Tag Archives: Deandre Yedlin

Held at Home by the Magpies

Pereyra and Masina line up a free kick with Harry Hornet watching on

With Christmas all done and dusted, it was back to the West Herts for the last pre-game drinks of 2018.  I had arrived pretty early, but there were already a couple of friends at our usual table, including Don who is always there waiting for the doors to open.  One of my jobs of the day was to pass on the tickets for Woking to my group.  Being something of a control freak, I usually make the bookings for away games for my group of friends.  This does tend to make me a little anxious in case I forget someone.  The small number of tickets available for the cup tie increased the anxiety levels considerably.  There had been a sigh of relief when all the tickets arrived, and a weight lifted from my shoulders when I was able to pass them on.

Mike had spent Christmas in Lisbon and I had thoroughly enjoyed reading his blog posts about his trip, which had convinced me that I must make a proper visit, having only ever been there for work.  One of the features of his trip had been his daily consumption of pastel de nata, and he had kindly brought back a box to share.  They were absolutely delicious.  It was also a day to raise a glass to his lovely wife, Dee, on her anniversary.  She is greatly missed by us all.

When the team was announced, we were all rather surprised to hear that Gracia had made six changes from Boxing Day with Janmaat, Masina, Mariappa, Quina, Hughes and Success coming in for Femenía, Holebas, Kabasele, Doucouré, Sema and Deeney.  So the new look starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Masina; Hughes, Quina, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Success.  I must say that I was somewhat concerned at the number of changes.

Challenging in the Newcastle box

The first chance of the game fell to the home side as a corner from Pereyra reached Quina whose volley from distance cleared the bar.  It wasn’t long before the visiting Newcastle fans were in full voice, although I am sure Daryl Janmaat could have done without the chants that were being aimed at him.  Back on the pitch, a gorgeous ball from Hughes found Deulofeu, but Dummett was on hand to put him off and he poked wide of the near post.  Newcastle’s first attack of note came as Ritchie tried to release Rondón, but he was stopped by the linesman’s flag.  Deulofeu threatened again as he latched on to a through ball from Pereyra but his shot was blocked by the keeper, Dúbravka.  The visitors took the lead just before the half hour mark as Atsu broke forward and found Ritchie who crossed for Rondón to head past Foster.  Although the home side had been dominant up to that point, they had gone behind to the first on-target shot of the game.  The Watford players looked a bit shaken at going behind and a rare mistake from Cathcart looked as though it would cause more trouble, but Foster came out to make the tackle.  With 5 minutes to go until half time, Rondón had the ball in the net for the second time, but this time the flag was up and the goal was disallowed, which came as a great relief.  Watford tried to hit back as Hughes found Success but his shot from distance was saved by Dúbravka.  The first booking of the game went to Masina for a foul on Yedlin.  The last chance of the half came as Hughes found Success but, again the shot was blocked and we reached half time a goal down.

Capoue patiently waits to take a free kick

It was another frustrating half of football.  Watford had been rather lacklustre, but had still dominated the first half hour without creating any meaningful chances.  They fell apart a little after the goal and there were some nervous moments late in the half.  The performance would have to be much better in the second half if we were to get anything out of this game.

The visitors made a substitution at half time replacing Fernández, who had picked up an injury, with Schär.  Watford won a free kick on the edge of the area at the beginning of the second half, Pereyra stepped up to take it, but blasted it in to the wall.  Newcastle had a chance to increase their lead from a corner, but Rondón’s header flew just over the bar.  Gracia made two changes on 54 minutes replacing Hughes and Quina with Deeney and Doucouré.  The guy behind me summed up my feelings with his comment “We can play football, why aren’t we?”  There was a glimpse of what we can do as a good move ended with the ball with Deeney in the box, but he was crowded out before he could shoot.  Yedlin received a silly booking for throwing the ball away.  Then Ritchie tried a shot from distance, but it was straight at Foster.

Goalscorer Doucoure

Watford were playing more positively now and a ball into the Newcastle box was punched by Dúbravka but fell to Janmaat whose cross was met by the head of Deeney, but his effort was easily gathered by the Newcastle keeper.  With 12 minutes to go, there was a substitution for each side as Shelvey replaced Hayden for the visitors and Masina made way for Holebas for the Hornets.  With only 8 minutes of normal time remaining, Watford finally got the equaliser as Deulofeu put in a lovely cross and Doucouré rose to head home.  Game on!  Watford were pushing for a winner and had a decent chance when a Holebas free kick dropped for Success, but his shot was over the bar.  Then Pereyra ran on to a ball into the box and went down under a challenge, he appealed for the penalty, but his appeals were rightly waved away, it would have been a very soft penalty if given.  Pereyra tried his luck again after receiving a ball from Success, but he ran into traffic in the box.  Schär was then booked for a nasty foul on Success, who had been going down far too easily when challenged, but actually had my sympathy on this occasion.  Holebas took the free kick, but Doucouré was unable to connect on this occasion.  The Frenchman had another chance to put the home side in front as he met a ball from Deulofeu, it rolled agonisingly just wide of the near post, but wouldn’t have counted anyway as the flag was up.  The Hornets had one last chance to grab a winner as a ball upfield was headed on by Deeney to Success but his low shot was saved by Dúbravka and the game ended with honours even.

Masina and Pereyra eyeing the Newcastle wall

That is the second time that we have played Newcastle this season and the second time that we have come away frustrated.  The visitors were certainly more impressive than they had been at St James’ Park, but we should have challenged them more.  They had come to put 10 men behind the ball and Watford just couldn’t find a way to break them down.  While there had been a lot of changes, the starting XI should have been good enough to create more than they did in the first half.  The performance was considerably better when Deeney and Doucouré came on.  They battled more when the opposition had the ball and we generally looked more dangerous.  We also missed Holebas’s attacking prowess.

There were some very odd results this weekend, with Cardiff beating Leicester and Wolves getting a surprising win at Spurs on Saturday and then West Ham losing to Burnley on Sunday, which all made me feel a bit better about our draw.  That was also helped by the fact that the result didn’t see us losing any ground, so we finish the year in the top half of the Premier League.

