Tag Archives: Dean Smith

A Disappointing Set Back in Birmingham

Craig Dawson

Another Tuesday lunchtime, another trip to Euston to travel to a match.  On this occasion, at least, I was confident of seeing a game.

I arrived in Birmingham bright and early.  It was another lovely day, although rather icy.  I dropped my overnight things off at the hotel.  I had stayed in London on Monday night, after a trip to the theatre and, on arrival, was horrified to realise that I had forgotten to bring my yellow shirt.  I was vainly hoping that we would have an outing for the away shirt, but a check on the Premier League twitter feed confirmed that I would be unsuitably attired for the game.  At least I had two yellow, red and black scarves with me.

Having dropped my bag, I headed for the designated pub to find the rest of my party already gathered at a table near the door.  The usual suspects were joined by Jacque’s colleague, Adam, a Villa fan who was braving our company again so soon after the home game.  After a couple of pints and a lovely meal with great company, we set off to catch the bus to Villa Park.   For some reason, I found myself in a very irritable mood on the bus (not that unusual for me, but there was no reason for it on this occasion).  So, when I met Kate on the way in and she said, “I don’t have a good feeling about this,” I couldn’t help agreeing with her.  When we took our seats in the row second from the back of the lower tier, I was delighted to see that the seats behind me were occupied by the family who sit in front of me in the Rookery.  On National Hug Day, the greeting was as warm as I would have hoped.

Ben Foster takes a goal kick

Team news was that Pearson had made just the one enforced change from the weekend with the injured Sarr replaced by Pereyra.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Dawson, Mariappa; Capoue, Chalobah; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney.

The game kicked off and the Hornets created an early chance as Deulofeu met a cross from Pereyra, but the header was easily caught by Reina in the Villa goal.  Watford had another half chance as Mariappa crossed for Deeney who tried to side foot home but, again, the Villa keeper wasn’t overly tested.  The home side then had a couple of chances from corners but, first Konsa, and then Hause headed wide of the target.  Villa’s next chance came as Grealish crossed for Trézéguet whose shot was blocked.  On the half hour mark, Pereyra picked up the ball on the edge of the area turned and shot but his effort was blocked.  At the other end, Targett took a shot from the edge of the area, but it was straight at Foster.  Soon after, the ball reached El Ghazi in the box, but his shot was over the bar from what looked like an offside position (the lino on our side was struggling to keep up).  Targett then tried his luck, but his shot was from an awkward angle and he was unable to get it on target.

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

The Hornets took the lead on 38 minutes when a lovely cross from Deulofeu was met by the head of Deeney who beat Reina at the Holte End, which will have amused him greatly.  It certainly prompted massive celebrations in the away section and a loud chorus of “That boy Troy Deeney, he hates the Villa.”  We should have been two up before half time as Deulofeu went on a tremendous run, it was clear that the angle was too acute and he had two team mates in the box ready for a tap-in, but he proceeded to take the shot himself and only found the side-netting.  The last action of the half was the first caution of the game which went to Mings for a late foul on Doucouré.

The half time whistle went to boos from the home supporters.  It had been an even contest and very dull.  The Hornets were somewhat lucky to be ahead at the break although they had created the best chances of the afternoon and, if Deulofeu had been less selfish, they could have been two goals to the good.

The half time entertainment was a contest to get a football onto a target on the pitch with prizes assigned according to where the ball stopped.  One bloke won a season ticket for next season.  I was going to make a joke here about feeling sorry for him, but my experience of Villa fans is that they are great and I am sure he was delighted.

