Tag Archives: Conor Coady

Another Defeat Despite Domination

Statue of Jack Hayward outside Molineux

Having been utterly miserable after the City game, the midweek win against Swansea cheered me up somewhat, so I was in a better mood for the journey to Wolverhampton.  I left London early and met Jacque on the train.  As has been usual for recent trips to Wolves, we were to have our pre-match refreshments in Birmingham.  Our ridiculously early arrival time confirmed that, due to a late decision about where to meet, both of us had booked a train based on its scheduled arrival in Wolverhampton rather than Birmingham.  Still, by the time we got to the pub it was a respectable hour to have a drink.  The pub was actually packed due, in part, to the presence of passengers of a Midland Red bus, that was parked outside.  I assume that they were on a tour of the city and the opportunity to mix with Villa fans having a pre-match pint was too much of a temptation.  Mike met us for lunch, and then we headed back to New Street to get the train to Wolverhampton and take the short walk to the ground.  We met the rest of our party inside where we were regaled with stories of traffic delays for those who had driven.  Luckily (?) they all made it in time for kick-off.

Team news was that Quique had made four changes from the side who were humiliated by Manchester City, with Janmaat, Cathcart, Welbeck and Sarr replacing Femenía, Mariappa, Foulquier and Hughes.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Dawson, Cathcart, Janmaat; Capoue, Doucouré; Deulofeu, Cleverley, Sarr; Welbeck.  The initial reaction was that this was the team that people wanted to see.  But I was rather surprised that Welbeck was included, having played 90 minutes in midweek.  In other news, today would see the first outing of our new away kit.  I hoped that it would be lucky for us.

Holebas takes a throw-in

Watford started well and, in the first minute, Sarr found Welbeck, but the shot was wide of the target.  Wolves also had an early chance as Boly released Jiménez who shot into the side netting.  The Hornets put themselves in trouble when a short corner routine broke down allowing Neto to break at pace and play a low cross for Jiménez who shot wide of the far post.  The home side opened the scoring in the 18th minute when a low cross from Neto was turned in by Doherty.  It was yet another poor goal to give away as the defence were nowhere to be seen.  It feels as though we have seen the same goal scored against us repeatedly this season and still have no idea how to stop it.  Deulofeu tried to hit back as he cut into the box but could only shoot into the side netting.  Deulofeu threatened again from a free kick, but his delivery was headed clear.  Wolves had a chance to increase their lead as Traoré beat Holebas to put in a cross, but no Wolves player could get on the end of it.  Sarr really should have done better after receiving a ball from Deulofeu in the box, but he turned and shot well wide of the target.  The Wolves fans were shouting for a penalty as a cross from Traoré was blocked by Holebas, but the referee was unmoved by their pleas.  Welbeck got into a decent position in the box, but his shot was blocked for a corner that came to nothing.  The end of the half was dominated by a couple of lengthy stoppages for injuries to Wolves players, but there was one final chance for the Hornets to draw level as Cleverley flicked a pass to Sarr in a dangerous position but, yet again, the shot was blocked.

Pereyra takes a corner

The half time whistle went to sighs of resignation in the away end.  It hadn’t been pretty.  Watford had had more of the possession but were ponderous and reluctant to shoot.  In contrast, Wolves were quick on the break and the Watford defence always looked vulnerable. The home side had scored with the only on-target shot of the half.

Looking at things off the field, I couldn’t help but notice that the stand behind the goal at one end and half of the other have been converted for safe standing.  It looked great and it will be interesting to see whether this becomes commonplace.

At the break Deulofeu was replaced by Pereyra.  The Hornets started the second half quite brightly.  Pereyra put in a lovely cross that Holebas met with a header that was blocked by the Wolves keeper, the first time he had been called into action.  The ball dropped to Cleverley, who tried to turn it in, but Rui Patricio was able to get a foot to it and put it out for a corner.  The corner summed up our afternoon as Pereyra’s delivery didn’t even make it onto the pitch before it flew behind the goal line.  Wolves had their first chance of the half as Neto broke forward but shot straight at Foster and was immediately replaced by Gibbs-White.

Waiting for the delivery at a corner

The Hornets had dominated the start of the second half, so it felt cruel when, on the hour mark, a cross from Doherty was flicked on by Gibbs-White, and Janmaat turned it past Foster.  There appeared no way back at that point.  Holebas tried to hit back with a shot through the area that flew just wide of the near post.  It was unsurprising to see José pick up the first booking of the game for a foul on Traoré.  Flores made his second substitution with twenty minutes to go as Sarr made way for Gray.  Andre made an immediate impact and the Hornets had a great chance to pull one back when Welbeck received a ball from Gray and unleashed a shot that required a decent save from Rui Patricio to keep it out.  Wolves had a chance to score a third as Traoré put a deep cross over to Jonny but he could only find the side netting.  Wolves made a second substitution bringing Cutrone on for Jiménez.  The substitute had a chance to make an immediate impact as he charged toward the Watford goal, but was stopped by a wonderful sliding tackle from Foster.  At the other end, Gray made a break into the Wolves box but his shot was poor and straight at the keeper.  Doucouré then tried his luck with a low shot from the edge of the area, but it was an easy catch for Rui Patricio.  There was one last chance for the Hornets as a corner from Holebas reached Welbeck but he could only head over the bar.  Santo made his final change bringing Neves on for Traoré.  There were three minutes of added time, which were rather soul destroying as, despite Hornets having plenty of possession, they just played it around on the halfway line with the Wolves defence happily lined up in front of them.  The final whistle went to half-hearted boos from a few among the Watford following, but most of us just felt as defeated as the team.

Holebas and Pereyra lining up a free kick

As there is nothing to stay in Wolves for, we made a rapid retreat to the station to get the train home and we bumped into a couple of fellow Hornets.  There was a lot of head shaking and failure to understand what is going wrong this season.  Our team still looks great on paper, but we continue to fail to attack with enough intent or defend convincingly.  On the evidence of the games so far, most of the teams in the Premier League are pretty poor (the obvious exception notwithstanding), but we have been unable to beat any of them.  The consensus was that we are desperately missing Deeney as there is no leadership on the pitch, which is a very sorry state of affairs.  It is difficult to see how we will turn this around, but football is a confidence game and maybe we just need a few balls to drop kindly and a couple of shots to creep inside the post for the belief to resurface.

