Tag Archives: Andre Gray

The Return of Silva

Deeney versus Keane

The return of Marco Silva to Vicarage Road had been hotly anticipated, although his recent on-field problems had led to many Watford fans being concerned that he may be sacked before they played us.  There had been some negative reports in the press relating to a fans forum that had taken place in a London pub during the week.  These related to some very innocuous comments that Deeney had made when asked whether the players knew what the Everton game meant to the fans.  He basically said that the fans shouldn’t have a go at Everton as it would motivate them, but that the players would do the job (I’m paraphrasing here).  He was also very positive in talking about Richarlison, saying he had done nothing wrong.  Sadly the language that he had used was a little ripe, so the reports built his comments into an attack that provided a rallying cry for Everton, which was a shame as it was nothing of the kind.  On the subject of that forum, Scott Duxbury, Fillippo Giraldi and Troy Deeney came along to a London pub on a Wednesday night to answer questions fired at them from a crowd of fans.  This took place in a crowded bar and I have to give credit to them all for coming along and answering all of the questions openly and honestly.  It was a tremendous evening.

Saturday and we were back to the West Herts for our only home game in February.  While we may be only occasional visitors at the moment, it is always lovely to gather at ‘our’ table and the beer and jerk chicken were both excellent.

Holebas takes a throw in

Team news was that Gracia had made just the one change from the Brighton game with the welcome return of Doucouré in place of Cleverley.  I must admit that I was a bit disappointed to hear that Femenía hadn’t even made the bench.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Sema; Deulofeu and Deeney.  This would be Holebas’s 100th appearance for the club.  Everton’s starting XI included Richarlison, the announcement of whose name was met with a mixture of boos and applause.  Emma Saunders then welcomed Marco Silva back, which elicited only boos.  On the way into the ground I couldn’t help noticing how many fans had turned up with plastic snakes.

As the teams came out, the “Audentior” banner was raised over the middle of the Rookery.  We were under this when the announcement was made of a minute’s appreciation for Emiliano Sala, which was honoured with applause from those of us under the flag.

Deulofeu orchestrates proceedings

Watford had a great chance to take the lead in the 10th minute as Janmaat crossed for Deeney who chested the ball down to Capoue but the shot from close range was turned over the bar by Pickford.  At the other end a dangerous cross from Richarlison was headed clear by Mariappa before it could reach Tosun.  Richarlison went down rather too easily (nothing new there) to win a free kick.  Digne’s effort reached Keane who headed goalwards, but it was an easy save for Foster.  The visitors had another chance as Zouma latched on to a cross from Digne, it was a much better header but Foster was equal to it.  At the other end a cross from Hughes went straight to the keeper.  Watford then made problems for themselves as a misplaced pass, while trying to clear the ball, led to Tosun gaining possession, thankfully his powerful shot was stopped by Foster.  Watford then had a chance as Deulofeu crossed towards Hughes, but Zouma intervened and headed over the bar.  Deulofeu threatened again, this time his shot was blocked.  Watford could have taken the lead in the last minute of the half as Pickford dropped a free kick, but they couldn’t capitalise on the mistake so the half ended goalless.

Steve Sherwood was the guest for the half time draw.  He will still have nightmares over a certain game against Everton, so it was very gratifying to see the incredible reception that he was given as he walked along the front of the Rookery.  He looked very happy as he applauded the fans back.

Goal celebration with Chalobah very happy for Gray

At the start of the second half, Gracia replaced Sema with Gray, a positive move.  Everton had the first chance of the second half with a shot from Sigurdsson that hit the top of the crossbar.  Holebas then tried his luck with a shot from outside the area that flew wide of the far post.  A deep corner from Holebas caused Pickford some concern, but the ball bounced off an Everton player for a corner which wasn’t given as the referee believed there had been a push on the keeper.  Just after the hour mark, the visitors made their first change bringing Walcott on for Gomes.  Watford had another decent chance with an angled shot from Holebas that flew just wide of the target as Deeney was bearing down on goal but couldn’t quite reach it.  The goal came on 65 minutes and started with a gorgeous pass by Cathcart to Hughes who put in a low cross for Gray to power past Pickford from close range and send the Hornets fans wild.  Marco Silva was then serenaded with a chorus of “Sacked in the morning.”  Before the restart, Richarlison was replaced by Bernard and left the field to a chorus of “50 million, you’re having a laugh.”  I must say that I felt sorry for young Ricky.  He had started brightly enough, but soon found himself in Holebas’s pocket and was reduced to falling over looking for sympathy which quickly elicited the opposite reaction.  Deeney received the first booking of the game for a challenge on Zouma.

Doucoure and Janmaat taking a breather

Watford had a chance to grab a second when a Holebas corner was cleared to Mariappa whose shot cleared the bar.  Silva made another change with 15 minutes remaining, bringing Calvert-Lewin on for Sigurdsson.  Everton attempted to hit back as a cross from Walcott found Tosun, but his shot flew wide of the target.  Gracia made his second substitution bringing Cleverley on for Deulofeu, who had had another frustrating afternoon.  Holebas received his 10th booking of the season for a push on Walcott.  It was needless and means that we will lose him for two games, just when he is in such tremendous form.  The resultant free kick rebounded off the top of the crossbar, but it had never looked likely to trouble Foster.   Zouma wrestled Hughes off the ball in midfield, which was completely within the laws of the game according to Lee Probert, so he was allowed to break upfield and cross for Calvert-Lewin who, thankfully, headed wide of the target.  Gracia made his final change in the last minute of normal time, bringing Chalobah on for Hughes.  There were four minutes of added time during which Everton had a couple of chances to gain a point.  First a free kick from Digne was headed goalwards by Calvert-Lewin, but Foster was behind it.  In the last minute of added time, Bernard crossed for Tosun whose header looked as though it was flying in, so there were a lot of very relieved Hornets when the ball cleared the bar, although Tosun was in an offside position so any goal would have been disallowed, but we didn’t know that as our hearts raced.

