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Magic Deulofeu

Lining up a free kick

Due to the Six Nations game between Wales and England being played in Cardiff on the Saturday, our match was changed to Friday night.  This meant an afternoon off work and a journey to Wales on an early afternoon train from London that was already full of rugby fans.  It has to be said that the train was definitely the right decision as the M4 was at a standstill and the supporters coach from Watford took over five hours to get there.

Having checked into the hotel, we headed for a real ale and cider bar.  It was in a basement under student accommodation, which didn’t sound promising, but it turned out to be a lovely comfortable place with a tremendous selection.  We had a drink there and then headed for our designated pre-match venue to meet up with Alice and have something to eat.  As I collected the cutlery, I was gratified to see that the napkins were yellow.  That had to be a good omen.  After a beer and a veggie chilli we headed for the ground.  It is a while since we have been there, and I still look wistfully at the flats that took the place of Ninian Park.  That was a tatty old place, but what an atmosphere.

Team news was that Gracia had made two changes with the suspended Holebas replaced by Masina and fit again Pereyra in for Sema.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Masina; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.

Hughes, Deeney and Doucoure challenging

As I pulled my green shirt out of my bag, Graham helpfully pointed out that it was the wrong colour.  My Girl Guide training came in handy as I went back to my bag and retrieved the yellow shirt instead.  I was all set for the game.

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s applause for former players Matthew Brazier and Brian Edgley, both of whom had recently passed away.

The first chance for the Hornets came from a decent cross from Janmaat which bounced off Pereyra who didn’t seem to have seen it coming.  Janmaat was also involved in the next goal attempt, playing a one-two with Deeney before firing over the target.  Cardiff’s first chance of note came as Paterson flicked a ball through to Niasse who only had Foster to beat, but the Watford keeper stood tall and blocked the shot. Watford took the lead in the 18th minute, Deeney did brilliantly to keep hold of the ball before finding Deulofeu who slotted the ball into the near corner.  The home side tried to strike back immediately, but the shot from distance from Murphy was easily gathered by Foster.

Ben Foster

Watford should have had a second just before the half hour mark as Deeney unleashed a powerful shot that was well saved by Etheridge.  The first booking of the game went to Capoue for a foul on Niasse which looked pretty innocuous from our vantage point.  The resulting free kick was taken low and touched on by Arter straight to Foster.  There was a very nervous moment just before half time as Janmaat tangled with Murphy just inside the box.  It was right in front of us and looked like a definite penalty, but the referee waved play on, much to the relief of the travelling Hornets.  The home fans made their displeasure known with a chorus of “You’re not fit to referee.”  So we reached half time with the Hornets a goal to the good.  While we were very fortunate with the penalty decision, we were so obviously the better team that an equaliser would have been a travesty.

Before the start of the second half, Foster’s warm-up was accompanied by howls of derision from the Cardiff fans behind the goal.  He good naturedly kicked the ball into the crowd, which backfired when the game had to be stopped as the ball was thrown back on the pitch during play.  The first chance of the half fell to the home side, but Bacuna’s shot from distance was well over the target.  Watford’s first chance of the half came after some lovely passing between Hughes and Deeney, the shot from the captain was deflected just wide.  Pereyra then found his way into the referee’s book after a silly pull on Niasse.

Celebrating Deeney’s first (celebrations do tend to be blurred)

Cardiff made the first substitution replacing Murphy with Hoilett.  Cardiff had another chance to grab an equaliser but Bennett’s shot from distance was easy for Foster.  Watford threatened again as Doucouré played a lovely through ball for Deulofeu, but Etheridge was first to the ball.  At the other end, Mariappa came to the rescue diverting a dangerous cross from Paterson wide of the target.  On the hour mark, Deulofeu got the ball in midfield and started running.  As he was bearing down on Etheridge, I held my breath as he has had a number of similar opportunities in the past and has made the wrong decision, losing his nerve and running into a defender or the keeper, but this time he rounded the keeper and finished into the empty net to send the away fans wild.  While I was delighted that we had scored a second, there was a nagging feeling in the back of my mind as I remembered being in a similar position in the home game.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry for long as three minutes later Capoue latched on to a poor pass from Arter before playing a lovely ball to Deulofeu who chipped the keeper to grab his hat trick.  At this point, many of the home fans had seen enough so started heading home.  Warnock made a second substitution bringing Mendez-Laing on for Ralls.  The home side won a free kick in a decent position, but Hoilett blasted it into the wall.  Gracia’s first change was to bring Quina on for Pereyra, while Cardiff made their last substitution replacing Niasse with Zohore.

