Tag Archives: Darren Fletcher

Goalless but Happy on a Cold Night in Stoke

Javi Gracia takes charge of his first league game for Watford

Why is it that when you are taking the afternoon off work, nobody speaks to you until a couple of minutes before you are due to leave and then it is a crisis that has to be dealt with?  I must have appeared very rude as I packed my bag and changed into my walking shoes while answering the questions coming my way, but I had a train to catch.

Once I left the office, it was a nice easy journey to Stoke, and having opted to travel first class, there was the delight of a glass of wine with my late lunch.  When I arrived at the hotel, I was happy to see a number of regulars milling around the foyer and the bar.  I was soon joined by my companions for the evening and we headed for the pub.  The pre-match pub at Stoke is lovely.  In previous years it has had a sign indicating that it is home fans only (not that we have ever been turned away).  That was missing on this occasion and, as always, there was a nice mix of home and away fans present.  One of the main topics of conversation was the dreadful behaviour of the Watford fans at Southampton and the belief that we wouldn’t be seeing that section of the support on a cold night in Stoke.

We set off for the ground in plenty of time.  I must admit that the walk along the towpath isn’t the most picturesque in daylight.  On a dark Winter’s evening, there was nothing to see but the lights of the stadium which shone in the distance welcoming us.

Challenging at a corner

Team news was that Gracia had made four changes for his first game in the Premier League giving a debut to Deulofeu in place of Carrillo, with Deeney, Cleverley and Prödl coming in for Gray, Watson and Janmaat.  So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Mariappa, Kabasele, Prödl, Holebas; Doucouré, Cleverley; Deulofeu, Capoue, Richarlison; Deeney.

Watford started brightly as a cross from Holebas was met by Prödl, but Butland was equal to the shot.  The first chance for the home side came as a cross from Adam was flicked wide by Diouf.  Watford had a great shout for a penalty as Deulofeu appeared to be thrown to the ground in the box, but the referee saw no infringement.  Then Richarlison pulled the ball back for Cleverley whose shot was over the bar.  The first booking of the game was earned by Kabasele for a push on Shaqiri.  Stoke earned their first booking soon after when Adam was cautioned for a trip on Richarlison.  At this point in the game, I couldn’t help but notice how different the crowd were from Saturday.   Lots of positive chants in support of our team and, on transfer deadline day, there was a lot of love for Deeney and the fact that he would finish the season as a Watford player.  The home side had a great chance to open the scoring as a quick break finished with a shot from Adam that was stopped by a brilliant block from Mariappa, Choupo-Moting picked up the loose ball and curled a shot just wide of the far post.

Deulofeu makes his debut

It was then Watford’s turn to break forward and Butland needed two attempts to gather the cross from Holebas.  Bauer was the next to be cautioned for a nasty tackle on Cleverley.  His reaction was pure outrage pointing out that he had played the ball (as well as the man).  Utterly ridiculous.  A decent free-kick from Holebas was headed goalwards by Doucouré, but Adam managed to clear the shot off the line.  The resultant corner from Holebas bounced off the crossbar.  Watford threatened again when Cleverley picked up a loose ball in midfield, he played a square ball to Doucouré whose weak shot was easy for Butland.  The final chance of the half fell to the Hornets as Deulofeu broke forward and crossed for Richarlison whose shot flew over the bar.

As the players walked towards the tunnel in the corner by the away fans for the half time break, they were cheered off the pitch.  It had been a much better performance than of late, with considerably more effort and energy on show.  Deulofeu had made a lively debut, Mariappa had done very well fitting in at right back and even Capoue had put in a decent shift.

Deeney and Doucoure in the Watford box

The first action of the second half was a booking for Holebas for a foul on Diouf.  Adam took the free kick, his low shot was easy for Karnezis.  There was another booking when Kabasele was knocked to the ground by Diouf.  I didn’t see the foul, but a number of comments post-match indicated that his reaction to the contact was over the top, which was interesting as the other Watford players reacted as if it had been a nasty challenge.  A lovely Watford move started with a break by Doucouré, who found Deulofeu, he flicked the ball on to Richarlison whose shot was deflected wide.  From the corner there was a total mishit from Deulofeu, allowing Stoke to break down the other end where Allen shot over the target.  Stoke made a substitution just before the hour mark replacing Adam with Crouch.  We had Karnezis to thank for keeping the game goalless as he pulled off a superb double save, first from Shaqiri, then the rebound from Crouch.  The Stoke substitute was having a lively start to the game and, soon after, he got on the end of a cross from Diouf but was forced to turn it wide under pressure from Mariappa.  Watford’s first substitution saw Richarlison make way for Gray.  I have to say that the young Brazilian appeared devastated at being taken off.  The Watford substitute was soon involved in the action as he played the ball to Doucouré whose shot was stopped by a great block from Shawcross.

