Tag Archives: Ben Mee

Anti Football Wins the Day

Vicki’s first Watford game

After finally achieving our first win of the season against Norwich, I went into this game feeling uncharacteristically positive.  I had an extra reason to feel positive as my friend, Vicki, was visiting from the US.  I have made it my mission to share my love of Watford with all of my friends, meaning that she first saw the Hornets play in 2010 when she arrived in the UK on an earlier flight than she originally intended in order to take in a pre-season game at Boreham Wood.  This occasion had added significance as it was also the occasion that Toddy bought her first pint in the UK.  Since then she has seen Watford a couple of other times including another pre-season at Wealdstone when she met Lloydy and Mapps.  Her most recent game was in 2013 when, following a midweek win against Doncaster, she made the trip to Barnsley.  I had strongly advised her against going to that game.  No visitor from the US looks at possible destinations in the UK and plumps for Barnsley and we never win there anyway.  She was determined and ended up having a cracking day out with a great pub, fantastic company and a 5-1 Watford win.  This would be her first Premier League game and she was very much looking forward to it.

Capoue plays the ball

I decided not to subject Vicki to the convoluted train journey, especially as there was disruption at Euston, so I drove to the West Herts.  We arrived to find our party at the usual table.  It was a flying visit for a couple of them as Mike had been offered the use of the Community Trust table in the Elton John Suite, so the prawn sandwich brigade had a swift drink and then headed for their posh seats, while we enjoyed a proper football lunch of burger/hot dog and chips.  While we waited for our food to arrive, Glenn appeared with his bag of treats.  Vicki looked sceptical as the bag of pork scratchings appeared on the table but was persuaded to try one.  “Oh, they are really good.”

We headed to the ground at the usual time.  Needless to say, the touts decided to give this one a miss.  Once inside the Rookery, I showed Vicki to our seats and sped around to the GT stand to take a bag of sweets to Don, who had left for the game before Glenn arrived.

Deulofeu lines up a free kick

Team news was that Quique had made three enforced changes from the win at Norwich with Kabasele (suspended), Janmaat and Pereyra (both injured) making way for Mariappa, Femenía and Gray.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Dawson, Mariappa; Holebas, Capoue, Doucouré,  Femenía; Hughes; Gray, Deulofeu.  Deeney was again on the bench, this time accompanied by exciting prospects Ismaïla Sarr and Tom Dele-Bashiru.

Just before kick-off someone observed that Dyche had swapped ends so the Hornets would be defending the Rookery in the second half.  And so the torture began.

Three minutes into the game Burnley were already indulging in time-wasting and Sean Dyche had just had his first rant at the fourth official.  Watford had the first chance of note as a free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Dawson, but his effort flew past the top corner.  The next chance for the Hornets came when Capoue released Holebas who crossed for Doucouré at the back post, but the header back towards goal was cleared.  The Hornets won a free kick in a dangerous position when Hughes was hacked down by Tarkowski.  Sadly, Deulofeu curled the set piece into the arms of Pope.

Capoue giving instructions to Hughes

Deulofeu’s next effort was more impressive, he robbed Tarkowski before belting into the box and taking a shot, but Pope made a superb save with his feet.  Burnley’s first attack of note came after 20 minutes when they won a corner.  The delivery from McNeil was deep and flew straight out of play.  The first booking of the game came when Gray went up for a header with Tarkowski, who went down clutching his face and the Watford man was cautioned.  The Hornets won another free kick in a good position after Tarkowski handled the ball.  There were protracted complaints from the Burnley players leading to a booking for Mee.  Deulofeu took the free kick and hit it straight into the wall.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead after Gray broke forward before finding Femenía on the right, Kiko tried a shot but Mee stuck a foot out and managed to turn it back to Pope.  Another decent chance went begging as Deulofeu played the ball back to Capoue whose shot was poor and flew wide of the near post.  A lovely exchange of passes between Hughes and Doucouré finished with a shot from a narrow angle from Will that was blocked for a corner.  Hearing some applause at the front of the Rookery, I looked down to see Jay DeMerit making his way around for the half time interview.  A shot from Cathcart was blocked to shouts of handball from the Watford faithful, but the VAR check confirmed that the block was legitimate.  Then there was some concern as Dawson went down with what appeared to be a head injury.  He didn’t move for quite some time, which is always a bad sign.  Thankfully, he was able to walk off the field, but he couldn’t continue and was replaced by Masina.  This was now the sixth league game in a row in which we have been forced to make a substitution in the first half.  Into the five minute of added time and Deulofeu tried a run into the box that was stopped by a judicious foul by Tarkowski on the edge of the area.  The free kick from Deulofeu was on-target but kept out by a great one-handed save from Pope.  So, we reached half-time goalless, although the Hornets had much the better of the half and would have been ahead but for two excellent saves from Pope.  Burnley had defended well, but their efforts in attack resulted in only one (off-target) shot in the whole of the first half.

Jay DeMerit back at the Vic

The half-time interview was with Jay DeMerit, who had been at Vicarage Road on Friday evening for the European Premiere of a short film, “Game Changer”, which was an episode of the US animated show for children, LaGolda, which encourages kids to accept everyone for who they are and promotes inclusiveness in football and wider society.  This particular episode was in support of LGBTQ youth.  Also in attendance, and being interviewed, was Executive Producer, Judy Reyes.  Both Judy and Jay spoke positively about how the club had allowed them to promote their message of inclusivity, which seemed only too right given that Elton John is such an important part of our club.  They then went and had their photo taken with the children who took part in the half-time penalty shoot-out, who had been playing with a rainbow football.  It was only after the game that I realised that Judy Reyes played Carla in “Scrubs”.  I loved that show and was a big fan of hers.

The first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets when the ball broke to Capoue whose shot was deflected over the bar.  The home side threatened again as a cross from Capoue was headed goalwards by Mariappa, but his effort was blocked.  Mapps was then in action at the other end of the pitch, heading clear while under pressure from Mee.

The return of Deeney

The visitors took the lead from the resultant corner as Tarkowski’s header was blocked, Foster got stuck in the traffic in the box and was unable to intervene as Wood buried the rebound.  The goal was scored in the 53rd minute from the first on-target shot by the visitors.  After the goal the Burnley fans started a chant that I thought was “sexy football” but at a later rendition I heard “anti-football” which was much more accurate.  Flores decided to bring on the cavalry at this point replacing Gray with Deeney who took to the field to a huge ovation.  The Hornets had a chance to break back when they won a free kick in a dangerous position after Tarkowski fouled Capoue on the edge of the box.  Again the Burnley players protested the decision and Westwood was booked for dissent.  Capoue took the free kick himself, but it was a dreadful effort that flew well over the bar.  The visitors had a chance to increase their lead, but Foster blocked the shot from Hendrick and the follow-up from Bardsley was hit over the bar.  Flores made his final sub with a quarter of the match remaining, bringing Sarr on in place of Hughes.  As Pope wasted time retrieving the ball for a goal kick, Deulofeu placed the ball in position on the edge of the six yard box.  Needless to say, Pope wasted more time moving the ball to the other side of the area, much to the annoyance of the fans behind him in the Rookery.

