Tag Archives: Daryl Janmaat

Two Goals, Three Points and a Hug from Pat Nevin

Capoue back in action (at a distance)

Another week meant another televised game, although I am not sure that the world was begging to see Watford take on Norwich in a bottom of the table clash.  I left work at lunchtime for the short walk to Liverpool Street and arrived in Norwich mid-afternoon.  The Norfolk ‘Orns were starting their pub crawl for Amy’s birthday eve rather early, but our party had sensibly decided to meet up with them on the last leg of their tour.

The last time we were in Norwich, I seem to recall it was a lovely evening and we sat outside the pub.  No chance of that on this occasion.  The walk to the pub was longer than I remembered but, on arrival, I was pleased to find Pete already there.  The beer menu was interesting.  There were lots of ciders, but the dry offerings were all a bit strong for me, so I went for a pint of blonde bitter.  I was briefly distracted by the rhubarb and custard sour beer.  I was very surprised to hear that it was selling rather well.  I really should have asked for a taste.

Cathcart, Dawson and Holebas getting advice from Dean Austin

Paul had just asked where the Norfolk ‘Orns were when the pub door opened, and Glenn appeared followed by a large number of his compatriots.  The peace was shattered.  They were all very merry already, but had not yet moved on to their traditional sambuca.  When that appears, you know that it is getting very messy.  I was introduced to one of the Norfolk crowd that I hadn’t met before.  Graham had been an apprentice groundsman working under Les Simmons in the early days of the Elton John/GT era.  He had some interesting stories of his encounters with those three great men.  He then started talking about the Norwich fans that they had met earlier in the afternoon and how little confidence they had in their team.  He surmised that we would win the game, based on the fact that our fans were more confident.  I have to say that I wasn’t convinced as my confidence was very low based on my experiences following the Hornets so far this season.

While in the pub, somebody told me that the child of a friend had chatted to (referee) Andre Marriner in the ground.  I heard “in the Crown” and wondered what on earth the ref was doing in the pub before the game, although that would explain some of the refereeing decisions that we have seen this season.

Gathering for a corner

Team news was that Quique had made three changes from the Chelsea game with Holebas, Hughes and the very welcome return of Capoue in place of Masina, Gray and Chalobah.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Kabasele, Dawson; Holebas, Doucouré, Capoue, Janmaat; Hughes; Pereyra, Deulofeu.  Even better news was that Deeney was on the bench.  We have missed him terribly.

We set off in good time to get to the ground for the 8pm kick-off.  But, having only had a toastie in the pub, Pete and I decided to get a pie in the ground, so were cutting it fine as we headed for our seats.  The steps into the stand were blocked as people had stopped to listen to the Last Post.  Once the minute’s silence was over, we were able to move but, when I emerged into the stand, the game had already kicked off.  As I climbed the steps to my seat, the crowd reaction around me indicated that we were attacking.  I turned around in time to see Deulofeu bursting into the box and finishing past Krul, so celebrated that goal by leaping up and down in the gangway.  An early goal was just what we needed to settle our nerves.  We continued positively and another run from Deulofeu resulted in a corner.  The delivery from Holebas was met by the head of Janmaat whose effort just cleared the bar.

Foster takes a goal kick

Pereyra then played a lovely cross-field ball to Holebas who tried a shot from distance which was blocked.  Watford had a great chance to grab a second in the 12th minute as a cross from Janmaat found Deulofeu in the box, but his shot was wide of the target.  The first real threat from Norwich came as Hernández broke forward before cutting the ball back to Pukki, but Cathcart was on hand to make the block.  Then Stiepermann played a dangerous through ball to Hernández, but Foster was out to smother the shot.  Watford had a great chance to increase their lead when the ball broke to Hughes who advanced and shot, but his effort was just wide of the target.  Then Pereyra found himself in a great position but wouldn’t attempt a shot.  Doucouré was more adventurous, but his shot was deflected into the arms of Krul.  Norwich looked sure to level the score when McLean crossed for Hernández but the shot, from point blank range, was saved by Foster, although the flag was up so it wouldn’t have counted anyway.  Watford were forced to make a substitution due to injury yet again, this time it was Pereyra who could not continue and made way for Gray.  Andre almost made an immediate impact as he got on the end of a cross from Hughes, turned and shot but it was deflected wide.  At the other end, a cross from Hernández was met by the head of McLean, but it was an easy save for Foster.  The Hornets threatened again as Holebas played the ball back to Capoue who hit a lovely shot, but it was wide of the target.  At the other end, Pukki cut the ball back to Buendía whose shot was dreadful, flying high and wide of the target.  The home side had a decent chance to draw level just before half time as the ball was flicked to Pukki but the volley was straight at Foster, so the half time whistle went with the Hornets in the lead.

Gray congratulated on his goal

Doucouré had the first chance of the second half with a shot from the edge of the area that was deflected over the bar.  The first booking of the game went to Kabasele who was cautioned for pulling back Hernández.  The Hornets scored a second after 52 minutes.  Deulofeu advanced down the left, his first attempt at a cross was blocked, the second was gorgeous and dropped for Gray who volleyed home.  Suddenly it felt much more comfortable.  The first substitution came on the hour as the home side decided to ring the changes, Buendía and Stiepermann were replaced by Cantwell and Drmic.  The home side had a chance to pull a goal back soon after when Lewis tried a shot from distance that was pushed around the post by Foster.  The resultant corner was met by a Watford head and the danger was over.  My heart sank as Kabasele saw a second yellow card for a silly push on Drmic.  He was on his way to the dressing room before the referee had the card out of his pocket.  It was an unnecessary foul and we would now have to play 25 minutes with 10 men.  The home side reacted positively to having an extra man on the field and we heard the Norwich fans, who are usually very vocal, for the first time during the evening.  There was a very harsh booking for Hughes who was cautioned for colliding with an opponent as he won a header.

Dawson, Janmaat and Kabasele in the Norwich box

Flores then made a tactical substitution.  Having lost Kabasele, he sacrificed Deulofeu for Mariappa.  Norwich had a great chance to get a goal back as McLean unleashed a powerful shot from the edge of the box, but it was met with a great save from Foster.  Norwich youngster, Cantwell, then broke into the box but his shot was blocked.  My nerves were tested when a cross into the Watford box was turned wide of the target by Janmaat.  From my angle, it looked as though he was going to turn the ball into his own net, but he knew what he was doing.  Cantwell’s corner was met by Lewis whose shot was high and wide.  With 10 minutes to go, Norwich made their final substitution bringing Vrancic on for Lewis.  Watford should have ensured the win when Hughes played a cross-field ball to Gray, but Andre had too much time to think about his shot and lifted it over the target.  With five minutes remaining of normal time, a frustrated Vrancic was booked for a nasty foul on Capoue in the Watford box.  Watford’s final change came with 2 minutes left on the clock as Holebas made way for Masina.  By this point the Watford fans, who had been in good voice all evening, were particularly confident and a chant of “We’re gonna win the league” rang out in the away end.  As 5 minutes of time was added, I had everything crossed that we would keep a clean sheet.  Thankfully the only event of note in added time was Masina getting booked for a foul on Aarons.  The final whistle went to great celebrations in the away end and joyful chants of “We’re not bottom any more.”

Holebas and Doucoure Prepare for a Corner

There were smiles and hugs and celebrations among the Watford fans.  We have waited far too long for that victory and it was well deserved.  While the game was not a classic, once Watford took the lead we looked comfortable.  Deulofeu can be very frustrating, but he took his goal brilliantly and his assist for Gray’s goal was a thing of beauty (very reminiscent of the goal against Wolves in the cup semi-final).  It was wonderful to see Capoue back in the team and his presence in the midfield allowed Doucouré to put in his best performance for some time.  The defence was solid, and the lads did very well to keep their shape and organisation with only 10 men on the pitch.  With Capoue and Deeney both returning to fitness, the future is looking a lot brighter and we can go into the international break feeling much more positive about our prospects for the season.

Richard was staying at the hotel attached to the ground, so we all went there for a post-match celebratory glass or two of Malbec.  When the Norwich fans who had been drowning their sorrows at the next table disappeared, they were replaced by a group of youngsters who clearly were not football fans.  When they were joined by an older guy, we realised that they were media types who had been working on the various broadcasts of the match as the older guy was Pat Nevin.  Now I have had a crush on Pat Nevin for decades, so came over all unnecessary at being in such close proximity, but I knew I wouldn’t have the nerve to speak to him.  We sat there for an hour or so trying not to stare (and failing miserably).  As we prepared to leave, Richard took the plunge and said hello to Pat.  The rest of us took a deep breath before joining him and were treated to a good twenty minutes of Pat chatting with us about Watford (too good to go down), meeting Elton John, being a footballer in the days when someone like him was considered to be a weirdo (I’m not a weirdo, they are weirdos), his friendship with John Peel.  He was absolutely delightful company, so warm and interesting.  He told us that he has just completed writing an autobiography (the first of three volumes).  That promises to be a fascinating read and will definitely be on a birthday/Christmas list in the near future.

We have had some tough trips this season, but Friday night in Norwich had 2 goals, 3 points, a clean sheet, great company and a hug from Pat Nevin to finish it off.  What could be better?

Ben Foster Almost a Hero in Both Boxes

Daryl Janmaat

Our games this season have been mostly Saturday 3pm kick-offs, which has been a bit of a relief, but the visit of Chelsea meant an evening game and the stress that change to the matchday routine causes.  Having a commitment in Hertfordshire on Sunday meant that I decided to drive to Watford and stay over after the game.  This meant that I was leaving home horribly late for a matchday and arriving in Watford around normal kick-off time.  Thankfully, I arrived to very light traffic so knew that I hadn’t made a mistake.  I arrived at the West Herts just as Don was leaving for the ground so got to say Hello and congratulate him on his appearance in the club’s anti hate crime video which I had only caught up with this week.  Our usual crowd were depleted, but Elaine was there having been forced to take a detour for some Christmas shopping when she was alerted to the late kick-off, the news of which had passed her by.

We left the West Herts a bit later than was comfortable so, despite my recurring thought that I should really stay in the pub, I was rushing so that I wouldn’t miss kick-off.  We arrived in Vicarage Road to be greeted with a number of touts and one merchandise stand that had exclusively Chelsea scarves and tat, which irritated me immensely.

