Tag Archives: Dale Stephens

Disappointing Defeat to Start the Season

Sarr visits the lower GT

During the week, I changed trains at Embankment station and found myself looking at a poster for Sky Sports which featured a large photo of Troy Deeney.  I sat staring at it, feeling ridiculously proud.  I am sure that when Troy was working as a brickie he never imagined himself as captain of a Premier League team and that he would be a poster boy for Sky.  But he has worked incredibly hard for his success and has become a real role model.  I am delighted for him and a poster like this will always make me smile.

After the appetiser last week, it was back to the West Herts to prepare for a proper football match.  Our party gradually gathered and the mood was positive.  The transfer window has been a good one for us.  The arrival of both Sarr and Welbeck this week was very welcome.  The Welbeck signing came out of nowhere and seems to be an excellent piece of business.  Added to that, we have kept all of our key players, so come into this season stronger than we finished last.  Then, to make us all even happier, sweetie man, Glenn, arrived with a bag of freshly made pork scratchings that he gets from his local butcher.  They are absolutely gorgeous and always welcome.  The one negative for me going into the new season was the introduction of VAR.  I have always been against the technology.  Football is not a game that stops and starts, so is not suited to lengthy reviews.  I have experienced them as a baseball fan in the US, and never been convinced that they always lead to ‘correct’ decisions.  Also the idea that the spontaneity of goal celebrations may be impacted due to the wait for confirmation really bothers me.  If the lino has his flag down, I am gone.  My first experience of VAR in the Premier League was watching the West Ham vs Man City game in the West Herts and the interruptions were attracting a lot of negative comment and irritating me immensely.

Gathering for a corner

As Trond was away, I had the honour of accompanying Don to the ground.  As we reached the disabled entrance, the young steward who, to be fair to her, had never seen me before asked if I was into football.  “Well, I’m a season ticket holder and have been coming here for 40 years, so ….”  She looked suitably embarrassed.  Entering through the opposite end of the Rookery to normal, I was able to buy my programme from Doreen Pym.  It was like old times, I must admit that I still miss seeing her in Bill Mainwood’s programme hut.

Team news was that there would not be debuts for either of the new signings with the only change from the Real Sociedad game being the return of Deulofeu in place of Sema.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Feminía, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas; Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu; Gray, Deeney.  Even if we weren’t to see them on the pitch, Welbeck and Sarr were introduced to the crowd before the game and were given a very warm welcome.

Just before the teams took to the field, Z-cars rang out and was greeted with cheers throughout the ground.  At last the club have seen sense.  I wasn’t to know at that point, that it would be the highlight of the afternoon.

Holebas takes a throw in

The game started positively and there was an early chance for the Hornets as Deulofeu showed some quick feet to get himself into position and then took a shot from the edge of the area which was well over the crossbar.  The first shot on target fell to the visitors, but Locadia’s effort was straight at Foster.  The Hornets immediately launched a counter attack, Deeney was tackled, the ball fell to Hughes, who was also closed down, the ball fell to Deeney again, he managed to get in a shot, but it was easily saved by Ryan.  There was a great chance for the visitors as Stephens played the ball out to Propper whose shot was only just over the crossbar.  Watford then had a great opportunity as the ball broke to Deulofeu who charged into the box, but was tracked all the way by Duffy and eventually went down under a challenge.  He called for a penalty, but his appeal was waved away.  Brighton took the lead with a bizarre goal.  From the other end of the pitch, it appeared that the initial cross was going out for a goal kick when Holebas headed it back in, it reached Groß whose cross was turned in by Doucouré.  It was a poor goal to concede, but there was plenty of time to recover and Watford tried to break back immediately as Doucouré looked to make amends by finding Hughes in the box, but Will was being challenged and could only shoot wide of the near post.  The visitors looked to increase their lead when a dangerous looking cross came in from Groß, Foster did well to make the catch as Murray challenged.  At the other end Capoue tried a shot from distance, but it was well over the target.  Capoue then played Femenía in, but the shot was deflected for a corner.  The Spaniard had another chance from the set piece as Ryan’s punch dropped to him, but this time his shot cleared the bar.  Watford nearly grabbed an equaliser before half time as a free kick from Holebas appeared to be heading for the goal until Ryan stretched to get a hand to it and keep it out.

Deulofeu and Capoue

It had been a disappointing half of football, but we were only a goal down and I was hopeful that the second half would see a similar turnaround to the previous week.

