Tag Archives: Daniel Pudil

Ultras and Bouncy Castles

The cycle rack outside the  Eintracht Stadion

The cycle rack outside the Eintracht Stadion

Having had plenty of notice of the pre-season tour this year, flights were booked some time ago for the trip to Braunschweig and Paderborn.  The evening before I left, I was on the way home from a performance of La Boheme at the Royal Opera House when I was greeted with the news that Friday’s game had been cancelled.  So, after very little sleep, I was not best pleased to be on an early flight to Germany with little idea of what to do with the next two days.  Still, I was sure that I could keep myself amused.

When I changed trains at Hannover, I saw some familiar faces on the platform.  Ian is one of the regular away travellers that I often meet on trains to games, but it was still a little incongruous to encounter him and his brother at a station in Germany.  I must say that, having travelled out on my own, I was rather pleased to have companions for the remainder of the journey.  During the trip to Braunschweig it was decided that, since Rayo Vallecano were to take Watford’s place in that evening’s game, we would take in the match at the Eintracht Stadion anyway.

On arrival at the ground, the first thing that I noticed was the huge number of bicycles that were chained up outside.  You would never see that at an English ground.  The next thing of note was the beer stand where I met my travelling companions and quenched my thirst after the long walk in the heat.

You'll Never Walk Alone Braunschweig Style

You’ll Never Walk Alone Braunschweig Style

When we entered the stadium, we found that the standing area that we had chosen was the home of the local Ultras.  They were gathered at the front of the terrace, so we were in a good position to observe.  As the teams emerged, we were a little surprised when scarves were raised and a rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” rang out.  The home fans were great entertainment.  The level of noise generated for a pre-season game was incredible, with quite a variety of songs ringing out.  There was also rather a lot of liquid being thrown about.  At first I thought they were throwing beer around, then it became apparent that there was a barrel of water at the front that was being liberally distributed into the crowd to cool them down on a warm evening.  With the score at one apiece going in to the final few minutes, there was a conga through the stand.  I’m not sure that any of the participants were aware that they conceded a late goal and lost the game.  After the match, we headed on the tram back to town and had dinner and beers at a traditional German restaurant.

Behrami before I saw him put in a tackle

Behrami before I saw him put in a tackle

My plan for Saturday had been to do a bit of sightseeing.  But, having been deprived of a chance to see Watford play, those travelling had been invited to send their contact details to the club and so I had received a call from Jon Marks informing me that we were invited to a training session at the team’s hotel.  The slight drawback was that this was in the middle of nowhere in a small town some distance from Braunschweig.  But we are seasoned travellers, so soon found details of the trains we needed to take and, after a late night out in Braunschweig, it was a slightly delicate bunch that met to catch the train to Gütersloh followed by a cab to Marienfeld.  On arrival at the team’s hotel, we found the Sportsplätze and there was a group of people in yellow shirts watching the Watford team going through some fitness routines that appeared to include trying to wreck the fence around the field.  The team had been split up into a number of different groups for these sessions and, as each group finished their routines, they emerged to sign autographs and have photographs taken with the supporters gathered there.

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Welcome to Arminia Bielefeld

While watching the training, we saw some Hamburg players and found out that they were scheduled to play Bielefeld that afternoon.  Since this was only one stop from Gütersloh on the train, we decided to take in the game.  On arrival at Bielefeld railway station, we followed the crowds to the stadium.  Again we opted to join the fans on the terraces.  The home end was packed.  As the team emerged, we were treated to a rendition of their club song, which had several verses.  They had a number of songs including a very effective call and answer of Arminia … Bielefeld.  To our surprise, a group that we thought were Hamburg fans in the opposite corner also participated in this chant (it was very difficult to distinguish between them as both sets of fans were wearing blue shirts).  Athough, judging by the flag that was waving in that section, there seemed to be a good number of home fans in that section.  The game resulted in a 2-0 win for the home side against a very poor Hamburg team.

Bouncy castle with footballs being fired at the 'goalie'

Bouncy castle with footballs being fired at the ‘goalie’

Sunday morning, I woke up to a storm of biblical proportions.  But, thankfully, the long train journey to Paderborn meant we left the rain behind.  After freshening up in the hotel, we headed into town for a beer and then got a cab to take us to the ground.  The last stage of the short journey took us up a narrow street that required a barricade to be moved for us to get through.  We then emerged into a country road bordered with a cornfield which happened to have a football stadium at the end of it.  There was a party atmosphere at the ground, with a bouncy castle goal and another bouncy full size fussball game, a carousel and the obligatory beer and würst.  Something for everyone.

After good experiences on the previous two days, I was looking forward to the performance of the Paderborn fans, so was disappointed when their club song was played over the tannoy rather than being sung by the spectators.  However, from a Watford perspective, it was just lovely to see our players warming up for the game.

At last I see a Watford team in Germany

At last I see a Watford team in Germany

The starting line-up was Arlauskis, Holebas, Prödl, Cathcart, Nyom, Behrami, Capoue, Watson, Abdi, Vydra and Deeney.

We’d had a conversation at a previous game about the drinking, smoking, water throwing and flares that are in evidence in German stadia and speculated on what would not be allowed.  We found out when a steward appeared to tell some fans that they couldn’t have their flag hanging from a crush barrier.  When they tried to protest, his gambit was “Look, they sent the fat bloke up to tell you, so do me a favour.”  It worked.

Troy congratulating the invisible Vydra

Troy congratulating Vydra

The first notable action of the game was Behrami knocking one of the Paderborn players flying.  It was a statement of intent.  Watford took the lead in the 11th minute as Deeney played a lovely through ball for Vydra who hit his shot sweetly past Kruse in the Paderborn goal.  The home side could have equalized soon afterwards as a cross reached Ouali in the box, but he blasted the ball way over the target.  In the 23rd minute, Abdi exchanged passes with Nyom, but the return pass was poor allowing the home side to launch a counter attack which finished with Ndjeng shooting straight at Arlauskis.  Behrami was then penalized for a tackle on Koc, who went down with a dramatic scream which was something of an over-reaction, but ensured that the Swiss international received a yellow card for the offence.  Koc took the resulting free-kick himself and blasted it way over the bar.  We had a great chance to increase the lead as, from an Abdi cross, Watson nodded the ball down to Deeney, whose shot appeared to be going in, but the keeper pulled off a good save to deny him.  From the corner, Deeney’s header was straight at the keeper.  The battle between Behrami and Koc continued, but on this occasion the Watford man was sinned against and won the free kick.

Abdi lines up a free kick

Abdi lines up a free kick

Paderborn had the ball in the net as a cross was headed home by Proschwitz, but he had been a mile offside.  Abdi came in for a tackle, won the ball and was booked, very harshly I thought.  In the 32nd minute the travelling Hornets started a minute’s applause and chants of “Only one Chris Dyer” for the Watford supporting victim of the terrorist attack in Tunisia.  Deeney challenged the keeper for a long ball, leaving the stopper on the floor, but his shot from a narrow angle went wide.  A Paderborn corner, for which the ball wasn’t even in the vicinity of the corner arc, was met with a header that was caught by Arlauskis, who stepped behind the goal line, but kept the ball out.  Paderborn challenged again with a free kick from Ndjeng that flew wide of the far post.  Deeney exchanged passes with Vydra but his shot took a deflection and went wide.  Vydra then hit a cross-cum-shot that a defender, under no pressure at all, put out for a corner.  The corner was met by a header from Deeney, but he was adjudged to have fouled the keeper so the referee blew up.  At the other end, Ndjeng broke into the box, but Prödl was on hand to challenge as he tried to shoot, so the ball was easily gathered by Arlauskis.

So the Hornets went into half time with the lead.  When we went looking for beers, we found that the stall was in the home section, which was rather interesting.  Some who had bought seats also took this opportunity to swap to the terrace.

