Tag Archives: Brandon Mason

Second String Impress in the Cup

Gomes back at Vicarage Road

After a busy and frustrating day at work followed by a sweltering train journey, it was a relief finally to get to Watford and think only about football.  On leaving the station, the Coventry fans were already making their presence felt as they appeared to have taken over the pub formerly known as The Flag and were in very good voice.  Leaving them behind, I was soon in the West Herts for a well-earned pint.  It has to be said that the club was not particularly busy, so we were not overly concerned at leaving a little later than we usually do, after all there wouldn’t be any queues to get in to the ground.  As we turned into Occupation Road, our assumption was shown to be rather rash as Richard joined a longer than usual line to get into the SEJ and I was horrified to see a queue from the back of the Rookery reaching half-way up Occupation Road.  I had my fingers crossed that the crowd was heading for the ticket office rather than the turnstiles.  Thankfully it was and I was in the ground in plenty of time for kick-off.

I met up with the family in our usual seats.  Our Cate had brought her goddaughter, Evie, for her first game.  Seeing her resplendent in yellow shirt and yellow, red and black face-paint made me smile and just hope that the lads would do us proud in front of her.

The first sight of the Vicarage Road stand was impressive.  Coventry had been given the whole end and their fans had come in droves, which was great to see.

Gathering for a corner

The team news had come through in the West Herts and there had been a game of “guess the line-up”.  It has to be said that nobody was scoring highly.  I was probably alone in welcoming the selection of Gomes in goal but, after his incredible service to us, I couldn’t bear the thought of his last game being the cup final.

The starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Mariappa, Kabasele, Foulquier; Pereyra, Chalobah, Quina, Sarr; Welbeck, Success.  Watford Academy graduate, Brandon Mason, started for the visitors.

The first thing that I noted down was some lovely footwork from Quina, but the first chance of the game fell to the visitors as the Watford defence stopped, expecting a free kick to be awarded to Coventry, but the referee played advantage allowing O’Hare to break forward and unleash a shot that was wide of the target.  Watford’s first chance came as Pereyra played in Welbeck, but the shot was high and wide.  The best chance of the game so far came on the half hour with a cracking shot from Pereyra that required a smart save by Wilson in the Coventry goal.  The resulting corner tested the keeper, but he managed to make the catch at the second attempt.

Goalscorer Sarr

The Hornets took the lead in the 36th minute when Success played a perfect through ball for Sarr who shot across Wilson into the opposite corner to score on his full debut.  At this point, the “How sh*t must you be …” song rang out from our fans.  That took the post-goal smile off my face.  Why do fans spend so much energy abusing the opposition instead of supporting their own team?  There was a scare for the Hornets when Chalobah missed a tackle allowing Kelly to break forward, but his shot from distance was well over the target.  The visitors had a chance to level the game in time added on at the end of the half as Dabo broke forward, but salvation came in the unexpected form of Success who was back to stop the shot and concede a corner that came to nothing.

At half-time, Marvin Sordell, who had previously played for both sides, was the guest on the field.  I well remember watching him as a youngster and have been saddened by news of his mental health struggles over the years which have led to his premature retirement from the game.  I am delighted that he was given a tremendous reception as he walked along the front of the Rookery.

Celebrating Janmaat’s goal

The visitors made a change at half-time replacing Mason with McCallum.  They also had the first chance of the half, but a tackle from Janmaat ensured that a dangerous through ball into the box came to nothing.   Sarr looked to have lost the ball, due to a heavy touch, but raced down the wing after it and was able to put in a cross for Welbeck who had a couple of defenders on him so was unable to shoot.  Welbeck had another chance soon after when the ball came back to him via Janmaat, but his overhead kick was wide of the target.  A poor back pass from Mariappa nearly put the Hornets in trouble, but Gomes was out quickly to make the clearance.  Sarr went on another run and crossed, this time for Quina, but the youngster skyed his shot.  Coventry threatened with a low cross from Eccles, but Gomes was able to make the save.  Watford threatened again after a cross from Foulquier was blocked but fell to Chalobah whose shot was deflected over the target.    Ten minutes into the half, Watford scored a second goal as Success found Janmaat who advanced and hit a lovely shot into the top corner.  I breathed a sigh of relief at this point.  I know that 2-0 is a dangerous score, but surely the game was now ours.  Watford continued to attack as Sarr went on a brilliant run before crossing for Success whose shot was blocked.

Congratulating Penaranda after his wonder goal

Coventry made a second substitution bringing Godden on for Kastaneer.  The substitute tried to make a name for himself, but his shot was well over the bar.  Each side made a change on 64 minutes as Peñaranda replaced Pereyra for the home side and Eccles made way for Shipley for the visitors.  There was another lovely move from the Hornets as Sarr released Janmatt who found Welbeck who appeared to get the ball caught under his feet before shooting just wide.  The third goal came on 69 minutes and was a beauty from Peñaranda who picked up the ball on the edge of the box and powered it into the top corner.  Gracia introduced another new face as Sarr was replaced by Dele-Bashiru, who almost scored with his first touch of the game after receiving a lovely pass from Success, but his shot was just wide of the target.  The only caution of the game went to Dabo, who was booked for a foul on Success.  Chalobah stepped up to take the free kick and it was a wonderful attempt, but Wilson made the save.  Peñaranda had a chance to increase the lead further, but his shot cleared the bar.  Another lovely move involving Peñaranda and Janmaat deserved a better outcome, but the shot from the Dutchman cleared the bar.  A rare second half attack from the visitors finished with O’Hare going down after a series of challenges, but nothing was given.  The Hornets had one last chance in the game as Janmaat went on a lovely run before putting in a cross, but there was no Watford man to get on the end of it and it was headed clear.