Captain Capoue

Another decent chance for the Hornets came to nothing as Capoue released Holebas who cut inside but shot straight at Pope.  At the other end, a cross was chested down to Barnes who shot over the target.  With 15 minutes remaining, there were chances at both ends of the pitch.  First a corner from Westwood appeared to be heading for the net, but Foster punched clear allowing Deulofeu to break forward, he played Doucouré in, but the shot was high and wide.  Dyche then made his only substitution of the game replacing Wood with Rodriguez.  The Burnley substitute almost made an immediate impact as he hit a powerful shot that came off the underside of the bar, but the ball bounced off the line and was headed over by Cathcart.  The visitors appealed for a penalty when Barnes appeared to run into Holebas, the referee waved play on and the Hornets broke down the other end.  When the ball went out of play, it was announced that VAR was checking the penalty.  When the decision came through, the referee pointed back up the field and the players returned to the Rookery end of the field.  Barnes took the spot kick, Foster got a hand to it to push it onto the post but it bounced back and into the net.  The authorities had said that they would be giving the fans in the stadium more information about the VAR decisions and, sure enough, the big screen showed footage of the challenge which clearly showed Holebas kicking Barnes so, much to my annoyance, it was the correct decision.  To add insult to injury, the visitors scored a third goal when a Burnley free kick reached Tarkowski whose first effort drew a good save from Foster, but the rebound found the net.  The traveling Burnley fans burst into a chorus of “Andre, what’s the score?” while the majority of the home fans headed for the exits.  There was a chance for a consolation goal as a powerful shot from Deulofeu hit the crossbar, but it wasn’t to be and the game finished in a humiliating defeat for the Hornets.  As if that wasn’t enough, Norwich won and Southampton drew so we finished the afternoon back at the foot of the table.

Preparing for a free kick

There wasn’t much enthusiasm at the end of the game, but Troy did his usual lap of the pitch and was warmly applauded by the few who were still in the ground.

Due to the many early leavers, the trip up Occupation Road was somewhat quicker than usual.  When we arrived back at the West Herts, Pete assured me that I didn’t have to write the blog.  That was certainly a tempting thought.  As we muttered miserably about what we had seen that afternoon, the folk from the posh seats joined us.  I have to say that an afternoon of drinking wine in hospitality meant that they were considerably jollier than the rest of us.  On the way home, Vicki was very apologetic about not having brought us luck when it should have been me apologising having subjected her to that game and being utterly miserable all afternoon.

It is very hard to articulate my feelings about that game.  Burnley were dreadful but still managed to beat us 3-0.  The first half performance had been decent with the Hornets totally dominating.  I would bemoan the fact that they didn’t turn the dominance into goals, but we would have been two up but for a couple of excellent saves by Pope.  The loss of Dawson just before half time certainly made a difference.  He had been solid in the middle of the back three and was just what we needed against a team like Burnley.  The second half had started well but once the first goal went in, despite the fact that it was horribly scrappy, the confidence disappeared and we never really looked like getting back in the game.

It is hard to see where we go from here.  We have played a number of very poor teams this season and failed to pick up points from most of them.  We have a squad with a lot of talent but are suffering with both injuries and a lack of confidence.  I am trying to hold on to the thought that this team is too good to go down but, as the weeks go on, it is harder and harder to convince myself that we will survive.

 

Legends Remembered, Football Forgotten

Cate and I with GT

I arrived bright and early at the West Herts where only Don was waiting outside the door.  It hadn’t got properly cold at this point, but we were certainly very grateful when the doors were opened a little early and we took our seats at our usual table with our beverages of choice to wait for the rest of our party to arrive.

The build-up to the game had been dominated by Dyche’s comments about Watford to the Burnley Telegraph.  His statement, “The club is a radical shift from when I was there, absolutely chalk and cheese, from a community club built on the community to now built on a model,” was somewhat baffling given that Dyche was manager during Bassini’s tenure which goes down as the most depressing period off the field that I have experienced during 40 years of being a Watford supporter.  The arrival of the Pozzos not only saved the club but, during their ownership, the community feel around the club has returned with a vengeance.  The comparison between now and then is certainly chalk and cheese, but not in the way that was implied.  I can only conclude that Sean hasn’t been paying attention to what has been happening in Watford over the past 6 years.

Etienne Capoue

As we arrived in the ground, I was initially surprised to see that the Rookery concourse was heaving as it is not usually like that.  Then I remembered that the club had promised everyone a free drink to toast Graham Taylor two years after his passing.  It was a lovely gesture.  Somehow I had managed to miss my voucher, but was quite glad to escape the crowd and take my seat.

Team news was that Gracia had made three changes due to injury with Kabasele, Cleverley and Sema in for Cathcart, Doucouré and Hughes.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Kabasele, Mariappa, Holebas; Sema, Cleverley, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu and Deeney.  I must admit that, much as I love Kabasele, the absence of Cathcart caused me some concern.  Burnley had former loanee, Cork, in their starting line-up, former management, Dyche and Woan, in their dugout and lovely Matěj Vydra on the bench.

As the teams took the field, the crowd (including a number of Burnley fans) raised their scarves in honour of GT (the fellow next to me was given my spare so he could join in).  It really was quite a sight.  That was followed by a minute’s applause for both GT and Duncan Welbourne who passed away this week.  Chopper’s family were guests of honour of the club for the afternoon.

