Tag Archives: Bakary Sako

Shooting Ourselves in the Foot at Selhurst Park

Dann warily eyeing Mariappa and Prodl

On Tuesday evening my office Christmas party was taking place.  I work for a very small company, so all day there was a subtle build-up with people coming in wearing party clothes and the box of presents for Secret Santa filling up.  Late afternoon, we had a company meeting to reflect on the achievements of the year and everyone was in party mood as they contemplated an evening of celebration.  Meanwhile, I was heading to Selhurst Park.

There had been a late decision by our pre-match party to forego a trip to the pub we usually frequent for an establishment closer to the ground.  This meant that, despite a meeting that finished just before 6pm, I was able to join them in plenty of time for a couple of pints and a plate of mixed pierogies, which were absolutely delicious.  From there it was a short walk to the ground to take our “seats”.  I do love Selhurst Park but, due to the people standing in front of me, spend a lot of the game with no view of the play, particularly at the far end on our side of the pitch.  I comfort myself with the fact that the lack of view is compensated by an increase in atmosphere.  But it doesn’t do my nerves any good when something crucial is happening and I am relying on the reactions of the crowd to tell me whether it is good or bad from a Watford perspective.

Goalscorer Janmaat

Team news was that Silva had made two changes bringing Prödl and Holebas in for the suspended Zeegelaar and Pereyra.  So, the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Kabasele, Janmaat, Cleverley, Doucouré, Holebas; Carrillo, Richarlison; Deeney.  Palace’s starting XI included former (very short-term) loanee, Townsend.  But, as on Saturday, the most significant ex-Watford connection was in the dug-out in the person of the utterly wonderful Ray Lewington.

There was applause before the game for Julian Speroni, who was making his 400th appearance for Palace.  I was gratified that I wasn’t the only Watford fan to applaud him as I have always liked Speroni.

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets as Richarlison crossed for Janmaat to head home to give the visitors the lead in the third minute.  The Dutchman threatened the Palace goal again soon after, but his cross was too close to Speroni.  Watford looked sure to score their second on 10 minutes after Carrillo found Richarlison, but the shot was headed off the line by Tomkins.

Gomes ready to launch the ball

There was some concern for the young Brazilian soon after following a clash of heads with Deeney, but nobody had pointed a gun at him, so he was fine to continue.  Palace’s first shot of the game came from Fosu-Mensah whose effort was wide of the near post.  Watford had another decent chance to increase their lead, but Janmaat’s shot was deflected for a corner that was delivered straight to Speroni.  Richarlison impressed again, nipping in to the box before shooting just wide.  Palace then launched a counter-attack that finished with a shot from distance from Townsend that was well over the bar.  Janmaat was impressing in both boxes after meeting a cross from Cabaye with a good defensive header.  The resulting corner was headed wide by Dann.  I was just complaining about Doucouré, who never gives the ball away, giving a lie to that statement when a Palace player did the same, Deeney picked up the loose ball and played it out to Richarlison who played a return pass to Troy who somehow fashioned a miss from a yard out, leaving the Watford fans holding their heads in disbelief. 

Challenging at a corner

The travelling Hornets had been baiting Zaha for most of the game and, as he was challenged while running into the box, a voice near me said that he would go down.  He did, the referee waved play on and, when he finally got back to his feet, he was giving Gomes a mouthful, presumably as the Watford keeper had called him out for his theatrics.  Palace had a half chance as a free kick was headed goalwards by Dann, but Gomes was able to gather.  The home side were presented with a great chance to equalise just before half time as the referee penalised what looked like a great tackle from Kabasele on the edge of the box.  Thankfully, the free-kick rebounded straight back off the wall, allowing Richarlison to break upfield, but Speroni gathered his cross.

So, the Hornets went into the break with the lead, which should have been considerably more comfortable.  We had a few very good chances that should have been converted and, while Palace had a decent share of the play, they had yet to test Gomes.

