Tag Archives: Craig Dawson

United we Fell

Masina preparing to take a throw-in

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

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

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

Doucoure on the ball

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

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

Doucoure and Masina

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

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

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

Dawson on the ball as Capoue looks on

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

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

Doucoure and Deeney celebrate the goal that never was

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

Capoue, Masina and Deeney race upfield

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

Hughes prepares to take a free kick

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

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

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

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

A Disappointing Set Back in Birmingham

Craig Dawson

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

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

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

Ben Foster takes a goal kick

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

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

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

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

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

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

Pereyra alert in the Villa box

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

Capoue and Doucoure leave the lads to take a free kick

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

Masina and Deulofeu prepare to take a free kick

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

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

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

 

No Goals, Just Scarves

On Tuesday lunchtime I left work knowing that a waterlogged pitch at Tranmere meant that the game was in doubt.  Unfortunately, I was booked on an early train and was probably just passing through Hemel when I saw the first report of the postponement.  As the first stop for the train was Stafford, I had some time to contemplate whether to turn around but decided to finish the trip, just in case there was a rapid rearrangement.  There wasn’t, so it ended up being a very expensive trip to the cinema (I saw “Knives Out” which was great fun).

Mike and I meeting Aidy Mariappa and Daniel Bachmann

On Wednesday evening (after my return from Liverpool!) I attended an amazing evening at Vicarage Road highlighting the work of the Community Sports and Education Trust.  Instead of talking about their own work, they invited a number of participants to talk about their experiences, interviewed by Emma Saunders, who did a fantastic job.  There was a guy who took part in the Shape Up programme who went from being a 24 stone couch potato to running a half marathon.  A guy with mental health problems who has gained new confidence from the Man Up! events.  A young boy who was being bullied and attended events that allowed him to gain confidence to the extent that he is now a mentor for younger children.  A lad from the NCS who got so much out of it that he is now an advocate encouraging other youngsters to join in.

The star of the show was Geoff, who has attended the Golden Memories project for dementia sufferers, and it has brought a smile back to his face after he and his wife moved to a care home.  His joy at the experience was palpable as he quite rightly said that 2 hours was not enough.

It was lovely to see Rita Taylor there with daughter Karen and granddaughter Rhianna.  Rita attended a Golden Memories session as a guest to share some memories and has returned as a volunteer and can be found making tea for the participants.

Rita and GT

Adrian Mariappa and Adekite Fatuga-Dada talked about their experiences as youngsters at Trust schemes.  It was the first time that Adekite realised that she wasn’t the only girl who played football and allowed her to progress to playing for Watford Ladies.  Daniel Bachmann was there as someone who has attended events as an enthusiastic volunteer, which is great to see.

So much credit has to go to Rob Smith who has worked tirelessly for many years to make the Trust such an amazing success.  The Trust is a charity and self-financing and the work that it does is incredibly valuable for the community.  This evening was a timely reminder of that.

I had a chat with Daniel Bachmann afterwards, who was absolutely lovely, although I was very confused by his Manchester accent (he came to England to play for Stoke when he was 17).  But the little moment that reminded me why I love this club so much was when Aidy Mariappa put the chairs away after the event.  Pampered Premier League footballers?  There are some who are still treasures.

Scarves out for GT in the SEJ Stand

On to the weekend and Saturday lunchtime games are the worst.  I went to the theatre on Friday night (Duchess of Malfi at the Almeida, very good but very bloody), so decided to stay in London to shorten the journey on Saturday morning.  Don had passed on the news that the West Herts was opening early, so I arrived just before 10:30 to find our table already nearly full although there were an unusual number of coffee cups on the table.  I decided that it was late enough for a beer but was glad when Jacque arrived just after me, so I wasn’t the only one with a pint.  We left earlier than usual (persuading Mike that there wasn’t time for another drink) in order to be at the ground in time for the tribute to GT.  Fans had been instructed to bring their scarves and, as I passed the Hornet Shop, I noticed that his statue was suitably attired.

Team news was that the team was unchanged from the Bournemouth game.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Dawson, Mariappa; Capoue, Chalobah; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Sarr; Deeney.  By all accounts, Pearson had been happy with his first sight of new signing Ignacio Pussetto, and he was given a place on the bench.

When I took my seat, I asked the guy that sits next to me whether he had a scarf with him (he doesn’t usually wear one).  He didn’t so, as I had last year, I offered him my spare to hold up as the teams came out.  It was a lovely sight with all the stands displaying our brightly coloured scarves.  Rather heart-warming to see a number in the away end hold up theirs and those that had no scarves were applauding enthusiastically.  It was very moving to see.

Chalobah and Deeney

The teams swapped ends before kick-off which tends to elicit a groan from Watford fans as it is perceived as unlucky.  The game kicked off and the Hornets carved out a very early chance as Deulofeu ran the length of the pitch and unleashed a shot that flew just wide.  Soon after, the visitors had the first shot on target, but the effort from Son was easily caught by Foster.  The visitors started to dominate and, from a corner, Lamela’s delivery was punched out by Foster, but the ball found its way back to the Spurs man who shot wide of the far post.  Then a dangerous looking cross from Aurier was headed clear by Cathcart.  Spurs threatened again as a ball across the box reached Son who played it back to Tanganga whose shot from outside the area was straight at Foster.   The first quarter of an hour had been all Spurs, but then the Hornets had a great chance after Doucouré dispossessed a Spurs player on  the wing, advanced and crossed for Sarr who took a touch when he maybe should have just tried a shot as his effort flew high and wide.  The first booking of the game went to Tanganga who took down Sarr after a poor clearance dropped to the Watford man.  The foul meant that the Hornets had a free kick on the edge of the box, but the delivery from Chalobah was poor and flew high and wide of the near post.  Just before the half hour mark, there was a break in the game as the referee walked off the pitch.  I thought that maybe he was injured, but it seems that it was his communication with Stockley Park that was suffering.  It seemed an age before his equipment was repaired, so the fans from all stands amused themselves with a chant of “It’s not football anymore.”

Foster takes a free kick

The game restarted with a chance for Son who tried a shot from the edge of the box to the near post, but Foster made the save.  There then came a flurry of chances for the Hornets.  First Sarr crossed for Deeney whose flick towards goal was blocked.  Then Deulofeu got into the box and hit a shot at the near post but it was deflected into the side netting.  From the corner, Chalobah’s delivery looked to be sneaking in until it was tipped over by Gazzaniga.  The first card for the Hornets was a typical Capoue booking as he was cautioned for a sliding tackle on Lo Celso.  The visitors looked certain to take the lead when Alli played a through ball to Lucas, who had the goal in his sights when Foster came out to make the block.  They had another great opportunity when a long ball found Son in the box, but his volley flew well over the crossbar.  Watford then created a decent chance when Chalobah crossed for Deeney, whose header was on target, but lacked power and was easily caught by Gazzaniga.  There was one last chance in the half as a cross from Sarr was headed clear by a defender, it fell to Capoue on the edge of the box, but he couldn’t get a shot in.  Bizarrely, given how long the referee had spent off the pitch to fix his VAR communication, only two minutes of time were added at the end of the half, which finished goalless.

