Tag Archives: Ashley Williams

Revenge on the Toffees is Sweet

Terry Challis painting/collage of GT

With the game kicking off at 5:30pm and it being the last day of the Graham Taylor exhibition at the museum, there was no question about how I would start my afternoon in Watford.  My sister, Rose, joined me and we spent a lovely hour looking at the exhibits and reminiscing.  There were a couple of new additions since my previous visit, including a beautiful painting/collage by Terry Challis, which was well worth the repeat visit all on its own.  Rose had not seen the exhibition before, so dutifully went around with the list of exhibits ticking them off.  We also had the added unexpected pleasure of Sarah Priestley being on hand to talk us through the collection and her lovely meetings with Rita while putting it together.  Apparently, Rita has visited on a few occasions and had fans chatting to her about their memories of Graham before they realised who they were talking to.  I have to say that brought a tear to all of our eyes.

As we walked to the West Herts, we encountered a group of Everton fans piling off a coach at the traffic lights at the junction of Vicarage Road so that they could visit the Oddfellows.  When one started a chorus of “Hi ho Silva lining”, I remembered that this was a grudge match.  When we met up with our pre-match crew, Elaine was there without her Everton-supporting husband in tow.  “He’s banned.  He couldn’t get a ticket in the away end and I wouldn’t give him his Fan ID.”  Brilliant!

Doucoure on the ball

The main talking point surrounding the Watford team selection focused on the goalkeeping position.  With Gomes back from injury would Gracia grant him an immediate return to the starting XI or keep faith with Karnezis who has been performing well and has certainly overcome the doubts raised by his performance when he came on as substitute at Goodison Park?  When the team was announced, Karnezis was indeed retained, Gracia’s only change was to bring in Pereyra for Zeegelaar.  So, the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Mariappa, Prödl, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Deulofeu, Pereyra, Richarlison; Deeney.  I must say that I was very pleased indeed to see Femenía named among the substitutes.  We have missed him.

Despite the forecast of bitter cold, I had left home without a scarf.  I agonised about buying a new one as the scarf that I wore at Goodison Park had never been seen at a game before and we all know what happened that afternoon.  But it was far too cold to do without, so I took the risk.

Before kick-off, the 1881 launched streamers into the Rookery.  With the flags also out in force I am sure that it was a great spectacle for those watching on television.

Pereyra and Deulofeu preparing for a free kick

The first half-chance of the game came from an Everton free-kick which fell for Niasse, who failed to connect and the chance was lost.  Watford’s first chance came from a corner which fell to Doucouré whose shot was way off target.  Everton threatened again as Niasse tried to sneak the ball in from a narrow angle, but Karnezis was alert and blocked the attempt.  The next chance for the visitors fell to Sigurdsson, but his shot was soft and straight at Karnezis.  There were howls for a yellow/red card as Keane put in a rather robust challenge on Doucouré, but the referee waved play on.  Than a dangerous looking cross from the visitors was dealt with by a wonderful header from Mariappa.  Watford should have done better after launching a dangerous looking break, but Deulofeu’s shot was blocked and Capoue’s follow-up was high and wide.  And that was it for the first half.  It had been a remarkably dull game with most of the excitement of the first half deriving from having to fight off streamers that had detached themselves from the roof.

Okaka and Prodl challenging at a corner

At half time, Academy Day at Vicarage Road was marked with the under 9s being put through their paces before parading around the ground.  We also had Under 23 player Andrew Eleftheriou talking about his progression through the academy and stressing the need for hard work.