Holebas prepares to take a throw

The first chance of the second half went to the home side, but Mariappa did well to block the shot from Loftus-Cheek.  From a Watford throw-in, there was a bit of a scramble before the ball was cleared to Janmaat on the edge of the box from where he shot over the bar.  The first card of the game went to Milivojevic for what looked like a fairly innocuous tackle on Doucouré.  It seemed an odd decision, as there had been some pretty robust challenges that had escaped punishment.  Watford had a superb chance to finish the game off when Janmaat crossed for Richarlison but, with the goal at his mercy, he shot straight at Speroni.  Hodgson made a couple of changes at this point as Townsend and Fosu-Mensah made way for van Aanholt and Sako.  Silva’s first substitution saw Pereyra come on for Carrillo.  Sako’s first contribution was impressive with a dangerous cross from the left that Gomes did brilliantly to palm away from danger.  Palace made their final substitution bringing McArthur on for Cabaye.  Watford’s first card of the evening came when Cleverley took McArthur down to prevent a break.  Silva made a second change with 10 minutes to go, bringing Gray on for Deeney, who hadn’t had the best of evenings.  Zaha had a decent chance to grab an equaliser but his shot was just over the target.  Silva then made his final substitution bringing Femenía on for Richarlison.

Waiting for the ball to drop

A minute later, it appeared that we would live to regret using our final substitute as Pereyra went down after a nasty tackle from van Aanholt, who was booked for the offense.  Just when it appeared that Watford would leave South London with a comfortable three points, Cleverley had a moment of madness.  The ball fell to him just outside the area, he swung at it, missed and lost possession.  In his desperation to win the ball back, he made a clumsy challenge on Schlupp and was shown a second yellow card, so the Hornets were down to 10 men (again), or 9 as Pereyra was still struggling.  Cleverley was barely down the tunnel when Zaha tried a shot, which was saved by Gomes, the ball fell to Sako whose first shot was blocked, but he buried the follow-up sending the home fans, who had been very quiet up to that point, into ecstasy.  The fourth official indicated six minutes of added time and it went from bad to worse as Zaha crossed for McArthur to grab the winner.

 

Deeney kept in check by Schlupp

There was disbelief among the Watford fans at the end of the game.  We had been so clearly the better team and had made some excellent chances, so there was no way we should have been leaving South London with no points.  Cleverley’s sending off was stupid and gave Palace the momentum, but a second goal earlier in the game would have killed off the Palace threat and there was frustration that this Watford team seem unable to do that.  I couldn’t help a wry smile on seeing the message from Watford Police on twitter after the game which reported that “apart from a few disgruntled fans” there was no trouble, which rather nicely summed up the evening.

Adding insult to injury, we had to walk back to the station among jubilant Palace fans, one of whom was overheard saying that we were the best team that he’d seen this season, which only added to the frustration.  As I travelled back from the game I started to wonder whether I would have been better to have opted for the work Christmas party.  One of my colleagues had sent a photo with the message “where are you?” at about 9:45.  On reflection, knowing that was around the time that the game was thrown away and what sort of mood I would have been in on hearing that news while with my colleagues, I made the right decision.

So we go again on Saturday for the visit of Huddersfield and I can only hope that we will see a game in which the result reflects the performance.

Pitiful Performance against Palace

On Tuesday, I was lucky enough to spend a cracking evening listening to Luther Blissett, Tony Coton, Sean Dyche and Paul Wilkinson reminiscing with Adam Leventhal in Tales from the Vicarage.  As well as the anecdotes, there were some interesting musings on modern football, especially the penchant for diving.  Coton said that, in his day, cheats would be called out by their team mates as well as the opposition.  An interesting thought going into an afternoon with Wilfried Zaha.

As if to punish me for having such a great time, I woke up the next morning with a nasty case of vertigo, which has plagued me for the rest of the week.  As I left home to walk to the station for the journey to Selhurst Park, I was a little unsteady and wondered whether I should stay at home but, since this was our only game in three weeks, I certainly wasn’t going to miss it.

As it was a London game, the City ‘Orns were allowed a block booking of tickets, so we duly met in Croydon for our pre-match drinks.  Whenever two or three (or twelve) football fans are gathered together, the conversation often turns to superstitions and we soon discovered that a number of our group were wearing their “lucky socks”, although the evidence that these articles of clothing were actually lucky was almost as scanty as the shorts that Paul Wilkinson brought along on Tuesday.

Britos takes a throw

Team news was that Mazzarri had made two changes with Cathcart and Janmaat coming in for Holebas and Okaka.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Behrami; Janmaat, Cleverley, Capoue, Niang; and Deeney.

