Tag Archives: Beppe Sannino

Robbed at the Valley

Oscar Garcia's first appearance on the touchline as Watford manager

Oscar Garcia’s first appearance on the touchline as Watford manager

As I headed for South London on Saturday, the heroics of the Huddersfield game where our 10 men won out against the odds with the help of the crowd seemed a lifetime ago.  In the meantime, we had an international break and a change of manager, so it felt like we were starting the season over again.  As I’ve said previously, I liked Beppe as a man.  But it had been obvious at the end of last season that there was something seriously wrong on the playing side of the club.  Despite the early results this season, that impression had continued, so the replacement of the manager was an obvious move and it was now Oscar Garcia’s chance to work with our talented squad.  A lack of decent watering holes in the vicinity of Charlton’s ground meant pre-match drinks were had in Borough Market which, in turn, meant a lovely walk along the South Bank of the Thames to build up a thirst.

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

Given the injuries and suspensions, there were no real surprises in Garcia’s first team selection.  He had to do some early tweaking, though, as Andrews picked up a knock in the warm up so was replaced at the last minute by McGugan.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Angella, Ekstrand, Hoban, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Abdi, Anya, Deeney and Vydra in a 3-5-2 formation.  After the sartorial elegance of Sannino on the sidelines, Garcia took his place in the dugout wearing a tracksuit.

The first action of the game saw the home side take the lead, Cousins went on a run and passed to Vetokele in the box, Gomes came out and took him down.  The referee had no choice but to point to the penalty spot and show Gomes a yellow card.  Buyens made no mistake with the spot kick sending the keeper the wrong way.

Ekstrand and Vetokele both eyeing the ball

Ekstrand and Vetokele both eyeing the ball

Watford tried to strike back immediately as Pudil played a long pass down the left to Deeney who turned and curled a shot just wide of the far post.  We had another chance with a free kick but McGugan hit it wide of the near post.  In the 10th minute, the Charlton fans started a minute’s applause for former player David Whyte who died at a tragically young age this week, in this they were joined by many of the Watford fans.  Watford launched a great break that started with Anya playing a cross field ball to Pudil, the ball came back to him and he crossed for McGugan whose header flew wide.  At this point, Garcia instructed Pudil to drop back and changed the shape to 4-4-2.  There was an announcement over the tannoy asking the Watford fans to sit down which was drowned out as Abdi played a cross that was dummied by Vydra and ran through to Deeney whose shot was heading for the bottom corner until Henderson got down to save it.

Waiting for a corner

Waiting for a corner

Deeney then brought the ball down and played it out to Pudil who found McGugan who really should have done better with his shot which flew high and wide.  The first substitution was for the home side as Gudmundsson, who had been a doubt for the game, was replaced by Wilson.  On the half hour, Watford had a really good shout for a penalty as Tözsér played Deeney in, he got goal side of Ben Haim who tripped him in the box, but the referee waved play on.  Abdi played in Anya who went on a run before whipping in a cross that was tipped over by Henderson.  From the corner, the ball came out to Anya whose shot from distance was pushed around the post.  An attempted break by Vetokele was stopped by Abdi who was booked for his trouble.  Then Anya did very well to keep the ball under a challenge, advanced and, after some lovely passing, the ball reached Vydra who thrashed it wide.  Hoban was the next Watford player to see yellow for a foul on Tucudean.  He was followed soon after by Ekstrand as Vetokele was again stopped from breaking forward.  We reached half-time a goal down despite having had the lion’s share of the possession, playing some lovely football and having had a good shout for a penalty.  That has been a familiar position this season.

Tozser taking a corner

Tozser taking a corner

At the start of the half-time break, the only Watford substitute warming up was Paredes, so it was no surprise when he replaced Hoban at the beginning of the second period.  Charlton had the first chance of the second half as Vetokele had a shot deflected over.  Anya was fouled by Wiggins who was booked for the offence.  Anya then found Deeney who played a lovely ball through to Vydra who was running into the box, unfortunately the ball bounced off the Czech’s foot and ran through to Henderson.  A cross from Pudil reached Deeney, he chested the ball down to Vydra who returned it to Deeney but his shot was wide of the near post.  Abdi played a lovely ball to Anya who ran along the byline and put in a cross that was knocked out for a corner.  Then Tözsér took a low free-kick in a dangerous position that deflected off the wall for a corner.  McGugan put in a cross that was too high for the leap of Deeney.  Just before the hour, Charlton had only their second attack of the half as a couple of crossfield passes brought the ball to Vetokele who headed wide when he should have done better.  Garcia made another change as Lloyd Dyer replaced Vydra, who had got into some great positions but seemed reluctant to shoot.

McGugan and Tozser line up a free kick

McGugan and Tozser line up a free kick

McGugan should have done better as Deeney nodded the ball down to him and he skyed his shot.  Gomes was called into action for the first time since the penalty, pushing out a cross from Moussa and knocking both Angella and Vetokele flying at the same time.  Fortunately they were both fit to continue after a visit from the physios.  Anya found McGugan whose shot from distance was well over.  There was a silly spell of handbags as Ben Haim objected to a robust, but fair looking, tackle from Deeney with Bikey also getting involved.  This was immediately followed by Buyens stopping a run from Anya by elbowing the Scot to the floor and making his way into the referee’s book.  I thought we were finally going to get the equalizer that we deserved as Tözsér crossed to Dyer at the far post, but his shot hit the side netting.  There was then a goalmouth scramble, Dyer’s shot was greeted by cheers and then groans from the away end as it bounced out, Deeney’s follow-up was celebrated before we saw the linesman’s flag.  I have to admit that the details of that spell are a mystery to me as I couldn’t see over the heads in front of me so I was reacting to the mood in the crowd.

Paredes in action

Paredes in action

With 15 minutes remaining, there was a change for each team as Ighalo replaced McGugan and Harriott replaced former Watford loanee, Jackson.  A Watford corner was floated into Henderson’s hands.  Then Deeney and Ighalo combined to feed Dyer whose shot was pushed wide by the keeper.  Angella headed a Tözsér cross wide of the target.  Dyer had another great chance, but his shot was blocked by Henderson.  Harriott broke forward for the home side, but Gomes was equal to his shot.  Charlton broke again and it was looking worrying for the visitors until Paredes strolled over and swept up rather delightfully.  Ighalo had a shot from inside the box but it flew over the bar.  At this point, the Charlton fans could be heard singing The Great Escape.  In time added on it all got a bit frantic.  Abdi had a shot blocked, then Tözsér played Anya in, but his shot was over the bar.  It just wasn’t our day and Garcia’s first game finished in a defeat that the performance didn’t deserve.

There were a lot of complaints from Watford fans on the way out that I really didn’t understand.  While we’d wasted some possession and our set pieces were very poor, we had completely dominated the game, had the majority of the shots on goal and really should have won the game.  This was a far better footballing performance than we had against Huddersfield and streets ahead of what we saw on our last away trip, but most Watford fans in the queue for the train were complaining while the Charlton fans were commenting on what a good team Watford were and that they’d got away with that one.  I fear that the expectations among the Watford fans are sky high and it is making them impatient.  It is a long season and we’ve made a terrific start so let’s just enjoy that.

 

A Tremendous Performance Both On and Off the Pitch

Pre match huddle

Pre match huddle

There was a certain amount of trepidation going in to this fixture.  I was still seething about the non-performance in the cup on Tuesday.  Actually I was still seething about the horror of the final game of last season when we played the same team and our players were already on holiday.  This history was of particular concern as my niece, Amelia, who has been coming to games on and off for years was accompanying me.  I am still haunted by her distress at the end of the last play-off final, so I was hoping that the lads would give her something to smile about.

When the team news came in, there were two changes from the win over Leeds with Anya coming in for Paredes and Ekstrand coming straight back after serving his three match suspension, which seemed very harsh on Hoban who had been excellent.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Angella, Ekstrand, Tamas, Pudil, Abdi, Tözsér, Munari, Anya, Deeney and Forestieri.  I noted the presence of a Sinnott on the Huddersfield bench, who did turn out to be the son of former Watford player Lee.  The news during the week of Troy Deeney’s new contract had been a delightful surprise as I had resigned myself to his departure.  Needless to say, he was given a tremendous reception and, in turn, showed his appreciation to the crowd who sang his name.

