Tag Archives: Carlos Sanchez

A Goal at Last, but No Points

Gathering for a corner

After the poor start to the season, the last thing that I needed to hear before this game was that Deeney was out after surgery and Doucouré and Pereyra were both doubtful due to injury.  I had not been very hopeful anyway, but any vestiges of confidence disappeared completely.

I arrived at the West Herts at my usual time to see Don already in place, the rest of our crew gathered slowly.  When the team news came through, a bloke at the other end of the table told his friends that they wouldn’t want to see it.  So, I was rather relieved to discover that Gracia had been forced to make only the two changes with Cleverley and Gray coming in for Pereyra and Deeney.  Doucouré had passed a late fitness test.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Dawson, Femenía; Capoue, Doucouré; Deulofeu, Cleverley, Hughes; Gray.  Record signing, Sarr, was to make his first appearance on the bench.

As the teams came out, the Audentior banner was run up the centre of the Rookery.

After the past few games, when Foster has been wearing a disturbing shade of orange, it was good to see him sporting a blue shirt.  Maybe this would herald a change in our fortunes.

Cleverley congraulates Gray on his goal

Those hopes were dashed in a mad first couple of minutes.  First Deulofeu tumbled in the West Ham box, the penalty appeal was waved away.  The visitors then broke down the other end of the pitch, Cathcart put in a welcome tackle, but the ball broke to Lanzini who went down under a challenge from Doucouré and the referee pointed to the spot.  The crowd in the Rookery behind the goal, tried their best to put Noble off, but he sent Foster the wrong way and the visitors were ahead.  The Hornets had a great chance for an equaliser when Femenía surged down the wing, the ball reached Deulofeu by way of Hughes and Gray, but his shot hit the top of the crossbar, I felt that he should have done better.  Watford had a really good spell of possession at this point, but the next chance fell to the visitors as Anderson broke forward and found Lanzini whose flicked shot was just wide.  From the goal kick, Watford had a great chance to level the score, but Deulofeu’s shot was blocked by Diop.  A lovely passing move from the Hornets finished with a shot from Doucouré being put behind for a corner which came to nothing.  The equaliser came in the 17th minute when Hughes played in Gray who shot across Fabianski into the opposite corner.  It was lovely to have a goal to celebrate at last and, given the positive way that we were playing, I now felt that we could get something from this game.

Cleverley getting into position while Kiko is distracted

Gray had a decent chance to grab a second soon after, but his shot was wild and flew high and wide.  At the other end, West Ham’s record signing Haller attempted an overhead kick, but Foster was equal to it.  On 25 minutes, there was a break in the game for the players to take on water and cool down a bit.  The rehydration was certainly needed, as the game had been end-to-end and played at quite a pace.  The match restarted with a decent chance for the Hornets as Holebas put a great cross in for Gray, but the shot was terrible and flew wide of the near post.  At the other end, Anderson tried his luck with a shot from distance that was deflected over the bar.  The corner was met by the head of Ogbonna, but it was an easy catch for Foster.  There were appeals for a penalty as Gray appeared to be fouled in the box while attempting to get on the end of a cross from Holebas.  It was clear that the referee was checking via VAR, but he indicated that the previously awarded throw-in should go ahead.  Watford created another good chance as Deulofeu played the ball out to Femenía, who put in a lovely cross for Doucouré whose header was deflected for a corner.  The delivery from Holebas fell to Cleverley who shanked it way over the bar.  The visitors should have increased their lead from a corner as Anderson’s shot came back off the inside of the far post, much to my relief.

So, the half-time whistle went with the score level.  It had been an entertaining half of football with some lovely play from the Hornets but, as is so often the case, the finishing was wasteful.

During the break, there was a presentation about the WFC Community Trust’s Golden Memories programme.  This is aimed at people with mild to moderate dementia and “will use a host of memorabilia and magic moments to stimulate the senses and evoke personal memories”.  This was introduced by Hannah Foster who is the contact point for the programme (Hannah.foster@watfordfc.com) with a guest appearance by Watford legend Tom Walley, who is suffering from dementia.  I was delighted at the reception that Tom was given as he waved appreciatively to the crowd.

Capoue and Cleverley wait for the ball in

The first attack of the second half came from the Hornets, Deulofeu’s shot was blocked with a number in the Rookery claiming that it was stopped by a hand.  The referee did not agree.  At the other end Yarmolenko tried a looping shot, but Foster parried and then gathered at the second attempt.  The Hornets should have taken the lead ten minutes into the half when a lovely ball from Deulofeu released Gray who rounded the goalkeeper before crossing for Hughes, who looked to have an easy tap in from close range but managed to knock the ball wide.  West Ham made their first substitution as Antonio replaced Yarmolenko.  The substitute almost made an immediate impact as he bore down on goal, but Foster came out to block the shot and then followed up to make a tackle outside the box and clear the ball.  Watford had another excellent chance as Hughes played a lovely ball back to Deulofeu in the box, but the shot was straight at Fabianski.  The first booking of the game went to Holebas (of course) for a poor tackle on Antonio.  A minute later, the visitors retook the lead with a goal that was gifted to them by poor defending.  Anderson was allowed to waltz into the box without a challenge before pulling the ball back for Haller to score.  It was incredibly dispiriting after some excellent attacking work by the Hornets.  The home side had a chance to hit back almost immediately as a free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Gray whose effort was just wide of the far post.

