Tag Archives: Cristian Battocchio

Honours Even Against our Italian Brothers

First pre-match huddle of the season at Vicarage Road

First pre-match huddle of the season at Vicarage Road

Saturday saw the long-awaited visit of Udinese to Vicarage Road.  But, before that, was the joy of our first pre-match gathering of the new season.  Time to catch up on what people had been doing during the Summer and to speculate on the season to come.  Then it was off to Vicarage Road to see what changes had occurred since our last visit (most of which were additions to the new stand and the squad).

When the starting line-up came through, it appeared a bit odd, mainly because Beppe had abandoned the 4-3-3 that we’ve seen for most of the pre-season to revert to 3-5-2.  But also because some of the standout players in pre-season so far were left on the bench.  We started with Gomes, Angella, Tamas, Ekstrand, Pudil, McGugan, Andrews, Abdi, Anya, Deeney and Vydra.  Udinese’s team featured Watford old boy, Albert Riera, as well as Di Natale, much to the excitement of the Vicarage Road crowd.  It has to be said that, given the popularity of the new away shirt, it was very difficult to distinguish the Watford fans in the crowd from those from Udinese.

Gomes gathers the ball

Gomes gathers the ball

The first attempt on goal from either side was a weak shot from Fernandes that drifted over the bar.  A free-kick soon after was easily gathered by Gomes.  We had to wait until the 18th minute for Watford’s first attack of note as McGugan fed Vydra who played a through ball to Anya but the Scot’s first touch was too heavy and Brkic gathered safely.  The visitors threatened as a shot from Fernandes rebounded off the crossbar and Di Natale’s follow-up was gathered by Gomes.  On 23 minutes, Udinese went ahead as Widmer nodded a cross past Gomes.  I was a little surprised by the warmth of the applause that this elicited from the Watford fans.  The ironic chants of “sign him up” were less surprising.

Udinese on the attack

Udinese on the attack

We had a chance to hit back almost immediately as Vydra won a free-kick, but McGugan floated it into the arms of Brkic.  On the half hour, Adbi found Deeney who turned and shot but the ball looped into the keeper’s arms.  Di Natale looked to break into the box but Ekstrand was on hand to stop him.  At the other end, the ball was taken off Vydra’s feet on the edge of the box.  A defensive header from Deeney in our box reached McGugan who played a through ball to Anya to set up a counter attack, but the ball was too far in front of him and the chance lost.  In the dying minutes of the half, McGugan played a ball across the box to Pudil who cut back to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  On the stroke of half-time, Tamas gave the ball away to Fernandes but, thankfully, his shot was caught by Gomes so we went into the break just one goal down.  It has to be said that the first half had been rather lack lustre.

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

There were no personnel changes at half-time and we started the second half brightly as Anya went on a run down the right and pulled the ball back for the strikers but it rolled behind both Deeney and Vydra, so was left to Pudil to run in and unleash a shot that was deflected over.  The subsequent corner was punched clear by Brkic.  At the other end, Di Natale tried a shot but it was well off target.  A corner from McGugan was cleared with Angella challenging, it reached Ekstrand who wellied his shot over.  We should have equalized on 50 minutes as Deeney knocked the ball down to McGugan whose shot flew just wide.  A stinging shot from distance from Muriel was parried by Gomes.

McGugan congratulated on his goal

McGugan congratulated on his goal

On 58 minutes, Watford equalized.  Vydra was taken down and McGugan stepped up to take the free kick and curled it perfectly into the top corner.  That was his last involvement, as he was replaced by Battocchio, while Dyer and Ighalo came on for Anya and Vydra.  The subs were involved almost immediately as Battocchio found Deeney who passed across to Ighalo whose shot sadly hit the side netting.  At this point, Riera was replaced by Silva and left the field to very warm applause from the Watford faithful.  Deeney also left the field to be replaced by Ranegie.  Muriel went down injured and was replaced by Thereau.  At the same time Udinese swapped keepers with Scuffet coming on for Brkic.  At this point there was a delay in proceedings as Muriel was still down injured, but the ref finally stepped in and dragged him from the pitch by his arm to the sidelines where he was “looked after” by Harry Hornet.  I almost felt sorry for the guy.

Ighalo on the ball

Ighalo on the ball

Fernandes curled a shot from distance just wide of the near post.  Watford went behind again as Ranegie lost out to Allan who played a through ball to the substitute, Thereau, who fired a shot across Gomes into the far corner.  With 15 minutes remaining, Hoban and Fabbrini replaced Tamas and Abdi.  The next piece of skill was in the home dugout as a ball flew in and was controlled and returned to the field by Forestieri, who gloried in the cheers from the crowd.  Watford drew level again as Fabbrini went on a run down the left and crossed for Pudil whose header looked as though it was on target but Ranegie nodded it on, just in case, with Scuffet appealing for offside.

The architects of the second equalizer

The architects of the second equalizer

That was Pudil’s last contribution as he was replaced by Doyley.  We had a great chance to win the game as Scuffet came out to meet Ranegie who dinked the ball past the keeper and crossed back for Ighalo, but the Nigerian was unable to reach the ball and, with the goal begging, the chance was lost.

It had been a more enjoyable second half and a draw was a decent result against our Italian brothers.  But I left Vicarage Road with little idea of what our starting line-up or formation will be next week.  However, on a positive note, well done to the club for the pricing of this game, my ticket was £3 in contrast to the £14 asked for the Coventry game at Boreham Wood.  This encouraged a crowd of 11,085 into Vicarage Road, a very impressive attendance at a pre-season friendly.  Now bring on the Bolton.