Defending a corne4

Defending a corner

The first action of note was on the sideline as Angella challenged Coady who went sliding off the pitch and collided with Beppe Sannino in his technical area (for once) sending him flying.  There were no histrionics from the gaffer who was immediately back on his feet and it was nice to see that his well-being was checked by both Coady and the Terriers boss, Lillis.  The first attempt on goal came from the visitors as Harry Bunn cut inside Angella but shot high and wide.  Then Vaughan put a header over the bar.  Forestieri had the ball in the net having broken forward while avoiding the attentions of Wallace, but the linesman was flagging.  Fernando was not deterred as he went on a great run, evading a couple of tackles before being taken down on the edge of the box, the ball broke to Deeney who played it out to Anya running in from the right, but his shot was wide of the far post.  Deeney had a great chance to take the lead as he connected with a Tözsér free-kick, but he directed the header just over the bar.  At the other end, a corner was punched clear by Gomes.

Deeney congratulated on his goal

Deeney congratulated on his goal

On 15 minutes, we were ahead as Tözsér played a fabulous through ball to Deeney who sprinted clear and shot past Smithies.  What a perfect way to celebrate his new contract.  Five minutes later, Troy muscled Coady out of the way and bore down on goal again, but this time his shot was into the side netting.  Pudil tried to catch the Huddersfield defence out with a quick throw to Forestieri whose shot was deflected for a corner.  It wasn’t all Watford, though, as Majewski tried a shot that Gomes dropped to push clear.  Then Tamas lost the ball to Majewski leading to a goalmouth scramble as first Butterfield’s shot was blocked, then Coady’s attempt was parried by Gomes, the ball finally dropped to Vaughan who beat the keeper, so it was a relief to see the linesman’s flag raised.  On the half hour, Deeney headed a ball back to Forestieri who tried a shot from distance that was easily gathered by Smithies.  Butterfield tried another shot that Gomes was down to gather.  Scannell snuck in behind Pudil and put in a low cross that flew across the goalmouth but no Huddersfield player was there to get the vital touch, so it was cleared.  Munari was the first Watford player to be booked as he knocked Lynch to the ground.  We had another great chance as Pudil found Deeney in the middle and we were waiting for the net to bulge in front of us, but Troy’s shot was just wide.  Tamas played a long ball to Pudil who crossed to Forestieri who played the ball over to Anya whose snap shot was caught by Smithies.  Just before half time, Tamas played a lovely cross into the box for Forestieri who came flying at it and headed just over.  Then Anya found Deeney who also shot over.  Munari had pulled up a few minutes earlier, so it was sad to see him limping off to be replaced by Andrews.

It had been a lively and enjoyable first half.  Huddersfield had their chances, but Watford had played some lovely football and really should have been further ahead.  I have to say that watching Deeney and Forestieri playing together in that half, in the knowledge that this was not the last time I would see Troy in a Watford shirt, had been an absolute joy.

Abdi congratulated on his first goal

Abdi congratulated on his first goal

The second half started horribly for the Hornets as there was a mix up between Tamas and Gomes over a ball into the box, it broke to Bunn who buried it past Gomes and, for some inexplicable reason, decided to celebrate in front of the Rookery.  Soon after, Dixon tried a speculative shot from distance that was well over the target.  We were ahead again in the 53rd minute as the ball broke to Abdi in the box and he powered it past Smithies.  Huddersfield continued to threaten.  Gomes dropped to gather a shot from Majewski.  Then a Scannell cross appeared to be heading for the goal when Tözsér lifted a foot to flick it wide.  Tamas was booked for what looked like a soft tackle on Bunn, who had spent a lot of the game on the ground.  Vaughan got his head to a cross from Scannell, but Gomes pushed it wide.  Unfortunately, from the resulting corner, Wallace had a free header to restore parity.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, within a couple of minutes we were down to 10 men as Tamas made an unnecessary tackle on the sideline which earned him a second yellow card.  There was no danger in the position, so the tackle seemed utterly pointless.  I am a fan of Tamas, but he had a mare during this game.

Andrews congratulated by his team mates

Andrews congratulated by his team mates

There was also a booking for the visitors as Wallace saw yellow for taking Abdi down.  Almen took the free-kick himself, it was on-target but Smithies pushed it out for a corner.  Abdi took the corner which curled deep and was headed in by Andrews to restore a slightly surprising lead for the Hornets.  At the other end, the ball fell to Majewski but his shot was blocked.  Majewski then had another shot that crept wide with Vaughan closing in.  Huddersfield really should have drawn level as a cross reached Vaughan in front of the goal, but he cleared the ball instead of sending it goalwards.  During this period of Huddersfield pressure, every time the ball came into our box, I could feel Amelia flinch.  I was desperately hoping that we didn’t disappoint her again.  Each side made a substitution with Vaughan making way for Wells and Hoban coming on for Anya to shore up the defence in the absence of Tamas.  Huddersfield threatened again as a cross came in with Scannell sneaking in at the back post, but Pudil was there to put him off and he knocked the ball into the side netting.

Abdi takes a free kick

Abdi takes a free kick

The final substitutions saw Hammill and Stead replacing Bunn and Dixon for the visitors with Paredes replacing Forestieri for the home side.  Wells tried a shot from the middle of the box, which was caught by Gomes who was in action again almost immediately, dropping to stop a shot from Hammill.  Then a ball came in to the Watford box with Pudil and Gomes both challenging for it and Pudil seemed to step on Gomes.  They both went down and it didn’t look good, but the upshot was that Gomes had cramp which took a while to treat but he was able to continue.  Huddersfield continued to press for a third equalizer as Bunn tried a shot from distance that was well over the bar.  At this point something remarkable happened.  There had been some encouraging chants coming from the Rookery, but I saw Tözsér gesture for us to raise the volume and the next thing I knew, the whole of the Rookery were on their feet singing and clapping.  The same was true of the family stand.  Then I turned to my left and saw something I have rarely seen before, the whole of the GT stand singing and clapping.  As my attention returned to the pitch, I saw Gomes parrying a shot, Hammill followed up but Gomes was equal to it.  There were six minutes of injury time and the Vicarage Road faithful kept up the chanting for the team.

Ekstrand congratulates Abdi

Ekstrand congratulates Abdi

Then Tözsér played a ball across to Abdi who advanced into the box and curled the ball around defender and keeper and into the net.  At 4-2 in injury time, that had to be the winner.  Cue a properly mental celebration.  With the singing that had preceded the goal, I felt like I had earned an assist.  But I nearly had heart failure when I saw my sister pointing.  I looked at the lino whose flag was down and then realized that she was indicating the Gomes celebration, which was as mental as ours.  What a relief!

At the final whistle, there was a joyful celebration.  When Tamas was dismissed just after the visitors had equalized, it looked like our afternoon was over, but this had been a tremendous performance both on the pitch and in the stands.  One that we could all be proud of.  There was a nice touch at the end of the game from Deeney who threw his boots into the 1881.

Tozser clears

Tozser clears

I am still struggling to understand what went on yesterday.  On a normal Saturday at Vicarage Road, you will see a good number of people leaving to ‘beat the traffic’ even when we are drawing and pushing for a winner.  In this game, we were already ahead and, while Huddersfield were pushing for an equalizer, this was only the 5th game of the season, so the result was hardly make or break.  Despite that, this became one of those times when the players and fans become one team and the joy at the end of the game is something to be treasured.  The best part of the afternoon for me was that Amelia went home happy.  But this now makes her a lucky mascot so she will be invited back very soon.

While I’ve been writing this report, the news of Beppe Sannino’s departure has broken.  In my few encounters with Beppe, I found him a very engaging man, but I hadn’t always been a fan of the way his teams played.  There were a lot of dreadful performances last season and the last encounter with Huddersfield was certainly one in which you felt that the players had no respect for the manager.  That was also my impression at the end of season dinner.  When Beppe took the stage to make his speech, there was little warmth or respect emanating from the tables of players who were just next to us.  I was amazed that he was still in charge at the start of the season.  The fact that he has now left suggests that the Pozzos have found his replacement.  Someone described the contrast of the Zola and Sannino reigns as being from a holiday camp to a boot camp.  I hope that the new manager is somewhere in the middle.  We have a huge amount of talent in this team, with some organization and discipline we could be unbeatable.

 

Little Strength Shown by the Depth

Jonathan Bond

Jonathan Bond

Discussion before the match centred on memories of dire games at this stage of the competition, the Accrington Stanley tedium taking centre stage.  When there is little expectation of great entertainment, I tend to turn up “just in case”.  As expected, there were nine changes from Saturday, but the strength of our squad meant that it was still a pretty formidable team.  There had been speculation as to whether, following his indiscretion last week, Dyer would be picked.  He was.  The starting line-up was Bond, Doyley (c), Tamas, Hoban, Anya, McGugan, Andrews, Murray, Dyer, Ighalo and Vydra.

