Tag Archives: Ben Watson

A Brilliant Brazilian beats Bournemouth

On Friday this week I took the day off work and spent the afternoon/evening at Glyndebourne for La Traviata, which was absolutely delightful.  As I was staying overnight in Brighton before the game on Saturday, I had to make sure that I packed my posh frock and high heels alongside my Watford shirt and that I didn’t pack anything that would cause problems at the security check at the turnstiles.

I left Brighton early on Saturday to take the train to Bournemouth via Southampton.  I had a naïve expectation of a picturesque journey along the South coast, but the view out of the window was sadly free of sea views instead dominated by housing estates.  On arrival into Bournemouth, I bumped into Richard and we made our way to the pre-match pub, which is one of our favourites.  As we settled down to enjoy our pints, we were puzzled to see a number of St Albans City fans in the pub until they explained that they were playing Poole Town and there were no decent pubs in that area.

Man of the match Richarlison

Due to the time it took us to get through the security line at the stadium last season, we left in good time, just as Mike arrived, having taken 4 hours to drive from South London.  When we arrived at the ground, the line was long and I did wonder how I would get through with the luggage from my overnight stay.  My first offering for inspection was a tote bag that contained my opera handbag.  This caused confusion and required a number of labels to be attached before it was considered safe.  Then I presented my rucksack which I opened up to reveal toiletries.  There was a look of horror. “Do you have any cans?  Any sprays.” “No.”  That was the search over, so she didn’t get to admire my posh frock and kitten heels.

Team news was that Silva had made four changes with Femenía, Prödl and Richarlison replacing the injured trio of Janmaat, Kaboul and Pereyra.  Gray was preferred to Okaka up front, which seemed a bit harsh after his tremendous performance against Liverpool.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Doucouré, Chalobah; Amrabat, Cleverley, Richarlison; Gray.

Richarlison, Holebas and Britos waiting for the ball to drop

For a few seasons now, the travelling fans at Bournemouth have been uncharacteristically unpleasant and there was an early attempt to enforce that reputation as a bloke along the row from me started screaming at the female lino to get back in the kitchen.  She was the other end of the pitch from us so wouldn’t have heard anyway, but it wound me up.  I’m afraid that my response to this abuse was neither reasoned nor nuanced, but it was to the point.  On the pitch the first chance fell to the visitors as Cleverley turned and shot but it was blocked.   Bournemouth had an excellent chance to open the scoring as King advanced and found Fraser in the box, his shot was parried by Gomes, the ball fell to Afobe, but Britos was on hand to block the shot and send it over the bar.  It went quiet for a while after that, until Amrabat crossed for Chalobah who directed his header just wide of the near post.  The first booking was earned by Britos for a rather desperate tackle on Arter.  On the half hour, Afobe latched on to a long ball from Cook and advanced to shoot but Gomes pushed the ball to safety.  At the other end Gray cut the ball back to Chalobah who turned to shoot, but the strike was weak and easily gathered by Begović.  Richarlison impressed with a lovely move to beat a defender before cutting back to Doucouré whose shot was deflected over.  Holebas swung the corner in and Richarlison met it but nodded over the bar.  Bournemouth’s reputation for diving wasn’t done any favours as Afobe collapsed in the box with his hands to his face and no Watford player anywhere near.  Play continued.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead at the end of the half as a cross-field ball from Cleverley found its way to Richarlison, he beat a defender on the byline before playing the ball back to Gray who blazed over when he should have done better.

Richarlison at the bottom of a pile of celebrating players

So we reached half time goalless after an end to end half which, judging by the reactions of my friends, I judged rather harshly as it wasn’t as good as the first half against Liverpool.  The Watford fans were very loud throughout the half, although the repertoire was dominated by a chant that was new to me “Oo-oo-oo Abdoulaye Doucouré <repeat> never gives the ball away” to the tune of Earth Wind and Fire’s “September”.  It is very catchy indeed.

The home side started the second half brightly as Cook met a corner from Ibe with a header that was on target, but Gomes was down to save.  At the other end, a Holebas cross was headed on by a Bournemouth player to Amrabat whose shot was terrible, flying across the box and out for a throw.  There was a baffling moment as Amrabat pulled the ball back to Chalobah who, while in a great position to shoot, opted to leave it for the man behind him, Harry Arter.  Television pictures showed that the Bournemouth man had called for the ball.  All the Watford fans who have been complaining on social media about this unsportsmanlike behaviour have clearly forgotten how funny it was when the loathsome Dai Thomas did the same thing at Kenilworth Road.  Chalobah had a golden chance to put his team in the lead soon after as he robbed a player in midfield and found himself one on one with Begović, but he had too long think about the shot and his strike was blocked by the keeper.  He had a second bite as the ball found its way back to him, but this time he curled the shot just wide of the target.

Andre Gray

The referee was in action then, booking Grey for dissent after he was fouled by Cook.  There was time for Pugh and Defoe to come on in place of Afobe and Ibe before the Bournemouth man was finally booked for the foul.  There was a lovely move for the Hornets as Cleverley and Amrabat exchanged passes on the overlap before crossing for Richarlison on the other flank, he played the ball back to Chalobah who blasted his shot over the bar.  The youngster’s day went from bad to worse as he was then booked for a foul on King.  Watford were severely testing the Bournemouth defence and came close from a Cleverley corner which Richarlison met with a shot that was blocked on the line.  The Brazilian was a constant threat and had two decent chances after receiving a long ball from Holebas, his first shot was blocked, the second saved.  But he wasn’t to be denied and the GT chant had to be delayed as Gray crossed and Richarlison slid in to attempt to make contact. as he was on the ground with a defender and Begović in close proximity, it seemed that the chance had gone, but he stuck out his foot and prodded the ball past the prone keeper to give Watford a well deserved lead.  The celebrations were passionate and a large number of fans decided to pile down to the front to celebrate at pitch side.  The problem with that is that the disabled fans are located in the first row and, in the ensuing melee, were either trampled or found themselves no longer able to see the pitch due to the fans who remained standing in front of them.  As in previous years, it got ugly at this point with fans arguing among themselves and with stewards, and the police got involved.  It was all so unnecessary.

Celebrating Capoue’s goal

Back to the action on the pitch and Richarlison had a chance to increase the lead as he met a cross from Holebas with a header that flew just over the bar.  The visitors created another opportunity as Amrabat played the ball over the top for Gray but, as on so many other occasions this afternoon, Aké was on hand to stop the attack.  Silva made his first substitution with 10 minutes to go, as Capoue replaced the goal scorer, who had been suffering from cramp.  Richarlison was given a well-deserved ovation as he left the field.  The home side had a chance to draw level as Defoe flicked the ball on to King who headed just over the bar, much to the relief of the travelling Hornets.  Silva made a second change, bringing Kabasele on for Amrabat, whose place on the wing was taken by Femenía.  Watford made the points safe with four minutes to go, a shot from Gray was saved, but the clearance was only as far as Capoue, who chested it down before hitting a powerful shot past Begović.  One of those belters that causes an explosion of a celebration in the crowd.  Watford had one final chance to increase their lead as Holebas tried a shot from outside the area, but Begović was equal to it.  Silva made one last change, bringing Watson on for Chalobah for the six minutes of stoppage time, but there was no further goal action and, after the misfortune of recent visits to Boscombe, it was great to see the Hornets leave with a deserved win.

The players came over to celebrate with the travelling fans, who were loud and proud, as they had been for most of the game, and shirts were tossed into the crowd.  There was a lovely moment as the players were heading towards the tunnel.  Chalobah was one of the last to leave the field.  He had a very frustrating afternoon and was trudging away when the away end burst into a rousing chorus of “Chalobah, my lord.”  The youngster turned to face the fans with a beaming smile on his face.  It was good to know that we sent him home happy (and that was before he met Alice!).

