Tag Archives: Christian Kabasele

A Tale of Two Penalties

Ben Foster about to launch the ball upfield

I always look forward to the Boxing Day game, so the news that it had been moved to an evening kick-off for the television cameras was met with some irritation.  A lovely afternoon walk through the Hertfordshire countryside proved a pleasant distraction from the action at the other grounds, but I was soon back to following our changing position in the table and worrying about what time to arrive for a 7:30 kick-off on a bank holiday.  Thankfully the roads were quiet and there were still seats in the West Herts when we arrived.  It was lovely to have Amelia back with us as her university studies and Saturday job have limited her attendance this season.

As we walked to the ground, it still seemed very quiet until we reached Vicarage Road and encountered a group of noisy Chelsea fans.  I was rather surprised only to see one tout on the way, they obviously take Christmas off too.  We didn’t arrive long before kick-off, but it was clear from the number of empty seats that a good number of people had decided to stay at home and watch this one on television.

Team news was that there were no changes from the win at West Ham.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Sema, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deeney and Deulofeu.  But the hottest news as the team arrived was that Pereyra disembarked from the bus wearing a santa hat.  He is a little bonkers.

Holebas in deep conversation with the referee

The travelling Chelsea fans immediately endeared themselves to me with a first minute chant of “We’ve won it all.”  At times like this my mind goes back to the mid-eighties when they used to stop the clock at Stamford Bridge 10 minutes before the end of the game so that the fans didn’t get on the backs of their struggling team.  The visitors had the first chance of the game as Pedro exchanged passes with Willian before curling a shot wide of the far post.  Watford’s first chance came from a howler by the Chelsea keeper, Arrizabalaga, who gave the ball away to Deulofeu, but the Spaniard tried a back heel that went to no one and the chance was gone.  There was a nasty incident 10 minutes into the game, as Willian rounded Foster and hit the post, Kabasele slid in to try to cut out the shot and collided heavily with the post.  He needed lengthy treatment and the stretcher was brought around, but he was able to get to his feet and return to the field.  Unfortunately, that didn’t last long and he was soon replaced by Mariappa.  Watford had a half chance as a cross from Femenía was headed down by Doucouré but the ball rolled through to the keeper.  Then Doucouré and Deulofeu combined before the Frenchman hit an angled shot that was blocked.

A very blurred celebration of Pereyra’s strike

There was an even better chance after Deeney did well to win the ball and release Pereyra who crossed for Doucouré who was in a great position, but his shot was disappointingly high and wide.  The action was straight down the other end where Azpilicueta hit a low cross which flew across the front of the goal with no Chelsea player there to apply the finishing touch.  Watford attacked again as Deulofeu intercepted a pass and broke forward before squaring for Deeney, whose shot was blocked.  The visitors were being frustrated by some great defending as first Cathcart and then Capoue (twice) snuffed out chances with brilliant tackles.  Towards the end of the half, Chelsea were forced to make a substitution replacing Pedro with Hudson-Odoi.   We were then distracted by the sight of Kabasele being wheeled out on a stretcher wearing an oxygen mask.  The Rookery rose to applaud him.  I suspect that his team mates were as perturbed as we were as, almost immediately, Capoue played a poor pass to Doucouré, Kovačič intercepted and fed Hazard who advanced and rounded Foster to open the scoring.  We were already in time added on at the end of the half, but there was still time for Watford to equalize.  Doucouré broke into the box, but the keeper dived at his feet to concede a corner.  The corner was taken short by Deulofeu, Holebas crossed and Pereyra volleyed brilliantly past Arrizabalaga.  Hopefully the cheers for the goal would have brightened Kabasele up as he made his way next door to the hospital.

So we reached half time with honours even after a decent enough half of football, even if all the shots on target had come in injury time.  My sister had kindly packed turkey sandwiches for us, which certainly hit the spot.

Deulofeu running on to a ball

Watford were shouting for a penalty after 54 minutes as Luiz flattened Deulofeu in the box.  Television pictures suggested that there was some wrestling between them, but you can’t help thinking that, had the same incident occurred in the Watford box, a penalty would have been awarded.  Needless to say, the next passage of play saw Hazard breaking into the box, Foster had no need to come out as Cathcart had it covered, but he did and pushed Hazard over.  There was no arguing with that one, it was an obvious penalty even from the opposite end of the ground, and Hazard made no mistake from the spot allowing Chelsea to regain the lead.  Foster was also booked for the foul.  It was very frustrating to be behind at this stage as the Hornets had dominated the start of the second half.  Watford fought back and Doucouré tried to find Deulofeu in the box, but the keeper just got there first.  Gracia made a second change half way through the half replacing Sema, who had a great game, with Quina.  The visitors had a decent chance to increase their lead as Willian had the ball on the edge of the box but whipped his shot wide.  Deulofeu then tried a shot from distance, but it was weak and easy for the keeper.   A mistake from Holebas allowed Hazard to break and find Kanté who shot wide of the far post.  There was a great chance for the Hornets to equalize as Doucouré played the ball in to Deeney at the near post, but Troy flicked his shot just over.  With 10 minutes to go, each side made changes as Kovačič and Hudson-Odoi (who had been the first Chelsea substitute) made way for Barkley and Emerson, and Success replaced Deulofeu for the Hornets.  Chelsea had a couple of late chances to increase their lead as, first, a corner came out to Jorginho who shot over the target.  Then Willian hit a low shot that Foster pushed around the post.  In time added on, Watford won a corner and Foster came up for it.  As the ball bounced around the box, Foster tried an overhead kick, such a shame that didn’t go in, but it certainly made me smile.  So the final whistle went on a narrow defeat for the Hornets.