Tom Dele-Bashiru

So at last a win, our first since the trip to Huddersfield in April.  It may have been against lower division opposition, but it was convincing and therapeutic.  All three goals were gorgeous, and it was great to see Sarr and Peñaranda getting their first goals for the club.  It was also pleasing to see a clean sheet at last.  A lot of the football was impressive, demonstrating the depth of our squad, but the only player that I would consider for a start on Saturday is Janmaat who was superb.  That said, I look forward to Sarr and Welbeck gaining full fitness as they will be a lot of fun to watch.

A special mention must go to the Coventry fans who, despite having little to cheer, were loud and proud in support of their team throughout the game.

But the most important news of the evening was that Evie enjoyed her first football match.  She would love to come again, although my suggestion that, as she is now our lucky mascot, she should make the trip to Newcastle fell on deaf ears, and that was before she heard about the steps to the away end.  Youngsters!!

Thank-you, GT

Banner for the great man

I have to admit that I was furious when this game was changed from Vicarage Road to Villa Park.  I had booked my holiday after the announcement of the Graham Taylor tribute game, so to find that I would now be unable to attend was a bitter pill to swallow.  But an opportunity to go to Villa Park, a ground that I love, was not to be missed.  On the train to Birmingham, my podcast of choice was Colin Murray at home with Luther Blissett.  It is a great listen.  My annoyance at Murray’s lack of research when asking Luther about the first time he played at Old Trafford was tempered by his gleeful reaction when Luther told the story of what happened on that occasion.  Needless to say, they finished up talking about GT and both with great fondness. Since GT’s passing, Luther takes every opportunity to pay tribute to his friend.  Marking anniversaries of triumphs and just saying thank-you for the memories.  It has been lovely to see and is a mark of the great characters of both GT and Luther.

Our pre-match pub is lovely and it was great to have my sister, brother-in-law and niece joining a very reduced travelling party.  A gin festival was taking place which, added to the real ale and lovely food usually on offer, meant that everyone was happy after lunch.  As we waited at the bus stop to go to Villa Park, we struck up a conversation with a lovely couple.  It was a mixed marriage, she was a Villa fan, he was a blue-nose.  We talked about our mutual admiration for GT.  She told us about the tribute they had at Villa Park.  A wreath was laid on the pitch and Rita, Joanne and Karen were there.  As we parted company she wistfully commented, “I wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t taken the England job.”  That gave me pause for thought.  I wonder if he would have stayed at Villa and maybe moved on to a bigger club.  In that case, we wouldn’t have had that wonderful second spell.  But he didn’t and we were all there to celebrate the wonderful memories that he left us with.

Chalobah on the ball

The crucial piece of team news was that Pereyra would be making his first public appearance this pre-season after featuring against Rangers at London Colney earlier in the week.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kabasele, Kaboul, Mason; Cleverley, Doucouré, Chalobah; Amrabat, Sinclair, Pereyra.  Villa included former Watford loanees, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Henry Lansbury in their starting XI.

As soon as the teams emerged from the tunnel, they lined up and there was a minute’s applause for GT with both sets of fans singing “There’s only one Graham Taylor” at the tops of their voices.  It was very moving.

Villa had a very early chance as Agbonlahor broke free to challenge Gomes, but it was the Watford keeper who came out on top.  Watford had to make an early substitution.  I must admit that I was rather disappointed to hear Pereyra’s name announced as the player leaving the pitch.  He looked baffled himself and, to my shame, I was relieved when it turned out that it was Kabasele going off.  In my defence, he was being replaced by Prödl!

Waiting for a ball into the box

Sinclair should have opened the scoring after quarter of an hour.  Doucouré found Pereyra who played a through ball for Sinclair who only had the keeper to beat, but fired wide.  On the half hour, here was a stir in the away end as Deeney appeared pitch-side and, after some negotiation with the stewards, made his way into the stand to sit with the Watford fans.  Needless to say, it took him some time to get to his seat.  Watford had another chance as Chalobah got into a great shooting position, but he fired over.  We reached half time goalless.  It had been a pretty dull half of football.  The home side had the majority of the possession, but neither keeper had been tested.

At the restart, Pereyra made way for Success.  The Nigerian made an immediate contribution, crossing to Cleverley, who played the ball back to Chalobah who, again, fired over the bar.  Then Cleverley took a free kick from a dangerous position, but it was directed straight at the Villa keeper, Steer.  Disaster struck as Kaboul tripped Hutton in the box and the referee pointed to the penalty spot.  In the away end, we were singing the name of Heurelho Gomes with all our might and our man celebrated his new contract by guessing correctly and diving to his left to save Henry Lansbury’s spot kick.  We were located in the away section closest to the home stand.  When the penalty was awarded, they took the opportunity to taunt us.  So, when the penalty was saved, I was a little taken aback (and rather proud) when my usually mild-mannered niece, after celebrating the save, gave them some grief back.