It took a while for the away crowd to vacate the stand, the stewards were pleading with us to leave so that they could go home.  We headed back to the pub where we were joined by the victorious St Albans fans celebrating their position at the top of the National League South after a 100% start to their season.  We congratulated them and then returned to the reflections on our deserved win and impressive performance.  It had been another entertaining game.  Richarlison’s first start had built on his impressive debut as substitute the previous week.  He was certainly the man of the match.  The goal was typical of his hard work for the whole game, during which he never gave up.  At times last season the players appeared only to want to score perfect goals so to see a young Brazilian happy to score the scrappiest of strikes was a lovely contrast.  Andre Gray had an assist for the goal and had worked really hard, but was up against Aké who was tremendous and gave him very little space.  But the most pleasing aspect was the teamwork.  This looks like a group of lads who are playing for each other and their manager.  After the misery of the end of last season, that is just wonderful to see and bodes well for a terrific season.  The future certainly looks golden.

 

Thank-you, GT

Banner for the great man

I have to admit that I was furious when this game was changed from Vicarage Road to Villa Park.  I had booked my holiday after the announcement of the Graham Taylor tribute game, so to find that I would now be unable to attend was a bitter pill to swallow.  But an opportunity to go to Villa Park, a ground that I love, was not to be missed.  On the train to Birmingham, my podcast of choice was Colin Murray at home with Luther Blissett.  It is a great listen.  My annoyance at Murray’s lack of research when asking Luther about the first time he played at Old Trafford was tempered by his gleeful reaction when Luther told the story of what happened on that occasion.  Needless to say, they finished up talking about GT and both with great fondness. Since GT’s passing, Luther takes every opportunity to pay tribute to his friend.  Marking anniversaries of triumphs and just saying thank-you for the memories.  It has been lovely to see and is a mark of the great characters of both GT and Luther.

Our pre-match pub is lovely and it was great to have my sister, brother-in-law and niece joining a very reduced travelling party.  A gin festival was taking place which, added to the real ale and lovely food usually on offer, meant that everyone was happy after lunch.  As we waited at the bus stop to go to Villa Park, we struck up a conversation with a lovely couple.  It was a mixed marriage, she was a Villa fan, he was a blue-nose.  We talked about our mutual admiration for GT.  She told us about the tribute they had at Villa Park.  A wreath was laid on the pitch and Rita, Joanne and Karen were there.  As we parted company she wistfully commented, “I wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t taken the England job.”  That gave me pause for thought.  I wonder if he would have stayed at Villa and maybe moved on to a bigger club.  In that case, we wouldn’t have had that wonderful second spell.  But he didn’t and we were all there to celebrate the wonderful memories that he left us with.

Chalobah on the ball

The crucial piece of team news was that Pereyra would be making his first public appearance this pre-season after featuring against Rangers at London Colney earlier in the week.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kabasele, Kaboul, Mason; Cleverley, Doucouré, Chalobah; Amrabat, Sinclair, Pereyra.  Villa included former Watford loanees, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Henry Lansbury in their starting XI.

As soon as the teams emerged from the tunnel, they lined up and there was a minute’s applause for GT with both sets of fans singing “There’s only one Graham Taylor” at the tops of their voices.  It was very moving.

Villa had a very early chance as Agbonlahor broke free to challenge Gomes, but it was the Watford keeper who came out on top.  Watford had to make an early substitution.  I must admit that I was rather disappointed to hear Pereyra’s name announced as the player leaving the pitch.  He looked baffled himself and, to my shame, I was relieved when it turned out that it was Kabasele going off.  In my defence, he was being replaced by Prödl!

Waiting for a ball into the box

Sinclair should have opened the scoring after quarter of an hour.  Doucouré found Pereyra who played a through ball for Sinclair who only had the keeper to beat, but fired wide.  On the half hour, here was a stir in the away end as Deeney appeared pitch-side and, after some negotiation with the stewards, made his way into the stand to sit with the Watford fans.  Needless to say, it took him some time to get to his seat.  Watford had another chance as Chalobah got into a great shooting position, but he fired over.  We reached half time goalless.  It had been a pretty dull half of football.  The home side had the majority of the possession, but neither keeper had been tested.

At the restart, Pereyra made way for Success.  The Nigerian made an immediate contribution, crossing to Cleverley, who played the ball back to Chalobah who, again, fired over the bar.  Then Cleverley took a free kick from a dangerous position, but it was directed straight at the Villa keeper, Steer.  Disaster struck as Kaboul tripped Hutton in the box and the referee pointed to the penalty spot.  In the away end, we were singing the name of Heurelho Gomes with all our might and our man celebrated his new contract by guessing correctly and diving to his left to save Henry Lansbury’s spot kick.  We were located in the away section closest to the home stand.  When the penalty was awarded, they took the opportunity to taunt us.  So, when the penalty was saved, I was a little taken aback (and rather proud) when my usually mild-mannered niece, after celebrating the save, gave them some grief back.

My first look at Femenia

On the hour mark, Silva made five changes with Gomes, Kaboul, Cleverley, Doucouré and Amrabat making way for Pantilimon, Femenía, Watson, Hughes and Okaka.  There was a lovely move as Success released Femenía who advanced down the right wing before delivering the return ball for Success to try a shot from distance that flew wide of the near post.  The game had livened up since the substitutions and there was another nice move as Femenía crossed for Success, whose side footed shot was blocked and rebounded to Hughes who, unfortunately, was unable to follow-up.  Another chance fell to Success but, on this occasion, the shot was weak.  Just before the 72nd minute struck, the Villa fans started the applause, the travelling Hornets joined in and the chorus of “One Graham Taylor” rang out again in earnest.  The next decent chance fell to Villa as a cross reached Amavi in front of goal, but he slashed the ball wide of the near post.  Sinclair had a golden chance to open the scoring as he ran on to a ball over the defence from Success, but the keeper arrived first.  The final chance fell to the home side as Hourihane hit a shot from the edge of the area, but Pantilimon was equal to it and the game ended with honours even.

The shame of buying a half and half scarf

It had been a typical pre-season game with nobody taking any chances.  From a Watford perspective, the second half had been livelier than the first.  It was good to see Pereyra back.  The first impression of Femenía was very positive and there was some nice interplay between him and Hughes.  If Sinclair had been sharper in front of goal, we would all have gone home happy.  But this game was not about the result, it was about 10,900 people gathering to pay tribute to Graham Taylor.  The legacy that the man has left will never leave Watford and Villa also have reason to thank him hugely for rescuing them from the doldrums.  On the way out of the ground, I spotted some people with half and half scarves.  I usually sneer at these, but this scarf had a picture of GT sewn into it, so I had to have one.

On the train home, I opened the match programme.  I had to close it again pretty quickly as the sight of a middle-aged woman sobbing on the train would not have been a pretty one.  Typical of the man, among the tributes from former players were those from the kit man, the club secretary and the programme writer.  There was one word that featured in the majority of tributes, it was ‘gentleman’.  There was also a lovely piece written by his daughter, Joanne.  A fitting tribute to a wonderful man.

It was Graham Taylor who introduced me to Watford.  In the years that have passed, I have laughed and cried over football.  I have made many wonderful friends and spent time bonding with family over a shared passion.  But, behind it all, there was the man with the big smile, who always had time for you whoever you were.  The huge amount of love that his many fans feel for Graham is a mark of the warmth and kindness of the man.  He will be greatly missed for a long time to come.  The only thing I can say is “Thank-you, GT.”

 

Wimbledon Prevail at Kingsmeadow

Neal Ardley and Marco Silva make their way to the dugouts

In contrast to the warmth and bright sunshine that we enjoyed during the Woking game, I arrived in Kingston to cool temperatures and drizzle for the short walk to Kingsmeadow.  A number of the City ‘Orns had been put off meeting at the ground due to the advertised beer festival for which the tickets were advertised at £17.  In fact, all of the bars at the ground were open and, if you wanted the odd drink at the beer festival, there were tokens available, so I was able to avail myself of a lovely pint (or two) of Rosie’s Pig.  I had forgotten about the German theme of our last visit and, in particular, the oompah band, until the men (and one woman) in lederhosen appeared and struck up.  To be fair, there wasn’t a lot of oompah going on and I enjoyed the entertainment.  The German theme continued with the offerings at the burger van.  Miles Jacobson (fresh from a trip to Japan, the sole purpose of which seemed to be to import sake kit-kats) recommended the krakuer, a wurst infused with cheese, which is as good and as bad as it sounds.

Preliminary team news had focussed on the players who were out through injury and the fact that we were unlikely to see many of the new signings.  Sure enough, the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Watson, Doucouré; Success, Capoue, Berghuis; Okaka.

