Pre-match, all the attention was on Elton’s return to Vicarage Road for the naming of his stand. As requested, we entered the ground early and were treated to Elton John songs over the tannoy. The new stand now has words from “Your Song” along the back and there was a request that we welcome Elton by singing along. I joined in with some gusto, although it is a song that always chokes me up. When Elton was announced, the crowd were already singing “Elton John’s Taylor-made Army”, which sent shivers down the spine. When Elton took centre stage, he said that it was one of the greatest days of his life. He recalled coming as a six year old to stand on the cinder bank. At that time he never imagined having a stand named after him, in fact he never imagined sitting in a stand. He paid tribute to the people of Watford and turned to address each stand as he spoke. He also paid tribute to Dave Whelan and the Wigan fans. He thanked the Pozzos and said the club was in good hands. “Watford Football Club is forever in my heart.” He was clearly moved by the occasion and there wasn’t a dry eye in the Rookery. The fans sang his name loud and proud. It was so lovely seeing him there with his two sons in Watford scarves and hats. They must have loved hearing the crowd singing their Dad’s name. Well done to the Pozzos for such a lovely gesture, and thank-you, Elton, for decades of wonderful memories.
Back to the game against Wigan. Jokanovic had named an unchanged side from the Fulham game, so we started with Gomes, Bassong, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Munari, Tözsér, Abdi, Paredes, Deeney and Vydra. Wigan featured former players Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor as well as Malky Mackay and David Kerslake in the dugout.
Watford had an early goal chance as Anya played the ball back to Abdi who curled a cross wide of the target. At the other end, Espinoza tried a shot from distance that hit the side netting. Carson had to drop to keep a shot from Munari out. Vydra played a lovely ball to Paredes whose shot was cleared. Wigan threatened as a high cross from Taylor was gathered by Gomes with McClean challenging. Watford won a free kick in a dangerous position, but Tözsér’s low delivery was stopped by Carson. Watford took the lead on 20 minutes, a lovely headed pass from Anya reached Deeney in the box, where he beat Carson from a tight angle. Another cross from Anya was knocked wide of the near post by Munari. Wigan had a decent chance to equalize from a Watson free-kick which was headed goalwards by Barnett but Gomes caught it. McClean hit a decent shot that was blocked by the legs of Gomes. With a couple of minutes remaining in the half, Watford had their first chance for a while as Abdi found Deeney on the right, but Troy’s shot was wide of the far post. Wigan equalized just before half time as McCann was allowed a free header as he connected with a corner from McClean and beat Gomes. It felt like that goal had been coming. In the aftermath, Anya and Tözsér squared up to each other and had to be held apart. I have mixed feelings about that. It is not good to see team mates arguing, but it is good to see them care so much. When the half time whistle went, it had been a half with little goalmouth action and the draw seemed a fair reflection of the play.
At the start of the second half, Paredes made way for Dyer. The substitute was involved immediately with a ball to Abdi who found Deeney whose cross was blocked. Deeney then had a shot which hit the side netting. For the visitors, a free kick from Watson was headed wide by Barnett. Watson then headed over from a McClean free-kick. McClean threatened again with a cross to the near post which Gomes got down to block. On the hour, Abdi played a ball into the box for Vydra, but it was too far in front of him so he had to stretch and knocked it out. Vydra then played the ball out to Dyer who hit a low cross but there was no one in the box to turn it in. A cross from Anya was cleared to Tözsér whose shot flew just wide of the target. Then a long ball forward saw Deeney running to connect while Carson came out to clear and the two collided, the ball broke to Vydra who was tackled before he could shoot. Deeney was down injured for a while but, thankfully, was fit to continue. There was a period then when the Watford players played some lovely passes, but it was all show with no end product. With 15 minutes remaining Vydra was replaced by Ighalo. A Tözsér free-kick was cleared to Bassong whose shot was weak and easily cleared.
With 10 minutes remaining, Watford regained the lead as Anya crossed from the bye-line and Deeney powered the header home. Troy followed the ball into the net where his powerful reaction showed how much the goal meant. It was all Watford after that. Ighalo chested the ball down to Abdi, who should have hit the target, but blasted the ball over. That was the Kosovan’s last involvement in the game as he was replaced by Guedioura. Wigan had their first chance for some time with a deep free kick, but Gomes was equal to it. At the other end, Dyer played a deep cross towards Ighalo who stretched but could not connect with it. Ighalo then showed some skills in the box before cutting back to Deeney whose shot was way over the bar. Ighalo then played a lovely ball for Deeney who was flagged offside. The last action of the game was a shot from Guedioura from the edge of the box that went over the bar.
The final whistle went to cheers from the home fans. It was not the greatest of performances from Watford, but those were two thrilling goals. We’ve played better and lost, so there was a certain pride in winning ugly. Special mention must go to the referee whose playing of the advantage rule was very impressive.
After the game, there were lots of hugs and kisses as we wished our friends and neighbours a happy Christmas as we won’t see them again until Boxing Day. The game may ultimately be forgettable, but seeing Elton John opening the stand will stay long in the memory and the post-match tweets from players proudly sharing their photos with Elton was just lovely