Tag Archives: David Luiz

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 Frustrating Sunday Afternoon at the Bridge

Foster about to take a free kick

This is one of the easiest of away trips for me and, for once, the bizarre weekend schedules of South Western Railway did not cause me any problems.  They had even cleared the tree that had meant a trip from Clapham Junction to Windsor on Saturday evening required a detour via Paddington.  So, after a pleasant train journey to Putney and a walk through some dodgy looking areas of Fulham, I found myself in Parsons Green to meet friends for Sunday lunch.  Lots of talk of what we had been up to since we last met.  Mike and I had seen Maggie Smith in “A German Life”, which was superb.  Graham had been to the Don McCullin exhibition and was still a bit shell shocked from it.  I had missed City Orns to see The Unthanks, so was updated on the gathering that I had missed while enjoying an evening of Northumbrian folk music.  Our peace was briefly shattered when the Norfolk/East Anglian Horns turned up to say “Hello”.  Glenn told us that, as it was the last away game of the season, he had started his trip with champagne and strawberries.  Our friends from Norfolk know how to travel in style.  A Chelsea fan appeared and wished us luck in the Cup Final.  The Sunday roasts were absolutely delicious, and we were enjoying our lunch so much that we almost forgot that there was a match to go to.  Almost …

The welcome return of Deeney

We left plenty of time for our walk to Stamford Bridge and to negotiate our way past the multiple phalanxes of security guards.  There was a surprise in store as we were greeted by a voice announcing, “FA Cup Finalists to the left.”  I was still smiling when I heard another directing us on “The road to Wembley.”  A rather lovely and unexpected welcome which meant that my opinion of Chelsea went up massively.

Team news was that Gracia had made two changes with the welcome return of Deeney in place of Gray and a rare start for Chalobah deputising for the injured Capoue.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Mariappa, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Chalobah, Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu, Deeney.  The choice of Chalobah over Cleverley, who was on the bench, was an interesting one.  Our hope was that Nate’s return to Chelsea would give him an extra incentive to impress.  It was pleasing to see that he was given a warm welcome back by the Chelsea fans.

As we took our seats, Alice produced her flag.  Designed by the 1881, in an homage to our previous cup final, it bore the legend “Hot cross Barnes Holebas.”  Just wonderful.

Mariappa on the ball

The game kicked off and there was a great early chance for the Hornets as Deulofeu turned and hit a shot that was just wide of the target.  Watford should have taken the lead on 8 minutes when, from a short corner, Holebas crossed for Deeney whose header was heading for the top corner until Kepa somehow got a hand to it and kept it out, the ball dropped to Hughes whose shot was well over the bar.  Sarri was forced into an early change as Kanté picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Loftus-Cheek.  Chelsea had their first shot in the 14th minute, a chip from Jorginho that was blocked by Foster.  The home side threatened again as Higuaín broke into the box but was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Mariappa.  Watford created another decent chance as Hughes laid the ball off to Deulofeu, but the shot was wide of the target.  The next chance for the Hornets came as a lovely passing move finished with Holebas shooting over the bar.  Chelsea had a half chance as the ball was dinked to Hazard in the box, Foster appeared to hesitate, but recovered and was able to gather the ball.  Then Pereyra and Deeney combined to get the ball to Doucouré in shooting position, but his shot flew wide of the target.  There was a shout for a penalty as Femenía tussled with Luiz in the box.  From our angle, it looked as though the Chelsea man was playing for the foul, the referee was equally unimpressed and waved play on.  Another chance for the home side came as Hazard took the ball off Doucouré before playing in Pedro, whose shot curled over the target.  There was some frustration in the away end as the ball was passed from Doucouré to Deeney to Pereyra, all of whom could have taken a shot, but none did, and the chance was gone.    At the other end, Pedro played a one-two with Higuaín before taking a shot that was just wide of the target.  Another opportunity went begging after some good work from Pereyra who slipped in the build-up, but recovered to put in a decent cross, sadly there was no Watford player on hand to take advantage.  The half time whistle went to boos from the Chelsea fans and cheers from the travelling Hornets who had seen their team completely dominate the half, playing some exquisite football, but failing to make the most of their chances.  When have we heard that before this season?

