Tag Archives: Benjamin Mendy

Capitulation at the Etihad

Captain Mariappa

When I sent out the e-mail to our group asking who wanted tickets for this game, I couldn’t help noticing that there were more apologies for absence than usual.  I can’t say that I blamed them as the memory of the cup final is still rather raw and, given our start to the season, this was not a game that I was looking forward to.

I left London at a reasonable time and was joined on the train by Jacque when we reached Milton Keynes.  One topic of discussion was the no bag policy that we had heard about the previous day.  I don’t know how they expect people travelling for over two hours each way not to bring any possessions with them.  Luckily, I was staying overnight in Manchester, so was able to drop my bag (and Jacque’s) off at the hotel.  Despite it being a warm sunny day, I left the hotel carrying a waterproof coat which had pockets filled with the essentials for the game (notebook, pen, camera, purse, lipstick).  We then headed to meet up with the rest of our party for lunch.  On arrival, I was surprised to see Pete there.  I was sure that he had declined the invitation.  Sure enough, he had made a late decision to travel following the tremendous second half against Arsenal last week.

While enjoying lunch, I realised that I had left my distance glasses in my rucksack at the hotel, so I headed back to retrieve them.  Not the smartest thing that I have ever done.  Once they were in another of my pockets, I joined the others at the pub.  We left plenty of time to get to the ground.  The first tram leaving was packed and there was a father with a young boy on his shoulders standing near me.  I heard the father comment, “Maybe you’ll see six goals.”  I couldn’t help but exclaim, “Oh, I do hope not.”  We then had a chat and, as is usually my experience in Manchester, he was lovely.

Dawson, Capoue and Deulofeu preparing for kick-off

On arrival at the ground, we saw Mick, our Police liaison, and I asked how many bags he was looking after.  It seemed that there had been no issues by that point, which was a relief.  It seemed that the stewards were being pragmatic regarding the policy, so some bags did make it into the away end.

Team news was that Quique had made two changes from the Newcastle game with Foulquier and Mariappa in for Gray and Kabasele.  Clearly the selection of Foulqier, for his debut, in place of Gray was not a direct swap, Femenía was pushed forward and Deulofeu was to play alone up front.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Foulquier, Mariappa, Dawson, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Femenía, Cleverley, Hughes; Deulofeu.  Again. there were some puzzled reactions to the team selection, but the Arsenal game meant that Quique had a lot of brownie points.

When we took our seats in the away end, I noticed that we were very close to the home fans on our left.  I then turned and realised that they were almost as close on the right.  I don’t know how many Watford fans travelled, but it appeared to be a very small group.

Gathering for a rare Watford corner

A couple of seasons ago, a late departure from the pub and a delay on the tram meant that we missed Sterling scoring in the first minute.  On this occasion, we were comfortably in our seats when De Bruyne crossed for David Silva to finish past Foster to open the scoring.  Watford had a chance for an immediate equaliser as Deulofeu ran into the City box, but Ederson saved at his feet.  Deulofeu threatened again, beating Otamendi before dinking a shot that deflected wide off the City keeper.  We weren’t to know it at the time, but that would be pretty much it for our chances.  The second City goal came after 7 minutes.  Mahrez had the ball in the box, he was running out of space and the ball was rolling out for a goal kick, but Foster had committed himself and took him down, so the referee pointed to the spot.  Agüero stepped up to take the spot kick and powered the ball down the middle while Foster dived.  It got even worse on 12 minutes after Doucouré fouled Mahrez on the edge of the box.  The Algerian took the free kick himself, the Watford wall parted, but the ball took a deflection off one of the defenders and beat Foster for City’s third.  At this point I bemoaned the fact that we are not allowed to take hip flasks into football stadia, as I definitely needed a shot of something strong.  The fourth City goal came from a corner which was flicked on to Bernardo Silva who stooped to head home.

