Tag Archives: David de Gea

United we Fell

Masina preparing to take a throw-in

It was an early start for this game, and I couldn’t believe how many people were on the Central Line at 7:30 on a Sunday morning.  The journey to Manchester was uneventful.  Our usual group were going to be split between two pre-match pubs, one nearer the city centre, the other near the ground.  I met up with Pete at Piccadilly and, since the bar in Salford Quays wasn’t opening until midday and we were somewhat earlier than that, we headed to Deansgate to meet Graham and the Happy Valley Hornets.  Graham had arrived early and gone for breakfast.  While wandering in the area, he encountered a group of young men in hoodies and quickly realised that it was the lads out for a constitutional after their breakfast.

Our usual haunt didn’t open until midday, so an alternative had been chosen.  A quick look at TripAdvisor had shown a large number of one star reviews.  When we arrived it seemed OK, apart from the Man United memorabilia, but it went quickly downhill.  For what appeared to be a local pub, it was a bit surprising that the beer was at London prices.  But the clincher was when the barman, while clearing plates, knocked a pint of beer over the daughter of one of our group, claimed that she had done it and refused to provide a replacement.  It was a relief to take refuge in our usual haunt, I don’t think that we will be going back to the White Lion.

The decision to go to the more central pub looked even more misguided when I couldn’t fight my way on to a tram.  When I finally found a space to get on to one, it was the least crowded that had passed through so at least it was a relatively comfortable journey.

Doucoure on the ball

Knowing how restrictive the bag policy is at Old Trafford, I had packed carefully, only bringing things that I needed, but I still had a couple of things in a small bag.  As I passed through the first phalanx of stewards, I asked one of them if I could take my bag in.  He said that I could, and I passed through the next layer of security until I reached the one just before the turnstiles.  At that point I was told I couldn’t take the bag in.  I asked if it was OK to empty the bag into my pockets.  They were fine with that but said that I couldn’t take the actual bag in even though it was a nylon drawstring bag that could be tucked into a pocket.  At that point I gave up trying to reason and went back through the security cordons to the bag drop in the car park opposite.  There I found a young lad with an even smaller drawstring bag telling the attendants that he didn’t have the £5 they were demanding to leave his bag there.  I said that I would pay for him.  The woman behind the counter kindly said that we could put our bags together so that I would only have to pay once, and I had to point out that I didn’t know this boy so we wouldn’t be returning together.

I was livid when I got into the ground.  My mood wasn’t helped when I told my story only to find that two of our party had played the elderly card and brought in two bags that were considerably larger than mine and Mike had a Swiss army knife in his pocket!!  So much for their stringent security.

Doucoure and Masina

Team news was that Pearson had made just the one change with Hughes in for Chalobah.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Hughes, Capoue; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney.

Prior to kick-off, there was a minute’s silence for Harry Gregg, survivor and hero of the Munich air disaster, who had passed away during the week.  The silence was impeccably observed.

Watford had an early chance to take the lead as a defensive mistake allowed Deeney to escape, he broke into the box, but delayed taking a shot giving Shaw time to get back and make the clearance.  It was a golden chance that went to waste.  Troy had another chance to break, but Fred, while lying on the ground, managed to make a tackle allowing United to break and Greenwood to take a shot that was straight at Foster.  The Hornets created another decent chance as Deulofeu crossed for Doucouré, but the Frenchman could only find the side-netting.  Watford had a decent spell without testing the keeper, the next effort came from the home side and was a cross-cum-shot from James that Foster punched clear, it fell to Wan-Bissaka who shot into the side-netting.

Dawson on the ball as Capoue looks on

Watford threatened again as Doucouré went on a good run, his cross was knocked down to Deeney whose shot flew wide of the far post.  At the other end, a low shot by Shaw from the edge of the area was straight at Foster.  It has to be said that, at this stage of the game, the United fans were uncharacteristically noisy.  Martial went on a tremendous break but it came to nothing as his shot was well over the target.  In the away end, a new song got an airing as the travelling Hornets appropriated “Tequila” from Tranmere, but the climax of the song became a shout of “Masina”.  It was rather catchy.  Doucouré then went on a run and tried his luck, but de Gea got a hand to the shot and pushed it out for a corner.  Then Pereyra played in Masina, but he was slipping as he crossed and it was easily gathered by de Gea.  At the other end, James cut inside and shot well wide of the target.  The home side threatened again, this time James played the ball back to Fred just inside the area, but his shot was well over the bar.  Capoue then provided some light relief winning a free kick with what could only be described as a swallow dive.  It was elegant and effective, and the travelling faithful sang his name with some gusto.  Just as we thought we would make it to half time with no score, James played in Fernandes, Foster came out to meet him and took him down.  The United man made the most of it, but it was an obvious penalty.  Fernandes took the spot kick himself, taking a stuttering run up before sending Foster the wrong way and putting the home side ahead.  It could have been two after a mistake from Pereyra gave Fernandes another chance to score, but his shot was just wide of the target.

We were a little unlucky to be behind at half time, United had been poor but, as so often this season, Watford had not taken their chances.

Doucoure and Deeney celebrate the goal that never was

The Hornets created the first half-chance of the second period as Doucouré crossed for Deeney, but Shaw intervened to put the ball out for a corner.  From the corner, Deeney turned the ball in for what we thought was the equaliser.  We had celebrated, the players had celebrated, but then I saw Martin Atkinson in discussion with Harry Maguire who was indicating that he thought there had been a handball.  After consulting the VAR, Atkinson indicated upfield and I was momentarily hopeful until I realised that he was indicating a goal kick.  Apparently, the ball had come off Dawson’s arm in the build-up, so the goal didn’t stand.  The Hornets then won another corner but, on this occasion, the delivery from Hughes was easily caught by de Gea.  The home side threatened again as James played a through ball to Greenwood, whose shot across goal was put out for a corner.  Martial scored United’s second just before the hour mark.  Foster blocked the initial shot, but the Frenchman picked up the rebound and cleverly lofted the ball over Foster and in from a tight angle.  They had a decent chance for a third as Greenwood broke into the box and tried a shot that Foster saved with his feet.  The first booking of the game went to Cathcart for a foul on Martial.  United threatened again as Fernandes crossed for Maguire who headed wide.

Capoue, Masina and Deeney race upfield

With 20 minutes to go, Pearson made his first substitution, bringing Sarr on for Pereyra.  The youngster went on a run almost immediately, but his cross was put out for a corner that came to nothing.  With 15 minutes to go United were three up after Deulofeu lost the ball, Greenwood broke forward and played a one-two with Fernandes before finishing off the underside of the crossbar.  It was a quality goal and you couldn’t see any way back for the Hornets.  Pearson made a second substitution bringing Welbeck on for Deeney, who had had a disappointing game.  The Hornets had a great chance to pull a goal back as Hughes fed Deulofeu but the shot rebounded off the crossbar.  With ten minutes remaining, United made a triple substitution replacing Fred, Greenwood and Martial with McTominay, Chong and Watford old boy, Ighalo.  Pearson also made a final substitution bringing Cleverley on for Doucouré.  Ighalo immediately created a chance after picking up a poor header from Masina, that was meant for Foster, he rounded the Watford keeper but took the ball too wide and could only hit the outside of the post.  I was glad that he had missed as a goal against us from Ighalo would have been very hard to take.  Watford had one last chance to reduce the deficit when Deulofeu took a free kick that flew over the wall but was an easy catch for de Gea.  United could have scored a fourth when Matic released Chong who cut inside but he curled his shot just wide of the target.

Hughes prepares to take a free kick

The final whistle went on a comprehensive defeat for the Hornets.  Unlike the Brighton game, I did applaud the players off and there was a surprisingly good atmosphere among the travelling Hornets.  The Masina-Tequila song was getting a late airing, but the volume increased considerably with a rendition of “Ighalo-oh” for old times’ sake.  Odion seemed to appreciate the gesture as he turned and applauded the Watford fans.

On leaving the ground, I went to pick up my bag, which looked pitiful sitting on the shelf.   We then headed for the bar in Salford Quays to drown our sorrows.  On the way, Richard (wearing Watford gear) was called upon to give directions to some people wearing United scarves.  Bl**dy tourists!  The bar was much more hospitable than our pre-match venue and, after a nice glass of wine, something to eat and a good moan about the football, I felt a lot better.