The second half started brightly and there was an early chance for the Hornets as a corner reached Prödl, but his header was over the target.  There was danger from the visitors as a cross from Walcott found Keane unmarked, but his header flew wide, much to my relief.  Given some of the tackles that had passed without caution in the first half, it was a little surprising that the first card of the game went to Capoue for a challenge on Walcott that was clumsy rather than malicious.  Watford had a decent chance to open the scoring as a lovely cross from Pereyra was met by the head of Deeney, but Pickford was able to gather.  Just before the hour mark, Gracia made his first changes as Pereyra and Richarlison made way for Okaka and Femenía.  At the same time, Tosun replaced Niasse for the visitors.  I must admit that I can’t help but feel sad when Richarlison is replaced, but it was immediately apparent that the substitutes made a difference.  On a day when we were celebrating the return from injury of a couple of players, it was frustrating to see Deulofeu go down needing treatment.  He came back on, but his first attempt at a run resulted in him dropping to the ground again and he had to be replaced by Carrillo, who is now a bottle blond.

Femenia congratulating Deeney

The first caution for Everton was earned by Gueye who took down Okaka as he tried to break.  The next goal chance fell to Rooney, who tried a volley from the edge of the box, thankfully he didn’t make a good contact and the ball flew over the target.  This was followed by a lovely move from the Hornets which finished with a cross from Okaka that went begging.  Soon after, a cross from Femenía was cleared only as far as Capoue, but his shot was off target.  Then a clearance from Pickford hit Deeney and rebounded to Femenía whose shot needed a decent save from the Everton keeper to keep it out.  But the Hornets were not to be denied as Femenía broke forward and fed Okaka who crossed for Deeney who powered an absolute beast of a shot past Pickford.  It was one of those moments when I love sitting behind the goal as that ball was coming straight for us as we rose as one to celebrate.  Allardyce immediately made a couple of changes replacing Rooney and Sigurdsson with Calvert-Lewin and Bolasie.  But it was Watford who continued to attack as Holebas went on a terrific run up the wing, he played in Okaka who beat a defender before shooting but Pickford was able to make the save.  As the clock ticked down, the Hornets were looking to keep the ball in the corner, but this is always a risky tactic and, needless to say, the visitors launched one last attack and won a corner.  I heard “Here we go,” from behind me which matched my thoughts and fears exactly.  Pickford went up to join the attack and there was an almighty scramble in the Watford box and, as Karnezis dropped to make a save, I thought the ball had gone in, so was mightily relieved when I realised that the Watford keeper had smothered the ball and the three points had gone to the Hornets.

Deulofeu ready to take a corner

There was an almighty roar at the final whistle and much celebration as the players did their lap of honour.  As always, Deeney was the last to reach the Rookery and was given a well-deserved hero’s welcome.  We left the ground with smiles on our faces and Elton’s “I guess that’s why They Call it the Blues” ringing in our ears!

The post match consensus was that it had been a terrible game, but a great three points.  Watford ended the day in 10th place (back in the top half) and, while we are only 6 points off the relegation zone, you have to think that the win has ensured safety for this season.  It was a match of little quality, but Watford made the majority of the chances that there were and just about deserved the win based on the second half performance.  I blow hot and cold with Okaka, but he was`excellent, making forward moves when many of his team mates were happy to pass sideways and backwards.  He provided the assist for Deeney, as well as nearly scoring a second.  It was also wonderful to see Femenía back on the pitch.  He certainly showed why we have missed him.

With West Brom the visitors next week, I have that sinking feeling about a banana skin, but there is certainly a new spirit around the club, so I hope that the players show what they can do.  Another three points will certainly calm a lot of nerves and allow us to enjoy the end of the season.

 

Belgians and Brides

Walter Mazzarri, he bought me a drink!

With the game moved to Friday evening so that Sky could show our match with Chelsea on Monday, Friday morning was spent trying to get everything at work in order so that I could enjoy my afternoon off.  A text from Pete brought my planned departure forward to give me time to meet him for a lunchtime pint in the Doric Arch.  As we queued to board the train we spotted Paolo de Toffol, prompting speculation as to why he hadn’t travelled with the rest of the team on the previous day’s flight.

On checking in to the hotel in Liverpool, I was told that I had been upgraded to a superior room, which meant there was a little gift basket in my room containing chocolate, jelly beans and crisps.  I also had a great view of the Liver Building and the Mersey which was rather lovely.  But we weren’t there for the view so, having dumped our overnight things, we headed for the pre-match pub.  We were not the first to arrive as some of the North-West ‘Orns were already in situ and, as is always the case, our group quickly grew and the beer and conversation flowed.  There has been a lot of discussion about our poor away form lately, but it was still a shock when Andy, who is a regular at our Northern excursions, said that he hadn’t seen us win all season.