My first look at Femenia

On the hour mark, Silva made five changes with Gomes, Kaboul, Cleverley, Doucouré and Amrabat making way for Pantilimon, Femenía, Watson, Hughes and Okaka.  There was a lovely move as Success released Femenía who advanced down the right wing before delivering the return ball for Success to try a shot from distance that flew wide of the near post.  The game had livened up since the substitutions and there was another nice move as Femenía crossed for Success, whose side footed shot was blocked and rebounded to Hughes who, unfortunately, was unable to follow-up.  Another chance fell to Success but, on this occasion, the shot was weak.  Just before the 72nd minute struck, the Villa fans started the applause, the travelling Hornets joined in and the chorus of “One Graham Taylor” rang out again in earnest.  The next decent chance fell to Villa as a cross reached Amavi in front of goal, but he slashed the ball wide of the near post.  Sinclair had a golden chance to open the scoring as he ran on to a ball over the defence from Success, but the keeper arrived first.  The final chance fell to the home side as Hourihane hit a shot from the edge of the area, but Pantilimon was equal to it and the game ended with honours even.

The shame of buying a half and half scarf

It had been a typical pre-season game with nobody taking any chances.  From a Watford perspective, the second half had been livelier than the first.  It was good to see Pereyra back.  The first impression of Femenía was very positive and there was some nice interplay between him and Hughes.  If Sinclair had been sharper in front of goal, we would all have gone home happy.  But this game was not about the result, it was about 10,900 people gathering to pay tribute to Graham Taylor.  The legacy that the man has left will never leave Watford and Villa also have reason to thank him hugely for rescuing them from the doldrums.  On the way out of the ground, I spotted some people with half and half scarves.  I usually sneer at these, but this scarf had a picture of GT sewn into it, so I had to have one.

On the train home, I opened the match programme.  I had to close it again pretty quickly as the sight of a middle-aged woman sobbing on the train would not have been a pretty one.  Typical of the man, among the tributes from former players were those from the kit man, the club secretary and the programme writer.  There was one word that featured in the majority of tributes, it was ‘gentleman’.  There was also a lovely piece written by his daughter, Joanne.  A fitting tribute to a wonderful man.

It was Graham Taylor who introduced me to Watford.  In the years that have passed, I have laughed and cried over football.  I have made many wonderful friends and spent time bonding with family over a shared passion.  But, behind it all, there was the man with the big smile, who always had time for you whoever you were.  The huge amount of love that his many fans feel for Graham is a mark of the warmth and kindness of the man.  He will be greatly missed for a long time to come.  The only thing I can say is “Thank-you, GT.”

 

A Quiet Start in Woking

Yarn bombing in Woking Park

Explaining my passion for following Watford FC to new acquaintances does tend to make me question myself.  I had that experience this week as I told a new colleague, who lives in Woking, that I would be visiting her town for a match.  She looked puzzled.  “Do Woking have an important team?”  “They are non-league.”  The puzzled look didn’t leave her face and I had to face the fact that I would be spending my Saturday travelling to a non-league ground and that this would not be my first visit.  Last year we had the unique experience of seeing a Watford manager escorted by stewards to the team coach to protect him from the aggressive hoards hanging around (Don, Trond and I).  On Friday, it became apparent that Silva wasn’t going to take even that risk as he excused the first team and we found out that our first pre-season game would actually feature the development squad.  To be honest, I enjoy watching the youngsters and we are given very few chances these days, as most of their games are behind closed doors, so I wasn’t too disappointed.

Despite the train journey requiring two changes, it was a simple trip and the route to the ground is rather pleasant.  As I cut through the park, there was a fair taking place, so it was quite nice to emerge to a more tranquil area where the loudest thing was the wool on the trees and the bridge following some yarn bombing.  As I approached the ground, I spotted a couple of familiar backs.  Don and Trond were sitting on a bench opposite the ground enjoying their lunch in the sunshine.

Brandon Mason on the attack

On passing through the turnstiles, I asked the operator whether they were disappointed at the late decision not to bring a first team squad.  His response was that it would give them a good run out and was probably for the best, as they had recently replaced about half of their team.  Another steward that I asked was less happy at the potential drop in revenue due to the younger opposition and the fact that they had to drop the prices.  They exacted a slight revenge by charging for team sheets.  Only 20p, but it was a new one on me.

As we sat in the club bar, Trond informed me that we had made two new signings Sam Howes and Harvey Bradbury.  Further investigation indicated that these were additions to the development squad.  We soon found that we were to get our first sight of Howes, a goalkeeper, as he was announced in the starting line-up which was Howes; Eleftheriou, Rowan, Mukena, Mason; Ryan, Stewart; Pereira, Folivi, Trialist; Jakubiak.

Jakubiak congratulated on his goal

It was a gorgeous sunny day as we took our seats in the stand behind the Woking goal.  The young Hornets started brightly enough and the Woking goalkeeper, Baxter, had to drop smartly to push a shot from the trialist around the post.  At the other end, Howes pulled a shot from Carter out of the air.  The home side had an even better chance with a shot from Jones, but Howes was again equal to it.  Watford opened the scoring in the 36th minute as Mason crossed for Jakubiak who got the ball stuck under his feet but eventually managed to prod it home.  Watford were not in the lead for long as, a minute later, a ball over the top reached former Watford man, Bawling, who volleyed past Howes.  Watford had a couple of chances to regain the lead before the break.  First the trialist, who had a good game, played a through ball to Jakubiak, but Baxter was quickly out to gather.  Then Pereira unleashed a lovely shot that was saved low at the far post.  The best chance of all fell to Jakubiak who received a square ball from Folivi with the goal at his mercy but powered over.  So the first half finished level.  Watford had most of the possession but, despite some decent link-up play, made very little in the way of chances.