For half time entertainment, we had the introduction of the dizzy kicks competition.  Bizarrely, it was won by the only bloke who failed to score.  He was given the win due to getting the loudest cheer from the crowd!!  Now, not that I am biased as I know one of the lads who was defeated, but the rules need to be examined as that can’t be right.

Gracia made a substitution at the break bringing a bleached blond Pereyra on for Deulofeu.  I wasn’t sure about the wisdom of this change, replacing like with like, but was happy to see Roberto tracking back and fighting for possession.  The Hornets should have drawn level early in the half as Femenía nipped in while a defender was shepherding the ball out, he dribbled around him on the by-line before pulling the ball back for Gray whose shot was blocked on the line by a combination of Dunk and Ryan.

Deeney waiting for the ball to drop

Watford won a free kick in a dangerous position when Hughes was brought down on the edge of the box.  Pereyra took the free kick, which hit the wall prompting him to shout for a penalty.  I had already moved on when the scoreboard informed us that VAR was checking for the penalty, and then confirmed that it was not a penalty.  It all seemed rather pointless.  If a penalty is awarded, I want to see the referee pointing to the spot and, if not, waving it away, the series of statements on the big screen just irritated me.  Brighton made a double substitution on 64 minutes with Andone and Maupay replacing Locadia and Murray.  The visitors got a second goal almost immediately as Holebas failed to stop a cross from Groß allowing Andone to score with his first touch of the game.  At this point, the Brighton fans started a chant of “We’re gonna win the league.”  Watford tried to reduce the deficit with a deep cross that was met by the head of Dawson, but Ryan was equal to it.  Gracia made another substitution as Success replaced Gray, again this seemed like an odd change as the problem was not the finishing but the creation of chances.  Sure enough, it was the visitors who got a third as a through ball was played to Maupay who rounded Foster to score on his debut.  At this point there were loud boos from the Watford fans and the ground started to empty.  Success was almost gifted a chance to get one back through a terrible back pass from Dunk, but Ryan was first to the ball.  There was one last chance to spare our blushes as Pereyra was tripped on the edge of the box and Dunk received the first booking of the game.  Pereyra’s free kick rebounded off the wall, the follow-up reached Dawson but, again, the shot was blocked on the line.  When 4 minutes of added time was announced, there were loud boos from the Watford fans.  The only action during added time was the appearance of Bernardo in place of March for the visitors.

Pereyra and Capoue prepare for a free kick

The final whistle went to boos from the Watford faithful and, while the Brighton players spent some time celebrating with their fans, the Watford players disappeared pretty quickly.  But, fair play to Deeney, he did his usual lap of the pitch to applaud the fans in each stand and, despite the anger and disappointment in the crowd, he was warmly applauded for it.

The crowd back at the West Herts were subdued.  It had been a very disappointing performance with nothing to redeem it.  Hughton-era Brighton were difficult to play against as they defended resolutely, and that hasn’t changed under the new manager.  They gave the Watford players no space in which to play and this team has always struggled against teams who close them down.  The midfield was smothered and any promising passages of play finished with passes going astray.  But Potter has added some attacking prowess, so Brighton look to be a much better team than they were last season and we were all taken a little by surprise.  The main disappointment, though, was the fact that we have so much talent in the team but were given a completely lacklustre performance.  I was also disappointed in the substitutions.  Given how the midfield was struggling, it seemed pointless to replace Deulofeu with Pereyra, I thought that Cleverley would have been a better bet as he could offer something different.  Also, given that Gray has been on fire in pre-season, it seemed unlikely that Success would be a better bet up front.  Anyway, with a visit to Everton next week (we never win there), I am trying to convince myself that we can’t possibly be that bad two weeks in a row.  But, if we are, at least Everton is a cracking day out.

 

No Respite on the South Coast

Norman Wisdom welcomes us to the Amex

Our last visit to Brighton was memorable for all the right reasons.  After taking the lead in the first half, the game had been a bit of a slog, before Vydra’s injury time goal sent us all away happy.  It having been the lunchtime game, we retired to a lovely pub and, after spending the preceding couple of hours in the garden anxiously checking phones, we interrupted a quiet afternoon by erupting in joy as last minute goals confirmed our promotion.

It seemed appropriate to return to the scene of the celebrations, although there was no way we could sit in the pub garden on a cold December afternoon.  The beer and food was excellent and the company delightful as we were joined by Kevin Le Belge.  The locals were friendly and helpful, warning us to leave in plenty of time due to the queuing system at the station (which turned out not to be required on this occasion).

