Tag Archives: Daniel Amartey

Silva’s Last Stand

Karnezis making his full debut

When I checked the time of the train I had booked for Saturday, I realised that I was arriving in Leicester ridiculously early and feared that the designated pub may not be open.  Thankfully, given what a miserable day it was, the doors were open and I managed to get a booth.  When the next train arrived from London,

the pub suddenly filled up, so my early arrival didn’t look so foolish after all.  However my long wait meant that I became irrationally concerned when my friends didn’t arrive.  I only relaxed when the last of our depleted party was at our table.

On arrival at the ground, the search teams were operating a queuing system, using metal detectors (yes that is a phone and some coins in my pocket) and a sniffer dog.  Thankfully we had left ourselves plenty of time to get to the ground so did not miss kick-off on this occasion.

As there had been no discussion of the team prior to arrival at the ground, it was only when the ball was played back to the Watford keeper early in the game that I realised that Karnezis was in goal for the Hornets.  After his performance at Everton, this was a cause of some concern.  Silva’s other changes were Pereyra and Deeney in for the injured Cleverley and Gray.  So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Wagué, Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Doucouré, Watson; Carrillo, Pereyra, Richarlison; Deeney.

Richarlison on the ball

In line with other Premier League clubs, there was a minute’s applause for the wonderful Cyrille Regis, who passed away earlier this week.  Those of us of a certain age were deeply saddened at his early death.  He was a wonderful player to watch and one who was a trailblazer for the young players of colour that have followed him.  It is just heartbreaking that many of them are still suffering abuse related to their colour.  But, thankfully, racist abuse is not something that is evident at every game as it was in the 70s and 80s.

Watford started brightly enough with a couple of corners in the first minutes of the game, from the second Carrillo shot over the bar.  Leicester looked to hit the visitors on the counter attack as Vardy broke forward but his shot was saved by Karnezis, who I was pleased to see was looking assured in the Watford goal.  The Watford keeper was called into action again soon after as a free kick was nodded back to Ndidi, but the shot was blocked.  At the other end, there was a good spell for Watford as a Richarlison shot was blocked, a follow-up header from Pereyra was cleared off the line, the ball rebounded to Doucouré on the edge of the area, but his shot was easily gathered by Schmeichel.  Watford threatened again as Pereyra took a short free kick to Watson, whose shot was blocked, Pereyra hit the follow-up which flew high and wide.

Janmaat takes a throw-in

Deeney was the next to try his luck with a low shot from distance, but Schmeichel was down to save.  The lino in front of the away fans incurred their wrath when Vardy appeared to be in an offside position when he received a ball from Mahrez and was allowed to continue, when he then lost out to Kabasele, the defender was adjudged to have committed a foul.  Justice was done when Mahrez curled a dreadful free kick straight to Karnezis.  Watford appeared to have opened the scoring on 34 minutes when Carrillo headed the ball on to Deeney who volleyed home, but the flag was up for offside.  As happens so often these days, the opposition then took the lead.  From our vantage point, Wagué took the ball off Vardy in the box fairly, but the Leicester player went down and the referee pointed to the spot.  Vardy stepped up and buried the penalty.  The comment in my notebook at this point is not fit for a family blog.

So the Hornets went in at half-time a goal down, which was harsh as it had been a very even half.