Young Player of last season, Pereira, on the ball

The second half started with a number of substitutions, Gartside, Sesay and Charles on for Howe, Stewart and the trialist.  For Woking one ex-Watford man (Bawling) went off and another came on as Chez Isaac made an appearance.  Jakubiak had a great chance early in the half as he went on a lovely run before having a shot cleared off the line.  The young Hornets put themselves in danger as Charles turned a ball towards his own goal, but Gartside was able to keep it out.  There were a number of further substitutions with Adejedi, Huja, Rogers, Stray and Cruz Cabera all making appearances.  The frequent changes in personnel meant that the play became rather scrappy.  Woking had the best chances to win the game.  First a cross from Philpots was headed goalwards by Saraiva, but rebounded off the bar.  Then there was a mix up in the Watford box, but the defence was able to block the initial shots and Nsimbi’s follow-up was wide of the far post.  So, as it did last year, the game finished as a 1-1 draw.  It had been a pleasant enough afternoon out and the young lads had a decent workout.  One pleasing aspect was that the older opposition did not try to bully the youngsters as can so often be the case in these matches.

So we now look forward to the first glimpse of Silva’s team during the beer festival at Wimbledon next week.  What fun!

A Miserable End to the Season

GT’s bench

When I embarked on the train to Watford, the carriage was packed with people in costume on their way to the Harry Potter experience.  All I could see of the person a couple of rows in front of me was a crooked hat.  On arrival at Watford Junction, I had somewhere more important to go.  My usual walk to the West Herts took a slight detour as I entered Cassiobury Park on a mission to find GT’s bench.  It wasn’t long before I spotted a brand new bench in a little oasis and I headed over.  I was disappointed to find someone already there, but gratified when I noticed the Watford top and we soon fell into conversation.  As we sat there, a number of people came past and commented on what a lovely gesture the bench was, the Watford fans among them taking the chance to have their photos taken and to remember the great man.

After paying my respects, I headed to the West Herts for the last pre-game drinks of the season.  Top of the agenda was Mazzarri’s sacking.  Most in attendance were happy at the news.  While I can’t say that I was a big fan of the football we’ve been watching for most of this season, I can’t help feeling that Mazzarri was a little hard done by.  By all accounts Flores was dispensed with as he was too soft on the players.  Mazzarri had come in to instil some discipline but, very much like Sannino, his methods did not find favour with the players, which seemed to lead to performances well below the standard that should have been expected from a squad of that quality.  The other discussion surrounded Holebas who was on track to achieve a premier league record of 15 bookings in a season.  Of course, this would lead to him missing three games at the start of next season although, due to a bizarre loophole, I was assured that, if he was booked twice, he would only serve a one match suspension.  I found that difficult to believe.

Gomes takes a free kick

Team news came through and our problems in central defence were highlighted by the fact that Mariappa was the only recognised central defender in the team.  There was worse news soon after when a correction was made removing Mariappa from the line-up with Behrami filling his position in the back line.  As if that wasn’t enough to provoke discussion, Deeney had been left on the bench where he was to be joined by both Pantilimon and Gilmartin.  Mazzarri was going out in style!  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Behrami, Holebas; Amrabat, Cleverley, Doucouré, Capoue, Mason; Niang and Okaka.

There was almost a disaster in the first minute as Gomes delayed a clearance, he lost out to Agüero who crossed for Jesus whose header was cleared off the line by Holebas before the danger was cleared.  But the respite was brief and the Hornets were a goal down on 4 minutes as a corner from De Bruyne was met by Kompany who was allowed a free header to finish past Gomes.  After witnessing constant pressure from the visitors in the first 10 minutes, it was a relief to see a Watford attack, although it finished with Niang cutting inside and shooting just over the target.

Mason, Cleverley and Holebas being watched by Harry

It appeared that a second City goal was inevitable when Jesus broke down the left and squared the ball for Agüero who had an open goal to aim at, but Behrami put in a terrific tackle to avert the danger.  Gomes then pulled off a terrific save to deny Agüero from point blank range.  But the Argentine wasn’t to be denied for long as he latched on to a through ball from De Bruyne and finished clinically past Gomes.  Soon after there was a rousing chant for Troy Deeney who, at the time, was sitting somewhere towards the back of the bench.  Gomes was in action again claiming a ball over the top from Otamendi as Silva challenged.  Mason incurred the wrath of the referee, although escaped a booking, after sending Jesus into the hoardings.  The first sight of Deeney warming up was greeted with a standing ovation, which was as much anti Mazzarri as it was pro Deeney.  The visitors claimed their third on 36 minutes as Sané broke down the wing before squaring the ball for Agüero to score his second.  Watford’s defensive woes continued as Janmaat went down with an injury and had to be replaced by Eleftheriou, who was making his Watford debut in the worst possible circumstances.  The fourth goal came as Fernandinho exchanged passes with Agüero before holding off the challenge of Mason and finishing past Gomes.  The goal was greeted with boos and streams of people heading for their half-time refreshments or, possibly, the exit.  The first caution was earned by Doucouré for pulling Agüero back.  The resultant free-kick was blocked for a corner from which the ball was cleared to Agüero who, thankfully, shot wide of the near post.

