Tag Archives: Divock Origi

Thrashing the Would-be Invincibles

Sarr about to escape the attentions of the Liverpool defence

As always when we have a late kick-off, my pre-match routine was completely messed up.  Due to the late finish time of the game and an appointment in Hertfordshire on Sunday, I had decided to stay over in Watford so I drove over and arrived at about 2:40.  Despite knowing that the kick-off was at 5:30, this seemed to be cutting it a bit fine in the event that the kick-off time had been changed back at short notice (I know!!)  But the lack of people in Watford shirts on the Rickmansworth Road convinced me that I hadn’t got kick-off time wrong.  I checked in to the hotel before walking to the West Herts and managed to get caught in a nasty hailstorm on the way, so was very glad to arrive in the warm and find the usual suspects at ‘our’ table.  I was greeted by a very apologetic Glenn, who had promised pork scratchings but arrived at the butcher to find that they only had scraps left.  He needn’t have worried as there was just enough and they were gorgeous, although it gave us another excuse to complain about Sky Sports.

We spent the afternoon cheering on the opponents of the teams around us and could have done without West Ham beating Southampton.  Liverpool came into this game looking to make it a record 19 Premier League wins in a row and to continue their unbeaten run in the league this season.  A couple of very optimistic Watford fans said that they fancied us to get something from the game but, based on our recent form, I couldn’t see us getting anything other than soundly beaten.  Richard was one who thought that we might get the win, but when he left early “to soak up the atmosphere”, we said our goodbyes as he wouldn’t be back in the West Herts after the game.  Knowing that he never comes back after defeats made his positive prediction appear rather shallow.

Masina and Hughes

Team news was that Pearson had made two changes, and what very welcome changes they were, as Femenía and Sarr came in for Dawson and Pereyra.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Femenía; Hughes, Capoue; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Sarr; Deeney.

The game kicked off and the first chance fell to the Hornets as Deulofeu cut inside and shot wide of the near post.  The home side also created the next chance of note as Doucouré fed Deulofeu, but the shot was just over the bar.  The same players combined again soon after, this time Deulofeu played the ball back to Doucouré, whose shot was blocked by van Dijk for a corner that came to nothing.  Despite having a lot of the play, Liverpool’s first chance didn’t come until the 20th minute when Oxlade-Chamberlain chipped the ball over to Salah in the box, he was in a great position but could only find the side netting.  Just after the half hour mark, Deulofeu went down under a challenge from van Dijk.  It looked pretty innocuous at first and I had just shouted “Get up, Geri” when I saw the referee waving to the bench for medical treatment.  It was soon obvious that the injury was bad and, after treatment, he was stretchered off.  This was so sad for the lad, and for us, as he had been having a superb game.  He left the field to the sound of his name being sung from the home stands and was replaced by Pereyra.

Deeney and Lovren in the customary pose as Doucoure breaks through

Deeney could have been in trouble after a robust challenge on Alexander-Arnold.  Troy went over and helped the lad to his feet and the referee was happy that no action needed to be taken, but the Watford captain may have been a bit lucky there.  The visitors created a half chance as a cross reached Mané, but his body position was wrong and the ball bounced off his head.  As it happened, his position on the field was wrong too as the offside flag was up.  Sarr created a much better chance trying a shot from the edge of the area that was over the target.  In time added on, there was the joy of a superb tackle from Masina on Alexander-Arnold.  Tackles don’t get as much coverage as (even poor) goal attempts, but sometimes they are things of beauty and this was one of those.  Watford could have taken the lead in time added on at the end of the half when, from a free kick, Alisson made a mistake allowing Deeney in, but the Liverpool keeper recovered to make a save and Deeney could only knock the follow-up wide.

So, we reached half time with the game goalless.  Liverpool had most of the possession, but the Hornets had created all of the noteworthy chances.  It had been an impressive performance but, as so often this season, I just worried that we would regret being so wasteful in front of goal.

Etienne Capoue

The half time guest was Heiðar Helguson who was a man of few words but seeing some highlights of his time with us was just a joy.  As would be expected, he was given a tremendous reception and appeared to appreciate it.

