On Tuesday, I was lucky enough to spend a cracking evening listening to Luther Blissett, Tony Coton, Sean Dyche and Paul Wilkinson reminiscing with Adam Leventhal in Tales from the Vicarage. As well as the anecdotes, there were some interesting musings on modern football, especially the penchant for diving. Coton said that, in his day, cheats would be called out by their team mates as well as the opposition. An interesting thought going into an afternoon with Wilfried Zaha.
As if to punish me for having such a great time, I woke up the next morning with a nasty case of vertigo, which has plagued me for the rest of the week. As I left home to walk to the station for the journey to Selhurst Park, I was a little unsteady and wondered whether I should stay at home but, since this was our only game in three weeks, I certainly wasn’t going to miss it.
As it was a London game, the City ‘Orns were allowed a block booking of tickets, so we duly met in Croydon for our pre-match drinks. Whenever two or three (or twelve) football fans are gathered together, the conversation often turns to superstitions and we soon discovered that a number of our group were wearing their “lucky socks”, although the evidence that these articles of clothing were actually lucky was almost as scanty as the shorts that Paul Wilkinson brought along on Tuesday.
Team news was that Mazzarri had made two changes with Cathcart and Janmaat coming in for Holebas and Okaka. So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Behrami; Janmaat, Cleverley, Capoue, Niang; and Deeney.
The first incident of the game involved Cathcart stopping a run by Zaha on the edge of the Watford box, allowing the Palace man to take a tumble in the area. Needless to say, the home fans were yelling for a penalty, while the away fans were berating him for diving. The first action resembling a goal attempt came from the home side as Sakho headed a Cabaye corner over the bar. The Hornets fashioned a much better chance as Niang advanced before taking a shot, but it was straight at Hennessey in the Palace goal. That was it for the first half hour of the game. The next thing that I deemed worthy of noting down was a chant of “You wrecked your own bus” from the Watford crowd following the report that the Middlesbrough team bus that was covered in Palace graffiti on their visit to Selhurst Park had been loaned from their hosts. Palace’s best chance of the game so far came on 36 minutes as Zaha advanced down the left, his cross was headed clear by Kaboul, but only as far as Cabaye whose shot was deflected for a corner.
The first caution of the game went to Cleverley for a late foul on Zaha. A nice passing move between Zaha and Townsend led to a cross that was headed clear by Britos under challenge by Sakho. Soon after, the ball fell to Zaha on the edge of the box, but his shot was well over the target. The visitors had the last chance of the half as a header from Janmaat dropped to Behrami whose volley was high and wide.
The whistle went to end a dreadful half of football. Watford had dominated the early part of the game, with the hosts coming into it towards half time, but the only shot on target had been the tame effort from Niang and most of the entertainment was coming from the stands. During the half time entertainment, t-shirts were thrown into the crowd. A number in the away end chose to throw them back. A poor move as one young lad who opened his was soon sporting a “Cult Heroes” shirt with Luther’s face on it. Although, after that first half, to remind us of the team of the early 80s was rubbing salt in the wound.
Mazzarri was forced into a substitution at the start of the second half bringing Doucouré on to replace Behrami, who had been struggling with an injury. The first chance of the second half fell to the visitors as Capoue launched a shot from distance over the bar. Just before the hour mark, there was a frission of excitement in the away end as Amrabat appeared to be getting ready to come on. The tension mounted and dissenting voices were heard as he was sent on a warm up run down the touchline. But, finally, he donned a white shirt and entered the field of play in place of Janmaat who had had an absolute mare. Zaha was lucky to escape a caution as his reaction to being dispossessed by Prödl was to knock the Austrian to the ground. There was a scare for the Hornets as Britos gave the ball away, not for the first time, Townsend crossed for Zaha but, yet again, the shot was over the bar. Palace took the lead on 68 minutes. Due to the sightlines at Selhurst Park when the crowd are standing, I didn’t see either the incident that led to the goal or the strike that beat Gomes, but I am reliably informed that Prödl fouled Zaha (a tactical move that earned him a yellow card), Cabaye took the free kick and, as Deeney attempted to head clear, the ball went in off the post. So Palace had managed to take the lead in a game in which they hadn’t had a shot on target.
Watford had a great chance to equalize as Doucouré hit a shot from distance that Hennessey just managed to tip around the post for a corner. At this point Jacque leaned over and suggested a ritual burning of our lucky socks, which had let us down very badly on this occasion. Mazzarri made another popular substitution bringing on Success, although many around me were questioning why Cleverley had been the man to make way. My feeling was that Tom had been becoming increasingly frustrated and was a foul away from a second yellow. Others saw it as a tactical move as he changed the formation. Anyhow, the next attack came from the home team as Benteke ran half the length of the pitch before sending a dreadful shot well wide of the target. Palace had a much better chance as Britos lost the ball, again, Cathcart came to the rescue blocking a shot from Zaha, but the rebound reached Cabaye who shot wide. Another decent chance to equalize came to nothing as Niang did really well to get into the box but, instead of playing a square ball to one of his teammates, opted to cut the ball back to an area populated with Palace defenders. As the clock reached 90 minutes Doucouré fed Success inside the area, I just wanted one of them to try a shot, but it wasn’t to be as they were smothered by the Palace defence and the ball rolled out for a goal kick. There was one final chance to grab a point in the last minute of time added on as Hennessey came out to deal with a high cross towards Deeney in the box, he collided with the Watford man, the ball fell to Niang, but his shot just cleared the bar and the points stayed in South London.
The away crowd had been getting increasingly irate throughout the game and a number of fans gathered at the front of the stand to make their feelings known to the players. Unfortunately the two who were applauding the crowd when the volley of abuse was aimed their way were Cathcart, who had done pretty well against Zaha, and Prödl, who was also pretty blameless and looked far from impressed at the reception.
It had been an appalling game. Palace were dreadful and were there for the taking, but we didn’t test them at all. I had high hopes when both Amrabat and Success came on, but each time I was disappointed. I was just thankful that, even with a diverted train, it was a fairly easy journey home. This season is becoming increasingly frustrating. We have a very talented group of players at our disposal who have no excuses for putting in a lacklustre performance against such a poor side. We can only be grateful that there are some truly awful teams in this division. One of those is up next at Vicarage Road. We have to be expect much better from that game or the post-match threats from some in our party only to turn up for the pre-match pints and forego the actual game may well come to pass.