It has been a tough week to be a Watford fan. We had played well at both Burnley and Palace, but come away with two defeats due, primarily, to two (needless) red cards. At the West Herts, a number of fans were trying to lift spirits with their Christmas jumpers. I must say that I am not generally a fan but Jim’s Baa Humbug (featuring a sheep in a santa hat) did raise a smile as did a Huddersfield fan’s Christmas Terrier that I had seen on the way in.
On arrival at the stadium, Pete and I took a detour to visit the 1881 bunker to drop off presents for their collection for local children in need. It was great to see a packed table straining under the weight of all the gifts. Due to the detour, I entered the Rookery through the turnstiles at the opposite end to usual. The steward who searched my bag was lovely. Then I entered the stadium and saw the program seller inside the entrance and it was former supporter of the season, Doreen Pym, who I always bought my programme from when she was in Bill Mainwood’s hut on Occupation Road. Handing my money over to her, it felt like old times and I was quite emotional.
Team news was that Silva had made only the one (enforced) change from Tuesday with Capoue coming in for the suspended Cleverley. So the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Kabasele; Janmaat, Doucouré, Capoue, Holebas; Carrillo, Richarlison; Deeney. Huddersfield were captained by the wonderful Jonathan Hogg. So the teams were led out by two of the participants in “that” goal.
Huddersfield had not scored a goal away from home since the first game of the season, so this should have been the ideal opportunity to reverse our mini-slump. It must be said that their terrible away form hadn’t stopped their fans travelling in numbers. The packed away end was noisy and impressive. I was also hoping for an extra boost of luck from my niece, who was back from university. Her last game had been the impressive win against Arsenal.
Watford have generally started games well this season, so it was a bit of a shock when the visitors took an early lead. A corner was delivered into a crowded box and, after a scramble, Kachinga poked home from close range. There were shouts for both a handball and offside from the Rookery, but the officials were unmoved (television pictures showed the hand was a Watford one, but the offside was valid) and the Huddersfield fans burst into a chorus of, “How sh*t must you be, we’re winning away.” Watford attempted a fight back as Carrillo played a lovely cross towards Richarlison, but a Huddersfield head made the first contact and it went out for a corner. There was then a lengthy break in the game due to an injury to the goalscorer, Kachinga. A few in the crowd were booing him as he lay on the turf clutching his knee, which was unpleasant and unnecessary as he was clearly in pain. Eventually he was taken off on a stretcher and my faith in my fellow fans was restored as the majority of the crowd applauded him off.
The home side had a couple of decent chances to get an equaliser. First a corner from Holebas that was flying straight in until it was cleared off the line. Then Holebas played a lovely cross to Richarlison whose shot was over the target. If the first Huddersfield goal had been scrappy, the second was a horror show. The Watford defence appeared to stop playing as Holebas allowed Quaner to escape and deliver a low cross which flew across the goal to Mooy who had the easy task of tapping it home. In the Rookery, we were looking at each other in disbelief at what we had just seen. Watford tried to make amends with a lovely passing move that, sadly, came to nothing as Carrillo’s cross was just too far in front of Deeney. Silva made his first substitution on the half hour, bringing Pereyra on for Mariappa and going to four at the back. Pereyra’s first involvement was impressive, playing a sweeping pass to Richarlison, but the young Brazilian shot straight at the keeper. On 33 minutes, Watford were down to 10 men for the third game running as Deeney was dismissed for a tackle on Hadergjonaj that appeared to be clumsy rather than nasty. There was a caution for the visitors soon after as Hogg was booked for a foul on Carrillo. From the free-kick, Richarlison had the ball in the net and I was on my feet celebrating. Sadly I was the only person in the ground who had failed to see the linesman’s flag that ruled the goal out. It went from bad to worse as Doucouré received his fifth yellow card of the season, ruling him out of the trip to Brighton. Ince took the free kick and delivered it well over the bar. A spell of lovely passing descended into fannying about as the bloke behind me, quite reasonably, shouted “The goal’s that way,” before Doucouré lost the ball, Huddersfield broke forward and van La Parra tried a shot from the left that was saved by Gomes.
We were all stunned at half-time, so it was good that there was a distraction on the pitch, although it was tinged with sadness as Alec Chamberlain was saying goodbye after 21 years at the club. He has been a terrific servant as both player and coach. Most memorably, he was the keeper for our successive promotions in GT’s second spell, playing a key role in the penalty shoot-out in the play-off semi-final when he made the decisive save from Holland. He started by speaking about overcoming the stigma of having played for them up the road. “Gibbsy forgave me. He said I was a born again Hornet. Once he accepted me, I knew I was fine.” He spoke warmly about his time at the club, including two Player of the Season awards, and ended by thanking the fans and saying that he looked forward to seeing us all again in the future. He has been a legend at Watford, which will be a sadder place without him.
At half-time, there had been some hopeful harking back to the Blackpool game in 2015, but the second half started with the visitors in the ascendancy. There was danger when a shot from Ince was parried leaving Gomes out of position and allowing the Huddersfield man to cross for Quaner who, thankfully, headed wide. But the third goal was not long in coming. Holebas, who had fallen asleep for the second goal, collapsed in the box holding his face, so allowing Depoitre a free run before he fired across Gomes into the far corner.
The Hornets finally showed a bit of fight at this point, but Janmaat’s shot from distance was over the bar. Then Kabasele found Carrillo who made space for a shot that was deflected over. The referee had his red card out again soon after, showing Hogg a second yellow for a challenge on Richarlison. “We’ll have a bit more space now,” commented the chap who sits next to me. At this point each side made a substitution, with Williams replacing van La Parra for the visitors and Capoue making way for Gray for the Hornets. Watford then had their best spell of the game. First, a corner was headed just over by Prödl. Then a gorgeous curling shot from Pereyra was saved by Lössl. The breakthrough finally came when the ball dropped to Doucouré who thumped it into the goal. Woe betide anyone who had got in the way of that shot. The Watford crowd finally had something to cheer and there were roars as Janmaat won a corner. The Hornets continued attacking as Pereyra passed back to Richarlison whose shot was blocked. Then the ball found its way out to Gray whose shot was just wide of the target. Richarlison had another chance to reduce the deficit, this time a shot from distance that curled just wide. Silva’s last change saw Okaka come on for Holebas. But the next chance fell to the visitors with a shot from Ince that was gathered by Gomes. Doucouré turned from hero to villain as, after losing the ball to Depoitre, his attempt to win it back felled the Huddersfield man and the referee pointed to the spot. Gomes went the right way, but Mooy buried it in the corner. The visitors should have had a fifth as Quaner unleashed a shot, but Doucouré was back to clear it off the line. The final kick of the game almost sent us home with a little comfort as Pereyra hit a lovely shot but Lössl was able to make the save.
So finally a game in which the result reflected the performance, but that was not what I had in mind. I still don’t understand where that dreadfully poor showing came from. Huddersfield clearly wanted the win, while the Watford players looked as though they had already stopped for Christmas. The post-match discussions included a lot of adverse comments about the referee, but he was not to blame for that defeat. It was Watford’s worst performance by some considerable margin. We have generally worked hard during games, but looked lethargic on Saturday. Our usual second-half of the season slump has started rather early, I just hope it can be halted before we start sliding down the table.
To end this report on a positive note, 681 presents were donated to the 1881 collection. A great testament to the work of the 1881 in organising this and the generosity of the Watford fans. This will ensure a happy Christmas for a great many children, which is just wonderful.