Tag Archives: Aron Gunnarsson

Three Worldies in the Rain

Rita and Pagey with the play-off trophy

On Wednesday evening was the 20 year (almost) reunion for the squad that won the play-off final in 1999.  I have been to a number of wonderful evenings following the club, but this one was exceptional.  All of the players had come back for the evening, including some (Bazeley, Hazan, Gudmundsson) that had come from overseas.  The overwhelming impression from the players was a deep affection among the whole group and they seemed genuinely happy to be with each other again.  The way that all of them spoke about Watford as a club was heart-warming, even those who were only here for a short time had left with very happy memories.  There were also some heartfelt tributes to Graham Taylor, which must have been lovely for Rita, Karen and the other family members who were present.  There were also entertaining interviews with Andrew French (who was the media officer at the time) and Ciaran Cosgrove (pink shirt man) who is totally bonkers.  The culmination of the interviews and reminiscences was Robert Page and Rita Taylor on the stage lifting the play-off trophy.  At that point I am not sure there was a dry eye in the house.

In Javi and Gino we trust

On to the weekend and my pre-match routine on Saturday differed from the usual as, after meeting in the West Herts, we headed for the ground and the Elton John Suite as Mike had been offered hospitality courtesy of the Community Trust.  It was a chilly day with driving rain for most of the afternoon, so the comfort of an executive box was very welcome indeed.  We shared the table with Derrick Williams who is employed by the Trust as well as being the brains and driving force behind Kit Aid, so it was lovely to meet him and learn about his various roles and their contributions to the local (and not so local) community.

Team news was that Gracia had made one change bringing Deulofeu in for Success.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Sema, Doucouré, Quina, Pereyra; Deeney and Deulofeu.  There was also the very welcome return of Tom Cleverley to the bench.  A lovely early Christmas present for the Watford faithful.

Before kick-off, it was lovely to see banners unfurling in the Rookery celebrating Gino and Javi.  I am normally under these, so it was lovely to actually see them for once.

Celebrating Deulofeu’s goal

Despite our relative league positions, this was going to be a tricky game as Cardiff had had a recent upturn in form and Watford, despite some terrific performances, had not won since October.  But the Hornets started the game well and had a very early chance as Deulofeu played a one-two with Doucouré before curling a shot just wide of the target.  Watford took the lead in the 16th minute as Deulofeu got the ball just outside the box, then went on a mazy dribble, it looked as though he would run into trouble but, instead, he breezed past a couple of defenders before slotting the ball past Etheridge in the Cardiff goal.  It was a terrific goal and served to calm the nerves among the home fans.  The Hornets had a chance to increase their lead soon after as Pereyra exchanged passes with Deeney, but his final touch was too heavy and Etheridge was out to gather.  Cardiff threatened for the first time as Arter played a low ball across the goal, but the chance went begging.  The visitors had a better chance to draw level when Gunnarsson’s long throw reached Paterson in the box, but his header was wide of the target.  The Hornets continued to attack and some lovely passing between Deulofeu and Pereyra culminated in a shot from the Argentine that was deflected for a corner.  After a period in which Watford had been passing the ball around for fun, Cardiff finally won a goal kick and, as Etheridge readied to take it, there was an ironic chant of “We’ve got the ball” from the away end.

Domingos Quina

When an injury to a Cardiff player led to a break in the game, I was amused to see Ben Foster take the opportunity to towel himself down, although with the rain lashing down it would only have been a momentary respite.  Deulofeu and Pereyra combined again but this time the shot was saved by Etheridge.  Then Quina, who had been lively in midfield, had his first sight of goal but his shot from distance was wide of the target.  Late in the half, Pereyra won a rather soft free kick.  He took it himself and it was a wonderful strike that appeared to be heading for the top corner, but Etheridge made another excellent save to keep it out.  So we reached half time with a narrow lead for the Hornets, which was a bit frustrating given the amount of possession that we had had.  But credit must go to Etheridge in the Cardiff goal as, without his efforts, the game would already have been out of sight for the visitors.

Our seats at the back of the Upper GT meant that we were protected from the torrential rain, but there had been a cold wind blowing during the first half, so I was very happy to be able to escape into the box for half time refreshments.  The hot drinks and cheese and biscuits went down very well indeed, but I kept an eye on the pitch to ensure that I was back in the stand for start of the second half (I almost made it).