We took up a position on the terraces quite close to the dugouts.  When Marco Silva appeared, he was given a very enthusiastic reception from the Watford fans.  It was gratifying to see that Neal Ardley was greeted in an equally warm manner.

Proedl on the ball

Watford had an early chance as Doucouré went on a run before finding Capoue whose chip cleared the crossbar.  Then there was an early display of petulance from Holebas as he failed to keep a ball in play.  It was oddly endearing and indicated that we were back.  Jose was then serenaded with Colin and Flo’s song “He always wins the ball, he never smiles at all.”  I’m sure he loved that.  Especially when it was followed by “Jose, give us a smile.”  Back to the football, Wimbledon were on the attack, but Barcham’s shot cleared the crossbar.  The home side very nearly made the breakthrough as, from a Francomb corner, a glancing header from Taylor rebounded off the post.  Down the other end a cross reached Doucouré at an awkward angle so he could only head it away from goal.  There was a better opportunity as a Holebas free kick was cleared to Capoue who lashed it wide. Then Britos met a Watson corner with a decent header that was blocked by the Dons keeper, Long.  Watford should have opened the scoring from a lovely free kick by Holebas, but Long pushed it clear, so we reached half time goalless.

Watford made three substitutions at the break with Janmaat, Britos and Success making way for Dja Djédjé, Kabasele and Amrabat.

Challenging at a corner

Those who were late leaving the bar after half time (no names mentioned) returned completely oblivious to the fact that Wimbledon had scored two goals in the first five minutes of the half.  The first came as a cross from Taylor was turned in by McDonald.  The second came after a mistake in midfield allowed Barcham to escape and cross for McDonald to score his second.  Watford hit back as Holebas crossed for the ever reliable Watson, who beat the Dons keeper.  Watford then had a great chance for an equalizer as Berghuis played the ball back to Capoue who shot just wide of the target.  On the hour, Silva substituted the goalkeeper as Gomes made way for Bachmann.  The goal action continued at the Wimbledon end as a close range shot from Amrabat was blocked, it fell to Okaka who, under a challenge, was unable to bundle it in.  Then Amrabat played a through ball to Dja Djédjé who crossed for Watson whose shot was blocked, as was the follow-up from Capoue who immediately appealed for handball, but the referee was having none of it.  There was a great chance for an equalizer as a throw from Holebas was headed on by Okaka to Berghuis but the header was just wide of the target.  The Dutchman was not to be denied, though and, with 13 minutes remaining, he met a cross from Dja Djédjé with a pin-point header to level the score.

Daniel Bachmann

Capoue should have put the visitors in the lead as Amrabat found Dja Djédjé on the overlap again, he crossed for Capoue who appeared to kick the ground so failed to test the keeper.  Wimbledon then tried a shot from an angle, but Bachmann was able to push it over the bar.  Watford had a golden chance as Doucouré found Capoue with a lovely pass but, with the goal at his mercy, the Frenchman hit his shot straight at the keeper.  Soon after, Etienne made way for Folivi.  The home side had a great chance to snatch the winner as Appiah found himself one on one with Bachmann, but the keeper prevailed  Sadly, the home side were not to be denied, Watford failed to clear a cross, Antwi’s shot was blocked only for the ball to fall to Egan who hit a low shot past Bachmann to secure the victory.  There was only time for 16 year-old Lewis Gordon to replace Berghuis for the Hornets before the final whistle went.  I heard some boos in the away stand …. at the end of our first pre-season game.  As so often, I ask myself, who are these people?

Okaka and Doucoure after the goal from Berghuis

The post match conclusion was that it had been an entertaining game that had raised a number of questions.  Ben Watson didn’t put a foot wrong but, with the influx of midfielders, would he be on his way or is there still a place for his presence as a defensive midfielder.  The hope from our party was that there is.  Capoue was his usual mixture of brilliance and frustration, if only the former can outweigh the latter, we will all be happy.  But the main topics of discussion were the full backs and the strikers.  We have made a number of impressive signings in this transfer window, but we still need bolstering in those departments.  The discussion of possible strikers to bring in seemed rather hopeful and I dreamed of a young Blissett lurking in the wings.  No doubt the Pozzos will bring in somebody that I have never heard of and let us hope that it is someone who can make a sustained contribution.

I’m unable to make the trip to Austria for the games there, so my next opportunity to see the Hornets will be the trip to Villa.  It will be very interesting to see what changes have been made to the line-up by then.

A Dismal Afternoon at the Den

Ben Watson leading the team out at the Den

Ben Watson leading the team out at the Den

When this game was moved for television, the potential for a good sized crowd immediately disappeared.  It is an easy enough journey from Watford, but a midday kick-off on a Sunday in January is enough to make most people opt for the sofa.  So I was delighted (and not a little proud) when my niece said she would join us.  Especially as it wasn’t even a new ground for her.

I had been pleased to hear the announcement earlier in the week that the controversial compulsory purchase order by Lewisham Council relating to land around the New Den that would have threatened Millwall’s future residence had been abandoned.  So it was rather sad to go there and see the stands so sparsely populated.

Before the game, Mazzarri had been reported as saying that he would make 11 changes if he could.  In fact, he made 7, a great chance for some of the fringe players to make a case for more game time.  The starting line-up was Pantilimon; Kaboul, Mariappa, Britos; Djédjé, Doucouré, Watson, Guedioura, Mason; Okaka and Sinclair.  I was pleased to see Watson back in the team, as well as Mariappa making his second debut.  The tannoy announcer decided to make a big deal of the fact that he would struggle with all the foreign names in the Watford team, although pretending to struggle with Costel Pantilimon was rather lame.  This, and a repeated request for the lads to bring their ladies to the Den on Valentines Day, felt like a throwback to the 80s.

Mason and Onyedinma tangle

Mason and Onyedinma tangle

Before kick-off, there was some discussion among our party of the 6-1 win, which it is hard to believe was in 2010.  I missed that game due to a work trip to Tokyo (I’m still seething).  The pessimist in me couldn’t help but say that we wouldn’t get a similar result.

The Hornets took the kick-off, but almost immediately Millwall launched a counter-attack through Morison whose cross was met with a strike from Gregory that, thankfully, rebounded off the crossbar.  The fear at this point was that 6-1 was a possibility, but that it would favour the home side.  This fear grew as a corner was headed off the line by Mariappa.  Then a shot from Craig took a nasty deflection causing Pantilimon to have to tip it over the bar.  The resulting corner was headed just wide by Cooper.  The first goal attempt from the visitors didn’t come until the 16th minute with a shot from distance from Guedioura that flew well wide.  The Algerian came closer soon after with a free-kick that took a slight deflection before hitting the outside of the post.  Okaka was having a torrid afternoon, going down far too easily under challenges by players he should have been able to shrug off.  The home crowd decided to join in the persecution with a chant of “You’re just a fat Danny Shittu!”  Sinclair should have done better after breaking into the box, but fell over as he attempted to shoot, his pleas for a penalty were waved away.

Gones takes a goal kick

Gones takes a goal kick

With 10 minutes of the half remaining there was a mix up as Britos played the ball back to Pantilimon, Gregory nipped in and, in the scramble to clear, the keeper was injured and Mariappa’s intervention had the home crowd screaming for a penalty for handball.  The Millwall fans lived up to their vile reputation chanting ‘let him die’ as the clearly injured Pantilimon was helped on to a stretcher.  Gomes took his place in goal and was called into action almost immediately to stop a shot from Gregory.  From the corner, Morison headed goalwards, but Guedioura was on hand to head the ball off the line.

It had been a frustrating first half.  The visitors had the bulk of the play but failed to test Archer in the Millwall goal.  The Watford players were spending far too much time passing the ball around, while Millwall launched pacy counter attacks and actually looked like scoring.

The home side started the second half in a similar manner to the first with a shot from Gregory that just cleared the bar.  At the other end there was a decent chance as a cross from Djédjé was diverted goalwards by Cooper, but Archer made the save.

