Tag Archives: Cheikhou Kouyate

Heurelho Helps Us to Wembley

The GT Stand before the game

I had to travel to the US for work again this week.  Leaving after the City game and returning on Thursday morning, meant I didn’t have too much time to prepare for this match.  The crucial thing was not forgetting the paper ticket that had been sent out.  This was taken with me to the US as I was scared that jet-leg would lead to me leaving it in a drawer.

Due to the early kick-off, I decided to stay in London overnight on Friday.  On waking, and before I had really had time to think about my plans for the day, the nerves had already kicked in.  I caught the 9:24 from Euston to Watford and settled down with a coffee while noting that others on the train had already started on the beer.  Contemplating which podcast should accompany me, I decided to have another listen to the previous week’s From the Rookery End.  If I needed any more inspiration for the day, the rallying cry from the Parkin men, Mike and Arlo, certainly did the job.  As I passed Wembley on the train, I stared at the arch.  The new stadium hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for us, but that has to change one of these days and I wanted the chance to return (although I wish it wasn’t for a semi-final, those should be at Villa Park).  When the train emptied at the Junction, as it often does, it made a nice change to see that those disembarking were fans of football rather than Harry Potter.

Heurelho Gomes

I reached the West Herts a few minutes before the doors were due to open at 10 and there was already quite a crowd waiting.  When the doors opened, we took up position at ‘our’ table and were soon enjoying a pint and a bacon roll.  Breakfast of Champions.

Just to spite us, the clock there was running 30 minutes slow, but we noticed early enough to ensure that we left in plenty of time.  As we walked along Vicarage Road among the crowds, the anticipation built.  I noted that Wolfie had already sold out of programmes and hoped that my usual lady still had some left when I entered the ground (she did).  As we turned the corner into Occupation Road, I glanced over at the statue and knew that I had to greet GT.  I went over and took his hand, knowing that today would be a day he would have savoured.

The 1881 had put incredible efforts into making sure that there would be a tremendous atmosphere.  When we took our seats, the ground was already full of people waving flags.  The big screen was showing footage of earlier quarter-finals.  I enjoyed watching John Barnes lobbing Tony Coton in 1984, but it is the Arsenal game in 1987 that always comes to mind.  I loved that day out at Highbury.

Jose Holebas on the ball

The Palace fans had been given their required allocation, no more, no less.  Due to problems with segregation in the Vicarage Road end, this meant that the Palace fans were housed in two blocks in the stand with a netting area between them and a banner wishing the Hindu community Happy Holi India for their festival on Thursday this week.  It was an odd sight and one that had infuriated the visiting fans.

Team news was that Gracia had chosen what most would consider to be his strongest team with the exception of Gomes coming in for Foster for what would probably be his last game at Vicarage Road.  What a game to go out on.  It was interesting that Femenía had been chosen in place of Janmaat, who had done well recently.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.  The major news for Palace was that Zaha would miss the game through injury.  While he is undoubtedly a very talented player, he often seems to go missing.  So I wasn’t sure that his absence would have a major effect on the game, although it may have changed Harry Hornet’s game plan.  Of course, the lovely Ray Lew was back at Vicarage Road in the opposition dug out.  He managed us through times of penury, but still took us to an FA Cup semi-final.  He will always be a legend to me for that.

As the teams came out, the flags waved in the home stands, there were streamers and the Legends banner was unfurled from the Upper GT stand, meaning that Nigel Gibbs found himself sitting under his picture.  That had to be a good omen.

Doucoure and Pereyra

My niece, Maddie, had enjoyed the Leicester game so much that she made a late decision to come to this one.  Her seat was in a part of the Rookery away from the rest of us, but she hung around just in case one of the seats in our section remained unoccupied.  That didn’t happen, but the crowd in the Rookery forgot to sit down, so the extra person in our row was not apparent and we were able to enjoy the match together.

The game kicked off and the Rookery were in good voice singing “Is that all you take away” to the Palace fans, before launching into “Heurelho Gomes baby” for our veteran keeper.  He was in action early in the game as the first goal chance fell to the visitors as Townsend played the ball back to Milivojevic whose shot was saved by Gomes, although it was off target anyway.  Watford’s first action of note came from a free kick, Holebas floated it into the box where McArthur took Hughes down, but the referee. Kevin Friend, waved away our appeals for a penalty.  After a quarter of an hour, there was a break in play as the players burst a number of red and blue balloons that were invading the pitch in the corner in front of the Family Stand.  Having found a pitchfork somewhere, Harry joined in with some enthusiasm.

Capoue giving thanks for his goal

Watford’s first chance of the game came as Deulofeu burst into the box and shot from a narrow angle, but the Palace keeper, Guaita, stood tall and blocked the shot.  Palace won a free kick in a dangerous position, but Gomes rose to make a comfortable catch.  Watford then had a spell when they were in and around the Palace box, but couldn’t fashion a shot on target.  Instead we won a series of corners and, as each one was repelled, I hoped that we wouldn’t regret missing those chances.  Then, from yet another corner, the ball fell to Capoue and he knocked it into the net to send us all crazy.  Just what we needed to settle the nerves a bit.  The Hornets could have had a second as Deulofeu advanced into the box and hit a gorgeous shot but Guaita did brilliantly to get a hand to it and keep it out.  The first booking of the game went to Milivojevic for a foul on Hughes.  Watford had another great chance to increase their lead as Deulofeu hit a free kick over the wall, but Guaita was down to make the save.  Palace made a rare foray into the Watford half as Townsend broke forward, but was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Holebas who was injured in the process.  Thankfully, he was able to continue after treatment.  Palace had a chance to equalise just before half time as Wan-Bissaka chipped the ball to Meyer but the shot was weak and easily gathered by Gomes.  The visitors had one last attack in time added on but Deulofeu was back to make a superb tackle on McArthur and avert the danger.  An unexpected and very welcome showing in defence from young Gerry.