As I left work on Friday, I had a chat with one of my colleagues about our chances for the weekend.  He reminded me that going to football was supposed to be fun.  He is so right and, sadly, the games really aren’t fun at the moment.  I hope that changes very soon.

The Battle for Seventh Place

Gathering for a corner

It has been a very stressful week.  Work has been full on, with a number of important deadlines meaning that I was working long hours.  But this game had taken on enormous importance, as it would surely be key in our fight with Wolves for seventh place, so it was never far from my thoughts.  The importance was brought home when I woke with a jolt at 5am on Saturday, knowing that I had to be somewhere and stressing about how I would get there.  When I was awake enough to realise that kick-off was at 3pm, so I had plenty of time, I calmed down a bit.

For once, I timed my journey perfectly.  After having a quick chat with Mick, our Police liaison officer, at the Junction (he was confident of a win, I wasn’t), I arrived at the West Herts just after it opened.  Our party was a little depleted due to commitments elsewhere, but there was still a good turnout at ‘our’ table.  Glenn appeared with his sweets as usual but, as it was a Saturday, there was the extra treat of the delicious pork scratchings that he gets from his butcher which I had as dessert after a portion of jerk chicken.  I left for the ground a little earlier than usual to pick up my tickets for the FA Cup Final.  It was so good to have them in my hands at last.

Doucoure on the ball

Team news was three changes from Tuesday with Gracia again alternating his defensive options with Femenía and Mariappa in for Janmaat and Kabasele, we also had the welcome return of Holebas taking the place of Masina.  Adam was terrific in the game against Southampton, but Jose would always be in my first XI.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Mariappa, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucoure, Hughes; Deulofeu, Gray.  I must say that I felt very reassured by the team selection.

The teams ran out to “I’m Still Standing” and I was left cold again.  It is not growing on me, but at least you can hear it, unlike the Superman theme.

The game kicked off and some of our fans decided that this was a good time to goad Wolves after our cup semi-final win.  I always think that pride comes before a fall, so the chants worried me greatly.  There was a cagey start to the game, the first chance for either side came on 12 minutes when Deulofeu won a corner.  The delivery from Holebas was deep and headed back by Capoue to Doucouré whose shot was blocked, the ball fell to Pereyra whose shot was also blocked.  I must admit that, with the early disasters in the previous two home games, I was very happy when we got to 15 minutes on the clock without a catastrophic event.

Geri looking baffled at Jose’s secret instructions

The first shot on target didn’t come until the 21st minute when Neves tried a shot from distance, Foster was equal to it.  The Hornets had a great chance to take the lead when Pereyra played a lovely ball to Deulofeu, but Geri slipped as he was about to take the shot and the chance was gone.  Hughes did brilliantly to control a dropping ball, he found Deulofeu, but the shot was turned around a post for a corner, which Deulofeu played short to Holebas whose shot was terrible and flew well wide of the target.  From my position in the Rookery, I thought that Wolves had taken the lead when a shot from Jiménez was cleared off the line by Capoue.  I can’t have been the only one holding my breath waiting for the referee to indicate that the ball had actually crossed the line before it was cleared, but that indication didn’t come, and the game remained goalless.  A lovely forward passing move involving Pereyra and Hughes finished with the ball with Deulofeu whose shot was blocked.  Watford should have opened the scoring from the resultant corner which Holebas delivered deep to Pereyra, he crossed for Mariappa who headed back to Hughes, who had the goal at his mercy, but directed his header over the target.  The opening goal came late in the half.  From our vantage point, it appeared that the ball had gone out for a throw-in.  The linesman on that side, must have seen the ball rolling past him, but felt the need to consult with the referee before giving a corner.  The Hornets failed to clear from the corner allowing Jota to cross for Jiménez to head home and then celebrate by showing us the name on the back of his shirt, while our hearts sank.  In retrospect I wonder if he lost the mask at Wembley.  Watford should have hit back almost immediately as Hughes found Gray in the box, but he shot over the bar when it looked easier to score.  In mitigation, Andre claimed that he had been fouled, but the referee was having none of it.  Just on half time, Deulofeu played a neat one-two with Pereyra, but his shot was blocked.

Celebrating Gray’s equaliser

So we went into the break a goal down after a very even half of football that had been short on chances.  In contrast to Tuesday, the half time entertainment was restricted to the schools’ penalty shoot-out.  This was much more like it.

The second half started brilliantly for the Hornets as a mistake in the Wolves defence allowed the ball to break to Deulofeu, he tried to beat Patricio but the ball broke to Gray who found the net and sent the Watford fans wild.  After we had finished celebrating, we then had the entertainment of watching other fans coming back after getting their half time refreshments.  Their faces were a picture.  Wolves had a half chance to regain the lead as Doherty crossed for Jota but the shot was well over the target.  Deulofeu then played a lovely ball to Gray, but Boly muscled him off the ball and came away with it.  Pereyra released Deulofeu who tried to chip the keeper, but Patricio made the catch.  The first booking of the game went to Moutinho for barging Hughes over.  Not wanting to be left out, Holebas then fouled Jota to get a yellow card of his own.  Watford had a decent chance to take the lead as Doucouré headed the ball down to Pereyra, but the shot was wide of the near post.

Perayra prepares to take a corner

There were shouts for a penalty as a shot from Hughes appeared to be handled, but the referee wasn’t interested.  That was Will’s last involvement in the game as he was replaced with Kabasele.  Hughes had been terrific, absolutely everywhere, and deserved the ovation that he was given when he left the pitch.  But the change in formation did not favour the Hornets and the next chance fell to Moutinho who tried a shot from distance that was deflected over the bar.  The winning goal for the visitors seemed to come out of nothing.  A long cross-field ball from Neves found Jota who finished past Foster.  From the other end of the ground, it just looked unfortunate, but reports from those at the Vicarage Road end indicated that Foster should have done better with the cross.  Others blamed Storm Hannah.  Gracia was forced into a substitution bringing Success (!) on for Cathcart who had been limping for a while.  I love Javi, but his substitutions on Saturday were interesting to say the least.  Jota was booked for time wasting after kicking the ball away when Watford were awarded a free kick.  It was amusing to see him trying to claim that he had been passing the ball back to Foster.  The visitors made a late substitution bringing Cavaleiro on for Jiménez, who ambled off the pitch.  There were shouts for a penalty from the Wolves fans as Kabasele brought Jota down in the box.  It looked like a superb tackle from where we were and the referee agreed.  There was a late booking for Capoue who then got involved in a spot of handbags.  Nuno brought Gibbs-White on for Jota to waste a little more time. The final whistle went soon after, ensuring that Wolves left Hertfordshire with the three points and in pole position to finish in seventh place.