Deeney, Cathcart and Capoue gather for a corner

The final whistle went to tremendous celebrations among the Watford fans, who belted out “Javi Gracia, he’s better than you,” with a renewed vigour.  Mariappa came over, as he usually does, and gave his shirt to a young fan, before a tremendous fist pumping celebration that showed exactly what this win meant.  As icing on the cake, Zouma, who had been a niggly and unpleasant presence during the game, had words with the referee after the final whistle and earned himself two yellow cards and a sending off.

As we walked along Vicarage Road away from the ground, we could see something going on by the Everton coaches.  There was a crowd by the cemetery wall looking in and first reports were that there had been a stabbing, although that was proved wrong after the game.  But two Watford fans were hospitalised, one with a nasty head injury.  As someone who started to go to football matches in 1979, these scenes were seen on a weekly basis in those days but had become a rarity in recent times.  I really hope that it remains that way.

That was a sad end to what had been a good day.  It hadn’t been a classic game by any stretch of the imagination, but the Marco Silva factor meant that there was an edge to the game that spurred on both the crowd and the players.  The second half had been much better for the Hornets.  The introduction of Andre Gray made a difference, he was linking up well with Deeney and took his goal very well.  The defence had been superb.  Both Cathcart and Mariappa were assured and solid.  Holebas was magnificent, giving Richarlison no room to play.  And Janmaat was excellent, making my pre-game disappointment at the absence of Femenía look rather foolish.  The return of Doucouré was very welcome, he makes such a difference especially as he allows Capoue to shine.  So, not a brilliant performance, but still very pleasing and a deserved win against a team that were thought to be a step up for Marco Silva last season.

We go into the FA Cup weekend comfortably in 8th place.  It will be very interesting to see what the team is next week, but we have to give of our best as, for a team in our position, a cup run can only be a positive thing.

The Ballad of Jose’s Gloves

Captain Troy Deeney

On Saturday, Watford played their third away game in 8 days.  Thankfully, this was the second with an easy journey, this time to the south coast.  I changed trains at Clapham Junction where I bumped into Jacque.  As we sat on the train, Pete appeared looking for Richard, who was also supposed to have been on that train, but had left an hour earlier so was already in Lewes.  As we disembarked on arrival, there were a lot of familiar faces who had also chosen this as their pre-match meeting place.  On the walk to the pub, I admired the pretty town of Lewes that I only ever visit fleetingly on the way to Falmer or Glyndebourne, and determined to make a proper visit to take in their football ground, the wonderfully named Dripping Pan.

We have very happy memories of the pub in Lewes as we were there the day that Watford won promotion to the Premier League, attracting quizzical looks from the others in the beer garden as we cheered and hugged following the confirmation of the final scores from around the country. The pub had recently undergone a refurbishment, and it has to be said that the food and the beer were both excellent.

After lunch we took the short journey to Falmer and, on arrival at the ground contemplated the best way to head to the away end (which is about half way around the ground).  A helpful local pointed to the left and I had to agree that the gentle slope is definitely preferable to the flights of steps at the other side (we had enough of those at Newcastle).

Sema, Cathcart and Capoue looking quizzical

Team news was that Gracia had made just the one change from the Spurs game in mid-week with Sema in for Pereyra, who had picked up a knock in training.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Hughes, Cleverley, Capoue, Sema; Deulofeu and Deeney.

The concourse at the ground has the appearance of being huge, so it always baffles me that it is always so packed and you have to fight through the crowd to get to your seat.  The game kicked off on an icy afternoon and took a while to get going, so I wasn’t moved to retrieve the notebook from my bag until the 17th minute when Janmaat crossed for Deeney whose header was just wide of the target.  Brighton’s first chance of note was a shot from distance from Bissouma that flew high and wide.  The next chance fell to Groß who shot wide of the near post.  Locadia was the next to try his luck, but his shot was high and wide.  Brighton threatened again from a free kick, but the header from Dunk was wide of the target.

Holebas preparing for a free kick without his gloves

The most entertaining moment of the first half came on the half hour as Holebas battled with March on the wing and ended up giving away the first corner of the game.  In typical Jose manner he then walked towards the goal to defend the set piece, looking furious as only he can.  He was looking for someone or something to blame, and suddenly focussed on his gloves which were ripped from his hands and thrown behind the goal line.  I realise that this loses a lot in translation, but it caused great amusement to the Holebas fans in our party.  Thankfully, for Jose’s blood pressure as much as anything else, the corner came to nothing.  Brighton had another chance to take the lead as a free kick reached Pröpper at the far post but he fired wide.  Foster, who had been a spectator to this point, was then called into action to claim a cross from Locadia while under challenge from Murray.  The first shot on target came in the 41st minute as a lovely cross from Groß was met by the head of Locadia, Foster did brilliantly to push the ball clear.  And that was it for a very dull first half.

Janmaat launching a throw-in

Brighton started the second half with a dangerous looking corner from March that Foster tipped over the bar, but he was being fouled at the time so won a free kick.  Watford had a rare goal attempt as a long ball was headed down by Deeney to Hughes, whose shot was poor and going wide when Ryan dropped to make the save.  The Hornets created a better chance as Janmaat crossed for Sema but his header was just over the target.  It had been the brightest spell of the game for the Hornets but Ryan didn’t have to make a save worthy of the name and it was very short lived.  Normal service resumed as Brighton attacked with a Groß free kick that was headed wide by Murray.  With 20 minutes to go, each side made a substitution as Gray replaced Deulofeu, who had another disappointing game, for the Hornets, and Murray made way for Andone for the Seagulls.  The next goal attempt was a good reflection of the quality of the game as Locadia’s effort went out for a throw in.  His next effort was considerably better, the header appeared to be goalbound until Foster pulled off another brilliant save to keep it out.  The resulting corner was flicked on by Dunk to Duffy who tried an overhead kick that was blocked on the line by Foster.  Gracia made another change as Sema was replaced by Quina, presumably to inject a bit of pace into Watford’s game.