Celebrating the strike from Holebas

The visitors made a substitution at the break bringing Mendez-Laing on for Murphy.  The Hornets started the second half as they had finished the first with a shot from Pereyra that was stopped by another excellent save by Etheridge.  But the Hornets were not to be denied for long as Deulofeu laid the ball off to Holebas who curled a gorgeous shot into the top corner.  It was a magnificent strike and it is always nice to see a happy Holebas.  Watford had a chance for a third as Sema dribbled along the edge of the box but he shot wide of the target.  Just before the hour mark, Cardiff made a second substitution bringing Peltier on for Bennett, who had picked up an injury.  Cardiff had a rare shot on goal with an effort from the edge of the area by Camarasa that flew just wide.  The Hornets’ third goal was another cracker, Sema played the ball back to Quina who curled a beauty past Etheridge, leading to a joyous celebration as he ran over and hugged the substitutes on the touchline.  The chances continued as Deulofeu found Holebas who stuck his foot out and diverted the ball towards the top corner, but yet again Etheridge made a save.  Hoilett had a great chance to pull one back for the visitors, but his header cleared the bar.  Watford made their first substitution of the day with 15 minutes to go, bringing Success on for Sema.  The substitute was immediately involved in a one-two with Deulofeu whose shot was disappointing, especially as he really should have passed to Doucouré who was in an acre of space in the box.

Holebas prepares to take a corner

The visitors made their final change of the afternoon replacing Gunnarsson with Reid.  Just when we thought this would be a comfortable afternoon for the Hornets, Hoilett hit a beautiful curling shot from outside the area to the top corner.  So no clean sheet, but it was to get worse almost immediately as another ball into the Watford box led to a goalmouth scramble.  There appeared to be two players in an offside position when Foster blocked a shot from Bamba, so we were waiting for the whistle to go, but the ball rebounded to Reid who scored to put the visitors back in the game and to reboot the nerves.  Between the goals, Deeney had made way for Okaka and the Watford fans cheered up somewhat at the sight of the return of Cleverley who came on for Deulofeu.  Tom was in action immediately with a shot that was blocked before Quina put the follow-up wide.  Then Doucouré could have calmed Watford nerves with a terrific shot but, yet again, it was met with a terrific save from Etheridge.  There were groans as the fourth official held up the board indicating that there were 5 minutes of added time and the visitors had a chance to grab an equaliser that would have been a travesty, as Camarasa put a free kick into the box, but Foster was out to make the stop although it took him two attempts to gather it.  There was much relief when the final whistle went.

Elton entertaining at his spiritual home

At the end of the match there was complete bafflement.  Watford had been coasting until the first Cardiff goal, which seemed to give the visitors confidence and the home side jitters.  While we weren’t exactly hanging on at the end, the memory of the last minute at Goodison Park on Monday was too fresh for me to feel comfortable until the final whistle had gone.  It has to be said that the players (with the notable exceptions of Kabasele and Cathcart) made a rapid exit from the pitch, but that was probably just to dry off after the soaking.  But, with time to reflect, apart from that dodgy 3 minutes this was a superb performance by the Hornets.  They were playing some lovely football, but there were also plenty of shots and three goals so gorgeous that there was a comment on Match of the Day that there could have been a goal of the day competition that only included goals from this game (Hoilett’s wasn’t too shabby either).  It was a great team effort, but praise must still go to Deulofeu who was absolutely excellent, Doucouré who is back to his best and the wonderful Quina who is not just very skilful, but also plays with an assurance that belies his tender years.

At the end of the day, there was massive relief that the winless streak is over and the performances in the past week have been excellent and deservedly lifted us back into the top half of the table.  Let us hope that we continue in this vein as football is suddenly fun again.

A Sunny Day in Cardiff

The Norwegian contingent (and Don)

The Norwegian contingent (and Don)

After the dreadful performance on Boxing Day, you have to question the wisdom of getting up bright and early for a trip to Wales two days later.  My travelling companions for the game were the Norwegian contingent and WML stalwarts from the early days, Tim and Trond.  Tim was visiting from his home in Vietnam, with his lovely daughter, Jemima, who arrived decked out in Watford gear.  The pre-match venue was an arts centre which treated me to a couple of pints of Rosie’s Pig and a lovely Catalan-style fish stew.  Not your usual pre-football meal, but much appreciated on a cold day.