Gathering in the Spurs box

The guest at half time was Allan Nielsen who had played for both teams.  He talked very fondly of his time working with Graham Taylor.  He also spoke of being overwhelmed by the ovation that the fans gave him at his last game for the club.  It was rather lovely that he had a similar experience on this occasion.

The second half started with a great chance for the Hornets as Sarr crossed for Doucouré at the near post, but he could only find the side netting.  Then there was a terrific chance as Deeney headed the ball down for Sarr, but he shot wide of the near post when he really should have hit the target.  Spurs then threatened with a counterattack, Son crossed for Alli whose header cleared the bar.  At the other end Deeney tried a shot from the edge of the area that was deflected just wide of the goal.  Adam Masina was having another good game in defence and he came to the Hornets’ rescue cutting out a great ball before it reached Son in the box.  Then, suddenly, it all kicked off.  There was some Grade A handbags between Doucouré and Winks before Vertonghen joined in and VAR got very excited about possible violent conduct but, while this message was still on the big screen, the ref had shown the two original combatants a yellow card and indicated that the game should continue.

Doucoure and Masina

Spurs had another chance to take the lead after a great run from Son, but he shot just over the bar.  Then a shot from Lamela was blocked by Dawson and went out for a corner.  It was right in front of us and there was complete bafflement when there was an announcement that VAR was checking for a penalty for an infringement (handball) that nobody had even suspected, the decision (no penalty) came up almost immediately.  From the opposite end of the pitch, Deulofeu’s shot looked like it was going in but had appeared to rebound to safety.  There was much excitement among the home fans when the referee pointed to the spot as the shot had been blocked by the arm of Vertonghen.  The excitement was short-lived as Deeney stepped up to take the spot kick but Gazzaniga went the right way and made the save.  The first substitution was made by the visitors on 72 minutes as Eriksen came on in place of Alli.  At the same time Vicarage Road rose to pay tribute to Graham Taylor.  Scarves were again held aloft, and my neighbour took the other end of mine.  Again, the Spurs fans joined in with applause.  I hope that Rita and Karen sitting in the stands were comforted by the outpouring of love from the crowd.  During the tribute Spurs were attacking at the Rookery end but, thankfully, it came to nothing.  The Hornets had another chance as Deulofeu played the ball across the field to Sarr whose shot was high and wide.

Cathcart, Masina and Deulofeu prepare to meet a corner

Pearson then made his first substitution replacing Chalobah, who left the field to a huge ovation, with Pereyra.  At the same time Fernandes came on for Lo Celos for the visitors.  Lamela had a chance to break the deadlock, but his shot was from a tight angle and he turned it over the bar. At the other end, a powerful shot from Capoue was blocked.  Rather worryingly Sarr went down clutching his hamstring and had to be replaced by new signing Pussetto who came on to make his debut with two minutes left on the clock.  Lamela had another chance to grab the three points with a shot from distance that he curled well wide of the target.  Into injury time and the ball was prodded into the Watford box, there was a scramble to clear it but Lamela looked to have got the crucial touch until new boy Pussetto appeared to clear the ball off the line.  From behind the goal it didn’t look to have crossed the line and the referee waved his ‘watch’ at the protesting Spurs players to indicate that they had not scored.  That was the last action of the game.  It had been a decent goalless draw.  The visitors had started the game strongly with the Hornets sitting very deep, but Watford came back into it and had a couple of decent chances.  Both defences played pretty well, and the forwards from both sides were very wasteful.

Pereyra racing free

It was a happy group that gathered back in the West Herts to follow the 3pm kick-offs and cheer on the teams playing those around us in the table.  I must admit that I was surprised to see the graphic showing the position of the ball relative to the goal line for that chance just at the end.  The ball overlapped the line by 10mm, so Pussetto’s timing was impeccable.

It is hard to fathom that a month ago we despaired of seeing the Hornets win again this season.  It is a measure of the difference that Nigel Pearson has made that I travelled to this game thinking that we could get something out of it and finished the day a little disappointed that we hadn’t taken all three points.  We have some very winnable games coming up, so we need to keep up this momentum.

While all is right with the world on the pitch, this week was special for the off-pitch moments.  Seeing the great work of the Trust and the outpouring of love during the tributes to Graham Taylor reminded me (if a reminder were needed) of what a special man he was.  He has left a legacy at Watford that stretches into the community and for that we will always remember him with love.

A Win to Make GT Proud

My favourite photo with GT and Rita (and Don)

The nightmares started on Friday night.  I have a recurring dream in which I am at a match but am unable to see the pitch from my vantage point which is often in a stand that is facing away from the pitch.  On this occasion, the Watford crowd at Bournemouth had been housed in a container.  Now, there have been some issues with our fans at Bournemouth in the past, but putting us in a metal box seemed a little excessive.  Saturday night I struggled to sleep but, when I did, I had my other recurrent dream of trying and failing to get to a destination.  These are usually football related, although this time the destination was a bit vague, but I knew what it meant.  There is quite a lot going on in my life at the moment.  I am in the process of buying a flat and readying a house for sale.  Work is busy with some crucial deadlines coming up.  But I am having nightmares about a football match.  I fear that there is something wrong with my priorities.

I left home at 8:40 to catch the train.  It seemed a little early on a Sunday, but I could hardly complain as Jacque had to leave Leighton Buzzard on a rail replacement bus at 6-ish in order to make the connection with the train she had booked from London.  Needless to say, at that hour on a Sunday there were few people on the platform for the train to Slough and I was able to occupy my ‘lucky’ seat, so all was right with the world.  As I checked social media it was full of fellow Watford fans expressing their love for Graham Taylor on the anniversary of his passing.  This added an extra significance to the day.

Capoue prepares for kick-off

We had arranged to meet in the usual pub but, due to the 2pm Sunday kick-off, the timing of my arrival meant that I would arrive before the pub’s scheduled opening time.  Alice was arriving by car at a similar time, so arranged to meet me at the station so that we could kill some time together.  Just before my train arrived in Bournemouth, there was a message from Pete telling me that he had found a table in the pub, which was already open.  So, I met Alice and, after a short walk, we had a drink and a seat in the pub.  My recollection had been that the pub menu was rather limited (mostly burgers), so I asked whether they had any food on.  The news that there were a couple of roasts or a burger if we wanted one was very welcome.  I had had no breakfast, so the lovely plate of meat and several veg which was served to me set me up very nicely for the afternoon.