After the short train journey to the ground, the walk to the turnstiles was enhanced by the banners recalling memorable Brighton moments.  One which really appealed to me was Norman Wisdom stopping at a bus stop to give a young lad a lift to the game.  The Brighton stewards are among the nicest I have encountered on my travels, so the usual search was done with smiles and the sign inside the ground welcoming us after our journey always engenders goodwill.

Team news was that Silva had made four changes, two enforced by suspension, with Watson, Cleverley, Pereyra and Gray coming in for Mariappa, Capoue, Doucouré and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Prödl, Kabasele, Holebas; Watson, Cleverley; Carrillo, Pereyra, Richarlison; Gray.  It would be interesting to see Watson back in the team, but you had to feel sorry for Mariappa, who has been a stalwart this season.

Holebas debating a corner with the lino as Pereyra looks on

We were hoping for an improvement on last week’s dire performance, but the early signs were not good as a shot across goal from Hemed went begging, but Knockaert picked up the loose ball and his shot had to be saved by Gomes.  Pröpper then tried a shot from the edge of the box, but it was well over the bar.  Brighton threatened again as a cross from March flew across the goal but, on this occasion, Hemed just missed making the connection.  Watford’s first chance came after a quarter of an hour when a corner from Cleverley reached Pereyra on the edge of the box, he volleyed goalwards, but it was well wide of the target.  We waited another 15 minutes for the next action worthy of note when Carrillo tried a shot that appeared to take a deflection and was easily gathered by Ryan in the Brighton goal.  The home side had a decent chance to take the lead from a corner that was delivered to the far post where Goldson had a free header, but Gomes made a great save at close range.  It had been a dull half, but there was a moment of rare quality as Pereyra and Janmaat exchanged some slick passes to make their way out of defence and up the right wing, sadly the resultant cross was caught by the keeper, but the move was just wonderful.  At the other end, Knockaert had a chance to open the scoring, but his shot was straight at Gomes.  The Frenchman threatened again, but this time was thwarted by a great tackle from Richarlison who emerged with the ball.  The Brazilian had a half chance at the other end after a counter-attack, but his shot was weak and easy for the keeper.

Andre Gray up against Suttner

It had been a dull first half, the most positive thing anyone could find to say about it was that the score remained at 0-0 and there were still eleven Watford players on the pitch.

The first chance of the second half fell to the visitors but the shot from Hemed flew well over the bar.  Goldson then had a chance from a corner, but directed his header wide of the target.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came as Richarlison played a one-two with Pereyra before unleashing a great shot that stung the palms of Ryan as he kept it out.  At the other end, Groß went close with a shot from the right that flashed across goal and flew just wide of the far post.  The home side should have taken the lead with a great shot that was met by a terrific flying save from Gomes.  The blokes in the row in front arrived back from their half time refreshments just in time to see Groß receive the ball on the edge of the area and unleash a shot that Gomes really should have stopped, but it bounced off him and in to give the home side the lead.  Brighton almost had a second soon after as a corner was met by the head of Dunk whose effort was just wide of the target.

Watson back in the team

Silva made his first substitution with 20 minutes remaining bringing Sinclair back from the wilderness to replace Pereyra.  The home side had a terrific chance to increase their lead as March broke upfield before crossing for Hemed whose close-range shot missed the target.  Silva’s second change saw Capoue come on for Watson, who had had a disappointing return to the team.  Watford had a decent chance for an equalizer from a Cleverley free kick which Kabasele met, but headed just over the target.  Silva’s last substitution saw Okaka come on for Gray.  The rapturous reception given to the Italian told you all that you needed to know about the afternoon’s performance.  The substitute almost made an immediate impact, breaking through on goal, but his shot was blocked.  There was an even better chance for the Hornets as Holebas crossed for Richarlison whose header was just wide of the target.  Hughton made his first change bringing Kayal on for the goalscorer, Groß.  The home side threatened to kill the game off with a quick break from Hemed whose shot was blocked, the ball fell to Knockaert but he could only hit the side netting.  Brighton made a couple of late substitutions as Hemed and March made way for Murray and Izquierdo.  Okaka had a couple of late chances to snatch a point for the Hornets, first he met a cross with a header, but it was weak and drifted wide.  Then, with the last action of the match, Ryan fumbled a cross from Carrillo, the ball dropped to Okaka at the far post, hit his knee and bounced wide.  He was looking straight at us as we clutched our heads in despair and, it has to be said, looked pretty devastated himself.

Jerome Sinclair

Since the last action was at the end of the ground that was housing the Watford fans, we were treated to the unpalatable spectacle of Knockaert celebrating with glee right in front of us.  Even more distasteful was the chorus of boos from the travelling fans as Silva applauded us at the end of the game.  I despair of football fans, while not being surprised, as some had started their complaints in the first minute.