 

Our First Pre-season Defeat

The new stand at Meadow Park

The new stand at Meadow Park

Six days after our last visit, we were back at Meadow Park for a game against Coventry.  Ticketing arrangements for this had been a bit of a shambles, with the original plans being for segregation and allocated seating with no concession prices offered for children or OAPs in seated areas, the groups most likely to want to sit.  This had been revised in the week before the game, although the claimed reduction in prices was a bit cheeky given that they had actually increased the price for adults who wanted to stand.  The message about unreserved seating had not been relayed to the stewards inside the ground, one of whom was directing people to their allocated area despite them insisting that the website told them that they could go where they wanted (as had the woman on the turnstile I went through).

Dyer on the ball

Dyer on the ball

Watford’s starting line-up was Gomes, Doyley, Angella, Tamas, Pudil, Tözsér, Abdi, Battocchio, Dyer, Vydra and Anya.  Deeney and new signing Ighalo were both on the bench.  Our vantage point for the first half was the South Terrace, which was mostly populated with Coventry fans, despite the fact that their team were attacking the other end.  There was an early chance for the Hornets, but Dyer poked the ball wide under a challenge.  At the other end, Gomes had to drop to gather a shot.  On 8 minutes, Coventry went a goal up as Tudgay nipped between the two central defenders and poked the ball past Gomes, the first goal that he has conceded in a Watford shirt.

Angella up for a corner

Angella up for a corner

Watford tried to hit back.  First Anya attempted a shot that went over the bar.  Then an Abdi shot from distance which also cleared the target.  Coventry had a great chance for a second goal, but Tudgay could only head Miller’s cross on to Pugh and his shot was closer to the corner flag than the goal.  On the half hour, Tudgay curled a shot towards the top corner, but Gomes pulled off an excellent save to deny him.  The only action that made its way into my notebook in the last 15 minutes of the half was a shot from Miller that flew wide of the far post.  After a lively start, it had been a poor half from Watford with Coventry having the best of the play and, but for wasteful finishing, they could have been three goals up.

We joined the players in swapping ends at half-time.  There were wholesale changes at the start of the second half as Hoban, Ekstrand, Murray, McGugan, Deeney, Ranegie and Fabbrini replaced Pudil, Tamas, Abdi, Battocchio, Dyer, Vydra and Anya.  Andrews had come on for Tözsér sometime during the first half, but I had completely missed that happening.  Watford started the second period strongly, as Fabbrini went on a run into the area and shot just wide.  Ranegie also went close.

Deeney on the ball

Deeney on the ball

On the hour Deeney tried a shot, but it was weak and didn’t trouble the keeper.  Bond replaced Gomes for the final half hour and was given little to do.  Fabbrini played a one-two with Ranegie then put in a lovely low cross, but Ranegie was falling and couldn’t make a decent contact.  McGugan was next to threaten as he went on a run and but his shot was easily caught.  Chances had been at a premium for Coventry in the second half, so it was concerning when they won a free-kick in a decent position.  Fortunately for us it was launched into the trees outside the ground.  Sean Murray was the next to try a shot from distance, but it was easily gathered by the keeper.  Soon after, he was replaced by Ighalo.  McGugan deserved better as he controlled the ball and shot goalwards, but the keeper caught it under his foot.

Oghalo warming up

Ighalo warming up

Ighalo also had a chance to equalize, but his shot was blocked.  The last notable action of the game was a foul on Fabbrini that so incensed the Italian, he ran after the culprit and pushed him over.  As silly as this action was, it was nice to see a bit of fight from Fabbrini, who had been excellent since he came on.  Last season, he tended to disappear after a defender clattered him.  If he can add a bit of steel to his game, it will be like a new signing as he is certainly an exciting talent.

So the game finished with a Coventry win, our first defeat of this pre-season.  The second half had been an improvement on the first, mostly because there was a bit of movement upfront that had been missing in the first half, but there hadn’t been much entertainment.

So now it is back to Vicarage Road on Saturday for the visit of Udinese.  Who will the Pozzos be supporting?

A Stern Test at Meadow Park

Warming up at Meadow Park

Warming up at Meadow Park

As we gathered at Meadow Park, the news on everyone’s lips was that Deeney was absent from the squad.  The conclusion was that we had seen the last of him in a Watford shirt, which is a great shame but, if it does come, nobody can deny that the lad deserves his move.  Since our last visit the ground has undergone a transformation, with the covered terrace along one side of the ground replaced with a shiny new stand.  Needless to say, I rejected its charms and took up a position on the open terrace behind the goal.

The Deeney-less starting line-up was Gomes, Doyley, Angella, Tamas, Pudil, Abdi, Battocchio, Tözsér, Anya, Vydra and Dyer.

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

The first chance fell to Dyer who went on a run down the left and unleashed an angled shot, but Courtnage was equal to it.  We were dominating early possession and Anya tried to chip the keeper but Courtnage reached up to catch the ball.  For the home side, a cross from Montgomery reached Shakes who shot well wide.  Abdi played a lovely ball towards Battocchio, but it was cut out and rolled harmlessly to Courtnage.  At the other end, Montgomery tried a shot that flew wide of the near post.  We should have taken the lead as Vydra ran on to a lovely ball over the top and left the defence standing, but his shot was wide of the target provoking groans from the Watford fans in the crowd.

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

Anya was the next to threaten with a low shot from the left, but Courtnage was down to save.  After half an hour, there was a break in proceedings seemingly to take on water.  It seemed a bit over the top as it was a lovely evening (I didn’t need my cardi), but hardly Rio temperatures.  The next goal attempt came from the home side, but Nunn’s shot ended up on top of the goal.  There were calls for a penalty for the visitors as Dyer went down in the box, but the referee gave the kick the other way.  Just before half-time, Montgomery had a great chance to give the home side the lead but his shot flew just over the bar.  Then Dyer went on a run through the defence, but Courtnage saved at his feet.  The final action of the half was a looping shot from Garrard that was straight into the arms of Gomes.  Watford had the lion’s share of possession in the first half, but goal chances had been at a premium and Boreham Wood had threatened on the break.