Mapps takes a free kick

Watford’s next substitution was enforced as Pereyra came on for Cleverley who had appeared to go down with a hamstring injury.  The Stoke fans were less than sympathetic yelling at him for being a cheat.  Charming!  Watford continued to look for the breakthrough as Doucouré won the ball in the midfield before finding Pereyra whose shot was deflected for a corner.  There was an even better chance in the next move after Deulofeu beat a couple of players before the ball found its way to Pereyra but, again, Butland was equal to the strike, pushing it out for a corner.  The set piece was played out to Doucouré who shot wide of the target.  There was a late change for each side as Berahino replaced Diouf and Carrillo came on for Deulofeu, who went off to appreciative applause from the travelling Hornets.  The last chance of the game fell to the home side as a corner from Shaqiri was met by the head of Shawcross, but it was an easy save for Karnezis and the game finished goalless.

Kabasele and Prodl

It was a game of little quality, but plenty of action and endeavour and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  At the end of the game, the players were warmly applauded and Pereyra and Kabasele, who had been abused at the end of the previous game, handed over their shirts to smiling fans.  While a goalless draw at Stoke wouldn’t be everyone’s idea of a good night out, it was a point well won and I left the ground with a big smile on my face.

After a swift glass of red at the pub, we headed back to the hotel and spent a late night in the lounge with a large number of Watford fans.  Everyone in attendance had thoroughly enjoyed the performance and were happy to have been part of a more positive crowd.  One fan had actually contemplated staying at home due to the unpleasantness of the crowd on Saturday.  Thankfully he hadn’t and had his faith in his fellow fans restored.

The rest of the season will not be easy but there were more than enough positives in that performance and, if we all pull together, we could have an end to the season that is as much fun as the start was and that is something to look forward to.

Stymied by Stoke

The piper plays Flowers of the Forest

Back to Vicarage Road again and, after a busy week, it was lovely to sit down with the crowd for the pre-match pint.  I bumped into someone that I hadn’t seen for a while, a regular who had almost given up in the dark days at the end of Mazzarri’s reign.  He was all smiles again, thoroughly enjoying the football as we all are.  I must admit that, going into this game I was less confident than last week against Chelsea.  There is something about Stoke and their negative style of play that made me think that we could struggle.

Since it was the last game before Remembrance Day, there was a piper on the pitch to play Flowers of the Forest.  This was followed by a minute’s silence.  Both were observed impeccably by the crowd.

Team news was two changes for the Hornets with Capoue and Carrillo coming in for Mariappa and Pereyra.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Holebas, Britos, Kabasele, Femenía; Capoue, Cleverley, Doucouré; Richarlison, Deeney, Carrillo.

Rare first half action in the Stoke box

There was a slow start to the game, with Watford having most of the possession but being given little space by the visitors.  So it was a bit of a shock when Stoke took the lead on 16 minutes after a corner from Shaqiri reached Fletcher on the edge of the box from where he powered a shot through the bodies in the box and past Gomes.  You couldn’t help thinking that, having taken the lead, Stoke would make it difficult for us.  There was certainly little in the way of goal attempts in the half.  The first half chance came as Holebas played a ball into the box for Deeney, who was unable to reach it.   A Cleverley corner was headed on by Britos, to Capoue who tried and failed to finish, but was in an offside position anyway.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came in the 38th minute as Cleverley played a lovely ball to Deeney who tried to place his shot, which drifted wide.

That was it for the first half.  The whistle was greeted with a few boos from the Rookery.  Who are these people?  It hadn’t been pretty, but any football had been played by the home side.

