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.
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.
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.
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.
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.