Banner in support of Aaron Lennon

When we got off the bus at Goodison Park, the rain was starting so we made a rapid beeline for the turnstiles, an extra motivation being the announcement on social media before the game that “the first drink” would be on Walter this evening.  I have to say that having enjoyed a pint at Euston, red wine in first class on the train and more beer at the pre-match gathering, this was most certainly not my first of the day, but I am not one to pass up a free drink so I picked up my voucher from the steward inside the turnstiles and exchanged it for a (small) bottle of red wine.  The atmosphere in the concourse was particularly jovial with chants of “Beers up, if you love Walter” and “Walter Mazzarri, he bought me a beer.”

On reaching our seats, there was an appreciation of what a great (proper) ground Goodison Park is.  So much nicer than the soulless bowls that so many teams are moving to.  It was also lovely to see a banner in the home stands supporting Aaron Lennon who has been hospitalized due to mental health issues.  I wish him a speedy recovery.

Capoue over to take a corner

Team news was that Mazzarri had made three changes with Holebas, Behrami and Deeney replacing Amrabat, Cleverley (who was ineligible to play against his parent club) and Niang.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kabasele, Prödl, Mariappa; Janmaat, Doucouré, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Okaka and Deeney.

Everton had the first chance of the game with a shot from Barkley but Gomes was down quickly to make the save.  Watford’s first goal attempt came from a corner as Holebas crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked.  The next chance for the home side also came from a corner which Jagielka flicked goalwards needing Gomes to pull off a decent save to keep it out.  Okaka was the next to threaten, going on a run before unleashing a shot that flew wide of near post.  The Hornets nearly got themselves into trouble with a short back pass that Mirallas chased but, thankfully, Gomes was first to the ball.  The rather impressive youngster, Tom Davies (to whom I took an instant dislike, possibly due to his resemblance to Robbie Savage), then hit a cracking shot from distance that Gomes met with a flying save.  A lovely passing move featuring Okaka and Deeney finished with Doucouré shooting straight at Robles.  The Hornets came closer to opening the scoring as a Holebas cross was headed just over by Mariappa.

Waiting for the corner to be taken

Watford’s ridiculous run of injuries to defenders continued when Kabasele went down with an apparent hamstring pull.  Given that we had no central defender on the bench, there was some speculation in the away end about who would replace him, the answer was Zúñiga, who took Kabasele’s place in the back three until Holebas told him not to be ridiculous and swapped places.  Towards the end of the half, a Behrami tackle led to some handbags as Janmaat stupidly got involved until Prödl stepped in and pushed him away.  Both Behrami and Janmaat were booked for their trouble.  Towards the end of the half, Watford won a free kick in a decent position but, instead of directing it goalwards, Capoue chose to pass to Holebas on the wing and any possibility of a goal attempt disappeared.  So we reached the break goalless after an enjoyable half in which the visitors had put on a decent performance.

At half time, there were celebrations on the pitch as the Everton U23s received their trophy for winning Premier League 2.  The stewards then took to the pitch to celebrate being voted best stewards in the Premier League for the eighth year in succession.  An impressive record and, it has to be said, they are rather lovely so I was happy to join the applause.

