Tag Archives: Ben Wilmot

Bemoaning the Return of Son

Take your seats!

This game against Spurs was originally scheduled as a Watford home game, but it was decided to change the September fixture to be played at Vicarage Road in order to give the hosts time to get their ground ready.  So it was with some irritation that this fixture was confirmed as being played at Wembley, which is a terrible venue for a league game.

Our recent pre-match pub of choice was deemed to have gone too up-market, so we met at an alternative venue which was actually equally expensive and didn’t have reindeer on the menu, although it did have a venison vindaloo pie, which went down very well with some in our party.  After a very pleasant meal, we headed for Marylebone to get the train to Wembley and were rather surprised to find that it was far from packed and we were able to secure seats for the short journey with no problems.

During the afternoon before the match, the message had gone out that it was no longer permissible to take rucksacks or laptop bags into the ground and we had been warned to arrive an hour before kick-off in order to give us time to get through security.  Arriving just before 7:30, we had the freedom of Wembley Way and there was no queue to get into the ground, although the warning regarding bags had to be taken seriously as there was a measuring device that was in use to catch out those trying to flout the bag size rules.

Deeney wants the ball

Team news was that Javi had made three changes from the Burnley game with Janmaat, Cathcart and Hughes in for Femenía, Kabasele and Sema.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Hughes, Cleverley, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu and Deeney.  With the team announcement comes the shirt colour and I was disappointed to see that the team would be playing in yellow as I only had my green shirt with me.

About 10 minutes before kick-off, there were exhortations over the tannoy and on the screens for fans to “Take your Seat.”  When we entered the arena, we could see why, as the home areas were very sparsely populated indeed.

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s reflection for the missing Cardiff striker Emiliano Sala and the pilot of the missing aircraft, David Ibbotson.  So very sad.

Holebas and Pereyra line up a free kick

Like most Watford fans, I had been gutted when South Korea were knocked out of the Asian Cup meaning that Son would be available for this fixture.  He certainly showed no sign of jet lag as he made an early run into the Watford box but, with Cathcart in close attendance, the ball ended up in Foster’s hands.  Watford also launched an early attack as Janmaat put in a decent cross and Deeney was just short of providing the finishing touch.  Son again caused concern for the Watford defence with a turn and shot that flew just wide of the far post.  The first on-target effort came as a shot from Eriksen took a nasty double deflection which sent it goalwards, but Foster was alert to the danger and made the save.  Then Eriksen found Son in the box but, as he tried to round the keeper, Foster was able to save at his feet. Watford had a half chance as a shot from Deeney was blocked and fell to Janmaat whose shot was high and wide.  Vertonghen then tried his luck but Foster was quickly out to clear.  At the other end, Deulofeu did really well to make space for himself on the edge of the box but his shot was just wide of the target.  Son threatened again with a curling shot, but Foster was right behind it.  Holebas was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that was deflected over the bar.

Celebrating Cathcart’s goal

Watford took an unexpected lead as, from a corner, Cathcart rose to head past Lloris.  It all looked a bit scrappy from the other end of the ground, but a goal is a goal and the celebrations were joyous.  Almost immediately, the home side had a chance to break back as Son crossed the ball in front of the Watford goal, but there was no Spurs player on hand to turn it in.  So we reached half time a goal to the good in what had been a pretty poor half of football.

Spurs made a change at the break bringing on Moura for Aurier.  Llorente should have equalised early in the second half as he met a cross from Sissoko with a close range shot, Foster made the block but it rebounded to the Spaniard who should have buried it, but somehow managed to divert the ball over the bar when it would have been easier to hit the target.  At the other end, Deulofeu had a great chance to increase the lead but his shot flew just wide of the far post.  The first substitution came on the hour mark as Success came on for Deulofeu who looked very unhappy at being replaced.  The home side threatened again as a free kick from Eriksen was deflected goalwards and had to be blocked on the line by Foster, Alderweireld played the ball back into the box but Llorente headed wide of the near post.

Success, Mariappa and Cathcart jockeying for position

Gracia made his second substitution replacing Cleverley with Wilmot who was in action almost immediately clearing a shot from Rose off the line.  The second Spurs substitution saw Trippier coming on for Sissoko.  Watford’s first chance of the half came on 70 minutes, with a shot from Deeney that found the side netting.  A dangerous looking break by Moura was stopped by Capoue who was booked for the foul.  Watford had another chance to increase their lead as Deeney headed the ball down to Success but the shot was just wide.  Pochettino made his final change bringing Lamela on for Vertonghen.   With 10 minutes to go, Spurs finally scored an equaliser as Son, who had been a menace all evening, broke into the box and finished past Foster.  Our hopes of holding on for a point were dashed with three minutes to go as Llorente, who had been wasteful all evening headed a cross from Rose back across goal and past Foster into the net.  It was a poor goal to concede, Rose was given far too much space and Foster possibly could have done better, but it would be churlish to criticise him as he had been magnificent all evening.  There were four minutes of added time, but neither side looked likely to score again.