It had been a disappointing afternoon, especially as United didn’t play particularly well.  The Watford performance had been better than the previous week, particularly in the first half, but once the goal was disallowed, all the fight seemed to go out of the lads and the result was never in doubt.  There were a lot of subpar performances and the wisdom of playing both Deulofeu and Pereyra was questioned.  They can both be luxury players and, in a scrap, as we are at the moment, we can’t afford that.  Pereyra, in particular, had an odd afternoon seeming to wander all over the place leaving Dawson exposed.  One of the topics of conversation was the Winter break.  Given the staggered nature of it, it doesn’t affect all teams equally.  Oddly, the Watford players looked rather rusty after their week off, while the United players, who should have been fatigued after a game in midweek, seemed a lot fresher.

With the visit of Liverpool next week, it is hard to see when the upturn will come and I am beginning to believe that the season will finish with the team being relegated.  At least if Leeds do get promoted it will mean we won’t have to go there. Every cloud and all that!

The First Home Win of the Season Comes in Style

Deeney and Capoue waiting for the ball to drop

Sunday games are always odd, but my hopes that the journey would be quieter than usual was soon dispelled when the fast train to London pulled in to Slough and was so packed that some were left on the platform.  I managed to get on, but it was not a comfortable journey.  For some reason, when I reached Euston I had forgotten who our opposition were so, when a friend boarded the train with a group of youngsters who were clearly not Watford fans, it was a while before I realised who they “supported” and then regarded them with the contempt that I have for those who choose a team based on their results rather than any connection to the community.

The West Herts had opened early so was busy when I arrived.  Our party was somewhat depleted by Christmas invitations, but those who were there were strangely optimistic after last week’s showing against Liverpool.  I left for the ground earlier than usual and headed for the 1881 bunker, which was packed.  I was only there to drop off some tins for their foodbank appeal and was very pleased to see the table stacked with bags of food donated by fans.  I entered the stadium by the Rookery entrance at the GT end of the ground, so was able to buy my programme from Doreen Pym.  Just like the old days.  I still miss the Bill Mainwood Programme Hut.

Team news was that the Hornet line-up was unchanged from the Liverpool game.  So, the starting XI was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Capoue, Hughes; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Sarr; Deeney.

Joao Pedro introduced at Vicarage Road

Prior to kick-off, João Pedro, who had arrived from Fluminense to a great fanfare during the week, was presented to the fans.  He held up the no 17 shirt that he will wear.  I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the boy, as he arrives to an incredible weight of expectation.  I am very glad that Heurelho Gomes is still on our books as this will be another adoptive son for him to take under his wing.

New manager Pearson was also welcomed but, having had his day in the sun before the Palace game, he made do with a wave from the dug-out.

The visitors created an early chance as James broke down the wing before finding Martial in the box, but he shot wide of the target.  Watford’s first half-chance came as Deeney picked up a misplaced pass and found Sarr whose cross into the box was blocked and cleared.  At the other end, a curling shot was easily gathered by Foster.  Then Femenía played a lovely through ball to Deulofeu whose cross was blocked for a corner.

Mariappa launches a throw-in

Watford had the ball in the net when Deulofeu’s delivery was dropped by de Gea and Doucouré turned the ball home, but the celebrations among the Hornet faithful were cut short as the keeper was adjudged to have been fouled.  The home side continued to threaten as Deulofeu went on a great run before finding Deeney, but the shot was blocked by Shaw.  United had a great chance to take the lead when a lucky ball fell for Martial who played in Lingard, but the shot cleared the crossbar.  I was briefly distracted by the sight of a red kite flying above the stadium.  There are a lot of kites where I live, but it still gives me joy every time I see one.  The first caution of the game went to Capoue for a rather benign foul on Lingard.  Almost immediately Shaw was booked for holding back Sarr.  The Hornets had a great chance to take the lead after a lovely passing move led to a great cross from Femenía which was met by Doucouré whose header was just wide of the target.  The Hornets had one last chance to take the lead in the first half with a cross from Sarr towards Deeney, but Troy was crowded out and the chance went begging.

So we reached half time with the game goalless and no shots on target, but some very promising play from the Hornets.

Sarr celebrating his goal

The half time guest was Neil Cox, who was asked about his experiences during a similarly trying time  and was very positive about our prospects.  I hadn’t realised that he and Neil Ardley are now the management team at Notts County.  Neil was also on hand to perform the on-pitch presentation of the award from the FSA to our wonderful Supporter Liaison Officer, Dave Messenger.  Dave is a tremendous advocate for the fans and will do anything to help, so this award was very well deserved indeed.

Six minutes into the second half and, suddenly, all was right with the world again.  A free kick from Hughes was met by Sarr who tried to hit the top corner, de Gea looked to have it covered, but the ball went through his hands and hit the net, sending the Rookery into raptures, apart from two rather gloomy blokes sitting just behind me.  The visitors had an immediate chance to break back, but the header from McTominay was straight at Ben Foster.  Instead, a foray by Sarr into the United box was stopped by Wan-Bissaka and the referee pointed to the spot.  It appeared to be a nailed-on penalty, but I was still holding my breath while the VAR check went on.  “Decision Penalty” had to be the best news of the afternoon.

Celebrating Troy scoring the penalty

It was a while before Troy was able to take the spot kick, so he amused himself by supping some of de Gea’s energy drink and ignoring any gamesmanship that was going on behind him.  When the whistle finally went to indicate that the penalty could be taken, he paused before taking his run up and blasting the ball down the middle as de Gea dived the wrong way.  It was a brilliantly composed penalty from Troy and I suddenly believed that we could win this game, despite there being 30 minutes left on the clock.  McTominay again tried to reduce the deficit but, again, Foster blocked the shot.  The first substitution of the game came just before the hour mark as Greenwood replaced James for the visitors.  At this point we were rather distracted by the sight of a cushion covered in a knitted Watford cover that was being used by a woman two rows in front.  It was a thing of great beauty and we were all very envious.  The Hornets had a chance to increase their lead when a corner from Capoue was cleared only as far as Hughes, but his shot was well over the bar.  The visitors made another change bringing Pogba on for Lingard, nothing for the Hornets to worry about there (gulp!!)  The visitors had a chance to break back following a corner, Rashford put the ball back into the Watford box, but the header from Greenwood was dreadful and well wide of the target.

This cushion inspired envy in our section of the Rookery

Watford had a chance to increase their lead further as Deulofeu found Sarr in the box, but he waited too long to take his shot and it was blocked, the ball came back in for Deeney, but he mishit his shot and the chance was gone.  Nigel Pearson made his first substitution with 20 minutes to go when he brought Chalobah on for Doucouré.  United won a free kick at an acute angle to the right of the Watford goal, Rashford went for goal but Foster punched clear.  Solskjær made his final substitution replacing McTominay with Mata.  The Hornets threatened again as Deulofeu battled his way into the United box, his shot was blocked, a follow-up effort from Deeney effort was also blocked.  At the other end, Pogba tried a shot from distance, but it was an easy catch for Foster.  Watford made a second substitution as Capoue was replaced by Pereyra, presumably as he was on a yellow card.  Another chance for the Hornets as a free kick was cleared to Femenía, whose shot was on target, but de Gea was able to make the save.  The visitors had a half chance from a corner as Mata’s delivery was met by the head of Maguire but his effort was straight at Foster.  United should have pulled one back with 8 minutes to go, but Pogba’s curling shot was saved by Foster.  There was another dangerous looking attempt from the visitors as Greenwood tried to lob Foster, but the ball flew over the bar.  With the clock running down, Pearson made a final change replacing Sarr, who had been magnificent, with Success.  With a minute left on the clock, Rashford tried a shot from close range which Foster blocked with his legs.  As the fourth official lifted the board to indicate the added time, I found myself celebrating the fact that it was only 3 minutes.  Into time added on and Martial cut inside and shot goalwards, but Foster was able to make the block.  United had a final chance to spoil our clean sheet when Cathcart took Rashford down on the edge of the box.  Mata stepped up to take the free kick, but it was a dreadful effort that flew well wide of the near post.

Man of the match, Deeney, after scoring the penalty

The Watford fans had been noisy all afternoon, but the cheers at the final whistle were rapturous. As the game was being televised, there was a big announcement of the man of the match that was given to Troy Deeney who then had to be interviewed for the television.  As the players did a lap of the ground to thank the fans, Kabasele came over and gave his shirt to a young child at the front of the Rookery.  While all this was going on, I had kept my eye on Pearson who had enthusiastically congratulated every player and stood and waited for Troy to finish his TV commitment before hugging him and then retreating to the dressing room.

