Tag Archives: Christian Kabasele

Deprived of Sleep and Entertainment

A kind welcome in the concourse

I had to be on the East coast of the US for work on Friday.  Travelling overnight to attend a football match felt like old times as I did that frequently when I lived there.  I was thankful that the flight was on time and I managed to get a few hours sleep so didn’t feel too bad on arrival.  Before I went to sleep on the flight, I took one last chance to watch the Match of the Day highlights of the Liverpool game.  I needed that positivity before a trip to Selhurst Park.  I was home just after 9am, so had plenty of time to shower, change and pack my bag for the football before heading for South London.

Having taken the wrong exit out of East Croydon station, I was somewhat disorientated, but finally found the pub and was pleased to find Jacque and Richard already there, we were later joined by Mike.  As we were readying to leave for the game, Mike had a sudden realisation that he had not brought his match ticket with him.  He contemplated returning home and, hopefully, making it back for the second half, but after a few panicked texts, he secured a replacement and so was able to see the whole game.  Whether that was a positive thing is open to question.  On the platform waiting for the train to Selhurst, we met a very friendly and pleasant Palace fan who engaged us in conversation.  He was full of praise about our performance against Liverpool last week and far from confident about his team’s prospects for the game.  We were appreciative of the praise but also shared his lack of confidence regarding our chances.

Femenia takes a throw-in

Team news was that Pearson had made just the one enforced change with Pereyra replacing the injured Deulofeu.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Femenía; Hughes, Capoue; Pereyra, Doucouré, Sarr; Deeney.  While there were no ex-Watford players in the Palace team, they do have the lovely Ray Lew in their dugout, which means that I find it hard to wish them ill.

The first attack of note came from the Hornets as Hughes broke down the right and succeeded in reaching the penalty area where he was frustrated by a great tackle from Kouyaté.  Watford had a decent chance to take the lead after quarter of an hour when Doucouré beat a couple of defenders before shooting from a tight angle, but Guaita in the Palace goal was equal to his effort, Sarr latched onto the follow-up but his shot was blocked and deflected wide.  There was a rather strange incident as Hughes was fouled, but the ball broke for Sarr so the referee allowed advantage to be played.  However, Sarr was then flagged offside and, instead of bringing play back, the free kick went to the home side.  A baffling decision that was rightly protested by Watford’s players and fans, but the referee wasn’t moved.

Doucoure on the attack as Deeney and Capoue look on

The Hornets threatened again as Doucouré and Sarr broke forward while exchanging passes, but the resulting shots were blocked allowing the home side to break down the other end where Foster came out to head a lofted ball clear.  Watford had another chance to break the deadlock as Hughes cut inside and shot just wide of the far post.  The first chance for the home side came as Zaha found van Aanholt in the box but his cross was blocked by Foster and bounced off the Palace man for a goal kick.  It had been all Watford, so it was incredibly frustrating when the home side scored on 28 minutes after a counterattack, McArthur found Ayew on the edge of the box and he shot between two defenders and past Foster’s outstretched hand.  The defenders in question, Cathcart and Masina, really should have done better.  Kabasele had been down injured after a challenge during the attack that led to the goal, so VAR was invoked but the goal stood and, thankfully, Christian was able to continue after treatment.  The first booking of the game went to Femenía for pulling Zaha over.  Watford had a decent chance to hit back when Masina played a lovely ball over the top to Pereyra but he couldn’t position himself to take advantage and Guaita gathered the ball.  Zaha was then booked for a pull on Capoue.  The Palace man then went down very easily under a challenge from Hughes, which infuriated the Watford players.  The decision went against Zaha who was fortunate to avoid a second yellow.

Hughes readies to take a corner

So, we went into the half time break a goal behind to Palace’s only real shot of the half.  The Hornets were also unfortunate in the half time penalty shoot-out.  Although young Lucy from Watford was a star, scoring and impressing the commentator by celebrating with a cartwheel.

The first incident of note in the second half was a prolonged period of handbags after Capoue fouled Zaha.  There was a VAR check for a possible red card but, in the end, there were just cautions for Capoue and Kouyaté.  The game restarted with a free kick for Palace in a dangerous position which came to nothing as van Aanholt’s delivery was headed over by Ayew.  The next caution of the game went to Doucouré after pulling Zaha back.  Zaha was the next to create a scoring chance but Foster stood tall and the shot bounced off him.  The Hornets had a chance of their own as a free kick from Pereyra dropped for Deeney whose shot was blocked.  Then a lovely passing move from the Hornets finished with Pereyra shooting straight at Guaita.  There was another booking as Benteke was cautioned for a foul on Sarr having caught the youngster’s heel as he tried to escape.

Ignacio Pussetto

There was a half-chance for the Hornets as, from a Sarr cross, a mix up in the Palace defence almost allowed Hughes in but, eventually, Guaita gathered the ball.  Midway through the second period, Watford had the best chance of the half so far when Deeney tried a shot from distance that required a smart save from Guaita to tip it over.  There was another decent chance soon after when Sarr chipped the ball into the box for Doucouré whose looping header looked to be going in until Guaita pushed it around the post.  From the resulting corner, the ball reached Hughes whose shot from the edge of the area was blocked.  With 20 minutes to go, Hodgson made his first change, bringing Milivojevic on for McArthur.  The home side had a decent chance to increase their lead as Benteke tried a bicycle kick that hit the side netting.  With 15 minutes remaining, Pearson made a double substitution replacing Pereyra and Deeney with Pussetto and Welbeck.  The Hornets created a half chance as a long ball found Pussetto, who delivered a low cross for Sarr, but Guaita was the first to the ball.  Pearson made his final substitution bringing Gray on for Hughes, who left the field in front of the travelling Hornets and was warmly applauded.  There were five minutes of added time, but the only action of note was a chance for the home side to increase their lead as Benteke found Ayew, but Foster dived at his feet to avert the danger.

Masina takes a free kick

So, after the euphoria of last week, this was an unwelcome return to what has been the reality of most of this season.  It was a very disappointing game.  The Hornets had been the better team for most of the first half but, as so often this season, did not make the most of their chances and the home side scored after a counterattack.  Once they were ahead, Palace defended well and, apart from a brief spell in the second half, Watford never really looked like winning the point that their performance deserved.  Thankfully results elsewhere meant that we stayed out of the relegation zone on goal difference, but it felt like a wasted opportunity and, again, I worry that we won’t get the points that we need from the upcoming “winnable” games.

Another disappointment was the away crowd.  Last season, one of our party had made complaints when the gangway next to us had filled with fans who celebrated aggressively and caused injury to someone in our group.  The complaint had been referred to Croydon council, so we hoped to see an improvement in the stewarding on this occasion.  It was not apparent early in the game as a number of Watford fans started to take up positions in the gangway.  The stewards made some attempts to move these lads on, but most of their efforts led to complaints which meant that, for periods of the game, my view of one of the few sections of the pitch that I could otherwise see was blocked by stewards arguing with fans.  I have often said that I enjoy visiting Selhurst Park, but I realise now that this came from a time before our promotion when there were always a loads of spare seats in the away end and you could choose where to sit.  In those days I took up a place in the wooden seats at the back that were usually populated by those who wanted to stand and sing.  Nowadays everybody stands which means that, if you need to sit, you have no chance of seeing the game.  Added to that, even if you stand, if you are 5’6”, as I am, you won’t see a lot of the action

Our post-match analysis was to take place at Richard’s.  He lives in South London and he and his lovely wife had kindly invited us back for dinner and drinks.  When the football is as poor as it was on Saturday, a lovely evening with friends is all the therapy that you need.

 

Thrashing the Would-be Invincibles

Sarr about to escape the attentions of the Liverpool defence

As always when we have a late kick-off, my pre-match routine was completely messed up.  Due to the late finish time of the game and an appointment in Hertfordshire on Sunday, I had decided to stay over in Watford so I drove over and arrived at about 2:40.  Despite knowing that the kick-off was at 5:30, this seemed to be cutting it a bit fine in the event that the kick-off time had been changed back at short notice (I know!!)  But the lack of people in Watford shirts on the Rickmansworth Road convinced me that I hadn’t got kick-off time wrong.  I checked in to the hotel before walking to the West Herts and managed to get caught in a nasty hailstorm on the way, so was very glad to arrive in the warm and find the usual suspects at ‘our’ table.  I was greeted by a very apologetic Glenn, who had promised pork scratchings but arrived at the butcher to find that they only had scraps left.  He needn’t have worried as there was just enough and they were gorgeous, although it gave us another excuse to complain about Sky Sports.

We spent the afternoon cheering on the opponents of the teams around us and could have done without West Ham beating Southampton.  Liverpool came into this game looking to make it a record 19 Premier League wins in a row and to continue their unbeaten run in the league this season.  A couple of very optimistic Watford fans said that they fancied us to get something from the game but, based on our recent form, I couldn’t see us getting anything other than soundly beaten.  Richard was one who thought that we might get the win, but when he left early “to soak up the atmosphere”, we said our goodbyes as he wouldn’t be back in the West Herts after the game.  Knowing that he never comes back after defeats made his positive prediction appear rather shallow.

Masina and Hughes

Team news was that Pearson had made two changes, and what very welcome changes they were, as Femenía and Sarr came in for Dawson and Pereyra.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Femenía; Hughes, Capoue; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Sarr; Deeney.

The game kicked off and the first chance fell to the Hornets as Deulofeu cut inside and shot wide of the near post.  The home side also created the next chance of note as Doucouré fed Deulofeu, but the shot was just over the bar.  The same players combined again soon after, this time Deulofeu played the ball back to Doucouré, whose shot was blocked by van Dijk for a corner that came to nothing.  Despite having a lot of the play, Liverpool’s first chance didn’t come until the 20th minute when Oxlade-Chamberlain chipped the ball over to Salah in the box, he was in a great position but could only find the side netting.  Just after the half hour mark, Deulofeu went down under a challenge from van Dijk.  It looked pretty innocuous at first and I had just shouted “Get up, Geri” when I saw the referee waving to the bench for medical treatment.  It was soon obvious that the injury was bad and, after treatment, he was stretchered off.  This was so sad for the lad, and for us, as he had been having a superb game.  He left the field to the sound of his name being sung from the home stands and was replaced by Pereyra.

Deeney and Lovren in the customary pose as Doucoure breaks through

Deeney could have been in trouble after a robust challenge on Alexander-Arnold.  Troy went over and helped the lad to his feet and the referee was happy that no action needed to be taken, but the Watford captain may have been a bit lucky there.  The visitors created a half chance as a cross reached Mané, but his body position was wrong and the ball bounced off his head.  As it happened, his position on the field was wrong too as the offside flag was up.  Sarr created a much better chance trying a shot from the edge of the area that was over the target.  In time added on, there was the joy of a superb tackle from Masina on Alexander-Arnold.  Tackles don’t get as much coverage as (even poor) goal attempts, but sometimes they are things of beauty and this was one of those.  Watford could have taken the lead in time added on at the end of the half when, from a free kick, Alisson made a mistake allowing Deeney in, but the Liverpool keeper recovered to make a save and Deeney could only knock the follow-up wide.

So, we reached half time with the game goalless.  Liverpool had most of the possession, but the Hornets had created all of the noteworthy chances.  It had been an impressive performance but, as so often this season, I just worried that we would regret being so wasteful in front of goal.