Holebas preparing for a throw-in

There was an early chance for the Hornets as Deulofeu went on a terrific run and found himself one on one with Heaton in the Burnley goal, but the keeper was able to keep the shot out.  Another chance soon after as a cross from Femenía eluded Deulofeu and dropped for Pereyra whose cross was nodded down by Deeney to Sema, but the Swede couldn’t get a strong enough connection and the ball was cleared.  Burnley’s first chance came on 10 minutes as a corner from McNeil was headed wide.  Burnley then had a period of pressure without troubling Foster, the next chance falling to the Hornets on 23 minutes as the ball reached Holebas who hit a shot from distance over the target.  Just before the half hour mark, the sight of Vydra warming up provoked applause from those in the Rookery, which was acknowledged by Matěj.  Foster was then called into action as a cross from Westwood was headed goalwards by Barnes but Ben stood tall and blocked the effort.  Burnley got closer to opening the scoring with free kick from McNeil which hit the side netting.  There was another let off for the Hornets as a defensive header from Mariappa dropped to Barnes whose shot was just wide of the target.  Then a rare bit of quality from the Hornets as Capoue played a through ball to Pereyra who found Deulofeu who curled a shot just wide of the far post.  There was some controversy as a panicked bit of Burnley defending sent the ball back into the arms of Heaton.  There were howls of “back pass” from the Rookery, but the referee wasn’t interested.  Burnley threatened again through Wood but, again, the shot found the side netting.  Watford could have taken the lead just before half time as a cross from Femenía found Deeney in the box, I was already on my feet as his shot flew towards the goal, but Heaton was able to make the save, so we went into half time with the game goalless.

Adrian Mariappa

After a bright start, it had been an awful half of football.  Burnley had the better of the play without causing Foster too many concerns.

At half time, the family of Thomas Sawyer, a young soldier who was killed in Afghanistan 10 years ago, were on the pitch and Thomas’s father paid heartfelt tribute to his son.  Then, as the players came out for the second half, the 1881 lads unfurled the Legends banner which we held over our heads in the Rookery in the knowledge that it features both GT and Duncan Welbourne.  Both events were touching tributes and a clear sign that the club has not lost its community focus.

The visitors should have taken the lead in the first minute of the second half as a ball through a defender’s legs led to a shot from Barnes that rolled across the front of the goal with no Burnley player able to turn it in.  The Clarets threatened again as a cross from Wood found Hendrick in the Watford box, but Foster was off his line to make the block.  Then a corner was headed back by Mee to McNeil whose shot was over the target.  Watford’s first chance of the half came as Femenía crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked.

Capoue waits for the ball to drop watched by Cleverley, Success and Britos

The first substitution of the game was made on 56 minutes as Sema, who had been struggling playing out of position on the right, was replaced by Success.  The substitute’s first action was to find Pereyra in a dangerous position, but the shot was high and wide.  Soon after, Success was flattened by Mee, who was booked for his trouble.  The Hornets were doing much better at this stage and Cleverley tried a shot from just outside the area, but it was an easy save for Heaton.  On the 72nd minute, GT’s picture appeared on the big screen and the crowd rose to cheer him.  I couldn’t quite decide whether I should be applauding or raising my scarf, so I tried to do both by applauding with the scarf draped over my arms.  I probably looked very strange, but it made me feel as though I was doing my part.  Gracia was then forced into a second substitution as Femenía left the field with an injury and was replaced by Britos.  There followed a booking for each side.  First a silly yellow for a display of petulance by Deulofeu when a throw was given to the opposition (choose your battles, Gerard).  Then Bardsley was booked for a foul on Success.  There was a major let off for the Hornets in time added on as, with the Rookery screaming for a foul in the build-up, McNeil’s shot was parried by Foster and fell to Barnes who found the net but was denied by the linesman’s flag.  I haven’t seen the incident again, but it seems that we were a bit fortunate with the decision.

Holebas readies for a corner with Cleverley in attendance

The final whistle went to a half-hearted chorus of boos in the Rookery.  It was a terrible game of football, but I still don’t understand the need to boo your own team.  As so often this season, we cannot play against teams set up to defend.  Burnley are masters of this art, but it is horrible to watch.  They also have a nasty habit of backing into defenders trying to get to high balls.  A dangerous tactic that won them numerous undeserved free kicks.  I also couldn’t help feeling sorry for the fourth official who must have been driven to despair by the constant moaning from Dyche and Woan.  To be honest, this is not a new tactic from Dyche, he honed his skills complaining to the officials from the touchline when he was in charge of our reserves (when such a team existed).

But enough about the opposition.  We missed Cathcart and Doucouré, so I was pleased to hear that their absence was due to minor injuries.  The absence of Doucouré seems to have an adverse effect on Capoue, who has more to think about and less freedom.  There is also less creativity going forward which may have played a part in Deulofeu and Pereyra having off days, although each had shots that were not that far off.  If one of those had gone in, it would have been a very different story.  On the way back to the West Herts I was told of a chap in the Rookery who declared that he had been watching Watford for 61 years and that this afternoon had felt as though it lasted all of those 61 years.  Still, looking at the positives, we don’t have to face Burnley again this season and are still 7th in the table.

So to St James’ Park next week for another crack at Newcastle.  I suspect that the crowd will be much depleted, but I hope that the lads give those who do travel something to cheer.  We owe Newcastle a beating, let us hope that it comes next week as a cup run would be rather good fun.

Hooray for London Buses

Kabasele tracking Barnes

In my enthusiasm to buy train tickets for the first away game of the season, I completely forgot about Burnley’s involvement in the Europa League, so was booked on the 8:03 from King’s Cross via Leeds on Saturday morning.  When the game was moved to the Sunday, I looked at changing the ticket but found that the first train leaving London on Sunday would not arrive in time for me to make kick-off.  Just as I was contemplating a lonely Saturday night in Burnley, a dear friend offered to show me the sights of Bradford, so I was treated to a Hockney exhibition followed by curry, beer and putting the world to rights.  All rather lovely.

We made good time on the journey from Bradford to Burnley on Sunday morning and were in the Cricket Club by 11 and soon joined by a couple of VIPs from the club as well as the Happy Valley Horns and Kate and the two Janices who had caught the supporters’ coach at 6am.  The cricket club is a lovely friendly place and we were soon in conversation with a local who is clearly enjoying their European exploits.

On arrival at the turnstiles, the steward looked slightly aghast at my tightly packed overnight bag and the discovery of toiletries inside had her shaking her head, declaring them flammable and therefore not allowed inside the stadium.  Thankfully her supervisor decided that roll-on deodorant and lemon shower gel were not too dangerous in the hands of a middle-aged woman so I was allowed to keep them. I assured her that I wouldn’t put a match to them.

Holebas launches a throw to Pereyra

Team news was that Gracia had kept faith with the team who did so well last week, so the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Kabasele, Janmaat; Pereyra, Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes; Gray, Deeney.  Burnley featured former Watford loanee Jack Cork and, of course, had Sean Dyche and Ian Woan in the dugout.