Whichelow versus Tamas

Whichelow versus Tamas

At half-time, there were a number of substitutions as Hoban, Ekstrand, McGugan and Ranegie replaced Doyley, Tamas, Battocchio and Anya.  Boreham Wood had the first chance of the second half, but the shot was straight at Gomes.  Watford really should have taken the lead as a cross from Vydra reached Ranegie but he headed into the side netting.  Then Ranegie and Vydra combined to feed McGugan who scuffed his shot straight at Courtnage.  Pudil crossed for Dyer whose first touch was too heavy before he hit a low shot that Courtnage dropped to save.  Vydra and Ranegie exchanged passes before finding Abdi in the middle of the box from where he somehow managed to screw his shot well wide of the target.  We had another great chance as Vydra met a corner with a back header that Courtnage did well to keep out.  From the subsequent corner Angella snuck in, but Reynolds got to it first to clear over the bar.

Vydra congratulated

Vydra congratulated after his goal

Montgomery latched on to a clearance and hit a shot from distance that required a decent save from Gomes.  We finally made the break-through in the 68th minute as Vydra ran across the field and unleashed a bullet that hit one of the Boreham Wood players on the way in and likely caused some bruising.  With 15 minutes remaining, Fabbrini replaced Dyer.  He was involved in the next goal attempt finding McGugan whose shot was tipped onto the crossbar, the ball rebounded to Abdi who couldn’t get into position for a proper header, which was a waste as Vydra was lurking behind him much better placed for a shot.  Then Abdi found McGugan in space, but he wellied his shot over the bar.  The final action in time added on was a shot from the former Watford youngster, Whichelow, which we were relieved to see fly wide of the far post.

It had been a good work out for the boys and, while we should have scored more, pre-season games are all about building up fitness and the Watford players knew they had been in a game.

 

Meeting the Russians in Bad Bleiburg

Drei Laerchen

Drei Laerchen

For the second weekend in a row, I was on an early morning flight to Austria.  This time we were heading for Salzburg where we picked up a hire car for the drive to Bad Bleiburg.  Once we worked out how to change the sat nav from what appeared to be a Scandinavian language to English, the drive was relatively straight forward.  As we headed through the mountain tunnels, the place names on the signs indicated that we were travelling through the towns that had constituted my favourite ski area when I lived in Austria.  It brought back very happy memories, but I don’t think I had ever visited that region when the slopes were green.  As we came off the motorway following the sat nav directions to Bad Bleiburg, we were a little concerned to find ourselves on a steep, narrow road through the forest that was difficult enough to negotiate in Summer.  Sure enough, barriers at both ends indicated that it can be closed in Winter.  On arriving in the village, we decided to have a look at the facilities.

The game is on

The game is on

Unlike the 30,000-seater stadium that we visited last week, this was a proper pre-season ground.  The standing area was mostly on one side with a small stand along half of that side of the ground and we were looking down onto the playing area with the mountains providing a picturesque backdrop.  What looked like a media box turned out to be the VIP section consisting of a couple of high seats with cup holders.  There were posters advertising our games over the weekend, which also indicated that there was a double-header planned for that afternoon with the local team playing Weiβenstein at 3pm.

After a detour for lunch and to check-in at our hotel, we arrived just before half-time in the warm up game to find the score was 2-2, which was a decent score against a team that we were told were from the division above our hosts.  The game was being played in blazing sunshine, so a beer was in order and then we were all set for the second half in which the visitors scored two additional goals thanks to some spectacularly bad goalkeeping.  The first being a free-kick which rather drifted in with the keeper berating his wall when it appeared that a step to his left would have allowed him to catch the ball which was hardly moving at pace.  The final goal was a speculative shot from the half way line.

Coming through the hedge

Coming through the hedge

The car park, such as it was, had filled up so I wondered where they would find space for two coaches. The Rubin Kazan team arrived and parked up and, soon after, our lads appeared through a gap in the hedge at the opposite side of the ground, having walked across the road from their hotel.  They crossed the pitch and then came up a covered stairway to the dressing rooms.  There had only been a couple of other Watford fans at the warm-up game but, as kick-off time approached, a few familiar faces appeared to supplement the local crowd.  Evidently there were some tricky pre-match negotiations between the officials of the two clubs, as I heard the conclusion that the game would be played with the Rubin Kazan ball in the first half and the Watford ball in the second.

Pre-match handshakes

Pre-match handshakes

The starting line-up for Watford was Gomes, Doyley, Tamas, Angella, Pudil, Tözsér, Battocchio, McGugan, Forestieri, Vydra and Deeney, who was captain for the afternoon.  The Rubin Kazan team lined up wearing the highest numbers that I have ever seen in a football match.  As the captains met for the pre-match formalities, which included swapping pennants, the referee was heard to ask if there was a spare pennant for him.  Deeney dutifully went back to the Watford staff to relay the referee’s request.

With two minutes on the clock, Kverkvelia flattened Pudil.  McGugan took the free-kick which was pushed just wide by the Russian keeper, Filtsolv.  Rubin Kazan launched an attack, which we were struggling to clear.  Thankfully it finished with a shot from Kislyak that Gomes claimed.  The Russian team then had a really good spell.  First, a cross from Kverkvelia was played back to Getigezhev who blazed over.  Then a snap shot from the left required a good reaction save from Gomes.