Our complaints about the leak in the Rookery roof had led to us being relocated for this game, so we headed for the SEJ stand where our seats were in the area where the players’ families are usually located.  My sister’s opinion when I arrived was, “The view is great, but it is a bit touristy.”

Ben Foster takes a goal kick

Team news was that Quique had made only the one enforced change from the Bournemouth game with Gray replacing the injured Cleverley.  Masina retained his place with Holebas left on the bench.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Kabasele, Dawson, Cathcart; Masina, Chalobah, Doucouré, Janmaat; Pereyra, Deulofeu; Gray.  There appeared to be a change in shape with Pereyra and Deulofeu playing behind Gray who was in the lone striker role.

Prior to kick-off, there was a minute’s silence to remember the fallen as this was the nearest home game to Remembrance Day.

The game did not start well for the Hornets as, in the fifth minute, Jorginho played a lovely defence-splitting pass to Abraham who ran on and finished past Foster.  There was a cheer from a lad sitting behind us, which irritated me immensely, and then Abraham slid to celebrate in front of us and I was moved to suggest to him that he celebrated somewhere else (I’m paraphrasing here).  It was not the start that we wanted or needed.  Chelsea had another chance soon after with a free kick from Mount that flew over the bar.  Ten minutes into the game, after it had been clear for a while that Cathcart was struggling, he went down needing treatment.  It was a concerning sight.

Mariappa takes a throw-in

Watford’s first goal attempt came on 14 minutes when a ball rebounded to Pereyra, he unleashed a shot but Kepa, in the Chelsea goal, was equal to it.  Abraham had a chance to increase Chelsea’s lead after a shot from Mount was deflected into his path, but this time Foster made a great save from close range.  From a corner Pulisic was left alone and Foster made a brilliant save to tip the header wide.  Twenty minutes into the game, Cathcart was unable to continue and was replaced with Mariappa.  This is the fourth game in a row that we have been forced into an early change.  There was a rare Watford attack as Janmaat released Gray, but Tomori made a tackle to stop the shot.  Then Chalobah tried a shot from distance, but, again, Tomori was on hand this time making a headed clearance.  On 38 minutes, the Hornets had a great chance to grab an equaliser as, from a corner, the ball was played out to Deulofeu who hit a lovely shot that curled just wide of the far post.  The Hornets had another late chance in the half with a shot from Doucouré which was blocked.  At the other end, Foster prevented the visitors extending their lead before half time as he tipped a shot from Mount onto the crossbar.

Steve Sherwood, the half time guest

So, despite going behind so early, we reached half time only a goal down thanks to some heroics from Foster.  It was also encouraging to note that the attacking play had been a little more promising late in the half.  The first half time interview was with a Kenyan Maasai warrior.  I missed the start, so I am not sure what the context was and why he was a Watford fan, but it was lovely to see him wearing our colours.  Then we were promised a Watford legend.  I saw this guy being escorted round and tried to work out when he had played for us.  I couldn’t put a name to the face and realised why when he was introduced as being from American Airlines, who are a new partner for the club.  He was there to meet a fan who had won two free tickets to any destination in the US.  It turned out that she and her husband were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary, so it was a timely treat.  Finally, I spotted Steve Sherwood coming past us, and all was right with my world.  He is a proper legend.

 

Nathaniel Chalobah

The second half started with a caution for Kabasele for a foul on Emerson.  The Hornets also had the first chance of the half as Deulofeu sped into the Chelsea area and squared for Gray whose shot was blocked.  I was then more than a little distracted as Seb Prödl had appeared and taken a seat behind us for the second half.  How on earth was I supposed to concentrate on the game?  The visitors threatened again as Willian broke forward and squared for Mount whose powerful shot drew a decent save from Foster.  Chelsea scored their second goal ten minutes into the half, a through ball released Abraham who cut the ball back to Pulisic who finished from six yards out.  It was a simple goal and a frustrating one.  The visitors had a chance to increase their lead further as Pulisic had a shot across goal, but Foster was able to get a foot to it to keep it out.  Then a cross from Azpilicueta was cleared to Kovacic whose shot was straight at Foster.  Chelsea should have had a third when a cross-cum-shot from Kovacic reached Abraham, but he was unable to turn it in.  Watford made their second substitution half-way through the second half bringing Hughes on in place of Chalobah.  Nate tried to head straight for the dugout, but the referee indicated that he should leave the field on the GT side of the ground.  This had the benefit (for him) of sending him past the Chelsea fans who greeted him with warm applause.

Deulofeu waits to take the penalty

Janmaat was booked for a foul on Pulisic before putting a cross over for Hughes whose header had no power and was easily dealt with by Kepa.  Chelsea had another decent chance with a shot from Mount, but Foster dropped to make the save.  When the board went up for Watford’s final substitution indicating that Janmaat was to make way for Femenía, boos rang out through Vicarage Road.  The boos stopped long enough for Janmaat to be cheered as he left the field, but started again as Femenía was introduced, and Quique was serenaded with “You don’t know what you’re doing.”  The boos were clearly born of frustration at Quique swapping full backs when we were two goals down and Success was sitting on the bench.  Even so, it seemed unfair on Femenía as he took the brunt of the boos.  There was then an extraordinary occurrence.  Deulofeu broke into the box, was challenged and the ball went just the wrong side of the post.  The referee indicated a goal kick, while we were shouting for a corner.  Then it became apparent that the referee was checking with the VAR.  Surely VAR don’t make decisions regarding corners.  Then it came up on the big screen “VAR checking penalty”.  I took this with a pinch of salt as there was no way that it would be awarded to us.  The decision took an age to come through and finally, the big screen announced the penalty and the referee pointed to the spot.  It turned out that Jorginho was adjudged to have tripped Geri as he tried to take the shot.  Having seen footage of it, there was contact, but it was nowhere near as clear cut as the challenge at Spurs which wasn’t given.  There was disbelief around us.  “We only wanted a corner.”  Deulofeu stepped up but had to wait an age to take it as Azpilicueta continued to argue with the ref.  When Geri finally got the chance to take the shot, he sent the keeper the wrong way and, suddenly and unexpectedly, Watford were back in the game.

No time to celebrate, Deulofeu returns the ball for the restart

The next booking for the Hornets went to Dawson for a robust challenge on Emerson.  It looked like a decent tackle to win the ball, but the man went down due to the challenge and those tackles are sadly no longer permitted.  Lampard made his first change bringing Hudson-Odoi on for Pulisic.  Watford were looking to draw level when Masina tried a shot from distance, but it was nowhere near the target.  With two minutes left on the clock, Batshuayi replaced Abraham.  He has scored every time he has faced the Hornets, so Mariappa was taking no chances and was booked for pulling him back.  The visitors won a late free kick, which Jorginho delayed until the referee cautioned him for time wasting.  Batshuayi was determined to maintain his goal scoring record against the Hornets so went on a dangerous run but his shot was blocked by Masina.  Pleasingly, Watford were continuing to attack, the next chance came from Doucouré who went on a run and took an early shot, but it was blocked.  Doucouré had another chance when he met a cross from Deulofeu, but his header was blocked.  Chelsea made their last substitution in time added on as James came on for Willian who dawdled off the field.  Watford had a couple of late chances to snatch a point.  First, Masina met a cross from Femenía with a header that flew wide of the near post.  Then, in the last minute of the game, Doucouré was fouled by Mount, who was booked for his trouble.  Foster came up for the free kick.  Deulofeu’s delivery was flicked on by Doucouré and we were all on our feet as Foster’s diving header looked to have won us a point, but Kepa managed to keep it out and the final whistle went on another defeat for the Hornets.

Gathering to defend a set piece

We headed back to the West Herts for a post-match drink where we were joined by a colleague of Jacque’s who is a Chelsea fan and was quite complimentary about the Hornets.  I have to say that it was a much better performance than midweek, but we are still far too weak up front.  I have my doubts about whether Success is the answer, but at least it would have shown some attacking intent to have brought him on late in the game.  Instead, Gray struggled again.  However, I have to say that Foster’s late header meant I left Vicarage Road with a huge smile on my face.

While we didn’t expect anything from this game, as the current Chelsea team are playing rather well, the wait for a win is becoming increasingly concerning.  We are not cut adrift yet, but we desperately need a win to kick start our season before it is too late.  We now have a run of games from which we should be expected to pick up some points, starting with the trip to Carrow Road on Friday.  It is the birthday of Amy, one of the Norfolk ‘Orns, next weekend, so they will be out in force.  It promises to get very messy off the pitch, we can only hope that the lads on the pitch give her a birthday to remember (in a good way).

The Wait for a Win Continues

Winners of the WFC Quiz

The Wednesday before this game was the Quiz Night at the football club.  It is always a good evening, with an interesting set of questions, but I generally go for the craic.  There is a team called the Untouchables, who are not Watford fans but quiz fiends, who turn up every year and usually win, having the trophy presented to them by a football player that they have no interest in.  Of late, Shaun Wallace from the Chase has become a regular on one of the teams and another team included Beth Webster, one of the Eggheads, who is a Watford fan.  Against all odds, our team (City ‘Orns) ran out winners.  I am still not sure quite how this happened, but I was rather pleased with my winner’s medal and the prize of hospitality on New Year’s Day.

Friday night, I had a lovely meal in London with some of our usual crew, so decided to stay over, rather than heading home.  This allowed me to spend the morning at the Royal Academy catching the Helene Schjerfbeck exhibition before it finished.  I reached Euston only slightly later than I usually do, but disruptions to the trains meant that I was still waiting around when a friend arrived and observed that I was late on parade.  So late that I arrived at the West Herts to find that Don had already left for the ground.  The good news was that there was a free seat at our table and a bag of pork scratchings, which was my appetiser as I waited for my jerk chicken, which was excellent and plentiful and set me up for the afternoon.

Gathering for a corner

Team news was that Quique had made only the two enforced changes from the Tottenham game with Masina and Deulofeu replacing the suspended Holebas and the injured Welbeck.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Kabasele, Dawson, Cathcart; Masina, Chalobah, Cleverley, Doucouré, Janmaat; Pereyra, Deulofeu.  Bournemouth’s line-up included the lovely Nathan Aké, who had the chance to catch up with his former manager, Quique.  It still upsets me that we didn’t manage to sign him.

