Tag Archives: Dele Alli

No Goals, Just Scarves

On Tuesday lunchtime I left work knowing that a waterlogged pitch at Tranmere meant that the game was in doubt.  Unfortunately, I was booked on an early train and was probably just passing through Hemel when I saw the first report of the postponement.  As the first stop for the train was Stafford, I had some time to contemplate whether to turn around but decided to finish the trip, just in case there was a rapid rearrangement.  There wasn’t, so it ended up being a very expensive trip to the cinema (I saw “Knives Out” which was great fun).

Mike and I meeting Aidy Mariappa and Daniel Bachmann

On Wednesday evening (after my return from Liverpool!) I attended an amazing evening at Vicarage Road highlighting the work of the Community Sports and Education Trust.  Instead of talking about their own work, they invited a number of participants to talk about their experiences, interviewed by Emma Saunders, who did a fantastic job.  There was a guy who took part in the Shape Up programme who went from being a 24 stone couch potato to running a half marathon.  A guy with mental health problems who has gained new confidence from the Man Up! events.  A young boy who was being bullied and attended events that allowed him to gain confidence to the extent that he is now a mentor for younger children.  A lad from the NCS who got so much out of it that he is now an advocate encouraging other youngsters to join in.

The star of the show was Geoff, who has attended the Golden Memories project for dementia sufferers, and it has brought a smile back to his face after he and his wife moved to a care home.  His joy at the experience was palpable as he quite rightly said that 2 hours was not enough.

It was lovely to see Rita Taylor there with daughter Karen and granddaughter Rhianna.  Rita attended a Golden Memories session as a guest to share some memories and has returned as a volunteer and can be found making tea for the participants.

Rita and GT

Adrian Mariappa and Adekite Fatuga-Dada talked about their experiences as youngsters at Trust schemes.  It was the first time that Adekite realised that she wasn’t the only girl who played football and allowed her to progress to playing for Watford Ladies.  Daniel Bachmann was there as someone who has attended events as an enthusiastic volunteer, which is great to see.

So much credit has to go to Rob Smith who has worked tirelessly for many years to make the Trust such an amazing success.  The Trust is a charity and self-financing and the work that it does is incredibly valuable for the community.  This evening was a timely reminder of that.

I had a chat with Daniel Bachmann afterwards, who was absolutely lovely, although I was very confused by his Manchester accent (he came to England to play for Stoke when he was 17).  But the little moment that reminded me why I love this club so much was when Aidy Mariappa put the chairs away after the event.  Pampered Premier League footballers?  There are some who are still treasures.

Scarves out for GT in the SEJ Stand

On to the weekend and Saturday lunchtime games are the worst.  I went to the theatre on Friday night (Duchess of Malfi at the Almeida, very good but very bloody), so decided to stay in London to shorten the journey on Saturday morning.  Don had passed on the news that the West Herts was opening early, so I arrived just before 10:30 to find our table already nearly full although there were an unusual number of coffee cups on the table.  I decided that it was late enough for a beer but was glad when Jacque arrived just after me, so I wasn’t the only one with a pint.  We left earlier than usual (persuading Mike that there wasn’t time for another drink) in order to be at the ground in time for the tribute to GT.  Fans had been instructed to bring their scarves and, as I passed the Hornet Shop, I noticed that his statue was suitably attired.

Team news was that the team was unchanged from the Bournemouth game.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Dawson, Mariappa; Capoue, Chalobah; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Sarr; Deeney.  By all accounts, Pearson had been happy with his first sight of new signing Ignacio Pussetto, and he was given a place on the bench.

When I took my seat, I asked the guy that sits next to me whether he had a scarf with him (he doesn’t usually wear one).  He didn’t so, as I had last year, I offered him my spare to hold up as the teams came out.  It was a lovely sight with all the stands displaying our brightly coloured scarves.  Rather heart-warming to see a number in the away end hold up theirs and those that had no scarves were applauding enthusiastically.  It was very moving to see.

Chalobah and Deeney

The teams swapped ends before kick-off which tends to elicit a groan from Watford fans as it is perceived as unlucky.  The game kicked off and the Hornets carved out a very early chance as Deulofeu ran the length of the pitch and unleashed a shot that flew just wide.  Soon after, the visitors had the first shot on target, but the effort from Son was easily caught by Foster.  The visitors started to dominate and, from a corner, Lamela’s delivery was punched out by Foster, but the ball found its way back to the Spurs man who shot wide of the far post.  Then a dangerous looking cross from Aurier was headed clear by Cathcart.  Spurs threatened again as a ball across the box reached Son who played it back to Tanganga whose shot from outside the area was straight at Foster.   The first quarter of an hour had been all Spurs, but then the Hornets had a great chance after Doucouré dispossessed a Spurs player on  the wing, advanced and crossed for Sarr who took a touch when he maybe should have just tried a shot as his effort flew high and wide.  The first booking of the game went to Tanganga who took down Sarr after a poor clearance dropped to the Watford man.  The foul meant that the Hornets had a free kick on the edge of the box, but the delivery from Chalobah was poor and flew high and wide of the near post.  Just before the half hour mark, there was a break in the game as the referee walked off the pitch.  I thought that maybe he was injured, but it seems that it was his communication with Stockley Park that was suffering.  It seemed an age before his equipment was repaired, so the fans from all stands amused themselves with a chant of “It’s not football anymore.”

Foster takes a free kick

The game restarted with a chance for Son who tried a shot from the edge of the box to the near post, but Foster made the save.  There then came a flurry of chances for the Hornets.  First Sarr crossed for Deeney whose flick towards goal was blocked.  Then Deulofeu got into the box and hit a shot at the near post but it was deflected into the side netting.  From the corner, Chalobah’s delivery looked to be sneaking in until it was tipped over by Gazzaniga.  The first card for the Hornets was a typical Capoue booking as he was cautioned for a sliding tackle on Lo Celso.  The visitors looked certain to take the lead when Alli played a through ball to Lucas, who had the goal in his sights when Foster came out to make the block.  They had another great opportunity when a long ball found Son in the box, but his volley flew well over the crossbar.  Watford then created a decent chance when Chalobah crossed for Deeney, whose header was on target, but lacked power and was easily caught by Gazzaniga.  There was one last chance in the half as a cross from Sarr was headed clear by a defender, it fell to Capoue on the edge of the box, but he couldn’t get a shot in.  Bizarrely, given how long the referee had spent off the pitch to fix his VAR communication, only two minutes of time were added at the end of the half, which finished goalless.