The Hornets started the second half as they had finished the first as Pereyra played a lovely ball through to Sarr whose shot was kept out by a one-handed save from Alisson.  At the other end, there was a bit of pinball in the Watford box, but Foster was finally able to gather the ball.  The Hornets took the lead on the 53rd minute as, from a Masina throw, the ball reached Doucouré who played the ball back to Sarr who finished from close range sparking mad celebrations in the home stand.  I have to admit that, after last week, my celebration was slightly delayed while I assured myself that VAR wouldn’t intervene.  I normally have a chance to grab some sort of photo of the players celebrating.  On this occasion, we had only just stopped hugging each other as Sarr reached the centre circle for the restart.  Lovely as the goal was, it felt far too early in the game to have any confidence in the lead, Liverpool had plenty of time to strike back.

Celebrating the third goal

The Hornets had a decent chance to grab a second soon after when Deeney got his head to a Hughes free kick, but his effort was wide of the target.  Watford did not have long to rue that miss as Hughes played a lovely back heel down the line to Deeney, he released Sarr who bore down on goal before lifting the ball over Alisson.  It was another lovely goal and the Liverpool players looked rather shocked.  I did get a photo of the celebration for this one, but my hands were shaking so much that it is just a yellow blur.  Klopp made a change before the restart bringing Lallana on for Wijnaldum.  The visitors had a chance to hit back almost immediately with a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery from Alexander-Arnold was woeful and flew well wide of the near post.  Hughes had a chance to make it three for the Hornets, but his shot hit Sarr and was cleared.  Klopp made a second change replacing Oxlade-Chamberlain with Origi.  Liverpool had a great chance to pull a goal back when a ball into the Watford box was headed clear to Lallana who hit it well, but his effort rebounded off the outside of the far post.  Sarr should have grabbed a hat-trick when he got on the end of a cross from Masina, but he tried to hit a volley and ended up mishitting the shot which flew wide of the near post.

More players join the celebration of the third goal

The third goal came from a Liverpool mistake as Sarr intercepted a backpass from Alexander-Arnold, he coolly held the ball up before playing a gorgeous pass to Deeney who lofted a beautiful shot into the empty net.  It was a fantastic goal and the celebrations were suitably manic.  Thankfully, this time I got some lovely shots of the players celebrating.  But, when my brain engaged again, all I could think was “Tranmere”.  As those around me were singing rather rude things about “invincibles” I was muttering that there was just under 20 minutes to go so it was far too early to be celebrating.  With 10 minutes remaining, Klopp made his final substitution replacing Firmino with Minamino.  Meanwhile I was trying to keep calm, but my heart was racing.  Sarr then had a superb chance to score a fourth goal as he received a lovely through ball from Capoue but the shot was just wide of the target.  That was his last action of the game as Pearson replaced him with Pussetto.  I have to say that I was a little disappointed that he was denied the chance to get a hat-trick, but it was a sensible decision given the lack of game time that he has had of late.  With 5 minutes to go the Rookery was rocking with a chant of “Can we play you every week,” while I was still shouting “too early”.  Liverpool had a chance to pull one back as Salah crossed, but it was an easy catch for Foster.  Then van Dijk tried his luck from distance, but his effort was well over the bar.  Pearson made his second substitution on 89 minutes replacing Doucouré with Chalobah.  All eyes were on the fourth official as he held up the board indicating that there were 4 minutes of added time.  Those four minutes were mostly played in Watford’s half, but every poor pass from the visitors and the odd catch from Foster was loudly cheered.  It must have been the 93rd minute when I finally believed that we would win the game.  The final whistle went to joyous scenes in the home stands.

Masina prepares for a throw-in

After the celebratory hugs, we all just stood looking incredulously at each other.  I don’t think any of us could believe what we had just witnessed.  Michael in the row in front suggested that was possibly the best game we have ever played.  It was certainly up there with the best.  As we gathered in the concourse, Rose got a message from Amelia (her season ticket holding daughter who was unable to make the game) saying that last time we beat Liverpool 3-0 I had cried, and she hoped that we were all crying with joy.  We assured her that we had been.  The atmosphere in the concourse was a little muted.  Usually after games like this the concourse is noisy as songs are being belted out.  On this occasion, I think everyone was a little stunned.