Okaka knocked off the ball

Okaka struggling with the Millwall approach

Watford had another chance when Mason crossed from the opposite wing, but Okaka just failed to connect.  The Italian then felt that he was pulled back as he challenged for a cross from Guedioura and complained loudly to the referee or anyone else who would listen.  By this point, he should have worked out that he was going to have to fight his own battles as the referee wasn’t going to help him.  In the build-up Djédjé had gone down injured and the Millwall fans continued their charm offensive cheering as a stretcher was brought on to the pitch.  Thankfully it wasn’t needed and nor was Janmaat who had readied to come on.  From a Kaboul cross, Okaka again appeared to be held down allowing the keeper to punch clear.  Half way through the second period, Djédjé did make way for Janmaat.  He hadn’t had the best of games, so it was to be hoped that the Dutchman would provide more of an attacking threat.  An attempt by Sinclair to break into the box was stopped by an excellent tackle on the edge of the area.  Jerome was replaced soon after by Deeney, whose name had been sung with some enthusiasm as he warmed up.  Troy was involved almost immediately as he headed a ball from Watson goalwards, but it was a fairly easy catch for Archer.  Mason then went flying into a tackle and was lucky only to see a yellow card.  Then a bit of pinball in the area finished with a save from Gomes.

The return of Mariappa

The return of Mariappa

Just as we were contemplating a replay at Vicarage Road, a cross reached Morison in the box and he finished through the legs of Gomes.  The home side were celebrating a second soon after as a corner was bundled home by Wallace, but it was ruled out for handball.  The home side had one final attempt to finish the game as Wallace tried a shot from distance, but Gomes was equal to it.  There was a flurry of activity as the visitors tried to equalize, first through a header from Deeney that was caught by Archer.  Then, in time added on, Troy looked sure to score with only the keeper to beat, but a last ditch intervention from Webster allowed him to block the shot and the Hornets were out of the cup.

The final whistle was met with loud boos from the travelling fans.  It had been a shocking performance mostly due to a distinct lack of effort.  Despite having the majority share of possession, they had managed only a single shot on target.  The players drafted in had not impressed.  Okaka couldn’t cope with the physical attentions of the Millwall players which, for a man of his stature, is just shocking.  Sinclair was anonymous and Djédjé offered little.  Guedioura put in more effort than most, but his execution was found wanting.  Watson, Mason and Mariappa were the only ‘fringe’ players that didn’t let themselves down.  It wasn’t until Deeney came on that Watford really threatened the Millwall goal.  Given the quality of the team that was selected, that is just unacceptable.  The action that summed up the afternoon for me was when a Millwall attack broke down with many of their players committed forward.  Instead of immediately breaking downfield, the Watford players decided to play the ball about between themselves giving the opposition plenty of time to regroup.  Having watched Millwall threaten on the counter all afternoon, you do have to wonder.

Next up a trip to Arsenal on Tuesday.  I’m dreading it.

Thrashed at Anfield

Th pre-match display in the Kop is as impressive as ever

Th pre-match display in the Kop is as impressive as ever

One of my closest and longest-standing friends

lives on Merseyside so, when the fixture list came out, I arranged to spend the weekend visiting.  I arrived on Friday afternoon a little too early for them to be home from work, so I spent the time I had to kill in the Tate with Klein, Krasiński, Blake and Emin, which was a lovely relaxing start to the weekend.  A Saturday spent walking on the beach followed by some sightseeing in the city and the firework display and I was suitably refreshed and ready for whatever was to come on Sunday afternoon.

On Sunday morning, I was treated to a slap-up breakfast before heading in to town.  My plan had been to leave my weekend bag in the left luggage at Lime Street Station, so it was a bit of a shock to arrive there to find that signs stating ‘Sorry, full.’  They could not offer an alternative venue beyond finding a local hostel that may keep the bag.  I contemplated trying one of the hotels nearby but decided just to hope that they would allow me in at Anfield.  On arrival at the pub, I bumped into our award-nominated Supporter Liaison Officer and mentioned my problem.  He checked the advice that had been received, which mentioned ‘small bags only’.  At that point I threw myself on the mercy of the bar manager who happily took my bag and stowed it away for my return.  What a lovely bloke.

The minute's silence

The minute’s silence

A big crowd of Watford fans gathered for the pre-match beers both those who had travelled north and a large contingent of North West Hornets.  As I boarded the bus to go from the city centre to Anfield, I headed for the back row of the top deck where there were a number of our faithful but no spare seats.  Thankfully my lovely friend, Alice, offered me a seat on her lap that was considerably more comfortable for me than for her, but for which I was very grateful indeed.

Team news was that Mazzarri had made the one enforced change as Janmaat came in for the injured Prödl.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Kaboul, Britos, Holebas; Amrabat, Behrami, Capoue, Pereyra; Deeney and Ighalo.

As this was the closest game to Remembrance Sunday, there was a minute’s silence in memory of the war dead that was impeccably observed.

Amrabat and Coutinho await Janmaat's throw-in

Amrabat and Coutinho await Janmaat’s throw-in

The pre-match concern had been how our cobbled together defence would cope with the pace of the Liverpool team and the way that the home side started the game provided no comfort to Watford fans.  They had an early chance as Lallana went on a great run before crossing for Firmino, whose shot was straight at Gomes in the Watford goal.  There was a brief distraction off the field soon after.  Anfield is the one ground in the Premier League at which, due to the impact of Hillsborough, none of the home fans stand for long periods of time, so the stewards came to request that those in the lower section of away fans take their seats.  A few people did as requested but one man decided to argue the toss with both the steward and a fan who complained of his view being blocked and another came running in from elsewhere to have a go at the steward and the fan, so the majority remained standing ensuring that I could see very little of what went on in the goalmouth just to our left.

Watford’s first chance came on 10 minutes after some decent hold up play from Ighalo, he played the ball out to Amrabat who shot wide.  The home side had a great chance to take the lead as Watford failed to clear a corner, the ball fell to Lucas whose shot was stopped by a close range save from Gomes.  At the other end, Britos met a Capoue free kick with a header that was easily saved by Karius.

Klopp observing Mazzarri's instructions

Klopp observing Mazzarri’s instructions

Liverpool came close to opening the scoring with a shot from Coutinho that cannoned back off the crossbar.  On 20 minutes, the home side should have taken the lead as Janmaat failed to put in a tackle on Mané who made his way into the box before finding Coutinho, thankfully for the visitors the Brazilian’s shot was off target.  Liverpool threatened again as a Milner shot from the edge of the area was caught by Gomes.  In a rare attack by the visitors, Amrabat put in a dangerous cross, but there was no Watford player in the box to apply the final touch.  Liverpool continued the onslaught, but there was good work from Britos to distract Firmino as a through ball came to him, so he shot wide.  Gomes was then called into action, first to stop a shot from Mané that was straight at him, then Milner broke into the box and was stopped by a brave intervention from the Watford keeper that was to have consequences later on.  The resultant corner led to Liverpool finally opening the scoring on 27 minutes, as it was met by a lovely header from Mané.  There was a brief flurry of activity from the visitors as a Pereyra flick fell just behind Deeney.  Then Amrabat crossed to Ighalo in the box, he touched the ball across to Deeney who was unable to connect and the ball rolled through to the keeper.  Liverpool were two goals up within a couple of minutes as Coutinho scored with a shot from the edge of the area.  There appeared to be some strong words between Mazzarri and Deeney on the sidelines after this goal and Troy came on with instructions for each of his colleagues.

Kaboul strikes a free kick

Kaboul strikes a free kick

Of more concern at this time was that Gomes was flat on his back in the area and, once it was clear that it wasn’t just a gesture of frustration, the physio was on and a stretcher appeared.  The Brazilian eschewed use of the stretcher and hopped off the field to applause from the travelling Hornet faithful and also the Liverpool fans on that side of the pitch, which was much appreciated.  Pantilimon took his place and must have been grateful that the peppering of the Watford goal slowed down for a while.  There was a brief hope that the visitors would reduce the deficit as a Holebas free kick was cleared only as far as Amrabat who hit a wild shot well over the bar.  But the action moved straight down the other end of the field and Can headed Lallana’s cross past Pantilimon for Liverpool’s third goal.  Again Watford attempted to strike back as Capoue broke into the box before shooting, but Karius was equal to the effort.  The last chance of the half came from the home side as Milner hit a free kick that was kept out of the net by a one handed save from Pantilimon.  It was a relief when the half time whistle went.  As expected, Liverpool’s pace had been relentless and too much for the Watford defence but, on a positive note, Watford had continued to launch counter-attacks rather than wilting under the pressure.