Capoue leaving Mapps to do the work at a corner 😉

Unlike on Tuesday, it was hard to be angry at the end of this game.  The word that I heard repeatedly was “disappointing”.  It had been a very even contest between two well matched teams and the best team on the day won the game.  Again, we missed Deeney’s leadership.  That harsh sending off has probably prevented us finishing as the best of the rest.  However, we can only hope that the rest has done him good and he comes back to spearhead a barnstorming end to the season that finishes with him lifting the FA Cup.

After the game, my sister, Rose, insisted on going into the Hornet shop, having seen our Cate’s purchase of the cup final shirt placing GT in 1984 alongside Javi in 2019.  We both emerged with the same t-shirt, probably the first time the three of us will have an identical item of clothing since our lovely Mum used to make our dresses in the 70s.

I know that the most important game is the next one, but now that seventh place looks impossible, all focus is on the Cup Final, which has to be the better way to qualify for Europe.  Oh dear, there go those nerves again.

 

Tears, Hugs and a Wonderful Win at Wembley

The pre-match display at Wembley

My build-up to the semi-final had been less than ideal as I had woken up in the middle of the night after the Fulham game with a streaming cold and felt rotten for the rest of the week.  For this reason, it seemed sensible to have a quiet Saturday at home to prepare for the game.  Big mistake.  I don’t know how many times I checked the fixture lists to confirm that the game wasn’t actually on Saturday and I was missing it.  I felt jumpy all day and settling down to watch the other semi-final didn’t help.  Sadly, that game was a non-event.  City scored early and that was it.  It was a very dull game but provided confirmation that we would be playing for the chance to meet City in the final.  My viewing on Saturday evening had to be carefully chosen and I opted for “I Believe in Miracles” the documentary about Clough’s Forest and their run to becoming European Cup winners.  It was just brilliant and set me up nicely for the next day (after I watched the segment on the Premier League show featuring Gracia, Deulofeu and Luther).

So, finally, the day of the FA Cup semi-final dawned, and I was up bright and early and facing the dilemmas that come on the day of an important match.  What top should I wear under my replica shirt?  What mug should I use for my coffee?  I was tempted to use my Hornets mug, but eventually plumped for the Luther8 one.  It seemed only right.  On social media in the morning there was a lovely exchange between Nigel Gibbs and Tony Coton about going to the game and the fact that they had bought tickets to be in with the fans.  Legends, both of them.  It had also been heart-warming to see Woking FC wishing us luck.  It was where the journey began.

The 1881 Singing Section

After ensuring that my (regulation size) bag was packed with everything that I would need (don’t forget your tickets) and that my lucky seashell from Woking was still in my pocket, I left to catch the train to London.  On the first leg from Windsor to Slough I noticed a guy looking at me, but assumed it was my loud scarf that had attracted his attention, so didn’t take much notice.

On arrival at Paddington, I spotted a flash of yellow, turned and realised it was actually the old gold of Wolves, so walked on.  My journey to our meeting place took me past Marylebone, which was surrounded with Wolves fans.  The first Watford scarves that I spotted were outside the designated pre-match pub and worn by the friends that I was meeting.  We had arrived before opening time and quite a crowd was gathering, so we were thankful that Richard had booked a table for us.  As we waited, some Wolves fans appeared and were absolutely lovely.  None of us was confident of a win, but all thought that it would be a good game.

As our group gathered, it was an occasion to remember absent friends.  Dee and Toddy were both with us on our last visit to Wembley and their absence was keenly felt.  We hoped that the lads would do them proud.

Gomes and Deeney

After we had been fed and watered, we left in plenty of time to get to Wembley as I had one final ticket to drop off and, after an easy journey, we were outside Entrance P.  I immediately bumped into Adam to hand over the ticket and then saw that the rest of our party, who had come from the Watford direction, were all in the queue just in front of us.  At this point, all was right with my world.

As we took our seats, Farzana handed out the A4 bags that she had made from Watford FC curtains and we draped the Rocket Men and Golden Gomes banners in front of our seats.  She had also knit Gomes and Deeney dolls, but sadly they were too large to bring into the stadium so had been left at home.  As we waited for kick-off, it was lovely to see our Emma and Tim on the pitch representing Watford.

We then got to see the pre-match displays.  The one planned by Wolves had been advertised the previous day and it had looked as though it would be impressive.  When we got to our seats, we found yellow flags.  I was concerned that they were a little too much on the amber side and it wouldn’t be a match for what Wolves had planned.  Then the Watford crowd started waving the flags and the yellow, red and black display with the movement was absolutely fantastic and the energy meant that the Wolves display looked far too static.

There had been a lot of discussion about the possible team selection, especially the goalkeeping position.  When the starting XI was announced, we found that Gracia had kept faith with Gomes and had decide to bring Gray in for Deulofeu after his terrific performance against Fulham.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Gray, Deeney.

Gathering for a corner

The game started brightly for Wolves who had their first chance on 23 seconds with a shot from Otto that flew over the bar.  Watford won an early corner, but Ruddy was up to punch it clear, Pereyra picked up the ball and put in a cross, but Ruddy made the catch.  Wolves then won a free kick in a dangerous position after Hughes fouled Otto.  Moutinho stepped up to take it and it landed on the roof of the net, much to my relief.  The first booking of the game went to Saïss for a foul on Pereyra.  Wolves threatened again as a cross from Otto was touched on by Jota, but they couldn’t get a shot away.  Neves was the next to go into the referee’s book, again for a foul on Pereyra.  Holebas took the free kick, but Hughes met it with a dreadful mishit shot that sent the ball ballooning away.  Some nice passing between Gray and Pereyra led to the ball reaching Deeney on the edge of the area, but his shot was high and wide of the target.  Watford should have taken the lead on the half hour as Deeney flicked the ball over to Gray who, with only Ruddy to beat, got his foot under the ball and it looped over the bar when it looked easier to score.  That miss looked all the more costly as Wolves took the lead soon after.  A shot from distance from Dendoncker was tipped over by Gomes.  The resulting corner was played short to Jota who crossed for Doherty to head past Gomes.  Wolves had their tails up now and threatened again as Boly found Jota who advanced and, thankfully, shot just wide.  Watford then had a corner which they also took short, but Femenía’s cross was a comfortable catch for Ruddy.  Gray had a chance to grab an equaliser just before half time, but this time Coady made the block when Gray looked sure to score.  So we reached half time a goal down, feeling rather hard done by after what had been an even half of football.