The Hornets had an excellent start to the game and could have opened the scoring in the first minute as a cross from Deulofeu was parried by the Bournemouth keeper, Ramsdale, Doucouré latched on to the rebound, but could not keep his shot down and it flew over the bar.  Bournemouth also had an early chance with a shot from Lerma which was just wide of the target.  The Hornets threatened again from a corner, Deulofeu’s delivery almost sneaked in, but hit the post and rebounded to Dawson whose shot was blocked.  Pereyra was the next to try his luck with a low shot that was easily gathered by Ramsdale.  For the second game in a row, Watford lost a player to injury early in the game.  On this occasion it was Tom Cleverley who was forced to leave the field, a big blow to us as he has been magnificent so far this season.  Will Hughes came on in his place.

Pereyra escapes upfield with Masina in pursuit

On 15 minutes, Bournemouth had a great chance to take the lead from a corner that was met by the head of Cook, but rebounded off the crossbar.  The Watford faithful were yelling for a free kick when Aké pulled Deulofeu to the ground rugby-style but referee, Mike Dean, decided that it was a legitimate challenge.  The Hornets threatened again as Janmaat hit a cross into the box, but there was no Watford player to challenge for it, so it was an easy catch for Ramsdale.  At the other end, Billing tried a shot, but Foster was equal to it.  Then Masina played a lovely cross-field ball to Janmaat who put in a low cross, the ball bounced around the box, but no one could turn it in.  Lerma went down under a very benign challenge from Deulofeu, prompting a chant of “Same old Bournemouth, always cheating” from the home fans.  Rico took the free kick which was deflected off the wall for a corner.  The corner was cleared to Rico whose shot was stopped by a great save from Foster.  A good move from the Hornets came to nothing when Gerry passed the ball out to Pereyra who hit a very poor shot that flew high and wide of the target.  The first yellow card of the game was awarded to Dawson who was booked for taking down the escaping Callum Wilson.  The resulting free kick was blocked.  Pereyra and Deulofeu launched another promising break, but this one ended with Deulofeu giving the ball away.  The visitors should have taken the lead in the last minute of the half when a cross from King reached Danjuma at the back post, but Foster was able to make a point blank save.

Man of the match, Ben Foster

So, we went into half time with the game goalless.  After a good start from the Hornets, Bournemouth had the majority of the possession and the better of the chances.  After his mistake for the Spurs goal last week, Foster had redeemed himself with a couple of great saves to preserve a clean sheet.

The only change at the break was one of the linos, who had picked up an injury so had to swap places with the fourth official.

The Hornets made a bright start to the second half as Deulofeu went on a dangerous run down the left and put in a shot, but Ramsdale was down to make the save.  The next action of note came just before the hour mark when each side made a substitution as Chalobah made way for Gray for the Hornets and Harry Wilson replaced Danjuma for the visitors.  The Hornets created a half chance as Deulofeu played a back heel to Gray who couldn’t fashion a shot but managed to win a corner.  There was a protracted period of handbags soon after.  I am not sure what set it off, but Callum Wilson was booked for his part.

Kabasele lines up a free kick

Watford looked to break the deadlock as Gray played a ball through for Deulofeu, but Aké kept pace with the Spaniard and shepherded the ball back to Ramsdale.  Doucouré then tried his luck with a shot from distance that was high and wide of the target.  The visitors then broke downfield, but it came to nothing as King shot straight at Foster.  There was another booking as Rico was penalised for sliding in on Hughes.  With 15 minutes remaining, each side made a change with Masina making way for Foulquier for the Hornets and Callum Wilson was replaced by Solanke for the Cherries.  The best chance since the start of the half came when the ball broke to Hughes whose shot required a decent save from the Bournemouth keeper.  The corner from Deulofeu didn’t beat the wall, but it rebounded to him, he cut in to get into scoring position and hit a terrible shot over the bar.  Bournemouth had an appeal for a penalty (of course they did) as Fraser claimed that the ball had hit a Watford arm.  The referee did not agree but Deulofeu was booked for dissent in the discussions.  There was another booking for the visitors as Billing fouled Pereyra.  Watford looked to make the breakthrough with a lovely low cross from Gray that flew across the front of goal, but Deulofeu was unable to reach it to apply the finishing touch.

Kabasele, Pereyra and Dawson anticipate a corner

Watford had a great chance to take the lead when a free kick from Deulofeu was flicked on by Pereyra, Gray was closing in at the far post, but couldn’t get a foot to it.  At this point, the rain had become torrential which was obscuring our view of the proceedings on the pitch.  Not only that, but the problems with the Rookery roof meant that those in the middle of the stand were standing in the middle of a downpour.  Bournemouth were awarded a free kick in a dangerous position and Doucouré was booked when he fouled Lerma on the edge of the box.  Harry Wilson took the free kick which hit the outside of the post with Foster a spectator.  Wilson was causing the Hornets problems, but an attempt to break forward was stopped by a foul from Hughes, who was booked for his trouble.  The Hornets picked up another booking as Pereyra was cautioned for a foul on Smith.  In time added on, Bournemouth could have snatched the points when they launched one last break, Fraser tried a shot from a tight angle, but Foster was equal to it and the game ended goalless.

Chalobah and Dawson

The final whistle was greeted with some half-hearted boos from the home supporters.  The Hornets had the better of the second half but, after the promise of the performance against Tottenham, it had proved to be a very disappointing game.  The good news is that we are now three games unbeaten and the defence is looking far more solid.  Losing Cleverley early in the game was a big blow to us, his replacement, Hughes, was guilty of misplacing a lot of passes, although he also had one of our best chances.  But the main problems were with the forward line.  While I enjoy watching both Pereyra and Deulofeu, having the two of them upfront seems like a luxury that we cannot afford.  Their decision making is often poor.  Deulofeu should have done much better with a couple of chances, as should Gray.  If they had been more clinical, we would have been much happier after the game.  That said, a draw was a fair result, but the wait for a win is getting increasingly concerning.

As we walked up Occupation Road, a young girl was asking her Mum why they were going to Everton mid-week.  We have watched this girl grow up and her family are regulars at the away games.  They are going because that is what they (and I) do.  I just hope that we have something to cheer on Tuesday as this season has been far too short on enjoyment.

VAR Is Not Our Friend

Seeing the new stadium for the first time

Unfortunately, on Friday evening, I turned my ankle walking home from the station.  It was very painful, and I struggled to get home.  On Saturday morning my ankle was swollen and I was finding it difficult to walk, so I had to decide on my plan for the day.  The pub that we were meeting at was a 15 minute walk from the stadium, so I decided that it would be better to go straight to the ground.  I briefly considered missing the match completely, as my hopes were not high.  But the last time I missed a match due to ill health, we beat Chelsea in a terrific game, and this was our first visit to a new stadium, so I decided that I had to go.

I drove to the station for the first time in years and got the train, tube and bus that I needed to get to the stadium.  My journey plan indicated that I would have only a minute’s walk from the bus stop but there were matchday diversions which meant a slow hobble up Tottenham High Road.  The stadium could be seen from a distance and looked very impressive.  Needless to say, I had to walk around the stadium to the away end and climb a flight of steps to the entrance, so was feeling very sorry for myself by the time that I reached the turnstiles.  I had listened to the advice regarding the bag policy and only brought a small drawstring bag.  Thankfully, this passed their inspection and I went through the airport screeners to get in.  I was stopped as my camera was in my pocket and had triggered the alarm, but I was soon allowed to the turnstiles and finally inside the ground.

The rather lovely view of the roof from our seats

Inside, I met up with a lot of familiar faces.  The story of my injury had got around and was met with exactly the level of sympathy that I was expecting (none).  I soon headed for my seat to catch up with the family.  The new stadium is very impressive inside and we had terrific seats.  They have the rail seats that are suitable for safe standing, which was quite a relief as it meant that I had a barrier to lean on during the game.  I did think that the seats were very narrow for a new stadium, but I guess they have to pack the punters in.

Team news was that Quique had made 2 changes from the draw against Sheffield United with Dawson and Chalobah replacing Prödl and Gray.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Kabasele, Dawson, Cathcart; Holebas, Chalobah, Cleverley, Doucouré, Janmaat; Welbeck, Pereyra.  I had checked the kit that we would be wearing before leaving the house and was a little surprised to find that we were in the navy, which meant that we would be wearing the same colour shorts as Spurs.  It seems that the rules regarding colour clash only apply to shirts and socks, so matching shorts are not considered to be a problem.

Talking of odd colour choices, Alice turned up wearing an orange jumper.  I swear she only does it to upset me!

I failed to get a picture of the goal celebrations due to the arms aloft in front of me, so here are Doucoure and Chalobah

The game started with a setback for the Hornets as Danny Welbeck went down with a hamstring injury.  He was treated for a short time but was unable to continue.  He left the field, to boos from the home fans due to his Arsenal history, and was replaced by Deulofeu.  Rather unbelievably, Watford took the lead after 6 minutes.  Cathcart played a gorgeous cross-field ball to Janmaat, who put in a great cross that Doucouré turned home (although the stadium announcer gave it to Cleverley).  My celebration had to be a little muted as I was incapable of jumping up and down.  I made up for it with extra fist pumping and hugging!  The home side had a chance to hit back almost immediately as Sissoko hit a powerful shot from just outside the area, but it cleared the bar.  The first caution of the game went to Sanchez for a nasty tackle on Pereyra.  There was a shout for a penalty from the home side as Danny Rose tumbled in the box under a challenge from Pereyra.  It was right in front of us and was unconvincing.  The referee and VAR both agreed with my assessment and we played on.  The best chance of the first half for the home side came with a low shot from distance from Dele, but Foster made the save.  At the other end, Doucouré broke into the box and put in a lovely cross, but there was no Watford player there to get on the end of it.  My nerves were tested when a ball came into the Watford box and Dawson dived towards it.  I was fearful of another own goal but, thankfully, Foster made the catch.  I had barely caught my breath when Foster was caught with the ball at his feet, Dele came in to make a challenge, but Ben made a slick turn away from the forward and made the clearance.  Watford had a penalty call as Deulofeu went down in the area under a challenge from Vertonghen.  The referee waved play on and, while Deulofeu protested, the VAR check was performed and confirmed the referee’s decision.  Having seen this on television after the game, Vertonghen slid in and had a couple of chops at Geri before he took him down.  I am baffled that this was considered to be a fair challenge by multiple officials.  At the other end, Spurs had a chance to grab an equaliser before half time as Alderweireld crossed for Moura, but the header flew over the bar.