Great to see Chalobah back in the team

All our good work was undone in the first five minutes of the second half.  Hazard tried a shot from an acute angle that Foster pushed around the post for a corner.  From the corner Hazard crossed and Loftus-Cheek beat Chalobah to open the scoring.  Two minutes later, the home side were two up as, from another corner, Luiz came around the blind side of Mariappa and headed home.  It was the Manchester City away game all over again.  The Hornets tried to hit back as Deeney found Deulofeu just outside the box, he took his time to pick his shot before firing just wide of the far post.  Pereyra played a lovely through ball to Deulofeu whose shot was weak and easily dealt with by Kepa.  We then had the interesting sight of a fired-up Holebas (what other kind is there), tackling Pereyra before snapping into a set of challenges.  Even when we are losing, angry José can make me smile.  Chelsea had a decent chance to score a third as Hazard found Pedro in the box, thankfully the shot was saved by Foster and Loftus-Cheek put the follow-up wide.  The Hornets had a chance to pull one back as Mariappa crossed for Doucouré, who couldn’t get above the ball, so it came off the top of his head and flew over the bar.  At the other end, the home side had a great chance to increase their lead as a shot from Higuaín was kept out by a brilliant save from Foster.  Then Chalobah played a lovely ball for Deulofeu who hit a decent cross towards Deeney, but Alonso put the ball out for a corner.

Holebas and Pereyra prepare for a free kick

Gracia made his first substitution replacing Chalobah with Cleverley.  It had been an interesting choice before the game, but Nate had justified his selection putting in the best performance that I have seen from him since he came back from injury.  Watford had another chance to reduce the deficit when Deulofeu found Hughes in prime position, but the shot was appalling.  A number around us were berating him for passing instead of shooting.  It looked like a shot to me, but it was that poor that it was mistaken for a pass.  Any hopes the Hornets had of a comeback were dashed when Pedro played the ball to Higuaín, Foster came out to meet him, but the Argentine chipped the keeper and found the net.  But Watford were still fighting and Deeney should have done better when the ball fell to him, but he belted his shot over the bar.  There was a much better chance soon after when Holebas nicked the ball and rounded Luiz, but his shot rebounded agonisingly off the crossbar.  Each side made late substitutions.  Giroud replaced Higuaín for the home side, while Deeney and Deulofeu made way for Gray and Success.  Troy looked furious when he saw the board go up indicating that his afternoon was over.  Watford finally had the ball in the net, and it was typical of our day.  A free kick from Pereyra appeared to have been cleared off the line by Holebas, Success got his head on it, but it bounced off Gray on the way in and was flagged offside due to Gray’s inadvertent touch.  Chelsea should have scored a fourth as Hazard crossed for Giroud who scuffed his shot and cleared the bar.

Pereyra takes a free kick

Watford had a half chance as Hughes crossed for Success, but the header was an easy catch for Kepa.  The last substitution for Chelsea saw Cahill come on for Luiz, he was handed the captain’s armband and got the biggest cheer of the afternoon.  Femenía went on a decent run, but his cross was turned around for a corner.  The first card of the game came in time added on as Doucouré was cautioned for a pull on Hazard.  Foster was in action twice in added time, first to divert a shot from Hazard into the side netting, then to gather a low shot from Giroud.  The last chance of the game fell to the Hornets, but the shot from Success was poor and easily saved by Kepa.

We headed back to Parsons Green to drown our sorrows.  As we arrived at the pub, we saw the Chelsea fan who had wished us luck at Wembley before the game.  His verdict, “We robbed you.”  He wasn’t wrong.  The scoreline indicated that we had been well beaten, the pattern of the game nothing of the kind.  But this has been the case in a number of our games against the top six this season.  Similar to the matches against Arsenal and Manchester United, we dominated large parts of the game, but could not turn that domination into goals and were let down by defensive mistakes.  In the first half in particular, the passing was incredibly slick, and we played some gorgeous football but our finishing let us down.  It was great to see Troy back.  He looked hungry and desperate to make up for lost time and we saw the leadership that we had been missing.  As frustrating as the afternoon had been, the conversation soon took a positive turn as we reflected how far this team has come.  In contrast to when we were first promoted, I now travel to most games feeling that we have a team good enough to get something from the game.  It is very rare that we leave a ground with that humiliating feeling of having been taught a lesson by a much better team.  That is something to be relished and when we look back on this season, it will be with pride and happiness and a sense that we have progressed.

 

A Tale of Two Penalties

Ben Foster about to launch the ball upfield

I always look forward to the Boxing Day game, so the news that it had been moved to an evening kick-off for the television cameras was met with some irritation.  A lovely afternoon walk through the Hertfordshire countryside proved a pleasant distraction from the action at the other grounds, but I was soon back to following our changing position in the table and worrying about what time to arrive for a 7:30 kick-off on a bank holiday.  Thankfully the roads were quiet and there were still seats in the West Herts when we arrived.  It was lovely to have Amelia back with us as her university studies and Saturday job have limited her attendance this season.

