Tag Archives: Danny Drinkwater

A Disappointing Set Back in Birmingham

Craig Dawson

Another Tuesday lunchtime, another trip to Euston to travel to a match.  On this occasion, at least, I was confident of seeing a game.

I arrived in Birmingham bright and early.  It was another lovely day, although rather icy.  I dropped my overnight things off at the hotel.  I had stayed in London on Monday night, after a trip to the theatre and, on arrival, was horrified to realise that I had forgotten to bring my yellow shirt.  I was vainly hoping that we would have an outing for the away shirt, but a check on the Premier League twitter feed confirmed that I would be unsuitably attired for the game.  At least I had two yellow, red and black scarves with me.

Having dropped my bag, I headed for the designated pub to find the rest of my party already gathered at a table near the door.  The usual suspects were joined by Jacque’s colleague, Adam, a Villa fan who was braving our company again so soon after the home game.  After a couple of pints and a lovely meal with great company, we set off to catch the bus to Villa Park.   For some reason, I found myself in a very irritable mood on the bus (not that unusual for me, but there was no reason for it on this occasion).  So, when I met Kate on the way in and she said, “I don’t have a good feeling about this,” I couldn’t help agreeing with her.  When we took our seats in the row second from the back of the lower tier, I was delighted to see that the seats behind me were occupied by the family who sit in front of me in the Rookery.  On National Hug Day, the greeting was as warm as I would have hoped.

Ben Foster takes a goal kick

Team news was that Pearson had made just the one enforced change from the weekend with the injured Sarr replaced by Pereyra.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Dawson, Mariappa; Capoue, Chalobah; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney.

The game kicked off and the Hornets created an early chance as Deulofeu met a cross from Pereyra, but the header was easily caught by Reina in the Villa goal.  Watford had another half chance as Mariappa crossed for Deeney who tried to side foot home but, again, the Villa keeper wasn’t overly tested.  The home side then had a couple of chances from corners but, first Konsa, and then Hause headed wide of the target.  Villa’s next chance came as Grealish crossed for Trézéguet whose shot was blocked.  On the half hour mark, Pereyra picked up the ball on the edge of the area turned and shot but his effort was blocked.  At the other end, Targett took a shot from the edge of the area, but it was straight at Foster.  Soon after, the ball reached El Ghazi in the box, but his shot was over the bar from what looked like an offside position (the lino on our side was struggling to keep up).  Targett then tried his luck, but his shot was from an awkward angle and he was unable to get it on target.

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

The Hornets took the lead on 38 minutes when a lovely cross from Deulofeu was met by the head of Deeney who beat Reina at the Holte End, which will have amused him greatly.  It certainly prompted massive celebrations in the away section and a loud chorus of “That boy Troy Deeney, he hates the Villa.”  We should have been two up before half time as Deulofeu went on a tremendous run, it was clear that the angle was too acute and he had two team mates in the box ready for a tap-in, but he proceeded to take the shot himself and only found the side-netting.  The last action of the half was the first caution of the game which went to Mings for a late foul on Doucouré.

The half time whistle went to boos from the home supporters.  It had been an even contest and very dull.  The Hornets were somewhat lucky to be ahead at the break although they had created the best chances of the afternoon and, if Deulofeu had been less selfish, they could have been two goals to the good.

The half time entertainment was a contest to get a football onto a target on the pitch with prizes assigned according to where the ball stopped.  One bloke won a season ticket for next season.  I was going to make a joke here about feeling sorry for him, but my experience of Villa fans is that they are great and I am sure he was delighted.