Pereyra alert in the Villa box

The first chance of the second half went to the home side from a free kick but it was headed clear by Dawson.  Villa threatened again from a corner but Trézéguet’s delivery was headed over by Hause.  Then a dangerous looking shot from distance by Konsa flew well wide of the far post.  The Hornets should have scored a second when a cross from Deulofeu was parried by Reina to Deeney who had two chances to finish from close range, but Reina did brilliantly to keep them out.  The first substitution of the game was made by the home side as Drinkwater made way for Luiz.  Watford threatened again with a lovely one-two between Pereyra and Doucouré that was stopped by an excellent tackle from Guilbert.  Villa had a half chance when Targett met a deep cross, but the header was easy for Foster.  There was controversy on 63 minutes as Mings stopped an attack by Deulofeu by handling the ball.  The Villa man had already been booked, so was lucky not to see red.  Villa drew level on 68 minutes when Grealish played in Targett whose shot was saved by Foster, but the ball dropped to Luiz who hit the target.  The goal felt like it had been coming as Watford had been sitting back and giving the home side too much space.  The Hornets had a chance to hit back from a corner, Reina spilled Chalobah’s delivery but was able to recover before any Watford player could capitalise.

Capoue and Doucoure leave the lads to take a free kick

With 15 minutes remaining, Pearson made his first change as Chalobah made way for Pussetto.  I thought it was a slightly odd substitution, I would have taken Pereyra off.  A worrying Villa attack was stopped when Foster came out to gather the ball before Trézéguet could reach it.  Cathcart was booked for a foul on Grealish during the build-up.  Villa then made a second substitution replacing Trézéguet with Vassilev.  With 10 minutes remaining, Mariappa tried to test the Villa keeper with a cross, but Reina was able to gather and Doucouré was booked for colliding with the keeper as he tried to challenge for the ball.  With nine minutes to go, Pearson made a second substitution replacing Pereyra with Gray.  Andre was immediately involved in a very promising move as he raced forward, with Deulofeu in close attendance, but his square pass to his teammate was very poor and was easily cut out.  The Hornets created a better chance as Doucouré crossed for Pussetto who headed back towards Gray but Andre couldn’t quite reach the ball and again it was cleared.  There were shouts for a penalty as Grealish tumbled in the box, but the referee waved the protests away.  Pearson made a final change in time added on replacing Deulofeu with Kabasele.  Unfortunately the substitution did not shore up the defence as he would have hoped as Watford failed to clear a free kick and a shot from Konsa deflected off Mings and past Foster to give the home side the win with the last kick of the game.  It was a cruel end to the match and to Watford’s great run.

Masina and Deulofeu prepare to take a free kick

We left the ground feeling very disappointed and had to walk through a crowd of exuberant Villa fans chanting, “Deeney what’s the score?”  On that note, it was lovely to see Villa fans on social media after the game singing the praises of Troy for stopping to have his photo taken with them.  A true pantomime villain who loves the back and forth with the fans.  We were quickly back on the bus to the city centre and retired to a pub to drown our sorrows.

That was probably the worst performance that we have put in since Nigel Pearson took over.  We greatly missed Sarr, who has been superb in recent weeks and has been frightening the life out of opposition defences.  But my biggest beef was that we sat back too much and allowed Villa space.  At our place, we had pressed them and got under the skin of Grealish who became petulant and increasingly ineffective.  He had a much better game at Villa Park and they looked stronger as a result.  But, looking at the balance of chances, it was the old story of not making the most of our best opportunities.  Had we converted those chances, we would have taken the three points, although a lot of the credit for that has to go to Pepe Reina.

So, we end the evening back in the relegation zone, if only on goal difference, and my nerves started jangling again.  My angry reaction after the game, that that was what happens if you become complacent, was directed at myself rather than any of the players.  But we have some very winnable games coming up, so we just need to forget this set back and continue playing as well as we have been in the last month.  If we do that, we will be fine.

 

Ending the Decade on a High

A festive Hornet shop

I left home bright and early aiming to be at the West Herts at midday.  Unfortunately, a signalling problem at West Drayton meant that the train that I had planned to catch from Slough was cancelled and I ended up on a train that had made an unscheduled stop due to congestion and kindly opened its doors to let the stranded passengers on.  It was slow progress and I finally arrived in the West Herts nearly three hours after leaving home and just in time to see Don leaving for the ground.

Most of our usual crowd were gathered at ‘our’ table with the addition of Jacque’s colleague, Adam, who is a Villa fan and was not relishing the prospect of the game, while the Watford contingent were fired up with some newfound optimism after the last couple of results.