Gathering in the Spurs box

The guest at half time was Allan Nielsen who had played for both teams.  He talked very fondly of his time working with Graham Taylor.  He also spoke of being overwhelmed by the ovation that the fans gave him at his last game for the club.  It was rather lovely that he had a similar experience on this occasion.

The second half started with a great chance for the Hornets as Sarr crossed for Doucouré at the near post, but he could only find the side netting.  Then there was a terrific chance as Deeney headed the ball down for Sarr, but he shot wide of the near post when he really should have hit the target.  Spurs then threatened with a counterattack, Son crossed for Alli whose header cleared the bar.  At the other end Deeney tried a shot from the edge of the area that was deflected just wide of the goal.  Adam Masina was having another good game in defence and he came to the Hornets’ rescue cutting out a great ball before it reached Son in the box.  Then, suddenly, it all kicked off.  There was some Grade A handbags between Doucouré and Winks before Vertonghen joined in and VAR got very excited about possible violent conduct but, while this message was still on the big screen, the ref had shown the two original combatants a yellow card and indicated that the game should continue.

Doucoure and Masina

Spurs had another chance to take the lead after a great run from Son, but he shot just over the bar.  Then a shot from Lamela was blocked by Dawson and went out for a corner.  It was right in front of us and there was complete bafflement when there was an announcement that VAR was checking for a penalty for an infringement (handball) that nobody had even suspected, the decision (no penalty) came up almost immediately.  From the opposite end of the pitch, Deulofeu’s shot looked like it was going in but had appeared to rebound to safety.  There was much excitement among the home fans when the referee pointed to the spot as the shot had been blocked by the arm of Vertonghen.  The excitement was short-lived as Deeney stepped up to take the spot kick but Gazzaniga went the right way and made the save.  The first substitution was made by the visitors on 72 minutes as Eriksen came on in place of Alli.  At the same time Vicarage Road rose to pay tribute to Graham Taylor.  Scarves were again held aloft, and my neighbour took the other end of mine.  Again, the Spurs fans joined in with applause.  I hope that Rita and Karen sitting in the stands were comforted by the outpouring of love from the crowd.  During the tribute Spurs were attacking at the Rookery end but, thankfully, it came to nothing.  The Hornets had another chance as Deulofeu played the ball across the field to Sarr whose shot was high and wide.

Cathcart, Masina and Deulofeu prepare to meet a corner

Pearson then made his first substitution replacing Chalobah, who left the field to a huge ovation, with Pereyra.  At the same time Fernandes came on for Lo Celos for the visitors.  Lamela had a chance to break the deadlock, but his shot was from a tight angle and he turned it over the bar. At the other end, a powerful shot from Capoue was blocked.  Rather worryingly Sarr went down clutching his hamstring and had to be replaced by new signing Pussetto who came on to make his debut with two minutes left on the clock.  Lamela had another chance to grab the three points with a shot from distance that he curled well wide of the target.  Into injury time and the ball was prodded into the Watford box, there was a scramble to clear it but Lamela looked to have got the crucial touch until new boy Pussetto appeared to clear the ball off the line.  From behind the goal it didn’t look to have crossed the line and the referee waved his ‘watch’ at the protesting Spurs players to indicate that they had not scored.  That was the last action of the game.  It had been a decent goalless draw.  The visitors had started the game strongly with the Hornets sitting very deep, but Watford came back into it and had a couple of decent chances.  Both defences played pretty well, and the forwards from both sides were very wasteful.

Pereyra racing free

It was a happy group that gathered back in the West Herts to follow the 3pm kick-offs and cheer on the teams playing those around us in the table.  I must admit that I was surprised to see the graphic showing the position of the ball relative to the goal line for that chance just at the end.  The ball overlapped the line by 10mm, so Pussetto’s timing was impeccable.

It is hard to fathom that a month ago we despaired of seeing the Hornets win again this season.  It is a measure of the difference that Nigel Pearson has made that I travelled to this game thinking that we could get something out of it and finished the day a little disappointed that we hadn’t taken all three points.  We have some very winnable games coming up, so we need to keep up this momentum.

While all is right with the world on the pitch, this week was special for the off-pitch moments.  Seeing the great work of the Trust and the outpouring of love during the tributes to Graham Taylor reminded me (if a reminder were needed) of what a special man he was.  He has left a legacy at Watford that stretches into the community and for that we will always remember him with love.

VAR Is Not Our Friend

Seeing the new stadium for the first time

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

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

The rather lovely view of the roof from our seats

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

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

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

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

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

Holebas cherishing the ball before a throw-in

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

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

Cathcart waiting to take a free kick

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

Foster prepares to take a free kick

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

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

Tom Cleverley just brilliant again

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

Dawson looking unimpressed with the referee after the final whistle

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

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

Beating Spurs after 30 Years

Capoue hits a shot

After our terrific start to the season, the game against Spurs had to be considered as a free hit and I have to confess that I travelled without either hope or expectation of anything from the game.  The travelling part had challenges with a strike on South West Railways, the closure of Euston and a partial closure of the Metropolitan line.  But, despite my concerns, it turned out to be an easy enough journey and, in contrast to last week, the walk to the West Herts was in blazing sunshine.  When I arrived, the food service had not yet begun, but I put in my order for the jerk chicken.  It took about an hour and a half to arrive, but was well worth the wait.  Last week had been more of a barbecue version, this week it came fresh from the grill with proper jerk seasonings and a good helping of rice and peas.  Just gorgeous.  We noticed that the clock in the club was an hour slow, which helped us with the 4pm kick-off as we just kept to our usual matchday schedule.

Team news was that Gracia had stuck with the same team for the fourth league game in a row, so the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Janmaat; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deeney, Gray.