After the game, it was back to the West Herts for a couple of post-match pints accompanied by Liverpool’s frankly terrifying performance against Arsenal.  As I eventually made my way home, I reflected on the day as a whole.  I love football and the Hornets have given me many happy memories with their performances on the field over the years. But, even if the game is poor or frustrating, my match days are spent in the company of some lovely people and that is what makes them so very special.  So, as the year comes to an end, I will raise a glass to my football family and thank them for making even the worst football match a good day out.

I extend those good wishes to all who read this blog.  I hope that you have a very happy new year and that the Hornets continue to give us much to celebrate in 2019.

Wasteful Finishing Leads to a Loss on the Tyne

The view of the Tyne Bridge and the Sage, Gateshead from the back of the stand at St James Park

As has become our custom when playing in the North-East, we arranged to meet in Durham on Friday evening.  This plan appeared to be threatened when I received an invitation to travel to New York for a work event on Thursday morning.  But, despite a hiccup due to a slight delay on my return flight, my travel planning turned out to be spot on.  I arrived at Heathrow soon after 9:30am on Friday giving me time to get home for a shower and change of clothes before arriving at Kings Cross in plenty of time for my train at 1:30pm.

The Friday evening meal and drinks were lovely, although the wine flowed a little too freely, for which I have nobody to blame but myself.  The walk from the city centre to the railway station in Durham is up a series of flights of steps.  I saw it as training for the climb to the away stand in St James’s Park later in the day.  On arrival in Newcastle, we had a lovely breakfast followed by a walk along the Tyne which was enlivened by a troupe of teenage girl acrobats, wearing even less than your average Geordie, putting on a display that included some precariously standing on their friends’ shoulders and appearing in distinct danger of being blown into the river.  As if that wasn’t enough, there was a bonkers busker who decided to serenade the couples out for a ‘romantic’ walk with a rendition of Minnie Ripperton’s “Lovin’ You” which was unexpected and impressive as he (sort of) hit the high notes.

My view of the minute’s silence

We were outside the door of our chosen pre-match establishment before they opened and managed to secure a secluded area for our party.  As we enjoyed our refreshments, we were visited by a Newcastle fan dropping off flyers detailing the upcoming protests against Mike Ashley.  Today’s was an 11th minute brandishing of the leaflet reading “Get out of our Club” and a protest outside the lounge at the end of the game.  I was also delighted to be joined by my sister and brother-in-law who had come up on the supporters coach which had arrived in Newcastle uncharacteristically early.

We left in plenty of time to take the stroll uphill to the ground, before scaling the 14 flights to the stand.  On arrival, we were less than delighted to discover that our seats were almost at the back requiring us to negotiate another steep flight of steps and ensuring that I had worked off my breakfast prior to kick-off.

Team news was that Gracia had made the one change with Holebas returning in place of Masina.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Mariappa, Femenía; Pereyra, Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes; Success, Deulofeu.

The minute’s silence at pitch level

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s silence for Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the Leicester owner, and the others who lost their lives in the helicopter crash last weekend.  The silence spontaneously erupted into applause, which seemed appropriate for a man who had given so much to his community.  The contrast with the feelings of the locals for the Newcastle owner was not lost on me.

The first attack of note was made by the home side with a cross that was met by a wayward header from Mariappa that went out for a corner, the delivery of which by Shelvey was cleared by Hughes.  At the other end Capoue broke and fed Pereyra who was tackled, the ball fell to Deulofeu whose shot was deflected for a corner.  Former Watford loanee, Kenedy, was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that was well wide of the target.  Then, as Muto broke forward, a shout of “handball” went up from the travelling Hornets, who took full credit when the referee blew up even though we knew that he couldn’t possibly have heard us.

Holebas lining up a corner with Pereyra in attendance

Pereyra and Holebas then combined brilliantly to get the ball to Hughes in the box, but the ball stuck under his feet and a tackle came in before he could shoot.  Watford should have taken the lead after 15 minutes when Mariappa met a Holebas corner with a header that was blocked on the line, the rebound fell to Hughes whose shot was also blocked, Mariappa had a second chance to score but shot just wide of the near post.  Newcastle were still causing the Hornets problems and a terrific shot from Diamé needed a good save from Foster to keep it out.  A lovely Watford move deserved more as Success found Deulofeu who broke into the box but was tackled before he could shoot.  This was followed by another gorgeous passage of play from the Hornets as Pereyra played the ball out to Holebas who put in a low cross for Deulofeu, but the Spaniard snatched at his shot and the ball flew wide of the near post.   At the other end, a misplaced pass allowed Kenedy to break, but he was stopped by a brilliant saving tackle by Mariappa.  Watford had another great chance to open the scoring as Success broke forward and passed to Deulofeu who was in an acre of space and should have done better with only the keeper to beat, but his shot was wide of the far post.

Breaking at a corner

A decent break from the home side was stopped by some clever defending from Holebas who managed to get in front of the Newcastle man and draw a foul.  Holebas was the centre of attention again soon after as he changed his shorts on the sideline.  Unfortunately my camera was in my pocket at the time.  Watford then won a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery from Capoue flew just over the bar.  The Frenchman was then booked for a tackle from behind on Muto.  Shelvey took the free kick, which was in an equally dangerous position, but his effort was well over the bar.  Deulofeu threatened again as he broke down the left, but his shot hit the side netting.  Watford had yet another decent chance as Pereyra played Success in, but the shot was blocked.  There was a final chance for the Hornets to take the lead before the break when Deulofeu slid the ball through to Success, but Dubravka was equal to the shot.  Despite Watford’s numerous chances during the half, that was the first save that the Newcastle keeper had had to make.  In the minute added on at the end of the half, Benitez made a substitution bringing Pérez on for Muto, who had taken a knock.  A decision that provoked a furious rant from Pete about the sheer pointlessness of the move when he could have had 20 minutes to recover.  Needless to say, the half time whistle went with the substitute not having had a touch and the game goalless.  It had been a frustrating half for the travelling Hornets.  Watford had much the better of the play and had created plenty of chances, Deulofeu could have had a hat trick on his own, but the finishing had been wasteful.