As we walked to the ground, it still seemed very quiet until we reached Vicarage Road and encountered a group of noisy Chelsea fans.  I was rather surprised only to see one tout on the way, they obviously take Christmas off too.  We didn’t arrive long before kick-off, but it was clear from the number of empty seats that a good number of people had decided to stay at home and watch this one on television.

Team news was that there were no changes from the win at West Ham.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Sema, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deeney and Deulofeu.  But the hottest news as the team arrived was that Pereyra disembarked from the bus wearing a santa hat.  He is a little bonkers.

Holebas in deep conversation with the referee

The travelling Chelsea fans immediately endeared themselves to me with a first minute chant of “We’ve won it all.”  At times like this my mind goes back to the mid-eighties when they used to stop the clock at Stamford Bridge 10 minutes before the end of the game so that the fans didn’t get on the backs of their struggling team.  The visitors had the first chance of the game as Pedro exchanged passes with Willian before curling a shot wide of the far post.  Watford’s first chance came from a howler by the Chelsea keeper, Arrizabalaga, who gave the ball away to Deulofeu, but the Spaniard tried a back heel that went to no one and the chance was gone.  There was a nasty incident 10 minutes into the game, as Willian rounded Foster and hit the post, Kabasele slid in to try to cut out the shot and collided heavily with the post.  He needed lengthy treatment and the stretcher was brought around, but he was able to get to his feet and return to the field.  Unfortunately, that didn’t last long and he was soon replaced by Mariappa.  Watford had a half chance as a cross from Femenía was headed down by Doucouré but the ball rolled through to the keeper.  Then Doucouré and Deulofeu combined before the Frenchman hit an angled shot that was blocked.

A very blurred celebration of Pereyra’s strike

There was an even better chance after Deeney did well to win the ball and release Pereyra who crossed for Doucouré who was in a great position, but his shot was disappointingly high and wide.  The action was straight down the other end where Azpilicueta hit a low cross which flew across the front of the goal with no Chelsea player there to apply the finishing touch.  Watford attacked again as Deulofeu intercepted a pass and broke forward before squaring for Deeney, whose shot was blocked.  The visitors were being frustrated by some great defending as first Cathcart and then Capoue (twice) snuffed out chances with brilliant tackles.  Towards the end of the half, Chelsea were forced to make a substitution replacing Pedro with Hudson-Odoi.   We were then distracted by the sight of Kabasele being wheeled out on a stretcher wearing an oxygen mask.  The Rookery rose to applaud him.  I suspect that his team mates were as perturbed as we were as, almost immediately, Capoue played a poor pass to Doucouré, Kovačič intercepted and fed Hazard who advanced and rounded Foster to open the scoring.  We were already in time added on at the end of the half, but there was still time for Watford to equalize.  Doucouré broke into the box, but the keeper dived at his feet to concede a corner.  The corner was taken short by Deulofeu, Holebas crossed and Pereyra volleyed brilliantly past Arrizabalaga.  Hopefully the cheers for the goal would have brightened Kabasele up as he made his way next door to the hospital.

So we reached half time with honours even after a decent enough half of football, even if all the shots on target had come in injury time.  My sister had kindly packed turkey sandwiches for us, which certainly hit the spot.

Deulofeu running on to a ball

Watford were shouting for a penalty after 54 minutes as Luiz flattened Deulofeu in the box.  Television pictures suggested that there was some wrestling between them, but you can’t help thinking that, had the same incident occurred in the Watford box, a penalty would have been awarded.  Needless to say, the next passage of play saw Hazard breaking into the box, Foster had no need to come out as Cathcart had it covered, but he did and pushed Hazard over.  There was no arguing with that one, it was an obvious penalty even from the opposite end of the ground, and Hazard made no mistake from the spot allowing Chelsea to regain the lead.  Foster was also booked for the foul.  It was very frustrating to be behind at this stage as the Hornets had dominated the start of the second half.  Watford fought back and Doucouré tried to find Deulofeu in the box, but the keeper just got there first.  Gracia made a second change half way through the half replacing Sema, who had a great game, with Quina.  The visitors had a decent chance to increase their lead as Willian had the ball on the edge of the box but whipped his shot wide.  Deulofeu then tried a shot from distance, but it was weak and easy for the keeper.   A mistake from Holebas allowed Hazard to break and find Kanté who shot wide of the far post.  There was a great chance for the Hornets to equalize as Doucouré played the ball in to Deeney at the near post, but Troy flicked his shot just over.  With 10 minutes to go, each side made changes as Kovačič and Hudson-Odoi (who had been the first Chelsea substitute) made way for Barkley and Emerson, and Success replaced Deulofeu for the Hornets.  Chelsea had a couple of late chances to increase their lead as, first, a corner came out to Jorginho who shot over the target.  Then Willian hit a low shot that Foster pushed around the post.  In time added on, Watford won a corner and Foster came up for it.  As the ball bounced around the box, Foster tried an overhead kick, such a shame that didn’t go in, but it certainly made me smile.  So the final whistle went on a narrow defeat for the Hornets.