Pereyra and Watson prepare for a free kick

Watford had a chance to strike back in the first minute of the second half as Carrillo crossed for Deeney, but the shot was blocked.  At the other end Vardy was allowed to nip in behind the defender, he crossed for Okazaki whose shot was straight at Karnezis.  Silva made his first substitution bringing Gray on for Pereyra.  He was immediately forced into his second as Wagué had pulled up with what appeared to be a hamstring strain and was replaced by Prödl.  Watford continued to push for the equalizer as Richarlison found Deeney but the captain’s shot flew just wide.  Leicester made their first change, which also involved a player called Gray who replaced Okazaki.  There was a lovely move as Deeney combined with (our) Gray, but the shot was saved by Schmeichel.  Leicester were shouting for another penalty when Mahrez went down in the box, but the appeals were waved away.  A decent chance for the visitors went begging after Richarlison released Doucouré whose cross seemed to get stuck under Gray’s feet so he was unable to take a shot.  The Watford man should have grabbed the equalizer soon after when he received a lovely ball from Deeney, he was one on one with Schmeichel but hesitated long enough for Maguire to get into position to block his shot.  So frustrating.  The Watford pressure continued as Richarlison broke into the box, his shot appeared to be blocked for a corner, but a goal kick was given.  Then a corner from Watson was headed just over by Deeney.  Silva’s final change was to bring Okaka on for Janmaat.  So, after starting with one up front, Watford now had all three strikers on the pitch at the same time.  Ironically, it was at this point that the visitors stopped creating chances.  Instead Leicester had a great chance to increase their lead as Mahrez played the ball back to Ndidi whose shot required a decent save from Karnezis to keep it out.  But the home side scored their second in time added on as Okaka dwelled on the ball too long before being dispossessed, Mahrez broke and shot across Karnezis into the far corner.

Zeegelaar strikes the ball

The scoreline definitely flattered the home side, as it had been a pretty even game.  Many around me spoke of a better performance by the Hornets, but I thought they were being rather charitable.  It certainly wasn’t as poor as the first half against Southampton, but Leicester did not play particularly well and still beat us fairly easily.  You could argue that it would have been a different game if Deeney’s goal had stood or Gray had scored the sitter, but Leicester had used their pace to their advantage and Watford had no reply.

It was a disgruntled group who reconvened for post-match drinks.  We harked back to how impressed we had been at the start of the season when the football had been entertaining, the work rate impressive, the players played for each other and we truly believed that we could beat any other team (apart from Man City).  That magnificent team had been replaced by a shambles that often looked as though they had only met on the bus to the ground that lunchtime.  The downturn had started when Everton made the approach for Silva.  I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for some time, particularly in view of the injuries, but the team which was comfortably mid-table when the first approach was made had finished the day in 10th place but only 5 points off the relegation zone.  With no prospect of any improvement, I think all of us had lost patience with Marco Silva.

On Sunday morning it became apparent that Gino Pozzo had also had enough and by the end of the day Silva had been replaced by Javi Gracia.  As with the majority of the Pozzo appointments, I know nothing about the new man.  I just hope that he can get the team back to their early season form.  We have games against Southampton (in the cup) and Stoke coming up and need to see considerable improvement from these players if we are not to be dragged into a relegation battle that I would have no confidence that we could win.

Beating the Champions

The pathetic haul for the adults in the game

The pathetic haul for the adults in the game

After the international break, it was lovely to be back home for the game against Leicester.  The week off had provided some precious time to recover from the horror of the defeat to Liverpool, we could only hope that the players had also recovered.  There was a lot made pre-game of the fact that we were facing the current champions, but their form so far this season meant that we went into the match hopeful of getting a result.

As we gathered in the West Herts, we made this another sort of game day.  Our party occasionally play a game for which everyone brings in a number of wrapped ‘gifts’ with a certain theme.  They are placed in the centre of the table then a pack of cards is dealt to the participants.  As the cards from a second pack are revealed, if you match that card you take a gift.  When all the gifts are gone, you start stealing from other participants.  Everyone has their strategy in this game.  Some like the gifts in very shiny paper, another, who will remain nameless, targets the girls to steal their gifts.  It can get rather rowdy at times.  But this game (with the theme being ‘J’) took on a very different tone to usual when five-year-old Holly decided to take part.  She was an early winner (never a good thing), but it was a hard-hearted soul who was going to steal from her stash (the look of horror when someone tried was a picture), so she continued to amass gifts while the rest of us swapped the pitiful remainder between ourselves.  It has to be said that the unwrapped gifts are not a patch on the shiny packages and she was less than impressed when she opened a set of men’s underwear (jockey shorts) but a stash of jelly babies and jaffa cakes meant that she went home happy.