Sarr and Welbeck waiting to come on

The Hornets threatened again after Cleverley made a tackle in midfield and advanced down the wing, the ball found its way to Deulofeu whose shot was easily caught by Fabianski.  A nasty looking foul on Cleverley was not penalised, allowing the visitors to break, the resultant shot was deflected for a corner.  Antonio was allowed a free header from Anderson’s delivery, Foster made an excellent save to keep it out, but he conceded another corner.  Again, from the corner, Foster was equal to the header from Antonio, but he could only tip it onto the bar and Haller scored the rebound.  While all this was going on, Welbeck and Sarr had been on the sidelines waiting to come on.  They finally replaced Deulofeu and Hughes, but it looked like the substitutions were too late for the Hornets.  Welbeck’s first meaningful attack was stopped short as he was taken down by Ogbonna, who was booked for his trouble.  The visitors made a second substitution with Fornals replacing Anderson who angered the home fans by walking across the pitch instead of leaving at the touchline where he had been standing.  Some good work from Sarr created a chance for Cleverley who spun and shot just over the target.  Cleverley then turned provider, playing in Doucouré whose shot was saved by Fabianski.  Watford continued to create chances as a corner reached Gray, who held off the defender before hitting a shot that was just wide of the target.  Each side made a final substitution as Quina replaced Cleverley for the home side and Lanzini made way for Sanchez for the visitors.  The Hornets had one last chance to reduce the deficit after a foul on Welbeck, but the free kick from Holebas was cleared to Capoue whose shot from distance flew over the bar.  The final whistle went to boos from a good number of the home fans who had remained in the ground.

Our first sight of record signing, Sarr

Back at the West Herts, our numbers were depleted as some of our group had made a rapid departure.  But, as Jacque and I were going to have to get trains home that were likely to be packed with celebrating West Ham fans, we decided to have a couple of drinks to let the crowds disperse.

The post-match mood was sombre.  As last week against Everton, we faced a team that we could and should have beaten, but we were undone by our lack of clinical finishing and the generosity of our defence.  Dawson is getting a lot of criticism, but he was left exposed by Femenía who certainly adds to our attacking options but is so often missing in defence.  I was encouraged by a lot of the forward play but, too often, the players wait for the perfect sight of goal and end up losing out to a defender.

As I sat there sulking, I commented to one of the West Herts regulars that I hate football.  This started a conversation in which the complaints about the current performances were followed by reminiscences of watching football in the Furphy years, terrible pitches and away trips to Workington and Torquay with less than friendly welcomes from the locals.  We then got on to a discussion of recent owners and how close we were to not having a club at all and suddenly the day’s defeat didn’t seem so bad.  I have watched with horror the goings on at Bolton and Bury in recent months.  Knowing how easily that could have been our fate, I find it hard to get too despondent about a couple of Premier League defeats.  I have every confidence that we can turn this poor run of form around and in years to come we will be looking back on these as the good old days.

 

No Way, Jose

Don and I with Capoue and Mariappa

The end of season dinner took place last Thursday and was a really lovely evening.  The first person of note that I encountered was Gino Pozzo. As he walked past me, I thanked him and he smiled. He was busy at that point, so I didn’t bother him.  The Taylor family were out in force as usual and I had a hug from Rita and a chat with Karen.

One of our party is an old friend of Caroline Robinson, so was delighted to be there to see Paul inducted into the Hall of Fame. Paul’s speech was really heart-warming. He spoke with such passion about his time at Watford and how he didn’t want to leave. He also paid warm tribute to Luther, Gibbsy and, of course, GT in the course of which he thanked Rita for all that they did for him. Our present leadership did him proud as he was given a table for 10 so his parents and in-laws were there with Paul, Caroline and their 4 children rather than sitting at home baby-sitting.  His youngest son spent the rest of the evening walking around clutching his trophy.

Javi had a smile and a hug for everyone

Young player of the season was Domingos Quina. His message was that he just wants to play. I hope that we see a lot more of him.  Players’ Player was Ben Foster who was rightly lauded for his positive attitude and sense of humour.  Despite a sterling effort by Alice to garner enough votes for José Holebas, Gerard Deulofeu won the Individual Performance of the Season for his tremendous substitute performance at the semi-final. He also won the Goal of the Season (of course). He paid tribute to his teammates and said that it was all about winning as a team. Last year I was trying to persuade him that Watford was a much better location than Barcelona. This year he seemed very happy to have made the move.

Player of the Season was a fight between Holebas, Foster and Etienne Capoue.  Capoue was the very worthy winner and his speech was lovely. “I love my club and I love the fans.” He is such a warm, smiley guy. I have loved watching him on the pitch this season and he was equally lovely off the pitch.

