Tag Archives: Ashley Young

Defeat Despite Domination at Old Trafford

Deeney and Smalling challenge for the ball

I took an early train to Manchester on which I was delighted to meet up with Dave Messenger, Watford’s Supporter Liaison Officer, who then accompanied me to our designated pre-match pub (which had also been his intended meeting point).  On arrival at the pub, I realised that the small bag containing my purse that I had when I left London was no longer on my person.  Having had no joy from the customer service hotline, which gave me the number for a closed lost property office, I headed back to Piccadilly.  I explained my problem to a lovely guy called Sean in the ticket office, who identified the train manager (Anthony) on the train which had just left to return to London.  He gave him a call and Anthony went to my seat, found the bag and, as he wouldn’t be back in Manchester until late, promised to leave it at Lost Property in London for me to pick up on my return.

Mightily relieved, I headed back to the pub just in time to see the team, who were at the hotel opposite, starting to board the coach for the journey to Old Trafford.  I entered the pub to find all the usual suspects in place, which was very convenient as I had semi-final tickets to hand out (thankfully these were in the bag that I had retained).  I have to say that it was a relief to pass them on, so that the responsibility was no longer mine.

Ben Foster takes a free kick

We gave ourselves plenty of time to get to the ground and negotiate the multiple layers of security that they have at Old Trafford.  As they now only allow you to take a very small bag into the stadium, I filled my pockets with the stuff I needed for the game (match ticket, glasses, phone, camera, notebook) and left the rest at the bag drop where they charged me £5 for the privilege.  I know that they want to encourage people not to take bags to the game, but nobody is going to travel for a couple of hours without provisions for the journey and I find it impossible to travel light anyway.  On arrival at the turnstiles, there was another search before we finally entered.  Once inside the ground, I could hear the tannoy announcer welcoming us to the “Theatre of Dreams”.  My description was much less polite.  Old Trafford really is the most unpleasant ground to visit in the Premier League.

Prior to the match, there had been speculation that Gracia would rest players in preparation for the semi-final next week.  There was another train of thought that said that the players had been training for two weeks, so needed game time.  As it turned out, there were five changes from the Palace game with wholesale changes in defence as Foster, Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos and Masina replaced Gomes, Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart and Holebas.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos, Masina; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.  United’s starting line-up featured Watford Academy graduate Ashley Young who, following some over-exuberant goal celebrations in front of Watford fans, is no longer greeted as an erstwhile hero.  The referee for the afternoon was Stuart Attwell.  A choice that was rather ironic as discussions with John Eustace regarding the “ghost goal” had been a notable feature at the Tales from the Vicarage event the previous Sunday.

Doucoure on the ball

The game started brightly for the Hornets with a decent chance in the sixth minute as Pereyra cut the ball back to Doucouré whose shot was just wide of the near post.  Deeney had the next chance with a shot from distance that was high and wide of the target.  The first attack of note by the home side came on the counter as Pogba released Rashford who was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Kabasele.  The resulting corner was delivered deep to Smalling who headed wide.  Watford had a great chance to open the scoring as a cross from Janmaat was headed goalwards by Deeney, de Gea managed to make the save but injured himself in the process.  At this point the first chant of “Attwell, give us a goal” was heard.  The first booking of the game went to Will Hughes for a foul on Pogba.  Watford had another great chance and Pereyra really should have done better when he received a headed pass from Deulofeu, but his shot was soft and straight at the keeper.  Deulofeu was the next to test de Gea with a shot through legs but, again, it was a fairly simple save for the keeper.  On a rare foray into the Watford box, Martial took a tumble looking for a penalty, but the referee was having none of it and waved play on.  United took the lead against the run of play as Shaw released Rashford, Foster came out to try to stop the shot, but the United youngster found the net.  At this point, if there had been any leg room and I hadn’t been in the second to back row of a stand in which everyone was on their feet, I would have slumped into my seat.  It was so frustrating to be a goal down following United’s first real chance of the game.  Ironically, the home side had a great chance to increase their lead almost immediately as a corner was cleared only as far as Martial but his shot was stopped by a brilliant reaction save by Foster.  The last chance of the half fell to the Hornets as Deulofeu took a dangerous-looking free kick, but Smalling was able to get a head to it and avert the danger.

Deulofeu prepares for a corner

So we reached half time a goal down in a half that had been completely dominated by the Hornets.  We were trailing to a goal scored by the home side on a counter attack.  But, if you don’t take your chances ….

The home side came out for the second half some time before the visitors, but it was the Hornets who had the first shot of the half, a curler from Deulofeu that was saved fairly comfortably by de Gea.  Janmaat was the next to try his luck, but his shot from the edge of the box was over the target.  Watford had a great chance to grab an equaliser when Deulofeu cut the ball back to Pereyra whose shot needed an excellent save from de Gea to push it around the post.  Gracia made his first change after 57 minutes replacing Janmaat with Femenía.  Watford had another decent chance as Hughes hit a lovely curling shot, but it was just wide of the target.  The Hornets threatened again as a corner cleared to Femenía who was well outside the box when he took the shot, but de Gea managed to get in the way to make the block.  There was a double substitution for the home side as Herrera and Mata made way for Lingard and Pereira.