Cathcart, Deeney and Hughes

Tottenham launched an early attack as Kane found Lucas in the box, but Kabasele continued his great performance from last week with a lovely saving tackle.  With little in the way of action on the field early in the game, the 1881 amused themselves with a chant of “Milton Keynes, you’re having a laugh” in reference to the fact that Spurs have applied to stage our League Cup game at the stadium that must not be mentioned (booooo).  The next chance for the visitors came as Alli got on to the end of a long pass from Alderweireld which he headed over both Foster and the bar.  Then Janmaat crossed for Deeney but, again, the header was over the bar.  Tottenham threatened again as a through ball released Lucas but Kabasele was on hand to disrupt and Foster was able to gather the ball.  There was another chance for the visitors as Foster failed to control a cross from Eriksen, Kabasele’s attempted clearance fell to Lucas but the shot was well wide of the target.  Then a free kick was played back to Eriksen whose through ball was turned just wide by Alli, who was offside anyway.  A corner from Eriksen was headed clear to Davies whose shot flew wide.  Tottenham’s final chance of the half came from a Vertonghen cross that was headed over by Sánchez.  In time added on, Watford finally launched another attack, but Deeney’s shot from distance was weak and easily gathered by Vorm.  So we reached half time with the game goalless due to a decent defensive performance by the Hornets who had restricted the opposition’s chances without posing much of a threat themselves.

Celebrating Deeney’s goal with the camera in the way

The half time interview was with Ben Wilmot, still basking in the glory of his magnificent performance against Reading in midweek.  I look forward to seeing him develop as, at 18, he already appears to have Cathcart levels of assurance, which is a great thing.

The first chance of the second half fell to Eriksen, whose shot just missed the target.  The Dane had another chance soon after, but his shot from distance was easy for Foster.  The first booking of the game went to Capoue for pulling back Vertonghen.  The visitors took the lead in the 53rd minute. It was a scrappy goal that took a deflection off Doucouré and flew past Foster.  There was a certain inevitability to the goal and we settled back to witness the defeat that was sure to come.  But the players were of a completely different mindset and the goal seemed to galvanise them into action.  First Gray hit a powerful shot that was just over the bar.  Then Deeney hit a shot across goal that took a deflection off Vertonghen before coming back off the inside of the post.  So close!  Spurs were rattled and Dembélé went into the referee’s book for pulling down Hughes.  Holebas took the resulting free kick which was met by Deeney who powered the header home to level the game and send the Rookery wild.

Celebrating Cathcart’s goal (with no sign of Cathcart)

Gracia made an immediate substitution bringing Success on for Gray, I have to say that I wasn’t convinced that this was the correct move.  What do I know?  Watford continued to threaten as Janmaat crossed for Pereyra who headed the ball just wide.  Watford’s second goal came from another assist by Holebas, this time from corner and it was Cathcart who rose to head home.  I love Cathcart.  He calmly gets on with his job in defence, never drawing attention to himself until he pops up in the opposition box to put the Hornets into the lead against one of the best teams in the country.  Spurs made their first substitution replacing Alderweireld with Llorente.  They had a decent chance to strike back through Eriksen who tried a shot from distance, but Foster was equal to it.  Into the last five minutes of the game and there was a substitute for each side as Hughes made way for Chalobah, a change that was greeted with loud cheers for both players, and Winks replaced Dembélé for the visitors.  From the Rookery, I was convinced that Spurs had scored from their next attempt, but Kane’s header had flown over the bar and hit the outside of the net.  Each side made a final change with Rose coming on for Davies and Mariappa replacing Pereyra.  In the last minute of time added on, Spurs won a free kick in a dangerous position.  My heart was pounding as it was taken and there were loud cheers as it deflected for a corner.  The cheers were even louder when the corner dropped to Rose and he belted the shot well over the bar.

The return of Chalobah to Vicarage Road

The final whistle was greeted with a roar from all the stands.  Elton and his boys were celebrating in the Upper GT and we were all joining Capoue in a celebratory dance.  Deeney won a well-deserved man of the match award.  It is only a couple of months since a number of Watford fans were saying that he was past his sell-by date.  How wrong they were, we wouldn’t be without him now.  It was a terrific team effort and, based on the second half performance, we thoroughly deserved the win.

As one who was lucky enough to live through the first GT era, I can be a bit blasé about these results, after all I have seen us beat Spurs 5-1 at White Hart Lane.  But reading the reactions of my Watford friends to this result shows how much this means.  Watford are currently joint top of the table with 100% record and looking like a team who will be a tough prospect for anyone this season.

Taylor, Rostron and Cox – the three Captains

It was all smiles as we met up after the game.  But there was only time for a quick drink and then it was to the Palace Theatre for the first Tales from the Vicarage Captains evening.  It was much more low-key than some previous events, but an absolute joy to hear Wilf Rostron speak.  I had heard that he had fallen out of love with football, so it was lovely to hear him speak so warmly of his time at Watford and the way that he, and particularly his wife, Jill, had been welcomed to the club.  Obviously, the sending off that meant he missed the Cup Final came up, but he is philosophical about that now (I am not, angry tears were still pricking my eyes as he spoke).  He looks incredibly fit and said that (at 61) he plays in an over-40s league.  Similarly, Les Taylor says that he achieved all of his footballing dreams at Watford, including leading the team out at Wembley in place of Rostron.  His talk of hitting the Watford Observer clock made me smile as I remembered his shooting exploits.  Neil Cox had a more challenging time, not seeing eye to eye with either GT or Vialli, but he will always be remembered as being the captain that convinced his players to agree to a wage deferral when the club were in trouble.  Graham Simpson did not come out of that one well as he tried to avoid paying the players back the money they were owed.  A reminder of less pleasant times at the club.  As always, it was a wonderful evening that evoked many happy memories.

Jose Holebas, my new hero

Since the Pozzo take-over and the influx of players from all over the World we have often been told by those outside the club that these “foreigners” don’t care about the club or the fans and this is not the Watford that we all grew up with.  On social media on Sunday night, there were two examples that showed that this is far from the truth.  First was a video of Roberto Pereyra meeting a young fan with Down syndrome.  To see Roberto interacting with this youngster brought tears to my eyes.  He may not speak a lot of English, but his actions spoke volumes and the boy was beaming.  Then I saw that young Lexe Allaway had received Jose Holebas’s shirt after the game.  When her Mum was asked how this had come about, it seems that they had met a day before the Palace game and Jose had said he would meet her after that game to give her his shirt. True to his word he met her, but as he had scored from that ‘cross’ he asked Lexe if she minded if he kept the shirt.  Of course, she was more than happy for him to have it after his wonderful goal, and he promised that she could have his shirt the following week.  Her Mum warned her that he may well have forgotten a week later. Instead, true to his word, he waited for her after the match, handed her the shirt and made time to chat to her about her football.  Jose has a (well-deserved) reputation for being a miserable so-and-so, but to show such kindness to a young fan is a measure of the man and he has gone way up in my estimation.

