Tag Archives: Alexis Sanchez

Disappointment and Pride after First Defeat of the Season

Harry Hornet in happier times

After a trio of Sunday afternoon games, we returned to a Saturday kick-off, although it was not until 5:30pm, so still a disruption to the routine.  When kick-offs are moved, I always have a fear in the back of my mind that I have the time wrong and will miss the game. This wasn’t helped when I watched the rather sweet NBC advertisement for the game which featured a little girl answering questions from her friend about why she is a Watford fan.  At the end, they announce that kick-off is at 12:30 and I had a brief moment of panic before I realised that this was the time on the East coast of the US.  This piece heavily featured Harry Hornet, which was rather sad following the announcement this week that he was hanging up his oversized boots.

He has provided the fans with a lot of entertainment over the years and will be greatly missed.

Due to the late kick-off and an appointment in Hemel the next day, I decided to stay in Watford overnight and, as I checked in, the American couple in front of me were asking about where to go for the pre-match atmosphere.  It turned out that this Man United fan had turned up in Watford without a ticket.  A risky ploy given the relatively small capacity at Vicarage Road.

Our Stars in Stripes in front of the display in the family stand

I was in the West Herts bright and early to join Don who, needless to say, had been there since before the doors opened.  He does like to make sure that he is in place in plenty of time for kick-off.  We suspect that, between games, he sits quietly in a corner where they keep him going with regular cups of tea.  It was a day to remember absent friends as it would have been GT’s 74th birthday and Toddy’s anniversary is this week.  While there was little expectation that our 100% record would continue, we had to hope that the lads would still do them both proud.

As we approached the ground, the touts were out in force on Vicarage Road, a very distasteful sight, but one that would have been welcomed by the young American that I met at the hotel.  When I went to buy a programme from my usual seller, I was a little concerned to see a young lad in place of the usual woman, so asked after her to find that she was absent due to a hen night.  I was mightily relieved.

As we took our seats we were greeted with impressive stripes of yellow and black in the family stand and the SEJ, as the club had put yellow and black t-shirts on seats to further encourage the fans to join in with the ‘Stars in Stripes’ that we have come to love this season.  I was actually amazed at how many people had donned the t-shirts.  It looked great.  Prior to kick-off, Emma congratulated Javi Gracia on both the Manager of the Month award and the League Managers Association Performance of the Week for the Tottenham game.  As he took the applause of the crowd, there was that niggling worry that the curse of the MoM award would kick in.

Pereyra on the ball

Team news was, unsurprisingly, that the starting XI remained unchanged for a fifth match in a row so the line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Janmaat; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deeney, Gray.  Manchester United featured former Watford favourite, Ashley Young, who has sadly become a villain for the crowd after his “in your face” goal celebrations in front of the Rookery on his last visit.  The visitors were sporting pale salmon pink shirts that appeared to be the result of the kit man leaving a red sock in the machine when washing a white away kit.

The visitors started the game strongly with Foster being called into action in the second minute when Sánchez found Lukaku in the box, but the Watford keeper dived at his feet to avert the danger.  Watford’s first chance came soon after as a clearance fell to Doucouré whose shot was wild and wide of the target.  United’s next chance came through a shot from Pogba, but Foster was down low to save.  At the other end Hughes turned and shot, but it was an easy catch for de Gea.  At this point, there was a very loud chorus of one Harry Hornet.  Watford had a terrific chance to take the lead after some interplay between Pereyra and Deeney, the Watford captain’s shot required a smart save from de Gea to tip it over the bar.

Doucoure, Capoue and Hughes looking unsure about Deeney’s instruction

United had the ball in the net in the 24th minute as Sánchez finished from close range, but the flag was up for offside.   Sánchez threatened again on the half hour, running into the box and hitting a shot that was pushed over by Foster.  The first booking went to Capoue for a rather innocuous trip on Lingard, which seemed harsh given some of the challenges that had gone before.  The visitors took the lead after 35 minutes when Lukaku chested Young’s cross home.  From the Rookery, there were (erroneous) shouts of offside.  Holebas was also unhappy at something about the goal and was booked for his protest.  Watford had a wobble after the goal and United could have had a second from a Pogba shot, but Foster pulled off a terrific save.  But the visitors scored a second within 3 minutes as a corner was flicked on by Fellaini to Smalling who controlled on his chest before volleying past Foster.  The visitors had a chance to increase their lead further in time added on at the end of the half as Lingard crossed for Pogba whose snapshot was kept out by a brilliant save from Foster.  So we reached half time two goals down, which seemed slightly harsh but was the result of an uncharacteristically shaky spell after the first goal was scored.