Femenia, Sema and Doucoure keep an eye on Willian

Yet again, we were ruing missing our chances as we could easily have won a point in that game.  But, on the positive side, we were reflecting on a game in which we had matched one of the best teams in the country.  Watford no longer look like plucky underdogs in these games, but are playing with a similar quality to these household names.  There were regrets regarding the two penalties.  Watford’s would have been given on another day.  Chelsea’s was an unnecessary challenge by Foster but, given how well he has done for us this season, it is hard to criticise.

So we reach the half way stage of the season in the top half of the table with over twice as many points as the team in 18th place, so allowing us to continue to look up rather than down.

But the best news came this morning with a tweet from Kabasele that announced that he didn’t think that there was anything broken and “Great gesture of the goal post who visited me at hospital.”  I do love his sense of humour and it was wonderful that he let the fans know that he is better than might have been expected when we saw him taken out of the ground.  I wish him a full and speedy recovery.

Jingle Bells

Challenging at a corner in front of the home fans

I had started a cold on Friday, so was very grateful that the last Saturday before Christmas was mild and sunny, absolutely gorgeous.  I made my way to the designated pre-game pub to find Pete and Mike had made themselves comfortable on a sofa in the corner.  Even better when one of them went and bought me a beer.  Mike had not enjoyed his first pint so had opted to try something else, but got more than he bargained for when it turned out that he had bought a packet of smokey bacon crisps in liquid form.  I was sceptical when he described the beer, but one sip confirmed the truth of his taste test.  My brother-in-law is a West Ham season ticket holder, so joined my sister and I for the pre-match drinks if not for the game.  Being a local, he was a great help on the way to the ground, sending us on what appeared to be a huge detour but actually meant that the queue to get through security was very small.  I have to say that the young man who ‘searched’ me only glanced in my bag and waved his security wand in my general direction before letting me through.  Clearly I didn’t look likely to be smuggling anything in.

Team news was that Gracia had made one change with Capoue returning from suspension in place of Quina.  A slightly surprising move as the lad had played exceptionally well and most thought that Sema would have made way, although this would have meant a change in formation that Gracia clearly didn’t want.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Sema, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deeney and Deulofeu.

Celebrating Deeney’s penalty

The home side had an excellent early chance which was snuffed out as Kabasele intervened to prevent Hernández from connecting with a cross.  Their first goal attempt came from a corner that was met by the head of Rice, but Foster was equal to the header.  The Hornets’ first chance of the game came in the 18th minute as Deeney met a cross from Femenía with a shot that was deflected for a corner.  Antonio then tried a shot from distance that was met by a terrific save from Foster.  Just before the half hour mark, Pereyra played a one-two with Deulofeu and was through on goal when he was taken down by Balbuena.  The referee immediately pointed to the spot, but Troy had to wait an age to take the penalty as the West Ham man had picked up an injury making the tackle and needed treatment.  After a long wait, Troy stepped up and, with the West Ham fans behind the goal doing their very best to put him off, coolly smashed the ball into the top corner to give the Hornets the lead.  Balbuena was unable to run off the injury, so soon made way for Ogbonna.  A theatrical tumble into the box by Antonio was only rewarded with a free kick on the edge of the area which Snodgrass powered into the wall.  The home side had an excellent chance to draw level when a cross from Anderson was headed down by Antonio to Hernández who hit a sweet volley goalwards, but Foster pulled off an excellent save.  In time added on, Watford had a great chance to increase their lead as Deulofeu released Deeney, his first shot was blocked and, sadly, he curled the follow-up wide of the target.

Capoue beating Snodgrass

So we reached half time a goal to the good.  It had been a pretty even half with few chances but it has to be said that the best of them had fallen to the home side.  Again, Foster was performing heroics.

West Ham almost had an equalizer five minutes into the second half, as a corner from Snodgrass was headed against the post by Antonio, from our angle it appeared to have gone in so we were very happy to see the clearance.  The first caution for the Hornets went to Kabasele for a foul on Snodgrass.  The resultant free-kick by Anderson was straight into the wall.  Before the free kick was taken, West Ham made their second change bringing Carroll on for Noble.  West Ham looked to draw level with a shot from distance from Masuaku, but again it was saved by Foster.  Holebas received his customary yellow card, likely for a foul on Hernandez, but he didn’t do himself any favours by then having a row with Snodgrass.  Watford had a decent chance of a second goal when Doucouré found Pereyra whose low shot was parried by Fabianski, and Deeney was unable to take advantage.   West Ham should have equalized when Anderson made his way into the box and laid the ball on to Hernández who completely miskicked and Foster was able to gather easily.

Waiting for a corner

Watford should have increased their lead on 71 minutes as Deulofeu found Doucouré whose magnificent shot was met by a blinding save from Fabianski.  Doucouré then turned hero in the other box, taking the ball off Hernández when he looked sure to score.  Each side made a substitution with 15 minutes to go as Sema made way for Cleverley for the Hornets and Diangana replaced Hernandez for the home side.  Carroll had a chance to break back with an acrobatic shot but it was a rather poor effort and cleared the bar.  Watford should have put the game to bed when Deulofeu put Deeney through into the box but, with only Fabianski to beat, he hit a low shot straight at the keeper to screams of frustration from the away end.  Cleverley then tried his luck with a shot from wide on the right but again it was straight at Fabianski.  The Watford goal was living a charmed life as Foster did well to save a shot from Snodgrass, but the rebound dropped to Antonio who looked sure to score but the shot rebounded off the post much to the relief of the travelling Hornets.  Gracia made his second change at this point replacing Deeney with Success to howls of protest from our section of the away end.  Why on earth would he replace Deeney?  It should really have been Deulofeu who had not had his best game (my thoughts at the time, which have been rather discredited as I reread my notes).

