Tag Archives: Connor Wickham

So Near and Yet So Far

The Watford singing section at Wembley

The Watford singing section at Wembley

I woke up on the day of the semi-final feeling very nervous.  Most weeks I don’t get my hopes up and don’t take defeats too badly as there is always next week, but we have only reached the FA Cup final once in our history so the result of this match mattered ….. a lot.  Getting ready to leave for the game takes on ridiculous levels of obsession with tiny details.  Is this an appropriate top to wear?  Have my Watford socks with the mismatched colours at the top been lucky or unlucky?  Did I start wearing my warm coat before our form dipped?  So many questions with inconclusive answers.  In the end, the most important things were to remember my ticket and my yellow shirt, but the sartorial decisions nagged at me.

As most of our group were not travelling through Watford, we decided to meet in the Marylebone area which began to look like a very bad idea when the tube filled up with Palace fans at Green Park and they all piled off at Baker Street, which was teeming with people dressed in red and blue.  For the second cup game in a row, the choice of pre-match pub was a failure.  This time it was closed completely.  We ended up in a fine dining establishment that was happy to accommodate those who wanted only to drink.  I must say that I consumed what was probably my most expensive pre-match meal ever, but it was delicious.  On the walk to the station, it was disappointing to be taunted by a young child about what happened three years ago.  He was wise to hide behind his father’s legs

Deeney leads the team out at Wembley

Deeney leads the team out at Wembley

A game at Wembley really should end with the presentation of a trophy, I am not a fan of using it as a venue for the semi-finals.  So even entering the ground had a sense of anti-climax.  Earlier in the day, mention had been made of friends who had to miss the game for various reasons and someone expressed the opinion that it wasn’t such a huge deal as, if we lost, you wouldn’t want to have been there and, if we won, there would be another trip to Wembley for the final.

A key question regarding the team selection was the choice of goalkeeper.  I would have picked Gomes, who has been immense this season, but Flores chose to keep faith with Pantilimon who played in the earlier rounds of the cup.  So the starting XI was Pantilimon, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Jurado, Watson, Capoue, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo.

As we gathered in the concourse before the game, it was lovely to see one of my all-time Watford heroes, Nigel Gibbs, was also in attendance.

Prior to kick-off, there was a great display of red and blue foils in the Palace end,  they do that sort of thing so well, but we are fortunate that a sea of yellow shirt is always striking.

Challenging for a corner

Challenging for a corner

Following complaints about the lack of atmosphere among the Watford fans at the play-off final, a singing section had been designated in the lower tier behind the goal and it was great to see them bouncing early doors.  Sadly Palace took the lead on 6 minutes as a corner was flicked on to the far post where Bolasie headed the ball past Pantilimon.  At that point it already felt as though this was going to be a long afternoon.  But Watford rallied and a nice passing move finished with Jurado trying a shot from distance that was blocked.  Then Ighalo laid the ball off to Deeney who tried a shot more in hope than expectation and it flew well over the bar.  Another nice attacking move saw Jurado find Abdi whose shot was blocked.  During our pre-match discussions, John had commented that our third most prolific goal scorer of the season was ‘OG’ and we nearly benefitted again as Ward almost turned a cross from Nyom past Hennessey but it went just the wrong side of the post.  At the other end a cross from Cabaye was punched clear by Pantilimon.  The same player threatened again with a free-kick that was comfortably caught by the Watford keeper.  Before the half hour mark, Capoue went down with an injury that required a long period of treatment.  He tried to continue, but soon collapsed and had to be taken off on a stretcher, which is always sad to see.

GT in his role of pundit at half time

GT in his role of pundit at half time

Despite it being clear for some time that Capoue would not be able to continue, there was a delay between him being carried off and his replacement taking the field, which was odd as Suárez had pulled on his shirt but remained sitting in the dugout rather than being ready on the sidelines.  Watford continued to attack without really threatening the Palace goal as a Watson free kick reached Deeney who moved it on towards Ighalo but a defender made the block before the Nigerian could reach the ball.  Jurado turned and fired goalwards but, again, it was blocked, this time by Delaney who was knocked to the ground by the force of the shot.  The first caution of the game went to Jurado for a foul on Zaha.  Nyom whipped a lovely cross into the Palace box, but Hennessey caught the ball before Ighalo could get to it.  Watford were lucky not to concede a penalty just before half time as a cross from Zaha hit Ake’s arm but the referee was unsighted and signaled a corner.