The beautiful game did make an appearance during the half time penalty shoot-out when a young girl from Holy Rood floated a perfect chip over the keeper.  Sign her up!

Capoue and Holebas prepare for a short corner

The second half started at a cracking pace.  The first chance came as Doucouré played a gorgeous ball to Femenía who went on a run and crossed for Deeney, but Shawcross got a block in to prevent the shot.  The next chance followed the same pattern starting with a beautiful ball from Doucouré and finishing with Shawcross clearing before Deeney could shoot.  Next a cross from Holebas was flicked on by Deeney to Capoue, who couldn’t quite reach it to apply the finish.  Watford came closer still as Holebas played a cross-field pass to Carrillo who cut the ball back to Richarlison, but the angle was too acute for the Brazilian and his shot hit the side netting.  The first substitution came just before the hour mark as Gray replaced Capoue.  Stoke could have increased their lead when, completely against the run of play, there was a forward break from Sobhi, he cut the ball back to Allen who shot just wide of the target when he should have done better.  Watford continued to threaten as Cleverley advanced and put in a decent cross, but Butland’s fist reached the ball just before Richarlison’s head.  Another chance for the young Brazilian went begging as a cross from Britos reached him, but he couldn’t get a proper connection for the header and it flew wide.  Watford also should have done better with the next chance as a cross from Carrillo reached Gray, but he mishit the shot and it went wide of the near post.

Fisticuffs by the dugouts

Stoke’s first change came as Berahino replaced Sobhi in a substitution that seemed to take an age (they had been wasting time from soon after they scored).  Watford’s next chance came from a corner, but Doucouré’s shot was blocked and the ball was deflected over the target.  The second substitution for the Hornets came as Carrillo was replaced by Hughes, making his debut for the Hornets.  A rare attack by the visitors finished as Choupo-Moting shot straight at Gomes.  Watford had another decent chance as a lovely ball into the box from Doucouré was flicked on by the head of Gray, but Deeney couldn’t reach it to turn it in.  There was danger at the other end as a cross from Shaqiri wasn’t cut out but, even as Gomes hesitated, he did enough to cause Berahino to shoot wide.  Watford threatened again as Gray met a cross from Cleverley with a header that flew on to the roof of the net.  Soon after, it all kicked off on the sideline.  I don’t know what provoked it, but it seemed to start with Doucoure and Diouf who, in photographic evidence obtained from a friend in the SEJ stand, squared up to each other before everyone else got involved, including some members of the Stoke coaching staff, but it was only the initial perpetrators who were cautioned.  After the dust settled, Stoke made another substitution replacing Shaqiri with Adam.  There was another scuffle after Stoke had put the ball out when one of their players went down with cramp in their box.  It had appeared to be an attempt to waste time and the ball was, quite rightly in my opinion, not returned to them.  This incensed Allen who went for Deeney and it all got rather unpleasant.  The two men were booked, but the television pictures of the altercation suggest that Deeney may incur further punishment for his reaction, which would be unfortunate.  Watford had one last chance to win a point as Hughes found Gray, but the shot was deflected for a corner.  As it was late into time added on, Gomes came up to join the attack and was nearly caught out as Stoke broke upfield, Gomes was unable to tackle Adam, who advanced with an open goal to aim at but found the far post instead, much to the amusement of the Rookery faithful.

Doucoure on the ball

There were boos again at the final whistle, although most of these appeared to be aimed at the opposition.  Richarlison, Britos and Holebas had collapsed to the turf on full time with the latter staying prone with his shirt over his head for some considerable time.

It was a disappointing afternoon.  The football was horrible but, credit to Stoke, they played their game very well and we didn’t play ours.  The second half was much better as Watford attacked at pace, but the Stoke defence were very well organized and Butland didn’t have a save to make.  Special credit must go to Zouma, who had a great game keeping Richarlison very quiet.

As we walked up Occupation Road, a familiar face passed us, and I couldn’t help wondering if Pereyra would have made a difference, but it was one of those afternoons.

Back in the West Herts and the post-match analysis focussed on how horrible Stoke were to watch.  All very true, but you have to find a way past these teams and we failed to do that.  The positive is that this is one of very few games that have not been entertaining so far this season.  So let us put this one behind us and look forward to Goodison Park next Sunday.

