Tag Archives: Benik Afobe

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.

 

You Don’t Get Cramp at this Club

img_8679After the emotion of last week as we tried to come to terms with the loss of Graham Taylor, it felt a little odd to be attending a game of football where all that mattered was the result.  I must admit that I had downloaded last week’s Football Focus to my tablet for the train journey, so that I could watch the montage of his interviews that started the programme for one last time before it disappeared from iplayer.

On my arrival in Bournemouth, it was a short walk to the lovely pub that has become our local.  Most in there had Bournemouth shirts on, so it was gratifying when one of the locals came over and wished us luck.  He said that he was happy to see opposition fans there as it is a friendly pub.  As we chatted, it was clear that none of us was particularly confident about our prospects for the afternoon.  The reasons for that were fairly clear.  They had conceded three goals in their last three matches, and we have struggled horribly in front of goal.  On this afternoon, something had to give.

We thought that we had left plenty of time to get to the ground, but when we arrived we found a massive queue to get through the turnstiles, mostly because of the strict security.  As we discussed the possibility of missing kick-off, we consoled ourselves that we were unlikely to miss a Watford goal, although we could miss a sending off!  When I reached the stewards, my bag was searched a lot less thoroughly than I was.  I don’t know why, but Bournemouth always seems to attract the most unpleasant away crowd of the season and the rest of us suffer as a consequence.  So, having arrived at the ground with more than a quarter of an hour to kick-off, we finally entered through the turnstiles at 14:58.  My irritation was tempered by the sign outside the turnstiles welcoming us that showed a photo of Graham Taylor alongside their condolences.  This was replicated on the television screens inside, which was a really lovely touch.

Deeney and Okaka waiting for the ball

Deeney and Okaka waiting for the ball

Team news was just one change from the Middlesbrough game with Cleverley replacing the injured Behrami.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Kabasele, Cleverley, Doucouré, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney and Okaka.

The home side started very brightly and fashioned an early chance as Wilshere chipped a ball into the box which was met with a looping header from Fraser that had to be tipped over the bar by Gomes.  Callum Wilson has gained a reputation among Watford fans for simulation, so there were jeers from the away support when he went down in the box in the 16th minute.  Since he appeared to be in an offside position and there was minimal contact, the referee was having none of it.  Wilshere, who had made a superb start to the game, was the next to threaten the Watford goal as he unleashed a shot from distance, but Gomes was behind it and did well to parry.  Against the run of play, it was the visitors who took the lead.  A corner from Holebas was headed back across goal by Britos to Kabasele, who nodded it past Boruc in the Bournemouth goal.  After the excessively thorough search that I had undergone, it was extremely irritating to see three smoke bombs thrown on to the pitch.  This led to a gathering of stewards in front of our stand, one of whom was filming the crowd, although you couldn’t help thinking that he was a bit late to the show.

Deeney in a discussion with the ref which wasn't quite as confrontational as it appears

Deeney in a discussion with the ref which wasn’t quite as confrontational as it appears

The home side had been dominant before the goal, but Watford took the initiative at this point and had a great chance to increase the lead when Cleverley tried a shot from distance that flew just wide of the far post.  The Hornets very nearly gifted their hosts an equalizer as Prödl gave the ball away to Stanislas who advanced and struck a shot that bounced off Britos and was looping into the net until Gomes pulled off a decent save to keep it out.

So the Hornets reached half time a goal to the good and we were all feeling positive as it had been a much better performance than we have seen of late.

Sadly, the hosts drew level early in the second half as Smith beat a couple of defenders before hitting a cross through a crowd of defenders in the box where it was met with a tap in from King.  As has often been the case of late, it was a poor goal to give away.  Holebas tried to make amends at the other end as he cut inside before hitting a lovely shot that was turned around the post by Boruc.  Bournemouth threatened again as Wilshere found Fraser on the left of the box from where he hit a curling shot that was tipped around the post by Gomes.