In contrast to Friday’s downpour, the walk to the ground was under a clear blue sky.  We soon encountered a local who asked us to be gentle with them.  He then changed his mind and said that a number of home fans were hoping for a tonking which would hasten the demise of their “clueless” manager.  I reflected that I could have been listening to a Watford fan in the aftermath of the Wolves game.  The merchandise stalls on the way to the ground were selling nothing but blue and white scarves.  Tan’s attempts to turn them red are on a hiding to nothing.

Awaiting a coner

Awaiting a coner

There was much consternation in the away concourse when the team news came through as Jokanovic had made six changes from Friday.  Although there was logic in all the changes, six seemed a step too far.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Pudil, Abdi, Munari, Guedioura, Paredes, Forestieri and Ighalo.  The announcement that the referee was Stuart Atwell was greeted with boos from the travelling Hornets.

Watford had a chance to take the lead in the second minute as a lovely passing move finished with a powerful shot from Abdi that Marshall did well to push over.  At the other end, a Cardiff free-kick appeared to be headed on by Guedioura but Morrison’s cross was cleared.  The Watford fans had been in good voice at the start of the game and soon started baiting the home fans with “Is this a library?”  I couldn’t help feeling sad at this as Ninian Park had always been an intimidating cauldron of noise.  These new soulless bowls just kill the atmosphere.

Congratulating Guedioura

Congratulating Guedioura

Cardiff threatened again as Whittingham hit a free kick wide.  I don’t know what the significance of the 19th minute was for the Cardiff fans, but at that point they stood and displayed their blue and white scarves just as Whittingham delivered a free kick that was headed home by Le Fondre.  Watford tried to hit back as Forestieri found Guedioura in the box, he was knocked over and felt it should have been a penalty so grabbed the ball.  Atwell signalled a free-kick and delivered a ticking off.  Paredes had been ineffectual in the opening quarter of the game but in the 23rd minute he delivered a cross that Ighalo volleyed over the bar.  At the other end Noone hit a shot from the edge of the box that flew wide of the near post.  Hoban gave the ball away to Jones who squared the ball for Le Fondre whose shot was weak and easy for Gomes to gather.  Just before the half hour, Watford started to dominate.  First a shot from Guedioura that was over the target.  Then Pudil and Forestieri exchanged passes but the Czech’s shot was also well over the bar.  A lovely cross by Guedioura was headed out for a corner by Jones.

Celebrating Ighalo's header

Celebrating Ighalo’s header

Guedioura played a free kick to Paredes whose cross was disappointingly hit straight at a defender.  Ighalo crossed for Forestieri, but he failed to capitalize and the ball was cleared.  I was making a note of this when I heard a noise and looked up to see the ball hitting the back of the net.  I hate it when that happens.  I now know that the ball had reached Munari who chipped it into the box for Guedioura to volley home.  The goal seemed to instil confidence in the visitors whose passing improved immensely.  Watford took the lead as the clock started for injury time when a Pudil cross was headed home by Ighalo.

It had been a weird first half.  We’d started well and completely dominated possession, but had done nothing with it.  The crowd had been on their feet chanting early in the game but by the half hour mark had fallen into silence and I had slumped to my seat in frustration at what I was watching.  Suddenly we scored two goals, the mood on the pitch and in the stands improved and we ended the half on our feet celebrating.

Abdi on the ball

Abdi on the ball

There was a warning from Cardiff at the start of the second period as Whittingham’s shot was blocked by Cathcart, it rebounded to Morrison who shot over the bar.  A lovely ball was played to Forestieri on the left, he dribbled into the box but couldn’t decide whether to shoot or pass so dithered on the ball until he was tackled.  The ball came back in and Guedioura was running on to it, but he was stretching so could only poke it wide.  Ighalo showed some silky skills with a couple of drag backs before a shot from an acute angle that Marshall blocked, it fell to Guedioura whose shot was gathered by Marshall.  Forestieri tried a shot from distance that was parried by Marshall.  Watford came close to increasing their lead as Abdi played the ball out to Guedioura who crossed for Ighalo but his shot was blocked at the post.  On the hour Slade made two substitutions with Adeyemi and Gunnarsson making way for Harris and Ralls.  This move was greeted with a chant of “You don’t know what you’re doing,” from the home fans.