The decision about what to have for lunch is usually quite simple but, on this occasion, I was in the horns of a dilemma.  I do love the jerk chicken but, for some reason, I had ordered sausage and chips before the Man United game, so that now qualified as the lucky lunch and had to be my order.

Capoue barking instructions

My sister had been unable to buy a ticket for the game, having left it late before finding that it was (surprisingly) sold out.  Luckily a friend wasn’t using hers and kindly offered to lend it to her.  We had arranged to meet Pete outside the Red Lion to pick up the spare ticket and I had handed my ticket to my sister so that she could sit with her daughter, so I left the West Herts not having a ticket for the game on my person, which induced a ridiculous mini panic until I spotted Pete and had Julie’s ticket in my hands (thank you, Julie).

Team news was that Pearson had made only one change with Chalobah making way for Doucouré on his return from suspension.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Capoue, Hughes; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Sarr; Deeney.

I tried to take a spare seat in my usual row to sit with the family, but the lad who usually sits there turned up just after kick-off so I belatedly made my way to the back of the Rookery to sit with Pete and experience a different (elevated) view of the field of play.

Celebrating Troy’s first goal

The Hornets started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead as a corner from Hughes was headed on by Deeney to Kabasele whose shot was stopped by a reaction save from Heaton in the Villa goal.  Then Deulofeu played a cross-field ball to Sarr, whose shot was blocked by a defender for a corner that came to nothing.  There was little more action of note until the 26th minute when Villa launched a counterattack, Hourihane crossed for Wesley who looked to have scored with a header from close range, but a brilliant save from Foster kept him out.  The visitors had a shout for a penalty when Wesley went down in the box following a challenge by Cathcart.  It was an age before the VAR check came up on the big screen and there were loud cheers when the referee indicated that we were to play on.  The Hornets fashioned another chance when a free kick from Hughes was punched clear by Heaton, but only as far as Doucouré whose shot was well over the bar.  Soon after, a free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Sarr but the ball ended up on the roof of the net.  Then Mariappa released Sarr who played a lovely low cross into the box but there was no Watford player to meet it, so it was easily gathered by Heaton.  Hughes was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance, but it was well over the target.  A lovely cross-field ball from Capoue found Sarr who cut into the box, but his shot was deflected for a corner.  Watford nearly broke the deadlock from the set piece when the ball dropped to Deeney, but he hit his shot straight at Heaton.  Watford finally took the lead in the 42nd minute when Villa gave the ball away, Doucouré tried a shot that was parried by Heaton to Deeney who put the ball under the Villa keeper and into the net.  So the Hornets went into half time with a narrow lead.  It was well deserved as, apart from the early shot from Wesley, it had been all Watford.

Gathering for a corner

The half time guest was Bill Shipwright, who played for Watford in the 50s so was way before my time and I couldn’t hear the interview.  There was also the added bonus of Christian Battochio who was on ticket duty for the 50/50 draw.

Pearson was forced to make a substitution at the break.  Hughes had picked up an injury towards the end of the first half and was replaced by Chalobah.  Villa also made a change bringing El Ghazi on for Jota.  The Hornets started the half in a positive manner with a shot from Doucouré that was deflected for a corner.  Watford threatened again as Capoue crossed for Sarr whose shot was blocked.  The first booking of the game went to Mariappa for a foul on Grealish.  Chalobah then had a chance to extend the Watford lead with a shot from distance that cleared the bar.  Disaster then befell the home side as Mariappa was shown a second yellow for a supposed foul on former Watford loanee, Lansbury.  From my vantage point it appeared that Lansbury ran into Mariappa (who doesn’t have a bad bone in his body), but pleas to the referee fell on deaf ears and the Hornets were reduced to 10 men with over half an hour of the game to go.  Pearson immediately made a change and you had to feel for Chalobah who was sacrificed for Dawson.