The half time guest was Peter Kennedy who, it has to be said, was totally unrecognizable.  He works as an accountant in local government in Northern Ireland now, not a typical career path for a former Premier League footballer.

Both teams emerged promptly for the second half but were kept waiting by the officials.  Having toured the ground recently, I can assure you that it wasn’t the comfort of the referee’s room that detained them.

The wall jumps as Pereyra takes a free kick

The first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets when Pereyra won a free kick and took it himself, but his shot was over the bar.  The Hornets almost made the breakthrough as Holebas delivered a corner into the box, but Smalling beat Kabasele to the header and it went out for a corner.  The Hornets pulled one back after 65 minutes as Doucouré beat a defender and pulled the ball back for Gray who finished brilliantly past de Gea.  There was minimal celebration before the Watford lads ran back to the centre circle for the restart.  Game on!!  A couple of minutes later, there were shouts for a free kick as Pereyra was fouled on the edge of the area, but Mike Dean waved play on.  With 20 minutes remaining, each side made a change with Lingard making way for Martial for the visitors and Femenía replacing Janmaat for the Hornets.  Femenía’s first act was to play a lovely cross for Pereyra, but Valencia took the ball off the foot of the Argentine.  Pereyra then laid the ball off for Doucouré, but the shot was well over the bar.  Matić was booked for a foul in the build-up.  The central defenders came into their own as Craig Cathcart made a brilliant sliding tackle as Sánchez appeared to be through on goal.  Then Martial was prevented from shooting by an equally wonderful tackle from Kabasele.

Holebas crosses

There was a rash of late substitutions as McTominay replaced Sánchez for United and Gracia brought Masina and Success on for Holebas and Cathcart, both of whom left the field to appreciative applause.  Doucouré had impressed in the second half, although his shooting had been suspect, but he did brilliantly with a curling shot that de Gea just managed to hold.  There was a paltry 3 minutes added at the end of the game, most of which seemed to be taken up by Valencia taking an age to leave the pitch when being replaced by Bailly and then Matić leaving the field equally slowly after being shown a second yellow card for a foul on Hughes.  Foster came up for the free-kick, and it looked as through Watford would save a point as the delivery from Hughes was met by the head of Kabasele, but de Gea appeared from nowhere to make the save.  There was one final chance for the Hornets as Masina’s corner curled across goal and just past the far post, so the Hornets went down to their first defeat this season.

 

Cathcart ignoring Deeney

Fair play to the Watford fans who chanted passionately for their team after the final whistle.  Given that the Hornets had been behind for the whole of the second half, it was a testament to their performance that Occupation Road was totally packed at the end of the game as the Watford fans had stayed to the end.  It was a terrific second half performance which deserved a point.  As has been the case in every game so far this season, it was a terrific team effort but Cathcart and Kabasele continue to impress.  It seems time to resurrect the “Cool as Craig” t-shirts for our unfussy, unflappable defender.  Deeney and Gray also continue to link up well and Andre’s goal was terrific.

Back to the West Herts and Glenn had picked up some unwanted yellow shirts, so this Rookery resident was able to take one home.  The consensus of the post-match discussion was that, while we were all disappointed at the result, it had been a very impressive performance and we matched Manchester United all over the pitch.  We were a very content group of Hornets.  Our recent performances have shown that we have nothing to fear in this division this season, and that is certainly not what Watford fans were expecting when the season started.  Long may it continue.