So the whistle went on a defeat that was probably deserved and only really galling as we had held the lead for so long.  It was a poor game, one that won’t live long in the memory.  It has to be said that Spurs are a shadow of the team that they were a couple of seasons ago, they looked very ordinary, with the exception of Son who put in an excellent showing as he always does.  Their stay at Wembley has done them no favours at all and the fact that the crowd was below 30K shows what the fans think of the venue.  I am just happy that I won’t have to go there for another league game.  Watford were not great going forward, thankfully we had goal machine, Cathcart, to save our blushes.  But, there was another decent defensive performance and Ben Foster continues to be magnificent in goal.  At the end of the day, I can only hope that a narrow defeat to Spurs will be considered a disappointing result for some time to come as that will mean that we are a team looking up the table rather than down.

 

Gorgeous Goals Brighten a Poor Game

The impeccable Ben Wilmot

When the draw for the fourth round was made and we were paired with either Blackburn or Newcastle, the waiting game started.  Train tickets could not be bought until we knew where we would be playing.  Also, as the match tickets were going on sale the morning after the replay, I had the task of drawing up two lists of attendees dependent on the outcome.  There were more takers for Blackburn, even though the consensus was that they would be a tougher opponent than Newcastle.  But Newcastle it was (again).

I left London bright and early and found myself on the same train as a fellow member of WML who I had notified of the pre-match pub, so I met up with him to ensure that he found it with no difficulties.  When we arrived, a couple of our party were already at the bar and had grabbed a table in the little enclosed area.  A well-dressed older couple then arrived and sat down to do their crossword.  This was shortly before a large contingent of Happy Valley and North West Horns descended and ruined their peace.  To be fair to them they took being surrounded by football fans in their stride and the crossword was duly completed.

Masina preparing for a corner

Team news was that Gracia had made wholesale changes, although this was hardly a second string as it did include the return of Cathcart and Hughes from injury as well as a number of others who have featured in the league this season.  So, the starting XI was Gomes; Janmaat, Cathcart, Britos, Masina; Quina, Wilmot, Chalobah; Success, Gray, Hughes.  We had been aware of the inclusion of Wilmot before the team was announced as his grandparents had bumped into Mike outside the pub.  Criticism by both pundits and fans of Watford’s changes ignored the fact that Newcastle, who have both a weaker team and squad than us, had made 7 changes of their own.  While I fully agree that we should be making every effort to advance in the cup, my feeling was that this was a team that had enough quality to beat Newcastle and I was very much looking forward to seeing more from Quina and Wilmot.

When we arrived at the away end turnstiles, the woman performing the search asked if I would be using the lift.  I wasn’t sure whether it was my heavy rucksack or my advancing age and girth that prompted the question, but assured her that I would take the stairs.  She then commented that she always takes the lift, so I decided not to take offence.  As we scaled the 14 flights, I was chatting to a friend, so lost track of our progress and was just wondering whether to stop for a much needed breather when I saw the top floor appear so soldiered on.  It always feels like an accomplishment to arrive at the top without the use of supplemental oxygen.  As we took our place in the stand, it was clear that there were plenty of empty seats in both the home and away ends.  Our allocation of 6000 was never going to be filled, but the temptation of £10 tickets had not attracted a huge home following either.

Quina on the ball

Watford made a very bright start with a brilliant shot from distance from Quina which needed a decent save from Woodman in the Newcastle goal to keep it out.  The next chance of note came from a free kick just outside the area which Chalobah hit just over the bar.  From that point, there was nothing worth retrieving my notebook for until the 23rd minute when Janmaat hit a terrible shot that was way off target.  Pete reckoned that his playing badly was a deliberate ploy to stop the home fans booing him.  Watford had a great chance to open the scoring when Quina played a lovely pass to Hughes, who slipped a through ball into the path of Gray but the shot was wide of the target, although it wouldn’t have counted as the offside flag was up.  Newcastle had offered little going forward and an attempt at a break by Murphy was stopped by a very good tackle from Britos.  And that was it for the first half.  The announcer on the pitch introducing the half-time competition summed it up when he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, if any of you are still awake …..”

Gray being congratulated on his goal

There was also a bright start to the second half as Hughes played a ball over the top for Gray to run on to, he broke clear of the defence but shot high and wide when he should at least have tested Woodman.  Success, who was having a frustrating afternoon, then lost out to a defender and clearly felt as though he had been manhandled (he hadn’t) so collapsed dramatically in the box and then had to get up and get on with it when it was clear that nobody cared.  It was as well that I was in the top stand half a mile from the pitch at that point as I was tempted to give him a slap.  Another chance went begging after some nice play around the edge of the Newcastle box finished with the ball with Gray who ran into a couple of defenders and lost the ball.  The first booking of the game went to Wilmot for a foul on Joselu.  The breakthrough for the Hornets came just after the hour mark as Hughes played a gorgeous through ball to Gray who finished past Woodman and continued his run to celebrate in front of the Watford fans up in the gods.  Peñaranda had been readied to come on, presumably for Gray, just before the goal.  He immediately put his bib back on.  Watford’s second booking went to Chalobah for a foul on Kenedy.  The home side should have equalized when Manquillo went on a decent run, Gomes came out to meet him but failed to stop the shot, however the impeccable Wilmot was on hand to head the ball off the line.