So we reached the interval, a goal down.  It was interesting to read my notes again as they indicate that Watford had a lot of the play in the first half and, following the early goal, there had been little threat from Palace.  But the mood among the Watford fans was dark as, despite our possession, we had never looked like scoring.  Our attacks had been ponderous and ineffectual while the Palace wingers, when they did attack, looked very dangerous.  It felt like 2013 all over again.  However, we have had a number of games this season in which we improved considerably after the break and I clung to the hope that this would be one of them.

Celebrating the equalizer

Celebrating the equalizer

Watford made a promising start to the second half with an early chance from a Nyom cross which Deeney headed over the bar under challenge.  But that was followed by a scare at the other end as Bolasie rode a tackle from Britos and it took a good save from Pantilimon to prevent him from increasing the Palace lead.  A Watford free kick was taken short by Abdi to Watson whose shot was deflected off the wall for a corner.  This led to our equalizer as Deeney met Jurado’s delivery to head past Hennessey and send the Watford fans wild.  You could see how much it meant to him as he ran to our corner to celebrate.  All of a sudden both spirits and voices rose among the Watford fans and Flores reacted by replacing Abdi with Guedioura.  Abdi had been wasted out on the wing, so this felt like a positive change.  Sadly, we were only level for six minutes.  Souaré was the first to try to restore the Palace lead with a shot from outside the box that was high and wide.  But the man from Senegal turned provider crossing for Wickham who lost Aké and rose to head home.  Watford tried to strike back again as Guedioura crossed for Ighalo, but the ball flew over his head to Hennessey.  Deeney found himself in space and really should have tried a shot, but hesitated allowing the defence to regroup so he passed to Jurado, who found Suárez, whose shot was blocked.

Watson lines up a free kick

Watson lines up a free kick

Pardew’s first substitution saw Bolasie make way for McArthur.  The big screen announced the substitution and illustrated it with footage of the first goal.  Thanks for that.  Jurado crossed for Deeney, but his header back across goal was easy for Hennessey.  Then a dangerous run by Zaha into the Watford box seemed to spell disaster, but the defence closed him down before he could shoot.  The second substitution for Palace saw Sako come on for Puncheon.  The Hornets had a great chance to equalize as Deeney flicked a header on to Ighalo but the Nigerian’s shot from close range flew over the bar.  Flores made his final change with 7 minutes remaining bringing Anya on for Nyom.  Jurado fashioned another chance as a corner was cleared to him but Hennessey was equal to his shot.  Palace’s final substitution saw Adebayor on for Wickham so, again, we had a replay of a goal plus the prospect of Adebayor scoring against us again.  It was nearly game over as Guedioura gave the ball away to Zaha but, thankfully, he shot into the side netting.  The announcement of five minutes of added time was greeted with cheers and encouragement from the Watford fans and boos from the Palace end.  The first minute of time added on saw Ighalo directing a cross from Jurado out to Guedioura whose shot was agonizingly just wide of the target.  Watford had one final chance as Guedioura tried to find Ighalo in the box, but he was unable to connect and Palace booked their place in the final.

Deeney put in a captain's performance

Deeney put in a captain’s performance

It was a frustrating afternoon.  Palace’s run in the second half of this season has been as poor as ours so this was a very winnable tie but we struggled in the first half with the early goal sapping spirits on and off the pitch.  There was an improved performance in the second period but, apart from a short spell around the time the equalizer was scored, we never looked like winning the game.

The queue to get into the station after the game was immense and slow moving and it took forever to get on a train, which I then had to share with Palace fans as I travelled south.  I put my shirt and scarf away and tried to block out their chat about going to the final, but I was very glad finally to get on my train home.

Generally I try to take positives from games, but it is hard on an afternoon like this.  I can take a defeat if we have given our all and were beaten by a better team, but I came away from Wembley thinking that, given the talent in our squad, we should have done better.  If you had told me in August that we would retain our status in the Premier League and reach the FA Cup semi-final, I would have been thrilled.  But that defeat will hurt for some time.