Holebas cherishing the ball before a throw-in

The half time whistle went to boos from the Spurs fans.  The mood among the travelling Hornets was much better than it has been in recent weeks as it had been a spirited performance with some lovely football being played.

After the half-time break, the Spurs players took to the pitch considerably earlier than the Watford men and had made a substitution bringing Son on for Sanchez.  Given how much trouble we have had from the South Korean in recent seasons, this looked to be bad news for the Hornets.  This feeling was intensified when Son blasted a shot that, thankfully, rebounded off the crossbar and out for a throw-in.  The Hornets had a great chance to increase their lead as Deulofeu was in on goal, but the one time I wanted him to be selfish he decided instead to square for Pereyra, who was being shadowed by Aurier who managed to block the shot conceding a corner that came to nothing.  A terrible attempt at a clearance by Gazzaniga let to the ball looping into the air, but Pereyra was unable to capitalise.  Watford threatened again as Doucouré played in Janmaat who went for goal when maybe he should have passed, his attempt was blocked.  Son had another attempt to equalise, this time a shot from a narrow angle, but Foster was able to make the save.

Cathcart waiting to take a free kick

Another great chance for the Hornets as Pereyra went on a brilliant run before crossing for Deulofeu whose shot was wide of the far post when he really should have hit the target.  Just after the hour mark, Spurs made their second change bringing Lamela on for Moura.  The Hornets had another opportunity to increase their lead when Doucouré picked up a loose ball and shot from the edge of the area, but his effort was just wide of the target.  From the opposite end of the ground, a Spurs equaliser looked imminent as Kane got behind the Watford defence, but Dawson was on hand to make the crucial tackle.  Janmaat had another chance to extend Watford’s lead after he received a pass from Pereyra, but he tried to switch feet before taking the shot and the chance was gone.  That was his last contribution to the game as he was also forced to leave the field with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Femenía.  Spurs also made a change as Winks made way for Ndombele.  Spurs threatened with a cross into the Watford box, but Kabasele was imperious, rising to head it away.  Then a lovely cross from Lamela was met with a shot from Dele, but it was an easy save for Foster.  Watford’s next chance came from a poor clearance by Gazzaniga which was picked up by Doucouré who found Deulofeu, but his run into the box was stopped by a foul from Sissoko, who was booked for the challenge.  Our SLO was less than impressed with the intervention by the Spurs man and let all around him know it.  Geri look the free kick himself.  His delivery was on target but an easy catch for Gazzaniga.

Foster prepares to take a free kick

Rose had another shout for a penalty when he went down under a challenge from Kabasele but, again, the challenge was soft, and the penalty was not given.  Into the last 10 minutes and Pereyra had been struggling for a while and clearly needed to be replaced.  As Quique was not getting the message, he went down with cramp and lay in the box for a while with his leg in the air, as the referee insisted that he left the field.  Eventually, he was replaced by Hughes and left the pitch, but not before he had been booked for time-wasting.  The Spurs equaliser was just heartbreaking.  With four minutes left on the clock, Foster came for a cross, failed to deal with it, it dropped to Dele, who controlled it and turned it into the empty net.  There was a VAR check to see whether there had been an offence committed in the build-up.  The referee signalled that the goal stood, and the players went to prepare for the restart.  Then the big screen indicated that the decision was ‘No Goal’.  There were lots of celebrations around me, but the players were still lined up to kick-off again and, sure enough, a new ‘decision’ appeared on the screen indicating that the goal had been given.  It was an utterly ludicrous situation.  It all got a bit heated after that.  First Rose was booked for a foul on Hughes.  Then Dele was taken down and handbags ensued, which finished with Holebas and Dele both receiving yellow cards.  The resulting free kick was hit straight into the wall.  A number around me were voicing my fear that Spurs would go on to win it, but the closest that they came to a winner was a dangerous cross from Aurier that was cleared by Dawson.  My nerves were in shreds at this point and, when a number of the players collapsed on to the pitch, it took me a while to realise that the final whistle had gone.

The Watford players must have been gutted, but they left the field to warm applause from the travelling fans.

Tom Cleverley just brilliant again

Having heard horror stories about the wait to get into Seven Sisters station after the game, and seen the barriers already in place up the street when I arrived, I decided to join the others for a post-match drink, even if, having driven to the station, I was not able to sample the beer.  It was definitely the right decision as the company was great and we caught up with some other friends that we hadn’t seen in the stadium.  The general consensus was that this had been our best performance of the season.  While Spurs had the lion’s share of the possession, the Watford defence were very well organised and Foster barely had a save to make.  All of the dangerous chances had fallen to the Hornets but, as too often this season, we had been wasteful.  A team with more confidence may have taken a couple of those shots earlier and the result would have been different.  But, in contrast to the games earlier this season, this was a gutsy performance with the players working with and for each other and it was a joy to watch.  While all the players played their part, I have to pick out Cleverley, who was absolutely magnificent yet again.  But the highlight for me was the performance of Doucouré.  He has been a shadow of his former self in most of the games this season, but on Saturday he was working hard, snapping into tackles and then starting moves, the misplaced passes that have been all too frequent this season were not in evidence.  While Spurs are on a terrible run, it is still very pleasing to come away from their ground feeling aggrieved that we only took a point.

Dawson looking unimpressed with the referee after the final whistle

I was home in time for Match of the Day and, for possibly the first time this season, I decided to watch it live.  Now I will start by saying that I was very much against the introduction of VAR.  I didn’t see the need for it and using it in a game that flows made no sense to me. Those who argued for the implementation told me that it would rule out errors.  My argument has always been that many of the decisions in football are subjective and will still be subjective when viewed at Stockley Park.  From the footage on Match of the Day it seemed clear that the challenge on Deulofeu should have resulted in a penalty.  But even worse was the equalising goal.  There appeared to be a push on Kabasele in the build-up and it was clear that Dele controlled the ball using his upper arm.  Spurs fans have argued that the ball hit his shoulder, but the footage also shows the player’s face after he scored the goal and he looked haunted.  He knew that he had controlled it with his arm and was waiting for it to be ruled out.  Those reviewing at Stockley Park would have seen all of this and the conclusion should have been that the goal would not stand.  The decision that was broadcast in the ground was that it was not a goal.  What is still not clear to me is whether they sent through an erroneous decision or whether the referee overruled the VAR official and they kow-towed.  Whichever is the case, the involvement of VAR provoked a lot more anger than would have come following a mistake by a referee.  VAR is supposed to level the playing field, but the current feeling is that it is just enforcing the ‘big club bias.’  The decisions today along with the Newcastle goal that should not have stood, but was not reviewed, are leading Watford fans to conclude that VAR is not our friend.

But I don’t want to finish on that note as, for the first time this season, I am feeling really positive.  If we continue to play as well as we did on Saturday, we won’t be in the relegation zone for long.  This was the first time that we have seen a convincing performance from the whole team.  I hope that we bring that into the Bournemouth game and have Vicarage Road bouncing again.  I will certainly ensure that I rest this week so that my ankle is up to bouncing.

A Soggy Stalemate

Welbeck and Gray waltzing with the opposition defenders

Due to evening commitments in London last week, my commuting time was at a minimum, this meant that I hadn’t listened to the “From the Rookery End” podcast.  So, I made it my accompaniment for the train journey to Watford and wished that I hadn’t.  When even the ultra-positive Colin sounds exasperated, and that game at Wolves was enough to try the patience of a saint, you know that we are in trouble.

I arrived at the West Herts later than usual to find my sister at the bar.  She had arrived early for a chat and was somewhat put out to find that I wasn’t there yet.  We joined the usual suspects at our table before the Norfolk ‘Orns made an appearance.  They were on one of their days out, which generally means an early start on the beer and shots in the West Herts.  It has to be said that they were already very jolly when they arrived, but their early start meant that there were no pork scratchings in Glenn’s goodie bag to the consternation of all.

Pereyra preparing for a corner

On arrival at the Rookery turnstiles, I was patted down by a steward, I don’t believe that has happened before.  It was noticeable that, as there was only a female steward at that end of the turnstiles, while I was being searched, the men were streaming past unmolested, which was a source of some irritation.  On arrival in the Rookery, we found, as we had for the Swansea game, a pool of water under our seats.  We asked a steward for assistance in clearing it, his solution was to tell us we could find another seat if any were available.  We had seen one of the cleaning staff with a mop and a bucket further down the stand, so I went and asked him to assist us.  This meant that we missed joining in the “Forza” display prior to kick-off.  Even after the man with the mop had done his (much appreciated) thing, the floor was too wet to place my bag down, so I was relieved when the guy that sits next to me did not appear and I was able to use his seat for my bag.  To add insult to injury, when I tried to take a photograph for the blog, I found that my camera battery was drained.  Thankfully I had a charger with me so was able to remedy the situation and just hoped that there would be something worth photographing.

Team news was that Quique had made 4 changes with Prödl, Kabasele, Pereyra and Gray replacing Dawson, Capoue, Sarr and Deulofeu.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Prödl, Kabasele; Holebas, Cleverley, Doucouré, Janmaat; Pereyra; Welbeck, Gray.

Challenging at a corner

Watford had a great chance to open the scoring in the 8th minute after a terrific run from Pereyra, he put in a low cross for Gray who managed to blast the ball into the Vicarage Road stand when it looked much easier to score.  Soon after, Pereyra won a corner that was taken short but eventually led to a cross by Janmaat that was headed over by Prödl.  There was almost a disaster of our own making at the other end as Cathcart turned a cross from Baldock towards his own goal, but Foster pulled off a smart save to stop it.  The visitors had another chance to open the scoring with a low shot from Fleck, but it was an easy save for Foster.  The Blades threatened again as McBurnie slid in trying to convert a low cross from Basham, but Foster was able to gather.  Doucouré got himself into a great position for a shot, but there was a body in the way of his effort from the edge of the box.  The Hornets had one last chance to take a lead into the break as Prödl met a cross from Cleverley with a header that dropped to Kabasele who tried to turn it in, but Henderson was able to make the save.