The opening scorer lines up for the restart

The opening scorer lines up for the restart

Mazzarri made two changes from the Liverpool game with Ighalo and the suspended Holebas making way for Zúñiga and Prödl.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Janmaat, Pereyra, Behrami, Capoue, Zúñiga; Amrabat and Deeney.

No sooner had we taken our seats after kick-off but we were out of them again as Capoue opened the scoring after Pereyra had broken forward and delivered a cross that was knocked down by Deeney for the Frenchman to hit home.  All of a sudden the cobwebs were swept away, the horror of Liverpool was forgotten and football was fun again.  I had a slight panic as the ball went in and I realized that my camera and notebook were still in my bag.  I am usually able to retrieve them at leisure during the first few minutes of the game.  Pereyra impressed again with some lovely skill to beat a defender on the wing.  It isn’t often that the big screen shows a replay of a player beating an opponent, but this was well worth repeated viewings.  He produced something even better soon afterwards as he cut into the box and curled an exquisite shot into the top corner.  Just when it was looking like it would be our day, Vardy broke into the box.  He was going nowhere but Britos couldn’t resist putting in a tackle, the Leicester striker went down and the referee pointed to the spot.  Despite encouraging chants from the Rookery for Gomes, Mahrez sent him the wrong way and reduced the deficit.

Celebrating Pereyra's fantastic goal

Celebrating Pereyra’s fantastic goal

There followed chances from corners at both ends of the field in quick succession.  First Kaboul met a delivery from Capoue with a header that flew wide of the near post.  Then Albrighton’s corner was headed over the bar by Huth.  It had been a breathless first 20 minutes and one of my neighbours commented on the notes that I had made so far hoping that I had the energy to keep up.  But it calmed down after that and I was able to notice other aspects of the day such as the fact that there was a huge number of blue and white beanie hats on show in the away end.  It was confirmed after the game by some Leicester fans, that these had been left on the seats, a gift from the owner (who regularly plies them with pints and doughnuts).  They commented that most of them were on the ground by the end of the game, but one of them had kept his as it was proudly on display on the table in the West Herts.  The home side received a couple of bookings, first Zúñiga for a foul on Vardy that looked fairly innocuous (but don’t they always due to his propensity for falling), then a puzzling caution for Britos which could only have been for complaining about the Leicester wall at a free kick.  Watford had a great chance to increase the lead in the 37th minute as Deeney went on a run before playing a square ball to Amrabat in the box.  Sadly, with the goal at his mercy, the Dutchman failed to connect and the chance went begging.  There were boos at half time but, on this occasion, they were aimed at the referee as the performance of the Hornets had been very pleasing indeed.

Lining up in the box waiting for a corner

Lining up in the box waiting for a corner

The start of the second half was considerably calmer and it was the 64th minute before there was a real goal chance as Amrabat battled past a defender to get into the box, cut the ball back for Janmaat whose cross was headed goalwards by Pereyra, but Zieler was able to make the save.  Watford had another chance to increase the lead as Pereyra delivered a corner that Kaboul headed just wide.  The visitors made the first substitutions bringing Schlupp and Gray on for Fuchs and Okazaki.  Another great chance went begging for the Hornets as Capoue delivered a perfect corner, but Prödl failed to connect.  Amrabat should have done better as he burst in to the box and hit a quick shot that flew wide when Deeney was in space.  Troy could not hide his frustration with his team mate.  Leicester’s final substitution saw Albrighton make way for Musa.  Leicester had a flurry of chances to grab a late equalizer, but the Hornet defence stood strong blocking all attempts to play the ball into the box.  Mazzarri’s first change came in the 87th minute as Amrabat made way for Guedioura.  Nordin looked annoyed at being replaced, even though he had been limping after a tackle a little earlier.  The final change saw Okaka on for Deeney, again the player leaving the field did not look happy with his manager’s decision.  As the fourth official indicated five additional minutes, there were some nerves in the away end, but the only Leicester attempt in time added on was a shot from Vardy that flew high and wide, not troubling Gomes in the Watford goal.