The first incident of the game involved Cathcart stopping a run by Zaha on the edge of the Watford box, allowing the Palace man to take a tumble in the area.  Needless to say, the home fans were yelling for a penalty, while the away fans were berating him for diving.  The first action resembling a goal attempt came from the home side as Sakho headed a Cabaye corner over the bar.  The Hornets fashioned a much better chance as Niang advanced before taking a shot, but it was straight at Hennessey in the Palace goal.  That was it for the first half hour of the game.  The next thing that I deemed worthy of noting down was a chant of “You wrecked your own bus” from the Watford crowd following the report that the Middlesbrough team bus that was covered in Palace graffiti on their visit to Selhurst Park had been loaned from their hosts.  Palace’s best chance of the game so far came on 36 minutes as Zaha advanced down the left, his cross was headed clear by Kaboul, but only as far as Cabaye whose shot was deflected for a corner.

Niang and Deeney looking for the ball

The first caution of the game went to Cleverley for a late foul on Zaha.  A nice passing move between Zaha and Townsend led to a cross that was headed clear by Britos under challenge by Sakho.  Soon after, the ball fell to Zaha on the edge of the box, but his shot was well over the target.  The visitors had the last chance of the half as a header from Janmaat dropped to Behrami whose volley was high and wide.

The whistle went to end a dreadful half of football.  Watford had dominated the early part of the game, with the hosts coming into it towards half time, but the only shot on target had been the tame effort from Niang and most of the entertainment was coming from the stands.  During the half time entertainment, t-shirts were thrown into the crowd.  A number in the away end chose to throw them back.  A poor move as one young lad who opened his was soon sporting a “Cult Heroes” shirt with Luther’s face on it.  Although, after that first half, to remind us of the team of the early 80s was rubbing salt in the wound.

Capoue, Doucoure and Amrabat waiting for a Britos throw

Mazzarri was forced into a substitution at the start of the second half bringing Doucouré on to replace Behrami, who had been struggling with an injury.  The first chance of the second half fell to the visitors as Capoue launched a shot from distance over the bar.  Just before the hour mark, there was a frission of excitement in the away end as Amrabat appeared to be getting ready to come on.  The tension mounted and dissenting voices were heard as he was sent on a warm up run down the touchline.  But, finally, he donned a white shirt and entered the field of play in place of Janmaat who had had an absolute mare.  Zaha was lucky to escape a caution as his reaction to being dispossessed by Prödl was to knock the Austrian to the ground.  There was a scare for the Hornets as Britos gave the ball away, not for the first time, Townsend crossed for Zaha but, yet again, the shot was over the bar.  Palace took the lead on 68 minutes.  Due to the sightlines at Selhurst Park when the crowd are standing, I didn’t see either the incident that led to the goal or the strike that beat Gomes, but I am reliably informed that Prödl fouled Zaha (a tactical move that earned him a yellow card), Cabaye took the free kick and, as Deeney attempted to head clear, the ball went in off the post.  So Palace had managed to take the lead in a game in which they hadn’t had a shot on target.

Kaboul

Watford had a great chance to equalize as Doucouré hit a shot from distance that Hennessey just managed to tip around the post for a corner.  At this point Jacque leaned over and suggested a ritual burning of our lucky socks, which had let us down very badly on this occasion.  Mazzarri made another popular substitution bringing on Success, although many around me were questioning why Cleverley had been the man to make way.  My feeling was that Tom had been becoming increasingly frustrated and was a foul away from a second yellow.  Others saw it as a tactical move as he changed the formation.  Anyhow, the next attack came from the home team as Benteke ran half the length of the pitch before sending a dreadful shot well wide of the target.  Palace had a much better chance as Britos lost the ball, again, Cathcart came to the rescue blocking a shot from Zaha, but the rebound reached Cabaye who shot wide.  Another decent chance to equalize came to nothing as Niang did really well to get into the box but, instead of playing a square ball to one of his teammates, opted to cut the ball back to an area populated with Palace defenders.  As the clock reached 90 minutes Doucouré fed Success inside the area, I just wanted one of them to try a shot, but it wasn’t to be as they were smothered by the Palace defence and the ball rolled out for a goal kick.  There was one final chance to grab a point in the last minute of time added on as Hennessey came out to deal with a high cross towards Deeney in the box, he collided with the Watford man, the ball fell to Niang, but his shot just cleared the bar and the points stayed in South London.

Doucoure and Britos

The away crowd had been getting increasingly irate throughout the game and a number of fans gathered at the front of the stand to make their feelings known to the players.  Unfortunately the two who were applauding the crowd when the volley of abuse was aimed their way were Cathcart, who had done pretty well against Zaha, and Prödl, who was also pretty blameless and looked far from impressed at the reception.

