Tag Archives: Dan Gosling

A Win to Make GT Proud

My favourite photo with GT and Rita (and Don)

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

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

Capoue prepares for kick-off

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

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

Doucoure and Lerma tangle

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

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

Celebrating Doucoure’s goal

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

Cathcart, Deeney and DAwson challenging in the Bournemouth box

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

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

Celebrating Deeney’s strike

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

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal

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

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

Chalobah takes a corner

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

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

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

Adam Masina

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

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

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

A Bonkers Evening in Boscombe

A friendly welcome to Bournemouth

Football on New Year’s Day is a thing of the past in the Premier League.  Due to the knock-on effect of the games that were shown on television over the weekend, most of the matches had to be moved this year and, of the three games that actually took place on New Year’s Day, only one of them was a 3pm kick-off.  Moving the games means more time off work, expense and inconvenience for travelling fans, but it was still a sell-out.

I arrived in Bournemouth mid-afternoon and relaxed at the hotel before heading for the pub at a respectable time to find that there was already a decent crowd there.  Luckily we were still able to find a table in the lovely room at the back of the pub (that used to be a boxing gym).  While there we were notified of a fire alarm at the ground which had delayed the arrival of the players and would result in a 15 minute delay to the kick-off.  We left plenty of time for our walk to the ground and as we turned the corner to the away stand were greeted with the customary queue for the search.  I left the queue for a moment to wish Mick, our Police liaison officer, a happy new year.   Then, following the usual comprehensive search, I was finally through the turnstiles.  Our seats in the ground were right at the back of the stand so I braced myself for 90 minutes of uncomfortable standing.

For some reason, I had convinced myself that we never get anything against Bournemouth (bad memories of Angella receiving red cards have coloured my view).  We are also usually accompanied by Pete’s son, Matt, who hasn’t seen us win since 2006.  So I was surprised to find that, apart from the thrashing at Vicarage Road in October (luckily the only league game that I have missed this season) and the win away last season, most of our recent games have ended in draws.

Deeney celebrates his first goal

Team news was the reinstatement of the players who were left out on Saturday, so five changes with Femenía, Holebas, Doucouré, Sema and Deeney replacing Janmaat, Masina, Quina, Hughes and Success.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Sema, Capoue, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.  Former loanee Nathan Aké started for the home side.  It still hurts that he went there.

The game started brightly for the home side as a quick break finished with Brooks curling a shot just over the target.  The Cherries had another early chance as a cross was cleared only as far as Lerma on the edge of the box, but his effort was well over the target.  On 14 minutes, the Hornets took the lead against the run of play.  Some good work from Doucouré ended with Sema receiving the ball, he put in a lovely cross for Deeney who headed home.  As has become a tradition at Bournemouth, the goal was greeted with a flare.  The stringent searches failing yet again.  Watford had a decent chance to increase their lead as a shot from Sema was blocked, Pereyra picked up the rebound but fired over the target.  At the other end Wilson played the ball back to Fraser whose shot was straight at Foster.

Etienne Capoue

The second goal came after good work from Deulofeu who intercepted the ball in the midfield and advanced into the box, he was crowded out, but the loose ball broke to Deeney, who powered his shot home to put the Hornets in what appeared to be a comfortable lead.  The first caution of the game went to Doucouré for a foul on Fraser.  I haven’t seen any replays of the incident, but those watching television pictures reckoned that it could have been a red card.   Bournemouth tried to hit back as King broke into the Watford box, but he was stopped by a brilliant tackle by Cathcart.  At the other end, Watford had a decent chance of a third goal as Doucouré hit a curler from the edge of the area that just cleared the crossbar.  Deeney was the next to see a yellow card for a foul on Fraser.  But, just when Watford were looking to be in total control, the home side hit back.  Foster made a brilliant save from Gosling, but his great work was for nothing as Aké was on hand to nod in the rebound.  It was noted that the former Watford loanee did not celebrate.  Four minutes later and the hosts were level as a Brooks free kick was headed home by Wilson.  At this point I noted that what I was watching was “unbelievable”.  I spoke too soon as the goal spree hadn’t finished and the travelling Hornets were soon celebrating again as Watford retook the lead when a free kick from Foster was headed on by Deeney to Sema who volleyed past Begović.  I don’t think the celebrations in the away end had finished when Stanislas broke forward and found Fraser who beat Foster to draw the game level again.  Having seen four goals in six minutes, it felt as though every attack would finish with the ball in the net, so I was relieved when a cross from Stanislas was headed wide by King.  When the half time whistle went, we all drew breath.  It had been exhausting to watch and you had to feel sorry for Javi.  What sort of team talk do you deliver after a half like that?