Adrian Mariappa (still wearing his shirt)

The Hornets really should have taken the lead during a scramble in the Brighton box.  It was right in front of us and there seemed to be a number of opportunities to get a shot in, but each time another pass was made.  Hughes and Gray were both in the box and you felt that one of them had to score but, bizarrely, the ball then spent some time motionless between the legs of a defender before it was finally cleared without the keeper having to get involved.  Brighton threatened again as Andone advanced into the Watford box, but Foster was out to clear.  It was end to end at this point and the Hornets had a decent chance when Capoue found Hughes but the shot was from an acute angle and hit the side netting.  Andone had another chance to snatch a winner as he turned and unleashed a shot that cleared the bar.  The home side had one last opportunity to take all three points but Bissouma’s shot from distance flew just wide of the target and the game ended goalless.

After the final whistle, as is their habit, Deeney and Mariappa came over to give their shirts to fans.  On seeing that Mapps was not wearing an undershirt, I couldn’t help but exclaim, “You’ll catch your death!!”  However, the shirts were a distraction from the real prize which was Jose’s gloves that were still lying by the goal where they had been discarded.  Unfortunately we were too far back to claim them and some lucky fan alerted an official who retrieved them and handed them over.  I was green with envy.

Magnificent Ben Foster

On the way out of the ground, we walked past the celebratory banners.  When the ground was first opened, these were of heroes from Brighton’s history, but they have been replaced with a series celebrating last season’s Premier League campaign, which was rather interesting but not a patch on Norman Wisdom.

We headed back to Lewes, although nearly missed our stop as nobody on the station had bothered to mention the fact that the doors in the rear carriages of the train would not open, this meant that there was a rather extended stop at Lewes station as the majority of the passengers in the rear four coaches left the train through the same door.

We headed back to the pub for the post game analysis, although there was little to discuss.  It had been a very dull game in which Watford failed to manage a shot on target.  The defence had again been impressive and restricted the opportunities for the home side who, any time they did manage to break through, were faced with the barrier that is Ben Foster, who put in yet another man of the match performance.  But, despite the lack of entertainment on the pitch, results mostly went our way, so we remain eighth in the table with a decent cup tie to come.  When these dull games have been forgotten (they almost have already), this will be remembered as a good season to have followed the Hornets.

 

Gorgeous Goals Brighten a Poor Game

The impeccable Ben Wilmot

When the draw for the fourth round was made and we were paired with either Blackburn or Newcastle, the waiting game started.  Train tickets could not be bought until we knew where we would be playing.  Also, as the match tickets were going on sale the morning after the replay, I had the task of drawing up two lists of attendees dependent on the outcome.  There were more takers for Blackburn, even though the consensus was that they would be a tougher opponent than Newcastle.  But Newcastle it was (again).

I left London bright and early and found myself on the same train as a fellow member of WML who I had notified of the pre-match pub, so I met up with him to ensure that he found it with no difficulties.  When we arrived, a couple of our party were already at the bar and had grabbed a table in the little enclosed area.  A well-dressed older couple then arrived and sat down to do their crossword.  This was shortly before a large contingent of Happy Valley and North West Horns descended and ruined their peace.  To be fair to them they took being surrounded by football fans in their stride and the crossword was duly completed.

Masina preparing for a corner

Team news was that Gracia had made wholesale changes, although this was hardly a second string as it did include the return of Cathcart and Hughes from injury as well as a number of others who have featured in the league this season.  So, the starting XI was Gomes; Janmaat, Cathcart, Britos, Masina; Quina, Wilmot, Chalobah; Success, Gray, Hughes.  We had been aware of the inclusion of Wilmot before the team was announced as his grandparents had bumped into Mike outside the pub.  Criticism by both pundits and fans of Watford’s changes ignored the fact that Newcastle, who have both a weaker team and squad than us, had made 7 changes of their own.  While I fully agree that we should be making every effort to advance in the cup, my feeling was that this was a team that had enough quality to beat Newcastle and I was very much looking forward to seeing more from Quina and Wilmot.

When we arrived at the away end turnstiles, the woman performing the search asked if I would be using the lift.  I wasn’t sure whether it was my heavy rucksack or my advancing age and girth that prompted the question, but assured her that I would take the stairs.  She then commented that she always takes the lift, so I decided not to take offence.  As we scaled the 14 flights, I was chatting to a friend, so lost track of our progress and was just wondering whether to stop for a much needed breather when I saw the top floor appear so soldiered on.  It always feels like an accomplishment to arrive at the top without the use of supplemental oxygen.  As we took our place in the stand, it was clear that there were plenty of empty seats in both the home and away ends.  Our allocation of 6000 was never going to be filled, but the temptation of £10 tickets had not attracted a huge home following either.

Quina on the ball

Watford made a very bright start with a brilliant shot from distance from Quina which needed a decent save from Woodman in the Newcastle goal to keep it out.  The next chance of note came from a free kick just outside the area which Chalobah hit just over the bar.  From that point, there was nothing worth retrieving my notebook for until the 23rd minute when Janmaat hit a terrible shot that was way off target.  Pete reckoned that his playing badly was a deliberate ploy to stop the home fans booing him.  Watford had a great chance to open the scoring when Quina played a lovely pass to Hughes, who slipped a through ball into the path of Gray but the shot was wide of the target, although it wouldn’t have counted as the offside flag was up.  Newcastle had offered little going forward and an attempt at a break by Murphy was stopped by a very good tackle from Britos.  And that was it for the first half.  The announcer on the pitch introducing the half-time competition summed it up when he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, if any of you are still awake …..”