It had been an appalling game.  Palace were dreadful and were there for the taking, but we didn’t test them at all.  I had high hopes when both Amrabat and Success came on, but each time I was disappointed.  I was just thankful that, even with a diverted train, it was a fairly easy journey home.  This season is becoming increasingly frustrating.  We have a very talented group of players at our disposal who have no excuses for putting in a lacklustre performance against such a poor side.  We can only be grateful that there are some truly awful teams in this division.  One of those is up next at Vicarage Road.  We have to be expect much better from that game or the post-match threats from some in our party only to turn up for the pre-match pints and forego the actual game may well come to pass.

So Near and Yet So Far

The Watford singing section at Wembley

The Watford singing section at Wembley

I woke up on the day of the semi-final feeling very nervous.  Most weeks I don’t get my hopes up and don’t take defeats too badly as there is always next week, but we have only reached the FA Cup final once in our history so the result of this match mattered ….. a lot.  Getting ready to leave for the game takes on ridiculous levels of obsession with tiny details.  Is this an appropriate top to wear?  Have my Watford socks with the mismatched colours at the top been lucky or unlucky?  Did I start wearing my warm coat before our form dipped?  So many questions with inconclusive answers.  In the end, the most important things were to remember my ticket and my yellow shirt, but the sartorial decisions nagged at me.

As most of our group were not travelling through Watford, we decided to meet in the Marylebone area which began to look like a very bad idea when the tube filled up with Palace fans at Green Park and they all piled off at Baker Street, which was teeming with people dressed in red and blue.  For the second cup game in a row, the choice of pre-match pub was a failure.  This time it was closed completely.  We ended up in a fine dining establishment that was happy to accommodate those who wanted only to drink.  I must say that I consumed what was probably my most expensive pre-match meal ever, but it was delicious.  On the walk to the station, it was disappointing to be taunted by a young child about what happened three years ago.  He was wise to hide behind his father’s legs

Deeney leads the team out at Wembley

Deeney leads the team out at Wembley

A game at Wembley really should end with the presentation of a trophy, I am not a fan of using it as a venue for the semi-finals.  So even entering the ground had a sense of anti-climax.  Earlier in the day, mention had been made of friends who had to miss the game for various reasons and someone expressed the opinion that it wasn’t such a huge deal as, if we lost, you wouldn’t want to have been there and, if we won, there would be another trip to Wembley for the final.

A key question regarding the team selection was the choice of goalkeeper.  I would have picked Gomes, who has been immense this season, but Flores chose to keep faith with Pantilimon who played in the earlier rounds of the cup.  So the starting XI was Pantilimon, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Jurado, Watson, Capoue, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo.

As we gathered in the concourse before the game, it was lovely to see one of my all-time Watford heroes, Nigel Gibbs, was also in attendance.

Prior to kick-off, there was a great display of red and blue foils in the Palace end,  they do that sort of thing so well, but we are fortunate that a sea of yellow shirt is always striking.

Challenging for a corner

Challenging for a corner

Following complaints about the lack of atmosphere among the Watford fans at the play-off final, a singing section had been designated in the lower tier behind the goal and it was great to see them bouncing early doors.  Sadly Palace took the lead on 6 minutes as a corner was flicked on to the far post where Bolasie headed the ball past Pantilimon.  At that point it already felt as though this was going to be a long afternoon.  But Watford rallied and a nice passing move finished with Jurado trying a shot from distance that was blocked.  Then Ighalo laid the ball off to Deeney who tried a shot more in hope than expectation and it flew well over the bar.  Another nice attacking move saw Jurado find Abdi whose shot was blocked.  During our pre-match discussions, John had commented that our third most prolific goal scorer of the season was ‘OG’ and we nearly benefitted again as Ward almost turned a cross from Nyom past Hennessey but it went just the wrong side of the post.  At the other end a cross from Cabaye was punched clear by Pantilimon.  The same player threatened again with a free-kick that was comfortably caught by the Watford keeper.  Before the half hour mark, Capoue went down with an injury that required a long period of treatment.  He tried to continue, but soon collapsed and had to be taken off on a stretcher, which is always sad to see.