As I was on a flight to the US last Saturday for work, I missed the Brighton game, so I was really looking forward to my season starting properly.  But, as Watford hadn’t scored away from home since January 2nd and we never get anything at Burnley, my expectations were pretty low prior to kick-off.  Thankfully they were confounded as the Hornets started brilliantly with a chance in the second minute as Deeney crossed for Gray, whose shot was blocked by Tarkowski.  The visitors took the lead a minute later as Deeney and Gray exchanged passes before the former Burnley man hit a superb volley that gave Hart no chance.  I am pleased to confirm that, despite the length of time that had elapsed since the last away goal, the travelling Hornets had not forgotten how to celebrate.  The home fans were not so happy and, as if in sympathy, the big screen in the opposite corner went blank.

Cathcart takes a free kick

Unfortunately, Watford’s lead was very short lived as Burnley won a corner and Tarkowski rose highest to head home for the equaliser.  The home side then had a period of dominance and had a great chance to take the lead as Gudmundsson curled a gorgeous free kick towards the Watford goal, but Foster pulled off a decent save to keep the scores level.  Gray should have done better after exchanging passes with Pereyra but his shot was mishit and flew wide.  At the other end a Cork shot was blocked and, in the ensuing goalmouth scramble some tenacious defending ensured that no Burnley player got a clear sight of goal before the ball was finally cleared.  The Hornets had a decent end to the half and could have regained the lead when Deeney tried a shot from distance, but Hart got a hand to it and kept it out.  The first caution of the game went to Hughes for a silly challenge on Ward that appeared to take place off the field when Watford had already won a throw-in.  The home side had one last chance to take the lead before half time as a cross-cum-shot from Hendrick was saved by Foster, it fell to Lennon, but Holebas made a terrific tackle to prevent the shot.  So we reached half time with honours even.  It has to be said that Burnley had slightly the better of the half, but it had been a good contest.

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

The second half started brilliantly for the Hornets as a blocked ball into the box rebounded to Doucouré, who played a gorgeous pass to Deeney, with only Hart to beat he made no mistake and the Hornets were ahead again.  It turns out that Watford away goals are like London buses, you don’t see one for over seven months and then three come along at once.  This time it was Hughes who intercepted a terrible ball from Lowton, advanced and found the bottom corner.  At this point, the travelling Hornets were beside themselves.  The first Burnley booking was born of frustration as Ward was cautioned for pulling Hughes down.  Watford had a decent chance to increase their lead as Capoue launched a long cross into the box, but it was just too far in front of Deeney. As the game reached the final quarter hour, both sides made substitutions as Barnes and Vokes came on for Wood and Hendrick for the home side and Sema replaced Gray for the visitors with Watford switching to just one up front.  Vokes almost made an instant impact as he met a Gudmundsson free kick with a header that flew just wide.  Each side made a further substitution as Taylor came on for Ward and Femenía replaced Will Hughes, who went off to a standing ovation.  With time running out, Sema had a great chance to grab a fourth goal for the Hornets, but his low shot was put out for a corner.  Watford’s final substitution came with a minute to go as Deeney made way for Success.  As the fourth official raised the board showing time added on, Vokes crossed for Mee but the shot was poor and missed the target.  There was a better-looking chance as a cross reached Barnes but the shot was met with a good catch from Foster and the flag was up for offside anyway.  There was another caution for the Hornets as Janmaat was booked for a late tackle that was totally unnecessary.  But the final whistle went on a very satisfying win for the Hornets.

The Royal Dyche

As we streamed out of the ground, there were beaming smiles among the Watford fans who couldn’t quite believe what they had seen.  Not just three goals away from home, but against a very decent Burnley side at Turf Moor.  The first half had been even but, once Watford took the lead in the second half, the home side never looked like they would get back in the game.  It was great to see both Gray and Deeney on the scoresheet, they are playing very effectively together and making chances for each other and others.  There was some lovely football played, with three excellent goals, but that sublime pass from Doucouré was the pick of the bunch.  I think most Watford fans consider him to be the signing of the Summer but, after missing all of the pre-season games, he could have been forgiven if he had taken a few games to get back to his best.  On Sunday he was running after everything and playing as if he had never had a break.  He wasn’t the only one, another pleasing contrast to last season is the fitness of the players.  Most games last season started at pace but fizzled out after about 70 minutes as the players tired.  On Sunday, they were working until the end and saw the game out effectively.  A lot of people were nervous at the start of the season, but this is looking like a very strong side and they are playing the sort of football that we knew they were capable of last season, but so rarely saw.

On the way back to the station, I was delighted to pass the Royal Dyche pub.  The sign is a thing of beauty and I wish Sean luck for the rest of the season, but am delighted that it was the Watford fans who were smiling on Sunday.

 

The Second Good Win in a Week

Order of service for Graham Taylor's funeral

Order of service for Graham Taylor’s funeral

The week running up to this match had been an emotional rollercoaster for fans of the Hornets.  The dreadful cup defeat to Millwall had been followed by a magnificent win at Arsenal.  But both events were overshadowed on Wednesday as we said goodbye to Graham Taylor.  The family were very gracious in allowing the funeral to be broadcast to those who gathered outside the church.  The service was very sad but also uplifting.  His children and grandchildren all spoke beautifully about the family man that they knew.  I thought the club and the council did them proud with the little details.  The One Bell, which is boarded up had been decorated with pictures and quotes from GT.  There was also a gorgeous order of service that was handed to those outside, allowing us to join in with the hymns, which included “Abide with Me”.  A scanned copy of the order of service is available at http://www.wfc.net/files/GT/GT_Order_of_Service.pdf.

On Saturday we were back at Vicarage Road for the visit of Burnley.  Those who had been at the mid-week game were waxing lyrical about the performance, but there was a niggling feeling that this Watford team tends to raise its game for the big clubs and that Burnley, despite their failure to win on the road this season, were just the sort of team to cause us problems.

Team news was that Mazzarri made two changes from the team that won at the Emirates with Britos and Janmaat replaced by Holebas and Zárate, both of whom were returning from suspension, which seemed a little bizarre given that this was the Argentine’s debut.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kaboul, Prödl, Holebas; Behrami; Niang, Cleverley, Capoue, Zárate; Deeney.  The 4-1-4-1 formation that had served us well in the previous game making another appearance.