Pereyra and Hughes

Watford were playing some gorgeous football and deserved more from a lovely passing move that finished with a chip from Deeney that de Gea saved.  Watford won a free kick, which was cleared to Capoue whose volley was way over the target.  Watford had been dominant again in the second half, so it was cruel that the first meaningful attack of the second half from the home side resulted in their second goal as Lingard crossed for Martial, his first shot was blocked by Foster but he bundled the rebound in.  To add insult to injury, we were in front of an executive box so were able to watch a reply which clearly showed Martial in an offside position.  Each side made a further substitution with Gray replacing Deulofeu for the Hornets and Rojo on for Martial for the home side.  United had a chance to further increase their lead but Lingard’s shot was straight at Foster.  Pereyra then had a great chance to pull one back when he received a cross in an acre of space, but he waited too long to take the shot so was closed down and could only win a corner.  Gracia made his last substitution bringing Success on for Hughes, who had had a superb game.  There was a second booking for the Hornets as Masina was cautioned for bundling Rashford over as he attempted a break.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, Watford pulled a goal back as Doucouré played a one-two with Success before coolly finishing past de Gea.  The travelling Hornets celebrated mightily, the players just ran back to the centre circle to get on with the game.  Oddly, given the goal, substitutions and various stoppages for injuries/cramp, there was only 3 minutes of time added on.  Watford had a great chance to grab an equaliser when Capoue won a free kick just outside the box.  Pereyra took the free kick and I was just waiting for a shot when a United player collapsed in the box and the whistle went to award a free kick to the home side.  That was the last action of the game, so the Hornets ended up on the losing side.

Capoue takes a free kick

Despite their disappointment at the defeat, the travelling Hornets roared their appreciation of the team’s performance with the songs reaching a crescendo as Gracia came over to applaud the crowd.  It had been a tremendous performance by the Watford lads.  It isn’t often that you play away against one of the top six and find the home team playing a defensive game hoping to score on the break.  The Watford midfield ran the game and, in a season in which Capoue and Doucouré have excelled on a weekly basis, it was great to see Hughes put in a superb performance.

On the tram back to the station, we got talking to some locals who acknowledged that we had been the better team.  Unsurprisingly, the train back to London was packed, but I arrived early enough to bump into some fellow regulars, so I had delightful company on the journey home.  We were joined by a Norwegian Manchester United fan, who was lovely and chatted away about his team.  He had taken his significant other to her first game and said that she’d enjoyed it.  My suggestion that, given the performances of the two teams, she would likely opt for Watford fell on deaf ears.

Gathering for a corner

On return to Euston I went in search of my mislaid purse.  The guy at Lost Property claimed no knowledge of the item, so I went to the ticket office where I met Petro and Sana, who went above and beyond the call of duty, finding the name and contact details for the train manager who had promised to drop off my bag.  They called him and were told that it was in lost property so Petro accompanied me to convey what he had been told to the guardian of the missing loot, who produced a book containing details of all items that had been left with them and I spotted the entry that corresponded to my purse.  He retrieved it and I was able to return home with my purse intact and a great respect for the customer service delivered by the Virgin Trains ticket office staff.

Back to the football and this had been a wonderful performance by the Watford boys.  We now face a week with a game against Fulham that could allow us to achieve our highest points total in the Premier League since it was created and a game on Sunday in which we could advance to only our second FA Cup final.  If we play as we did on Saturday, I believe we should be able to achieve both of those aims.  I just need to work out how to keep myself functioning in the day job for the next week.

 

 

Disappointment and Pride after First Defeat of the Season

Harry Hornet in happier times

After a trio of Sunday afternoon games, we returned to a Saturday kick-off, although it was not until 5:30pm, so still a disruption to the routine.  When kick-offs are moved, I always have a fear in the back of my mind that I have the time wrong and will miss the game. This wasn’t helped when I watched the rather sweet NBC advertisement for the game which featured a little girl answering questions from her friend about why she is a Watford fan.  At the end, they announce that kick-off is at 12:30 and I had a brief moment of panic before I realised that this was the time on the East coast of the US.  This piece heavily featured Harry Hornet, which was rather sad following the announcement this week that he was hanging up his oversized boots.

He has provided the fans with a lot of entertainment over the years and will be greatly missed.

Due to the late kick-off and an appointment in Hemel the next day, I decided to stay in Watford overnight and, as I checked in, the American couple in front of me were asking about where to go for the pre-match atmosphere.  It turned out that this Man United fan had turned up in Watford without a ticket.  A risky ploy given the relatively small capacity at Vicarage Road.

Our Stars in Stripes in front of the display in the family stand

I was in the West Herts bright and early to join Don who, needless to say, had been there since before the doors opened.  He does like to make sure that he is in place in plenty of time for kick-off.  We suspect that, between games, he sits quietly in a corner where they keep him going with regular cups of tea.  It was a day to remember absent friends as it would have been GT’s 74th birthday and Toddy’s anniversary is this week.  While there was little expectation that our 100% record would continue, we had to hope that the lads would still do them both proud.

As we approached the ground, the touts were out in force on Vicarage Road, a very distasteful sight, but one that would have been welcomed by the young American that I met at the hotel.  When I went to buy a programme from my usual seller, I was a little concerned to see a young lad in place of the usual woman, so asked after her to find that she was absent due to a hen night.  I was mightily relieved.