Celebrating Deulofeu’s strike in front of the away fans

Foster was in action again almost immediately tipping a header from Carroll over the bar.  Then we had one of those, “what the hell do we know about football” moments as Deulofeu played a one-two with Pereyra before beating Fabianski right in front of us and sending the away end into raptures (while readying to eat a large slice of humble pie).  Surely that lovely goal had to seal the win.  Certainly the home fans thought so as, when I had finished celebrating the goal, I looked up at the stands to see that the home sections of the stadium were almost empty.  It was quite shocking.  The announcement of 3 minutes of added time was greeted with hysterical giggling from one of our party who couldn’t quite believe our luck.  There was just time for goal hero Deulofeu to be replaced by Mariappa, and Diop to be booked for a foul on Success before the final whistle went to confirm Watford’s win.

As we left the ground, there was much festive joy among the travelling Hornets and the concourse rang out to a loud chorus of “Jingle Bells (Oh what fun it is to see Watford win away)”.  My sister was trying to get all of her celebrating out of the way before meeting her husband (who is a really good bloke and takes defeat very sportingly), particularly as she had a text from her (Watford supporting) daughter telling her to “Be nice to Dad.”

Applauding the fans after the final whistle

Transport ninja, Richard, had us back in the pub, via a quick train hop, in no time at all.  Made all the more impressive when the others, who I assumed must have gone straight home, turned up about 10 minutes later.  The post-match gathering was very happy indeed.  West Ham had been on a great run of form, so this had to be considered to be an excellent win and three very welcome points.  The match had been pretty even, with some great chances for both teams, but a combination of Ben Foster and the woodwork had ensured that we kept a clean sheet.  Again we played some lovely football, while showing resilience at the back, and Capoue returned from suspension playing as if he had never been away.  So we go into Christmas with 27 points and in seventh place in the table.  Happy Christmas one and all!

Three Worldies in the Rain

Rita and Pagey with the play-off trophy

On Wednesday evening was the 20 year (almost) reunion for the squad that won the play-off final in 1999.  I have been to a number of wonderful evenings following the club, but this one was exceptional.  All of the players had come back for the evening, including some (Bazeley, Hazan, Gudmundsson) that had come from overseas.  The overwhelming impression from the players was a deep affection among the whole group and they seemed genuinely happy to be with each other again.  The way that all of them spoke about Watford as a club was heart-warming, even those who were only here for a short time had left with very happy memories.  There were also some heartfelt tributes to Graham Taylor, which must have been lovely for Rita, Karen and the other family members who were present.  There were also entertaining interviews with Andrew French (who was the media officer at the time) and Ciaran Cosgrove (pink shirt man) who is totally bonkers.  The culmination of the interviews and reminiscences was Robert Page and Rita Taylor on the stage lifting the play-off trophy.  At that point I am not sure there was a dry eye in the house.

In Javi and Gino we trust

On to the weekend and my pre-match routine on Saturday differed from the usual as, after meeting in the West Herts, we headed for the ground and the Elton John Suite as Mike had been offered hospitality courtesy of the Community Trust.  It was a chilly day with driving rain for most of the afternoon, so the comfort of an executive box was very welcome indeed.  We shared the table with Derrick Williams who is employed by the Trust as well as being the brains and driving force behind Kit Aid, so it was lovely to meet him and learn about his various roles and their contributions to the local (and not so local) community.

Team news was that Gracia had made one change bringing Deulofeu in for Success.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Sema, Doucouré, Quina, Pereyra; Deeney and Deulofeu.  There was also the very welcome return of Tom Cleverley to the bench.  A lovely early Christmas present for the Watford faithful.

Before kick-off, it was lovely to see banners unfurling in the Rookery celebrating Gino and Javi.  I am normally under these, so it was lovely to actually see them for once.

Celebrating Deulofeu’s goal

Despite our relative league positions, this was going to be a tricky game as Cardiff had had a recent upturn in form and Watford, despite some terrific performances, had not won since October.  But the Hornets started the game well and had a very early chance as Deulofeu played a one-two with Doucouré before curling a shot just wide of the target.  Watford took the lead in the 16th minute as Deulofeu got the ball just outside the box, then went on a mazy dribble, it looked as though he would run into trouble but, instead, he breezed past a couple of defenders before slotting the ball past Etheridge in the Cardiff goal.  It was a terrific goal and served to calm the nerves among the home fans.  The Hornets had a chance to increase their lead soon after as Pereyra exchanged passes with Deeney, but his final touch was too heavy and Etheridge was out to gather.  Cardiff threatened for the first time as Arter played a low ball across the goal, but the chance went begging.  The visitors had a better chance to draw level when Gunnarsson’s long throw reached Paterson in the box, but his header was wide of the target.  The Hornets continued to attack and some lovely passing between Deulofeu and Pereyra culminated in a shot from the Argentine that was deflected for a corner.  After a period in which Watford had been passing the ball around for fun, Cardiff finally won a goal kick and, as Etheridge readied to take it, there was an ironic chant of “We’ve got the ball” from the away end.

Domingos Quina

When an injury to a Cardiff player led to a break in the game, I was amused to see Ben Foster take the opportunity to towel himself down, although with the rain lashing down it would only have been a momentary respite.  Deulofeu and Pereyra combined again but this time the shot was saved by Etheridge.  Then Quina, who had been lively in midfield, had his first sight of goal but his shot from distance was wide of the target.  Late in the half, Pereyra won a rather soft free kick.  He took it himself and it was a wonderful strike that appeared to be heading for the top corner, but Etheridge made another excellent save to keep it out.  So we reached half time with a narrow lead for the Hornets, which was a bit frustrating given the amount of possession that we had had.  But credit must go to Etheridge in the Cardiff goal as, without his efforts, the game would already have been out of sight for the visitors.

Our seats at the back of the Upper GT meant that we were protected from the torrential rain, but there had been a cold wind blowing during the first half, so I was very happy to be able to escape into the box for half time refreshments.  The hot drinks and cheese and biscuits went down very well indeed, but I kept an eye on the pitch to ensure that I was back in the stand for start of the second half (I almost made it).