Back in the West Herts, the smiles were wide and we all seem to have fallen in love with football again.  While discussing all that was good in the game, every player came in for some praise.  I have to say that, while Deeney was given the plaudits from the broadcaster, my award would have gone to Hughes who was everywhere and gave the United players no time on the ball.  Sarr was excellent again and Deulofeu was a menace even though his decision-making has me screaming with frustration (while knowing that if it was better he wouldn’t be playing for us).  My sister had observed during the game that she was looking at these famous names on the United shirts while not seeing performances that matched those reputations.  A lot of that was down to the way that our team played.  There was great quality in our play, but it was the hard work that made the difference.  The United players were given no time or space to play and that made the difference.  Pearson has only been with Watford for a short time, but he has instilled a discipline in the team that seems to be making a difference and the future appears to be much more positive,

Happy Christmas to all of my readers.  I hope you have a wonderful time and an extra belated Christmas present on Boxing Day.

 

Defeat Despite Domination at Old Trafford

Deeney and Smalling challenge for the ball

I took an early train to Manchester on which I was delighted to meet up with Dave Messenger, Watford’s Supporter Liaison Officer, who then accompanied me to our designated pre-match pub (which had also been his intended meeting point).  On arrival at the pub, I realised that the small bag containing my purse that I had when I left London was no longer on my person.  Having had no joy from the customer service hotline, which gave me the number for a closed lost property office, I headed back to Piccadilly.  I explained my problem to a lovely guy called Sean in the ticket office, who identified the train manager (Anthony) on the train which had just left to return to London.  He gave him a call and Anthony went to my seat, found the bag and, as he wouldn’t be back in Manchester until late, promised to leave it at Lost Property in London for me to pick up on my return.

Mightily relieved, I headed back to the pub just in time to see the team, who were at the hotel opposite, starting to board the coach for the journey to Old Trafford.  I entered the pub to find all the usual suspects in place, which was very convenient as I had semi-final tickets to hand out (thankfully these were in the bag that I had retained).  I have to say that it was a relief to pass them on, so that the responsibility was no longer mine.

Ben Foster takes a free kick

We gave ourselves plenty of time to get to the ground and negotiate the multiple layers of security that they have at Old Trafford.  As they now only allow you to take a very small bag into the stadium, I filled my pockets with the stuff I needed for the game (match ticket, glasses, phone, camera, notebook) and left the rest at the bag drop where they charged me £5 for the privilege.  I know that they want to encourage people not to take bags to the game, but nobody is going to travel for a couple of hours without provisions for the journey and I find it impossible to travel light anyway.  On arrival at the turnstiles, there was another search before we finally entered.  Once inside the ground, I could hear the tannoy announcer welcoming us to the “Theatre of Dreams”.  My description was much less polite.  Old Trafford really is the most unpleasant ground to visit in the Premier League.

Prior to the match, there had been speculation that Gracia would rest players in preparation for the semi-final next week.  There was another train of thought that said that the players had been training for two weeks, so needed game time.  As it turned out, there were five changes from the Palace game with wholesale changes in defence as Foster, Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos and Masina replaced Gomes, Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart and Holebas.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos, Masina; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.  United’s starting line-up featured Watford Academy graduate Ashley Young who, following some over-exuberant goal celebrations in front of Watford fans, is no longer greeted as an erstwhile hero.  The referee for the afternoon was Stuart Attwell.  A choice that was rather ironic as discussions with John Eustace regarding the “ghost goal” had been a notable feature at the Tales from the Vicarage event the previous Sunday.

Doucoure on the ball

The game started brightly for the Hornets with a decent chance in the sixth minute as Pereyra cut the ball back to Doucouré whose shot was just wide of the near post.  Deeney had the next chance with a shot from distance that was high and wide of the target.  The first attack of note by the home side came on the counter as Pogba released Rashford who was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Kabasele.  The resulting corner was delivered deep to Smalling who headed wide.  Watford had a great chance to open the scoring as a cross from Janmaat was headed goalwards by Deeney, de Gea managed to make the save but injured himself in the process.  At this point the first chant of “Attwell, give us a goal” was heard.  The first booking of the game went to Will Hughes for a foul on Pogba.  Watford had another great chance and Pereyra really should have done better when he received a headed pass from Deulofeu, but his shot was soft and straight at the keeper.  Deulofeu was the next to test de Gea with a shot through legs but, again, it was a fairly simple save for the keeper.  On a rare foray into the Watford box, Martial took a tumble looking for a penalty, but the referee was having none of it and waved play on.  United took the lead against the run of play as Shaw released Rashford, Foster came out to try to stop the shot, but the United youngster found the net.  At this point, if there had been any leg room and I hadn’t been in the second to back row of a stand in which everyone was on their feet, I would have slumped into my seat.  It was so frustrating to be a goal down following United’s first real chance of the game.  Ironically, the home side had a great chance to increase their lead almost immediately as a corner was cleared only as far as Martial but his shot was stopped by a brilliant reaction save by Foster.  The last chance of the half fell to the Hornets as Deulofeu took a dangerous-looking free kick, but Smalling was able to get a head to it and avert the danger.

Deulofeu prepares for a corner

So we reached half time a goal down in a half that had been completely dominated by the Hornets.  We were trailing to a goal scored by the home side on a counter attack.  But, if you don’t take your chances ….

The home side came out for the second half some time before the visitors, but it was the Hornets who had the first shot of the half, a curler from Deulofeu that was saved fairly comfortably by de Gea.  Janmaat was the next to try his luck, but his shot from the edge of the box was over the target.  Watford had a great chance to grab an equaliser when Deulofeu cut the ball back to Pereyra whose shot needed an excellent save from de Gea to push it around the post.  Gracia made his first change after 57 minutes replacing Janmaat with Femenía.  Watford had another decent chance as Hughes hit a lovely curling shot, but it was just wide of the target.  The Hornets threatened again as a corner cleared to Femenía who was well outside the box when he took the shot, but de Gea managed to get in the way to make the block.  There was a double substitution for the home side as Herrera and Mata made way for Lingard and Pereira.

Pereyra and Hughes

Watford were playing some gorgeous football and deserved more from a lovely passing move that finished with a chip from Deeney that de Gea saved.  Watford won a free kick, which was cleared to Capoue whose volley was way over the target.  Watford had been dominant again in the second half, so it was cruel that the first meaningful attack of the second half from the home side resulted in their second goal as Lingard crossed for Martial, his first shot was blocked by Foster but he bundled the rebound in.  To add insult to injury, we were in front of an executive box so were able to watch a reply which clearly showed Martial in an offside position.  Each side made a further substitution with Gray replacing Deulofeu for the Hornets and Rojo on for Martial for the home side.  United had a chance to further increase their lead but Lingard’s shot was straight at Foster.  Pereyra then had a great chance to pull one back when he received a cross in an acre of space, but he waited too long to take the shot so was closed down and could only win a corner.  Gracia made his last substitution bringing Success on for Hughes, who had had a superb game.  There was a second booking for the Hornets as Masina was cautioned for bundling Rashford over as he attempted a break.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, Watford pulled a goal back as Doucouré played a one-two with Success before coolly finishing past de Gea.  The travelling Hornets celebrated mightily, the players just ran back to the centre circle to get on with the game.  Oddly, given the goal, substitutions and various stoppages for injuries/cramp, there was only 3 minutes of time added on.  Watford had a great chance to grab an equaliser when Capoue won a free kick just outside the box.  Pereyra took the free kick and I was just waiting for a shot when a United player collapsed in the box and the whistle went to award a free kick to the home side.  That was the last action of the game, so the Hornets ended up on the losing side.

Capoue takes a free kick

Despite their disappointment at the defeat, the travelling Hornets roared their appreciation of the team’s performance with the songs reaching a crescendo as Gracia came over to applaud the crowd.  It had been a tremendous performance by the Watford lads.  It isn’t often that you play away against one of the top six and find the home team playing a defensive game hoping to score on the break.  The Watford midfield ran the game and, in a season in which Capoue and Doucouré have excelled on a weekly basis, it was great to see Hughes put in a superb performance.