I left myself plenty of time to get to the ground and through the security that is always in place in Bournemouth.  Thankfully, on this occasion, we arrived to find a very short queue and were soon through the turnstiles.  It was Alice’s birthday, and she had left for the ground a little earlier than I did to meet some friends.  When I found her inside with Mr Fincham, a man known for starting chants, she recounted that he had regaled her with a booming chorus of Happy Birthday that was soon picked up as the entire concourse joined in, much to Alice’s embarrassment/delight.  There was also another song being sung in the concourse, “Super Nigel Pearson” which was catchy and simple and, by the time I took my seat in the stand, I knew (nearly all) the words.  Our party soon gathered in the stands including my niece who lives in Bournemouth so it was a home game for her.

Doucoure and Lerma tangle

Team news was that Pearson had made two enforced changes from the Wolves game with Masina and Mariappa in for Kabasele (suspended) and Femenía (injured).  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Dawson, Mariappa; Capoue, Chalobah; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Sarr; Deeney.  I was disappointed to see that Aké had returned for Bournemouth.  I still hurts that he is playing for them rather than us and he always plays brilliantly against us.

The Hornets made a bright start to the game as Deeney played the ball out to Doucouré who put in a low cross but Deulofeu, who was charging into the box, could not reach it.  Then Deeney released Sarr on the wing, the first touch was a bit heavy but he managed to win a corner that came to nothing.  The first chance for Bournemouth came as a miskick allowed the ball into the Bournemouth box, it looked worrying for the Hornets as Solanke almost reached it, but he slipped over and Foster was able to gather.  Then Bournemouth won a free kick about 30 yards out.  Harry Wilson blasted the ball towards the Watford goal, but Foster managed to push the ball around the post.   Then there was a bit of niggle between Lerma and Doucouré which threated to get out of hand and Mike Dean had words, but no cards were shown.  The first caution of the game went to Adam Smith for a nasty looking tackle on Sarr.

Celebrating Doucoure’s goal

The Hornets had a decent chance on 18 minutes when Doucouré found Deulofeu at the near post, but stand-in keeper, Travers, was able to block the shot.  The resulting corner was met by the head of Masina whose effort flew wide of the far post.  The home side threatened again as a shot from distance by Harry Wilson was deflected for a corner.   With five minutes to go to half time Lerma got the ball in a dangerous position on the edge of the box, but his shot was woeful flying high into the stand behind the goal.  It was the Hornets who took the lead just before half time.  Francis played a back pass to Travers, Deulofeu closed him down forcing a hasty clearance that fell to Sarr who raced forward and crossed for Doucouré who controlled the ball before shooting past Travers and sending the travelling Hornets into delirium.  It was noted that, unlike previous visits, the goal was not greeted with a flare.  But, with my niece not making as many games this season, it was really lovely to share a goal celebration and hug with her.

Cathcart, Deeney and DAwson challenging in the Bournemouth box

So, we went into the break feeling very happy.  It hadn’t been a classic half of football, but there had been some very good signs and the goal had left us all feeling very positive.  The half time entertainment consisted of a “beer goggle challenge” in which disorientated fans tried to score a penalty against the mascot.  Most of the efforts were woeful and it was won by the Watford fans due to a single goal which followed a very clever run up and, it has to be said, he was the only fella who managed to get a decent strike on the ball.

The Hornets created the first goal-scoring opportunity of the second half as Sarr tried a shot from distance that deflected off Aké for a corner.  The Senegalese youngster then had a great chance to double Watford’s lead after receiving a pass from Deulofeu, but the shot was weak and easily cleared.  Then Bournemouth won a corner, but Fraser’s delivery was met by a header from Wilson that flew over the bar.  A lovely passing move from the Hornets deserved more as Sarr found Doucouré who fed Deulofeu, but the final shot was poor with Geri shooting high and wide of the near post.  Then Sarr found Deeney who tried to lift the ball over the defence, but the effort was cleared and a frustrated Deeney was booked for pulling Harry Wilson down as he attempted to escape.

Celebrating Deeney’s strike

The home side made a double substitution on the hour mark bringing Billing and Cook on for Lerma and Gosling.  Billing’s first contribution was a dangerous run into the Watford box that was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Capoue.  Chalobah then tried his luck with a shot from the edge of the area that cleared the target.  The second goal for the Hornets came on 65 minutes after Sarr rode a tackle and made his way to the bye-line, he cut the ball back towards Doucouré who was crowded out but managed to divert the ball to Deeney who came flying in and powered the ball past Travers.  This time a flare did go off, so we were unable to see the restart.  But the smoke had cleared by the time Deulofeu went on a terrific run into the opposition box, his shot was blocked but the ball rebounded to him and he crossed for Deeney who volleyed goalwards but Travers made the save.  At the other end there was a half chance for the home team as a headed clearance fell to Billing but he shanked his shot high and wide.  As the clock ticked over towards 72 minutes the travelling Hornets blasted out a loud chorus of one Graham Taylor in memory and appreciation of Watford’s greatest ever manager.  The Hornets created another great chance as Deulofeu found Deeney in the box, the ball was returned and Geri hit a wonderful shot that a defender managed to head to safety.

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal

With 15 minutes remaining, Bournemouth made their final substitution replacing Harry Wilson with Surridge.  Soon after, Pereyra replaced Sarr and then Quina came on for Doucouré.  I noticed that Pearson had given both of the players who were substituted a cuddle and talked with them as they came off.  What I hadn’t noticed, but have read subsequently, was that Sarr had reacted badly to his withdrawal and that Pearson had a word with Doucouré who went and chatted to the youngster and smoothed things over.  Following his introduction, Pereyra was immediately involved with an uncharacteristic (and impressive) defensive tackle.  In time added on Deulofeu made way for Gray.  Then Pereyra went on a storming run before crossing for Gray who was tackled, but managed to get a shot in that was cleared off the line but Pereyra was following up, chested it down and volleyed for our third which extinguished any lingering doubts about where the points were going.

The final whistle went to loud cheers and hugs and Alice declaring “Happy birthday to me!”.