Pereyra takes a corner

Pereyra takes a corner

The first attack of note in the second half came as Coutinho hit an effort from distance that flew just wide.  For the visitors Ighalo cut the ball back to Janmaat, but the shot was straight at the Liverpool keeper.  The first caution of the game went to Holebas for a clumsy trip on Mané.  Liverpool scored their fourth on 57 minutes as a cross from Lallana rolled through the entire Watford defence before being turned in by Firmino, it looked like terrible defending.  The fifth goal was scored on the hour as Firmino cut the ball back for Mané to beat Pantilimon.  At this point each side made a substitution as Watson replaced Behrami (who had a poor game) for the visitors and Wijnaldum came on for Mané.  Watford had their best spell of the game at this point and it is difficult to say whether this was due to the introduction of Watson or the home side relaxing.  A cross from Amrabat was nicked from just in front of Ighalo and cleared for a corner which came out to Capoue whose shot was stopped by a decent save from Karius.  Another good stop from the Liverpool keeper prevented Britos from pulling a goal back for the Hornets.  Liverpool’s second substitution saw Sturridge replacing Lallana.  Some great work from Watson, who managed to complete a pass while falling over, started a lovely move which finished with Deeney playing a through ball to Capoue whose shot was stopped on the line.  Soon after, the visitors got on the scoresheet as Amrabat cut the ball back to Janmaat who beat Karius to give the travelling Hornets something to celebrate.

Ighalo, Deeney and Capoue waiting for a ball in

Ighalo, Deeney and Capoue waiting for a ball in

Watford continued to attack with a shot from distance from Ighalo that the keeper was equal to.  Liverpool could have restored their five goal advantage soon after as a shot from Sturridge rebounded off the crossbar.  The second card of the game went to Britos for a foul on Can.  Sturridge threated again as he broke forward and unleashed a shot that required a decent save from Pantilimon to keep it out.  Mazzarri’s final substitution saw Zúñiga on for Pereyra, while Klopp replaced Coutinho with Ejaria.  Sturridge seemed determined to get his name on the scoresheet as he hit a curling shot that appeared to be tipped on to the cross bar.  He followed this with a shot from a tight angle that was saved, but Liverpool were not to be denied a sixth goal as Wijnaldum connected with the loose ball to finish past Pantilimon.  Watford had one final chance to finish the game on a positive note as a Holebas cross was headed down to Deeney who turned and shot, but the effort was blocked.

When the final whistle went, it was a relief.  Very few of the Watford players came to acknowledge the fans, which is understandable, but it was nice to see Amrabat, Watson and Deeney make the effort.  Troy had his taken his boots off with the intention of throwing them to someone in the crowd.  The stewards had a word which meant that he just handed them to a couple of youngsters at the front, which is a much better option.

Holebas lines up a free kick

Holebas lines up a free kick

I must be mellowing in my old age as this didn’t hurt anything like as much as previous heavy defeats.  I think it helped that Watford didn’t just sit back, so there was some attacking play to enjoy.  Also, Liverpool were superb and there is no shame in being beaten by a team as good as that.  It was one of those games when I really wished that I was a neutral as I would have thoroughly enjoyed Liverpool’s performance.  Plus points for the Hornets were that Amrabat had another decent game going forward and we looked a lot stronger in midfield when Watson came on.  Ben put in a good showing which also allowed Capoue some freedom, so his performance improved considerably.

A number of us had booked a train home that allowed plenty of time for post-match discussions which were strangely enjoyable given that we had so little to cheer about.  I continued my good fortune with great company on the journey home as Miles Jacobson spotted an old friend of his so we were joined by Ray Houghton, who is a hero of mine and turned out to be a delightful man.  It was so interesting listening to him and when he kissed me goodbye at the end of the journey, it didn’t feel like such a bad day after all.

 

A Clean Sheet and Three Points at the Riverside

Troy leads the team out at the Riverside

Troy leads the team out at the Riverside

When the Middlesbrough game was moved to Sunday lunchtime for television, transport options were checked only to find that the first train to leave London would arrive in Middlesbrough less than half an hour before kick-off.  That would be cutting it a little too fine for my nerves, so I decided to spend the weekend in Durham.  I was delighted to find out that a couple of friends had made independent arrangements to do the same.  When news spread that we had arranged to meet up on Saturday evening for a curry, our party grew so our pre-match gathering started rather earlier than usual.

The original plan for Sunday morning had been to get a train to Middlesbrough but this was changed when transport ninja, Richard, discovered the existence of the X12 bus which provided an option that was both quicker and cheaper than the train.  As we waited for the bus, we were joined by a quartet of Durham students wearing Watford shirts, which was rather lovely.  As our journey progressed, the rain started and, when we emerged from the bus station, there was a local putting up his hood who was grumbling about the weather and commented to us, “It’s grim up North.”

Our pre-match gathering was at the notorious Doctor Brown’s.  Apparently the place is under new management, so the DJ playing the ear-splitting music and running the quiz was no longer in place.  There had even been a suggestion that it was now a gastropub, but that was certainly not in evidence and the pub was as ordinary and friendly as it had been on all previous visits.

Challenging in the Boro box

Challenging in the Boro box

On arrival at the stadium we were greeted by what must be some of the nicest stewards in the league.  On opening up my stuffed rucksack, I was asked whether I had any cans or bottles.  A perfunctory glance, a smile and “I trust you” and I was in the ground.  I then headed for the Ladies which was actually in a part of the concourse populated by the home fans, with only a metal barrier to separate the fans along with a lovely steward who was directing us in.

Team news was that Mazzarri had made two changes with Britos and Success replacing Zúñiga and Ighalo.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Amrabat, Capoue, Behrami, Holebas; Pereyra, Success with Deeney on his own up front.  A lot of Watford fans had been calling for the introduction of Success after his tremendous performances against Burnley and Bournemouth, so it would be very interesting to see whether he was as impressive over 90 minutes as he was as an impact substitute.

Holebas takes a throw in

Holebas takes a throw in

Both teams had an early chance, first the Hornets as Deeney got into the box but was stopped when the ball was taken off his feet.  Then a shot from Downing that flew well over the bar.  There was a nervous moment for the Hornets soon afterwards as Kaboul lost the ball allowing Ramirez to play a one-two with Negredo before shooting just wide of the far post.  The first booking of the game came after 20 minutes as Barragán was cautioned for a foul on Success.  The card was deserved, but I was a little perturbed that Success rolled over at least one time more than was strictly necessary.  Boro were calling for a penalty when Negredo went down in the box, but the referee waved away his appeals which looked a little fortunate for the Hornets at the time.  A minute later there was a further penalty appeal, this time for hand ball, but, again, nothing was given and the ball fell to Downing who shot wide of the near post.  At the other end there was a chance for the visitors as a Holebas free kick was met by a defensive header from Negredo which looked as though it may test Valdés in the Boro goal but flew just wide.  Soon after, Deeney met a Capoue cross with a wild volley that was well wide of the target.  I’m sure he was very grateful that the flag was already up for offside.  At the other end, the home side had a great chance to open the scoring with a shot from distance by Gibson that was just wide.  Barragán fouled Success again prompting the travelling Hornets to shout for his dismissal but, after a long lecture, he was sent on his way without a card being shown.

Deeney very happy after the strike from Holebas

Deeney very happy after the strike from Holebas

The inconsistency of Mr East’s decision making was shown rather starkly soon after as Stuani was booked for a very similar foul on Pereyra.  Between the bookings there was a volley from Negredo that was easily gathered by Gomes, the first save by either keeper.  Ramirez was then cautioned for an off the ball foul on Behrami.  So we reached half time goalless after a very dull half of football which must have been torture for the fans who had been up in the early hours of the morning to travel up from Watford.

Just after half time, Negredo went down in the box again and, again, the referee was having none of it and any sympathy I had had the first time that he went down had disappeared.  Forshaw should have done a lot better with a shot following a cut back, but he hit it straight at Gomes who had an easy catch.  Success went on a great run before falling down as soon as he got into the box.  In my frustration, I was berating him for not crossing before he ran into the defender when the ball fell to Holebas who unleashed a cracking shot to put the visitors into the lead.  It seemed a bit unfair on the home side that Watford should take the lead from their first shot on target, but it was the first time in the game that either keeper had been really tested.