Goal hero, Sema, and Cleverley

At half time, a number of supporters from each team were invited on to the pitch for a “beer goggles” penalty shoot-out.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the defenders had been wearing these goggles for the last 15 minutes of the half.

The first action of note in the second half was a booking for Capoue for a foul on Gosling.   The first substitution came on 56 minutes as Doucouré, who was on a yellow card and looking in danger of picking up a second, made way for Cleverley.  The first chance of the second half for the Hornets came from a Holebas free kick, but Deeney’s looping header was saved easily by Begović.  There was finally a caution for the home side as Gosling was booked for a really nasty challenge on Cleverley.  Thankfully Tom emerged unscathed.  Then another Holebas free kick was met by the head of Deeney, this time the effort was wide of the target.  At the other end, a close range header from Wilson was stopped by a brilliant save from Foster.  When Deeney went down in the box clutching his head, there were some weak shouts for a penalty.  It would have been a very soft decision, but the referee had been falling for the theatrics from the Boscombe divers all evening, so it would have felt like sweet revenge if it had been given.

Holebas lines up a corner

Watford’s second change came on 70 minutes as Hughes came on in place of Sema, who had a decent game and had scored a lovely goal.  Bournemouth had a great chance to take the lead as King broke into the box, but Foster was down to make a brave save, even if he needed a couple of goes before he finally gathered the ball.  Foster was in action again soon after making a low save from a Gosling strike.  A lovely move by the Hornets saw Deulofeu find Deeney who played Pereyra into space, but he was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Cook.  Into the last 10 minutes and Eddie Howe made two substitutions replacing Wilson and Fraser with Ibe and Mousset.  Watford had a great chance to regain the lead as Deeney played a square ball to Deulofeu but the shot was just wide of the near post.  At the other end King tried his luck, but his shot was straight at Foster.  Deulofeu broke forward again, but was too greedy and ran into a crowd of defenders when Pereyra was in space to his left.  Watford had the ball in the net for a fourth time, but Deeney’s header came after the whistle had gone for a foul on Aké, so the goal wasn’t given.  Watford made a final substitution on 90 minutes, replacing Deulofeu with Success.  Pete had been calling for this change, but I wasn’t so sure as the stature of Success seemed likely to encourage the Bournemouth players to bounce off him calling foul.  The first contribution from the substitute was a dangerous-looking run, but he was stopped by the always impressive Aké.  There was another half shout for a penalty as Cleverley was fouled in the box and the ball bounced up and hit Aké’s hand.  But, again, it would have been a soft one and the referee was right to deny it.  As the three minutes of injury time came to a close, Watford had one last free kick which came to nothing and the whistle went on a surprisingly goalless half with the score still at 3-3.

Wonderful Ben Foster

My first reaction at the end of the game, after a huge sigh of relief, was that I wished I had been a neutral.  It had been a properly bonkers game of football and must have been thrilling if your nerves weren’t on edge every time either team got near the goal.  When the Hornets had taken the early two goal lead, it looked as though it was going to be a comfortable win as Bournemouth were looking really poor.  As soon as they got a goal back, the tables had turned and Watford looked in shock.  The defence were in pieces and even the normally reliable Craig Cathcart had some dodgy moments.  The second half was much calmer.  Bournemouth had the majority of the possession and chances, Ben Foster made a couple of excellent saves, but the Hornets had also created a couple of decent chances and could easily have grabbed a winner.  The man of the match for the Hornets was probably Deeney, who took his goals well and was absolutely immense all over the field, although his post match interview could have done with some editing.

So, we now have a break in league action for the FA Cup third round this weekend and a trip to Woking.  Pete’s reminiscences about the visit to Northwich Victoria in 1977 have made me a bit nervous about this one.  I just hope that we don’t go expecting an easy game and that we put on a decent show as a cup run would be rather lovely.

 

The Cherries Steal a Point at the Death

The 1881 encouraging the crowd to sing

On Wednesday evening was an At Our Place event as fans were invited to question Javi Gracia, Tom Cleverley and Scott Duxbury. The evening started with an introduction to the diversity work of FSF by Anwar Uddin. He was a very engaging speaker, a former footballer who Watford once tried to sign. West Ham wouldn’t let him go at the time and, when they did release him, he found that Lloyd Doyley had come on leaps and bounds and he was no longer needed. He was the first British player of Asian origin and is still a rarity in that area and works with the community to find out why. But he also works in all areas of diversity including setting up a group for older supporters at West Ham called Any Old Irons, you had to love him for that. He was joined by Sam McLeod, the reporting officer for Kick it Out, who told us about the reporting mechanism when you hear abuse at the ground. After a short break, the Watford men took the stage. Javi is very engaging and did well in dealing with questions (with a little help from his translator). Tom Cleverley is a sweetheart and spoke positively about being back at Watford. Scott Duxbury talked about the business and how Gino Pozzo is in it for the long-term. It was a fabulous evening, fair play to the club for putting it on. They even gave us food and a free drink at the bar.