An Important Win South of the River

One of the lovely catering staff in his Luther t-shirt (picture courtesy of Karoline Hasley)

One of the lovely catering staff in his Luther sweat shirt (picture courtesy of Karoline Hasley)

While getting ready to leave for the match I listened, as I usually do, to the sausage sandwich game on Danny Baker’s show.  On Saturday one of the competitors was representing Watford.  On a match day, something like this suddenly becomes immensely important.  So I listened intently and, thankfully, Watford beat Bath City after extra time.  An omen that all would be fine in the afternoon.

As always, there was a stringent search policy on the way in to the ground although on this occasion I wasn’t asked whether I had any keys on me as I was on a previous visit.  Inside Selhurst Park the catering staff were wearing “Cult heroes” sweat shirts bearing Luther’s picture.  How very wonderful.  There was also a deck at one of the windows just outside the Ladies’ loo which was blasting out music at a ridiculous volume.  I’m too old for that sort of thing.

Team news was that Flores had made four changes from Spurs.  Unsurprisingly, Deeney was restored to the starting line-up.  Also, there was no sign of Jurado which, without having heard the reasoning, tended to indicate an injury.  This meant a first start for Amrabat and I was intrigued to see how he would fit in alongside both Deeney and Ighalo.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Capoue, Watson, Behrami, Deeney, Amrabat and Ighalo.  Former Watford loanee, Jordon Mutch, started for Palace and lovely Aidy Mariappa was on the bench.

I am the only person I know that loves going to Selhurst Park.  My reasoning is that there is always a great atmosphere and, in days gone by when our away following was not as it is now, you could choose where to position yourself and I was usually able to join a group standing and singing at the back.  However, the increase in numbers in the travelling support now means that you are stuck with your assigned seat and, when all are standing in front of you, those of us who are on the short side or, even worse, those that struggle to stand are only able to see very small sections of the pitch, which meant that my notes were rather sparse.

Deeney waiting to take the penalty

Deeney waiting to take the penalty

Nothing happened of note in the first quarter of an hour until Capoue played a lovely cross field ball to Aké whose cross was blocked.  As the resulting corner came in, play stopped and most of us in the away end assumed that the home side had been awarded a free kick.  But it soon became apparent that the referee had pointed to the spot and the chants went up for Deeney who stepped up in front of the hostile Holmesdale Road end, sent Hennessey the wrong way and buried the penalty in the corner.  During the goal celebration, someone behind me let off a flare which brings into question the effectiveness of the stringent crowd searches outside the ground.  Palace tried to hit back almost immediately as Cabaye hit a volley from outside the area that Gomes had to turn around the post.  The next goal attempt from the home side was a looping shot that was straight into the arms of Gomes.  Some lovely play from the Hornets came to nothing as a pass from Deeney, intended to release Capoue, was a little too heavy and went out for a throw.  Soon after, Deeney exchanged passes with Ighalo before shooting over the target.  At the other end, a dangerous looking cross from Wickham flew over the head of Dann as Aké challenged.  Watford looked to increase their lead as Deeney found Ighalo whose shot was saved by the feet of Hennessey, but Palace couldn’t clear and, when the ball came back into the box, Amrabat had a shot from close range but, again, the keeper saved.

Capoue giving instructions while Deeney looks on

Capoue giving instructions while Deeney looks on

Watford threatened again as Deeney headed a free kick from Watson on to Ighalo who volleyed over the target.  There was another lovely break from the Hornets, a cross field ball was played to Capoue who played it back inside, but nobody would shoot and, finally, Hennessey gathered.  Deeney was putting in a real captain’s shift and was next to be seen back in defence shepherding a ball in the box back to Gomes.  Unbelievably, the home side were level just before half time.  A throw came into the box and the Watford defence stopped, possibly claiming a goal kick as the ball looked to be going out of play, but it was recovered and played out to Wickham who crossed for Adebayor to head over Gomes.  The goal had come from nothing and it was typical that it came from a player who had been linked with us in the transfer window.