Heurelho Gomes at Wembley

Luther was the Watford representative at half time.  I still look back with sadness at seeing him walk around the pitch before the 1984 Cup Final, which came at the end of his gap year.  We passed our time in the stands enjoying half-time samosas to keep our strength up for the rest of the game.

Wolves nearly had a great start to the second half as Saïss played a ball over to Jiménez, who beat the defence, but not Gomes who was down to make the block.  Watford created an opening as Femenía crossed for Doucouré, but the Frenchman couldn’t make a firm connection, so his header looped wide.  Jota then beat Cathcart (I know!!!) before crossing for Jiménez, but the shot was easy for Gomes.  Deeney then got the ball just outside the box and played a low cross, but it was too heavy and flew past Gray and wide of the target.  The first booking for the Hornets went to Cathcart for a foul on Jota just outside the box.  Neves took the free kick which flew well wide of the far post.  Watford then had a free kick in a dangerous position, Pereyra’s delivery reached Deeney who headed just wide.  Watford had another decent chance to equalise as Pereyra played a through ball to Gray, but the shot was poor and over the bar.

Pereyra takes a free kick

Holebas received his booking of the afternoon for stopping a break by Jota.  From the free kick, Jiménez took the ball down and poked it past Gomes to put Wolves two goals ahead.  So frustrating to concede again after a really good spell for the Hornets.  There was still half an hour to go, but it wasn’t looking good for the Hornets.  We hadn’t taken our chances and it looked as though we would be punished for it.  Gracia made his first substitution bringing Deulofeu on for Hughes.  Soon after, while waiting for a throw-in, there was an announcement that a VAR check was underway for a red card.  Nobody had any idea what this related to until my brother-in-law, who listens to the commentary during the game, said that it was due to Deulofeu putting his head into Moutinho’s face.  It had looked rather innocuous from where we were sitting and, thankfully, the decision was not to show a card.  There was another identical announcement soon after, I have no idea whether it was related to the same incident, but it was extremely irritating.  Watford threatened again when Gray got on the end of a cross from Femenía, but again it was headed over the bar.  There were then a number of half chances for the Hornets.  Deulofeu put in a cross which Ruddy gathered under challenge from Doucouré.  Holebas crossed again for Doucouré, but his shot was blocked.  It had been a good spell, but we just didn’t look like we would get the breakthrough.

Deulofeu goes to celebrate with Deeney after the penalty

Then a throw-in from Holebas was knocked back to Deulofeu, it didn’t look particularly dangerous for the opposition until Gerry nonchalantly lifted the ball into the top far corner.  It was a gorgeous goal out of nothing and suddenly it was game on with 10 minutes remaining.  Watford’s next chance came from a corner, the delivery from Holebas was good, but it was headed behind for another corner.  This one was flicked on by Deeney to Holebas, but his shot was blocked.  Wolves made their first substitution as Bennett replaced Neves.  Watford threatened again with a great cross from Kiko, but Ruddy just got to it.  Then the ball fell to Holebas in a great position, but he blasted it over the bar.  It wasn’t going to be our day.  As Wolves made a late substitution, replacing Jota with Cavaleiro, I prepared myself for defeat.  But, when the four minutes of added time was announced, I joined with my fellow Watford fans in roaring our encouragement to the team.  Then, just as the four minutes were almost up, Deeney got the ball in the box and fell under a challenge from Dendoncker.  Referee Oliver continued his habit of awarding late, dramatic penalties, but this one had to wait for the VAR review.  I was beside myself at this point.  After what seemed like an age, VAR confirmed the referee’s decision.  Luckily, I was able to take a seat to watch it, as my legs were jelly.  Troy’s weren’t, he stepped up and the ball hit the net in front of us and the crowd went properly wild.  Screams and hugs and tears greeting the goal we thought would never come.  The game restarted, but the whistle soon went for the end of normal time and we had earned ourselves another 30 minutes.

Holebas prepares for a corner

I have to say that we thoroughly deserved that.  A draw seemed like a fair result, and surely the Hornets would have the momentum going into extra time.  However, it was the Wolves side who had the upper hand in the early exchanges and the first goal opportunity came from a decent shot from Otto that Gomes managed to tip over.  There was some bad news for Watford as Holebas went down injured.  He tried to carry on, but eventually limped off to be replaced by Masina.  I was concerned at this point as Holebas had been terrific.  There was another booking for the Hornets as Capoue was cautioned for a foul on Dendoncker.  Santo made another substitution as Traore came on for Moutinho.  Then, in the last minute of the first period of extra time, Watford broke forward, Gray released Deulofeu who beat a defender before shooting into the far corner past Ruddy to send the Watford fans wild again.  Wolves tried to hit back immediately, but their break was foiled by a great tackle from Mariappa.  The resultant corner was easily gathered by Gomes.   There was a substitution for each side as Vinagre replaced Otto for Wolves and Femenía made way for Janmaat for the Hornets.  Wolves had a chance to level the game but the header from Jiménez flew wide of the near post.  Then the goal hero, Deulofeu, picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Sema.  Watford tried to consolidate their lead as Deeney got into the box and tried to lay the ball off to Doucouré, but the pass was intercepted.  Then Traore tried a shot from a tight angle, but it was an easy catch for Gomes.  Wolves had one last chance to take the game to penalties, and it was a great one, as Cavaleiro beat Mariappa and rounded Gomes, but Heurelho did enough to put the Wolves man off and he lost control of the ball allowing Mariappa to clear the danger.  The whistle went to euphoria mixed with disbelief in the Watford end.  There was a lot of tearful hugging among our group.  I couldn’t quite believe what I had seen.  Amelia was the clearest thinking as she commented that maybe they should rethink the Man of the Match award (that had been given to Jiménez some time before the end of normal time).