I grew up supporting a wonderful club that gave us many happy memories on the pitch, but was a club where the fans were treated well and appreciated by the players.  I am so delighted that, even though football has changed massively over the past 30 years, the current generation of youngsters are having the same experiences that we did.  Watford truly is a special club.

 

A Decent Point Against Ten Man Spurs

Zeegelaar and Richarlison on the wing

Due to damage to overhead cables on Friday, the West Coast line was disrupted on Saturday.  When I arrived at Euston, the train that I had been aiming to catch had already been cancelled.  At that point I decided to take the Met line to Watford.  As it happened, that meant that I arrived in Watford later than I would have done otherwise, but I did bump into Johnno at Euston Square and gave him the benefit of my travel advice (don’t take the same route as me).

There was a good crowd in the West Herts and the company was made all the more delightful by a good contingent of Norfolk ‘Orns.  A couple of our number had already paid a visit to the Hornet Shop to buy their copies of GT’s autobiography.  I suspect that Kleenex profits will go through the roof as Watford fans read the great man’s words (as interpreted by lovely Lionel Birnie).

On the way down Occupation Road, I bumped into Miles Jacobson, who was taking a break from the Directors’ Box to take his season ticket seat in the SEJ stand.  While we were chatting, I was a little distracted as first Britos and then Chalobah walked past us.  Once inside the ground I had a diversion on the way to my seat as Don had left the West Herts before our resident sweetie man arrived so I was sent to deliver his bag of half-time sweets.  I was hoping, but not expecting, that he would not need something to cheer him up after the first half.

Congratulating Kabasele

Team news was that Silva had made two changes from midweek.  One enforced as Pereyra came in for the injured Hughes, the other was Deeney in for Gray.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Kabasele; Femenía, Cleverley, Doucouré, Zeegelaar; Pereyra, Richarlison; Deeney.

Spurs had the first chance of the game as Trippier delivered a dangerous cross into the Watford box, but a tackle on Kane stopped the shot and caused the Spurs man some pain.  He was off the pitch, but the referee was clearly very worried about his welfare and waited with him until he was fit to continue.  I must admit that I have never seen such concern shown for an injured Watford player.  A cross-field ball from Cleverley looked as though it was going out, but Richarlison did brilliantly to keep it in play.  He advanced towards goal and I was disappointed that he didn’t try a shot, instead playing for the corner.  What do I know?  His decision payed dividends as the delivery from Cleverley was headed home by Kabasele.  Watford had a chance to increase their lead as a ball came in to Richarlison who tried an overhead kick that was blocked.

Femenia launches a long throw

Another chance for the Hornets but, from the other end of the stadium, all I could see was a number of Watford bodies in front of Lloris trying to bundle the ball in, so missed Richarlison being knocked over and the shouts for a penalty from the Family Stand, which were ignored by the referee.  Spurs broke down the other end and Eriksen crossed for Son who had an easy tap in for the equaliser.  The first caution went to Cleverley for a foul on Alli.  There were then chances for both sides, first a free kick from Eriksen that was easily gathered by Gomes, then a much better chance for Watford with a fierce shot from distance from Doucouré that flew just wide of the far post.  The visitors had another chance as a clearance from Deeney fell to Davies on the edge of the box, from where he fired wide of the target.  My heart was in my mouth when Spurs won a free kick in time added on after Prödl fouled Alli.  A voice behind me suggested that it would be directed over the wall.  Thankfully, he was correct as Kane’s delivery flew well over both the wall and the crossbar, so we went into half time with the scores level.

It had been a decent first half.  Spurs had dominated the possession, but a draw was probably about right at this stage.  There was also a decent half-time penalty shoot-out with St Bernadette’s thrashing St Theresa’s with some gorgeous spot kicks.

Zeegelaar prepares for a free kick

The first notable incidents of the second half both involved the referee’s cards.  First Kabasele was booked for a tactical foul on Kane.  Then Davinson Sánchez threw his elbow into Richarlison’s throat just in front of the fourth official.  It was a nasty foul and there was no surprise when a red card was shown, although some of the Spurs players thought that it was worth protesting.  With almost 40 minutes left to play, this was looking very positive for Watford and they should have regained the lead when Zeegelaar put in a lovely cross which was met by the head of Richarlison, but he couldn’t direct the header towards the goal.  A poor corner from Cleverley found its way to Doucouré who unleashed a brilliant shot that hit the inside of the post and rebounded across the goal but, sadly, away from the target.  Each side made a change on 64 minutes with Capoue coming on for Kabasele for the Hornets (to ensure the Belgian didn’t get a second card) and Sissoko on for Eriksen for the visitors.  The second Watford substitution came soon after as Pereyra made way for Carrillo.  There was some concern with 20 minutes to go as Gomes was injured making a save.  He looked in considerable pain but, thankfully, was fit to continue after treatment.

Gathering in the box for a corner

Yellow cards for each side followed with Vertonghen penalised for a foul on Capoue and Zeegelaar for pulling down Alli.  Watford should have taken the lead as a cross from Carrillo was met by the head of Richarlison, but the ball nicked off a Spurs head and flew out for a corner that came to nothing.  The second substitution for Spurs saw Lamela on for Son.  Capoue then tried a shot from distance, but it was straight at Lloris.  There was a final substitution for each side with Winks replacing Alli for the visitors and Gray on for Cleverley for the home side.  The latter change had caused some confusion as Deeney had spotted Gray ready to come on and had handed the captain’s armband to Cleverley before he started walking to the touchline.  He was sent back and Tom returned the armband as he went off.  Carrillo had a moment that summed up his afternoon as he brilliantly won a tackle to advance and then put in a dreadful cross that was easy for Lloris when there were three Watford men in the box to aim at.  In the last minute of time added on, a cross from Richarlison was clearly handled by Dier, but the claims for a penalty by the players and those in the Rookery, who had a perfect view, were waved away.

Cleverley taking a corner

At the final whistle there were boos, but they were directed towards the referee rather than the team.  The post-match interactions between the opposition players, though, were very cordial.  Trippier was being hugged by every Watford player and I don’t think I have ever seen so many warm hugs exchanged between opponents, but maybe I have not been paying attention.

While we really should have had a last minute penalty, a draw was a fair result and I would certainly have taken a point before the game.  To be disappointed with a draw against Tottenham shows how far we have come and it was a very entertaining game.  We have played all of the top six now and have only been outplayed by Manchester City.  It will be a tough trip to Burnley next week, but the Premier League is finally a fun place for Watford fans and that is something to relish.