Holebas and Pereyra line up a free kick

So we went into half time in a deserved lead.  It had been a dominant performance from the Hornets, who were not giving their opponents any space to play.  We should really have been further ahead, but I was happy with what I had seen.

Half time and the first talking point was a hornet onesie that was being worn by a woman in the Rookery.  It was an interesting fashion choice.  Back to the official entertainment and the special guest was Tommy Smith who was asked about his appearances in previous cup quarter finals.   His goal from the game against Burnley was shown, I couldn’t help remembering that Ray Lew then left him out for the semi-final after Chopra’s heroics in another game against Burnley.  Tommy had also played in the game against Plymouth in 2007 (as had Mariappa).  I had forgotten that game, until he mentioned it.  It was truly dire.

 

A tremendous showing by Femenia

Watford had to make a substitution at the break as Holebas was unable to continue, so was replaced by Masina.  The Hornets had the first attack of the second half as a poor goal kick from Gomes was rescued and flicked on to Deulofeu who put in a decent cross, but nobody was on hand to connect with it.  Then a Palace corner was flicked goalwards by Meyer, but Gomes pulled off an excellent save to deny him.  Masina was booked after taking Meyer down soon after executing another robust challenge.  Townsend took the free kick and it was on target, but Gomes tipped it over the bar.  Batshuayi should have done better when he received a ball from Schlupp, but he knocked it wide of the near post.  He did much better soon after as Mariappa dwelled on the ball instead of clearing it, the Palace man nipped in to dispossess him and shoot across Gomes into the opposite corner to draw the game level.  It was a howler from Mariappa, who would have been devastated given his history at Palace.  At this point, the nerves set in with a vengeance again.  Surely Palace wouldn’t snatch this from us.  Watford had a chance to regain their lead as Deeney played the ball back to Deulofeu but his shot was straight at the keeper.  The Hornets had another great chance as Guaita punched a cross from Masina only as far as Pereyra, his shot was saved but Doucouré could only put the follow-up over the bar.

Deep in conversation after Gray’s goal

Gracia then made his first unforced substitution bringing Gray on for Hughes.  I dare not say it out loud, but my mind was screaming “super sub!”  A lovely exchange of passes deserved a better finish than a cross from Doucouré that was too heavy and went out for a goal kick.  The second goal for the Hornets was a thing of beauty as Pereyra dinked a ball over to Gray who finished past Guaita sending the Watford fans crazy again and also giving us the opportunity to see a Gomes celebration in front of the Rookery for what may well be the last time.  With 10 minutes remaining, I was hoping that we would hold on, but the visitors then won a free kick in a dangerous position.  I held my breath as Milivojevic stepped up to take it, my joyous shout of “into the wall” may have been stating the obvious but it indicated my profound relief.  Hodgson made a substitution at this point, replacing McArthur with Benteke.  Watford could have grabbed a third, but Deeney’s powerful shot was parried by Guaita and Wan-Bissaka managed to clear as Deulofeu closed in on the rebound.  The Hornets had another great chance as Cathcart met a corner with a header that was cleared off the line by Milivojevic.  Gracia made his final change bringing Cleverly on for Deulofeu who left the field to an ovation and some laughter as, when the referee went over to tell him to speed up his departure from the pitch, he innocently turned and shook his hand.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, the visitors had a chance to take the game into extra time when a corner reached Tomkins, who seemed to be taken by surprise and turned it wide of the near post.  Late into time added on and the visitors really should have been level as the ball fell to Wan-Bissaka and we watched despairingly as his shot appeared to be heading for the opposite corner before rolling wide.  I noted something in my notebook at this point, but my hand was shaking so much that it is totally illegible.  When the whistle went to confirm our place in the semi-final, Vicarage Road erupted with joy.

Harry Hornet in his Superman cape

I was distracted at the sight of Harry Hornet running on wearing a Superman style cape, so missed the moment when Gracia warmly embraced Gomes.  The keeper was then hugged by Deeney and it was apparent that he was in tears.  The crowd were cheering him on and he was very emotional in his response.  It was lovely to see the mutual respect between the player and the crowd.  Finally, as he always used to, he brought his sons on to the pitch to enjoy the applause with him.  While this was going on, the tannoy had Que Sera Sera playing and the Watford crowd were singing along with gusto.  It was all fabulous.

Normally we stay to applaud the last player off the pitch, so the stands are empty by the time we leave (everyone is in Occupation Road).  It is a mark of how much this win meant that when the pitch emptied the stand was still full and, for the first time in years, we had to wait to leave our row.

As we reached the Hornet shop we noticed that they already had t-shirts commemorating the semi-final in the window.  Being a sucker for that sort of thing, we all went in and bought the shirts.  Then came out and had a family photo with GT.