Javi was surrounded by fans all evening and had a smile and a hug for all of them.  The same was true, as it is every year, of Troy and Heurelho. Both Watford legends who have so much time for the fans.  I love them both.

But I think my highlight of the evening was my second encounter with Gino. I had spent the evening saying “Thank-you” to all the players and staff that I met, but Gino deserved that extra heartfelt thanks, especially with the recent re-emergence of Bassini bringing back so many horrible memories. Gino and his wife were absolutely lovely, countering my thanks with their own for my support of the club. I came away a little gobsmacked and very touched.

The jumper from the 84 cup final, a thing of great beauty

Sunday was the sixth anniversary of the play-off semi-final against Leicester.  A game that must be among the favourites of all Watford fans who were in attendance.  I still howl at the injustice when the penalty is given and squeal with delight at the double save, shout “don’t try to shoot” at Hoggy and then DEENEY!!!!  The memory gives me goosepimples and reminds me why I love football so much.

I was in Watford bright and early in order to visit the exhibition at the Museum.  As I walked down the High Street, I encountered a chancer selling dodgy looking merchandise and wearing a shirt bearing the legend “Garcia’s Cup Final Heroes.”  I said, “You do know his name is Gracia.”  He laughed, “Yes, I’ll fix it tomorrow.”  Hmmm.

On arrival at the museum, I was very happy to see my friend, Sarah, welcoming visitors.  While there I took the opportunity to buy the “Hornet Heaven” collection so I will have something to read during the close season.  The exhibition was a look back at our previous Wembley finals and was absolutely lovely.  There were lots of mementoes of the previous events, including medals that belonged to GT and Nigel Gibbs.  A wonderful jumper with “Taylor Made for Wembley” and the 84 players’ names knitted into bands around the waist and cuffs.  My friend, Farzana, had contributed knitted versions of Deeney, Gomes, Deulofeu and Mariappa.  The attention to detail was stunning.  As if that wasn’t enough, I was thrilled to be able to (don white gloves and) hold the Play-off final trophy.  What an honour.  Sarah and Farzana had put on a crafting day on Saturday for children (and adults) to come along and make rosettes and bunting.  The room was still open and I know of more than one adult who took the opportunity to make themselves a rosette for Wembley.  While there, a number of old friends arrived, so it was lovely to catch up.

Holding the play-off trophy

It says a lot about my matchday habits that I was horrified to be arriving at the West Herts at 1:30, which seemed to be obscenely late.  Still, I managed to fit in a couple of beers, some lunch, pork scratchings and fill a goody bag of sweets, so all the requisite boxes were ticked.

Team news was that Gracia had made two changes from the Chelsea game bringing Capoue and Kabasele in for Chalobah and Mariappa.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu, Deeney.

One of my pre-match rituals is to don my replica shirt when I get to my seat, so I was horrified when I could not find my shirt in my bag.  I panicked, came to terms with the fact that I hadn’t brought it, then took one last rummage and found it at the bottom, hidden under the books and swag that I had acquired at the museum.  What a relief!!

The Hornets started the game very brightly and Deulofeu had the ball in the net within the first minute, but I stayed in my seat as I had already seen that the flag was up for offside.  Geri had another decent chance soon after with a shot from the edge of the area, but Fabianski was down to make the save.  A lovely passage of play finished with a cross from Hughes that was blocked for a corner, from which Pereyra played the ball back to Doucouré whose shot was deflected wide.  From this corner, the ball dropped to Hughes whose overhead kick was saved by Fabianski.

Hughes shouting instructions as Capoue looks worried

The first chance for the visitors came as Antonio won a free kick on the edge of the box.  It was in a dangerous position, but Lanzini’s delivery was dreadful and went out of play.  So, it was against the run of play when Noble opened the scoring in the 15th minute after exchanging passes with Antonio, he beat Kabasele and finished into the bottom corner.  A dispiriting turn of events, but there was still a long way to go.  The Hammers had a chance to extend their lead from a free kick, Lanzini’s delivery was headed clear by Capoue, but only as far as Antonio whose shot from distance was wide of the target.  The visitors were forced into an early change as an injury to Fredericks meant that he had to be replaced by Zabaleta.  Deulofeu tested Fabianski again with a lovely shot, but the keeper was equal to it.  Then Pereyra received a cross from Holebas, turned and shot, but it was an easy catch for Fabianski.  Pereyra went on a run which looked very promising when Zabaleta slipped, allowing him a clear path to goal, but he squared the ball instead of shooting and it went out for a corner.   Yet again Watford were made to rue missed chances, as a shot from Antonio was turned onto the bar by Foster and Lanzini headed the rebound home.  Watford could have pulled one back with the last kick of the half, but Deeney’s close range shot was cleared off the line.  So we went into the break two goals down and, yet again, feeling that it didn’t reflect the balance of play.  West Ham had scored with their only two on-target shots of the half.