Success celebrating his goal in the distance

Gracia made his first change on 68 minutes finally bringing Peñaranda on for Gray.  Soon after, Chalobah broke forward but, with options to either side, played a through ball to where Gray would have been had he not been substituted a couple of minutes earlier.  Benitez made a double substitution bringing Pérez and Atsu on for Murphy and Ritchie.  The decision to replace Ritchie was greeted with loud boos from the home fans.  Britos was then booked for a foul on Pérez.  Each side made a final substitution with Schär replacing Fernandez for the home side and Chalobah making way for Capoue for the Hornets.  Newcastle had a chance to grab an equaliser in the final minutes of normal time when a defensive header fell to Pérez on the edge of the box from where he shot over the target.  The home side attacked again but a cross from Atsu was easily gathered by Gomes.  Watford made certain of their place in the fifth round with a lovely goal that started with Peñaranda playing the ball out to Quina, his cross found Success in space in the box to finish from close range and make me feel ever so slightly guilty for moaning about him all afternoon.  The home side had a chance to grab a consolation as Joselu crossed for Pérez, but his shot missed the target and the final whistle went on a comfortable win for the Hornets.

Chalobah getting back to his best

The heavens had opened towards the end of the second half, so we were absolutely drenched by the time that we reached the pub at the station.  As we sat down with our drinks for the post-match analysis, the most astute observation was that it appeared that two moments of quality from a different match had been inserted into a dreadful game.  The best cup ties are blood and thunder games where all of the players appear desperate to win.  This was certainly not one of those, but Watford had done enough to deserve the win and there had certainly been some bright points.  As he has been in every performance so far, Quina was a joy to watch.  He plays with a confidence that belies his years, has a wonderful touch and a brilliant eye for a pass.  I found myself almost purring with delight every time he got the ball.  Wilmot again showed what a great prospect he is.  He started the game playing in a defensive midfield position but later moved into the centre of defence allowing Masina to play further forward.  In both roles, he was composed and appeared totally in control of his surroundings.  He really does look like a young Cathcart and having two of them in the squad is something to treasure.  Of the players returning to first team action, Britos put in a decent shift in the defence and Chalobah put in the best performance that we have seen since his return.  He looked far more comfortable and performed the midfield fulcrum role with some assurance.  That was very pleasing to see.

While the game won’t last long in the memory, it does mean that we are in the fifth round of the cup and, with many of the top teams already out of the competition, this seems like a great opportunity to advance.  I would love a trip to Newport or Barnet/Brentford in the next round.  I just hope that we don’t draw another Premier League team.

While on the way home, I received a message from Pete F that just said “Lucky sea shells.”  I confess that having bought a new coat last weekend, I was superstitious enough to ensure that my shell was transferred and was gratified when Pete B showed that he had also brought his.  Those shells deserve a cup run, I hope that those making the draw agree.

Avoiding a Banana Skin

Breaking at a corner

FA Cup 3rd round day is always one that I look forward to.  While the magic of the cup has been somewhat tarnished over recent years, the prospect of teams from different divisions meeting is always thrilling.  When the draw was made, I was just hoping for a new ground to visit, so was a little disappointed when Woking came out of the hat as I have been there twice for pre-season games (including having the memorable experience of seeing Mazzarri escorted back to the team coach by a phalanx of stewards so that he didn’t have to mix with the fans).  I soon got over this disappointment and my appetite for the game was only increased when I heard the interview that the “From the Rookery End” guys did with (Woking assistant manager) Martin Tyler at the FSF awards.  Martin spoke about Watford in such glowing terms that I was genuinely moved and felt incredibly proud of the club that I support.  I only hoped that he (and I) would be feeling equally positive about our club after the game.

As I usually do when Watford are playing on Sunday, I checked the fixtures a ridiculous number of times on Saturday in order to ensure that I hadn’t got the wrong day.  Sunday morning I was up early (for me) and off to Woking.  Having not seen any football related clothing on the train, my first indication that there was a game going on was when I emerged from the station to see a chap selling half and half scarves (the horror!).  We had arranged to meet at a local pub for Sunday lunch, which was a great way to prepare for the game.  The place was soon packed with a mix of fans and it has to be said that the locals were a lot more convinced of a comprehensive Watford win than I was.

Cleverley and Masina line up a free kick

Since we would be on the terraces, we made sure that we arrived at the ground earlier than is usual for us and we met up with Pete and Freddie at the front of the terrace near the half way line.  A perfect spot for watching the game.  Pete had been on a beach clean the day before and had come away with a pocket full of shells.  He shared them around, starting a new tradition of the lucky shell that was to be carried all the way to Wembley (we can dream).

Team news was that Gracia had made wholesale changes, with Peñaranda finally making his Watford debut.  The starting XI was Gomes; Janmaat, Britos, Wilmot, Masina; Cleverley, Chalobah, Quina; Hughes, Success, Peñaranda.  It was pleasing to note that the Woking team were wearing numbers 1-11.

Watford started brilliantly with their first chance coming in the first minute of the game as Success tried an overhead kick that sailed over the bar.  Quina was the next to trouble the Woking defence with a dangerous run that finished with a shot that was blocked.  At this point, with less than 10 minutes gone, the Woking fans behind the goal started a chant of “0-0 to the Cardinals,” fair play to them for that.  Peñaranda’s first goal attempt came after he cut inside and hit a shot that was just wide of the target.