Celebrating Deeney's header

Celebrating Deeney’s header

The first substitution came just after the hour mark, when Okaka made way for Janmaat.  At this point, Deeney took the forward position and Janmaat replaced him on the wing.  The change immediately paid dividends as, from a Cleverley corner, Deeney rose above the Bournemouth defence to head home.  As with the first Watford goal, it was totally against the run of play, but none of the Watford fans were complaining.  Despite having scored both goals from corners, Watford next tried a short corner routine as Holebas passed to Cleverley, which would have been fine had the loan man whipped a cross into the box, but he passed it back to Holebas who was soon dispossessed and had to foul the escaping Wilshere, so earning his tenth yellow card of the season, meaning he will be suspended for the next two games.  In the 72nd minute the travelling Hornets burst into applause and chants of “One Graham Taylor”.  Eddie Howe’s first substitutions came with 15 minutes to go as he replaced King and Stanislas with Ibe and Afobe.  There was a delay in play as the ball was hit into the away stand and some idiots there indulged in a bit of time wasting, first refusing to return the ball and then, when it was finally thrown towards the pitch, it was caught by another fan who threw it back into the crowd.

Waiting for a corner to be delivered

Waiting for a corner to be delivered

Bournemouth’s final substitution saw Pugh replace Fraser.  Just when it looked as though Watford would hold on for a rare away win, Kabasele went down with what appeared to be cramp, Surman played a through ball into the area that Kabasele should have been covering and Afobe ran on to it and finished past Gomes into the far corner.  GT would have been livid.  I certainly was.  After a spell of treatment, Kabasele was replaced by Cathcart and, a couple of minutes later, Ighalo came on for Doucouré.  The home side appeared to have snatched a last minute winner as a punched ball was headed in off the crossbar.  I thought that Gomes had punched the ball but, much to my relief, it had been Bournemouth’s Cook, so the goal was disallowed and the game finished with honours even.  A draw was probably a fair result and I would certainly have taken a point before the game, but, having lost the lead twice during the match, it felt like 2 points dropped.

While the defensive mistakes are still a cause for concern, this was a decent performance.  I was particularly pleased to see what Tom Cleverley added to the team.  When his return was mooted, I had seen some comments from Watford fans suggesting that if he couldn’t get into the Everton team, then we shouldn’t consider him.  I am glad that we did.  He was a joy to watch, acting as a midfield fulcrum with an assured touch, playing passes that allowed us to build momentum.  If you add to that his deliveries from set pieces, I think he will prove to be a great addition to the squad.  With his arrival and the likes of Janmaat returning from injury, I feel pretty confident for the rest of the season.

An Entertaining Draw with the Cherries

Awaiting a ball into the box

Awaiting a ball into the box

As we waited for the doors to open at the West Herts, we were thoroughly entertained by a fellow fan who knew Stuart Attwell’s father.  Apparently he had been a referee and encouraged his boys down that route rather than actually playing the game, which all sounded rather sad and explains a lot.  There was also a meeting of the Burnley survivors who reflected on their Monday evening.  It has to be said that those of us who gathered in the Cricket Club concluded that it had been a cracking evening until the football started.  However there was a lot of sympathy for Don, who had taken the coach, so he didn’t have the pre-match fun and wasn’t home until after 4am.  That certainly convinced me that spending a night in Burnley was the right decision.

In the run up to the match, there had been concern about widespread injuries to our defenders.  Also, after the Burnley defeat, a lot of fans were calling for Ighalo and Amrabat to be dropped, so Mazzarri’s selection was hotly anticipated.  It wasn’t a great surprise to hear that the only two changes were those enforced by injuries to Cathcart and Britos who made way for Zúñiga and Kaboul who, thankfully, was fit to play.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Zúñiga, Kaboul, Prödl, Holebas; Amrabat, Behrami, Capoue; Pereyra; Deeney and Ighalo.  Former loanee, Nathan Aké, was named on the Bournemouth bench and was given a very warm reception by the Watford fans.

Holebas takes a corner

Holebas takes a corner

There has been a lot of discussion recently about Watford wearing their change kit at away games on many occasions when there is no clash with the home team.  Those unhappy with this cite the fact that we have a very distinctive kit and lose some advantage when not playing in yellow, so it was interesting to note that the “Cherries” walked out at Vicarage road wearing blue.