It is a funny old game football.  We finish the first half of the season with 22 points siting pretty in tenth place in the table.  If you had told me that at the start of the season, I would have been delighted.  But, following the highs of the early games when I thought we could beat anybody (except Man City), the recent run of 4 defeats, means that the cushion that we had has all but disappeared and there are fears of an upcoming battle against relegation.  Our team selections have been disrupted by injuries and ill-discipline and I still believe that, with a full squad to pick from, we could establish ourselves in mid-table, although that faith is being sorely tested at the moment.  Still, the friendship of the group that I travel with and the regular encounters with so many other lovely Watford fans mean that every match day has its pleasures, even if the game isn’t up to much.

To all of you who read this blog, thank you for your support.  I wish you all a very happy Christmas and three very welcome points on Boxing Day.

Watford Earn a Point as Britos Sees Red

Femenia takes a throw in

Pre-match in the West Herts was unusually quiet, the bank holiday weekend clearly meaning that many regulars had made alternative plans.  Before arriving, I had received a text from Don to tell me that there was hot food available and that the menu included jerk chicken.  In fact, they were offering jerk chicken in a roll at a bargain price and it was absolutely gorgeous.  My new favourite pre-match lunch.  As we enjoyed our pints, the televisions were showing Bournemouth vs. Manchester City.  The animosity that has developed between the Hornets and the Cherries was clearly shown when City scored a 96th minute winner and the West Herts erupted into a massive celebration.

As we walked down Vicarage Road, I was a little surprised to encounter touts.  I have come to expect that when the top six clubs are in town, but touts for Watford vs Brighton is a new one on me.  As I came through the turnstiles, “September” was playing over the tannoy, clearly getting us ready for Doucoure’s chant.

Chalobah on the run

Team news was that Silva had made just the one change from the Bournemouth game with Kabasele in for the suspended Holebas, so the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Prödl, Kabasele, Britos; Chalobah, Doucouré; Amrabat, Cleverley, Richarlison; Gray.  Our old friend, Anthony Knockaert, started for the visitors, his name was announced to a loud chorus of boos.  Also of note was the fact that Silva was back in a suit, having donned a tracksuit for the Bristol City game in midweek.

There was an early chance for the Hornets as Amrabat played a through ball to Gray, but his shot was well wide of the target.  Our first chance to boo the pantomime villain came as Cleverley lined up to take a free kick and Knockaert took his place in a one man wall in front of the Rookery.  The wall was ineffective and the delivery was met by Chalobah whose header was blocked.  Amrabat beat a defender on the right before delivering a cross into the box, Richarlison and Gray both went for the ball but neither was able to make contact.  The first decent goal attempt came from the visitors after quarter of an hour with a curling shot from Knockaert which rebounded off the inside of the far post.  The first booking went to Brighton’s Bruno who was cautioned after clattering Richarlison.

Gerry Armstrong

The Brighton fans were yelling for a penalty after the ball appeared to hit Prödl, but it was clearly ball to arm and a corner was given.  The game changed on a moment of madness.  Knockaert was advancing down the wing and Britos just flew into a tackle with both feet off the ground.  It was a straight red card, with no complaints from any of us.  Thankfully Knockaert wasn’t injured.  The sending off prompted Silva to make a tactical substitution sacrificing Amrabat for Cathcart, which was a bit of a shame as Nordin was having his best game for a while.  The visitors had another chance to open the scoring as a corner from Groβ was headed wide by Dunk.  The post came to the Hornets’ rescue again as Hemed’s effort rebounded to safety.  At the other end, Chalobah tried a shot from distance that was just wide of the near post.  In time added on, Gomes was alert to punch a cross from Knockaert out for a corner, which came to nothing.

The half time player chat was with Gerry Armstrong.  As with all of the interviewee’s this season, he was asked about GT’s influence.  He credited the gaffer with getting him fit and allowing him to shine for Northern Ireland at the 1982 World Cup.   None of us who were around at the time will forget his goal scoring exploits at that tournament.  A Watford player at a World Cup was a new experience in 1982.