Mike being interviewed after winning the Supporter of the Season award

At half time, the Supporter of the Season award was presented to my dear friend, Mike Raggett, in honour of his sterling work for the Community Trust including the gorgeous book that was produced for their 25th anniversary that was pretty much all his own work (and was a lot of work).  He was introduced to the Hornets by his lovely wife, Dee, who we sadly lost a couple of years ago, so it was also a fitting tribute to her memory.  Academy player of the season was Daniel Phillips.  Watford Ladies Player of the Season was their captain, Helen Ward.

I was just sitting down for the second half after kick-off when I heard a shout and looked up to see Deulofeu rounding Fabianski and slotting the ball into the net.  He celebrated briefly, but the team quickly returned to the centre circle in order to ensure a quick restart.  The smiles were soon taken off our faces as Antonio went down under a challenge from Holebas.  He had been so easily knocked off his feet during the first half, that I was sure the referee would give the decision against him.  Instead, after intervention from the linesman, he brandished a red card and José was sent to the dressing room.  My blood ran cold.  The photo of Wilf Rostron when he realised that he was being sent off and would miss the cup final in 1984 is etched on my memory.  It still hurts that such a lovely bloke missed the biggest game of his career.  The idea that another left back, one who is so passionate and has been so great for us this season, would suffer the same fate was almost too much to bear.

Goalscorer Deulofeu

The Hornets had a great chance for an equaliser as Deulofeu broke into the box and, for once, did the unselfish thing and passed to Doucouré, the ball was cut out and cleared, if Geri had been selfish and taken a shot the game would likely have been level. Deulofeu had another chance almost immediately, this time he tried to chip the keeper, but Fabianski was able to make the catch.  Pereyra was the next one to fashion a chance as he ran into the box but was muscled off the ball and the chance was gone.  At the other end, there was a rare chance for the visitors as Arnautović hit a shot from distance well over the bar.  Gracia’s first substitution was also forced on him as Deulofeu picked up a knock and had to be replaced by Gray.  There was a shout for a penalty as Gray was bundled over in the box, but the referee gave a corner.  Watford threatened again as Femenía put a decent cross into the box, both Deeney and Gray jumped for it, but neither could make the necessary connection.  Another great opportunity went begging when a low cross from Hughes found Deeney, but the captain was unable to control the ball and it went out for a goal kick.  At the midpoint of the half, both teams made a substitution with Wilshere replacing Lanzini for the visitors and Hughes making way for Masina for the Hornets.  The visitors threatened again as Arnautović broke into the box and tried a shot, but Foster was equal to it.

Challenging in the West Ham box

West Ham’s third goal came soon after.  A volley from Anderson bounced back off the post and Arnautović was on hand to put in the rebound.  I think the heads of everyone to do with Watford dropped at this point.  West Ham had another chance as Antonio tried to chip Foster, but the Watford stopper did well to make the save.  Antonio went down again, this time under a challenge from Femenía in the box, and the referee pointed to the spot.  Before they could take the penalty, Gracia made his final substitution replacing Kabasele with Mariappa.  When Noble finally stepped up to take the spot kick, he sent Foster the wrong way and the rout was complete.  At this point the ground started to empty, much to my annoyance, which was voiced by a guy in the next block to me who sang “loyal supporters” to those departing.  The visitors made their final change with Sánchez coming on in place of Rice.  The Hornets had a couple of late chances to spare their blushes.  First, from a Mariappa throw-in, Deeney tried a back header but Fabianski made the save.  Then a cross from Doucouré found Deeney whose shot swept wide of the target.  There was just time for Capoue to pick up a record 14th yellow card for the season and the referee blew up to put us out of our misery.

Gomes addressing the crowd

I am pleased to report that the final whistle was met with applause from those left in the Rookery.  Those who stayed were treated to the presentation of the main player awards for the season, a farewell speech from Gomes, several of the kids having their Makka Salah moment (although there was a mini goalie involved on this occasion) and an unprovoked attack on Harry Hornet by a group of the younger children.  I have to say that we were highly amused to see Nate Chalobah taking a series of photos of various members of his family with Harry.  They certainly let him know who they thought was the star.

I hate leaving the ground after the last match of the season, so left very late and saw José and Diana Holebas walking towards me.  He looked devastated and I could only say thank you to him for all that he has done for us this season.

 

Knitted Deulofeu

Back to the West Herts for our final post-match drinks of the season.  Mike was there, proudly showing off his Supporter of the Season trophy.  But, apart from celebrating Mike’s success, the mood was somewhat sombre.  We had only needed a point to achieve a top half finish and I was gutted that we hadn’t managed to do that.  However, I took a deep breath and remembered that my hope at the start of the season was just that we would finish higher than we had in the seasons since our return to the top division.  My optimistic prediction had been 12th and we had surpassed that.  Watford haven’t had a top half finish in the top division since the first GT era, so this was something to celebrate.  When you add to that the fact that we are in an FA Cup Final for only the second time in our history, this will go down as one of the best seasons that we have ever experienced.  So, despite the disappointing end, the memories of this season will be mostly joyous.