Pereyra alert in the Villa box

The first chance of the second half went to the home side from a free kick but it was headed clear by Dawson.  Villa threatened again from a corner but Trézéguet’s delivery was headed over by Hause.  Then a dangerous looking shot from distance by Konsa flew well wide of the far post.  The Hornets should have scored a second when a cross from Deulofeu was parried by Reina to Deeney who had two chances to finish from close range, but Reina did brilliantly to keep them out.  The first substitution of the game was made by the home side as Drinkwater made way for Luiz.  Watford threatened again with a lovely one-two between Pereyra and Doucouré that was stopped by an excellent tackle from Guilbert.  Villa had a half chance when Targett met a deep cross, but the header was easy for Foster.  There was controversy on 63 minutes as Mings stopped an attack by Deulofeu by handling the ball.  The Villa man had already been booked, so was lucky not to see red.  Villa drew level on 68 minutes when Grealish played in Targett whose shot was saved by Foster, but the ball dropped to Luiz who hit the target.  The goal felt like it had been coming as Watford had been sitting back and giving the home side too much space.  The Hornets had a chance to hit back from a corner, Reina spilled Chalobah’s delivery but was able to recover before any Watford player could capitalise.

Capoue and Doucoure leave the lads to take a free kick

With 15 minutes remaining, Pearson made his first change as Chalobah made way for Pussetto.  I thought it was a slightly odd substitution, I would have taken Pereyra off.  A worrying Villa attack was stopped when Foster came out to gather the ball before Trézéguet could reach it.  Cathcart was booked for a foul on Grealish during the build-up.  Villa then made a second substitution replacing Trézéguet with Vassilev.  With 10 minutes remaining, Mariappa tried to test the Villa keeper with a cross, but Reina was able to gather and Doucouré was booked for colliding with the keeper as he tried to challenge for the ball.  With nine minutes to go, Pearson made a second substitution replacing Pereyra with Gray.  Andre was immediately involved in a very promising move as he raced forward, with Deulofeu in close attendance, but his square pass to his teammate was very poor and was easily cut out.  The Hornets created a better chance as Doucouré crossed for Pussetto who headed back towards Gray but Andre couldn’t quite reach the ball and again it was cleared.  There were shouts for a penalty as Grealish tumbled in the box, but the referee waved the protests away.  Pearson made a final change in time added on replacing Deulofeu with Kabasele.  Unfortunately the substitution did not shore up the defence as he would have hoped as Watford failed to clear a free kick and a shot from Konsa deflected off Mings and past Foster to give the home side the win with the last kick of the game.  It was a cruel end to the match and to Watford’s great run.

Masina and Deulofeu prepare to take a free kick

We left the ground feeling very disappointed and had to walk through a crowd of exuberant Villa fans chanting, “Deeney what’s the score?”  On that note, it was lovely to see Villa fans on social media after the game singing the praises of Troy for stopping to have his photo taken with them.  A true pantomime villain who loves the back and forth with the fans.  We were quickly back on the bus to the city centre and retired to a pub to drown our sorrows.

That was probably the worst performance that we have put in since Nigel Pearson took over.  We greatly missed Sarr, who has been superb in recent weeks and has been frightening the life out of opposition defences.  But my biggest beef was that we sat back too much and allowed Villa space.  At our place, we had pressed them and got under the skin of Grealish who became petulant and increasingly ineffective.  He had a much better game at Villa Park and they looked stronger as a result.  But, looking at the balance of chances, it was the old story of not making the most of our best opportunities.  Had we converted those chances, we would have taken the three points, although a lot of the credit for that has to go to Pepe Reina.

So, we end the evening back in the relegation zone, if only on goal difference, and my nerves started jangling again.  My angry reaction after the game, that that was what happens if you become complacent, was directed at myself rather than any of the players.  But we have some very winnable games coming up, so we just need to forget this set back and continue playing as well as we have been in the last month.  If we do that, we will be fine.

 

Undone by Defensive Errors

Pre-match huddle

I should have known that this was not going to be our day when, even before we’d left London, there was a message to say that the designated pre-match pub was closed.  Pete, who used to live in Leicester, was given the responsibility of nominating an alternative.  When we arrived, the outside was rather unprepossessing, but the interior was surprisingly gorgeous.  Having spotted our party towards the back of the pub, I made my way past the large group of blokes in my path.  I had assumed that they were all locals, but when I looked up, I realised that I knew most of them.  The beer choice was interesting, I went for a glass of mild, probably for the first time in my life.  I certainly wasn’t going to try the Vardy Volley!