Etienne Capoue

The half time guest was Heiðar Helguson who was a man of few words but seeing some highlights of his time with us was just a joy.  As would be expected, he was given a tremendous reception and appeared to appreciate it.

The Hornets started the second half as they had finished the first as Pereyra played a lovely ball through to Sarr whose shot was kept out by a one-handed save from Alisson.  At the other end, there was a bit of pinball in the Watford box, but Foster was finally able to gather the ball.  The Hornets took the lead on the 53rd minute as, from a Masina throw, the ball reached Doucouré who played the ball back to Sarr who finished from close range sparking mad celebrations in the home stand.  I have to admit that, after last week, my celebration was slightly delayed while I assured myself that VAR wouldn’t intervene.  I normally have a chance to grab some sort of photo of the players celebrating.  On this occasion, we had only just stopped hugging each other as Sarr reached the centre circle for the restart.  Lovely as the goal was, it felt far too early in the game to have any confidence in the lead, Liverpool had plenty of time to strike back.

Celebrating the third goal

The Hornets had a decent chance to grab a second soon after when Deeney got his head to a Hughes free kick, but his effort was wide of the target.  Watford did not have long to rue that miss as Hughes played a lovely back heel down the line to Deeney, he released Sarr who bore down on goal before lifting the ball over Alisson.  It was another lovely goal and the Liverpool players looked rather shocked.  I did get a photo of the celebration for this one, but my hands were shaking so much that it is just a yellow blur.  Klopp made a change before the restart bringing Lallana on for Wijnaldum.  The visitors had a chance to hit back almost immediately with a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery from Alexander-Arnold was woeful and flew well wide of the near post.  Hughes had a chance to make it three for the Hornets, but his shot hit Sarr and was cleared.  Klopp made a second change replacing Oxlade-Chamberlain with Origi.  Liverpool had a great chance to pull a goal back when a ball into the Watford box was headed clear to Lallana who hit it well, but his effort rebounded off the outside of the far post.  Sarr should have grabbed a hat-trick when he got on the end of a cross from Masina, but he tried to hit a volley and ended up mishitting the shot which flew wide of the near post.

More players join the celebration of the third goal

The third goal came from a Liverpool mistake as Sarr intercepted a backpass from Alexander-Arnold, he coolly held the ball up before playing a gorgeous pass to Deeney who lofted a beautiful shot into the empty net.  It was a fantastic goal and the celebrations were suitably manic.  Thankfully, this time I got some lovely shots of the players celebrating.  But, when my brain engaged again, all I could think was “Tranmere”.  As those around me were singing rather rude things about “invincibles” I was muttering that there was just under 20 minutes to go so it was far too early to be celebrating.  With 10 minutes remaining, Klopp made his final substitution replacing Firmino with Minamino.  Meanwhile I was trying to keep calm, but my heart was racing.  Sarr then had a superb chance to score a fourth goal as he received a lovely through ball from Capoue but the shot was just wide of the target.  That was his last action of the game as Pearson replaced him with Pussetto.  I have to say that I was a little disappointed that he was denied the chance to get a hat-trick, but it was a sensible decision given the lack of game time that he has had of late.  With 5 minutes to go the Rookery was rocking with a chant of “Can we play you every week,” while I was still shouting “too early”.  Liverpool had a chance to pull one back as Salah crossed, but it was an easy catch for Foster.  Then van Dijk tried his luck from distance, but his effort was well over the bar.  Pearson made his second substitution on 89 minutes replacing Doucouré with Chalobah.  All eyes were on the fourth official as he held up the board indicating that there were 4 minutes of added time.  Those four minutes were mostly played in Watford’s half, but every poor pass from the visitors and the odd catch from Foster was loudly cheered.  It must have been the 93rd minute when I finally believed that we would win the game.  The final whistle went to joyous scenes in the home stands.

Masina prepares for a throw-in

After the celebratory hugs, we all just stood looking incredulously at each other.  I don’t think any of us could believe what we had just witnessed.  Michael in the row in front suggested that was possibly the best game we have ever played.  It was certainly up there with the best.  As we gathered in the concourse, Rose got a message from Amelia (her season ticket holding daughter who was unable to make the game) saying that last time we beat Liverpool 3-0 I had cried, and she hoped that we were all crying with joy.  We assured her that we had been.  The atmosphere in the concourse was a little muted.  Usually after games like this the concourse is noisy as songs are being belted out.  On this occasion, I think everyone was a little stunned.

We emerged onto Occupation Road to find a huge crowd, a sign that nobody had left early.  I left my family at the school car park and bumped into a West Herts regular with whom I waxed lyrical about the performance.  As I entered the bar the first person that I saw was Richard.  My enquiry as to what he was doing there was met with a broad smile and the offer of a drink.  The post-match analysis was joyous.  We all agreed that every one of our players had been magnificent.  The stats showed that Liverpool had enjoyed 71% of the possession, but the Watford defence had restricted them to only a single shot on target.  Deeney, Deulofeu and Pereyra had all been disappointing at Old Trafford, but had been superb in this game with even Pereyra working his socks off.  The performance of Femenía showed how much we had missed him.  What was really impressive was that, after two months out, he looked as though he had never been away.  Similarly with Sarr, who frightened the life out of the Liverpool defence, the only disappointment had been that he didn’t get his hat trick.  The midfield three of Hughes, Capoue and Doucouré had worked tirelessly and been incredibly solid.  Sometimes it is the silly things that give you immense pleasure and one of the memories that I will take from this game involved Capoue.  I love him as a player, but he can blow hot and cold.  Watching him when he is enjoying himself is utterly joyous and there was a point in the game when he sprinted from one side of the pitch to the other and back again, frustrating the Liverpool midfield and it was one of those moments that has me clapping my hands in glee.

Confirmation that it really happened

At the end of the day, we had beaten the team who are running away with the League.  Their recent performances have not been perfect, but they have continued to grind out results and were proving very hard to beat.  The fact that this Watford team not only beat them but did so convincingly was just amazing.  Although there is still a part of me waiting to wake up to find out that we have lost 6-0.

I was back in the hotel just in time to see the highlights on Match of the Day.  Any fears that the pundits would focus on how poor Liverpool had been were dispelled as they gave our lads the credit they deserved for their performance.  I was also gratified to get a message from a Scouse friend who congratulated us on a brilliant performance commenting that we were impressive all though the team.

Obviously, one win doesn’t keep you in the division, but we went on a great run after our impressive performance at Anfield.  I can only hope that this even more impressive performance at Vicarage Road gives the lads the confidence that they need to start playing with the quality that they know they have and getting the results that they deserve.

What a difference a week makes.  I love football again.

 

United we Fell

Masina preparing to take a throw-in

It was an early start for this game, and I couldn’t believe how many people were on the Central Line at 7:30 on a Sunday morning.  The journey to Manchester was uneventful.  Our usual group were going to be split between two pre-match pubs, one nearer the city centre, the other near the ground.  I met up with Pete at Piccadilly and, since the bar in Salford Quays wasn’t opening until midday and we were somewhat earlier than that, we headed to Deansgate to meet Graham and the Happy Valley Hornets.  Graham had arrived early and gone for breakfast.  While wandering in the area, he encountered a group of young men in hoodies and quickly realised that it was the lads out for a constitutional after their breakfast.

Our usual haunt didn’t open until midday, so an alternative had been chosen.  A quick look at TripAdvisor had shown a large number of one star reviews.  When we arrived it seemed OK, apart from the Man United memorabilia, but it went quickly downhill.  For what appeared to be a local pub, it was a bit surprising that the beer was at London prices.  But the clincher was when the barman, while clearing plates, knocked a pint of beer over the daughter of one of our group, claimed that she had done it and refused to provide a replacement.  It was a relief to take refuge in our usual haunt, I don’t think that we will be going back to the White Lion.

The decision to go to the more central pub looked even more misguided when I couldn’t fight my way on to a tram.  When I finally found a space to get on to one, it was the least crowded that had passed through so at least it was a relatively comfortable journey.

Doucoure on the ball

Knowing how restrictive the bag policy is at Old Trafford, I had packed carefully, only bringing things that I needed, but I still had a couple of things in a small bag.  As I passed through the first phalanx of stewards, I asked one of them if I could take my bag in.  He said that I could, and I passed through the next layer of security until I reached the one just before the turnstiles.  At that point I was told I couldn’t take the bag in.  I asked if it was OK to empty the bag into my pockets.  They were fine with that but said that I couldn’t take the actual bag in even though it was a nylon drawstring bag that could be tucked into a pocket.  At that point I gave up trying to reason and went back through the security cordons to the bag drop in the car park opposite.  There I found a young lad with an even smaller drawstring bag telling the attendants that he didn’t have the £5 they were demanding to leave his bag there.  I said that I would pay for him.  The woman behind the counter kindly said that we could put our bags together so that I would only have to pay once, and I had to point out that I didn’t know this boy so we wouldn’t be returning together.

I was livid when I got into the ground.  My mood wasn’t helped when I told my story only to find that two of our party had played the elderly card and brought in two bags that were considerably larger than mine and Mike had a Swiss army knife in his pocket!!  So much for their stringent security.

Doucoure and Masina

Team news was that Pearson had made just the one change with Hughes in for Chalobah.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Hughes, Capoue; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney.

Prior to kick-off, there was a minute’s silence for Harry Gregg, survivor and hero of the Munich air disaster, who had passed away during the week.  The silence was impeccably observed.

Watford had an early chance to take the lead as a defensive mistake allowed Deeney to escape, he broke into the box, but delayed taking a shot giving Shaw time to get back and make the clearance.  It was a golden chance that went to waste.  Troy had another chance to break, but Fred, while lying on the ground, managed to make a tackle allowing United to break and Greenwood to take a shot that was straight at Foster.  The Hornets created another decent chance as Deulofeu crossed for Doucouré, but the Frenchman could only find the side-netting.  Watford had a decent spell without testing the keeper, the next effort came from the home side and was a cross-cum-shot from James that Foster punched clear, it fell to Wan-Bissaka who shot into the side-netting.

Dawson on the ball as Capoue looks on

Watford threatened again as Doucouré went on a good run, his cross was knocked down to Deeney whose shot flew wide of the far post.  At the other end, a low shot by Shaw from the edge of the area was straight at Foster.  It has to be said that, at this stage of the game, the United fans were uncharacteristically noisy.  Martial went on a tremendous break but it came to nothing as his shot was well over the target.  In the away end, a new song got an airing as the travelling Hornets appropriated “Tequila” from Tranmere, but the climax of the song became a shout of “Masina”.  It was rather catchy.  Doucouré then went on a run and tried his luck, but de Gea got a hand to the shot and pushed it out for a corner.  Then Pereyra played in Masina, but he was slipping as he crossed and it was easily gathered by de Gea.  At the other end, James cut inside and shot well wide of the target.  The home side threatened again, this time James played the ball back to Fred just inside the area, but his shot was well over the bar.  Capoue then provided some light relief winning a free kick with what could only be described as a swallow dive.  It was elegant and effective, and the travelling faithful sang his name with some gusto.  Just as we thought we would make it to half time with no score, James played in Fernandes, Foster came out to meet him and took him down.  The United man made the most of it, but it was an obvious penalty.  Fernandes took the spot kick himself, taking a stuttering run up before sending Foster the wrong way and putting the home side ahead.  It could have been two after a mistake from Pereyra gave Fernandes another chance to score, but his shot was just wide of the target.