Ighalo congratulated on his 6th goal of this pre-season

Ighalo congratulated on his 6th goal of this pre-season

Flores made no changes to the Hornets’ line up at half time.  The home side made a decent start with an early shot that was straight at the Watford keeper.  Then a cross-cum shot from Koc was saved by the feet of Arlauskis.  Capoue lost out to Ndjeng, who went down on the edge of the box, a bit of a soft free kick to give away.  Saglik hit the set piece low and Arlauskis dropped to save.  Watford’s first substitutions came 10 minutes into the second half as Ighalo, Anya and Pudil came on for Vydra, Behrami and Holebas.  The Swiss left the field to boos from the home fans.  On the hour Saglik chested the ball down and shot wide.  We were two goals up soon after as Anya ran down the left and crossed for Deeney, who appeared to mishit the shot but the ball reached Ighalo who found the net for his 6th goal of this pre-season.  Watford should have had a penalty soon after as a cross from Anya appeared to be handled by Hünemeier, but the referee gave nothing.  Deeney was the next to be substituted, being replaced by Fabbrini.  Then Stoppelkamp went on a run into the box and took a tumble, thankfully no Watford player was anywhere near him so we didn’t concede the penalty that he seemed to be playing for.

Nyom, Abdi and Proedl

Nyom, Abdi and Proedl

Ndjeng tried to beat Arlauskis with a curling shot, but the Lithuanian was behind the ball and gathered comfortably.  That was his last action of the game as he was replaced by Gilmartin.  The Irishman was called into action immediately, although his dive proved to be unnecessary, as Proschwitz’s shot was just wide of the target.  That was the striker’s last contribution as he was substituted immediately.  At the same time, Dyer came on to replace Abdi.  Gilmartin was tested with a cross-cum-shot that he parried before gathering.  Then Stoppelkamp shot across goal and wide.  Eyes were then drawn to the Watford bench where Deeney could be seen getting up and limping to the dressing room.  Hopefully, he was just a bit stiff rather than something more concerning.  Watford’s final substitution saw Murray replacing Watson for the last couple of minutes, but there was no further score so Watford ran out comfortable 2-0 winners after a decent performance.

After the final whistle some of the fans around me starting muttering about a ‘disgrace’ and there were a few boos.  I was a bit baffled until it became apparent that they were angry that some of the Watford players had not come over to applaud them at the end.  As a result they cheered the Paderborn players off.  It seemed an overly sensitive reaction, but applause from the players is expected by English (and German) fans in a way that it isn’t in some other European countries.

Cathcart and Gilmartin

Cathcart and Gilmartin

We took the shuttle bus back into town and, while searching for somewhere to have dinner, met some Paderborn fans who had enjoyed the game and were very happy to direct us to a traditional restaurant, which turned out to be an excellent recommendation.

There is always a risk in attending pre-season friendlies.  Early matches are, effectively, training games to build up fitness, so nothing can be read into them.  I quite like the relaxation of watching games in which the score doesn’t matter so you can just watch the players perform.  The most appealing part of these tours, though, is the opportunity to experience a game in an unfamiliar city with the opportunities that gives for exploration.  I love Germany, the landscape, the food and the people so, despite the difficulties on this tour, it turned out to be a cracking long weekend away.

I will miss the rest of our pre-season campaign as I gather my strength for a trip to Everton.  Hope springs eternal at this stage.  We can only hope that this season heralds our best showing in the top division since the 80s.

Beer, Wurstl and an Oompah Band

Welcome to Kingsmeadow

Welcome to Kingsmeadow

It was a gorgeous day for a football match, even better that the Football Manager Cup between Wimbledon and Watford had been scheduled to coincide with the beer festival.  It seemed appropriate to start the afternoon with a pint of Plough Lane Ale and rather lovely it was too.  To add to the pre-match treats, there was a German würstl stand and, later, an oompah band appeared which started their repertoire with “Staying Alive.”  I must say that I love a man in lederhosen.

When we finally dragged ourselves away and entered the ground, it was packed, but we managed to find space in the shade where the vertically challenged among us could see the game.

Ighalo and Deeney wait for a cross

Ighalo and Deeney wait for a cross

Team news was that Flores had made two changes from the line-up at St Albans with Vydra and Prödl in for Watson and Angella.  So the starting 11 was Gomes, Pudil, Cathcart, Prödl, Anya, Capoue, Abdi, Ighalo, Forestieri, Vydra and Deeney.  So, four forwards in the starting line-up.  What could possibly go wrong?

There was a promising start to the game from the Hornets as Pudil played a ball into the box but Vydra and Ighalo got in each other’s way.  The first action of note came in the 11th minute as Elliott appeared to be tripped by Anya.  Kennedy made no mistake with the penalty as Gomes went the wrong way.  Watford’s first goal attempt fell to Deeney as  Anya played a one-two with Vydra before cutting the ball back for Troy whose shot took a deflection and flew over the target.  Then Vydra cut the ball back to Deeney who moved it on to Ighalo, who was in a better shooting position but was not expecting the pass, so the chance went begging.

Odion hiding his embarrassment with a big smile after scoring

Odion hiding his embarrassment with a big smile after scoring

After 25 minutes, the game stopped for a drinks break as it was a scorching afternoon.  The next chance fell to the home side as Akinfenwa rose to meet a cross from Kennedy but headed over the bar.  Watford’s equalizer was ridiculous.  A clearance from Dons keeper, McDonnell, hit Ighalo and looped into the net.  Odion looked rather embarrassed as he retrieved the ball, but they all count.  Watford had a decent chance to take the lead after a quick free kick reached Forestieri whose shot was saved by the legs of McDonnell.  At the other end Elliott cut inside Prödl and shot, but Gomes pushed the ball over the bar.  Then Vydra found Ighalo whose shot was parried before being cleared.  Forestieri had a couple of great chances to send the Hornets in ahead at the break.  First a Vydra header reached him in the box but he shot wide of the target.  Then Fernando tried a shot across the keeper that appeared to be scuffed and was stopped by the feet of McDonnell.   Then he hit a shot into the turf which was deflected behind for a corner.  You had to feel sorry for him as he was trying so hard and nothing was coming off.

Forestieri after scoring

Forestieri after scoring

At the start of the second half, the home side made 10 changes, while the visitors brought Arlauskis and Watson on for Gomes and Vydra.  Watford’s first chance of the second half came from an Abdi free-kick which hit the crossbar and came down but, sadly, bounced away from the goal.  A minute later, the visitors took the lead as Deeney headed an Abdi cross goalwards, McDonnell blocked the header but Forestieri followed up to, at last, get his name on the scoresheet.  The Dons nearly equalized immediately as Arlauskis failed to gather a cross which reached Barcham whose header was cleared off the line by Prödl.  Anya went on a run down the wing and crossed, but it was a bit too far in front of Ighalo who could only direct it wide of the target.  The Dons thought they had equalized through Azeez, but Pudil had been fouled in the build-up, so the goal was disallowed.  A promising run and cross from Barcham came to nothing as Watson appeared in the box, pulled the ball out of the air and cleared.  Watford’s third substitution saw Paredes on for Anya. 

Paredes on a run down the wing

Paredes on a run down the wing

Watson then had a chance at the other end, but his shot from distance was easily gathered by McDonnell.  Forestieri was the next to threaten the Wimbledon goal, but McDonnell dropped to save his shot.  Despite rumours that Sheffield Wednesday had had a bid accepted for him, McGugan made an appearance in place of Ighalo and new boy, Holebas, came on for Pudil.  Forestieri hit a free-kick that was on target but was saved by McDonnell.  At the other end Oakley tried a turn and shot, but the attempt was weak and straight at Arlauskis.  With 10 minutes remaining, there was a further Watford substitution as Prödl made way for Hoban.  There was a dangerous scramble in the Watford box as a shot was blocked and the follow-up from Reeves flew over the bar.  The last minutes of the game saw two further substitutions for the Hornets as Fabbrini and Lewis replaced Forestieri and Abdi.  Just as Watford thought that the game was won, Barcham attacked down the left wing, Paredes appeared to have the measure of him but slipped and, when he recovered, made a silly challenge and conceded a penalty which Francomb scored to ensure that the Football Manager cup was shared, which was probably the ideal result for Miles Jacobson.