Watford started the game well and had a very early chance as Deeney flicked the ball on to Ighalo whose instinctive shot flew wide of the far post.  There was then a bizarre incident as Prödl was knocked flying and punched the ball as he went down.  When Mike Dean blew the whistle the Watford fans were expecting a free kick to go our way, instead Bournemouth were awarded the free kick and Prödl was cautioned for deliberate hand ball.  Mazzarri was furious at the decision although, if the referee didn’t believe that there had been a foul, then deliberate hand ball was the correct decision.  It could have cost Watford dearly as Gomes had to be smart to tip the free kick clear.  Bournemouth’s first caution was earned by Wilshere for a cynical foul on Zúñiga.

Capoue takes a free kick

Capoue takes a free kick

Watford had another chance to open the scoring as Ighalo laid the ball back to Holebas, but the shot was well wide of the target.  I was rather surprised soon afterwards to see sarcastic celebrations from the Bournemouth fans on winning a free kick.  Given that the Rookery had witnessed a disproportionate amount of soft fouls being given against their team, seemingly every time one of the Bournemouth players dropped to the ground, it was a perfect example of how two sets of fans can see games completely differently.  Bournemouth took the lead just after the half hour as the Watford defence failed to stop a break down the right, Stanislas crossed and Wilson headed past Gomes, who will likely be disappointed as it appeared that he could have stopped the shot.  It was (another) frustrating goal to concede, made all the more annoying as Wilson decided to goad the crowd in the Rookery by way of celebration.  Watford had a great chance to equalize as Ighalo exchanged passes with Capoue, then did some good work holding the ball up before passing to Amrabat whose shot was saved by Boruc, the ball rebounded to the Dutchman but Boruc also saved the follow-up.  At the break in play, Smith was booked for a nasty foul on Holebas in the build-up.  There was a scare for the Hornets as Prödl allowed Wilson to win the ball, he passed back to Surman whose shot was, thankfully, well over the bar.  The visitors earned another caution, this time for Francis who had taken Capoue out.  Watford had a further chance to equalize in time added on at the end of the half, but Kaboul’s header was gathered by Boruc.

Deeney and Amrabat after the first goal

Deeney and Amrabat after the first goal

It had been a frustrating half, but the Watford performance was a considerable improvement on the Burnley game and I felt that we were unlucky to be behind.  Interestingly, Amrabat who had been berated on Monday and whose inclusion was rather unpopular was playing very well.

Watford made an excellent start to the second half as a free kick from Holebas was met with a header from Prödl that flew well wide of the target.  That was followed by a corner that Prödl headed on to Deeney who attempted a spectacular acrobatic kick that flew over the bar.  The Hornets were level soon after as Amrabat received a throw in before brilliantly beating a defender and skipping along the byline then cutting the ball back to Deeney who beat Boruc to score his 99th goal for the Hornets.  It was a gorgeous goal.  The visitors had a great chance to regain the lead almost immediately so it was a relief to see Wilshere’s shot hit the post.  Just before the hour, Isaac Success replaced Ighalo.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead as Amrabat crossed for Deeney whose header was saved on the line by Boruc.

Watson joins in the applause for Success

Watson joins in the applause for Success

We were then treated to another strange decision from Mike Dean as two Bournemouth players collided allowing Amrabat to come away with the ball, but the referee deemed the Dutchman to have committed a foul and awarded the visitors a free kick.  Eddie Howe made his first substitution bringing Josh King on for Jordan Ibe.  The substitute made an immediate impact, coming away with the ball after a mistake from Holebas, and going on a run before unleashing a shot from distance that took a deflection to beat Gomes.  It was very disappointing to be behind again when we’d made such a good start to the half.  But we weren’t behind for long.  A foul on Success led to a free-kick which was beautifully delivered by Holebas for the Nigerian to nod home.  Watford fans were celebrating taking the lead soon after as a terrific through ball from Amrabat found Pereyra who crossed for Deeney to head home.  I didn’t see the ball cross the line, but Mike Dean appeared to be signalling a goal.  Sadly, it soon became apparent that he had actually given a free kick for a foul by Deeney on Boruc.  Watford had another great chance soon after as a lovely move finished with a cross from Amrabat that flew a fraction in front of the head of Success.  At the other end Pereyra lost out to Smith, he crossed for Wilshere who hit the post for the second time and was substituted almost immediately, making way for Gosling.