Celebrations of the fifth in time added on

Watford scored a fourth on 73 minutes after a period of sublime passing, Capoue played a wonderful through ball to Deulofeu who accelerated into the box and cut the ball back to Deeney to finish past Etheridge.  The players celebrated right in front of us and Deeney was rightfully (but decently) deflecting the plaudits to Gerry.  Deulofeu had a decent chance to score his fourth as he received a pass from Hughes but shot wide of the far post.  Watford then made their second substitution bringing Cleverley on for Capoue.  Irritatingly, the Hornets failed to keep a clean sheet as a corner led to a goalmouth scramble, the Watford defence failed to clear and Bamba was able to prod the ball past Foster.  The first booking for the home side went to Paterson who was penalised for pulling Quina to the ground.  The final Watford substitution came with five minutes to go and it was the hat trick hero, Deulofeu, who left the field to a standing ovation as he made way for Gray.  Cleverley almost scored the fifth from a free kick which looked to be curling in but hit the near post.  Cardiff had a chance to reduce the deficit further but Paterson’s shot from distance was so far over the bar that it sparked the observation that he was supposed to score a try first.  Into time added on and Watford finally scored a fifth goal as Hughes played the ball back to Deeney who scored to finish off a cracking game.  The scoreboard operator was clearly exhausted as the goal wasn’t acknowledged until the players were back in the centre circle ready for the restart.  The final whistle went sparking wild celebrations in the away end.  The players all came over to celebrate with the crowd and the songs and cheers went on for some time.  Deulofeu secured the match ball, despite an attempt by Doucouré to steal it.  As the others left him to it, he stood alone in front of the away fans while we told him he was magic.  It was a lovely moment.

Deulofeu taking the plaudits while ensuring the match ball is in sight

We walked back into town and headed for the real ale bar expecting it to be heaving with rugby fans, so were delighted to find that there were seats available and we could have our post-match analysis in comfort.  That was easily our best performance this year so far.  We played some lovely football and finally turned dominance in possession into a convincing win.  It was an excellent team performance and at various points during the game I declared my love for Cathcart and Doucouré.  I also thought Hughes had a decent game, he seems to be getting back to his best.  But the plaudits have to go to Deulofeu.  Troy was spot on in his post-match comments.  Gerard can be incredibly frustrating, holding on to the ball too long, making poor decisions and not making the most of the chances that he creates.  However, he never stops working and he continues to create those chances.  This was a reward for all of that hard work and both the players and the fans were delighted for him.  I hope that he treasures that match ball.

It was a tremendous performance.  Our first top flight hat trick since 1986.  What pleased me most was that, despite having a comfortable lead, we didn’t sit back, we carried on attacking, playing with flair and going for goal.  To score five at any level is impressive.  In the Premier League it is very special.

I am still pinching myself as I look at the table and realise that we have reached the magic 40 point mark (which is unlikely to be needed this season) and it is still February.  This is a season that will go down in history and I am loving it.

Three Worldies in the Rain

Rita and Pagey with the play-off trophy

On Wednesday evening was the 20 year (almost) reunion for the squad that won the play-off final in 1999.  I have been to a number of wonderful evenings following the club, but this one was exceptional.  All of the players had come back for the evening, including some (Bazeley, Hazan, Gudmundsson) that had come from overseas.  The overwhelming impression from the players was a deep affection among the whole group and they seemed genuinely happy to be with each other again.  The way that all of them spoke about Watford as a club was heart-warming, even those who were only here for a short time had left with very happy memories.  There were also some heartfelt tributes to Graham Taylor, which must have been lovely for Rita, Karen and the other family members who were present.  There were also entertaining interviews with Andrew French (who was the media officer at the time) and Ciaran Cosgrove (pink shirt man) who is totally bonkers.  The culmination of the interviews and reminiscences was Robert Page and Rita Taylor on the stage lifting the play-off trophy.  At that point I am not sure there was a dry eye in the house.

In Javi and Gino we trust

On to the weekend and my pre-match routine on Saturday differed from the usual as, after meeting in the West Herts, we headed for the ground and the Elton John Suite as Mike had been offered hospitality courtesy of the Community Trust.  It was a chilly day with driving rain for most of the afternoon, so the comfort of an executive box was very welcome indeed.  We shared the table with Derrick Williams who is employed by the Trust as well as being the brains and driving force behind Kit Aid, so it was lovely to meet him and learn about his various roles and their contributions to the local (and not so local) community.