Femenia takes a throw-in

We were 5 down after 18 minutes when Agüero put a low cross in for Otamendi to finish at the back post.  It could have been 6 after 25 minutes as Agüero broke forward, but Foster narrowed the angle and the shot was wide of the far post.  When Watford won a free kick after a foul on Cleverley, the travelling Hornets sang “We’ve got the ball.”  Sadly, we didn’t have it for long as Deulofeu’s delivery was straight into the arms of Ederson.  There was an immediate break from the home side, and I feared the worst, but Agüero’s shot took a ricochet off Foster for a corner.  Flores made his first substitution on 33 minutes cutting Foulquier’s debut short as he was replaced by Pereyra.  Fair play to Don Fraser who was still shouting encouragement to the team at this point.  On 38 minutes the Hornets had a rare foray into the City half, Deulofeu’s shot was blocked, the ball fell to Pereyra who could only win a corner that came to nothing.  The home side impressed again as a perfect cross field pass from Fernandinho reached De Bruyne who crossed for Agüero whose header was saved by Foster, Mahrez picked up the loose ball and crossed for Bernardo Silva who headed just wide.  There were three minutes of added time at the end of the half.  Every second was agony, but at least there was no further score.

Abdoulaye Doucoure

At half time, I noted that City had had 6 shots on target and scored 5 of them.  This looked like it could be a record score, although the scoreboard looked as though it couldn’t display double figures, so we could end up back at 0-0.

City made a change at the break bringing Angeliño on for Mendy.  It appeared that the second half would also see a goal in the first minute, but Walker’s shot was high and wide.  Sadly, the sixth goal wasn’t long in coming as, three minutes into the half, the Watford defence went missing yet again and the ball bounced around the Watford box before Bernardo Silva scored his second.  At the break, Pete had come to stand in the row behind us.  I expected the guys who had been there to return, they didn’t and a good few more departed after this goal.  Guardiola made a second substitution as Cancelo replaced Walker.  City should have scored a seventh when they won a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery from De Bruyne flew just over the bar.  Flores made his second substitution bringing Sarr on for Hughes.  The Hornets were then shown two yellow cards in quick succession, first Deulofeu was booked after a foul on Rodrigo, then Femenía was cautioned for a foul on Bernardo Silva.

Proof that we had a corner in the second half

The seventh goal came on the hour mark as De Bruyne crossed to the far post and Bernardo Silva finished from close range to seal his hat trick and claim the match ball.  At this point the City fans very reasonably asked, “Why are you still here?”  Pete’s comment was, “For the same reason that you would be.”  City’s final substitution saw Garcia come on for Otamendi.  Mahrez should have scored the 8th with a header that rebounded off the bar.  As City claimed the rebound an exasperated shout of “Get the second ball” came from behind me.  I think that was the least of our problems at this point.  The City fans were having fun with the group to our right taunting the group to our left with, “Where were you when we were sh*t?”  I have to admit that made me smile.  There was a brief moment of quality possession from the Hornets as Sarr found Cleverley who played in Deulofeu but he could only win a corner off the keeper.   Soon after, Gerry was replaced by Gray and you have to ask what Andre had done to deserve being put into the fray.  Just before the substitution the ball had flown into the Watford crowd.  There were shouts of “keep it” and it was a while before it was returned, eliciting boos from the away end.  A chant from the travelling Hornets of “7 nil and you still don’t sing” was countered with “We only sing at 6 nil.”  Ouch!!  De Bruyne, who had been a menace all afternoon, finally got his goal with five minutes left on the clock as his shot from the edge of the area hit the top corner.  He should have had a second soon after as he ran through the Watford defence before shooting just wide.  There was a half chance for a consolation as a Holebas throw was headed goalwards by Gray, but it was an easy catch for Ederson and a goal would have been more than the Hornets deserved.

Etienne Capoue

The final whistle finally went to put us out of our misery.  There were a surprising number of Watford fans still in the ground as the players came over to thank us and the majority of fans applauded them back.  Not for anything impressive in their performance, but more in empathy as that cannot have been any more fun for them than it was for us.  Pete was asked whether he regretted his late decision to attend the game but reasoned that he was much happier to have been there than he would have been if he had listened to it on the radio.

On the way back to the City centre, Ashley was checking the scores in the other games and a City fan asked if he knew the Stevenage score.  It turned out that this lad had managed Stevenage in Football Manager and taken a shine to them.  In a couple of weeks, when City are playing Wolves, he is giving his season ticket to a friend so that he can see Stevenage play in Colchester.  He also consoled us with, “We only scored two more than we put past United.”

As we sat in the pub after the game, it felt more like a support group than anything else.  Between us we could not find any positives to take from the game.  While City had been very good, Watford had been utterly dreadful.  This is a team that has long struggled with confidence and it was clear that it had completely drained from them as soon as the second goal went in.  I still think that we are a much better side than our results indicate, but we need to start showing that against Swansea in midweek and then at Wolves.  Otherwise, I may finally find myself deciding to stay in the pub instead of heading to the ground.