Team news was that Mazzarri had decided to drop Deeney, with Okaka taking his place.  Needless to say, this led to speculation about Troy’s future at Watford with most thinking that, should Mazzarri stay on as manager (which looks likely), Deeney will be on his way.  The other change for the Hornets was Kabasele for Britos.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Kabasele; Amrabat, Doucouré, Cleverley, Capoue, Janmaat; Niang and Okaka.

Gomes launches a ball upfield

The first chance of the game fell to the Hornets as Niang released Janmaat whose curling shot was well wide of the target.  The Hornets nearly benefitted from a mistake by Schmeichel who threw the ball to Amrabat, it reached Cleverley in a great shooting position, but his shot was wide of the target.  Leicester then had two chances both of which could have resulted in own goals.  First, from a Mahrez free-kick, Vardy crossed and Mariappa diverted the ball onto the post, with Gomes beaten.  Soon after, a cross from Fuchs was met with a diving header from Kabasele that required a smart save from Gomes to keep it out of the net.  At the other end, a lovely through ball from Capoue set Niang free, but his shot hit the side netting.  After a long period of patient build-up play, Okaka turned and unleashed a shot that was blocked by the legs of Schmeichel.  Watford threatened again as Capoue met a cross from Janmaat with a looping header that was easily gathered by the Leicester keeper.  Then it was Leicester’s turn to break as Albrighton fed Drinkwater who could only find the side netting.  Cleverley had a decent chance to grab the first goal with a shot that required a great save from Schmeichel.  But it was the home side who took the lead in the 38th minute.  The events leading to the goal started when Okazaki broke forward and Prödl pulled him over to stop his progress.  The resulting free-kick hit the wall for a corner, from which Drinkwater crossed, the ball bounced off Capoue, who was unable to clear, and fell to Ndidi who finished past Gomes.  The Watford players looked rattled after conceding the goal and nearly let in another within minutes as a shot from Mahrez took a deflection off Cleverley and hit the top of the crossbar.  There was a half chance for an equalizer in time added on as Okaka received a Amrabat header with his back to goal, but his overhead kick cleared the bar.

Capoue and Cleverley prepare for a free kick

At half time, we felt rather unfortunate to be behind as, for once, Watford had more shots on and off target as well as dominating possession.  Unfortunately, we had been punished for a defensive mistake.

The home side had a great chance to increase their lead early in the second half as the defence stood off allowing Vardy to shoot but, thankfully, Gomes was equal to it.  Watford had a great chance to draw level as Amrabat crossed for Okaka at the far post, but his header was over the bar.  At this point, a section of the away support starting chanting for Deeney, who wasn’t even warming up.  This was followed by chants for Flores and Boothroyd!  The home side were two up on 58 minutes as a mistake from Mariappa allowed Mahrez to escape and finish past Gomes.  It was getting a bit fraught in the away end and there appeared to be some scuffles in the next block.  The stewards were certainly involved in some heated discussions with some of the fans.  Each manager rang the changes just after the hour mark as Slimani and King replaced Okazaki and Drinkwater for the home side, and Deeney came on for Capoue for the visitors, much to the approval of the bloke behind me who had been complaining about Etienne for the entire game.

Okaka

Leicester had a great chance to increase their lead as Vardy received a lovely through ball from Slimani, cut inside and shot from short range, but Gomes made a smart save at the near post.  The home side had another chance to increase the lead as a free kick from Fuchs just cleared the bar.  Mazzarri made a second, and rather odd, change bringing Zúñiga on for Kabasele.  The travelling Hornets stopped moaning long enough to give a rousing chorus of “One Graham Taylor” on the 72nd minute.  The noise from the away fans had a positive effect as the visitors had a series of goal attempts.  First, a lovely curling shot from Niang had to be pushed clear by Schmeichel.  Next Cleverley tried a shot from the edge of the area, but that was also saved.  Then an Amrabat cross was cleared to Cleverley but his shot was tipped over by Schmeichel.  There was a final substitution apiece as Mahrez made way for Gray for the home side while Mazzarri gave Dion Pereira his debut in place of Niang.  The youngster made a good start with a lovely cross that was headed down by Okaka and prodded just wide by Deeney.  Leicester’s third goal came in time added on, as a Watford attack broke down after Doucouré had the ball in the Leicester box, but decided not to shoot.  Leicester launched a quick break, Vardy found Albrighton who scored with a shot in off the post.  The scoreline was rather harsh and didn’t reflect the balance of play, but Watford had failed to make the most of their chances and were undone by a couple of defensive errors.