Gray being congratulated on his goal

There was also a bright start to the second half as Hughes played a ball over the top for Gray to run on to, he broke clear of the defence but shot high and wide when he should at least have tested Woodman.  Success, who was having a frustrating afternoon, then lost out to a defender and clearly felt as though he had been manhandled (he hadn’t) so collapsed dramatically in the box and then had to get up and get on with it when it was clear that nobody cared.  It was as well that I was in the top stand half a mile from the pitch at that point as I was tempted to give him a slap.  Another chance went begging after some nice play around the edge of the Newcastle box finished with the ball with Gray who ran into a couple of defenders and lost the ball.  The first booking of the game went to Wilmot for a foul on Joselu.  The breakthrough for the Hornets came just after the hour mark as Hughes played a gorgeous through ball to Gray who finished past Woodman and continued his run to celebrate in front of the Watford fans up in the gods.  Peñaranda had been readied to come on, presumably for Gray, just before the goal.  He immediately put his bib back on.  Watford’s second booking went to Chalobah for a foul on Kenedy.  The home side should have equalized when Manquillo went on a decent run, Gomes came out to meet him but failed to stop the shot, however the impeccable Wilmot was on hand to head the ball off the line.

Success celebrating his goal in the distance

Gracia made his first change on 68 minutes finally bringing Peñaranda on for Gray.  Soon after, Chalobah broke forward but, with options to either side, played a through ball to where Gray would have been had he not been substituted a couple of minutes earlier.  Benitez made a double substitution bringing Pérez and Atsu on for Murphy and Ritchie.  The decision to replace Ritchie was greeted with loud boos from the home fans.  Britos was then booked for a foul on Pérez.  Each side made a final substitution with Schär replacing Fernandez for the home side and Chalobah making way for Capoue for the Hornets.  Newcastle had a chance to grab an equaliser in the final minutes of normal time when a defensive header fell to Pérez on the edge of the box from where he shot over the target.  The home side attacked again but a cross from Atsu was easily gathered by Gomes.  Watford made certain of their place in the fifth round with a lovely goal that started with Peñaranda playing the ball out to Quina, his cross found Success in space in the box to finish from close range and make me feel ever so slightly guilty for moaning about him all afternoon.  The home side had a chance to grab a consolation as Joselu crossed for Pérez, but his shot missed the target and the final whistle went on a comfortable win for the Hornets.

Chalobah getting back to his best

The heavens had opened towards the end of the second half, so we were absolutely drenched by the time that we reached the pub at the station.  As we sat down with our drinks for the post-match analysis, the most astute observation was that it appeared that two moments of quality from a different match had been inserted into a dreadful game.  The best cup ties are blood and thunder games where all of the players appear desperate to win.  This was certainly not one of those, but Watford had done enough to deserve the win and there had certainly been some bright points.  As he has been in every performance so far, Quina was a joy to watch.  He plays with a confidence that belies his years, has a wonderful touch and a brilliant eye for a pass.  I found myself almost purring with delight every time he got the ball.  Wilmot again showed what a great prospect he is.  He started the game playing in a defensive midfield position but later moved into the centre of defence allowing Masina to play further forward.  In both roles, he was composed and appeared totally in control of his surroundings.  He really does look like a young Cathcart and having two of them in the squad is something to treasure.  Of the players returning to first team action, Britos put in a decent shift in the defence and Chalobah put in the best performance that we have seen since his return.  He looked far more comfortable and performed the midfield fulcrum role with some assurance.  That was very pleasing to see.

While the game won’t last long in the memory, it does mean that we are in the fifth round of the cup and, with many of the top teams already out of the competition, this seems like a great opportunity to advance.  I would love a trip to Newport or Barnet/Brentford in the next round.  I just hope that we don’t draw another Premier League team.

While on the way home, I received a message from Pete F that just said “Lucky sea shells.”  I confess that having bought a new coat last weekend, I was superstitious enough to ensure that my shell was transferred and was gratified when Pete B showed that he had also brought his.  Those shells deserve a cup run, I hope that those making the draw agree.

Rainbows Under the Lights

The rainbow display in the Rookery (with thanks to Alice Arnold)

A rare midweek game, so I left work earlier than usual and made my way out to Watford and to the West Herts to meet the usual suspects.  Trond had kindly brought sweets and I was just commenting that this would be some compensation as Glenn (our usual sweetie man) wasn’t around when the man himself appeared through the door and filled the table with goodies, so we all left for the game with a bag of treats.  I had a feeling that this would be a day when we would need some sugar to sweeten the blow of the result.  City’s last two visits to Vicarage Road had seen them scoring 6 and 5 goals with no reply.  The pre-match consensus was that anything less than a four goal defeat would be an achievement.

As this was Watford’s “rainbow laces” game in support of LGBT+ inclusion in sport, the 1881 and the Proud Hornets had worked together to put on a rainbow banner display in the Rookery, which was absolutely magnificent.

Team news was that Gracia had made three changes with Capoue (whose ridiculous red card at Leicester was not rescinded), Mariappa and Deulofeu replaced by Chalobah, Kabasele and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Chalobah, Doucouré, Hughes; Success, Deeney.

Deeney sporting the rainbow captain’s armband

City had the first chance of the game with a shot from distance from David Silva that comfortably cleared the bar.  Watford had a much better chance soon after as Deeney found Pereyra, who beat a defender before curling a shot wide of the far post.  City should have taken the lead when a terrible ball from Pereyra was intercepted by Sané, who was into the box and looked sure to score, but Foster reached up and pushed the shot away for a corner which was turned wide by Kompany.  Foster was the hero again soon after as he made a double/triple save before the ball was finally cleared by Femenía.  Ederson was then called into action as Chalobah hit a volley from 25 yards, but it was an easy save for the City keeper.  So we’d reached the half hour mark with no score, a distinct improvement on previous seasons.  That looked likely to change as Jesus dinked into the box but, yet again, Foster came to the rescue blocking the shot.  Watford had a chance to grab an unlikely lead as Doucouré found Deeney with an overhead kick, the Watford captain got his shot away and it looked as though it was going in when Ederson got a foot to it to keep it out.  Just when we thought we may make it to half time with the game goalless, Mahrez crossed for Sané, who chested the ball past Foster to give the visitors the lead.  They threatened again before half time as Mahrez advanced on goal from what appeared to be an offside position, but he shot into the side netting.