The family at the semi-final

After the game, there were rapturous celebrations both on and off the pitch.  We stayed in the stand to cheers the lads on and witness their joy.  It was lovely to see that this meant as much to the players as it did to us.  The cheers of the fans who had remained in their seats were finally rewarded as the players came together to rush towards the crowd behind the goal.  It was just joyous.  We seemed to be there for an age, but it still took us a long time to leave the ground as we kept bumping into friends for more hugs and expressions of disbelief.

A number of us headed back to central London for a celebratory beverage and to raise a glass to Dee and Toddy who would have loved the day.  There was nothing but pride in the team and what they had achieved against a very good Wolves side.  The Wolves fans that we had met before the game had returned to the pub and, as they left, wished us well.

I stayed rather longer in the pub than was sensible, so missed the last train from Slough to Windsor.  As the taxi dropped me off at the end of my road, I heard a voice.  “Excuse me.  Were you at Wembley today?  Is that your car with the Watford stuff in the back?”  It was the guy that I had seen on the train this morning.  Turns out I am not the only Hornet in my small street in Windsor.  Who knew?

Golden Gomes

A day later and I have still not quite come to terms with what I witnessed yesterday.  To come back from two goals down against a team like Wolves shows the tremendous spirit in this team.  They seem to be a group of players who love each other and the manager and that love has transmitted to the fans.  This has been the best season that I can remember for decades and it will end with an FA Cup final at Wembley.  As someone who has supported an unfashionable team for 40 years, I find it amazing that in that time I have been to six FA Cup semi-finals.  On 18th May, I will attend my second FA Cup final and will be accompanied by a large group of family and friends.  I have met so many lovely people while following the Hornets and it is really special to share these great times with them.

When Watford lost the Play-off final in 2013, my niece Amelia was in tears and I was devastated.  Yesterday she was in tears again, but they were tears of joy and it made the day all the more special.  Her Mum and I were at Villa Park for the semi-final against Plymouth and at Wembley for the final against Everton.  Now we will all be at Wembley for this year’s final and we can dare to dream.  Whatever the outcome, this season will live long in the memory.

Back to Winning Ways at Wolves

Masina, Mariappa and Cathcart

Thankfully I chose the weekend of the Bournemouth game to travel to the Turks & Caicos for a week’s diving.  Although I made the mistake of listening to the game, which was not a good start to the holiday.  But it has to be said that, despite the recent poor run of results, this seemed to be the first bad performance of the season and it was good that the lads had the international break to give them time to recover.  Since Watford’s downturn started after Javi won the Manager of the Month award, I was hoping that the curse would now transfer to Nuno.

A trip to Molineux evoked awful memories of our last visit which ended with one of our regular travelling fans, Nic Cruwys, fighting for his life following an attack after the game.  Having previously witnessed an attack on the Watford fans’ coaches (which are generally used by families and the elderly), I was not looking forward to this trip.  Our party decided to delay our arrival by meeting in our pre-match pub of choice in Birmingham instead.  When I arrived early doors, Graham was already in place, but the pub was otherwise almost empty.  Then, suddenly, there was an invasion of Morris Dancers.  The bells were driving me crazy.  Having thought we had found a quiet spot, the rest of our party arrived to find a dance taking place in front of our table.  I couldn’t help reflecting on the irony that the two Morris dancers in our usual away crowd had decided to give this game a miss.

The Wolves Pyro Display

We left Birmingham in plenty of time to make the journey to Wolverhampton.  On arrival at the station, we were met by a phalanx of police who directed us behind the station and on a rather circuitous route as they didn’t want Watford fans walking through the city centre.  I must say that the route that we took seemed a little too out of the way for my liking, but there were police officers stationed at various points on the way and we arrived at the ground with no sign of any trouble.

Team news was that, in addition to the suspensions of Kabasele and Holebas, Deeney had picked up a minor injury and Gracia had decided to drop Gray to the bench, the replacements being Mariappa (who also captained the team), Masina, Deulofeu and Success.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart. Mariappa, Masina; Deulofeu, Hughes, Capoue, Doucouré, Pereyra; Success.  Wolves were unchanged for the ninth game this season.

As the teams came out prior to kick-off, there were some very impressive pyrotechnics.  Our pitch side seats meant there was a danger of scorching, my eyebrows may never recover.  When it was over, we couldn’t see the pitch for the smoke.  It seems that Wolves subscribe to the adage “no pyro, no party”.

Finding a shady spot to celebrate Capoue’s goal

As well as the overheating prior to kick-off, the stand had no leg room (I am 5ft6in and could not sit comfortably, even if the people in front had allowed me to do so) and was also bathed in bright sunlight, which made it incredibly difficult to watch the game.  The first half chance of the match came as a free-kick from Neves was headed over by Masina. The resultant corner was met with a looping header from Bennett that was pushed over the bar by Foster.  The second corner led to a quick break by the Hornets as Femenía hared upfield before finding Deulofeu whose cross was straight into the arms of the Wolves keeper, Patricio.  After an even start that had been short on chances, Watford took the lead on 20 minutes.  The move started with some really good work from Deulofeu before Doucouré played the ball out to Capoue who blasted a low shot from distance into the Wolves net.  There was a momentary delay before the celebration as we couldn’t quite believe what we had seen.  It was a terrific strike.  We had hardly stopped bouncing when the second goal went in.  Straight from the restart, the ball found its way to Pereyra on the left from where he effortlessly curled a shot over the keeper and into the opposite corner.  Well, that was unexpected!