We emerged onto Occupation Road to find a huge crowd, a sign that nobody had left early.  I left my family at the school car park and bumped into a West Herts regular with whom I waxed lyrical about the performance.  As I entered the bar the first person that I saw was Richard.  My enquiry as to what he was doing there was met with a broad smile and the offer of a drink.  The post-match analysis was joyous.  We all agreed that every one of our players had been magnificent.  The stats showed that Liverpool had enjoyed 71% of the possession, but the Watford defence had restricted them to only a single shot on target.  Deeney, Deulofeu and Pereyra had all been disappointing at Old Trafford, but had been superb in this game with even Pereyra working his socks off.  The performance of Femenía showed how much we had missed him.  What was really impressive was that, after two months out, he looked as though he had never been away.  Similarly with Sarr, who frightened the life out of the Liverpool defence, the only disappointment had been that he didn’t get his hat trick.  The midfield three of Hughes, Capoue and Doucouré had worked tirelessly and been incredibly solid.  Sometimes it is the silly things that give you immense pleasure and one of the memories that I will take from this game involved Capoue.  I love him as a player, but he can blow hot and cold.  Watching him when he is enjoying himself is utterly joyous and there was a point in the game when he sprinted from one side of the pitch to the other and back again, frustrating the Liverpool midfield and it was one of those moments that has me clapping my hands in glee.

Confirmation that it really happened

At the end of the day, we had beaten the team who are running away with the League.  Their recent performances have not been perfect, but they have continued to grind out results and were proving very hard to beat.  The fact that this Watford team not only beat them but did so convincingly was just amazing.  Although there is still a part of me waiting to wake up to find out that we have lost 6-0.

I was back in the hotel just in time to see the highlights on Match of the Day.  Any fears that the pundits would focus on how poor Liverpool had been were dispelled as they gave our lads the credit they deserved for their performance.  I was also gratified to get a message from a Scouse friend who congratulated us on a brilliant performance commenting that we were impressive all though the team.

Obviously, one win doesn’t keep you in the division, but we went on a great run after our impressive performance at Anfield.  I can only hope that this even more impressive performance at Vicarage Road gives the lads the confidence that they need to start playing with the quality that they know they have and getting the results that they deserve.

What a difference a week makes.  I love football again.

 

A Surprisingly Fun Visit to Liverpool

Nigel Pearson and Craig Shakespeare in the Watford dug-out

This was to be Nigel Pearson’s first match in charge, and I have to say that I had enjoyed reading social media during the week.  Pearson is clearly well liked by his colleagues and former players and the comments from Leicester fans showed that he is held in very high esteem in those parts.  As if that wasn’t enough, I must admit to cheering when Craig Shakespeare was confirmed as Assistant Head Coach.

As one of my oldest and dearest friends lives on Merseyside, I travelled up on Friday afternoon to spend the evening with them.  But the early kick-off meant an early start from theirs and it did not bode well for the afternoon when I found myself caught in a hailstorm on the way to the station to catch the train into the city.

Despite information indicating that the pub wouldn’t be open until 11, the doors had opened before my arrival and there were already some familiar faces inside.  Our party gathered, but a delayed flight from Amsterdam and delayed trains at Milton Keynes meant that two of our usual group were not going to make kick-off.  After a swift pint or two, we headed to the ground.

Mapps, Sarr, Doucoure (and Mane) in the sleet

The buses to Anfield had returned to the stop opposite Doctor Duncan’s and it was noted that there had been long queues there since about 10:30.  We left the pub at a reasonable time but the length of the queue meant that, by the time we reached the front, the steward was telling us that we were on the last bus and it was already leaving later than planned (12:10).  Having estimated that the bus would take 20 minutes to get to Anfield, I was getting rather tense at the late departure and Pete, sitting next to me, was becoming very apologetic about having had a second pint.

Team news for Nigel Pearson’s first match in charge was that he had made two changes from the Palace game with Mariappa and Hughes coming in for Masina and Pereyra, who were both out with injuries.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Capoue, Doucouré; Deulofeu, Hughes, Sarr; Deeney.  There had been rumours in the pub that, due to the two midweek games that Liverpool were facing, they would play a much weakened team, possibly packed with youth players.  When the Liverpool team came through, that couldn’t have been further from the truth and I started to feel very nervous indeed.

The bus arrived at the ground with 10 minutes to spare and, to my great relief, I found myself in the stand just as the game kicked off.