 

Watford Thrashed by Relentless City

Tony Coton and Don Fraser

For the second week running there was a Watford related event on Friday night.  This time it was Tony Coton’s book launch at the Vic.  Due to the fire disrupting trains on the Euston-Watford line, I had opted to travel to Watford on the Met line, so was running later than planned.  The room was packed when I arrived, but I had been saved a seat in a prime position, so was very grateful to my more punctual friends.  The main event had Rich Walker asking Tony a number of questions about his younger days and there were some great stories.  I was highly amused to hear that the only game his Mum ever saw was against Southampton as she loved Kevin Keegan.  It was really lovely to see that the front cover of his book featured Tony in a Watford shirt.  He said that he had insisted on that as it was his happiest time in football.  At the break, Tony went around the room signing everybody’s books.  He was then given some respite as Steve Harrison took the mic.  No interview for Steve, this was stand-up comedy and he was hilarious.  Tom Walley was also in attendance, it was so lovely to see him.  Mick Harford also made a guest appearance, and some brave Watford souls even went over to talk to him!  Hearing Steve Harrison tell Don that he was his hero for following the Hornets all over the place made my heart swell with joy.   It was a top evening. and yet another one that made me so happy and proud to be a Hornet.

Zachary and Elijah Furnish-John among the Watford mascots

After the fun of the night before, Saturday morning came far too soon.  My cousin, Doreen, who was visiting from New Zealand, had decided to join us for the game.  As my niece was heading to university, her season ticket was going spare, so Doreen took her ticket, so at least there was a familiar face in Amelia’s seat.  I had arranged to meet Doreen at the West Herts.  I wasn’t expecting her to be quite so keen, so was a little shocked to get a message while I was still in the hotel to say she had arrived before the doors had opened.  Somehow, I managed to get her and Don to meet so that, when I arrived, they were happily sat at our usual table.  It was a pleasure to introduce her to the pre-match experience and the West Herts crew were their usual delightful selves.

Team news was two changes enforced by injury with Janmaat and Mariappa coming in for Kaboul and Femenía.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Mariappa, Kabasele, Holebas; Chalobah, Doucouré; Carrillo, Cleverley, Richarlison; Gray.

I had heard that Elton John was at the game and, among the mascots, were his boys, Zachary and Elijah.  A fact that Elton announced in an Instagram posting, as proud as any Watford fan on such a momentous occasion.

Gray, Cleverley and Doucoure wishing they could escape the rain

The game started as it would go on with a series of attacks from the visitors.  A couple of off target efforts were followed by a shot from distance by Fernandinho that Gomes dived to save.  At this point the heavens opened and a number of people (mostly young lads) from the first few rows of the Rookery vacated their seats to take cover further up the stand.  This led us grumpy old folk to mutter about the youth of today and how, in our day, we stood for 90 minutes in torrential rain and liked it!  Back on the pitch, De Bruyne played a one-two with Silva before shooting wide.  Watford finally had a sniff of the City goal but Richarlison’s shot was weak and easily saved.  Doucouré found himself in a great position to open the scoring, but his shot was way off target, his embarrassment slightly tempered as the ball bounced off Kabasele so that it ended up flying not too far wide of the goal.  At the other end, Aguero lifted a shot onto the roof of the net.  Then Sterling broke into the box, but Kabasele made a brilliant tackle to prevent the shot.  There was a brief moment of hope for the Hornets as the ball bounced off Otamendi and it appeared that Gray would break clear, but the ball ran away from him to safety.  City threatened again from a corner which reached Aguero who volleyed wide of the near post.  There was a worrying moment as Janmaat flew to head the ball clear and his head made contact with a City player.  He needed treatment for some time, but he’s hard as nails and was soon back on the pitch.