Eleftheriou making his debut

The half time whistle went to loud boos.  It was noticeable that Deeney spent the break warming up, he appeared to be doing it off his own bat rather than training with a coach.  The half time distractions included a brief interview with Bill Shipwright, a defender from the 50s, who did the half time draw.  Also the introduction to the crowd of Chris Williams, a steward retiring after many years of service.  Sacred Heart beat Bushey Heath in the penalty shoot-out which gave us some excitement as it went to a sudden death finish involving the goalkeepers.  It was all a pleasant diversion from what had been an abysmal half of football.

The seats behind me were occupied by a father and two young children, who were friends of the season ticket holders who have those seats.  There had been a number of incredulous questions to the father about why he was still supporting Watford in the game and why the players weren’t trying (slightly unfair given the opposition).  So I was disappointed that they were still in the concourse when Watford had their best chance of the game as Okaka went on a run and blasted the ball at Caballero who pushed it out for a corner.  There was another chance for the home side as Fernandinho lost out to Niang whose shot was deflected into the side netting.

Cleverley on the ball

There was a bizarre incident 10 minutes into the half as the referee strode over to the Watford bench to have words with Mazzarri, whose English must be better than we all thought unless the fourth official is fluent in Italian.  This was greeted with loud chants of “Off, off, off” from the Rookery that made me cringe.  When the referee returned without sending Mazzarri to the stands, it was to a chorus of “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

City’s fifth goal came just before the hour mark as Cleverley failed to clear a cross from Agüero, Jesus lifted the ball over Gomes and it hit the net despite Eleftheriou’s best efforts to head it off the line.  Before the restart Deeney replaced Amrabat.  Agüero’s chance for a hat trick was stopped with a tackle from Behrami.  The crowd’s chants against the head coach continued with “Walter Mazzarri get out of our club.”  City made a double substitution bringing Navas and Sagna on for Touré and Sané, leading one of my neighbours to quip, “They’ve gone all defensive, they ‘re scared of us.”  Agüero threatened again with a shot that was tipped over by Gomes.  At this point, there were chants for Rene Gilmartin, which were certainly not a judgement on the performance of the incumbent in goal.

Deeney can’t get the decisive touch

Gomes denied Agüero again dropping to block and getting injured in the process.  What a relief that there were two goalkeepers on the bench.  Despite the chants for Gilmartin, it was Pantilimon who readied to come on but, after treatment, Gomes was fit to continue.  With 20 minutes to go, Agüero left the field to applause from all corners of the ground after a tremendous showing, he was replaced by Iheanacho who was wearing 72, so was greeted with a chant of “One Graham Taylor.”  As we reached the 72nd minute, the influence of GT was felt as the Watford players suddenly sprung into life.  Doucouré came close with a shot that was cleared off the line.  Then a Capoue shot was blocked, the ball fell to Okaka who had a chance to score from close range, but he was being challenged so couldn’t get a clean contact and the ball bounced off him into the arms of Caballero.  Watford’s final substitution saw Pereira come on for Niang.  The youngster gave the Watford crowd a brief moment of joy as he combined with Eleftheriou on the overlap, but the cross was cleared.  As the clock wound down, there was little on the pitch to amuse the 1881 so their attention turned to Thierry Henry who was in the corner next to them waiting to do the post-match summary for the TV, and was serenaded with chants of “Sign him up” and “Henry for Watford”.

Mason lines up a free kick

It was a relief when the final whistle went and, as a soppy old woman, I was pleased that enough people stayed for the “lap of appreciation” to make it worthwhile.  Troy’s daughter, dressed in her tutu, was performing for the cameras and I was happy to see that the person who wanted a word with Troy at the end appeared to be congratulating him.  Both Heurelho and Troy said a few words, but they were understandably downbeat and I think we were all happy to see the season come to an end.

Back to the West Herts and there were some heated exchanges between those who had left promptly on (or before) the final whistle and those who stayed to applaud the team.  With Watford having nothing to play for and City needing the points, this was always going to be a difficult game, but for many it was the final straw after the six successive defeats that followed our achievement of 40 points.  Added to that, the fall from mid-table to just above the relegation zone in a season when we were never really in a relegation battle had angered a lot of people.

It is such a shame that this season will be looked back on with such disappointment.  There were certainly highlights.  Those who travelled to Arsenal and West Ham or saw the home game against Man United will cherish those memories.  But, ultimately, despite retaining our place in the top division, it was not a season to remember.  It remains to be seen who will take charge of the team next season, since neither the iron fist nor the velvet glove seems to have worked, let’s hope that Gino can find a coach who can strike the right balance between the two approaches.

Despite how thoroughly fed up I felt after the game, it won’t be long until I am counting the days to the release of the fixture list and the start of pre-season.  Head coaches come and go, but the fans who go week in, week out will still be there cheering the team on.  Let us hope that there is a lot more to cheer next season.

A Dismal Afternoon at the Den

Ben Watson leading the team out at the Den

Ben Watson leading the team out at the Den

When this game was moved for television, the potential for a good sized crowd immediately disappeared.  It is an easy enough journey from Watford, but a midday kick-off on a Sunday in January is enough to make most people opt for the sofa.  So I was delighted (and not a little proud) when my niece said she would join us.  Especially as it wasn’t even a new ground for her.

I had been pleased to hear the announcement earlier in the week that the controversial compulsory purchase order by Lewisham Council relating to land around the New Den that would have threatened Millwall’s future residence had been abandoned.  So it was rather sad to go there and see the stands so sparsely populated.