A family photo with GT

When I finally got back to the West Herts, my group were happily sitting outside celebrating the victory.  It is hard to analyse a game when the result is all that counts, but it had been a great performance from the Hornets and the win was well deserved.  Deeney may not have scored, but he had put in a great Captain’s performance which was noted by us all.  I have to say that I had almost forgotten how good Femenía is, he had a tremendous game and certainly justified his inclusion.  While enjoying our celebratory beers, I had a quick read of the BBC online match report and was a little taken aback to see a comment to the effect that the win mean that we had reached “only” our sixth semi-final.  Actually it is our seventh, but we are a small town club and to have reached seven semi-finals is actually a tremendous achievement.  I am still pinching myself.

When I finally decided to head for home, the walk through the town centre to the station was to the sound of Watford fans singing Que Sera Sera.  It was a lovely feeling.

The draw for the semi-final took place when I was in the car driving home this afternoon.  When Alan Green announced that Watford were playing Wolves, I screamed with relief.  They will not be easy opponents, they are a very good side.  But at least we go into the game knowing that it is winnable and that is all that you can ask at this stage.  Troy has been on the losing side in a previous semi-final at Wembley and he will certainly not want to repeat that experience.  It should be a great day out.

I am still buzzing after that win.  Over the past 40 years, I have many wonderful days following the Hornets, but also some very miserable ones.  We go week in, week out, sometimes travelling a long distance to see our team badly beaten, but days like this make it all worthwhile.  There is a tremendous spirit around the club at the moment, so I hope that we can sell out our allocation and roar the boys on to a cup final.  That would be a fitting end to what has been a wonderful season.

Honouring GT at Selhurst Park

Meeting GT

Saturday marked the second anniversary of GT’s passing, so my early morning perusal of social media was full of my Watford friends paying tribute to our hero.  All the happy memories and lovely photos brought both a tear to my eye and a smile to my face.

On the train travelling to the game I usually have noise-cancelling headphones on and listen to a podcast, the choice on the way to Selhurst Park being the previous week’s Danny Baker show.  On arrival at Twickenham, I was distracted as a familiar looking woman boarded the train and sat in the row in front of me.  I took my headphones off in order to hear her speak and, as I had thought, it was Jane Horrocks.  I am going to see her in the Pinter plays at the theatre of the same name on Monday, so was curious to hear any backstage gossip.  Sadly the conversation seemed to revolve around cold sores and tight boots.  The glamour of the actor’s life.

Deeney, Mariappa, Cathcart and Capoue

I arrived at the designated pre-match meeting place rather early, so I had it all to myself.  It was a café rather than a pub and, as my late arrival at the station on the way to game meant that I hadn’t had a coffee yet, I was immediately drawn to the coffee with cinnamon and chili that was on the menu.  My first instinct that this may be a little brutal on an empty stomach went out of the window when I asked for a whisky to be added.  The lovely woman serving me said that she had already had someone in who had whisky in their hot chocolate, so I didn’t feel like a complete lush.  Anyway, when my innocent-looking cafetiere arrived, my choice was vindicated.  It was warming and gorgeous.  As the others in my party arrived, all started with a tea or coffee, but we soon moved on to a bottle of Georgian red wine (really), which was rather sweet so had to be washed down with some merlot.  This was accompanied some rather delicious Polish food (the others went for the beef stew, I had the mixed pierogies).  All rather lovely.  From the café it was a short walk to Selhurst Park, a ground that I rather like, while being very aware that opinion is shared by a very small minority of away fans.

Team news was that Gracia had made one change from the Bournemouth game with Hughes in for Sema.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Capoue, Pereyra, Doucouré; Deulofeu and Deeney.  Crystal Palace had the unloved ex-Watford loanee, Townsend, in their starting line-up and the much-loved Ray Lew in their dugout.

Ben Foster launching the ball upfield

As we were taking our seats, which were at the front of the stand, I was a bit surprised to see that there was a group of young lads standing on the steps at either side of the gangway, blocking the way.  This looked like a recipe for trouble, but I assumed that the stewards would notice and clear the access.

Watford fans had been encouraged to bring scarves to the game in honour of GT, and these were raised in tribute as the teams came out.

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets who should have taken the lead in the third minute when Deulofeu broke into the box and unleashed a shot which hit the post, Pereyra looked sure to score the rebound, but his shot also hit the post.  The first chance for the home side fell to our old friend, Zaha, who cut inside before shooting straight at Foster.  At this point, I was distracted by the sight of Javi having a very animated conversation with the fourth official.  He appeared really unhappy about something, which seemed to be out of character.  This may or may not have been related to the subsequent appearance of two Watford physios on the pitch when there did not appear to be an injury.  They were there to take off a very reluctant Hughes.  We speculated that he must have a cut that needed attention, but it seems that he had taken a blow to the head and was showing signs of concussion.  So, 20 minutes into the game, he was replaced by Sema.