Man of the match, Capoue, lining up a free kick

Wolves seemed a bit shell shocked at that point and the next Watford attack finished with Success being taken out.  The travelling Hornets were shouting for a penalty, but the referee indicated that the foul had been committed outside the area.  It was in a dangerous position, but Deulofeu’s free-kick was disappointingly straight into the wall.  The first booking of the game went to Neves after a foul on Hughes.  Watford continued to dominate and some lovely passing around the Wolves box finished with Doucouré playing the ball back to Pereyra who curled his shot over the bar.  There was a rare attack from the home side as Jiménez broke forward and got into a dangerous position, but his shot was poor and flew wide of the far post.  After another lovely passing move involving Femenía and Hughes, the ball reached Doucouré whose shot was saved by Patricio dropping low to gather.  The half time whistle went with the Hornets two goals ahead and in total control of the game.  It had been an impressive half of football from the visitors.  The two goals in quick succession had shocked the home side, but it had been a performance of assurance and skill.

Pereyra put in a shift at both ends of the pitch

Wolves made a substitution at the restart bringing Vinagre on for Jonny.  Watford started the half well as Success latched on to a through ball and surged forward, but his shot was wide of the target.  There was an early chance for the home side as Vinagre tried a shot, but Foster was down to block and the ball was cleared.  Foster was taking his time to restart the game, which enraged the Wolves fans behind the goal who were already on his case for his West Brom connections.  Ben couldn’t have cared less.  Nuno made a second substitution on the hour mark bringing Cavaleiro on for Jiménez.  Wolves had a half chance as, from a Moutinho free kick, Boly tried a backheel in the direction of the goal, but Foster was able to make the save.  Watford made a rare second half break as Success found Doucouré whose shot was blocked.  Hughes was the first Watford player to be cautioned after he pulled back Vinagre as he tried to escape upfield.  Gracia’s first substitution saw Gray coming on for Deulofeu, who had run the first half, but had faded since the break.  Wolves continued their attempts to break back as Moutinho tried a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  The home side then made their last change bringing Traore on for Doherty.  Gracia’s next substitution was a defensive one as Prödl replaced Success.

Pereyra and Gray preparing for a corner

At about this time, with 15 minutes to go, the sun disappeared behind the stand and I could finally see the game without having to shield my eyes or being blinded by the glare from my glasses.  Wolves were getting closer to reducing the deficit as a cross from Vinagre was headed just over by Cavaleiro.  It felt as though the Watford goal was leading a charmed life at this point, but the home side were incredibly wasteful as another free kick from a dangerous position was launched high and wide by Neves.  Watford were still making occasional attempts to increase their lead, on this occasion a shot from Gray was blocked, so Hughes tried to score with a tackle, but Patricio was able to gather.  With the clock running down, the next chance for Wolves to get something from the game fell to Costa who again directed his shot over the bar.  Prödl’s appearance was short lived as he left the field limping and was replaced by Wilmot who was making his Premier League debut.  Wolves had one last chance from a free-kick which was met by a glancing header that flew wide.  The fourth official indicated four additional minutes, but they were painless for the Hornets who finished the game as deserved winners.

Ben Foster beaming after the final whistle

The post-match celebrations were very enjoyable.  Clearly Ben Foster, who had been the target for dog’s abuse for most of the game, was delighted.  His fist pumping was almost Gomes-esque!  It was also lovely to see players coming over to the fans to present them with shirts, the first being Deulofeu who jumped the barriers to hand his shirt to a fan.  But I must admit that the one that got to me was when Aidy Mariappa came over to Flora, one of our wheelchair fans.  Aidy also jumped the barriers to reach Flora to hand her his shirt and have a chat with a beaming smile on his face.  I had to wipe away a tear.

Before the game, the Watford fans I spoke to had all been of the opinion that a point would have been a good result, but nobody seemed at all confident of that outcome.  That two goal first half minute decided the game but, despite the rearguard effort in the second half, Watford were in control for the full ninety minutes and Wolves never looked like getting back in the game.  As good at the forward play was in the first half, and there were some absolutely gorgeous moves, the defensive performance in the second half was equally good, with some brilliantly timed tackling and a general sense that Wolves had nowhere to go meaning that they were reduced to long range efforts and set pieces.  Deulofeu’s first start of the season was excellent, it was lovely to see him back.  But the highlight for me was the fact that, although Capoue and Pereyra will be lauded for their goals, they both put in a shift at the back as well.  It was a real team effort.

After the wobble in recent weeks, that was certainly a performance to put smiles back on the faces of Hornets fans and to give us renewed confidence for the rest of the season.  Football is fun again.

Only Here for the Beer

Inside the John Smith's Stadium

Inside the John Smith’s Stadium

It all started so well.  When I arrived in Huddersfield, it was a crisp sunny afternoon.  The designated pre-match meeting place was a lovely proper old pub with the push buttons for ordering your drinks still in the snug (sadly no longer functioning).  The beer was excellent and the brisket butties were absolutely gorgeous.

On arrival at the ground, I assured the woman searching my bag that I had no bottles or cans only to be told, “We’re looking for chocolate.”  The programme was in newspaper format, which I rather liked.  I haven’t seen one of those since Derby stopped publishing the Ram.  The lad selling them increased the sales pitch with “You’re on the front page.”  Actually, they had a Watford picture on one cover page and Huddersfield on the other, but it was an appealing design.  Inside, the interview with young Murray Wallace included Troy Deeney as one of his top three opponents with the comment “At this level, he’s as good as you get.”  The stadium announcer preceded the announcement of the Watford team with “I’ll put my teeth in,” then got to Cathcart and commented “He sounds like a Yorkshireman.”  He also introduced the mascots, including the lad from Watford, listing their favourite players, which I thought was a nice touch.

Tozser on the ball

Tozser on the ball

Watford’s starting line-up looked very strong.  Our new Mexican signing, Layun, went straight into the line-up.  We started with Gomes, Angella, Cathcart, Hoban, Pudil, Munari, Tözsér, Abdi, Layun, Vydra and Deeney.  In the opposition dugout was former Hornet and the nicest man in football (allegedly), Chris Powell.

Watford had the first chance of the game as Deeney flicked the ball on to Vydra who shot wide of the far post.  The bright start for the visitors didn’t continue.  Scannell was giving Angella a torrid time on the Watford left from where he fashioned two early chances.  For the first he cut in but shot across goal and wide of the far post.  For the other his shot was high and wide.  Butterfield played Wells in but his cross was gathered by Gomes.  A shot from the right by Coady was grabbed by Gomes with a little more drama than it deserved.  For the visitors, Abdi broke forward and passed to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  Another Watford break finished with Vydra playing the ball out to Layun, but there were no takers for his cross.  Huddersfield launched a break of their own, which finished with a Vaughan shot that nestled on top of the net.