Man of the match, Ben Foster

So we’d managed to reach half time with only a single goal separating the teams.  City had been very impressive indeed, but Watford’s defensive efforts had been decent and Foster was putting in a magnificent performance in goal.  Even better, the guy who had taken the seat behind me during the first half, who I had been sure was there to support City, turned out to be a Roma fan just taking in a game, so I didn’t have someone celebrating an opposition goal over my left shoulder.

The visitors were two goals up five minutes into the second half as Jesus played a low cross to Mahrez who turned it past Foster.  I feared that this may start a landslide.  I was wrong.  Watford had to make a substitution before the restart as Hughes, who had been limping, made way for Quina to make his Premier League debut.  Watford looked to break back as Success found Doucouré about 20 yards out, but his shot was blocked.  City had a chance for a third as a shot from Mahrez deflected up and over Foster, but the ball drifted wide.  Watford made a second substitution as Chalobah made way for Deulofeu.  Success had a chance to reduce the deficit with a shot from just outside the area, but it was well over the bar.  There was danger for the Hornets when Deulofeu slipped, allowing City to mount an attack, thankfully the effort from Jesus was wide of the near post.

Quina hoping to take a free kick before Holebas intervened

Watford had a decent chance as Success met a free kick from Holebas with a header, but Ederson was down to save.  City made their first change with quarter of an hour to go, bringing Gundogan on for David Silva.  An interception from Deeney started a lovely move in which he exchanged passes with Pereyra before finding Doucouré whose shot was saved by Ederson.  Watford then made their final substitution, bringing Gray on for Success.  Mahrez should have had a second goal but Foster got a hand to the shot to keep it out.  City made another change replacing Kompany with Otamendi.  Then the unexpected happened.  Deulofeu did really well to dispossess Delph before crossing for Gray who touched the ball on to Doucouré who fluffed his first attempt, but put the rebound past Ederson.  It wasn’t the most elegant of finishes, but it sent the Rookery into raptures and, suddenly, it was game on.  As the Watford fans cheered their team on, they nearly got an unlikely equaliser as a Holebas corner was headed goalwards by Deeney, but Ederson made the save.  The visitors made a final change to waste some time as Laporte came on for Jesus, who went off at a snail’s place to boos from the home fans.  Ederson joined in the time wasting, including leaving the ball on the roof of the net for an age before a Watford man returned it to him.  I am glad to say that he was booked for his trouble.  In time added on, Watford won a succession of corners, Foster came up to join the fray, but the equalizer didn’t come.  There was still some considerable satisfaction at witnessing the relief from the City players and fans when the final whistle went.

Pushing for the win

So, despite the defeat, we left Vicarage Road with smiles on our faces.  There was certainly no disgrace in losing so narrowly to City and the fighting spirit shown by the team was something to be savoured.  There was an irony that, having managed only one shot on target in our past two games, the lads managed seven against a City side who are far and away the best team in the country.  Special mention must go to Ben Foster, who was absolutely superb in goal, and Quina who made a tidy appearance as a substitute.  We can look forward to good things from him in the future.

So on to Everton on Monday, a game that will be dominated by the presence of Marco Silva in the home dugout.  But I do hope that the travelling fans can concentrate on encouraging the players, as Goodison Park is not a happy hunting ground for us and it would be lovely to come away with a result.

Pride in the Solidarity Off the Field

The tribute banner makes its way around the stand

It is a nice short journey from London to Leicester and the rail connections are excellent, but I was still surprised to arrive at St Pancras and see that there were two trains leaving within 3 minutes of each other, so took another look at my ticket to ensure I was on the one I had booked.  I took my allocated seat and found myself opposite a young Watford fan who was wearing rainbow laces in support of the Stonewall campaign to stop homophobia in the game.  I admired his choice while feeling somewhat ashamed that my boots were zipped, so I was not able to join in.

Arriving in the designated pub before midday, it was already very busy and there were a number of the Watford regular away travellers in situ.  The pub has a great selection of real ale and there was a chocolate orange stout on offer that seemed to be a particular favourite with that group, but I went for the safer option of the local bitter.  Our party soon gathered and one or two did sample the stout, but there were eyebrows raised at my sister’s tipple.  Raspberry gin just doesn’t seem right pre match.

Team news was that Gracia had made two changes bringing Holebas and Success in for Masina and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu and Success.

Doucoure and Capoue

Prior to the teams taking the field, the 1881 unveiled two banners that they had crowdfunded to pay tribute to Khun Vichai and the other victims of the tragic helicopter crash.  When the large one was unfurled, I found myself under it, but I could see the Leicester fans in the stand to the left of us and they were all on their feet applauding.  After a short time the banner was surfed across the stand and it was lovely to see it move from the away to the home stand and to be moved around as it would have been in the Rookery.  The appreciation of the home fans was reflected by the Leicester announcer who started his reading of the team sheets with “To the Watford fans, thank-you.”

Watford had the first chance of the game as Deulofeu and Pereyra combined to advance before finding Doucouré whose shot was deflected for a corner that came to nothing.  But disaster struck for the Hornets on 11 minutes as Vardy ran on to a through ball in to the box, Foster came out to challenge, Vardy went down and the referee pointed to the spot.  The challenge was right in front of us and looked like a definite penalty, although the Leicester man did go down rather easily.  Vardy doesn’t miss those chances and powered past Foster to give the home side an early lead.