Challenging at a corner

Challenging at a corner

The first caution of the game for the visitors went to Amrabat for a foul on Friend.  Some poor defending on Watford’s left allowed Friend to put in a dangerous cross, but Gomes wasn’t troubled by the resulting header from Negredo.  There was a rash of substitutions with 20 minutes to go as Ayala and Traoré replaced Stuani and Barragán for the home side and Zúñiga came on for Amrabat for the visitors.  With 15 minutes to go, there was a lovely passing move down the pitch from the Hornets which finished with a powerful shot from Success which was straight at the keeper but much the best effort of the game apart from the goal.  During a break in the game for Britos to get some treatment, the home crowd started up a chant of “We’ve had some sh*t refs, you are the worst,” which garnered laughter and applause from the Watford fans.  It appeared that Watson and Ighalo were being readied for a substitution, but Britos couldn’t continue and limped off to be replaced by Kabasele.  Soon after Watson did make an appearance coming on in place of Success, who was loudly booed by the home fans for his theatrics during the game.  I would have had a modicum of sympathy had their guys not been dropping like flies throughout the game.  Although, while Isaac was much sinned against, he does go down a little too easily and dramatically, which is incredibly irritating as he would make more impact if he stayed on his feet.  Boro also made a change with Rhodes coming on for De Roon.

Holebas and Capoue lining up a free kick

Holebas and Capoue lining up a free kick

As the clock reached 90 minutes, a cross from Traoré was plucked out of the air by Gomes.  The fourth official held up the board indicating 6 minutes of added time.  The home side had one final chance half way through time added on, but it was a wild shot that flew wide and prompted the home fans to stream out in numbers.  They didn’t miss anything and the game ended with the Hornets winning thanks to the one moment of quality in the game.  After the final whistle, there was a long heated discussion between Holebas and Capoue that only finished when Deeney came over stepped between them and hugged them both.

On the way out, the lovely steward who had been the meet and greet on the way to the Ladies wished us all a safe journey home.  We repaired back to Doctor Brown’s to while away the time before our train home and discuss the game.  Given the post-match complaints from the Boro manager it was pleasing that the fan who initiated a conversation with me in the pub congratulated us on the win.  I commented that it had been a terrible game.  “It was never going to be any good, but well done.”

The main positive from the game was that we had achieved our first clean sheet of the season, although a lot of that was down to how poor Middlesbrough were in front of goal.  They had most of the possession and more goal chances but Gomes didn’t have to make a save worthy of the name.  Holebas put in a good performance crowned by a superb goal.  The performance of Success was a bit of a curate’s egg.  He was lively and causing the Middlesbrough defence some problems but seemed to run into players and lose the ball when an early cross would have been a better choice.  Poor Troy was isolated up front and didn’t see much of the ball at all.  But a win when you are not playing well isn’t to be sniffed at and our current mid table position is to be treasured.

The Gills Triumph in the League Cup

Guedioura makes amends

Guedioura makes amends

I suspect that I was one of very few people who bought tickets for this game as soon as they went on sale.  My season ticket seat is a couple of seats away from my niece’s.  Since I knew that the guys who sit between us don’t usually attend early League Cup games, I decided to buy their seats instead of mine.  When my sister found out on Monday that she would be able to get leave from work to attend and was able to buy my seat (prime in the middle of the Rookery), it was clear that the attendance at this game would be rather low.  That suspicion was confirmed when the West Herts was relatively empty pre-match and, after Don and Trond left early to go to the ground, I was Franny-no-mates at our usual table.  For this reason, it was a surprise to arrive at the ground twenty minutes before kick-off to see a huge queue at the ticket office.  Sadly, it seems that many fans were not aware that their tickets would not be uploaded to their Season Cards and so faced an irritating and unexpected queue to collect tickets that they thought they already had.

With a new head coach, there is always the question of whether he will make wholesale changes for the early cup games or use them to help the team to gel.  We were given our answer when Mazzarri made nine changes from the Chelsea game with only Guedioura and Deeney keeping their places.  The starting line-up was Pantilimon; Nyom, Hoban, Kabasele; Paredes, Guedioura, Watson, Doucouré, Anya; Deeney and Vydra.  So a chance to see Troy and Matěj teaming up again and it was rather lovely to see Hoban back after so long out injured.

Guedioura on a run

Guedioura on a run

As we waited for kick-off, a lot of balls were flying in to the Rookery, one of which hit a little lad a couple of rows behind me.  I heard applause and then saw Guedioura running up the aisle past us to make sure that the child was OK and give him a ball to take home.  That may well have been the highlight of the evening.

The game started promisingly enough as Anya cut the ball back to Deeney whose snap shot was saved.  At the other end our new defender, Kabasele, made a good start to his debut with a great tackle on Osadebe.  My notes relating to the next twenty minutes tell me that we were making a lot of deep crosses while none of our players were anywhere near the far post.  Watford had a decent chance on the half hour as a shot from Anya was parried and Doucouré hit the rebound from the edge of the area just wide.  Guedioura was the next to threaten the Gillingham goal but, again, shot wide from distance.   Gillingham’s first notable chance came just before half-time but Emmanuel-Thomas fired well wide of the target, so we reached half time goalless.  Watford had been the better side with the majority of the possession, but had rarely tested Nelson in the Gillingham goal.

Celebrating Ighalo's goal

Celebrating Ighalo’s goal

As we started the second half, I had high hopes that we would finally convert our dominance to goals and we started promisingly.  Watson had the first goal attempt of the second period with a shot that flew just over the bar.  Then Hoban met a Paredes cross with a header that was well over the target.  The first substitution came ten minutes into the half as Ighalo replaced Guedioura.  It was an attacking substitution that paid off almost immediately as Deeney chipped a ball over the defence and Ighalo turned it in from close range.  The Hornets should have been two up as Deeney and Vydra combined to find Ighalo in space but his shot was blocked.  That was the Czech’s last action of the game as he was replaced by Capoue.  I felt sorry for Matěj, he had worked hard and was obviously keen to impress.  It had been interesting to see Deeney and Vydra together again.  There were lots of little flicks between them, but they didn’t come to anything and you couldn’t help thinking that Troy was doing his best to help his strike partner to get the goal that he so desperately wanted.  There was very warm applause for Matěj as he left the field which he reciprocated.  Watford should have had a second goal as a header from Hoban was blocked on the line before an attempt at a clearance by a Gillingham defender hit the bar.

Hoban and Kabasele line up for a corner

Hoban and Kabasele line up for a corner

At the other end, a stupid tackle by Nyom on a player who was going nowhere led to a penalty award.  The Rookery started chanting Pantilimon’s name, but he didn’t need to get involved as Dack put the ball into Row Z.  Deeney could have turned the knife with a header from a Paredes cross, but Nelson was equal to it.  Watford were to rue not making the most of their chances as, with eight minutes to go, Byrne hit a shot from distance into the far corner of Pantilimon’s goal.  Watford had a couple of late chances to win the game but Doucouré skyed his shot and then Hoban fired just wide, although the flag was already up for offside.  So Watford had been punished again for dropping deep to preserve a narrow lead and we were to be treated to extra time.

In the first minute of extra time Ighalo should have regained the lead for the Hornets, but his shot was just wide of the near post.  Mazzarri’s second substitution saw Zúñiga replacing Anya and the Colombian could have broken the deadlock but shot just wide.  Against the run of play, it was the visitors who took the lead as the Watford defence failed to deal with a cross, allowing Dack to sneak in to shoot.  Pantilimon appeared to grab the ball but only succeeded in taking it over the line.  This was missed by the linesman but the referee was notified due to the goal line technology and indicated a goal.

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

Watford tried to strike back in the second period of extra time but it wasn’t to be our night as Hoban had another effort cleared off the line and goal machine, Capoue, hit a decent chance high and wide, much to the disappointment of my niece who is a big fan but has yet to see him score.  The final whistle went to a loud chorus of boos.