 

Quality and Steel under the Lights

Britos on the ball

A month into a new job, I don’t have many regular meetings but one that I do have is on Tuesday from 5 to 6pm.  As the meeting came to a close, I was itching to get away.  When the request was made for any questions, the response of one of my colleagues that she had one immediately took her off my Christmas card list.  As soon as I was able, I made a rapid exit and was at Euston in time for the 18:30.  With a brief stop to check in to my hotel, I made a beeline for the ground.  As I reached the Rookery, it was lovely to see Gifton Noel-Williams outside chatting to someone.  After entering through the turnstiles, I found that the concourse was deserted.  In the stand, my family were in their seats but there were not many others there.  Then I heard Tim on the tannoy announce that it was 25 minutes to kick-off.  No wonder the place was so empty, I was ridiculously early … and I was going to have to watch this game sober, not a prospect I was relishing.  My early arrival did mean that I got to see the warm-up.  The notice on the big screen warning spectators to look out for balls flying into the crowd didn’t prevent a guy in the front of the stand being hit by an errant shot from Capoue.  The Frenchman leaped into the stand in order to apologise.  This had quite an effect on my niece, who is a big fan and came over all unnecessary, “I wish he’d hit me.”  Another off-pitch distraction came by way of my sister’s niece, who is studying for a degree in football broadcasting.  She had enquired about opportunities to gain experience at Watford and had been invited to shadow the media team for this game.  She was thrilled, but I think her aunt(s) were even more excited than she was.

Tom Cleverley

Team news was that Mazzarri had made two changes restoring Deeney and Prödl, both of whom had fitness problems on Saturday, to the starting line-up in place of Okaka and Janmaat.  So the starting XI was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Doucouré, Cleverley, Capoue; Niang, Amrabat; Deeney.  A surprise name on the bench was 18 year-old midfielder, Dion Pereira.  As the opposition team was read out, the loud cheers for Ben Foster were followed by equally loud boos for Allan Nyom.  I missed the visit to West Brom this season, so hadn’t witnessed the incidents that so incensed the travelling fans on that day.  Even so, the reception seemed rather harsh for a player of whom I have fond memories.

The visitors had a great chance to open the scoring in the sixth minute as Chadli ran on to a through ball and broke into the box, Gomes blocked his initial shot but the West Brom man recovered the ball and looked to have an open goal to aim at, but the angle was too narrow and his shot drifted harmlessly across the goal.  It was the home side who took the lead on 13 minutes with a shot from distance from Niang that he curled past Foster into the far corner.  Words cannot do the strike justice, it truly was a thing of beauty and there were no complaints that the replays on the big screen continued until after the restart.

Gathering for a corner

Niang impressed again, showing great resolve as, despite being tripped and lying on the ground, he managed to get a touch to direct the ball to Amrabat whose low cross was just too far in front of Deeney for him to apply the finish.  Niang had another great chance soon after, but this time he volleyed the ball over the target, so the guy in charge of the big screen just showed another replay of his goal.  At the other end, Robson-Kanu met a cross from Chadli with a header that flew wide of the target.  Watford’s next chance came as Amrabat put in a lovely cross that was cleared for a corner with Deeney challenging.  For the Baggies, Chris Brunt really should have done better as the ball came to him in the box, but it bounced down off his chest and Gomes gathered before he could get it under control.  Britos earned the first booking of the game after giving the ball away to McClean, he reacted by taking his opponent down.  As the wall was constructed for the free kick, it seemed that every player apart from the goalkeepers and the taker were involved.  Chadli stepped up and fired over the wall, hitting the outside of the post.  The first card for West Brom came soon after as Robson-Kanu fouled Holebas.  Jose took the set piece himself, delivering a lovely ball into the box but, again, no Watford player was able to get the decisive touch.  Just before half time, Prödl appeared to strain his midriff.  After receiving treatment, I was hoping that he would persevere until half time, but he soon indicated to the bench that he couldn’t continue and was replaced with Janmaat.  As the half came to an end, there were a number of niggly fouls from the visitors which culminated in McClean earning a yellow card for standing on Holebas’s heel.  The half time whistle was greeted with boos from the Rookery but, on this occasion, they were directed at the opposition, who can only be described as classic Pulis.  In contrast, the Hornets had been terrific playing some of the best football we have seen this season.  And that goal ….