Deeney and Amrabat challenging in the box

Deeney and Amrabat challenging in the box

Mazzarri’s second substitution saw Guedioura on for Capoue.  Given Bournemouth’s talent for winning penalties, my nerves were on edge when Smith was fouled on the edge of the area.  Thankfully, only a free kick was awarded, although Stanislas did manage to hit the crossbar.  Watford’s last chance to get a winner came as Pereyra played a wonderful crossfield ball to Success who controlled and found space before unleashing a shot which Boruc saved.  The final whistle went to appreciative cheers.

In the end a draw was probably a fair result.  The game had been pretty even and great entertainment, particularly in the second half.  While there was a lot of discussion of Mike Dean’s decision-making after the game, irritating as it was, it did not influence the result.  It has to be said that media darlings, Bournemouth, don’t get any more likeable on repeat viewing.  We seem to come away from every game angry at their gamesmanship, but they never get called on it.  Still, there were many positives to take from the game.  Amrabat, when allowed to concentrate on attacking, was a joy to behold.  He was a constant menace and his contribution to the first goal was a thing of beauty.  Success was wonderful to watch when he came on.  He is strong with a brilliant first touch, although I did comment to my neighbour that I wondered if he would be able to maintain that level of performance for ninety minutes.  Post-match comments from Mazzarri suggest that he is sceptical about that and has concerns about the lad’s defensive contributions.  But that is to be expected for a youngster and he certainly appears to be a very exciting prospect.

So we go into the international break in mid table and looking forward to the rest of the season.  Even if our next fixture does mean a Sunday lunchtime in Middlesbrough.

 

Yet Another Draw with the Cherries

Two Taylors

Two Taylors

After the cup win, we were back at Vicarage Road for a match against Bournemouth who, since our 6-1 win at the Vic in 2013, we have failed to beat in the league.  Not only that, there have been a number of incidents of gamesmanship in recent games that mean that the plucky underdogs are not well liked in our corner of Hertfordshire.  During our pre-match preparations in the West Herts, it was noted that one of the guest beers was “Win Win”.  We could only hope that was an omen.

During the week, there was a lot of upset amongst residents of the Upper GT at the news that they are all to be moved to provide extra seats for corporate hospitality.  It is an interesting decision to move (upset) all 1400 ST holders in that stand instead of only those in the blocks affected and does seem to be an unnecessary disruption.  As someone who is not a fan of the corporate seats at football (it is very telling that they don’t bother to announce the arrival of the teams for the second half in the lounge), my sympathies are with those who are being forcibly moved to accommodate the prawn sandwich brigade.  It would remain to be seen whether the anger expressed on social media would manifest itself in the form of some protest during the game.

Challenging at a corner

Challenging at a corner

Team news was that there were four changes from the cup game with Gomes, Aké, Behrami and Ighalo in for Pantilimon, Holebas, Suárez and Abdi.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Paredes, Behrami, Watson, Capoue, Deeney, Amrabat and Ighalo.  As the teams emerged prior to kick-off, Bournemouth’s shocking pink away kit was quite an assault on the senses.

There was a pleasing start to the game for the Hornets as Ighalo went on a run and beat a couple of players before unleashing a shot that was pushed over by Boruc.  Soon after, Paredes ran down the wing and crossed for Ighalo who volleyed wide.  At the other end, a clearance only got as far as Arter on the edge of the box who shot well wide.  Deeney played a one-two with Capoue before finding Amrabat, whose shot was deflected for the corner.  As previously mentioned, Bournemouth have not endeared themselves to Watford in recent games with their gamesmanship so there were angry shouts from the Rookery when Stanislaus pulled up with a hamstring strain, appeared to limp off before collapsing on the pitch a couple of feet from the dug-out, apparently on Howe’s instructions.  He was soon replaced by Gradel.  On the half hour, there was a promising break from Aké who crossed for Deeney whose shot flew over the bar.  In the last action of any note, in a half mostly devoid of incident, Capoue found Amrabat who won a corner from which Watson’s delivery was easily caught by Boruc.