Deeney in discussion with Flores

Deeney in discussion with Flores

There were mutterings from Watford fans both during and after the game about the performance, which always seems a bit pointless at a friendly, which is very far from a competitive game at this stage of pre-season.  I’m sure that Flores learned something from the game (particularly that playing our four frontmen is not a guarantee of goals).

Post-match, it was back to the beer festival where the polite early applause for the oompah band had been replaced with a passionate crowd singing along.  The football apart, it was a lovely afternoon and I hope that this becomes a regular fixture in our pre-season calendar.

Quique Flores Takes a Walk in Clarence Park

Arlauskis warming up

Arlauskis warming up

I was supposed to be going to the theatre on Wednesday evening, but the announcement of a pre-season friendly at Clarence Park put paid to that.  I know that there are varying schools of thought about pre-season games, with many regarding attendance as pointless, but I love them.  It is a chance to ease yourself gently back in with games whose results don’t matter, to get an early look at new signings and to catch up with your football friends.

We stationed ourselves outside the Sponsors’ Lounge and there was a different vibe from previous games at the same venue with the visit of Premier League opposition attracting a different class of visitor.  I don’t think I have ever seen glasses of white wine being drunk on the perimeter of a non-league pitch before.

Deeney doesn't look sure about the bloke with the bling next to him

Deeney doesn’t look sure about the bloke with the bling next to him

Our position turned to our advantage as I looked up to see our new manager approaching.  I took the opportunity to welcome him, for which he thanked me.  He was followed by the coaching staff and then the players.  I was impressed that Vydra didn’t look the least bit scared when I greeted him with “At last you are ours.”  Inside, he smiled and said, “At last.”  As the last of the players passed us, I wondered where Deeney was and then saw that he was having photos taken with fans.  He was running late behind his teammates, but still took time when he saw us ask how we were and to shake Don’s hand and give me a kiss.

Crowds had flocked to the game but, as the scheduled kick-off time drew near, many were still outside the gates so kick-off was delayed for 15 minutes.  That must be a first for a Watford pre-season game.

Quique Sanchez Flores named a very strong starting line-up:  Gomes, Pudil, Cathcart, Angella, Anya, Capoue, Watson, Ighalo, Abdi, Forestieri and Deeney.  I must admit that, since I always struggle to identify players in pre-season while writing my match reports (new hair-cuts usually do for me), I was happy that only one unfamiliar face was on show.

An early sight of Capoue on the ball

An early sight of Capoue on the ball

Prior to kick-off, as the players formed the line for the ‘respect’ handshake, they were joined by the Mayor of St Albans.  I don’t remember that happening when we played in the Football League.

Watford had an early chance as Deeney headed the ball down to Ighalo but the ball ran away from the Nigerian and the chance was gone.  Then Capoue released Pudil on the wing, he crossed for Deeney who couldn’t connect.  Forestieri played a low cross to Deeney who cut it back to Abdi, but the Professor’s shot was straight at the Saints keeper.  The first goal attempt from the home side was put out for a corner which Gomes punched in the direction of a Saints player but Forestieri was on hand to block the follow-up.  Watford resumed their attacks as Deeney passed to Forestieri, who found space for a shot but it was a bit soft, so easily saved.  An attempt by Deeney to reach an Abdi ball over the top to him in the box was stopped by a push, but there was no penalty appeal.  Deeney then shaped for a scissor kick, but a defender blocked the ball before he could connect.

Waiting for a corner

Waiting for a corner

A lovely Abdi corner should have been converted but Capoue’s header was mistimed and the ball went sailing past him.  Pudil found Forestieri who cut inside and shot into the side netting.  It had been mostly one way traffic in the first 25 minutes, but St Albans threatened as Cathcart was pushed off the ball and the cross reached Hilliard whose shot cleared the bar.  It was then Angella who lost out to Hilliard but the striker again shot over the target.  At the other end, an Abdi free kick was easily gathered by Jones.  The home side threatened again as a cross from Bishop was headed clear by Angella while Hilliard’s follow-up shot flew wide of the far post.  Watford took the lead in the 32rd minute as a cross from Anya was turned back by Pudil to Ighalo who powered the ball into the net.  We were two up very soon afterwards as Capoue played a one-two with Anya before very generously feeding Ighalo who finished.  It could have been three goals within five minutes as Deeney hit a lovely half volley that just cleared the bar.  So we went into the break two goals up after a half that was thoroughly entertaining.  The new boy certainly impressed and there was a lot of lovely passing and not tiki-taka stuff, but Bolton-esque crossfield balls.

Abdi whips in a free kick

Abdi whips in a free kick

I expected wholesale changes for the Hornets at half-time, but there were only five substitutions with Arlauskis, Prödl, Hoban, McGugan and Vydra replacing Gomes, Angella, Pudil, Watson and Ighalo.  The home side also made a number of changes.  Connor Smith soon joined the fray replacing Capoue, who had a very good first game in a Watford shirt.  Almost immediately, Deeney was bearing down on the St Albans goal but Jones came off his line and put him off so he shot over the bar.  The next change was Lloyd Dyer (no, I didn’t think I’d see him in a Watford shirt again either) replacing Forestieri.  For the home side, Ngoyi shot wide of the far post, although the whistle had already gone for a rather harsh offside decision.  On the hour Abdi shot just wide.  Another unexpected face returned as Belkalem came on for Cathcart.  Dyer played a one-two with Vydra before putting in a cross that was turned out for a corner from which Prödl’s header over the target.  Dyer was instrumental in the third Watford goal as he rounded the keeper and hit a shot which was cleared back to him so he squared for Deeney to blast home.  Watford’s next substitution saw young professional Dennon Lewis replacing Abdi.  The first time Arlauskis was called into action he impressed, blocking a close range shot and then saving the follow-up.

Prodl in Action

Prodl in Action

Watford’s next chance was a McGugan free-kick which flew over the bar.  There was a further substitution as Anya was replaced by Paredes.  The home side hadn’t given up and a shot from Medlock was saved by the legs of Arlauskis.  At the other end a chance for Deeney was slightly scuffed and went straight to the keeper.  Dennon Lewis broke into the box, but his shot was saved.  The final substitution saw the last of the starters, Deeney, replaced by Byers.  Watford’s fourth came in the 87th minute as a cut back from Paredes was met with a shot from Smith that took a wicked deflection to fly over Jones in the St Albans goal.  There was one last chance for the Hornets but McGugan’s shot was saved so the visitors ran out 4 goal winners.

Those who shun pre-season games missed a treat.  It was a very good performance on a gorgeous Summer’s evening.  The new boys all looked impressive, the old boys played their part, there were four goals and I got a kiss from the Watford captain.  All in all, a very good evening.

 

Frustration on the South Coast

Jon and Rene in the media area

Jon and Rene in the media area

A Friday night game in Bournemouth meant that I had to take the morning off work to travel and then spend the afternoon in my hotel room calling into work teleconferences.  All of that ensured that there was no time for a walk on the beach, which was rather sad.  But the pub of choice in Bournemouth was delightful even if the cider was a little strong.

Team news was that there were two changes from the magnificent win over Blackpool with Munari and Watson replacing Paredes and Vydra.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Tözsér, Watson, Munari, Layun, Deeney and Ighalo.  As we took our place in the stand, I was surprised to see that we were adjacent to the press area and that Jon and Rene were required to commentate on the game while sitting between the banks of home and away fans.

Layun's extensive pre-match prayer

Layun’s extensive pre-match prayer

We’d been looking forward to this game all week, but it went horribly wrong in the first minute when Kermorgant dispossessed Tözsér, played Miller in and Angella took the escaping player down.  The whistle went and the Bournemouth players surrounded the referee who emerged brandishing a red card.  It seemed very harsh, especially as Cathcart was covering.  You have to wonder what the sea air does to referees facing Angella.  Although, at least on this occasion, he wasn’t dismissed for his remarkable resemblance to Fitz Hall!!!  With such an early dismissal, it felt like the game was over already.  Kermorgant took the free-kick himself which deflected off the wall for a corner from which Pugh headed over.  Watford rejigged the defence with Layun and Anya dropping into a back four.  Bournemouth threatened immediately with a curling cross from Ritchie that was palmed away by Gomes.  Then Deeney broke down the other end and played the ball out to Anya who shot wide of the far post.  The lovely Ighalo then indulged in a spell of showboating to cheer up the travelling Hornets.  Bournemouth threatened again as Ritchie cut inside and shot wide.