Team news was that Gracia had made one change bringing Deulofeu in for Success.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Sema, Doucouré, Quina, Pereyra; Deeney and Deulofeu.  There was also the very welcome return of Tom Cleverley to the bench.  A lovely early Christmas present for the Watford faithful.

Before kick-off, it was lovely to see banners unfurling in the Rookery celebrating Gino and Javi.  I am normally under these, so it was lovely to actually see them for once.

Celebrating Deulofeu’s goal

Despite our relative league positions, this was going to be a tricky game as Cardiff had had a recent upturn in form and Watford, despite some terrific performances, had not won since October.  But the Hornets started the game well and had a very early chance as Deulofeu played a one-two with Doucouré before curling a shot just wide of the target.  Watford took the lead in the 16th minute as Deulofeu got the ball just outside the box, then went on a mazy dribble, it looked as though he would run into trouble but, instead, he breezed past a couple of defenders before slotting the ball past Etheridge in the Cardiff goal.  It was a terrific goal and served to calm the nerves among the home fans.  The Hornets had a chance to increase their lead soon after as Pereyra exchanged passes with Deeney, but his final touch was too heavy and Etheridge was out to gather.  Cardiff threatened for the first time as Arter played a low ball across the goal, but the chance went begging.  The visitors had a better chance to draw level when Gunnarsson’s long throw reached Paterson in the box, but his header was wide of the target.  The Hornets continued to attack and some lovely passing between Deulofeu and Pereyra culminated in a shot from the Argentine that was deflected for a corner.  After a period in which Watford had been passing the ball around for fun, Cardiff finally won a goal kick and, as Etheridge readied to take it, there was an ironic chant of “We’ve got the ball” from the away end.

Domingos Quina

When an injury to a Cardiff player led to a break in the game, I was amused to see Ben Foster take the opportunity to towel himself down, although with the rain lashing down it would only have been a momentary respite.  Deulofeu and Pereyra combined again but this time the shot was saved by Etheridge.  Then Quina, who had been lively in midfield, had his first sight of goal but his shot from distance was wide of the target.  Late in the half, Pereyra won a rather soft free kick.  He took it himself and it was a wonderful strike that appeared to be heading for the top corner, but Etheridge made another excellent save to keep it out.  So we reached half time with a narrow lead for the Hornets, which was a bit frustrating given the amount of possession that we had had.  But credit must go to Etheridge in the Cardiff goal as, without his efforts, the game would already have been out of sight for the visitors.

Our seats at the back of the Upper GT meant that we were protected from the torrential rain, but there had been a cold wind blowing during the first half, so I was very happy to be able to escape into the box for half time refreshments.  The hot drinks and cheese and biscuits went down very well indeed, but I kept an eye on the pitch to ensure that I was back in the stand for start of the second half (I almost made it).

Celebrating the strike from Holebas

The visitors made a substitution at the break bringing Mendez-Laing on for Murphy.  The Hornets started the second half as they had finished the first with a shot from Pereyra that was stopped by another excellent save by Etheridge.  But the Hornets were not to be denied for long as Deulofeu laid the ball off to Holebas who curled a gorgeous shot into the top corner.  It was a magnificent strike and it is always nice to see a happy Holebas.  Watford had a chance for a third as Sema dribbled along the edge of the box but he shot wide of the target.  Just before the hour mark, Cardiff made a second substitution bringing Peltier on for Bennett, who had picked up an injury.  Cardiff had a rare shot on goal with an effort from the edge of the area by Camarasa that flew just wide.  The Hornets’ third goal was another cracker, Sema played the ball back to Quina who curled a beauty past Etheridge, leading to a joyous celebration as he ran over and hugged the substitutes on the touchline.  The chances continued as Deulofeu found Holebas who stuck his foot out and diverted the ball towards the top corner, but yet again Etheridge made a save.  Hoilett had a great chance to pull one back for the visitors, but his header cleared the bar.  Watford made their first substitution of the day with 15 minutes to go, bringing Success on for Sema.  The substitute was immediately involved in a one-two with Deulofeu whose shot was disappointing, especially as he really should have passed to Doucouré who was in an acre of space in the box.