Troy Deeney

Palace then had a couple of chances to take the lead.  First Milivojević crossed for Ayew but the header was over the bar.  The next to try his luck was Kouyaté with a shot from distance that also missed the target.  Watford’s next chance to open the scoring came on 34 minutes as Deeney met a cross from Holebas with a header that flew just over the bar.  At the other end, Palace had a decent chance from a corner, it appeared that the header from Tomkins had missed the target, but Foster had got a touch to it, so the home side were awarded another corner.  From the set piece, there was an almighty scramble which ended with Doucouré blasting the ball off Cathcart into the net.  Foster got a hand to the ball to push it away, but it had clearly already crossed the line.  Not a good way to concede.  The Palace fans started goading us with “It’s just like Wembley.”  The only similarity being the poorness of the game.  When Palace score there is a call and response with the tannoy announcer naming the goal scorer and then repeating the first name so that the crowd can yell the surname.  They did something on this occasion but I must have been mistaken in thinking that they shouted ‘Own’ with the crowd shouting ‘Goal’!  Watford tried to break back immediately as Deulofeu went on a run before shooting wide of the near post.  In the last minute of the half, Palace were forced to substitute their goalkeeper, replacing Guaita with Hennessey.  The home side had a chance to increase their lead before the break as a shot from outside the area by Milivojević took a couple of deflections, but Foster was equal to it.  Watford then had a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery was dreadful and we went into the break a goal down.

Pereyra and Deeney preparing for a free kick

So the football had been pretty awful, but the behaviour among the away fans was even worse.  We were sitting near the front, just behind the area that I assumed had been designated for those less able to stand.  A couple of men, one right at the front, were standing at the start of the game and were politely asked if they would sit so as not to block the view of those who did not wish to/were not able to stand.  The reaction of both of them was aggressive and abusive.  One eventually moved, but the other, who was mostly seated, still spent the whole game arguing with the elderly couple sitting behind him.  It was a very unpleasant distraction and made it difficult to concentrate on the game.  At half time, I noticed another row going on in the block next to us and friends who had braved the concourse at half time said that there were arguments going on throughout the stand.

Palace had the first chance of the second half as Zaha broke clear, but he couldn’t beat Foster.  Watford then had a decent chance as Capoue fired through a crowd, but his shot was deflected for a corner.  A cross from Doucouré only needed a touch from Mariappa to draw the Hornets level, but he couldn’t connect.

Cool Craig Cathcart doesn’t want congratulations after scoring. We have a game to win.

Just before the hour mark there was a flypast of parakeets from behind our stand.  As we were wearing our green away kit, I was hoping that this might be a good omen.  The first booking of the game went to Femenía who ran into Zaha to stop a break.  It was a stupid foul.  Palace should have increased their lead as Milivojević hit a volley from distance that took a superb save to keep it out, although it looked as though Foster’s good work would be in vain as the ball broke to Ayew who found Zaha with an open goal in front of him, but young Wilf managed to miss, much to the amusement of the travelling Hornets.  He must have been mightily relieved that the flag was already up for offside.  The second caution for the Hornets came after Townsend robbed Sema and tried to escape but was knocked over for his trouble.  On 67 minutes, the Hornets drew level as a deep corner from Holebas found Cathcart rising to head past Hennessey and cancel out his unfortunate own goal earlier on.  Needless to say, the lads who had been gathering in the gangway took the opportunity to bundle down to the front.  This would surely be an indication to the stewards that some action was needed and a group of stewards gathered and walked up the steps of the gangway, but made no effort to move anyone who was standing blocking the way, which seemed ridiculous.  Gracia made a second substitution at this point with Sema (who was a substitute himself) making way for Cleverley.

Cleverley getting a well deserved smacker from Capoue

The home side should have regained the lead almost immediately as a low cross from Zaha only needed a touch from McArthur to beat Foster, but the Palace man managed to miss.  At the other end, Deulofeu went on a great run before cutting the ball back to Deeney whose shot was cleared off the line.  Watford took the lead on 74 minutes when Cleverley hit a half volley into the net.  It was a fantastic strike and I couldn’t quite believe that we were in the lead.  But the joy of our goal celebration was cut short as the bundle for this one was worse than the first as others got in on the act and people located on the end of rows were being knocked flying.  It was dangerous and unpleasant.  Palace made two late changes bringing Benteke and Schlupp on for McArthur and Ayew.  Watford looked to increase their lead as Deulofeu went on a great run that was stopped by Milivojević, conceding a free kick on the edge of the area and earning himself a yellow card.  Palace had a great chance to equalise in the last minute of normal time as a cross from Townsend led to a scramble in the Watford box but, on this occasion, the ball ended up in Foster’s arms.  Another chance for Palace was thwarted as a dangerous looking break by Zaha was stopped by a gorgeous tackle from Femenía.  Gorgeous and brave as he was on a yellow card at the time.  Into the four minutes of time added on and Pereyra was booked for time wasting and, soon after, replaced by Masina (to waste some time!)   Cleverley was booked for a clumsy foul on Wan-Bassaka and we held our breath as Palace took the free kick and exhaled when it came to nothing.  The last action of the game could have seen the Hornets increase their lead as Deulofeu found Doucouré whose shot hit the stanchion.  The final whistle went and there were great celebrations in the Watford end, although the over-exuberance among some of the youngsters made this quite unpleasant for a number of the older fans.  As the players came over to celebrate with the fans, we greeted them with “One Graham Taylor” as the scarves were held aloft.

Deulofeu studying the ball

After the game we headed back to our café where we found that they were almost out of red wine (oops), all that was left was an open bottle.  So we had that to fuel our post-match deliberations.  It had been a dreadful game of football, but a win over Palace brought a smile to all of our faces.  After we went behind it had been a gutsy performance and one that GT would have enjoyed.  Given how wonderful Craig Cathcart has been this season, it seemed unfair that he had been unwittingly responsible for the Palace goal, so I was delighted that he got the equaliser.  I was also thrilled that Cleverley grabbed the winner.  He has had a hard time with injuries, so it is great to see him back playing and contributing.  I hope that he is soon a regular starter.