However, the thing that was really upsetting me was the sending off of José Holebas.  I still have not got over the injustice done to Wilf Rostron in 1984.  My sister took a banner to the final declaring “Wilf is Innocent”.  I have never forgiven either Roger Milford or Paul Elliott for their parts in him missing the cup final.  The thought that Jose Holebas, who has become a bit of a cult figure for his Eeyore-like demeanour but has also been one of our best players this season, was going to miss the final broke my heart.  I have to say that it was a good thing that I chose to work from home today as, when the news came through that the red card had been overturned, I sobbed uncontrollably.  Suddenly there is a good omen for next Saturday.  Jose is innocent and the Hornets have the opportunity to choose from their best players for the final.  Our chances are slim, but in a cup game you never know.  As long as we all take our best game to Wembley, we have a chance. Oh, there go those nerves again.

Mathematically Safe at Last

Abdi and Paredes

Abdi and Paredes

The week before this game was dominated by feelings of disappointment following the FA Cup semi-final at which our team really didn’t do themselves justice.  I had a clear indication of my level of disillusion after that game when I realized on Tuesday morning that I had completely forgotten to buy tickets for the trip to Norwich the previous day.  Normally I buy my tickets for away games as soon as they go on sale.

In the wider football world, the main news of the week had been the final verdicts in the Hillsborough inquest.  Those of us who went to football in the 80s were all too aware of the conditions that we faced at grounds and the attitudes of the authorities towards us.  What happened at Hillsborough could just as easily have happened to me and my family and friends and the vilification that the victims and their families have endured over the past 27 years has been shocking beyond belief.  I am very thankful that the truth that was so evident to anyone without an agenda in the 80s is now a matter of record.  Well done to the families for never giving up their fight for justice.

Miguel Britos

Miguel Britos

On the train to the game, I was reading the BBC football website and the responses to their request for people to comment on what they were looking forward to from the day’s football.  One comment stood out.  “Does anyone care about Watford vs Aston Villa? #deadrubber.”  It was hard to argue with that viewpoint although, even though I have felt that we were safe ever since we hit 37 points, Watford were not yet mathematically safe from relegation.  When we took our seats in the Rookery, I was very impressed with the number of Aston Villa fans who had made the journey from Birmingham for this fixture.  Although the mood among them did not seem particularly positive as, with good reason, they booed when the name of their captain, Lescott, was read out.

One other story dominating the Watford press during the week concerned the strong rumours that Flores would be on his way during the Summer.  Speculation regarding his future seemed grossly unfair given that he had achieved the aim of keeping Watford in the Premier League with the added bonus of an FA Cup semi-final.  The reaction to these rumours on the social media that I bother with had been mixed, so it was pleasing to see the 1881 display a flag bearing Flores’ face prior to kick off.

Flores in the dugout

Flores in the dugout

Team news was that there were four changes from Sunday with Gomes, Paredes, Anya and Suárez in for Pantilimon, Nyom, Aké and Capoue.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Britos, Cathcart, Paredes, Jurado, Watson, Suárez, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo.  The Watford players all took to the pitch wearing black armbands which I assumed were in honour of Ighalo’s father who passed away last week, but I am happy to be contradicted on that one.

The support for Flores from the Watford fans continued after kick off as his name was chanted non-stop for the first 15 minutes of the game.  Watford started well and fashioned an early chance as a cross from Abdi reached Jurado who played the ball out to Suárez whose shot was over the bar.  Then Deeney got his head to a Jurado cross, but his connection was not solid and the ball flew wide of the Villa goal.  Jurado went on a promising run which finished with a cross that was too far in front of Ighalo.  Then Ighalo did well to beat a couple of defenders in the box, but his shot was blocked for a corner while Deeney was in space.  At this point Troy let his strike partner know in no uncertain terms how unhappy he was with his decision making.  A chant of “Championship you’re having a laugh” emanated from the away end and I could only assume this was aimed at their own players who had been woeful to that point.

Abdi and Suarez line up for the free kick that led to the goal

Abdi and Suarez line up for the free kick that led to the goal

Deeney made what looked like a terrible tackle on Bacuna who, thankfully, got up unharmed and there was no punishment for Deeney beyond the award of the free kick.  Paredes found Abdi on the overlap, his cross reached Ighalo at the far post where his shot was blocked by Bunn sticking a foot out.  At this point, half way through the first half, the Rookery crowd were yelling “shoot”, every time a Watford player got the ball anywhere near the Villa box and they were rewarded when Watson blasted a volley from distance that crashed off the crossbar.  Villa’s first goal attempt came on 26 minutes and it was a dreadful shot from distance by Ayew that flew well over the target.  This prompted the travelling Villa fans to jump up and down celebrating as if a goal had been scored while chanting “We’ve had a shot”.   So it was a shock to everyone in the ground when the visitors took the lead two minutes later as Clark met a Westwood corner and headed it past Gomes.  The Villa fans celebrated properly and followed up with “Easy, easy” and “We scored a goal.”  Watford looked to hit back through Deeney who latched on to a ball over the top and won a corner off Toner.  Jurado’s delivery was headed on by Britos to Abdi who should have done better with the shot, but he directed it way off target.  Villa threatened again with a cross from Hutton, but Cathcart was on hand to head clear.