Deeney and Niang celebrate the first goal

Deeney and Niang celebrate the first goal

The notable action in the first few minutes of the game was all related to cards.  First, Niang was booked after flying into a tackle on Ward.  A minute later, Hendricks was shown a straight red card for a nasty foul on Holebas.  Playing against 10 men isn’t always easy, especially when the team is as well organized as Burnley, so it was a relief when Watford took the lead in the tenth minute as a lovely cross from Niang was headed home by Deeney from close range.  With Troy now having scored three goals in the last four games, it seems hard to believe that such a long period elapsed between his 99th and 100th goals.  There was another booking soon after as Holebas was penalised for a high foot as he challenged Barton.  Watford had a great chance for a second goal as Niang exchanged passes with Deeney before unleashing a shot that Heaton tipped over.  Then, from a throw, Zárate hit a lovely shot from the edge of the area that Heaton managed to catch.  Burnley’s first on-target shot came just before the half hour as Lowton tried his luck, but it was an easy catch for Gomes.  The Watford keeper was called into action again soon after tipping over a free kick that Barton hit from the edge of the area.  Niang threatened again, going on a lovely run before taking a shot from the edge of the box that was blocked, the ball rebounded back to him and his second shot was comfortably saved by Heaton.  Watford had another decent chance as Cleverley passed the ball out to Zárate on the wing, he burst into the box before shooting just wide of the far post.  Then Holebas took a short corner, exchanging passes with Zárate before crossing for Capoue whose shot was blocked by the face of Barnes.  As we reached time added on at the end of the half, I was beginning to worry that we had wasted too many chances, then Holebas whipped in a lovely cross that Niang met with a superb header and the Hornets went in to the break two goals to the good.

Celebrating Niang's goal

Celebrating Niang’s goal

The second half started with the Hornets on top.  A lovely early move finished with a cross from Holebas, but no Watford player was on hand to finish.  There was a better chance soon after as a cross from Capoue was just a fraction too far in front of Deeney for him to apply the finishing touch.  At the other end, a Burnley corner was headed goalwards by Keane, but Gomes dropped to push it around the post.  Sean Dyche was the first to make a substitution, replacing Gray with new signing, Brady.  Mazzarri’s first change was to bring Doucouré on for Behrami.  I was much more comfortable with that change on this occasion than I had been midweek.  Watford continued to threaten the Burnley goal as Capoue received a cut back from Holebas, but his shot was saved.  Burnley threatened briefly as Barnes had the ball in the Watford box but Cleverley just took it off his feet.  The Hornets created another excellent chance as Niang crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked on the line.  As we reached the 72nd minute, the Watford crowd got to their feet to applaud and sing Graham Taylor’s name.  It was very pleasing to see that both those in the Director’s box and a good portion of the visiting crowd joined in.  Burnley had a rare shot with a powerful strike from Arfield, which was blocked by Gomes.  That was the last act for the Burnley man as he was replaced by Westwood.

Zarate waits for a corner

Zarate waits for a corner

There was a flurry of activity in the Watford box following a corner as a shot from Barnes was cleared off the line, the ball reached Barton on the edge of the area, his shot was also blocked and the ball went out for a corner.  When I saw Prödl arguing with the referee, I thought that he was disputing the corner.  Then the awful realization dawned that a penalty had been awarded and Prödl had been shown the yellow card for handball.  Barnes stepped up to take the spot kick and, on this occasion, the Gomes psychology did not work and the shot went in off the post.  It was very frustrating as, despite a flurry of activity, Burnley really hadn’t looked like scoring, but Watford would have to keep it tight for the remaining 12 minutes.  Mazzarri made a second substitution as Niang, who had put in another terrific performance, made way for Success.  But the next chance fell to the visitors as Brady broke forward and unleashed a shot that was straight at Gomes.  There were two late substitutions as Vokes replaced Boyd for the visitors and Janmaat came on for Zárate.  In time added on, the Watford players seemed determined to push the self-destruct button.  First Gomes decided to dribble after receiving a back pass instead of wellying upfield, and was almost caught out.  Then Cathcart gave the ball away to Barnes on the edge of the box and Gomes had to make a smart save to stop the shot.  The keeper was so furious with his defender that he had to be held back by Prödl.

Zarate and Deeney wait for a throw-in

Zarate and Deeney wait for a throw-in

So it was a relief to see Watford on the attack in the final minute, Success crossed and Deeney powered the ball home to secure the win.  Or so we thought.  I was in mid-celebration when I turned back to the pitch to see a Burnley player flying upfield and it became apparent that the goal had been disallowed and the points were still up for grabs.  Thankfully a late free kick for the visitors came to nothing and the Hornets achieved their second win in a week.  The manner of the win had been rather frustrating as, after looking really comfortable for most of the game, we really shouldn’t have been holding on at the end.

But what a difference a week makes.  After the abject performance in the cup against Millwall and some very disappointing showings over the past few weeks, most of us were looking nervously down the table.  Two wins in a week and we are back in the top half and looking forward to the rest of the season.  The club have done some terrific business in the transfer window.  It was very sad to see both Ighalo and Guedioura go, they were terrific servants to the club.  But the return of Cleverley and the addition of Niang and Zárate seems to have strengthened the squad considerably.  Zarate did well on his first showing.  Niang was superb, scoring one goal and creating the other, and he already seems to have built up an understanding with Deeney.  Cleverley was named man of the match and deservedly so.  The smiles are now back on the faces of Watford fans as we seem to be over our slump and can look forward to the rest of the season with some optimism.

Can They Do It On a Wet Night in Burnley?

Dyche & Mazzarri

Dyche & Mazzarri

As I left work to catch the train to Burnley, I bumped into a colleague who, on spotting my overnight bag, asked where I was going.  My response left her confused, “Burnley?  Where is Burnley?”  I tried to describe the location adding that it is not the nicest of towns but I was going there for football.  “Why not watch it in the comfort of your own home?”  A good question, but I don’t particularly enjoy watching football on television and don’t have Sky TV at home, so off to Burnley it was.

My journey included an hour ‘layover’ at Preston.  There was a time not so long ago when I was travelling though Preston very regularly but, since our promotion, it has become a rare occurrence and, for some inexplicable reason, I’ve actually missed it.  On arrival, Burnley was grey and damp.  After a brief detour to check in to the surprisingly pleasant hotel, I set off for the cricket club spotting a good few familiar faces on the way.  My first thought when this game was moved for television was that it would a bit of a throw-back to our Championship days when the midweek away crowd was mostly the hard core.  But the club having subsidized the tickets and laid on cheap coaches meant that we had sold over 1400 tickets, so there would be a very impressive turn out for a Monday TV game.