No Shame in a Harsh Defeat

Cleverley and Holebas line up a free kick

The lunchtime kick-off meant an earlier than usual departure for a London game.  I had arranged to meet my niece at Euston and decided to get an earlier train to give me time for a leisurely breakfast at Café Rouge (and very good it was too).  When Amelia arrived, we got the tube to Seven Sisters before taking a walk in the sunshine up Tottenham High Road to the stadium.  As we arrived at the security cordon outside the ground, there was a woman in front of us with a couple of children who had “Daddy 6” on the back of their shirts.  How lovely to see Mariappa’s young family back in Watford kit.

Team news was that Mazzarri had made four changes (two forced, two tactical) with Mariappa, Janmaat, Success and Okaka in for Britos, Prödl, Capoue and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Janmaat, Cleverley, Doucouré, Amrabat; Niang, Okaka and Success.  An interesting formation and a little surprising to see Deeney dropped to the bench.

Gathering for a ball into the Spurs box

The game started very well for the Hornets as Holebas won an early free kick.  He took it himself and curled a lovely shot towards the far corner, but it ended up in the arms of Lloris.  Soon after, Holebas played a corner short to Doucouré before running into the box to receive a return ball, but it ran through and was gathered by the Spurs keeper.  For the home side, Son had a decent chance from a tight angle, but the ball was deflected onto the post and out for a corner.  Watford challenged again as a cross from Doucouré was punched clear by Lloris as Okaka challenged.  The hosts should have taken the lead as Janssen turned in the box and shot, but Gomes saved with his feet.  At the other end, Holebas played a free kick to the far post where Cathcart prodded it into the side netting.  Hoping to repeat his goal from midweek, Niang tried a shot from distance, but this time it was straight at Lloris.  Spurs had a great chance to take the lead in the 18th minute as a cross from Trippier reached Janssen in front of an open goal, but he could only divert the ball onto the crossbar.  Another cross from Trippier soon after went begging as Janssen was unable to connect.  At the other end, a smart exchange of passes ended with the ball reaching Success who snatched at his shot which flew the width of the field and out for a throw-in!  The home side took the lead in the 32nd minute and it was a brilliant goal, a lovely curling shot from Dele that nestled in the top corner of the Watford net.

Niang on the ball

The visitors were appealing for a penalty soon after when Success went down in the box, but the appeals were waved away.  The Hornets were two goals down after 39 minutes when a shot from Son deflected off Doucouré and fell to Dier who smashed it past Gomes.  After the terrific start from the Hornets, they really didn’t deserve to be two goals down at this stage.  But it got worse before half time as Son hit a lovely shot from distance for the third goal.  That was just nasty.

If you were only to look at the half time score, this looked like a pasting, but Watford had played some really lovely football in the first half.  However, Spurs are easily the best team that I have seen this season and their moments of quality in front of goal were the difference between the teams.

It could have been much worse early in the second half as, from a Watford corner, Eriksen intercepted the ball and went haring the length of the pitch and was only stopped by a terrific tackle from Janmaat in the box.  Watford’s Dutchman then had a chance himself at the other end, dribbling along the top of the box before shooting just wide of the target.

Cathcart, Deeney, Mariappa, Okaka and Success gathering for a set piece

Spurs scored their fourth ten minutes into the second half, the Watford defence should have done better with this one as Trippier crossed for Son who was in an acre of space as he finished for his second goal of the game.  Mazzarri’s first change was to bring Zuñiga on in place of Doucouré.  This substitution wasn’t as protracted as usual, probably because, I am reliably informed, Zuñiga waved Frustalupi away as he produced his tactic book.  Despite the scoreline, Watford were not giving up and Okaka broke into the box and cut the ball back for Niang who was muscled off the ball.  On the hour, Spurs brought Kane on for Janssen, which seemed rather cruel from my perspective.  Watford should have done better when Okaka played a lovely through ball to Success, but the Nigerian hit his shot into the ground and it flew wide.  Watford’s second substitution was an attacking change as Deeney came on for Amrabat, who had played through the middle all afternoon.  As the Watford crowd were singing for GT, the Hornets won a corner, which came out to Deeney who had a great chance to reduce the deficit, but shot well over the bar.  On 80 minutes, the away fans were indulging in shouts of Olé as the players passed the ball around beautifully, but one misplaced pass and Dele escaped towards the Watford box, the ball found its way to Son, who looked nailed on for his hat trick, but managed to shoot wide of the near post.  The South Korean had another great chance to go home with the match ball, but this time whipped his shot onto the crossbar and over.

Zuniga challenged by Dembele

Mazzari’s final substitution was a case of shutting the stable door some considerable time after the horse had bolted, as he replaced Okaka with Kabasele.  Spurs had one final chance of a fifth goal as they won a free kick in the final minute of added time, but Kane wasted the last kick of the game directing the ball on to the crossbar.

4-0 was a rather cruel scoreline for the Hornets, but Spurs had been excellent.  Having scored three in the first half, the home side appeared to relax a bit in the second period, which was nothing like as entertaining as the first 45 minutes.  But fair play to the Watford players for still giving it a go.  Fair play also to the travelling fans, as they were singing all afternoon and then applauded the players off the pitch.  That support was rewarded with a nice little gesture as Success reappeared after the cameras had departed to hand out a couple of shirts, one of which was held aloft by Don Fraser as he left the ground.  That made me very happy.

As we left the ground in search of the brewery tap who had sent a message to Dave M suggesting that Watford fans would be welcomed after the game, we found the locals very pleasant (quite understandably) but also the stewards on the way, a number of whom helpfully gave us directions for the supporters coach which was parked quite a distance from the ground and very close to the bar.  The location for the brewery wasn’t the most attractive that I have ever seen, being a unit on an industrial estate, but the welcome was warm, the beer was very pleasant, the sun was shining and the company was second to none.  As we eventually left to make our way to our evening commitments, we were all in a very good mood.  This wasn’t a game that we expected to win and, despite the scoreline, the Watford performance had certainly not been as cowed as in the game at Liverpool.  The patched together defence had done a decent job in the first half hour and most of the Spurs goals had been down to individual brilliance from the players in question.  We ended the afternoon with our team in the top half of the table, amongst good friends with the sun shining.  So, despite the defeat, all felt right with the world.