A chance goes begging

A chance goes begging

On 18 minutes, Livaja curled a shot wide of the near post.  There was some respite as Watford won a free kick which was well taken by Tözsér but Filtsolv leapt and tipped it over the bar.  From the corner, Deeney headed past the keeper, but our celebrations were cut short as the referee indicated a foul that none of our party saw.  A clever dummy by Battocchio allowed the ball to reach Doyley in the box, but his shot was blocked.  At the other end, Mullin tried a shot from distance that flew wide of the near post.  There was a bit of handbags then as Forestieri fouled Mullin, who screamed in agony as he went down.  Fernando was having none of it and tried to pull him to his feet.  The Russian angrily leapt up and Deeney rushed over to get between them.  The Russian then collapsed in agony again to derision from the travelling Hornets, but he got his way when Forestieri was booked for the challenge.  Nabiullin tried a weak shot that was easily gathered by Gomes.  In the 38th minute, Tözsér took a free kick from the right that went over the bar.

A miss for Rubin Kazan

A miss for Rubin Kazan

Revenge is a dish best served cold and, just before half time, Fernando fell theatrically under a challenge from Mullin and his rival’s name joined his in the referee’s book.  The resulting free kick from McGugan was disappointing and easily gathered by Filtsolv.  Rubin Kazan threatened as the ball was given away on the wing, but Pudil stopped the danger with a great challenge in the box and eventually a corner was conceded.  From the set piece, the ball broke dangerously in the box but Pudil was on hand again to clear.  The half finished with a couple of chances for the Russians, but they continued to be wasteful as, first, Burlak launched a shot from a mile out that flew well over the bar.  Then a header from Livaja was well wide of the target.

It had been an enjoyable half of football with the Russian side providing a much sterner test than the two previous games in Austria.  They’d had a number of chances early on that they really should have done better with, but we were happy enough going into the break on level terms.  During the interval the heavens opened, but that wasn’t to deter those of us standing at the side of the pitch.  A bit of rain never hurt anyone.

Waiting for a corner

Waiting for a corner

At half time, Ekstrand, Anya, Dyer and Abdi replaced Angella, Vydra, Forestieri and McGugan.  Five minutes into the half, there was a fantastic move as Anya fed Deeney, who played a through ball to Dyer in the box, but a defender was on hand to take the ball from his feet.  In another cracking move, Battocchio fed Abdi who found Dyer who unleashed a vicious shot that cannoned back off the crossbar.  It fell to Deeney whose shot was blocked and cleared.  After what had been a really good spell for Watford, a chance fell to Devic but his shot was easy for Gomes.  Just before the hour, Abdi tried a speculative shot that was put out for a corner.  At this point Burlak, who was wearing 4 for Rubin Kazan, was replaced by Diakhite, who was wearing 99.  I can only think that Burlak’s shirt number was deemed too low.  There was danger for Watford as a free-kick from Karadeniz flew just over the bar.

Ready for a clearance

Ready for a clearance

Then there was a slight delay to the game as Pudil left the ground and appeared to go into a neighbouring garden to retrieve the ball.  Abdi and Battocchio combined before passing back to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  The opposition were struggling to cope with our pace upfront and Anya was the next to break into the box but shot wide of the target.  At the half-way point in the second half Murray replaced Tözsér.  The Russians threatened with a back header from Asmoun which Gomes caught.  On a side note, Asmoun was wearing no 69 provoking sniggers from the less mature among our support (most of us).  Then Pudil tried a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  There was a spate of substitutions as Ranegie replaced Deeney, Hoban came on for Tamas and Fabbrini for Forestieri.  By this stage, the incessant rain meant that my notebook was a sopping mess, and any notes that I managed to make are barely legible.

Anya can't quite reach the ball before Filtsolv

Anya can’t quite reach the ball before Filtsolv

But I believe there was some lovely interplay between Fabbrini and Anya whose shot was blocked.  Then Fabbrini, Ranegie and Dyer combined, this time it was Fabbrini’s turn to shoot, but his effort was also blocked.  Doyley was replaced by Brown.  At this point, the conditions meant that note-making was almost impossible but I did note a decent Watford chance as a double shot from Ranegie was blocked followed by a great shot from Pudil that was deflected wide.  Doherty came on to replace Pudil for the final couple of minutes.  When the final whistle went, those of us who had stuck it out watching from the side of the pitch were soaked through.  The Watford squad waved goodbye and then disappeared through the hedge again to walk back to their hotel.

Doyley takes a throw in

Doyley takes a throw in

Despite the goalless scoreline, it had been an enjoyable game with Watford excellent in the second half.  It may seem sacrilege to suggest playing without Vydra and Forestieri in the starting line-up, but the thought of a front three of Dyer, Deeney and Anya terrorising Championship defences makes me very excited indeed.  As for the return of Tözsér, my shout of “welcome home” to him when he arrived at the ground was heartfelt and he didn’t disappoint in the game.

We went in search of some warmth and somewhere to eat.  The only place in wheelchair pushing distance was the hotel where the team were staying.  We tried to keep a respectful distance although I did beckon Doyley over for a kiss.  Beppe kindly came over and shook all of our hands and bought a round of drinks.  Since eating at the hotel didn’t seem to be an option, and we wanted to leave the players in peace, we made our way back towards town for dinner where we were joined by Gary and Dan, who we’d met in the ground so spent a lovely evening chatting about all things Watford.  Saturday was my birthday.  I had a lovely day watching Watford play in a gorgeous part of the world and even had a kiss from Lloyd Doyley.  I can’t imagine any better way to have spent the day.