Holebas prepares to take a corner

The visitors made their final change of the afternoon replacing Gunnarsson with Reid.  Just when we thought this would be a comfortable afternoon for the Hornets, Hoilett hit a beautiful curling shot from outside the area to the top corner.  So no clean sheet, but it was to get worse almost immediately as another ball into the Watford box led to a goalmouth scramble.  There appeared to be two players in an offside position when Foster blocked a shot from Bamba, so we were waiting for the whistle to go, but the ball rebounded to Reid who scored to put the visitors back in the game and to reboot the nerves.  Between the goals, Deeney had made way for Okaka and the Watford fans cheered up somewhat at the sight of the return of Cleverley who came on for Deulofeu.  Tom was in action immediately with a shot that was blocked before Quina put the follow-up wide.  Then Doucouré could have calmed Watford nerves with a terrific shot but, yet again, it was met with a terrific save from Etheridge.  There were groans as the fourth official held up the board indicating that there were 5 minutes of added time and the visitors had a chance to grab an equaliser that would have been a travesty, as Camarasa put a free kick into the box, but Foster was out to make the stop although it took him two attempts to gather it.  There was much relief when the final whistle went.

Elton entertaining at his spiritual home

At the end of the match there was complete bafflement.  Watford had been coasting until the first Cardiff goal, which seemed to give the visitors confidence and the home side jitters.  While we weren’t exactly hanging on at the end, the memory of the last minute at Goodison Park on Monday was too fresh for me to feel comfortable until the final whistle had gone.  It has to be said that the players (with the notable exceptions of Kabasele and Cathcart) made a rapid exit from the pitch, but that was probably just to dry off after the soaking.  But, with time to reflect, apart from that dodgy 3 minutes this was a superb performance by the Hornets.  They were playing some lovely football, but there were also plenty of shots and three goals so gorgeous that there was a comment on Match of the Day that there could have been a goal of the day competition that only included goals from this game (Hoilett’s wasn’t too shabby either).  It was a great team effort, but praise must still go to Deulofeu who was absolutely excellent, Doucouré who is back to his best and the wonderful Quina who is not just very skilful, but also plays with an assurance that belies his tender years.

At the end of the day, there was massive relief that the winless streak is over and the performances in the past week have been excellent and deservedly lifted us back into the top half of the table.  Let us hope that we continue in this vein as football is suddenly fun again.

A Sunny Day in Cardiff

The Norwegian contingent (and Don)

The Norwegian contingent (and Don)

After the dreadful performance on Boxing Day, you have to question the wisdom of getting up bright and early for a trip to Wales two days later.  My travelling companions for the game were the Norwegian contingent and WML stalwarts from the early days, Tim and Trond.  Tim was visiting from his home in Vietnam, with his lovely daughter, Jemima, who arrived decked out in Watford gear.  The pre-match venue was an arts centre which treated me to a couple of pints of Rosie’s Pig and a lovely Catalan-style fish stew.  Not your usual pre-football meal, but much appreciated on a cold day.

In contrast to Friday’s downpour, the walk to the ground was under a clear blue sky.  We soon encountered a local who asked us to be gentle with them.  He then changed his mind and said that a number of home fans were hoping for a tonking which would hasten the demise of their “clueless” manager.  I reflected that I could have been listening to a Watford fan in the aftermath of the Wolves game.  The merchandise stalls on the way to the ground were selling nothing but blue and white scarves.  Tan’s attempts to turn them red are on a hiding to nothing.

Awaiting a coner

Awaiting a coner

There was much consternation in the away concourse when the team news came through as Jokanovic had made six changes from Friday.  Although there was logic in all the changes, six seemed a step too far.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Pudil, Abdi, Munari, Guedioura, Paredes, Forestieri and Ighalo.  The announcement that the referee was Stuart Atwell was greeted with boos from the travelling Hornets.

Watford had a chance to take the lead in the second minute as a lovely passing move finished with a powerful shot from Abdi that Marshall did well to push over.  At the other end, a Cardiff free-kick appeared to be headed on by Guedioura but Morrison’s cross was cleared.  The Watford fans had been in good voice at the start of the game and soon started baiting the home fans with “Is this a library?”  I couldn’t help feeling sad at this as Ninian Park had always been an intimidating cauldron of noise.  These new soulless bowls just kill the atmosphere.

Congratulating Guedioura

Congratulating Guedioura

Cardiff threatened again as Whittingham hit a free kick wide.  I don’t know what the significance of the 19th minute was for the Cardiff fans, but at that point they stood and displayed their blue and white scarves just as Whittingham delivered a free kick that was headed home by Le Fondre.  Watford tried to hit back as Forestieri found Guedioura in the box, he was knocked over and felt it should have been a penalty so grabbed the ball.  Atwell signalled a free-kick and delivered a ticking off.  Paredes had been ineffectual in the opening quarter of the game but in the 23rd minute he delivered a cross that Ighalo volleyed over the bar.  At the other end Noone hit a shot from the edge of the box that flew wide of the near post.  Hoban gave the ball away to Jones who squared the ball for Le Fondre whose shot was weak and easy for Gomes to gather.  Just before the half hour, Watford started to dominate.  First a shot from Guedioura that was over the target.  Then Pudil and Forestieri exchanged passes but the Czech’s shot was also well over the bar.  A lovely cross by Guedioura was headed out for a corner by Jones.