06 - Ighalo tries to beat FrancisBut Watford also had chances as Ighalo fed Munari who tried a shot from distance which was blocked.  Then Anya floated a high cross into the box that was caught by Boruc.  The home side had a great chance to take the lead in the 24th minute, but Kermorgant’s shot rebounded off the crossbar.  A great run from Deeney was stopped by Cook who only received a yellow card for the offence, which was greeted with anger from the Watford fans.  From Tözsér’s free-kick, the ball broke to Watson who shot just wide.  Soon after, the ball flew into the Watford crowd signalling a Bournemouth throw.  The away fans decided to indulge in a spot of volleyball and showed no sign of giving the ball back, so Ighalo came over and requested that it be returned in such an endearing manner that the ball was immediately thrown back onto the pitch.  With 10 minutes remaining in the half, Wilson was tripped by Cathcart in the box and the referee pointed to the spot.  With the team down to 10 men and working their socks off, a penalty against us seemed just cruel.  Kermorgant made no mistake from the spot to give the home side the lead.  Arter was very lucky not to follow Angella to the dressing rooms as a two-footed tackle on Munari was deemed worthy of only a yellow card.  Bournemouth had another goal chance but Wilson’s header flew wide of the far post.  Watford could have been in further trouble as Gomes parried a cross, but Cathcart was on hand to put it out for a corner that was easily gathered by the keeper.

When the half time whistle went, there were loud boos from the Watford fans targeting the referee for his appalling decision in sending Angella off.

Deeney and Ighalo waiting for a corner

Deeney and Ighalo waiting for a corner

At the start of the second half, Munari made way for Pudil, allowing Anya to move to the right and Layun to move up to the midfield.  Bournemouth had a good chance to increase their lead on 50 minutes as a Cathcart clearance fell to Ritchie who shot wide of the target.  At the other end a shot from distance by Tözsér was caught by Boruc.  Bournemouth increased their lead in the 56th minute as Ritchie received the ball on the right of the box and buried it in the far corner.  As much as it pains me to say it, it was a quality goal.  Watford tried to hit back as Ighalo played a through ball for Deeney, but he was tackled before he could shoot.  A lovely Bournemouth move finished with a shot from Francis that Gomes dropped to smother.  It looked as if Bournemouth would increase their lead with a powerful header from Kermorgant that Gomes did brilliantly to push wide.

Tozser and Layun line up a free kick

Tozser and Layun line up a free kick

Jokanovic made his second substitution bringing Vydra on for Ighalo.  I must say that I didn’t see that coming.  Bournemouth threatened again with a low shot from Francis that was gathered by Gomes.  Ritchie tested the Watford keeper again, but Gomes was equal to his shot.  Watford had a rare attack as Vydra played a square ball to Deeney who shot wide of the far post.  Bournemouth’s final attack started with a push on Anya that should have been penalised, but they broke forward resulting in a shot that needed another excellent save from Gomes.  In injury time, Mensah replaced Deeney, presumably for some first team experience.  After the final whistle, the Watford players all came over to thank the Watford fans who had continued to sing in support of their team for the entire 90 minutes.

We went into this game anticipating an exciting top of the table clash.  The sending off in the first minute meant that we will never know whether we could have overcome Bournemouth with eleven men.  With the game being changed to Friday evening for television, it also meant that most fans attending had to take time off work and possibly find accommodation for the night due to the lack of public transport home after the game.  In these circumstances, when a refereeing  decision has such an impact on the outcome of the game, you feel doubly cheated.  Let’s hope that we can take this anger into next week’s game.

Seventh Heaven

Paying tribute to Ken Furphy

Paying tribute to Ken Furphy

After last week’s wonderful display, we should have gone into this game with a lot of confidence.  But anyone who has watched Watford this season knows that you cannot predict which team will turn up.  I must admit that when I heard that Blackpool hadn’t won away all season, my heart sank.

We were joined in the West Herts by Jacob, a Danish Watford fan who was making his first visit to Vicarage Road.  Having met Jacob at a pre-season game in Horsens in 2006, it was lovely to see him again and I really hoped that he was in for a treat.

Jokanovic made a single change bringing in Vydra for Munari who had a hamstring problem.  The starting eleven was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Tözsér, Layun, Paredes, Vydra, Ighalo and Deeney lining up in a 3-4-1-2 formation.  Blackpool featured Watford old boy Nyron Nosworthy who was given a great reception by the Watford fans.

Before kick-off, there was a minute’s applause for Ken Furphy who passed away last week.  As the manager who first took us to the old second division and the FA Cup semi-final, he is rightly revered among Watford fans and the applause was warm and loud.

Defending a free kick

Defending a free kick

Blackpool made a good start to the game.  An early cross was caught by Gomes with Davies challenging.  Miller got into a good position, but shot just wide of the far post.  Watford also had an early goal attempt from a Tözsér free-kick which Angella headed over the bar.  The visitors took the lead in the 7th minute as Paredes tackled Ferguson in the box, the ball bounced off Gomes to Orlandi who buried the ball with the Watford keeper out of position.  The home side tried to hit back immediately as Ighalo found Vydra who played a one-two with Deeney before shooting wide of the far post.  Hoban played a ball over the top to Deeney, who appeared to have outpaced the Blackpool defence, but the defender recovered to make a tackle.  A lovely passing move ended with Anya behind the Blackpool defence but his low cross was gathered by Parish before Ighalo could reach it.

Celebrating Deeney's goal

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

Deeney dispossessed Perkins and played the ball out to Ighalo whose shot was disappointingly weak and easy for the keeper.  Paredes crossed for Anya whose shot was blocked by Parish, the ball came out to Deeney who tried an overhead kick that flew well over the bar.  Watford’s next chance was a weak shot from Vydra that was blocked.  Layun was the next to try his luck, but his shot from distance was well off target.  Watford should have equalized on 32 minutes as Ighalo picked the ball up and unleashed a shot that Parish did really well to push over the bar.  The pressure on the visitors’ goal continued as Deeney played a low cross to Vydra but the Czech’s shot was blocked.  The only yellow card of the game went to Blackpool’s Davies who was booked for kicking the ball away to delay a Watford free-kick.  It was not his first effort at wasting time.  Given that the pressure had all been from Watford since the early goal it was something of a shock when Blackpool went two goals ahead.  A shot from Miller was going wide, but Gomes got a hand to it.  From the corner, McMahon found Davies on the goal line where he needed two attempts before he put the ball in the net.  In time added on, Miller had a chance to increase the lead but Gomes dropped to gather.

Congratulating Vydra

Congratulating Vydra

I must be becoming immune to boos from the home fans at the half time whistle as they didn’t register and I was only alerted to them when the bloke in front of me shouted “fickle fans” at those venting their displeasure.  It had been an odd half.  Watford had most of the possession, but had misplaced too many passes and the finishing had been woeful.  We needed a bit more aggression.  At this point I was feeling really sorry for Jacob.

At half-time, the Wealdstone Raider was on the pitch raising awareness of Autism Concern.  He finished his piece by mentioning that Watford season ticket holders can get into Wealdstone games for half price.  He exhorted us to “Come and see a decent team.”