My Holiday on Woerthersee

Woerthersee Stadium

Woerthersee Stadium

When the pre-season game in Klagenfurt was announced for 5th July, I knew that a long anticipated trip to Garsington Opera on the Friday and tickets for the theatre on Saturday meant that my attendance was not possible.  Then, on Thursday, the venue and kick-off time were announced and the temptation was too much to bear.  After all, I’d be home from the opera before midnight and the play will be on until the end of August and there were plenty of tickets left.  When I found there were still seats available on the weekend flights to Klagenfurt, my decision was made.  So Saturday morning, at the crack of dawn, I was at Heathrow waiting for Don Fraser to appear for the trip to Klagenfurt.  Don was somewhat elusive due to a couple of dramas with the assistance at Heathrow, but he eventually appeared and we arrived in Klagenfurt on schedule.

We are in the right place

We are in the right place

There were no taxis available outside the airport so, when one finally turned up, the driver asked the others in the queue where they were going.  One young man was also heading to our hotel, so he shared the cab and told us that he was travelling with AS Monaco who were coming to the area for a training camp.  Needless to say, these were not the footballers that interested us.

After a lovely lunch and a relaxing afternoon, Don and I headed for the Wörthersee Stadium.  The stadium was very impressive indeed but, on arrival, the only footballers in evidence were the Monaco team having a practice game on the training pitch.  A few minutes later we saw a couple of familiar faces.  I must say that I am always greatly relieved to see someone with a Watford crest on his shirt when arriving at a pre-season venue just in case I have turned up at the wrong place.  In proper football saddo style, we positioned ourselves outside the players’ entrance and, very soon after, the coach appeared and the players piled off.  There were smiles and greetings from those who recognized us.  When Lloydy appeared, he just shook his head when he saw us, then came over and gave me a kiss.  He’d enjoyed his Summer, but wanted to forget the France game.  Then GianLuca Nani appeared and greeted us like old friends.

Don ready to report on the game

Don ready to report on the game

Once our guard of honour duties were complete, we enquired about the location of the supporters’ entrance to the stadium.  A steward, who clearly spoke no English and was taking no chances with my terrible German, directed us through the maze of corridors by means of smiles and pointing and, after taking a lift up, we emerged onto the concourse inside the beautiful arena and, as there was no obvious wheelchair area, took a place at one of the tables in the press area.  As Beppe came out onto the pitch for the warm-up, GianLuca pointed us out in the stand and we were treated to a wave and a greeting.  We’d positioned ourselves by the half-way line, so were soon joined by the players who were not taking part and the coaching staff.  Troy, Ikechi, Bernard Mensah and George Byers were the first to come up and they sat just in front of us, so we were treated to Troy’s opinions throughout the game which added greatly to the entertainment.

Gomes and Gartside warming up

Gomes and Gartside warming up

The Klagenfurt announcer, who was wearing a shirt with no 12 on the back (as were all the fans in replica shirts), went through a detailed description of the Klagenfurt players but did not deign to inform us of the Watford line-up, so it was the usual pre-season practice of trying to recognise these young footballers who all look the same to me.  I did pretty well as there have been no new hair cuts this Summer to fool me but, by the end of the first half, I had still not identified the no. 4.  I was embarrassed to have to ask who he was and was quite pleased to be told it was Tamas, so I had an excuse for not recognising him.

The starting line-up was Gomes, Brown, Cathcart, Tamas,  Pudil, Battocchio, Murray, McGugan, Dyer, Ranegie and Vydra.  I was a little surprised, but also gratified, to see that Murray was captain for the day. The first real attack of the game came from the home side and was thwarted by a wonderful saving tackle from Brown.  From the throw-in, the ball

So that's Gabriel Tamas

So that’s Gabriel Tamas

reached Prawda who shot high and wide.  The home side had another attempt on goal but the shot flew wide of the near post.  Watford’s first corner was taken by Dyer and a number among our support will be unhappy to hear that he took it short.  However, when the cross came in, it was met with a decent header from Vydra, but a Klagenfurt defender’s head was there to clear.  On 20 minutes, Vydra fed Dyer, whose shot was blocked by the keeper, Vydra picked up the loose ball and passed to Pudil whose attempt was also blocked.  Deeney was giving McGugan some grief as he lined up a shot and his judgement was proved right as Lewis’s attempt flew high and wide.  At the other end, a cross from the right was straight into Gomes’s arms.  Battocchio, who had made a great start, played a lovely ball over the top to Vydra, but the attentions of a defender prevented him getting a decent shot in.  Another pin point long ball, this time from Pudil, reached

Battocchio on the attack

Battocchio on the attack

Battocchio but his cross was cut out before it reached Vydra.  On 26 minutes, we were a goal up as a lovely through ball from Murray found Dyer on the edge of the box.  He advanced and coolly slotted the ball past the Klagenfurt keeper.  A nice goal and the reaction of the players in the stands showed that Dyer is already a popular member of the playing staff.  The home side had a chance to strike back as a through ball found Zakany in the box, he tried a shot that was turned around the post by Gomes.  With 10 minutes to half time, the home side won a free kick in a dangerous position, it reached Prawda in the box but he headed wide of the near post.  Dyer nipped into the box, he was closed down so passed back to Ranegie, who decided to control the ball rather than just shooting and found himself with his back to goal so the chance was gone.  The home side tried to hit back just before half time with a free kick that was met with a strong headed clearance by Pudil.  On the stroke of half-time Klagenfurt won a corner, but it was coolly caught by Gomes.

Vydra on the attack

Vydra on the attack

At half-time, a Klagenfurt supporter stopped to talk with us.  He asked what we thought of the stadium.  I said it was beautiful, he looked sad and said, “But we have no fans.”  I wondered how they had the money to build such a stadium.  He told me that it had been built for Euro 2008.  He said that they have a good young team, but there is no TV money, no sponsorship and small crowds so they struggle.