On the tram back to the station, we got talking to some locals who acknowledged that we had been the better team.  Unsurprisingly, the train back to London was packed, but I arrived early enough to bump into some fellow regulars, so I had delightful company on the journey home.  We were joined by a Norwegian Manchester United fan, who was lovely and chatted away about his team.  He had taken his significant other to her first game and said that she’d enjoyed it.  My suggestion that, given the performances of the two teams, she would likely opt for Watford fell on deaf ears.

Gathering for a corner

On return to Euston I went in search of my mislaid purse.  The guy at Lost Property claimed no knowledge of the item, so I went to the ticket office where I met Petro and Sana, who went above and beyond the call of duty, finding the name and contact details for the train manager who had promised to drop off my bag.  They called him and were told that it was in lost property so Petro accompanied me to convey what he had been told to the guardian of the missing loot, who produced a book containing details of all items that had been left with them and I spotted the entry that corresponded to my purse.  He retrieved it and I was able to return home with my purse intact and a great respect for the customer service delivered by the Virgin Trains ticket office staff.

Back to the football and this had been a wonderful performance by the Watford boys.  We now face a week with a game against Fulham that could allow us to achieve our highest points total in the Premier League since it was created and a game on Sunday in which we could advance to only our second FA Cup final.  If we play as we did on Saturday, I believe we should be able to achieve both of those aims.  I just need to work out how to keep myself functioning in the day job for the next week.

 

 

Disappointment and Pride after First Defeat of the Season

Harry Hornet in happier times

After a trio of Sunday afternoon games, we returned to a Saturday kick-off, although it was not until 5:30pm, so still a disruption to the routine.  When kick-offs are moved, I always have a fear in the back of my mind that I have the time wrong and will miss the game. This wasn’t helped when I watched the rather sweet NBC advertisement for the game which featured a little girl answering questions from her friend about why she is a Watford fan.  At the end, they announce that kick-off is at 12:30 and I had a brief moment of panic before I realised that this was the time on the East coast of the US.  This piece heavily featured Harry Hornet, which was rather sad following the announcement this week that he was hanging up his oversized boots.

He has provided the fans with a lot of entertainment over the years and will be greatly missed.

Due to the late kick-off and an appointment in Hemel the next day, I decided to stay in Watford overnight and, as I checked in, the American couple in front of me were asking about where to go for the pre-match atmosphere.  It turned out that this Man United fan had turned up in Watford without a ticket.  A risky ploy given the relatively small capacity at Vicarage Road.

Our Stars in Stripes in front of the display in the family stand

I was in the West Herts bright and early to join Don who, needless to say, had been there since before the doors opened.  He does like to make sure that he is in place in plenty of time for kick-off.  We suspect that, between games, he sits quietly in a corner where they keep him going with regular cups of tea.  It was a day to remember absent friends as it would have been GT’s 74th birthday and Toddy’s anniversary is this week.  While there was little expectation that our 100% record would continue, we had to hope that the lads would still do them both proud.

As we approached the ground, the touts were out in force on Vicarage Road, a very distasteful sight, but one that would have been welcomed by the young American that I met at the hotel.  When I went to buy a programme from my usual seller, I was a little concerned to see a young lad in place of the usual woman, so asked after her to find that she was absent due to a hen night.  I was mightily relieved.

As we took our seats we were greeted with impressive stripes of yellow and black in the family stand and the SEJ, as the club had put yellow and black t-shirts on seats to further encourage the fans to join in with the ‘Stars in Stripes’ that we have come to love this season.  I was actually amazed at how many people had donned the t-shirts.  It looked great.  Prior to kick-off, Emma congratulated Javi Gracia on both the Manager of the Month award and the League Managers Association Performance of the Week for the Tottenham game.  As he took the applause of the crowd, there was that niggling worry that the curse of the MoM award would kick in.

Pereyra on the ball

Team news was, unsurprisingly, that the starting XI remained unchanged for a fifth match in a row so the line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Janmaat; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deeney, Gray.  Manchester United featured former Watford favourite, Ashley Young, who has sadly become a villain for the crowd after his “in your face” goal celebrations in front of the Rookery on his last visit.  The visitors were sporting pale salmon pink shirts that appeared to be the result of the kit man leaving a red sock in the machine when washing a white away kit.

The visitors started the game strongly with Foster being called into action in the second minute when Sánchez found Lukaku in the box, but the Watford keeper dived at his feet to avert the danger.  Watford’s first chance came soon after as a clearance fell to Doucouré whose shot was wild and wide of the target.  United’s next chance came through a shot from Pogba, but Foster was down low to save.  At the other end Hughes turned and shot, but it was an easy catch for de Gea.  At this point, there was a very loud chorus of one Harry Hornet.  Watford had a terrific chance to take the lead after some interplay between Pereyra and Deeney, the Watford captain’s shot required a smart save from de Gea to tip it over the bar.

Doucoure, Capoue and Hughes looking unsure about Deeney’s instruction

United had the ball in the net in the 24th minute as Sánchez finished from close range, but the flag was up for offside.   Sánchez threatened again on the half hour, running into the box and hitting a shot that was pushed over by Foster.  The first booking went to Capoue for a rather innocuous trip on Lingard, which seemed harsh given some of the challenges that had gone before.  The visitors took the lead after 35 minutes when Lukaku chested Young’s cross home.  From the Rookery, there were (erroneous) shouts of offside.  Holebas was also unhappy at something about the goal and was booked for his protest.  Watford had a wobble after the goal and United could have had a second from a Pogba shot, but Foster pulled off a terrific save.  But the visitors scored a second within 3 minutes as a corner was flicked on by Fellaini to Smalling who controlled on his chest before volleying past Foster.  The visitors had a chance to increase their lead further in time added on at the end of the half as Lingard crossed for Pogba whose snapshot was kept out by a brilliant save from Foster.  So we reached half time two goals down, which seemed slightly harsh but was the result of an uncharacteristically shaky spell after the first goal was scored.

The half time guest was Peter Kennedy who, it has to be said, was totally unrecognizable.  He works as an accountant in local government in Northern Ireland now, not a typical career path for a former Premier League footballer.

Both teams emerged promptly for the second half but were kept waiting by the officials.  Having toured the ground recently, I can assure you that it wasn’t the comfort of the referee’s room that detained them.

The wall jumps as Pereyra takes a free kick

The first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets when Pereyra won a free kick and took it himself, but his shot was over the bar.  The Hornets almost made the breakthrough as Holebas delivered a corner into the box, but Smalling beat Kabasele to the header and it went out for a corner.  The Hornets pulled one back after 65 minutes as Doucouré beat a defender and pulled the ball back for Gray who finished brilliantly past de Gea.  There was minimal celebration before the Watford lads ran back to the centre circle for the restart.  Game on!!  A couple of minutes later, there were shouts for a free kick as Pereyra was fouled on the edge of the area, but Mike Dean waved play on.  With 20 minutes remaining, each side made a change with Lingard making way for Martial for the visitors and Femenía replacing Janmaat for the Hornets.  Femenía’s first act was to play a lovely cross for Pereyra, but Valencia took the ball off the foot of the Argentine.  Pereyra then laid the ball off for Doucouré, but the shot was well over the bar.  Matić was booked for a foul in the build-up.  The central defenders came into their own as Craig Cathcart made a brilliant sliding tackle as Sánchez appeared to be through on goal.  Then Martial was prevented from shooting by an equally wonderful tackle from Kabasele.

Holebas crosses

There was a rash of late substitutions as McTominay replaced Sánchez for United and Gracia brought Masina and Success on for Holebas and Cathcart, both of whom left the field to appreciative applause.  Doucouré had impressed in the second half, although his shooting had been suspect, but he did brilliantly with a curling shot that de Gea just managed to hold.  There was a paltry 3 minutes added at the end of the game, most of which seemed to be taken up by Valencia taking an age to leave the pitch when being replaced by Bailly and then Matić leaving the field equally slowly after being shown a second yellow card for a foul on Hughes.  Foster came up for the free-kick, and it looked as through Watford would save a point as the delivery from Hughes was met by the head of Kabasele, but de Gea appeared from nowhere to make the save.  There was one final chance for the Hornets as Masina’s corner curled across goal and just past the far post, so the Hornets went down to their first defeat this season.