We were a little unlucky to be behind at half time, United had been poor but, as so often this season, Watford had not taken their chances.

Doucoure and Deeney celebrate the goal that never was

The Hornets created the first half-chance of the second period as Doucouré crossed for Deeney, but Shaw intervened to put the ball out for a corner.  From the corner, Deeney turned the ball in for what we thought was the equaliser.  We had celebrated, the players had celebrated, but then I saw Martin Atkinson in discussion with Harry Maguire who was indicating that he thought there had been a handball.  After consulting the VAR, Atkinson indicated upfield and I was momentarily hopeful until I realised that he was indicating a goal kick.  Apparently, the ball had come off Dawson’s arm in the build-up, so the goal didn’t stand.  The Hornets then won another corner but, on this occasion, the delivery from Hughes was easily caught by de Gea.  The home side threatened again as James played a through ball to Greenwood, whose shot across goal was put out for a corner.  Martial scored United’s second just before the hour mark.  Foster blocked the initial shot, but the Frenchman picked up the rebound and cleverly lofted the ball over Foster and in from a tight angle.  They had a decent chance for a third as Greenwood broke into the box and tried a shot that Foster saved with his feet.  The first booking of the game went to Cathcart for a foul on Martial.  United threatened again as Fernandes crossed for Maguire who headed wide.

Capoue, Masina and Deeney race upfield

With 20 minutes to go, Pearson made his first substitution, bringing Sarr on for Pereyra.  The youngster went on a run almost immediately, but his cross was put out for a corner that came to nothing.  With 15 minutes to go United were three up after Deulofeu lost the ball, Greenwood broke forward and played a one-two with Fernandes before finishing off the underside of the crossbar.  It was a quality goal and you couldn’t see any way back for the Hornets.  Pearson made a second substitution bringing Welbeck on for Deeney, who had had a disappointing game.  The Hornets had a great chance to pull a goal back as Hughes fed Deulofeu but the shot rebounded off the crossbar.  With ten minutes remaining, United made a triple substitution replacing Fred, Greenwood and Martial with McTominay, Chong and Watford old boy, Ighalo.  Pearson also made a final substitution bringing Cleverley on for Doucouré.  Ighalo immediately created a chance after picking up a poor header from Masina, that was meant for Foster, he rounded the Watford keeper but took the ball too wide and could only hit the outside of the post.  I was glad that he had missed as a goal against us from Ighalo would have been very hard to take.  Watford had one last chance to reduce the deficit when Deulofeu took a free kick that flew over the wall but was an easy catch for de Gea.  United could have scored a fourth when Matic released Chong who cut inside but he curled his shot just wide of the target.

Hughes prepares to take a free kick

The final whistle went on a comprehensive defeat for the Hornets.  Unlike the Brighton game, I did applaud the players off and there was a surprisingly good atmosphere among the travelling Hornets.  The Masina-Tequila song was getting a late airing, but the volume increased considerably with a rendition of “Ighalo-oh” for old times’ sake.  Odion seemed to appreciate the gesture as he turned and applauded the Watford fans.

On leaving the ground, I went to pick up my bag, which looked pitiful sitting on the shelf.   We then headed for the bar in Salford Quays to drown our sorrows.  On the way, Richard (wearing Watford gear) was called upon to give directions to some people wearing United scarves.  Bl**dy tourists!  The bar was much more hospitable than our pre-match venue and, after a nice glass of wine, something to eat and a good moan about the football, I felt a lot better.

It had been a disappointing afternoon, especially as United didn’t play particularly well.  The Watford performance had been better than the previous week, particularly in the first half, but once the goal was disallowed, all the fight seemed to go out of the lads and the result was never in doubt.  There were a lot of subpar performances and the wisdom of playing both Deulofeu and Pereyra was questioned.  They can both be luxury players and, in a scrap, as we are at the moment, we can’t afford that.  Pereyra, in particular, had an odd afternoon seeming to wander all over the place leaving Dawson exposed.  One of the topics of conversation was the Winter break.  Given the staggered nature of it, it doesn’t affect all teams equally.  Oddly, the Watford players looked rather rusty after their week off, while the United players, who should have been fatigued after a game in midweek, seemed a lot fresher.

With the visit of Liverpool next week, it is hard to see when the upturn will come and I am beginning to believe that the season will finish with the team being relegated.  At least if Leeds do get promoted it will mean we won’t have to go there. Every cloud and all that!

Despite the Disappointment, This is What We Do

The bust in the Glyndebourne room

A late kick-off on the South Coast played havoc with my sense of order.  It didn’t help that, due to engineering works, the timetable from Windsor had changed just for the weekend.  Thankfully, I managed to catch the train that I was aiming for and, when changing trains at Clapham Junction, I bumped into Jacque.  Others had been more organised than me, so she had arranged to meet Mike on the Lewes train.  By some brilliant planning (actually, a lot of luck), when the train pulled in we found that we had judged perfectly and were standing right by the doors to the coach in which Mike was sitting so were able to make the journey south together.

When we reached Lewes, we headed for the pre-match pub, which seems to have been under different ownership every time we have visited.  The new owners have introduced a Spanish feel to the menu and a new décor that I wasn’t totally enamoured with, apart from the lemur wallpaper in the bathrooms that was absolutely gorgeous.  Due to the late kick-off meaning a very late arrival home after the game, a couple of us had decided to stay the night in Lewes.  I had booked a room above the pub, so went and checked in.  I was staying in the Glyndebourne room in which the accessories included a “bronze” bust and a selection of opera glasses.  The bathroom was quite magnificent, including a deep bath and a shower that the landlady assured me was very easy to operate, even though there were multiple controls including one that turned it into a sauna.  I have to say that I wasn’t convinced that I would be able to remember her instructions by the next morning and was a little disappointed that the built-in seat wasn’t designed for me to take a rest while showering.

A kind welcome in the Ladies’ loo

As we got ready to leave for the game, I was in a foul mood and couldn’t work out why.  It wasn’t until the game got underway that I realised that it was pre-match nerves that had kicked in due to the importance of this game.  Earlier in the afternoon, it had been noted that Lewes FC were at home to Cheshunt at the wonderfully named Dripping Pan.  There was a suggestion that we should attend the game prior to heading for Falmer, but we would have had to leave halfway through the second half and that seemed a little rude.  As we waited for the train, we could hear cheers coming from the ground , we had assumed that this meant that Lewes were pulling ahead, but it turned out that Cheshunt were banging in the goals and ended the day as 6-1 winners.  In hindsight, maybe we should have stayed there after all.

Team news was that Pearson had made just the one change with Hughes in for Chalobah.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Hughes, Capoue; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney.

As I retrieved my distance glasses from my bag in order to watch the game there seemed to be something awry.  I couldn’t work out why my vision was impaired until I realised that one of the lenses had popped out.  Thankfully, it was in the glasses case, but I couldn’t replace it, so decided to dispense with the glasses for the afternoon.  It has to be said that, of late, there hasn’t been a lot worth seeing.

Doucoure celebrating with the bench (honest!)

The game kicked off and the home side created a very early chance as Kabasele failed to get his head on a cross from Trossard, the ball reached March whose shot was blocked for a corner.  March was involved in the next move, swinging in a cross that was met by Murray at the back post, but his header was easily caught by Foster.  The first vaguely meaningful attack from the Hornets came as Pereyra played the ball out to Doucouré who crossed for Deulofeu, but the shot was weak and easily claimed by Ryan.  By this time, my blurred vision was starting to irritate me and I decided that being able to see out of one eye was better than nothing, so I put on the damaged glasses just in time to see Capoue intercept a pass from Mooy, the ball fell to Doucouré who ran upfield and shot across Ryan into the corner.  It was a gorgeous goal and it was interesting to see Abdoulaye immediately run to the bench to celebrate with Pearson and the coaching staff.  The home side looked to hit back as a cross was headed out by Mariappa and the ball dropped to Mooy who shot well over the bar.  At the other end Doucouré found Deulofeu who pulled the ball back for Hughes whose shot was deflected for a corner.  The first booking of the game went to Schelotto for a foul on Deulofeu.  From the other end of the pitch, the card looked rather harsh as Geri had run into his opponent as he tried to clear the ball.  I had thought that we were fortunate to get the free kick, so certainly wasn’t expecting a card.

Deulofeu takes a free kick

The Hornets threatened again as Deeney knocked Duffy off the ball and played in Pereyra, but the cross went begging.  At the other end a cross from Trossard towards Murray in the box was cut out by Cathcart.  There were shouts for a penalty when Schelotto went down in the box, but the referee wasn’t interested.  As half-time beckoned a cross was deflected back to Foster by Pereyra, Ben caught the ball slightly dramatically and slid on his knees across the box giving a cheeky smile to the fans behind the goal.  This loses a lot in the telling, but was one of the most entertaining moments of the half.

So, we reached the break a goal to the good.  It had been a pretty dull half of football, although I was missing the action at our end of the ground as my view was restricted due to the people standing up in front of me in a shallow stand.  There was a child behind me standing on his seat and I have never been so tempted to do the same.

The welcome return of Will Hughes

The first chance of the second half went to the home side.   March was fouled by Pereyra on the edge of the box, Groß stepped up to take the free kick and his delivery was met with a strong punch from Foster.  The home side threatened again as a poor clearance came back to Schelotto, whose shot across goal looked dangerous, but there was no Brighton player on hand to turn it in.  The first substitution came on 57 minutes as Maupay replaced Burn for the home side.  The Hornets had a decent chance of a second goal when Deulofeu broke into the box, but his shot was poor and flew wide of the near post.  Potter then made a second change, bringing Alzate on for Groß.  There were then a couple of cautions for the visitors.  First, Hughes was booked for a robust tackle on Maupay.  Then Mariappa for a foul on March.  On both occasions, the home side had won free kicks in a dangerous position, but Foster was not tested on either occasion.  Even so, with our weakness against set pieces, this was causing me some concern.  With 15 minutes to go, Brighton made their final substitution as Jahanbakhsh came on in place of Schelotto.  There was some concern for the visiting fans as Masina was down for a while receiving treatment.  Holebas was stripped off ready to take in his place, but Adam recovered and was able to continue.  Brighton looked certain to grab the equaliser when Mooy broke into the box and shot goalwards, but Foster stuck a leg out and made a terrific save.  Sadly, it would prove to be in vain as, a minute or so later, Jahanbakhsh put in a cross which Mariappa powered past Foster.  The defender’s action was inexplicable.  There didn’t appear to be any Brighton players close by and Foster could have gathered the ball had Mariappa not intervened.  It was incredibly frustrating, and the travelling faithful were now bracing themselves for a defeat.  Pearson made his first change on 82 minutes replacing Pereyra with Pussetto.  The second change for the Hornets came soon after as Welbeck came on for Deulofeu.  The game was fizzling out but, with a minute to go, the home side had a chance to grab a winner when Jahanbakhsh crossed for Trossard, but he could only flick the ball wide.  There were 5 minutes of added time, but they passed without incident and the game ended in a draw.

Masina passes to Deulofeu

The fans in the away end had been getting increasingly irate during the second half and, as the final whistle went, a couple of fans were venting their anger at the players.  Normally I would dismiss the ranting, but these lads sit behind me in the Rookery every game and are absolutely lovely.  They had just seen enough, and I had a lot of sympathy with their viewpoint.  It is not often that I don’t applaud the players at the end of a game, but this was one of those occasions.