Waiting to challenge a corner

Waiting to challenge a corner

Huddersfield had a great chance to take the lead as a Butterfield cross was met with a header from Wells that Gomes did very well to tip over.  As Gomes launched a long ball, I was complaining that we should be playing the ball out instead when Deeney flicked the ball on to Munari whose powerful volley was well saved by Smithies.  That had been Watford’s best move of the game so far.  A ball over the top from Abdi was hit first time by Vydra but easily gathered by Smithies.  Vaughan tried a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  Layun’s long-range shot flew wide of the target.  In time added on at the end of the half, Gomes had to drop to gather a shot from Butterfield.

On the balance of play, we were lucky to be level at the interval.  The half-time draw was done by Jonathan Hogg who was also interviewed on the pitch.  I couldn’t help wishing that more of our current team had something of Mr Hogg about them.

Layun, Cathcart and Hoban challenge Vaughan and Wells

Layun, Cathcart and Hoban challenge Vaughan and Wells

The first chance of the second half fell to Watford as Vydra exchanged passes with Abdi before passing out to Layun whose shot was saved.  Soon after, Deeney played the ball out to Pudil whose shot was wide of the far post.  At this point the weather had taken a nasty turn and there was swirling sleet in the stadium.  Miguel Layun must have wondered what he’d got himself into.  On 51 minutes, Huddersfield took the lead as Scannell mishit a shot, it fell to Wells and he buried it.  On the hour, Layun failed to control a ball in midfield and Robinson picked it up but his shot from distance was just over the bar.  Jokanovic made three changes just after the hour bringing Bond on for the injured Gomes as well as Ighalo and Anya for Vydra and Pudil.

Celebrating Ighalo's goal

Celebrating Ighalo’s goal

Ighalo’s first act was to bag the equalizer.  A throw-in from Anya was headed on by Deeney, the Nigerian’s shot went through the keeper’s legs and the ball trickled across the line.  The goal sparked a lively spell for the visitors.  Anya played the ball back to Tözsér whose curling shot was easy for Smithies.  Then Anya cut the ball back to Deeney who returned the pass when he really should have tried a shot and the ball went out for a goal kick.  Watford had a golden chance to take the lead as Ighalo found Abdi in space but, with Smith closing him down, he shot way over the target.  That miss proved very costly as a couple of minutes later a cross from Wells reached Vaughan who shot past Bond’s stretching arm.  That goal had come when Watford were in control and sadly stopped the revival.  Huddersfield’s third came after Bond had punched a corner clear, the ball came back in and fell to Lynch who buried it with an overhead kick.  Watford had a couple of half chances after that, but the game was over and Huddersfield were worthy winners.

It had been a very poor performance against a lively Huddersfield side.  I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if Abdi had taken the chance he had just before the home side scored their second.  But he didn’t and we were well beaten.  We now have two home games and have to quickly find some form.

 

A Tremendous Performance Both On and Off the Pitch

Pre match huddle

Pre match huddle

There was a certain amount of trepidation going in to this fixture.  I was still seething about the non-performance in the cup on Tuesday.  Actually I was still seething about the horror of the final game of last season when we played the same team and our players were already on holiday.  This history was of particular concern as my niece, Amelia, who has been coming to games on and off for years was accompanying me.  I am still haunted by her distress at the end of the last play-off final, so I was hoping that the lads would give her something to smile about.

When the team news came in, there were two changes from the win over Leeds with Anya coming in for Paredes and Ekstrand coming straight back after serving his three match suspension, which seemed very harsh on Hoban who had been excellent.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Angella, Ekstrand, Tamas, Pudil, Abdi, Tözsér, Munari, Anya, Deeney and Forestieri.  I noted the presence of a Sinnott on the Huddersfield bench, who did turn out to be the son of former Watford player Lee.  The news during the week of Troy Deeney’s new contract had been a delightful surprise as I had resigned myself to his departure.  Needless to say, he was given a tremendous reception and, in turn, showed his appreciation to the crowd who sang his name.

Defending a corne4

Defending a corner

The first action of note was on the sideline as Angella challenged Coady who went sliding off the pitch and collided with Beppe Sannino in his technical area (for once) sending him flying.  There were no histrionics from the gaffer who was immediately back on his feet and it was nice to see that his well-being was checked by both Coady and the Terriers boss, Lillis.  The first attempt on goal came from the visitors as Harry Bunn cut inside Angella but shot high and wide.  Then Vaughan put a header over the bar.  Forestieri had the ball in the net having broken forward while avoiding the attentions of Wallace, but the linesman was flagging.  Fernando was not deterred as he went on a great run, evading a couple of tackles before being taken down on the edge of the box, the ball broke to Deeney who played it out to Anya running in from the right, but his shot was wide of the far post.  Deeney had a great chance to take the lead as he connected with a Tözsér free-kick, but he directed the header just over the bar.  At the other end, a corner was punched clear by Gomes.

Deeney congratulated on his goal

Deeney congratulated on his goal

On 15 minutes, we were ahead as Tözsér played a fabulous through ball to Deeney who sprinted clear and shot past Smithies.  What a perfect way to celebrate his new contract.  Five minutes later, Troy muscled Coady out of the way and bore down on goal again, but this time his shot was into the side netting.  Pudil tried to catch the Huddersfield defence out with a quick throw to Forestieri whose shot was deflected for a corner.  It wasn’t all Watford, though, as Majewski tried a shot that Gomes dropped to push clear.  Then Tamas lost the ball to Majewski leading to a goalmouth scramble as first Butterfield’s shot was blocked, then Coady’s attempt was parried by Gomes, the ball finally dropped to Vaughan who beat the keeper, so it was a relief to see the linesman’s flag raised.  On the half hour, Deeney headed a ball back to Forestieri who tried a shot from distance that was easily gathered by Smithies.  Butterfield tried another shot that Gomes was down to gather.  Scannell snuck in behind Pudil and put in a low cross that flew across the goalmouth but no Huddersfield player was there to get the vital touch, so it was cleared.  Munari was the first Watford player to be booked as he knocked Lynch to the ground.  We had another great chance as Pudil found Deeney in the middle and we were waiting for the net to bulge in front of us, but Troy’s shot was just wide.  Tamas played a long ball to Pudil who crossed to Forestieri who played the ball over to Anya whose snap shot was caught by Smithies.  Just before half time, Tamas played a lovely cross into the box for Forestieri who came flying at it and headed just over.  Then Anya found Deeney who also shot over.  Munari had pulled up a few minutes earlier, so it was sad to see him limping off to be replaced by Andrews.