Dion Pereira

There was an interesting reaction from the travelling Hornets at the final whistle as the booing from those who are so inclined was almost drowned out by the warm applause from the majority in the crowd.  Debutant, Pereira, who had contributed a very pleasing cameo, approached the away end alongside Deeney.  Troy realised that the youngster would assume that any applause was being directed at his captain, so he stood back and allowed him to continue to receive an ovation from the crowd that he clearly appreciated.

As we queued in the ladies after the game, a little girl waiting for her Mum and little sister complained, “We are going to be relegated.”  When I pointed out that Hull had lost to Sunderland, she wasn’t placated.  “We lost to Hull, how embarrassing is that?  My friends at school take the mickey out of me.”  “At least you go to support your team.”  She smiled, “Yes.  I call them plastic fans.”

So, with three games remaining, we are still not mathematically safe, although it will take an extreme set of results for Watford to be relegated.  But it is still very frustrating that the season is fizzling out in such a manner.  There was a sad irony in hearing chants for Flores who, this time last season, was overseeing performances every bit as dull as those we are seeing under Mazzarri.  I spoke to a couple of fans after the game who can’t wait for the season to be over, which is a great shame.  But, come the end of May, I know we will all be counting the days until the fixtures are released.

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.

 

Punished by Our Mistakes

One small step for the Hornets ...

One small step for the Hornets …

I left home ridiculously early to get into London for the train to Leicester.  After experiencing over-running engineering works and a closed tube line, I was glad that I did as my plan of a leisurely coffee did not come to fruition.  The delays did, however, give me plenty of time to read the chapter about *that goal* in Tales from the Vicarage 4, and a cracking chapter it is too.  After a short train journey north and a walk in the drizzle, we found our pre-match meeting place locked up.  Since there were a couple of others hanging around we waited and five minutes later the doors were opened and we bagged a prime spot in a large corner with a number of tables to accommodate what was likely to be a large group.  The décor was very interesting, the walls being decorated with framed sets of stamps with a space theme, including Star Wars, Star Trek and proper space travel.  There was even a space suit in the opposite corner.

A number of us had been to the At Our Place event in the week, so happily updated the others on the sterling performances from delightful Quique, from whom I demanded and received the promised hug, hilarious and straight-forward Troy Deeney, reassuring Scott Duxbury and Luke Dowling, who is having a ball.

One of the blackboards in the pub welcomed the Bochum 1848 Blue Army alongside a list of their Oktoberfest beers and, sure enough, we were soon joined by a group of blue shirted fans speaking German.  When the time was right, they went into the ‘square’ outside the pub for their photo opportunity that, following German tradition, included pyrotechnics.

The Last Post sounds

The Last Post sounds

As we left to walk to the ground, the rain had stopped and the sun had come out.  This appeared to be a welcome development until we got inside the ground and realized that we would have to spend the first half shielding our eyes if we were to see anything.  Photography was almost impossible.  There were the usual ceremonies for Remembrance Day, with the added oddity of the match ball being delivered by a helicopter.  The home fans held up cards which created a poppy, which was displayed as the Last Post sounded and there was a Watford FC Remembers banner on the side of the pitch in front of the travelling fans.  Sadly neither were positioned such that I could get a decent photo.

Team news was that Flores had kept faith with the team that defeated Stoke and West Ham, so the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Anya, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.  The Leicester starting line-up included former Watford loanee, Danny Drinkwater, and Jamie Vardy, who was aiming to score in the ninth game in a row.