Chalobah takes a corner

There was much excitement after the game as phones were proffered displaying the table showing Watford out of the relegation zone for the first time this season.  Nobody in the away end wanted to head for the exits as we stayed to cheer our heroes.  The Nigel Pearson chant had had a good airing, but there was always time for another chorus as well as chants for Deeney, Doucouré and anyone else who attracted our attention.  Then lovely Nate Chalobah came over and pumped his fists at the crowd and was greeted with a cheer.  A repeat fist pump elicited the same reaction.  He headed away from us and the crowd responded with ‘oooooooohhhh’, he turned around and pumped his fist and was rewarded with another cheer.  This was repeated another couple of times before he reached Pearson in the centre of the field and the two of them pumped their fists in unison.  I know that this loses a lot in the telling but it was a gorgeous moment and I had a tear in my eye at the togetherness.

As we made our way out of the ground, there were more celebrations with broad smiles and warm hugs with friends.

We headed back to the pub for a celebratory pint/glass of wine and to cheer City on against Villa.  It felt odd to be cheering one of the bigger teams against one that was struggling but needs must.  The crowd in the pub was a mix of fans of the two teams and was absolutely lovely.  The landlady even commented that she was sure we were enjoying our day after the result.

Adam Masina

The post-match discussion centred around how impressive our team had been.  There were times when we played some absolutely gorgeous football and the team are actually playing as a team.  A criticism earlier in the season had been that they were playing a lot of clever passes that just went to the opposition.  On this occasion there was some exquisite passing and it was a joy to watch.  The defence had been really solid and there has to be a special mention for Adam Masina, who was quite brilliant, as well as Dawson who has turned into the solid defender that we were expecting when he arrived.  The midfield was magnificent.  Capoue was excellent as always, Doucouré is back to his best after a terrible start to the season, but the special joy for me was seeing Chalobah finally putting in imperious performances.  I had worried that, after too many injuries, he would never return to his best but his recent performances have been just wonderful to watch.  Sarr started a little slowly and seemed to be struggling against Aké in the first half, but once he started taking on the defenders he was brilliant and made two of our three goals.  Similarly, Deulofeu wasn’t getting as much of the ball as he would have liked, but he worked his socks off and was a constant threat to the Bournemouth defence.  Then there is Troy Deeney.  During his absence with injury there were some that doubted that his return would make that much of a difference as he was not the goal scoring phenomenon that he had been.  He has proved all the nay-sayers wrong as his organisation and leadership has made a huge difference.  Of course, I cannot finish this without heaping praise upon Nigel Pearson.  Before he arrived, we were watching a team of talented individuals who had lost their way.  He has added a focus and organisation that has transformed those individuals into a formidable team and watching Watford is an absolute joy again.

We headed home at a reasonable time and I decided to accompany my friends on the London train as far as Basingstoke rather than taking the (slightly earlier) train directly to Reading.  It was only when we took our seats in cattle class that they all mentioned that they had first class tickets and were slumming it for me.  Still we had a great time eulogising our performance, watching the highlights and listening to Jon Marks’ commentary for the goals.  We were also joined by another regular away fan and discovered that we all had a mutual dislike for ‘plucky’ Bournemouth and their manager and how special a win over them felt.

When I changed trains at Basingstoke I was left alone with my thoughts.  This was one of the most enjoyable days out this season.  The game was a “six-pointer” against another team who are struggling and we beat them comprehensively.  The talk after the game was of a top half finish, which may be a stretch but does not sound impossible as it would have done a couple of months ago.  But, on the anniversary of Graham Taylor’s passing, we reflected on a team who worked hard and worked together and a fanbase that were totally engaged and felt part of the team.  It was a performance on and off the pitch that would have made GT proud and that is the ultimate praise from me.

From Coasting to Capitulation

Daniel Bachmann

Before the game, I was a little surprised to discover that the last time that we had played Tranmere Rovers had been GT’s final home game as manager in April 2001.  I was living in the US at the time and had flown home to be at the match.  From memory, it was an uninspiring draw and fans were unhappy.  I was also at the previous home game against them, the Easter Saturday tie which had looked to be heading for a dull defeat until two goals and two dismissals for the Hornets resulted in a comeback win that sparked our run to the play-offs in 1999.  Very happy memories of that one

It was nice to be back to the usual routine of a 3pm Saturday kick-off and I was in the West Herts just after midday.  They were clearly not expecting a big crowd as the car park stewards were nowhere to be seen.  But Don was in his usual spot and all was right with the world.  Jacque was getting food, so I went to join her and was rather gratified when the woman behind the counter identified our location as “the TV table”.  It is either that or “Are you sitting with Don?”  We are creatures of habit.  There were fond reminiscences about our visit to hospitality for the Wolves game.  Trond asked if we had been sitting in the new overhang which is in front of where they sit and commented that it had moved a lot more than in previous games.

The mysterious Spencer-Adams

Unsurprisingly, the team news was that there were nine changes from the Wolves game with only Dawson and Chalobah keeping their places.  I am ashamed to say that there was one name in the starting line-up that I didn’t recognise (Spencer-Adams).  As the U23s generally play their matches in the afternoon these days, I don’t get to see them anymore.  The starting XI was Bachmann; Masina, Spencer-Adams, Dawson, Mariappa; Dele-Bashiru, Chalobah, Quina; Pereyra, Gray, Success.

The walk down Vicarage Road was rather refreshing as there were no touts or half-and-half scarves.  But I was rather disappointed to find that the programmes had sold out, my search of the Rookery concourse failing to find any of the programme stalls still open.  That’ll teach me for leaving the pub so late.

The game kicked off at 15:01 in support of the “Heads Up” campaign and was designed to encourage everyone to take a minute to think about their mental health.

Celebrating Dele_Bashiru’s opener

There was a fairly quiet start to the game, although the Tranmere crowd, which was just under 2700, were already making a noise.  With 12 minutes on the clock, the Hornets won a corner.  This was played short, Chalobah found Dele-Bashiru at the edge of the box and he hit a lovely shot from distance past Chapman in the Tranmere goal to put the Hornets in the lead.  The home side were two up soon after as Tranmere struggled to clear, a shot from Success was blocked and the ball was cleared to Chalobah who also beat Chapman with a shot from outside the area.  Nate ran straight to Pearson to celebrate, so clearly there were no hard feelings after his quick substitution in the Villa game.  There was a decent chance of a third for the Hornets after 20 minutes when Quina made space for himself and unleashed a shot that was deflected over the bar.  Chalobah had a decent chance to score a second following a corner, but this time his shot was well over the bar.  Watford threatened again as Pereyra played a through ball for Gray but Andre was unable to reach it and it ran through to the keeper.  Just before the half hour mark Rovers won a corner, the delivery flew harmlessly across the goal.  Watford scored a third on 34 minutes when Success beat a defender before passing to Gray who helped it on to Pereyra who blasted past Chapman.  Tranmere had a chance to pull one back when a corner found Clarke at the far post, but his header was wide of the target.  They threatened again as a shot from Monthé deflected off the head of Dawson for a corner that came to nothing.  Bachmann was finally called into action with 5 minutes to go to half time, but the low curling shot by Jennings was easily gathered.   Jennings created another chance in time added on at the end of the half but his shot from distance was also comfortably stopped by Bachmann.

