Tag Archives: Byron Webster

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.

A Fitting Tribute

The poppy display

The poppy display viewed from the family stand

With this being the closest home game to Armistice Day in the 100th year since the start of World War I, the usual commemorations were being supplemented with a foil display organized by the 1881 group and financed by Watford’s players.  A crowd turned up at the ground first thing to put the foils out, a job that was completed in double quick time.  According to the instructions from the club, we arrived at our seats earlier than usual to find all the usual stragglers were already there and that programmes had sold out.  When instructed, we raised our foils and, from our position under the display, could only wonder whether it had been a success.  I must admit that the photos were breath-taking and must thank a friend who sits in the Family Stand for providing the wonderful picture shown here.  Huge congratulations to Roy Moore and the other lads from 1881 who designed and executed the display.  It was a tremendous achievement.

On the pitch, the players were to wear the black and white kit from 1914, so Millwall wore their yellow change strip.  It was very bizarre to see the opposition in yellow at Vicarage Road.  Team news was that there were three changes with Gomes and Deeney returning from injury and Andrews in for Anya in midfield, so the starting line-up was Gomes, Pudil, Ekstrand, Bassong, Paredes, Tözsér, Munari, Andrews, Ighalo, Vydra and Deeney.  Undistinguished former loanee Matthew Briggs started for the visitors.  It should also be mentioned that, now the final seats have been installed in the Community stand, we have a four-sided ground for the first time in many years.  It is a wonderful sight to see.

Ighalo trying to hold off a defender

Ighalo trying to hold off a defender

The home side dominated the early exchanges, the first goal attempt coming as Deeney and Vydra exchanged passes in the box and Troy hit a shot that Forde dropped to save.  At the other end a low cross by Woolford was gathered by Gomes.  On 11 minutes, Millwall took the lead as McDonald crossed to Woolford inside the box, he shrugged off Bassong and slotted the ball into the bottom corner.  That certainly depressed the mood in the home stands.  Watford tried to strike back immediately as Vydra played a through ball to Paredes but his shot rebounded off the post.  Millwall’s Dunne went down dramatically after a challenge from Deeney.  Watford played on and Dunne leapt to his feet and sprinted back to defend.  At the next break in play Forde bafflingly went to remonstrate with the referee and was booked.  The next time that the ball went anywhere near the goal was on the half hour when a free-kick from Tözsér flew over the bar.  The next action of note was a bizarre challenge by Vydra, who was clearly frustrated as he jumped into Williams.  He was fortunate not to be carded.

Forde trying to organize his wall

Forde trying to organize his wall

Injury forced an early Watford substitution as Bassong made way for Hoban.  An attempted break by Ighalo was stopped by a push from Briggs who was shown a yellow card for his trouble.  From the free-kick, Ighalo unleashed a shot that was turned around the post by Forde.  The resultant corner was straight off the training ground as it was played out to Andrews, who dinked it in to Vydra, running into the box, who got the slightest touch and the ball trickled over the line.  The goal invigorated Matej who next hit a shot from a cut back by Ighalo which was turned just wide.  Then, from the corner, he headed just over.  For the visitors, Fuller broke into the box and went down under a challenge but the referee was having none of it and the forward was booked for his protests.  In time added on at the end of the first half, Dunne bundled Deeney over on the edge of the box and was booked for the offence.  Tözsér’s free-kick was a bullet that flew past the wall and into the net.  The Millwall keeper, Forde, didn’t move.  It had been a strange first half, with a long period when nothing much happened, but it had burst into life at the end and it was great to go into half time a goal to the good.