Cathcart on the ball

Cathcart on the ball

The first on-target shot of the game came from the visitors as Anya cut the ball back to Capoue whose shot was smothered by Schmeichel.  The Watford fans soon started baiting their counterparts with “Did you cry when Deeney scored?” to which the response was “Did you cry at Wembley?”  Oddly I think my answers to those questions would be yes and no.  Does that make me a Leicester fan?  In Watford’s next attack Cathcart played a ball forward for Anya but Schmeichel was first to it.  At the other end, Gomes had his first involvement getting down to stop a shot from Albrighton which, from behind the goal, appeared to be going wide.  Gomes was soon in action again, pulling off a terrific save to keep out Huth’s glancing header from an Albrighton free-kick, he wasn’t to know that the flag was already up for offside.  Most of those in the away stand believed that we had taken the lead in the 20th minute as Deeney played the ball to Ighalo whose shot appeared to hit the net, but actually rebounded out off the inside of the post.  I am reliably informed that Schmeichel did well to save a follow-up volley from Abdi, but I didn’t see it as I was jumping up and down celebrating the ‘goal’.  Capoue was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that flew well wide.  The home side threatened as Gomes got a hand to a cross from Fuchs, the ball eventually reached Albrighton but Gomes was equal to his shot.  A decent passing move from the Hornets finished with a cross from Abdi that went begging.  Goal machine Jamie Vardy had his first chance in the 37th minute, but his shot was weak and easy for Gomes.  In Watford’s next attack a cross from Ighalo was headed clear by Morgan before it reached Deeney.  So we reached half-time goalless, it had been a pretty even half with Ighalo’s shot the closest to breaking the deadlock.

The Italian faces a Spaniard he would like to kill

The Italian faces a Spaniard he would like to kill

There was an early second half scare for the Hornets as Mahrez robbed Abdi and played the ball through to Albrighton who advanced to shoot, but it was an easy catch for Gomes.  Leicester took the lead on 51 minutes and it was a dreadful mistake from Gomes, who should have dealt with Kanté’s shot easily, but it squirmed away from him and into the net.  I hate it when goals like that are scored, it just seems unfair.  It was made worse as I had to listen to the lad behind me going on and on about how unacceptable such a mistake was, so I was glad when an older head in his group reminded him how brilliant Gomes has been for us this season.  Watford tried to strike back as Ighalo exchanged passes with Abdi before putting in a cross that was gathered by Schmeichel.  Just before the hour, Capoue played a back heel to Nyom whose shot was high and wide.  Watford nearly shot themselves in the foot again as Capoue played a hospital ball that Vardy latched on to but he was stopped from threatening the goal by a great tackle from Britos.  On 64 minutes, Ighalo lost the ball deep in the Leicester half and, instead of fighting back as he usually does, played for a free-kick.  It wasn’t given and the Leicester break finished with Vardy being taken down by Gomes just inside the area.  The referee pointed to the spot and showed Gomes a yellow card.  Vardy hit the penalty down the middle and scored for his ninth successive game, which really hadn’t looked on the cards given his ineffectual performance on the day.

Troy steps up to take the penalty

Troy steps up to take the penalty

With 20 minutes to go, Flores made his first substitution replacing Capoue with Paredes.  The Ecuadorian made an impact soon after as he was sent tumbling in the box.  Deeney stepped up and, despite the prediction of Cassandra standing behind me, buried the penalty.  Troy didn’t waste time celebrating, instead he picked up the ball and ran back to the centre circle.  Flores immediately made a second substitution bringing Diamanti on for Nyom and dropping Anya into the full back position.  Leicester tried to regain their two goal margin as Mahrez dribbled into the box, but Gomes saved his shot.  At this point, the Watford crowd woke up and the whining behind me was drowned out by singing.  There was even a spot of bouncing which only served to demonstrate that the crisp bowl (or whatever it is called now) is a bit rickety.  The Rookery doesn’t move under my feet when we bounce.  The last chance of the game came 10 minutes from the end as Paredes appeared to be tripped, but he’d managed to pass to Deeney whose shot from outside the area was caught by Schmeichel.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

So, we were defeated, which was disappointing as we deserved a point from the game.  Leicester have had a great start to the season, but the only difference between the teams was that their misplaced passes rebounded to their own players more often than ours did.  Gomes earned massive respect from the travelling fans by coming straight over to us, pointing to himself and mouthing “It was me.”  As he turned to leave the pitch, he was serenaded with “Heurelho Gomes Baby” which pleased me greatly and hopefully gave him some comfort.  Everyone there knew what he has contributed so far this season and that, despite his mistakes in this game, his account is still very much in the black.