Handbags and Glad Rags at the End of the Season

Don and I with the Player of the Season

On Thursday, Watford held the End of Season dinner.  I must say that I don’t enjoy Wembley as a venue, it feels as though you are having dinner in an aircraft hangar and the event has lost its friendly feel.  On the plus side, for the first time in three years the head coach was in attendance.  I managed to have a brief chat with Javi, who said what a lovely family we were at Watford.  On the family theme, it was really lovely to see Rita Taylor there with her daughter and grandchildren.  The youngsters were on the stage to help present the Player of the Season award which is named in honour of GT.  There was no surprise when Doucouré won the award and I can confirm that he is a lovely chap.  As, indeed, is Christian Kabasele, who was the Community Ambassador of the year.  The Hall of Fame inductee was Tom Walley, not before time.  He was joined on the evening by a number of his ‘graduates’.  Robert Page and Kenny Jackett both paid warm tribute to him and his part in making them into the players/managers/men that they are.  Tom’s acceptance speech was brief but heartfelt.

The winning team

On Saturday was the Legends game in aid of the 25th anniversary of the Community Sports and Education Trust.  It was a foul day with the rain lashing down but, as I entered the ground, I was cheered to see Tom Walley waiting for the lift to the concourse.  I went up to him to say how happy I was that he had received the Hall of Fame accolade.  I was rewarded with a smile, a kiss and “Football has been good to me.”  I pointed out that he had been very good to football.  The game ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.  But it was lovely to see Lloyd Doyley, Nicky Wright, Allan Smart, Steve Palmer, Gavin Mahon, Marcus Gayle and Derek Payne gracing the Vicarage Road pitch again.  The teams were managed by Luther Blissett and Kenny Jackett.  Luther played a cameo at the end and ended up as the manager of the winning team.

After the Legends game, I headed up to Manchester for Sunday’s match.  When I arrived at the pre-match pub there was already a couple of Northern based Hornets at ‘our’ table.  The team usually travel to the ground from the hotel opposite the pub, so we waved them off from the comfort of our seats.  Not that they saw us, but it is the thought that counts.  Our pre-match group was honoured to be joined by Emma Saunders, Watford’s matchday announcer, who was being a fan for the day.

Cuddling lovely Christian Kabasele

We left the pub in plenty of time to deal with the extensive security measures that are always in place at Old Trafford.  Being aware of the restrictions, I had left my rucksack and laptop in the hotel and arrived at the ground with only my essentials.  We passed through the first cordon and had our bags checked with no issues.  Then we arrived at the next phalanx of stewards to be told that no bags were allowed in the ground “because of what happened in Paris last night.”  So, a madman with a knife on the streets of Paris meant that middle-aged women could no longer be trusted to bring handbags into a football stadium.  Mick Smithers, our Police liaison officer, was in the vicinity, so we asked whether he would mind our bags, but we were given no choice but to walk to a car park across the road to dispose of the offending items.  The bag drop that had been designated for away fans was already full.  We asked what we were supposed to do now and were directed to another portacabin that was barely visible in the distance.  On arrival, I emptied my bag of most of its contents and transferred them to my pockets and basically left my make-up bag behind.  When we arrived back at the turnstiles, there was a quick check with a wand and we were in.  It would have been a lot simpler and more secure to have examined the contents of my small bag as they had no idea what was in my rather large pockets.

Pereyra on the ball

Due to our diversion, I arrived at my seat just as the pre-match handshakes were taking place.  I then did my usual thing of getting my notebook, pen and camera ready for the game.  As I retrieved things from my coat pocket, I realised that I had completely forgotten to transfer a pen from my bag and nobody else in our party had one, so I was unable to make any notes on the game, which is probably as well as it was not a game packed with incident.

Team news was that Gracia had made three changes from the Newcastle game with Gomes, Deulofeu and Richarlison coming in for Karnezis, Capoue and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu, Pereyra, Richarlison; Gray.  The return of Gomes to the team meant that he would make his 100th Premier League appearance for the Hornets and would be wearing the captain’s armband as he did so.  There was also much joy among the travelling fans when it was confirmed that Chalobah would be on the bench after so long out due to injury.