The walk from the West Herts to the ground in the half hour before kick-off was through eerily empty streets.  But, inside the ground, the seats around us were well populated with a high proportion of kids and neutrals.

Doncaster gave a warning of what was to come in the second minute as Bennett found Tyson on the right whose shot flew just past the far post.  At the other end, Vydra cut inside but his shot was blocked.  Doncaster had another decent chance as Coppinger fired just wide.

Dyer all smiles after scoring

Dyer all smiles after scoring

The visitors should have been ahead when Tyson connected with a free-kick, but he headed the ball down and it flew just wide.  Doncaster took the lead in the 12th minute as Tamas needlessly fouled Bennett in the box.  Tyson stepped up to take the penalty firing it straight down the middle with Bond diving to his right.  Watford fans in the Rookery thought we had equalized almost immediately as a shot from Lewis McGugan cannoned off the crossbar at the Vicarage Road end before bouncing down and out.  Sean Murray’s follow-up was blocked.  This was better from the home side as Ighalo robbed Coppinger of the ball and went on a run before passing to McGugan whose shot flew wide.  Watford drew level after half an hour when Dyer broke forward and buried the ball past Steer.  His celebration this week involved running away from the bench with his hand over his mouth.  Tyson had an opportunity to regain the lead, but his shot was straight at Bond.  Vydra and Dyer exchanged passes but the return ball was too heavy and the chance was gone.  Just before half-time, Coppinger tried a shot that was well wide of the far post.  It had been a half of few chances.

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

Five minutes into the second period, Bennett shot over the bar from outside the area.  A minute later Doncaster retook the lead as a lovely passing move was finished with Wakefield turning a cut-back from Furman past Bond.  Wabara nearly provided Watford with an unlikely equalizer as he mis-hit the ball goalwards and had to recover to clear off the line.  Bennett threatened again with a shot from distance that was just wide of the far post.  Bennett’s next shot was from a free-kick which Bond parried before gathering.  Vydra won a free-kick on the edge of the box, but McGugan hit it straight into the wall and then skyed the follow-up.  With 20 minutes remaining, Pudil replaced Doyley, who handed the captain’s armband to Tamas, and McGugan made way for Munari.  The ever dangerous Bennett should have put the game beyond Watford’s reach with a shot from distance that was tipped over the bar by Bond.  At the other end, Vydra did well to retain the ball, riding a couple of tackles, but his final shot was way off target and into the Rookery.  Sannino made his last change at this point replacing Murray with Fabbrini.

Andrews and McGugan lining up a free-kick

Andrews and McGugan lining up a free-kick

On 75 minutes, Doncaster appeared to have scored a third as Keegan’s shot beat Bond, but the linesman flagged for an offside.  De Val was booked for persistent fouling after taking Vydra down.  Munari failed to connect with Fabbrini’s free-kick, the follow-up was blocked, the ball was played back into the area and Dyer shot over.  With 5 minutes remaining, Pudil took a free-kick into the box which flew over the head of the leaping Hoban.  In time added on, Tyson was booked for time-wasting after blocking Bond’s attempts to take a free kick.  You have to wonder why he bothered as Watford really hadn’t looked like scoring for some time.

The final whistle went to boos from the Rookery.  The home side were very poor on the night, although that should not detract from a very decent performance by the visitors.  Sannino had picked a strong side, but there was little sign of those players fighting to be first choice, which was unforgivable.  The game can be summed up by the fact that I could only find a pocket notebook in which to record the incidents in the game and I failed to cover more than a page and a half.  I think I will put a link to this report on my calendar for next August to remind me to find something else to do during the early rounds of the cup.

 

Dirty Leeds Crushed

An earlier close encounter with the lovely Johnny Mac

A previous close encounter with the lovely Johnny Mac

There was plenty to discuss pre-match what with the Mackay-Moody text messages and the rumours of unrest in the dressing room.  With all that doom and gloom, it was good to turn my thoughts to happier things such as the fact that the wonderful John McClelland was the guest in the corporate lounge.  When I entered the ground, Macca was being interviewed by Luther.  What a joy to listen to my two all-time favourite players chatting.  When they finished, I made my way around to the Lower Rous to give Don a bag that he had left in the West Herts.  As I reached the disabled area, Don was coming to greet me and pointing rather urgently behind me.  I turned and there was John McClelland looking exactly as he did in the 80s.  I immediately turned into a gibbering star struck fan.  I managed to blurt out that I’d loved watching him play and went to shake his hand and found myself being warmly hugged.  It is quite possible that my feet will never touch the ground again.

Challenging at a corner

Challenging at a corner

There were four changes from Tuesday night with Abdi and Tözsér back in the midfield and Pudil and Forestieri replacing Anya and Vydra, who had limped off at the end of the previous game.  Unsurprisingly, after his goal celebration on Tuesday, Dyer was not in the 18.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Tamas, Pudil, Munari, Tözsér, Abdi, Paredes, Deeney and Forestieri.

We started brightly with an early corner from Adbi requiring a smart save from Silvestri.  Then Deeney tried to find Forestieri in the box, but Silvestri beat him to the ball.  Munari received a lovely pass, but dwelled too long on it so had to play the ball back to Paredes who crossed for Deeney whose header flew well over the bar.  Tözsér played a ball over the top to Deeney who played a low cross to Abdi, but he was crowded out before he could shoot.  For Leeds, a shot from Tonge was blocked by Pudil, the ball came out to Austin whose shot was wide of the far post.

Celebrations of the first goal featuring three dear friends

Celebrations of the first goal featuring three dear friends

We were a goal up after 20 minutes when Forestieri passed to Deeney who flicked the ball to Munari in the box, the Italian went down under a challenge, but the ball ran through to Forestieri whose initial shot was blocked but his follow-up header beat Silvestri.  I finally witnessed the Gomes goal celebration as he joyfully leapt in front of the Rookery.  Heartwarming.  Leeds got the ball in a dangerous position, but Antenucci’s shot was high and wide.  On the half hour, Deeney passed to Forestieri whose shot through a crowd of players was easily gathered by Silvestri.  Leeds equalized soon after as an innocuous-looking ball in from Sharp was diverted past Gomes by the foot of Tamas, when he really didn’t need to intervene.  It was a very disappointing equalizer that was totally undeserved for the visitors who had yet to have a shot on target.  I was pleased to see Gomes offering commiserations to Tamas.  At the other end, Deeney fed Paredes whose shot was deflected over for a corner from which Abdi’s delivery was headed over by the unmarked Hoban.  Just before half-time, Pudil broke forward but his shot was gathered by Silvestri.  Then Sharp played for a foul and succeeded in getting Tözsér booked.

Harry undertaking the ALS/MND ice-bucket challenge

Harry undertaking the ALS/MND ice-bucket challenge

I was a hell of a lot happier at half-time than I had been on Tuesday and not just because of the close encounter with John McClelland.  While it was annoying that Leeds were level without having had a shot on target, we had played very well and were definitely the better side.  Half-time entertainment included Harry Hornet accepting Miles Jacobson’s ALS/MND ice-bucket challenge and being given his soaking on the sidelines.  What was he thinking?  He could have caught his death of cold.

We started the second half brightly as Forestieri curled a shot just past the far top corner.  At the other end, Murphy’s free-kick was headed over by Pearce.  Then Abdi found Deeney who was hacked down just outside the box.  Tözsér stepped up to take the free kick, but the delivery was awful, flying well over the bar.  Sannino’s first substitution of the afternoon saw Anya coming on for Paredes.

Deeney steps up to take the penalty

Deeney steps up to take the penalty

We took the lead again just before the hour as Forestieri beat Bellusci to a dropping ball in the box and was taken down by the defender.  The referee had no choice but to point to the spot and dismiss Bellusci.  Deeney stepped up and hit the ball straight down the middle while Silvestri dived to his right.  Soon after, there was a break for treatment as a Deeney shot was blocked by Pearce’s head knocking the defender to the ground.  Pudil latched onto a cross-field ball from Tözsér but his shot went wide of the near post.  Watford’s third goal was a thing of beauty as Munari passed to Forestieri who skipped past numerous defenders in the box before unleashing a shot that bounced in off the post.