At the start of the second half, Ekstrand, Hoban and Doyley replaced Cathcart, Tamas and Brown in defence with Fabbrini coming on for Ranegie upfront.  There was a scare for the visitors early on as we failed to clear a corner and the ball bounced goalwards, but Gomes saved with his feet.  From the corner Gomes came and caught the ball.  On 53 minutes, Pudil was booked for a late tackle on Zakany.  It was just in front of us and we could hear the victim’s rather dramatic scream.

Challenging in the Klagenfurt box

Challenging in the Klagenfurt box

Soon after, Murray played a one-two with Dyer and shot from a great position, but the ball curled high and wide.  On 57 minutes, Smith replaced McGugan.  The young Irishman was involved in the next move as he cut the ball back to Fabbrini who, if I’m being charitable, was fouled or, if I’m not, ran into the defender and collapsed.  Dyer then went off to be replaced by Jakubiak.  A shout of “Well played, Lloydy,” went up from Deeney and the new man looked up and smilingly acknowledged his teammate.  Then Doherty replaced Murray who gave the captain’s arm band to Pudil.  On 72 minutes a great run from Jakubiak appeared to have been stopped with a tackle that put the ball out for a corner, but it rebounded off the corner flag and stopped on the byeline, so Jakubiak retrieved it and hit a cross that just evaded Fabbrini and flew wide.  Then a decent shot from the home side was

The Klagenfurt keeper gathers

The Klagenfurt keeper gathers

just tipped wide by Gomes.  There followed a sublime move down the pitch by Watford, which finished with Pudil putting Vydra through one-on-one with the keeper.  Deeney’s shout of ‘slot machine’ indicated that he also thought that a second goal was inevitable, but Matej’s shot was too close to the keeper who managed to save, leaving me with my head in my hands.  Soon after, Vydra received the ball again but a bit further up the field.  Don shouted “Give it to Lloydy” so he did, but Lloyd’s cross drifted wide and the chance was lost.  With 10 minutes remaining O’Nien came on for Vydra and Gomes was replaced by a young keeper who, Alec told me, is a 16 year-old scholar called Nathan Gartside.  At this point, Jakubiak went upfront.  With a couple of minutes to go, Hoban lost out on the left but battled back to retrieve the ball, it flew into the air and was gathered by Gartside.  On 90 minutes, there was great work from Pudil who controlled a long high ball to the left and skipped past a defender to unleash a shot that was cleared off the line.  The game finished with a deserved one goal win for the Hornets.

Dyer takes a corner

Dyer takes a corner

As the players left the stand at the end of the game, Angella, who I sponsored this season, spotted me and said hello.  I asked if he was resting.  He lifted the leg of his shorts to show the strapping on his thigh.  Fortunately, Don was on hand with the smelling salts.

We left the ground and took up stalking position at the players’ entrance again.  Don had brought a shirt that he wanted signed and handed it over to Richard Line, the Operations Manager, who promised to get it signed during the week so that Don could pick it up next weekend.  He said he wouldn’t bother the players now.  At that point, Troy came over to talk to us, he signed the shirt and took it onto the bus and then into the dressing room and Don soon had a shirt full of signatures.  We welcomed Vydra ‘home’.  Then Beppe came over and thanked us for our support and told us that they were working hard for the new season.  This was confirmed by Richard Line who said that they had been doing double sessions every day, which would explain the fatigue shown during the game.  To be honest, I hadn’t expected them to go all out in the first pre-season game, but that made me a little more sympathetic to any perceived lack of effort.

Vydra threatens

Vydra threatens

We waved the coach off and went looking for the taxi that we’d booked to take us back to the hotel.  It was nowhere to be seen, so we headed back towards the car park and asked one of the locals if they had a number for a cab.  There was a family there and one of the lads kindly called us a taxi and they waited with us until it arrived, calling to ask where it was when it didn’t arrive on schedule.  While we were waiting, they told us a bit more about the club.  When the stadium was built, the club was in the top division, but they got into financial difficulties and were wound up.  The new club had to start again in the 3rd division.  They attract a very small crowd, c 1500, who rattle around in a stadium with a capacity of 30,000.  When our cab arrived, we said goodbye to our new friends and thanked them for their kindness.

When my alarm went at 4am on Saturday morning after 3.5 hours sleep, I wondered what the hell I was doing travelling to Austria for a football match.  But, as Don and I relaxed with a drink back at the hotel, we reflected on a cracking day out where we’d seen some football but also met some delightful people, many of them connected to our football club.  We both concluded that we couldn’t think of a better way to spend the weekend.

Out with a Whimper

The teams coming on to the pitch

The teams coming on to the pitch

Last game of the season and the kick-off time is stupidly early, so I’m counting my blessings that we are playing at home.  Our pre-match gathering was smaller and quieter than usual and tinged with sadness that this was our last until August.

Team news was four changes from the horror show at Charlton including a debut for Academy graduate, Alex Jakubiak.  The starting line-up was Bond, Angella, Cassetti, Hoban, Pudil, Murray, Tözsér, Battocchio, Anya, Deeney and Jakubiak.  Huddersfield’s team included the sorely missed Jonathan Hogg.

Deeney receives Player of the Season award from Oli Phillips

Deeney receives Player of the Season award from Oli Phillips

As promised, the Player of the Season award was presented on the pitch before the game.  It was no surprise to see Troy Deeney honoured and rather nice to see Oli Phillips on the pitch to present it, but he was kept waiting as Deeney fulfilled his captain’s duties.