A Miserable Start to 2017

Amrabat launches a throw-in

Amrabat launches a throw-in

My Watford family suffered a very sad loss this week, so the pre-match gathering was rather subdued.  But as we reminisced about happier times spent with someone who was always the life and soul of a party, there was laughter and glasses were raised to toast a life well lived.

With all the injuries that Watford have suffered recently, there were questions as to who would start and it was no surprise to hear that Doucouré would make his first league start of the season in place of Behrami and that three youngsters had been named on the bench.  There were three other changes to the team with Cathcart in for the suspended Britos, Deeney returning in place of Janmaat and Zúñiga preferred to Ighalo.  By the time the warm up had finished, an injury to Zúñiga meant that Ighalo was restored to the team and Folivi had been added to the substitutes.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Cathcart; Amrabat, Doucouré, Capoue, Guedioura, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.

Guedioura lines up a free kick

Guedioura lines up a free kick

The first chance of the game fell to Son whose shot from outside the box was saved by Gomes.  There were claims for a penalty as a shot from Erikson hit Capoue’s arm in the Watford box, but it had been a close range strike and was definitely ball to hand.  The first twenty minutes were pretty even and we looked to be in for a quiet afternoon, then the visitors began to get the upper hand.  The first chance fell to former Watford loanee, Rose, who shot well over the bar.  Eriksen was the next to threaten with a shot from wide on the right that flew over the bar.  The visitors came closer to scoring as Guedioura gave the ball away to Son who fed Dele whose shot rebounded off the crossbar.  But it was only a brief stay of execution as Spurs took the lead with the next move as Trippier fed Kane who finished from a tight angle.  The visitors were two up soon after with the same two players combining, this time Kane volleyed home from close range.  Spurs had another great chance from a free kick, but Son’s shot was just wide.  The third goal came just before half time as Kaboul gave the ball away to Dele who finished past Gomes.  The half time whistle was greeted with boos from the home fans.  I didn’t join in, but couldn’t help sharing the sentiment.  The first 20 minutes had been fairly even, but once Spurs had scored, Watford had been dreadful.

Brandon Mason's performance was a lot better than this photo

Brandon Mason’s performance was a lot better than this photo

The second half started disastrously as Kane crossed for Dele who finished with no defence in sight.  At this point two of the guys in front of us left, I doubt they were the only ones.  They actually missed a decent Watford move as Doucouré played a lovely square ball to Deeney, but he was tackled before he could shoot.  Kane found Dele again, but this time the shot was wide of the target.  There was another decent chance for the Hornets to pull one back as Deeney played the ball back to Ighalo, but the Nigerian shot wide of the target.  Just after the hour, Dele was replaced by Winks to a sigh of relief from me at least.  Soon after, Ighalo was tripped in the box, but the referee waved play on.  Watford’s first substitution saw Brandon Mason come on to make his debut in place of Holebas.  At the same time Davies replaced Rose for Tottenham.  The Watford youngster got a great reception and his first action in the game was to put in a nice challenge on Son in the box, coming away with the ball (a rarity on this afternoon).  The next Watford substitution came as Amrabat limped off to be replaced by Sinclair.  Gomes was called into action as he stopped a shot from Son.  There were two final substitutions as Kabasele came on for Capoue and Janssen replaced Kane for the visitors.

The goal celebration tells you all you need to know about the game

The goal celebration tells you all you need to know about the game

Late on, Watford had two decent chances to reduce the deficit.  First a Guedioura free kick was headed back by Kaboul but Lloris claimed the ball.  There had been so little to applaud from the Hornets that this effort was cheered as if it had gone in.  A cross from Deeney was dropped by Lloris under a challenge from Sinclair, the ball was cleared before it trickled into the net, but the whistle had gone for a foul anyway.  Finally there was a great break from Deeney which finished with a decent cross but, sadly, Ighalo wasn’t close enough to connect in the box.  In between these decent moves there was a goalmouth scramble in the Spurs box, I couldn’t tell whether the ball crossed the line, but the referee’s device indicated that it had and the goal was credited to Kaboul.  It was a horrible scrappy effort that summed up the performance of the home side.

When the final whistle went the home stands were virtually empty.  I stayed to the end, but can’t blame anyone who left.  It was a cold, wet afternoon and that has to be the most abject performance I have seen in a long time.  None of our party hung around in the West Herts for a post mortem, so I set off on the journey home alone with my thoughts.  I usually try to find something good to say about the game, and I had plenty of time to come up with something, but I am really struggling with this one.  I have no problem with being beaten by a good team, but Spurs didn’t have to play well to beat us on this afternoon.  They were gifted goals by a team that looked totally uninterested.  The one bright spot was the appearance of Mason, who put in a decent shift when he came on.  The rest were utterly dreadful and, due to this game being moved for television, I have the joyful prospect of a day off work for a trip to Stoke to come this week.  I am not relishing that at all.

A Battering at White Hart Lane

The teams line up for the handshake

The teams line up for the handshake

After an encouraging performance at home to Chelsea, we made the trip to White Hart Lane.  The feeling of injustice after the last minute offside winner at Vicarage Road still rankled, but I really wasn’t expecting anything from this game.

Team news was that Flores had made five changes which included a full debut for Suárez and resting Deeney, a player that I can never imagine needing a rest, although it was reported that he had failed a fitness test before the game.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Capoue, Watson, Suárez, Abdi, Jurado and Ighalo.  It looked like a fairly defensive line-up and there were questions about how Ighalo would fare without his pal.

Prior to the match, we’d been warned to get there by 2pm because of the “enhanced security”.  As it was, the searching process was no worse than at Swansea, although I do object to being treated like a criminal when going to a place of entertainment, and we were soon in our seats.

As the teams emerged from the tunnel, I struggled to spot the Watford players as we were wearing our black away kit, while the Spurs team came out in black track suit tops, so the teams appeared to merge into one.  Prior to kick off there was a minute’s applause for Peter Baker who was part of the double winning side in 60/61.  It was beautifully observed by both sets of fans.