The happy walk back after Hughes opened the scoring

Watford continued to threaten as a corner from Hughes was headed down by Britos to Masina whose shot was blocked at the near post to give the visitors another corner.  This time the set piece appeared to have come straight from the training ground as Masina played a low ball to Hughes who was running into space in the box and he belted it home to give Watford an early lead.  It was a very well taken goal and certainly calmed my nerves.  The first caution of the game went to Success, who was adjudged to have dived.  The card seemed a little harsh.  The Woking fans were at it again soon after as their keeper, Ross, gathered a cross, they started a chant of “We’ve got the ball.”   Watford had a decent chance to increase their lead as a cross from Janmaat was headed goalwards by Success, but Ross made the save.  Quina was the next to threaten but his shot flew over the bar.  The first goal attempt for the home side came on 23 minutes as Casey crossed for Gerring who met it with a decent header, but Gomes dropped to make the save.  Then Success found Cleverley whose shot was blocked.  On the half hour Gerring, who had been on 5Live telling Troy Deeney that he would have to let him know he was there, turned his attentions to Success in the absence of the Watford captain.  It was quite a nasty challenge and well worth the booking that he received.  Watford had another chance to grab a second from a fantastic free kick by Cleverley, but the shot rebounded off the bar.   The last chance of the half came as Quina played the ball back to Hughes who tried to place the shot, which rolled to the keeper, when a welly would have gone in.

Chalobah translating for Penaranda (possibly)

So Watford reached half time a goal to the good, after a half that they had completely dominated.  It was a shame that we hadn’t scored more of our chances, but we were looking in control of the game.

At half time, I spotted Lionel Birnie standing behind me and took the opportunity to tell him how much I had enjoyed the GT autobiography.  I loved the style of the book, with GT telling his own story in a way in which you could hear his voice.  The book is a real gift to those of us who loved and admired GT and I wanted to thank Lionel for his work in ensuring that GT’s story was told.

The first action of the second half was the rather thrilling sight of the lino on the opposite side falling backwards over the hoardings.  It is dreadfully childish, but you can’t help but laugh when the officials come a cropper.  The first real chance of the half fell to the visitors as Peñaranda cut inside and curled a lovely shot just wide of the target.  Woking then created their first chance of the half, but Hyde’s header was easily stopped by Gomes.

Ben Wilmot

The home side made their first substitution on the hour as Little replaced Taylor.  The substitute made an immediate impact firing a low shot through a crowd of players, but Gomes made the save.  With 20 minutes remaining, each side made a double substitution.  Bradbury and Hodges replaced Luer and Edser for the home side, while Success and Peñaranda made way for Deeney and Sema for the visitors.  Javi’s substitutions proved to be inspired as a couple of minutes later Sema pulled the ball back for Deeney to score Watford’s second goal.  The niggling worry in the back of my mind that Woking could grab an equaliser was quelled at this point.  The Woking substitute, Bradbury, had briefly been on Watford’s books and Pete was not a fan having known of him from Havant & Waterlooville, where his father had been manager.  Pete decided to engage with the player.  “Not even your Dad would play you.”  A comment which, to be fair to Bradbury, drew a smile.  Watford made their final substitution with 10 minutes to go as Hughes made way for Navarro.  The Hornets had a good chance to grab a third as Deeney got on the end of a cross from Sema, but his header was blocked.  At the other end Bradbury should have reduced the deficit with a header from close range that flew just over the bar.  I swear there was fear in his eyes as he looked over to see Pete’s reaction.  That was the last action of the game and the whistle went on what had been a comfortable victory for the Hornets.

Quina, Penaranda and Success

As we were leaving the ground, someone mentioned that Lloyd Doyley had been in the away end and, perfectly on cue, he appeared from one of the portaloos.  We said hello and he shook hands with the guys and greeted me with a kiss.  He was then surrounded by Watford fans asking for photos.  Never have so many selfies have been taken in front of a toilet.  He chatted to us on the way out, talking about his recent move to Billericay.  He was accompanied by his son, resplendent in a Watford shirt, and told us that his lad is a regular at Watford but goes with his friends now.  That made me very happy.

As we emerged onto the street outside, it was evident that all was not well and I was shocked to witness a couple of punch-ups as if to emphasise the retro feeling of the day and remind me that it wasn’t all good in the olden days.

I bade my farewells to the others and headed for a visit to my Dad’s cousin who lives in the town centre.  When I had called to invite myself over, they had told me how the town was thrilled about the visit of Watford and it was nice to hear how much this had meant, although they had been hoping for a replay.

Penaranda and Masina waiting to take a free kick

On the journey home, I reflected on the game.  While the finishing had been a bit disappointing, the win had been convincing with the Hornets never really looking in any danger.  The debut of Peñaranda was decent enough for a lad who has not played for a while and for whom a non-league ground must have been an eye-opener (decent as the ground is).  Quina and Wilmot continue to impress when given their opportunities and it was great to see another strong performance from Cleverley.  The disappointments were Success, who continues to frustrate more than delight, and Chalobah, who is a shadow of his former self at present.

When I got home, I must say that it gladdened my heart to see Woking’s kind words about our visit on their Twitter feed as well as the photo of the two managers having exchanged bottles of their traditional beverages (sangria and Newcy brown).  I had thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon on the terrace, although my aching back didn’t agree with me.  I am just hoping that the fourth round draw is kind to us.  A trip to Accrington, Newport or Oldham would go down very nicely indeed, although I suspect we will end up at the Etihad.

