My journey to Watford took slightly longer than usual as I hadn’t factored in the strike timetable on the final leg of the journey. As we arrived at the Junction, a Palace fan tried to engage a fella in front of me regarding our prospects for the game. I responded that I wasn’t expecting anything, he countered that we always beat them. We concluded that we would both be happy with a point and went our separate ways wishing each other well.
After that surprisingly pleasant encounter I headed for the West Herts and arrived just before Don left for the ground. It being the 10th anniversary of that amazing goal, glasses were raised with the toast “Happy Doyley Day.” Needless to say, there was also a lot of discussion about our new head coach. I have to say that I am happy with the appointment and the consensus of our group was that Pearson is just what we need at the moment. He did great things at Leicester and was credited with building the team that won the Premier League. He will also take no nonsense and we certainly need that attitude. As we watched Duncan Ferguson’s Everton beat Chelsea and recoiled in terror every time the camera gave a close up of big Dunc, I could only hope that Nigel would have the same effect at Watford.
As it was Watford’s “Rainbow Laces” match, there was a rainbow carpet welcoming all to the Hornet shop and there were Premier League representatives handing out laces to passing fans. I took some and just need to find a pair of boots with which to wear them.
Due to the late appointment of Pearson, Hayden Mullins was in charge again, facing his former club. Team news was that he had made two changes from the Leicester game with Kabasele and Pereyra coming in for Mariappa and Hughes. So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Femenía; Capoue, Doucouré; Pereyra, Deulofeu, Sarr; Deeney. In the opposition dug out was our old friend and hero Ray Lewington. I love to see him back at Vicarage Road.
I was not in the ground in time to see Pearson introduced to the crowd, but I was there when Emma asked us to thank Hayden Mullins for his stewardship while we were between managers. He was rewarded with very warm applause from the crowd and responded in kind.
There was a great early chance for the Hornets as Sarr turned and broke forward before playing in Femenía who crossed for Deeney who was unable to make a decent contact. At the other end, the visitors threatened but Ayew’s cross was hit straight to Foster. The Hornets gifted the visitors with a great chance to take the lead when a mishit clearance reached McArthur who should have done better but, thankfully, shot wide of the far post. The home side then had a great chance of their own as Femenía put a lovely cross in for Sarr, who tried to turn the ball in at the near post, but it was blocked for a corner. Sarr again executed a lovely turn and run but, on this occasion, his cross was headed to safety. The Hornets won a free kick in a dangerous position on the edge of the Palace box, but Pereyra’s delivery was straight at the wall. The first booking of the game went to Doucouré, who stuck a leg out to bring Ayew down. Off the field, there were complaints of bullying in the Rookery as Trevor, who sits in front of us and is a QPR fan (his wife is Watford), objected to the number of people wishing him “Happy Doyley Day”! Kabasele and Zaha tangled, there was some afters and the Palace man was penalised and booked, much to the amusement of the Watford faithful. There was then the ridiculous sight of Cathcart being shown a yellow card for a pass because Milivojevic had challenged him as he kicked the ball and had fallen over Cathcart’s feet. The first half ended with a lovely move from the Hornets that finished with Deulofeu playing a square ball to Sarr who shot well over the target.
So, we reached the break with the game goalless and without a shot on target, but it had been a very positive half of football from the Hornets.
At half time, representatives from the Proud Hornets and Proud and Palace were interviewed about their groups’ efforts to ensure that LGBT+ supporters feel welcome at football matches. The Hornets representative was particularly enthusiastic about the rainbow display in the Rookery at this time last year that they worked on with the 1881. It was very impressive and a really positive gesture towards inclusivity.
The visitors made a change at the break bringing Riedewald on for Schlupp. The Hornets had two goal chances in the first couple of minutes of the second half. First a free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Doucouré, but the header was an easy save for Guaita in the Palace goal. Then Pereyra played in Deulofeu but, again, the shot was straight at the Palace keeper. The next chance fell to Capoue, but his shot from outside the area was high and wide. Deulofeu looked as though he would open the scoring as he escaped from the Palace defence, but his shot was just wide of the near post. My heart was in my mouth when Masina and Zaha tangled in the box, but it was the Palace man that was adjudged to have been the aggressor. At this point the Palace fans were expressing their ire regarding the referee, the Watford faithful responded with “This referee’s all right!”.
Watford threatened again as Deulofeu played a short corner to Pereyra who played a return pass, but the curling effort from Geri was easy for Guaita. At the other end, Zaha found McArthur whose shot was well over the target. A promising run by Deulofeu was stopped by a foul from Tomkins that earned a yellow card. Palace then made their second substitution bringing Benteke on for Townsend. A lovely ball into the Palace box from Deulofeu appeared to be heading for the near post but Guaita was lurking and Sarr just failed to turn it in at close range. Into the final 15 minutes of the game and Mullins made two substitutions in quick succession with Gray and Chalobah replacing Pereyra and Doucouré. Between the substitutions, McArthur made a foray into the Watford box but was stopped by a great tackle from Kabasele. The visitors then had their best chance of the game with a powerful shot from Ayew that just cleared the bar. Watford were still fighting to make the breakthrough and Sarr played a cross to Deulofeu which was a little too deep so narrowed the angle for Geri who crossed back for Ismaïla, who could only head wide under a challenge from Cahill. The final substitution for Palace saw Kouyaté replaced by McCarthy.
Sarr had yet another chance to open the scoring, but his shot was turned wide by Cahill. A corner was then played back in by Cathcart to Sarr but the shot was high and wide. The game was getting rather tetchy and Femenía was the next to go into the referee’s book after hauling Zaha down. From the free kick, Watford cleared and launched a counter-attack as Sarr powered downfield before crossing for Gray who was coming into the box at speed and could only shoot straight at Guaita. There were shouts for a penalty when Deeney was pulled over by Cahill as he tried to reach a cross into the box by Masina. The referee waved play on but, soon after, Deeney was awarded a free kick for a much more innocuous foul on the wing and was clearly asking the referee why that was an infringement when the one in the box wasn’t. He appeared dissatisfied with the explanation. There had been an ongoing niggle between Capoue and Zaha and the Watford man was finally cautioned for a push on his opponent to stop him escaping. It was a very “Capoue” foul. Watford had a final chance to grab the winner as a shot from Deeney was caught by Guaita while Sarr challenged. The youngster went down in the incident and was lying on the goalline. Gray and Deeney told him in no uncertain terms to get on with the game and Troy dragged him to his feet with a force that could have dislocated his shoulder!! That was the last chance of the game which remained goalless despite the efforts of the Hornets.
The game finished with some unresolved handbags. Zaha was still arguing about how hard done by he had been as Chalobah put an arm around him and accompanied him off.
Back to the West Herts and the smiles were back on our faces. That had been a much better performance from the Hornets who looked like a cohesive team and worked very hard. The defence had been well-organised and the much maligned Femenía had put in an excellent performance keeping Zaha very quiet and contributing to his frustration. Sarr had again put in a great performance and is finally showing us what he can do. It was also pleasing to see Deulofeu put in a considerably better showing than he had in midweek. It is great to see Deeney back, his leadership makes such a difference to the team even if he isn’t scoring. All in all, it had been an enjoyable afternoon at the Vic and we haven’t had many of those this season.
So, while we are still at the foot of the table, I find myself feeling much more positive about our prospects for the rest of the season, even if the next two games are unlikely to be a lot of fun.