Femenia, Sema and Doucoure keep an eye on Willian

Yet again, we were ruing missing our chances as we could easily have won a point in that game.  But, on the positive side, we were reflecting on a game in which we had matched one of the best teams in the country.  Watford no longer look like plucky underdogs in these games, but are playing with a similar quality to these household names.  There were regrets regarding the two penalties.  Watford’s would have been given on another day.  Chelsea’s was an unnecessary challenge by Foster but, given how well he has done for us this season, it is hard to criticise.

So we reach the half way stage of the season in the top half of the table with over twice as many points as the team in 18th place, so allowing us to continue to look up rather than down.

But the best news came this morning with a tweet from Kabasele that announced that he didn’t think that there was anything broken and “Great gesture of the goal post who visited me at hospital.”  I do love his sense of humour and it was wonderful that he let the fans know that he is better than might have been expected when we saw him taken out of the ground.  I wish him a full and speedy recovery.

Robbery at the Bridge

Toddy’s bunting

Toddy’s funeral took place on Wednesday.  It has to be said that his family and many friends gave him a magnificent send off and it was fitting that the wake was held in the Captain’s bar at Vicarage Road.  The help given to Toddy’s family by his friends at the club, especially Dave Messenger, has been outstanding and a testament to what he meant to the people there.

Due to some friends travelling in to London from distance and arriving early, I made a late choice to find a pre-match establishment in which to meet up.  So I found myself at 9:50 with a group of other Hornets waiting for the pub to open.  When we were finally admitted, it was only to find that they were not serving beer until 11.  However, the breakfast menu looked good, so I decided to have a coffee and something to eat.  I must say that smoked salmon, avocado and scrambled eggs is not my usual pre-match meal, but it was very nice indeed.  I then headed to another pub (for beer) and met some of our party at the bar.  It was a good crowd that gathered before kick-off, and rather lovely to be joined by Watford’s matchday announcers, Tim Coombs and Emma Saunders, travelling as fans for the day along with Emma’s Watford supporting family.

Gathering for a corner

Despite the weather warnings that had come due to Storm Brian (what sort of name is Brian for a storm?) it was a pleasant walk to the ground.  We saw signs for the Upper Shed so passed through security (a cursory look in my bag) only to find that we were at the entrance to the home section of the ground.  When we reached the away entrance, the security was considerably stiffer.  We had to negotiate repeating phalanxes of stewards before the final search.  I pointed out to the woman searching me that a physical search had not been deemed necessary at the home end, but she was having none of it.  I wonder if they ever find anything (apart from Mike’s Swiss Army knife).

To the seats and Dave M had secured a cracking view for the City Orns and was kindly sitting at the end of our row to keep an eye on us. Team news was just one change from the Arsenal game with Deeney, who had done so well after coming on as substitute, replacing Gray.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Kabasele, Britos; Femenía, Cleverley, Doucouré, Holebas; Pereyra, Deeney, Richarlison.

Holebas takes a free kick

After the recent runs of form for both Watford and Chelsea, we travelled to Stamford Bridge in an uncharacteristically positive mood.  But disaster struck after 12 minutes.  The ball clearly went out for a goal kick to the visitors, but the lino wasn’t paying attention.  He hesitated before making the decision, decided to take the advice of the Chelsea fans sitting behind him and awarded a corner. The delivery was taken short and found its way to Pedro who powered in off the far post, much to the anger of the travelling Hornets who let the linesman know exactly what they thought of him.  As did Jose Holebas, who was booked for his trouble.  The home side should have been two goals ahead side soon after as Fàbregas found himself in space with only Gomes to beat, but he tried to chip the keeper who reached up a hand and snuffed out the danger.  There was then a booking for either side, Mariappa for a foul on Hazard and Rüdiger for tripping Richarlison.  Both fouls looked rather soft.  Chelsea then had a couple of half chances.  Pedro tried a shot from distance that flew just wide of the far post.  Then David Luiz tried another shot from distance, but it was straight at Gomes.