Mapps congratulates Chalobah (missed the hug with Pearson)

The half time whistle went with the Watford faithful feeling very comfortable.  It had been a convincing performance in the first half and the lads appeared to be coasting.

There was a change for the Hornets at half time which meant the much anticipated debut of João Pedro who came on in place of Chalobah, who had picked up an injury.  Tranmere made a double substitution with Blackett-Taylor and Woods replacing Payne and Nelson.  The first action from the Brazilian wonder boy was to jump into a tackle on Caprice giving away a free kick.  But he was soon showing his attacking skills as he received a pass from Pereyra and took a shot that was blocked.  He created a better chance soon after as Success went on a run before finding him in space, the shot was excellent and flew just wide of the near post.  Watford threatened again as a corner was played out to Quina who mishit his effort, the ball finished with Dawson whose shot was high and wide.  The visitors won a corner of their own, but the cross was easily caught by Bachmann.  Watford made a second substitution on the hour mark with Whelan coming on to make his debut in place of Quina who had picked up an injury.  Out of nowhere, the visitors then had the ball in the Watford net as Blackett-Taylor crossed for Jennings who headed in at the near post.  The flag was up indicating offside, but the shouts from the Watford end of “sit down, shut up” soon looked rather foolish as the VAR overruled the lino and allowed the goal.  This prompted joyful chants of “VAR, VAR” from the visiting supporters.

Masina and Success congratulating Pereyra on his goal (honestly!)

Tranmere had another decent chance as Jennings tried a flick at the near post, but Bachmann pushed it over the bar.  Jennings was then booked for a foul on João Pedro.  It was a poor foul, but disappointing to see the youngster roll over three times after the contact.  No harm done as, soon after, he went on a lovely run which deserved better, but nobody could get on the end of his cross.  Pearson made his final change and it was another player making his debut as Mason Barrett replaced Spencer-Adams.    Disaster befell the Hornets on 77 minutes as Bachmann failed to catch a cross from Blackett-Taylor, the ball dropped and was played to Monthé who turned the ball in past a couple of defenders on the line.  Tranmere made a final change bringing Mullin on for Ferrier.  There had been an indication that some of the Watford players were struggling for fitness and it was rather concerning to see Masina giving Success a leg massage, presumably to ward off cramp (GT would have been livid).  As I shouted encouragement, the thought crossed my mind that I had never been to Prenton Park, so what happened next is all my fault.  Blackett-Taylor was tackled by Barrett on the corner of the box.  He went down under the challenge and the initial decision from the referee was that it was a corner.  The Tranmere fans were shouting for VAR with good reason.  The decision was that it should have been a penalty and the footage shown on the big screen afterwards confirmed that as the correct decision.  Tranmere substitute, Mullin, stepped up and sent Bachmann the wrong way to draw the visitors level with three minutes left on the clock.  To add insult to injury, a couple of minutes later Pereyra was shown a straight red for a rather innocuous foul on Blackett-Taylor.  VAR was definitely not our friend on this afternoon as the decision stood and we played the six minutes of added time with ten men.  Watford had a chance to regain the lead when Success was taken down of the edge of the box by Monthé, who earned a yellow card for his trouble.  The free kick was awful as Masina played it short to Dele-Bashiru who played a return pass, but the Moroccan got under the ball and shot high and wide.

A first look at Joao Pedro

The final whistle went to boos and the sight of a lot of people storming out.  There was one bright spot in the gloom, though, as Masina came over and gave a child his shirt.  He was then looking in the crowd for someone.  When he finally spotted the person he was looking for, he waved and then came into the crowd and gave them his undershirt and a warm hug.  My sisters told me that, during the warm-up, he had kicked a ball into the crowd which had hit a woman.  She was rather shocked and upset at the time and his apologies had seemed to fall on deaf ears, although the offer of his gloves had been taken up by her husband.  Thankfully she was recovered by the end of the game and the apology, the shirt and the hug were gratefully received.

Back to the West Herts and there were a lot of very glum faces and a sense of shock.  We had been coasting at half time and Rovers had been poor.  But the loss of Chalobah and then Quina changed the game and the whole of the second half seemed to be played with Watford on the back foot.  I briefly thought that it looked like one of those games that Liverpool used to play in the 80s when they would play for a draw in the first leg of a league cup game before battering the opposition in the second leg.  But those games were controlled 0-0 draws.  This game was quite baffling.  It has to be said that it was an opportunity for those who were on the fringes to show Pearson what they can do.  Sadly, I don’t think that Success or Gray did anything that would convince him to include them against Bournemouth.  However, Chalobah had another good outing, Dele-Bashiru looked excellent and João Pedro put in a decent showing.  The fitness problems of the fringe players was a cause for concern and they may find themselves with some extra routines in training.

Spencer-Adams, Gray and Dele-Bashiru

I have to say that I did not share the concerns of some who thought this may derail our recovery in the Premier League as most of the players are not regular starters.  I did worry about it derailing the U23s who have had a decent season so far.  But they played on Monday and won 6-1, so no worries there.

We really could do without another game at the moment, but I am very much looking forward to a trip to Birkenhead.  If the Tranmere fans are half as impressive at their place as they were at Vicarage Road, we are in for a fun evening.