It all started so well as Pudil released jakubiak in the first minute, the youngster let fly a shot which flew across the goal and wide.  Jakubiak threatened again as Anya played him in, but a last ditch tackle seemed to put him off and Smithies was equal to his shot.  Huddersfield’s first goal attempt was a shot from Wells that was easily caught by Bond.  Dixon tried a shot from distance that flew high into the Rookery.  Clayton’s shot was heading for the bottom corner, but

Worshipping Huddersfield

Worshipping Huddersfield

Deeney cleared.  Nothing of note happened on the pitch in the next 15 minutes, so we turned to Harry Hornet to provide our entertainment as he gathered a beach ball from the away stand and ran around the pitch to give it to the 1881.  It was also noted that Huddersfield’s away contingent included the Pope and a gaggle of nuns.  On the half hour, Wells, who had been struggling with an injury following a foul by Cassetti, was replaced by Ward.  On 36 minutes, Battocchio broke into the box, but Smithies denied him.  Hammill had two chances to break the deadlock.  First a shot from outside the box that was straight at Bond and didn’t test the keeper, then a shot that flew wide of the far post.  Hammill was then fouled by Hoban who was booked for his offence.  The resulting free kick

Alex Jakubiak makes his debut

Alex Jakubiak makes his debut

was over the wall and easy for Bond.  In time added on at the end of the half, there was a shout for a penalty as Tözsér’s shot appeared to be handled by Hogg, but the referee waved the appeals away.  It had been a pretty dull first half.  As is often the case with lunchtime kick-offs, the players looked only half awake and there was a sense that most of them were already on the beach.

We kicked off at the start of the second half and, almost immediately, went a goal down.  Angella gave the ball away, it fell to Lolley who broke into the box, Angella got back but the Huddersfield man twisted away from his tackle and shot across Bond to fire the visitors into the lead.  Watford made their first substitution replacing Murray with Diakité.  The loanee’s first contribution was to start a move that ended with Pudil being flagged offside.  Then

Defending in the box

Defending in the box

Huddersfield broke and Ward’s shot to the near post squirmed through Bond’s legs and into the goal to put the visitors two goals to the good 10 minutes into the second half.  Watford’s next substitution saw debutant, Jakubiak, replaced by Faraoni.  A high ball into the box by Diakité appeared to be headed goalwards by Lynch, but was cleared.  Huddersfield went on another quick break, Smith crossed for Ward whose shot was well saved by Bond, making amends for his earlier mistake.  Then Deeney played the ball to Diakité who took a touch to control it before shooting and his shot was blocked.  A tackle by Pudil inadvertently knocked the ball to Ward who fired past Bond for the third.  The

Josh Doherty makes his debut

Josh Doherty makes his debut

visitors made a change as goalscorer, Lolley, was replaced by Scannell.  On 69 minutes, Deeney broke into the box, his path to goal was blocked so he passed back towards Anya, but gave the Scot too much to do to get to the ball.  Hogg was booked for a foul on Diakité.  Then Faraoni went on a run into the box, he skipped past the challenge of a defender before cutting the ball back towards Deeney, but Smithies was there to gather.  Deeney won a free-kick after Lynch leaned on him and Hogg told his team mate in no uncertain terms what he thought of him giving the set piece away.  That passion demonstrated when they were 3-0 up was in stark and upsetting contrast to what we were seeing from our players.  Deeney took the free-kick which bounced harmlessly off the wall.  Another academy

Deeney hits the penalty

Deeney hits the penalty

youngster made his debut as Battocchio was replaced by Josh Doherty.  Angella fouled Clayton and there was a bit of handbags that someone behind me commented was the best bit of action of the afternoon.  When it all calmed down, Angella and Gerrard were booked.  Harry then appeared in a grass skirt, sombrero and Brasil t-shirt ready for his holiday.  On the pitch, Huddersfield won a free kick wide on the left in what looked to be a benign position, but somehow Ward hit it past Bond for his hat trick.  Shocking!  Diakité played a ball over the top to Deeney who couldn’t get hold of it and hit the ball into the ground and it bounced into the keeper’s arms.  There was a bizarre incident in time added on.  Diakité played a high ball over to Cassetti whose header bounced down off the crossbar.  The lino was flagging and the whistle went so everyone stopped.  We all assumed that it was an offside decision, but then the lino indicated a corner.  After some discussion

A muted celebration from Deeney

A muted celebration from Deeney

between the players and the referee, a drop ball was given in the box which resulted in a corner.  Tözsér took the set piece and a rather soft foul on Deeney in  the box resulted in the referee pointing to the spot.  Josh Doherty cheekily approached and offered to take the penalty, but Deeney kept hold of the ball and made no mistake in burying it past Smithies.  His 25th goal of the season gave us something to smile about.

Before the game, Beppe had talked of putting on a good performance for the fans.  In the event, it was a dreadful display.  The team seemed to switch off on Easter Monday after that tremendous first hour against QPR and we’ve seen nothing worth watching since.  It was an awful way to finish a season that we’d started with such high expectations.  But we had failed to replace key players that we lost in the Summer, so the absence of Vydra, Chalobah, Eustace and Hogg as well as the injuries that kept Abdi out for most of the season did for us.  Mutterings after the game indicated that there would be a big clear out this Summer, so next season’s squad could look very different again.

Harry dressed for his holidays

Harry dressed for his holidays

As is usual for the last game of the season, the players came back out for a lap of honour.  After that performance, it was rather subdued, but there was still a decent number of fans left in the Rookery and I just had to stay and applaud the players despite all the downs.  This was a probable farewell to Troy Deeney, who threw his boots into the crowd.  I was looking elsewhere when he launched the first boot towards us so was a bit shocked to see this missile flying through the air.  I always find it hard to leave the ground after the last game of the season, but I finally said goodbye to my neighbours and wished them a good Summer.