Celebrating the strike from Holebas

The visitors made a substitution at the break bringing Mendez-Laing on for Murphy.  The Hornets started the second half as they had finished the first with a shot from Pereyra that was stopped by another excellent save by Etheridge.  But the Hornets were not to be denied for long as Deulofeu laid the ball off to Holebas who curled a gorgeous shot into the top corner.  It was a magnificent strike and it is always nice to see a happy Holebas.  Watford had a chance for a third as Sema dribbled along the edge of the box but he shot wide of the target.  Just before the hour mark, Cardiff made a second substitution bringing Peltier on for Bennett, who had picked up an injury.  Cardiff had a rare shot on goal with an effort from the edge of the area by Camarasa that flew just wide.  The Hornets’ third goal was another cracker, Sema played the ball back to Quina who curled a beauty past Etheridge, leading to a joyous celebration as he ran over and hugged the substitutes on the touchline.  The chances continued as Deulofeu found Holebas who stuck his foot out and diverted the ball towards the top corner, but yet again Etheridge made a save.  Hoilett had a great chance to pull one back for the visitors, but his header cleared the bar.  Watford made their first substitution of the day with 15 minutes to go, bringing Success on for Sema.  The substitute was immediately involved in a one-two with Deulofeu whose shot was disappointing, especially as he really should have passed to Doucouré who was in an acre of space in the box.

Holebas prepares to take a corner

The visitors made their final change of the afternoon replacing Gunnarsson with Reid.  Just when we thought this would be a comfortable afternoon for the Hornets, Hoilett hit a beautiful curling shot from outside the area to the top corner.  So no clean sheet, but it was to get worse almost immediately as another ball into the Watford box led to a goalmouth scramble.  There appeared to be two players in an offside position when Foster blocked a shot from Bamba, so we were waiting for the whistle to go, but the ball rebounded to Reid who scored to put the visitors back in the game and to reboot the nerves.  Between the goals, Deeney had made way for Okaka and the Watford fans cheered up somewhat at the sight of the return of Cleverley who came on for Deulofeu.  Tom was in action immediately with a shot that was blocked before Quina put the follow-up wide.  Then Doucouré could have calmed Watford nerves with a terrific shot but, yet again, it was met with a terrific save from Etheridge.  There were groans as the fourth official held up the board indicating that there were 5 minutes of added time and the visitors had a chance to grab an equaliser that would have been a travesty, as Camarasa put a free kick into the box, but Foster was out to make the stop although it took him two attempts to gather it.  There was much relief when the final whistle went.

Elton entertaining at his spiritual home

At the end of the match there was complete bafflement.  Watford had been coasting until the first Cardiff goal, which seemed to give the visitors confidence and the home side jitters.  While we weren’t exactly hanging on at the end, the memory of the last minute at Goodison Park on Monday was too fresh for me to feel comfortable until the final whistle had gone.  It has to be said that the players (with the notable exceptions of Kabasele and Cathcart) made a rapid exit from the pitch, but that was probably just to dry off after the soaking.  But, with time to reflect, apart from that dodgy 3 minutes this was a superb performance by the Hornets.  They were playing some lovely football, but there were also plenty of shots and three goals so gorgeous that there was a comment on Match of the Day that there could have been a goal of the day competition that only included goals from this game (Hoilett’s wasn’t too shabby either).  It was a great team effort, but praise must still go to Deulofeu who was absolutely excellent, Doucouré who is back to his best and the wonderful Quina who is not just very skilful, but also plays with an assurance that belies his tender years.

At the end of the day, there was massive relief that the winless streak is over and the performances in the past week have been excellent and deservedly lifted us back into the top half of the table.  Let us hope that we continue in this vein as football is suddenly fun again.

Battling Snakes on a Monday Night

Holebas launches a throw-in

A Monday night game at Everton was a good excuse for a weekend in Liverpool.  Things didn’t go quite to plan, but I had a fun weekend of comedy, music, art, film and hoped to finish it with a decent game of football.  After a lovely morning at the Tate and visiting the studio of an artist friend of a friend on the waterfront, I returned to the hotel to meet up with our much depleted party.  We were in the pub bright and early and found a table in our usual area where we were soon joined by a number of North-West and Happy Valley Horns, travelling fans who so rarely see us win in their neck of the woods.

Team news was that Gracia had made two changes with Sema and Quina (both making their Premier League debuts) replacing Hughes (who had picked up an injury against Man City) and Chalobah.  I must say that the inclusion of Sema was a surprise to everyone.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Doucouré, Quina, Sema; Deeney, Success.  Needless to say, the Everton line-up included former Watford starlet, Richarlison, and our former manager, Marco Silva, was in the home dugout.  It was clear that neither of them was going to get a good reception from the travelling Hornets, which was more understandable for Silva than for Richarlison who made the club a tidy sum when he was sold.

The meal voucher from the club

As we entered through the turnstiles, we were greeted by Dave Messenger who was handing out vouchers for £10 for food and drink.  A really lovely gesture from the club to reward those who had made the journey to Liverpool on a Monday night.  The smallish crowd meant that it was like the old days in the away stand, with us able to take any seat we wanted.  So we headed to an empty section further back where we could stretch out and move about in comfort.  Bliss!

On arrival at the ground, I had discovered that I did not have my purse with me.  The inconvenience of having to cancel and replace cards was overwhelmed by the fact that I now had no cash and no train ticket home.  My first thought was that I had left it on the bus to the ground, but a few minutes into the game I remembered exactly where I had left it.  A quick call to the pub to tell them that a wallet bearing a Watford crest had been left on an armchair by the fire and they confirmed that they had it and it would be behind the bar on my return.

Panic over, I was able to concentrate on the match, the start of which had been dominated by chants against Silva and Richarlison.  A number in the crowd had brought snakes with them to wave at Silva, which led to my first experience of seeing an inflatable snake being confiscated in a football ground.