Congratulations for Forestieri's wonderful second

Congratulations for Forestieri’s wonderful second

Forestieri and Deeney were working really well together as, first Fernando fed Troy whose shot from the right was blocked, then it was Deeney’s turn to find Forestieri whose shot appeared to be going in, but flew just wide.  That was Fernando’s last action of the game as he was replaced by Ighalo.  For Leeds, the evil Dominic Poleon came on as a substitute and was roundly booed by the Hornets faithful.  Watford had a chance to increase their lead as Munari connected with a corner from Tözsér, but his header was wide of the target.  Tözsér then played a lovely crossfield ball to Pudil, who crossed back for Ighalo who was challenged and couldn’t find room for a shot.  Abdi made way for Andrews who was involved immediately as a corner was cleared to him but his shot was well wide.  Murphy was the next to find his way into the referee’s book after a foul on Pudil.

Tozser congratulated for a superb strike

Tozser congratulated for a superb strike

In the 90th minute, Austin was booked for a foul on Deeney.  In the crowd, people were preparing to go home as Tözsér stepped up to take the free-kick, which was so far out that there appeared to be no danger.  But Tözsér thought otherwise, as he stepped up and hit the ball straight into the bottom corner with no Leeds player appearing to move.  As way of celebration, he ran straight over to his family in the Lower GT.  In injury time, Deeney was breaking upfield when the whistle went.  At first I thought it was signalling the end of the game, but the referee went over to where Pudil was lying on the ground and, after talking to the linesman, sent Byram off, apparently for a head butt.  The final whistle went soon after.  It had been a superb performance by the Hornets, restricting the visitors so much that their only shot on target was from Watford’s Tamas.  There was a nice touch from Harry Hornet at the end, as the players celebrated he got on his knees and polished Tözsér’s right boot.

The reports of unrest among the squad in the week had been unsettling, so it was a relief that any unhappiness stayed in the dressing room and the lads put on a great display for the home crowd.  This is a talented, exciting squad.  If our displays away from home start to match the quality of those at Vicarage Road, we are in for a wonderful season.

New York, New York

The New York Stadium

The New York Stadium

I had never been to Rotherham, so this midweek trip to South Yorkshire to visit a new ground was hotly anticipated.  However, when I researched places to stay, there didn’t seem to be anywhere in the vicinity of the ground or the station, so I decided on a hotel in Sheffield, which had the added benefit of pre-match drinks at my favourite away pub.  There was some concern that our libations might be interrupted by the arrival of hoards from Millwall, who were playing at Hillsborough, but we escaped with no sign of the Lions.

A lovely Aran cardi worn by the opposition

A lovely Aran cardi worn by the opposition

After the short drive to Rotherham, we parked up next to the ground for the princely sum of £2.  The New York stadium looked impressive from the outside, although I was disappointed to find that there was no scoreboard.  On hearing the team news, there was much discussion of the wholesale changes with concern expressed at the omission of both Abdi and Tözsér, plus all of our dead-ball specialists.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Tamas, Paredes, Fabbrini, Munari, Andrews, Anya, Deeney and Vydra.  The teams emerged to “New York, New York”, but the pre-match cider and the position of the seat in front of me meant that, for the good of my health, high-kicking was kept to a minimum.

Rotherham threatened in the first minute as Revell tried a shot from distance that flew well wide of the far post.  Soon after, Parades gave the ball away to Taylor who found Pringle whose shot was weak and straight at Gomes.

Vydra lines up a free-kick

Vydra lines up a free-kick

On 11 minutes, Fabbrini was taken down just outside the box.  Vydra’s free-kick was woeful and flew well over the bar.  At the other end, Revell got on the end of a cross, but hit it wide of the target.  Watford had a shout for a penalty as a high ball into the box reached Deeney who went down under a challenge from Collin, but the referee waved play on.  Just before the half hour, we saw the first decent chance of the game which fell to Rotherham’s Pringle whose curling shot was pushed around the post by Gomes.  Pringle took the resulting corner which was headed over the bar by Morgan.  Hoban played a good ball to Deeney who headed it on to Anya, but his looping shot was easily gathered by Collin.  Taylor tried a shot from the edge of the area, but it was well over the target.  Taylor threatened again as he went on a run into the box but his shot was blocked by Angella.  On the stroke of half time, a shot from Frecklington flew wide of the far post.  In time added on, Anya hit a shot into the side netting.  It had been a poor first half, with Pringle’s shot the only one to test either of the keepers.

Morgan booked for a foul on Deeney

Morgan booked for a foul on Deeney

In the first minute of the second half, Morgan received a pass from Pringle but his shot was well over the bar.  Vydra found Andrews who turned and shot, it was blocked and fell to Munari whose follow-up shot was also blocked.  At this point, the travelling Hornets expressed their displeasure with the personnel currently on the pitch by chanting the names of Abdi and Forestieri.  Just before the hour, there was a card for each side as Morgan was booked for a foul on Deeney and Andrews saw yellow for taking Green down just before Vydra was replaced by Ighalo.  Watford’s first decent attack came soon after as Deeney broke forward, passed to Anya on the left who played a low cross into the box which Ighalo hit past Collin, but the linesman was flagging for offside.  The next chance fell to Munari, but his shot from distance was well over the bar.  Sannino’s next change was to bring Dyer on for Fabbrini.

Dyer on his way to 'celebrate' his goal

Dyer on his way to ‘celebrate’ his goal

On 70 minutes, we lost possession from a throw-in, Tidser was powering forward when Tamas brought him down and was shown a yellow card.  From our vantage point, the foul appeared to have been in the area, but the free-kick was taken from outside the box and Taylor hit it well over the bar.  We finally made a breakthrough with our first decent shot on target as Ighalo’s initial attempt was saved, the ball dropped to Dyer who buried it past Collin.  The goal celebration was somewhat surprising as Dyer didn’t stop to receive the congratulations of his team mates, but went running back up the pitch, apparently to berate the manager.  At this point, the travelling fans were feeling more kindly towards Sannino and started chanting his name.  Rotherham tried to hit back immediately with a shot from Swift that was just over the bar.  Hoban played a lovely ball over the top to Ighalo who went down in the box, when he should have stayed on his feet and tried the shot as he was never going to win a penalty.

Munari and Hoban both congratulated for the second goal

Munari and Hoban both congratulated for the second goal

With 10 minutes remaining, Tözsér replaced Anya.  Troy tried a shot from the half way line that flew over the bar.  Then Smallwood took Dyer down and ran off with his hands raised, gesturing his innocence, but turned around to see the referee brandishing a yellow card.  From the resulting free-kick, Deeney’s shot was parried by Collin before being cleared.  Our second goal was a rare moment of quality as Tommie Hoban ran to the byeline before playing a lovely low cross to Munari who buried it from close range.  In time added on, Taylor tried a shot from the left which was well over the bar.  The final whistle went to loud cheers from the travelling Hornets.  It has to be said that 2-0 flattered us.  It had been a disappointing performance saved by a couple of moments of quality.  It was also worrying to see Vydra limping badly as he came over to applaud the fans.

Back to the car and we were on the road in no time, with plenty of time for a nightcap before heading back to the hotel.  The game had been low on entertainment, but the company was great which is what makes these midweek trips worthwhile.

Off to a Winning Start

Luther and Gifton

Luther and Gifton

Having seen my first pre-season game on 5th July, it feels like I’ve already seen a lot of football, so the dawning of the first day of the season seemed less exciting than it should have been.  Works on the line around Watford Junction meant that the journey took longer than usual but, on boarding the slow train to Watford at Queens Park, I met the lovely John of Ossett who accompanied me on the rest of my trip.  As the West Herts starting filling up with familiar faces, it was lovely to see Curtis from Denver.  He’d not managed to see a game last season so as far as he was concerned Vydra had never left.  I did warn him that, if we won, he would be our lucky charm and wouldn’t be allowed to go home.

First huddle of the new season

First huddle of the new season

I must admit that I wasn’t convinced when I heard the starting line-up.  I was surprised that Dyer wasn’t starting and it seemed risky to start Paredes when he hadn’t participated in pre-season.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Angella, Ekstrand, Tamas, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Adbi, Parades, Deeney and Vydra.  Usually, the first game of the season sees a lot of people still on holiday so the crowd can be a bit sparse.  This was certainly not the case on Saturday as there wasn’t a spare seat to be found in our section.  There was a change in the pre-match personnel as Richard Short and Tim Coombs made way for Luther Blissett and Lee Partridge.  I’ve seen Luther working in the lounge in the past and it certainly adds an interesting element having a legend interviewing returning players.  On Saturday we were treated to Luther wandering up the pitch chatting to Gifton Noel-Williams, a real joy.