Luther shows his trophy to the Rookery

Luther shows his trophy to the Rookery

After a lively start, it had been a half of very little action, the one shot on target coming from the Hornets.  Thankfully there was something to cheer us up during the interval.  Towards the end of the half, a chant of “One Graham Taylor” had gone up from the 1881.  The reason for this became apparent when GT and Luther were introduced so that “the Gaffer” could present Luther with an award as “Watford’s Favourite Son”.  The Bournemouth game was likely chosen for this as he is also very fondly remembered on the South Coast.  Tim had a few words with Luther during which he picked out the League Cup match at Old Trafford as his favourite, but couldn’t be drawn to choose a winner of today’s game.  After the presentation, Luther did a circuit of the pitch with his name ringing out throughout the stadium.  A heart-warming moment.

The first chance of the second half went to the visitors as a cross from Ritchie was volleyed over by King.  Then Aké found Amrabat whose cross was headed clear by Francis.  Paredes then showed a lovely piece of skill to beat his man on the wing before crossing for Amrabat, who looked odds on to score, but swung his leg and missed the ball completely.  At the other end, there was a decent chance for the visitors as Surman found Gradel who directed his shot over the bar.  Watford’s first substitution came just before the hour mark as Suárez replaced Capoue, who had a very poor game by his standards despite the loud chants of “We’ve got Capoue ….”  Perhaps the repeated claim that he’s better than Zidane is putting undue pressure on him.  The visitors had a great chance to take the lead as a shot from Arter appeared to be heading for the top corner but, as so often this season, Gomes came to the rescue with a superb one-handed save to keep it out.

Paredes takes a throw

Paredes takes a throw

Suárez played a lovely through ball to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  Then Aké exchanged passes with Amrabat before his cross was cut out.  Suárez tried a long pass to Ighalo, but Boruc was first to the ball.  Troy appeared to be fouled as he tried to reach a ball into the box but the referee penalized Deeney instead of the defender.  Watford really should have taken the lead on 67 minutes as Amrabat did well to skip past a defender on the by-line before delivering the perfect cross to Ighalo who was unmarked.  From where I sit, behind the goal in the Rookery, I could see Odion through the net and, when the ball was delivered, there seemed only one destination for the header but, unbelievably, it was directed over the bar.  Watford had another chance after Deeney was fouled on the edge of the box.  The free-kick was taken square by Watson to Deeney whose low shot flew wide of the target.  The same move was tried in the last game, with the same outcome, so I can only assume that this has been working in training.  Bournemouth had a decent chance with a cross from Daniels that Ritchie directed over the bar.  At the other end, a long distance volley from Aké cleared the target.  Bournemouth’s next substitution saw Gosling replaced Afobe.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead with quarter of an hour remaining as a Watson free kick reached Britos who shot just wide.   Soon after, a quick free kick found Ighalo who manoeuvred into position for a shot but hit it over the bar.

Cathcart and Cook challenge for a header

Cathcart and Cook challenge for a header

The first booking of the game came on 77 minutes for a foul by Watson on Gradel.  The referee had been blowing up for fouls every time a player went to the ground and was pretty consistent in that, but this did seem like a fairly run of the mill challenge and hardly worthy of a card.  From the free kick, the clearance went back to a Bournemouth player, so it was a relief to see Gomes finally gather.  A lovely ball towards Amrabat went begging as he lost sight of the ball, which was a shame as he was in a great position.  Gomes kept the Hornets in the game again as he pushed a header from Gradel clear.  Watford’s second change saw Abdi replacing Amrabat.  Almen’s first involvement was to be hacked down by Surman, who was, rightly, booked for the challenge.  There was anger in the home stands as a push on Paredes was ignored before a similar challenge on Gradel earned Cathcart a yellow card.  Gradel then did well to beat Paredes before unleashing a shot that Gomes turned over the bar.  The corner was delivered into the box, but Gomes rose to catch it and the game finished goalless.

The final whistle went to shrugs around Vicarage Road.  Watford shaded the first half and Bournemouth the second, but a draw was probably fair.  During the second half it felt like Gomes had saved the game for us, but both Ighalo and Amrabat had chances that they should have finished which would have guaranteed the three points.  Bournemouth had put in a good performance and, on this showing, both of the teams that gained automatic promotion last season should stay up, something that no pundit would have predicted in August.

