Tag Archives: Beram Kayal

No Respite on the South Coast

Norman Wisdom welcomes us to the Amex

Our last visit to Brighton was memorable for all the right reasons.  After taking the lead in the first half, the game had been a bit of a slog, before Vydra’s injury time goal sent us all away happy.  It having been the lunchtime game, we retired to a lovely pub and, after spending the preceding couple of hours in the garden anxiously checking phones, we interrupted a quiet afternoon by erupting in joy as last minute goals confirmed our promotion.

It seemed appropriate to return to the scene of the celebrations, although there was no way we could sit in the pub garden on a cold December afternoon.  The beer and food was excellent and the company delightful as we were joined by Kevin Le Belge.  The locals were friendly and helpful, warning us to leave in plenty of time due to the queuing system at the station (which turned out not to be required on this occasion).

After the short train journey to the ground, the walk to the turnstiles was enhanced by the banners recalling memorable Brighton moments.  One which really appealed to me was Norman Wisdom stopping at a bus stop to give a young lad a lift to the game.  The Brighton stewards are among the nicest I have encountered on my travels, so the usual search was done with smiles and the sign inside the ground welcoming us after our journey always engenders goodwill.

Team news was that Silva had made four changes, two enforced by suspension, with Watson, Cleverley, Pereyra and Gray coming in for Mariappa, Capoue, Doucouré and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Prödl, Kabasele, Holebas; Watson, Cleverley; Carrillo, Pereyra, Richarlison; Gray.  It would be interesting to see Watson back in the team, but you had to feel sorry for Mariappa, who has been a stalwart this season.

Holebas debating a corner with the lino as Pereyra looks on

We were hoping for an improvement on last week’s dire performance, but the early signs were not good as a shot across goal from Hemed went begging, but Knockaert picked up the loose ball and his shot had to be saved by Gomes.  Pröpper then tried a shot from the edge of the box, but it was well over the bar.  Brighton threatened again as a cross from March flew across the goal but, on this occasion, Hemed just missed making the connection.  Watford’s first chance came after a quarter of an hour when a corner from Cleverley reached Pereyra on the edge of the box, he volleyed goalwards, but it was well wide of the target.  We waited another 15 minutes for the next action worthy of note when Carrillo tried a shot that appeared to take a deflection and was easily gathered by Ryan in the Brighton goal.  The home side had a decent chance to take the lead from a corner that was delivered to the far post where Goldson had a free header, but Gomes made a great save at close range.  It had been a dull half, but there was a moment of rare quality as Pereyra and Janmaat exchanged some slick passes to make their way out of defence and up the right wing, sadly the resultant cross was caught by the keeper, but the move was just wonderful.  At the other end, Knockaert had a chance to open the scoring, but his shot was straight at Gomes.  The Frenchman threatened again, but this time was thwarted by a great tackle from Richarlison who emerged with the ball.  The Brazilian had a half chance at the other end after a counter-attack, but his shot was weak and easy for the keeper.

Andre Gray up against Suttner

It had been a dull first half, the most positive thing anyone could find to say about it was that the score remained at 0-0 and there were still eleven Watford players on the pitch.

The first chance of the second half fell to the visitors but the shot from Hemed flew well over the bar.  Goldson then had a chance from a corner, but directed his header wide of the target.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came as Richarlison played a one-two with Pereyra before unleashing a great shot that stung the palms of Ryan as he kept it out.  At the other end, Groß went close with a shot from the right that flashed across goal and flew just wide of the far post.  The home side should have taken the lead with a great shot that was met by a terrific flying save from Gomes.  The blokes in the row in front arrived back from their half time refreshments just in time to see Groß receive the ball on the edge of the area and unleash a shot that Gomes really should have stopped, but it bounced off him and in to give the home side the lead.  Brighton almost had a second soon after as a corner was met by the head of Dunk whose effort was just wide of the target.

Watson back in the team

Silva made his first substitution with 20 minutes remaining bringing Sinclair back from the wilderness to replace Pereyra.  The home side had a terrific chance to increase their lead as March broke upfield before crossing for Hemed whose close-range shot missed the target.  Silva’s second change saw Capoue come on for Watson, who had had a disappointing return to the team.  Watford had a decent chance for an equalizer from a Cleverley free kick which Kabasele met, but headed just over the target.  Silva’s last substitution saw Okaka come on for Gray.  The rapturous reception given to the Italian told you all that you needed to know about the afternoon’s performance.  The substitute almost made an immediate impact, breaking through on goal, but his shot was blocked.  There was an even better chance for the Hornets as Holebas crossed for Richarlison whose header was just wide of the target.  Hughton made his first change bringing Kayal on for the goalscorer, Groß.  The home side threatened to kill the game off with a quick break from Hemed whose shot was blocked, the ball fell to Knockaert but he could only hit the side netting.  Brighton made a couple of late substitutions as Hemed and March made way for Murray and Izquierdo.  Okaka had a couple of late chances to snatch a point for the Hornets, first he met a cross with a header, but it was weak and drifted wide.  Then, with the last action of the match, Ryan fumbled a cross from Carrillo, the ball dropped to Okaka at the far post, hit his knee and bounced wide.  He was looking straight at us as we clutched our heads in despair and, it has to be said, looked pretty devastated himself.