Deeney receives his team mates' congratulations

Deeney receives his team mates’ congratulations

The fans in the Rookery were on their feet in the first minute as Deeney unleashed a shot, but we soon sat down again when we realised that it had hit the net from behind.  Deeney then found Pudil on the left, but his shot was wide of the far post.  After the dreadful performances at the end of last season, it was good to see a bit of fight and team work and I noted an early incident in which Vydra was back in defence fighting for the ball, which made me very happy.  Bolton threatened a break but Tamas was on hand to stop them.  Parades then tried to escape, but was sent flying.  “Welcome to England,” said my neighbour.  On 17th minutes, we were a goal up as a Bolton attack was snuffed out and we played a succession of short passes to bring the ball out of defence before Angella went on a run then lofted a pass to Deeney who buried the ball past Lonergan.  The Rookery went mental.  I was too busy watching the goalscorer but my sister turned with a beaming smile and informed me that Gomes’s celebration was pretty mental too.

Heurelho Gomes

Heurelho Gomes

Bolton tried to hit back immediately but Gomes came for the ball, gathered it comfortably and, as Medo was in his way, flattened the Bolton player for good measure.  No messing.  I loved it.  A cross from Paredes fell to Pudil whose chip was wide of the target.  A chant of “sexy football” started up.  That always worries me as it is often a precursor to a fall, so my heart sank when Neil Danns broke into the box but Tamas took the ball off him and was then pushed over for his trouble, so won a free kick and the danger passed.  We were two goals to the good soon after as Vydra received a lovely ball over the top from Tözsér, cut back from the bye-line, he nearly went down as he skipped past the defender, but recovered and fired the ball past Lonergan.  I am told when asked why he hadn’t gone down under the challenge he replied that if he’d done that Troy would have taken the penalty so he decided to take the chance himself.

The returning Vydra and new boy Paredes

The returning Vydra and new boy Paredes

We were on fire at this point.  Paredes played a ball over the top to Vydra, he passed back to Abdi who fired over the bar.  On the half hour, Medo had a shot for Bolton that flew over the bar.  That was their first goal attempt of the game.  With 10 minutes of the half remaining, Bolton had a free kick in a dangerous position, but the header from Mills bounced into Gomes’s arms.  There was a bit of handbags just before half time when Medo wouldn’t give the ball back after being rather harshly penalized for a foul.  We had one more chance in the half as Abdi tried a low shot that was straight at Lonergan.

Noel-Williams senior and junior

Noel-Williams senior and junior

So, the home crowd were very happy indeed at half time.  We’d seen two excellent goals, some lovely football and we’d barely given Bolton a sniff of the ball.  I am also pleased to report that my concerns at the inclusion of Paredes had been groundless as he had put in a thrilling first half performance.  Drawing the 50-50 tickets at half-time were Gifton and Dejon Noel-Williams.  With junior currently in our academy, we can only hope that he has his father’s talent and becomes a star of the future.

At the start of the second half, Feeney replaced Pratley for the visitors.  Within 30 seconds, Parades had a terrific chance to get a third and I was already jumping for joy when the ball cannoned back off the crossbar.  Bolton then won their first corner to loud, ironic cheers from their fans.  Spearing had a shot deflected wide and the resulting corner was easily gathered by Gomes.

Angella wants the ball

Angella wants the ball

For the home side, Paredes found Vydra who was tackled, but fought back and regained possession before playing the ball back to Abdi whose shot was deflected for a corner.  Abdi threatened again, playing a one-two with McGugan before taking a shot that Lonergan saved.  Gomes was really tested for the first time just before the hour as he pushed Feeney’s shot from distance around the post when it was heading for the top corner.  Bolton’s second substitution saw Moxey replaced by Dervite.  Bolton had had a decent spell, so it was good to see Deeney in shooting position again but he fired the ball straight at Lonergan.  At the other end, Lee tried to lob Gomes, but the keeper got his fingertips to it and tipped it over the bar.  With 20 minutes to go, Beckford replaced Danns for Bolton and Sannino’s first substitution saw Munari make his debut in place of McGugan.  Vydra went on a run and tried to play Deeney in, but his pass was just behind his team mate and the chance was gone.  Substitute Beckford was the next to threaten, but he shot in to the side netting.

Forestieri congratulated for a goal within seconds of coming on

Forestieri congratulated for a goal within seconds of coming on

At this point Vydra left the field to ecstatic applause and was replaced by Forestieri.  Fernando was barely on the pitch before he latched on to a ball over the top from Angella and slotted it past Lonergan.  I’d been a little nervous that Bolton would get back into the game, so that goal settled my nerves.  Bolton again tried an immediate response with a point-blank header from Lee that was pushed out by Gomes.  From the corner, Dervite’s header flew over the bar.  Sannino’s final substitution saw Dyer coming on for Pudil.  Forestieri had another great chance but his enthusiasm got the better of him.  He looked like a little puppy as he went scampering after the ball and then tripped over his own feet.

Deeney and Vydra in striking position

Deeney and Vydra in striking position

Dyer and Deeney exchanged passes then Troy shot well over the bar when he probably should have passed to Dyer.  The last two chances of the game fell to Bolton, but neither troubled Gomes, as first a misplaced header fell to Lee who shot over the crossbar.  Then a soft shot from Davies drifted wide of the near post.

The final whistle went to great applause from the home fans.  We had been masterful in the first half and, even if Bolton got back into it a bit in the second, it was a convincing win.  Even better than that, we had quality all over the pitch.  It was a joy to witness.  The horror show that was the end of last season is now a distant memory.  I’m really trying not to be over-optimistic, but I can’t help feeling that this could be a very exciting season indeed.

 

Honours Even Against our Italian Brothers

First pre-match huddle of the season at Vicarage Road

First pre-match huddle of the season at Vicarage Road

Saturday saw the long-awaited visit of Udinese to Vicarage Road.  But, before that, was the joy of our first pre-match gathering of the new season.  Time to catch up on what people had been doing during the Summer and to speculate on the season to come.  Then it was off to Vicarage Road to see what changes had occurred since our last visit (most of which were additions to the new stand and the squad).

When the starting line-up came through, it appeared a bit odd, mainly because Beppe had abandoned the 4-3-3 that we’ve seen for most of the pre-season to revert to 3-5-2.  But also because some of the standout players in pre-season so far were left on the bench.  We started with Gomes, Angella, Tamas, Ekstrand, Pudil, McGugan, Andrews, Abdi, Anya, Deeney and Vydra.  Udinese’s team featured Watford old boy, Albert Riera, as well as Di Natale, much to the excitement of the Vicarage Road crowd.  It has to be said that, given the popularity of the new away shirt, it was very difficult to distinguish the Watford fans in the crowd from those from Udinese.

Gomes gathers the ball

Gomes gathers the ball

The first attempt on goal from either side was a weak shot from Fernandes that drifted over the bar.  A free-kick soon after was easily gathered by Gomes.  We had to wait until the 18th minute for Watford’s first attack of note as McGugan fed Vydra who played a through ball to Anya but the Scot’s first touch was too heavy and Brkic gathered safely.  The visitors threatened as a shot from Fernandes rebounded off the crossbar and Di Natale’s follow-up was gathered by Gomes.  On 23 minutes, Udinese went ahead as Widmer nodded a cross past Gomes.  I was a little surprised by the warmth of the applause that this elicited from the Watford fans.  The ironic chants of “sign him up” were less surprising.

Udinese on the attack

Udinese on the attack

We had a chance to hit back almost immediately as Vydra won a free-kick, but McGugan floated it into the arms of Brkic.  On the half hour, Adbi found Deeney who turned and shot but the ball looped into the keeper’s arms.  Di Natale looked to break into the box but Ekstrand was on hand to stop him.  At the other end, the ball was taken off Vydra’s feet on the edge of the box.  A defensive header from Deeney in our box reached McGugan who played a through ball to Anya to set up a counter attack, but the ball was too far in front of him and the chance lost.  In the dying minutes of the half, McGugan played a ball across the box to Pudil who cut back to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  On the stroke of half-time, Tamas gave the ball away to Fernandes but, thankfully, his shot was caught by Gomes so we went into the break just one goal down.  It has to be said that the first half had been rather lack lustre.

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

There were no personnel changes at half-time and we started the second half brightly as Anya went on a run down the right and pulled the ball back for the strikers but it rolled behind both Deeney and Vydra, so was left to Pudil to run in and unleash a shot that was deflected over.  The subsequent corner was punched clear by Brkic.  At the other end, Di Natale tried a shot but it was well off target.  A corner from McGugan was cleared with Angella challenging, it reached Ekstrand who wellied his shot over.  We should have equalized on 50 minutes as Deeney knocked the ball down to McGugan whose shot flew just wide.  A stinging shot from distance from Muriel was parried by Gomes.