 

Cathcart ignoring Deeney

Fair play to the Watford fans who chanted passionately for their team after the final whistle.  Given that the Hornets had been behind for the whole of the second half, it was a testament to their performance that Occupation Road was totally packed at the end of the game as the Watford fans had stayed to the end.  It was a terrific second half performance which deserved a point.  As has been the case in every game so far this season, it was a terrific team effort but Cathcart and Kabasele continue to impress.  It seems time to resurrect the “Cool as Craig” t-shirts for our unfussy, unflappable defender.  Deeney and Gray also continue to link up well and Andre’s goal was terrific.

Back to the West Herts and Glenn had picked up some unwanted yellow shirts, so this Rookery resident was able to take one home.  The consensus of the post-match discussion was that, while we were all disappointed at the result, it had been a very impressive performance and we matched Manchester United all over the pitch.  We were a very content group of Hornets.  Our recent performances have shown that we have nothing to fear in this division this season, and that is certainly not what Watford fans were expecting when the season started.  Long may it continue.

Watford Missing the X-factor

Spot the ball

Midweek games are something of a rarity these days, so it seemed odd to be slipping out of work to head for Vicarage Road.  As I approached the West Herts, I bumped into Don and Trond, who were already on their way to the ground.  I know that they usually leave pretty early, but there were a number of other people also heading in the opposite direction to me, so I became a little concerned that I had made a mistake regarding the kick-off time.  Thankfully the bar was still busy and our usual table was populated with friendly faces.  There was a surprise appearance by Chris and Carl Todd.  So lovely to see them and even better that there was a spare ticket available among our group allowing Chris to see the game live rather than watching the television in the bar.

Team news was that Silva had made one change from the team that started at Newcastle, with Prödl replacing the injured Britos in defence.  So, the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Kabasele; Femenía, Cleverley, Doucouré, Zeegelaar; Hughes, Richarlison; Gray.  Former Watford youngster, Ashley Young, started for the visitors and his name was cheered as it was announced.

Cleverley lines up a free kick

It all started so well.  The Hornets had an early chance as Femenía hit a cross that Richarlison was just unable to reach.  The Brazilian was the next to try a cross, but it was caught by De Gea.  A corner from Cleverley was met by the head of Zeegelaar, but the effort was blocked.  Somewhat against the run of play, the visitors took the lead in the 19th minute with a gorgeous shot from Young that curled in at the near post.  He celebrated in front of the Watford fans, which incurred the wrath of many in the Rookery meaning that his every touch was booed from that moment on.  The first booking of the evening went to Doucouré after a tackle on Pogba.  Young scored a second after 25 minutes with a stunning free kick which flew over the wall and under the crossbar before Gomes saw it.  This time he celebrated by sliding on his knees towards the Rookery.  Now I am not one of those who believes that returning players should not celebrate, but I thought this celebration was a bit rude.  There is no need to goad the opposition fans and it would have been more enjoyable for both sets of fans if he had celebrated facing the away end.  The visitors scored their third after both Kabasele and Prödl failed to clear when given the opportunity, allowing Lukaku to feed Martial who had an easy finish.  Gomes saved Watford’s blushes, preventing a fourth goal, as he parried Lukaku’s shot from the edge of the area, Lingard looked sure to score from the follow-up and Gomes did well to tip the shot over the bar.  In time added on at the end of the half, there was finally something to make the Watford fans smile as Femenía went on a run across the pitch and into the box where he crossed for Richarlison whose header hit the bar and flew over the target.

Rak-Su entertaining the crowd

The half-time entertainment was a visit by X-factor finalists, Rak-Su, a band of Watford lads.  It probably wasn’t the best evening for them to be appearing as the Watford crowd were not in the best of moods by this point.  They did their best to lift spirits, but were fighting a losing battle.

I was not looking forward to the teams returning after the break, but the Hornets started brightly as Cleverley tried a cross which was too close to De Gea.  At the other end, Martial found Lukaku who shot wide of the far post.  Each side was forced to make a substitution early in the half with Herrera coming on for the injured Matic for the visitors, while Pereyra and Carrillo replaced Prödl and Hughes, who appeared to have a strain, for the home side.  Watford threatened with a shot from distance from Doucouré that flew over the bar.  The Hornets came even closer to pulling one back when a lovely cross from Femenía was met by Richarlison whose header was just wide of the near post.  United’s second change saw Rashford come on for Martial.  The visitors had a chance to increase their lead as Pogba met a corner from Lingard, but Gomes dropped to make the save.  Carrillo did really well to turn and lose his marker on the edge of the box, he put in a decent cross, but no Watford player could apply the finishing touch.  Then a Zeegelaar cross flew over the head of Richarlison, the clearance fell to Mariappa who tried a shot from distance that flew wide of the near post.

Deeney heading back to the centre circle after scoring the penalty

Silva’s final change was to bring Deeney on for Gray.  The captain took the field to a massive roar from the Vicarage Road faithful.  He had an early chance to make an impression as a cross from Doucouré came his way, but the defender stopped him making a clean connection.  The visitors had a further chance to increase their lead as a free-kick from Lingard was met by Pogba, but his header was just over the bar.  A couple of chances then fell to Lukaku, the first was blocked by Mariappa, the second flew wide of the far post.  Watford got a goal back on 77 minutes after Rojo tripped Pereyra in the box.  The United players surrounded the referee, but he had already pointed to the spot.  Deeney stepped up with a smile on his face.  The guy next to me couldn’t look, so missed seeing Troy kiss the ball before placing it on the spot and burying it in the left-hand corner after sending De Gea the wrong way.  At last, something to cheer for the fans of the Hornets.  The Watford captain had a chance to score a second as Femenía delivered a lovely cross that Troy headed goalwards, but it was caught by De Gea.  The second Watford goal was a thing of beauty as Carrillo crossed for Doucouré to hit a terrific shot past De Gea.  Suddenly it was game on and the Watford crowd were roaring their encouragement.  Richarlison had a chance for an equalizer, but his close range shot was blocked at the near post.  Then United broke down field and Lingard dribbled half the length of the pitch.  With the Watford defence arrayed in front of him, I was willing one of them to stop him, but no tackle came and he beat Gomes to give the visitors a two goal cushion.  Despite the set-back, Watford were still battling to get something from the game as Richarlison crossed from the byline but De Gea put the ball out for a corner, from which Cleverley’s delivery was headed clear by Pogba.  There was a roar from the home crowd as the fourth official indicated that there were 4 additional minutes, but it was in vain and the game finished in defeat, but with the Watford team applauded off the pitch.

Doucoure after scoring the second

It was an odd game.  The first half had been brutal.  Watford had not been overrun as far as possession was concerned, but each misplaced pass seemed to be punished.  It has to be said that Young’s goals were both excellent, but I was pretty miserable at the end of the half.  But the Watford team showed great resilience with a considerably better performance in the second half.  The introduction of Carrillo made a difference, he was excellent.  Deeney also contributed to the upturn, his strength is always an asset and he certainly added a new dimension to the game.  When Doucouré’s goal went in, there was a definite feeling that we could get something from the game, something that would have seemed impossible at half time.

The defeat was disappointing but, before the game, we had this one down as a free hit and I enjoyed the comment of one of the lads behind me that, having already won 4 points from games against Liverpool and Arsenal, that would do for him.  We host Tottenham on Saturday, which won’t be any easier, but can also be considered a free hit before we have a series of games against those around us in the table.  Our points total in December will give a very good signal of whether this team is as good as we think it is.  With 21 points already on the board, a relegation battle is looking unlikely, so I hope that we can continue to look up the table and enjoy the football.  That would make me very happy indeed.

No Shame in Defeat at Old Trafford

Commemorating the Munich disaster

Commemorating the Munich disaster

After back-to-back wins in the previous two matches, we travelled to Manchester with considerably more confidence about the game than had been the case when we bought the tickets on the day after the defeat to Millwall.  There were happy memories of the win at Vicarage Road earlier in the season, but the current United team are on a great run of form and a completely different proposition.  We have only ever won once at Old Trafford, that wonderful League Cup tie in 1978, a game that evokes happy memories even for somebody who only listened to the commentary on the radio.  I had no expectation of a second victory on this occasion.

I enjoyed delightful company on the train journey as, on the day after her 18th birthday, my niece was making her first visit to Old Trafford.  The journey got even better as we bumped into a friend, so she had an extra excuse for a lack of progress on her homework.

On arrival in Manchester, we met up with the North West ‘Orns at their pub of choice where my niece was dissuaded from her request for lemonade so enjoyed her first pre-match pint.  The pub has the added interest of being next door to the team hotel.  The Watford team coach was parked outside as we arrived and we were able to wave the players off through the windows.