Zuniga pretends to line up a free kick that Holebas will take

The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as a cross was punched by Gomes to Schneiderlin who belted the ball over the bar.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came as Janmaat exchanged passes with Okaka before feeding Deeney who, under challenge from Jagielka, could only direct his shot just wide of the near post.  But it was the home side who took the lead just before the hour mark, as Barkley picked up the ball and was allowed a free run at goal, Prödl failed to put in a tackle and actually moved away from the shot before it flew past the diving Gomes.  Another frustrating goal to give away.  Everton then had a decent shout for a penalty as Gomes spilled a long-range shot from Mirallas, Lukaku looked ready to pounce but was brought down by Janmaat.  The referee waved play on, but I couldn’t help thinking that Watford got away with that one.  Everton had another chance to increase their lead as Schneiderlin met a corner from Baines, but he headed it over the bar.  Okaka, who was being given no protection by the referee, broke into the box, he was tackled but did very well to win the ball back at which point he was adjudged to have committed a foul, a ridiculous decision.   Holebas picked up his 13th yellow card of the season for complaining about something (nothing new there).  During the game we had been regaled by chants for José from Colin and Flo who were sitting behind us.  “Hole, Hole, Hole, bas bas bas” was good, but “He always wins the ball, he never smiles at all” won my vote.

Deeney and Davies

With 20 minutes to go Mazzarri made another substitution with Amrabat coming on in place of Behrami.  Nordin was in action almost immediately crossing for Okaka, whose goalbound header was blocked.  At the other end, a shot from Lukaku was cleared off the line by Mariappa.  As the travelling Hornets started the 72nd minute chorus of “One Graham Taylor”, it was lovely to see the Everton fans in the block to our left getting to their feet to join in with the applause.  There was then a rather bizarre pitch invasion as a couple of 10 year olds went belting across the pitch towards Robles, they were hugged by the smiling keeper before one ran off behind the goal while the other headed back to his seat in the block next to us to chants of “Sign him up” from the away fans.  They were both escorted from the ground and the stewards doubled up around the perimeter of the pitch.  Watford had a decent chance to equalize as Mariappa met a corner from Capoue with a header that flew just wide.  Into the last 10 minutes of the game and each side made substitutions.  Goalscorer, Barkley, and Mirallas made way for Barry and Koné for the home side while Niang replaced Capoue for the visitors.  Okaka had a great chance to level the score as he received the ball in the box with his back to goal, turned and shot but Robles was equal to it.  Watford continued to push for the equalizer as Niang curled a shot towards the far corner, but Barry got his head in the way to block it.  At the other end Gomes stopped a shot from Valencia.  There was one last attack from the visitors in time added on, but a cross from Amrabat flew over Okaka’s head and the Hornets fell to their fourth defeat in a row.

Challenging in the box

Despite the result, most of the 680 Watford fans who had travelled to Everton appreciated the efforts of the players.  It had been a lively performance which was only let down by the finishing.  Mariappa, who had kept Lukaku pretty quiet after the departure of Kabasele, looked really disappointed as he applauded the fans, and he certainly cheered me up no end by taking his shirt off and giving it to a fan.  Deeney followed suit and gestured to the other players around him to do the same.  Sadly there was one among the travelling fans who thought it appropriate to abuse the players.  There was a look of horror on the faces of the Everton stewards as Deeney crossed the hoardings into the away stand.  He listened to what the fella had to say and then headed over to talk to Flora, one of our young disabled fans, and hand her his boots.  Sadly, Mr Angry couldn’t leave it and carried on abusing the Watford captain at which point he was grabbed by the police and stewards and escorted out of the ground.  On a more pleasant note, as the Everton fans applauded their team on their end of season lap of honour, they also took time to applaud the Watford crowd and we replied in kind.

Behrami versus Barkley

We headed back to the city for a post-match pint.  The highlights of the game were showing in the pub and backed up my impression that Watford had made some decent chances.  We were also engaged in conversation with some Everton fans, all of whom were delightful.  Liverpool really is a fantastic city.

Then it was back to the hotel for the late night shenanigans in the bar.  Notable sights were a woman draped in a Belgian flag, no idea if she was supporting Lukaku and Mirallas or Kabasele.  Then a bride in full white dress appeared to get a round in, leaving the bar with a tray of drinks.  We were then joined by another group of Watford fans, so our attention went back to the post-match analysis which went on until we closed the bar at 3am.