Holebas takes a corner

The visitors tried to strike back immediately as some great work led to a corner, the delivery from Holebas was met by the head of Success, but Schmeichel got a hand to it and it went out for another corner.  Watford were two goals down soon after as a mistake in the midfield gifted the ball to the opposition, Albrighton played a long pass to Maddison, who shook off the attentions of the Watford defenders with a bit of ball juggling before volleying past Foster.  The Foxes had a chance to increase their lead further, but Pereira shot over the target.  They threatened again as the ball was played through the legs of Doucouré to Demarai Gray whose shot was deflected for a corner.  This was taken short and turned into a chance for the Hornets when an attempted forward pass hit Deulofeu who broke at speed, and found Success, who should have done better, but shot over the target.  At this point, word spread through the away end that Vichai’s son, Khun Top, would pay for all the food and drink consumed by the away fans at half time.  A lovely gesture.  But there was still action on the pitch and in the last minute of the half Watford won a free kick.  It took an age to take as the referee insisted that it was taken from a certain spot, inches from where it had originally been placed, and Deulofeu’s delivery disappointingly cleared the bar.

So we reached half time two goals down due to Leicester making the most of the few chances that they had.  A decent contingent of the away support made their way to the concourse to drown their sorrows and, as promised, the beer (and tea and coffee) flowed and the tills were closed.

Gathering for a corner

Watford had the first chance of the second half as the ball was crossed to Success in the box, but he had no space and just side footed it into an area occupied by Leicester players.  Then Deulofeu found Success in space in the box and, with an open goal in front of him, he passed the ball to Schmeichel.  Deulofeu broke again, this time finding Pereyra whose shot was agonizingly just wide of the far post.  Gracia made a double substitution at this point with Deulofeu, who had created a great deal, and Pereyra, who had another quiet game, making way for Gray and Deeney.  It was an attacking substitution, but the home side had the next chance and I was mightily relieved to see Demarai Gray’s shot rebound off the post.  The first caution of the game went to Albrighton for handball.  The Hornets should have pulled a goal back when Holebas crossed for Andre Gray, who had a free header but managed to direct it wide of the target.  The Watford man had another chance soon after as Success played the ball back to him, but he wasn’t expecting it and hit a shot that looked more like a cross and drifted wide.  The home side made a couple of substitutions with first Söyüncü replacing Gray and then Iheanacho coming on for Vardy.  Watford had another promising chance as Femenía crossed for Success, he played it back to Gray who horribly miskicked the ball and the danger was gone.  Gracia made his last change bringing Chalobah on for Hughes.  Watford had another chance to get on the scoresheet from a corner as the ball was headed out to Doucouré, but his shot flew over the bar.  Then there was more frustration for the travelling Hornets as a cross from Femenía was blocked, the ball fell to Chalobah but his shot was also blocked.  The first card for the visitors was shown to Success for a high boot, although he didn’t seem to make much contact, so it appeared rather harsh. Puel made his final substitution bringing Iborra on for Evans.  In time added on, the Hornets were reduced to ten men as Capoue was dismissed for a coming together with Iheanacho.  I didn’t see the contact at the time, but the television pictures indicated that it was a very harsh decision.  The last chance of the game fell to the home side as Maddison tried a shot from distance, but Foster was equal to it.

Holebas takes a throw-in

As the players came over to thank the fans they faced the additional challenge of a phalanx of mowers that had been employed to trim the pitch.  Leicester stewards have a reputation for being inflexible and aggressive but this level of weaponry was a new one on me.

After another defeat for the Hornets, the overwhelming feeling among the away following was frustration.  It had not been a bad performance, but our defence had been unable to cope with the Leicester counter attacks, while our domination of the possession and goal attempts did not lead to one on target shot.  For all the complaints about tactics and personnel, all the ‘strikers’ had their chances and not one of them tested the Leicester keeper.  It is hard to know how to remedy that.  We face Manchester City on Tuesday and, given their form, I am sorely tempted to go to the Herts Senior Cup game in Leverstock Green instead (I won’t).

But, despite the disappointment on the pitch, what we will remember from this game is the kindness of the 1881 in commissioning a banner to pay tribute to Leicester’s chairman and the reaction that this provoked from both his family and the fans.  It was an emotional moment as the banner was unfurled in the away end, but when I saw Top’s reaction on Match of the Day, it was clear how much it meant to him.  There are bitter rivalries on the pitch, but we are all football fans and that camaraderie between fans of different teams in times of trouble is what makes being a football fan special.  Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was not a Leicester native, but he made a tremendous difference to the lives of the people of that city and will be fondly remembered for what he did for both the football team and the city.  May he rest in peace.

No Penalty, No Points, But No Shame

Meeting Javi

My Journey to the game was rather more eventful than I was expecting as an incident further up the line meant that my train into London stopped at Feltham.  As there were buses heading to Hatton Cross, that seemed the best bet and a bus and four different tube trains later I arrived in Watford.  It is a testament to how early I leave for games that I was still in the West Herts by 12:30.

Talk before the game was mostly about the Fans’ Forum that had taken place during the week.  It had been a superb event.  It started with a presentation by Spencer Field, Global Strategy and Partnerships Director(!), about the efforts they were making to bring Watford to a global audience, one of which will entail a change to the badge.  This was greeted with some dismay although I assume those that thought it was a good idea remained quiet.  Certainly there were no questions about it later in the evening.  Then the players were up, in the persons of Daryl Janmaat and Ben Foster who were good value, although Ben was certainly the star of the show.  He is a very funny man and clearly loves Watford.  He waxed lyrical about the football that we have been playing (comparing and contrasting to playing for Tony Pulis) and revealed that his favourite player is Deulofeu, who he hates facing in training.  He also thinks Dahlberg will be a star.  The last section of the evening featured Javi Gracia and Scott Duxbury.  Scott was able to announce that Peñaranda now has a work permit and that Javi was about to sign a new contract.  Javi was as lovely as he seems in his interviews.  It was all very positive and reminded me why I love being a Watford fan.

Liverpool fans protesting Scudamore’s payout

On the way along Vicarage Road to the game, I stopped off to buy a copy of the Watford Treasury from Olly Wicken, who had written an exclusive episode of Hornet Heaven for the supplement.  A wonderful addition to a publication that was already full of fascinating stuff.  Well worth a fiver of anyone’s money.