As we took our seats we were greeted with impressive stripes of yellow and black in the family stand and the SEJ, as the club had put yellow and black t-shirts on seats to further encourage the fans to join in with the ‘Stars in Stripes’ that we have come to love this season.  I was actually amazed at how many people had donned the t-shirts.  It looked great.  Prior to kick-off, Emma congratulated Javi Gracia on both the Manager of the Month award and the League Managers Association Performance of the Week for the Tottenham game.  As he took the applause of the crowd, there was that niggling worry that the curse of the MoM award would kick in.

Pereyra on the ball

Team news was, unsurprisingly, that the starting XI remained unchanged for a fifth match in a row so the line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Janmaat; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deeney, Gray.  Manchester United featured former Watford favourite, Ashley Young, who has sadly become a villain for the crowd after his “in your face” goal celebrations in front of the Rookery on his last visit.  The visitors were sporting pale salmon pink shirts that appeared to be the result of the kit man leaving a red sock in the machine when washing a white away kit.

The visitors started the game strongly with Foster being called into action in the second minute when Sánchez found Lukaku in the box, but the Watford keeper dived at his feet to avert the danger.  Watford’s first chance came soon after as a clearance fell to Doucouré whose shot was wild and wide of the target.  United’s next chance came through a shot from Pogba, but Foster was down low to save.  At the other end Hughes turned and shot, but it was an easy catch for de Gea.  At this point, there was a very loud chorus of one Harry Hornet.  Watford had a terrific chance to take the lead after some interplay between Pereyra and Deeney, the Watford captain’s shot required a smart save from de Gea to tip it over the bar.

Doucoure, Capoue and Hughes looking unsure about Deeney’s instruction

United had the ball in the net in the 24th minute as Sánchez finished from close range, but the flag was up for offside.   Sánchez threatened again on the half hour, running into the box and hitting a shot that was pushed over by Foster.  The first booking went to Capoue for a rather innocuous trip on Lingard, which seemed harsh given some of the challenges that had gone before.  The visitors took the lead after 35 minutes when Lukaku chested Young’s cross home.  From the Rookery, there were (erroneous) shouts of offside.  Holebas was also unhappy at something about the goal and was booked for his protest.  Watford had a wobble after the goal and United could have had a second from a Pogba shot, but Foster pulled off a terrific save.  But the visitors scored a second within 3 minutes as a corner was flicked on by Fellaini to Smalling who controlled on his chest before volleying past Foster.  The visitors had a chance to increase their lead further in time added on at the end of the half as Lingard crossed for Pogba whose snapshot was kept out by a brilliant save from Foster.  So we reached half time two goals down, which seemed slightly harsh but was the result of an uncharacteristically shaky spell after the first goal was scored.

The half time guest was Peter Kennedy who, it has to be said, was totally unrecognizable.  He works as an accountant in local government in Northern Ireland now, not a typical career path for a former Premier League footballer.

Both teams emerged promptly for the second half but were kept waiting by the officials.  Having toured the ground recently, I can assure you that it wasn’t the comfort of the referee’s room that detained them.

The wall jumps as Pereyra takes a free kick

The first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets when Pereyra won a free kick and took it himself, but his shot was over the bar.  The Hornets almost made the breakthrough as Holebas delivered a corner into the box, but Smalling beat Kabasele to the header and it went out for a corner.  The Hornets pulled one back after 65 minutes as Doucouré beat a defender and pulled the ball back for Gray who finished brilliantly past de Gea.  There was minimal celebration before the Watford lads ran back to the centre circle for the restart.  Game on!!  A couple of minutes later, there were shouts for a free kick as Pereyra was fouled on the edge of the area, but Mike Dean waved play on.  With 20 minutes remaining, each side made a change with Lingard making way for Martial for the visitors and Femenía replacing Janmaat for the Hornets.  Femenía’s first act was to play a lovely cross for Pereyra, but Valencia took the ball off the foot of the Argentine.  Pereyra then laid the ball off for Doucouré, but the shot was well over the bar.  Matić was booked for a foul in the build-up.  The central defenders came into their own as Craig Cathcart made a brilliant sliding tackle as Sánchez appeared to be through on goal.  Then Martial was prevented from shooting by an equally wonderful tackle from Kabasele.

Holebas crosses

There was a rash of late substitutions as McTominay replaced Sánchez for United and Gracia brought Masina and Success on for Holebas and Cathcart, both of whom left the field to appreciative applause.  Doucouré had impressed in the second half, although his shooting had been suspect, but he did brilliantly with a curling shot that de Gea just managed to hold.  There was a paltry 3 minutes added at the end of the game, most of which seemed to be taken up by Valencia taking an age to leave the pitch when being replaced by Bailly and then Matić leaving the field equally slowly after being shown a second yellow card for a foul on Hughes.  Foster came up for the free-kick, and it looked as through Watford would save a point as the delivery from Hughes was met by the head of Kabasele, but de Gea appeared from nowhere to make the save.  There was one final chance for the Hornets as Masina’s corner curled across goal and just past the far post, so the Hornets went down to their first defeat this season.

 

Cathcart ignoring Deeney

Fair play to the Watford fans who chanted passionately for their team after the final whistle.  Given that the Hornets had been behind for the whole of the second half, it was a testament to their performance that Occupation Road was totally packed at the end of the game as the Watford fans had stayed to the end.  It was a terrific second half performance which deserved a point.  As has been the case in every game so far this season, it was a terrific team effort but Cathcart and Kabasele continue to impress.  It seems time to resurrect the “Cool as Craig” t-shirts for our unfussy, unflappable defender.  Deeney and Gray also continue to link up well and Andre’s goal was terrific.