Capoue challenging Pogba

Capoue challenging Pogba

Previous experience of the security at Old Trafford meant that we left the pub a considerable time before kick-off.  There is a veritable army on duty outside the away turnstiles.  The first phalanx has a cursory look in bags, the second checks tickets and the third does the thorough search of both bags and people, so you need quite some time to get into the ground.  Once inside you make your way to seats that have the least leg room of any stadium in the country.  I am only 5’6” and I struggle.  This is one stadium at which it is more comfortable to stand for the duration of the game.

Team news was that Mazzarri had made just the one change with Britos coming in for Behrami.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Cleverley, Capoue; Niang, Zárate, Holebas; Deeney.

Prior to kick-off they commemorated the 59th anniversary of the Munich disaster.  Families of the victims had been invited as guests of the club at the game.  They played “Flowers of Manchester” and the players gathered around the centre circle as if to honour a minute’s silence/applause, but there seemed to be a last minute change of plan and they went back to their pre-match huddle.

Deeney calling for the ball

Deeney calling for the ball

The home side had a very early chance when a cross flicked off a Watford head and fell to Ibrahimovic, whose shot was dreadful and way off target.  Ibrahimovic then played a lovely through ball for Mata, but Gomes came out to make the tackle.  Watford’s first chance came on 9 minutes as Niang tried a shot from the edge of the area but it was straight at de Gea in the United goal.  Mkhitaryan was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that was easy for Gomes to gather.  At the other end, Zárate fed Niang whose shot flew well over the bar.  Martial cut inside and tried a shot from outside the area that deflected off Prödl and went wide.  Watford had a terrific chance to open the scoring as Holebas went on a run down the left before unleashing a shot that curled just wide of the far post.  At the other end, Pogba unleashed a shot from distance that Gomes pushed wide.  From a throw, Zárate tried a spectacular overhead kick, but it was an easy save for de Gea.  The first 20 minutes had been fairly even, but then the home side gained the upper hand and it was one way traffic.  It started with Ibrahimovic, who looked a mile offside when he received the ball, there was no flag but, thankfully, he shot well over.  Then a careless clearance from Prödl went straight to Valencia who battled past Niang before crossing for Pogba whose shot was saved.

Prodl lines up a free kick

Prodl lines up a free kick

There were two further chances just before the half hour.  First a cut back from Blind to Herrera who launched a powerful shot over the bar.  Then Mata played the ball back to Mkhitaryan who should have done better with his shot which again flew over.  The onslaught on the Watford goal continued as Mata crossed from the byline to Ibrahimovic whose close range header was brilliantly stopped by Gomes, the follow-up shot was blocked by Holebas.  The breakthrough finally came on 31 minutes as Martial crossed for Mata who finished from close range.  It had been coming and I feared that this would open the floodgates but, apart from a shot from Mkhitaryan just before half time that was easy enough for Gomes, that was the end of the goal chances in the first half.

We felt very fortunate to go in at half time only one goal behind, due to a mixture of superb goalkeeping from Gomes and poor finishing from the United players, with Ibrahimovic a particular culprit.  What had been particularly annoying from the Hornets was the profligacy with the ball.  All the great passing from the Arsenal game had completely disappeared as, too often, they struggled to find a yellow shirt.

Kaboul, Cleverley, Zarate and Janmaat line up for a free kick

Kaboul, Cleverley, Zarate and Janmaat line up for a free kick

At half time, I discovered another interesting quirk of the United security as, despite having spent 45 minutes in the ground, anyone who made their way to the concourse found that they would not be allowed back to their seats unless they produced their ticket.  As someone who frequently leaves their coat or bag on the seats, it was a relief that, for once, I had put the ticket in a pocket.  What an utterly ridiculous rule.

The home side had the first chance of the second half as Martial went on a run and shot across goal and just wide.  Watford had a decent chance for an equalizer as Zárate hit a free kick over the wall that needed a decent save from de Gea to tip it clear.  Man Utd’s second goal came on the hour.  Capoue was guilty of holding on to the ball for too long, was tackled and the home side launched a quick break that finished with Martial shooting past Gomes.  Watford had a chance to strike back as Deeney received a long ball from Prödl and fought off the attentions of Bailly before shooting wide of the near post.  At the other end Mkhitaryan found Ibrahimovic whose shot was deflected wide.  Watford had another half chance as Niang kept the ball under challenge in the box but, with Deeney in space, chose to shoot across the goal and the chance went begging.  The Frenchman threatened again, going on a great run before crossing for Janmaat, who should have done better, but skyed his shot.

Zarate, Deeney and Cleverley

Zarate, Deeney and Cleverley

The home side made the first change of the afternoon with Mata making way for Fellaini.  Deeney had a decent chance to reduce the deficit as he received a long ball in the box, he was challenged as he went to shoot and de Gea was able to parry his shot.  Mazzarri’s first change was to bring Okaka on for Zárate.  The Italian made an immediate impression advancing down the left before cutting the ball back, his pass was blocked just before it reached Deeney.  He was in action again soon after, playing the ball to Janmaat whose shot was just wide of the near post.  The home side launched a rare second half attack but Gomes dropped to block a shot from Mkhitaryan.  There was an interesting sight soon after as a large phalanx of stewards lined up in front of one of the home stands, apparently to prevent a pitch invasion that they clearly felt would be prompted by Rashford taking the field in place of Martial!  Ibrahimovic finished the afternoon as he had started it, receiving the ball in the box and, with the goal at his mercy, flicking his shot away from the target.  Each side made a late substitution with Cathcart replacing Success for the visitors and Mkhitaryan making way for Lingard for the hosts.  As is usual, with 5 minutes to go, the Old Trafford tourists were streaming out of the ground.  It seems so wrong not to stay and applaud a win, but I am old fashioned like that.  As it happened, they didn’t miss anything and the game ended with a win for the home side.

The second half had been much more pleasing from the Hornets who had given a good account of themselves and had created some decent chances.  This game was always going to be a free hit and results below us meant that we finished the day feeling fairly confident of our place in the division.

As we walked back to the metro station, I told my niece the terrible story of Munich.  Then asked her impression of Old Trafford, “I thought it would be more impressive.”  She won’t be rushing back.

Beating the Reds After a 30 Year Wait

The pre match huddle

The pre match huddle

With the early kick-off, I was torn on whether to drive or take the train to the game.  I decided on the latter option meaning that I left home rather early to give myself plenty of time to get to Watford.  Contrary to what we had heard on our last visit, they made a late decision to open the West Herts before the game, but I was glad I had left the car at home as I arrived to see that the football matches going on at the sports club meant that the car park was already full soon after 10:30.  It also allowed me to have the breakfast of kings, a pint and a hot dog, to set me up for the day.  As we walked to the ground, there were touts galore in Vicarage Road most of whom appeared to be trying to buy tickets to sell on.  There were also the eponymous half and half scarves on sale, one hawker was actually standing outside the Hornet Shop, which was ridiculous.  I can’t believe that they weren’t cleared out of there.

Team news was just the one change from the West Ham game as a slight injury to Kaboul meant that Prödl was drafted in to take his place.  So, the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos; Janmaat, Pereyra, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.  For the visitors, Watford Academy graduate, Ashley Young, was on the bench.  I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that little Ashley is in his thirties.  Where did all those years go?

Capoue and Fellaini

Capoue and Fellaini

When I took my seat I was a little perturbed to see a stranger in the seat next to me.  I am always wary at a game against a ‘big club’ when I see a new face, especially if they are not wearing colours, but he had the season ticket of the guy who usually sits there and it was quickly apparent that he was a fellow Hornet.  As the teams came out, our view was obscured as the 1881 flag with the angry moose made its way up the stand over our heads, a wonderful sight for the television cameras.  Prior to kick-off the guy who sits behind me said that he thought it would be 2-1 today … to us.  As always, I didn’t share his confidence, but he wasn’t the first Watford fan who had predicted a victory and United’s recent form did not bode well for them.

The home side started the game very brightly and had a great chance to take the lead in the ninth minute when a free-kick from Holebas was headed on by Prödl, Deeney slid in to try to meet the ball and only just missed connecting.  There was an even better chance a couple of minutes later, as De Gea collided with a team mate and the ball dropped to Ighalo who appeared to have the goal at his mercy but hit it wide leaving the Watford fans with heads in hands.  To be fair to him, the replay showed De Gea was in a much better position than was originally apparent, but you get so few chances in games like this that any miss from a decent position causes concern.