Heurelho Gomes making his 100th Premier League appearance for the Hornets

The first chance of the game fell to the Hornets as Romero dropped a cross from Janmaat which, for a moment, looked as though it may drift in to the goal, but there was no Watford player on hand to take advantage and the United goalie was able to recover.  The first caution was earned by Rojo for a foul on Richarlison.  The young Brazilian took the resultant free kick himself but sent it well over the bar.  The home side had their first chance of note in the 16th minute when Sanchez received a pass from Blind, but volleyed well wide of the target.  Gracia was forced into an early substitution when Kabasele ushered a ball out of play and, as he followed it, the momentum took him down the slope behind the goal and he collided with the hoardings.  Christian tried to continue after receiving treatment, but soon had to be replaced by Mariappa.  I was just hoping that this didn’t end his chance of being involved in the World Cup.  United took the lead in the 34th minute with a goal that came out of nothing as Carrick played a ball over the top to Mata, who appeared to be in an offside position, he squared for Rashford who had a simple finish past Gomes.  The Hornets should have grabbed an equaliser just before half time as Richarlison met a cross from Janmaat and headed back across goal, but Romero pulled off a terrific save to frustrate the Watford youngster.  The resulting corner reached Deulofeu who tried a shot, but Romero was also equal to that effort.  So we reached half time with the Hornets slightly unfortunate to be a goal down.

Deeney and Pereyra challenging in the United box

The first incident of note in the second half was a caution for Ashley Young after a foul on Janmaat.  Sadly, following his unpleasant celebration after scoring against the Hornets at Vicarage Road, the former Watford youngster was being booed every time he touched the ball.  Pereyra took the free-kick, which bounced off Mariappa and the home defence were able to clear.  Soon after, Young was replaced by Luke Shaw.  Gracia also made a change bringing Deeney on for Deulofeu and switching to two up front.  United had a chance to increase their lead as Sanchez crossed to the back post, but the ball was too high for Mata. There was another card for the home side as McTominay was penalised for a shirt pull on Richarlison.  There appeared to be a terrific chance for the Hornets as a poor clearance bounced off Hughes who found Gray, who had a great chance to finish but took one touch too many and ended up putting the ball wide.  His blushes were spared as the flag was up for offside, but it was a terrible miss.  There were loud cheers from the travelling Hornets as Chalobah appeared on the touchline ready to take the field, which he did in place of Gray.  United then made their second substitution bringing Herrera on for Blind.  With 10 minutes remaining, Watford had a terrific chance to score an equaliser as Richarlison ran into the box but, again, waited too long to take a shot and was tackled.  The last half chance for the visitors came as a deep corner from Holebas was met by a header by Doucouré, but it was weak and easily gathered by Romero.  With five minutes remaining, Michael Carrick, who was making his last appearance before retiring, was substituted (for Paul Pogba) to allow him to enjoy an ovation from the United fans.  The Watford faithful joined in with the applause.  And that was it, there were no further goals and the game finished with a narrow win for United.

So happy to see Chalobah back on the pitch

At the final whistle, the Watford players applauded the crowd and Adrian Mariappa came over to give his shirt to one of the fans in the disabled area.  The stewards on the pitch stepped in to stop him and it took all of his charm to persuade them that this action was not a security issue.  The joy on the face of the woman who received the shirt as she held it aloft in triumph made the stewards’ action look as mean spirited as it was.  It was also noticeable how few home fans were left in the ground to applaud their team’s efforts this season.  I guess that finishing second in the league getting to the Cup Final isn’t worthy of celebration in this part of Manchester, nor is saying goodbye to a long serving player.  So very sad, but Old Trafford seems primarily to be a tourist destination these days.

As we headed back to pick up our bags, I encountered Don Fraser, so pushed his wheelchair back to Coach 1.  We proceeded in the direction of the bag drop only to find that there was a barrier in the way and a steward directing us back the way we had come.  Our expressions of indignation persuaded him to let us through and, thankfully, we were soon on our way.