Celebrating Abdi's strike

Celebrating Abdi’s strike

The Villa fans continued their continuous singing with “There’s only one Graham Taylor”, which was lovely and I was very disappointed that the Watford fans didn’t join in (I seemed to be on my own).  The first caution went to Bacuna for a trip on Anya.  Watford’s next chance on goal came when Deeney met a cross from Suárez with a hopeful header that flew wide.  The visitors nearly extended their lead with a header from Ayew that hit the post.  Watford had a decent chance to equalize as Ighalo met a cross from Abdi with a header, but Lescott was in close attendance and the ball bounced off him and safely to Bunn.  In time added on at the end of the half, when a large number of fans were already in the concourses queuing for their half time refreshments, Gueye was booked for a foul on Abdi just outside the box.  Almen stepped up to take the free kick himself and took the perfect free kick, hitting it up and over the wall and into the net past Bunn.  Having got my camera out to capture Deeney’s penalty at West Ham, I felt like I had jinxed it, so the camera was left in my pocket as Abdi stepped up I was rewarded with a goal.

Challenging at a Watford corner

Challenging at a Watford corner

On the balance of play, Watford deserved to go in to the break level.  We had been much the better side in the first 20 minutes and towards the end of the half, but heads had gone down after Villa took the lead and we had been poor in that period.

At half time, the U18s were given their trophy and medals for winning the Professional Development League 2 South.  The presentation took place in front of the SEJ stand, so they had their backs to those of us in the Rookery and I was disappointed that there was no lap of honour.

At the start of the second half, I realized that my notes on the first period had omitted any comment on the performance of the visitors.  As I looked up from writing “Villa dreadful” I saw Ayew running towards us with no Watford player anywhere near and he beat Gomes to restore the lead for the visitors.  That’ll teach me for tempting fate.  Villa threatened again as Ayew and Westwood broke forward before finding Gestede who shot high and wide prompting boos from the Rookery.

Cathcart and Deeney

Cathcart and Deeney

Flores made his first substitution just before the hour mark and, when the board went up showing that it was Paredes who would make way, there were loud cheers from the Watford fans.  He was replaced by Berghuis, who had impressed at West Ham.  More of the same please, Steven.  Watford had a great chance to draw level again as a Jurado corner was met by a header from Deeney that was cleared off the line.  At the other end, a free kick from Westwood was met with a header from Toner that went wide of the target.  Berghuis tried an audacious shot from distance which was deflected, taking the pace off it and ensuring it was easy for Bunn to deal with.  The 1881 had clearly lost patience with their team at this point as there were chants of “Are you Villa in disguise.”  Never good to hear fans getting so negative towards their own players.  Flores made a second substitution replacing Jurado with Amrabat.  Watford had an opportunity to equalize as Watson released Anya who went on a tremendous run down the middle of the pitch and was clean through on goal when Cissokho took him down on the edge of the box.  The Villa man was shown a red card for preventing a goal scoring opportunity.  Abdi’s free kick came back off the wall and the chance came to nothing.  The Villa keeper, Bunn, was booked for time wasting in an incident in which Ighalo lost patience with him delaying a kick, so decided to take it himself.

Gomes takes a goal kick

Gomes takes a goal kick

Watford threatened again as a Berghuis cross to the far post was blocked before it reached Deeney, it fell to Amrabat whose cross was headed wide by Ighalo.  There were hopeful appeals for a penalty when Britos went down under a challenge as a cross from Abdi came into the box, but the referee waved play on.  Frustration built further among the home fans as a series of crosses into the Villa box were met by defenders’ heads.  As the game drew to a close, Watford were pushing for an equalizer as a cross from Amrabat was palmed out by Bunn and then a powerful shot from Berghuis flew just wide.  The young Dutchman turned provider as the clock reached 90 minutes with a cross that was headed home by Deeney.  The Rookery went wild and, as Troy had been given constant abuse from the Villa fans, he appeared to enjoy his goal celebration at their end very much indeed.  The Watford fans followed the goal with a chant of “That boy, Troy Deeney, he hates the Villa.”  The announcement of five minutes of added time was greeted with loud cheers from the Watford faithful and they were rewarded three minutes into injury time as Ighalo knocked the ball down to Deeney who powered it past Bunn to win the game for the home side.

Abdi takes a throw-in

Abdi takes a throw-in

Just like the game at Villa Park earlier in the season, it was an unconvincing performance from the Hornets and we were very fortunate to come away with the three points.  Deeney had not looked happy during the game, but he was the hero of the day after hitting the two goals to secure the win.  As at West Ham, Berghuis had put in a very lively performance when he came on.  It was great to see him run at players.  He didn’t always succeed in beating them, but kept the ball on enough occasions to make you want to see him do it again.  The three points ensured that we remained in 12th position and were now mathematically safe from relegation.  I never thought that would be the case with three games remaining in the season.