GT in his role of pundit at half time

GT in his role of pundit at half time

Despite it being clear for some time that Capoue would not be able to continue, there was a delay between him being carried off and his replacement taking the field, which was odd as Suárez had pulled on his shirt but remained sitting in the dugout rather than being ready on the sidelines.  Watford continued to attack without really threatening the Palace goal as a Watson free kick reached Deeney who moved it on towards Ighalo but a defender made the block before the Nigerian could reach the ball.  Jurado turned and fired goalwards but, again, it was blocked, this time by Delaney who was knocked to the ground by the force of the shot.  The first caution of the game went to Jurado for a foul on Zaha.  Nyom whipped a lovely cross into the Palace box, but Hennessey caught the ball before Ighalo could get to it.  Watford were lucky not to concede a penalty just before half time as a cross from Zaha hit Ake’s arm but the referee was unsighted and signaled a corner.

So we reached the interval, a goal down.  It was interesting to read my notes again as they indicate that Watford had a lot of the play in the first half and, following the early goal, there had been little threat from Palace.  But the mood among the Watford fans was dark as, despite our possession, we had never looked like scoring.  Our attacks had been ponderous and ineffectual while the Palace wingers, when they did attack, looked very dangerous.  It felt like 2013 all over again.  However, we have had a number of games this season in which we improved considerably after the break and I clung to the hope that this would be one of them.

Celebrating the equalizer

Celebrating the equalizer

Watford made a promising start to the second half with an early chance from a Nyom cross which Deeney headed over the bar under challenge.  But that was followed by a scare at the other end as Bolasie rode a tackle from Britos and it took a good save from Pantilimon to prevent him from increasing the Palace lead.  A Watford free kick was taken short by Abdi to Watson whose shot was deflected off the wall for a corner.  This led to our equalizer as Deeney met Jurado’s delivery to head past Hennessey and send the Watford fans wild.  You could see how much it meant to him as he ran to our corner to celebrate.  All of a sudden both spirits and voices rose among the Watford fans and Flores reacted by replacing Abdi with Guedioura.  Abdi had been wasted out on the wing, so this felt like a positive change.  Sadly, we were only level for six minutes.  Souaré was the first to try to restore the Palace lead with a shot from outside the box that was high and wide.  But the man from Senegal turned provider crossing for Wickham who lost Aké and rose to head home.  Watford tried to strike back again as Guedioura crossed for Ighalo, but the ball flew over his head to Hennessey.  Deeney found himself in space and really should have tried a shot, but hesitated allowing the defence to regroup so he passed to Jurado, who found Suárez, whose shot was blocked.

Watson lines up a free kick

Watson lines up a free kick

Pardew’s first substitution saw Bolasie make way for McArthur.  The big screen announced the substitution and illustrated it with footage of the first goal.  Thanks for that.  Jurado crossed for Deeney, but his header back across goal was easy for Hennessey.  Then a dangerous run by Zaha into the Watford box seemed to spell disaster, but the defence closed him down before he could shoot.  The second substitution for Palace saw Sako come on for Puncheon.  The Hornets had a great chance to equalize as Deeney flicked a header on to Ighalo but the Nigerian’s shot from close range flew over the bar.  Flores made his final change with 7 minutes remaining bringing Anya on for Nyom.  Jurado fashioned another chance as a corner was cleared to him but Hennessey was equal to his shot.  Palace’s final substitution saw Adebayor on for Wickham so, again, we had a replay of a goal plus the prospect of Adebayor scoring against us again.  It was nearly game over as Guedioura gave the ball away to Zaha but, thankfully, he shot into the side netting.  The announcement of five minutes of added time was greeted with cheers and encouragement from the Watford fans and boos from the Palace end.  The first minute of time added on saw Ighalo directing a cross from Jurado out to Guedioura whose shot was agonizingly just wide of the target.  Watford had one final chance as Guedioura tried to find Ighalo in the box, but he was unable to connect and Palace booked their place in the final.

Deeney put in a captain's performance

Deeney put in a captain’s performance

It was a frustrating afternoon.  Palace’s run in the second half of this season has been as poor as ours so this was a very winnable tie but we struggled in the first half with the early goal sapping spirits on and off the pitch.  There was an improved performance in the second period but, apart from a short spell around the time the equalizer was scored, we never looked like winning the game.

The queue to get into the station after the game was immense and slow moving and it took forever to get on a train, which I then had to share with Palace fans as I travelled south.  I put my shirt and scarf away and tried to block out their chat about going to the final, but I was very glad finally to get on my train home.