Doucoure, Cathcart and Deeney in the box

There was an early chance for each side as, first, Pereyra had a shot from the edge of the box that was held by the Everton keeper, Pickford.  Then Walcott met a cross from Digne with a header that was easily saved by Foster.  The home side took the lead in the 15th minute when Gomes cut the ball back to Richarlison who blasted the ball past Foster.  The young Brazilian celebrated by patting the badge over his heart.  Oh Ricky, what a short memory you have.  Watford should have equalized within a couple of minutes as Quina crossed for Deeney who, with an open goal in front of him, somehow managed to clear the bar with his shot.  Richarlison could have had a second soon after, but a tremendous block by Holebas averted the danger.  The first caution of the game went to Everton’s Mina who had handled a cross from Sigurdsson.  Watford had a decent chance to draw level as a cross from Sema was met by Pereyra but his header was just wide of the target.  Watford threatened again as a cross from Femenía fell to Deeney whose shot was blocked by Mina for a corner.  Deeney was then in action at the other end of the pitch, snuffing out an Everton attack with a great tackle.  Richarlison then tangled with Kabasele and, as is his wont, executed an outrageous dive (not his first of the evening).  Kabasele’s expression as they made their way back upfield in conversation indicated that he was letting his former team mate know exactly what he thought of his actions.  Watford had a great chance to grab an equaliser just before half time as Deeney received a long ball from Quina but he volleyed just wide.  In the minute added on at the end of the half, Deeney found Success on the edge of the box where he was fouled by Mina.  If the referee had given the free kick, he would have had to show Mina a second yellow and Everton would have been down to ten men, but he waved play on and the half-time whistle went with the Hornets a goal down and feeling rather aggrieved.

Sema lines up a free kick

It had been a decent half of football.  The home side had dominated the early exchanges, but the Hornets had grown into the game and were the better side at the end of the half.  The half time discussion was around two crucial decisions and benefited from reports from those watching at home.  By all accounts, Everton’s goal should have been disallowed as Walcott, who had been involved in the build-up, had been in an off-side position.  So, that and the fact that Mina had got away with an obvious foul on Success that should have earned us a free kick and him a second yellow card, meant we were feeling very hard done by.

At half time, the shoot-out involved a lad in a wheelchair, which was rather lovely.

The first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets as Pereyra hit a free-kick that went into the side-netting, although a good number in the away end were celebrating as they thought it had gone in.  Watford continued to threaten as a long throw reached Doucouré in the box, but his shot was blocked.  Then Deeney played a one-two with Doucouré before taking a shot, but Pickford was down to make the save.  Gracia made his first change just before the hour mark with Sema making way for Deulofeu.

Celebrating the first Watford goal

I won’t say that the substitution was inspired, but the Hornets equalised on 63 minutes as Femenía crossed for Pereyra, whose shot hit the post but rebounded out to Coleman and bounced off the Everton man into the net.  For once it felt like luck was on our side and it has to be said that the equaliser was well deserved.  But that wasn’t the end of it, as the Hornets took the lead a couple of minutes later as Pereyra crossed for Doucouré who rose above the defence and headed past Pickford.  Needless to say, the celebrations in the away end were brilliant.  When the travelling Hornets started chants of “Silva, what’s the score?”  I couldn’t help feeling uneasy.  It is never a good idea to crow over the opposition that early in the game.  Sure enough, while I was distracted noting that Calvert-Lewin had come on for Bernard, I heard a cheer from the home fans.  At first I thought that they had scored, but it then became clear that the referee had awarded a penalty for a foul by Kabasele on Mina.  I had everything crossed as Sigurdsson stepped up to take the spot kick and was joy was unconfined when the shot was saved by Foster’s trailing leg.  In the confusion, I had missed that Silva had made a double substitution, as Walcott had made way for Lookman.  Quina, who had impressed on the ball, also showed what he can contribute to the defence as he tackled Richarlison in the box.

Holebas congratulates Doucoure on his goal

Each side made another substitution as Everton brought Tosun on for Gueye and Success made way for Chalobah for the Hornets.  The Watford man’s first action of note was to get booked for time wasting.  Richarlison looked to bring the home side level as he ran on to a ball into the box, but Foster was out to save at his feet.  As the clock ran down, Everton won a series of corners, but only one (a Sigurdsson header from a Coleman cross) required a save from Foster.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, the board for extra time was held up indicating 6 minutes.  Oh, for goodness sake, my nerves were already in tatters.  Gracia made a final substitution replacing Quina with Mariappa.  Just when we thought we would finally see a win at Goodison Park, Kabasele needlessly handled a long forward ball and the referee awarded a free kick on the edge of the area.  Again, I had everything crossed, but when Digne stepped up I knew that there was only one outcome and, sure enough, his free kick cleared the wall and found the top corner to level the game.  There was just time for one last attack from the visitors as Deulofeu surged forward and found Pereyra, but he could only direct his shot across the front of the goal and the game ended in a draw.

Several of the players dropped to the turf in despair at the end of the game.  Most notably Holebas, who didn’t move for ages until Zigor Aranalde went over to commiserate when he reacted angrily.  The players were right to be angry and upset.  They had done more than enough to win the game and had been easily the better team in the second half.  But they were beaten by a mistake from the officials and a moment of madness from Kabasele.

Deeney and Success wait for a ball into the box

We headed back to the pub, where my purse was returned to me, so the least I could do was to buy a round.  We then settled down to analyse the game.  The overwhelming feeling was one of frustration.  It had been a terrific evening’s entertainment and if someone had offered me a point before the game, I would have bitten their hand off.  But, after that performance we deserved to come away with all three points.  Concentrating on the positives, Pereyra and Doucouré both put in their best performances in some time.  Quina continues to impress, for such a young man he plays with great assurance and is a tremendous addition to our squad.  Watford were clearly the better team, but we have to start translating that into victories.  This is a likeable and talented team, probably the best that Watford have ever had.  But the players are also working hard, so surely it must only be a matter of time before the talent translates into positive results.  Please let that start against Cardiff on Saturday.