Some consolation for the result came with the knowledge that we would go into the next international break in 11th position with a points total that is equidistant between the Champions League places and the relegation zone.  When you look at it that way there can be no complaints.

An Unexpected Point

Taking the field

Taking the field

The success against Brighton last week gladdened the heart, but we could have done without following it up with a trip to Leicester.  Based on their performance at Vicarage Road earlier this season, they are the best team in this division by a considerable margin and the Championship table certainly backs that view.  Leaving the station on arrival, I was confronted by high winds that made walking difficult and didn’t bode well for the game, but I was soon tucked up in a warm pub with a pint of real ale wondering whether I should stay there all afternoon.

On arrival at the ground, I was told that the official supporter coach hadn’t made it.  Terrible traffic had meant that it arrived for the pick-up in Watford ridiculously late and that the driver was out of time by the time they got to Toddington, so they turned around after he’d had his break.  I really feel for those who use the coach, a number of whom are friends, as they missed a cracking game.

Tozser lines up a free kick

Tozser lines up a free kick

When the team was announced, I was disappointed to hear that Hall, who had been immense on Sunday, had been dropped to the bench with Cassetti moving back to take his place in the centre of the back three.  Merkel was the other to make way with Faraoni and Murray the replacements, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Anya, Tözsér, Murray, Battocchio, Faraoni, Forestieri and Deeney.

Leicester fans started their taunting early with “Did you cry at Wembley?” which was a bit foolish as it was immediately answered with “Did you cry when Deeney scored?”  Well, one of their players did.  Pre-match predictions were confounded as we went a goal up within 10 minutes, Deeney and Forestieri exchanged

Forestieri receives congratulations after scoring

Forestieri receives congratulations after scoring

passes before Troy crossed and Forestieri headed past Schmeichel.  Yes, really, a header from Forestieri!  Leicester had a great chance to equalize soon after as a corner reached Wasilewski in the middle of the box, but he headed wide when it looked easier to score.  Then Murray played a lovely long ball to Deeney who squared to Forestieri, but the Argentine was quickly closed down before he could shoot.  At the other end, a cross from Drinkwater was met with a back flick from Vardy which went wide.  Vardy threatened again soon after, this time meeting a cross from Konchesky with a header which flew over the bar.  Konchesky then made his way into the referee’s book after hacking down Faraoni.  On 24 minutes, Watford won their first corner of the game.  Tözsér’s delivery reached Deeney who headed down to Faraoni but he shot into the side netting.  The jeers from the home crowd that greeted this seemed to be down to relief on their part as there had not

Attacking a corner

Attacking a corner

been great celebrations in the away end.  On the half hour, a pass from Angella that Ian Bolton would have been proud of reached Forestieri on the edge of the area, he cut the ball back to Deeney whose powerful shot flew well over the bar.  The wind then threatened an equalizer as an innocuous looking corner from James changed direction and Almunia had to get a hand to it to divert it for a corner.  Then Dyer ran in to the box and cut the ball back for Nugent (he always scores against us) who wellied over (phew!).  Knockaert put a dangerous ball into the box and Angella did well to intercept and avert the danger.  Watford had a great chance for a second as a Tözsér corner reached Angella who took the ball down and hit an overhead kick that required a good save from Schmeichel to

Murray celebrating his goal

Murray celebrating his goal

keep it out.  We were not to be denied for long, though, as on 40 minutes, Forestieri battled to win the ball in the corner cut back to Anya who found Murray whose low shot from distance beat Schmeichel to nestle in the bottom corner.  At this point there was a mass exodus from the home stand to join the queue for a half-time cuppa.  More fool them as a couple of minutes later James got on the end of a cross from De Laet to cut the deficit.  It was disappointing to concede so soon after our second, but the build up for the goal was excellent.