On Saturday morning, I was in Watford early in order to attend the Watford Community Trust exhibition at the museum, which was small, but perfectly formed. I particularly liked the Terry Challis painting of the two Robs (Smith and Clarke).

Gathering for a corner

Then it was on to the West Herts where our usual crew were treated to a visit from Debs and Jane over from Sydney on a flying visit. It was lovely to catch up as we all cheered the demise of Palace against Liverpool (sorry Ray Lew).

Team news was two changes from the trip to Liverpool with Janmaat and Hughes in for Britos and Richarlison. After his nightmare at Anfield, it wasn’t a huge surprise to find that Britos had called in sick. More of a surprise was that Richarlison was finally being given the rest that many fans have been calling for. So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Mariappa, Prödl, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Femenía, Hughes, Pereyra; Deeney. Nathan Aké started for the visitors, I know that I am not the only Watford fan who is still very disappointed that he didn’t sign for us instead.

Watford started the game brightly enough, but the visitors had the first chance from a free kick that was taken short to Stanislas whose cross was met by Aké whose header hit the crossbar. Bournemouth had another decent chance to take an early lead as a terrific shot from Stanislas was met by Karnezis who, at full stretch, managed to push the ball to safety.

Congratulating Femenia on his goal

Watford’s first goal attempt came after some good work from Hughes, who found Deeney whose shot from the edge of the box was blocked. Watford took the lead after 13 minutes as a corner was taken short to Holebas who crossed for Femenía whose volley took a deflection before beating Begović. Bournemouth had a chance to break back almost immediately as a free kick from Stansilas was headed over the bar by Aké, although the lino seemed to have the flag up for offside. There was a scare for the Hornets as Mariappa lost out to King, who was stopped by a terrific tackle from Prödl before he could get a shot in. Watford threatened again as Femenía went on a lovely run to meet a ball over the top, he found Hughes whose shot was sadly blocked by the legs of Deeney diverting it wide of the target. Holebas was the next to try his luck with a free kick that rebounded off the wall, his follow-up lob was easily gathered by Begović. Bournemouth then had a corner that was met by the head of Cook whose downward header was blocked. It was end to end action as Femenía found Deeney whose acrobatic shot was blocked, the ball went out to Janmaat whose low shot was easily saved. At the other end, a shot from Stanislas was stopped by a brilliant save from Karnezis, but the rebound was pushed to safety by a hand from Holebas as Ibe tried to turn it in and the referee pointed to the spot. King stepped up and sent Karnezis the wrong way to grab the equalizer for the visitors. Bournemouth were forced to make a substitution at the end of the half due to an injury to Stanislas who was replaced by Pugh.

So we went into half time with honours even after a competitive and entertaining half of football.

Deeney congratulates Pereyra on his goal

The second half started with a chance for the Hornets, but Femenía’s shot was blocked. Watford regained the lead in the 49th minute after Deeney battled past a defender and found Hughes who laid the ball back to Pereyra whose shot appeared to be in slow motion as it left Begović wrong footed and found the net. The Argentine looked to be on course for a second goal when he received a pass from Hughes, but the space in front of him was soon closed down. At the other end, Ibe had a shot from the edge of the area, but it was easily gathered by Karnezis. Watford made their first substitution replacing Prödl, who was on a yellow card, with Cathcart, whose return from injury was greeted with a very appreciative roar from the crowd. The visitors also made a change as Defoe came on for Ibe. Gracia’s second substitution was to bring Okaka on to replace Hughes, who had an excellent game. Back to matters on the pitch, a header from Defoe appeared to clear the bar, but Karnezis was adjudged to have helped it over and a corner was given which, thankfully, came to nothing. At the other end, Deeney raced to get on the end of a long ball, but Begović was out to clear the danger. With 10 minutes remaining, each side made their final change with Femenía making way for Richarlison and Surman on for Wilson.

Cathcart challenging as Okaka looks on

Watford won a corner and the delivery from Holebas was headed down by Deeney but was claimed by Begović. Deeney then tried a shot from the edge of the area but, again, Begović was behind it. In time added on, there was what appeared to be a coming together between Okaka and Cook as they challenged for a header. As the Bournemouth man was lying prostrate on the turf, we assumed that the referee had stopped the game due to the possibility of a head injury, but he gave a free kick, booked Okaka and Cook was miraculously restored to full fitness. The free kick was helped on by Aké to Defoe and the visitors were able to snatch a point at the death. A very frustrating end to the match and the final whistle went to boos from the Watford fans, which were directed at the referee and the opposition. Troy’s usual lap of the ground was oddly truncated and the final two people on the pitch were Aké and (a newly blond) Capoue having a lengthy chat before each returned to their dressing room.