 

An Impressive Start to the New Year

The quiz winners

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

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

With Tommy Smith

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

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

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

The Rocket Men banner

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

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

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

Dawson on the ball

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

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

Celebrating Deulofeu’s strike

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

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

Congratulating Doucoure

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

Troy wants the ball

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

The two goalscorers, Deulofeu and Doucoure

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

Troy holding the ball up as the clock wound down

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

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

Pereyra makes a late appearance

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

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

Ending the Decade on a High

A festive Hornet shop

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

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

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

Capoue barking instructions

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

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

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

Celebrating Troy’s first goal

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

Gathering for a corner

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

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

Sarr and Capoue are under there somewhere

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

Capoue, Doucoure and Femenia prepare for a free kick

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

Capoue readying to take a corner

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

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

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

A Boxing Day Draw Against the Blades

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

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

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

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

Caught on camera before the game

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

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

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

Hughes lines up a free kick

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

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

Chalobah congratulates Deulofeu on his goal

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

Watford hero, Foster, takes a goal kick

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

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

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

Troy discussing issues with the referee

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

Watford subs Gray and Dawson

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Anti Football Wins the Day

Vicki’s first Watford game

After finally achieving our first win of the season against Norwich, I went into this game feeling uncharacteristically positive.  I had an extra reason to feel positive as my friend, Vicki, was visiting from the US.  I have made it my mission to share my love of Watford with all of my friends, meaning that she first saw the Hornets play in 2010 when she arrived in the UK on an earlier flight than she originally intended in order to take in a pre-season game at Boreham Wood.  This occasion had added significance as it was also the occasion that Toddy bought her first pint in the UK.  Since then she has seen Watford a couple of other times including another pre-season at Wealdstone when she met Lloydy and Mapps.  Her most recent game was in 2013 when, following a midweek win against Doncaster, she made the trip to Barnsley.  I had strongly advised her against going to that game.  No visitor from the US looks at possible destinations in the UK and plumps for Barnsley and we never win there anyway.  She was determined and ended up having a cracking day out with a great pub, fantastic company and a 5-1 Watford win.  This would be her first Premier League game and she was very much looking forward to it.

Capoue plays the ball

I decided not to subject Vicki to the convoluted train journey, especially as there was disruption at Euston, so I drove to the West Herts.  We arrived to find our party at the usual table.  It was a flying visit for a couple of them as Mike had been offered the use of the Community Trust table in the Elton John Suite, so the prawn sandwich brigade had a swift drink and then headed for their posh seats, while we enjoyed a proper football lunch of burger/hot dog and chips.  While we waited for our food to arrive, Glenn appeared with his bag of treats.  Vicki looked sceptical as the bag of pork scratchings appeared on the table but was persuaded to try one.  “Oh, they are really good.”

We headed to the ground at the usual time.  Needless to say, the touts decided to give this one a miss.  Once inside the Rookery, I showed Vicki to our seats and sped around to the GT stand to take a bag of sweets to Don, who had left for the game before Glenn arrived.

Deulofeu lines up a free kick

Team news was that Quique had made three enforced changes from the win at Norwich with Kabasele (suspended), Janmaat and Pereyra (both injured) making way for Mariappa, Femenía and Gray.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Dawson, Mariappa; Holebas, Capoue, Doucouré,  Femenía; Hughes; Gray, Deulofeu.  Deeney was again on the bench, this time accompanied by exciting prospects Ismaïla Sarr and Tom Dele-Bashiru.

Just before kick-off someone observed that Dyche had swapped ends so the Hornets would be defending the Rookery in the second half.  And so the torture began.

Three minutes into the game Burnley were already indulging in time-wasting and Sean Dyche had just had his first rant at the fourth official.  Watford had the first chance of note as a free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Dawson, but his effort flew past the top corner.  The next chance for the Hornets came when Capoue released Holebas who crossed for Doucouré at the back post, but the header back towards goal was cleared.  The Hornets won a free kick in a dangerous position when Hughes was hacked down by Tarkowski.  Sadly, Deulofeu curled the set piece into the arms of Pope.

Capoue giving instructions to Hughes

Deulofeu’s next effort was more impressive, he robbed Tarkowski before belting into the box and taking a shot, but Pope made a superb save with his feet.  Burnley’s first attack of note came after 20 minutes when they won a corner.  The delivery from McNeil was deep and flew straight out of play.  The first booking of the game came when Gray went up for a header with Tarkowski, who went down clutching his face and the Watford man was cautioned.  The Hornets won another free kick in a good position after Tarkowski handled the ball.  There were protracted complaints from the Burnley players leading to a booking for Mee.  Deulofeu took the free kick and hit it straight into the wall.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead after Gray broke forward before finding Femenía on the right, Kiko tried a shot but Mee stuck a foot out and managed to turn it back to Pope.  Another decent chance went begging as Deulofeu played the ball back to Capoue whose shot was poor and flew wide of the near post.  A lovely exchange of passes between Hughes and Doucouré finished with a shot from a narrow angle from Will that was blocked for a corner.  Hearing some applause at the front of the Rookery, I looked down to see Jay DeMerit making his way around for the half time interview.  A shot from Cathcart was blocked to shouts of handball from the Watford faithful, but the VAR check confirmed that the block was legitimate.  Then there was some concern as Dawson went down with what appeared to be a head injury.  He didn’t move for quite some time, which is always a bad sign.  Thankfully, he was able to walk off the field, but he couldn’t continue and was replaced by Masina.  This was now the sixth league game in a row in which we have been forced to make a substitution in the first half.  Into the five minute of added time and Deulofeu tried a run into the box that was stopped by a judicious foul by Tarkowski on the edge of the area.  The free kick from Deulofeu was on-target but kept out by a great one-handed save from Pope.  So, we reached half-time goalless, although the Hornets had much the better of the half and would have been ahead but for two excellent saves from Pope.  Burnley had defended well, but their efforts in attack resulted in only one (off-target) shot in the whole of the first half.

Jay DeMerit back at the Vic

The half-time interview was with Jay DeMerit, who had been at Vicarage Road on Friday evening for the European Premiere of a short film, “Game Changer”, which was an episode of the US animated show for children, LaGolda, which encourages kids to accept everyone for who they are and promotes inclusiveness in football and wider society.  This particular episode was in support of LGBTQ youth.  Also in attendance, and being interviewed, was Executive Producer, Judy Reyes.  Both Judy and Jay spoke positively about how the club had allowed them to promote their message of inclusivity, which seemed only too right given that Elton John is such an important part of our club.  They then went and had their photo taken with the children who took part in the half-time penalty shoot-out, who had been playing with a rainbow football.  It was only after the game that I realised that Judy Reyes played Carla in “Scrubs”.  I loved that show and was a big fan of hers.

The first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets when the ball broke to Capoue whose shot was deflected over the bar.  The home side threatened again as a cross from Capoue was headed goalwards by Mariappa, but his effort was blocked.  Mapps was then in action at the other end of the pitch, heading clear while under pressure from Mee.