So we are now seventh in the table with 32 points.  Before the game Pete had commented that 32 points might be enough this season and, if you assume that Newcastle will not improve their current points per game tally over the rest of the season, it will be.  But, given how disappointing we have been after new year in recent seasons, I really hope that we continue to impress and maybe we can achieve our highest points tally and position since the 80s.

Back home watching Match of the Day I notice, during the interview with Javi Gracia, that he is wearing a Graham Taylor matchday badge on his jacket.  I must admit that made me cry.  Javi has been a joy since he arrived at Vicarage Road.  His football is enjoyable and his conduct is exemplary.  I think that GT would have loved him and, from me, there can be no higher praise.

 

Disappointing Afternoon at the London Stadium

Capoue and Holebas taking a free kick

After the cold night out in Stoke, I started feeling unwell.  At first I thought it was the late night that was catching up with me, but I felt worse and worse as the week went on and spent the whole weekend curled up on the sofa.  I haven’t missed a game all season and agonised about not going to the Chelsea game on Monday.  But I had seen so many people laid really low with that nasty cold/flu, that I had to conclude that a night in the freezing cold was really not a good idea, so decided to stay at home and follow the game from there.  Of all the games to miss, I am still devastated.

I also had a different type of match day on Saturday.  My brother-in-law is a West Ham season ticket holder and my Watford supporting sister was coming to the game with me, so I had spent Friday evening at theirs and, due to dog walking duties, we ended up leaving for the game at a time when I would usually be in the pub.  I was having a bit of a panic about missing kick-off, but we arrived in plenty of time to have some pre-match refreshments inside the ground while catching up with the usual suspects.

Team news was that Gracia had named the same starting XI who performed so well against Chelsea, so the starting line-up was Karnezis; Mariappa, Prödl, Holebas; Janmaat, Doucouré, Capoue, Zeegelaar; Deulofeu, Deeney, Richarlison.

Gathering for a corner

Watford had the first chance of the game as the ball was laid back to Capoue whose shot was blocked for a corner.  The delivery was met by the head of Mariappa, but Adrian made the save.  The first chance for the home side came as Arnautovic went on a run into the box, he was tackled by a combination of Prödl and Mariappa and, with the home fans appealing for a penalty, the ball broke to Mário whose shot was saved by Karnezis.  It all went quiet then until the half hour mark when Hernandez headed home from Mário’s free kick.  The bubble machine was in full celebratory force before it was noticed that the linesman had flagged for offside.  Watford immediately broke down the other end of the field and Capoue unleashed a shot that Adrian fumbled before gathering, much to his relief.  Arnautovic should have opened the scoring with a shot from close range that Karnezis did brilliantly to block.  But the Hammers took the lead a minute later as Antonio crossed for Hernandez who was left with a free header when Zeegelaar fell over.  It had been coming, but it was a very soft goal to give away.  So we reached half time with West Ham in a deserved lead.

Deulofeu and Pereyra waiting for the referee to get out of the way of their free kick

Watford had the first chance of the second half when a corner was met by the head of Deeney, but he headed it down into a crowd of players and it was cleared.  At the other end, a corner was headed goalwards by Kouyaté forcing Prödl to head over from under his own bar.  Gracia made his first substitution on 55 minutes replacing Zeegelaar with Pereyra.  Watford had a terrific chance to grab the equaliser when Deulofeu won a free kick just outside the area.  He took it himself, launching a marvellous shot over the wall which Adrian did very well to keep out.  Then Holebas broke forward and found Deeney in a great position in the box, but the referee blew up for a foul and the chance was gone.  Another decent move from the Hornets finished with a cross from Pereyra that was easily gathered by Adrian.  Hernandez looked sure to secure the three points for the Hammers when he broke into the Watford box, but Karnezis smothered the danger.  Watford’s second substitution surprisingly saw Lukebakio making his debut in place of Deulofeu, who I would have kept on as he always looked as though he could cause problems.  Watford had another chance to level from a corner but Prödl’s header was just over the bar.  The Hammers scored their second soon after as a goalmouth scramble finished with a clearance that rebounded to Arnautovic, who crowned a superb performance with a somewhat scrappy goal.

Lukebakio on his debut

Watford tried to strike back as Richarlison turned and shot straight at Adrian.  Lukebakio was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that flew over the target.  Gracia’s final substitution saw Gray come on for Richarlison.  Moyes had also made late substitutions with Mário, Arnautovic and Hernandez making way for Byram, Rice and Hugill.  Watford were still trying to pull one back and had a decent chance as a cross from Holebas was met by the head of Mariappa, but the effort was blocked.  The Hornets had one final chance as Gray got into a decent position, but his header was poor and the game finished with a comfortable win for the home side.

Watford had played considerably better in the second half but, while it could be said that the score was a little flattering to the hosts, some poor defending and equally poor finishing meant that it felt as though the Hornets didn’t deserve anything from the game.