Generally I try to take positives from games, but it is hard on an afternoon like this.  I can take a defeat if we have given our all and were beaten by a better team, but I came away from Wembley thinking that, given the talent in our squad, we should have done better.  If you had told me in August that we would retain our status in the Premier League and reach the FA Cup semi-final, I would have been thrilled.  But that defeat will hurt for some time.

Palace Victors on The Box

Abdi in action

Abdi in action

We haven’t faced Palace since the play-off final two years ago and there is a lingering resentment that we were mugged that day.  While Palace’s spoiling tactics made for an unpleasant game, too many of our players didn’t turn up and we didn’t really deserve anything out of the match.  In all honesty, I am delighted that we had a couple more seasons in the Championship and were promoted at a time when we were better prepared for survival in the top division.

The late kick off on Sunday ensured that I had time for lunch with my Dad before the game.  Neither roast pork nor a glass of Malbec play any part in my usual pre-match ritual, so maybe what ensued is all my fault.

The usual suspects were gathered in the West Herts when I arrived and there was time for a pint of ale and a resumption of proper pre-match stuff.  While there we were entertained by the sight of Diego Fabbrini scoring for Middlesbrough (he fell over while doing so).  I must admit to having a soft spot for Diego following a sterling performance in a Herts Senior Cup game on a freezing cold night in Royston a couple of years ago, so I was glad to see that he is doing well at the Riverside.

Cathcart and Nyom

Cathcart and Nyom

It was a gorgeous afternoon and as we walked down Occupation Road, it was lovely to see Lloyd Doyley with his son, even if he was wearing a Jeter shirt.  I was (pleasantly) surprised then to see a smiling Matej Vydra, although it is a shame that he is not available for selection.

Team news was that there were no changes from Newcastle so the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Prödl, Cathcart, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi, Ighalo.  The Palace substitutes included the lovely Adrian Mariappa, whose name was greeted with warm applause from the Hornet faithful.

In his programme notes, Troy Deeney made mention of the sterling efforts of the 1881 and they were on top form pre-match putting on a show for the cameras.  As the teams emerged from the tunnel, the Legends flag was unfurled in the Rookery (or should that be upfurled as it went up the stand and over our heads).  I’m sure it looked amazing from the other stands and on TV.

Anya and Jurado

Anya and Jurado

Watford had a lively start to the game without threatening the Palace goal as a Capoue shot from outside the area and a Prödl header following a corner from Abdi were both wide of the target.  Hennessey’s first involvement came when Anya played the ball out to Deeney but Troy’s shot caused the keeper no problems.  Palace had a great chance to take the lead as Hangeland met a Cabaye free kick with a powerful header that was stopped by a great save from Gomes.  There was then a break in the game while Watson was treated for what appeared to be a dislocated thumb.  While I was concerned because Ben was clearly in a lot of pain, the loud bloke who sits a couple of rows behind me was more interested in speculating on why a penalty hadn’t been awarded, as he’d clearly handled in the box!  Palace threatened again as Cabaye blasted a free kick into the wall, the ball rebounded to Puncheon who shot wide of the target.  At the other end, Jurado played the ball out to Anya who dribbled along the by line before putting in a cross that Ledley headed out for a corner.  A cross from Jurado was then safely headed back to the Palace keeper.  The Hornets had a decent spell of pressure around the Palace box, but the nearest they came to threatening Hennessey was a Nyom shot that was blocked.  On the half hour Jurado found Abdi on the right, his first cross was blocked and came back to him, the second was headed tamely wide by Deeney.  Palace broke again as Sako muscled past Anya on his way towards goal, but his shot was straight at Gomes.  The first booking of the game was earned by Abdi for a late tackle on Bolasie that prompted a chant of “Dirty Northern Bastards” from the away fans.  The resultant free kick from Cabaye flew wide of the far post.  Bolasie, who had caused us problems all half, outpaced the defence to run on to a ball played over the top, Gomes came out to meet him and launched the ball over the SEJ stand to cheers.  Ighalo did really well to battle past a couple of robust challenges before the ball reached Anya by way of Jurado but the cross was cut out by Hangeland before it reached Ighalo who had made a run into the box.  In time added on at the end of the half, Ighalo won a free kick on the edge of the box.  Abdi took the set piece which was deflected for a corner.

Jurado takes a free kick

Jurado takes a free kick

The half ended with both sides having had just a single shot on target.  It had been a disjointed half constantly interrupted by the referee’s whistle as the Palace players tumbled under the slightest challenge.

