After a busy and frustrating day at work followed by a sweltering train journey, it was a relief finally to get to Watford and think only about football. On leaving the station, the Coventry fans were already making their presence felt as they appeared to have taken over the pub formerly known as The Flag and were in very good voice. Leaving them behind, I was soon in the West Herts for a well-earned pint. It has to be said that the club was not particularly busy, so we were not overly concerned at leaving a little later than we usually do, after all there wouldn’t be any queues to get in to the ground. As we turned into Occupation Road, our assumption was shown to be rather rash as Richard joined a longer than usual line to get into the SEJ and I was horrified to see a queue from the back of the Rookery reaching half-way up Occupation Road. I had my fingers crossed that the crowd was heading for the ticket office rather than the turnstiles. Thankfully it was and I was in the ground in plenty of time for kick-off.
I met up with the family in our usual seats. Our Cate had brought her goddaughter, Evie, for her first game. Seeing her resplendent in yellow shirt and yellow, red and black face-paint made me smile and just hope that the lads would do us proud in front of her.
The first sight of the Vicarage Road stand was impressive. Coventry had been given the whole end and their fans had come in droves, which was great to see.
The team news had come through in the West Herts and there had been a game of “guess the line-up”. It has to be said that nobody was scoring highly. I was probably alone in welcoming the selection of Gomes in goal but, after his incredible service to us, I couldn’t bear the thought of his last game being the cup final.
The starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Mariappa, Kabasele, Foulquier; Pereyra, Chalobah, Quina, Sarr; Welbeck, Success. Watford Academy graduate, Brandon Mason, started for the visitors.
The first thing that I noted down was some lovely footwork from Quina, but the first chance of the game fell to the visitors as the Watford defence stopped, expecting a free kick to be awarded to Coventry, but the referee played advantage allowing O’Hare to break forward and unleash a shot that was wide of the target. Watford’s first chance came as Pereyra played in Welbeck, but the shot was high and wide. The best chance of the game so far came on the half hour with a cracking shot from Pereyra that required a smart save by Wilson in the Coventry goal. The resulting corner tested the keeper, but he managed to make the catch at the second attempt.
The Hornets took the lead in the 36th minute when Success played a perfect through ball for Sarr who shot across Wilson into the opposite corner to score on his full debut. At this point, the “How sh*t must you be …” song rang out from our fans. That took the post-goal smile off my face. Why do fans spend so much energy abusing the opposition instead of supporting their own team? There was a scare for the Hornets when Chalobah missed a tackle allowing Kelly to break forward, but his shot from distance was well over the target. The visitors had a chance to level the game in time added on at the end of the half as Dabo broke forward, but salvation came in the unexpected form of Success who was back to stop the shot and concede a corner that came to nothing.
At half-time, Marvin Sordell, who had previously played for both sides, was the guest on the field. I well remember watching him as a youngster and have been saddened by news of his mental health struggles over the years which have led to his premature retirement from the game. I am delighted that he was given a tremendous reception as he walked along the front of the Rookery.
The visitors made a change at half-time replacing Mason with McCallum. They also had the first chance of the half, but a tackle from Janmaat ensured that a dangerous through ball into the box came to nothing. Sarr looked to have lost the ball, due to a heavy touch, but raced down the wing after it and was able to put in a cross for Welbeck who had a couple of defenders on him so was unable to shoot. Welbeck had another chance soon after when the ball came back to him via Janmaat, but his overhead kick was wide of the target. A poor back pass from Mariappa nearly put the Hornets in trouble, but Gomes was out quickly to make the clearance. Sarr went on another run and crossed, this time for Quina, but the youngster skyed his shot. Coventry threatened with a low cross from Eccles, but Gomes was able to make the save. Watford threatened again after a cross from Foulquier was blocked but fell to Chalobah whose shot was deflected over the target. Ten minutes into the half, Watford scored a second goal as Success found Janmaat who advanced and hit a lovely shot into the top corner. I breathed a sigh of relief at this point. I know that 2-0 is a dangerous score, but surely the game was now ours. Watford continued to attack as Sarr went on a brilliant run before crossing for Success whose shot was blocked.
Coventry made a second substitution bringing Godden on for Kastaneer. The substitute tried to make a name for himself, but his shot was well over the bar. Each side made a change on 64 minutes as Peñaranda replaced Pereyra for the home side and Eccles made way for Shipley for the visitors. There was another lovely move from the Hornets as Sarr released Janmatt who found Welbeck who appeared to get the ball caught under his feet before shooting just wide. The third goal came on 69 minutes and was a beauty from Peñaranda who picked up the ball on the edge of the box and powered it into the top corner. Gracia introduced another new face as Sarr was replaced by Dele-Bashiru, who almost scored with his first touch of the game after receiving a lovely pass from Success, but his shot was just wide of the target. The only caution of the game went to Dabo, who was booked for a foul on Success. Chalobah stepped up to take the free kick and it was a wonderful attempt, but Wilson made the save. Peñaranda had a chance to increase the lead further, but his shot cleared the bar. Another lovely move involving Peñaranda and Janmaat deserved a better outcome, but the shot from the Dutchman cleared the bar. A rare second half attack from the visitors finished with O’Hare going down after a series of challenges, but nothing was given. The Hornets had one last chance in the game as Janmaat went on a lovely run before putting in a cross, but there was no Watford man to get on the end of it and it was headed clear.
So at last a win, our first since the trip to Huddersfield in April. It may have been against lower division opposition, but it was convincing and therapeutic. All three goals were gorgeous, and it was great to see Sarr and Peñaranda getting their first goals for the club. It was also pleasing to see a clean sheet at last. A lot of the football was impressive, demonstrating the depth of our squad, but the only player that I would consider for a start on Saturday is Janmaat who was superb. That said, I look forward to Sarr and Welbeck gaining full fitness as they will be a lot of fun to watch.
A special mention must go to the Coventry fans who, despite having little to cheer, were loud and proud in support of their team throughout the game.
But the most important news of the evening was that Evie enjoyed her first football match. She would love to come again, although my suggestion that, as she is now our lucky mascot, she should make the trip to Newcastle fell on deaf ears, and that was before she heard about the steps to the away end. Youngsters!!