Ighalo waiting for the ball to drop

Ighalo waiting for the ball to drop

The Cricket Club had been spruced up and our usual corner was already occupied by a couple of our party.  Our welcome to the North was cask ale at £1.50 a pint and “Annie’s kitchen” was doing a roaring trade in the pie, chips peas and gravy.  The side room where we had gathered soon filled up with familiar Watford faces.  So, as Angela started telling us that her daughter had bought her a copy of “On this Day” by one of the BSaD guys, I was a little bit confused.  I assumed that everyone there knew everyone else, but she was totally oblivious to the fact that the author of her lovely birthday present was at the other end of table.  So, of course, I introduced them.

Team news was just the one change with Amrabat in for the injured Janmaat.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos; Amrabat, Capoue, Behrami, Pereyra, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.  Rather oddly, for the second away game in a row the Hornets faced a team in claret and blue wearing their white away kit which meant that both teams were wearing the same coloured shorts and Gomes was in a purple shirt that would have been deemed a clash in a bygone age.  After our last two convincing performances, confidence was high among the fans before the game.  But there was a question in the back of my mind as to whether this team could do it on a wet Monday night in Burnley.  With former Watford boss, Dyche, in charge, our hosts were not going to be a pushover.

Behrami

Behrami

The first chance of the game was a warning of things to come from the home side as, from a corner, the ball fell to Boyd whose shot drew a decent save from Gomes who tipped it over the bar.  Watford were a little lucky to escape a penalty appeal as a ball hit Holebas on the upper arm.  It was definitely a case of ball to arm, but I have seen them given.  After 20 minutes, I made a note that it had been mostly Burnley on top.  I wasn’t to know at that point that I could have made the same note at almost any time in the game.  The first sign that the Watford players were rattled came when Pereyra fouled Boyd and was booked for arguing with the referee.  It was a really stupid booking to attract.  Despite their dominance, Burnley didn’t threaten again until the 23rd minute when Gudmundsson took a shot from the edge of the area that flew just wide.  Watford’s first chance on goal came soon after as a corner from Capoue reached Holebas whose shot was blocked on the line.  In the 38th minute, Burnley won a disputed corner, Holebas was booked for protesting and many around me were unhappy at the decision although, to be fair, most of them had been unhappy since kick-off.  Burnley took the lead from the corner as Defour’s deep delivery was headed home by Hendricks.  It was a poor goal to give away, but the home side’s lead was well deserved on the balance of play.  Watford’s best chance of the half came in time added on as a free kick reached Pereyra whose cross was headed goalwards by Ighalo, but Heaton gathered easily.  It was a relief to hear the half time whistle.  It had been an utterly dreadful performance from the Hornets but that had a lot to do with the opposition.  Sean Dyche had done a tremendous job in organizing his team to stop the Watford players, who had no space to play in, although I’m not sure that excuses them not being able to string two passes together or defend set pieces.

Holebas and Capoue readying for a free kick

Holebas and Capoue readying for a free kick

It was hoped that Mazzarri would make changes at half time, but the only change in personnel was to bring Zúñiga on for Cathcart.  Watford started the half brightly with a lovely passing move ending in a shot from Deeney that was blocked and then cleared for a corner before he could connect with the follow-up.  But the good play didn’t last long and the home side increased their lead on 51 minutes as Defour’s corner was returned to him, his follow-up cross was met by Keane who was allowed a free header to beat Gomes.  Watford never really looked like getting back in the game after that, although there was some hope with the second substitution which saw Success come on for Amrabat.  That change went down very well among the away support who had been berating Nordin throughout the game.  On the hour, the Hornets had Gomes to thank for keeping the score respectable as he did brilliantly to save a shot from Defour.  At the other end Deeney met a Pereyra cross with a header that Heaton saved, but it would have been off target anyway.  Success had been lively since he came on and a run at the Burnley defence drew a foul and a free kick in a decent position.  Holebas stepped up to take it and shot into the wall, the ball rebounded to Capoue whose shot was blocked and Deeney’s follow-up was saved.  Watford were having a lot of possession during this period but too often were passing sideways or backwards, any forward passes seemed to be from Gomes launching the ball upfield, much to the frustration of those around me who were letting their feelings be known.

Kenedy makes an appearance

Kenedy makes an appearance

Mazzarri’s final change saw Kenedy on for Pereyra who had been lucky to avoid a second yellow card after a petulant challenge.  Into the last ten minutes and the involvement of Success and Kenedy had introduced some energy on the field that transferred itself to the stands and the travelling Hornets started making some positive noise.  Deeney went on a run and found Success who cut in, beating a couple of defenders, but his shot was from a tight angle and no Watford player could connect with the ball as it rolled along the goal line before it was put out by a defender.  The resulting corner came to Behrami on the edge of the box whose shot flew just wide.  Success had one final chance to reduce the deficit in the last minute of time added on, but his shot from an angle flew over the bar.  The final whistle was greeted with boos from the away stand.  Although this was followed by some sympathy applause for the players from the soft-hearted among us.  Deeney looked livid as he applauded the crowd and he certainly did not hold back in his post-match comments.

Deeney, Pereyra, Behrami and Britos

Deeney, Pereyra, Behrami and Britos

There was a lot of grumbling on the way out about the players being able to motivate themselves for the big teams while capitulating against Burnley.  There is a sad irony in fans criticising the players for arrogance while taking it as a given that we should beat a team like Burnley.  Personally, I am rather heartened that this division is competitive, so results cannot easily be predicted.  But I hope that future performances are a bit more entertaining to reward those who travel.  As I saw the fans piling on to the coaches for the long journey home, I was very happy that I had decided to stay over so only had a short walk back to my hotel room.

On checking out of the hotel the next morning, the woman on reception asked if I’d been to the football.  I bemoaned our performance, but we then had an interesting conversation about Sean Dyche.  She was definitely a fan, praising the efforts that he has put into developing the infrastructure of the club, so that they are set up for a future in the Premier League.  I’m told they have a nice new training ground and that the academy has grown under his leadership.  While he’s not a local he seems to have taken the club to his heart much as he did at Watford, which has gone down very well.

Saturday we will be back to Vicarage Road and there needs to be no complacency from either the players or the fans.  Bournemouth will be tough opposition and we will need to be at our best to ensure that we get a result against a team that we have had little success against recently.  This has been a great start to the season, so I sincerely hope that Monday was just a blip and we can return to winning ways very soon.

The Return of Dyche and Attwell

 

Watford managers past and present

Watford managers past and present

All the talk before this game was about the return of two men, the much loved former manager, Sean Dyche, and equally much reviled referee, Stuart Attwell, who was making his first appearance at Vicarage Road since awarding the ghost goal.

On arrival at my seat in the Rookery, I was delighted to see the elderly couple who sit in front of my sister. They have been absent for a considerable time and we feared the worst.  As so often with the people you see at every game, we only knew their first names, so had no way of finding out how they were.  It was such a relief to see them back where they belong.