So, while there was disappointment that we didn’t take all three points from this game, we remain 13 points clear of the relegation zone with 11 games left to play.  This season has delivered beyond our wildest dreams.  The annoyance at the relocation of the fans in the Upper GT did not lead to any obvious protests on Saturday and was tempered somewhat by the news that we can renew our season tickets for the same price as we paid last season.  Premier League football at Championship prices for the second year running was a very pleasant surprise, as was the retention of the 75 mile season tickets for current holders.  Well done to the Pozzos (and Scott Duxbury) for that decision.

What’s It Like to Win Away?

The trip to Sheffield Wednesday is my favourite away day of the season, so I was booked on a ridiculously early train and irrationally furious when it was running 10 minutes late.  I met up with some friends at the station and had a lovely walk in the spring sunshine to the pre-match pub, which is a cracker.  It is located in an unprepossessing area but is a brewery tap with a wonderful array of real ales and ciders, the food is home cooked and delicious with plenty of vegetarian and gluten free options and the bar staff are delightful.  There was soon a large gathering of friendly Hornets in the back room.  Then another familiar face

The memorial to the 96

The memorial to the 96

appeared.  It was lovely to see Nick Cox, former head of the Watford Academy and now at Sheffield United, who didn’t move quickly enough to avoid a drunken hug from me.  He spoke fondly of his time at Watford and said that there was no way he was going to miss this game.  When we arrived at the ground, we paid a visit to the memorial to the 96 who died at the cup semi-final.  The wording was similar to something you would see on a war memorial and my blood ran cold at the memory of all those fans who went to a football match and never came home.

Team news was that Beppe had made four changes with Doyley replacing Hoban in defence, McGugan and Battocchio replacing Merkel and Murray and Cassetti making way for Ranegie.  So the starting line-up was Almunia, Angella, Ekstrand, Doyley, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Battocchio, Anya, Ranegie and Deeney.

Angella congraulated on the opening goal

Angella congraulated on the opening goal

The first few minutes of the game were littered with misplaced passes and I was just resigning myself to another disappointing away performance when a Tözsér free-kick was headed down by McGugan to Angella who knocked it past Kirkland.  Wednesday threatened to strike back almost immediately as Helan left Doyley on the ground injured and ran into the box where he was stopped by Ekstrand.  I must admit to having been a little concerned that the Swede would be penalized, he usually is, but the referee waved play on.  In the eighth minute, a shot from Palmer was deflected wide.  The home side threatened again after a quarter of an hour, when a Mattock corner was met with a shot from Maguire that was blocked in the box.  At the other end, Anya played a ball to Deeney

McGugan congratulated after scoring

McGugan congratulated after scoring

who headed straight at the keeper but was flagged offside anyway.   For Wednesday, Palmer got on the end of a Buxton cross but Almunia dived at his feet to save.  At this point, a loud chant went up for Almen Abdi who was warming up.  We were two up after 22 minutes as Pudil charged down the left wing and crossed for McGugan to head past Kirkland.  At the other end, Afobe tried a shot from distance that Almunia dropped to save.  On the half hour there was a bit of a scramble in the Wednesday box as shots from both Deeney and McGugan were blocked.  Then Afobe took the ball off Anya’s feet and found Palmer who shot just wide.  Angella was first to find his way into the referee’s book for what looked like an innocuous trip.  As is his wont, he looked distraught.  But asking the home crowd in front of him to intervene on his behalf was probably not his best move.  From the resulting free kick, Best headed straight at Almunia.  Ekstrand then gave away a free-kick on the left of the box with a cynical foul that looked far more worthy of a card than Angella’s,

Beppe trying to get on the pitch

Beppe trying to get on the pitch

but the referee just gave the foul.  Maguire’s free kick was headed clear by Doyley.  Pudil then tackled Lee and won the ball, but Lee went down as if he’d been poleaxed, so another card was shown.  From the free kick, Best headed wide but he was flagged offside anyway.  As the teams went off at half time, Angella was still protesting his innocence to the referee.  The fans were delighted to be two goals up, but still far from convinced that we’d win the game.