Considering the Everton game in isolation, it would be seen as a decent performance against a good team.  But, at this stage of the season and with the poor run of late, it was just another in a series of disappointing results.  Mazzarri comes in for a lot of criticism, but so many of our defeats have been down to individual mistakes and he cannot be held responsible for that.  With Chelsea having won the league title on Friday evening, we can only hope that they are on the beach by Monday and that Hull don’t beat Palace.  Having to face Manchester City next Sunday needing points just doesn’t bear thinking about.

A Very Blue Monday for the Hornets

The Liberty Stadium

The Liberty Stadium

After a run of three league defeats, the trip to Swansea seemed to be a decent opportunity to get our season back on track.  The journey west was rather pleasant and, having bumped into a fellow regular away traveler as I boarded the train to Swansea, I was treated to delightful company as we crossed the border.

Team news was that there were three changes from the Southampton game with Britos and Aké coming back in place of Prödl and Holebas, while Behrami was a surprising inclusion in place of Abdi.  Flores had opted for a 4-4-2 formation with Behrami in the centre of the midfield and Capoue on the right.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Jurado, Behrami, Watson, Capoue, Deeney and Ighalo.  Former loanee, Jack Cork, started for Swansea.  The game was given an interesting twist as the Swans confirmed the appointment of Francesco Guidolin, formerly Head Coach of Udinese, a role which he left to take up a position that was supposed to involve oversight all three Pozzo teams, although it was never clear how this impacted the Hornets.

Abseiling marines

Abseiling marines

On taking our seats in the Liberty Stadium, I have to say that I was very impressed with the Swansea support.  The ground was packed and they were noisy from the start.  I was not quite so impressed with the mortifying spectacle of ‘kiss-cam’ on the big screen before the game as they focused on random pairs of men and women and trained a camera on them until they kissed or the cameraman got bored.  In some cases there were empty seats between the ’couple’ so a kiss could have led to an ejection as the actual partner witnessed an infidelity.  There was no warning about ‘kiss-cam’ but there was a warning to the disabled seating area that the ropes hanging down from the top of the stand would soon be occupied by some marines abseiling down, one of whom would bring the match ball to the referee.  It wasn’t the most coordinated of manoeuvres, but that could be said of a lot that we have seen on the pitch of late.  The lack of coordination extended to my pre-match equipment check as I left my camera at the hotel, so the quality of my photos is even worse than usual.

The pre-match huddle

The pre-match huddle

The home side had much the better start to the game.  Although there was a very early chance for the visitors as Deeney headed the ball down to Ighalo whose shot was blocked.  From then it was all Swansea for a while.  First Sigurdsson played a back heel to Routledge, but Gomes saved, not knowing that the flag was already up for offside.   A cross from Ayew was headed clear by Cathcart.  Then Cork hit a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  Sigurdsson tried a through ball to Ki, who was also flagged offside.  A cross into the box from Routledge was headed for a corner by Britos.  Over a quarter of an hour had passed before Watford looked like creating another chance, this time Deeney released Ighalo, but Odion couldn’t control the ball and the chance was lost.  Swansea threatened again as Britton played a one-two with Ayew before breaking into the box, but Aké was in close attendance and ensured that Gomes could save at his feet.  At the other end, a free kick from Watson was cleared only as far as Deeney whose shot was blocked.  Deeney then did really well to battle past Taylor and cross for Ighalo but his header was off target.  The first booking of the game was picked up by Jurado for a silly tackle on Routledge.  Swansea threatened again as Ayew exchanged passes with Sigurdsson before unleashing a shot that Gomes was down to save.

Watson preparing for a free kick

Watson preparing for a free kick

On 27 minutes, the home side took the lead as Williams headed a cross from Ki past Gomes.  I was hoping for an immediate reaction from the Hornets, but the nearest we came was a booking for Nyom who was penalised for sticking out a foot to stop Taylor.  The resulting free kick was punched clear by Gomes.  Nyom didn’t redeem himself as a soft clearance went straight to Ki who, thankfully, shot well over the bar.  Hornet hearts beat a little faster as Ighalo picked up a misplaced pass from Ki and looked to be bearing down on goal, but Williams was soon back to make a tackle.  There were a couple of chances for an equalizer just before half time.  First a Watson free kick reached Deeney who hit a hopeful shot over the bar.  Then, Watford’s best chance of the half, as Jurado exchanged passes with Capoue before shooting but the Swans’ keeper, Fabianski, was behind the ball.