Pereyra, Holebas and Capoue gather for a free kick

The home side made another injury-enforced change at the break with Lascelles making way for Schär.  Watford had a superb chance to take the lead early in the second half when Success fought his way past Yedlin before passing to Pereyra whose shot looked all the way in until the crossbar got in the way.  Benitez was forced to make his final substitution only five minutes into the half when Shelvey was replaced by Ki, again due to an injury. Watford had another chance to take the lead from a corner, but Cathcart’s header was just over the bar.  Newcastle threatened as Rondón ran on to a through ball, Foster made a brave save, although he needn’t have bothered as the flag had gone up for offside anyway.  Foster came to the rescue again, punching a Ritchie corner clear, the ball came back in from Ki, but Foster gathered.  Hughes was then booked for a foul on Ki, conceding a free kick in a dangerous position.  Ki delivered the free-kick himself and it was headed home by Pérez to give the home side an unexpected lead.  Gracia made an immediate change bringing Gray on for Deulofeu.

Holebas delivers a corner

From the restart Newcastle broke forward, but Foster came out to make the tackle and avert the danger.  The home side had a great chance for a second goal soon after as a Kenedy cross was met by a header from Rondón that flew just wide of the target.  At the other end, a ball was launched for Success to run on to, but he let it run out of play much to the frustration of the travelling Hornets.  Kenedy did well to beat Mariappa and cross for Rondón, but Cathcart was on hand to make a saving header.  Success then did really well to break forward and cross for Gray who was stopped by a tackle from Kenedy.  Watford’s second substitution saw Hughes make way for Okaka.  Watford’s attempts to draw level continued as Pereyra crossed for Gray, but Dubravka was able to gather the ball.  A lovely passing move by the Hornets finished with a poor cross and the chance was lost.  Gracia made his final substitution replacing Success with Chalobah. I was shocked to hear cheers greeting this change.  I tried to be charitable and reason that the cheers must have been for the return of Chalobah, but it was so clear that they weren’t.  Now I am not Isaac’s biggest fan, he frustrates me greatly with some of his decision making.  A bit more thought allied with his skill and he would be a world beater.  He was also getting knocked off the ball a little too easily.  But he had worked hard and created some brilliant chances and certainly did not deserve that treatment from his own fans.  Watford had a late chance as Doucouré fired across the goal, but there was nobody on hand to turn the ball in.

Gathering for a Watford corner

There had been some theatrical feigning of injury by the Newcastle players (interspersed with bouts of cramp) which culminated in Yedlin going down dramatically after a collision with Pereyra.  The Newcastle man was claiming that his opponent had stamped on him.  As the Argentine protested, Holebas got involved and it all kicked off on the sideline with Holebas and Schär both being shown a yellow card after the handbags had been put down.  The Hornets had one last chance to snatch a point and it was a decent one as Doucouré played the ball back to Okaka who should have scored, but fired over the bar instead and Newcastle gained their first win of the season.

There were a lot of angry Watford fans after the game.  There was some justification for this as Newcastle had been very poor and were there for the taking.  But the first half performance had been impressive and the Hornets should have been 3 or 4 up at half time.  If the Pereyra shot that hit the crossbar early in the second half had gone in, we would have won the game.  But Newcastle worked hard, managed to get a goal from a set piece and it seemed to be game over from that point.  Still it is very dispiriting to hear so much anger directed at the players who have entertained us wonderfully so far this season.  We are half way to safety with less than 30% of the games played, so are already on the way to having a great season.  There will be the odd blip, but that shouldn’t derail the support as we are all in this together.  It would be great if some of our more volatile supporters could remember that.

Securing Safety on a Sunny Afternoon

All smiles after the Soccer Dice match

Monday’s game against Spurs was a very odd experience.  Going to Wembley for a normal league game just didn’t seem right.  The crowd looked very sparse despite there being over 52,000 there.  Unlike normal away games, the concourse pre-match was very quiet indeed.  As for the match, the Hornets put in a very decent performance but, as so often this season, made a couple of mistakes at the back and failed to make the most of their attacking chances, so ended the game on the end of a 2-0 defeat.  One that wasn’t unexpected, so didn’t leave me too dispirited.

It was lovely to be back at Vicarage Road for the last home game of the season.  Unusually for a bank holiday weekend, the sun was shining brightly.  There was a great turn out in the West Herts.  The call had gone out that there would be a game of Soccer Dice.  Boys versus Girls in the ToddDee challenge.  Fittingly, Toddy’s son, Chris was in attendance and enthusiastically joined in.  Soccer Dice is a simple game as you throw a set of dice, one at a time, following the instructions until a goal or a miss is thrown.  This may sound like quite a sedate pastime but, as it always does, it quickly descended into rowdiness and accusations of cheating.  The boys won 9-6, but I suspect there were some nefarious activities involved in that victory.  Dee and Toddy would have both loved it.

The crowd on the way down Occupation Road seemed larger than usual and there was a tremendous atmosphere.  As usual, I bought my programme from the woman just inside the Rookery concourse and wished her a happy close season.  Then to my usual seat for the last time until August.  There was a flag just along from me that wasn’t being used, so I took possession and waved it.  I then realised why I don’t usually try as I am so cack-handed that the guys in the row in front appeared to be under attack.  Thankfully, they were uninjured in the process.

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal

Team news was three changes from Monday with Janmaat, Pereyra and Deeney coming in for Mariappa, Femenía and Richarlison.  So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deeney and Gray, lining up in a 4-4-2 formation, much to the joy of many Watford fans.  After our recent run of results, and knowing that we could do with the points to make absolutely sure of safety, I went into this game feeling rather tense.