The return of Deeney

The visitors took the lead from the resultant corner as Tarkowski’s header was blocked, Foster got stuck in the traffic in the box and was unable to intervene as Wood buried the rebound.  The goal was scored in the 53rd minute from the first on-target shot by the visitors.  After the goal the Burnley fans started a chant that I thought was “sexy football” but at a later rendition I heard “anti-football” which was much more accurate.  Flores decided to bring on the cavalry at this point replacing Gray with Deeney who took to the field to a huge ovation.  The Hornets had a chance to break back when they won a free kick in a dangerous position after Tarkowski fouled Capoue on the edge of the box.  Again the Burnley players protested the decision and Westwood was booked for dissent.  Capoue took the free kick himself, but it was a dreadful effort that flew well over the bar.  The visitors had a chance to increase their lead, but Foster blocked the shot from Hendrick and the follow-up from Bardsley was hit over the bar.  Flores made his final sub with a quarter of the match remaining, bringing Sarr on in place of Hughes.  As Pope wasted time retrieving the ball for a goal kick, Deulofeu placed the ball in position on the edge of the six yard box.  Needless to say, Pope wasted more time moving the ball to the other side of the area, much to the annoyance of the fans behind him in the Rookery.

Captain Capoue

Another decent chance for the Hornets came to nothing as Capoue released Holebas who cut inside but shot straight at Pope.  At the other end, a cross was chested down to Barnes who shot over the target.  With 15 minutes remaining, there were chances at both ends of the pitch.  First a corner from Westwood appeared to be heading for the net, but Foster punched clear allowing Deulofeu to break forward, he played Doucouré in, but the shot was high and wide.  Dyche then made his only substitution of the game replacing Wood with Rodriguez.  The Burnley substitute almost made an immediate impact as he hit a powerful shot that came off the underside of the bar, but the ball bounced off the line and was headed over by Cathcart.  The visitors appealed for a penalty when Barnes appeared to run into Holebas, the referee waved play on and the Hornets broke down the other end.  When the ball went out of play, it was announced that VAR was checking the penalty.  When the decision came through, the referee pointed back up the field and the players returned to the Rookery end of the field.  Barnes took the spot kick, Foster got a hand to it to push it onto the post but it bounced back and into the net.  The authorities had said that they would be giving the fans in the stadium more information about the VAR decisions and, sure enough, the big screen showed footage of the challenge which clearly showed Holebas kicking Barnes so, much to my annoyance, it was the correct decision.  To add insult to injury, the visitors scored a third goal when a Burnley free kick reached Tarkowski whose first effort drew a good save from Foster, but the rebound found the net.  The traveling Burnley fans burst into a chorus of “Andre, what’s the score?” while the majority of the home fans headed for the exits.  There was a chance for a consolation goal as a powerful shot from Deulofeu hit the crossbar, but it wasn’t to be and the game finished in a humiliating defeat for the Hornets.  As if that wasn’t enough, Norwich won and Southampton drew so we finished the afternoon back at the foot of the table.

Preparing for a free kick

There wasn’t much enthusiasm at the end of the game, but Troy did his usual lap of the pitch and was warmly applauded by the few who were still in the ground.

Due to the many early leavers, the trip up Occupation Road was somewhat quicker than usual.  When we arrived back at the West Herts, Pete assured me that I didn’t have to write the blog.  That was certainly a tempting thought.  As we muttered miserably about what we had seen that afternoon, the folk from the posh seats joined us.  I have to say that an afternoon of drinking wine in hospitality meant that they were considerably jollier than the rest of us.  On the way home, Vicki was very apologetic about not having brought us luck when it should have been me apologising having subjected her to that game and being utterly miserable all afternoon.

It is very hard to articulate my feelings about that game.  Burnley were dreadful but still managed to beat us 3-0.  The first half performance had been decent with the Hornets totally dominating.  I would bemoan the fact that they didn’t turn the dominance into goals, but we would have been two up but for a couple of excellent saves by Pope.  The loss of Dawson just before half time certainly made a difference.  He had been solid in the middle of the back three and was just what we needed against a team like Burnley.  The second half had started well but once the first goal went in, despite the fact that it was horribly scrappy, the confidence disappeared and we never really looked like getting back in the game.

It is hard to see where we go from here.  We have played a number of very poor teams this season and failed to pick up points from most of them.  We have a squad with a lot of talent but are suffering with both injuries and a lack of confidence.  I am trying to hold on to the thought that this team is too good to go down but, as the weeks go on, it is harder and harder to convince myself that we will survive.

 

Two Goals, Three Points and a Hug from Pat Nevin

Capoue back in action (at a distance)

Another week meant another televised game, although I am not sure that the world was begging to see Watford take on Norwich in a bottom of the table clash.  I left work at lunchtime for the short walk to Liverpool Street and arrived in Norwich mid-afternoon.  The Norfolk ‘Orns were starting their pub crawl for Amy’s birthday eve rather early, but our party had sensibly decided to meet up with them on the last leg of their tour.

The last time we were in Norwich, I seem to recall it was a lovely evening and we sat outside the pub.  No chance of that on this occasion.  The walk to the pub was longer than I remembered but, on arrival, I was pleased to find Pete already there.  The beer menu was interesting.  There were lots of ciders, but the dry offerings were all a bit strong for me, so I went for a pint of blonde bitter.  I was briefly distracted by the rhubarb and custard sour beer.  I was very surprised to hear that it was selling rather well.  I really should have asked for a taste.

Cathcart, Dawson and Holebas getting advice from Dean Austin

Paul had just asked where the Norfolk ‘Orns were when the pub door opened, and Glenn appeared followed by a large number of his compatriots.  The peace was shattered.  They were all very merry already, but had not yet moved on to their traditional sambuca.  When that appears, you know that it is getting very messy.  I was introduced to one of the Norfolk crowd that I hadn’t met before.  Graham had been an apprentice groundsman working under Les Simmons in the early days of the Elton John/GT era.  He had some interesting stories of his encounters with those three great men.  He then started talking about the Norwich fans that they had met earlier in the afternoon and how little confidence they had in their team.  He surmised that we would win the game, based on the fact that our fans were more confident.  I have to say that I wasn’t convinced as my confidence was very low based on my experiences following the Hornets so far this season.

While in the pub, somebody told me that the child of a friend had chatted to (referee) Andre Marriner in the ground.  I heard “in the Crown” and wondered what on earth the ref was doing in the pub before the game, although that would explain some of the refereeing decisions that we have seen this season.

Gathering for a corner

Team news was that Quique had made three changes from the Chelsea game with Holebas, Hughes and the very welcome return of Capoue in place of Masina, Gray and Chalobah.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Kabasele, Dawson; Holebas, Doucouré, Capoue, Janmaat; Hughes; Pereyra, Deulofeu.  Even better news was that Deeney was on the bench.  We have missed him terribly.