It took an age to get on the train back to Lewes.  On arrival, the London contingent headed home, while those of us from the suburbs and further afield headed for the pub and it was a relief to be sitting with a glass of wine in order to reflect on the afternoon.  It had been an awful game of football and, yet again, we had been the architects of our own downfall.  There was one moment of quality in the game, which was the gorgeous goal from Doucouré.  Although the late effort from Mooy and the save from Foster deserve a special mention.  Other than that, it was really turgid with Watford sitting deep against an ineffective Brighton attack.  It really hurt that we had lost two points due to a pointless own goal, especially as I am very fond of Mariappa, but I don’t know what he was thinking when he blasted that ball into the net.  At the end of the day, we remain in the bottom three and, while we are not yet adrift, it is hard to see where the next points are coming from.

I’m not sure that these would have helped at the game

The decision to stay over after the game turned out to be a good one as the anger and frustration about the day’s performance was supplanted with a discussion of how you can’t enjoy the highs anywhere near so much if you haven’t experienced the lows.  In the 40 years that I have been following the Hornets, I have experienced both, but I still marvel at the number of amazing days out that I have had while following a small, unfashionable club.

We all questioned why on earth we spend our Saturdays travelling to an event that gives no guarantee of any pleasure or entertainment.  The wonderful company is a major reason but, at the end of the day, this is what we do, and I don’t see any of us finding a replacement hobby any time soon.

Another Self-inflicted Defeat

Doucoure gets stuck in

After a weekend off, it was good to get back to the West Herts even if, after the last two games, I was no longer feeling optimistic about our chances.  The pre-match discussion about the end of the transfer window was brief as it had been fairly quiet for the Hornets, although there was a lot of sadness at the departure of Seb Prödl who went from Player of the Season to invisible after injuries.  I do hope that he goes on to great things.  There was also some discussion of Ighalo’s move to Manchester United, which took me by surprise, and a hope that Richarlison’s head had been turned by the interest from Barcelona.

As we reached Vicarage Road on the way to the ground, you could tell that it wasn’t one of the bigger clubs visiting, as there was only one tout in view and even he may just have been a bloke trying to offload a spare ticket.  As we reached Occupation Road, there seemed to be a big crowd blocking the way but, once we passed the first turnstile for the SEJ stand, the crowd reduced to usual size and we were soon through the turnstiles.  As I was unable to find a programme at the home tie against Tranmere and then threw coffee over the programme I bought at the away game, I went to Doreen Pym’s programme stand at the GT end of the Rookery to try to get replacements.  Sadly, they did not have either publication, but the journey was not wasted as I bumped into a friend on the way.  The detour and chat meant a delay in getting to my seat and, when I arrived, I was told that I had just missed the lovely Seb Prödl saying goodbye to the Watford fans.  That made me very sad, as I have a very soft spot for Seb.  I was greatly cheered when my lovely friend, Alice, later told me that she had made him some Vanillekipferl as a goodbye gift.  I am told that they went down very well with Seb and he kindly shared them with his countryman, Daniel Bachmann.

Celebrating Masina’s opening goal

Team news was that Pearson had made just the one enforced change from the Villa game with Kabasele in for Dawson, who was missing due to injury.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Chalobah, Capoue; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney.  It was great to see both Welbeck and Hughes on the bench, although we were short of defensive options with only Holebas included.  Former Watford starlet, Richarlison, started for Everton and was booed as he has been ever since he left.  Something that baffles me as we got very good money for him when he moved to Everton.

The visitors had the first chance of the game as Richarlison got on the end of a cross from Iwobi, but his shot flew over the bar.  At the other end a great corner from Masina was met by the head of Kabasele, but he couldn’t get his effort on target.  Christian was then in action at the other end as Richarlison tried to break into the box, but Kaba was on hand to steal the ball from him and snuff out the danger.  The Hornets took the lead after 10 minutes and it was a wonderful goal that started with Capoue playing a lovely cross-field pass to Deulofeu who brought the ball down before passing back to Masina who shot past Pickford into the opposite corner.

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal

The Hornets threatened again as Capoue played another lovely ball, this time for Pereyra, but Pickford was out to gather.  The visitors created a decent chance as Sidibé crossed for Calvert-Lewin, but the header was easy for Foster.  Off the pitch, the first sight of Danny Welbeck warming up was greeted with applause.  Watford had a chance to increase their lead when a free kick from Masina was cleared as far as Doucouré whose bicycle kick cleared the bar.  The hosts threatened again as Deulofeu found Doucouré on the edge of the box, but the shot was blocked at close range.  VAR was then invoked as a nasty looking tackle by Digne on Pereyra was checked, but no punishment ensued.  Maxi returned after treatment and exacted revenge on Digne.  Again, VAR was called into action but, again, the offence was not deemed worthy of a red card (or a yellow for that matter).  The second goal for the Hornets came after Deeney latched on to a loose ball and played a lovely pass to Pereyra who finished beautifully to put the Hornets in a commanding position with two minutes to go until half time.  The goal had been against the run of play, but it was all looking so positive at that point.  Sadly, 2-0 is a dangerous score and there followed two minutes of madness.  The clock had reached 45 minutes when Everton won a corner.  The Watford defenders failed to clear and the ball pinged around the box until Mina turned it in.  It was a very scrappy goal to give away.  It got worse almost immediately as Everton won another corner, Sigurdsson’s delivery was met by Mina, who was allowed a free header which beat Foster to level the score.  The scorer was milking the celebrations right in front of the 1881 which irritated me immensely even if it is likely that he had been jeered by the home fans.

Everton Speedo Mick interviewed by Emma

There was shock at half time, we had appeared to be in control of the game and had been defending very solidly, but that was all undone by two corners when the defence went missing.  So frustrating in such an important game.

The first topic of the half time interviews was the National Citizen Service (NCS), a programme for 15-17 year-olds which has been one of the projects run by Watford Community Trust.  It is a very positive project that has benefited many local youngsters.

The legend on duty was Gary Porter talking about his distinguished career with the Hornets.  He was a part of some amazing teams and is very fondly remembered, although it shocks me to realise how long ago he retired as I think of him as one of the youngsters!

Last up was Everton Speedo Mick who is walking 1000 miles from John O’Groats to Lands End while dressed in Speedo swimming trunks to raise money for Leave the Light On which contributes to community projects that help disadvantaged young people.  His excitement at Everton’s comeback was a little hard to listen to, but I let him off as it is a tremendous charity https://www.gofundme.com/f/speedomick-1000-ml-charity.  I was a little embarrassed when the two guys in front of us commented on my taking photos.  It was for the blog, honest, not because I want photos of a middle-aged bloke in a Speedo.

Pereyra on the ball

The visitors had the first chance of the second half and, again, it was from a set piece.  Sigurdsson took a free kick which reached Calvert-Lewin, whose header was deflected over the bar.  There was then a tussle between Deeney and Mina, not the first of the afternoon.  The Everton man was rolling around trying to get Troy into trouble and Troy’s look of contempt mirrored my feelings.  Nigel Pearson made his first substitution just before the hour mark as Chalobah made way for Welbeck.  Nate did not look happy at being replaced, but the introduction of Welbeck was warmly received by the crowd.  The first booking of the game came soon after and went to Delph for a trip on Pereyra.  The visitors made two changes in quick succession bringing Kean and Schneiderlin on for Iwobi and Sigurdsson.  There were a couple of rash-looking tackles from the Hornets as Everton broke forward, but the referee finally blew up for a nudge on Richarlison on the edge of the box, with Masina booked for the most innocuous foul in that sequence.  The resulting free kick was taken by Digne who hit it straight into the wall.  With 20 minutes remaining, the visitors were reduced to ten men after Delph was shown a second yellow card for a clumsy foul on Capoue.  The resulting free kick was repelled as far as Capoue who shot over the target.

Danny Welbeck back in action

Each side then made a change with Keane replacing Calvert-Lewin for the visitors and Success on for Pereyra for the home side.  The first contribution from Success was unimpressive, he lost out to Sidibé and so brought him down and was shown a yellow card for his trouble.  Pearson made his final change replacing Deulofeu with Pussetto.  Geri left the pitch by the goal in front of the Rookery and walked half the length of the stand where he was applauded the whole way around but didn’t once acknowledge the crowd.  Late in the game the Hornets had a few decent chances to regain the lead.  First a corner from Masina was cleared to Doucouré on the edge of the box, his shot was hit well but flew wide of the far post.  The next yellow card went to Mina, who was seriously annoying me, so I was glad to see him booked for a foul on Success.  The Hornets threatened again as a lovely free kick from Pussetto was punched clear to Capoue who squared for Doucouré whose shot was wide of the near post.  The visitors picked up another yellow card as Holgate was booked for a foul on Doucouré.  There was another half chance to grab a winner for the Hornets when they got the ball into the Everton box, but no Watford man could get a meaningful touch on it.  The Hornets had been pushing for the winner, but it was the visitors who took all three points with a goal in the 90th minute.  Masina lost out in the middle of the pitch, Richarlison advanced and played in Kean who moved the ball on to Walcott, at first he appeared to have run wide of the goal, but that proved to be wishful thinking on my part as he finished past Foster.  There was a roar of encouragement from the Watford faithful as the fourth official held up the board indicating 5 minutes of added time, but the Hornets created nothing of note in added time and the final whistle went to boos from the home fans.

Pussetto lines up a free kick

The reaction after the game was mostly anger.  Listening to fans as we left the ground, Nigel Pearson has gone from football genius to being utterly clueless.  Again, the withdrawal of Chalobah was questioned especially as he didn’t take advantage of the presence of Hughes on the bench who would have firmed up the midfield, but that could have been criticised as like-for-like when Pearson was making a change to the formation.  But most of the fury was directed towards the appearance of Success.  Given the amount of criticism Gray has attracted recently, I was rather amused to hear a comment that Andre must wonder what he has to do if Isaac is coming on ahead of him.  My assumption was that Success was brought on due to his strength and, given that Gray was awful at Tranmere, the greater likelihood that he would cause the Everton defence problems.  But when he does nothing it looks to be a poor substitution.

My great annoyance was at the fact that we have lost to Everton on three occasions this season and they haven’t had to play well in any of those games.  On Saturday we beat ourselves and that hurts.  We had scored two lovely goals in the first half and had kept Everton completely at bay through effective defending, but that was undone with some sloppy play at the end of the half.  Watford looked most likely to win the game late on, but we wasted our chances and one mistake allowed Everton the opportunity to grab the winner.

So, we are back in the bottom three and the visit to Brighton is looking to be crucial, given that it is followed by a trip to Old Trafford and the visit of Liverpool.  Consider me fickle, but I hate football again.

A Rock and Roll Night Out on Merseyside

A proper old school paper ticket

It felt like groundhog day when I arrived in Liverpool.  It was just over a week since the futile trip for the postponed game and, after the two away games at the Liverpool clubs and the cup game against Everton, this was my fifth trip to Merseyside for a football match this season.