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

As Foster took his place in front of the Rookery for the second half, he was given a very warm reception, which he acknowledged.  The visitors made a half time substitution with McLean making way for Phillips, presumably as his antics at the end of the first half suggested that he was at high risk of being sent off.  The second period started perfectly for the Hornets as a lovely pass over the top from Niang reached Deeney, who had two defenders on his case but, as Foster came out to meet him, somehow he managed to connect with the ball and send it into the net.  It was a goal as scrappy as Niang’s had been exquisite, but they all count and the celebrations were mighty.  Chadli had a decent chance to reduce the deficit for the visitors, but turned his shot wide of the near post.  At the other end, a misplaced clearance went straight to Niang, who advanced and tried a shot that was blocked.  The Hornets threatened again as Amrabat played the ball out to Janmaat, who put in a lovely cross, but neither Deeney nor Niang was able to connect.  On 65 minutes, there was a tussle between Britos and Rondon just outside the Watford box.  The West Brom man went down very easily sparking fury in the home crowd as the Uruguayan was shown a second yellow and sent off.

Man of the match Doucoure

For the second game running, Amrabat was substituted after a terrific showing.  This time he made way for Mariappa making his first Premier League appearance since his return to Vicarage Road.  Any concerns that young Ady might be rusty due to his lack of game time disappeared with his first involvement as he met a ball into the Watford box with a confident clearing header.  West Brom had a decent chance to get back into the game as the evil Rondon met a cross from Morrison, but his header was just over the bar.  Success was given his customary ten minutes on the pitch as replacement for Niang whose departure gave the guy running the big screen an excuse to show his goal yet again.  Following the sending off, the Hornets had spent most of the time in their own half, but it had been a sterling rearguard effort with the Baggies rarely threatening the goal.  The effort off the pitch had been equally impressive as the fans in each of the stands were on their feet singing their hearts out for the lads.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, there was little chance of the Hornets getting anything other than a win, but the clean sheet became of paramount importance.  So hearts were in mouths in time added on as a cross reached Nyom at the far post, thankfully his shot rebounded off a team mate to safety.  The former Watford man had another chance to reduce the deficit but, despite having two shots, he couldn’t make the breakthrough as the first was blocked and the second saved by Gomes.  The visitors had one final chance and I punched the air when Morrison put his shot into the Family Stand.

Capoue, Doucoure and Amrabat celebrate in front of the Rookery

At the final whistle, there were great celebrations and hugs in the Rookery and it was lovely to see the players gathering to do a proper lap of honour, enjoying the adulation of the fans.  This had been a truly impressive performance against a decent team who are very adept at stopping other teams playing.  Niang put in a performance showcasing what he can really do and was a joy to watch.  Doucouré was man of the match for an impressive turn running the show in midfield.  Special mention also to Adrian Mariappa, who could be forgiven for struggling when drafted in to a ten man team after so long without a game, but he was excellent.

When Britos was sent off, it seemed disastrous.  But it resulted in a resilient performance from the players and a passionate reaction from the fans, which is always better when played under the lights.

Before the game last Saturday, there was a genuine fear that we could be pulled into a relegation battle.  Three days and six points later we are feeling comfortable in 9th position in the table and Walter Mazzarri is a football genius.  It’s a funny old game.

Gomes the Hero as We Hit Forty Points

A lovely welcome from the Baggies

A lovely welcome from the Baggies

After a brighter performance against Everton last week, we travelled in the hope that we would finally get the points to take us over the magical 40 mark.  I thought I had got to the pre-match pub at the crack of dawn, but there was already a table full of the usual suspects to greet me and more soon joined us for our usual friendly gathering.  I hadn’t really marked West Brom out as a bogey side until a Birmingham-based friend pointed out that we hadn’t beaten them in the league since 1995.  Pre-match discussions harked back to the meeting in our first home game of the season where a spirited performance from the Hornets had been met by negative opponents who shut us down.  It was a frustrating game and we hoped for better in the return.

In the early game on Saturday, Sunderland had beaten Norwich.  I must admit that I was torn over this result.  I would rather have a trip to Sunderland than Norwich next season and the Sunderland win meant that the gap between us and fourth from bottom remained the same, but they were now closer to our points tally.  Of course, Sunderland’s win would be irrelevant if we got three points at the Hawthorns, but none of us were confident about that.