Celebrating Ighalo's header

Celebrating Ighalo’s header

Guedioura played a free kick to Paredes whose cross was disappointingly hit straight at a defender.  Ighalo crossed for Forestieri, but he failed to capitalize and the ball was cleared.  I was making a note of this when I heard a noise and looked up to see the ball hitting the back of the net.  I hate it when that happens.  I now know that the ball had reached Munari who chipped it into the box for Guedioura to volley home.  The goal seemed to instil confidence in the visitors whose passing improved immensely.  Watford took the lead as the clock started for injury time when a Pudil cross was headed home by Ighalo.

It had been a weird first half.  We’d started well and completely dominated possession, but had done nothing with it.  The crowd had been on their feet chanting early in the game but by the half hour mark had fallen into silence and I had slumped to my seat in frustration at what I was watching.  Suddenly we scored two goals, the mood on the pitch and in the stands improved and we ended the half on our feet celebrating.

Abdi on the ball

Abdi on the ball

There was a warning from Cardiff at the start of the second period as Whittingham’s shot was blocked by Cathcart, it rebounded to Morrison who shot over the bar.  A lovely ball was played to Forestieri on the left, he dribbled into the box but couldn’t decide whether to shoot or pass so dithered on the ball until he was tackled.  The ball came back in and Guedioura was running on to it, but he was stretching so could only poke it wide.  Ighalo showed some silky skills with a couple of drag backs before a shot from an acute angle that Marshall blocked, it fell to Guedioura whose shot was gathered by Marshall.  Forestieri tried a shot from distance that was parried by Marshall.  Watford came close to increasing their lead as Abdi played the ball out to Guedioura who crossed for Ighalo but his shot was blocked at the post.  On the hour Slade made two substitutions with Adeyemi and Gunnarsson making way for Harris and Ralls.  This move was greeted with a chant of “You don’t know what you’re doing,” from the home fans.

Celebrating Guedioura's second goal

Celebrating Guedioura’s second goal

After a rare mistake from Guedioura, the travelling Hornets started chanting his name.  We were rewarded as he received the ball 25 yards out and smashed it in off the underside of the bar.  Cue mental celebrations in the away stand and a smug feeling that we deserved an assist for that one.  The chant changed to “Sign him up” at that point.  We thought the fourth was coming a couple of minutes later as Forestieri ran on to a through ball from Paredes and had only the keeper to beat, but the linesman’s flag was up as he knocked it into the net.  There was a rare foray into the Watford box as a couple of Cardiff corners came to nothing, the second was punched clear by Gomes, who was fouled in the process.  Jokanovic made his first substitution on 70 minutes replacing Paredes with Anya.  Anya’s first contribution was a run down the right, he beat his man and whipped in a cross that rebounded to Guedioura whose shot was blocked and went out for a corner.  Watford could have increased their lead from the set piece, but Hoban directed his header over the bar.  At the other end a shot from distance from Noone curled wide of the near post.  Both sides made a substitution on 77 minutes, Macheda coming on for Le Fondre and Tözsér replacing Abdi for the visitors.

Angella celebrates in front of the travelling Hornets

Angella celebrates in front of the travelling Hornets

Watford’s final substitution saw Forestieri make way for Deeney for the last 10 minutes.  Troy made an immediate impact as he crossed for Angella to head the fourth past Marshall.  Into time added on, Watford were still looking to increase the lead as Guedioura played a through ball to Ighalo but the Nigerian was flagged offside.  Cardiff broke down the other end where Noone crossed for Jones to head home to reduce the deficit although there were very few Cardiff fans left in the stadium to cheer their goal.  There was one last chance for each side.  Deeney broke forward and crossed for Ighalo to volley goalwards, but Marshall was behind the ball.  At the other end a dangerous looking shot from distance from Noone flew just wide of the far post.  So Watford finished the game worthy winners.

What a difference a couple of days makes, as the travelling Hornets cheered their heroes off at the end of the game.  Guedioura was my man of the match, not just for the goals but for some strong tackles he made in the midfield.  That game marked the end of his loan spell.  I hope that it isn’t the last we see of him in a Watford shirt.  After the last two games, I can’t begin to predict what will happen in the new year, I just hope that it brings much happiness to my fellow hornets.