I dropped my things off at the hotel and picked up a message from Mike suggesting that we meet in the Excelsior, where we had spent a couple of happy hours on a previous trip.  After a quiet pint there, we headed for a pub in the city centre where we had an interesting encounter with some locals.  There was a well-dressed eccentric complaining about the long trip that he had taken to Widnes for a funeral.  I may well have misunderstood what he was saying but he seemed to be unconvinced that he had attended the correct funeral.  Also at the bar, were an elderly mother and son.  The son was very friendly and welcoming, the mother not so much, seeming to resent her quiet whisky being interrupted by Watford fans as she pointedly told us that she supported Liverpool.  Pete had taken the supporters coach and they had arrived very early.  So, after some negotiation with the steward, who didn’t want to let him get off, he made the trip across the Mersey and joined us for dinner.

Mike, Pete and I with Nasher and Prowsey

Mike is friends with Ian Prowse, a brilliant musician who we had seen in concert after the Liverpool game (https://amsterdam-music.com/).  Prowsey is a Tranmere fan so Mike had arranged to meet up with him before the game.  He had told Mike that he was going to the game with his mate, Nasher.  Nasher being Brian Nash from Frankie goes to Hollywood, so we found ourselves in the presence of two Liverpool music legends.  We met for dinner and then caught the Merseyrail for the journey across (under) the river and then caught a cab to the ground.  As there was still some time before kick-off, we went into the Prenton Park pub by the ground.  As we had wine with dinner, Pete and I decided we would continue.  The barmaid looked a little confused but found a couple of long glasses in which to serve our drinks.

We said our goodbyes and headed for the ground and I was rather delighted to see that the turnstiles actually had operators to whom I could hand the huge paper ticket.  Having just said goodbye to Nasher outside Prenton Park, it was a little surreal to hear “Two Tribes” playing in the stadium.  The pre-game playlist also included the theme from “The Rockford Files”, a real flashback to my youth.

The Prenton Park pitch

Team news was that Pearson was putting out a very young team with first starts for Barrett, Whelan, Hungbo and João Pedro.  So, the starting XI was Bachmann; Holebas, Kabasele, Spencer-Adams, Barrett; Hungbo, Quina, Dele-Bashiru, Whelan; João Pedro, Gray.  During the week João Pedro had been complaining about the cold on social media, so I can only imagine what he thought when he emerged from the tunnel to find a very muddy pitch and the ground enveloped in an icy fog.  Although, regarding the pitch, kudos must be given to the grounds staff who had worked very hard to ensure that it was playable, even if a police officer outside had commented that anyone who attempted a sliding tackle was likely to end up in the stands.

Watford started the game brightly and created an early chance when Hungbo escaped upfield and tried a shot from outside the area, but his effort was blocked.  Then João Pedro went on an excellent run before cutting inside and hitting a curling shot that was blocked by Monthe.  The Hornets threatened again as Whelan crossed for João Pedro who could only turn the ball over the bar.

Spencer-Adams and Whelan

Tranmere’s first goal attempt came as a cross-field ball was played to Blackett-Taylor who shot high and wide of the near post.  Then Danns tried his luck but his shot flew wide of the far post.  Nearly half an hour had passed before the first shot on target which came as a deep ball was played to Morris whose effort was blocked by Bachmann, but the ball dropped to Blackett-Taylor, who should have done better with his shot which cleared the bar.  The home side were dominating at this point and a free kick was cleared only as far as Danns who shot high and wide of the far post.  Tranmere took the lead on 35 minutes after the Hornets failed to clear from a corner, there was a scramble in the box before the ball fell to Monthe who fired past Bachmann.  The Hornets had a half chance to restore parity before the break, but the shot from Hungbo was poor and didn’t trouble Davies in the Tranmere goal.

Pearson made a change at the break replacing Dele-Bashiru with Hinds.  The home side won a corner early in the second half, Ridehalgh got on the end of it but his header was easily gathered by Bachman.  Then Watford created a decent chance as João Pedro found himself one-on-one with the keeper, but Davies made the save, the rebound fell to Hinds whose shot was over the target.

Celebrating the equaliser

The first booking of the game went to Jennings for a foul on Hungbo.  The Hornets had another good chance to draw level as a free kick was punched clear and dropped to Holebas who met it with a decent volley that hit the post.  Tranmere made their first change on 64 minutes replacing Ferrier with Mullin.  Watford were almost architects of their own downfall when Bachmann dropped a corner and was a little lucky that the referee adjudged him to have been fouled.  The home side looked to increase their lead when Mullin tried a run into the box, but Bachmann was out to gather.  The equaliser came from Watford’s first corner of the game, the ball fell to Hinds, his first attempt was blocked, but the ball rebounded to him and he finished past Davies.  Tranmere had a great chance to regain the lead almost immediately as Mullin got on the end of a long pass, took the ball around Bachmann but his shot hit the outside of the post.  The Hornets then threatened as Hinds crossed for João Pedro, but Davies intervened to put the ball out for a corner.  Kabasele had a chance to grab a winner when he got on the end of a cross from Holebas but could not find the target.  With 10 minutes to go, Pearson was forced to make a substitution as João Pedro had picked up an injury, Dalby was the man who took his place, another youngster making his debut.  Tranmere were pushing for a winner as Danns tried to break into the box, but he was stopped by a great tackle from Spencer-Adams.  The home side could have won it in time added on after some terrible defending by the Hornets, Holebas knocked the ball into the path of Danns who really should have done better but shot wide of the target.

Dalby and Barrett

So, the game went into extra time.  Gray messed up the kick-off, touching the ball twice and so conceding a free kick on the centre circle.  Very odd indeed.  Andre, who was captain for the night, looked to make amends as he picked up a decent ball, advanced and crossed for Hinds whose header back across goal was cleared.  Whelan then had a chance to put the visitors ahead with a lovely curling shot that was stopped by a great save from Davies.  Holebas, who really did not appear to be enjoying his evening, went on a gorgeous mazy run through the Tranmere defence.  It came to nothing, but it was great fun to watch.  With five minutes to go in the first period of extra time, each side made a substitution with Bennetts replacing Hungbo for the Hornets and Danns making way for Gilmour for the home side.  There was danger for the visitors as the ball was bobbling around the Watford box, Riedhalgh crossed for Morris but the header was wide of the target.  The winner resulted from more poor defending from the Hornets as Hinds had the chance to clear the ball but instead kept it in on the right touchline, the ball fell for Gilmour who put in a cross, Blackett-Taylor flicked it on for Mullin to head past Bachmann to regain the lead for Tranmere.  The home side could have extended their lead just before half time in the added period as a corner was cleared to Morris whose shot flew just wide of the near post.

Bachmann takes a goal kick

Each side made a change at the start of the second period of extra time with Quina making way for Wise (son of Dennis) for the Hornets and Woods replacing Blackett-Taylor for the home side.  Watford never looked like getting back in the game and the home fans were enjoying themselves immensely, with “Tequila” ringing out from the stand behind the goal.  As the final whistle approached, there was an announcement asking the fans not to run on the pitch at the end of the game as they would damage it!  Needless to say, the request was in vain and, as the final whistle went, there was a mini pitch invasion.

The reaction of the Watford fans at the final whistle was mostly resignation, although one lad was walking down the stand shouting angrily at Gray.  The majority politely applauded the players, who responded in kind, and then headed out.  The coaches were waiting outside the away end, so Pete left us there and Mike and I headed back to the Prenton Park where a very happy Prowsey was already at the bar and planning to get tickets for himself and his daughter for the visit of Manchester United.  Mike and I commented that we already had tickets for that tie that we now couldn’t use.  We headed back to the City and the lads bumped into a woman that they knew in the lift at the station.  When she left Prowsey said, “That was Janice Long.”  I hadn’t recognised her.  We had one last drink in a pub that was playing a video of Liverpool icons from the 80s.  So, I found myself in the very odd position of watching the bloke I was chatting with on the telly.

Barrett, Spencer-Adams and Hinds challenging at a set piece

In the cold light of day, while it had been a disappointing performance from the youngsters, it was not unexpected.  They had started brightly enough and there had been a few decent moments, but the Tranmere team were too strong for them and, ultimately, appeared to want it more.  Of the youngsters, Hinds did well when he came on and deserved his goal.  Spencer-Adams has looked promising in both games and Whelan had a decent second half.  Of the first-team players, Kabasele put in a decent shift, Holebas had a couple of very decent chances but looked unhappy to be there and Gray was mostly anonymous, which was very sad to see.

I have to say that, after three games in a week, I was not heartbroken at the thought of a weekend off.  The prospect of playing Man United in the next round had not excited me at all.  Given our precarious position in the Premier League, this extended break will likely be beneficial as it gives the team longer to work together on the training pitch.  The Tranmere fans will love the visit of United and I wish them a lot of luck as they were tremendous at both of the games.

Travelling to two midweek games in one week, both ending in defeat, may not appear to be the most enjoyable way to use my precious holiday from work.  But I have been going to football for long enough not to rely on the game to provide enjoyment and my Thursday night on Merseyside with the rock stars was actually a lot of fun.

A Disappointing Set Back in Birmingham

Craig Dawson

Another Tuesday lunchtime, another trip to Euston to travel to a match.  On this occasion, at least, I was confident of seeing a game.

I arrived in Birmingham bright and early.  It was another lovely day, although rather icy.  I dropped my overnight things off at the hotel.  I had stayed in London on Monday night, after a trip to the theatre and, on arrival, was horrified to realise that I had forgotten to bring my yellow shirt.  I was vainly hoping that we would have an outing for the away shirt, but a check on the Premier League twitter feed confirmed that I would be unsuitably attired for the game.  At least I had two yellow, red and black scarves with me.

Having dropped my bag, I headed for the designated pub to find the rest of my party already gathered at a table near the door.  The usual suspects were joined by Jacque’s colleague, Adam, a Villa fan who was braving our company again so soon after the home game.  After a couple of pints and a lovely meal with great company, we set off to catch the bus to Villa Park.   For some reason, I found myself in a very irritable mood on the bus (not that unusual for me, but there was no reason for it on this occasion).  So, when I met Kate on the way in and she said, “I don’t have a good feeling about this,” I couldn’t help agreeing with her.  When we took our seats in the row second from the back of the lower tier, I was delighted to see that the seats behind me were occupied by the family who sit in front of me in the Rookery.  On National Hug Day, the greeting was as warm as I would have hoped.

Ben Foster takes a goal kick

Team news was that Pearson had made just the one enforced change from the weekend with the injured Sarr replaced by Pereyra.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Dawson, Mariappa; Capoue, Chalobah; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney.

The game kicked off and the Hornets created an early chance as Deulofeu met a cross from Pereyra, but the header was easily caught by Reina in the Villa goal.  Watford had another half chance as Mariappa crossed for Deeney who tried to side foot home but, again, the Villa keeper wasn’t overly tested.  The home side then had a couple of chances from corners but, first Konsa, and then Hause headed wide of the target.  Villa’s next chance came as Grealish crossed for Trézéguet whose shot was blocked.  On the half hour mark, Pereyra picked up the ball on the edge of the area turned and shot but his effort was blocked.  At the other end, Targett took a shot from the edge of the area, but it was straight at Foster.  Soon after, the ball reached El Ghazi in the box, but his shot was over the bar from what looked like an offside position (the lino on our side was struggling to keep up).  Targett then tried his luck, but his shot was from an awkward angle and he was unable to get it on target.