Angella returns from celebrating his goal with the Watford bench

Angella returns from celebrating his goal with the Watford bench

I have no idea what Jokanovic said in his half-time team talk, or what was put in the tea, but whatever it was it worked.  He made a tactical change replacing Hoban with Ben Watson, who was making his debut after signing on Friday.  Anya and Paredes dropped into a back four, so the formation was now 4-3-3.  Within a minute of the restart, Watson won a ball in midfield, he released Ighalo who played it out to Layun who returned the pass for the Nigerian to beat Parish.  Ighalo didn’t wait around to celebrate.  He grabbed the ball from the back of the net and ran back to the centre circle.  Watford were suddenly on fire.  Vydra fed Layun whose cross flew wide of the far post with Deeney unable to connect.  Then Ighalo passed to Deeney who took time to control the ball before shooting just wide.  In a brief foray to the other end, the ball broke to Davies who shot straight at Gomes with the offside flag already raised.  A Tözsér free-kick was headed clear by O’Dea, although I’m not sure how much he knew about it as the impact knocked him over and the ball flew in to the Rookery.  My brother-in-law threw the ball back onto the pitch so is claiming an assist for the second goal which came as Deeney headed Tözsér’s corner home to level the score.

Ighalo thanks Deeney for his unselfish pass for the seventh goal

Ighalo thanks Deeney for his unselfish pass for the seventh goal

Unbelievably, we were ahead on 53 minutes as a long pass from Layun was headed down by Deeney to Ighalo who swept it under Parish and into the net.  The Nigerian did feel able to celebrate on this occasion.  Watford’s fourth came soon after as Anya broke down the left, his cross was cleared, but only as far as Vydra who buried it.  If the fans were happy to see Vydra score, it seemed that the players were even more so, they looked delighted for him as they celebrated.  Blackpool had a chance to pull one back as Gomes had to be smart to turn an O’Hara free-kick wide.  But that was a brief respite for the visitors as Deeney hit a cross which they were relieved to see headed out for a corner before it reached Angella.  Nosworthy almost got on the scoresheet for his former team but he turned the ball just wide of the goal.  From the corner, Angella headed the ball against the post, looked annoyed with himself and made no mistake with the follow-up to put the Hornets 5-2 ahead.  Anya went on another storming run down the left and passed to Vydra whose shot was saved by the feet of Parish.

Ighalo greets the Rookery

Ighalo greets the Rookery

On 68 minutes, Ken Furphy’s picture appeared on the big screen again prompting a minute’s applause to remember his achievement in leading Watford to promotion to the second division for the first time in our history in the 68-69 season.  The home side continued their siege on the Blackpool goal as Deeney crossed for Vydra who nodded the ball down to Ighalo whose shot was saved.  Ighalo’s hat-trick came on 72 minutes as Vydra played a through ball to Deeney, his shot bounced off the post to Ighalo who headed it in.  Jokanovic made his second substitution bringing Munari on for Tözsér.  With 10 minutes to go, Watford made it 7 as Deeney broke into the box and unselfishly played a square ball for Ighalo to tap into an empty net for his fourth goal of the afternoon.  There was only time for Anya to make way for Pudil.  The last 10 minutes were goalless.  At the final whistle, the ground was jumping and the players were warmly applauded.  Ighalo received the man of the match award for the second week running and looked delighted as he walked around the pitch proudly clutching the match ball.

Jokanovic’s half time changes will have done a lot to win over the more sceptical among the Watford faithful.  The early goals in the second half seemed to instil confidence in the Watford players and inject an energy that had been missing in the first half.  An unexpected joy was the work between the three forward players.  They were all playing for each other, which meant each of them put in a more effective performance.  There was just one niggling concern.  I hope that nobody tests that half-time tea for additives.  Oh, and someone needs to stop Jacob returning to Denmark.

Mexican Waves and Nigerian Goals

Tozser, Layun and the vanishing spray

Tozser, Layun and the vanishing spray

Despite the weather warnings, I was still surprised to see snow on the ground when I reached Watford, having seen none on leaving London.   I’m told there had been quite the snow storm in the morning but, thankfully, by lunchtime, the sun was out and the little snow that had settled was already melting.  In fact, having wrapped myself up for icy conditions, it felt positively mild and I was shedding layers as I walked to the West Herts.

There was much pre-match talk of the horror show at Huddersfield and annoyance that a team with such a wealth of talent could put in such an abject performance.  Team news was that there were three changes from that game with Anya, Paredes and Ighalo coming in for Abdi, Pudil and Vydra.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Angella, Cathcart, Hoban, Anya, Munari, Tözsér, Layún, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney.  I must say that only the inclusion of Ighalo was welcomed.  Certainly, the absence of Abdi was much lamented and there was some discussion of the formation until Layún lined up for kick-off in the midfield three.

Cathcart congratulated on the opening goal

Cathcart congratulated on the opening goal

Watford started brightly and had an early shot on goal as Ighalo connected with a cross from Tözsér but headed wide.  Deeney played a through ball for Anya, but the Scot was pulled back by Solly who picked up a very early card for the offence.  In the next move, Anya broke down the left and found Ighalo, who did well to wriggle past the defender on the byline and get in a cross for Deeney whose shot was blocked by the keeper.  From Tözsér’s corner, Angella’s header was blocked by Etheridge and Munari’s follow-up was headed off the line.  Charlton had a moment’s respite when Vetokele broke forward and passed to Gudmundsson whose shot was blocked by Gomes.  When you have a number of early chances and fail to score there is that horrible feeling in the back of your mind that it is not going to be your day.  Thankfully, that feeling was quickly dispelled as Watford made the breakthrough in the 14th minute.  From a corner, the ball came out to Layún whose cross was knocked on by Ighalo to Cathcart who fired past Etheridge.  Layún was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that was blocked by the keeper.

Deeney, Paredes and Ighalo following the second goal

Deeney, Paredes and Ighalo following the second goal

Watford had to make an early substitution as an injury forced Munari off to be replaced by Pudil.  The change meant that Anya joined Layún and Tozser in the central midfield three.  This was interesting, if rather scary.  Watford’s second goal came soon after as a lovely ball over the top from Angella reached Deeney who shrugged off the attentions of Bikey before burying the ball.  Soon after, Etheridge did well to tip a shot from Ighalo around the post.  Then Paredes found Ighalo in the box, the Nigerian had both the ball and his feet taken away from him, but appeals for a penalty were waved away.  On the half hour, a Tözsér corner was headed just over the bar by Angella.  Watford continued to attack as Paredes broke down the right and unleashed a shot that flew just wide of the near post.  Charlton briefly threatened as Harriott found Gudmundsson in a dangerous position but, thankfully, he couldn’t control the ball and it went out for a goal kick.  Pudil played the ball in to Ighalo, who was in the clear, but shot straight at the keeper.  Watford got their third goal just before half-time as Layún found Paredes on the right, he advanced to the byline before cutting the ball back to Ighalo who knocked it past Etheridge.  The goal was no more than Ighalo deserved after his great first half showing and he ran to the corner flag in front of the 1881 and celebrated with Harry Hornet.

Ighalo celebrates with Harry Hornet

Ighalo celebrates with Harry Hornet

At half-time, Pete Fincham was on the pitch making an impassioned speech about Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), a group of genetic skin conditions which cause the skin to blister and tear at the slightest touch.  His two gorgeous elder children, Grace and Freddie, are both sufferers, and it was lovely to see Freddie on the pitch with his Dad and enjoying sliding along the sidelines afterwards.  The club dedicated Saturday’s match to help raise awareness of EB and the work that the charity DEBRA undertakes to care for those affected as well as their investment into researching potential treatments.  If you missed the bucket collection at Vicarage Road and would like to donate to this worthy cause, please visit http://www.debra.org.uk/donate/intro

Watford started the second half on the attack as a lovely passing move finished with Anya playing the ball back to Deeney whose shot was pushed wide of the far post.  For the visitors, Gudmundsson tried to find Cousins in the box, but Gomes was first to the ball.

Celebrating Ighalo's second goal

Celebrating Ighalo’s second goal

Just before the hour, Ighalo scored his second and Watford’s fourth heading home a Tözsér corner.  A rare attack from Charlton finished with a looping shot straight at Gomes.  At this point, Harry Hornet started a Mexican wave which made its way around the stadium twice before petering out.  Welcome to Vicarage Road, Miguel Layún.  Another ball into the Watford box was headed wide by Bikey under a challenge from Angella.  At the other end, a shot from Tözsér flew just over the bar.  Deeney then exchanged passes with Ighalo before curling a lovely shot that Etheridge did really well to push clear.  Ighalo wasn’t to get his hat trick as he was replaced by Vydra on 74 minutes.  He left the field to a standing ovation.  Deeney skipped past a couple of defenders, but his final ball was too far in front of Vydra.  Then Watford had a bizarre chance as Anya dinked the ball goalwards, it hit a defender and appeared to be going in with Etheridge stranded, but was spinning and bounced off the line and out.