Back to the West Herts and Glenn had picked up some unwanted yellow shirts, so this Rookery resident was able to take one home.  The consensus of the post-match discussion was that, while we were all disappointed at the result, it had been a very impressive performance and we matched Manchester United all over the pitch.  We were a very content group of Hornets.  Our recent performances have shown that we have nothing to fear in this division this season, and that is certainly not what Watford fans were expecting when the season started.  Long may it continue.

Handbags and Glad Rags at the End of the Season

Don and I with the Player of the Season

On Thursday, Watford held the End of Season dinner.  I must say that I don’t enjoy Wembley as a venue, it feels as though you are having dinner in an aircraft hangar and the event has lost its friendly feel.  On the plus side, for the first time in three years the head coach was in attendance.  I managed to have a brief chat with Javi, who said what a lovely family we were at Watford.  On the family theme, it was really lovely to see Rita Taylor there with her daughter and grandchildren.  The youngsters were on the stage to help present the Player of the Season award which is named in honour of GT.  There was no surprise when Doucouré won the award and I can confirm that he is a lovely chap.  As, indeed, is Christian Kabasele, who was the Community Ambassador of the year.  The Hall of Fame inductee was Tom Walley, not before time.  He was joined on the evening by a number of his ‘graduates’.  Robert Page and Kenny Jackett both paid warm tribute to him and his part in making them into the players/managers/men that they are.  Tom’s acceptance speech was brief but heartfelt.

The winning team

On Saturday was the Legends game in aid of the 25th anniversary of the Community Sports and Education Trust.  It was a foul day with the rain lashing down but, as I entered the ground, I was cheered to see Tom Walley waiting for the lift to the concourse.  I went up to him to say how happy I was that he had received the Hall of Fame accolade.  I was rewarded with a smile, a kiss and “Football has been good to me.”  I pointed out that he had been very good to football.  The game ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.  But it was lovely to see Lloyd Doyley, Nicky Wright, Allan Smart, Steve Palmer, Gavin Mahon, Marcus Gayle and Derek Payne gracing the Vicarage Road pitch again.  The teams were managed by Luther Blissett and Kenny Jackett.  Luther played a cameo at the end and ended up as the manager of the winning team.

After the Legends game, I headed up to Manchester for Sunday’s match.  When I arrived at the pre-match pub there was already a couple of Northern based Hornets at ‘our’ table.  The team usually travel to the ground from the hotel opposite the pub, so we waved them off from the comfort of our seats.  Not that they saw us, but it is the thought that counts.  Our pre-match group was honoured to be joined by Emma Saunders, Watford’s matchday announcer, who was being a fan for the day.

Cuddling lovely Christian Kabasele

We left the pub in plenty of time to deal with the extensive security measures that are always in place at Old Trafford.  Being aware of the restrictions, I had left my rucksack and laptop in the hotel and arrived at the ground with only my essentials.  We passed through the first cordon and had our bags checked with no issues.  Then we arrived at the next phalanx of stewards to be told that no bags were allowed in the ground “because of what happened in Paris last night.”  So, a madman with a knife on the streets of Paris meant that middle-aged women could no longer be trusted to bring handbags into a football stadium.  Mick Smithers, our Police liaison officer, was in the vicinity, so we asked whether he would mind our bags, but we were given no choice but to walk to a car park across the road to dispose of the offending items.  The bag drop that had been designated for away fans was already full.  We asked what we were supposed to do now and were directed to another portacabin that was barely visible in the distance.  On arrival, I emptied my bag of most of its contents and transferred them to my pockets and basically left my make-up bag behind.  When we arrived back at the turnstiles, there was a quick check with a wand and we were in.  It would have been a lot simpler and more secure to have examined the contents of my small bag as they had no idea what was in my rather large pockets.

Pereyra on the ball

Due to our diversion, I arrived at my seat just as the pre-match handshakes were taking place.  I then did my usual thing of getting my notebook, pen and camera ready for the game.  As I retrieved things from my coat pocket, I realised that I had completely forgotten to transfer a pen from my bag and nobody else in our party had one, so I was unable to make any notes on the game, which is probably as well as it was not a game packed with incident.

Team news was that Gracia had made three changes from the Newcastle game with Gomes, Deulofeu and Richarlison coming in for Karnezis, Capoue and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu, Pereyra, Richarlison; Gray.  The return of Gomes to the team meant that he would make his 100th Premier League appearance for the Hornets and would be wearing the captain’s armband as he did so.  There was also much joy among the travelling fans when it was confirmed that Chalobah would be on the bench after so long out due to injury.