It had been an incredibly dull half of football, which had done nothing to improve my mood.  The half time celebrity guest was Alan Smart.  Being reminded of the awful season that he was involved in at this level didn’t help.  The high point for him was scoring the winner against Chelsea.  Unfortunately, the prospect of any similar results this season are currently looking very remote.

Janmaat takes a free kick

The second half started promisingly for the Hornets as a misplaced header dropped to Welbeck who powered downfield with Gray running alongside.  As Henderson came out to meet him, he decided to take the shot himself and it was blocked by the keeper.  From our perspective in the Rookery, passing to Gray looked like a better option but, given his earlier miss, the outcome may well have been the same.  The Hornets had a really good spell, which galvanised the crowd, but they couldn’t fashion a goal attempt worthy of note.  The visitors had the next chance as Robinson volleyed goalwards, but Foster was able to make the save.  Watford made two substitutions in quick succession.  Prödl limped off due to a hamstring injury to be replaced by Dawson, a great shame as the presence of Seb in the back three had been a positive.  Then Gray made way for Deulofeu.  In between the substitutions McBurnie was booked for a foul on Kabasele.  Soon after being cautioned he was replaced by Mousset.  Next there was a break in play due to an injury to Holebas.  José was down for a while being treated but, once back on his feet, he walked off the pitch while giving the evil eye to his assailant, who had my sympathy.

Foster prepares to take a free kick

The visitors made a second substitution, replacing Robinson with Billy Sharp, who was once heralded as “the answer” by a section of Hornet fans.  Flores also made a change bringing Sarr on for Welbeck.  Deulofeu impressed as he ran to keep an impossible ball in play, advanced and crossed, but it was just too high for Doucouré and Henderson was able to make the catch.  Deulofeu created a half chance as he cut in from the left and tried a shot, but it was easy for the keeper.  As the clock struck 90 minutes, a break by Deulofeu was stopped by a foul by Lundstram, who was shown a yellow card for his trouble.  The Hornets had a great chance to snatch the three points when the free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Dawson, but Henderson managed to make the save.  There was one final chance for the Hornets as Doucouré was urged to shoot by the crowd, but the shot from distance was woeful and nearly hit the corner flag.  So, the game ended goalless.

As I walked back to the West Herts, I bumped into another regular.  He was very philosophical, reasoning that we’ve both been watching Watford for a long time and have seen a lot worse than this.  He was right, but the current winless streak is still a great cause for concern.

Man of the Match Kabasele calling the shots

The main positive from the afternoon was that this was the first clean sheet since February.  Our defence has been dreadfully leaky and we looked much stronger with three at the back, although this improvement at the back may have been helped by the opposition being Sheffield United.  Still, Prödl had a great game, he is much more of a commanding presence at the back than either Cathcart or Dawson.  Kabasele was immense and was named man of the match by the sponsors and thoroughly deserved it.  The strikers are still struggling, but at least they are making chances and we really should have won this game.  Sadly, I have felt that after most of the games this season, Brighton and Man City notwithstanding.  Most of the teams that we have played this season have been poor to mediocre and yet we find ourselves with only 3 points from 8 games.  The big problem with this team, as many have been saying for weeks is a lack of confidence and leadership.  Troy is badly missed and you can’t help thinking that a scrambled goal or one bouncing off someone would make a huge difference.

So we go into an international break for a much needed breather and the hope that we will soon see an upturn.  My dear friend, Don, always urges us to “Keep the Faith”.  It is becoming increasingly hard.

 

Another Defeat Despite Domination

Statue of Jack Hayward outside Molineux

Having been utterly miserable after the City game, the midweek win against Swansea cheered me up somewhat, so I was in a better mood for the journey to Wolverhampton.  I left London early and met Jacque on the train.  As has been usual for recent trips to Wolves, we were to have our pre-match refreshments in Birmingham.  Our ridiculously early arrival time confirmed that, due to a late decision about where to meet, both of us had booked a train based on its scheduled arrival in Wolverhampton rather than Birmingham.  Still, by the time we got to the pub it was a respectable hour to have a drink.  The pub was actually packed due, in part, to the presence of passengers of a Midland Red bus, that was parked outside.  I assume that they were on a tour of the city and the opportunity to mix with Villa fans having a pre-match pint was too much of a temptation.  Mike met us for lunch, and then we headed back to New Street to get the train to Wolverhampton and take the short walk to the ground.  We met the rest of our party inside where we were regaled with stories of traffic delays for those who had driven.  Luckily (?) they all made it in time for kick-off.

Team news was that Quique had made four changes from the side who were humiliated by Manchester City, with Janmaat, Cathcart, Welbeck and Sarr replacing Femenía, Mariappa, Foulquier and Hughes.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Dawson, Cathcart, Janmaat; Capoue, Doucouré; Deulofeu, Cleverley, Sarr; Welbeck.  The initial reaction was that this was the team that people wanted to see.  But I was rather surprised that Welbeck was included, having played 90 minutes in midweek.  In other news, today would see the first outing of our new away kit.  I hoped that it would be lucky for us.

Holebas takes a throw-in

Watford started well and, in the first minute, Sarr found Welbeck, but the shot was wide of the target.  Wolves also had an early chance as Boly released Jiménez who shot into the side netting.  The Hornets put themselves in trouble when a short corner routine broke down allowing Neto to break at pace and play a low cross for Jiménez who shot wide of the far post.  The home side opened the scoring in the 18th minute when a low cross from Neto was turned in by Doherty.  It was yet another poor goal to give away as the defence were nowhere to be seen.  It feels as though we have seen the same goal scored against us repeatedly this season and still have no idea how to stop it.  Deulofeu tried to hit back as he cut into the box but could only shoot into the side netting.  Deulofeu threatened again from a free kick, but his delivery was headed clear.  Wolves had a chance to increase their lead as Traoré beat Holebas to put in a cross, but no Wolves player could get on the end of it.  Sarr really should have done better after receiving a ball from Deulofeu in the box, but he turned and shot well wide of the target.  The Wolves fans were shouting for a penalty as a cross from Traoré was blocked by Holebas, but the referee was unmoved by their pleas.  Welbeck got into a decent position in the box, but his shot was blocked for a corner that came to nothing.  The end of the half was dominated by a couple of lengthy stoppages for injuries to Wolves players, but there was one final chance for the Hornets to draw level as Cleverley flicked a pass to Sarr in a dangerous position but, yet again, the shot was blocked.

Pereyra takes a corner

The half time whistle went to sighs of resignation in the away end.  It hadn’t been pretty.  Watford had had more of the possession but were ponderous and reluctant to shoot.  In contrast, Wolves were quick on the break and the Watford defence always looked vulnerable. The home side had scored with the only on-target shot of the half.

Looking at things off the field, I couldn’t help but notice that the stand behind the goal at one end and half of the other have been converted for safe standing.  It looked great and it will be interesting to see whether this becomes commonplace.

At the break Deulofeu was replaced by Pereyra.  The Hornets started the second half quite brightly.  Pereyra put in a lovely cross that Holebas met with a header that was blocked by the Wolves keeper, the first time he had been called into action.  The ball dropped to Cleverley, who tried to turn it in, but Rui Patricio was able to get a foot to it and put it out for a corner.  The corner summed up our afternoon as Pereyra’s delivery didn’t even make it onto the pitch before it flew behind the goal line.  Wolves had their first chance of the half as Neto broke forward but shot straight at Foster and was immediately replaced by Gibbs-White.

Waiting for the delivery at a corner

The Hornets had dominated the start of the second half, so it felt cruel when, on the hour mark, a cross from Doherty was flicked on by Gibbs-White, and Janmaat turned it past Foster.  There appeared no way back at that point.  Holebas tried to hit back with a shot through the area that flew just wide of the near post.  It was unsurprising to see José pick up the first booking of the game for a foul on Traoré.  Flores made his second substitution with twenty minutes to go as Sarr made way for Gray.  Andre made an immediate impact and the Hornets had a great chance to pull one back when Welbeck received a ball from Gray and unleashed a shot that required a decent save from Rui Patricio to keep it out.  Wolves had a chance to score a third as Traoré put a deep cross over to Jonny but he could only find the side netting.  Wolves made a second substitution bringing Cutrone on for Jiménez.  The substitute had a chance to make an immediate impact as he charged toward the Watford goal, but was stopped by a wonderful sliding tackle from Foster.  At the other end, Gray made a break into the Wolves box but his shot was poor and straight at the keeper.  Doucouré then tried his luck with a low shot from the edge of the area, but it was an easy catch for Rui Patricio.  There was one last chance for the Hornets as a corner from Holebas reached Welbeck but he could only head over the bar.  Santo made his final change bringing Neves on for Traoré.  There were three minutes of added time, which were rather soul destroying as, despite Hornets having plenty of possession, they just played it around on the halfway line with the Wolves defence happily lined up in front of them.  The final whistle went to half-hearted boos from a few among the Watford following, but most of us just felt as defeated as the team.

Holebas and Pereyra lining up a free kick

As there is nothing to stay in Wolves for, we made a rapid retreat to the station to get the train home and we bumped into a couple of fellow Hornets.  There was a lot of head shaking and failure to understand what is going wrong this season.  Our team still looks great on paper, but we continue to fail to attack with enough intent or defend convincingly.  On the evidence of the games so far, most of the teams in the Premier League are pretty poor (the obvious exception notwithstanding), but we have been unable to beat any of them.  The consensus was that we are desperately missing Deeney as there is no leadership on the pitch, which is a very sorry state of affairs.  It is difficult to see how we will turn this around, but football is a confidence game and maybe we just need a few balls to drop kindly and a couple of shots to creep inside the post for the belief to resurface.

As I left work on Friday, I had a chat with one of my colleagues about our chances for the weekend.  He reminded me that going to football was supposed to be fun.  He is so right and, sadly, the games really aren’t fun at the moment.  I hope that changes very soon.