We set off in good time to get to the ground for the 8pm kick-off.  But, having only had a toastie in the pub, Pete and I decided to get a pie in the ground, so were cutting it fine as we headed for our seats.  The steps into the stand were blocked as people had stopped to listen to the Last Post.  Once the minute’s silence was over, we were able to move but, when I emerged into the stand, the game had already kicked off.  As I climbed the steps to my seat, the crowd reaction around me indicated that we were attacking.  I turned around in time to see Deulofeu bursting into the box and finishing past Krul, so celebrated that goal by leaping up and down in the gangway.  An early goal was just what we needed to settle our nerves.  We continued positively and another run from Deulofeu resulted in a corner.  The delivery from Holebas was met by the head of Janmaat whose effort just cleared the bar.

Foster takes a goal kick

Pereyra then played a lovely cross-field ball to Holebas who tried a shot from distance which was blocked.  Watford had a great chance to grab a second in the 12th minute as a cross from Janmaat found Deulofeu in the box, but his shot was wide of the target.  The first real threat from Norwich came as Hernández broke forward before cutting the ball back to Pukki, but Cathcart was on hand to make the block.  Then Stiepermann played a dangerous through ball to Hernández, but Foster was out to smother the shot.  Watford had a great chance to increase their lead when the ball broke to Hughes who advanced and shot, but his effort was just wide of the target.  Then Pereyra found himself in a great position but wouldn’t attempt a shot.  Doucouré was more adventurous, but his shot was deflected into the arms of Krul.  Norwich looked sure to level the score when McLean crossed for Hernández but the shot, from point blank range, was saved by Foster, although the flag was up so it wouldn’t have counted anyway.  Watford were forced to make a substitution due to injury yet again, this time it was Pereyra who could not continue and made way for Gray.  Andre almost made an immediate impact as he got on the end of a cross from Hughes, turned and shot but it was deflected wide.  At the other end, a cross from Hernández was met by the head of McLean, but it was an easy save for Foster.  The Hornets threatened again as Holebas played the ball back to Capoue who hit a lovely shot, but it was wide of the target.  At the other end, Pukki cut the ball back to Buendía whose shot was dreadful, flying high and wide of the target.  The home side had a decent chance to draw level just before half time as the ball was flicked to Pukki but the volley was straight at Foster, so the half time whistle went with the Hornets in the lead.

Gray congratulated on his goal

Doucouré had the first chance of the second half with a shot from the edge of the area that was deflected over the bar.  The first booking of the game went to Kabasele who was cautioned for pulling back Hernández.  The Hornets scored a second after 52 minutes.  Deulofeu advanced down the left, his first attempt at a cross was blocked, the second was gorgeous and dropped for Gray who volleyed home.  Suddenly it felt much more comfortable.  The first substitution came on the hour as the home side decided to ring the changes, Buendía and Stiepermann were replaced by Cantwell and Drmic.  The home side had a chance to pull a goal back soon after when Lewis tried a shot from distance that was pushed around the post by Foster.  The resultant corner was met by a Watford head and the danger was over.  My heart sank as Kabasele saw a second yellow card for a silly push on Drmic.  He was on his way to the dressing room before the referee had the card out of his pocket.  It was an unnecessary foul and we would now have to play 25 minutes with 10 men.  The home side reacted positively to having an extra man on the field and we heard the Norwich fans, who are usually very vocal, for the first time during the evening.  There was a very harsh booking for Hughes who was cautioned for colliding with an opponent as he won a header.

Dawson, Janmaat and Kabasele in the Norwich box

Flores then made a tactical substitution.  Having lost Kabasele, he sacrificed Deulofeu for Mariappa.  Norwich had a great chance to get a goal back as McLean unleashed a powerful shot from the edge of the box, but it was met with a great save from Foster.  Norwich youngster, Cantwell, then broke into the box but his shot was blocked.  My nerves were tested when a cross into the Watford box was turned wide of the target by Janmaat.  From my angle, it looked as though he was going to turn the ball into his own net, but he knew what he was doing.  Cantwell’s corner was met by Lewis whose shot was high and wide.  With 10 minutes to go, Norwich made their final substitution bringing Vrancic on for Lewis.  Watford should have ensured the win when Hughes played a cross-field ball to Gray, but Andre had too much time to think about his shot and lifted it over the target.  With five minutes remaining of normal time, a frustrated Vrancic was booked for a nasty foul on Capoue in the Watford box.  Watford’s final change came with 2 minutes left on the clock as Holebas made way for Masina.  By this point the Watford fans, who had been in good voice all evening, were particularly confident and a chant of “We’re gonna win the league” rang out in the away end.  As 5 minutes of time was added, I had everything crossed that we would keep a clean sheet.  Thankfully the only event of note in added time was Masina getting booked for a foul on Aarons.  The final whistle went to great celebrations in the away end and joyful chants of “We’re not bottom any more.”

Holebas and Doucoure Prepare for a Corner

There were smiles and hugs and celebrations among the Watford fans.  We have waited far too long for that victory and it was well deserved.  While the game was not a classic, once Watford took the lead we looked comfortable.  Deulofeu can be very frustrating, but he took his goal brilliantly and his assist for Gray’s goal was a thing of beauty (very reminiscent of the goal against Wolves in the cup semi-final).  It was wonderful to see Capoue back in the team and his presence in the midfield allowed Doucouré to put in his best performance for some time.  The defence was solid, and the lads did very well to keep their shape and organisation with only 10 men on the pitch.  With Capoue and Deeney both returning to fitness, the future is looking a lot brighter and we can go into the international break feeling much more positive about our prospects for the season.

Richard was staying at the hotel attached to the ground, so we all went there for a post-match celebratory glass or two of Malbec.  When the Norwich fans who had been drowning their sorrows at the next table disappeared, they were replaced by a group of youngsters who clearly were not football fans.  When they were joined by an older guy, we realised that they were media types who had been working on the various broadcasts of the match as the older guy was Pat Nevin.  Now I have had a crush on Pat Nevin for decades, so came over all unnecessary at being in such close proximity, but I knew I wouldn’t have the nerve to speak to him.  We sat there for an hour or so trying not to stare (and failing miserably).  As we prepared to leave, Richard took the plunge and said hello to Pat.  The rest of us took a deep breath before joining him and were treated to a good twenty minutes of Pat chatting with us about Watford (too good to go down), meeting Elton John, being a footballer in the days when someone like him was considered to be a weirdo (I’m not a weirdo, they are weirdos), his friendship with John Peel.  He was absolutely delightful company, so warm and interesting.  He told us that he has just completed writing an autobiography (the first of three volumes).  That promises to be a fascinating read and will definitely be on a birthday/Christmas list in the near future.

We have had some tough trips this season, but Friday night in Norwich had 2 goals, 3 points, a clean sheet, great company and a hug from Pat Nevin to finish it off.  What could be better?