Jerome Sinclair

Since the last action was at the end of the ground that was housing the Watford fans, we were treated to the unpalatable spectacle of Knockaert celebrating with glee right in front of us.  Even more distasteful was the chorus of boos from the travelling fans as Silva applauded us at the end of the game.  I despair of football fans, while not being surprised, as some had started their complaints in the first minute.

It is a funny old game football.  We finish the first half of the season with 22 points siting pretty in tenth place in the table.  If you had told me that at the start of the season, I would have been delighted.  But, following the highs of the early games when I thought we could beat anybody (except Man City), the recent run of 4 defeats, means that the cushion that we had has all but disappeared and there are fears of an upcoming battle against relegation.  Our team selections have been disrupted by injuries and ill-discipline and I still believe that, with a full squad to pick from, we could establish ourselves in mid-table, although that faith is being sorely tested at the moment.  Still, the friendship of the group that I travel with and the regular encounters with so many other lovely Watford fans mean that every match day has its pleasures, even if the game isn’t up to much.

To all of you who read this blog, thank you for your support.  I wish you all a very happy Christmas and three very welcome points on Boxing Day.

We are Going Up!

A kind greeting from our hosts

A kind greeting from our hosts

Where do you start with this game?  I guess the best place is the preceding week and how much time was spent staring at the table that had Watford top by a single point with two games to go and then working through all the possible permutations of results and their implications.  Whichever way you looked at it, we needed the three points from our trip to Brighton.

Normally I hate early kick-offs, but it was quite a relief to get this game out of the way early doors.  I arrived on the platform at Clapham Junction to find it packed with Watford fans who piled onto the Brighton train while I waited for the Lewes connection, which proved to be a smart move as it was relatively quiet.  I met up with Pete & Richard at East Croydon.  When asked how I was, the answer that I didn’t feel too good was met with concerned looks until I explained that it was just nerves.  We were delighted to be joined by Becky and Simon at Haywards Heath as we made our way to Falmer.

By 11:30, the away concourse at the Amex was packed with noisy fans.  There is a tradition of wearing fancy dress to the last game of the season but somehow, with the importance of this game, dressing up seemed inappropriate, as if we were celebrating before we’d achieved anything.  This was a day for serious concentration on and off the pitch.  Brighton had their usual welcoming poster thanking us for travelling 163 miles to the game.  It was a little early, but the offer of Harvey’s bitter was one that I had to take up.  The guest pie was a breakfast one which contained baked beans and appeared to be a treat too far, so I opted for safe (and incredibly bland) chicken and ham.

The teams emerge to streamers

The teams emerge to streamers

Team news was that Jokanovic had made three changes with Connolly, Anya and Ighalo in for Hoban, Layun and Vydra.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Connolly, Cathcart, Angella, Anya, Guedioura, Watson, Abdi, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney.  I could only hope that the players were not feeling as nervous as I was.

The teams emerged to ticker tape, streamers, balloons and various inflatables being thrown around the away end.  Before kick-off there was a minute’s silence to mark 30 years since the Bradford fire.  On this occasion, the sadness was mingled with anger following the recent stories about the Chairman at the time.

So, how were Brighton going to approach this game, given that they had nothing to play for?  I was hoping that they would already be on the beach but an attacking move in the first minute indicated that this was not the case as O’Grady’s shot was blocked and eventually cleared.  Soon after, Bruno lofted a ball into the box, but Gomes was there to make a comfortable catch.  Watford’s first goal attempt came in the sixth minute as Abdi found Ighalo who juggled the ball which found its way to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  At the other end Carayol crossed for Bennett who shot well wide from the edge of the box.

Celebrating Deeney's goal

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

There was a very nervous moment in the away end as Bennett went past Paredes into the box and was knocked down.  He went down very easily, but it looked like a foul from where I was standing, so I was mightily relieved when the referee waved play on.  Deeney almost latched on to a dodgy pass back to the Brighton keeper, he certainly made Stockdale play the ball.  At this point, chants for Sean Murray went up in the block next to us, as the youngster was watching the game from towards the back of that stand.  Although I’m not sure that standing for 90 minutes will have been ideal therapy for his knee.  Brighton had another chance from a corner, but Halford headed well over the bar.  Jokanovic decided to make an early change at this point sacrificing Anya for Tözsér and changing to four at the back and a diamond in midfield.  The change had an immediate effect as Watson moved to the left and got a cross in, the ball found its way to Deeney who fired across Stockdale and into the net sparking massive celebrations in the away end.  Only an hour to go!!  Watford had another chance soon after as Guedioura found Abdi, but Stockdale was behind his shot.  We almost shot ourselves in the foot as an attempt by Guedioura to cut the ball out only succeeded in giving the ball away and O’Grady’s shot needed a brilliant save from Gomes to keep it out.  With five minutes to the end of the half, Cathcart made a wonderful tackle that allowed Abdi to break but he was taken down by Kayal, who was booked for the foul.  As usual, the 44th minute was filled with applause and chants for Nic Cruwys.  In time added on, Gomes came to punch a corner clear.  There was then a scary moment as Deeney and Gomes got in each other’s way as they went to deal with a ball in the box, thankfully it rolled harmlessly out for a goal kick.