Back to Winning Ways at Wolves

Masina, Mariappa and Cathcart

Thankfully I chose the weekend of the Bournemouth game to travel to the Turks & Caicos for a week’s diving.  Although I made the mistake of listening to the game, which was not a good start to the holiday.  But it has to be said that, despite the recent poor run of results, this seemed to be the first bad performance of the season and it was good that the lads had the international break to give them time to recover.  Since Watford’s downturn started after Javi won the Manager of the Month award, I was hoping that the curse would now transfer to Nuno.

A trip to Molineux evoked awful memories of our last visit which ended with one of our regular travelling fans, Nic Cruwys, fighting for his life following an attack after the game.  Having previously witnessed an attack on the Watford fans’ coaches (which are generally used by families and the elderly), I was not looking forward to this trip.  Our party decided to delay our arrival by meeting in our pre-match pub of choice in Birmingham instead.  When I arrived early doors, Graham was already in place, but the pub was otherwise almost empty.  Then, suddenly, there was an invasion of Morris Dancers.  The bells were driving me crazy.  Having thought we had found a quiet spot, the rest of our party arrived to find a dance taking place in front of our table.  I couldn’t help reflecting on the irony that the two Morris dancers in our usual away crowd had decided to give this game a miss.

The Wolves Pyro Display

We left Birmingham in plenty of time to make the journey to Wolverhampton.  On arrival at the station, we were met by a phalanx of police who directed us behind the station and on a rather circuitous route as they didn’t want Watford fans walking through the city centre.  I must say that the route that we took seemed a little too out of the way for my liking, but there were police officers stationed at various points on the way and we arrived at the ground with no sign of any trouble.

Team news was that, in addition to the suspensions of Kabasele and Holebas, Deeney had picked up a minor injury and Gracia had decided to drop Gray to the bench, the replacements being Mariappa (who also captained the team), Masina, Deulofeu and Success.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart. Mariappa, Masina; Deulofeu, Hughes, Capoue, Doucouré, Pereyra; Success.  Wolves were unchanged for the ninth game this season.

As the teams came out prior to kick-off, there were some very impressive pyrotechnics.  Our pitch side seats meant there was a danger of scorching, my eyebrows may never recover.  When it was over, we couldn’t see the pitch for the smoke.  It seems that Wolves subscribe to the adage “no pyro, no party”.

Finding a shady spot to celebrate Capoue’s goal

As well as the overheating prior to kick-off, the stand had no leg room (I am 5ft6in and could not sit comfortably, even if the people in front had allowed me to do so) and was also bathed in bright sunlight, which made it incredibly difficult to watch the game.  The first half chance of the match came as a free-kick from Neves was headed over by Masina. The resultant corner was met with a looping header from Bennett that was pushed over the bar by Foster.  The second corner led to a quick break by the Hornets as Femenía hared upfield before finding Deulofeu whose cross was straight into the arms of the Wolves keeper, Patricio.  After an even start that had been short on chances, Watford took the lead on 20 minutes.  The move started with some really good work from Deulofeu before Doucouré played the ball out to Capoue who blasted a low shot from distance into the Wolves net.  There was a momentary delay before the celebration as we couldn’t quite believe what we had seen.  It was a terrific strike.  We had hardly stopped bouncing when the second goal went in.  Straight from the restart, the ball found its way to Pereyra on the left from where he effortlessly curled a shot over the keeper and into the opposite corner.  Well, that was unexpected!

Man of the match, Capoue, lining up a free kick

Wolves seemed a bit shell shocked at that point and the next Watford attack finished with Success being taken out.  The travelling Hornets were shouting for a penalty, but the referee indicated that the foul had been committed outside the area.  It was in a dangerous position, but Deulofeu’s free-kick was disappointingly straight into the wall.  The first booking of the game went to Neves after a foul on Hughes.  Watford continued to dominate and some lovely passing around the Wolves box finished with Doucouré playing the ball back to Pereyra who curled his shot over the bar.  There was a rare attack from the home side as Jiménez broke forward and got into a dangerous position, but his shot was poor and flew wide of the far post.  After another lovely passing move involving Femenía and Hughes, the ball reached Doucouré whose shot was saved by Patricio dropping low to gather.  The half time whistle went with the Hornets two goals ahead and in total control of the game.  It had been an impressive half of football from the visitors.  The two goals in quick succession had shocked the home side, but it had been a performance of assurance and skill.

Pereyra put in a shift at both ends of the pitch

Wolves made a substitution at the restart bringing Vinagre on for Jonny.  Watford started the half well as Success latched on to a through ball and surged forward, but his shot was wide of the target.  There was an early chance for the home side as Vinagre tried a shot, but Foster was down to block and the ball was cleared.  Foster was taking his time to restart the game, which enraged the Wolves fans behind the goal who were already on his case for his West Brom connections.  Ben couldn’t have cared less.  Nuno made a second substitution on the hour mark bringing Cavaleiro on for Jiménez.  Wolves had a half chance as, from a Moutinho free kick, Boly tried a backheel in the direction of the goal, but Foster was able to make the save.  Watford made a rare second half break as Success found Doucouré whose shot was blocked.  Hughes was the first Watford player to be cautioned after he pulled back Vinagre as he tried to escape upfield.  Gracia’s first substitution saw Gray coming on for Deulofeu, who had run the first half, but had faded since the break.  Wolves continued their attempts to break back as Moutinho tried a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  The home side then made their last change bringing Traore on for Doherty.  Gracia’s next substitution was a defensive one as Prödl replaced Success.