McGugan congratulated on his goal

McGugan congratulated on his goal

On 58 minutes, Watford equalized.  Vydra was taken down and McGugan stepped up to take the free kick and curled it perfectly into the top corner.  That was his last involvement, as he was replaced by Battocchio, while Dyer and Ighalo came on for Anya and Vydra.  The subs were involved almost immediately as Battocchio found Deeney who passed across to Ighalo whose shot sadly hit the side netting.  At this point, Riera was replaced by Silva and left the field to very warm applause from the Watford faithful.  Deeney also left the field to be replaced by Ranegie.  Muriel went down injured and was replaced by Thereau.  At the same time Udinese swapped keepers with Scuffet coming on for Brkic.  At this point there was a delay in proceedings as Muriel was still down injured, but the ref finally stepped in and dragged him from the pitch by his arm to the sidelines where he was “looked after” by Harry Hornet.  I almost felt sorry for the guy.

Ighalo on the ball

Ighalo on the ball

Fernandes curled a shot from distance just wide of the near post.  Watford went behind again as Ranegie lost out to Allan who played a through ball to the substitute, Thereau, who fired a shot across Gomes into the far corner.  With 15 minutes remaining, Hoban and Fabbrini replaced Tamas and Abdi.  The next piece of skill was in the home dugout as a ball flew in and was controlled and returned to the field by Forestieri, who gloried in the cheers from the crowd.  Watford drew level again as Fabbrini went on a run down the left and crossed for Pudil whose header looked as though it was on target but Ranegie nodded it on, just in case, with Scuffet appealing for offside.

The architects of the second equalizer

The architects of the second equalizer

That was Pudil’s last contribution as he was replaced by Doyley.  We had a great chance to win the game as Scuffet came out to meet Ranegie who dinked the ball past the keeper and crossed back for Ighalo, but the Nigerian was unable to reach the ball and, with the goal begging, the chance was lost.

It had been a more enjoyable second half and a draw was a decent result against our Italian brothers.  But I left Vicarage Road with little idea of what our starting line-up or formation will be next week.  However, on a positive note, well done to the club for the pricing of this game, my ticket was £3 in contrast to the £14 asked for the Coventry game at Boreham Wood.  This encouraged a crowd of 11,085 into Vicarage Road, a very impressive attendance at a pre-season friendly.  Now bring on the Bolton.

 

Goalless at the Stones

The teams enter the field

The teams enter the field

We’ve had a good relationship with Wealdstone in recent years, although I still feel guilty about the way they were treated during the ground share.  But that was in the Petchey years and he also screwed us, so the behaviour was not out of character.  This pre-season game had been billed as a Watford development squad, but Dave Hughes’ squad was to be augmented with a couple of first team players.

Don, Trond and I were in the disabled area, so well placed to see who arrived to occupy the VIP stand (if there is such a thing at Wealdstone) as they had to walk past us.  I was impressed to see Gino Pozzo arrive with Gianluca Nani.  Marco Cesarini was the next to walk past us, so I said hello and he shook my hand and introduced me to his wife and children.  I had failed to notice that he was followed by Beppe and the first team coaches, all of whom shook our hands.  We had become an unofficial welcoming party.

Pre-match handshakes

Pre-match handshakes

The starting line-up was Bond, Young, Doherty, O’Nien, Johnson (c), Brown, Tapoko (trialist), Smith, Jakubiak, Rosenthal and Fabbrini.  Former Watford youngsters Jonathan North and Elliott Godfrey started for Wealdstone.  There was a nice gesture from the excellent tannoy announcer who welcomed Smith and O’Nien back, both having been there on loan in recent seasons.

There was an early scare for the visitors as McGleish came in on the blind side of Johnson but, fortunately for us, his shot was wild and flew over the bar.  The same player threatened again soon after, cutting the ball back to Pigden, but Young was on hand to snuff out the danger.  Fabbrini had already been knocked over a couple of times, with no sympathy from the ref, when, in the 11th minute, he went down with a squeal of pain, holding his head.  He disappeared into the dressing rooms with the physio and we were playing with 10 men for 8 minutes.  Wright had a great chance to put the home side ahead, but his air shot gave the Watford defence time to clear the ball.

Smith and O'Nien

Smith and O’Nien

Watford’s first chance came as Smith got on the end of a low cross from Rosenthal, but his shot was wide of the far post.  Rosenthal was the next with a chance for Watford but his low shot from distance was easy for North to gather.  A forward run by Fabbrini was stopped rather brutally on the edge of the box, but the referee waved play on.  Rosenthal tried another shot from distance, but this time it flew over the bar.  On the half-hour, Mills took a free-kick for the Stones that was heading for the top corner until Bond leapt and turned it over the bar.  Then Collins broke into the box but Johnson was on hand to block the shot.  At the other end, O’Nien took a free-kick that flew just wide of the target.  With 5 minutes of the half remaining, Bond was blocked as he attempted to reach a free-kick, which fell to McGleish who shot over the bar.  Wealdstone continued to look for the opening goal as an excellent long pass reached Wright who cut it back to Okimo whose shot was repelled by a diving header from O’Nien, McGleish’s follow-up needed a smart save from Bond to keep the game goalless.  The last chance of the half fell to Rosenthal who, again, saw a shot from distance fly over the bar.  As the teams left the field Johnson and Bond were arguing with the referee.  The lino had missed some calls and the ref had been a little harsh on Fabbrini (yes, really), but I hadn’t seen anything that justified the apparent level of their complaint.  Certainly, Wealdstone had been the better of the teams in the first half.

Bond ready for anything

Bond ready for anything

The first chance of the second half went Watford’s way, but Fabbrini’s shot from distance was soft and didn’t trouble North in the Wealdstone goal.  We held our breath as Collins was tripped in the box, but the referee had been reluctant to blow up for fouls, which was to our advantage on this occasion as he waved play on.  On the hour, a Wealdstone corner was met with a header that flew over the bar.  Then Fabbrini broke through and was tripped, the ball broke to Jakubiak in the box but he couldn’t quite control it so his first shot rebounded off North, his second attempt beat the keeper but was cleared before it reached the goal.  Soon after, a free-kick from Doherty just cleared the crossbar.  That was his last action of the game as he was replaced by Mahlondo Martin.  Jakubiak found space in the box but could only shoot wide of the near post.

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

Fabbrini was fouled yet again with nothing given by the officials.  I thought it was my yellow-tinted spectacles that provoked my sympathy until the Wealdstone fan behind us commented on the unfairness of the decisions.  At this stage Fabbrini was replaced by Folivi and, as he immediately walked to the dressing room, was followed by Sannino walking through the stand the two of them having a lively conversation.  On 72 minutes, Carl Stewart replaced Smith.  Jakubiak went on a great run and unleashed a shot, but North was equal to it.  The final Watford substitution saw Dennon Lewis replacing Tapoko, the trialist, who had a decent game in the midfield.  Martin had a good shot saved by Carter, who had replaced North in the Wealdstone goal.

Young defending

Young defending

With 10 minutes remaining, Lewis latched onto a ball over the top and passed back to Jakubiak who had a great chance to win the game, but shot just wide.  The final action of the game was a free-kick from O’Nien which was just over the bar, so the game ended goalless.  It had been a lively contest and Watford definitely had the best of the second half with Jakubiak a constant menace to the Wealdstone defence.

Despite the lack of goals, it had been a lovely evening to watch football and I was impressed to see Gino Pozzo in attendance, as well as Nani, Sannino and all the coaches, supporting the Development Squad.

My Holiday on Woerthersee

Woerthersee Stadium

Woerthersee Stadium

When the pre-season game in Klagenfurt was announced for 5th July, I knew that a long anticipated trip to Garsington Opera on the Friday and tickets for the theatre on Saturday meant that my attendance was not possible.  Then, on Thursday, the venue and kick-off time were announced and the temptation was too much to bear.  After all, I’d be home from the opera before midnight and the play will be on until the end of August and there were plenty of tickets left.  When I found there were still seats available on the weekend flights to Klagenfurt, my decision was made.  So Saturday morning, at the crack of dawn, I was at Heathrow waiting for Don Fraser to appear for the trip to Klagenfurt.  Don was somewhat elusive due to a couple of dramas with the assistance at Heathrow, but he eventually appeared and we arrived in Klagenfurt on schedule.

We are in the right place

We are in the right place

There were no taxis available outside the airport so, when one finally turned up, the driver asked the others in the queue where they were going.  One young man was also heading to our hotel, so he shared the cab and told us that he was travelling with AS Monaco who were coming to the area for a training camp.  Needless to say, these were not the footballers that interested us.