What is it with Watford and the early rounds of the League Cup?  This is the latest in a long line of dreadful performances.  These games should be an opportunity for fringe players to make a claim for a place but only Kabasele and Hoban really impressed.  Certainly, those who have expressed concern regarding some recent mistakes from Gomes will have derived no comfort from Pantilimon’s showing.  Deeney hasn’t looked himself in the early games this season, although he rarely does when things aren’t going his way.  You can’t help but think that this would have been a good game in which to rest him and give Sinclair a chance to impress.

So we are out of the cup to a League One side and anticipating a visit from Arsenal.  The international break can’t come quickly enough.

 

 

Starting the Season with a Well Won Point

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Last Thursday, I was invited to an evening at the club at which we were charged with tasting the catering offerings for the new season (who ate all the pies?).  We were told that there will be a number of freshly cooked options available including pies, chicken curry and fish and chips.  The only vegetarian option is a cheese and potato pie (veggie food doesn’t sell, apparently) and my question about the continuing availability of chicken wraps and ham baps indicated how often I buy food inside the ground as they haven’t been available for at least a season.  The tasting only included pies and hot dogs and I must say that the boeuf bourguignon pie was excellent, lots of chunks of beef and a very nice pastry crust.  I am also told that the Hornets Ale (a Carlsberg product) was rather good.

Back to the events of Saturday.  On our last visit to Southampton (over which we should draw a veil) our party met at a lovely pub which fell down by taking forever to serve the food on a weekday evening.  We decided to give them another chance and they delivered.  The beer was great, the food was good and was served promptly (and my egg and bacon roll cost less than it would have done from the van outside the ground), the staff were lovely and the company was exceptional.  I was a little concerned when young Matt decided to join us, as his occasional attendance in recent times has inevitably resulted in defeat.  But our late substitute, Adam, told us that he had never seen us lose at Southampton, so that made me feel a lot better about our prospects.

An animated Mazzarri in the dugout

An animated Mazzarri in the dugout

On arrival at the ground, there was a huge queue at the turnstiles, but it moved very quickly and, as we snaked around, we passed friends, so paused for hugs and kisses with some and smiles and greetings with many.  Our catching up was clearly bothering the stewards who told us to move along.  It had been announced during the week that the tickets were being subsidised, so that all would cost £20 (following the FSF Twenty’s Plenty campaign).  Despite the sponsorship already being printed on the tickets, we were charged full price at the time of sale and the rebate was applied by way of envelopes being handed out at the turnstiles.  Call me churlish, but I would have been more impressed if they had just refunded to our credit card accounts as the rebate stunt proved to be an environmental mess as large numbers of envelopes were discarded just inside the turnstiles.  In addition to that, some fans were given the wrong sum, which was fine if you were given a tenner when you had bought a concession ticket, but not so good the other way around.

As we took our place low down in the stand, you couldn’t help but contrast the blazing sun to the torrential rain that we experienced on our last visit.

Celebrating our first goal of the season

Celebrating our first goal of the season

Walter Mazzarri’s first team selection was eagerly awaited and contained a couple of surprises with Amrabat and Behrami, who hadn’t seen a lot of game time in pre-season, being preferred to Anya and Suárez/Watson.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos; Amrabat, Capoue, Behrami, Guedioura, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.

There was a nervous moment for the Hornets early in the game as Gomes did well to keep out a free kick from Tadić, only for Britos to direct a follow-up goalwards.  Thankfully Gomes was able to keep that out as well.  Watford took the lead on 9 minutes through our newly discovered goal machine, Capoue.  It was a lovely goal as well.  A great cross from Amrabat was headed back by Deeney into the path of the onrushing Capoue who buried it past Forster.  The first goal of a new season always feels significant and it was great to see this one go to the Hornets.  Sadly our first goal of the season was greeted with the first smoke bomb, which I didn’t see but the fragrance is unmistakable.  There were few further chances until after the half hour when Long headed a Tadić cross just wide.  Soon after Holebas hit a cross-cum-shot that looked dangerous, but ended up on the roof of the net.  Redmond had a decent chance of an equalizer but he shot just wide.  As the home side threatened late in the half, there was some lovely defending as Prödl put in a great tackle and Cathcart was on hand to clear up.  Southampton had one last chance to equalize in the first half with a shot from Cédric that Gomes did well to push to safety.

Deeney waiting for the ball to drop

Deeney waiting for the ball to drop

At half time the mood among the travelling Hornets was good.  It had been a decent performance with a lovely goal and some solid defending.

There were no changes of personnel at the start of the second half.  Just before the hour mark, a good Watford move broke down allowing Southampton to counter attack finishing with a shot from Redmond that Gomes did very well to keep out.  This was followed by a couple of Southampton corners, the second of which was punched by Gomes but only as far as Redmond who volleyed home.  Watford could have struck back almost immediately as a back pass was played short to Forster, Deeney ran on but the keeper managed to be first to the ball.  The home side also had a chance to increase the lead as Yoshida headed just over.

Mazzarri made a couple of substitutions with Watson coming on for Behrami and Zúñiga making his debut replacing Guedioura.  The Colombian is a wing back but, on this occasion, was used in the midfield.  With 15 minutes to go, an attempted escape by Long was stopped when Watson dragged him to the ground.  There was no surprise when the red card was shown and the Hornets faced a challenging end to the game.  From that point on, it was mostly one way traffic with Watford mounting a rearguard action.  When Watson was dismissed, it was commented that it ended Vydra’s hopes of any game time and, sure enough, Mazzarri’s final substitution saw Ighalo replaced with Anya.  Into the last five minutes and it appeared that Southampton had taken all three points as Redmond again beat Gomes, but the goal was ruled out for what I was reliably informed was the first offside of the game.

Thanking the travelling Hornets

Thanking the travelling Hornets

At the final whistle, a number of the Watford players collapsed to the floor and, I must admit, that I wanted to follow suit as I had been exhausted watching that second half from the stands.  The players came over to thank the travelling fans.  They were not joined by Mazzarri, but that is not meant as criticism as he did give the crowd an appreciative wave before disappearing down the tunnel.  He is rather animated in the dugout and could bring us some entertainment on that score this season.

At the end of the game most Watford fans were happy with the point and impressed that we’d managed to hold out with ten men.  The positives in the game were that we defended well and the goal was a thing of beauty.  The negative for me was the irritation that I felt in the second half every time we played a ball forward in hope rather than expectation that inevitably was cleared causing us to have to defend again.  We have a very difficult few games coming up, so the Watford faithful will have to be patient as any points during this period will be a bonus.  Still, it is always good to start the season with a point and Matt is now welcome to come to future games, so it’s all good.

 

Lorient visit the Vic

Mazzarri in the Watford dugout for the first time

Mazzarri in the Watford dugout for the first time

When I saw my niece on Friday night, I found that she had completely forgotten that we had a game on Saturday (she was thrilled when she was told) and, when she asked who we were playing, her Dad (a Hammer) told her it was Leyton Orient.  I pointed out that our friends from East London had an appointment in the league, so we were actually playing a French side.

The walk to the West Herts for our first game in August always puts a spring in my step.  When I arrived, it was lovely to see a gathering of familiar faces plus a special guest appearance of “Tim from Norway” who had secured his seat due to the kindness of someone on WML.  There is always that comforting feeling of being home again.

On arrival at the ground, I headed for the Hornet Shop, which was crowded, but I managed to buy the new shirt (it is growing on me).  The frontage for the new shop on the corner looks impressive and should ease congestion such that I may even, on occasion, go in there on the day of a first team league game.

Cathcart on the ball

Cathcart on the ball

It was rather strange to be entering the turnstiles of the SEJ stand.  In contrast to the £3 that was being charged for programmes at Loftus Road last week, we entered the ground to find people handing out free programmes.  There wasn’t much in the way of content, but it was a nice touch and included an introduction to the new signings.  When the starting line-up was announced, I was a bit surprised to see that, again, it was the old faces included.  The starting XI was Gomes, Cathcart, Prödl, Britos, Anya, Watson, Guedioura, Capoue, Holebas, Deeney and Ighalo.  Again we started with a 3-5-2 formation.  The lads emerged from the tunnel into bright sunlight and, as he took his place in the dugout, our new head coach, Mazzarri, waved to the fans and was warmly applauded.