Waiting for a ball into the box

Waiting for a ball into the box

Team news was that Beppe had made only one change from the win at Sheffield Wednesday with Cassetti coming in for the injured Doyley, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Battocchio, Anya, Ranegie and Deeney.  Former Watford loanees, Chris Baird and Michael Kightly, started for Burnley.

There had been much pre-game talk on social media about giving Attwell a hard time and, sure enough, the first time that the ball went out for a goal kick it was greeted with cheers and a rendition of 1-0 to the Golden Boys.  This elicited a smile from the referee.  Early in the game, Burnley won a free-kick in a dangerous position but Treacey delivered it

Celebrating Deeney's goal

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

straight into the arms of Almunia.  On 9 minutes, Watford were ahead as Deeney hit a shot from distance, which took a nasty deflection and looped over Heaton and into the net for Troy’s 20th league goal of the season.  The visitors appeared to have equalized almost immediately as a cross from Treacey was booted into the net from point blank distance by Barnes, so we were relieved to see that the flag was up for offside.  Immediately the Rookery started a chorus of “There’s only one Stuart Attwell.”  We had a couple of great chances to increase the lead.  First, McGugan brought the ball down and hit a lovely curling shot that was just wide of the far post.  Then Battocchio found Ranegie with his back to goal on the edge of the box, he played a short pass to Deeney

Anya on a run

Anya on a run

but his shot was just over the bar.  Then McGugan put a dangerous cross into the box but Ranegie couldn’t quite get his head to it.  At the other end, Barnes got on the end of a Kightly cross, but the presence of Angella ensured that his header was wide of the target.  Battocchio then played a ball over to Pudil, who didn’t have time to control and poked it wide.  Ten minutes before half-time Battocchio collided with a Burnley player and stayed down.  It was a while before play stopped and the physio could come on.  The treatment went on for some considerable time before the stretcher was waved on and Cristian was carried off and straight out through the gap between the Rookery and the Main Stand.  It is horrible to see a player carried off like that and it put a dampner on the rest of the half.  Abdi took his place in the midfield.  There were 6 minutes added on at the end of the half, during which a Tözsér corner was flying around the Burnley box as a number of shots were blocked, but McGugan’s final attempt flew over the bar.

At half-time, there was much satisfaction in a good first half performance tinged with worry about Battocchio’s injury.  Cristian had been playing really well before he went off.  Deeney was playing like a man possessed and the often maligned McGugan had been excellent.  In addition, Almunia did not punch a single cross, each time assuredly catching the ball.

A Watford attack

A Watford attack

At the start of the second half, the Watford players were out early and found themselves kicking their heels waiting for their opponents.  It nearly started badly for Watford as a clearance by Ekstrand rebounded off Barnes and went just wide.  Then a shot from Arfield curled just wide of the far post. At the other end, Ranegie released Deeney who played a low cross to McGugan who shot wide.  A scramble in the Watford box that appeared to include a handball by the home side, finished with Kightly shooting into the side-netting.  McGugan received a pass from Abdi but his shot from distance was well over the bar.  Then Anya exchanged passes with Deeney who crossed for McGugan, but Baird cut it out.  Then a Tözsér cross was met with a lovely header from

Ranegie challenged for a header

Ranegie challenged for a header

Ranegie, but Heaton was equal to it.  With 15 minutes to go, Faraoni replaced Ranegie for the home side and Burnley brought on Stock for Jones.  There was anger in the home stands as a ball crossed the sideline, but play was allowed to go on and Burnley won a free-kick in a dangerous position.  It could have spelled disaster as the deep free-kick was on target, but Abdi headed the ball off the line.  From Kightly’s corner, Ben Mee sent a header goalwards, but Almunia pulled off a fabulous save to keep it out.  McGugan then played a brilliant through ball to Anya, who rounded the goalkeeper, but his shot lacked pace and Baird had time to get back to clear.    From the corner, Pudil’s header was well saved by Heaton.  At the other end Edgar’s header flew just wide.  The Clarets got the equalizer with five minutes remaining as Arfield found space on the edge of the box and shot into the

The lovely Stuart Attwell

The lovely Stuart Attwell

corner past the diving Almunia.  Riera came on in place of the excellent McGugan for the last minutes of the game.  The first booking of the game went to Faraoni after what looked like a soft foul, although I was informed that he threw the ball away.  In the last minute of time added on, Angella released Pudil who advanced and found Deeney who played a one-two with Anya before shooting just wide.

After the final whistle, Sean Dyche graciously applauded all four stands and the Watford faithful loudly applauded him in return.  It was disappointing to come away from that game with only a point, but pleasing to see such a positive performance against a team that will likely claim the second automatic promotion spot.  If we continue to build and key players stay fit, next season could be very interesting indeed.

 

A Gutsy Performance at Turf Moor

Lighting my way

Lighting my way

The trip to Burnley is not high on my list of favourite away days.  When the game falls on a Tuesday night, it makes it even less appealing.  Given our recent run of form, I found myself questioning my sanity in taking a day and a half off work and spending a small fortune on train and hotel.  Still, there is always that niggling feeling in the back of your mind that it could be 7-4 again and you’d kick yourself if you were sitting at home.

The first challenge in planning the trip had been where to stay.  The hotel at which I’d stayed on a previous visit had closed down and hotels in central Burnley were conspicuous by their absence from the usual booking websites.  But then I found a boutique hotel located a short walk from Manchester Road station.  A boutique hotel in Burnley?  That I had to see.  When I arrived, I was delighted to find a characterful place with lots of art on display including a print of one of Matisse’s blue nudes.  Very pleasant indeed.

Welcome to Burnley

Welcome to Burnley

Pre-match there wasn’t a lot of confidence among the Watford faithful, but the team news indicated a switch in formation to 4-5-1 with Faraoni coming in for Pudil and Battocchio replacing Forestieri.  As the Burnley manager emerged from the tunnel, it was great to see Sean Dyche turn and applaud the Watford fans behind the goal and receive a warm reception from the travelling Hornets.

Burnley started strongly with an early foray into the Watford box that was smothered by Bond.  Then Bond was in action again, coming out to punch a free kick clear.  On 7 minutes, Treacy had a shot from distance but it was straight at Bond.  The next attack saw the young keeper come out of his penalty area to take the ball down on his chest and clear.  It was a confident move that was a sign of things to come.  On 8 minutes a corner by Stanislas flashed across the Watford goal, but there was no Burnley player near enough to apply the finishing touch.