After a lovely lunch and a relaxing afternoon, Don and I headed for the Wörthersee Stadium.  The stadium was very impressive indeed but, on arrival, the only footballers in evidence were the Monaco team having a practice game on the training pitch.  A few minutes later we saw a couple of familiar faces.  I must say that I am always greatly relieved to see someone with a Watford crest on his shirt when arriving at a pre-season venue just in case I have turned up at the wrong place.  In proper football saddo style, we positioned ourselves outside the players’ entrance and, very soon after, the coach appeared and the players piled off.  There were smiles and greetings from those who recognized us.  When Lloydy appeared, he just shook his head when he saw us, then came over and gave me a kiss.  He’d enjoyed his Summer, but wanted to forget the France game.  Then GianLuca Nani appeared and greeted us like old friends.

Don ready to report on the game

Don ready to report on the game

Once our guard of honour duties were complete, we enquired about the location of the supporters’ entrance to the stadium.  A steward, who clearly spoke no English and was taking no chances with my terrible German, directed us through the maze of corridors by means of smiles and pointing and, after taking a lift up, we emerged onto the concourse inside the beautiful arena and, as there was no obvious wheelchair area, took a place at one of the tables in the press area.  As Beppe came out onto the pitch for the warm-up, GianLuca pointed us out in the stand and we were treated to a wave and a greeting.  We’d positioned ourselves by the half-way line, so were soon joined by the players who were not taking part and the coaching staff.  Troy, Ikechi, Bernard Mensah and George Byers were the first to come up and they sat just in front of us, so we were treated to Troy’s opinions throughout the game which added greatly to the entertainment.

Gomes and Gartside warming up

Gomes and Gartside warming up

The Klagenfurt announcer, who was wearing a shirt with no 12 on the back (as were all the fans in replica shirts), went through a detailed description of the Klagenfurt players but did not deign to inform us of the Watford line-up, so it was the usual pre-season practice of trying to recognise these young footballers who all look the same to me.  I did pretty well as there have been no new hair cuts this Summer to fool me but, by the end of the first half, I had still not identified the no. 4.  I was embarrassed to have to ask who he was and was quite pleased to be told it was Tamas, so I had an excuse for not recognising him.

The starting line-up was Gomes, Brown, Cathcart, Tamas,  Pudil, Battocchio, Murray, McGugan, Dyer, Ranegie and Vydra.  I was a little surprised, but also gratified, to see that Murray was captain for the day. The first real attack of the game came from the home side and was thwarted by a wonderful saving tackle from Brown.  From the throw-in, the ball

So that's Gabriel Tamas

So that’s Gabriel Tamas

reached Prawda who shot high and wide.  The home side had another attempt on goal but the shot flew wide of the near post.  Watford’s first corner was taken by Dyer and a number among our support will be unhappy to hear that he took it short.  However, when the cross came in, it was met with a decent header from Vydra, but a Klagenfurt defender’s head was there to clear.  On 20 minutes, Vydra fed Dyer, whose shot was blocked by the keeper, Vydra picked up the loose ball and passed to Pudil whose attempt was also blocked.  Deeney was giving McGugan some grief as he lined up a shot and his judgement was proved right as Lewis’s attempt flew high and wide.  At the other end, a cross from the right was straight into Gomes’s arms.  Battocchio, who had made a great start, played a lovely ball over the top to Vydra, but the attentions of a defender prevented him getting a decent shot in.  Another pin point long ball, this time from Pudil, reached

Battocchio on the attack

Battocchio on the attack

Battocchio but his cross was cut out before it reached Vydra.  On 26 minutes, we were a goal up as a lovely through ball from Murray found Dyer on the edge of the box.  He advanced and coolly slotted the ball past the Klagenfurt keeper.  A nice goal and the reaction of the players in the stands showed that Dyer is already a popular member of the playing staff.  The home side had a chance to strike back as a through ball found Zakany in the box, he tried a shot that was turned around the post by Gomes.  With 10 minutes to half time, the home side won a free kick in a dangerous position, it reached Prawda in the box but he headed wide of the near post.  Dyer nipped into the box, he was closed down so passed back to Ranegie, who decided to control the ball rather than just shooting and found himself with his back to goal so the chance was gone.  The home side tried to hit back just before half time with a free kick that was met with a strong headed clearance by Pudil.  On the stroke of half-time Klagenfurt won a corner, but it was coolly caught by Gomes.

Vydra on the attack

Vydra on the attack

At half-time, a Klagenfurt supporter stopped to talk with us.  He asked what we thought of the stadium.  I said it was beautiful, he looked sad and said, “But we have no fans.”  I wondered how they had the money to build such a stadium.  He told me that it had been built for Euro 2008.  He said that they have a good young team, but there is no TV money, no sponsorship and small crowds so they struggle.

At the start of the second half, Ekstrand, Hoban and Doyley replaced Cathcart, Tamas and Brown in defence with Fabbrini coming on for Ranegie upfront.  There was a scare for the visitors early on as we failed to clear a corner and the ball bounced goalwards, but Gomes saved with his feet.  From the corner Gomes came and caught the ball.  On 53 minutes, Pudil was booked for a late tackle on Zakany.  It was just in front of us and we could hear the victim’s rather dramatic scream.

Challenging in the Klagenfurt box

Challenging in the Klagenfurt box

Soon after, Murray played a one-two with Dyer and shot from a great position, but the ball curled high and wide.  On 57 minutes, Smith replaced McGugan.  The young Irishman was involved in the next move as he cut the ball back to Fabbrini who, if I’m being charitable, was fouled or, if I’m not, ran into the defender and collapsed.  Dyer then went off to be replaced by Jakubiak.  A shout of “Well played, Lloydy,” went up from Deeney and the new man looked up and smilingly acknowledged his teammate.  Then Doherty replaced Murray who gave the captain’s arm band to Pudil.  On 72 minutes a great run from Jakubiak appeared to have been stopped with a tackle that put the ball out for a corner, but it rebounded off the corner flag and stopped on the byeline, so Jakubiak retrieved it and hit a cross that just evaded Fabbrini and flew wide.  Then a decent shot from the home side was

The Klagenfurt keeper gathers

The Klagenfurt keeper gathers

just tipped wide by Gomes.  There followed a sublime move down the pitch by Watford, which finished with Pudil putting Vydra through one-on-one with the keeper.  Deeney’s shout of ‘slot machine’ indicated that he also thought that a second goal was inevitable, but Matej’s shot was too close to the keeper who managed to save, leaving me with my head in my hands.  Soon after, Vydra received the ball again but a bit further up the field.  Don shouted “Give it to Lloydy” so he did, but Lloyd’s cross drifted wide and the chance was lost.  With 10 minutes remaining O’Nien came on for Vydra and Gomes was replaced by a young keeper who, Alec told me, is a 16 year-old scholar called Nathan Gartside.  At this point, Jakubiak went upfront.  With a couple of minutes to go, Hoban lost out on the left but battled back to retrieve the ball, it flew into the air and was gathered by Gartside.  On 90 minutes, there was great work from Pudil who controlled a long high ball to the left and skipped past a defender to unleash a shot that was cleared off the line.  The game finished with a deserved one goal win for the Hornets.

Dyer takes a corner

Dyer takes a corner

As the players left the stand at the end of the game, Angella, who I sponsored this season, spotted me and said hello.  I asked if he was resting.  He lifted the leg of his shorts to show the strapping on his thigh.  Fortunately, Don was on hand with the smelling salts.

We left the ground and took up stalking position at the players’ entrance again.  Don had brought a shirt that he wanted signed and handed it over to Richard Line, the Operations Manager, who promised to get it signed during the week so that Don could pick it up next weekend.  He said he wouldn’t bother the players now.  At that point, Troy came over to talk to us, he signed the shirt and took it onto the bus and then into the dressing room and Don soon had a shirt full of signatures.  We welcomed Vydra ‘home’.  Then Beppe came over and thanked us for our support and told us that they were working hard for the new season.  This was confirmed by Richard Line who said that they had been doing double sessions every day, which would explain the fatigue shown during the game.  To be honest, I hadn’t expected them to go all out in the first pre-season game, but that made me a little more sympathetic to any perceived lack of effort.

Vydra threatens

Vydra threatens

We waved the coach off and went looking for the taxi that we’d booked to take us back to the hotel.  It was nowhere to be seen, so we headed back towards the car park and asked one of the locals if they had a number for a cab.  There was a family there and one of the lads kindly called us a taxi and they waited with us until it arrived, calling to ask where it was when it didn’t arrive on schedule.  While we were waiting, they told us a bit more about the club.  When the stadium was built, the club was in the top division, but they got into financial difficulties and were wound up.  The new club had to start again in the 3rd division.  They attract a very small crowd, c 1500, who rattle around in a stadium with a capacity of 30,000.  When our cab arrived, we said goodbye to our new friends and thanked them for their kindness.