Despite the disappointment of conceding such a late equaliser, a draw was probably a fair result and it had been a terrifically entertaining game. Hughes and Femenía both put in superb performances and highlighted Duxbury’s statement at the Fans’ Forum that, when our injured players returned, our squad would be of very high quality. It was lovely to see Aké back, just sad that he was wearing the wrong coloured shirt as he was terrific at both ends of the pitch.

We welcome Burnley next Saturday and the return of Sean Dyche. It will be another tough game but, after Saturday’s performance, I am very much looking forward to it.

An Entertaining Draw with the Cherries

Awaiting a ball into the box

Awaiting a ball into the box

As we waited for the doors to open at the West Herts, we were thoroughly entertained by a fellow fan who knew Stuart Attwell’s father.  Apparently he had been a referee and encouraged his boys down that route rather than actually playing the game, which all sounded rather sad and explains a lot.  There was also a meeting of the Burnley survivors who reflected on their Monday evening.  It has to be said that those of us who gathered in the Cricket Club concluded that it had been a cracking evening until the football started.  However there was a lot of sympathy for Don, who had taken the coach, so he didn’t have the pre-match fun and wasn’t home until after 4am.  That certainly convinced me that spending a night in Burnley was the right decision.

In the run up to the match, there had been concern about widespread injuries to our defenders.  Also, after the Burnley defeat, a lot of fans were calling for Ighalo and Amrabat to be dropped, so Mazzarri’s selection was hotly anticipated.  It wasn’t a great surprise to hear that the only two changes were those enforced by injuries to Cathcart and Britos who made way for Zúñiga and Kaboul who, thankfully, was fit to play.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Zúñiga, Kaboul, Prödl, Holebas; Amrabat, Behrami, Capoue; Pereyra; Deeney and Ighalo.  Former loanee, Nathan Aké, was named on the Bournemouth bench and was given a very warm reception by the Watford fans.

Holebas takes a corner

Holebas takes a corner

There has been a lot of discussion recently about Watford wearing their change kit at away games on many occasions when there is no clash with the home team.  Those unhappy with this cite the fact that we have a very distinctive kit and lose some advantage when not playing in yellow, so it was interesting to note that the “Cherries” walked out at Vicarage road wearing blue.

Watford started the game well and had a very early chance as Deeney flicked the ball on to Ighalo whose instinctive shot flew wide of the far post.  There was then a bizarre incident as Prödl was knocked flying and punched the ball as he went down.  When Mike Dean blew the whistle the Watford fans were expecting a free kick to go our way, instead Bournemouth were awarded the free kick and Prödl was cautioned for deliberate hand ball.  Mazzarri was furious at the decision although, if the referee didn’t believe that there had been a foul, then deliberate hand ball was the correct decision.  It could have cost Watford dearly as Gomes had to be smart to tip the free kick clear.  Bournemouth’s first caution was earned by Wilshere for a cynical foul on Zúñiga.

Capoue takes a free kick

Capoue takes a free kick

Watford had another chance to open the scoring as Ighalo laid the ball back to Holebas, but the shot was well wide of the target.  I was rather surprised soon afterwards to see sarcastic celebrations from the Bournemouth fans on winning a free kick.  Given that the Rookery had witnessed a disproportionate amount of soft fouls being given against their team, seemingly every time one of the Bournemouth players dropped to the ground, it was a perfect example of how two sets of fans can see games completely differently.  Bournemouth took the lead just after the half hour as the Watford defence failed to stop a break down the right, Stanislas crossed and Wilson headed past Gomes, who will likely be disappointed as it appeared that he could have stopped the shot.  It was (another) frustrating goal to concede, made all the more annoying as Wilson decided to goad the crowd in the Rookery by way of celebration.  Watford had a great chance to equalize as Ighalo exchanged passes with Capoue, then did some good work holding the ball up before passing to Amrabat whose shot was saved by Boruc, the ball rebounded to the Dutchman but Boruc also saved the follow-up.  At the break in play, Smith was booked for a nasty foul on Holebas in the build-up.  There was a scare for the Hornets as Prödl allowed Wilson to win the ball, he passed back to Surman whose shot was, thankfully, well over the bar.  The visitors earned another caution, this time for Francis who had taken Capoue out.  Watford had a further chance to equalize in time added on at the end of the half, but Kaboul’s header was gathered by Boruc.