Carrillo makes his debut

Cathcart’s return from injury turned out to be short-lived, as he ran for a ball early in the second half and had to pull up.  He looked as though he wanted to continue but was convinced to seek treatment, after which he left the pitch to be replaced by new signing, Carrillo. At this point, Cleverley dropped into the right back position.  Brighton threatened with a dangerous cross towards Groβ in the Watford boss, but he was stopped by an excellent tackle from Femenía.  From a corner, the ball was headed back to Hemed who volleyed just wide of the target.  There was much discussion in the stands regarding the laws of the game when Knockaert went down in the box and, after a long consultation with the lino, the referee awarded an indirect free kick that was blasted off the wall.  Brighton threatened again as a cross was headed back across goal by Knockaert, on this occasion Prödl put it out for a corner.  A very promising break by Richarlison finished with a shot that was high and wide.  At the other end, a dangerous looking cross was saved by Gomes with Knockaert closing in.  Knockaert had yet another chance with 15 minutes to go, but his shot was saved by Gomes.  Brighton’s next attempt came from a corner, but Duffy headed just wide.  Richarlison lifted Watford hearts again after another break downfield, this time he fed Gray, but the outcome was the same with a shot that was well over the bar.

Prodl rises to meet the ball

With 10 minutes to go, Knockaert was replaced by Izquierdo, which was a relief as he had run us ragged.  Silva also made a late change, replacing Gray, who had worked very hard but never looked like scoring, with Deeney, a substitution that was very popular with the Watford crowd.  Both teams had a late chance to snatch the victory. The Brighton substitute, Izquierdo, tried a shot from distance that flew high and wide at the near post.  Then Watford’s new signing, Carrillo, had an opportunity to crown his debut when he met a cross from Femenía, but his header flew over the bar.  With the last kick of the game, Femenía sent a shot high and wide and the game finished goalless.

The post match consensus was that the ten men had put in a sterling performance to win a very well deserved point.  There was no sympathy for Britos whose tackle had been as reckless as it was unnecessary.  But there was much admiration for many of the others.  I don’t think he has been mentioned in the report at all, but Kabasele was absolutely immense.  He battled hard and consistently snuffed out attacks.  Femenía, who had replaced Britos on the left, had also done really well in the makeshift position.

Richarlison

The midfield players were excellent again.  Doucouré and Chalobah continue to impress.  Cleverley worked his socks off again and our first glimpse of Carrillo was a positive one.  Even Amrabat had his best game for a while, finding some end product to match the surging runs.  Then there was Richarlison, who has quickly become a favourite of mine.  What chances we created mostly came through him and he also gave a rather lovely interview to the programme, presumably through an interpreter.  It is clear that his attempts to settle in have been greatly helped by the presence of Gomes as well as a manager who speaks his language.  By all accounts, he is a lovely lad and his future looks very bright indeed.

The international break comes at a good time.  By the time we meet Southampton, we will know the final shape of our squad and hopefully will have some players back from injury.  We are unbeaten so far this season and there is a lot to like in this new squad.  If our next trip to the South coast is half as much fun as the last one, we have a lot to look forward to.

 

We are Going Up!

A kind greeting from our hosts

A kind greeting from our hosts

Where do you start with this game?  I guess the best place is the preceding week and how much time was spent staring at the table that had Watford top by a single point with two games to go and then working through all the possible permutations of results and their implications.  Whichever way you looked at it, we needed the three points from our trip to Brighton.

Normally I hate early kick-offs, but it was quite a relief to get this game out of the way early doors.  I arrived on the platform at Clapham Junction to find it packed with Watford fans who piled onto the Brighton train while I waited for the Lewes connection, which proved to be a smart move as it was relatively quiet.  I met up with Pete & Richard at East Croydon.  When asked how I was, the answer that I didn’t feel too good was met with concerned looks until I explained that it was just nerves.  We were delighted to be joined by Becky and Simon at Haywards Heath as we made our way to Falmer.

By 11:30, the away concourse at the Amex was packed with noisy fans.  There is a tradition of wearing fancy dress to the last game of the season but somehow, with the importance of this game, dressing up seemed inappropriate, as if we were celebrating before we’d achieved anything.  This was a day for serious concentration on and off the pitch.  Brighton had their usual welcoming poster thanking us for travelling 163 miles to the game.  It was a little early, but the offer of Harvey’s bitter was one that I had to take up.  The guest pie was a breakfast one which contained baked beans and appeared to be a treat too far, so I opted for safe (and incredibly bland) chicken and ham.

The teams emerge to streamers

The teams emerge to streamers

Team news was that Jokanovic had made three changes with Connolly, Anya and Ighalo in for Hoban, Layun and Vydra.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Connolly, Cathcart, Angella, Anya, Guedioura, Watson, Abdi, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney.  I could only hope that the players were not feeling as nervous as I was.