Heurelho Gomes making his 100th Premier League appearance for the Hornets

The first chance of the game fell to the Hornets as Romero dropped a cross from Janmaat which, for a moment, looked as though it may drift in to the goal, but there was no Watford player on hand to take advantage and the United goalie was able to recover.  The first caution was earned by Rojo for a foul on Richarlison.  The young Brazilian took the resultant free kick himself but sent it well over the bar.  The home side had their first chance of note in the 16th minute when Sanchez received a pass from Blind, but volleyed well wide of the target.  Gracia was forced into an early substitution when Kabasele ushered a ball out of play and, as he followed it, the momentum took him down the slope behind the goal and he collided with the hoardings.  Christian tried to continue after receiving treatment, but soon had to be replaced by Mariappa.  I was just hoping that this didn’t end his chance of being involved in the World Cup.  United took the lead in the 34th minute with a goal that came out of nothing as Carrick played a ball over the top to Mata, who appeared to be in an offside position, he squared for Rashford who had a simple finish past Gomes.  The Hornets should have grabbed an equaliser just before half time as Richarlison met a cross from Janmaat and headed back across goal, but Romero pulled off a terrific save to frustrate the Watford youngster.  The resulting corner reached Deulofeu who tried a shot, but Romero was also equal to that effort.  So we reached half time with the Hornets slightly unfortunate to be a goal down.

Deeney and Pereyra challenging in the United box

The first incident of note in the second half was a caution for Ashley Young after a foul on Janmaat.  Sadly, following his unpleasant celebration after scoring against the Hornets at Vicarage Road, the former Watford youngster was being booed every time he touched the ball.  Pereyra took the free-kick, which bounced off Mariappa and the home defence were able to clear.  Soon after, Young was replaced by Luke Shaw.  Gracia also made a change bringing Deeney on for Deulofeu and switching to two up front.  United had a chance to increase their lead as Sanchez crossed to the back post, but the ball was too high for Mata. There was another card for the home side as McTominay was penalised for a shirt pull on Richarlison.  There appeared to be a terrific chance for the Hornets as a poor clearance bounced off Hughes who found Gray, who had a great chance to finish but took one touch too many and ended up putting the ball wide.  His blushes were spared as the flag was up for offside, but it was a terrible miss.  There were loud cheers from the travelling Hornets as Chalobah appeared on the touchline ready to take the field, which he did in place of Gray.  United then made their second substitution bringing Herrera on for Blind.  With 10 minutes remaining, Watford had a terrific chance to score an equaliser as Richarlison ran into the box but, again, waited too long to take a shot and was tackled.  The last half chance for the visitors came as a deep corner from Holebas was met by a header by Doucouré, but it was weak and easily gathered by Romero.  With five minutes remaining, Michael Carrick, who was making his last appearance before retiring, was substituted (for Paul Pogba) to allow him to enjoy an ovation from the United fans.  The Watford faithful joined in with the applause.  And that was it, there were no further goals and the game finished with a narrow win for United.

So happy to see Chalobah back on the pitch

At the final whistle, the Watford players applauded the crowd and Adrian Mariappa came over to give his shirt to one of the fans in the disabled area.  The stewards on the pitch stepped in to stop him and it took all of his charm to persuade them that this action was not a security issue.  The joy on the face of the woman who received the shirt as she held it aloft in triumph made the stewards’ action look as mean spirited as it was.  It was also noticeable how few home fans were left in the ground to applaud their team’s efforts this season.  I guess that finishing second in the league getting to the Cup Final isn’t worthy of celebration in this part of Manchester, nor is saying goodbye to a long serving player.  So very sad, but Old Trafford seems primarily to be a tourist destination these days.

As we headed back to pick up our bags, I encountered Don Fraser, so pushed his wheelchair back to Coach 1.  We proceeded in the direction of the bag drop only to find that there was a barrier in the way and a steward directing us back the way we had come.  Our expressions of indignation persuaded him to let us through and, thankfully, we were soon on our way.

Gathering in the box for a corner

So it was back to the pub for the last post-match analysis of the season.  It has to be said that it wasn’t a great game.  The home side appeared to be playing in second gear while they looked forward to the Cup Final next week.  Watford, as so often this season, put in a decent performance but, as a friend commented, were “pathologically opposed to shooting.”  United did defend well, but if an early shot had been taken on a couple of occasions, Romero may have had a more difficult afternoon.  It has been a very odd season.  It started with some superb performances, but started petering out once Silva received the approach from Everton and, despite moments of brilliance, never regained any momentum.  While 14th in the division is something that most of us would have been happy with at the start of the season, it does feel like the team has massively underachieved given the talent in the squad.  Certainly the absence of Cleverley and Chalobah through injury for much of the season has had an effect on performances, but the main problem has been the lack of an effective striker and they are not easy to come by.

But, frustrating as this season has been, I will be counting the days until the fixtures come out so that I can plan next year’s adventures.

Thank you to all of you who have read my reports this season.  I wish you all a wonderful Summer.

 

Watford Missing the X-factor

Spot the ball

Midweek games are something of a rarity these days, so it seemed odd to be slipping out of work to head for Vicarage Road.  As I approached the West Herts, I bumped into Don and Trond, who were already on their way to the ground.  I know that they usually leave pretty early, but there were a number of other people also heading in the opposite direction to me, so I became a little concerned that I had made a mistake regarding the kick-off time.  Thankfully the bar was still busy and our usual table was populated with friendly faces.  There was a surprise appearance by Chris and Carl Todd.  So lovely to see them and even better that there was a spare ticket available among our group allowing Chris to see the game live rather than watching the television in the bar.

Team news was that Silva had made one change from the team that started at Newcastle, with Prödl replacing the injured Britos in defence.  So, the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Kabasele; Femenía, Cleverley, Doucouré, Zeegelaar; Hughes, Richarlison; Gray.  Former Watford youngster, Ashley Young, started for the visitors and his name was cheered as it was announced.