When my alarm went at 4am on Saturday morning after 3.5 hours sleep, I wondered what the hell I was doing travelling to Austria for a football match.  But, as Don and I relaxed with a drink back at the hotel, we reflected on a cracking day out where we’d seen some football but also met some delightful people, many of them connected to our football club.  We both concluded that we couldn’t think of a better way to spend the weekend.

A Day at the Training Ground

Fitz Hall, Don and I

Fitz Hall, Don and I

A major element of my sponsorship package this year was a trip to Watford’s training ground.  I was a little perturbed that it was scheduled for April Fool’s Day, but this was no prank. On arrival, Don and I were met by Martine and April from the Commercial department who took us to the canteen for a welcome cup of coffee and to meet up with Richard Walker, who was to be our guide for the day.  We were told that a friendly match against Northampton had been arranged for that afternoon, so the first team players would not be arriving until lunch time.

We started with a tour of the facilities.  When we reached the boot room we were handed a fluorescent orange monstrosity.  I had no idea that these new-fangled boots were so light, my ballerina pumps weigh more. While we were there, Fernando Forestieri appeared.  He stopped to have his photo taken with the only youngster in the group whose smile couldn’t have been wider.

Marco Cassetti with Luke O'Nien looking on

Marco Cassetti with Luke O’Nien looking on

When we reached the training pitches, Glyn Evans was on hand to tell us about the new pitches that they are putting in, a project that will cost £500K.  The training ground only has natural drainage and, because some of it is clay based, that is not ideal.  The new pitches will follow the model of the pitch at Vicarage Road, apart from the Desso addition. On arrival, we had seen the piles of coiled tubing in the car park waiting to be laid to provide the drainage.  There was a question about the new East stand at Vicarage Road and it was stressed that this is a stand built for business reasons, rather than a vanity project as so many new grounds are. For that reason, it will be a simple “bums on seats” stand that has the possibility to increase in capacity if needed.  The figures that they have suggest that it should make back the cost of construction within three years.  They are also looking to make further improvements to the training ground.  The current changing block was described as being to the standard of “a good council facility”.  The physio area is an old changing room and the medical room is a converted shower.  So the club is planning to build a new changing block with bespoke medical facilities including a hydrotherapy pool.  They will also include a new gym block. This proposed investment in the training ground is impressive and indicates a long term commitment by the Pozzo family.

Dave Hughes drilling the youth players

Dave Hughes drilling the youth players

We then watched the youth team training under the guidance of Dave Hughes who, we were told, used to be a defender so gives fulsome praise for good defensive play in the drills and ignores the players who break through to score!  The second year scholars have been told which of them will be given professional contracts, so it is a difficult time for those who are being released.  Dave stressed that these lads were still working hard in training and that they would be helped, as far as possible, to find a new club. He pointed out that, during a footballer’s career, they have the prospect of facing decisions about their future almost every year, so this is an early introduction to a difficult part of a footballer’s life. Rich Walker said that the primary consideration when deciding whether to offer a scholar a professional contract was whether they were likely to play in the first team the next season. If they were not, then they would not be kept on.

The lovely Beppe

The lovely Beppe

Beppe then came to talk to us. He was determined to respond to us in English, bless him. He was asked what the difference had been on Saturday (at Sheffield Wednesday) that allowed us to win. He said that a lot of the problems were mental and that finally getting a win would really help the team. He reiterated that the win was for the fans who travel week in, week out. He was asked what surprised him about the Championship. He said the money in this division was a surprise to him and, consequently, the quality of players is much higher than you would see in Serie B in Italy. He also said how amazing the fans are. In Italy you don’t see people following their club around the country in the same way.  Serie B clubs will have fans turn up if they are doing well, but you don’t see the same degree of loyalty and passion that he has seen at Watford. He was asked his opinion on referees. He said that the fourth official follows him everywhere telling him about the lines he should not cross. His next comment was really interesting. He said that he likes referees in England, because they are ordinary men doing a job, whereas in Italy they are all actors. He said that, since football began, people have made mistakes, whether they were referees, players or managers and he felt that mistakes made honestly should be forgiven. He then did his amazing impression of a referee’s whistle which is, apparently, how he finishes his press conferences.  When the questions were over, he thanked us for our support. He really is a sweetheart.

Youth players practising skills

Youth players practising skills

We then visited the analyst’s room where we were told about this role and were shown an example of one of the packages that they use.  It had the game playing live on one side of the screen, while a schematic of the moves taking place were shown on the other side so that you could see formations and how the players were moving.  You could also superimpose lines joining up the defenders/midfielders/forwards to see how each of the areas were set up and the distances between the players at any time.  He showed a graphic summary of the game that indicated successful and unsuccessful passes.  At first look, it appeared to be a bit of a mess, as it was just a bunch of lines.  But, when I looked again understanding what it was representing, you could see the areas of the ground where the home and away teams had success. There were statistics about passing success, interceptions etc.  I asked whether they do any statistical modelling to predict the probability of success based upon various scenarios.  I was saddened to be told that this is not part of their remit, so my follow-up questions about data input and logistic regression went begging.

Almen Abdi fit and well

Almen Abdi fit and well

While we were in the analyst’s room, Gian Luca Nani and Scott Duxbury came in and made themselves available for questions.  Gian Luca was asked about his role and why they were using the European model of a Head Coach and Technical Director at the club.  He described the split between the two roles. He said that the head coach works long hours and does not have time to be travelling around looking at players. The most telling point that he made was that, in the English model, the manager’s focus is the team and that they will be looking at what they need to succeed in the present season.  In his role, he is looking at what is best for the club as a business in the long term.  Both Gian Luca and Scott spoke about the ultimate aim, which is to be in the Premier League, but that there is no timescale on when that should happen.  We had been told about the players’ routine at the training ground which includes breakfast, lunch, training and then yoga and pilates.  Gian Luca was asked whether he does yoga or pilates.  “I do breakfast and lunch.” J

Troy, Don and I

Troy, Don and I

At lunchtime, we ate in the canteen and the food choices were extensive and very tasty.  As the first team players arrived for lunch, a number of them were invited over to talk to us.  They were all delightful.  I asked Anya whether he was going to appear in any more rap videos and he thanked me for watching his brother’s work (even though, as a woman almost as elderly as his mother, I don’t think that I am in their target audience).  I told Troy that he nearly gave me a heart attack with his first goal at Sheffield Wednesday as it looked as though the ball wasn’t going to reach the goal line. He laughed, ‘Did I look worried?’ ‘I wasn’t looking at you.  I was looking at the ball!’  Sean Murray and Luke O’Nien both had huge smiles on their faces.  I also took the time to thank Nani and Duxbury for coming to the City Orns meeting, which was a fantastic event.  Gian Luca went all “Italian” on me, recklessly inviting me to contact him any time I wanted to chat.  Scott wasn’t quite as effusive, but he did say that he’d thoroughly enjoyed talking to us all in a relaxed environment as the fans’ forums are too much like press conferences.

Belkalem taking a throw-in

Belkalem taking a throw-in

After lunch, we watched the friendly game. These are practice matches, so you don’t learn a lot from them, but it did confirm what a great touch Riera has.  Gary Woods played in goal and I was interested to hear how shouty he was, constantly making his defenders aware of the proximity of the opposition players.  Cassetti was captain and was a joy.  He executed one beautiful move when he twisted away from a couple of defenders before playing an exquisite pass that had the fans applauding.  He also proved to be shouty in two languages including asking a rogue midfielder, who will remain nameless, if he wanted to play in his position.  The first half featured pretty much a first team.  There were a couple of substitutions at half time and the game finished with a number of the Academy boys on the pitch, including Tom Rosenthal whose father was on the sidelines watching him. The game was short on goal attempts, with Watford’s best chance being a shot from Abdi that came back off the post. When the full time whistle went, the game was goalless and it was time for us all to leave.

Rocket Ronnie watching his lad

Rocket Ronnie watching his lad

Anyone who knows me will be well aware that I am one of those fanatics who attends as many of the off field activities as my day job allows, so I felt like I knew quite a lot about the running of the club.  But this day at the training ground was a tremendous experience.  While being respectful to the day-to-day running of the club, we were given access to all aspects of the management and I learned a lot.  I came away, as I usually do, with a renewed affection for the club but also with an assurance that my beloved club appears to be in very good hands.