As we waited for the train to the Hawthorns at Snow Street, there were a couple of locals chanting “Elton John’s a homosexual” and I began to think I was in an episode of Life on Mars.

Watson on the ball

Watson on the ball

After the now customary bag search and pat down, we entered the ground.  In line with a number of clubs, West Brom put posters in the away end thanking the travelling fans for making the journey, but I thought it was a really nice touch that they also wished us luck in the semi-final next week.

Team news was that Flores made four changes with Nyom, Prödl, Aké and Guedioura, making his first start of the season, in for Paredes, Cathcart, Holebas and Behrami.  So the starting XI was Gomes, Aké, Britos, Prödl, Nyom, Jurado, Watson, Capoue, Guedioura, Deeney and Ighalo.  Former loanee, Ben Foster, started for the Baggies and was given a tremendous welcome by the travelling Hornets.

There was a slow start to the game, the first goal attempt falling to the home side on 12 minutes with a shot from Rondón that was high and wide.  Watford’s first chance came as Jurado went on a run and squared for Guedioura whose shot from distance was just wide of the near post.

The Guedioura corner that led to the goal

The Guedioura corner that led to the goal

The next chance fell to Sessegnon whose initial shot was punched by Gomes, his follow-up was over the bar.  Guedioura played a square ball to Jurado whose shot was straight at Foster.  On 27 minutes, Watford took the lead with their first shot on target.  Guedioura had done well to win a corner, from which his delivery was disappointing, but groans in the away end soon changed to cheers as Watson volleyed the ball in off the far post.  Up to that point, there had been an angry atmosphere among the Watford fans, but that was supplanted with some joyful bouncing.  Sadly they undid all that good work with the most unsupportive chant.  Why anyone chooses to sing, “How shit must you be, we’re winning away,” baffles me.  The Baggies tried to fight back through McClean, but his shot was wide of the target.  The first booking of the game went to Watford’s Britos, who was beaten by Rondón, so decided to take him down and deserved the card.  The resulting free kick was hit straight at the Watford wall.  Deeney played a lovely ball to Jurado who cut it back for Aké, but the youngster’s shot was well over the target.  Then a ball over the top to Rondón came to nothing as Gomes came out to gather.  The last chance of the half came after Jurado gave the ball away in the box but, thankfully, Berahino shot wide of the target.

Celebrating Ben Watson's strike

Celebrating Ben Watson’s strike

It had been a dreadful first half.  An end of season game between two clubs with nothing to play for, although many Watford fans were of the opinion that we could still find ourselves fighting relegation.  It was obvious that the Watford players were not taking any risks with an FA Cup semi-final looming on the horizon, and they cannot be blamed for that, but it didn’t explain the West Brom performance.

The first chance of the second half fell to West Brom, but McClean shot wide of the near post.  Then Guedioura went on a promising run which he spoiled with a dreadful cross.  West Brom had a great chance to draw level as McAuley met a free kick with a header that was tipped over the bar by Gomes.  Watford then had a chance to increase their lead as Guedioura found Deeney in space, but Troy’s shot was pushed over the bar by Foster.  The same two players combined for the next chance as Deeney met a Guedioura cross with a header that was blocked.  At the other end, a West Brom corner was met by the head of Rondón but Gomes was down to gather the ball.  Jurado passed to Aké on the overlap but his cross was straight at Foster.

Gomes having saved a penalty

Gomes having saved a penalty

There were boos in the away end as Flores made his first substitution bringing Suárez on for Guedioura, who is much loved among Watford fans, many of whom have yet to warm to either Jurado or the Algerian’s replacement.   On 67 minutes, it looked as if Watford’s luck had run out as Berahino broke into the box, Gomes dived to save at his feet and brought the striker down.  The referee pointed to the spot and showed the Watford keeper a yellow card.  Berahino stepped up to take the penalty himself, placing his shot to Gomes’ right, but the Watford keeper saved the effort and the follow-up was blocked before Rondón shot over the target.  The celebrations in the away end included a smoke bomb, making a nonsense of the searches that we all underwent on the way into the stadium.  Tony Pulis immediately made a double substitution bringing McManaman and Anichebe on for Chester and Rondón.  Watford attacked again as Deeney found Ighalo in the box, but the Nigerian made a poor pass and the chance was lost.  Then Capoue went on a great run before playing a cross field ball to Jurado whose shot was caught by Foster.  For the home side, Dawson tried a shot from the edge of the area which flew over the bar.  West Brom’s final substitution saw Gardner come on for Yacob.  Jurado had another chance to make the win secure, but his shot from the edge of the box flew over the bar.