Ben Foster launches a free kick

Our seats were located quite high up in a corner of the ground.  The sun was very low over the opposite stand and, with a lot of tall people in front of me, I could see little of what was going on and absolutely nothing at our end of the ground.  So, I was aware that there had been some early possession from the home side, but hadn’t seen any action (or heard any reaction from the crowd) that suggested anything resembling a goal chance.  On 6 minutes, Sarr broke forward and played a lovely ball across the Liverpool box, but nobody was there to turn the ball in.  Quite early on there was a chant from around us of “How sh*t must you be, it’s only 0-0.”  My heart sank until I heard someone shout that it was a terrible song and we should be positive.  Another voice spoke up in support of that view and my faith in our travelling support was restored.  Goal chances were few and far between until a little flurry at the midpoint of the half.  First for the home side when Henderson broke into the box and shot over the bar.  Then Hughes won the ball in the midfield, advanced and shot just wide of the target.  The first caution of the game went to Hughes who was booked for a foul on Henderson.  There was little excitement on the pitch but, over the tannoy, we were told to ‘stand by for Operation Anfield exercise’ and the tension in the air was palpable.  But the exercise came and went and we were none the wiser.

Hughes and Deulofeu line up a free kick as Kiko looks on

The home side had a shout for a penalty when Mané found Salah in the box and the Egyptian took a tumble, but the referee waved play on.  Watford then had a half chance when Deeney headed the ball down to Doucouré, but Van Dijk was on hand to make the clearance.  The home side had a chance from a corner, but Alexander-Arnold’s delivery was easily claimed by Foster.  With 10 minutes remaining in the first half, Watford should have taken the lead as Capoue played the ball back for Doucouré who miskicked horribly so failed to get a shot in when it looked easier to score.  To add insult to injury, the corner from Deulofeu was poor which allowed Mané to claim the ball and escape upfield before finding Salah whose shot curled past Foster.  At this point, bizarrely, there was a mass exodus from the home stand to our right.  There were still 8 minutes to go to half-time, but the lure of the concessions clearly trumped watching the match.  Watford had a gilt-edged chance to break back before half time when a shot from Deulofeu was saved by Allison, but he pushed it straight to Sarr in the box.  Unfortunately, the youngster’s mishit was even worse than Doucoure’s.  Henderson was the next to go into the referee’s book after pulling Deulofeu back.  Liverpool had a great chance to grab a second when Mané broke into the box, but Kabasele made a superb save to stop him.  So, the half finished with the Hornets a goal down, but it has to be said that we were very unlucky to be behind.

Andre Gray somewhat outnumbered

Watford had the first chance of the second half as Sarr broke into the Liverpool box, but Allison was able to make the save.  At the other end a shot from Salah was blocked by Kabasele.  Liverpool thought they had scored a second goal when Mané headed home, but the VAR decision was that the goal would not stand.  There was no explanation in the ground of why the goal had been disallowed, but it seemed the forward was deemed to be offside.  Deulofeu had a great chance to draw the Hornets level when he found himself with only Allison to beat, but the keeper was able to block the shot.  Sarr had been tormenting the opposition all afternoon and the next player to fall victim was Milner who was booked for tripping him up.   Liverpool were forced to make a substitution due to an injury to Wijnaldum who was replaced by Robertson.  The Hornets had a great chance to draw level as Capoue played a lovely ball over the top for Deeney, but the Watford captain could not apply the finishing touch.  Then Sarr broke into the area and was sent tumbling by Van Dijk, but the referee was unimpressed.  At the other end, Firmino hit a low shot, but Foster was down to make the save.  Another chance came and went for the home side as Salah broke into the box, but Kabasele was in close attendance and able to turn the ball back to Foster.  Then Salah found Firmino in the box, but it came to nothing as Foster was out to make the save.  With 20 minutes to go, Klopp made a second substitution replacing Shaqiri with Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The wonderful Hughes lines up a free kick

The home side threatened again when a cross found Firmino, but the shot was weak and easily gathered by Foster.  Pearson then made his first substitution replacing Deeney with Gray.  The Watford defence were in action again as a cross from Chamberlain was repelled by the head of Mariappa.  At the other end, another promising move came to nothing when Gray tried to release Sarr, but the touch was heavy and Gomez was able to clear.  A decent pass from Gray went begging as Doucouré hadn’t read the ball, but the Liverpool defence were asleep and, in panic, Van Dijk almost turned the ball into his own net but, instead, it went out for a corner.  On this occasion, Deulofeu’s delivery was decent but he could only hit the post.  Watford were fighting to get back on terms and should have done better when a free kick from Hughes was cleared to Sarr, but the shot was well wide of the target.  Then Sarr played the ball back to Doucouré whose shot was dreadful and cleared the bar.  That was Abdoulaye’s last action of the game as he was replaced by Quina.  At the same time Origi came on for Firmino for the home side.  The Liverpool fans were heading for the exits, so a good number of them will have missed the second goal and it was a disappointing one to concede as the Hornets failed to clear a ball into the box and Salah flicked home.  There was a final chance for Liverpool to extend their lead as Mané broke into the box, but he shot straight at Foster.