Fun in the Sun with Flores

Quique back in the Watford dug-out

I hate it when matches are moved to a Sunday.  It completely changes the pattern of the weekend and is very disconcerting.  However, the change of time for this game did have the benefit that I was able to take up the offer of hospitality for the Ashes game on Saturday.  Although I must admit to checking the fixture list while on the train to the Oval, just to make sure that Watford were not playing.  I was further reassured when I spotted Johnno in the queue for the coffee.  I was desperate to ask him his opinion on the changes at the club but resisted as I didn’t want to spoil his day.

As usual when there is a change in routine, I wasn’t sure what time to arrive in the West Herts.  I aimed for soon after 1pm and was pleased (and unsurprised) to see Don and Jacque already at our usual table.  Needless to say the primary topic of conversation was the change in head coach.  The departure of Javi had seemed inevitable after the Newcastle game, but it was very sad.  He has left us with some very happy memories, not just of the football but of what a lovely man he was.  He will always have a place in my heart.  The return of Flores was a total shock.  He was another lovely chap and his season was a lot of fun, but it had run out of steam in much the same way that Javi’s did, so I wondered what extra he had to offer and had been feeling a bit numb about it all last week.  One benefit of his return was that we wouldn’t have to learn a new song for the head coach.

Rita and GT

There was an added poignancy to the occasion as the game was taking place on what would have been GT’s 75th birthday, so I made the effort to say hello to his statue before the game.

Team news was that Quique had made three changes from the Newcastle game with Holebas, Capoue and Deulofeu in for Cathcart (who was injured), Janmaat and Pereyra.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Kabasele, Dawson, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Hughes, Cleverley, Deulofeu; Gray.  The selection caused some puzzlement among the inhabitants of the West Herts.  The decision not to put Welbeck on the bench elicited a lot of comment.

But, as we took our seats in a packed Rookery to see the teams take the field to Z-cars (hoorah!), the atmosphere was very positive and the crowd was soon chanting the name of Quique Sanchez Flores.

Gathering for a corner

The game started brightly enough for the Hornets who created an early chance as Deulofeu curled a shot from the edge of the box, but it was straight at Leno in the Arsenal goal.  The visitors created their first chance soon after, but Özil’s free-kick was headed clear by Dawson.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead in the 11th minute as Cleverley hit a powerful shot that required a flying save from Leno to keep it out.  From the corner, the ball reached Cleverley again, but his curling shot was easily caught by Leno.  Watford had another chance as a gorgeous cross-field pass found Deulofeu on the wing, he played in Holebas, but the shot was poor.  At the other end, Guendouzi released Pépé who advanced and shot wide of the far post.  The visitors took the lead in the 21st minute.  Hughes appeared to be fouled in the midfield and the Watford players stopped, anticipating the whistle, while Kolašinac broke forward before finding Aubameyang who fired past Foster.  While the Watford players protested, the goal was (presumably) checked via VAR and was confirmed, to loud boos from the Watford faithful.  It was a devastating blow as the goal had been totally against the run of play.  Sadly, as has happened far too often, this seemed to drain confidence from the Watford players and a terrible pass from Kabasele allowed the visitors to attack again, this time the shot from Aubameyang was deflected for a corner.

Handbags

The Gunners were two up after 31 minutes as Özil played in Maitland-Niles, who squared for Aubameyang who had an easy tap in for his second.  It was a decently worked goal, but the Watford defence had gone completely missing and the game looked lost.  Watford had a chance to pull one back as Femenía crossed for Hughes, but the shot was poor and flew wide of the near post.  A mistake from the visitors almost gifted the Hornets a goal, but the shot from Deulofeu was blocked and the follow-up from Gray hit the side netting.  The first booking of the game went to Kolašinac for a poor foul on Hughes.  Sadly, the free kick from Holebas was straight at Leno.  It all looked very promising when Deulofeu went on a dangerous run, but he was pushed wide and ran out of space.  Just before half time, there was a bit of handbags which led to Holebas and Guendouzi being booked.  We could see that José was complaining about an elbow. TV pictures showed that this had come from Pépé, which started the melee, but the instigator escaped without punishment.  The half time whistle went to a chorus of boos aimed at the officials.

At half time, I was feeling utterly miserable.  A friend came for a chat.  She is normally very measured and level-headed, so I was a little surprised to hear her say that we were being cheated out of the game but, judging by the half time boos, there were many that agreed with her.

Doucoure congratulates Cleverley on his goal

I cheered up a little when Jay DeMerit appeared as the half time guest.  He spoke about how the “Rise and Shine” film (on which I am credited as an Executive Producer) had led to a number of ventures including camps for youngsters that combine sporting pursuits with leadership training.  It was lovely to see him back at Vicarage Road.

The second half started with a run from Femenía that finished with a cross that was an easy catch for Leno.  Then Deulofeu found Hughes who, under challenge, put his shot over the bar.  A promising move by the Hornets finished with a dreadful shot from Doucouré, which drifted out for a throw.  The Hornets pulled a goal back on 53 minutes after a dreadful mistake from the visitors.  Leno tried a short goal kick to Sokratis, he was challenged by Deulofeu, the ball broke to Cleverley who finished past Leno to raise the temperature at the (already rather warm) Vic.  Suddenly all was right with the world and there was a new confidence both on the pitch and in the stands.  Immediately after the goal, Flores made his first change bringing Sarr on for Gray.  This would be interesting (we hoped).  There was another caution for the Hornets as Femenía was booked for a foul on Özil.

Pereyra enjoys the cheers from the Rookery

Deulofeu had a great chance to level the game after cutting in from the left, but his shot was just wide of the far post.  Femenía then tried his luck with a shot from the right, but it cleared the bar.  Emery made his first substitution bringing Willock on for Ceballos.  The visitors had a rare second half chance as Aubameyang tried a shot from distance, but it was easily dealt with by Foster.  Just after the hour mark, Flores made his second change replacing Hughes with Pereyra.  There was an absolutely gorgeous chance for an equaliser as Deulofeu played the ball through the legs of Guendouzi to Sarr who turned and shot just wide.  He may have missed the target, but that brought a huge smile to my face.  Femenía then went on a threatening run and put in a great cross, Pereyra met it with a back heel that rolled wide of the target.  Arsenal made a second substitution bringing Torreira on for Guendouzi.  Deulofeu had another chance to level the score, but his shot was deflected wide.  The corner was deep and just too high for Kabasele whose header was wide of the target.  Emery made his final substitution replacing Özil with Nelson.  The substitute almost made the perfect start, but his shot from outside the area was easily gathered by Foster.  There was danger for the Hornets as Doucouré lost out allowing an Arsenal break, but he redeemed himself by regaining the ball with a great tackle in the box.  This allowed the Hornets to mount a break of their own which finished with a shot from Deulofeu but, again, it was straight at the keeper.

Sarr in the Arsenal box

Flores made his final substitution replacing Holebas with Janmaat.  Arsenal had a chance to increase their lead through a powerful shot from Torreira, but Foster was equal to it.  Instead, at the other end, Pereyra was tripped by Luiz and the referee pointed to the spot.  From the middle of the Rookery it appeared that the foul had taken place outside the box, so we held our breath as the referee checked with his mate at VAR headquarters, when he received the verdict and pointed to the spot we cheered, then remembered that Deeney was injured.  Pereyra stepped up and placed the ball on the spot, sent Leno the wrong way and hit the back of the net sending the Watford fans wild with joy.  There were nine minutes remaining at this point and the Hornets were going for the victory as Janmaat played a lovely cross to Cleverley whose shot was blocked before Deulofeu hit the rebound just wide.  Cleverley then received a pass from Doucouré and hit a shot that was deflected over the bar via the head of Luiz.  The corner was played out to Janmaat whose shot was high and wide.  Arsenal had a rare chance as the ball was played to Xhaka at the back post but he couldn’t control.  Cleverley had a shot blocked allowing Willock to break but Capoue pulled him over and was booked for his trouble.  From the free kick, Willock made his way into the Watford box and I had a horrible feeling that all our heroics would be for nothing, but Kabasele was on hand to stop him shooting.  There was one final chance for the Hornets to snatch the victory as Doucouré went on a tremendous run before exchanging passes with Sarr but his shot was low and easily caught by Leno.

Holebas takes a corner

The final whistle went to rapturous cheers.  As the players applauded the crowd, Quique’s name was being sung and he responded with a broad smile and an enthusiastic wave.

There were broad smiles among the crowd who gathered at the West Herts.  It seems that I wasn’t the only one who had been miserable at half time, as Jacque mentioned that she had seriously thought about going home at that point.  Of course, she didn’t and was rewarded with a thoroughly enjoyable game.

The second half had been a sustained onslaught on the Arsenal goal, but I was still surprised to hear that we had 31 shots on goal, something that would have made GT very happy. It was a tremendous performance all round.  Deulofeu, who I often find incredibly frustrating, had a wonderful afternoon and was a constant threat to the Arsenal defence.  Pereyra was another who was on his game and was a joy to watch.  Cleverley was absolutely magnificent, running the show and he deserved more than the one goal.  But it was probably the introduction of Sarr that ultimately changed the game.  He is clearly an incredible talent and his presence meant that there was finally an outlet for the excellent build-up play that has been a feature of most of our games this season.  A couple of his moves were just a joy to watch and I am really looking forward to seeing more from him.

What a difference a couple of weeks makes.  My report from Newcastle was among the most miserable that I have written, but Sunday’s game reminded me why I go to football.  It was a joyous afternoon of football and showed what this team can do.  Despite the slow start, I am now much more confident for the rest of the season.  Well, maybe after we get the Man City game out of the way.

A Slog on the Tyne

The statue of Bobby Robson that caused my fall

After a promising performance in midweek, I was feeling a bit more positive on the long journey up to Newcastle.  My mood was improved immensely by the gorgeous dog who was accompanying the woman sitting the other side of the aisle from me.