At half time, there was some frustration that we were not leading as we had dominated the half.  It had been a poor half of football, but any quality there was had come from the visitors, the home side had been utterly dreadful.  Given the lack of entertainment on the field, I was rather annoyed that I had reached my seat too late to see the eagle performing prior to the game which is always rather lovely.

Gomes taking a free kick

Gomes taking a free kick

Palace made a substitution at the start of the second half, replacing Wickham with Lee.  The home side made a lively start as Zaha went on a run down the left wing and whipped in a cross that landed in the arms of Gomes.  At the other end, a free kick from Watson towards Deeney was headed clear by Jedinak.  Watford threatened again as Amrabat picked up a misplaced pass and found Deeney, but the pass was a bit short and Troy was unable to get in position to shoot.  Nyom, who was having a terrible game, gave the ball away to Zaha whose cross, thankfully, was cleared.  A dangerous cross from Souaré eluded Gomes, but Cathcart was on hand to clear with some help from the keeper.  Gomes was then called into action twice in quick succession.  First to block a shot from Adebayor, then to pull off a flying save to keep a long range shot from Mutch out of the top corner.  A free kick from Watson bounced off a succession of heads in the box before being cleared.  Then Zaha went on a dangerous counter attack, but this time Nyom was in the right place and headed his cross clear.  At the other end Deeney broke free and exchanged passes with Ighalo before trying a shot that was blocked, his follow-up drifted tamely wide of the post.  Watford’s first substitution came just after the hour mark as Abdi replaced Amrabat, who hadn’t made much of a mark on the game.  Watford had a decent chance to regain the lead as a Watson free kick reached Aké at the far post but he was sliding in to shoot and the ball flew wide.

Watson lining up a free kick

Watson lining up a free kick

Flores’ second substitution saw Capoue make way for Suárez while, for the home side, there was an attacking change as Campbell replaced Mutch.  From a corner, Adebayor threatened the Watford goal again, but this time Gomes pushed the header clear.  At the other end Deeney found Ighalo in the box, he couldn’t shoot so moved it on to Aké whose shot was saved by the sprawling Hennessey.  Deeney’s next attempt on goal was blocked by Ighalo, always a frustrating sight.  The first booking of the game went to Suárez who was cautioned for bringing down Ward.  Palace had a decent chance with a free kick from Lee that Gomes did well to save.  But it was Watford who regained the lead on 82 minutes, as a Watson cross found Deeney at the far post, he took a touch before shooting past Hennessey and provoking mayhem in the away end.  “Trooy Deeney, Watford’s number nine.”  The visitors tried to extend the lead as Abdi looked for Ighalo with a cross, but the Palace defence shut the Nigerian out.  In the last minute of normal time, a corner was cleared to Cabaye on the edge of the box, his powerful shot was pushed onto the post by Gomes and a follow up from Zaha flew harmlessly over the target.  There was shock in the away end when the fourth official indicated 5 minutes of added time.  Where had that come from?  The first chance in injury time came as Adebayor broke forward and shot, but it was easy for Gomes.  At the other end, Abdi combined with Deeney and Ighalo before unleashing a shot that came back off his team mate.

Gathering for a free kick

Gathering for a free kick

Despite it happening directly in front of where I was standing, I didn’t see Souaré’s tackle on Behrami, but it was clear from the reaction of those who could see that it had been a poor challenge and the referee had no hesitation in showing the red card.  So the home side played the last minute of time added on with 10 men.  They had one final chance to draw level as a cross from Zaha was met by the head of Ward, but he directed his header over the bar and the Hornets left South London with all three points.

Palace put in a considerably better performance in the second half, with Zaha giving Nyom a torrid time down the left wing, but the win was probably a fair result and Deeney’s second goal a pleasingly moment of quality to win the game.  Neither Amrabat nor Suárez made much of an impression, with the stand out performances being from old hands Deeney and Gomes with a special mention for Behrami, who continues to impress in the midfield.

When the final whistle went, Pete said, “We’re safe,” and, while that is not mathematically certain, the teams in 17th and 18th are 12 points behind us with a considerably worse goal difference, so it is hard to see them catching us.  Time to concentrate on the cup!!