Ekstrand in control

Ekstrand in control

Early in the second half, Almunia came to gather a cross from Konchesky, but Nugent was challenging with Ekstrand in attendance, the Swede clattered into the keeper so there was a delay as both Watford players received treatment.  Almunia needed a clear head almost immediately as Forestieri played a long ball in the direction of Deeney, which Morgan reached first and launched back for Vardy to break, he was one-on-one with the keeper but Almunia came out and made the clearance.  Then a flick from Faraoni found Forestieri in the box, he tried a shot that landed on the top of the net but had been flagged offside anyway.  Then Konchesky launched a speculative shot from distance that was well over the bar.  Konchesky threatened again with a deep cross that Almunia punched clear.  On 65 minutes, there was a brilliant break for Watford as Ekstrand released Forestieri but, instead of shooting, he opted to pass and put too much weight on it so Deeney received the ball at a tight angle and the chance was gone.  The Watford defending remained resolute as a shot from James was blocked by Murray and looped safely into Almunia’s arms.  Leicester

Watford on the attack

Watford on the attack

really should have equalised in the 70th minute as Dyer cut a cross back to Nugent but his point-blank header was wide of the target.  At this point, Pudil replaced Faraoni.  Nugent had another chance but his header was straight at Almunia.  Then Cassetti was booked for barging Vardy out of the way.  Vardy soon made way for Kevin Philips and my heart sank.  Dyer was also withdrawn for Mahrez.  Watford’s next counter attack came through the substitute, Pudil, who went on a run down the left but his shot was straight at Schmeichel.  With five minutes to go, Sannino opted to shore up the defence as Hall replaced Forestieri, who left the field to boos from the home crowd.  We changed to a 4-4-2 formation with Anya moving further forward.  Leicester’s next substitution was an attacking one bringing Woos on for Wasilewski.  Leicester’s quest for a second goal continued as

Almunia takes a free kick surrounded by litter

Almunia takes a free kick surrounded by litter

Almunia pulled off a brilliant save from a close range shot from Phillips after good work from Nugent, but he needn’t have bothered as the flag was up for offside.  In time added on, Cassetti pulled the ball back to Murray but his short was poor and well wide of the target.  Leicester were pushing hard for the equaliser as first a shot from Phillips and then the follow-up from James were blocked.  Philips then crossed for Mahrez whose header was blocked by Ekstrand.  Alas, we could not survive the onslaught.  Leicester’s equalizer came in the fourth minute of added time as the ball fell to Drinkwater outside the box and his shot flew past Almunia.  It has to be said that this was not the former Watford player that we were expecting to get the winner.  Knockaert came over to goad the travelling Hornets and the home fans suddenly woke up.  Last roll of the dice for Watford was the introduction of Merkel for Battocchio.  In the last couple of minutes, Leicester could have won the game as Nugent found James in the box but a lovely sliding tackle from Pudil saved the day.  From the corner Nugent shot wide and it ended honours even.

A fair challenge?

A fair challenge?

I realise that my notes of the chances make it sound as if the second half had been even, when in fact it felt like a 45 minute onslaught from Leicester with Watford restricted to counter attacks.  But our defence deserves great credit for the fact that the Leicester possession did not translate into clear cut chances.  Special mention must go to the travelling fans who made a tremendous noise throughout the ninety minutes.  Also to the Leicester fans whose chant of “We’ll never play you again” betrayed a quite staggering level of delusion and prompted a conversation about whether they are the smallest club to believe they are a big club.  At the end of the game, despite the fact that we’d thrown away a two goal lead for the third game in four, most Watford fans left the ground happy with a point away at the league leaders, particularly as it had taken them until the 94th minute to win the point.  This had been another well-organized effort from the Hornets which augurs well for the remainder of the season.