The game kicked off and, thankfully, the team were not as nervous as I was and started quite brilliantly with Deeney and Gray combining before finding Doucouré who played a lovely square ball to Pereyra, who finished from close range.  1-0 up after two minutes in glorious sunshine and all felt right with the world.  Watford continued to attack as Gray played a through ball to Pereyra, his shot was blocked but rebounded to Deeney, whose shot was also blocked, then Capoue tried his luck and the shot was deflected for a corner, but it was all very positive.  Watford continued to dominate, but didn’t test the keeper again until the 26th minute when Capoue won the ball in midfield.  He stopped, apparently thinking that there had been a foul, when he finally played on he found Deeney who passed the ball out to Gray on the right, from where he unleashed a terrific shot that Dúbravka did well to save.

Gray receives the congratulations of his team mates

But Gray wasn’t to be denied for long as he received a lovely cross from Pereyra and headed home to put the Hornets two goals up.  Newcastle then had their first chance of note as Gayle played the ball back to Shelvey whose shot was stopped by a terrific block by Doucouré.  When Gray broke into the Newcastle box, he appeared to have won a corner, but the lino was flagging frantically and the referee pointed to the spot.  Deeney stepped up to take the penalty but hit a low shot that was easily saved by Dúbravka, Troy reached the rebound but, again, the Newcastle keeper denied him.  I hoped that we wouldn’t end up rueing that miss, as a third goal would surely have finished the game off.  The first booking of the game went to Pérez for kicking the ball away after the home side had won a free kick.  So the Hornets reached half time two goals up after a very impressive performance indeed.

At half time, the award for the Academy player of the season was presented to Lewis Gordon.  Let us hope that he goes on to become a first team regular.  The presentation was made by Tommy Hoban, who has had yet another season out due to injury.  So sad for such a great prospect and a lovely lad.

Capoue takes a free kick

The final of the half time penalty shoot-out was between Holy Rood and St Pauls.  It has to be said that there were some excellent penalties and Holy Rood ran out deserved 4-2 winners.

Watford started the second half brightly as a free kick from Holebas was plucked out of the air by Dúbravka.  Then Gray’s attempt to latch on to a ball over the top from Deeney was frustrated by a shoulder barge that was deemed fair.  The first substitution was made by Benitez as Ritchie came on in place of Murphy.  Watford continued to threaten as a free-kick was headed clear to Pereyra whose shot from the edge of the box flew over the bar.  The visitors pulled a goal back 10 minutes into the half as a counter-attack finished with a deep cross from Manquillo that was turned in by Pérez.  At this point, my pre-match nerves returned with a vengeance.  Gracia immediately made a change as Deulofeu replaced Pereyra.  The substitution was a little surprising as the Argentine had a great game.  The Spaniard had a ropey start, his first action being to pass the ball back to Gayle, thankfully the shot was blocked.

Deeney and Pereyra

The first card for the home side was awarded to Kabasele for blocking a run by Pérez.  Deulofeu then played a lovely ball to Gray who cut the ball back from a tight angle, but there was no Watford player there to capitalise.  Gracia’s next substitution was even more baffling than the first and was greeted with boos, as he replaced Deeney with Mariappa, which, much as I adore Mapps, seemed incredibly negative with only a goal in the game and half an hour remaining.  Mariappa was nearly on the scoresheet at the wrong end as he met a cross from Manquillo with a header that needed a decent save from Karnezis to keep it out.  Manquillo was then replaced by Yedlin.   Watford’s next goal attempt came from Capoue who tried a shot from distance that was headed out by Dummett for a corner.  At the other end, there was a worrying scramble in the Watford box before the ball was finally cleared.  Holebas was the next player to be cautioned after taking too long to take a throw-in.  The Newcastle fans thought they had scored an equalizer as, from a corner, Shelvey played a low cross to Pérez but the shot hit the side netting.  Gracia’s final substitution saw Gray replaced by Richarlison.  There was a half chance for the Hornets as a free kick from Holebas was met by the head of Kabasele, but the effort was easily gathered by Dúbravka.  Then Doucouré appeared to play a lovely through ball for Richarlison, but the young Brazilian broke too early and was flagged offside.

Challenging at a corner

The final Newcastle substitution saw Merino come on for Diamé.  The visitors threatened again as Yedlin went on run down the right wing and pulled the ball back for Merino, but Mariappa made the block to avert the danger.  Another decent-looking move from Watford came to nothing as Richarlison broke forward, but his pass was too far in front of Deulofeu and the chance went begging.  Into four minutes of added time and we were counting down the seconds as Pérez whipped in a cross that was gathered confidently by Karnezis.  Fair play to the Hornet fans at this point as we chanted “Watford FC” with all our might, encouraging our team to hold out as all the play was around the Watford box.  Finally the ball was cleared and Richarlison tried to escape and was pulled to the ground.  At this point, the referee blew the final whistle and the Watford fans celebrated a win that finally guaranteed the safety that we felt that we had for months.  The Watford players all collapsed to the ground.  It had been a very hot afternoon and they had given their all.

Doucoure shows his Players’ Player of the Season award to the crowd in the Rookery

We waited around after the final whistle for the players to do their lap of honour.  Knowing that they had guaranteed another season of Premier League football at Vicarage Road, it was all smiles.  They then presented a couple of the end of season awards.  The Community Ambassador award went to Christian Kabasele, whose presentation was slightly delayed as his little ‘un was entertaining the Rookery trying to score a goal.  As he carried the ball over the line I reflected that he may be a rugby player in the making.  Then the Players’ Player was presented to Abdoulaye Doucouré, a very popular choice who, when given the mic and a bit of encouragement from Tim Coombs, joined in with his song, which was fabulous.

So it was back to the West Herts, with a mixture of joy, relief and frustration.  That game was Watford’s season in microcosm.  A first half in which we played some gorgeous football, were clearly the better team, but missed a penalty when we could have finished the game off.  The second half was much more nervy as the players tired and, while they defended decently enough, allowed the visitors too much time in our half so my nerves were in shreds.  Again, the opposition scored with their only shot on target.  Thankfully, on this occasion, it only affected the goal difference.  So I spent the last post-match gathering of the season sitting in the sun with dear friends, reflecting on a win while drinking beer, eating Drummy’s jerk chicken and watching the West Herts cricket team win.  Just perfect.