Deeney and Amrabat after the first goal

Deeney and Amrabat after the first goal

It had been a frustrating half, but the Watford performance was a considerable improvement on the Burnley game and I felt that we were unlucky to be behind.  Interestingly, Amrabat who had been berated on Monday and whose inclusion was rather unpopular was playing very well.

Watford made an excellent start to the second half as a free kick from Holebas was met with a header from Prödl that flew well wide of the target.  That was followed by a corner that Prödl headed on to Deeney who attempted a spectacular acrobatic kick that flew over the bar.  The Hornets were level soon after as Amrabat received a throw in before brilliantly beating a defender and skipping along the byline then cutting the ball back to Deeney who beat Boruc to score his 99th goal for the Hornets.  It was a gorgeous goal.  The visitors had a great chance to regain the lead almost immediately so it was a relief to see Wilshere’s shot hit the post.  Just before the hour, Isaac Success replaced Ighalo.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead as Amrabat crossed for Deeney whose header was saved on the line by Boruc.

Watson joins in the applause for Success

Watson joins in the applause for Success

We were then treated to another strange decision from Mike Dean as two Bournemouth players collided allowing Amrabat to come away with the ball, but the referee deemed the Dutchman to have committed a foul and awarded the visitors a free kick.  Eddie Howe made his first substitution bringing Josh King on for Jordan Ibe.  The substitute made an immediate impact, coming away with the ball after a mistake from Holebas, and going on a run before unleashing a shot from distance that took a deflection to beat Gomes.  It was very disappointing to be behind again when we’d made such a good start to the half.  But we weren’t behind for long.  A foul on Success led to a free-kick which was beautifully delivered by Holebas for the Nigerian to nod home.  Watford fans were celebrating taking the lead soon after as a terrific through ball from Amrabat found Pereyra who crossed for Deeney to head home.  I didn’t see the ball cross the line, but Mike Dean appeared to be signalling a goal.  Sadly, it soon became apparent that he had actually given a free kick for a foul by Deeney on Boruc.  Watford had another great chance soon after as a lovely move finished with a cross from Amrabat that flew a fraction in front of the head of Success.  At the other end Pereyra lost out to Smith, he crossed for Wilshere who hit the post for the second time and was substituted almost immediately, making way for Gosling.

Deeney and Amrabat challenging in the box

Deeney and Amrabat challenging in the box

Mazzarri’s second substitution saw Guedioura on for Capoue.  Given Bournemouth’s talent for winning penalties, my nerves were on edge when Smith was fouled on the edge of the area.  Thankfully, only a free kick was awarded, although Stanislas did manage to hit the crossbar.  Watford’s last chance to get a winner came as Pereyra played a wonderful crossfield ball to Success who controlled and found space before unleashing a shot which Boruc saved.  The final whistle went to appreciative cheers.

In the end a draw was probably a fair result.  The game had been pretty even and great entertainment, particularly in the second half.  While there was a lot of discussion of Mike Dean’s decision-making after the game, irritating as it was, it did not influence the result.  It has to be said that media darlings, Bournemouth, don’t get any more likeable on repeat viewing.  We seem to come away from every game angry at their gamesmanship, but they never get called on it.  Still, there were many positives to take from the game.  Amrabat, when allowed to concentrate on attacking, was a joy to behold.  He was a constant menace and his contribution to the first goal was a thing of beauty.  Success was wonderful to watch when he came on.  He is strong with a brilliant first touch, although I did comment to my neighbour that I wondered if he would be able to maintain that level of performance for ninety minutes.  Post-match comments from Mazzarri suggest that he is sceptical about that and has concerns about the lad’s defensive contributions.  But that is to be expected for a youngster and he certainly appears to be a very exciting prospect.

So we go into the international break in mid table and looking forward to the rest of the season.  Even if our next fixture does mean a Sunday lunchtime in Middlesbrough.

 

Yet Another Draw with the Cherries

Two Taylors

Two Taylors

After the cup win, we were back at Vicarage Road for a match against Bournemouth who, since our 6-1 win at the Vic in 2013, we have failed to beat in the league.  Not only that, there have been a number of incidents of gamesmanship in recent games that mean that the plucky underdogs are not well liked in our corner of Hertfordshire.  During our pre-match preparations in the West Herts, it was noted that one of the guest beers was “Win Win”.  We could only hope that was an omen.

During the week, there was a lot of upset amongst residents of the Upper GT at the news that they are all to be moved to provide extra seats for corporate hospitality.  It is an interesting decision to move (upset) all 1400 ST holders in that stand instead of only those in the blocks affected and does seem to be an unnecessary disruption.  As someone who is not a fan of the corporate seats at football (it is very telling that they don’t bother to announce the arrival of the teams for the second half in the lounge), my sympathies are with those who are being forcibly moved to accommodate the prawn sandwich brigade.  It would remain to be seen whether the anger expressed on social media would manifest itself in the form of some protest during the game.