So we reached half time a goal behind.  It had been another frustrating half of football.  Our successful start to the season had been built upon being difficult to break down through hard work and constantly pressing the opposition.  That aspect of the game seems to have disappeared from recent performances although more due to a lack of confidence than desire.  We could only hope for an improvement in the second period, although Flores made no changes at the break.

Watson preparing for a free kick

Watson preparing for a free kick

The first chance of the second half fell to Jurado who cut in from the left and then hit a silly shot high and wide when a little more composure was needed.  The Spaniard also had the next chance, after a decent run he passed to Deeney who back-heeled the return but Jurado curled his shot over the bar.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came as a free-kick from Watson was met by a header from Britos that landed on the roof of the net although, for a split second, many of the travelling Hornets thought that it was in.  Swansea’s first attack of the half came after Capoue lost the ball to Routledge who advanced and crossed, but Nyom was on hand to clear.  The visitors continued to attack as Deeney played the ball out to Jurado, but his cross was blocked.  At the other end, the ball fell to Cork on the edge of the box but he volleyed over the bar.  On the hour, a Watford attack was stopped when Britton put out a hand to block a pass from Behrami and was booked for his trouble.  The resulting free kick was dreadful from Watson flying high and wide of the goal.  Another chance went begging for the visitors as Ighalo played the ball back to Jurado whose shot was just wide of the far post.  Deeney threatened to break with Ighalo alongside him, but his pass was snuffed out by a defender.  Flores made his first substitution with 15 minutes remaining bringing Paredes on for Nyom, who had had a poor game.  Capoue played two decent crosses into the box in quick succession but, on each occasion, the Swansea captain, Williams, headed clear.  Ighalo then won a free kick in a dangerous position but Watson opted to hit the ball low and straight at the wall, much to the frustration of the away fans.

Hoping to convert a corner

Hoping to convert a corner

The Hornets continued to push for an equalizer as a downward header from Deeney was cleared for a corner.  At the same time Ighalo went down in the box under a challenge and there were some half-hearted shouts for a penalty, which would have been very harsh.  The corner was cleared to Jurado but Fabianski was equal to his shot.  Flores made his second substitution with 3 minutes remaining, replacing Behrami with Oularé.  The Belgian almost made an immediate impact as Deeney headed the ball towards him on the edge of the box, but he couldn’t quite connect and it fell to Jurado who shot just wide.  Soon after, a corner from Watson was punched clear.  Despite Watford’s dominance of the second half, it appeared that the home side had increased their lead as substitute Gomis broke into the box and thumped a shot that looked to have beaten Gomes before it rebounded off the inside of the post and was cleared.  The last chance of the game fell to the visitors in time added on as the ball dropped to Deeney on the edge of the box but his shot was wide of the near post and the Hornets fell to their fourth consecutive defeat in the league.

Watson takes a free kick

Watson takes a free kick

There was a lot of frustration among the travelling fans at the end of the game and one young man went to the front of the stand to berate Deeney.  I then bumped into someone who told me that we are going to be relegated.  All rather dramatic and, on reflection, it certainly doesn’t feel as bad as that.  The Hornets had made a much better fist of the second half.  Jurado was coming in for a lot of stick from some near me for disappearing after his booking and, while he seemed reluctant to commit to a tackle, most of the shots on goal came from him and a couple were only fractionally wide.  Without his contribution, it would have been a far more miserable evening.  There has been a lot of talk of teams working out how to play against us, but a lot of what the opposition is doing now, they have been trying to do all season with little success.  The extra defenders on Deeney and Ighalo are stifling their contribution but Odion seems to have lost a bit of his previous confidence as he is not muscling his way out of trouble as he did earlier in the season and there were a couple of occasions when he passed to a teammate when you would have put money on him trying a shot.  What has been the biggest concern for me is that we have stopped harrying the opposition meaning that they have far too much space.  So I was pleased to see much more ‘gegenpressing’ in the second half which, consequently, meant we had more of the ball and more shots on the Swansea goal.