Celebrating Guedioura's second goal

Celebrating Guedioura’s second goal

After a rare mistake from Guedioura, the travelling Hornets started chanting his name.  We were rewarded as he received the ball 25 yards out and smashed it in off the underside of the bar.  Cue mental celebrations in the away stand and a smug feeling that we deserved an assist for that one.  The chant changed to “Sign him up” at that point.  We thought the fourth was coming a couple of minutes later as Forestieri ran on to a through ball from Paredes and had only the keeper to beat, but the linesman’s flag was up as he knocked it into the net.  There was a rare foray into the Watford box as a couple of Cardiff corners came to nothing, the second was punched clear by Gomes, who was fouled in the process.  Jokanovic made his first substitution on 70 minutes replacing Paredes with Anya.  Anya’s first contribution was a run down the right, he beat his man and whipped in a cross that rebounded to Guedioura whose shot was blocked and went out for a corner.  Watford could have increased their lead from the set piece, but Hoban directed his header over the bar.  At the other end a shot from distance from Noone curled wide of the near post.  Both sides made a substitution on 77 minutes, Macheda coming on for Le Fondre and Tözsér replacing Abdi for the visitors.

Angella celebrates in front of the travelling Hornets

Angella celebrates in front of the travelling Hornets

Watford’s final substitution saw Forestieri make way for Deeney for the last 10 minutes.  Troy made an immediate impact as he crossed for Angella to head the fourth past Marshall.  Into time added on, Watford were still looking to increase the lead as Guedioura played a through ball to Ighalo but the Nigerian was flagged offside.  Cardiff broke down the other end where Noone crossed for Jones to head home to reduce the deficit although there were very few Cardiff fans left in the stadium to cheer their goal.  There was one last chance for each side.  Deeney broke forward and crossed for Ighalo to volley goalwards, but Marshall was behind the ball.  At the other end a dangerous looking shot from distance from Noone flew just wide of the far post.  So Watford finished the game worthy winners.

What a difference a couple of days makes, as the travelling Hornets cheered their heroes off at the end of the game.  Guedioura was my man of the match, not just for the goals but for some strong tackles he made in the midfield.  That game marked the end of his loan spell.  I hope that it isn’t the last we see of him in a Watford shirt.  After the last two games, I can’t begin to predict what will happen in the new year, I just hope that it brings much happiness to my fellow hornets.

Honouring a Legend

GT receiving his salver from Stuart Timperley

GT receiving his salver from Stuart Timperley

Before the game was the official renaming of the Graham Taylor stand so we made sure that we were in our seats in plenty of time.  Players and coaching staff from both of GT’s spells at the club had been invited to join in the celebrations and they were introduced one by one.  Tom Walley, Steve Harrison, Dennis Booth, Ian Bolton, Steve Terry, Steve Sherwood, Neil Price, Iwan Roberts, Tony Coton, Richard Johnson, Alec Chamberlain, Tommy Mooney, Nigel Gibbs and Luther Blissett.  So many happy memories meant that each of them was cheered on to the pitch.  Needless to say Steve Harrison was greeted with roars of laughter as he came on doing his Norman Wisdom walk.  The legends formed a guard of honour for GT to walk through which he did to a chorus of “There’s only one Graham Taylor.”

GT with his family and many friends

GT with his family and many friends

He was then presented with a salver by Stuart Timperley.  Unfortunately I missed what happened next as the 1881 chose the moment that GT took centre stage to place a huge flag over the centre of the Rookery so that nobody in that section could see what was going on.  It meant that the climax of the presentation was greeted with a lot of very irritated people asking what the hell was going on.  It put a dampener on the occasion.  When we finally emerged into the light again, it was lovely to see messages on the big screen from some who could not be there including Kenny Jackett, Sean Dyche, Malky Mackay and John Barnes.

Jokanovic made six changes from the Derby game.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Bassong, Ekstrand, Angella, Anya, Munari, Tözsér, Abdi, Paredes, Deeney and Vydra.  It was certainly good to see Abdi and Angella back in the team.

Matej Vydra

Matej Vydra

Watford made a very bright start as Tözsér’s shot through a crowd of players was stopped by Marshall and Deeney’s follow-up was cleared off the line.  At the other end Pilkington headed a Noone cross wide of the target.  Deeney played a through ball to Vydra whose shot was blocked by Marshall.  Cardiff were inexplicably ahead after 12 minutes as a cross from Pilkington flew into the box, Gomes came out to challenge Jones who managed to head the ball goalwards, before both players collapsed to the ground.  The header was drifting wide but Le Fondre saved the ball from going out and was able to tap it in to an empty goal.  Le Fondre took so long to finish that I thought there had been a whistle for a foul, but the striker was just taking the piss out of the fans in the Rookery.  That didn’t help my foul mood at all.  Anya exchanged passes with Vydra but could not latch onto the return which was marshalled out by the defender.