Pereyra and Gray preparing for a corner

At about this time, with 15 minutes to go, the sun disappeared behind the stand and I could finally see the game without having to shield my eyes or being blinded by the glare from my glasses.  Wolves were getting closer to reducing the deficit as a cross from Vinagre was headed just over by Cavaleiro.  It felt as though the Watford goal was leading a charmed life at this point, but the home side were incredibly wasteful as another free kick from a dangerous position was launched high and wide by Neves.  Watford were still making occasional attempts to increase their lead, on this occasion a shot from Gray was blocked, so Hughes tried to score with a tackle, but Patricio was able to gather.  With the clock running down, the next chance for Wolves to get something from the game fell to Costa who again directed his shot over the bar.  Prödl’s appearance was short lived as he left the field limping and was replaced by Wilmot who was making his Premier League debut.  Wolves had one last chance from a free-kick which was met by a glancing header that flew wide.  The fourth official indicated four additional minutes, but they were painless for the Hornets who finished the game as deserved winners.

Ben Foster beaming after the final whistle

The post-match celebrations were very enjoyable.  Clearly Ben Foster, who had been the target for dog’s abuse for most of the game, was delighted.  His fist pumping was almost Gomes-esque!  It was also lovely to see players coming over to the fans to present them with shirts, the first being Deulofeu who jumped the barriers to hand his shirt to a fan.  But I must admit that the one that got to me was when Aidy Mariappa came over to Flora, one of our wheelchair fans.  Aidy also jumped the barriers to reach Flora to hand her his shirt and have a chat with a beaming smile on his face.  I had to wipe away a tear.

Before the game, the Watford fans I spoke to had all been of the opinion that a point would have been a good result, but nobody seemed at all confident of that outcome.  That two goal first half minute decided the game but, despite the rearguard effort in the second half, Watford were in control for the full ninety minutes and Wolves never looked like getting back in the game.  As good at the forward play was in the first half, and there were some absolutely gorgeous moves, the defensive performance in the second half was equally good, with some brilliantly timed tackling and a general sense that Wolves had nowhere to go meaning that they were reduced to long range efforts and set pieces.  Deulofeu’s first start of the season was excellent, it was lovely to see him back.  But the highlight for me was the fact that, although Capoue and Pereyra will be lauded for their goals, they both put in a shift at the back as well.  It was a real team effort.

After the wobble in recent weeks, that was certainly a performance to put smiles back on the faces of Hornets fans and to give us renewed confidence for the rest of the season.  Football is fun again.

The Youngsters Shine Against the Royals

So good to see Chalobah back from injury

I was rather pleased when the draw for the second round of the League Cup gave us a trip to Reading as it is almost a home game for me.  Even more so when the game was scheduled for Wednesday evening as I was already planning to work from home due to a dental check-up in Maidenhead in the afternoon.  I always have a chat about football with my dentist, who is really an Arsenal fan but used to be a Reading Season Ticket holder who gave up going because the team were hopeless.  We chatted about the game and he warned that they may cause us problems.  I assured him that, given our recent history in this cup, I was taking nothing for granted.  Once he gave me the all clear, I was on my way to Reading where I was in the pre-match pub far too early, although not as early as the chap in the Watford shirt who was already sitting in the corner.  I bought myself a lovely real cider and then found a little booth to hide away in and wait for the rest of my party who arrived in due course.

On arrival at the ground, the bag search was being undertaken by a woman whose main concern seemed to be to find some goodies that could be shared with her.  It always makes the day a bit nicer when the stewards have a sense of humour.  As our pre-match pub is excellent for beer but doesn’t serve food, I had a chicken balti pie inside the ground that I have to say was very good indeed.  While waiting for kick-off, Sweet Caroline was played which apparently is a Reading favourite but made me a little homesick for Fenway Park.

Prodl lines up a free kick

Team news was that Gracia had made 11 changes with debuts for Navarro, Masina, Wilmot and Quina and the return of Chalobah, so the starting line-up was Gomes; Navarro, Mariappa, Prödl, Masina; Femenía, Chalobah, Wilmot, Quina, Sema; Success.  I have to say that looked like a pretty decent team.  Reading had also made 8 changes, but the main Watford connection with the opposition was in the dug out in the person of Sir Nigel Gibbs.

The first chance of the game came from a Navarro free kick from distance that was an easy save for Walker in the Reading goal.  Early in the game there was a switch in formation to three at the back with Wilmot in the middle and Navarro and Masina playing as wing backs.  Watford’s next chance also came from a free kick from Chalobah that just cleared the bar.  From a corner, Femenía played the ball back into the box where it was parried and fell to Mariappa whose shot was blocked before Wilmot tried a cheeky back heel that was cleared.  Young Wilmot was having an impressive start and he was soon in action at the other end of the pitch cutting out a dangerous ball into the box.  The first chance for the home side came in the 23rd minute as Watford failed to clear a cross into their box allowing McNulty to volley over the bar.  Then Watford launched a great break, Success got to the byline and put in a low cross, but nobody was there to take advantage.  Soon after, a corner from Sema reached Femenía who played it in to Success whose shot missed the target.  He wasn’t to make the same mistake a minute later as Masina played the ball back to him, he took one touch and then finished past Walker.  Reading had a chance to break back from a free kick which was launched over the wall, but Gomes dropped to make an easy catch.  So Watford reached half time a goal to the good and looking uncharacteristically comfortable.

