Another Saturday game, but also another on television meaning a stupid kick-off time. This time at 12:30, which is the worst time for a football match. I left home bright and early and, due to the timing of my trains, was outside the designated pub about 20 minutes before it opened so, as I refused to take refuge in the Wetherspoons next door, I sat on the side of the river in the drizzle watching an intrepid fellow constructing his windsurf board. I love the water as much as the next guy, but that seemed a little adventurous on such a miserable day.
When the pub opened, I bought a couple of pints and found a cosy corner to wait for my party to gather. The early kick-off meant that it really didn’t seem like time for football, but the walk to Craven Cottage has to be the nicest in the league and I enjoyed the stroll along the Thames through the park to the ground. On entry, I decided to find the Ladies, which I was told was under the stand. Instead of the usual entrance, there was a series of doors allowing multiple queues and complete privacy. I was also impressed to see that there were free sanitary products in the cubicles. Well done, Fulham, for that gesture.
Team news was, as expected, an unchanged team for the sixth league game this season, so the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deeney, Gray. The opposition dugout would, of course, contain Slaviša Jokanović, the man who took the Hornets to the Premier League, and the lovely Marco Cesarini, former head of medical at Watford, even if he is mostly remembered for translating for Beppe Sannino.
The game started brilliantly for the Hornets as, in the second minute, Hughes cut the ball back to Gray who finished smartly past Bettinelli in the Fulham goal to ensure that the away stand started shaking bright and early in the game. The goal celebration continued with an inflatable woman in a Watford shirt bouncing around the stand. Fulham tried to strike back as Johansen broke into the box, but Foster was out to save at his feet. Vietto was the next to try his luck, drawing a save from Foster before latching on to the loose ball and shooting wide of the far post. At the other end, Deeney met a low cross from Gray with a shot that was blocked for a corner. The corner was met by the head of Kabasele, but his effort was blocked on the line by Sessegnon. Watford had a couple of great chances to increase their lead. First a Watford free-kick was saved, but the Fulham keeper could only push it out to Doucouré who hit a delicate shot wide when if he’d wellied it it would have hit the back of the net! Then a clearance fell to Gray whose close range shot was blocked by Bettinelli. A Fulham break was frustrated by the Watford defence who refused to allow Mitrović a sight of goal. As Kabasele amiably reacted to some grief he was getting from the Fulham fans, I couldn’t help noticing that those at the front of the stand were wearing the “Come on Fulham” clappers that had been left on seats as hoods to protect them from the rain. The first booking went to Mawson for a nasty foul on Pereyra. This was followed by another booking for an even worse foul on Deeney by Fosu-Mensah, who was possibly lucky to stay on the pitch. Doucouré then impressed and frustrated in equal measure, beating a couple of players before hitting a shot that was weak and straight at the keeper. There was a huge shout for a penalty when Gray got on the end of a through ball and passed to Hughes, who was taken out by Mawson, but the referee waved play on while we all looked at each other in amazement. At the other end, Mitrović fell over Hughes in the box and made his own penalty claim, thankfully his was also given short shrift by the referee. With five minutes to go to half-time, the Watford substitutes all paraded past us on the way to the dressing room. I know many fans try to beat the crowds to get to the tea bar, but this was the first time that I had seen that from the players. There was one last chance for the Hornets to increase their lead before half time, but Pereyra’s curling shot flew just wide of the far post.
So we reached half time a goal to the good, but the consensus was that we should have finished Fulham off. We had dominated the half, but not made enough of our chances.
As the half time tannoy announcer did his stuff, I couldn’t help missing the voice of Diddy David Hamilton.
As the teams came out for the second half, Jokanović was warmly applauded by the travelling Hornets, but I don’t think he realised that the applause was for him as he didn’t react. He made two changes at the break with Mawson and McDonald making way for Odoi and Ayité. The changes immediately made a difference and the hosts started strongly. First, a cross from Schürrle was headed over by Mitrović, then Vietto advanced but his shot was high and wide. Watford’s first booking went to Holebas for what looked like a decent tackle on Vietto. Watford’s first goal attempt of the second half came as Doucouré played the ball out to Gray whose low shot was saved by Bettinelli. Pereyra then almost played the visitors into trouble as he tried to dribble out of defence but lost the ball, thankfully the resulting header from Mitrović was deflected for a corner. Jokanović made his final substitution on 63 minutes bringing Anguissa on for Johansen. Deeney had a great chance to increase the lead for the visitors, but was too greedy and ran into a defender who forced him to shoot wide when maybe he should have passed to someone in a better position. Gracia made his first substitution as Femenía came on for Hughes. The home side equalised on 78 minutes as a low cross from Vietto was turned home by Mitrović. It was frustrating, but on the balance of play in the second half, it felt as though it had been coming. Gracia made his second change soon after bringing Success on for Gray. Watford should have regained the lead on 84 minutes as Deeney gained possession and powered into the box but, on this occasion, he wasn’t selfish enough as he tried to play in Success and his cross was cut out. The Nigerian then had a chance of his own but his low shot was saved. At the other end, the home side nearly took the lead with a fabulous shot from Mitrović that required a wonderful flying save from Foster to keep it out. The resulting corner was met by the head of Mitrović, but Foster came to the rescue again, getting a touch on it to push it on to the crossbar. There was a late substitution from the Hornets as Sema came on for Pereyra. In time added on Watford had a couple of chances to snatch a victory. First, Success unleashed a rocket of a shot from distance, but it was well over the target. Then Foster launched a free kick which was headed down by Deeney towards Success but the keeper gathered. Just before the final whistle, a tap on the shoulder alerted me to the sight of the Queen’s rowbarge, Gloriana, passing by the ground on the Thames. Obviously hoping to get glimpse of the Golden Boys.
So, for the second week running, we came away disappointed at the result. I think we would all have taken a point before the game, but our first half performance was such that we should have been further ahead at half-time and, had that happened, it seemed unlikely that the home side would have been able to recover. Instead, Fulham were still in the game at the break and Jokanović made changes that strengthened his team, who pressed harder against the Hornets who then misplaced more passes and allowed the home side to threaten more. Still, it was another terrific game for the neutral, this season has seen some excellent entertainment and that is something to be enjoyed.