Rainbows Under the Lights

The rainbow display in the Rookery (with thanks to Alice Arnold)

A rare midweek game, so I left work earlier than usual and made my way out to Watford and to the West Herts to meet the usual suspects.  Trond had kindly brought sweets and I was just commenting that this would be some compensation as Glenn (our usual sweetie man) wasn’t around when the man himself appeared through the door and filled the table with goodies, so we all left for the game with a bag of treats.  I had a feeling that this would be a day when we would need some sugar to sweeten the blow of the result.  City’s last two visits to Vicarage Road had seen them scoring 6 and 5 goals with no reply.  The pre-match consensus was that anything less than a four goal defeat would be an achievement.

As this was Watford’s “rainbow laces” game in support of LGBT+ inclusion in sport, the 1881 and the Proud Hornets had worked together to put on a rainbow banner display in the Rookery, which was absolutely magnificent.

Team news was that Gracia had made three changes with Capoue (whose ridiculous red card at Leicester was not rescinded), Mariappa and Deulofeu replaced by Chalobah, Kabasele and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Chalobah, Doucouré, Hughes; Success, Deeney.

Deeney sporting the rainbow captain’s armband

City had the first chance of the game with a shot from distance from David Silva that comfortably cleared the bar.  Watford had a much better chance soon after as Deeney found Pereyra, who beat a defender before curling a shot wide of the far post.  City should have taken the lead when a terrible ball from Pereyra was intercepted by Sané, who was into the box and looked sure to score, but Foster reached up and pushed the shot away for a corner which was turned wide by Kompany.  Foster was the hero again soon after as he made a double/triple save before the ball was finally cleared by Femenía.  Ederson was then called into action as Chalobah hit a volley from 25 yards, but it was an easy save for the City keeper.  So we’d reached the half hour mark with no score, a distinct improvement on previous seasons.  That looked likely to change as Jesus dinked into the box but, yet again, Foster came to the rescue blocking the shot.  Watford had a chance to grab an unlikely lead as Doucouré found Deeney with an overhead kick, the Watford captain got his shot away and it looked as though it was going in when Ederson got a foot to it to keep it out.  Just when we thought we may make it to half time with the game goalless, Mahrez crossed for Sané, who chested the ball past Foster to give the visitors the lead.  They threatened again before half time as Mahrez advanced on goal from what appeared to be an offside position, but he shot into the side netting.

Man of the match, Ben Foster

So we’d managed to reach half time with only a single goal separating the teams.  City had been very impressive indeed, but Watford’s defensive efforts had been decent and Foster was putting in a magnificent performance in goal.  Even better, the guy who had taken the seat behind me during the first half, who I had been sure was there to support City, turned out to be a Roma fan just taking in a game, so I didn’t have someone celebrating an opposition goal over my left shoulder.

The visitors were two goals up five minutes into the second half as Jesus played a low cross to Mahrez who turned it past Foster.  I feared that this may start a landslide.  I was wrong.  Watford had to make a substitution before the restart as Hughes, who had been limping, made way for Quina to make his Premier League debut.  Watford looked to break back as Success found Doucouré about 20 yards out, but his shot was blocked.  City had a chance for a third as a shot from Mahrez deflected up and over Foster, but the ball drifted wide.  Watford made a second substitution as Chalobah made way for Deulofeu.  Success had a chance to reduce the deficit with a shot from just outside the area, but it was well over the bar.  There was danger for the Hornets when Deulofeu slipped, allowing City to mount an attack, thankfully the effort from Jesus was wide of the near post.

Quina hoping to take a free kick before Holebas intervened

Watford had a decent chance as Success met a free kick from Holebas with a header, but Ederson was down to save.  City made their first change with quarter of an hour to go, bringing Gundogan on for David Silva.  An interception from Deeney started a lovely move in which he exchanged passes with Pereyra before finding Doucouré whose shot was saved by Ederson.  Watford then made their final substitution, bringing Gray on for Success.  Mahrez should have had a second goal but Foster got a hand to the shot to keep it out.  City made another change replacing Kompany with Otamendi.  Then the unexpected happened.  Deulofeu did really well to dispossess Delph before crossing for Gray who touched the ball on to Doucouré who fluffed his first attempt, but put the rebound past Ederson.  It wasn’t the most elegant of finishes, but it sent the Rookery into raptures and, suddenly, it was game on.  As the Watford fans cheered their team on, they nearly got an unlikely equaliser as a Holebas corner was headed goalwards by Deeney, but Ederson made the save.  The visitors made a final change to waste some time as Laporte came on for Jesus, who went off at a snail’s place to boos from the home fans.  Ederson joined in the time wasting, including leaving the ball on the roof of the net for an age before a Watford man returned it to him.  I am glad to say that he was booked for his trouble.  In time added on, Watford won a succession of corners, Foster came up to join the fray, but the equalizer didn’t come.  There was still some considerable satisfaction at witnessing the relief from the City players and fans when the final whistle went.

Pushing for the win

So, despite the defeat, we left Vicarage Road with smiles on our faces.  There was certainly no disgrace in losing so narrowly to City and the fighting spirit shown by the team was something to be savoured.  There was an irony that, having managed only one shot on target in our past two games, the lads managed seven against a City side who are far and away the best team in the country.  Special mention must go to Ben Foster, who was absolutely superb in goal, and Quina who made a tidy appearance as a substitute.  We can look forward to good things from him in the future.

So on to Everton on Monday, a game that will be dominated by the presence of Marco Silva in the home dugout.  But I do hope that the travelling fans can concentrate on encouraging the players, as Goodison Park is not a happy hunting ground for us and it would be lovely to come away with a result.