As I took my seat in the Rookery, I couldn’t help noticing how many people with season tickets were asking the stewards the way to their seats.  That didn’t happen when we played Huddersfield.  Thankfully, there were few strangers around us and those that were there were wearing Watford scarves.

Team news was that Gracia had made three changes from the Southampton game bringing Deeney, Masina and Capoue in for Success, Chalobah and Holebas.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Masina; Hughes, Doucoure, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu and Deeney.

Prior to kick-off there was a superb set of banners in the away end protesting Scudamore’s golden handshake.  Well done to the Liverpool fans for that.

Hughes takes a free kick

Watford started the game brilliantly and I was on my feet celebrating in the second minute as Deulofeu finished past Alisson.  Sadly, the celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s flag.  The Spaniard had another chance soon after, but this time the ball was cleared before he could shoot.  On 18 minutes, Watford won a corner.  As I had my camera focussed on the box waiting for the ball in, I missed the short corner, which was greeted with groans from those around me as they bemoaned a wasted opportunity.  Liverpool’s first real chance came soon after, but Foster got his fingertips to Shaqiri’s cross preventing it from reaching Salah.  The Egyptian threatened again as he ran onto a forward ball, but Ben Foster played sweeper coming out to intercept and launch the ball back upfield.  A dangerous free-kick from Shaqiri deserved more than a mishit from Wijnaldum allowing Foster to make an easy save.  Then a mistake allowed Firmino to break into the Watford box but Foster came to the rescue again, dropping to make the save.  At the other end, the Hornets had a chance to take the lead as a lovely shot from Pereyra was turned wide by Alisson.  Then Mané threatened on the break, but was stopped by a great tackle from Cathcart.  The Liverpool man had another chance with an overhead kick that Foster pushed wide.  The resulting corner was met by the head of Salah but, again, Foster was equal to it and the half time whistle went with the game goalless.

Mariappa on the ball

It had been a decent half with few chances.  Apart from the first 15 minutes, Liverpool had all of the possession, but a decent defensive display and some brave keeping from Foster had stopped them making the breakthrough.

The first attack of the second half came from the visitors as Mané’s shot hit the near post, but the flag was up anyway.  Watford had a strong appeal for a penalty when Hughes was tripped in the box, but the referee was not interested.  The first substitution was made just before the hour mark as Deulofeu was replaced by Success and, as has become his habit, showed his dismay when he reached the dugout.  The first booking of the game came as Henderson was cautioned for puling Success to the ground as he tried to escape.  A Watford attack was stopped by a rather bizarre offside decision against Deeney.  The visitors immediately broke down the other end and Mané crossed for Salah whose shot appeared to go through Foster.  A great shame after the keeper’s great work so far on the afternoon.   Watford tried to break back but a cross from Femenía was headed clear by van Dijk before it reached Deeney.  Then a cross into the Liverpool box was cleared only as far as Capoue whose shot cleared the bar.

Masina and Pereyra prepare for a free kick

Each side made a substitution as Shaqiri made way for Milner for the visitors, and Gray replaced Hughes for the Hornets.  If the first goal looked a bit scrappy, the second was excellent as Alexander-Arnold curled a free kick over the wall and into the top corner.  Liverpool played the last 8 minutes with 10 men as Henderson, who had just been warned after protesting a decision, decided to pull Capoue back.  It was a stupid foul and well worthy of the second yellow.  Success had a chance to pull one back for the Hornets with a shot across goal that only needed a touch, but nobody was there.  The second change for the visitors saw Fabinho replacing Salah.  The Hornets had a wonderful chance to reduce the deficit as a lovely passing move took the ball to Pereyra whose curling shot was just wide of the target.  The third Liverpool goal was just cruel. Foster did really well to stop a shot from Mané, but Firmino was on hand to nod in the rebound.  So the game finished as a 3-0 defeat for the Hornets.

So a disappointing afternoon all in all.  The first half display had been impressive as the defence kept Liverpool at bay.  The penalty that wasn’t given would have put a different perspective on the game, but Liverpool are a good side and were not to be denied, although it has to be said that the scoreline flattered them greatly.  As we say every time we play one of the top clubs, this one was a free hit and I was happy that we gave them a decent game.  After a couple of recent thrashings on our travels to Anfield, this was a very different performance and Liverpool really didn’t look that impressive, which can only be due to Watford playing well.  It is still a testament to the quality of our team that a defeat to one of the top two clubs in the country is viewed as a disappointment.

Controversy in the Rain

Pereyra versus Hojbjerg

Another Saturday, another away game.  This week the somewhat shorter trip to Southampton.  Due to engineering work, there was no easy train route to the station nearest to the pub.  My last experience of trying to get a taxi at Southampton Central had been hideous so, when I arrived and left the station by the rear entrance, I decided to walk the mile and a half to the pub.  I had a brief moment of regret as the rain started, but it soon cleared and I arrived feeling very deserving of my pint and lunch.  As it did last year, the heavens opened in time for us to leave for the walk to the ground and, despite Alice kindly sharing her umbrella, I was properly soaked by the time we reached the ground.  Pete’s comment to the local Police officer that it always rained in Southampton was met with the response that we must have brought it with us as it had been lovely the previous week.

Team news was that Gracia had made only the one enforced change with Chalobah coming in for the suspended Capoue.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Mariappa, Femenía; Pereyra, Doucouré, Chalobah, Hughes; Success, Deulofeu.  It was good to see Chalobah back and I couldn’t help wondering whether Capoue, who has been excellent so far this season, would live to regret giving his place away.

Deeney waiting for a ball into the box

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s silence to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War which was accompanied by a rendition of The Last Post.  The only other sound that could be heard was the rain on the roof of the stand.