So we reached half time a goal up, but Brighton were making things uncomfortable for us.  We all agreed that another couple of goals were needed to settle the nerves on and off the pitch.

Gomes in action

Gomes in action

Watford started the second half really well as Watson found Abdi in scoring position, but his shot hit Deeney and was deflected wide.  Deeney then found Guedioura who should have passed to Abdi, but tried a cross to Ighalo, which was cut out.  A free kick in a dangerous position was hit well over by Tözsér.  Watford should have had a second in the 53rd minute as a Guedioura shot was blocked, Ighalo was in a great position to turn the loose ball in, but Guedioura got in his way and Stockdale was able to put the ball out for a corner.  Odion looked furious with his team mate.  From Abdi’s corner, Ighalo headed wide.  Brighton’s first substitution saw Watford boy Mackail-Smith come on for Carayol.  Watford’s first booking of the afternoon went to Cathcart for a clumsy tackle on O’Grady.  Brighton threatened again as a corner was headed wide by Greer.  Jokanovic’s second substitution saw Vydra come on for Ighalo.  Another Brighton attack was stopped by a reckless tackle from Angella, who saw yellow.

Watson lines up a free kick

Watson lines up a free kick

Watford had another great chance to extend the lead as Abdi exchanged long passes with Vydra before shooting over when you would have put money on him burying the ball.  Abdi had another chance with a shot from the edge of the area that flew wide.  Then Vydra had the ball on the edge of the Brighton box but was crowded out before he could shoot.  A long Brighton throw was headed goalwards by Greer, but Gomes caught the header.  Another great Watford chance came as a cross from Guedioura was dummied by Vydra and reached Deeney whose shot was deflected for a corner.  At the other end, Mackail-Smith tried to break into the box but Gomes gathered the ball with the Brighton man claiming, to no avail, that his run had been impeded.  Brighton made a couple of substitutions as LuaLua replaced Forster-Caskey and then Calderon came on for Bruno.  Jokanovic’s last substitution was to replace Abdi with Forestieri.  Not a move to calm the nerves.  Brighton looked to level as a Calderon cross was headed just wide.  Then Deeney found Vydra in a great position, but the shot was dreadful and didn’t test Stockdale.  Deeney took one for the team as he was booked for taking Bennett down in order to stop a break.

Vydra runs back from celebrating his goal

Vydra runs back from celebrating his goal

The last few minutes of normal time were torture as, first, a Brighton free-kick was headed over by O’Grady.  Then a Calderon cross was met by a shot from Stephens which Gomes dropped to save.  Guedioura and Dunk appeared to collide, although the Brighton fans thought that an arm was raised and were calling for a red card, but only yellow was shown.  Dunk was down for a while, but was eventually fit to continue for the five minutes of time added on.  What happened next had to be seen to be believed.  Some brave goalkeeping from Gomes kept Brighton out, the eventual clearance reached Deeney who was breaking down the right wing with Vydra in an acre of space to his left, he played a great pass, but Vydra’s touch to control the ball appeared to allow a defender to catch him.  No matter, he belted the ball into the opposite corner of the goal to spark pandemonium in the away end.  I am not ashamed to admit that I was screaming like a banshee as I leapt up and down.  The bench were equally raucous in their celebrations.  It was lovely to see Ighalo run onto the pitch to join in.  The final whistle went to rapturous scenes on and off the pitch.  We were even treated to the unusual sight of Jokanovic coming over to applaud the crowd.  This was a special day indeed.

On the way out of the ground a Brighton fan asked if the ref was from Watford, we were very happy to be able to tell him that he was actually a Luton fan from Bournemouth!

Celebrating the win and a step nearer to promotion

Celebrating the win and a step nearer to promotion

After the game, we decided against indulging in the bright lights of Brighton, instead heading for Lewes where we found a rather lovely pub with good beer and a nice garden.  We then spent the next two hours obsessively refreshing the football scores on our phones.  It was all going rather well until Norwich scored, then Middlesbrough got a late equalizer against Fulham and we were resigned to another tense week.  One more refresh and I couldn’t believe my eyes as Rotherham scored a late equalizer.  Another one showed that Fulham had got a winner.  It took several more before we saw FT next to those scores to confirm that Watford had been promoted.  We were hugging each other while some nice women at a neighbouring table asked what had provoked this outburst of emotion.  Football!!  When we calmed down (a little) it was time to reflect and remember absent friends.  Guy Judge and Steve Brister would have loved the end of this season and we raised a glass to them.

When I got home, it was lovely to see friends posting photos from Watford of them with the players.  It is a measure of this team that they hadn’t found some exclusive place to celebrate, they had headed into central Watford to have dinner at their favourite Italian.  Who knows what will happen to us in the Premier League.  With the support of the Pozzos, we must be better placed to compete than we were on our last two visits.  But this is a team that thoroughly deserves their chance in the top flight and I look forward to cheering them on home and away on our next adventure.