Challenging at a corner

Challenging at a corner

Team news was that there were four changes from the cup game with Gomes, Aké, Behrami and Ighalo in for Pantilimon, Holebas, Suárez and Abdi.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Paredes, Behrami, Watson, Capoue, Deeney, Amrabat and Ighalo.  As the teams emerged prior to kick-off, Bournemouth’s shocking pink away kit was quite an assault on the senses.

There was a pleasing start to the game for the Hornets as Ighalo went on a run and beat a couple of players before unleashing a shot that was pushed over by Boruc.  Soon after, Paredes ran down the wing and crossed for Ighalo who volleyed wide.  At the other end, a clearance only got as far as Arter on the edge of the box who shot well wide.  Deeney played a one-two with Capoue before finding Amrabat, whose shot was deflected for the corner.  As previously mentioned, Bournemouth have not endeared themselves to Watford in recent games with their gamesmanship so there were angry shouts from the Rookery when Stanislaus pulled up with a hamstring strain, appeared to limp off before collapsing on the pitch a couple of feet from the dug-out, apparently on Howe’s instructions.  He was soon replaced by Gradel.  On the half hour, there was a promising break from Aké who crossed for Deeney whose shot flew over the bar.  In the last action of any note, in a half mostly devoid of incident, Capoue found Amrabat who won a corner from which Watson’s delivery was easily caught by Boruc.

Luther shows his trophy to the Rookery

Luther shows his trophy to the Rookery

After a lively start, it had been a half of very little action, the one shot on target coming from the Hornets.  Thankfully there was something to cheer us up during the interval.  Towards the end of the half, a chant of “One Graham Taylor” had gone up from the 1881.  The reason for this became apparent when GT and Luther were introduced so that “the Gaffer” could present Luther with an award as “Watford’s Favourite Son”.  The Bournemouth game was likely chosen for this as he is also very fondly remembered on the South Coast.  Tim had a few words with Luther during which he picked out the League Cup match at Old Trafford as his favourite, but couldn’t be drawn to choose a winner of today’s game.  After the presentation, Luther did a circuit of the pitch with his name ringing out throughout the stadium.  A heart-warming moment.

The first chance of the second half went to the visitors as a cross from Ritchie was volleyed over by King.  Then Aké found Amrabat whose cross was headed clear by Francis.  Paredes then showed a lovely piece of skill to beat his man on the wing before crossing for Amrabat, who looked odds on to score, but swung his leg and missed the ball completely.  At the other end, there was a decent chance for the visitors as Surman found Gradel who directed his shot over the bar.  Watford’s first substitution came just before the hour mark as Suárez replaced Capoue, who had a very poor game by his standards despite the loud chants of “We’ve got Capoue ….”  Perhaps the repeated claim that he’s better than Zidane is putting undue pressure on him.  The visitors had a great chance to take the lead as a shot from Arter appeared to be heading for the top corner but, as so often this season, Gomes came to the rescue with a superb one-handed save to keep it out.

Paredes takes a throw

Paredes takes a throw

Suárez played a lovely through ball to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  Then Aké exchanged passes with Amrabat before his cross was cut out.  Suárez tried a long pass to Ighalo, but Boruc was first to the ball.  Troy appeared to be fouled as he tried to reach a ball into the box but the referee penalized Deeney instead of the defender.  Watford really should have taken the lead on 67 minutes as Amrabat did well to skip past a defender on the by-line before delivering the perfect cross to Ighalo who was unmarked.  From where I sit, behind the goal in the Rookery, I could see Odion through the net and, when the ball was delivered, there seemed only one destination for the header but, unbelievably, it was directed over the bar.  Watford had another chance after Deeney was fouled on the edge of the box.  The free-kick was taken square by Watson to Deeney whose low shot flew wide of the target.  The same move was tried in the last game, with the same outcome, so I can only assume that this has been working in training.  Bournemouth had a decent chance with a cross from Daniels that Ritchie directed over the bar.  At the other end, a long distance volley from Aké cleared the target.  Bournemouth’s next substitution saw Gosling replaced Afobe.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead with quarter of an hour remaining as a Watson free kick reached Britos who shot just wide.   Soon after, a quick free kick found Ighalo who manoeuvred into position for a shot but hit it over the bar.