Sarr and Capoue are under there somewhere

Just as the nerves were starting to jangle, Deeney ran into the box and was brought down by Luiz.  It looked a bit soft from behind the goal but, having seen it later from another angle (as the VAR did), it was nailed on as Deeney was shoved to the ground.  There was a delay before the spot kick could be taken as Targett had been down injured.  There were some complaints from Villa players that the Hornets had played on around him, but they had had the opportunity to put the ball out of play when he first went down and had not done so, so their complaints were unwarranted.  Targett was replaced by Guilbert before the penalty could be taken.  Then Troy stepped up and blasted the ball down the middle to put the Hornets two goals up and ease my nerves somewhat.  The nerves were properly calmed on 70 minutes when Deeney released Capoue who played a gorgeous cross for Sarr who sped into the box to meet it and shot past Heaton.  My heart sank when VAR was invoked for a possible foul in the build-up and I begged for that gorgeous goal not to be disallowed.  After an agonising wait, the referee pointed to the centre circle and I punched the air again.  On 72 minutes, GT’s face came up on the big screen adorned with both Watford and Villa badges and the great man’s name was sung with gusto as I wiped a tear from my eye.

Capoue, Doucoure and Femenia prepare for a free kick

The visitors made a final change bringing Kodja on for Lansbury.  The referee’s card was out again as Capoue was booked for an altercation with Grealish.  On 77 minutes, Villa had their first on-target shot of the half as Hourihane tried his luck from the edge of the area, but his shot was straight at Foster.  There was another booking for the Hornets as Sarr was cautioned for trying to stop a Villa free kick.  When they finally took it, the ball was played out to Grealish whose shot flew wide of the near post.  The final change for the Hornets saw Masina on to replace Cathcart, who had been treated for an injury shortly before.  Grealish had another chance to pull a goal back with a shot from outside the area but, again, his effort flew wide of the near post.  There were two late bookings, one for each side.  First Deeney for bundling Luiz over.  Then Grealish for kicking the ball at Sarr as he lay on the ground.  The booking for the Villa captain was not before time as he had been behaving petulantly all afternoon.  There was a touch of handbags at this point, but no more cards were shown and the final whistle went on a very satisfying win for the Hornets.

Capoue readying to take a corner

I had rather enjoyed my afternoon watching the game from the gods.  It is nice to have a different perspective and it was noisier up there with the contribution of the few from the 1881 that moved just behind us.  My neighbours were rather lovely too.  A man with his two small daughters, which I always love to see.  Needless to say, when the crowd rose to their feet, which they did less often than they do further down where I usually sit, the father would lift the girl next to me off her seat so that she could see and I made myself useful by putting the seat down for her to stand on.  We had it down to a fine art by the end of the game.

Back to the West Herts and we were all smiles, apart from poor Adam who was very gracious in defeat admitting that they deserved nothing from the game.  It had been a tremendous performance from the Hornets who had run the show all afternoon.  The game took place less than 48 hours after the end of the United game and yet the players were all working very hard for the win and were resilient when down to 10 men.  Deulofeu worked his socks off and was unlucky not to have more influence on the game.  Femenía was tremendous again in the left back position.  Deeney was back to his battling self and was thoroughly enjoying answering the jeers of the Villa fans with his goals.  But it was Sarr who deservedly won man of the match for a wonderful performance.  It took him a while to learn how to play the English game, but he is now showing why the Pozzos paid all that money for him.  A month ago we felt doomed, now we are only 3 points away from safety and our prospects for the new year are looking increasingly positive.

So, following the last game of this decade, I can’t help but reflect on the past 10 years.  We started 2010 with Malky in charge and an unhappy ownership who were struggling for money.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, we then had the horror of Bassini’s reign, and I am so thankful that there were still good people on the board and among the staff who kept the club going.  The arrival of the Pozzos had some concerned about foreign ownership, but they have built the team and the infrastructure into one that can compete in the Premier League while still maintaining the feel of a community club and for that I will be eternally grateful.  While the start to this season was dreadful, we go into 2020 with a spirit of optimism and I look forward to more wonderful adventures over the next 10 years following my team.