We were listening to 3 Counties in the car on the way home and, given a lot of the anti-Flores stuff on social media during the week, I found it interesting that both the presenter and the majority of those sending in messages believed that Flores should still be the Watford manager next season.

It is all down to expectations.  I expected Watford to struggle this season and I suspect that my tolerance of the performances that I have seen lately is down to the fact that they are more in line with what I was expecting for this season.  The fact that we have also been treated to some very entertaining football and some historic wins means that Flores and his players are still in credit as far as I am concerned.

 

A Rare Win at Villa Park

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

Having endured the international break and then missed the Man Utd game due to work commitments, I was very happy to be going to a football match again.  On the train to Birmingham, I spotted a familiar face so was graced with delightful company for the journey.  The pre-match pub was a good one and even featured a blackboard offering “a match made in heaven” which was perched atop some gold and red baubles.  Was this a good omen?  A couple of the usual suspects were accompanied by Villa fans who, along with the locals, were prophets of doom for their team’s chances.  That always worries me as, in many years of following the Hornets, the bankers have never been those that we win.

Team news was that Flores had made two changes from the Man United game bringing Aké and Paredes in for Anya and Jurado.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Abdi, Deeney, Paredes and Ighalo.

A blurred celebration of the first goal

A blurred celebration of the first goal

The first chance of the game fell to the visitors as Ighalo played in Deeney on the edge of the box, but he hit the ball over the bar.  This bright start was followed by a longish spell of Villa pressure.  Ayew was the first to threaten the Watford goal as he broke forward and crossed, Gomes parried and Cathcart cleared.  Then, from a corner, a Sinclair header rebounded off the bar to safety.  Another Villa corner was met by Cathcart who cleared over the bar.  On 13 minutes, the young lad behind me complained that we should be winning.  That level of expectation is always worrying as it stops the crowd getting behind the team when they need them most.  Thankfully, he was placated 3 minutes later as Watford took the lead against the run of play.  Ighalo got into the box and manoeuvered into position for a shot, which was saved, the ball fell to Watson on the edge of the box, his shot was blocked and the ball rebounded to Ighalo who was in front of the Villa defence and made no mistake with his finish.  As we celebrated, the Villa players were calling for an offside decision.  Clark came over to question the lino on our side of the field, but was sent packing and the Hornets were a goal to the good.  The mood in the away end improved and there was even a spell of bouncing.  Watford looked to increase their lead but Deeney’s cross was cut out by Richards who had Ighalo lurking behind him.  Villa broke straight down the other end to win a corner from which they really should have scored, but Ayew shot wide from close range when it looked easier to hit the target.

An Abdi leap to challenge

An Abdi leap to challenge

Another Villa corner was headed clear by Watson.  At the other end, Deeney played a lovely through ball to Capoue, who had the goal at his mercy but shot straight at Guzan giving him an easy block.  Pete commented that maybe Capoue should get the odd half chance, because he never buries the easy ones.  A long ball from Britos was cleared by Richards with Deeney challenging.  Then Sánchez gave the ball away to Deeney, who probably should have tried a shot but instead tried a pass to Ighalo that was intercepted by Richards.  At the other end, a ball into the Watford box was cleared as far as Gueye who curled a shot just wide.  Villa had a great chance to equalize on the half hour as Ayew’s shot was parried by Gomes.  Sinclair should have done better with the follow-up, but hit it straight at the Watford keeper.  Sinclair then had a much better effort that required a really good save from Gomes to keep it out.  There was frustration for the visitors as Ighalo was prevented from reaching a lovely ball from Abdi by a tug on his shirt that was missed by the referee, much to his and our annoyance.  At the other end, the home side had another great chance to equalize as a corner reached Clark in the 6 yard box and he slid the ball wide from close range.  Villa threatened again as a Gomes punch went to Sánchez who, kindly, returned it to the Watford keeper.  With 10 minutes to half time, Villa won a free kick.  There were a lot of complaints in the away end about the distance that the referee pushed the wall back as it seemed considerably more than the required 10 yards.  The kick was taken, Richards had a free header and the game was level.  If truth be told, it was no more than Villa deserved as the visitors had been hanging on for some time.  The home side had a chance to take the lead just before half time, but Ayew just failed to connect with Sinclair’s ball across the box.

Britos lines up a free kick

Britos lines up a free kick

So the game was level at half time, but it had been a poor half from the visitors.  The weather which was windy with rain showers may have had an effect on the players, but it was certainly affecting the crowd.  Those who had priority booking for this game were housed in the lower tier.  My party were fortunate as our seats were far enough up that we had the protection of the roof, but half time saw the concourse packed with those from the seats at the front taking shelter from the rain.