Great Performances on and off the Pitch

With Mapps and Will Hughes at the Quiz Night

Thursday evening was the annual quiz night at the club.  My team’s chance of winning was always remote and made even more so when we found that, in addition to the “professional” team who have no connection to the club who turn up every year to be booed as they receive their trophy from a couple of footballers they have never heard of, another team featured Shaun Wallace from the Chase.  I consoled myself by congratulating Will Hughes on his wonderful performance against West Ham and having a long chat with Adrian Mariappa, who told us that Marco Silva reminds him of …. Sean Dyche.

When I booked the train to Newcastle, I was rather surprised to see that the journey time was four hours.  This meant an early start, so I found myself leaving King’s Cross just before 8am.  The train was slightly delayed, so the pub was already open and surprisingly busy, when I arrived but, thankfully, the advance party had secured seats and we were soon joined by the Happy Valley Horns.  There was also a special guest appearance from the lovely Katy, someone that I have “known” for years due to social media connections but have never met before.  It was lovely finally to meet her in person.  As it was her first live game of the season, I hoped that the lads would turn it on for her.

The view from the gods

For the walk to the ground, we took a slightly different route than usual, which took us around the city walls, just gorgeous. Every time that I visit Newcastle I am reminded what a beautiful city it is.  The walk to St James’s Park is all uphill, but that is just the appetiser before the trek up to Level 7.  As we climbed, there were posters warning about the dangers and penalties for pyrotechnics.  One dire warning suggested that you could end up in A&E.  I was concerned that the walk to the gods was more likely to send me there.

Team news was that Femenía had recovered from his injury, so Silva named an unchanged side from the West Ham game.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Kabasele, Britos; Femenía, Cleverley, Doucouré, Zeegelaar; Hughes, Richarlison; Gray.

The home side had the first chance of the game as Murphy put a dangerous cross into the box, but the terrible miss-hit by Joselu was a sign of how their day would go.  Watford’s first chance came from a corner, Hughes played it back across goal to Mariappa, whose overhead kick was blocked.  At the other end, Ritchie finished a run with a shot that was wide of the near post and into the side netting.

Zeegelaar and Hughes congratulated after the first goal

Some lovely interplay from the visitors finished with a shot from distance from Hughes that cleared the bar.  The youngster was in action in our box soon after, putting in a crucial tackle to prevent a shot, this allowed the Hornets to launch a counter attack that resulted in a through ball to Richarlison whose shot was tipped wide by Elliot.  The first booking of the afternoon went to Shelvey for a tackle from behind on Britos.  The Hornets took the lead on 19 minutes.  Kabasele played a gorgeous cross-field ball to Zeegelaar, who crossed back for Hughes to fire past Elliot for his second goal in as many games.  Watford should have scored a second soon after as Zeegelaar crossed again, this time for Doucouré, who turned the ball just wide.  A dangerous looking break from Newcastle was stopped when Kabasele made a superb block to stop the shot from Joselu.  The first caution for Watford came as Zeegelaar was cautioned for taking Ritchie down.  The Hornets had a great chance to increase their lead on the half hour as a series of shots were blocked in the box, but nobody was able to test Elliot.  Gomes was called into action just after the half hour as he came to punch a cross into the box.  Then Joselu tried a shot from an angle that Gomes saved.  The home side had a strong finish to the half, but Watford went in at the break two goals ahead as Zeegelaar broke and hit a cross that was turned into his own net by Yedlin.

Richarlison congratulates Zeegelaar on the second goal

The travelling Hornets were all smiles at half-time.  It had been an entertaining half of football and, after Newcastle had a decent late spell in the half, the second goal had calmed a lot of nerves and we felt confident of getting a result.

Watford should have scored a third at the beginning of the second half as Gray went on a wonderful run into the box but, with the goal at his mercy, he managed to fire wide.  He had a chance to redeem himself soon after, exchanging passes with Hughes before taking his chance, but the shot was blocked.  The ball found its way to Richarlison on the edge of the area, but his shot flew wide.  Watford’s first substitution saw Prödl coming on for Britos, who was limping.  Another great chance went begging as Richarlison broke into the box and should have buried it, but hesitated before shooting, allowing the defender to get into position to make the block, the follow-up from Hughes was also blocked.  There was a decent chance at the other end as Murphy met a cross from Yedlin, but the header was poor and flew wide of the target.  Watford attacked yet again through Zeegelaar, who had the freedom of the left wing, he crossed for Gray but the header was over the bar.

Gray celebrating his goal

The former Burnley man got his goal just after the hour mark as Richarlison broke forward and crossed for Gray to poke it past Elliot from close range.  Newcastle hadn’t given up and should have pulled one back as Joselu slid in to shoot, but Gomes got a hand to the ball to keep it out.  Benitez made his first substitutions bringing Merino and Mitrovic on for Diame and Joselu.  Mitrovic tried to make an early impression as he broke into the box but the shot was poor and Gomes was down to make an easy save.  There was a change for each side with just over 10 minutes to go as Pérez replaced Murphy for the home side and Pereyra came on for Richarlison for the visitors.   Pérez had a chance to pull one back for the Magpies, but his shot from just inside the box was over the bar.  Gray could have made it four for the Hornets after he was released by Prödl, he had only the keeper to beat, but passed it into Elliot’s arms.  Silva made a final change bringing Carrillo on for Hughes, who went off to a huge ovation from the fans up in the gods, which he acknowledged, so we knew the players could hear us.  Newcastle had another attempt to spare their blushes, but Kabasele did brilliantly to block the shot from Mitrovic.  Watford had one last chance to score a fourth, but their swift counter attack finished with Cleverley shooting over from distance.  There was only time for Prödl to be booked for a robust (and unnecessary) tackle on Mitrovic and the final whistle went on a convincing win for the Hornets.  To add insult to injury, the big screen was displaying the winning ticket in the Match day draw with a code that started with WFC.