Ake preparing for a throw

Ake preparing for a throw

The first attack of the match came from Harry Kane, who broke into the box with Aké in attendance who couldn’t stop the shot, but helped to ensure that it was weak and easy for Gomes to gather.  A Britos miskick put the Hornets in danger, but Gomes came charging out of the area to clear.  Then Chadli met a Trippier cross with a header that bounced off Nyom’s head and out for a corner.  Spurs continued to dominate as a corner was met with a defensive header that dropped to Dembélé who shot wide of the near post.  On the half hour, Davies hit a dangerous shot that took a deflection off Nyom which, thankfully, took it into the side netting.  Davies played a lovely one-two with Chadli before unleashing a shot that Gomes got a hand to before it was eventually cleared after a scramble.  A free kick from Lamela was met by a header from Chadli that was terribly weak and flew wide of the target.  Watford’s first chance came in the 35th minute as Lloris came out for a clearance prompting Abdi to try to chip him, but the shot ended up on the roof of the net.  The Spurs onslaught continued as a Nyom tackle broke to Davies who advanced and shot, but Gomes saved.  The resulting corner reached Lamela but, again, Gomes was equal to the shot.  Harry Kane was the next to threaten the Watford goal but, with Britos challenging, he shot over the bar.  Towards the end of the half, there was a glimmer of hope for Watford fans with a lovely period of passing but, sadly, it finished with a through ball from Jurado to Ighalo being intercepted by the defence.

Capoue challenging

Capoue challenging

The first half had been very disappointing.  Playing Ighalo alone upfront had left him isolated and ineffectual.  But he wasn’t the only one struggling as, every time Watford tried to break, there seemed to be a Spurs player available to intercept the pass.  Spurs were playing very well, not giving us any time on the ball and forcing misplaced passes.  The much anticipated debut from Suárez had been very disappointing, he has a great touch but made no impact on the game.  After the break he made way for Behrami and Deeney replaced Abdi.

Early in the second half, there was a penalty appeal for the home side as Kane went down after a challenge with Gomes.  Thankfully the referee waved the appeals away.  There followed another worrying period for the Hornets as every attempted clearance came back, so it was a relief finally to see the ball in the arms of Gomes.  There was another chance for Spurs as Lamela played the ball out to Kane whose shot was parried by Gomes.  Less than 10 minutes into the half Britos, who had earlier had treatment for an injury, could no longer continue and was replaced by Prödl.  Soon after, there was a rare attack from the Hornets as Capoue battled past a couple of challenges before releasing Ighalo who, sadly, was flagged offside.  At the other end Cathcart did very well to turn a Trippier cross out for a corner.  The first booking of the game came as Capoue lost the ball to Trippier and then fouled him trying to win it back.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

Spurs made their first substitution on the hour replacing Chadli with Alli.  The youngster’s first act was to pass to Lamela who was falling as he attempted his shot which was easy for Gomes to gather.  Spurs took the lead on 64 minutes as Trippier converted a cross from Alli.  It appeared to be a poor goal to give away but it felt like a miracle that we had held out that long.  Watford tried to strike back immediately as a ball over the top into the box was met with a defensive header that dropped to Deeney who shot over the bar.  At the other end, Lamela latched on to a through ball but shot past the near post.  Almost immediately he was replaced by Son.  Spurs had a good chance to increase the lead as a cross from Erikson reached Wimmer who played the ball back across the box instead of towards the goal and Nyom was able to clear.  A ball over the top to Deeney was cleared before it reached him, then Jurado played in Ighalo whose shot was blocked.  At the other end Son tried his luck but his shot was saved by Gomes.  Then a ball into the Spurs box was headed clear by Wimmer before Deeney could convert.  Gomes was in action again soon after saving a shot from Erikson.  Then Capoue played a ball over the top to Deeney, but there were two defenders on him before he could shoot so he passed to Ighalo whose shot was deflected for a corner.  The set piece from Watson was too deep and came to nothing.  Watford threatened again as Capoue found Ighalo who tried an overhead kick that flew well wide.  On 90 minutes, Jurado tried a shot but Lloris was equal to it.  Then a cross from Nyom was headed down by Deeney to Ighalo whose shot was saved but the flag was up anyway.  The final action of the game was a throw from Aké which was headed on by Deeney, but Lloris gathered.

Gomes lines up a free kick

Gomes lines up a free kick

It was a relief when the final whistle went.  Watford had put in a better performance in the second half and could have nicked an equalizer, but we had been battered by Spurs over the 90 minutes.  It was testament to the defence and, particularly, Gomes, that we had only conceded the one goal.  Flores had set us up to contain Spurs in the first half and, while I didn’t enjoy that any more than I enjoyed the game at Man City when he employed the same  tactics, the result was as expected and our goal difference didn’t suffer which is a positive that I took from the result.

Being second best to this Spurs team is no disgrace and, now that the dust has settled, I reflect that 25 games into the season we are still in 10th place, 10 points clear of the relegation zone and with a better goal difference than anyone below us (and Liverpool).  We have some very winnable games coming up and probably only need two more wins to guarantee survival.  If you’d told me at the start of the season that that would be the case at this point in the season, I would have bitten your hand off.

A Valiant Effort Against the Spurs

Capoue passes under a challenge from Alli

Capoue passes under a challenge from Alli

There’s no rest for the wicked so, two days after the trip to Stamford Bridge, we were back at Vicarage Road for the game against Spurs.  I arrived at the West Herts early doors to see Don and a number of others milling around outside as the doors were not yet open.  My reason for getting there early was that I had completely forgotten to get a calendar this year.  I always have a Watford calendar on my office wall at work, so it was essential that was rectified.  I am not a shopper, I only ever venture into town when I have something particular to buy, so it is a while since I’ve been in the Hornet shop and my calendar ended up costing me over £150 as other Watford related delights caught my eye.  I walked to the ground with Karoline and other members of the Vicarage Roadies and we reflected on the Boxing Day game and the season so far, both topics bringing smiles to our faces.  On reaching Vicarage Road, a smartly dressed man caught my eye and then asked if I had any spare tickets.  Don’t you love the Premier League?

Today was going to be a very tough test and it was amusing to reflect that three matches into the run of Christmas games that we had all been dreading at the start of the season, this was the first one in which we would face a club above us in the table.

Ighalo leaps for a corner

Ighalo leaps for a corner

Team news was that Aké regained his place in the side and Nyom was rested in favour of Anya.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Britos, Cathcart, Anya, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.  The Tottenham team included former loanee, Danny Rose.  When I got to my seat, I found one of the 1881 flags that hadn’t been claimed by anyone else so I joined in the pre-match flag waving.