Lining up a killer free-kick

Lining up a killer free-kick

With 9 minutes remaining, Anya made way for George Byers, who was making his first team debut.  The youngster was soon in the thick of the action and just as my sister smilingly noted his maiden foul in Championship football, the 1881 started a chant of “knocked down by a twelve year old”.  Watford were still looking to increase their lead as a chip from Deeney was gathered by the keeper.  Then Pudil hit a shot from the left which flew wide of the far post.  In time added on, Bikey was booked for a foul on Vydra.  Layún and Tözsér were both on hand to take the free-kick, but it was the Hungarian who stepped up and blasted it into the far corner for Watford’s fifth goal of the afternoon.

What a difference a week makes.  The players did a lap of the pitch taking very well deserved plaudits from all sides of the ground.  Layun’s home debut had been rather good and his inter-passing with Paredes was a big factor in the Ecuadorian’s best performance for some time.  George Byers had a tidy debut that bodes well for his future.  Ighalo thoroughly deserved his man of the match award although a special mention should also go to Tözsér for an assured performance in the centre capped by a goal and an assist.  It has to be said that Charlton were appalling and gave us the space to play, but we took full advantage.  We now need to start standing up to teams that look to nullify our midfield.  If we can only do that, the rest of the season will be a lot of fun.

Only Here for the Beer

Inside the John Smith's Stadium

Inside the John Smith’s Stadium

It all started so well.  When I arrived in Huddersfield, it was a crisp sunny afternoon.  The designated pre-match meeting place was a lovely proper old pub with the push buttons for ordering your drinks still in the snug (sadly no longer functioning).  The beer was excellent and the brisket butties were absolutely gorgeous.

On arrival at the ground, I assured the woman searching my bag that I had no bottles or cans only to be told, “We’re looking for chocolate.”  The programme was in newspaper format, which I rather liked.  I haven’t seen one of those since Derby stopped publishing the Ram.  The lad selling them increased the sales pitch with “You’re on the front page.”  Actually, they had a Watford picture on one cover page and Huddersfield on the other, but it was an appealing design.  Inside, the interview with young Murray Wallace included Troy Deeney as one of his top three opponents with the comment “At this level, he’s as good as you get.”  The stadium announcer preceded the announcement of the Watford team with “I’ll put my teeth in,” then got to Cathcart and commented “He sounds like a Yorkshireman.”  He also introduced the mascots, including the lad from Watford, listing their favourite players, which I thought was a nice touch.

Tozser on the ball

Tozser on the ball

Watford’s starting line-up looked very strong.  Our new Mexican signing, Layun, went straight into the line-up.  We started with Gomes, Angella, Cathcart, Hoban, Pudil, Munari, Tözsér, Abdi, Layun, Vydra and Deeney.  In the opposition dugout was former Hornet and the nicest man in football (allegedly), Chris Powell.

Watford had the first chance of the game as Deeney flicked the ball on to Vydra who shot wide of the far post.  The bright start for the visitors didn’t continue.  Scannell was giving Angella a torrid time on the Watford left from where he fashioned two early chances.  For the first he cut in but shot across goal and wide of the far post.  For the other his shot was high and wide.  Butterfield played Wells in but his cross was gathered by Gomes.  A shot from the right by Coady was grabbed by Gomes with a little more drama than it deserved.  For the visitors, Abdi broke forward and passed to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  Another Watford break finished with Vydra playing the ball out to Layun, but there were no takers for his cross.  Huddersfield launched a break of their own, which finished with a Vaughan shot that nestled on top of the net.

Waiting to challenge a corner

Waiting to challenge a corner

Huddersfield had a great chance to take the lead as a Butterfield cross was met with a header from Wells that Gomes did very well to tip over.  As Gomes launched a long ball, I was complaining that we should be playing the ball out instead when Deeney flicked the ball on to Munari whose powerful volley was well saved by Smithies.  That had been Watford’s best move of the game so far.  A ball over the top from Abdi was hit first time by Vydra but easily gathered by Smithies.  Vaughan tried a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  Layun’s long-range shot flew wide of the target.  In time added on at the end of the half, Gomes had to drop to gather a shot from Butterfield.

On the balance of play, we were lucky to be level at the interval.  The half-time draw was done by Jonathan Hogg who was also interviewed on the pitch.  I couldn’t help wishing that more of our current team had something of Mr Hogg about them.

Layun, Cathcart and Hoban challenge Vaughan and Wells

Layun, Cathcart and Hoban challenge Vaughan and Wells

The first chance of the second half fell to Watford as Vydra exchanged passes with Abdi before passing out to Layun whose shot was saved.  Soon after, Deeney played the ball out to Pudil whose shot was wide of the far post.  At this point the weather had taken a nasty turn and there was swirling sleet in the stadium.  Miguel Layun must have wondered what he’d got himself into.  On 51 minutes, Huddersfield took the lead as Scannell mishit a shot, it fell to Wells and he buried it.  On the hour, Layun failed to control a ball in midfield and Robinson picked it up but his shot from distance was just over the bar.  Jokanovic made three changes just after the hour bringing Bond on for the injured Gomes as well as Ighalo and Anya for Vydra and Pudil.

Celebrating Ighalo's goal

Celebrating Ighalo’s goal

Ighalo’s first act was to bag the equalizer.  A throw-in from Anya was headed on by Deeney, the Nigerian’s shot went through the keeper’s legs and the ball trickled across the line.  The goal sparked a lively spell for the visitors.  Anya played the ball back to Tözsér whose curling shot was easy for Smithies.  Then Anya cut the ball back to Deeney who returned the pass when he really should have tried a shot and the ball went out for a goal kick.  Watford had a golden chance to take the lead as Ighalo found Abdi in space but, with Smith closing him down, he shot way over the target.  That miss proved very costly as a couple of minutes later a cross from Wells reached Vaughan who shot past Bond’s stretching arm.  That goal had come when Watford were in control and sadly stopped the revival.  Huddersfield’s third came after Bond had punched a corner clear, the ball came back in and fell to Lynch who buried it with an overhead kick.  Watford had a couple of half chances after that, but the game was over and Huddersfield were worthy winners.

It had been a very poor performance against a lively Huddersfield side.  I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if Abdi had taken the chance he had just before the home side scored their second.  But he didn’t and we were well beaten.  We now have two home games and have to quickly find some form.

 

A View from the Bridge

Angella late to the pre-match huddle

Angella late to the pre-match huddle

I love the third round of the FA Cup as it can give an opportunity to play unfamiliar opposition and visit a new ground.  I was on a flight to the US when the draw was made.  On landing I eagerly checked who we’d be playing and my heart sank when I saw it was Chelsea.  How terribly dull.  Still, the pre-match pub had good beer and decent pies and we had a lovely stroll through Brompton Cemetery on the way to the ground.  There we were met by a ridiculous security cordon.  There were so many checking the tickets of those trying to enter the away end that it was almost impossible to find a space to walk between them.  Inside the stadium, I marveled at the array of banners declaring the support of fans from all over the place.  The Cornish flag emblazoned with “East Cornwall” was particularly bizarre.  Oddly enough there were no banners for Chelsea fans that actually come from London.  I much preferred Stamford Bridge when we stood on that open terrace with the hut selling wagon wheels at the back.  It had a bit of character then.

Team news was that there were three changes from the Cardiff game with Bond, Deeney and Tözsér coming in for the injured Gomes, the departed Guedioura and the rested Abdi.  The starting line-up was Bond, Angella, Cathcart, Hoban, Pudil, Forestieri, Tözsér, Munari, Paredes, Deeney & Ighalo.  There was a nice touch from the announcer when he welcomed Jokanovic back to Stamford Bridge.

