoni and Murray the replacements, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Anya, Tözsér, Murray, Battocchio, Faraoni, Forestieri and Deeney.

Leicester fans started their taunting early with “Did you cry at Wembley?” which was a bit foolish as it was immediately answered with “Did you cry when Deeney scored?”  Well, one of their players did.  Pre-match predictions were confounded as we went a goal up within 10 minutes, Deeney and Forestieri exchanged

Forestieri receives congratulations after scoring

Forestieri receives congratulations after scoring

passes before Troy crossed and Forestieri headed past Schmeichel.  Yes, really, a header from Forestieri!  Leicester had a great chance to equalize soon after as a corner reached Wasilewski in the middle of the box, but he headed wide when it looked easier to score.  Then Murray played a lovely long ball to Deeney who squared to Forestieri, but the Argentine was quickly closed down before he could shoot.  At the other end, a cross from Drinkwater was met with a back flick from Vardy which went wide.  Vardy threatened again soon after, this time meeting a cross from Konchesky with a header which flew over the bar.  Konchesky then made his way into the referee’s book after hacking down Faraoni.  On 24 minutes, Watford won their first corner of the game.  Tözsér’s delivery reached Deeney who headed down to Faraoni but he shot into the side netting.  The jeers from the home crowd that greeted this seemed to be down to relief on their part as there had not

Attacking a corner

Attacking a corner

been great celebrations in the away end.  On the half hour, a pass from Angella that Ian Bolton would have been proud of reached Forestieri on the edge of the area, he cut the ball back to Deeney whose powerful shot flew well over the bar.  The wind then threatened an equalizer as an innocuous looking corner from James changed direction and Almunia had to get a hand to it to divert it for a corner.  Then Dyer ran in to the box and cut the ball back for Nugent (he always scores against us) who wellied over (phew!).  Knockaert put a dangerous ball into the box and Angella did well to intercept and avert the danger.  Watford had a great chance for a second as a Tözsér corner reached Angella who took the ball down and hit an overhead kick that required a good save from Schmeichel to

Murray celebrating his goal

Murray celebrating his goal

keep it out.  We were not to be denied for long, though, as on 40 minutes, Forestieri battled to win the ball in the corner cut back to Anya who found Murray whose low shot from distance beat Schmeichel to nestle in the bottom corner.  At this point there was a mass exodus from the home stand to join the queue for a half-time cuppa.  More fool them as a couple of minutes later James got on the end of a cross from De Laet to cut the deficit.  It was disappointing to concede so soon after our second, but the build up for the goal was excellent.

Ekstrand in control

Ekstrand in control

Early in the second half, Almunia came to gather a cross from Konchesky, but Nugent was challenging with Ekstrand in attendance, the Swede clattered into the keeper so there was a delay as both Watford players received treatment.  Almunia needed a clear head almost immediately as Forestieri played a long ball in the direction of Deeney, which Morgan reached first and launched back for Vardy to break, he was one-on-one with the keeper but Almunia came out and made the clearance.  Then a flick from Faraoni found Forestieri in the box, he tried a shot that landed on the top of the net but had been flagged offside anyway.  Then Konchesky launched a speculative shot from distance that was well over the bar.  Konchesky threatened again with a deep cross that Almunia punched clear.  On 65 minutes, there was a brilliant break for Watford as Ekstrand released Forestieri but, instead of shooting, he opted to pass and put too much weight on it so Deeney received the ball at a tight angle and the chance was gone.  The Watford defending remained resolute as a shot from James was blocked by Murray and looped safely into Almunia’s arms.  Leicester

Watford on the attack

Watford on the attack

really should have equalised in the 70th minute as Dyer cut a cross back to Nugent but his point-blank header was wide of the target.  At this point, Pudil replaced Faraoni.  Nugent had another chance but his header was straight at Almunia.  Then Cassetti was booked for barging Vardy out of the way.  Vardy soon made way for Kevin Philips and my heart sank.  Dyer was also withdrawn for Mahrez.  Watford’s next counter attack came through the substitute, Pudil, who went on a run down the left but his shot was straight at Schmeichel.  With five minutes to go, Sannino opted to shore up the defence as Hall replaced Forestieri, who left the field to boos from the home crowd.  We changed to a 4-4-2 formation with Anya moving further forward.  Leicester’s next substitution was an attacking one bringing Woos on for Wasilewski.  Leicester’s quest for a second goal continued as