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

The Hornets took the lead on 38 minutes when a lovely cross from Deulofeu was met by the head of Deeney who beat Reina at the Holte End, which will have amused him greatly.  It certainly prompted massive celebrations in the away section and a loud chorus of “That boy Troy Deeney, he hates the Villa.”  We should have been two up before half time as Deulofeu went on a tremendous run, it was clear that the angle was too acute and he had two team mates in the box ready for a tap-in, but he proceeded to take the shot himself and only found the side-netting.  The last action of the half was the first caution of the game which went to Mings for a late foul on Doucouré.

The half time whistle went to boos from the home supporters.  It had been an even contest and very dull.  The Hornets were somewhat lucky to be ahead at the break although they had created the best chances of the afternoon and, if Deulofeu had been less selfish, they could have been two goals to the good.

The half time entertainment was a contest to get a football onto a target on the pitch with prizes assigned according to where the ball stopped.  One bloke won a season ticket for next season.  I was going to make a joke here about feeling sorry for him, but my experience of Villa fans is that they are great and I am sure he was delighted.

Pereyra alert in the Villa box

The first chance of the second half went to the home side from a free kick but it was headed clear by Dawson.  Villa threatened again from a corner but Trézéguet’s delivery was headed over by Hause.  Then a dangerous looking shot from distance by Konsa flew well wide of the far post.  The Hornets should have scored a second when a cross from Deulofeu was parried by Reina to Deeney who had two chances to finish from close range, but Reina did brilliantly to keep them out.  The first substitution of the game was made by the home side as Drinkwater made way for Luiz.  Watford threatened again with a lovely one-two between Pereyra and Doucouré that was stopped by an excellent tackle from Guilbert.  Villa had a half chance when Targett met a deep cross, but the header was easy for Foster.  There was controversy on 63 minutes as Mings stopped an attack by Deulofeu by handling the ball.  The Villa man had already been booked, so was lucky not to see red.  Villa drew level on 68 minutes when Grealish played in Targett whose shot was saved by Foster, but the ball dropped to Luiz who hit the target.  The goal felt like it had been coming as Watford had been sitting back and giving the home side too much space.  The Hornets had a chance to hit back from a corner, Reina spilled Chalobah’s delivery but was able to recover before any Watford player could capitalise.

Capoue and Doucoure leave the lads to take a free kick

With 15 minutes remaining, Pearson made his first change as Chalobah made way for Pussetto.  I thought it was a slightly odd substitution, I would have taken Pereyra off.  A worrying Villa attack was stopped when Foster came out to gather the ball before Trézéguet could reach it.  Cathcart was booked for a foul on Grealish during the build-up.  Villa then made a second substitution replacing Trézéguet with Vassilev.  With 10 minutes remaining, Mariappa tried to test the Villa keeper with a cross, but Reina was able to gather and Doucouré was booked for colliding with the keeper as he tried to challenge for the ball.  With nine minutes to go, Pearson made a second substitution replacing Pereyra with Gray.  Andre was immediately involved in a very promising move as he raced forward, with Deulofeu in close attendance, but his square pass to his teammate was very poor and was easily cut out.  The Hornets created a better chance as Doucouré crossed for Pussetto who headed back towards Gray but Andre couldn’t quite reach the ball and again it was cleared.  There were shouts for a penalty as Grealish tumbled in the box, but the referee waved the protests away.  Pearson made a final change in time added on replacing Deulofeu with Kabasele.  Unfortunately the substitution did not shore up the defence as he would have hoped as Watford failed to clear a free kick and a shot from Konsa deflected off Mings and past Foster to give the home side the win with the last kick of the game.  It was a cruel end to the match and to Watford’s great run.

Masina and Deulofeu prepare to take a free kick

We left the ground feeling very disappointed and had to walk through a crowd of exuberant Villa fans chanting, “Deeney what’s the score?”  On that note, it was lovely to see Villa fans on social media after the game singing the praises of Troy for stopping to have his photo taken with them.  A true pantomime villain who loves the back and forth with the fans.  We were quickly back on the bus to the city centre and retired to a pub to drown our sorrows.

That was probably the worst performance that we have put in since Nigel Pearson took over.  We greatly missed Sarr, who has been superb in recent weeks and has been frightening the life out of opposition defences.  But my biggest beef was that we sat back too much and allowed Villa space.  At our place, we had pressed them and got under the skin of Grealish who became petulant and increasingly ineffective.  He had a much better game at Villa Park and they looked stronger as a result.  But, looking at the balance of chances, it was the old story of not making the most of our best opportunities.  Had we converted those chances, we would have taken the three points, although a lot of the credit for that has to go to Pepe Reina.

So, we end the evening back in the relegation zone, if only on goal difference, and my nerves started jangling again.  My angry reaction after the game, that that was what happens if you become complacent, was directed at myself rather than any of the players.  But we have some very winnable games coming up, so we just need to forget this set back and continue playing as well as we have been in the last month.  If we do that, we will be fine.

 

An Impressive Start to the New Year

The quiz winners

Last October, the City ‘Orns team won the Watford Quiz Night (I am still not sure how that happened).  Our prize was hospitality for the Wolves game on New Year’s Day.  As I couldn’t find a taker for my season ticket, I released it.  When I received the email acknowledging my ‘non-attendance’, it was all I could do not to respond to tell them that it wasn’t that I wouldn’t be attending, but I had a ticket for hospitality.  Thankfully I was able to convince myself that that may come across as just a little obsessive.

I arrived in Watford at my usual time for a matchday but, unlike the bustle of a Saturday, the town was deserted.  As Thursday was a workday, I decided to stay in Watford, so I dropped my bag at the hotel before heading to the ground.  As I reached Market Street, the crowds increased but they were all wearing Wolves shirts and scarves and I realised that the away supporters’ coaches had arrived.  As I was a little too early for the opening of the hospitality lounge, I went into the Hornet shop.  I was looking for programme binders and searched high and low, but they were nowhere to be seen.  However, I did find some oven gloves.  For someone who rarely cooks and almost never uses the oven, I don’t know why I was so attracted to them, but they were a thing of beauty and I had to have them.  I then found the programme binders, and all was right with my world.  As I approached the till, I noticed the signs indicating “tax free” purchases.  I asked the woman behind the counter if we really have that many tourists visiting Vicarage Road.  Apparently, we do.  What has become of football?

With Tommy Smith

I was not (quite) the first in the Horizons lounge and was quickly joined by Alice, so we bought a couple of bottles of wine for the table (one red, one white) and toasted the new year.  Our party soon gathered.  As well as the quiz winners, Mike Raggett was there celebrating winning the Supporter of the Season.  He had brought Jacque as his plus one, so there was a good number of the West Herts contingent in attendance.

As part of the pre-match entertainment in the lounge there was an interview with Tommy Smith talking about the current squad and being very positive.  When he was finished, he was invited to our table and stayed for a long chat about anything and everything.  I liked his description of himself as a “lazy winger”, not quite the way that I remember him.  He never fancied being a coach or a manager, so went into estate agency and the business seems to be doing really well.  He seems pretty happy with life and is enjoying the ambassador/guest role as a way of staying connected with football.  I still think of Tommy Smith as a youngster, after all we went to the same secondary school, but I left the school the year after he was born.  It was a bit of a shock to realise that he will be 40 in May.

Team news was that Pearson had made two enforced changes with Dawson and Chalobah in for Mariappa (suspended) and Hughes (injured).  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Dawson; Capoue, Chalobah; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Sarr; Deeney.

The Rocket Men banner

We left the lounge in good time to find our seats, but the signs in the Upper GT concourse were somewhat misleading so we wandered around for a while before finding someone who could point us in the right direction.  When we finally found the seats, they were in the front row of the new overhang at the end of the stand right next to the 1881 in the Rookery, so a great spot.  I could see my family sitting in the middle of the Rookery and tried to attract their attention, but they were not looking in my direction and by the time I found my glasses to send a message they were in match mode and concentrating on events on the pitch.

As the teams came out, a RocketMan surfer banner featuring Elton and GT appeared over the centre of the Rookery.  On a normal day, I would have been under it, so it was nice to see the revelation of a new banner for once.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  I was a little late snapping the picture, so it doesn’t do it justice.

We had been told that there was a strict dress code in the lounge regarding replica shirts, but I had brought mine with me anyway and, as we were sitting in a Watford section rather than in the Directors’ area, I decided to put it on to watch the game and felt a whole lot better.

Dawson on the ball

Wolves came into the game having beaten Man City and run Liverpool very close, so my hopes of getting anything out of the game were pretty low, but it would certainly give us an indication of how the team were developing under Pearson.

The first chance of note came in the 12th minute and fell to the visitors as Coady played Doherty in and, with only Foster to beat, he looked odds on to open the scoring, but Ben came to meet him and made the save.  Jiménez then had a great chance and really should have scored, but his shot from the edge of the box flew wide of the far post.  Watford’s first meaningful attack came as Deulofeu played the ball out to Femenía who put in a lovely low cross but there was nobody there to meet it.  The Hornets threatened again as a shot from Deulofeu was blocked, the ball eventually found its way to Chalobah outside the box, his shot cleared the crossbar.  The first caution of the game went to Dawson for a foul on Neto.  The same two players then tangled in the Watford box, this time the referee booked the Wolves man for simulation.  Needless to say, there was a VAR check for a penalty, but the man in Stockley Park upheld the decision.

Celebrating Deulofeu’s strike

Watford had their best chance of the game so far when Deulofeu found Sarr who hit a decent shot which was saved by Rui Patricio.  We were not left to rue that miss for long as we took the lead a minute later.  This time Sarr played in Deulofeu who shot across the keeper into the opposite corner.  Cue mad celebrations in the posh seats.  Watford were in the ascendancy at this point and a lovely move deserved more, but the Wolves defence prevented the shot.  Then, from a throw, Deeney nodded the ball on to Deulofeu who could only shoot over the bar.  There was a great chance to increase the Hornets’ lead just before half time when a lovely flick from Deeney found Sarr but he could only hit the side netting.

The guest at half time was Filippo Galli, but I am ashamed to say that I headed into the lounge for dessert and another glass of wine.  I thought I was keeping an eye on the time, but suddenly the screen next to our table was showing the Wolves players coming back onto the pitch and so we had to make a rapid return to our seats.

Congratulating Doucoure

The visitors started the second half brightly as Neto broke forward but could only find the side netting with his shot.  Then Jiménez tried a shot from distance, but it cleared the bar.  Instead it was the Hornets who scored with their first shot of the half as Deulofeu went on a run and played in Doucouré whose shot took a slight deflection and beat Rui Patricio.  It was lovely to see Abdoulaye score on his birthday, so very kind of him to give us all a present.  My family had received the text with my location, so it was rather lovely to see them turn towards me so we could celebrate the goal together.  The visitors made an early double substitution with Neves and Vinagre replacing Bennett and Jonny.  Then there was disappointment for the home fans as Femenía, who has been brilliant lately, was forced to go off after tweaking a hamstring.  There seemed to be some confusion on the bench regarding his replacement as both Holebas and Masina appeared to be readying themselves to come on.  In the interim, Watford were playing with 10 men and Wolves were looking to pull a goal back.  First Traoré fed Moutinho, who hit a low shot which Foster was down to gather.  Then Vinagre tried his luck but, again, Foster was equal to it.  The Watford fans were yelling for someone to put the ball out so that the substitution could be made and there was a sigh of relief when Kabasele belted the ball into the stand and Holebas finally took to the field.