The teams emerged to ticker tape, streamers, balloons and various inflatables being thrown around the away end.  Before kick-off there was a minute’s silence to mark 30 years since the Bradford fire.  On this occasion, the sadness was mingled with anger following the recent stories about the Chairman at the time.

So, how were Brighton going to approach this game, given that they had nothing to play for?  I was hoping that they would already be on the beach but an attacking move in the first minute indicated that this was not the case as O’Grady’s shot was blocked and eventually cleared.  Soon after, Bruno lofted a ball into the box, but Gomes was there to make a comfortable catch.  Watford’s first goal attempt came in the sixth minute as Abdi found Ighalo who juggled the ball which found its way to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  At the other end Carayol crossed for Bennett who shot well wide from the edge of the box.

Celebrating Deeney's goal

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

There was a very nervous moment in the away end as Bennett went past Paredes into the box and was knocked down.  He went down very easily, but it looked like a foul from where I was standing, so I was mightily relieved when the referee waved play on.  Deeney almost latched on to a dodgy pass back to the Brighton keeper, he certainly made Stockdale play the ball.  At this point, chants for Sean Murray went up in the block next to us, as the youngster was watching the game from towards the back of that stand.  Although I’m not sure that standing for 90 minutes will have been ideal therapy for his knee.  Brighton had another chance from a corner, but Halford headed well over the bar.  Jokanovic decided to make an early change at this point sacrificing Anya for Tözsér and changing to four at the back and a diamond in midfield.  The change had an immediate effect as Watson moved to the left and got a cross in, the ball found its way to Deeney who fired across Stockdale and into the net sparking massive celebrations in the away end.  Only an hour to go!!  Watford had another chance soon after as Guedioura found Abdi, but Stockdale was behind his shot.  We almost shot ourselves in the foot as an attempt by Guedioura to cut the ball out only succeeded in giving the ball away and O’Grady’s shot needed a brilliant save from Gomes to keep it out.  With five minutes to the end of the half, Cathcart made a wonderful tackle that allowed Abdi to break but he was taken down by Kayal, who was booked for the foul.  As usual, the 44th minute was filled with applause and chants for Nic Cruwys.  In time added on, Gomes came to punch a corner clear.  There was then a scary moment as Deeney and Gomes got in each other’s way as they went to deal with a ball in the box, thankfully it rolled harmlessly out for a goal kick.

So we reached half time a goal up, but Brighton were making things uncomfortable for us.  We all agreed that another couple of goals were needed to settle the nerves on and off the pitch.

Gomes in action

Gomes in action

Watford started the second half really well as Watson found Abdi in scoring position, but his shot hit Deeney and was deflected wide.  Deeney then found Guedioura who should have passed to Abdi, but tried a cross to Ighalo, which was cut out.  A free kick in a dangerous position was hit well over by Tözsér.  Watford should have had a second in the 53rd minute as a Guedioura shot was blocked, Ighalo was in a great position to turn the loose ball in, but Guedioura got in his way and Stockdale was able to put the ball out for a corner.  Odion looked furious with his team mate.  From Abdi’s corner, Ighalo headed wide.  Brighton’s first substitution saw Watford boy Mackail-Smith come on for Carayol.  Watford’s first booking of the afternoon went to Cathcart for a clumsy tackle on O’Grady.  Brighton threatened again as a corner was headed wide by Greer.  Jokanovic’s second substitution saw Vydra come on for Ighalo.  Another Brighton attack was stopped by a reckless tackle from Angella, who saw yellow.

Watson lines up a free kick

Watson lines up a free kick

Watford had another great chance to extend the lead as Abdi exchanged long passes with Vydra before shooting over when you would have put money on him burying the ball.  Abdi had another chance with a shot from the edge of the area that flew wide.  Then Vydra had the ball on the edge of the Brighton box but was crowded out before he could shoot.  A long Brighton throw was headed goalwards by Greer, but Gomes caught the header.  Another great Watford chance came as a cross from Guedioura was dummied by Vydra and reached Deeney whose shot was deflected for a corner.  At the other end, Mackail-Smith tried to break into the box but Gomes gathered the ball with the Brighton man claiming, to no avail, that his run had been impeded.  Brighton made a couple of substitutions as LuaLua replaced Forster-Caskey and then Calderon came on for Bruno.  Jokanovic’s last substitution was to replace Abdi with Forestieri.  Not a move to calm the nerves.  Brighton looked to level as a Calderon cross was headed just wide.  Then Deeney found Vydra in a great position, but the shot was dreadful and didn’t test Stockdale.  Deeney took one for the team as he was booked for taking Bennett down in order to stop a break.