The best chance of the game so far came at the start of the second half and fell to the home side as Jurado hit the crossbar with a free kick, Deeney met the rebound but headed it over the bar.  Watford put together another good move as Deeney fed Ighalo who chested the ball down to Abdi whose shot was saved.  There was a scare for the Hornets as a free-kick from Sako was deflected just wide of the target.  And another as Gayle bore down on goal, but the attentions of Cathcart ensured that the shot hit the bar and rebounded safely into the arms of Gomes.  Around the hour mark, there was a substitution for each side as Zaha replaced Sako for the visitors and Berghuis came on for Abdi.  The Palace substitution proved to be the decisive one as Zaha fell in the corner of the box under a challenge from Nyom and the referee pointed to the spot.  It was a very soft penalty and one of those that irritates as it was given for an offence that certainly didn’t prevent a goal scoring opportunity.  In the aftermath, Jurado was booked for his protests.  Cabaye stepped up to take the spot kick which went in off the post.  There was a spirited reaction to the goal, both on the pitch and in the stands.  The Rookery were on their feet chanting while Deeney headed the ball down to Ighalo who was tackled before he could shoot.

Gomes with a Watford legend in the background

Gomes with a Watford legend in the background

Watford’s second substitution saw Nyom make way for Aké.  The first booking for the visitors came as Cabaye took down Jurado as he bore down on goal.  Palace threatened to increase their lead as Zaha crossed to the back post where Bolasie headed the ball down to Gayle who shot wide of the target.  A free kick from Puncheon flew over the wall, but was comfortably caught by Gomes.  The Palace midfielder was then booked for sending Watson flying well after the ball had gone.  That was Ben’s last involvement in the game as he was replaced by Ibarbo.  A counter attack from the visitors finished with a shot from Gayle which was well wide and soon after he was replaced by Campbell.  There was a lovely exchange of passes between Ibarbo and Aké on the wing, the ball was crossed for Deeney who headed down to Ighalo but the Nigerian was being wrestled away from the ball which was permitted on this occasion, rather bizarre given the referee’s previous sensitivity to challenges of any kind.  Puncheon threatened with a run along the by line, but Gomes was there to snuff out the danger.  There was a flurry of activity in injury time.  First the ever-threatening Bolasie had a decent chance with another break and a shot that flew just over the bar.  Then Anya crossed for Ibarbo whose shot was turned around for a corner.  Just before the final whistle there was a bit of a scramble in the Palace box, but each of the attempts to shoot was blocked.  There were late shouts for a Watford penalty as Prödl went down in the box, but the referee (correctly) gave the free kick the other way.

Lining up a free kick

Lining up a free kick

It was a disappointing loss, but Pardew had got the tactics right particularly through the Palace wide men who had given Anya and Nyom a torrid time.  One plus point was a considerably improved performance from Jurado who showed what Flores sees in him, although his set pieces still leave something to be desired, but he is not alone in that regard.

As the only game played on Sunday we were, of course, the featured game on Match of the Day.  I wondered whether to bother watching, but was glad that I did as the montage that they showed at the start of the game featuring Blissett, Barnes, Callaghan and co. brought the smile back to my face.  I look back on those glory days with great fondness while being well aware that they must have featured frustrating days like today.  I can’t help wondering which of today’s team will achieve legend status.  Based on performances to date, I feel it will be the majority.

 

Defeat to Wolves in the Rain

The teams take to the field

The teams take to the field

My niece, Amelia, has been coming to occasional games for years.  This season she has become a regular, so a half season ticket seemed a perfect Christmas present and Boxing Day’s game against Wolves was her first match as a season ticket holder.  Since the game was at an odd time, I wasn’t sure what time to leave, but wanted to get to the West Herts early to ensure a decent parking space.  When we arrived the car park was oddly deserted.

The rain was pouring down as we made our way to the ground, it was cold and wet and nasty.  Not the best conditions for football.

Jokanovic made three changes from the Reading game.  Doyley was in for the suspended Angella, Munari and Paredes returned in place of Guédioura and Pudil.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Bassong, Cathcart, Doyley, Anya, Abdi, Tözsér, Munari, Paredes, Deeney and Vydra.  For the visitors, Kuszczak and Danny Graham were on the bench for Wolves, the latter getting a tremendous reception from the home crowd when his name was announced.  The Wolves dugout also contained a Watford legend, in the person of their manager, Kenny Jackett.