Cathcart and Cook challenge for a header

Cathcart and Cook challenge for a header

The first booking of the game came on 77 minutes for a foul by Watson on Gradel.  The referee had been blowing up for fouls every time a player went to the ground and was pretty consistent in that, but this did seem like a fairly run of the mill challenge and hardly worthy of a card.  From the free kick, the clearance went back to a Bournemouth player, so it was a relief to see Gomes finally gather.  A lovely ball towards Amrabat went begging as he lost sight of the ball, which was a shame as he was in a great position.  Gomes kept the Hornets in the game again as he pushed a header from Gradel clear.  Watford’s second change saw Abdi replacing Amrabat.  Almen’s first involvement was to be hacked down by Surman, who was, rightly, booked for the challenge.  There was anger in the home stands as a push on Paredes was ignored before a similar challenge on Gradel earned Cathcart a yellow card.  Gradel then did well to beat Paredes before unleashing a shot that Gomes turned over the bar.  The corner was delivered into the box, but Gomes rose to catch it and the game finished goalless.

The final whistle went to shrugs around Vicarage Road.  Watford shaded the first half and Bournemouth the second, but a draw was probably fair.  During the second half it felt like Gomes had saved the game for us, but both Ighalo and Amrabat had chances that they should have finished which would have guaranteed the three points.  Bournemouth had put in a good performance and, on this showing, both of the teams that gained automatic promotion last season should stay up, something that no pundit would have predicted in August.

So, while there was disappointment that we didn’t take all three points from this game, we remain 13 points clear of the relegation zone with 11 games left to play.  This season has delivered beyond our wildest dreams.  The annoyance at the relocation of the fans in the Upper GT did not lead to any obvious protests on Saturday and was tempered somewhat by the news that we can renew our season tickets for the same price as we paid last season.  Premier League football at Championship prices for the second year running was a very pleasant surprise, as was the retention of the 75 mile season tickets for current holders.  Well done to the Pozzos (and Scott Duxbury) for that decision.

A Tale of Two Goalkeepers

Luther Blissett, a hero to Hornets and Cherries alike

Luther Blissett, a hero to Hornets and Cherries alike

It has been a gorgeous week weather wise and, for once, I was only carrying a small bag, so I decided to leave my scarf at home.  Then I stepped out of my front door and felt the Autumn nip in the air, so went straight back indoors to collect it.  While on the train, I received a text from Toddy informing me that there was a beer festival at the pre-match pub of choice, so this rather lovely venue was enhanced with some great ciders.  My only disappointment was that I was not able to get a view of the antique urinals that were the talk of the males in the bar!  It was only a short walk to the ground and, on arrival, we mistakenly took the long way around to get to the away end.  Luckily this had the benefit of allowing us to walk past the wall of fame outside the ground and spot the picture of Luther.  A thing of beauty.

Team news was that Jurado was injured, so Anya slotted into his position and Aké started as full back.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Anya, Deeney, Abdi, Ighalo.  Pre-match the thoughts were of a couple of recent frustrating encounters memorable for two incorrect dismissals of Angella and some gamesmanship from the Cherries which left a sour taste in the mouth.

Bournemouth started the better of the two teams and were soon threatening the Watford goal.  Gomes comfortably caught an early cross from King, but then Murray was allowed a free header that he directed over the bar when he really should have got it on target.  A free kick from the right was easily gathered by Gomes before Cathcart got his body in the way to block a shot from King.

Anya holds off Daniels

Anya holds off Daniels

For the first 20 minutes, it was all Bournemouth, who were attacking at will while we were penned back in our own half.  In Watford’s first foray forward, a Nyom cross found Ighalo with his back to goal, he juggled the ball around until he was facing the right way, but was closed down before he could shoot.  A blocked shot from Capoue rebounded to King who sprinted upfield where he was stopped by a superb tackle by Cathcart.  Pugh was the next to threaten the Watford goal, but Gomes dropped to make an easy save.  The Bournemouth goal had been coming, but the manner of it was irritating in the extreme.  A cross came in from Ritchie, Murray rose to meet it and head past Gomes while Prödl, who appeared to be in a position to at least attempt to cut it out, stood and watched.  In contrast to last week when the Palace goal was met with a wall of encouraging noise from the Watford fans, there was an icy silence in the away stand.  However, the next attack of note did come from the visitors as Deeney played a one-two with Ighalo but, instead of shooting, he appeared to just pass the ball to a Bournemouth defender.

A blurred celebration, excuse my shaking hands

A blurred celebration, please excuse my shaking hands

The frustration was building in the away stand and there were boos as Capoue played the ball back to Prödl in our half.  There was some handbags as Murray went down dramatically after a coming together with Capoue which prompted a chorus of “Same old Bournemouth, always cheating.”  The home fans countered with “Championes” although, to be fair to them, it had taken them 40 minutes to crow.  Soon after, the same two players met again and, on this occasion, Capoue went flying and Murray was booked.  Watford scored a totally undeserved equalizer on the stroke of half time as Boruc received a back pass and, for some unfathomable reason, passed it to Ighalo who rounded him and slotted home.  It was a truly ridiculous goal which meant that, despite the dreadful performance of the Hornets in the first half, they left the pitch to cheers at the break.