Before the game, Mazzarri had been reported as saying that he would make 11 changes if he could.  In fact, he made 7, a great chance for some of the fringe players to make a case for more game time.  The starting line-up was Pantilimon; Kaboul, Mariappa, Britos; Djédjé, Doucouré, Watson, Guedioura, Mason; Okaka and Sinclair.  I was pleased to see Watson back in the team, as well as Mariappa making his second debut.  The tannoy announcer decided to make a big deal of the fact that he would struggle with all the foreign names in the Watford team, although pretending to struggle with Costel Pantilimon was rather lame.  This, and a repeated request for the lads to bring their ladies to the Den on Valentines Day, felt like a throwback to the 80s.

Mason and Onyedinma tangle

Mason and Onyedinma tangle

Before kick-off, there was some discussion among our party of the 6-1 win, which it is hard to believe was in 2010.  I missed that game due to a work trip to Tokyo (I’m still seething).  The pessimist in me couldn’t help but say that we wouldn’t get a similar result.

The Hornets took the kick-off, but almost immediately Millwall launched a counter-attack through Morison whose cross was met with a strike from Gregory that, thankfully, rebounded off the crossbar.  The fear at this point was that 6-1 was a possibility, but that it would favour the home side.  This fear grew as a corner was headed off the line by Mariappa.  Then a shot from Craig took a nasty deflection causing Pantilimon to have to tip it over the bar.  The resulting corner was headed just wide by Cooper.  The first goal attempt from the visitors didn’t come until the 16th minute with a shot from distance from Guedioura that flew well wide.  The Algerian came closer soon after with a free-kick that took a slight deflection before hitting the outside of the post.  Okaka was having a torrid afternoon, going down far too easily under challenges by players he should have been able to shrug off.  The home crowd decided to join in the persecution with a chant of “You’re just a fat Danny Shittu!”  Sinclair should have done better after breaking into the box, but fell over as he attempted to shoot, his pleas for a penalty were waved away.

Gones takes a goal kick

Gones takes a goal kick

With 10 minutes of the half remaining there was a mix up as Britos played the ball back to Pantilimon, Gregory nipped in and, in the scramble to clear, the keeper was injured and Mariappa’s intervention had the home crowd screaming for a penalty for handball.  The Millwall fans lived up to their vile reputation chanting ‘let him die’ as the clearly injured Pantilimon was helped on to a stretcher.  Gomes took his place in goal and was called into action almost immediately to stop a shot from Gregory.  From the corner, Morison headed goalwards, but Guedioura was on hand to head the ball off the line.

It had been a frustrating first half.  The visitors had the bulk of the play but failed to test Archer in the Millwall goal.  The Watford players were spending far too much time passing the ball around, while Millwall launched pacy counter attacks and actually looked like scoring.

The home side started the second half in a similar manner to the first with a shot from Gregory that just cleared the bar.  At the other end there was a decent chance as a cross from Djédjé was diverted goalwards by Cooper, but Archer made the save.

Okaka knocked off the ball

Okaka struggling with the Millwall approach

Watford had another chance when Mason crossed from the opposite wing, but Okaka just failed to connect.  The Italian then felt that he was pulled back as he challenged for a cross from Guedioura and complained loudly to the referee or anyone else who would listen.  By this point, he should have worked out that he was going to have to fight his own battles as the referee wasn’t going to help him.  In the build-up Djédjé had gone down injured and the Millwall fans continued their charm offensive cheering as a stretcher was brought on to the pitch.  Thankfully it wasn’t needed and nor was Janmaat who had readied to come on.  From a Kaboul cross, Okaka again appeared to be held down allowing the keeper to punch clear.  Half way through the second period, Djédjé did make way for Janmaat.  He hadn’t had the best of games, so it was to be hoped that the Dutchman would provide more of an attacking threat.  An attempt by Sinclair to break into the box was stopped by an excellent tackle on the edge of the area.  Jerome was replaced soon after by Deeney, whose name had been sung with some enthusiasm as he warmed up.  Troy was involved almost immediately as he headed a ball from Watson goalwards, but it was a fairly easy catch for Archer.  Mason then went flying into a tackle and was lucky only to see a yellow card.  Then a bit of pinball in the area finished with a save from Gomes.

The return of Mariappa

The return of Mariappa

Just as we were contemplating a replay at Vicarage Road, a cross reached Morison in the box and he finished through the legs of Gomes.  The home side were celebrating a second soon after as a corner was bundled home by Wallace, but it was ruled out for handball.  The home side had one final attempt to finish the game as Wallace tried a shot from distance, but Gomes was equal to it.  There was a flurry of activity as the visitors tried to equalize, first through a header from Deeney that was caught by Archer.  Then, in time added on, Troy looked sure to score with only the keeper to beat, but a last ditch intervention from Webster allowed him to block the shot and the Hornets were out of the cup.

The final whistle was met with loud boos from the travelling fans.  It had been a shocking performance mostly due to a distinct lack of effort.  Despite having the majority share of possession, they had managed only a single shot on target.  The players drafted in had not impressed.  Okaka couldn’t cope with the physical attentions of the Millwall players which, for a man of his stature, is just shocking.  Sinclair was anonymous and Djédjé offered little.  Guedioura put in more effort than most, but his execution was found wanting.  Watson, Mason and Mariappa were the only ‘fringe’ players that didn’t let themselves down.  It wasn’t until Deeney came on that Watford really threatened the Millwall goal.  Given the quality of the team that was selected, that is just unacceptable.  The action that summed up the afternoon for me was when a Millwall attack broke down with many of their players committed forward.  Instead of immediately breaking downfield, the Watford players decided to play the ball about between themselves giving the opposition plenty of time to regroup.  Having watched Millwall threaten on the counter all afternoon, you do have to wonder.