The results elsewhere over the weekend now mean that Watford, in 11th place, are only 4 points off the relegation zone.  It is a bizarre position to be in and it is a bit of a relief that we now have a week off to give some of the injured players a chance to recover.  It has been a tough few weeks, but our squad has to be better than at least three of the other teams below us.  The next few weeks will be fascinating.

 

We are still Family

Meeting Watford legend Ann Swanson

Having experienced 3 defeats before the international break, I approached this game with some trepidation.  West Ham have struggled so far this season, but they have a good squad and there was concern that the appointment of David Moyes would provide the “new manager bounce” that so often occurs.  There was also the worry that the speculation regarding Silva’s future could have an adverse impact on the team and there were certain fans on social media speculating about the crowd giving the coach a hard time.  As so often, I despair at the mentality of certain football fans.

But, before the trip to Vicarage Road, there were serious things to deal with at the West Herts.  “The game” was being played.  A glorified game of snap during which the first few to match cards pick from an array of beautifully wrapped gifts placed on the table, once those are gone it is a dog-eat-dog scenario and there are various little factions who plot against each other.  At the end of each round, the “winners” get to open their prizes, which are usually utter rubbish (by design) although the theme of this game was “J” which led to an inordinate number of jaffa cakes being on offer and the shocking revelation that one of our number doesn’t like jaffa cakes.  I am still reeling from that news.  As always, absent friends were toasted as we played.  Dee and Toddy were always enthusiastic players.

When the game was done, Alice introduced me to Jeff, one of the Denver Horns, who told me that he reads this blog.  It is always lovely to meet fellow Hornets and hear about their matchday experiences.  Having travelled so far, we were hoping that he was in for an enjoyable afternoon.

Celebrating the goal from Hughes (he is in there somewhere)

It is the 25th anniversary of Watford’s Community and Education Trust and the club had chosen this game to celebrate.  As part of the commemorations, they had invited Ann Swanson back as guest of honour.  Ann had run the Junior Hornets back in the 80s and her efforts in ensuring that youngsters had a safe environment in which to watch football helped a whole generation of fans develop a love for the game, many of whom are now bringing the next generation along.  While I am too old to have been part of this group, I did want to shake her hand and thank her for all that she had done.  While waiting, it was lovely to hear her greet a guy with, “You’re one of my Junior Hornets.”  She seemed thrilled, but the warmth of the young man’s greeting showed the great esteem in which she is held by her former charges.

Team news was that Holebas and Carrillo were making way for Mariappa and Zeegelaar, who was making his debut.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Mariappa, Kabasele, Britos; Femenía, Cleverley, Doucouré, Zeegelaar; Hughes, Richarlison; Gray.

The game had barely kicked off when there was a lengthy delay as Zeegelaar required treatment after making contact with Carroll’s elbow.  He was down for a considerable time, so it was looking like possibly the shortest debut in history but, thankfully, after treatment he was fit to continue (with added nose plugs).  Watford took the lead in the 11th minute, Zeegelaar’s cross led to some pinball in the box, before Hughes buried it.  It was a tremendous strike and I couldn’t have been happier for him.

Britos and Carroll

West Ham created a chance soon after as Carroll met a cross from Zabaleta, but Gomes was equal to the shot.  Just before the half hour, Carroll had survived a couple of tackles when Richarlison appeared and took the ball off him, and was hacked down for his trouble.  It was a petulant reaction and not his first infringement of the afternoon, so there was some annoyance among the Watford fans when he was only shown a yellow card.  That annoyance turned to anger soon after as Britos was booked for a late tackle on Kouyaté.  The fury was somewhat misplaced as Britos deserved the booking, but it did look a tad harsh in the light of Carroll’s infringements.  Watford had a chance to increase their lead as Hughes played the ball out to Gray, but his cross-cum-shot from a narrow angle was easily gathered by Hart.  There was a better chance soon after as a terrific shot from Richarlison was saved, the rebound reached Femenía who shot just wide of the far post.  The petulance from the West Ham players wasn’t confined to Carroll as Arnautovic also reacted to being tackled by Cleverley by hacking him down and was booked.  Back to the beautiful game, there followed a lovely series of passes from the Watford players with Olé ringing out around the ground until the ball reached Britos and it was “Oh dear” as he launched the ball into Row Z.  The next West Ham booking went to Obiang for a trip on Hughes.

Gomes was a hero in goal

West Ham really should have equalized with 3 minutes to go to half time, as Noble played a through ball to Kouyaté, who only had Gomes to beat but, with heads already dropping in the Rookery, the Watford keeper managed to turn the shot around the post.  From the corner Watford broke upfield and Femenía crossed for Hughes whose volley was over the bar.  West Ham had another great chance to draw level in time added on at the end of the half, but Gomes was magnificent, first reacting brilliantly to stop a header from Arnautovic, then instinctively blocking the follow-up and catching the third attempt.  Those of us standing behind the goal who witnessed the saves were just looking at each other in disbelief that he had kept the ball out of the net.  Watford had a final chance to increase their lead just before half time, but Richarlison’s shot was just wide of the far post.

It had been a thoroughly entertaining half of football and, while Watford were good value for their lead, there had been a couple of golden chances for the visitors towards the end and the crowd were singing the name of Gomes in adoration.

Half time saw Ann Swanson being introduced on the pitch.  She spoke warmly about her time at the club and particularly the relationships with both GT and Elton who were great advocates and supporters of the Junior Hornets.  She received a tremendous ovation, which was just lovely.