Challenging for a ball into the box

Challenging for a ball into the box

The first five minutes were awful to watch for a Watford fan as Chelsea played the ball about between themselves as if the Watford players were not there.  Pete commented that we should have kicked off because at least that would have meant a touch.  The home side’s first goal attempt came as a free kick reached Cahill but he volleyed it over the bar.  Thankfully, the visitors soon began to get a foothold in the game and had their first shot on goal with a Tözsér attempt from distance that was easily held by Cech.  Soon after a Tözsér free-kick was headed clear by Drogba.  At the other end a shot from Remy curled past the top corner.  Paredes was booked for jumping into Schürrle much to the disgust of those around me, but it had been a silly challenge.  Deeney tried a shot from distance but Cech was behind it.  Chelsea’s first on target attempt was a decent one as Drogba got his head to a cross from Remy, Bond dropped and did well to keep it out.  Drogba held the ball up and played it square to Schürrle who fired over the target.  Just before half time, Forestieri went on a run into the box but his shot was deflected for a corner.  Watford could have taken the lead on the stroke of half time as Pudil was released and crossed for Ighalo who disappointingly scuffed his shot wide of the near post.

So we reached half time having matched Chelsea, actually having the majority of the three on-target shots.  Mourinho was clearly not impressed with his side’s first half showing as he replaced Schürrle and Oscar with Willian and Diego Costa.

Troy wants the ball

Troy wants the ball

Ten minutes into the half, there was a brilliant reaction save from Cech who stuck out a foot to prevent a Deeney shot deflecting into the far corner.  Chelsea took the lead a couple of minutes later as Willian got the ball on the edge of the box and looped it into the top corner.  Watford tried to strike back immediately as Deeney exchanged passes with Ighalo and unleashed a shot, but Cech was behind it.  Jokanovic made his first substitution replacing Ighalo with Vydra.  Watford’s second booking came as Tözsér knocked Ramires over in an innocuous looking coming together.  A free-kick from distance looped into Bond’s arms.  Chelsea increased their lead on 69 minutes as a shot from Costa was charged down, the ball dropped to Remy who hit it past Bond.  Forestieri, who had been guilty of some poor decision making throughout the game, hit a shot from the edge of the box when a pass to Vydra may have been the better option.  Chelsea’s third came on 73 minutes as Zouma got on the end of a cross to the back post and headed it past Bond.  Jokanovic immediately made his second substitution replacing Tözsér with Abdi.

Abdi lines up a free-kick

Abdi lines up a free-kick

There were loud shouts for a penalty both on the pitch and in the away end as a cross from Forestieri appeared to be handled by Zouma, but the referee waved the appeals away.  Watford pushed for a goal as a shot from Vydra was pushed over by Cech who punched the resulting corner clear while Angella challenged.  Watford’s final change saw Murray come on for Munari.  Chelsea had a great chance for a fourth as Costa hit a free kick over the wall but Bond got a hand to it to push the ball clear.  In the final minute Cathcart exchanged passes with Vydra but his shot was over the target.

While the result may have been expected, the performance had been excellent and the score flattered our hosts.  The Watford fans had been on their feet singing for 90 minutes so deserved the gratitude of the players who came over to thank us.  I looked beyond them to see no Chelsea player on the pitch and the home stands deserted.  What a shame to be so complacent that a 3-0 win is not worthy of celebration.  I’m glad we have that over and done with.  We can now concentrate on the league and look forward to a trip to Huddersfield on Saturday.

A Sunny Day in Cardiff

The Norwegian contingent (and Don)

The Norwegian contingent (and Don)

After the dreadful performance on Boxing Day, you have to question the wisdom of getting up bright and early for a trip to Wales two days later.  My travelling companions for the game were the Norwegian contingent and WML stalwarts from the early days, Tim and Trond.  Tim was visiting from his home in Vietnam, with his lovely daughter, Jemima, who arrived decked out in Watford gear.  The pre-match venue was an arts centre which treated me to a couple of pints of Rosie’s Pig and a lovely Catalan-style fish stew.  Not your usual pre-football meal, but much appreciated on a cold day.

In contrast to Friday’s downpour, the walk to the ground was under a clear blue sky.  We soon encountered a local who asked us to be gentle with them.  He then changed his mind and said that a number of home fans were hoping for a tonking which would hasten the demise of their “clueless” manager.  I reflected that I could have been listening to a Watford fan in the aftermath of the Wolves game.  The merchandise stalls on the way to the ground were selling nothing but blue and white scarves.  Tan’s attempts to turn them red are on a hiding to nothing.

Awaiting a coner

Awaiting a coner

There was much consternation in the away concourse when the team news came through as Jokanovic had made six changes from Friday.  Although there was logic in all the changes, six seemed a step too far.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Pudil, Abdi, Munari, Guedioura, Paredes, Forestieri and Ighalo.  The announcement that the referee was Stuart Atwell was greeted with boos from the travelling Hornets.

Watford had a chance to take the lead in the second minute as a lovely passing move finished with a powerful shot from Abdi that Marshall did well to push over.  At the other end, a Cardiff free-kick appeared to be headed on by Guedioura but Morrison’s cross was cleared.  The Watford fans had been in good voice at the start of the game and soon started baiting the home fans with “Is this a library?”  I couldn’t help feeling sad at this as Ninian Park had always been an intimidating cauldron of noise.  These new soulless bowls just kill the atmosphere.

Congratulating Guedioura

Congratulating Guedioura

Cardiff threatened again as Whittingham hit a free kick wide.  I don’t know what the significance of the 19th minute was for the Cardiff fans, but at that point they stood and displayed their blue and white scarves just as Whittingham delivered a free kick that was headed home by Le Fondre.  Watford tried to hit back as Forestieri found Guedioura in the box, he was knocked over and felt it should have been a penalty so grabbed the ball.  Atwell signalled a free-kick and delivered a ticking off.  Paredes had been ineffectual in the opening quarter of the game but in the 23rd minute he delivered a cross that Ighalo volleyed over the bar.  At the other end Noone hit a shot from the edge of the box that flew wide of the near post.  Hoban gave the ball away to Jones who squared the ball for Le Fondre whose shot was weak and easy for Gomes to gather.  Just before the half hour, Watford started to dominate.  First a shot from Guedioura that was over the target.  Then Pudil and Forestieri exchanged passes but the Czech’s shot was also well over the bar.  A lovely cross by Guedioura was headed out for a corner by Jones.

Celebrating Ighalo's header

Celebrating Ighalo’s header

Guedioura played a free kick to Paredes whose cross was disappointingly hit straight at a defender.  Ighalo crossed for Forestieri, but he failed to capitalize and the ball was cleared.  I was making a note of this when I heard a noise and looked up to see the ball hitting the back of the net.  I hate it when that happens.  I now know that the ball had reached Munari who chipped it into the box for Guedioura to volley home.  The goal seemed to instil confidence in the visitors whose passing improved immensely.  Watford took the lead as the clock started for injury time when a Pudil cross was headed home by Ighalo.

It had been a weird first half.  We’d started well and completely dominated possession, but had done nothing with it.  The crowd had been on their feet chanting early in the game but by the half hour mark had fallen into silence and I had slumped to my seat in frustration at what I was watching.  Suddenly we scored two goals, the mood on the pitch and in the stands improved and we ended the half on our feet celebrating.

Abdi on the ball

Abdi on the ball

There was a warning from Cardiff at the start of the second period as Whittingham’s shot was blocked by Cathcart, it rebounded to Morrison who shot over the bar.  A lovely ball was played to Forestieri on the left, he dribbled into the box but couldn’t decide whether to shoot or pass so dithered on the ball until he was tackled.  The ball came back in and Guedioura was running on to it, but he was stretching so could only poke it wide.  Ighalo showed some silky skills with a couple of drag backs before a shot from an acute angle that Marshall blocked, it fell to Guedioura whose shot was gathered by Marshall.  Forestieri tried a shot from distance that was parried by Marshall.  Watford came close to increasing their lead as Abdi played the ball out to Guedioura who crossed for Ighalo but his shot was blocked at the post.  On the hour Slade made two substitutions with Adeyemi and Gunnarsson making way for Harris and Ralls.  This move was greeted with a chant of “You don’t know what you’re doing,” from the home fans.