I arrived at the pub a little later than is my habit, by this I mean that it was already open, and was surprised to find that it was not as busy as it usually is, so our party plus the Happy Valley and North West Horns were able to gather in the lovely alcove.  As usual, the beer and the ambience were wonderful, setting us up nicely for the trek uphill to the ground.  As we arrived at St James’ Park, my companions were extolling the virtues of the stadium and I was admiring the statue of Bobby Robson, so I completely missed the fact that there was a kerb in front of me and went flying.  It was mostly my pride that was hurt, but my bruised knees made me start to consider taking the lift up the 14 flights to our seats.  The woman who searched my bag at the turnstiles told me I was gorgeous, which was Geordie for, “You are old and safe looking, so I won’t search your person.”  We entered through the turnstiles and I looked for the lift, quickly realising that it was actually behind the turnstiles in the next block.  So we started up the stairs.  Alice was counting the steps, calling out milestones, as I just counted the flights.  I would have yelled, “Yay, 14!!” at the top if I had any breath left.  As we took our seats, I was thankful that I had recently taken delivery of new prescription distance glasses as it meant that I had a remote possibility of recognising some of the Watford players.

The view from the away end with no zoom employed

The team news had come through in the pub and was …. Interesting.  Gracia had made three changes from the West Ham game, with Kabasele, Janmaat and Pereyra in for Holebas, Capoue and Deulofeu.  I was surprised that Capoue had been dropped, but this was apparently due to illness.  What was more surprising was that Femenía was still in the team, although the formation had been changed to three at the back.  Playing as a wing-back rather than in a back four would likely be a better use of his skills.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Dawson, Kabasele; Femenía, Janmaat; Cleverley, Doucouré, Hughes; Pereyra, Gray.

Due to a clash of colours, the lads were resplendent in our green away shirt from last season.  Thankfully this news had been communicated before I left home, so I was able to bring the correct shirt with me (sad, I know).

 

Celebrating the opener from Hughes

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets as Pereyra went on a great run before picking out Cleverley, his shot was blocked, but rebounded to Hughes who finished past Dúbravka to send the travelling Hornets wild with joy.  The home side had a chance to break back almost immediately, Kabasele missed the chance to clear a cross from Atsu leaving Almirón with only the keeper to beat, but Foster came out and made the clearance.  Femenía had a great chance to increase Watford’s lead after the ball fell to him on the edge of the area, but his effort was just over the bar.  Then Pereyra found Gray, who really should have grabbed a second for the Hornets, but his shot was wide of the far post.  Newcastle won a free kick some distance from goal, Longstaff lofted the ball into the box and Foster punched for a corner.  Doucouré was the first into the referee’s book for what looked to be a clumsy challenge on Atsu.  He was soon joined by Hayden who was booked for taking down Pereyra.  Hayden’s afternoon didn’t get any better as he raced into the Watford box to latch on to a pass but was frustrated by a brilliant tackle from Kabasele.  From the corner, Cathcart made a double block on shots from Joelinton and Hayden.  Almirón had the ball in the Watford net after rounding Foster, but he had been flagged offside as he started his run.  It was clear that he had seen the flag before putting the ball in the net, so I don’t know why he wasn’t booked.  Watford had another chance to increase their lead when a corner from Femenía was knocked on to Dawson whose attempted bicycle kick was blocked.  Newcastle equalised on 41 minutes after a counterattack finished with Krafth’s cross being knocked down by Hayden to Schär who scored past Foster.  It was a scrappy goal and so frustrating to concede.  Late in the half, there was a booking for each side as both Dawson and Dummett were cautioned for rash tackles.

A corner from Femenia

The Watford fans were not happy at half time.  Despite a promising start, it had been a dreadful half of football with each team scoring with their only on target shot.  Watford spent far too much time trying to find Gray with long balls that he was never going to win, and the passing was generally poor.  A friend commented that it was the sort of game in which both teams were likely to be booed off at half time.  We could only hope for an improvement in the second half.

We were to be disappointed.  The home side had an early chance to take the lead as Dawson gave the ball away allowing Almirón to release Atsu, but the shot was terrible and straight at Foster.  Cathcart was the next to be booked for a foul on Almirón.  Newcastle should have done better from the resulting free kick as Schär got on the end of Longstaff’s delivery, but the header was awful and didn’t trouble Foster.  The home side created a much better chance soon after as Atsu ran the length of the field before cutting the ball back to Almirón, but Kabasele put in an excellent block to stop the shot.  Newcastle had a great chance to take the lead as Hayden unleashed a powerful shot from distance which Foster did well to turn over the bar.

Goalscorer, Hughes, leaves Janmaat to take the throw

At this point, an hour into the game, the travelling Hornets started chanting “We want subs,” but Gracia was unmoved by our plea.  Newcastle threatened again, this time with a shot through a crowd of legs that Foster was down to save.  The Hornets had their first half chance of the second period when the ball bobbled through to Cleverley who had time to control and pick his shot but snatched at a volley which flew wide of the near post.  At the other end, Joelinton went down in the box after a challenge, but the referee deemed the tackle to be fair.  There was a rare decent move from the Hornets as Doucouré broke forward, but his cross was deflected to Dúbravka.  Gracia finally made a double substitution with 20 minutes to go, and it was not the change that the crowd had been calling for as Doucouré made way for Chalobah and Success replaced Hughes.  I have to admit that even I booed the removal of Hughes who had been the best player on the pitch.  Will left the field on the side opposite the dugout, so walked in front of the away fans and his name was sung with some gusto.  Success showed his worth to us naysayers as he received a ball over the top and put in a low cross for Gray, but it was intercepted.  Not satisfied with the changes so far, the away fans were chanting for Deulofeu to make an appearance.  Bruce made his first change at this point bringing Manquillo on for Krafth.

Roberto Pereyra

Watford created a decent chance as Cleverley put in a lovely cross for Success who headed goalwards, but Dúbravka pushed the ball out for a corner.  Dawson met the delivery with a header that was blocked, the ball rebounded to Chalobah whose shot was closed down.  Each side made a substitution with 10 minutes to go as Muto came on for Atsu and the travelling fans finally got their wish as Deulofeu came on in place of Gray.  The home side looked as though they were going to take the lead as a low cross from a corner led to a scramble in the Watford box, it seemed inevitable that the ball would be turned into the net, so I was massively relieved when Foster claimed the ball.  The next chance fell to the Hornets as a shot from Cleverley took a wicked deflection off one of his teammates and flew just wide.  It has to be said that, had the ball flown into the net, a flukey winner would have been in keeping with the poor quality of the game.  Newcastle made a final change as Fernández replaced Schär.  The Hornets had a late chance to grab a winner as Success played a lovely ball to Pereyra whose shot was decent, but Dúbravka was able to make the save.  The last chance of the game fell to the home side, Chalobah had appeared to be fouled and was waiting for a free kick as Muto escaped downfield, but the Newcastle man was tracked all the way by Cathcart and could only find the side netting with his shot.  Despite 5 minutes of added time, there were no further chances and the game finished in a draw.

Nathaniel Chalobah

Our first point of the season should have been cause for celebration, but the performance was so disappointing that it was hard to muster any enthusiasm.  It was a pretty terrible game of football between two teams who struggled to string more than a couple of passes together.  So many Watford attacks broke down after a long ball to Gray, or rather, the defender marking Gray, which is no criticism of Andre at all as he is not tall enough to outjump the defenders.  Either that or a pass was hit straight at a defender.  It was a much poorer performance than against either West Ham or Everton, although not as abject as the Brighton showing.  But, at the end of a challenging week, this did not improve my mood at all and left me wondering where our next points would come from.  Particularly as our next two games are home to Arsenal and away to Manchester City.  While I will, of course, be in attendance at both, I am also planning to do other things on those weekends so that I have something to distract me from the football as I am not expecting any enjoyment from either game.  I just hope that the lads prove me wrong.

Second String Impress in the Cup

Gomes back at Vicarage Road

After a busy and frustrating day at work followed by a sweltering train journey, it was a relief finally to get to Watford and think only about football.  On leaving the station, the Coventry fans were already making their presence felt as they appeared to have taken over the pub formerly known as The Flag and were in very good voice.  Leaving them behind, I was soon in the West Herts for a well-earned pint.  It has to be said that the club was not particularly busy, so we were not overly concerned at leaving a little later than we usually do, after all there wouldn’t be any queues to get in to the ground.  As we turned into Occupation Road, our assumption was shown to be rather rash as Richard joined a longer than usual line to get into the SEJ and I was horrified to see a queue from the back of the Rookery reaching half-way up Occupation Road.  I had my fingers crossed that the crowd was heading for the ticket office rather than the turnstiles.  Thankfully it was and I was in the ground in plenty of time for kick-off.

I met up with the family in our usual seats.  Our Cate had brought her goddaughter, Evie, for her first game.  Seeing her resplendent in yellow shirt and yellow, red and black face-paint made me smile and just hope that the lads would do us proud in front of her.

The first sight of the Vicarage Road stand was impressive.  Coventry had been given the whole end and their fans had come in droves, which was great to see.

Gathering for a corner

The team news had come through in the West Herts and there had been a game of “guess the line-up”.  It has to be said that nobody was scoring highly.  I was probably alone in welcoming the selection of Gomes in goal but, after his incredible service to us, I couldn’t bear the thought of his last game being the cup final.

The starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Mariappa, Kabasele, Foulquier; Pereyra, Chalobah, Quina, Sarr; Welbeck, Success.  Watford Academy graduate, Brandon Mason, started for the visitors.

The first thing that I noted down was some lovely footwork from Quina, but the first chance of the game fell to the visitors as the Watford defence stopped, expecting a free kick to be awarded to Coventry, but the referee played advantage allowing O’Hare to break forward and unleash a shot that was wide of the target.  Watford’s first chance came as Pereyra played in Welbeck, but the shot was high and wide.  The best chance of the game so far came on the half hour with a cracking shot from Pereyra that required a smart save by Wilson in the Coventry goal.  The resulting corner tested the keeper, but he managed to make the catch at the second attempt.

Goalscorer Sarr

The Hornets took the lead in the 36th minute when Success played a perfect through ball for Sarr who shot across Wilson into the opposite corner to score on his full debut.  At this point, the “How sh*t must you be …” song rang out from our fans.  That took the post-goal smile off my face.  Why do fans spend so much energy abusing the opposition instead of supporting their own team?  There was a scare for the Hornets when Chalobah missed a tackle allowing Kelly to break forward, but his shot from distance was well over the target.  The visitors had a chance to level the game in time added on at the end of the half as Dabo broke forward, but salvation came in the unexpected form of Success who was back to stop the shot and concede a corner that came to nothing.