Next up a trip to Arsenal on Tuesday.  I’m dreading it.

Beating Burton in the Cup

Cathcart, Capoue and Britos

Cathcart, Capoue and Britos

When the draw was made for the third round of the cup, there was a twinge of regret that we hadn’t been drawn away to Burton, as it would have been a new ground.  But a Saturday 3pm kick-off at Vicarage Road made a very pleasant change.  I arrived at the West Herts just before it opened, in time for the guvnor to open the interior door for Don, offer him his usual (tea with milk and two sugars) and have it delivered to the table before I’d ordered my pint.  These celebrities, don’t know they are born.

Team news for this game promised to be interesting.  Would Walter opt to put out an inexperienced team and rest the remaining first team players or would a better performance and (hopefully) a win be worth risking further injuries?  In the event, the only change that wasn’t enforced by injury or illness was the inclusion of Cathcart in place of Prödl (although it is likely that Pantilimon would have made an appearance even if Gomes had been well).  It was very pleasing to see Brandon Mason given a start after his substitute appearance against Spurs.  The starting line-up was Pantilimon; Kaboul, Cathcart, Britos; Kabasele, Capoue, Doucouré, Mason; Sinclair, Ighalo; Deeney.  Former Watford men, Lloyd Dyer and Lee Williamson started for visitors.  It was also great to see Ben Watson back on the Watford bench.

Celebrating Kabasele's goal (and Mason's assist)

Celebrating Kabasele’s goal (and Mason’s assist)

We had opted for a change of scene for this game, swapping our seats in the Rookery for a place in the SEJ stand.  Our seats were low down and right next to the Watford dugout, which was a little distracting while having the extra attraction of a good view of Nigel Clough (for whom I have had a very soft spot for many years).

Watford’s first attack of the game came through Mason who beat a defender on the wing to go on a run and put in a cross which was caught by the Burton keeper, McLaughlin.  Watford’s injury curse continued as, following a clash of heads with Britos, Cathcart was unable to continue and, with only a quarter of an hour on the clock, was replaced by Prödl.  Being close to the dugout, so we got to see first-hand the time taken to prepare the top knot (which isn’t meant as criticism, I find it rather fetching and it was done while he was receiving instructions).  Burton threatened with a cross from Dyer, but it was an easy catch for Pantilimon.  Watford took the lead through a lovely move as Mason played a one-two with Deeney before putting in a terrific cross that Kabasele stabbed home.  I think that the goal calmed a lot of nerves both on and off the pitch.

Deeney waiting for Brayford's throw

Deeney waiting for Brayford’s throw

Watford had a decent chance to increase the lead as Capoue played a through ball to Ighalo who played a quick one-two with Deeney before executing a trademark scoop and shooting just over the bar.  Burton had to make a substitution just after the half hour mark as Ward replaced the injured Miller.  The visitors had a great chance to equalize just before half time as a cross was punched to Ward on the edge of the box but Capoue was on hand to block the shot.  The Frenchman then went on a counter attack ending with a low shot that was saved by McLaughlin.  The first card came at the end of the half with Naylor booked for pulling Ighalo back as he tried to escape.

There was an atmosphere of satisfaction in the home stands at half time.  It was pleasing to have the lead and there had been some good signs, especially going forward.

 

Celebrating Sinclair's solo effort

Celebrating Sinclair’s solo effort

The visitors started the second half well and had the first chance as a Flanagan cross was headed just wide of the target by Varney.  Sinclair had a chance with a shot from inside the area, but it was straight at McLaughlin.  Another Flanagan cross flew across the face of the goal just missing the outstretched boot of Harness.  At the other end, Capoue’s shot from distance flew just wide of the target.  Watford’s second substitution came on the hour as Kaboul was replaced by Brice Dja Djédjé making his first appearance for the Hornets, having been injured since his transfer from Marseille.  There was a long stoppage after Varney went down following a clash with Pantilimon.  It looked nasty as the Burton man was stretchered off wearing an oxygen mask.  I hate to see players carried off, I hope he makes a rapid recovery.  He was replaced by Akins.  Watford were two goals to the good on 77 minutes as Sinclair went on a run at the Burton defence before unleashing a shot that beat the keeper.  The goal was doubly gratifying as it seemed to make the game safe for the Hornets as well as giving an example to some of his team mates just to shoot if you get a sight of goal.  There was a great chance for a third as Capoue played a through ball to Sinclair who found Ighalo running in to the box, he scooped the ball on to his right foot and shot, but it was blocked by the keeper’s legs.

Djédjé takes a throw-in

Djédjé takes a throw-in

Watford had another decent chance as a corner was cleared to Mason, he played a square ball to Djédjé who shot over the target.  Due to the long stoppage for Varney’s injury, there were 8 minutes of time added on, which gave Sinclair a chance to go on another run towards goal but this time McLaughlin was equal to his strike.  There was just time to give youngster Carl Stewart a debut as he replaced Sinclair after what seemed like an age waiting for a break in the game.  He is the 60th player from the Watford Academy to make an appearance for the first team (the third in the past week).