The magnificent Christian Kabasele

The final whistle went to cheers from all sides of the ground.  While the travelling Hornets enthusiastically applauded the players, I was very pleased to see Pearson telling his players to go over and applaud the fans.

It is strange to feel so positive after a defeat, but the performance had been very encouraging and we felt very unlucky to have lost.  Given the relative positions of the two teams at each end of the table, this game was much closer than it should have been and, but for the terrible finishing from the Hornets, this could have been an upset.

Sarr was a joy to watch.  He is now showing us why Gino Pozzo paid a club record fee for him.  The Liverpool defence were clearly scared of him as evidenced by the balls being thumped into the stands.  Hughes and Kabasele were also magnificent, their reputations are growing with each game.

The game coincided with a gig from one of my favourite artists, Ian Prowse, who, with his band Amsterdam, was playing his traditional Christmas gig in his hometown.  A number of us had bought tickets in the hope that this would give us some enjoyment from the day.  The early kick-off meant that we had a long time to kill between the game and the gig and this was spent on a crawl of some of the most attractive pubs in Liverpool.  During this, Mike continued to wear his Watford top and was approached by many locals (reds, blues and whites), all of whom congratulated us on our performance, with the Liverpool fans saying how much we had scared them.  It is always good to hear such a positive reaction from opposition fans.  Despite being bottom of the table, the hope has returned.

P.S.  The gig was magnificent and Ian Prowse now has a number of new fans among the travelling Hornets.

 

Football is Fun Again

A young GT and his coaching badges

The first day of the season and, on arriving in Watford, it was grey and drizzly.  I was at the Hornet Shop before 9:30, so it was rather bizarre to see the programme sellers and burger stands already setting up.  Having bought the new home and away shirts, a woolly hat (just in case) and a Watford coffee cup, I headed to the museum to get in line for the Graham Taylor exhibition.

We were there as the doors were opened so had plenty of time to enjoy the display.  It was very much a celebration of the man, with memories from other clubs, although his time at Watford was paramount.  It was lovely to see everything from his coaching badges and certificates to the robes from his investiture as Freeman of the Borough.  There were other lovely treats, a family photo of GT crossing the line at the London Marathon in a time of 3:21:11, plus his sponsorship form, as he was raising money for the family terrace, and his medal.  The Norfolk Horns flag, signed by the stalwarts of that group, was tucked away.

GT and Rita at the Palace and the OBE

My niece had come along, so was ‘treated’ to the old people reminiscing.  To this end, I was delighted to spot the Terry Challis cartoon from the weekend after we beat both Spurs and Man Utd 5-1 in May 1985.  Her reasonable question was if those teams were good then.  Oh yes, and the cartoon still makes me smile. But the highlight was the photo of GT and Rita at Buckingham Palace when he received his OBE, which was displayed alongside the award itself.  It was a lovely exhibition and so kind of Rita, Joanne and Karen to share their memories with the fans.  The comment book that was available will be shared with the family, so gave us a chance to say thank you.  There was an additional treat with the presence of some old Watford friends who I hadn’t seen in a while.  So lovely to catch up.

So to Vicarage Road for the early kick-off.  The new season ticket worked, which is always a good thing.  As I entered the gangway to our seats, our usual steward wasn’t there.  The new incumbent asked whether I knew where I was going and, when I said that I did, demanded to see my ticket.  In the 15 years that I have had that seat, I have never been asked to show evidence.  Silly, but it really irritated me.

One of the delights of the first game of the season is to catch up with our Rookery neighbours after a Summer apart.  It was good to see them all present and correct.