Tozser congraulated on his bullet

Tozser congraulated on his bullet

Millwall had the first chance of the second half as Woolford got his head to a corner from Williams but he directed it wide of the target.  At the other end, a header from Hoban was saved, but the flag was already up for offside.  Deeney and Munari exchanged passes then played a through ball for Vydra but Forde was first to the ball.  On the hour, Holloway made his first substitution as Briggs was replaced by Malone.  Martin tried to break forward but was taken down by Hoban who was booked for the foul.  On 63 minutes, Watford increased the lead as, from a free-kick, Vydra cut the ball back to Munari who lashed it past Forde for Watford’s third goal.  A frustrated Fuller kicked out at Ekstrand and was lucky not to see a second yellow card so Holloway did the sensible thing and replaced him with Gueye before he got himself sent off.

Harry joins in the celebrations for the third goal

Harry congratulates Munari on the third goal

Jokanovic also made a change replacing Vydra with Dyer.  Hearts were in mouths in the Rookery as Woolford beat Hoban and shot goalwards, but Pudil was on hand to clear the shot off the line.  Gueye’s first contribution was a shot through a crowd of players that was easily caught by Gomes.  A terrible back pass from Williams almost increased Watford’s lead as it appeared to beat Forde, but it drifted just wide.  With 10 minutes remaining, Pudil needed a team mate’s help with a touch of cramp, was told to leave the pitch having ‘received treatment’ and soon after was replaced by Doyley.  The Millwall players seemed determined to score an own goal, this time Forde had to reach to prevent a back header sneaking in.  Holloway’s final substitution saw Martin make way for O’Brien.  There was another bizarre occurrence as a Millwall player went behind the advertising hoardings to retrieve the ball and took the throw-in from there leading the referee to blow up for a foul throw.  Gueye broke into the box and cut the ball back but Gomes dropped to gather.  Gomes then had to be smart to tip over a header from Dunne.  Dyer released Paredes who ran the length of the pitch but his shot was deflected wide.  That was the last action of the game as the whistle went to cheers and chants of “We are top of the league.”

Yet again, it hadn’t been a brilliant performance but we had broken down a well-organized Holloway side and, once we’d got the third goal had never been in any danger.  We all agreed that sometimes you have to win ugly.  It is far too early in the season and far too tight at the top of the Championship to get too excited, but we are now none games unbeaten and the signs are all good for an exciting season.

Our First Visit to Huish Park

Jostling in the box

Jostling in the box

As I sat at work on Tuesday morning listening to the rain, I feared another abortive tip to Yeovil.  In the event, I had a decent journey and arrived to sunshine and blue sky.  Our party gathered in the pub which was soon home to a host of other Watford fans, a number of whom I had also seen in there on New Year’s Day.  We’d been told that the ground was only a couple of hundred metres from the pub, so it was odd to set off and not see any evidence of a stadium.  But as we cut through an industrial estate, I finally caught sight of some floodlights.  The security procedure prior to the game was completely over the top with every man, woman and child being frisked before they were permitted entry to the ground.  I questioned the necessity of this and was told that a grandmother had smuggled a flare in for her grandson and so we were all to be treated as suspects.  On taking my first look inside Huish Park, it has to be said that it’s a lovely neat little ground and it was absolutely wonderful to be on an open terrace right on top of the action.

Team news was that Almunia and Ekstrand were back from injury and Ranegie was to make his debut.  In fact there were six changes from Saturday, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Pudil, Tözsér, Merkel, Ranegie, Battocchio, Anya, and Deeney.

 

Ranegie tries to break into the box

Ranegie tries to break into the box

There was an early scare for the Hornets as Miller poked the ball past Almunia in the second minute, but the goal was ruled out for offside.  Miller threatened again as he broke forward and cut the ball back for Hayter but the shot was blocked.  It was Miller again, but this time he went for goal himself and shot over the bar.  Watford’s first chance fell to Merkel who latched on to a header down from Deeney and lashed it over the bar.  Then Yeovil’s Lawrence tried a shot from distance which went just wide.  On 13 minutes, it was the turn of the visitors to have a goal disallowed as Anya found Merkel in an offside position in the box, he turned and shot past Stech but everyone in the ground knew the flag would be raised.  At the other end Lawrence broke into the box and cut the ball back