It will be another close season of speculation and upheaval, but at least the club is stable off the pitch and there are no fears for the short-term future of the club and, for me, that overrides all the on field disappointments.

I would like to sign off with a word of thanks to all who have read my blog this season, especially those who have given me encouragement.  I hope that you continue to enjoy the reports.  Your kind words are always appreciated.

 

Glutton for Punishment

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

The previous two away games served up very different performances, so I travelled to Charlton hoping for something more in the style of QPR than Derby.  There were five changes in personnel from Saturday with McGugan and Ekstrand injured, Cassetti suspended and Pudil and Ranegie rested.  The starting line-up was Bond, Belkalem, Hoban, Doyley, Riera, Murray, Tözsér, Battocchio, Faraoni, Anya and Deeney.  Charlton’s team included Watford Academy graduate, Sordell, and former loanee, Jackson.

 

Greeting the crowd

Greeting the crowd

The first incident of note was in the sixth minute when Faraoni pulled up injured and spent some time receiving treatment.  Watford were the first to threaten as Tözsér played a ball over the top to Deeney, but Hamer was out to challenge and won the battle on this occasion.  For the home side, Cousins cut the ball back for Harriott, but Faraoni tackled and put the ball out for a corner.  That was the Italian’s last contribution as the injury caused him to be replaced by Ranegie.  There was a scare for the Hornets as Bond appeared to have safely gathered a Jackson free-kick but then fumbled and the ball was heading for the goal when he recovered and gathered it at the second attempt.  At the other end, Ranegie knocked the ball down to Deeney whose shot was saved by Hamer.  Jackson headed a cross from Solly goalwards, but Bond kept it out.  On 22 minutes, Charlton went ahead as Harriott shot through Doyley’s legs and past Bond.  The

Defending a free kick

Defending a free kick

visitors should have equalized soon afterwards as a through ball from Battocchio was blocked and rebounded back to him, he passed to Deeney whose shot was pushed around the post by Hamer.  From Tözsér’s corner, Belkalem’s header was on target and had to be pushed onto the crossbar by the keeper.  Another corner from Tözsér was a little too deep, but was knocked down to Anya whose cross flew over the bar.  Murray was the next to try a cross, but it was caught by Hamer.  On the half hour, Battocchio played a short pass to Murray whose shot was just wide of the target.  Watford had another chance to draw level, but a lovely cross from Anya was headed back across goal by Ranegie, when he should have tested the keeper, and went out for a corner from which Hamer pushed the ball out for a throw.  In time added on at the end of the half Belkalem was booked for a foul on Wilson who went down as if he’d been punched following what appeared to be minimal contact.

Tozser lines up a free kick

Tozser lines up a free kick

So we reached half time a goal down.  In the away end, a singing section had gathered, but they had positioned themselves at one side of the stand which meant that very few of the songs were taken up elsewhere.  So, despite my attempts to join in, it was rather quiet where I was located just to the left of the goal.

The first action of the second half was the substitution of Doyley by Angella.  I am one of Lloydy’s biggest fans but he’d had a mare.  Soon after, there was a lovely Watford move as Murray played a through ball to Battocchio who fed Deeney.  Hamer came out to save, but Troy had already been flagged offside.  Harriott threatened again with a swift break, but Hoban intercepted and won a goal kick. That was good work from the youngster.  On the hour, Watford drew level as Deeney controlled a ball from Angella, shrugged off the attentions of the defenders and hit a lovely shot into the roof of the net.

Celebrating Deeney's wonder strike

Celebrating Deeney’s wonder strike

It was a rare moment of quality that appeared to come from another game.  Riera was booked for a trip on Poyet.  Sordell had failed to make an impression against his former team and was replaced by Obika.  Deeney tried a shot from the right of the box that was over the target.  Troy had another chance as he received a through ball from Ranegie, but he couldn’t control and it rolled through to Hamer.  The home side launched a counter attack that culminated in Jackson shooting past Bond to regain the lead.  There was a frantic period in the Charlton box as Angella and Deeney exchanged passes, but a defender took the ball off the Italian’s feet to stop the threat , Anya had a shot that was blocked and then Hamer was called into action to punch away a couple of crosses.  With 15 minutes to go, Murray was replaced by Diakite, a move that was met with great excitement from the woman sitting behind me who was raving about the loanee and clearly must have seen something that I’ve missed in his previous outings.  Diakite’s first action was to give away a free kick from which the ball reached Harriott who powered a shot past Bond for Charlton’s third.  We never looked like getting back into the game after that.  Diakite had a shot blocked before Riera came in to make a clearance, Poyet ran across and appeared to bounce off him and went flying.  The referee bought the theatrics and Riera received a second yellow.  He remonstrated with the official and Deeney approached Poyet and looked as though he was going to inflict an injury commensurate with his dramatic reaction.

Murray puts in a cross

Murray puts in a cross

Less than 5 minutes later, Poyet succeeded in adding Ranegie’s name to the ref’s collection.  Then, as Angella failed to clear, Fox shot wide of the far post.  In time added on, a Hoban cross came to Anya with his back to goal.  There were some in the away end who believed he’d propelled the ball across the line, but it appeared to me that Ikechi had actually kept the ball out, possibly using his arm in the process, although I would be interested to see a replay.  The last action of the game was a shot from Anya that was straight at Hamer.  So we lost our last away game of the season and the home crowd celebrated survival, which was some consolation as I quite like Charlton.

Reading my notes back, we were competitive in the first half but, once we went a goal down, we never looked like getting back into the game.  We’ve been poor on our travels for most of the season, but those last two performances were abject and have had me questioning why I bother if the players don’t.  Still, I know that come the end of May I’ll be itching for pre-season.  I’m a glutton for punishment.