Celebrating Guedioura's second goal

Celebrating Guedioura’s second goal

After a rare mistake from Guedioura, the travelling Hornets started chanting his name.  We were rewarded as he received the ball 25 yards out and smashed it in off the underside of the bar.  Cue mental celebrations in the away stand and a smug feeling that we deserved an assist for that one.  The chant changed to “Sign him up” at that point.  We thought the fourth was coming a couple of minutes later as Forestieri ran on to a through ball from Paredes and had only the keeper to beat, but the linesman’s flag was up as he knocked it into the net.  There was a rare foray into the Watford box as a couple of Cardiff corners came to nothing, the second was punched clear by Gomes, who was fouled in the process.  Jokanovic made his first substitution on 70 minutes replacing Paredes with Anya.  Anya’s first contribution was a run down the right, he beat his man and whipped in a cross that rebounded to Guedioura whose shot was blocked and went out for a corner.  Watford could have increased their lead from the set piece, but Hoban directed his header over the bar.  At the other end a shot from distance from Noone curled wide of the near post.  Both sides made a substitution on 77 minutes, Macheda coming on for Le Fondre and Tözsér replacing Abdi for the visitors.

Angella celebrates in front of the travelling Hornets

Angella celebrates in front of the travelling Hornets

Watford’s final substitution saw Forestieri make way for Deeney for the last 10 minutes.  Troy made an immediate impact as he crossed for Angella to head the fourth past Marshall.  Into time added on, Watford were still looking to increase the lead as Guedioura played a through ball to Ighalo but the Nigerian was flagged offside.  Cardiff broke down the other end where Noone crossed for Jones to head home to reduce the deficit although there were very few Cardiff fans left in the stadium to cheer their goal.  There was one last chance for each side.  Deeney broke forward and crossed for Ighalo to volley goalwards, but Marshall was behind the ball.  At the other end a dangerous looking shot from distance from Noone flew just wide of the far post.  So Watford finished the game worthy winners.

What a difference a couple of days makes, as the travelling Hornets cheered their heroes off at the end of the game.  Guedioura was my man of the match, not just for the goals but for some strong tackles he made in the midfield.  That game marked the end of his loan spell.  I hope that it isn’t the last we see of him in a Watford shirt.  After the last two games, I can’t begin to predict what will happen in the new year, I just hope that it brings much happiness to my fellow hornets.

Oh What Fun It is to See Watford Win Away

A welcome from our hosts

A kind welcome from our hosts

My Friday night entertainment this week was Kristin Scott-Thomas in a Greek tragedy at the Old Vic, I was hoping for somewhat jollier fare at Reading, but it couldn’t be guaranteed.  Certainly the pre-match meeting place was top notch, lovely real ale in a pub with lots of nooks and crannies that has been described by a friend as a Harry Potter house.

Jokanovic made two changes from the win over Wigan.  One was forced, as Munari had a slight hamstring injury that necessitated the inclusion of Guedioura.  For the other, Pudil was preferred to Paredes, allowing him to make his 100th appearance.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Bassong, Angella, Cathcart, Pudil, Tözsér, Guedioura, Abdi, Anya, Deeney and Vydra.

There was a very lively start as a first minute cross found Murray on the right of the box, but his volley was well over the target.  Watford’s first goal attempt came soon after as Pudil headed a Guedioura cross goalwards, Federici pushed it out for a corner from which Guedioura’s shot was blocked.  Abdi was the next to threaten the Reading goal with a powerful curling shot that Federici pushed clear.  The half then became incredibly dull, the next action of note being a nothing foul on the half hour that earned Abdi a yellow card.

Angella begs for (and is shown) forgiveness as Murray falls to the ground

On this occasion Angella begs for (and is shown) forgiveness as Murray falls to the ground

There was a worrying scramble in the Watford box as Gomes parried a header from Murray, the ball came back in but was eventually cleared.  Then Gunter beat Pudil to get into the box and crossed for Blackman who headed over under a challenge from Cathcart.  On 37 minutes, Angella got into a tussle with Murray who was backing into him.  It was six of one and half a dozen of the other, so there were roars of derision from the travelling Hornets as the referee showed Angella a yellow card.  Guedioura had the first Watford chance for some considerable time when he shot over the bar.  Pudil played a lovely ball to Abdi whose cross was headed down to Deeney who tried an overhead kick that flew wide.  Reading should have taken the lead just before half time as Murray received the ball in the box but managed to fire wide of the far post.  In time added on at the end of the half, Angella was tripped on the edge of the box and his arm hit the ball as he fell.  The referee, with the help of the lino, decided that this constituted deliberate handball and was worthy of a second yellow, so Angella was given his marching orders.  It had been a dire half of football, but that decision ensured that the half time boos were directed towards the officials rather than the players.

Tozser lines up a free kick

Tozser lines up a free kick

At the start of the second half, Vydra was sacrificed for Paredes.  Watford, facing a second half playing with ten men, had to decide their approach.  They started the half by pressing the home side and in the 53rd minute, a Tözsér corner was curling in when Federici got a hand to it and pushed it clear.  At the other end, Murray got behind the Watford defence where he directed his shot wide of the far post.  A break by the home side finished with a cross from Blackman which was caught by Gomes.  Reading threatened again as a shot from McCleary was parried by Gomes, the follow-up from Gunter was turned around the post.  A low cross from McCleary went just wide of the far post as Blackman was sliding in and just failed to connect.  Watford fashioned a good move that appeared to give several chances for a strike on goal, but finished with the ball being taken off Abdi’s foot as he shaped to shoot.  For Reading, Blackman shot well over the bar.

Celebrations of Abdi's goal

Celebrations of Abdi’s goal

Watford had mounted a decent rearguard action to this point.  Then, all of a sudden, we took the lead.  Unlike the 70 minutes that had preceded it, Watford’s goal was a thing of beauty as Guedioura won a tackle in midfield and played it out to Anya on the left, he crossed back to Abdi who blasted it past Federici right in front of the Watford fans who reacted with total delirium.  The goal changed the momentum of the game.  Reading’s first yellow card was shown to Williams who was penalized for taking Paredes down as he attempted to break.  Guedioura played a ball over the top for Deeney, but it was a bit too far in front of him so Federici gathered the ball just as Deeney arrived and the players collided resulting in treatment for the Watford man.  At the other end, Gunter went down as he was challenged on the edge of the box, thankfully the referee waved penalty appeals away.  The board went up for a Watford substitution and we expected Deeney to leave the field, but instead Anya made way for Dyer.  Deeney only lasted another couple of minutes, clearly he couldn’t run the injury off, so he was replaced by Ighalo.

Red sky at night

Red sky at night

A ball into the Watford box appeared to be headed on by Paredes but, thankfully, Blackman volleyed over.   The referee added four minutes which were then extended as an off-the ball altercation between Murray and Paredes ended with the Ecuadorean poleaxed and the Reading player being shown a yellow card.  Reading’s last attempt at an equalizer was a soft header from Cooper that was comfortably caught by Gomes.  The final whistle went to loud cheers from the Watford fans.  Jokanovic was his usual, calm self, but Martinez was going mental on the sidelines.  The players came over and applauded the appreciative fans who had certainly done their part in cheering the ten men on in the second half.  In gratitude, Abdi and Pudil kindly donated their shirts to a couple of lucky fans.

Since the away stand is the opposite end of the ground from the shuttle buses back to town, it was no surprise that the bus we took was packed with Watford fans.  The youngsters on the top deck were making a lot of joyful noise and the old folk (including me) on the lower deck were just grinning like fools.  As Jingle Bells (Oh what fun it is to see Watford win away) rang out, my friend commented that he was surprised that it had not had an earlier airing, but I don’t think anyone dared tempt fate like that until the final whistle.

I wish all my readers a very happy Christmas.  See you all on Boxing Day.