Team news was that only one of our new signings was in the starting line-up and, given that it was our old friend Chalobah, it didn’t seem like a new face at all.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Kaboul, Britos, Holebas; Chalobah, Doucouré; Amrabat, Cleverley, Pereyra; Okaka

Somewhere in the distance, Okaka is opening the scoring

Watford started the game brightly and created the first chance in the 5th minute when a cross from Janmaat was headed clear before Okaka could reach it.  Okaka then played a through ball to Pereyra whose shot was deflected wide.  Having discovered in the museum that my camera battery was dead, I decided to try out the camera on my phone as the players gathered for the corner.  I was faffing trying to focus, so missed seeing Okaka connect with the delivery from Holebas to head home and open the scoring.  I wasn’t too late in joining in the celebrations though.  Janmaat went down injured after a quarter of an hour, nothing new there, so had to be replaced by Femenía.  I had been impressed with what I had seen from the Spaniard in pre-season, so was not too concerned at this early change.  The substitute’s first action was a great tackle to stop Mané advancing down the wing, he was rewarded with a foul by the Liverpool man.  Watford threatened again with a cross from Amrabat, but Mignolet gathered with Okaka lurking.

Femenia takes a throw in

Just before the half hour mark, there was some activity among the stewards who had their eye on some miscreant in the rows in front.  I wondered whether they had been alerted to two blokes sitting in front who were clearly Liverpool fans.  It was the ideal time to watch them, as Liverpool scored from their first chance of the game, Mané beating Gomes after a lovely passing move.  The Liverpool guys didn’t react and a man and child who were sitting in the wrong seats were moved.  Having been distracted for the first two goals, I am pleased to say that I was fully engaged when we regained the lead a couple of minutes after the equalizer.  Doucouré, who was impressing, found Cleverley in the box, the return pass led to a bit of a scramble, but eventually fell to the Frenchman who beat Mignolet.  The first booking of the game went to the visitors as Mané was cautioned for a crunching tackle on Doucouré.  Liverpool had a couple of chances to draw level before half time.  First as Salah broke forward and fired over the bar.  Then, in time added on, when Mané met a Firmino corner with a header that flew just wide.

So we reached half time with a deserved lead.  We were playing some superb football and there were smiles all around in the Rookery.

Holebas lining up a free kick

Watford were forced to make another substitution early in the second half as Pereyra pulled up and left the field to be replaced by Richarlison.  I do hope that this will not lead to another long lay-off for Pereyra, but I was very interested in seeing the young Brazilian in action.  While the substitute was being given the tactical talk, Liverpool attacked against the 10 men with Wijnaldum finding Salah who fired wide.  The Egyptian was involved in the next key moment in the game as he broke into the Watford box, Gomes appeared to save at his feet before he took a tumble.  The referee pointed to the spot.  It appeared to be a very harsh penalty from our vantage point in the away end, but replays showed that the referee made the correct decision.  Firmino stepped up and sent Gomes the wrong way to level the game.  It went from bad to worse a couple of minutes later as Firmino ran on to a ball over the top from the Liverpool half, He lofted it over Gomes and Salah turned it in to give the visitors the lead.  There was some confusion on the sidelines at this point.  The board had gone up indicating that Okaka was to be replaced by Gray and Emma Saunders had announced the change, but Silva changed his mind, opting to delay the substitution while they took stock after the goal.  A few minutes later the change was made and the former Burnley man became the third substitute to make his Watford debut.

Andre Gray takes to the field

At this point in the game, Liverpool were in the ascendancy and had a chance to increase their lead as Moreno tried a shot from the edge of the area that was tipped over by Gomes.  From the corner, Matip struck the crossbar.  Liverpool threated again from a corner, on this occasion Lovren’s shot was blocked by Gomes.  Salah had a further chance to increase the lead, but shot over the bar.  On the 72nd minute, the Watford faithful got to their feet to chant Graham Taylor’s name, the minute of chanting being interrupted by some oohing and aahing as Watford attacked the Liverpool box, but the ball ended up with Mignolet.  With a couple of minutes to go, the Liverpool keeper was shown the yellow card for time wasting.  He was to live to regret the 5 minutes that were added on.  Three minutes in, Britos unleashed a shot that took a smart save from Mignolet to push it clear.  He wasn’t so fortunate from the corner, as he pushed Richarlison’s shot onto the bar but Britos was on hand to turn the ball in from point blank range and send the Rookery into ecstasy.  Richarlison had a chance to snatch a winner but his header, following a cross from Amrabat, was wide of the target.  He was injured in the process and spent some time receiving treatment.  This meant some additional added time and one last chance for the visitors but Wijnaldum’s shot was blocked and the game ended in a draw.