Cathcart takes a throw in

Cathcart takes a throw in

The attacking threat continued for the Hornets as a deep cross from Janmaat was met with a header from Deeney that was kept out by a wonderful flying save from De Gea.  Soon after, a cross from Cathcart was met with a header from Ighalo that flew over the bar.  The first real chance for the visitors came in the 20th minute when a Rashford cross was met by Ibrahimovic who directed his shot into the side netting.  There was an extended break in play following a collision between Martial and Janmaat.  First impressions were that Martial could have been badly hurt as he was flat on his back and didn’t move for some time.  There was less concern for Janmaat who had walked to the edge of the pitch with his hand clutched to his head.  It looked worrying for a while but, thankfully, both players were soon fit to restart the game.  Just before the half hour there was action in the row in front as the bloke who usually goes for coffee in the 41st minute made an early move.  There were meaningful glances all around as the inhabitants of the centre of the Rookery came to terms with this drastic change to usual practice.  Early kick-offs have a lot to answer for.  On the half hour, neither Gomes nor those behind the goal in the Rookery were particularly concerned when Pogba hit a shot from distance as it appeared to be flying well over the bar, so I nearly had a seizure when the ball smacked back off the crossbar.

A bundled celebration for Capoue's goal.

A bundled celebration for Capoue’s goal.

Watford took the lead in the 34th minute.  Martial was dispossessed by a robust tackle by Britos, United appeals for a foul were waved away, the ball fell to Janmaat who played it back to Capoue who powered his shot in off De Gea.  Martial had remained on the ground as the goal was scored and, after finally receiving treatment, was unable to continue so was replaced by Ashley Young whose appearance was applauded by fans on all sides of the ground.  A rare mistake from Behrami allowed Ibrahimovic to break forward but the danger was snuffed out by a brilliant challenge by Prödl.  Just before half time, Capoue was fouled on the edge of the box.   Holebas stepped up to take the free kick, his shot went through the wall but was saved by De Gea.  In time added on, a bit of pinball following a tackle led to a lucky break for the visitors but Rashford’s run was stopped by another great tackle from Prödl.

So Watford went into the break a goal to the good.  It was a thoroughly deserved lead which should have been larger.

Watford legends Jackett and Page

Watford legends Jackett and Page

At half time it was lovely to see Kenny Jackett and Robert Page having a chat with Emma Saunders and making the 50-50 draw.  Both players are much loved by the Watford faithful and it was good to hear how impressed they were with the changes at Vicarage Road, both on and off the pitch.  The draw was followed by the schools’ penalty competition.  The perception that they had started rather late was confirmed when Troy and the lads appeared for the second half as the shoot-out reached sudden death.  Thankfully one of the kids hit a winner before the TV directors had to intervene.

In the first minute of the second half, a defensive header fell to Ibrahimovic who shot well wide of the target.  Mazzarri made his first substitution in the 50th minute bringing Amrabat on to replace the injured Janmaat.  There had been little in the way of chances in the first quarter hour of the second half but suddenly, out of nothing, the Watford defence failed to clear a cross from Ibrahimovic and Rashford finished past Gomes.  I’d spotted a bloke in the Lower GT wearing a Man Utd shirt and scarf, he was looking very smug at this point.  Watford tried to hit back immediately as a free kick from Capoue was cleared to Holebas whose shot was just wide of the target.

Amrabat and Pereyra celebrate setting up Zuniga's goal

Amrabat and Pereyra celebrate setting up Zuniga’s goal

For the next ten minutes, there was constant pressure from the visitors, but they didn’t manage a shot to test Gomes and the next chance fell to the home side as a Holebas free kick was met with a clever flick from Pereyra, but the United defence was able to clear.  Up until the 75th minute, Michael Oliver had been pretty good in letting the play flow but, suddenly he seemed to be giving soft free kicks and, with this period of the game being played primarily in the Watford half, they mostly went to United.  With ten minutes to go, it looked as though the visitors had taken the lead as a brilliant header from Ibrahimovic was flying in until Gomes appeared out of nowhere to make an equally brilliant save.  It looked as though we would be hanging on until Deeney put in a great tackle on the wing which sparked a change in the momentum of the game.  While the tackle was trivial in the context of the game, something about his energy seemed to inject new life into his team mates.  Mazzarri’s second change saw Zúñiga on for Capoue who went off to rapturous applause.  The Colombian’s first touch proved to be decisive.  Amrabat played a lovely through ball to Pereyra, he cut the ball back to Zúñiga who powered into the net and went on a run with a celebration as passionate as any in the Rookery.

Pereyra congratulates Deeney on his penalty

Pereyra congratulates Deeney on his penalty

Watford’s final substitution came as the clock reached 90 minutes and saw Success come on for Ighalo who, as is his wont, politely shook the referee’s hand before leaving the field.  The Hornets indulged in some time wasting at this point, winning a couple of corners and taking them short to keep the ball by the corner flag.  Rooney was getting increasingly irate at this tactic, so the second time we did it, he just kicked Pereyra conceding a free kick and earning himself a yellow card.  Highly amusing.  The ball didn’t stay in that corner, though, and there was time for some icing on the cake as Success went on a run down the left before playing the ball to Zúñiga in the box, who was taken down by Fellaini.  The appointment of Michael Oliver as referee had attracted some comment before the game including a poll by From the Rookery End on when he would award Man Utd’s first penalty in which ‘pre-match warm up’ attracted 57% of the vote.  To be fair to him, I thought his performance was excellent on the day and not just because he went against tradition in awarding an injury time penalty against United.  Deeney had to wait to take the spot kick as Zúñiga was down injured, his team mates, having come up to congratulate him on winning the penalty, had offered the poor lad very little in the way of sympathy for his pain.  When the Colombian was back on his feet, Deeney kissed the match ball, placed it on the penalty spot and powered it down the middle beating De Gea and sending the Watford fans into delirium.  Soon after the final whistle went prompting further great celebrations.

Britos, Pereyra, Pogba and Behrami anticipate a ball forward

Britos, Pereyra, Pogba and Behrami anticipate a ball forward

As we left the ground, we passed Gino Pozzo.  Our Cate shook his hand and thanked him for all that he has done for the club and was rewarded with a warm smile.  She then spotted Glyn Evans, who is a former colleague of hers, so gave him a kiss.  I asked whether she had noticed the bloke behind Glyn, but she had been so busy greeting her old friend that she didn’t spot Bobby Charlton.

My friend, Toddy, had been unable to get to the game being held captive at Watford General after a routine op.  So I popped in to share the post-match celebrations with him to be told that the commentary that he’d been listening to had been lagging behind the noise from the ground so he and his pal in the bed opposite would hear a cheer and then have to wait to hear the details.  The tension hadn’t done either of them any good in aiding recovery.

 

The players celebrate the win

The players celebrate the win

It was then back to the West Herts to join the rest of our crew for the analysis of the game.  There were broad smiles on the faces of all the Watford fans we encountered.  All agreed that this had been a consummate performance and a well deserved win.  While it seems unfair to single out any one player, I have to say that Prödl was absolutely magnificent keeping Ibrahimovic quiet for most of the game.  Pogba was almost invisible and, apart from a spell in the second half after United scored, Watford had been on top.  My only concern had been that we missed Janmaat when he went off, as Amrabat does not have his defensive abilities, but he more than made up for it with the magnificent pass for the second goal.

It is beginning to feel as though we have entered a new era.  At the end of the Liverpool game last season, I was in tears as I never thought my niece would see a performance like that.  Now she is getting rather used to it.  When the fixture list came out I thought that it was quite possible that we would have no points on the board after the first five games.  To reach this stage with seven points and a team that is looking better each week is just wonderful.  Apart from the first half against Arsenal we have looked at least the equals of all our opponents this season and even a pessimist like me is starting to think that we now have a team that can compete with anyone in this division.  It feels like the 80s all over again and I never thought I would be able to say that.  Now let’s just see if they can do it on a wet Monday night in Burnley.