Trouncing the Terriers

Players line up for the minute’s silence

Having missed the Bournemouth game, it was over a month since I had been to Vicarage Road, so I was very happy to be going back.  Don was just getting out of his car as I reached the West Herts and we were the only two waiting for the doors to open although a few other regulars joined us before the clock struck 12.  Our pre-match drinks were all the better as we discussed the win over Wolves, although none of us were particularly confident for today’s game.  Huddersfield would have to get a win at some point and we could all remember the previous year’s abject defeat.

The team news was rather pleasing as Gracia named an unchanged team allowing those who had come in and put in such a great performance at Wolves to keep their places.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Mariappa, Masina; Hughes, Doucouré, Deulofeu, Capoue, Pereyra; Success.  Huddersfield were captained by erstwhile Watford hero, Jonathan Hogg.  Another Watford hero also returned as former chief executive, Julian Winter, hosted a Q&A for the visiting fans at The Flag pub before the game.  I was very tempted to gatecrash.

As this was to be the last game before Remembrance Sunday, the players were wearing poppies on their shirts and a minute’s silence was held before the game that was perfectly observed.

Celebrating Pereyra’s Worldie

The game started positively for the visitors and the first chance fell to Durm whose shot at the near post was turned wide by Cathcart for a corner, which was cleared.  Soon after, Mooy tried a shot from distance through legs that was saved by Foster.  The visitors threatened again as Mbenza cut the ball back to Pritchard but the shot was just over the bar.  Watford’s first chance came as the ball reached Success following a lovely passing move, he crossed for Pereyra, but a defender made the interception before it reached the Watford man.  The Hornets opened the scoring in the 10th minute with a goal that was a thing of beauty.  Pereyra received the ball on the left and just started to dribble through a throng of Huddersfield players, it seemed only a matter of time before one of them tackled him, but the ball was soon in the back of the net prompting mental celebrations that were tinged with disbelief at what we had just witnessed.  After 19 minutes the Hornets were two goals to the good as Deulofeu got the ball on the right, he only had to beat two players before shooting from an acute angle past the keeper and into the net.  It was another terrific goal.  How on earth will we choose the goal of the season in May?  Fair play to Huddersfield, they didn’t give up and could have got back in the game almost immediately as a shot from distance from Löwe was pushed on to the crossbar by Foster.

Celebrating Deulofeu’s goal

Then a lovely pass from Success gave Deulofeu the chance to increase the lead, he skipped into the box again, but this time shot wide of the near post.  At the other end, Pritchard played the ball across the box to Mooy whose low shot was easy for Foster to save.  The first booking of the game went to Huddersfield’s Billing for a foul on Success.  Billing almost turned hero soon after with a terrific shot from distance that Foster did brilliantly to tip over the bar.  The resultant corner was headed wide by Depoitre.  Watford could have had a third before half time as Success ran into the Huddersfield box, a last minute tackle sent the ball goalwards, but Lössl was able to clear off the line.

There was a rather bizarre sequence during the break as a fan was invited to interview Tommy Mooney, asked a bland question about his favourite goal before grabbing the ball that Mooney was holding and dribbling towards the goal.  He was tackled by a couple of ‘stewards’ one of whom proceeded to put on a display of ball skills.  This baffling event was sponsored by the company that has their name on our shoulders and introduced as the first in a series.  Despite the decent skills demonstrated by the ‘steward’, I do hope not.  The interviews with visiting Watford legends are so much more interesting.  After the strange interruption, attention returned to Mooney who reckoned that the first half was the best that he had seen from a Watford side.  Assuming that he wasn’t at Wolves last week, it was no exaggeration.

Masina dummying as Pereyra lines up a free kick

Watford started the second half well with Deulofeu finding Success whose shot was saved by Lössl.  The same two players combined again a minute later, this time it was the Spaniard who had sight of goal, but a combination of keeper and defender put him off and he shot just wide.  Soon after Success found Deulofeu again, this time he shot over under pressure from a defender.  Deulofeu and Pereyra then combined to feed Hughes, but the shot was straight at Lössl.  It wasn’t all Watford though as Mbenza tried a shot from wide on the left which was saved by Foster.  Just after the hour mark, there was a rash of substitutions as Mounie and Sobhi replaced Depoitre and Mbenza for the visitors and Deulofeu made way for Sema.  The Watford man appeared to be furious when he reached the dug-out.  Watford’s first booking went to Masina for a nasty foul on Löwe.  Wagner made his final substitution as Billing made way for Bacuna.  Watford’s third goal came with 10 minutes remaining as a free kick was taken short and chipped by Capoue to Femenía who crossed low to Success in the middle of the box where he made no mistake with his finish.  It was a move that came straight from the training ground and it certainly calmed my nerves as it had surely sealed the points for the Hornets.  The goal scorer’s work was done for the day and he made way for Gray.  Soon after, Cathcart sustained a knock and was replaced by Kabasele.  In time added on, Watford had a couple of chances to increase their lead.  Doucouré made a great forward run, but his cut back flew behind the advancing forwards.  Then Pereyra tried a shot from a tight angle that was pushed over the bar by Lössl.  The final chance fell to Sema, who went on a brilliant run, beating a couple of players, but his finish was disappointing and the shot flew wide of the target.  So the final whistle went on a very pleasing 3-0 win for the Hornets.

Celebrating with Success

Back in the West Herts and Richard received a message from a Huddersfield supporting friend of his noting that the third goal had been good!  We could only assume irony was involved.  There were smiles all round as it had been a very good day at the office.  Despite Huddersfield’s chances and some heroics from Ben Foster, it felt like a comfortable win for the Hornets.  There was certainly some gorgeous football on show, with some sublime passing.  That and three very decent goals meant that the Watford fans had been royally entertained.

The joy was tempered somewhat by the worrying news of Glenn Hoddle’s collapse.  Then, when I returned home, I heard of the Leicester owner’s helicopter crashing and the death of a Brighton fan after their game.  The Leicester owners have been such a boon to both the club and the town, when something so awful happens, all football fans share the pain.  My thoughts are with the family and friends of all affected this weekend.