A blurred Richarlison still celebrating after scoring

Watford had a great chance to increase their lead early in the second half as Femenía crossed for Gray, but Reid got a foot in to stop the shot.  At the other end a cross from Arnautovic was turned over the bar by Kouyaté.  Watford threatened again as Hughes played the ball back to Doucouré who hit a cracking shot that was just wide of the target.  Hughes then tried a shot himself, but it took a slight deflection off a West Ham head and was easy for Hart.  Gray was the next to try his luck, but his shot was deflected for a corner.  Watford should have increased their lead as Mariappa met the delivery from Hughes with a header that Hart did well to keep out, it dropped to Richarlison who was almost on the goal line, I still have no idea how he didn’t turn it in but, somehow, the ball was cleared.  The young Brazilian made up for that mistake soon after as he went on a run before shooting across Hart and into the far corner.  His celebration showed how much it meant to him and was almost as passionate as that of my sister, who is married to a West Ham fan.  The goal certainly calmed some nerves in the home crowd and from that moment on, West Ham never looked like getting anything from the game.  The first change for the visitors came on 65 minutes with Sakho replacing Carroll who went off to boos from both ends of the ground and chants of “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” from his own fans.

Cleverley, Richarlison and Kabasele

A lovely passing move from the Hornets finished with a shot from Doucouré that was saved by Hart.  The Watford fans were in a good mood at this point and thoughts turned to the man in the dugout whose name was chanted followed by a chorus of “Marco Silva, we want you to stay.”  There was another long break in the game following a nasty injury to Arnautovic, who was clearly in a lot of pain clutching his arm.  Thankfully, the stretcher wasn’t required and the post-match news was that he had broken a thumb, but he had to be replaced by Masuaku.  West Ham had a great chance to pull one back with a low shot from Lanzini, but Kabasele was there to clear it off the line.  At this point the away end vented their frustration starting with chants against Brady and Sullivan (I assume that they had started with Gold, but I missed that one) followed by “You destroyed our  *** club.”  I couldn’t help but sympathise, the move to Stratford seems to have ripped the soul from the club.  Back on the pitch, Zeegelaar, who had had a great game, took the ball down brilliantly on the wing and put in a lovely low cross, but there was no Watford player in the box to connect.  West Ham’s captain was the next to see yellow as Noble was booked for a trip on Richarlison.  Silva waited until the last five minutes of normal time to make his first substitution, bringing Pereyra on for Hughes.  The guy who sits next to me commented, “One magician for another,” which perfectly summed up the terrific performance from Hughes.  As this change was being made, there was a signal to the bench that Femenía was unable to continue, so he was replaced by Holebas.  Due to the injuries in the second half, there was 8 minutes of added time, but the only scoring chance worthy of note fell to the Hornets as Richarlison curled a shot just wide of the far post.  There was just time for Carrillo, fresh from racking up a boat load of air miles travelling to Peru’s World Cup qualification games against New Zealand, to come on in place of Gray.  Attention at this point turned to the TV studio adjacent to the Rookery.  The sight of Ighalo having his make-up done before appearing for the post-match analysis prompted changes of “Oghalo-oh!”  As he looked out smiling, the whole of the Rookery waved at him.  He waved back.  All rather lovely.

Zeegelaar directing Doucoure

The final whistle went to jubilation in the stands.  Watford back to winning ways and in some style.  The coach and players were applauded off with special adulation directed at Gomes as he made his usual lap of the pitch.  We had to reign our happiness in a little as we were meeting my brother-in-law, my sister already having received a message from her Watford-fanatic daughter telling her to “be nice to Dad.”  Mark’s gracious comment was “At least my second team won.”

Back to the West Herts and it was all smiles.  It had been a thoroughly enjoyable team performance with some stand out individuals.  Zeegelaar had impressed greatly on his debut.  Cleverley had recovered from his last minute penalty miss at Goodsion Park with an assured performance in the centre of the park.  Gomes was absolutely brilliant in goal.  But the most impressive showing came from Hughes.  I had been thrilled when we bought him and rather sad that he seemed to have dropped into obscurity, but he was biding his time.  He put in a decent showing against Everton but was absolutely brilliant in this game and the goal was a just reward.  With players coming back from injury, apart from the goal keeping position, we now seem players who can slot in to any position without a loss of quality, which bodes very well for the rest of the season.

But the last comment should go to the Community Trust.  They have been a massive part of the club for a long time now.  From Ann Swanson’s work with the Junior Hornets in the 80s, this has grown into a huge asset for the local community.  Current Director, Rob Smith, has been tireless in growing the Trust for many years and it was rather fitting that Britt Assombalonga, who was discovered at one of the Trust’s schemes, scored for Middlesbrough on Sunday.  In these days when football seems to be all about money, it is great to see that the Trust is still valued at the club and the commemorative t-shirt, designed by 11 year-old Codie Snaith, which declares “We are Family” summed it up perfectly.

Few Chances but a Decent Point

Niang challenging for a header

Niang challenging for a header

After a week free of live football, with the distraction of the thrills and spills of the FA Cup, it was great to be back at a game, although there was the usual stress that comes with a late kick-off as I worry that I have misremembered the kick-off time and will arrive in Watford with the game already underway or over. Thankfully, my journey took me down Vicarage Road at 3pm, where it was clear that they were preparing for a match but it was some time before kick-off. My smug feeling was soon wiped out as I arrived at the West Herts to find that it was already packed and my companions remarked that they didn’t think I was coming, being a part-timer. I was so insulted that I had to have a pint to calm down.