Troy wants the ball

But, as soon as we were back to full strength, the visitors pulled a goal back, as Neto hit a shot from distance that took a wicked deflection and beat Foster.  Wolves made their final substitution at the midpoint of the half, replacing the goalscorer, Neto, with Jota.  The substitute was soon involved as an attempt to escape upfield was stopped when he was pulled back by Kabasele.  The referee showed a yellow card, but the decision was referred to VAR which indicated that a red card should be shown and Kabasele was given his marching orders.  I have to say that this is the most ridiculous use of VAR.  The on-pitch referee had a good view of the incident and decided to book the player.  The referee in Stockley Park viewed the same infraction and decided it was worthy of a red card.  Had the original decision been a clear and obvious error?  Would the on-pitch referee have made a different decision had they seen the same footage as the VAR?  We have no idea, but the subjective decision of the VAR now overrules that of the man who is supposed to be refereeing the game.  On this occasion they made the mistake of playing footage of the incident on the big screen and this prompted howls of anger from the Rookery.  Interestingly the Wolves fans had been expressing their feelings about VAR while the incident was being reviewed.  They cheered briefly at the decision and then continued with their original theme at which point the whole ground was singing “F*ck VAR”.  Having expressed our frustration, we were then resigned to having 20 minutes left to play with 10 men.

The two goalscorers, Deulofeu and Doucoure

At this point, getting anything out of the game was looking very unlikely.  Thankfully, we passed the first hurdle as the free kick resulting from Kabasele’s foul hit the wall and was caught by Foster.  Unlike the Villa game when Pearson made a bold change after the sending off, his substitution on this occasion was more defensive as Masina took to the field in place of Deulofeu.  As they had in the previous game, a photo of GT was shown on the big screen on 72 minutes, this time with Watford and Wolves badges superimposed.  Many Wolves fans have very fond memories of GT and it had been lovely before the game seeing a number of them having their photos taken with his statue.  The visitors created a great chance after the ball appeared to be going out for a goal kick, but Vinagre belted after it and managed to keep it in play before putting in a lovely cross for Doherty whose header looked sure to level the score but Foster got a hand to it and kept it out.  Vinagre then had a chance of his own to draw the visitors level, but his shot was high and wide.  The Wolves man threatened again with a dangerous looking cross that almost caught Foster out, but the Watford keeper was fouled by Jiménez to relieve the pressure, if only briefly.

Troy holding the ball up as the clock wound down

The fourth official indicated five minutes of time added on.  At this time, it was all hands to the pump.  The Watford faithful were in excellent voice urging their team on as they tried to run the clock down.  Pearson tried to use up some time by making a substitution as Sarr was replaced by Pereyra.  When the board went up, the Watford youngster was near the corner flag between the Rookery and the GT stands so, under the new law, should have left the field on that side of the ground, but Deeney was chatting away to referee which distracted his attention allowing the youngster to amble off at his own pace.  Deeney had been trying to keep the ball in that area and was successful in winning a corner to waste some time.  He was instructing the young ball boy to take as long as possible to return the ball when it went off and took a short corner himself with no attacking intent.  Eventually he attracted the ire of the referee and was booked for his delaying tactics.  With a minute of added time remaining, Traoré was fouled by Doucouré giving the visitors a free kick to the right of the box from our perspective at the other end of the ground.  Capoue threw himself in front of the free kick which went out for a throw.  The visitors tried to get the ball back in play quickly, but were penalised for a foul throw, much to the amusement of the home crowd.  The visitors had one last chance to grab a point, but the shot from Neves flew over the bar and the final whistle went on an unlikely and very hard-fought victory for the Hornets.

The cheers were heartfelt and intense and, as I always do, I made sure to cheer every player off the pitch.

Pereyra makes a late appearance

We returned to the lounge and a celebratory glass or two of wine.  It had been a terrific game and a very impressive win against a Wolves team who are very good indeed.  Femenía had done a tremendous job in keeping Traoré quiet and we were under the cosh a bit after the double blow of his injury and the dismissal of Kabasele, but the team worked hard to keep their shape and were well worth the three points.  Deulofeu appears to be a new player under Pearson, an arm around his shoulder has given him more confidence in both himself and his team mates to the benefit of all of us.  Capoue was magnificent running the midfield and Chalobah put the disappointment of the early withdrawal on Saturday behind him to put in an assured performance.  Birthday boy Doucouré was back to his best and topped it off with a goal.

It is hard to believe that, up until the Saturday before Christmas we were winless at home.  We now have three home wins in a row and, given that the opposition included Man Utd and Wolves, that is very impressive indeed.  Similarly, having been concerned that we were becoming marooned at the foot of the table, we are now only two points off safety and are looking up the table with some confidence.  I have always thought this team were much better than the results indicated, but something was lacking.  Nigel Pearson seems to have given them a confidence in their abilities and a resilience that was too often missing earlier in the season.  There is a sense now that they playing as a team rather than as a collection of individuals and they now have the crowd back onside with them and football is fun again.  It looks like being a very happy new year for the Hornets.

Ending the Decade on a High

A festive Hornet shop

I left home bright and early aiming to be at the West Herts at midday.  Unfortunately, a signalling problem at West Drayton meant that the train that I had planned to catch from Slough was cancelled and I ended up on a train that had made an unscheduled stop due to congestion and kindly opened its doors to let the stranded passengers on.  It was slow progress and I finally arrived in the West Herts nearly three hours after leaving home and just in time to see Don leaving for the ground.

Most of our usual crowd were gathered at ‘our’ table with the addition of Jacque’s colleague, Adam, who is a Villa fan and was not relishing the prospect of the game, while the Watford contingent were fired up with some newfound optimism after the last couple of results.

The decision about what to have for lunch is usually quite simple but, on this occasion, I was in the horns of a dilemma.  I do love the jerk chicken but, for some reason, I had ordered sausage and chips before the Man United game, so that now qualified as the lucky lunch and had to be my order.

Capoue barking instructions

My sister had been unable to buy a ticket for the game, having left it late before finding that it was (surprisingly) sold out.  Luckily a friend wasn’t using hers and kindly offered to lend it to her.  We had arranged to meet Pete outside the Red Lion to pick up the spare ticket and I had handed my ticket to my sister so that she could sit with her daughter, so I left the West Herts not having a ticket for the game on my person, which induced a ridiculous mini panic until I spotted Pete and had Julie’s ticket in my hands (thank you, Julie).

Team news was that Pearson had made only one change with Chalobah making way for Doucouré on his return from suspension.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Capoue, Hughes; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Sarr; Deeney.

I tried to take a spare seat in my usual row to sit with the family, but the lad who usually sits there turned up just after kick-off so I belatedly made my way to the back of the Rookery to sit with Pete and experience a different (elevated) view of the field of play.

Celebrating Troy’s first goal

The Hornets started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead as a corner from Hughes was headed on by Deeney to Kabasele whose shot was stopped by a reaction save from Heaton in the Villa goal.  Then Deulofeu played a cross-field ball to Sarr, whose shot was blocked by a defender for a corner that came to nothing.  There was little more action of note until the 26th minute when Villa launched a counterattack, Hourihane crossed for Wesley who looked to have scored with a header from close range, but a brilliant save from Foster kept him out.  The visitors had a shout for a penalty when Wesley went down in the box following a challenge by Cathcart.  It was an age before the VAR check came up on the big screen and there were loud cheers when the referee indicated that we were to play on.  The Hornets fashioned another chance when a free kick from Hughes was punched clear by Heaton, but only as far as Doucouré whose shot was well over the bar.  Soon after, a free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Sarr but the ball ended up on the roof of the net.  Then Mariappa released Sarr who played a lovely low cross into the box but there was no Watford player to meet it, so it was easily gathered by Heaton.  Hughes was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance, but it was well over the target.  A lovely cross-field ball from Capoue found Sarr who cut into the box, but his shot was deflected for a corner.  Watford nearly broke the deadlock from the set piece when the ball dropped to Deeney, but he hit his shot straight at Heaton.  Watford finally took the lead in the 42nd minute when Villa gave the ball away, Doucouré tried a shot that was parried by Heaton to Deeney who put the ball under the Villa keeper and into the net.  So the Hornets went into half time with a narrow lead.  It was well deserved as, apart from the early shot from Wesley, it had been all Watford.

Gathering for a corner

The half time guest was Bill Shipwright, who played for Watford in the 50s so was way before my time and I couldn’t hear the interview.  There was also the added bonus of Christian Battochio who was on ticket duty for the 50/50 draw.

Pearson was forced to make a substitution at the break.  Hughes had picked up an injury towards the end of the first half and was replaced by Chalobah.  Villa also made a change bringing El Ghazi on for Jota.  The Hornets started the half in a positive manner with a shot from Doucouré that was deflected for a corner.  Watford threatened again as Capoue crossed for Sarr whose shot was blocked.  The first booking of the game went to Mariappa for a foul on Grealish.  Chalobah then had a chance to extend the Watford lead with a shot from distance that cleared the bar.  Disaster then befell the home side as Mariappa was shown a second yellow for a supposed foul on former Watford loanee, Lansbury.  From my vantage point it appeared that Lansbury ran into Mariappa (who doesn’t have a bad bone in his body), but pleas to the referee fell on deaf ears and the Hornets were reduced to 10 men with over half an hour of the game to go.  Pearson immediately made a change and you had to feel for Chalobah who was sacrificed for Dawson.

Sarr and Capoue are under there somewhere

Just as the nerves were starting to jangle, Deeney ran into the box and was brought down by Luiz.  It looked a bit soft from behind the goal but, having seen it later from another angle (as the VAR did), it was nailed on as Deeney was shoved to the ground.  There was a delay before the spot kick could be taken as Targett had been down injured.  There were some complaints from Villa players that the Hornets had played on around him, but they had had the opportunity to put the ball out of play when he first went down and had not done so, so their complaints were unwarranted.  Targett was replaced by Guilbert before the penalty could be taken.  Then Troy stepped up and blasted the ball down the middle to put the Hornets two goals up and ease my nerves somewhat.  The nerves were properly calmed on 70 minutes when Deeney released Capoue who played a gorgeous cross for Sarr who sped into the box to meet it and shot past Heaton.  My heart sank when VAR was invoked for a possible foul in the build-up and I begged for that gorgeous goal not to be disallowed.  After an agonising wait, the referee pointed to the centre circle and I punched the air again.  On 72 minutes, GT’s face came up on the big screen adorned with both Watford and Villa badges and the great man’s name was sung with gusto as I wiped a tear from my eye.

Capoue, Doucoure and Femenia prepare for a free kick

The visitors made a final change bringing Kodja on for Lansbury.  The referee’s card was out again as Capoue was booked for an altercation with Grealish.  On 77 minutes, Villa had their first on-target shot of the half as Hourihane tried his luck from the edge of the area, but his shot was straight at Foster.  There was another booking for the Hornets as Sarr was cautioned for trying to stop a Villa free kick.  When they finally took it, the ball was played out to Grealish whose shot flew wide of the near post.  The final change for the Hornets saw Masina on to replace Cathcart, who had been treated for an injury shortly before.  Grealish had another chance to pull a goal back with a shot from outside the area but, again, his effort flew wide of the near post.  There were two late bookings, one for each side.  First Deeney for bundling Luiz over.  Then Grealish for kicking the ball at Sarr as he lay on the ground.  The booking for the Villa captain was not before time as he had been behaving petulantly all afternoon.  There was a touch of handbags at this point, but no more cards were shown and the final whistle went on a very satisfying win for the Hornets.