A pet hate of mine at modern football is the trend for negative chanting.  “How shit must you be …” when your own team is doing well does my head in and there had been plenty of that in the first half.  At half time, the concourse was rocking with a chant of “Sannino” to Spandau Ballet’s “Gold”, which was catchy as hell and I despaired that they were saving the best chant of the day for a time when the team couldn’t hear it.  Why oh why had we not heard that in the stands in the first half.  Thankfully, the half-time rendition was just choir practice and this was the theme tune for most of the second half.  It was raucous and brilliant.

Deeney receives congratulations from the scorers of the first two goals

Deeney receives congratulations from the scorers of the first two goals

The second half started perfectly for the Hornets as Anya released Deeney who ran clear of the defence and, with only Kirkland to beat, rolled the ball past him into the net.  I’ve heard the goal described as “audacious”.  From our position behind the goal, the ball appeared to be moving so slowly that I was convinced that either it would stop before reaching the goal line or that Kirkland would stroll back to stop it, but neither of those came to pass and Deeney had bagged his 19th goal of the season.  The 20th was not long in coming as a cross from McGugan into the box led to a number of shots being blocked before Deeney finally poked the ball past Kirkland and the away fans finally allowed themselves to believe that we might win the

Deeney after scoring his 20th of the season

Deeney after scoring his 20th of the season

game.  In contrast, a number of Wednesday fans gave up and were seen streaming out of the stand to our left with “Is there a fire drill” ringing in their ears.  Deeney could have completed a hat trick in a five minute period as he ran on to a ball over the top into the box, but Kirkland was first to the ball.  Wednesday struck back a couple of minutes later as Afobe headed Palmer’s cross past Almunia and some niggling doubts started in the minds of those in the away end.  I think I am becoming a bit soft on our players when it comes to bookings as, when the next yellow was shown to Tözsér, I noted that he was booked for tripping over.  Just before the hour mark, McGugan battled past a couple of defenders to get into scoring position, when he could easily have gone down and claimed a penalty.  Sadly his honesty was not rewarded as his shot was saved.  Watford’s first substitution saw Pudil replaced by new signing Riera while the home side replaced Maguire with Nuhiu.  The Wednesday substitute was immediately in action with a header that was straight at Almunia.  On 69 minutes, Abdi replaced McGugan to huge cheers from the away crowd but slight trepidation from me as I’d like to see him wrapped in cotton wool to emerge firing on all cylinders next season.  His first action was to latch on to a back heel from Riera and play a lovely pass that was greeted with a chant of “sexy football” from the travelling ‘Orns.  It is a while since we’ve heard that one.  Lee was booked for a foul on Battocchio.  Then Angella lost the ball to Nuhiu, who found Best whose shot was blocked.  The follow-up cross was headed clear by Doyley.  Lavery replaced Helan for Wednesday.  From the corner there was a shout by the home fans for a penalty against Angella, but we couldn’t see the incident from the away end and the referee signalled for another corner.  At the other end, a clearance dropped to Deeney who crossed for Ranegie whose powerful shot stung Kirkland’s

New signing, Riera, takes a throw-in

New signing, Riera, takes a throw-in

palms.  With 13 minutes to go, Faraoni replaced Anya for the visitors and Afobe made way for Johnson for the home side.  Wednesday had a great chance to pull another goal back as Onyewu and Almunia both jumped for a ball into the box but the defender connected with a header that came back off the crossbar.  Watford launched a counter attack as Battocchio played a lovely ball to Deeney whose shot was saved when he really should have had his hat trick.  In time added on, Ranegie tried to release Deeney but his pass was too far in front of his strike partner.  Ranegie’s next attempt saw Deeney flattening Kirkland in his eagerness to get to the ball.  The last chance of the game fell to the home side but Kieran Lee’s shot was saved by the feet of Almunia.

The players thanking the travelling faithful

The players thanking the travelling faithful

At the final whistle, there was a great outburst of joy in the away end and Beppe and all the players came over to thank us for our support.  Having missed the game at Huddersfield, it has been six months since I saw us win away and I’d forgotten how much fun it was.  Apart from the fun, there were some very good signs from the game.  Riera’s little cameo was a joy, Ranegie and Deeney again looked like a partnership, Doyley was Doyley and Abdi played 20 minutes unscathed.  I have written off this season, but can’t help feeling that the signs are good for next year.  But the best news of all is that both Wednesday and ourselves are safe in the middle of the table so there will be another trip to Sheffield next season.