 

Lucky, Lucky Arsenal

Watford fans invading Highbury

During the week, I received an email from a Watford friend who lives in one of the apartments at the old Highbury stadium inviting our party for a pre-match tour.  As arranged, we met outside the main entrance which is part of the old East Stand facade and were taken into the marble hall to see the bust of Herbert Chapman and the Arsenal insignia that adorn the floors.  Then out to “the pitch”, which is now a communal garden.  We stood on the centre circle, noted the spot at which GT had his altercation with Steve Williams in 1987 and admired the memorial bench that has been added in memory of all the Arsenal fans who had had their ashes scattered at Highbury.  It was all rather lovely, and pleasing that so much of the façade has been retained.  Apparently, you don’t have to be an Arsenal fan to live there, but a couple of residents who turned up after a game wearing their West Ham shirts found that they could not get past security, so they do have some standards.

From there we made our way to one of the few pubs around the ground that allows away fans in.  It wasn’t the most salubrious of venues and the selection of beer was limited and not particularly appealing, it certainly reminded me why we usually have our pre-match pint further afield.

As expected, team news was that Gracia would make his first change to the starting XI this season, with the enforced omission of the injured Janmaat who was replaced by Navarro.  Thankfully, the red card shown to Kabasele during the week had been rescinded, so he was available for selection.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Navarro; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deeney, Gray.

Pereyra and Holebas preparing for a free kick

Watford started the game brightly, but had an early scare as Lacazette burst into the area, he was tripped by Kabasele but stayed on his feet and shot wide.  I suspect that if the Arsenal man had gone to ground, the referee would have awarded a penalty, so we were grateful to him for his honesty.  Watford then had a terrific chance to take the lead as Deeney headed a cross from Holebas back to Hughes but the shot was just wide of the target.  The hosts then had a great chance as Lacazette robbed Cathcart in midfield and advanced towards Foster, he lifted the ball over the keeper, but it drifted just wide of the target, much to the relief of the travelling Hornets.  At the other end, Deeney found Hughes whose shot was deflected over, but the flag was up for an infringement anyway.   The first caution of the game went to Deeney for a foul on Monreal.  A free kick from Holebas caused some concern in the Arsenal defence, but Cech was able to make the block as Kabasele challenged, before also blocking the follow-up from Deeney.  At the other end, Xhaka tried a shot from the edge of the area, but Foster was down to gather.  The first card for the home side went to Torreira, who was booked for a foul on Deeney.  Arsenal were forced to make a substitution in time added on at the end of the first half, when Cech pulled a hamstring while taking a free kick and had to be replaced by Leno making his debut in the Arsenal goal.

I must admit that at the end of the half, I felt that Arsenal had more of the play, which may have been due to my position low down in the stand at the end which Arsenal were attacking. Although, I seemed to have been unduly intimidated by their attacking prowess as others around me were bemoaning us not taking our chances and feeling that we should have had the lead.

Deeney and Success ready for a ball into the box

The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as a corner from Özil was headed over the bar by Holding.  There was a much better chance for the Hornets as Deeney met a Holebas free kick with a shot that was heading for the bottom corner until Leno made a great save to put it out for a corner.  At the other end, an Arsenal breakaway finished with Lacazette heading wide of the target.   Mustafi was booked for a protest and then Emery made his first unforced substitution bringing Iwobi on for Ramsey.  Watford threatened as Gray latched on to a through ball from Deeney, but Leno was out to block the shot.  Leno was called into action again soon after, gathering a cross from Holebas.  Then Pereyra had a terrific chance to open the scoring, cutting inside Torreira before shooting just wide of the far post.  Gracia made his first change with 20 minutes to go, bringing Success on for Gray.  The substitute made an immediate impact as he received a pass from Deeney and took a shot that was blocked by Holding.  Watford threatened again as a Holebas free kick broke to Cathcart who poked the ball goalwards, it was blocked and his follow-up was caught by Leno.  Success should have given Watford the lead when he broke into the box, but he aimed for the far corner and the shot bounced agonizingly off the post.

Deeney passing instructions to Pereyra

At this point the voice of Cassandra could be heard behind me, “We know what will happen now.”  Arsenal’s final substitution came with quarter of an hour remaining as Aubameyang made way for Welbeck.  Then the normally mild mannered Doucouré went into the book for a protest.  With nine minutes to go, Cassandra’s prophesy came true as Iwobi crossed for Lacazette and Cathcart’s intervention only served to deflect the ball into the net.  So irritating.  Watford had had their best spell of the game and looked totally in control, but the home side were ahead.  Watford had a chance to break back as Pereyra played the ball out to Doucouré who shot well over the bar.  But it wasn’t to be and insult was added to injury as Arsenal scored a second two minutes later after another quick break as Lacazette exchanged passes with Iwobi before sliding the ball to Özil who side-footed home. Watford made a second change with Femenía coming on for Navarro.  At this point, the Arsenal fans could be heard for pretty much the first time all afternoon with a chant of “Deeney, what’s the score?”  The visitors had a couple of late chances to reduce the deficit.  First, Pereyra went on a run before firing over the bar.  Then Doucouré met a cross from Holebas with a header that flew over the bar.  Into time added on and the final chance of the game fell to the home side, but the shot from

Herbert Chapman in the Marble Halls

Lacazette was just wide of the far post.

It was a cruel finish to the game.  Watford had been the better side for most of the second half and had considerably more shots on goal, but the hosts made the most of those that they had and it was the finishing that proved the difference between the teams.

Still, it was difficult to be too upset.  It had been another terrific performance with the Hornets yet again showing themselves to be easily the match of one of the top six.  On the evidence of the performances so far this season, we have little to fear when facing the majority of the teams in this division and I never thought that I would be saying that when we were first promoted.