Prodl heads goalwards

Prodl heads goalwards

Ighalo won a free kick which was taken quickly, a poor decision since the Watford players weren’t ready and the ball was given away.  Berahino hit what looked like a poor shot, but it was looping over Gomes who had to tip it over the bar.  With four minutes remaining, Capoue tripped Sessegnon in the box and the referee pointed to the spot again.  The yellow card on this occasion went to Deeney for his protests.  As Berahino stepped up again, I was willing him to put the penalty high or wide, but I had reckoned without the brilliance of Gomes who dived to his left to make another save.  At this point I must apologise to the family who were sitting in front of me as the only reaction that seemed appropriate, after a hug with Jacque, was leaping up and down like a madwoman screaming “You F***ing beauty.”  It would have been nice to add another goal, and Watford fashioned a chance on the stroke of 90 minutes as Ighalo played the ball back to Suarez but the Spaniard skyed his shot.  In time added on, Flores made another substitution replacing Jurado with the more defensive Behrami.  West Brom had one final chance to grab a point as Dawson shot over the bar.  This proved to be the last kick of the game and the final whistle was greeted with loud cheers and chants of “We are staying up.”  Whilst I have been convinced that we were safe since we hit 37 points, I was singing as loud as anyone and found myself strangely choked up.  On the pitch, there were hugs between the players after the final whistle and it was rather lovely to see Gomes congratulated so warmly by Ben Foster.  As the players reached the corner housing the travelling Hornets, the stand rang out with “Heurelho Gomes baby” and the heroic keeper showed his gratitude to the fans.

Gomes, Man of the Match and the Season

Gomes, Man of the Match and the Season

Once the players had left the pitch it seemed to take an age to leave the ground.  The home stands were completely empty some time before we were able to move from our seats in the second row from the back.  Someone suggested that Gomes was at the bottom of the gangway with his arms outstretched declaring, “You will not pass.”  It had not been a pretty game to watch, but that mattered little now that we were in 12th position with 41 points.

On the train on the way home I took the unusual decision (for me) of going to my assigned seat only to find Miles Jacobson was sitting opposite and when my friend, Toby, arrived to sit on the other side of the aisle I found myself with delightful company for the journey home.  Until we arrived at Coventry, that is, and the carriage was invaded by Millwall fans who continued the throwback to the seventies theme with their chanting.

So the upcoming week sees a trip to West Ham which, as it will be Watford reserves against a team still fighting for a place in Europe, is not likely to be a lot of fun.  But that fades into insignificance against the prospect of a very winnable FA Cup semi-final.  Palace are always tricky opponents, but we have to go into that game hoping for a performance on a par with that at the Emirates.  These are good times to be a Watford fan.

No Boing from the Baggies

Applause for Chris Dyer

Applause for Chris Dyer

After the good start at Everton, it was lovely to be home again. The usual suspects gathered at the West Herts to reflect on last week’s performance and what had been a very enjoyable visit to Liverpool.

As we approached the ground, the improvements to the outside were apparent and very pleasing to the eye but, as we turned into Occupation Road, there were long queues at the SEJ turnstiles, which made me fear that we’d see the same thing at the Rookery. The other obvious change was that the Bill Mainwood hut had been demolished so Doreen and her friend were at a table out on the street. That’s no way to treat a former Supporter of the Season. The Rookery turnstiles were pleasingly empty so we were quickly in to see the improvements to the concourse which included a series of pictures commemorating great moments in Watford history such as Lloyd Doyley’s debut. I realised that my reaction to these pictures was a little OTT when my niece asked if I was going to cry. It was touch and go!