The home side were first out of the dressing room at the start of the second half and there were loud cheers from the travelling Hornets for Boruc as he took his place in goal.  The Hornets retook the field having made no changes in personnel and my heart sank.

Challenging for an incoming ball at a corner

Challenging for an incoming ball at a corner

The first incident of the half was a lovely tackle from Aké which, because Ritchie went down hard, earned him a talking to from the referee.  As Michael Oliver lectured the youngster, Troy Deeney was standing by his side shaking his head.  Five minutes into the half Murray was allowed another free header, but this time Gomes gathered.  Ighalo received the ball on the left of the Bournemouth box, feinted a couple of times before dribbling past the defender, but his shot was turned behind for a corner.  From the set piece the ball dropped to Watson whose shot rebounded off the crossbar and came out to Abdi on the left who shot well wide of the far post.  I don’t know what Flores did at half time, because there were no changes in personnel, but whether it was a rocket or an arm around the collective shoulders it worked as, suddenly, Watford were playing with confidence, snapping into tackles, closing the Bournemouth players down and generally competing in a way that they hadn’t earlier on.  During the first half, the fans around us had moaned incessantly (for good reason), but nine minutes into the second period the travelling Hornets were so encouraged that they started bouncing.

Anya with a throw in

Anya with a throw in

On 55 minutes, the Bournemouth fans had planned a minute’s applause for Mick Cunningham, a former club photographer and programme editor who recently passed away.  As his photo was displayed on the big screen, those in the home stands rose to applaud and were joined by enthusiastic applause from the Watford fans.  While this was happening, Anya went storming through the middle, played the ball out to Ighalo who crossed back for Anya but he could only head wide.  Deeney and Ighalo exchanged passes, but the ball was taken off Troy’s feet before he could shoot.  An Abdi free kick was headed out only as far as Ben Watson whose shot was blocked.  Then Abdi released Anya, who was one on one with the keeper, but Boruc managed to block the shot and put it out for a corner.  Murray then broke forward but, seeing the Watford defence marshalled in front of him, could only attempt a shot from distance that was straight at Gomes.  Watford’s first substitution saw Ibarbo replacing Nyom.  Abdi found Ighalo who tumbled on the edge of the box, but nothing was given.  The Nigerian was then in action at the other end as he charged down Ritchie’s shot following a short free kick.  Back on duty in attack, his next shot was poor and wide of the target.

Gomes looking unbelievably calm after his heroics

Gomes looking unbelievably calm after his heroics

An injury meant that Anya had to be substituted, he was replaced by Paredes.  The hosts threatened as Francis was allowed to break forward and cross for Murray whose header was just wide of the target.  They had an even better chance soon after as the ball fell to Cook on the edge of the box where he launched an audacious overhead kick that was heading for the top corner until Gomes pulled off a superb save.  It appeared that Heurelho’s heroics were to be for nothing as the inevitable Bournemouth penalty was awarded.  The first player to tumble in the box had his appeal waved away by Michael Oliver and, when Capoue and Smith came together I was confident that the free kick would go our way, but the referee pointed to the spot.  Murray stepped up to take it but there were to be more heroics from Gomes as he saved the penalty before Cathcart cleared the rebound.  The resulting corner was punched clear by Gomes, Gosling’s follow-up flew wide and the travelling Hornets could breathe again.  As Watford also pushed for a winner, Ighalo played the ball back to Abdi, but his shot was blocked.

Ake about to go in for a challenge

Ake about to go in for a challenge

In the last minute of normal time, O’Kane cut inside and shot goalwards but it was an easy stop for Gomes.  Watford’s last chance for a winner was a free-kick from distance from which Abdi decided to go for goal but hit it wide of the target.  Guedioura came on in the last minute of time added on to replace Abdi.  The game finished with honours even and the name of Heurelho Gomes ringing out in the away stand.

It was a classic game of two halves.  We had been completely woeful in the first period, Bournemouth having most of the possession and any time that Watford did pass the ball forward, it was swept up by the Bournemouth defence.  In the second half, we were snapping in to tackles and not allowing the opposition to have any time on the ball while our balls upfield were finding their men with Ighalo and Deeney finally having some success in holding the ball up.  Bournemouth won’t have won any more friends among the Watford faithful as they lived up to their reputation for theatrics.  But a draw was a fair result and I was more than happy to leave with a point.

All the way home I found myself suddenly bursting into song, alternating “Heurelho Gomes baby” with “Lo, lo, lo,lo Quique Sanchez Flores.”  Great stuff.