Cleverley lines up a free kick

It all started so well.  The Hornets had an early chance as Femenía hit a cross that Richarlison was just unable to reach.  The Brazilian was the next to try a cross, but it was caught by De Gea.  A corner from Cleverley was met by the head of Zeegelaar, but the effort was blocked.  Somewhat against the run of play, the visitors took the lead in the 19th minute with a gorgeous shot from Young that curled in at the near post.  He celebrated in front of the Watford fans, which incurred the wrath of many in the Rookery meaning that his every touch was booed from that moment on.  The first booking of the evening went to Doucouré after a tackle on Pogba.  Young scored a second after 25 minutes with a stunning free kick which flew over the wall and under the crossbar before Gomes saw it.  This time he celebrated by sliding on his knees towards the Rookery.  Now I am not one of those who believes that returning players should not celebrate, but I thought this celebration was a bit rude.  There is no need to goad the opposition fans and it would have been more enjoyable for both sets of fans if he had celebrated facing the away end.  The visitors scored their third after both Kabasele and Prödl failed to clear when given the opportunity, allowing Lukaku to feed Martial who had an easy finish.  Gomes saved Watford’s blushes, preventing a fourth goal, as he parried Lukaku’s shot from the edge of the area, Lingard looked sure to score from the follow-up and Gomes did well to tip the shot over the bar.  In time added on at the end of the half, there was finally something to make the Watford fans smile as Femenía went on a run across the pitch and into the box where he crossed for Richarlison whose header hit the bar and flew over the target.

Rak-Su entertaining the crowd

The half-time entertainment was a visit by X-factor finalists, Rak-Su, a band of Watford lads.  It probably wasn’t the best evening for them to be appearing as the Watford crowd were not in the best of moods by this point.  They did their best to lift spirits, but were fighting a losing battle.

I was not looking forward to the teams returning after the break, but the Hornets started brightly as Cleverley tried a cross which was too close to De Gea.  At the other end, Martial found Lukaku who shot wide of the far post.  Each side was forced to make a substitution early in the half with Herrera coming on for the injured Matic for the visitors, while Pereyra and Carrillo replaced Prödl and Hughes, who appeared to have a strain, for the home side.  Watford threatened with a shot from distance from Doucouré that flew over the bar.  The Hornets came even closer to pulling one back when a lovely cross from Femenía was met by Richarlison whose header was just wide of the near post.  United’s second change saw Rashford come on for Martial.  The visitors had a chance to increase their lead as Pogba met a corner from Lingard, but Gomes dropped to make the save.  Carrillo did really well to turn and lose his marker on the edge of the box, he put in a decent cross, but no Watford player could apply the finishing touch.  Then a Zeegelaar cross flew over the head of Richarlison, the clearance fell to Mariappa who tried a shot from distance that flew wide of the near post.

Deeney heading back to the centre circle after scoring the penalty

Silva’s final change was to bring Deeney on for Gray.  The captain took the field to a massive roar from the Vicarage Road faithful.  He had an early chance to make an impression as a cross from Doucouré came his way, but the defender stopped him making a clean connection.  The visitors had a further chance to increase their lead as a free-kick from Lingard was met by Pogba, but his header was just over the bar.  A couple of chances then fell to Lukaku, the first was blocked by Mariappa, the second flew wide of the far post.  Watford got a goal back on 77 minutes after Rojo tripped Pereyra in the box.  The United players surrounded the referee, but he had already pointed to the spot.  Deeney stepped up with a smile on his face.  The guy next to me couldn’t look, so missed seeing Troy kiss the ball before placing it on the spot and burying it in the left-hand corner after sending De Gea the wrong way.  At last, something to cheer for the fans of the Hornets.  The Watford captain had a chance to score a second as Femenía delivered a lovely cross that Troy headed goalwards, but it was caught by De Gea.  The second Watford goal was a thing of beauty as Carrillo crossed for Doucouré to hit a terrific shot past De Gea.  Suddenly it was game on and the Watford crowd were roaring their encouragement.  Richarlison had a chance for an equalizer, but his close range shot was blocked at the near post.  Then United broke down field and Lingard dribbled half the length of the pitch.  With the Watford defence arrayed in front of him, I was willing one of them to stop him, but no tackle came and he beat Gomes to give the visitors a two goal cushion.  Despite the set-back, Watford were still battling to get something from the game as Richarlison crossed from the byline but De Gea put the ball out for a corner, from which Cleverley’s delivery was headed clear by Pogba.  There was a roar from the home crowd as the fourth official indicated that there were 4 additional minutes, but it was in vain and the game finished in defeat, but with the Watford team applauded off the pitch.

Doucoure after scoring the second

It was an odd game.  The first half had been brutal.  Watford had not been overrun as far as possession was concerned, but each misplaced pass seemed to be punished.  It has to be said that Young’s goals were both excellent, but I was pretty miserable at the end of the half.  But the Watford team showed great resilience with a considerably better performance in the second half.  The introduction of Carrillo made a difference, he was excellent.  Deeney also contributed to the upturn, his strength is always an asset and he certainly added a new dimension to the game.  When Doucouré’s goal went in, there was a definite feeling that we could get something from the game, something that would have seemed impossible at half time.