A Pre-season Double-header

A lovely present from the club

Although I tend to make the most of my Summer break from football, it is always good when pre-season comes around.  Unusually, the first games for the first team were on the pre-season tour, which I didn’t make this year due to work commitments that also prevented me from making the trips to Welling and Hemel to see the U23s.  So my first chance to see the lads was to be the trip to Stevenage.

Oddly, Watford had arranged two games in two days that both appeared on the first team page, so a lot of fans stayed away on Friday night thinking that it would be a run out for the U23s.  My attendance was also looking a little in doubt as technical difficulties meant that the 4pm meeting at work started 15 minutes late.  That and disruption on the East Coast line had me a little nervous about making it, but I arrived at King’s Cross in time for the planned train which was running on time, so I was in the pub not long after 6 enjoying my first pre-match pint of the season.

After the heatwave, most of which I have spent stuck indoors (partly through choice), there was an irony in the fact that my return to football watching coincided with a thunderstorm.  It started rather gently, so we decided to stay outside in the beer garden but were persuaded to take shelter when the forked lightning appeared.  The walk to the ground was in a downpour, but after the oppressive heat that we have had, the soaking was rather lovely.

Masina and Sema join the fray

Team news was that Gracia had picked a very strong first XI which would give us a chance to see some new faces as the starting line-up was Gomes; Navarro, Prödl, Mariappa, Masina; Hughes, Rodwell, Wilmot, Sema; Jakubiak, Deeney.  Pete and I had turned up wearing the lovely new green away kit.  Mine had arrived by special delivery the week before in a presentation box with a letter from Troy thanking me for attending all 19 away games last season.  A really lovely gesture from the club that made me feel appreciated after turning up on a Wednesday night in Stoke.  We had assumed that it would get a run out, especially when we saw the officials warming up in yellow kits, but the lads emerged from the tunnel wearing the home stripes to confound us.

 

 

Ben Wilmot

Watford started the game very brightly with Wilmot almost opening the scoring against his old club after some good work from Sema on the wing, but his shot was just wide of the target.  The Stevenage goalkeeper, Farman, then pulled off an excellent flying save to keep out a shot from Hughes.  From the resulting corner, Farman again did very well to save a header from Prödl.  Watford continued to dominate without creating much in front of goal until near the half hour mark when Jakubiak found the side netting.  Hughes was the next to threaten the Stevenage goal, but Farman pulled off another decent save and was then out to frustrate Jakubiak as he bore down on goal.  The home side didn’t test Gomes until just before half time when Nugent rose to meet a free kick with a powerful header that the Brazilian stopper did well to keep out.

So we reached half time goalless, but it had been a decent showing from the Hornets who had been unlucky to find the Stevenage keeper in top form.  At the other end of the pitch, it was pleasing to see that Gomes was being shown a lot of love by the Watford fans who had made the journey.

Congratulating Gray after scoring the winner

At half time, Gracia must have been alone in the dressing room as all the substitutes appeared to be warming up and the first half team warming down, but there were actually no changes for the Hornets at the break.

Stevenage were much the brighter team at the start of the second half and had a great chance to take the lead with a header from Revell, but Gomes did brilliantly to keep it out.  On the hour mark, Gracia made nine changes bringing Janmaat, Britos, Cathcart, Holebas, Charles, Capoue, Pereyra, Success and Gray on to join Hughes and Gomes, who would play the entire 90 minutes.  The Hornets got back on top after the substitutions and should have opened the scoring when Pereyra unleashing a lovely curling shot, but Farman was again equal to it.  Just as it seemed that the night would end goalless, Farman made his first mistake of the evening allowing Pereyra to cross for Gray to head home from close range and the Hornets left Stevenage with a slightly fortunate win.

Challenging on the goal line

It was a game of two halves.  The first half had been all Watford with some lively play that should have given us a comfortable lead, if it wasn’t for the performance of the keeper.  The second half was less convincing, but improved after the substitutions.  I liked the look of the new players although I have yet to put a name to most of them.  One bizarre aspect of the evening was the involvement of Kabasele, who took no part in the game but was doing timed sprints on the sidelines.  I swear he ran as far as some of those who actually played.