Gathering in the box for a corner

So it was back to the pub for the last post-match analysis of the season.  It has to be said that it wasn’t a great game.  The home side appeared to be playing in second gear while they looked forward to the Cup Final next week.  Watford, as so often this season, put in a decent performance but, as a friend commented, were “pathologically opposed to shooting.”  United did defend well, but if an early shot had been taken on a couple of occasions, Romero may have had a more difficult afternoon.  It has been a very odd season.  It started with some superb performances, but started petering out once Silva received the approach from Everton and, despite moments of brilliance, never regained any momentum.  While 14th in the division is something that most of us would have been happy with at the start of the season, it does feel like the team has massively underachieved given the talent in the squad.  Certainly the absence of Cleverley and Chalobah through injury for much of the season has had an effect on performances, but the main problem has been the lack of an effective striker and they are not easy to come by.

But, frustrating as this season has been, I will be counting the days until the fixtures come out so that I can plan next year’s adventures.

Thank you to all of you who have read my reports this season.  I wish you all a wonderful Summer.

 

That Was for You, Graham

Pre-match huddle at the Emirates

Pre-match huddle at the Emirates

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

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

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

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

Returning upfield for the restart after taking the lead

Returning upfield for the restart after taking the lead

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

Cleverley takes a free kick

Cleverley takes a free kick

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

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

Deeney and Niang waiting for the ball to drop

Deeney and Niang waiting for the ball to drop

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

Deeney

Deeney

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

Cleverley lines up a free kick

Cleverley lines up a free kick

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

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

Pereyra Strikes in a Game of Two Halves

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

As I boarded the train at Euston on my way to the game, I assumed that it was standing room only as the vestibules were packed with blokes holding cans of beer.  Not at all, the Arsenal lads were starting the day as they meant to go on but were very polite as they moved to let the tutting old woman through to take her seat.  I thought I had timed things perfectly this week, but still managed to arrive at the West Herts before the doors opened.  There had been a recent change in their catering that meant, on the last two visits, all food was delivered in styrofoam cartons with plastic cutlery.  The horrors of adding to landfill meant that I bought lunch on the way to the game, only to find that they had reverted to using plates and metal cutlery.  Hoorah!!  Even better, after the brief loneliness of Tuesday evening, all the usual suspects were back in position.

Team news was that there were two changes from the Chelsea game.  Both in defence and both enforced (Cathcart had a groin injury and Britos’s partner was about to give birth).  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Kabasele; Amrabat, Guedioura, Capoue, Behrami, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.

Guedioura and Kaboul

Guedioura and Kaboul

The first notable action of the game was a foul by Amrabat on Sánchez in the box.  It was an age before the referee pointed to the spot which provoked fury among the home fans.  It has to be said that, even from our vantage point just behind the goal, we didn’t really see the challenge and it appeared that the dramatic reaction by the Arsenal player had influenced the referee, but footage of the incident showed that it was the correct decision.  Cazorla stepped up and sent Gomes the wrong way giving Arsenal an early lead and the Hornets a mountain to climb.  Kevin Friend, the referee, didn’t endear himself to the home crowd as Walcott appeared to run into Prödl and the Austrian was shown a yellow card.  Arsenal could have been two up as a cross from Bellerin was cleared off the line, then a shot from Walcott was saved.  Watford’s first goal chance came following a break from Amrabat whose cross was almost turned home by Koscielny but Cech managed to keep it out.  Deeney’s follow-up was just wide.  Soon after, a shot-cum-cross from Amrabat landed on the roof of the net.  Mr Friend had been very quick to blow his whistle for anything remotely resembling a challenge on an Arsenal player, so there was annoyance when Amrabat was knocked to the ground with no consequences.  This was compounded when the next challenge on Nordin, which looked powder puff, was punished with a free kick.  Watford had had a really good spell around the half hour culminating with a corner from Capoue that was headed just wide by Kabasele.