Watford started well and had an excellent early chance when Femenía released Deulofeu who broke into the box, but his shot was blocked.  Deulofeu had another chance soon after, this time with Success as provider, but the shot flew over the target.  Then Success burst forward and tried his luck himself, but his shot was deflected over the bar.  The home side had their first chance after 15 minutes with a shot from distance by Gabbiadini that flew over the bar.  Then, from a corner, Hoedt headed goalwards, Foster parried and Cathcart headed out conceding another corner.  From the delivery, the danger appeared to have passed when Pereyra claimed the ball, but instead of putting a boot through it, he dwelled too long, Ings dispossessed him and found Gabbiadini who finished past Foster.  Very frustrating after the bright start that the Hornets had made to the game.  The novelty of the lead for the home fans was reflected in the chant of “We scored a goal.”

Ben Foster launches a ball upfield

Watford should have struck back almost immediately as Deulofeu picked up a misplaced pass and broke forward but, instead of shooting, he tried to play Success in and the pass was intercepted.  A lovely passing move by the Hornets finished disappointingly as Pereyra’s cut back was just behind Deulofeu.  At this point, the Saints fans regaled us with a chorus of “You only came for the weather.”  Oh yes!  Success released Deulofeu again but, when he found a position from which to shoot, the angle was narrow and the shot was blocked.  At the other end, a Yoshida header from the edge of the area flew wide of the target.   I thought we had the equaliser as a lovely curling shot from Pereyra headed for the bottom corner, but McCarthy was down to parry.  Almost immediately there was a similarly good chance for the Saints with a shot from Armstrong that was saved by the legs of Foster.  The first booking of the game went to Bertrand for a foul on Doucouré.  With 6 minutes to go until half time, each side made a substitution, presumably due to injuries, as Deeney replaced Hughes for the Hornets and Austin came on for Ings for the home side.

Doucoure on the ball

The half time whistle went with the home side leading by a goal and, yet again, Watford fans were feeling frustrated at the wasteful finishing as, like last week, Deulofeu could have had a hat trick before the break.  There was a similar problem with finishing for one of the teams taking part in the half time relay around the pitch.  The lad who was well in the lead shot wide of the far post allowing his opponent to catch up, dribble the ball to just in front of the goal and drop to the ground to head the ball over the line.  Cheeky so and so, but his opponent gave him the opportunity.

The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as Gabbiadini tried a shot from distance that just cleared the crossbar.  At the other end, Success did well to battle his way down the right wing before crossing for Deeney whose close range shot at the near post was smothered by McCarthy.  The first booking for the visitors went to Chalobah who was cautioned for pulling Redmond back as he tried to escape.  The same two players then tussled again in the Southampton box, on this occasion the travelling Hornets were shouting for a penalty as Chalobah went down under a strong challenge from Redmond, the ball broke for Pereyra whose shot was blocked and the referee pointed for a corner instead of to the penalty spot.  The Watford fans were baffled and Deulofeu was incandescent with rage and was shouting at the linesman, which seemed to be a pointless exercise.

Challenging at a corner

Southampton appeared to have scored a second as Austin shot past Foster.  The celebrations continued for some time before any of us noticed that the linesman’s flag was raised and the goal had been disallowed.  What a relief.  Gracia then made a second substitution bringing Gray on for Pereyra, who had a disappointing afternoon.  The Hornets had a decent chance to draw level as Deulofeu chipped a cross for Deeney, whose back header was caught by McCarthy, although the flag was up for this one as well.  Deeney then found Gray in a good position, but he kicked the ball into the ground so it lost momentum allowing McCarthy an easy save.  Mark Hughes made his second substitution bringing Ward-Prowse on for Armstrong.  Southampton threatened as Yoshida appeared to connect with a cross, but Holebas made enough contact to put it out for a corner. Femenía then had a chance from a decent position but volleyed over.  I didn’t see what prompted the altercation, but Femenía and Redmond squared up to each other.  Seeing this, Deulofeu belted over and angrily pulled Redmond away.  Others have described this as breaking up the confrontation, but Deulofeu had seemed to be spoiling for a fight all afternoon.  He had rowed with the referee after he felt he’d been fouled early in the game, then with the lino when the penalty wasn’t given and his aggressive pull on Redmond was well deserving of a yellow card.

Doucoure congratulating Holebas on his goal

Watford grabbed an equaliser with 9 minutes to go as Deeney found Gray in the box, he passed back towards Doucouré and, just when the chance appeared to have gone, the ball bounced off Deulofeu and fell to Holebas whose shot took a deflection and beat McCarthy to send the travelling Hornets into raptures.  Southampton had a chance to break back immediately but Gabbiadini’s shot from outside the box was stopped by Foster.  The Hornets could have had a winner as a Holebas corner was headed goalwards by Gray, but it came back off the bar.  The home side made a final substitution bringing Obafemi on for Redmond.  The Hornets were pushing for the winner in added time, so it was very frustrating to see a powerful shot from Success rebound back off Deeney.  The captain tried to make amends by crossing for Gray, but the shot flew wide and the final whistle went with the points shared.

It was probably a fair result, although Charlie Austin didn’t agree.  His interview on Match of the Day berating the referee for disallowing his goal was brilliant for its passion.  Someone set it perfectly to Blur’s Parklife and it was great to see Austin himself tweet #Parklife in acknowledgement.  However, he had overlooked the fact that Watford should have had a penalty and that Redmond may have seen red for the challenge, which would have set up a completely different game.  It was another odd performance from the Hornets.  Deulofeu made some brilliant chances, failed to take any of them and then almost got himself sent off with a series of displays of petulance.  Capoue was greatly missed in the midfield.  Chalobah is not match fit and did nothing to indicate that he should continue in that role.  The passing was sloppy and the team seemed to lack leadership until Deeney came on.  Troy does not always earn his place on footballing grounds, but his leadership is greatly missed when things are not going well and there was a clear improvement when he was on the pitch.

But, for all our disappointment at the outcome of the last two games, there were a series of odd results over the weekend, so this result still sees us sitting in 7th place in the table equidistant from the top and the relegation zone which is fine with me.