Challenging in the Leicester box

Challenging in the Leicester box

Unlike the end of the game at Liverpool when, understandably, almost all of the players disappeared straight down the tunnel, there was a lap of the stands by the whole team, even those who usually make do with a perfunctory clap towards the crowd.  It was appreciated as it gave us a chance to congratulate them all as we celebrated a terrific win.

This was the best performance that Watford have put in for some time.  The fast start and the early goals set us up well, but the game could not continue at that pace.  However Watford had the best of the later chances and, when challenged, the defence resisted everything that was thrown at them meaning that Gomes didn’t have to make a save worthy of the name.  Deeney was more involved than he has been for a few weeks and, had he been a little more selfish, may well have scored his 100th goal.  Behrami was back on form in the midfield, which always helps both the attack and the defence.  Then there was Pereyra who gave us a couple of moments that were worth the price of admission on their own.  Watford now have 18 points from the first 12 games, which is a 10 point improvement on their haul in the same games last season, and are sitting pretty in eighth place in the table and are there on merit.  This season is just getting better and better.

A Narrow Loss to the League Leaders

Amrabat and Ighalo line up to kick off

Amrabat and Ighalo line up to kick off

After the narrow (and frustrating) defeat midweek, we were back at Vicarage Road for the visit of the team that were currently top of the table.  I thought that I had arrived at the West Herts ridiculously early, but there was already a good crowd inside, including a bloke in a Leicester shirt sitting on his own watching the Spurs vs Arsenal game, hoping for a draw.  Needless to say he was very happy as he left for the ground.

When the team was first announced, there were three changes from midweek as Aké, Suárez and Amrabat came in for Holebas, Behrami and Abdi.  However, Britos was injured during the warm-up, meaning that Holebas was reinstated in the starting line-up and Aké was moved to central defence.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Aké, Prödl, Nyom, Suárez, Watson, Capoue, Deeney, Amrabat and Ighalo.  Former loanee, Danny Drinkwater, started for the visitors.

I had been told before the game that there was to be a foil display in the Rookery, but there was nothing in evidence when I arrived until a banner appeared over my head as the teams came out.  It is always a bit of an anti-climax when you find yourself under the banner, but my sister quickly found the image on social media and it was another triumph for the 1881.

Flores and Ranieri in the dug outs

Flores and Ranieri in the dug outs

Watford had the first chance of the game as Holebas exchanged passes with Deeney before his shot was deflected into the arms of Schmeichel.  At the other end, Vardy latched on to a long ball and beat Prödl, but his shot was blocked by Aké.  Following a Leicester corner, Watford failed to clear and the ball fell to Fuchs whose shot was saved by Gomes.  From a Watson free kick, Aké rose above the defence and headed on to the back of the crossbar.  Leicester’s next attack came as Vardy advanced to the left of the box but, with Prödl in attendance, he took a quick shot which flew wide of the far post.  Watson gave the ball away in midfield but redeemed himself by tracking back and winning the ball on the by line before coolly playing it out of defence.  Drinkwater received a ball in the box, but his shot was blocked by Watson.  Then Prödl failed to stop a Leicester break when he lost sight of the ball which reached Mahrez, who passed to Vardy who shot wide of the near post.  Ighalo rode a nasty tackle before breaking down the right wing and crossing for Deeney who shot into the arms of Schmeichel.  The first booking of the game came when Amrabat appeared to be pulled over on the edge of the box, but was booked for a dive.  Leicester failed to test Gomes when Morgan met a Simpson cross with a weak header that was straight at the Watford keeper.  At the other end, Ighalo touched the ball into the path of Deeney who was bearing down on goal, but his shot was high and wide.