After a restful night’s sleep, I had a Saturday lunchtime trip to West London to see the Hornets play at Brentford.  In contrast to the previous evening, we found ourselves sitting in a pub garden in blazing sunshine.  Our choice of pre-match establishment wasn’t one of the four on the corners of the ground, but it was rather lovely, if very partisan, with the staff wearing Brentford shirts and flags up all around.  I wondered whether it was a good omen when one of the flags fell off the door.  Oh the straws we clutch on to as fans.

Janmaat and Charles waiting for a throw-in

Pete and I thought we had left in plenty of time to get to the ground for kick-off and there wasn’t much of a queue outside, but it took an age to get through the turnstiles as, instead of just taking your tenner, they then grabbed a ticket which was scanned and the counterfoil torn off before you were permitted into the ground.  With the choice of sitting or standing, we opted for the terraces and took our place at a crush barrier behind the goal.

As was expected most of the starting XI were those that had played the last half hour at Stevenage.  So the line-up was Foster (GK); Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos, Holebas; Pereyra, Charles, Capoue (C), Sema; Success, Gray.  Foster was given a tremendous welcome by the Watford fans with chants of “Foster’s coming home.”  My main concern with the line-up was that Kabasele would be worn out after the workout that he was given on the sideline the night before.

Pete and I had persisted with wearing our green shirts so were happy to see the team were also resplendent in the emerald.  Unfortunately, it had taken so long to get through the turnstiles that we missed kick-off, but arrived on the terrace behind the goal in time to see Foster parry a free-kick from Marcondes, it dropped to Watkins who finished to give the Bees an early lead.  Watford had a chance to break back almost immediately, but Success undid the good work of his run by shooting straight at Bentley in the Brentford goal.

Pereyra takes a free kick

There was a better chance for Pereyra whose cheeky flick bounced off the top of the crossbar.  Gray then had a decent shot that just cleared the bar.  The opening goal came on 25 minutes as Pereyra tried a shot, the keeper was equal to it but Dalsgaard mishit his clearance which found the net to draw the visitors level.  Ten minutes later, the Hornets took the lead as Gray finished from the edge of the area.  I am ashamed to say that I missed the goal as the substitutes were walking in front of the away terrace and I was distracted by how blond Prödl seems to have gone this Summer!  I sensed I wasn’t the only one to miss the goal as there soon followed a chant from the kids to the right of me of “Let’s pretend that we have scored.”  The Hornets had a chance to increase their lead before half time, but this time Gray’s shot was just over the bar.

At half-time Masina replaced Holebas then, on the hour, Gracia made wholesale changes bringing Navarro, Prödl, Rodwell, Wilmot, Mariappa, Deeney and Jakubiak on to replace Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos, Charles, Capoue, Sema and Gray.  Soon after the substitutions, Success had a great chance to increase the lead for the Hornets but, as too often, a tremendous run finished with a terrible shot.  Watkins had a couple of chances to restore parity for the home side, first with a shot across goal and then with a long range shot that was caught by Foster.  The Hornets had the ball in the net on two more occasions, once from a Pereyra header, and then a shot from Deeney who got ahead of the defence before poking home, but both were adjudged to be offside, so the game finished with a narrow win for the visitors.

It had been a typical pre-season game.  A run out that gave few clues to what we can expect for the rest of the season, but it was an enjoyable enough afternoon.  Bizarrely, the atmosphere in the away end was livelier than I am used to at pre-season games, although the chanting was dominated by anti-Luton songs, being delivered by kids who, if I am any judge of ages, are too young ever to have seen Watford play them up the road.

Post-match it was back to one of the pubs on the corner to confirm that none of us was any the wiser, but the beer was good.  Some wonder why we bother with pre-season games.  Personally, I enjoy getting back in the swing of things with the chance to see the new players or the new hair cuts on the old players and to have an afternoon out with friends knowing that the result won’t make much difference to the enjoyment of the day.