It had been a lively and enjoyable first half.  Huddersfield had their chances, but Watford had played some lovely football and really should have been further ahead.  I have to say that watching Deeney and Forestieri playing together in that half, in the knowledge that this was not the last time I would see Troy in a Watford shirt, had been an absolute joy.

Abdi congratulated on his first goal

Abdi congratulated on his first goal

The second half started horribly for the Hornets as there was a mix up between Tamas and Gomes over a ball into the box, it broke to Bunn who buried it past Gomes and, for some inexplicable reason, decided to celebrate in front of the Rookery.  Soon after, Dixon tried a speculative shot from distance that was well over the target.  We were ahead again in the 53rd minute as the ball broke to Abdi in the box and he powered it past Smithies.  Huddersfield continued to threaten.  Gomes dropped to gather a shot from Majewski.  Then a Scannell cross appeared to be heading for the goal when Tözsér lifted a foot to flick it wide.  Tamas was booked for what looked like a soft tackle on Bunn, who had spent a lot of the game on the ground.  Vaughan got his head to a cross from Scannell, but Gomes pushed it wide.  Unfortunately, from the resulting corner, Wallace had a free header to restore parity.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, within a couple of minutes we were down to 10 men as Tamas made an unnecessary tackle on the sideline which earned him a second yellow card.  There was no danger in the position, so the tackle seemed utterly pointless.  I am a fan of Tamas, but he had a mare during this game.

Andrews congratulated by his team mates

Andrews congratulated by his team mates

There was also a booking for the visitors as Wallace saw yellow for taking Abdi down.  Almen took the free-kick himself, it was on-target but Smithies pushed it out for a corner.  Abdi took the corner which curled deep and was headed in by Andrews to restore a slightly surprising lead for the Hornets.  At the other end, the ball fell to Majewski but his shot was blocked.  Majewski then had another shot that crept wide with Vaughan closing in.  Huddersfield really should have drawn level as a cross reached Vaughan in front of the goal, but he cleared the ball instead of sending it goalwards.  During this period of Huddersfield pressure, every time the ball came into our box, I could feel Amelia flinch.  I was desperately hoping that we didn’t disappoint her again.  Each side made a substitution with Vaughan making way for Wells and Hoban coming on for Anya to shore up the defence in the absence of Tamas.  Huddersfield threatened again as a cross came in with Scannell sneaking in at the back post, but Pudil was there to put him off and he knocked the ball into the side netting.

Abdi takes a free kick

Abdi takes a free kick

The final substitutions saw Hammill and Stead replacing Bunn and Dixon for the visitors with Paredes replacing Forestieri for the home side.  Wells tried a shot from the middle of the box, which was caught by Gomes who was in action again almost immediately, dropping to stop a shot from Hammill.  Then a ball came in to the Watford box with Pudil and Gomes both challenging for it and Pudil seemed to step on Gomes.  They both went down and it didn’t look good, but the upshot was that Gomes had cramp which took a while to treat but he was able to continue.  Huddersfield continued to press for a third equalizer as Bunn tried a shot from distance that was well over the bar.  At this point something remarkable happened.  There had been some encouraging chants coming from the Rookery, but I saw Tözsér gesture for us to raise the volume and the next thing I knew, the whole of the Rookery were on their feet singing and clapping.  The same was true of the family stand.  Then I turned to my left and saw something I have rarely seen before, the whole of the GT stand singing and clapping.  As my attention returned to the pitch, I saw Gomes parrying a shot, Hammill followed up but Gomes was equal to it.  There were six minutes of injury time and the Vicarage Road faithful kept up the chanting for the team.

Ekstrand congratulates Abdi

Ekstrand congratulates Abdi

Then Tözsér played a ball across to Abdi who advanced into the box and curled the ball around defender and keeper and into the net.  At 4-2 in injury time, that had to be the winner.  Cue a properly mental celebration.  With the singing that had preceded the goal, I felt like I had earned an assist.  But I nearly had heart failure when I saw my sister pointing.  I looked at the lino whose flag was down and then realized that she was indicating the Gomes celebration, which was as mental as ours.  What a relief!

At the final whistle, there was a joyful celebration.  When Tamas was dismissed just after the visitors had equalized, it looked like our afternoon was over, but this had been a tremendous performance both on the pitch and in the stands.  One that we could all be proud of.  There was a nice touch at the end of the game from Deeney who threw his boots into the 1881.

Tozser clears

Tozser clears

I am still struggling to understand what went on yesterday.  On a normal Saturday at Vicarage Road, you will see a good number of people leaving to ‘beat the traffic’ even when we are drawing and pushing for a winner.  In this game, we were already ahead and, while Huddersfield were pushing for an equalizer, this was only the 5th game of the season, so the result was hardly make or break.  Despite that, this became one of those times when the players and fans become one team and the joy at the end of the game is something to be treasured.  The best part of the afternoon for me was that Amelia went home happy.  But this now makes her a lucky mascot so she will be invited back very soon.

While I’ve been writing this report, the news of Beppe Sannino’s departure has broken.  In my few encounters with Beppe, I found him a very engaging man, but I hadn’t always been a fan of the way his teams played.  There were a lot of dreadful performances last season and the last encounter with Huddersfield was certainly one in which you felt that the players had no respect for the manager.  That was also my impression at the end of season dinner.  When Beppe took the stage to make his speech, there was little warmth or respect emanating from the tables of players who were just next to us.  I was amazed that he was still in charge at the start of the season.  The fact that he has now left suggests that the Pozzos have found his replacement.  Someone described the contrast of the Zola and Sannino reigns as being from a holiday camp to a boot camp.  I hope that the new manager is somewhere in the middle.  We have a huge amount of talent in this team, with some organization and discipline we could be unbeatable.