At half-time, Marvin Sordell, who had previously played for both sides, was the guest on the field.  I well remember watching him as a youngster and have been saddened by news of his mental health struggles over the years which have led to his premature retirement from the game.  I am delighted that he was given a tremendous reception as he walked along the front of the Rookery.

Celebrating Janmaat’s goal

The visitors made a change at half-time replacing Mason with McCallum.  They also had the first chance of the half, but a tackle from Janmaat ensured that a dangerous through ball into the box came to nothing.   Sarr looked to have lost the ball, due to a heavy touch, but raced down the wing after it and was able to put in a cross for Welbeck who had a couple of defenders on him so was unable to shoot.  Welbeck had another chance soon after when the ball came back to him via Janmaat, but his overhead kick was wide of the target.  A poor back pass from Mariappa nearly put the Hornets in trouble, but Gomes was out quickly to make the clearance.  Sarr went on another run and crossed, this time for Quina, but the youngster skyed his shot.  Coventry threatened with a low cross from Eccles, but Gomes was able to make the save.  Watford threatened again after a cross from Foulquier was blocked but fell to Chalobah whose shot was deflected over the target.    Ten minutes into the half, Watford scored a second goal as Success found Janmaat who advanced and hit a lovely shot into the top corner.  I breathed a sigh of relief at this point.  I know that 2-0 is a dangerous score, but surely the game was now ours.  Watford continued to attack as Sarr went on a brilliant run before crossing for Success whose shot was blocked.

Congratulating Penaranda after his wonder goal

Coventry made a second substitution bringing Godden on for Kastaneer.  The substitute tried to make a name for himself, but his shot was well over the bar.  Each side made a change on 64 minutes as Peñaranda replaced Pereyra for the home side and Eccles made way for Shipley for the visitors.  There was another lovely move from the Hornets as Sarr released Janmatt who found Welbeck who appeared to get the ball caught under his feet before shooting just wide.  The third goal came on 69 minutes and was a beauty from Peñaranda who picked up the ball on the edge of the box and powered it into the top corner.  Gracia introduced another new face as Sarr was replaced by Dele-Bashiru, who almost scored with his first touch of the game after receiving a lovely pass from Success, but his shot was just wide of the target.  The only caution of the game went to Dabo, who was booked for a foul on Success.  Chalobah stepped up to take the free kick and it was a wonderful attempt, but Wilson made the save.  Peñaranda had a chance to increase the lead further, but his shot cleared the bar.  Another lovely move involving Peñaranda and Janmaat deserved a better outcome, but the shot from the Dutchman cleared the bar.  A rare second half attack from the visitors finished with O’Hare going down after a series of challenges, but nothing was given.  The Hornets had one last chance in the game as Janmaat went on a lovely run before putting in a cross, but there was no Watford man to get on the end of it and it was headed clear.

Tom Dele-Bashiru

So at last a win, our first since the trip to Huddersfield in April.  It may have been against lower division opposition, but it was convincing and therapeutic.  All three goals were gorgeous, and it was great to see Sarr and Peñaranda getting their first goals for the club.  It was also pleasing to see a clean sheet at last.  A lot of the football was impressive, demonstrating the depth of our squad, but the only player that I would consider for a start on Saturday is Janmaat who was superb.  That said, I look forward to Sarr and Welbeck gaining full fitness as they will be a lot of fun to watch.

A special mention must go to the Coventry fans who, despite having little to cheer, were loud and proud in support of their team throughout the game.

But the most important news of the evening was that Evie enjoyed her first football match.  She would love to come again, although my suggestion that, as she is now our lucky mascot, she should make the trip to Newcastle fell on deaf ears, and that was before she heard about the steps to the away end.  Youngsters!!

A Win at Last in the Graham Taylor Cup

Happy memories of meeting GT and Rita

Having been unable to make the trip to Austria and then being in the US for work last week, this was my first game of this pre-season and I was really looking forward to seeing some live football.  As much as anything, I wished to displace the memory of the Cup Final as the last game that I had seen.  The flashbacks are still a cause of some distress.  While on the train, I received a message from Don (well before midday) informing me that the West Herts was open.  I arrived at my usual time to find Don at “our” table and all was right with the world.

We headed for the ground earlier than usual with the intention of buying this season’s new shirts (although I am not a fan as yet, and the shirts without a pre-printed name and number were hard to find).  As we arrived at the stadium, it was lovely to bump into Dave M and Miles for a catch up.  Then Olly Wicken appeared brandishing the new Watford Treasury, which saved me heading back down Vicarage Road to find a copy.  If you don’t already have one, it really is a magnificent publication.

This being the GT memorial game, there was time to pay respects to the great man and to admire the yellow and red flowers that had been placed in his hands, which was rather lovely.

A family photo with GT last season

Once inside the ground, we headed for our usual spot in the Rookery (if not our usual seats).  The first notable difference was the big screens which have been added to the Vicarage Road and Rookery Stands.  They look very good and should be visible from all areas of the ground.  Hopes that Z-cars would be reinstated were cruelly dashed as the players took the field to “I’m Still Standing” and, as has happened at all games since the change, the pulse failed to quicken.  I remain baffled at this decision which has no apparent benefit but has been a detriment to the matchday experience for many.

Before the game, Rita Taylor and her grandson, Jake, were on the pitch for the minute’s applause for GT.  They were then introduced to the players as GT’s favourite song, Buddy Holly’s Raining in my Heart, was played over the tannoy.  I must admit to having tears in my eyes at this point.

Hughes holding on to the ball

Watford’s starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Capoue, Doucouré, Sema; Gray, Deeney.

Real Sociedad were playing in green shirts that looked very similar to our last season’s away shirts, which did give an impression of two Watford XIs lining up in a practice match.

The visitors almost made the perfect start as a cross from Ødegaard was headed goalwards by Willian José and it took a very good save from Foster to keep the game goalless.  Real Sociedad threatened again with a shot from Merino that flew over the bar.  The visitors should have taken the lead when the ball was played through to Oyarzabel, Foster was out of his goal so the Real man had an open net to aim at, but he opted to flick the ball goalwards and it was with some relief that we saw it roll wide of the far post.  Watford’s first shot on goal came after 20 minutes with a shot from distance on the left from Holebas, but the Real keeper, Remiro, was down to make the save.  The visitors had another decent chance with a shot from distance from Merino that was just wide of the target.

Holebas and Doucoure prepare for a free kick

The breakthrough came when Zaldúa bounced off Sema in the box and the referee, Craig Pawson, pointed to the spot.  There was some moaning near me in the Rookery but, while it may have been soft, it was a definite penalty.  The crowd behind the goal in the Rookery tried to put Oyarzabel off, but he sent Foster the wrong way to give the visitors a deserved lead.  Watford tried to hit back as a Holebas corner was headed goalwards by Dawson, but the keeper was equal to it.  The visitors then won a free kick in a dangerous position, Ødegaard hit his effort through the wall, but Foster gathered easily.  Real Sociedad should have increased their lead on the stroke of half time as Merino met a corner from Ødegaard with a header that rebounded off the inside of the far post to safety.

The half time whistle went after a half in which the visitors had most of the possession, but the Watford defence had been solid.  Foster had pulled off a couple of decent saves and the first impression of Craig Dawson was a very good one.

Hughes, the provider, congratulates Gray on his goal

Those who spent too long at the bar/concessions/loo at half time missed the equaliser that came 3 minutes into the second half.  Hughes played a lovely through ball to Gray who held off the defender and finished (apparently with the help of a deflection).  Ten minutes into the second half, the Hornets had a great chance to take the lead as the ball broke to Doucouré, whose shot was blocked, the ball rebounded to Deeney but his shot was well over the target.  The visitors had another chance with a shot from Portu that hit the side netting.  The resulting goal kick was taken down by Deeney who fed Gray, but the shot was well wide of the far post.   Real Sociedad almost capitalised on a mistake by Doucouré which allowed Isak to escape upfield, he passed to José, who was frustrated by Foster, but the ball broke back to Isak whose shot was cleared off the line by Holebas.  Isak had another chance to regain the lead for the visitors soon after, but Foster made the stop.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead with three shots in quick succession, but the efforts from Deeney and Sema were blocked, while Remiro saved Capoue’s effort.  The visitors had made numerous changes, but Gracia waited until the 76th minute to make his first substitution, replacing Sema with Cleverley.  He then brought Janmaat on for Holebas (I still don’t recognise Janmaat without curls).  Just when it appeared that the GT game would end in a draw yet again, Capoue played a lovely ball over the top to Gray who ran on, beat the defender and finished past Remiro to send the Watford fans home happy.

Deeney and Doucoure congratulate Gray after scoring the winning goal

After the full-time whistle, Rita and Jake were back on the pitch to present a salver to the visitors and the trophy to Troy Deeney.  There were smiles all round and it was lovely to see the warmth in the interaction between Troy and Rita, who are old friends by now.

On the way out of the Rookery, I was delighted to bump into an old friend from my days of taking the supporter’s coaches.  She doesn’t go to many away games these days meaning that our paths rarely cross, so it was a real treat to see her.

On the way back up Occupation Road, there were the usual crowds outside the players’ entrance.  It has to be said that Janmaat was allowed to disappear without much fuss, but Deulofeu was kept rather longer.  I suspect that this was a result of people wanting photos of his outfit, which was an interesting choice with matching top and trousers which to me looked as though they were made from his grandmother’s curtains, although I am not a dedicated follower of fashion.

Craig Dawson

Back in the West Herts, the post-match consensus was that it had been a very enjoyable game.  Real Sociedad had been good opposition and, with their pace and attacking prowess in the first half, it looked as though we would be well beaten, but a decent defensive performance kept the score down.  The Hornets put in a considerably better performance in the second half and were well worthy of the win.  Gray was particularly impressive up front, always willing and he took his two goals very well indeed.  While pre-season results are meaningless, it is good for morale to start the season following a win.

Bring on the Brighton.