We were all smiles in the away stand.  It had been a convincing win against a team that we have to consider to be rivals.  There were some outstanding performances.  Will Hughes impressed again, as did Zeegelaar and Kabasele.

Ricarlison on the ball

As I waited at the station for the train home, Miles Jacobson appeared and kindly kept me company for the journey home.  Our first encounter was with a disappointed Newcastle fan who observed, “You had a good day, bonny lass.”  I have always loved Geordies.  Then our neighbours on the train were a father and son, who I recognised from away trips, who were having a joint birthday celebration.  My comment that we had been fantastic was met with some scepticism and a discussion of the negatives from the performance, which gave me pause for thought.  It is true that Gray looks like he lacks a bit of confidence, he was terribly wasteful in front of goal and really should have had a hat-trick, but he still managed to get on the scoresheet.  Richarlison didn’t have the best of games, but he provided an assist and the attention that the Newcastle defence paid to him certainly contributed to Zeegelaar having a tremendous amount of space to play in to provide the assists for the other goals.  Despite the concerns, we all agreed that being able to win convincingly when not at our best has to be a good thing.

The icing on the cake was the news (first heard from Don Fraser) that one of the supporters’ coaches had broken down in the Derby area on the way to the game and the fans had been transported to Newcastle in taxis at the club’s expense.  Well done to Watford for that.   It is good to see that for our club, the fans matter after all.  These really are the good old days.

Goodbye Señor Flores and Thank-you

Deeney apologises to girl in the Rookery

Deeney apologises to girl in the Rookery

At the start of the season, I doubt that any Watford fan would have believed that if we came into the last game of the season with nothing to play for, it would be because we had already secured safety.  This should have been a reason for celebration.  But the excitement of the first half of the season has been contrasted with a rather dull second half.  It seemed that, once we hit 37 points, the players switched off.  Despite that, Flores made few changes and often played players out of position, although I would argue that he chose his best team as, when alternatives were drafted in, they rarely added anything (apart from the odd Berghuis cameo).  It has to be said that when the transfer window came and went with no competition brought in for Ighalo and Deeney, and an embarrassment of riches in central midfield, the second half of the season was rather inevitable.  But the sad consequence of this was that, after stories emerged before the semi-final casting the future of Flores into question, it was finally announced on Friday that he would be leaving the club at the end of the season.  Despite the fact that this announcement was expected and that I was still annoyed after the non-performance at Norwich, this news upset me greatly.  Pre match discussions indicated a split in opinion among the fans regarding the departure of our head coach.  However everyone wished Flores well and wanted to give him a good send off.

There was some idle speculation that Flores would go for broke in the last game, but I found it rather reassuring that he stuck with his usual suspects.  He had made three changes from Norwich with Prödl, Aké and Guedioura in for Nyom, Anya and Suárez and was playing Cathcart at right back.  So, the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Prödl, Britos, Cathcart, Jurado, Watson, Guedioura, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo.

When I arrived at the ground, my sister told me that Deeney had been in the crowd near them.  A ball that he had kicked in the warm-up had hit a young girl so immediately he came into the stand to make sure she was OK and give her a shirt.  A really lovely thing to do.

Cathcart challenged

Cathcart challenged

Pre-match there were 1881 banners for Quique, Gino Pozzo and Troy Deeney, but I still don’t know which one was over my head.  The crowd were enthusiastically chanting for Flores, which was very pleasing.

There was a wonderful move early in the game involving Deeney, Ighalo and Abdi which finished with Almen shooting just wide of the far post.  Soon after Jurado found Ighalo who just missed the target.  Abdi threatened again, evading defenders while dribbling along the top of the box before curling a shot wide.  From a corner, Prödl’s header was blocked, the ball broke to Abdi but, again, the shot was blocked.  Jurado then tried his luck with a shot from distance that was caught by Pickford in the Sunderland goal.  Sunderland’s first venture into the Watford box came on the half hour and was nearly a disaster for the Hornets as a cross from Watmore was met by Britos who turned it over the bar when it looked as though he may have threatened Gomes in goal.  Ighalo received a ball from Abdi before executing a trademark scoop but, sadly, he shot wide of the far post.  Abdi had a shot blocked before Ake’s follow-up was saved by Pickford.  There were shouts for a penalty as Ighalo was wrestled in the box, but nothing was given.

Deeney on the ball

Deeney on the ball

As we reached the last 10 minutes of the first half, Sunderland had their first real chance of the game as Rodwell shot just wide of the far post.  The visitors took the lead a couple of minutes later as Prödl slipped allowing Lens to shoot, Gomes pulled off a decent save, but the ball wasn’t cleared and Lens was able to cross for Rodwell to tap in at the far post.  It seemed unfair for the Hornets to go behind following Sunderland’s first real shot of the game and it nearly got worse a couple of minutes later as Watmore latched on to a through ball from N’Doye and finished under Gomes but, thankfully the linesman had raised the flag for offside.  At this point the Sunderland fans were chanting “Leicester City, we’re coming for you.”  We seemed to want to put ourselves in trouble as Jurado gave the ball away and N’Doye went on a run but he was stopped by a great tackle from Prödl.  There were boos at half time, which was harsh as Watford had dominated all but the last 10 minutes of the half.

At half time, there was a very emotional presentation as Gina Van Dort, who survived the Tunisia terrorist attack in which her husband, Chris Dyer, was killed, made an appearance on the pitch.  Her words were read out by Tim.  She said that this was her first game of the season and she was determined to make it as she had attended a game every season since she and Chris became season ticket holders.  This was their wedding anniversary and they have a brick in the lower GT stand that commemorates the date.  She appreciated all the support that had been given to her since the attack.  She then said a few words of thanks herself and was greeted with a tremendous ovation for her bravery.