Yeovil line up a free kick

Yeovil line up a free kick

to Edwards who shot just wide.  The visitors tested the Yeovil keeper for the first (and last) time as Merkel got on the end of a cross from Anya and Stech had to pull off a flying save to keep it out.  Watford were having a decent spell as Angella had a shot that was just wide of the target, and then Merkel tried a shot from distance that was well over the bar.  Then there was some great defending by Yeovil as Deeney received a pass from Battocchio but Duffy just took the ball from his feet.  At the other end, a free kick from Lundstram curled dangerously goalwards and Almunia had to leap to get a hand to it.  Then Deeney had a shot that was deflected for a corner.  Lawrence tested Almunia with a shot from close to the bye-line which the Spaniard got a hand to and kept out.  The first half passed quickly but there hadn’t been a lot in the way of goalmouth action.

 

Ranegie and Duffy

Ranegie and Duffy

In the second half, Watford were shooting towards the goal in front of the terrace accommodating the travelling Hornets.  There was a decent move early on as Anya received the ball on the right and crossed for Pudil whose shot was blocked.  We barely saw anyone down our end after that.  Yeovil threatened as a shot from Hayter was parried by Almunia before being hacked clear by Ekstrand.  The ball broke to Deeney in a dangerous position, but he was closed down and couldn’t find room for a shot.  Then Watford lost the ball from a short corner, Yeovil broke on the counter and Lawrence shot over the bar.  Next Edwards fed Miller who advanced goalwards, but his shot was deflected just over and into the netting on top of the goal.  The defender, Duffy, had a header on target but it was straight at Almunia.  Soon after Lawrence, who had been a constant threat,

Lining up to defend

Lining up to defend

shot wide of the far post.  On 70 minutes, Anya found Battocchio who put in a cross that was caught by Stech.  Then came the first booking of the game as Ranegie had his legs taken from under him by Webster.  Watford’s first substitution saw Murray replacing Merkel.  There was a rare glimpse of action down our end as Anya broke forward, his cross was deflected before being punched clear by Stech.  Then Yeovil had a decent chance after Murray gave the ball away, Ralls crossed for Miller who headed wide of the target.  A double substitution was announced for the home side although at this time only Hayter made way for Moore.  From a Yeovil corner, Almunia got to a glancing back-header to punch clear.  Then Almunia had to dive low to save a free-kick from Ralls.  Yeovil then made their second substitution with Lundstram making way for Morgan.  Cassetti picked up a booking for a foul on Lawrence.  Boredom had set in at this point, so my attention was drawn to the delightful sound of a Dorset cow bell.  This coincided with a chant starting in the away end: “If we score, we’re on the pitch,” which was greeted with a comment that the pitch was safe.  With four minutes remaining, Cassetti took Lawrence

Almunia lines up to take a kick

Almunia lines up to take a kick

down again and was very lucky to escape with just a final warning.  With a couple of minutes left on the clock, Faraoni replaced Pudil.  Miller then went flying into Tözsér and was booked for his trouble.  In time added on, we finally saw some action in the Yeovil box as a Faraoni cross was clearly handled by McAllister.  The linesman was in a perfect position to see it, but didn’t flag and the referee just gave a corner.  If truth be told, a Watford win would have been a travesty since I could only remember Stech having to make a single save and it had been all Yeovil in the second half.

While I haven’t particularly enjoyed the past two home games, our performance against the team bottom of the division was like watching paint dry.  Ranegie showed some good touches on his debut, but he didn’t seem to want to get involved.  The highlight of the evening was definitely the experience of being in the ground.  There is something about standing on an open terrace right on top of the action that makes you feel less of a spectator and more a part of the game.  The other plus point was that I was staying over and only 10 minutes’ walk from the pub.  The pints of post-match cider were very welcome as we tried to banish the memory of the game.