While the recent record is worrying, I am not going to get too despondent yet.  The players and manager have not become poor overnight so we need to continue supporting them.  Whatever happens at the end of this season, this will still have been the best season that we have seen at this level since the 80s.

Our First Home Win of the Season

The Lower GT prior to kick-off

The Lower GT prior to kick-off

In the run up to this game, having had two weeks to stew after the visit to City, we’d had lots of time to agonize about our lack of goals. At the Tales from the Vicarage event, Troy Deeney had been rather dismissive of his “goal drought” and said that they would come. However, having not had a shot on target in the last two games and having seen Deeney’s frustration, you couldn’t help but worry about the visit of Swansea who had had a decent start to the season and came into this game in 4th place and unbeaten.

Team news was just the one change with Anya in for Holebas. The starting XI was Gomes, Anya, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Capoue, Behrami, Abdi, Ighalo, Jurado, Deeney. Former loanee jack Cork started for the visitors.

 

Kick-off

Kick-off

Watford’s first attack came after a spell of patient build-up play that was beginning to frustrate when the ball reached Anya and he went on a run before playing the ball out to Jurado whose cross was blocked. The first goal attempt came when a cross from Anya was headed clear but only as far as Prödl who blasted just over the bar. Then a cross from Nyom was deflected to Deeney on the edge of the box, but his shot was blocked. Abdi looked certain to score until his shot took a wicked deflection that sent it wide of the target. Jurado took the corner, but it was a poor effort that didn’t beat the first man. Troy stole the ball from a Swansea player’s feet before advancing and whipping in a cross that Fabianski gathered before it reached the head of Ighalo. Swansea’s first threat on the Watford goal came on 20 minutes as a shot from Gomis was met by a flying save from Gomes who pushed the ball clear of the goal before gathering it safely. Watford continued to threaten as a free kick from Prödl was headed out to Abdi who unleashed a volley that flew high and wide.

Abdi takes a free kick

Abdi takes a free kick

On 23 minutes, I was convinced that we would open the scoring as Deeney got the ball on the edge of the box and, from our vantage point behind the goal, the path to the bottom corner opened up, so there were heads in hands in the Rookery when the shot curled wide. Capoue played a lovely ball to Jurado in the box, but the Spaniard took one touch too many and was dispossessed. Swansea could have taken the lead as Anya was dispossessed by the corner flag, Ayew cut in and crossed for Gomis, who was tumbling so his shot from close range shot was easily caught by Gomes. At the other end, Ighalo battled into the Swansea box and, much to the frustration of the Rookery faithful and his captain, tried a shot from a narrow angle that was saved by the feet of Fabianski when a cut back to Deeney would have been a better option. Soon after, a cross from Anya was just missed by Deeney as he came flying at the ball. Watford put themselves in trouble just before half time as the ball was lost on the right and a cross reached Gomis whose shot drew a great save from Gomes who wasn’t to know that the offside flag was up.

So, again, we reached half time scoreless, but this had been a really positive performance from the Hornets who had the best of the chances. It was particularly pleasing to see Deeney playing an effective role in the hole behind Ighalo with the two front men linking up in a way that we haven’t seen in the past couple of games. During the interval, Jay DeMerit was interviewed on the pitch talking about his happy memories of his time at Watford. Lovely to see him again.

Cathcart leaping to meet the ball

Cathcart leaping to meet the ball

The second half started with a period of possession for the visitors, but they didn’t create any goal scoring opportunities, the first shot of the half falling to Abdi whose shot rolled towards goal where Fabianski saved easily at the near post. Then Deeney’s shot from a Nyom cross was blocked. Deeney was in action again as he held the ball up before feeding Ighalo whose shot was just wide of the post. Just before the hour mark, Gomes launched a ball upfield that Deeney headed on to Ighalo who shot past Fabianski to send those inside Vicarage Road wild. That goal had been coming, but it was a great relief to finally break the home duck. Spirits were dampened soon after as the Hornets were reduced to 10 men. There was some confusion in the Rookery as it appeared that Behrami had been fouled by Ayew and that the card was being brandished at the Swansea man, but it was the Watford man who left the field and pictures later showed a stamp by Behrami had caused his departure. It was a worrying development as Behrami had been excellent.