Congratulating Proedl

Congratulating Proedl

Flores made a trademark substitution at half time bringing Paredes on for Cathcart.  The Hornets equalized three minutes into the half as a corner from Guedioura was headed home by Prödl.  A cracking strike just in front of us, which cheered us up no end.  Sadly the good mood in the home stands was short lived as Deeney was flattened following a corner, play was waved on and the counter attack finished with Watmore finding Lens who finished past Gomes to restore the lead for the visitors.  Watford came close to getting an equaliser soon after as Aké unleashed a shot that had to be tipped to safety by Pickford.  From the corner Britos headed just over the bar.  Then Jurado found himself in space but his shot was awful.  The Spaniard turned provider as he cut the ball back to Guedioura who shot over.  There was another scare for the Hornets as a free-kick was headed home by N’Doye but, again, it was disallowed for offside.  Watford’s fortunes improved when Paredes crossed for Deeney, he headed the ball back to Jurado who was sandwiched between two defenders and the referee pointed to the spot.  Having learned my lesson at West Ham, I put my camera away as Deeney stepped up and was delighted to see him send Pickford the wrong way as he buried the ball to the keeper’s left.

Ighalo congratulates Deeney after the penalty

Ighalo congratulates Deeney after the penalty

Watford’s second substitution saw Abdi make way for Suárez.  There was a very promising move by the Hornets as Jurado intercepted and played a lovely through ball for Deeney who was tripped on the edge of the box.  Kevin Friend consulted his linesman and waved play on.  A terrible decision.  While there was a break in play due to an injury to Yedlin, Troy went to pick up a water bottle from the side of the pitch and seemed to be having a discussion with the lino about recent decisions.  The Rookery helpfully sang ‘Knock him out.’  Troy laughed and shook his head.  After play restarted, Jurado released Aké whose cross was too close to the keeper.  The only booking of the game went to Guedioura for a clumsy challenge on Honeyman.  With 10 minutes to go, Flores brought Amrabat on for Jurado, who left the field to cheers after putting in a good performance.  Suárez had a chance to take the lead for the Hornets, but his shot was well over.  Ighalo battled well on one flank to keep the ball before crossing for Guedioura who also beat a couple of players before putting in a really disappointing shot.  Sunderland had a good chance to regain the lead, but Gomes came off his line to stop Watmore.  Watford looked the most likely to steal the three points in the final minutes but were unable to test the keeper.  The best chance came when Suárez found Ighalo in the middle of the box, but his first touch was poor, and when he turned and shot there was a Sunderland defender in the way.  There was a final chance when Watson found Guedioura, but his volley was wild and way off target.

Goodbye and Thank you, Senor Flores

Goodbye and Thank you, Senor Flores

The final whistle went signalling a draw in an entertaining game.  It would have been nice to send Flores off with a win, but the draw meant that we retained 13th position.  When we had our prediction competition at the start of the season, my entry was 15th, but that was me being ultra-positive.  We waited behind to cheer the players on their lap of honour.  For a few weeks now, people have been asking whether Flores was waving goodbye at the end of the game.  He does that every week but, on this occasion, he was waving goodbye, which saddened me greatly.  But you couldn’t help wondering who else had been seen for the last time in a Watford shirt.  Certainly, as Deeney videoed the crowd singing his name, I couldn’t help but wonder if he would be on his way.  The final word at Vicarage Road this season went to Troy who said, “This is all about these guys <the fans> and the gaffer.”  That sums it up for me.  This has been an incredible season of ups and downs.  There are moments I will never forget with the home games against Liverpool and West Ham and the FA Cup tie at Arsenal being high on that list.  It is very sad that the season has ended on such a low note, but I am still eagerly writing the pre-season games into my calendar.  When are the fixtures out??!!

 

A Snowy Day in Sunderland

A distraction on the stairs to the away end

A distraction on the stairs to the away end

This game was the first that I looked for when the fixture list came out as it would be my only opportunity to visit a new ground in the league.  Most of my away travelling was done in the late 80s and in the last 10 years, so I have not previously had an opportunity to go to the Stadium of Light.  My abiding memory of a game away to Sunderland is of sitting in a hotel room in San Diego looking at a stunning view of the Pacific with tears running down my face as I wished I was in Sunderland with my sister for the FA Cup game with the twice taken Tommy Smith penalty.

I had booked a ridiculously early train to Sunderland via Newcastle and thought I would probably be alone, but that was far from the case as I saw a number of yellow clad people at Kings Cross.  I had arranged to meet the Hebden/Bradford massive for pre-match drinks in Newcastle, but arrived too early for the pub of choice to be open so I went for a walk into town until the cold rain drove me into an alternative hostelry for an early lunch.  At opening time, I headed across the road to join the queue (of 3) to get in and grab a comfy berth.  Needless to say, it was considerably quieter than when Newcastle are at home, but all the locals were friendly and wished us a lovely afternoon and to leave Sunderland with 3 points.  The pub had a proper record player on the bar on which they started playing some Christmas tunes, but soon got bored and reverted to some 60s classics, which made me very happy indeed.

The pre-match huddle

The pre-match huddle

The trip up to Newcastle had been in rain but, as we left the pub to get the metro to Sunderland, thick snowflakes were falling and there was some questioning of whether the game could be in jeopardy, the conclusion being that undersoil heating meant that was unlikely.  After entering the Stadium of Light we found several flights of stairs to an away end that is not quite as high as Newcastle’s but not far off.  The trip up was made easier by the entertainment provided by a string of football related quotes.  For Watford interest, there were references to GT, Ronnie Rosenthal and Jason Lee.  It made me smile through the exhaustion.

Team news was that there was one change from the win against Norwich as Abdi came in for Anya.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.