Vydra runs back from celebrating his goal

Vydra runs back from celebrating his goal

The last few minutes of normal time were torture as, first, a Brighton free-kick was headed over by O’Grady.  Then a Calderon cross was met by a shot from Stephens which Gomes dropped to save.  Guedioura and Dunk appeared to collide, although the Brighton fans thought that an arm was raised and were calling for a red card, but only yellow was shown.  Dunk was down for a while, but was eventually fit to continue for the five minutes of time added on.  What happened next had to be seen to be believed.  Some brave goalkeeping from Gomes kept Brighton out, the eventual clearance reached Deeney who was breaking down the right wing with Vydra in an acre of space to his left, he played a great pass, but Vydra’s touch to control the ball appeared to allow a defender to catch him.  No matter, he belted the ball into the opposite corner of the goal to spark pandemonium in the away end.  I am not ashamed to admit that I was screaming like a banshee as I leapt up and down.  The bench were equally raucous in their celebrations.  It was lovely to see Ighalo run onto the pitch to join in.  The final whistle went to rapturous scenes on and off the pitch.  We were even treated to the unusual sight of Jokanovic coming over to applaud the crowd.  This was a special day indeed.

On the way out of the ground a Brighton fan asked if the ref was from Watford, we were very happy to be able to tell him that he was actually a Luton fan from Bournemouth!

Celebrating the win and a step nearer to promotion

Celebrating the win and a step nearer to promotion

After the game, we decided against indulging in the bright lights of Brighton, instead heading for Lewes where we found a rather lovely pub with good beer and a nice garden.  We then spent the next two hours obsessively refreshing the football scores on our phones.  It was all going rather well until Norwich scored, then Middlesbrough got a late equalizer against Fulham and we were resigned to another tense week.  One more refresh and I couldn’t believe my eyes as Rotherham scored a late equalizer.  Another one showed that Fulham had got a winner.  It took several more before we saw FT next to those scores to confirm that Watford had been promoted.  We were hugging each other while some nice women at a neighbouring table asked what had provoked this outburst of emotion.  Football!!  When we calmed down (a little) it was time to reflect and remember absent friends.  Guy Judge and Steve Brister would have loved the end of this season and we raised a glass to them.

When I got home, it was lovely to see friends posting photos from Watford of them with the players.  It is a measure of this team that they hadn’t found some exclusive place to celebrate, they had headed into central Watford to have dinner at their favourite Italian.  Who knows what will happen to us in the Premier League.  With the support of the Pozzos, we must be better placed to compete than we were on our last two visits.  But this is a team that thoroughly deserves their chance in the top flight and I look forward to cheering them on home and away on our next adventure.

A New Dawn?

Tozser lining up a free kick

Tozser lining up a free kick

After the horrible collapse at Forest on Thursday, I can’t say that I was looking forward to this game. Deadline day had seen some action with Iriney and Fabbrini departing on loan and Diakite and Park arriving.  However, having been crying out for a defensive midfielder, the arrival causing most interest was Tözsér who had come in on loan from Genoa, hopefully to shore up our midfield.  When the teams were announced, we found we were to get an early idea of whether he was “the answer”.  The starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Hall, Angella, Anya, Merkel, Tözsér, Battocchio, Cassetti, Forestieri and Deeney.  In goal for the visitors was former loanee, Kuszczak, although I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t recognize him.  I knew he looked familiar, but couldn’t quite place the face.

Anya being congratulated for his goal

Anya being congratulated for his goal

The first action of note came in the 11th minute.  Almunia came out of his area to clear as Ulloa threw himself to the ground in the box, the clearance fell to Forestieri who tried a shot which didn’t trouble Kuszczak.  We were a goal up soon after as Forestieri won the ball in the middle of the park, turned and fed Merkel, he found Anya on the left who made no mistake shooting across Kuszczak into the far corner.  Anya was involved again soon after, going on a long run up the left wing, crossing the touchline just in front of the linesman at one point, but in the absence of a flag the run continued and culminated in a shot from distance, but Kuszczak was equal to it.  On 25 minutes, Brighton threatened for the first time as a López cross flew across our area but Battocchio was back to make a crucial tackle.  We should have been two goals up a minute later as Cassetti won the ball on the right and crossed to Forestieri who, with only the keeper to beat, opted to place