Gomes takes a goal kick

Gomes takes a goal kick

So we reached half time goalless after an even half of few chances, but some lovely football.  On the pitch at half time were Nic Cruwys and Ollie Floyd.  Nic thanked the club and the fans for the support that they had given him during his recovery and alerted us to a fundraiser for Headway Hertfordshire that will be held at Hemel Town at the end of July.

Ranieri made two changes at the start of the second half, replacing Okazaki and Albrighton with King and Schlupp.  There was an early chance for the Hornets as Suárez went on a dangerous looking run, but his shot was deflected and saved by Schmeichel.  The visitors took the lead on 56 minutes as a poor clearance dropped to Mahrez who hit a lovely curling shot that beat Gomes.  While the clearance that reached Mahrez could have been better, sometimes you just have to admire the strike that led to the goal and it was a beauty.  Watford had a chance to break back almost immediately as Deeney received a knock down from Ighalo, but his shot was blocked.  Watford then had a period when they looked vulnerable.  First a cross from Kanté was headed goalwards by Huth and it took a good save from Gomes to keep it out.  Then a low cross from Vardy that was cleared by Aké.  But the home side continued to challenge with a ball over the top which hit Ighalo, so the chance was gone, when it may have been better for him to duck out of the way to allow it to reach Amrabat who was lurking behind him.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

A Leicester break came to nothing as the cross was stopped by Aké.  Then Amrabat crossed towards Ighalo but the ball was cleared back to the Dutchman who fell over before recovering to hit a shot that was easy for Schmeichel.  Watford’s first substitution came on 65 minutes when Abdi replaced Suárez.  Mahrez had a chance to increase the lead, but this time his shot was caught by Gomes.  Leicester threatened again as a free kick from Fuchs was headed well wide by Huth.  Fuchs was then booked for a cynical foul on Amrabat.  Watford had a great chance to equalize as a Nyom cross was helped on by Deeney to Ighalo who headed straight at Schmeichel when he should have done better.  Watford’s second substitution saw Nyom replaced by Anya.  Another chance for an equalizer went begging as a cross from Amrabat was cleared to Abdi who put a poor shot wide of the near post.  With five minutes remaining, Mahrez, who had pulled up with an injury, was replaced by Amartey.  Leicester had another chance, but failed to test Gomes with a poor shot from Schlupp that flew in to the side-netting.  Watford’s final substitution saw Oularé replace Capoue.  He was immediately involved, heading the ball down to Amrabat who passed to Ighalo, who was crowded out before he could shoot.  Watford had another late chance to equalize as Ighalo played the ball out to Aké, but the youngster shot over the target.  In time added on, Watford won a free kick which Watson hit wide of the far post.  It has to be said that his set pieces had been poor on the day, but that didn’t justify the level of abuse that was coming from the rows behind me in the Rookery.

Deeney and Ighalo waiting for a goal into the box

Deeney and Ighalo waiting for a goal into the box

It was another disappointing loss but we had matched the league leaders in all areas of the field except the strikeforce.  Ighalo and Deeney had struggled again and, while Vardy had been fairly quiet, Mahrez won the game with a beautiful strike.  There was a lot of negative comment after the game, but I came home with a number of positives.  The combination of Capoue and Holebas on the left wing had been a joy at times.  Aké had been excellent in his stand-in role in the centre of defence.  Amrabat’s contribution grows with every game.  His booking notwithstanding, he appears to have learned that referees in the Premier League are less likely to give a free kick if you fall down so he has become a stronger battler and is impressing.  Suárez also continues to impress with his lovely touch.  We just need a goal for one of our forwards and the floodgates could open.  Still, despite those around us winning points, that was not the case for those in the relegation places so we look safe this season.  It would just be nice to pick up a few more points to consolidate our mid table position.  In August, I never thought I would be saying that.