Deeney, Behrami and Cathcart awaiting a free kick

Deeney, Behrami and Cathcart awaiting a free kick

This could very well have been a turning point and it is great credit to the lads that it wasn’t. Flores’ immediate response to the sending off was to sacrifice Abdi for Watson. Thankfully Watford continued to attack as a cross from Anya was only cleared as far as Jurado whose shot was blocked, the ball found its way to Capoue whose shot across goal flew wide. Watford’s second substitution saw Berghuis replace Ighalo. The next action was in the Watford box as Éder came flying in to challenge Gomes and left the keeper in a heap on the ground. Thankfully, after a short period of treatment, he was able to continue. Shelvey attempted an exchange of passes with Montero but the return ball was cut out by Watson. Swansea’s next goal attempt was a shot from distance by Fernandez that landed in Row TT of the Rookery almost hitting a child whose Dad was on a final warning from his mother about keeping him out of danger. Capoue continued to impress as he broke into the box but his low shot was saved. There were shouts of ‘handball’ from the Rookery as Ki controlled the ball and passed to Fernandez whose shot was well over the bar.

Anya launches a throw

Anya launches a throw

Capoue was again on the attack as he pirouetted to shrug off the attentions of a defender and went on a run that deserved more than a blocked shot at the end of it. With 7 minutes remaining, Flores replaced Deeney with Diamanti leaving us with no strikers on the pitch and a clear mandate to defend the lead, which is always risky at 1-0. As the minutes ticked down, the nerves increased so it was a relief when a ball from Naughton to Shelvey was intercepted by Anya who took it out of the danger area. Swansea’s best chance of the game came in the last minute of normal time as a powerful shot from Shelvey was blocked by Gomes who spilled the ball before pouncing to gather as Éder closed in. The announcement that the fourth official had indicated seven minutes of injury time prompted an increase in both the heart rates of the Rookery faithful and the volume of the chants, which had already been quite impressive. Jurado broke forward and crossed for Berghuis who had two shots on goal, both of which were blocked by Fabianski. There was a bit of a frantic scramble in the Watford box, with the home defence unable to clear so it was a relief when Fernandez headed over the target to loud cheers from the Rookery. As the Hornets broke down the other end, there was a cry from behind me “We don’t need another goal, just keep it there,” which they duly did.

Gomes and Deeney applaud the crowd

Gomes and Deeney applaud the crowd

As injury time ticked on, Watford fans in all the stands were on their feet loudly encouraging their heroes and as the final whistle went there were rapturous cheers and the feeling that we had all played our part in that victory. My niece declared that it had been the longest 7 minutes of her life and, judging by the exhausted looks of those around us, that was a popular opinion. There was loud applause, singing and flags waving as the players made their way around the ground applauding the fans. Then, as we made a move to leave, “Gold” came blasting over the tannoy meaning one last rendition of “Ighalo-oh” before we went home. On the way out through the concourse there were groups standing around the televisions just waiting to see confirmation of our 12th place in the table which was greeted with cheers.

Outside the ground there was an unpleasant atmosphere as the Swansea fans were as niggly and aggressive as their team had been, but we were soon back to the West Herts and the smiles couldn’t have been wider as we reflected on the game. There had been a far more positive approach and the partnership of Deeney and Ighalo looked back to its best. The only player that drew any criticism was Jurado who is yet to convince, his set pieces were just awful. Still, it is churlish to criticise, as this was one of those games that reminds me why I go to football. A tremendous performance on the pitch and a wonderful supportive atmosphere in the stands. Bring on Newcastle.