There was a lively start to the second half as a Watson corner was met by a back-header from Deeney that was cleared.  Another corner was met with a side foot from Deeney that was cleared off the line.  On the hour, Gomes parried a cross and, while we missed seeing his collision with Cathcart, it was soon apparent from our vantage point in the stands that he was in a lot of pain, holding his head.  Heurelho was down having treatment for a considerable time, which is always a worry.  During the long break in play, the Villa fans decided to goad Deeney and the Watford fans responded with “Troy Deeney, Watford’s Number 9”.  I think it was also during this period that a moron in the Watford crowd decided to throw a flare onto the pitch.  They were identified and arrested so no more away days for them.  Heurelho was finally put into a neck brace and carried off on a stretcher, a sad sight.  But I was very impressed to see the Villa fans all rising to stand and applaud him off.  That is the way that it should be, but it was still really nice to see.  He was replaced by Arlauskis who came on wearing a short sleeved shirt on a cold day.  At the same time, Anya came on for Paredes, who had not had the best of games.  For the home side Adama Traoré replaced Gil.

Paredes on the move

Paredes on the move

Very soon after the game restarted Watford regained the lead.  A ball into the box from Deeney just seemed to drift into the Villa goal.  I couldn’t see who applied the final touch but it was put down as an own goal by Hutton.  Villa tried to bounce back from a corner, but the ball was turned just wide by Watson.  Then Nyom exchanged passes with Capoue on the right wing and hit a cross that was just a little too far in front of Ighalo.  Traoré had been menacing the Watford defence with his pace since he came on and soon drew a foul from Capoue that earned the Watford man a yellow card.  With 10 minutes remaining, Guedioura, the man with a permanent smile on his face, came on for Abdi.  Watford had a decent chance to further increase their lead as a lovely ball over the top from Cathcart was met with a volley by Deeney which flew over the bar.  Villa’s next substitution saw Gueye replaced by Gestede, which was a bit of a worry as I feel that he has done well against us in the past.  Arlauskis’s first involvement was not impressive as he dropped a cross from Traoré but, luckily, a defender was on hand to welly the ball clear.

The players' celebration masked by that in the Deadly Doug stand

The players’ celebration masked by that in the Deadly Doug stand

Watford were given a welcome cushion as a shot from Ighalo was blocked and looped up for Deeney to head home in front of the Holte End.  Judging by his reaction, I think Troy enjoyed that goal as much as, if not more than, we did.  The next contribution from Arlauskis was as worrying as his first, as an easy ball into the box that appeared to be falling straight into his arms was fumbled and dropped.  Thankfully he was alone in the box so had time to recover.  Villa pulled a goal back with a couple of minutes of normal time remaining as Ayew got the ball in the box turned and hit a terrific shot past Arlauskis to set up a nervous end to the game for the travelling Hornets.  From the restart Guedioura went on an impressive run and unleashed a shot that Guzan pushed around the post.  There was no surprise when the fourth official indicated 10 minutes of time added on but we could have done without it.  However, the first chance of time added on fell to the Hornets and it was Guedioura again but, again, Guzan was equal to his shot.  Aké was the next to get in on the act, hitting a shot from the edge of the area that was deflected wide.  Then a long ball flew over the head of Sánchez, as Deeney ran on to it the travelling faithful were screaming at him to shoot, but he took his time and his shot was blocked for a corner.  Deeney had another run on goal, this time instead of shooting he passed to Capoue whose cross was blocked for a corner, which was a good opportunity to waste a bit of time and the full time whistle went for a Watford win, provoking huge cheers in the away end.  In the post-match celebrations Flores blew a kiss to the crowd, while Deeney was beaming and couldn’t stop himself from gesturing (although not in a vulgar manner) to the home crowd.  They had given him enough grief that they deserved a little back.  Apart from that, there were very few of them left and it amused us greatly.

Ake and Ighalo anticipate

Ake and Ighalo anticipate

This wasn’t a great performance from the Hornets.  Our defence has been masterful this season, but was challenged more than might have been expected by a team that are struggling.  Deeney frustrated me as he seemed reluctant to shoot at times.  But we left Villa Park with three points and Deeney had scored his fourth goal in five games, so it seemed churlish to complain.  I couldn’t help harking back to our last visit to Villa Park for a league game when we went down to a harsh defeat at a time when we already felt doomed.  On this occasion, it was the home fans that were bemoaning their fate on the way out of the ground.  On the train back to London, we were sat opposite a Villa fan travelling with his son.  He had been very impressed with our movement and was much more positive about our performance than we were.  He said that he had a soft spot for Watford, probably because we had shared a manager (and what a manager).  He said that he had travelled on the local train to the ground surrounded by Watford fans and had been impressed by their spirit and conversation.  He then bemoaned what he was doing to his son by encouraging him to follow Villa when he could have chosen to support Chelsea or Man Utd.  Richard and I both assured him that his parenting skills were spot on in that regard.

We are now 14 games in to the season in 11th place and with 19 points on the board.  So just over a third of the way through the season with a points total that is almost halfway to safety.  I was sceptical about our chances following promotion, but I am loving this mid-table obscurity.

Of course the icing on the cake was the news that Gomes had been given the all clear and was able to travel home on the team bus.  He even tweeted to say that he just had a stiff neck.  What a relief.