Battocchio on the attack

Battocchio on the attack

the shot instead of going for power and did so right into Kuszczak’s arms.  Irritation at the miss was tempered with relief that we hadn’t built a two goal lead to throw away.  Brighton’s next goal attempt came from a corner, the ball fell to Andrews but his shot from distance was well over the bar.  On the half hour, Almunia had to come out to get a hand to a dangerous cross from Ward before Ulloa could get his head on it.  López’s follow up shot was wide of the far post.  Then another Brighton corner was met by Upson who headed well over the bar.  On 39 minutes, an injury forced the first substitution as Forster-Caskey was replaced by LuaLua.  In the closing minutes of the half, Forestieri played a square ball to Battocchio on the edge of the box, but his speculative shot was straight at Kuszczak.  Brighton could have equalized as the substitute, LuaLua, went on a run down the left and unleashed a fierce shot that hit the corner of the bar and post, the ball reached Lopez, who shot into the side netting.

Ready to attack a corner

Ready to attack a corner

As the players came out for the second half, Kuszczak’s appearance in the goal at the Rookery end was greeted with very warm applause.  Brighton threatened early on, as a ball into our box was met with a firm header by Hall, it fell to López whose shot was caught by Almunia.  On 52 minutes, Brighton were wasteful again as the ball fell to Andrews on the edge of the box, but his shock was reckless and well wide of the target.  Then Forestieri must have won the ball three or four times as he fought off the attentions of Brighton defenders before releasing Anya but, sadly, all that resulted from their hard work was a corner.  Another Brighton attack failed to muster a shot on target as Ulloa’s shot was blocked, the ball fell to López whose shot was well wide.  Deeney then closed down a clearance by Greer, but the ball looped over the bar.  Watford had another decent chance to increase their lead as a ball came in to Forestieri who held off two defenders to head the

Forestieri celebrates

Forestieri celebrates

ball down to Deeney, but his shot was over the bar.  At the other end LuaLua found Stephens but he shot well wide.  Just before the hour mark, Forestieri won the ball on the left, dribbled around Kuszcazk and shot into the open goal.  The goal was a just reward for Fernando’s tremendous performance.  However, there were a few muttering about us being two up given what that heralded in the last two games.  I was heartened at the fact that on the hour it was us scoring rather than the opposition.  Soon after, new boy Tözsér lined up a free-kick which looped just over the bar.  Brighton made their second substitution as Rodríguez replaced Orlandi.  There was a let off for the Hornets on 67 minutes as a free-kick was headed past Almunia by Ulloa but it was ruled out for off-side.  Harry Hornet was highly amused at this turn of events.  Another Brighton free-kick was hit

New boy, Merkel, takes a throw

New boy, Merkel, takes a throw

straight at the wall, but they regained possession and a cross to the far post was met with a header that Almunia caught.  Then a sliced shot by LuaLua was blocked by Angella.  The resulting corner was met with a header from Ulloa that was going wide, but Almunia was taking no chances and claimed it.  With 15 minutes remaining, Murray replaced Merkel after spending some considerable time standing on the touchline waiting for a suitable break in the game.  Watford’s next attack was thwarted as Deeney received the ball in an advanced position but was hacked down by Greer, who was booked for the offence.  Murray took the resulting free-kick which flew through the wall but was gathered by Kuszczak.  With 10 minutes remaining March replaced López.  Deeney had a half chance as he ran into the box to a ball that had bounced off Murray, but Kuszczak got there first.  In the last minutes of normal time, Battocchio made way for Diakite, and Forestieri was withdrawn to a standing ovation and replaced by Park.  There was five minutes of time added on, but the only action of note was a reckless challenge by Park on the edge of our area which led to another silly yellow card for Ekstrand for kicking the ball away.  The resulting free kick curled over the bar and our clean sheet was preserved.

Ekstrand takes a free-kick

Ekstrand takes a free-kick

What a difference a couple of days make.  Three points are always welcome, but it was the performance that really pleased.  Tözsér impressed immediately, putting his foot in when needed and acting as that midfield fulcrum that we’ve missed.  Hall was immense in the centre of defence.  They formed the spine that was so obviously missing on Thursday and the overall performance improved immeasurably.  I sometimes feel that Forestieri wins man of the match awards for being eye-catching rather than effective, but today it was thoroughly deserved.  He was tireless, playing like a terrier whose favourite ball you were trying to take.  But he wasn’t the only one in that regard.  Where, on Thursday, we were nowhere to be seen as Forest took their chances, today we refused to allow the Brighton players any space.  If a ball was lost, there was a player instantly fighting to get it back.  While I’m not convinced that we’ll get anything at Leicester next week, I’m very encouraged that we are going in the right direction.