Almunia takes a free kick surrounded by litter

Almunia takes a free kick surrounded by litter

Almunia pulled off a brilliant save from a close range shot from Phillips after good work from Nugent, but he needn’t have bothered as the flag was up for offside.  In time added on, Cassetti pulled the ball back to Murray but his short was poor and well wide of the target.  Leicester were pushing hard for the equaliser as first a shot from Phillips and then the follow-up from James were blocked.  Philips then crossed for Mahrez whose header was blocked by Ekstrand.  Alas, we could not survive the onslaught.  Leicester’s equalizer came in the fourth minute of added time as the ball fell to Drinkwater outside the box and his shot flew past Almunia.  It has to be said that this was not the former Watford player that we were expecting to get the winner.  Knockaert came over to goad the travelling Hornets and the home fans suddenly woke up.  Last roll of the dice for Watford was the introduction of Merkel for Battocchio.  In the last couple of minutes, Leicester could have won the game as Nugent found James in the box but a lovely sliding tackle from Pudil saved the day.  From the corner Nugent shot wide and it ended honours even.

A fair challenge?

A fair challenge?

I realise that my notes of the chances make it sound as if the second half had been even, when in fact it felt like a 45 minute onslaught from Leicester with Watford restricted to counter attacks.  But our defence deserves great credit for the fact that the Leicester possession did not translate into clear cut chances.  Special mention must go to the travelling fans who made a tremendous noise throughout the ninety minutes.  Also to the Leicester fans whose chant of “We’ll never play you again” betrayed a quite staggering level of delusion and prompted a conversation about whether they are the smallest club to believe they are a big club.  At the end of the game, despite the fact that we’d thrown away a two goal lead for the third game in four, most Watford fans left the ground happy with a point away at the league leaders, particularly as it had taken them until the 94th minute to win the point.  This had been another well-organized effort from the Hornets which augurs well for the remainder of the season.

A New Dawn?

Tozser lining up a free kick

Tozser lining up a free kick

After the horrible collapse at Forest on Thursday, I can’t say that I was looking forward to this game. Deadline day had seen some action with Iriney and Fabbrini departing on loan and Diakite and Park arriving.  However, having been crying out for a defensive midfielder, the arrival causing most interest was Tözsér who had come in on loan from Genoa, hopefully to shore up our midfield.  When the teams were announced, we found we were to get an early idea of whether he was “the answer”.  The starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Hall, Angella, Anya, Merkel, Tözsér, Battocchio, Cassetti, Forestieri and Deeney.  In goal for the visitors was former loanee, Kuszczak, although I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t recognize him.  I knew he looked familiar, but couldn’t quite place the face.

Anya being congratulated for his goal

Anya being congratulated for his goal

The first action of note came in the 11th minute.  Almunia came out of his area to clear as Ulloa threw himself to the ground in the box, the clearance fell to Forestieri who tried a shot which didn’t trouble Kuszczak.  We were a goal up soon after as Forestieri won the ball in the middle of the park, turned and fed Merkel, he found Anya on the left who made no mistake shooting across Kuszczak into the far corner.  Anya was involved again soon after, going on a long run up the left wing, crossing the touchline just in front of the linesman at one point, but in the absence of a flag the run continued and culminated in a shot from distance, but Kuszczak was equal to it.  On 25 minutes, Brighton threatened for the first time as a López cross flew across our area but Battocchio was back to make a crucial tackle.  We should have been two goals up a minute later as Cassetti won the ball on the right and crossed to Forestieri who, with only the keeper to beat, opted to place

Battocchio on the attack

Battocchio on the attack

the shot instead of going for power and did so right into Kuszczak’s arms.  Irritation at the miss was tempered with relief that we hadn’t built a two goal lead to throw away.  Brighton’s next goal attempt came from a corner, the ball fell to Andrews but his shot from distance was well over the bar.  On the half hour, Almunia had to come out to get a hand to a dangerous cross from Ward before Ulloa could get his head on it.  López’s follow up shot was wide of the far post.  Then another Brighton corner was met by Upson who headed well over the bar.  On 39 minutes, an injury forced the first substitution as Forster-Caskey was replaced by LuaLua.  In the closing minutes of the half, Forestieri played a square ball to Battocchio on the edge of the box, but his speculative shot was straight at Kuszczak.  Brighton could have equalized as the substitute, LuaLua, went on a run down the left and unleashed a fierce shot that hit the corner of the bar and post, the ball reached Lopez, who shot into the side netting.