Capoue readying to take a corner

I had rather enjoyed my afternoon watching the game from the gods.  It is nice to have a different perspective and it was noisier up there with the contribution of the few from the 1881 that moved just behind us.  My neighbours were rather lovely too.  A man with his two small daughters, which I always love to see.  Needless to say, when the crowd rose to their feet, which they did less often than they do further down where I usually sit, the father would lift the girl next to me off her seat so that she could see and I made myself useful by putting the seat down for her to stand on.  We had it down to a fine art by the end of the game.

Back to the West Herts and we were all smiles, apart from poor Adam who was very gracious in defeat admitting that they deserved nothing from the game.  It had been a tremendous performance from the Hornets who had run the show all afternoon.  The game took place less than 48 hours after the end of the United game and yet the players were all working very hard for the win and were resilient when down to 10 men.  Deulofeu worked his socks off and was unlucky not to have more influence on the game.  Femenía was tremendous again in the left back position.  Deeney was back to his battling self and was thoroughly enjoying answering the jeers of the Villa fans with his goals.  But it was Sarr who deservedly won man of the match for a wonderful performance.  It took him a while to learn how to play the English game, but he is now showing why the Pozzos paid all that money for him.  A month ago we felt doomed, now we are only 3 points away from safety and our prospects for the new year are looking increasingly positive.

So, following the last game of this decade, I can’t help but reflect on the past 10 years.  We started 2010 with Malky in charge and an unhappy ownership who were struggling for money.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, we then had the horror of Bassini’s reign, and I am so thankful that there were still good people on the board and among the staff who kept the club going.  The arrival of the Pozzos had some concerned about foreign ownership, but they have built the team and the infrastructure into one that can compete in the Premier League while still maintaining the feel of a community club and for that I will be eternally grateful.  While the start to this season was dreadful, we go into 2020 with a spirit of optimism and I look forward to more wonderful adventures over the next 10 years following my team.

A Boxing Day Draw Against the Blades

Tony Currie Stand named after a player who impressed for both clubs

It has been a while since we had to travel any distance on Boxing Day, so it was with some disappointment that I noted that the eagerly anticipated trip to Sheffield United was to be played on Boxing Day.  Most of our usual away crowd decided to give the game a miss, but my sister and brother-in-law decided that they would go and offered to drive, which made me very happy indeed.

Having spent Christmas Day with Rose and her family, I left theirs bright and early to drive to Cate and Nigel’s.  My lovely sister had sent me on my way with a care package of turkey sandwiches and sausage rolls, which was much appreciated.

The M1 was busy, but there were no hold ups and we made good time.  We made one brief stop at services on the way and were delighted to see that our arrival coincided with that of the Watford supporter coaches, so I said a brief hello to Don before we set off again.

Caught on camera before the game

We parked up in the city centre and headed to the usual pub to find that it was deserted, so we had our choice of tables.  The Boxing Day menu on offer was various varieties of chip butty (one with cheese) and a couple of pies.  Given that we would need something to eat on the journey home, we decided to keep our sandwiches for later and have one of their pies.  When our lunches arrived, it turned out to have been a great choice as the pie was a decent slice cut from a large homemade pie accompanied with chips, mushy peas and gravy.  There was a bottle of Henderson’s relish on the table which I declined to try, although I overheard some friends at another table being informed that not adding the relish to their meal was grounds for being thrown out of the pub.

The big question mark over team selection was whether the arrival of Troy Deeney’s new son on Christmas Day would mean that he was absent on paternity leave.  Thankfully, when the team came through, he was included, with Pearson having made only the one (enforced) change from the Man Utd game with Chalobah replacing the suspended Doucouré.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Chalobah, Capoue; Deulofeu, Hughes, Sarr; Deeney.

We arrived at the ground in plenty of time and I headed to the other end of the stand for a chat with Don.  While I was there, a lovely steward came around to make sure that all in the disabled area were OK.  We complained about the weather as it was grey and wet, but she pointed out with a smile that we were in the North now and it is always raining.

Hughes lines up a free kick

In preparation for kick-off, the flag wavers took to the pitch.  It has to be said that some of them looked rather small for the flags that they had been given and there was a struggle to keep them in the air.  Alice had just commented that it was 3 minutes to three and the players ought to be out on the pitch when the announcement was made that kick-off was to be delayed for 10 minutes for unspecified safety reasons.  This meant that those poor children with the oversized flags had another 10 minutes to wave them.  It seemed unnecessarily cruel but they were made of stern stuff.  It was probably at this time that we were caught on camera as we received photos from our nieces of us looking rather puzzled on their television screen.

Finally, we could see the players in the tunnel on the big screen and they took to the field.  Prior to kick-off, the first bars of “Annie’s Song” were played and the home crowd gave a moving rendition of “Greasy chip butty”.  A magnificent piece of music.

Chalobah congratulates Deulofeu on his goal

The home side started brightly with an early attack from Stevens who broke into the box before being stopped by a brilliant tackle from Kabasele.  The first attempt on goal came after 10 minutes with a snapshot from McBurnie that was met by a great save from Foster, the rebound dropped to McGoldrick but a tackle from Kabasele diverted the ball for a corner.  McBurnie had another chance from a throw-in but his header was gathered by Foster.  Watford’s first attack of note came as Femenía hit a cross-cum-shot towards Sarr, but the youngster was unable to connect and the ball was gathered by the Blades’ keeper, Henderson.  The home side had another decent chance as McGoldrick met a cross from Norwood with a side foot that flew over the bar, but the flag was up, so it wouldn’t have counted.  The home side had the ball in the net after Basham crossed for Fleck who turned it in from close range.  It looked as if Fleck took the shot knowing that the flag was up for offside and it appeared that the defenders had stopped playing, but the decision went to VAR and we were rather concerned, as the home crowd who were in line with the scorer had been angrily protesting the decision.  Thankfully, that was a partisan reaction and VAR confirmed that the goal would not stand.  In the stands I was rather enjoying a song to the tune of Last Christmas indicating that we were giving our hearts to Nigel Pearson (oh yes).  Watford took the lead in the 27th minute and the goal was a thing of beauty as a clearance from Foster was headed on by Chalobah into the path of Deulofeu who raced upfield and finished past Henderson to give the travelling Hornets the Christmas present that they had all been waiting for.  Sadly, the lead did not last long.  Hughes made what looked like a decent challenge on Baldock, but the United man went down in the box and the referee pointed to the spot.  The view of the challenge from our angle was such that it was a while before a number around me realised that a penalty had been given.  The decision was confirmed by VAR and Norwood stepped up to score the spot kick.  Into time added on and the Hornets had a chance to regain the lead, but Deulofeu’s free kick flew just over the bar.

Watford hero, Foster, takes a goal kick

It hadn’t been the most exciting half of football, but I had enjoyed our goal.

The half time entertainment was a children’s relay that was enlivened by the lads running towards our stand who set off on the whistle not realising that they were supposed to be on the second leg.  When they ran back and received the baton (football) one of them set off in the wrong direction.  At this point I decided to head for the concourse and found my way out of the row blocked by people transfixed by the action on the pitch who muttered angrily at my interrupting their viewing.

There was a change at the break for the Hornets.  Sarr had been down injured for some time towards the end of the first half after an argument with the advertising hoardings.  He was obviously injured, so I was really irritated when he was booed by the home fans as he tried to continue.  The management allowed him to finish the half, but he was unable to continue so was replaced with Pereyra.  I was not happy at this turn of events.  The first chance of the second half fell to the home side when a clearance from Hughes rebounded to Lundstram whose shot was over the target.

Troy discussing issues with the referee

Watford had made a poor start to the half and we did ourselves no favours when, from a throw, the ball was given away to the opposition, thankfully no harm was done as the shot from Fleck was terrible and flew wide of the target.  McGoldrick then had a good chance to put the home side in the lead but his shot rebounded off the post and the flag was up for offside anyway.  Watford then threatened as Deulofeu crossed for Deeney at the near post, but the ball was deflected for a corner.  The home side made their first substitution on 63 minutes replacing McBurnie with Mousset.  The substitute almost made an immediate impact with a cross for Fleck whose shot was stopped by a stunning save from Foster.  I am ashamed to say that, when they were raving about the save on 5Live on the way home, I struggled to recall it.  My notes state that the shot was straight at Foster and that he pushed it for a corner.  Sadly, it was one of those that looks tremendous when you are behind the goal but rather pedestrian from low down at the other end of the ground.  Either that or I need to replace my distance glasses.  The Hornets should have done better from a free kick when the delivery from Hughes bounced off a defender towards Cathcart, but the Ulsterman knew nothing about it and the ball hit his face and went out for a goal kick.  There was a much better chance at the other end for the Blades as a low shot from Stevens was met by Foster who turned it into the side netting.  Deulofeu was then booked for arguing with the referee, I think the ref was sick of him as he had been complaining all afternoon.

Watford subs Gray and Dawson

Again the Hornets should have made more of the opportunity when Pereyra did well to keep the ball after battling past a defender, his pass bounced off Deulofeu to Deeney who seemed surprised that the ball reached him, so could only manage a soft shot that was easy for the keeper, but the flag was up for offside anyway.  That was Troy’s last involvement in the game as he was replaced by Gray.  The Hornets won a free kick on the edge of the box when Pereyra went down dramatically after a challenge by O’Connell.  Deulofeu chipped the ball towards the goal, but his effort was just wide of the post.  The home side had a free kick of their own, which was a decent effort but was blocked at the far post.  From the corner, Egan headed goalwards but Mariappa was on the line and headed clear.  The final change for the Hornets came as Dawson replaced Chalobah, who was booked for time wasting as he dawdled from the field.  Gray had a great chance to break the deadlock as he broke into the United box but, after doing all the hard work, he couldn’t get the shot off and the ball ran out of play.  The fourth official indicated four minutes of added time and we were counting the seconds.  Watford created a couple of chances in injury time.  First from a free kick in a dangerous area, but the delivery from Hughes was poor and missed the target.  Then Pereyra fed Gray who tried an audacious back heel that was easily gathered by Henderson.  The final whistle went to sighs of relief in the away end as we had been under the cosh for most of the second half.

Chalobah, Deulofeu and Pereyra talk tactics before a free-kick

It has to be said that this was a less enjoyable game than those against Liverpool and Manchester United, but it had been a battling performance and, despite the disappointment of conceding a dodgy penalty, we were happy to go home with a point.  Earlier in the season we would have collapsed after conceding the penalty.  This time we hung on bravely, although we lost a lot of our attacking threat when Sarr went off.  Sheffield United are flying high in the division for a reason, they are very well organised and play as a team and a draw at their place was very pleasing indeed.

On the way back to the car, we met a friendly United fan who gave us directions out of town.  I must admit that I much prefer games against teams like this when the opposition fans are passionate locals rather than tourists in brand new shirts and scarves who are only there to tick a box.  The marketing of the Premier League has certainly been to the detriment of the match-going experience.

The drive home in the rain was greatly improved by listening to our own Emma Saunders on 5Live while finally enjoying the turkey sandwiches.

We finished the day off the foot of the table, which was very pleasing and, while there is still some way to go, our prospects look a lot more positive than they did a month ago and that makes me very happy indeed.