Celebrating Quina’s magnificent strike

Reading made a change at the break bringing Sims on for Swift.  The second half started with a decent chance for the Hornets.  After a fast break, Navarro crossed for Success who headed just over the bar.  Soon after, the Watford striker had another chance to increase the lead, this time from a Masina cross, but he nodded wide.  The travelling Hornets were in good voice and a lovely bit of skill from Quina was greeted with an appreciative chorus of “sexy football”.  There was a decent chance to get a second as Chalobah played a lovely ball for Femenía to run on to, but the shot was blocked by the Reading keeper.  The second Watford goal was a thing of beauty, the ball was cleared to Quina outside the box, he advanced a couple of steps and then took the advice of the bloke standing behind me who was yelling ‘hit it’ and powered a rocket into the top corner.  It was quite a strike. There were changes for both sides soon after as Baldock and former Watford youngster Yiadom came on for O’Shea and Richards for the home side.  For the Hornets, Sema made way for Okaka.  The Watford substitute had an immediate chance to get on the score sheet as he got on the end of a looping cross from Femenía, but his glancing header was wide of the target.  There was a rare chance for the home side as a ball dropped to Kelly inside the box, but he hit it over the bar.  Quina’s enjoyable debut came to an end as he was replaced by Doucouré.  He looked shattered as he left to field to an ovation from the travelling Hornets.  Watford were still pushing to extend their lead as a shot from Navarro was pushed over the bar.  At the other end McNulty lobbed Gomes, but Mariappa was back to clear the ball.  Reading threatened again with a decent shot from distance from Méïté, but Gomes was down to make the save.  Watford’s final change saw Hughes come on for Chalobah, it was so great to see him back in action and managing almost 90 minutes.  Reading had one last chance to reduce the deficit from a free kick, but the shot was easily caught by Gomes.

Gomes back in goal

So, in the end, it was a convincing and comfortable win for the Hornets.  The second string put in a very good performance which gives a pleasing indication of the strength of the squad.  Of the new guys, Wilmot was the most impressive, looking very assured in the middle of the back three.  The other youngster, Quina, made some lovely touches and his goal was a worldie.  These two look to have very promising futures.  It was also a delight to see Chalobah back on the pitch and putting in a great shift for almost the entire 90 minutes.  He was beaming as he responded to the chants of “Chalobah, my lord” after the final whistle.

Also, fair play to the 2514 fans who travelled to the game.  It is not a long journey but, given our recent record in this competition, they would have travelled more in hope than expectation, so thoroughly deserved that win.

We have Spurs next in both the league and the cup.  I don’t expect anything from either game, but if this team continues to perform as they have so far this season, we are in for a rather enjoyable season.

A Pre-season Double-header

A lovely present from the club

Although I tend to make the most of my Summer break from football, it is always good when pre-season comes around.  Unusually, the first games for the first team were on the pre-season tour, which I didn’t make this year due to work commitments that also prevented me from making the trips to Welling and Hemel to see the U23s.  So my first chance to see the lads was to be the trip to Stevenage.

Oddly, Watford had arranged two games in two days that both appeared on the first team page, so a lot of fans stayed away on Friday night thinking that it would be a run out for the U23s.  My attendance was also looking a little in doubt as technical difficulties meant that the 4pm meeting at work started 15 minutes late.  That and disruption on the East Coast line had me a little nervous about making it, but I arrived at King’s Cross in time for the planned train which was running on time, so I was in the pub not long after 6 enjoying my first pre-match pint of the season.

After the heatwave, most of which I have spent stuck indoors (partly through choice), there was an irony in the fact that my return to football watching coincided with a thunderstorm.  It started rather gently, so we decided to stay outside in the beer garden but were persuaded to take shelter when the forked lightning appeared.  The walk to the ground was in a downpour, but after the oppressive heat that we have had, the soaking was rather lovely.

Masina and Sema join the fray

Team news was that Gracia had picked a very strong first XI which would give us a chance to see some new faces as the starting line-up was Gomes; Navarro, Prödl, Mariappa, Masina; Hughes, Rodwell, Wilmot, Sema; Jakubiak, Deeney.  Pete and I had turned up wearing the lovely new green away kit.  Mine had arrived by special delivery the week before in a presentation box with a letter from Troy thanking me for attending all 19 away games last season.  A really lovely gesture from the club that made me feel appreciated after turning up on a Wednesday night in Stoke.  We had assumed that it would get a run out, especially when we saw the officials warming up in yellow kits, but the lads emerged from the tunnel wearing the home stripes to confound us.

 

 

Ben Wilmot

Watford started the game very brightly with Wilmot almost opening the scoring against his old club after some good work from Sema on the wing, but his shot was just wide of the target.  The Stevenage goalkeeper, Farman, then pulled off an excellent flying save to keep out a shot from Hughes.  From the resulting corner, Farman again did very well to save a header from Prödl.  Watford continued to dominate without creating much in front of goal until near the half hour mark when Jakubiak found the side netting.  Hughes was the next to threaten the Stevenage goal, but Farman pulled off another decent save and was then out to frustrate Jakubiak as he bore down on goal.  The home side didn’t test Gomes until just before half time when Nugent rose to meet a free kick with a powerful header that the Brazilian stopper did well to keep out.