Ready to attack a corner

Ready to attack a corner

As the players came out for the second half, Kuszczak’s appearance in the goal at the Rookery end was greeted with very warm applause.  Brighton threatened early on, as a ball into our box was met with a firm header by Hall, it fell to López whose shot was caught by Almunia.  On 52 minutes, Brighton were wasteful again as the ball fell to Andrews on the edge of the box, but his shock was reckless and well wide of the target.  Then Forestieri must have won the ball three or four times as he fought off the attentions of Brighton defenders before releasing Anya but, sadly, all that resulted from their hard work was a corner.  Another Brighton attack failed to muster a shot on target as Ulloa’s shot was blocked, the ball fell to López whose shot was well wide.  Deeney then closed down a clearance by Greer, but the ball looped over the bar.  Watford had another decent chance to increase their lead as a ball came in to Forestieri who held off two defenders to head the

Forestieri celebrates

Forestieri celebrates

ball down to Deeney, but his shot was over the bar.  At the other end LuaLua found Stephens but he shot well wide.  Just before the hour mark, Forestieri won the ball on the left, dribbled around Kuszcazk and shot into the open goal.  The goal was a just reward for Fernando’s tremendous performance.  However, there were a few muttering about us being two up given what that heralded in the last two games.  I was heartened at the fact that on the hour it was us scoring rather than the opposition.  Soon after, new boy Tözsér lined up a free-kick which looped just over the bar.  Brighton made their second substitution as Rodríguez replaced Orlandi.  There was a let off for the Hornets on 67 minutes as a free-kick was headed past Almunia by Ulloa but it was ruled out for off-side.  Harry Hornet was highly amused at this turn of events.  Another Brighton free-kick was hit

New boy, Merkel, takes a throw

New boy, Merkel, takes a throw

straight at the wall, but they regained possession and a cross to the far post was met with a header that Almunia caught.  Then a sliced shot by LuaLua was blocked by Angella.  The resulting corner was met with a header from Ulloa that was going wide, but Almunia was taking no chances and claimed it.  With 15 minutes remaining, Murray replaced Merkel after spending some considerable time standing on the touchline waiting for a suitable break in the game.  Watford’s next attack was thwarted as Deeney received the ball in an advanced position but was hacked down by Greer, who was booked for the offence.  Murray took the resulting free-kick which flew through the wall but was gathered by Kuszczak.  With 10 minutes remaining March replaced López.  Deeney had a half chance as he ran into the box to a ball that had bounced off Murray, but Kuszczak got there first.  In the last minutes of normal time, Battocchio made way for Diakite, and Forestieri was withdrawn to a standing ovation and replaced by Park.  There was five minutes of time added on, but the only action of note was a reckless challenge by Park on the edge of our area which led to another silly yellow card for Ekstrand for kicking the ball away.  The resulting free kick curled over the bar and our clean sheet was preserved.

Ekstrand takes a free-kick

Ekstrand takes a free-kick

What a difference a couple of days make.  Three points are always welcome, but it was the performance that really pleased.  Tözsér impressed immediately, putting his foot in when needed and acting as that midfield fulcrum that we’ve missed.  Hall was immense in the centre of defence.  They formed the spine that was so obviously missing on Thursday and the overall performance improved immeasurably.  I sometimes feel that Forestieri wins man of the match awards for being eye-catching rather than effective, but today it was thoroughly deserved.  He was tireless, playing like a terrier whose favourite ball you were trying to take.  But he wasn’t the only one in that regard.  Where, on Thursday, we were nowhere to be seen as Forest took their chances, today we refused to allow the Brighton players any space.  If a ball was lost, there was a player instantly fighting to get it back.  While I’m not convinced that we’ll get anything at Leicester next week, I’m very encouraged that we are going in the right direction.