The final whistle went on a very pleasing win for the Hornets as, while Burton had their moments, it had been a comfortable afternoon.  Mason certainly took his chance, with some great runs down the wing and was clearly delighted with his assist.  I hope that we see a lot more of him.  Doucouré had another good game in the midfield and Capoue had his best game for some time.  Sinclair played well and was clearly buoyed by his goal and our first sight of Djédjé was very promising indeed.  After weeks of doom and gloom, it was lovely to have a post-match discussion with so many positives to reflect on.  Next week’s visit by Middlesbrough will be very interesting indeed.

A Miserable Start to 2017

Amrabat launches a throw-in

Amrabat launches a throw-in

My Watford family suffered a very sad loss this week, so the pre-match gathering was rather subdued.  But as we reminisced about happier times spent with someone who was always the life and soul of a party, there was laughter and glasses were raised to toast a life well lived.

With all the injuries that Watford have suffered recently, there were questions as to who would start and it was no surprise to hear that Doucouré would make his first league start of the season in place of Behrami and that three youngsters had been named on the bench.  There were three other changes to the team with Cathcart in for the suspended Britos, Deeney returning in place of Janmaat and Zúñiga preferred to Ighalo.  By the time the warm up had finished, an injury to Zúñiga meant that Ighalo was restored to the team and Folivi had been added to the substitutes.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Cathcart; Amrabat, Doucouré, Capoue, Guedioura, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.

Guedioura lines up a free kick

Guedioura lines up a free kick

The first chance of the game fell to Son whose shot from outside the box was saved by Gomes.  There were claims for a penalty as a shot from Erikson hit Capoue’s arm in the Watford box, but it had been a close range strike and was definitely ball to hand.  The first twenty minutes were pretty even and we looked to be in for a quiet afternoon, then the visitors began to get the upper hand.  The first chance fell to former Watford loanee, Rose, who shot well over the bar.  Eriksen was the next to threaten with a shot from wide on the right that flew over the bar.  The visitors came closer to scoring as Guedioura gave the ball away to Son who fed Dele whose shot rebounded off the crossbar.  But it was only a brief stay of execution as Spurs took the lead with the next move as Trippier fed Kane who finished from a tight angle.  The visitors were two up soon after with the same two players combining, this time Kane volleyed home from close range.  Spurs had another great chance from a free kick, but Son’s shot was just wide.  The third goal came just before half time as Kaboul gave the ball away to Dele who finished past Gomes.  The half time whistle was greeted with boos from the home fans.  I didn’t join in, but couldn’t help sharing the sentiment.  The first 20 minutes had been fairly even, but once Spurs had scored, Watford had been dreadful.

Brandon Mason's performance was a lot better than this photo

Brandon Mason’s performance was a lot better than this photo

The second half started disastrously as Kane crossed for Dele who finished with no defence in sight.  At this point two of the guys in front of us left, I doubt they were the only ones.  They actually missed a decent Watford move as Doucouré played a lovely square ball to Deeney, but he was tackled before he could shoot.  Kane found Dele again, but this time the shot was wide of the target.  There was another decent chance for the Hornets to pull one back as Deeney played the ball back to Ighalo, but the Nigerian shot wide of the target.  Just after the hour, Dele was replaced by Winks to a sigh of relief from me at least.  Soon after, Ighalo was tripped in the box, but the referee waved play on.  Watford’s first substitution saw Brandon Mason come on to make his debut in place of Holebas.  At the same time Davies replaced Rose for Tottenham.  The Watford youngster got a great reception and his first action in the game was to put in a nice challenge on Son in the box, coming away with the ball (a rarity on this afternoon).  The next Watford substitution came as Amrabat limped off to be replaced by Sinclair.  Gomes was called into action as he stopped a shot from Son.  There were two final substitutions as Kabasele came on for Capoue and Janssen replaced Kane for the visitors.

The goal celebration tells you all you need to know about the game

The goal celebration tells you all you need to know about the game

Late on, Watford had two decent chances to reduce the deficit.  First a Guedioura free kick was headed back by Kaboul but Lloris claimed the ball.  There had been so little to applaud from the Hornets that this effort was cheered as if it had gone in.  A cross from Deeney was dropped by Lloris under a challenge from Sinclair, the ball was cleared before it trickled into the net, but the whistle had gone for a foul anyway.  Finally there was a great break from Deeney which finished with a decent cross but, sadly, Ighalo wasn’t close enough to connect in the box.  In between these decent moves there was a goalmouth scramble in the Spurs box, I couldn’t tell whether the ball crossed the line, but the referee’s device indicated that it had and the goal was credited to Kaboul.  It was a horrible scrappy effort that summed up the performance of the home side.

When the final whistle went the home stands were virtually empty.  I stayed to the end, but can’t blame anyone who left.  It was a cold, wet afternoon and that has to be the most abject performance I have seen in a long time.  None of our party hung around in the West Herts for a post mortem, so I set off on the journey home alone with my thoughts.  I usually try to find something good to say about the game, and I had plenty of time to come up with something, but I am really struggling with this one.  I have no problem with being beaten by a good team, but Spurs didn’t have to play well to beat us on this afternoon.  They were gifted goals by a team that looked totally uninterested.  The one bright spot was the appearance of Mason, who put in a decent shift when he came on.  The rest were utterly dreadful and, due to this game being moved for television, I have the joyful prospect of a day off work for a trip to Stoke to come this week.  I am not relishing that at all.