So we reached half time goalless, but it had been a decent showing from the Hornets who had been unlucky to find the Stevenage keeper in top form.  At the other end of the pitch, it was pleasing to see that Gomes was being shown a lot of love by the Watford fans who had made the journey.

Congratulating Gray after scoring the winner

At half time, Gracia must have been alone in the dressing room as all the substitutes appeared to be warming up and the first half team warming down, but there were actually no changes for the Hornets at the break.

Stevenage were much the brighter team at the start of the second half and had a great chance to take the lead with a header from Revell, but Gomes did brilliantly to keep it out.  On the hour mark, Gracia made nine changes bringing Janmaat, Britos, Cathcart, Holebas, Charles, Capoue, Pereyra, Success and Gray on to join Hughes and Gomes, who would play the entire 90 minutes.  The Hornets got back on top after the substitutions and should have opened the scoring when Pereyra unleashing a lovely curling shot, but Farman was again equal to it.  Just as it seemed that the night would end goalless, Farman made his first mistake of the evening allowing Pereyra to cross for Gray to head home from close range and the Hornets left Stevenage with a slightly fortunate win.

Challenging on the goal line

It was a game of two halves.  The first half had been all Watford with some lively play that should have given us a comfortable lead, if it wasn’t for the performance of the keeper.  The second half was less convincing, but improved after the substitutions.  I liked the look of the new players although I have yet to put a name to most of them.  One bizarre aspect of the evening was the involvement of Kabasele, who took no part in the game but was doing timed sprints on the sidelines.  I swear he ran as far as some of those who actually played.

After a restful night’s sleep, I had a Saturday lunchtime trip to West London to see the Hornets play at Brentford.  In contrast to the previous evening, we found ourselves sitting in a pub garden in blazing sunshine.  Our choice of pre-match establishment wasn’t one of the four on the corners of the ground, but it was rather lovely, if very partisan, with the staff wearing Brentford shirts and flags up all around.  I wondered whether it was a good omen when one of the flags fell off the door.  Oh the straws we clutch on to as fans.

Janmaat and Charles waiting for a throw-in

Pete and I thought we had left in plenty of time to get to the ground for kick-off and there wasn’t much of a queue outside, but it took an age to get through the turnstiles as, instead of just taking your tenner, they then grabbed a ticket which was scanned and the counterfoil torn off before you were permitted into the ground.  With the choice of sitting or standing, we opted for the terraces and took our place at a crush barrier behind the goal.

As was expected most of the starting XI were those that had played the last half hour at Stevenage.  So the line-up was Foster (GK); Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos, Holebas; Pereyra, Charles, Capoue (C), Sema; Success, Gray.  Foster was given a tremendous welcome by the Watford fans with chants of “Foster’s coming home.”  My main concern with the line-up was that Kabasele would be worn out after the workout that he was given on the sideline the night before.

Pete and I had persisted with wearing our green shirts so were happy to see the team were also resplendent in the emerald.  Unfortunately, it had taken so long to get through the turnstiles that we missed kick-off, but arrived on the terrace behind the goal in time to see Foster parry a free-kick from Marcondes, it dropped to Watkins who finished to give the Bees an early lead.  Watford had a chance to break back almost immediately, but Success undid the good work of his run by shooting straight at Bentley in the Brentford goal.

Pereyra takes a free kick

There was a better chance for Pereyra whose cheeky flick bounced off the top of the crossbar.  Gray then had a decent shot that just cleared the bar.  The opening goal came on 25 minutes as Pereyra tried a shot, the keeper was equal to it but Dalsgaard mishit his clearance which found the net to draw the visitors level.  Ten minutes later, the Hornets took the lead as Gray finished from the edge of the area.  I am ashamed to say that I missed the goal as the substitutes were walking in front of the away terrace and I was distracted by how blond Prödl seems to have gone this Summer!  I sensed I wasn’t the only one to miss the goal as there soon followed a chant from the kids to the right of me of “Let’s pretend that we have scored.”  The Hornets had a chance to increase their lead before half time, but this time Gray’s shot was just over the bar.

At half-time Masina replaced Holebas then, on the hour, Gracia made wholesale changes bringing Navarro, Prödl, Rodwell, Wilmot, Mariappa, Deeney and Jakubiak on to replace Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos, Charles, Capoue, Sema and Gray.  Soon after the substitutions, Success had a great chance to increase the lead for the Hornets but, as too often, a tremendous run finished with a terrible shot.  Watkins had a couple of chances to restore parity for the home side, first with a shot across goal and then with a long range shot that was caught by Foster.  The Hornets had the ball in the net on two more occasions, once from a Pereyra header, and then a shot from Deeney who got ahead of the defence before poking home, but both were adjudged to be offside, so the game finished with a narrow win for the visitors.

It had been a typical pre-season game.  A run out that gave few clues to what we can expect for the rest of the season, but it was an enjoyable enough afternoon.  Bizarrely, the atmosphere in the away end was livelier than I am used to at pre-season games, although the chanting was dominated by anti-Luton songs, being delivered by kids who, if I am any judge of ages, are too young ever to have seen Watford play them up the road.

Post-match it was back to one of the pubs on the corner to confirm that none of us was any the wiser, but the beer was good.  Some wonder why we bother with pre-season games.  Personally, I enjoy getting back in the swing of things with the chance to see the new players or the new hair cuts on the old players and to have an afternoon out with friends knowing that the result won’t make much difference to the enjoyment of the day.