As with our previous game, we had happy memories of the reverse fixture early in the season, but West Ham had been on a good run of form recently so I wasn’t at all hopeful of a similar result. On the positive side, the results in the games earlier in the day meant that we wouldn’t finish the evening below 13th in the table.

Holebas takes a throw in

Holebas takes a throw in

Team news was two changes with Cathcart and Prödl making way for Janmaat and Behrami. So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Kaboul, Britos, Holebas; Cleverley, Behrami, Capoue; Zárate, Deeney and Niang.

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets. In the second minute, Cleverley played a ball over the top to Deeney who found Zárate in the box, the Argentine was bundled over by Kouyaté and the referee pointed to the spot. Deeney stepped up and powered the ball to Randolph’s right and into the bottom corner. There was a great chance to double the lead soon after as Niang won the ball in the midfield, went on a run and unleashed a powerful shot from outside the area that flew just over the target. At the other end a dangerous cross from Antonio was cleared by Britos in the middle of the box although, from our vantage point behind the goal, it looked as though it just bounced off the Watford man and could have flown anywhere. The first 15 minutes had contained some wonderful passing from the Hornets that, at one point, prompted a standing ovation. Capoue was the next to threaten the West Ham goal with a lovely turn and a shot that was just wide of the target.

Lining up for a corner

Lining up for a corner

The visitors had a decent chance to draw level as Arbeloa played the ball back to Snodgrass in the box, but Kaboul made a great block to avert the danger. Snodgrass threatened again, but this time his cut back in the box only reached Gomes. The West Ham man tried his luck again with a shot from distance that flew way over the bar. The visitors won a free kick in a dangerous position as Janmaat fouled Antonio on the left of the box earning himself a yellow card for his trouble. But Lanzini’s delivery was terrible, flying high and wide. As the half wound down, my gaze was drawn to the TV studio to our left where the pundits were having their hair and make-up done, the first time that I have seen beauty treatments in a football ground. In time added on at the end of the half, there was a dangerous chance for an equalizer as a cross-cum-shot from Cresswell was parried by Gomes, fortunately Holebas was the first to the loose ball and made the clearance. As I had been watching the action in the goal area, I had completely missed Zárate going down with an injury. It was quickly apparent that he was in a bad way as he received oxygen and, after a considerable period of treatment, the physios very carefully strapped him to the stretcher before they carried him off. Very worrying indeed. As he left the field, it was very gratifying to see the West Ham fans on their feet applauding and singing the name of their former player. He was replaced by Doucouré, much to the displeasure of those around me who would much rather have seen Success brought on. The last action of the half was a booking for Antonio for a nasty foul on Behrami that could easily have led to a sending off.

Britos lines up a free kick

Britos lines up a free kick

So Watford went in at the break with a one goal lead after a fairly even half. The Hornets had started brilliantly and played some lovely football, particularly in the first fifteen minutes, but, the penalty aside, neither keeper had to make a save worthy of the name.

Saturday was Academy Day at Vicarage Road and at half time Brandon Mason and Michael Folivi received commemorative match balls marking their Premier League debuts. Brandon said that he hoped to kick on and contribute a lot more to the first team. We all hope that comes to pass.

Early in the second half, the visitors were appealing for a penalty as Kouyaté and Niang tangled in the Watford box, but the decision was given to the home side. Mazzarri was forced into a second substitution due to injury as Janmaat made way for Cathcart. West Ham had a great chance to draw level on the hour mark as a free kick was headed back across goal and met with a header from Fonte that was kept out by a wonderful flying save from Gomes.  The first substitution for the visitors saw Snodgrass replaced by Ayew.

Cleverley taking a free kick

Cleverley taking a free kick

Watford had been sitting far too deep in the second half and, while they had done a great job of frustrating the Hammers, it is always a dangerous tactic. It looked to have backfired as a Cresswell cross was headed just wide of the target by Antonio. Then, with the Watford fans on their feet for the minute’s applause for GT on the 72nd minute, Antonio went on a surging run, his shot bounced off both posts rebounding to Ayew who finished past Gomes. It was frustrating, but had been coming as the Hammers had dominated possession in the second half. Just as I started to worry that the visitors would get a second and win the game, Mazzarri made a late substitution bringing Success on for Niang who, after a very bright start had completely disappeared. It was a very popular change among the Watford crowd and the excitement in the stands extended to the pitch as a lovely quick passing move finished with Success breaking into the box where, sadly, Reid was on hand to stop him. The Hammers finished the game with 10 men as Antonio went down in the box and handled the ball earning a second yellow card. Britos could have won the game for the Hornets as he rose to meet a corner, but he was being challenged and the header flew just over. I was pleasantly surprised when the fourth official indicated that there were only three minutes of added time. Watford should have scored right at the death as a corner from Cleverley led to a bit of pinball, finishing with Deeney heading the ball down to Success who shot just wide from a couple of yards out.

A draw was a fair result and I would certainly have taken a point before the game, but I was disappointed that we didn’t build on a lovely start to the game when the visitors looked distinctly second best. But we have come a long way if a draw against West Ham is a bit of a disappointment. Mid table obscurity will do me just fine.