Defending a throw-in

Defending a throw-in

A ball into the Watford box bounced to Le Fondre but he shot over the target.  Vydra really should have done better when Deeney played a gorgeous ball to him but he took several attempts to control and get into scoring position and eventually the chance was lost.  Vydra then did well to keep the ball under a challenge and played a cross field pass to Anya whose shot was well off target.  On the half hour, a lovely move finished with Abdi playing in Vydra but Connolly challenged, blocking the shot which flew over the bar.  Another great passing move finished with Angella shooting wide.  At the other end, Le Fondre left Ekstrand on the ground but shot wide of the near post.  For the home side Deeney cut the ball back to Paredes who was running into the box with a defender in attendance but the ball rolled through to the keeper.  Paredes then played a cross field ball to Angella whose shot was way off target.  On the stroke of half time, Paredes lost the ball to Le Fondre, it was Gomes to the rescue parrying Le Fondre’s shot and saving the follow-up from Jones, but the flag had been raised for offside.

At half-time we were ruing wasted chances against a poor Cardiff side.  It was very similar to the first half of the U21 game in midweek so I was hoping for a similar turnaround.

Tozser and Vydra line up a free kick

Tozser and Vydra line up a free kick

Watford started the second half on the attack as Deeney played a short pass to Munari whose shot was smothered by Marshall.  Deeney played provider again playing a through ball to Vydra but Marshall was first to the ball.  Deeney then headed a ball down to Anya who was running in but shot into the side netting.  Watford had another wonderful chance to take the lead ten minutes into the half when Abdi met a cross from Anya with a terrific header which Marshall parried, Munari’s follow-up was blocked and, finally, Vydra’s shot was caught by Marshall.  Then Anya cut the ball back to Vydra who shot over the bar.  Anya’s next cut back was for Deeney whose shot was deflected wide.  Fans in the Rookery thought that we had equalized as a shot from Vydra hit the inside of the post but it rebounded out and Paredes was unable to follow up.  On the hour, Anya fizzed in a high cross, but it was flying too fast for Deeney to connect with a header.  Jokanovic made a double substitution as Adbi made way for Guedioura and Forestieri replaced Paredes, whose withdrawal was greeted with loud cheers from the home fans.  While I wouldn’t normally approve of such behaviour, he had had a nightmare so I was pleased to see the change.

Gathering for a set piece

Gathering for a set piece

It was the 67th minute before Cardiff mustered their first shot of the second half as Pilkington broke forward and unleashed a shot, Gomes pulled off a good save.  An attempted break by Vydra was stopped by Le Fondre who was booked for the foul.  At this point the guy who sits next to me turned and remarked, “If this was a boxing match the referee would have stopped it.”  An accurate assessment that underlined the frustration that Watford were still losing the game.  A couple of Watford shots were blocked before the ball broke to Angella who shot wide of the near post.  Another rare attack from the visitors as Le Fondre crossed for Jones whose shot was cleared off the line by Guedioura.  At the other end Tözsér had the ball in space, he maybe should have played a pass for Vydra to run on to but opted for a shot from distance that was over the target.  Then a cross to the far post by Anya reached Forestieri whose header was straight at Marshall.

Steve Terry catching up with Tom Walley, plus Iwan Roberts, Ian Bolton, Steve Harrison, Steve Sherwood and Dennis Booth

Steve Terry catching up with Tom Walley, plus Iwan Roberts, Ian Bolton, Steve Harrison, Steve Sherwood (wearing the GT commemorative scarf) and Dennis Booth

Forestieri exchanged passes with Vydra before shooting just wide.  Vydra then turned provider playing a square ball to Tözsér who shot over.  There was another booking for the visitors as Noone was penalized for grabbing Vydra around the neck in order to impede him.  On 90 minutes Deeney knocked the ball down to Angella whose scissor kick was blocked.  There was five minutes of added time but all Watford could muster in that period was a side-foot from Bassong that was easily caught by Marshall.

So, another week, another frustrating defeat.  This one was much harder to take than the loss to Derby as Cardiff did not play well, we completely dominated but could not find the net.  But I remain optimistic about our prospects this season.  We are creating a lot of chances, we just need to start finishing them again.