 

Celebrating Ighalo's goal

Celebrating Ighalo’s goal

Watford had the perfect start to the game, taking the lead after 4 minutes.  In real time, I thought that Ighalo had missed Nyom’s cross and the keeper had turned it in, but I was doing Odion a grave disservice as the ball had been poked goalwards and what I saw was it going through the goalie’s legs.  Whoever had provided the final touch, it was Ighalo’s battling presence that led to the goal.  Happily there was some early bouncing in the away end.  Watford continued in this positive manner as a cross from Aké dropped to Abdi, whose shot was blocked for a corner.  I am still shaking my head at why the next passage of play didn’t result in a goal.  Ighalo got into the box and beat O’Shea before hitting a shot that was blocked, his follow-up appeared to be going in but was cleared off the line, then Abdi tried a shot that was blocked, finally Jurado’s shot hit the post.  There were heads in hands in the away end.  We had started the game very well.  Apart from the goal, the lads had been playing the ball around in a very composed manner.  It was looking very impressive, but why weren’t we two up?!  The home side had their first shot on goal in the 14th minute, but it didn’t trouble Gomes as Jones wellied the ball high and wide.  Their next chance came soon after and was much more dangerous.  Deeney lost the ball to M’Vila who played a lovely ball to Borini, but his shot flew wide of the far post.  Sunderland made an early tactical substitution replacing Yedlin with Rodwell.

Watson and Capoue all smiles as our midfield generals

Watson and Capoue all smiles as our midfield generals

Watford’s impressive play continued with a lovely cross-field passing move which resulted in Nyom having the ball in space on the right, he started to advance upfield but got bored and launched a shot from a mile out that was well over the target.  I love you, Allan, but Why???  Ighalo nicked the ball in the midfield and passed to Abdi who crossed for Capoue whose curling shot required a good save from Pantilimon.  Then Abdi lost the ball in midfield, but he and Watson were soon back to snuff out the danger.  Another dangerous break by Sunderland was briefly interrupted as Aké was back to block the cross for a corner.  Gomes came to meet the corner, but his punch reached Borini who shot well wide.  The home side had a great chance to equalize just before half time as a M’Vila free-kick appeared to be flying in when Gomes made a really good save to keep it out.  I was puzzled at half-time to see that Sunderland had no shots on target, until I found out that the ball had been flicked on by Britos.  The last action of the half was another chance for the Hornets.  Jurado appeared to be in a good position to shoot, but passed to Deeney who needed time to position himself and shot wide.

At half time, Watford were well worth the lead but there was frustration that we hadn’t got a second goal.

Heurelho Gomes kept us in the game

Heurelho Gomes kept us in the game

The first action of the second half was a shot from van Aanholt that flew wide of the target.  Watford also had an early chance as Ighalo got on the end of a cross from Nyom to head goalwards, Pantilimon made the save, but the flag was up anyway.  The positive part of that move was seeing Ighalo beat his man, as he had spent a lot of the first half being frustrated by the attentions of the Sunderland players.  At the other end a Cathcart clearance only went as far as Fletcher, but the Irishman redeemed himself getting into position to block the shot.  Gomes was then on hand to punch a shot from Rodwell.   There was another substitution for Sunderland as former Watford loanee, Adam Johnson, came on to replace Borini.  He was booed by many in the away end and then received sustained abuse relating to his upcoming trial.  The only yellow card of the game went to Rodwell who was booked for a nasty tackle on Watson.  Just after the hour mark, the home side’s decision to take a free kick quickly backfired as the ball was passed straight to Ighalo but the Nigerian was knocked over before he could do any harm and the referee, who I credit with letting the game flow, didn’t see a foul.

Ake on the ball

Ake on the ball

Rodwell got the ball on the edge of the Watford box but his shot was high and wide.  The home side took a very poor corner and the ball broke to Ighalo, who went haring up field but the break came to nothing as he played a poor pass towards Nyom.  Watford’s first substitution saw Guedioura come on to replace Abdi.  The nerves in the away end became even more frayed as Allardyce made his final substitution replacing Fletcher with Defoe.  He almost made an immediate impact as he latched on to a through ball from Johnson and fired it past Gomes.  Thankfully the linesman raised his flag and the goal was disallowed.  Flores made a second substitution replacing Jurado with Anya.  New graduate, Watmore, came close to scoring an equalizer with a shot that curled just wide.  Watford broke forward again as Aké released Ighalo, but a defender was snapping at his heels as he ran into the box, which was enough to put him off his shot so Pantilimon was able to block.  At the other end, Gomes was called in to action pulling off a great diving save to keep out a shot from Defoe.

Jurado on the attack

Jurado on the attack

With 10 minutes remaining, Capoue released Ighalo but Coates got back to block his shot.  Despite the early goal, it was looking like it just wasn’t Odion’s day.  At the other end, a cross from van Aanholt was touched just wide by Defoe to the great relief of those in the upper tier behind the goal.  Gomes then added to the jangling nerves by delaying picking up a ball into the box, he didn’t see the Sunderland player approaching and ended up having to grab it.  Watford nearly killed the game off as Anya played the ball back to Guedioura who hit a lovely curling shot that was pushed clear.  There was another assault on the Watford goal that finished with Johnson shooting wide of the far post.  Then Guedioura advanced down the wing and played the ball back to Capoue who moved it on to Deeney whose shot was deflected for a corner.  As we approached time added on, it baffled me to see so many Sunderland fans leaving.  I was far from confident that we would win the game.  There was a final scramble in the Watford box that finished with a block from Gomes and then Watson making a strong clearance.  The final attack of the game came from the visitors as Deeney released Ighalo, who appeared to be a mile offside, but we were not to have another late goal as the shot was saved.  When the final whistle went, it was clear that the relief on the pitch matched that in the stands.

On the way out of the ground most of the conversation was about how Deeney and Ighalo had both had off days.  There had been plenty of positives about the performance but the two of them seemed to be muscled out of the game.  That was followed by the reflection that successful teams are those who win when they are not at their best.  The third stage was the grins as we reflected that we were seventh in the table and had already exceeded our points total from 99/00 after 15 games.  When my friend showed me the table at the end of the game, my initial reaction was that the table at 5pm on Saturday can be misleading.  I am writing this after the games on Sunday and we are still seventh and go into the Liverpool game above them in the table (and above Everton, West Ham and Chelsea).  Wow, just wow!!  We now go into a difficult run of games, but we can go into them with some hope of points and, if the worst happens, we have a decent cushion to tide us over.  Who knew the Premier League could be fun!