Capoue takes a corner

Capoue takes a corner

At the other end, Sánchez broke into the box and shot, but Gomes saved with his feet.  Against the run of play, Arsenal increased their lead with five minutes of the half remaining, as Sanchez met a cross from Walcott, the shot appeared to have been cleared off the line but, for the second game running, the goalline technology indicated that a goal had been scored.  The visitors could have been further ahead as Walcott had a shot from a tight angle saved by Gomes.   The third goal came in time added on at the end of the half as Özil appeared out of nowhere to head a Sánchez cross home.  It was a quality goal, but the scoreline was very harsh on the Hornets who had made a game of it once they had gone behind.  My reaction at half time was “Please make it stop.”  Most others among the home fans were booing the referee.

At the start of the second period we saw the introduction of Pereyra in place of Guedioura.  The lad who sits next to me remarked, “Unless he can walk on water, I’m not sure that he can live up to these levels of expectation.”  Soon after, the less heralded Janmaat replaced Kabasele.  Watford had a great chance to pull one back after some great work from Ighalo who beat a couple of challenges before passing to Amrabat who found Capoue whose powerful shot was saved by Cech.

Congratulating the new boy, Pereyra, on his goal

Congratulating the new boy, Pereyra, on his goal

Watford finally made the breakthrough on 57 minutes as a shot from Capoue was blocked, but the ball dropped to Pereyra who beat Cech to score with his first shot for the Hornets.  The home side could have pulled another one back when a lovely cross from Janmaat was met by Holebas whose shot required a good save from Cech to keep it out; Ighalo’s follow-up was blocked.  Watford had another great chance as a throw was headed on by an Arsenal player to Ighalo whose overhead kick was only just over the bar.  Amrabat’s last action of the game was a foul on Wilshere.  As he was about to be substituted he ran off the pitch and had to be recalled from the depths of the dugout to be shown the yellow card.  Well it made me smile.  Success was the player who took his place, and he almost made an immediate impact as he met a corner from Capoue with a header that flew just wide.  Pereyra, who had made an impressive debut, turned provider as he laid the ball off to Behrami who shot just wide.  At the other end, there was a rare second half chance for the Gunners as a mistake from Kaboul allowed Sánchez a shot on goal, but a flying save from Gomes stopped it.  As we reached time added on at the end of the second half, Arsenal received their first booking of the game as Wilshere was punished for a foul on Capoue.  This was met by loud, ironic cheers from the Rookery faithful.  In a game that was far from dirty, Watford had managed to amass 6 yellow cards while, Sánchez, who stats showed had committed the most fouls in the game, remained card-free.

An attacking corner

An attacking corner

The game finished to applause for the second half performance and boos for the officials.  As the players congratulated each other, it was interesting to see Gomes and Cech deep in conversation and then swapping shirts.

It had been a very encouraging performance from the Watford lads, especially in the second half.  Some commented that Arsenal were already three up at the start of the half so didn’t have to do much, but that seemed rather churlish and unfair to the guys who worked so hard and didn’t let their heads drop when 3 goals behind.  Amrabat and Capoue continue to perform well and the new guys all looked good.  If Pereyra didn’t actually walk on water he certainly showed why he is so widely admired within the game.  I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do once he gets to know his team mates.  Ighalo also had an encouraging game creating a couple of decent chances, which was pleasing to see.

Sadly, there was also confirmation of the news that Vydra had moved to Derby, so those that believed he was saying goodbye as he was substituted on Tuesday were proved correct.  This was rather disappointing if not surprising.  I must admit that, while I have very fond memories of that stunning half season, I have been a little surprised at the hero’s welcome that he has had on every appearance this season.  It is a real shame that he never built on the great start that he had.  He has a chance of a new start at Derby.  I wish him well and hope that he finally realizes his potential.

After the international break, we have the last of our run of nightmare games to start the season and it will be in the following run of games that we see what this team is capable of.  On the basis of this performance, I am very much looking forward to it.

A Day to Forget at the Emirates

Welcome to the Clock End

Welcome to the Clock End

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

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

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

Daddy and mascot Myles

Daddy and mascot Myles

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

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

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

Ake takes a throw

Ake takes a throw

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

Watson lays the ball off to Guedioura

Watson lays the ball off to Guedioura

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

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

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

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

Guedioura taking a corner

Guedioura taking a corner

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

Ake on the wing

Ake on the wing

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

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