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

On 10 minutes, Watford had their first attack with Murray passing to McGugan whose shot was blocked.  It has to be said that there were some pretty robust tackles coming in from the Burnley boys, but the ref let those go while he seemed to blow up for the slightest infringement by a Watford player.  On 14 minutes, the ball fell to Arfield on the edge of the box, but his shot flew well over the crossbar.  Then McGugan put a dangerous cross into the Burnley box, but Heaton reached the ball just before Battocchio.  On 19 minutes, Burnley won a free-kick for a minor infringement, Trippier took the kick and hit it straight at Bond.  Soon after, the referee blew up to penalize a Burnley player for climbing.  A decision that was met with ironic cheers from the travelling Hornets.

A Brace of Watford Managers

A Brace of Watford Managers

On 26 minutes, a string of lovely passes across the pitch finished with Faraoni beating the defender on the right and whipping in a cross that was blocked.  Then Trippier crossed for Arfield, whose shot was easily gathered by Bond.  Another cross from Trippier reached Jones, whose shot was blocked and put out for a corner which was headed over by Shackell.  At this point, I was distracted by an advertisement on the big screen.  On previous visits, I have marvelled at the unlikelihood of a “Clarets Wine Club”, so imagine my delight at the iPie advertisement.  Yes, Burnley have an app with which you can order your half time pie with a ‘click and collect’ service.  Will the wonders of technology

Thorne and Arfield wait for the ball to drop

Thorne and Arfield wait for the ball to drop

ever cease?  On 40 minutes, Burnley should have been ahead as Arfield met a cross from Stanislas with a close range header, but Bond leapt to his left to keep it out.  Then McGugan and Murray combined to feed Faraoni whose shot was wide of the far post.  Treacy then went on a run across the top of the area and unleashed a stinging shot that Bond first parried and then caught.  Just before half-time, Battocchio intercepted a ball in midfield and advanced on the Burnley goal, but his shot was blocked.  Then Cassetti won a free-kick close to the bye-line.  McGugan put a deep cross into the box which was met with a defensive header back to Heaton.  The half-time whistle went and, for the first time in weeks, the Watford players left the pitch to applause from their fans and chants of “Johnny Bond” and “Yellow Army” following them down the tunnel.  Burnley had been the better team in the half, but there was a pleasing resilience to Watford’s play and Bond had been superb.

Pre-corner jostling

Pre-corner jostling

A Burnley fan came to chat to us at half time to hear our opinion of our team and ask whether we thought Zola’s position was in danger.  He said that we had been the best passing team that they’d seen last season.  We said that we could still pass, but we were lacking the pace and penetration we had last season.  He said that they have a first eleven and then a bench full of kids so their current position was unlikely to be maintained at the end of the season.

We started the second half brightly.  An early shot from Battocchio went just past the far post.  Then a Burnley shot was met by a bicycle kick from Deeney to clear.  On 53 minutes, Battocchio went on a run down the wing, his cross was cut out and Burnley launched a counter-attack, Arfield shot goalwards and Bond had to drop smartly to gather.  Then Murray

Bond takes a goal kick

Bond takes a goal kick

broke into the box, but was closed down and lost the ball.  On 54 minutes, we had a great chance to take the lead as Battocchio passed the ball to Cassetti on the left and the Italian’s cross was met with a shot from close range by McGugan that Heaton did very well to keep out of the bottom corner.  Then a ball over the top reached Deeney, he passed it out to Murray whose cross was just missed by the leaping Bellerin.  Next Bellerin headed the ball down to McGugan who crossed for Murray to shoot, but again the shot was blocked.  Then a dangerous cross into the Watford box by Trippier was put wide by Mee under the attentions of a defender.  He was injured in the process and, after a spell of treatment on the pitch, went off and changed his shirt and came back numberless.  On 63 minutes, McGugan lifted a pass in the direction of Ekstrand, but the Swede did not react and Stanislas intercepted the ball but his shot was deflected for a corner.  Then a Watford shot from distance was deflected wide.  From McGugan’s corner, the ball bounced up and hit a defender’s hand, but the shouts for a penalty from the travelling ‘Orns fell on deaf ears.  On 66 minutes, a Murray cross was, again, too high for Bellerin but the ball fell to McGugan whose shot was cleared off the line.  From the throw-in, Murray fed Bellerin, but the Arsenal

Ready to defend a corner

Ready to defend a corner

youngster’s header was easy for Heaton.  On 68 minutes, our friend from half-time’s claim that they had the youth team on the bench was contradicted as Kightly replaced Treacy.  The former Watford loanee was involved in the next attack as he received a ball from Mee, but his shot landed on the netting on top of the goal.  On 74 minutes, Murray battled to keep the ball, he was tripped, fell over, got up still with the ball at his feet and was finally taken down to win a free kick.  At this point, he was replaced by Fabbrini.  McGugan took the free-kick which was deep into the box, but cleared.  Then Fabbrini passed to McGugan whose cross was headed out for a corner.  He took the corner which reached Faraoni who put the shot wide.  With 10 minutes remaining, Hewitt replaced Stanislas and Pudil came on for Cassetti.  Soon after, a deep shot straight at Bond did not test the young

Post-match congratulations

Post-match congratulations

keeper.  I have to say that our defence were doing a great job of closing the Burnley players down and restricting their shooting opportunities.  In the 87th minute, a cross from Trippier was met by a clearance from Fabbrini for a corner.  From the corner, the shot went harmlessly wide.  Then Fabbrini brought the ball down on his chest, went on a great run, but when he released the ball his pass was too far in front of Bellerin and the attack broke down.  It had been a frantic last five minutes, but the game remained scoreless.  At the start of the 4 minutes of injury time, we were taking time over our set pieces and Nosworthy, who’d shaped to take a free kick and then left it for Bond, was booked for time wasting.  We almost snatched the win in time added on as McGugan and Deeney exchanged passes and the former Forest man’s shot was deflected into the side-netting.  Pudil got a head to the resulting corner, but the ball was cleared and the game ended with honours even

This was such a contrast to Saturday both on and off the pitch.  Gone were the on field nervousness and the hostility from the stands.  Instead we had a brave, committed performance on the pitch which was cheered on enthusiastically by the 274 travelling Hornets.  The players spent some time on the pitch at the end thanking the fans for their support.  Zola looked a lot happier than he did at the weekend and must have been gratified to hear his name chanted again.  As a final gesture of thanks, Daniel Pudil removed his shirt, climbed over the advertising hoardings into the disabled enclosure and handed it to Gavin Ricketts.

All in all, it had been a very enjoyable evening and a timely reminder of why I go to these games.