The defeat was disappointing but, before the game, we had this one down as a free hit and I enjoyed the comment of one of the lads behind me that, having already won 4 points from games against Liverpool and Arsenal, that would do for him.  We host Tottenham on Saturday, which won’t be any easier, but can also be considered a free hit before we have a series of games against those around us in the table.  Our points total in December will give a very good signal of whether this team is as good as we think it is.  With 21 points already on the board, a relegation battle is looking unlikely, so I hope that we can continue to look up the table and enjoy the football.  That would make me very happy indeed.

Beating the Reds After a 30 Year Wait

The pre match huddle

The pre match huddle

With the early kick-off, I was torn on whether to drive or take the train to the game.  I decided on the latter option meaning that I left home rather early to give myself plenty of time to get to Watford.  Contrary to what we had heard on our last visit, they made a late decision to open the West Herts before the game, but I was glad I had left the car at home as I arrived to see that the football matches going on at the sports club meant that the car park was already full soon after 10:30.  It also allowed me to have the breakfast of kings, a pint and a hot dog, to set me up for the day.  As we walked to the ground, there were touts galore in Vicarage Road most of whom appeared to be trying to buy tickets to sell on.  There were also the eponymous half and half scarves on sale, one hawker was actually standing outside the Hornet Shop, which was ridiculous.  I can’t believe that they weren’t cleared out of there.

Team news was just the one change from the West Ham game as a slight injury to Kaboul meant that Prödl was drafted in to take his place.  So, the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos; Janmaat, Pereyra, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.  For the visitors, Watford Academy graduate, Ashley Young, was on the bench.  I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that little Ashley is in his thirties.  Where did all those years go?

Capoue and Fellaini

Capoue and Fellaini

When I took my seat I was a little perturbed to see a stranger in the seat next to me.  I am always wary at a game against a ‘big club’ when I see a new face, especially if they are not wearing colours, but he had the season ticket of the guy who usually sits there and it was quickly apparent that he was a fellow Hornet.  As the teams came out, our view was obscured as the 1881 flag with the angry moose made its way up the stand over our heads, a wonderful sight for the television cameras.  Prior to kick-off the guy who sits behind me said that he thought it would be 2-1 today … to us.  As always, I didn’t share his confidence, but he wasn’t the first Watford fan who had predicted a victory and United’s recent form did not bode well for them.

The home side started the game very brightly and had a great chance to take the lead in the ninth minute when a free-kick from Holebas was headed on by Prödl, Deeney slid in to try to meet the ball and only just missed connecting.  There was an even better chance a couple of minutes later, as De Gea collided with a team mate and the ball dropped to Ighalo who appeared to have the goal at his mercy but hit it wide leaving the Watford fans with heads in hands.  To be fair to him, the replay showed De Gea was in a much better position than was originally apparent, but you get so few chances in games like this that any miss from a decent position causes concern.

Cathcart takes a throw in

Cathcart takes a throw in

The attacking threat continued for the Hornets as a deep cross from Janmaat was met with a header from Deeney that was kept out by a wonderful flying save from De Gea.  Soon after, a cross from Cathcart was met with a header from Ighalo that flew over the bar.  The first real chance for the visitors came in the 20th minute when a Rashford cross was met by Ibrahimovic who directed his shot into the side netting.  There was an extended break in play following a collision between Martial and Janmaat.  First impressions were that Martial could have been badly hurt as he was flat on his back and didn’t move for some time.  There was less concern for Janmaat who had walked to the edge of the pitch with his hand clutched to his head.  It looked worrying for a while but, thankfully, both players were soon fit to restart the game.  Just before the half hour there was action in the row in front as the bloke who usually goes for coffee in the 41st minute made an early move.  There were meaningful glances all around as the inhabitants of the centre of the Rookery came to terms with this drastic change to usual practice.  Early kick-offs have a lot to answer for.  On the half hour, neither Gomes nor those behind the goal in the Rookery were particularly concerned when Pogba hit a shot from distance as it appeared to be flying well over the bar, so I nearly had a seizure when the ball smacked back off the crossbar.

A bundled celebration for Capoue's goal.

A bundled celebration for Capoue’s goal.

Watford took the lead in the 34th minute.  Martial was dispossessed by a robust tackle by Britos, United appeals for a foul were waved away, the ball fell to Janmaat who played it back to Capoue who powered his shot in off De Gea.  Martial had remained on the ground as the goal was scored and, after finally receiving treatment, was unable to continue so was replaced by Ashley Young whose appearance was applauded by fans on all sides of the ground.  A rare mistake from Behrami allowed Ibrahimovic to break forward but the danger was snuffed out by a brilliant challenge by Prödl.  Just before half time, Capoue was fouled on the edge of the box.   Holebas stepped up to take the free kick, his shot went through the wall but was saved by De Gea.  In time added on, a bit of pinball following a tackle led to a lucky break for the visitors but Rashford’s run was stopped by another great tackle from Prödl.

So Watford went into the break a goal to the good.  It was a thoroughly deserved lead which should have been larger.

Watford legends Jackett and Page

Watford legends Jackett and Page

At half time it was lovely to see Kenny Jackett and Robert Page having a chat with Emma Saunders and making the 50-50 draw.  Both players are much loved by the Watford faithful and it was good to hear how impressed they were with the changes at Vicarage Road, both on and off the pitch.  The draw was followed by the schools’ penalty competition.  The perception that they had started rather late was confirmed when Troy and the lads appeared for the second half as the shoot-out reached sudden death.  Thankfully one of the kids hit a winner before the TV directors had to intervene.