Kenny Jackett in the visitors' dugout

Kenny Jackett in the visitors’ dugout

The pre-match build-up was a bit of a shambles.  When the player photo went up on the screen for the number seven, there was Battocchio smiling out at us instead of Guédioura.  Then the music system malfunctioned, so there was an eerie silence and I found myself humming Z-cars as the teams came out.  As a final straw, there were boos following the toss as the players changed ends.  There is a superstition that we never do well when we attack the Rookery in the first half.

Wolves had the best of the early exchanges.  From a corner, Gomes punched the ball as far as Iorfa who, luckily for the home side, opted to pass instead of shooting.  Paredes lost the ball to Sako who played it to Van La Parra whose shot from distance was just wide.  Iorfa exchanged passes with McDonald in the Watford box before shooting wide.  A low cross from van La Parra was almost turned in at close range by Edwards, but Gomes dropped to push it around the post.  From the corner, the ball squirmed out of Gomes’s hands but was thankfully cleared.  At this point, Paredes took his gloves off, it looked like he meant business but, sadly, it didn’t improve his performance.

A throw from Anya

A throw from Anya

Watford threatened the Wolves goal for the first time from a Tözsér free-kick, but the keeper, Ikeme, dropped and gathered the ball.  Wolves were completely dominant at this point.  They were strong and their passing was effective, in contrast to the sloppy play that the home side were demonstrating.  Wolves should have taken the lead in the 17th minute with a strong shot from Hause that was curling in when Gomes pushed it over the bar.  From the corner, the ball was headed out to van La Parra whose shot was pushed clear by the keeper.  In a rare Watford attack, Vydra found Deeney who advanced and shot, but it was blocked, the ball came back in to Munari who played it to Tözsér whose shot was also blocked.  Deeney played the ball out to Paredes whose shot was deflected wide.  Then Anya played the ball back to Abdi but again the shot was deflected wide.  This had been a better spell from the Hornets, but they hadn’t really threatened the Wolves goal.  The visitors had another chance to take the lead as Sako broke through the defence but Gomes came out to challenge and caused him to shoot wide.  Deeney stretched to play a ball on the sidelines, Hause fell over him and Troy was booked.  In time added on, Gomes had to be alert again to punch a corner clear.  The half-time whistle went after a dreadful first half performance from the home side who, if not for the brilliance of Gomes, could have been three goals behind.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

The visitors threatened early in the second half as a corner was punched out by Gomes, it was headed back in by Price but the keeper was able to gather.  Watford had their first shot on target as Vydra received a cross from Paredes but Ikeme caught the ball.  A lovely passing move featuring Deeney, Vydra and Anya finished with a low shot from Tözsér which was caught by Ikeme.  It felt like we were punished for finally showing a moment of quality as van La Parra immediately broke upfield and crossed for Dicko to hit the ball past Gomes.  After the keeper’s first half heroics, it was a terrible shame that he was beaten by what was rather a poor effort.  Another ball into the Watford box, this time by Sako, was met with a weak overhead kick from Edwards that went wide of the near post.  Just after the hour Jokanovic made two changes bringing Ighalo on for Vydra and replacing Munari with Forestieri.  Stearman was the first Wolves player to be booked as he handled to stop a Watford break.

Watford on the attack

Watford on the attack

A Tözsér free-kick led to a goalmouth scramble, but no Watford player was able to apply the finishing touch.  Then Doyley headed a Tözsér corner down for Bassong, but Ikeme saved on the line.  Tözsér was the next player to be booked as he delayed passing and was tackled by Edwards so pulled him back to prevent a break.  He was substituted almost immediately with Guédioura coming on.  Deeney got in a great position to try for an equalizer but his shot drifted wide of the far post.  Ighalo then stung Ikeme’s hands, Doyley’s follow-up was blocked.  At the other end Doyley chested the ball down to Gomes, but Dicko was close by and the keeper had to be quick to gather.  There was some head tennis in the Wolves box, but it didn’t result in a shot.  In time added on, we thought we’d rescued a point as Ighalo’s powerful shot was heading for the goal but clattered off the crossbar.  It was disappointing but, despite the improved performance in the second half, Wolves were worthy winners.

It was cold and wet as we trudged back to the car.  Thankfully, despite the crowd of over 17K, there was no traffic and we were home in the warm in no time.  I spent most of the journey apologising to Amelia and suggesting that she would have been better off watching it on TV.  But, when we said our goodbyes, I got a big hug and thanks for her lovely Christmas present.  What have I done?