Janmaat challenges Jesus

Watford had an excellent chance to take the lead as a free-kick from Holebas was met by the head of Richarlison, but his effort flew just wide of the target.  Three minutes later the visitors took the lead from a similar situation as Aguero headed De Bruyne’s delivery past Gomes.  Normal service resumed on the discipline front as Holebas was booked for a late foul on De Bruyne.  City were two up on the half hour.  Silva’s cross should have been stopped before it reached Aguero who had a simple tap in for his brace.  The third goal came on 38 minutes, Watford fans were shouting for a foul in the build-up, that wasn’t given, allowing Aguero to find Jesus who appeared to be offside before he finished past Gomes.  A Watford fan in the Lower GT had had enough of the questionable decisions by the linesman on that side and ran down to the perimeter to tell him exactly what he thought.  A steward came over to have a word, but the bloke finished his rant and returned to his seat with applause ringing in his ears.  A rare moment of pleasure in this game came as the big screen showed Elton in the stands, there was warm applause from the Watford fans, which he acknowledged with a wave and a big smile.  Watford had a chance to break back before half time as a ball was played into the City box but the City keeper, Ederson, arrived before Gray, so we reached the break with a three goal deficit.

Steve Harrison and Tom Walley

The respite of half time was welcome.  Steve Harrison was the guest drawing the 50-50 tickets and spoke glowingly of his friend, Graham Taylor.  Then a nice moment as Dion Pereira and Andrew Eleftheriou were awarded match balls for making their Premier League debuts as players who had come through the Academy.  I do hope we see a lot more of these lads in the future.

After the battering of the first half, it was very gratifying that the first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets as Holebas put in a lovely cross, Gray was unable to connect, but the ball came out to Carrillo who shot just wide.  Watford fans were screaming for a penalty as Chalobah was kicked in the box (that is not a euphemism), but the referee decided that there was no infringement, a decision that young Nathaniel challenged but his arguments were given short shrift.  Watford had another chance from a corner, but Richarlison headed it over the bar.  City’s next chance came from a back heel to David Silva whose shot was tipped over impressively by Gomes.  But the relief was short-lived as the corner to the far post was headed home by Otamendi.  At this point, I groaned, “Please make it stop,” but there was still 25 minutes to go.

Chalobah, Mariappa and Carrillo gather for a corner

There were substitutions for both teams as Jesus and De Bruyne were replaced by Bernardo Silva and Gündoğan for the visitors, Pereyra and Capoue came on for Cleverley and Chalobah for the Hornets.  Watford had a great chance to pull one back as a corner was flicked on to Capoue who headed agonisingly wide.  Marco Silva made his final substitution with 15 minutes to go bringing Deeney on for Gray.  City’s fifth came after a run by Aguero, there was a brief hope that his shot had been cleared off the line by Mariappa, but the referee signalled the goal, Aguero had his hat trick and City were five goals to the good.  At this point, many in the home crowd started streaming out.  My neighbour in the Rookery said we had better get Amelia back from university.  City were not satisfied with only five goals and Sterling had a chance to increase the score but shot just wide.  Fair play to the home fans at this point as a loud chant of “Since I was young ….” emanated from the Rookery, including those around me, who aren’t always the loudest.  It wasn’t going to get any better for the Hornets, Sterling was tripped in the box and the referee pointed to the spot.  Sterling took the penalty himself and made no mistake.  They could have had a seventh in time added on but a great shot from Aguero was met by an equally great save from Gomes.

Holebas delivers a corner

At the end of the game, Silva had a long talk with both the referee and the linesman from the GT side.  The players looked despondent, but Gomes, despite the disappointment of having conceded six goals, still did his usual lap of the pitch acknowledging the crowd.  Doreen was very impressed at this show of character.

It was a sombre group that gathered to drown our sorrows at the West Herts.  Before the game I had said that this one was a free hit, but it is never pleasant to see your team so soundly beaten.  It really should be a joy watching players as good as City’s, but it isn’t when you care so much about the opposition.  There was no anger or bitterness from our crew though.  Sometimes you are beaten by the better team and City were truly remarkable.  Their passing was precise, but it was their breaking at pace that took your breath away.  They were also completely relentless, characterised by the fact that they were still attacking in time added on, despite being six goals ahead.  Contrasts were made with the 5-0 defeat to the same team at the end of last season.  That had been an abject performance by the Hornets, but this was not.  We were well beaten, but the team did try to give it a go.  Watford have improved considerably since last season, but so have City and, on this showing, there will be a few more teams on the end of hidings from them this season.

So we just have to put this one behind us and concentrate on putting in good performances against Swansea and West Brom.  Those are the games from which we need to get points, and I will travel with optimism.  I hope it is not misplaced.