In the first minute of the second half, a defensive header fell to Ibrahimovic who shot well wide of the target.  Mazzarri made his first substitution in the 50th minute bringing Amrabat on to replace the injured Janmaat.  There had been little in the way of chances in the first quarter hour of the second half but suddenly, out of nothing, the Watford defence failed to clear a cross from Ibrahimovic and Rashford finished past Gomes.  I’d spotted a bloke in the Lower GT wearing a Man Utd shirt and scarf, he was looking very smug at this point.  Watford tried to hit back immediately as a free kick from Capoue was cleared to Holebas whose shot was just wide of the target.

Amrabat and Pereyra celebrate setting up Zuniga's goal

Amrabat and Pereyra celebrate setting up Zuniga’s goal

For the next ten minutes, there was constant pressure from the visitors, but they didn’t manage a shot to test Gomes and the next chance fell to the home side as a Holebas free kick was met with a clever flick from Pereyra, but the United defence was able to clear.  Up until the 75th minute, Michael Oliver had been pretty good in letting the play flow but, suddenly he seemed to be giving soft free kicks and, with this period of the game being played primarily in the Watford half, they mostly went to United.  With ten minutes to go, it looked as though the visitors had taken the lead as a brilliant header from Ibrahimovic was flying in until Gomes appeared out of nowhere to make an equally brilliant save.  It looked as though we would be hanging on until Deeney put in a great tackle on the wing which sparked a change in the momentum of the game.  While the tackle was trivial in the context of the game, something about his energy seemed to inject new life into his team mates.  Mazzarri’s second change saw Zúñiga on for Capoue who went off to rapturous applause.  The Colombian’s first touch proved to be decisive.  Amrabat played a lovely through ball to Pereyra, he cut the ball back to Zúñiga who powered into the net and went on a run with a celebration as passionate as any in the Rookery.

Pereyra congratulates Deeney on his penalty

Pereyra congratulates Deeney on his penalty

Watford’s final substitution came as the clock reached 90 minutes and saw Success come on for Ighalo who, as is his wont, politely shook the referee’s hand before leaving the field.  The Hornets indulged in some time wasting at this point, winning a couple of corners and taking them short to keep the ball by the corner flag.  Rooney was getting increasingly irate at this tactic, so the second time we did it, he just kicked Pereyra conceding a free kick and earning himself a yellow card.  Highly amusing.  The ball didn’t stay in that corner, though, and there was time for some icing on the cake as Success went on a run down the left before playing the ball to Zúñiga in the box, who was taken down by Fellaini.  The appointment of Michael Oliver as referee had attracted some comment before the game including a poll by From the Rookery End on when he would award Man Utd’s first penalty in which ‘pre-match warm up’ attracted 57% of the vote.  To be fair to him, I thought his performance was excellent on the day and not just because he went against tradition in awarding an injury time penalty against United.  Deeney had to wait to take the spot kick as Zúñiga was down injured, his team mates, having come up to congratulate him on winning the penalty, had offered the poor lad very little in the way of sympathy for his pain.  When the Colombian was back on his feet, Deeney kissed the match ball, placed it on the penalty spot and powered it down the middle beating De Gea and sending the Watford fans into delirium.  Soon after the final whistle went prompting further great celebrations.

Britos, Pereyra, Pogba and Behrami anticipate a ball forward

Britos, Pereyra, Pogba and Behrami anticipate a ball forward

As we left the ground, we passed Gino Pozzo.  Our Cate shook his hand and thanked him for all that he has done for the club and was rewarded with a warm smile.  She then spotted Glyn Evans, who is a former colleague of hers, so gave him a kiss.  I asked whether she had noticed the bloke behind Glyn, but she had been so busy greeting her old friend that she didn’t spot Bobby Charlton.

My friend, Toddy, had been unable to get to the game being held captive at Watford General after a routine op.  So I popped in to share the post-match celebrations with him to be told that the commentary that he’d been listening to had been lagging behind the noise from the ground so he and his pal in the bed opposite would hear a cheer and then have to wait to hear the details.  The tension hadn’t done either of them any good in aiding recovery.

 

The players celebrate the win

The players celebrate the win

It was then back to the West Herts to join the rest of our crew for the analysis of the game.  There were broad smiles on the faces of all the Watford fans we encountered.  All agreed that this had been a consummate performance and a well deserved win.  While it seems unfair to single out any one player, I have to say that Prödl was absolutely magnificent keeping Ibrahimovic quiet for most of the game.  Pogba was almost invisible and, apart from a spell in the second half after United scored, Watford had been on top.  My only concern had been that we missed Janmaat when he went off, as Amrabat does not have his defensive abilities, but he more than made up for it with the magnificent pass for the second goal.

It is beginning to feel as though we have entered a new era.  At the end of the Liverpool game last season, I was in tears as I never thought my niece would see a performance like that.  Now she is getting rather used to it.  When the fixture list came out I thought that it was quite possible that we would have no points on the board after the first five games.  To reach this stage with seven points and a team that is looking better each week is just wonderful.  Apart from the first half against Arsenal we have looked at least the equals of all our opponents this season and even a pessimist like me is starting to think that we now have a team that can compete with anyone in this division.  It feels like the 80s all over again and I never thought I would be able to say that.  Now let’s just see if they can do it on a wet Monday night in Burnley.