Doucoure haring down the pitch to celebrate with the Watford fans

Watford came into the game on the half hour when Cleverley curled a free-kick over the wall and Courtois had to be smart to push the shot wide of the target.  Richarlison then threatened for the first time, firing over from outside the area.  The Brazilian then exchanged passes with Doucouré before shooting straight at Courtois.  At the other end, Luiz tried a shot from outside the area, but Gomes pushed the ball clear.  In time added on at the end of the half, Watford won a thrown-in in line with the penalty box.  I couldn’t believe that the players were taking so much time to take it.  First Femenía left the ball for Holebas, who took his time finding his space, he even had an aborted run-up.  I was sure that he had delayed too long and the ref would blow for half time as soon as he released the ball.  But he didn’t, it dropped for Doucouré, who fired past Courtois and the Hornets were level on the stroke of half time.  Gomes did his usual goal celebration in front of the Watford fans and Doucouré ran the length of the pitch to celebrate with us.

So it was honours even at half time, which was certainly no more than Watford deserved.

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal

Chelsea had a great chance to strike back at the start of the second half, but Mariappa was on hand to turn Azpilicueta’s cross over the bar from close range.  Then Femenía crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked allowing Chelsea to break and Pedro to send a shot from distance wide of the target.  Richarlison had a great chance to put Watford into the lead as he received a cross from Femenía, but he was a bit off balance and hit it with his left foot so it flew wide.  Had he been able to get it on to his other foot, it would have been in the net.  But the Hornets weren’t to be denied for long as a fantastic move finished with Richarlison finding Pereyra in space and he didn’t miss.  This time, the players were able to celebrate right in front of us before running to the dug-out and celebrating with the manager and the subs (and Pereyra with the medical staff).  It should have been 3-1 soon afterwards as Britos crossed for Richarlison, but the Brazilian headed just wide.  There was another booking for the home side as Morata was cautioned for a foul on Kabasele before being replaced with Batshuayi.  Sadly, Pereyra’s day was over soon after, as he took a knock winning a corner and had to be replaced by Carrillo.  The referee, who had done us no favours all afternoon allowed the corner to be taken before Carrillo came on.  The substitute made an early impression as he received a pass from Deeney before cutting back to Richarlison whose shot was deflected wide.  The home side made another substitution replacing Alonso with Willian.

A corner at the Shed end

With 20 minutes to go, and completely against the run of play, the home side levelled as Pedro crossed for Batshuayi to head past Gomes.  Watford looked to strike back as a Cleverley free-kick was met by the head of Kabasele who, sadly, directed the ball straight at the keeper.  The visitors then had another chance, this time from a corner but, again, Richarlison headed wide.  With 10 minutes to go Silva made rather an odd substitution replacing Deeney with Watson.  Chelsea had a great chance with a low free kick that reached Batshuayi who tuned it over the bar.  At the other end, Femenía’s cross was headed wide by Kabasele.  But it was the home side who took the lead as a cross from Willian reached Azpilicueta who headed home.  My reaction at the time was that this was a travesty.  The Chelsea fans started singing “That’s why we’re Champions’ which did make me laugh.  The arrogance, when they should have been somewhat shame-faced.  Silva made one last roll of the dice replacing Mariappa with Gray.  But it was Chelsea that made the further breakthrough.  There was time wasting both on and off the pitch as the ball was caught by an idiot in the crowd who decided to hold on to it, while Gomes waited for it to be returned.  There were two stewards within feet of the fool, but neither of them moved to allow the game to continue.  But more important for the outcome of the game was a moment of madness on the pitch as Britos dallied with the ball on the edge of the Watford area, then gave it away allowing Batshuayi to advance and score Chelsea’s fourth.  A scoreline that was extremely flattering to the home side.

Cleverley lines up a free kick

I was furious at the end of the game.  But we had been our own worst enemies.  In this division you cannot expect to win games if you don’t take your chances.  Watford missed some sitters, while Chelsea were clinical.

But, what the hell, there have been enough occasions in recent years when I have left Stamford Bridge fuming because we had been humiliated.  On this occasion, we were easily the equal of the home side and deserved at least a point.

When we were promoted, I really didn’t believe that we would find ourselves in such a position.  We are sixth in the table on merit, having already played 4 of the “top 6” and only been second best to Manchester City.  So I will continue to enjoy the football whether we win or lose and marvel at what a great team we are currently watching.