There was a lively start from the visitors as Kane came running into the box but was stopped by a great tackle from Aké.  The next tackle of note was less impressive as Alli slid through Capoue to earn himself a yellow card.  Watford’s first goal attempt came as Ighalo connected with a cross from Anya, but he was poorly positioned and directed his header wide, although the flag was up for offside anyway.  The next threat from the visitors came from a cross from Trippier that was headed clear by Watson.  Watford then had a couple of decent chances both of which fell to Capoue.  The first came from a corner that was cleared to the Frenchman, who shot high and wide.  Then Watson found Deeney whose shot was blocked, again it dropped to Capoue who shot well wide of the target prompting chants of “that’s why we sold you” from the Tottenham fans.  The visitors took the lead on 16 minutes as Cathcart lingered too long on a ball in the midfield, Lamela stole it and advanced upfield, Britos stood off and allowed him to shoot past Gomes.  It was a gift of a goal, but it is hard to criticise Cathcart who has been a rock this season.

Returning from the goal celebration

Returning from the goal celebration

Spurs threatened again as Kane broke forward, fighting off the attentions of Cathcart, he cut the ball back to Lamela who mishit his shot which flew well wide of the target.  At the other end, Deeney flicked the ball to Ighalo in the box, but Dier was on hand to clear.  Then Deeney connected with a cross from Capoue and headed it down for Ighalo, but the defenders closed him down and prevented the shot.  The Nigerian had another chance soon after as Jurado played the ball out to Aké on the left wing, he crossed for Ighalo who volleyed wide.  For the visitors, Alli tried a shot from distance that was well wide.  Rose tackled Abdi and fed Kane who advanced on goal but his shot was well over the target.  Jurado tried a low shot from distance but Lloris was down to save.  Gomes was called into action to deal with a cross-cum-shot from Trippier that he pushed clear.  At the other end Lloris had to deal with a cross from Aké that was also tipped clear.  It was almost half time when Jurado found Abdi on the edge of the box, his shot was blocked, but the ball wasn’t cleared and suddenly Ighalo had the ball and was beyond the defence and shooting past Lloris.  Just remarkable.  Tottenham had a chance just before half time as a defensive header by Deeney reached Trippier, but he could only shoot wide.

So we reached half time level.  Spurs had done a good job of snuffing out Watford’s attack but, apart from the goal which was the result of poor defending from Watford, Gomes had not been tested.

Anya takes a throw-in

Anya takes a throw-in

At the start of the second half, Behrami replaced Abdi.  Spurs had also made a change just before the end of the first half replacing the injured Dembélé with Erikson.  The first action of note in the second period was the award of a yellow card to Britos for a foul on Trippier.  The tackle was right in front of Flores who did not look impressed with the decision.  Erikson played a ball over the top to Kane, but the England man shot straight at Gomes.  Watford fans’ impression of the referee was not improved when Jurado was booked for a foul on Alli that could easily have gone the other way.  Just before the hour mark, Kane met a cross from Trippier with a diving header that flew wide of the target.  Flores made his second substitution soon after bringing Prödl on for Britos.  Watford’s first goal attempt of the half came as a Cathcart free kick was met by a header from Deeney that was cleared.  On the hour, the Hornets were reduced to ten men.  From our angle in the Rookery, Aké appeared to make a good tackle on Lamela who went down dramatically, the Spurs players surrounded the referee and the youngster was shown a red card.  Deeney was then shown a yellow for protesting.  Subsequent television pictures indicated that the foot was high, but Lamela’s dramatic fall wasn’t the first time that we had seen theatrics from the Spurs players so, subsequently, every touch by a visitor was booed.

Britos lines up a free kick

Britos lines up a free kick

The mood in the home end was not helped when Ighalo was penalized for trying to shake off the attentions of a Spurs defender as he tried to break down the right.  Odion was also shown a yellow card, I can only think that he had let the lino know exactly what he thought of him.  Thankfully I wasn’t on the pitch as my reaction would have earned me a straight red.  I wasn’t the only one to be angry as the Rookery rang out with “You’ve only got 12 men.”  Each side made a substitution as Nyom replaced Jurado and Son came on for Carroll.  Spurs threatened for the first time since the sending off as Erikson played the ball through to Son, but Gomes was out to save at his feet.  There were cheers from the home fans as the referee finally gave a free kick Watford’s way, although he really couldn’t ignore Alderweireld’s wrestling move on Capoue which finished with the Frenchman being thrown to the ground and the Spurs man’s name in the referee’s book.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead as a corner from Watson was headed goalwards by Deeney, Lloris punched the ball into the air which led to a goalmouth scramble but it was eventually cleared.  Danny Rose was the next to earn the wrath of the Watford faithful as he went down near the Watford box in an attempt to stop an attack by Deeney.  The referee had words.  With 5 minutes of normal time remaining, Watford had a series of corners and thought they had scored when Watson’s delivery was cleared from inside the goal by Lloris, but the ref’s watch didn’t go off so the ball can’t fully have crossed the line.

Watson takes a free kick

Watson takes a free kick

As Watford had looked the most likely winners, it was heartbreaking to see the ball in the net at the other end as a cross from Trippier reached Son who back-heeled the ball past Gomes.  I was looking for a flag that never came and replays showed that my instincts were correct.  The guy standing next to me just shook his head and lamented “after all that wonderful defending.”  My comments were written in my notebook and have had to be omitted from this report on the grounds of decency.  In time added on, Deeney had a chance to grab a point for the Hornets but his shot was blocked and the points went to North London.  There were boos for the referee at the final whistle.  Ighalo collapsed to the ground in disappointment (and exhaustion) and was helped to his feet by Flores who then went to the referee and had a few words.  The officials left the pitch to loud boos that were accompanied by applause for the efforts of the players.  Once he had reached the tunnel, the cheers started for the disappointed players who were still out applauding the crowd.

Gomes ready to launch the ball

Gomes ready to launch the ball

The result felt like a great injustice.  After Ake’s sending off I had feared that Spurs would take control, but the Hornets had defended magnificently and the visitors had never really looked like getting a winner so for them to win it at the death seemed so unfair.  This game felt like a flashback to our last visit to the top division when decisions seemed to go against us and every mistake was punished.  But the fact that it has taken until the 19th game of the season for me to feel like that is a cause for celebration.

The next game will be very interesting.  In the game away at Man City we set up to defend and hardly crossed the half way line.  Facing them at home is likely to be a much different proposition and one I am relishing, even if I’m not expecting anything from the game.  But our season does not depend on our results against teams like City and Spurs and, if the second half of the season is anything like as good as the first half, we are in for a treat.

Happy New Year!