The game started brightly enough for the Hornets who had a couple of early chances without testing the Lorient goalkeeper.  First Deeney headed the ball down for Capoue who unleashed a shot that flew over the bar.  Then Capoue played in Ighalo whose shot was blocked by Touré.  Off the pitch, Harry Hornet was spotted trying to get the empty Rookery and GT stands singing.  It loses a lot in translation, but it was very funny.

Celebration after Deeney's penalty

Celebration after Deeney’s penalty

Just before the half hour mark, there was a drinks break for the players.  I must admit that, with the sun beating down on us in the stand, I was rather envious as we could have done with one ourselves.  As play resumed, Cathcart was replaced by Success and the formation changed to 4-3-3 with Anya and Holebas dropping into the defence and Success joining Deeney and Ighalo up front.  After the restart, the visitors had their best chance of the game so far, as Moukandjo latched on to a through ball and hit a shot that required a good save from Gomes.  Success had his first sight of goal as he cut in from the left but shot straight at Lecomte.  The French side should have broken the deadlock with a cracking shot from Cafú but he directed it straight at Gomes who blocked with his hands.  By this point, the danger from the sun had led to neighbours in the stand sharing sun cream.  Factor 50 was liberally applied.  On the pitch, Capoue had another shot from outside the area, this one was on target, but was easily saved.  Watford’s breakthrough came in time added on at the end of the half as Holebas tried to break into the box and ran into a defender.  I thought he played for the penalty, but the referee pointed to the spot.  Deeney stepped up and blasted the shot into the top corner and we went into the break with the Hornets a goal up.

At half time much of the crowd headed for the concourse to get out of the sun.  Those of us who stayed in the stand were treated to a lovely and very welcome cooling breeze.

Ighalo delighted at scoring

Ighalo delighted at scoring

Watford had a decent chance to increase the lead early in the second half as Success went on a run down the left and put in a lovely cross which, sadly, evaded all of the players in the box.  But the Hornets were two up soon after as Capoue played a gorgeous through ball to Ighalo who only had the keeper to beat.  I was a bit concerned that Odion had a bit too much time to think about his shot, but he finished brilliantly with a chip over the keeper.  The visitors pulled one back soon after from a free kick.  As they lined up to take it, there was a comment from behind me that “if this goes in, it’ll be a good goal.” He wasn’t wrong, the apparent taker ran over the ball allowing Touré to arrow a shot past Gomes.  It was an excellent strike that was applauded by everyone in the ground.  Lorient equalized on 69 minutes as Mesloud played a ball over the Watford defence for Philippoteaux to run on to and prod past Gomes.  Late in the game, Vydra was introduced to replace Deeney to rapturous applause from the Watford fans.  The Hornets had a late chance to win the game with a cracking shot from Doucouré that was saved by Lecomte, but pre-season was to finish with honours even.

Success strikes

Success strikes

It had been an enjoyable game, without setting the World alight.  Success had the best game that I had seen from him, probably due to the fact that he was playing upfront rather than in the midfield.  The guys sitting next to me were impressed and commented that he should start, but they were shouted down by a youngster in front who angrily told them that Success should be brought on to change the game.  An interesting perspective, but I agree with the first opinion.  It was also good to see Ighalo score.  He is a player that feeds off confidence, so that lovely goal can’t have done him any harm.  Special mention must also go to Emma Saunders who did a tremendous job with names of the Lorient team and substitutes.

The season starts next week at Southampton.  It will be very interesting to see whether Mazzarri starts with a 3-5-2 or the 4-3-3 that looked more promising in this game.  We have a very hard start, so I can only hope that Watford fans will be patient and get behind the team.  If they don’t, the next few weeks will be very trying indeed.

More Joy from Rattigan than the Hornets

Gomes in a kit reminiscent of Steve Sherwood

Gomes in a kit reminiscent of Steve Sherwood

As much as I love both pre-season games and Austria, the late announcement of the fixtures, the fact that they were in the middle of nowhere and a date with the Galway Arts Festival meant that I decided against travelling, so it has been a couple of weeks since I last saw Watford play at Stevenage, a game that was very enjoyable indeed.

On our last visit to Loftus Road, it took a huge diplomatic initiative to get our party into a pub near the ground.  Apart from Pete and Julie who, when asked to produce a QPR season ticket, looked baffled and said they just wanted to have lunch and were escorted to the bar.  So, for this visit, we decided on a venue further back along the Hammersmith and City line.  It was a lovely pub with a pleasant beer garden, decent beer and food.  But I doubt that we will return due to the terrible service at the bar and the meals attracting a 12.5% service charge for someone to deliver the plates to the table.  It was a good thing that the company was so delightful.

I have stopped buying programmes at away games, but usually make an exception for non-league or lower league clubs who could do with the cash.  QPR don’t fall into that category but, had I been tempted, the fact that they were charging £3 for a few pages would have confirmed my decision.

Suarez on the ball

Suarez on the ball

Given the number of new players that have been drafted in over the Summer, I was a little surprised that only Doucouré was included in the starting line-up which was Gomes; Nyom, Cathcart, Britos; Anya, Doucouré, Suárez, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.  This was my first opportunity to see the players wearing the new home shirt.  I can’t say that it appealed to me on first viewing.  It is very yellow, which is no bad thing, but rather shapeless, so making some of our more stocky players look as if they have been over indulging during their break.  I saw a couple of fans wearing the shirt and it just didn’t look new or original.  But the most interesting talking point of the day regarding kit was the fact that the QPR goalie, Smithies, was in all black, as were the referees.  I was rather confused when I first saw the referee pick up the ball.  Since when has that been allowed?

The game did not start well for the Hornets who could have been two goals down in the first five minutes.  First, Britos lost the ball to Gladwin, who blazed over the bar, provoking chants of “That’s why you’re Championship” from some among the Watford crowd who may have had some pause when, a minute later, Polter headed against the bar.

Juan Camilo Zuniga

Juan Camilo Zuniga

A shot from Chery that flew wide of the near post provoked more derision from the Watford fans, but they were silenced on 20 minutes as Polter hit a lovely shot from just inside the box that beat Gomes.  The goal spurred the Hornets to their first decent goal attempt as Holebas cut the ball back to Deeney, but a QPR defender put him off enough to ensure that he shot past the near post.  On the half hour, there was a rare moment of quality from the Hornets as Doucouré found Capoue who curled a shot wide of the far post.  In the dying minutes of the half, Ighalo met a cross from Anya with a header that flew over the bar and, almost immediately, the Nigerian had another chance with a shot that was cleared off the line.

Despite the late burst of action from the Hornets, the half time verdict was that it had been a shocking display.  Thankfully my mood was improved by bumping into Olly Wicken and having a chat about his new Hornet Heaven podcast.  A request by this Luddite for download instructions was granted and followed up with a link in a tweet, so I now have all four episodes lined up for my commute to work this week (https://audioboom.com/boos/4865618-s1-e1-the-turnaround).

Christian Kabasele

Christian Kabasele

At the start of the second half, we had the opportunity to see a couple of the new recruits as Kabasele and Zuniga joined Amrabat in replacing Nyom, Doucouré and Anya.  There was a lovely move between Amrabat and Zuniga at the start of the half that finished with a cross that was cleared just before Deeney could connect.  But it was a false dawn as we never really looked like getting an equaliser.  The introduction of Pantilimon, Prödl, Watson, Success and Guedioura during the second half had little impact on the proceedings.  The home side increased their lead on 82 minutes as the Watford defence went missing allowing a corner to fly across the box before it was headed home by Washington.  The Hornets finally got the pulses racing in the last minute of the game as Guedioura jinked into the box and unleashed a shot that took a decent save from Smithies to keep out of the net.  Deeney connected with the rebound, but Smithies caught his header.  The final whistle went to some boos in the away end that were as half-hearted as the Watford performance.

At the end of the game, more than one person wished me luck in finding anything to include in a report.  While the results of pre-season games are irrelevant, you do hope to see a team and plan for the upcoming season start to emerge, but this game was totally uninformative.  In fact, we seemed to have gone backwards from the performance against Stevenage, even taking the better quality of the opposition into account.

So back to the pub to meet up with a couple from our party who had left early and so missed the best Watford move of the game.  After the post-mortem I went on to the National Theatre to see The Deep Blue Sea.  The fact that a tale of heartbreak and betrayal lifted my spirits after the match tells you all you need to know about both performances.