Team news was that there was one change from the Everton game with Ighalo in for Holebas whose position was taken by Anya. So the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Prodl, Cathcart, Nyom, Capoue, Behrami, Layun, Jurado, Ighalo and Deeney.

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s applause for Chris Dyer, a Watford fan who was a victim of the terrorist attack in Tunisia.

Anya breaks into the box

Anya breaks into the box

Watford had an early chance with a shot from distance by Ighalo that was saved by Myhill. It was an encouraging sign. Soon after, a lovely cross from Layun was headed wide by Deeney. Jurado went on a great run down the left, which continued along the byline before he crossed for Deeney whose header was blocked. West Brom’s first attack of note finished with a shot from distance by Lambert which was blocked by Prodl. Deeney received a cross from Capoue and shot goalwards but Myhill was equal to it. Nyom looked beaten on the right but caught his man, picked up the ball and played it up to Capoue who crossed for Jurado whose bicycle kick was high and wide. Another cross into the West Brom box was gathered by Myhill with Ighalo challenging.  Then Anya played a cross-field ball to Deeney who headed down to Ighalo but the ball was cleared. Just before the half-hour mark, there was a rare foray forward by the visitors. Fletcher’s cross was put out by Nyom. The resulting corner was headed over by Berahino.

Cathcart leaps for a cross

Cathcart leaps for a cross

Another West Brom corner was headed clear by Deeney to launch a counter attack as Anya found Nyom who advanced and unleashed a shot which must have stung the palms of Myhill as he blocked. Ighalo robbed a West Brom player but his break was stopped by a foul from Olsson who was booked for his trouble. Jurado’s free-kick was just wide of the near post. Watford had another great chance to take the lead just before half time as Behrami crossed for Deeney who headed down to Ighalo whose shot cleared the crossbar.

Even though we reached the interval scoreless, the half-time analyses in the Rookery were universally positive. It had been an exhilarating half of football with some lovely play. It was just lacking a goal.

Watford started the second half as they had finished the first. Jurado received the ball on the left, beat two players but shot over. Then Deeney found Ighalo who switched feet before shooting straight at Myhill. Watford’s first substitution came 10 minutes into the half and there were roars of approval as Abdi made his first appearance of the season to replace Layun. A gorgeous pass found Anya on the left, he crossed for Ighalo whose shot was blocked.

Deeney organizing the attack

Deeney organizing the attack

Just after the hour mark, the Baggies made their first substitution with record signing Salomon Rondon coming on in place of Gardner. He was quickly in action as he advanced up the field before hitting a horrible shot well over the bar much to the amusement of the Vicarage Road faithful who serenaded him with “What a waste of money!” Normal service resumed with another Watford attack as Nyom, who is fast becoming a favourite of mine, made a great break upfield before whipping in a cross which went begging due to lack of bodies in the box. West Brom’s second yellow card went to Lambert for a foul on Behrami (more sinned against than sinner!) Then Abdi played the ball out to Nyom who put in a lovely cross which both Ighalo and Deeney leapt for but neither could connect. Ighalo tried a shot from distance which was caught by Myhill but was going wide anyway. Deeney was the next to try to break the deadlock but his shot was just over the target. With ten minutes to go, West Brom had a great chance to take an undeserved lead as Berahino had a free header following a corner but he directed it wide, much to the relief of the home crowd.

Anya taking a throw-in

Anya taking a throw-in

Berghuis made his debut with seven minutes remaining coming on for Jurado. Capoue gave away a free kick on the edge of the box which Brunt wellied over. Watford’s last chance of the game came and went as Anya played the ball back to Abdi who shot straight at Myhill. In time added on, Nyom took McClean down and was booked. A foul borne of fatigue. The final whistle went on a goalless draw that was certainly not lacking in entertainment.

I felt a bit deflated at the end of the game. We could have won by 3 or 4 goals while West Brom were the epitome of a Pulis side, dour, negative and time-wasting from early in the game. Their large contingent of travelling fans deserved more from them than a performance in which they didn’t have a single shot on target. As I applauded the team off, my disappointment was tempered somewhat when I heard the bloke behind me say “undefeated”. On reflection, it had been another terrific performance from a team that will only get better. It was rather nice, for the second week running, to want to see us on Match of the Day and to hear positive comments from the pundits. Let us hope that is a feature of this season.