Cruelly Punished for Wasteful Finishing

Pre-match line-up

Pre-match line-up

Despite taking holiday for the purpose, I always feel a bit guilty leaving work early to go to an away game but, having recently taken a job in central London, it was great to be able to leave after lunch and walk to Euston in less than 20 minutes.  The journey up North was uneventful, although the sky got greyer and greyer as we got closer to Manchester.  Thankfully, the snow that had fallen earlier in the day had soon cleared and I must say that the outlook was brightened by the free red wine in first class.

When I arrived at the pre-match pub, there was a good gathering of North West Horns already present and we soon filled the little back room that we had occupied.  There was a late decision to go to the ground by tram rather than finding a cab, and our very own tram genius directed us to the opposite platform from the crowd in Man Utd scarves.  Despite some scepticism, this resulted in us being able to board an empty train marked ‘Not in Service’ that ensured a considerably more comfortable journey than the ‘locals’ who pushed their way on to an already packed carriage.

Preparing for a ball into the Man Utd box

Preparing for a ball into the Man Utd box

While queuing to get into the ground, there was a chap with a half and half scarf just in front of me.  As could have been guessed from his unfortunate garb, he was a (Spanish) tourist so I advised him on how best to hide the red and white portion of the scarf so as not to provoke others in the Watford end.  We then experienced another in a long line of ineffective searches as the steward had only a cursory look inside my rucksack, not bothering to disturb the Watford shirt that covered the rest of the contents, before giving me a “thorough” pat down that totally failed to investigate what was in my coat pockets which were bursting with metal objects.  Very strange indeed especially as I was told that a young man with a kindle was told that he couldn’t bring it in and had to return to the coach to leave it there.

Team news was that Flores had made four changes with Nyom, Prödl, Holebas and Abdi in for Paredes, Cathcart, Aké and Amrabat.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Prödl, Britos, Nyom, Behrami, Watson, Capoue, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.

The referee in discussion with Deeney

The referee in discussion with Deeney

Watford started very brightly as Ighalo broke into the box in the first minute but could not fashion a shot.  The home side’s first chance came when Holebas almost succeeded in turning a cross from Blind past Gomes but, thankfully, the Brazilian made the save from his team mate.  Soon after a bizarre looping cross was headed wide of the near post by Martial.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead on 11 minutes as Deeney found Ighalo who made space to shoot but his shot was deflected wide.  From the resultant corner, Watson’s delivery just evaded Britos at the far post.  There was a comedy moment then as Memphis went on a dangerous run before hitting a shot that went out for a throw-in on the opposite side.  A poor pass was intercepted by Ighalo who, with only the keeper to beat, should have done better but took his shot too quickly so it was an easy catch for de Gea.  From a free kick, Deeney’s headed clearance dropped to Schneiderlin who shot just wide, much to the relief of the travelling Hornets.  At the other end, Deeney appeared to be trying to lob de Gea, but the pass reached Ighalo who had two defenders on him so was unable to shoot.  Memphis had a chance to redeem himself following his earlier mistake, but shot wide of the far post.  Watford threatened again as Capoue and Deeney exchanged passes before the Frenchman was hacked down by Fosu-Mensah who was booked for the challenge.  Watson played the free kick low to Holebas, whose shot was blocked before Prödl shot wide.

Watson lines up a free kick

Watson lines up a free kick

Watford had another tremendous chance as Deeney headed a Capoue cross down to Ighalo who turned and volleyed, but again the shot was just wide.  At the other end, the ball bounced off a couple of United heads in the Watford box before falling to Martial whose shot didn’t trouble Gomes.  Watford had yet another chance to open the scoring through Abdi, but his shot from the edge of the box cleared the target.  Ighalo attacked again, broke into the box and, with Deeney in space to his left, opted to shoot and de Gea saved with his legs.  United again failed to test Gomes as Herrera curled a cross wide of the far post.  The last chance of the first half fell to Ighalo, who picked up another poor back pass but, again, his shot was blocked by de Gea.  So we reached half time goalless and disappointed that Ighalo hadn’t finished at least one of his chances as he could have had a hat trick.

The Nigerian should have broken the deadlock early in the second half as he received an Abdi cross in an acre of space but he couldn’t control the ball and the chance was gone.  Behrami did very well to win the ball on the wing before finding Deeney who played a back heel to Capoue who powered his shot just over the target.  It was another great chance, but Capoue is destined never to score.  The visitors should have taken the lead in the 50th minute as a Watson corner was met by Prödl, whose header was cleared off the line.  Watford had another tremendous chance as Deeney found Ighalo who turned and curled a shot just wide.

Amrabat in the United box

Amrabat in the United box

At the other end, Gomes dived to save at the feet of Rashford and there was a delay while he received treatment.  Thankfully, he was fit to continue, and was in action again soon after, saving a Mata shot from the edge of the area.  The home side then won a free kick on the edge of the area that Memphis fired into the wall.  So, an hour into the game, the home side finally had a spell of pressure and the United fans were heard for the first time.  Then Deeney and Igahlo combined in attack, both ended up on the ground, but the referee decided there had been no infringement.  At the other end, Rashford played a ball across the face of the goal, but there was no United player on hand to convert.  Mata then threatened with a shot that curled wide just.  Abdi exchanged passes with Deeney but the resulting cross went begging.  Watford’s first substitution came with 20 minutes remaining as Suárez replaced Abdi while United replaced Rojo with Darmian.  The Spaniard was immediately in action as he broke into the box but was unable to fashion a shot.  He then played a lovely ball in to Ighalo in the box, but it bounced off the Nigerian’s heel and Odion was unable to get a shot in.  That was his final contribution to the game as he was replaced by Amrabat after a very frustrating evening in front of goal.  At this point a chant started behind me, I couldn’t quite catch the words until I realized that it was that old favourite Elton John’s Taylor-made Army.  Watford came close again as a cross from Holebas was blocked by de Gea but rebounded to Amrabat whose shot was deflected for a corner.  Watson’s delivery was again met by Prödl whose header was just wide.  Then Capoue intercepted a poor pass, his cross was missed by Suárez but met with a lovely volley from a defender to concede a corner.

Jostling for position at a corner

Jostling for position at a corner

After a brilliant spell when the visitors should have taken the lead, there was a certain inevitability to what happened next as Britos fouled Martial on the edge of the area, was booked and then Mata hit a lovely free kick over the wall and past Gomes, who had no chance.  Just heartbreaking for the visiting fans, who then watched open-mouthed as the majority of the United fans in the stand next to us left the stadium.  It was really quite shocking.  Your team takes a narrow lead 10 minutes before the end of the game and you just walk out.  Who are these people?  Flores made a final substitution with five minutes to go bringing Anya on for Behrami.  Watford never looked like drawing level despite the efforts of Amrabat who, first, looked to break but the ball bounced off his arm and he was booked for hand ball, a very harsh decision.  Then he crossed for Anya, who did not attack the ball so it rolled through to De Gea.  The game fizzled out with the visiting fans singing “1-0 and you all go home.”

Britos, Ighalo, Behrami and Holebas await a ball out of defence

Britos, Ighalo, Behrami and Holebas await a ball out of defence

It was a cruel result.  Watford had been tremendous and were defeated by a lovely set piece in a game that they should have won.  We had created most of the decent chances, but failed to finish so were punished.  You have to feel for Ighalo whose confidence is low.  He appears desperate to score and is getting into tremendous positions, but just cannot find the net.  It was very pleasing to see Capoue back on form and, in fact, to see the whole team harrying their opponents and working their socks off.  Quite rightly the Watford fans stood to cheer their team off, a marked contrast to the home fans who had long gone.

I wasn’t relishing the queue for the tram back to town, as my memory of our last visit was that we had to wait for an age.  However, I had reckoned without our tram ninja, who came to our rescue again taking us on a short detour to a stop where there was no queue and we got a seat on the first tram that arrived.  But it was a very deflated group who gathered for the post-match analysis.  We were immensely proud of our team, they had played some lovely football and taken the game to United and, but for their poor finishing would have been convincing winners.  Conversation then turned to the behaviour of the home crowd.  My first trip to Old Trafford was in the 80s when the noise that came from Stretford End was, quite frankly, terrifying.  The crowd on Wednesday evening seemed mostly to consist of day trippers in half and half scarves who were ticking a tourist box, but had no feeling for the game.  What an awful shame.

I am still gutted at the result but, to end on a positive note, we have now played the team lying fifth in the table twice and have matched them on both occasions.  We have dropped to 12th but, with 10 games to go, are still closer to the Champions League places than the relegation zone and that has got to bring a smile to any Watford fan’s face.