Gathering for a corner

Well I certainly didn’t see that coming.  It was a tremendous team performance from a group of players who were working their socks off.  They fought for every ball and, when they were in possession, showed no little skill.  Given that a number of these players have barely met, the teamwork was very pleasing indeed and bodes well for the rest of the season.  Doucouré was given the Watford man of the match award for the sort of assured performance that we have come to expect of him, but a special mention has to go to Richarlison for a very impressive debut.  He fought for absolutely everything and took all that was thrown at him, while displaying skill and power.  He did not look like a player new to English football.  It is early days but if Silva’s men can continue marrying hard work with skilful attacking play, this will be a very enjoyable season indeed.  The game was summed up by comments from more than one of the fans around me, before the equalizer, that they would take a defeat as it had been thoroughly entertaining.

During the week, a friend, who is a Liverpool fan in Madrid, had asked me to answer some questions for their match preview on their website.  My prediction for the day was that the trip to the museum would be the only highlight.  I am very happy to have been proved so wrong.

 

Beaten by a Worldy

Capoue and Cleverley line up a free kick

At the end of a busy bank holiday weekend, it felt rather odd to be going to a game on the Monday evening.  You certainly had to feel sorry for the Liverpool fans who would get home in the early hours with work beckoning in the morning.  I don’t live far from Watford, but even I booked a hotel room for the convenience.  Imagine my surprise when the receptionist asked whether I was here for the football and who I was supporting.  I thought I would be fine when I assured her that I was a Watford fan.  Instead I was told, in no uncertain terms, that if I was a proper Watford fan I would live locally rather than being ‘posh in Windsor’.  I found myself begging forgiveness on the basis that I had moved west for work.

As always when the schedule is messed with, I had no clue what time to arrive at the West Herts.  For once I judged it right.  The food menu for the evening had a Caribbean influence.  I briefly considered the goat curry, but couldn’t resist the jerk chicken.  Although I should have asked for the rice and peas instead of the chips that accompanied the chicken.  It certainly made a welcome change from the usual bacon/sausage in a roll.

Deeney and Niang tracking the flight of the ball

After the results at the weekend, the only team currently in the relegation zone who can still catch us are Swansea.  They would have to win all of their remaining games, which sounds like a tall order but, before the match, I heard more than one person predict that they would overtake us in the table.  I am starting to think that I am becoming very complacent.

Team news was just the one change from Hull with Mariappa replacing the injured Holebas.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Britos; Janmaat, Cleverley, Doucouré, Capoue, Amrabat; Deeney and Niang.

The first chance of the game came in the fifth minute as, following a rapid passing move, Niang found space for a shot but fired it straight at Mignolet.  Klopp was forced into making an early substitution as Coutinho, who had been injured in an earlier challenge with Mariappa, was replaced by Lallana.  Watford threatened again as a lovely move finished with a shot from Deeney that was blocked.  Mazzarri was also forced into an early change as Britos went down injured before limping off to be replaced by Kabasele.

Cleverley taking a corner

The first chance for the visitors came after 20 minutes as a shot from distance by Can was met with a one-handed save from Gomes.  The next Liverpool attack came to nothing as Origi reached the by-line before cutting the ball back into the arms of Gomes.  There were hopeful shouts for a penalty from the Vicarage Road faithful when Deeney was knocked over in the box but he quickly got up and nothing was given.  The referee had been rather flaky, with many decisions appearing to be given according to the volume of protest in the crowd rather than any severity of the offence, so he incurred the wrath of the Rookery when a corner, that appeared to be awarded as an afterthought, nearly led to the visitors taking the lead as Gomes punched the clearance only as far as Lallana whose shot hit the crossbar.  There was hilarity mixed with anger as Lucas went down on the edge of the box with the most obvious of dives and was booked for his trouble.  In time added on at the end of what had been a very dull half, Lucas chipped the ball to Can who hit a superb overhead kick to open the scoring.  Apparently it is the best goal he has ever scored, with pundits declaring it one of the goals of the season.  It was totally out of place in this game.

Ross Jenkins and his grandson

The half time interviews on the pitch couldn’t have been more different.  First lovely Rene Gilmartin appeared with his wife, Emma, talking about the Ross Nugent foundation http://rossnugentfoundation.ie/ which was set up in memory of Emma’s brother, who died at the tragically young age of 18, with the aim of helping cancer sufferers and their families at the hospital where he was treated.

The next to make an appearance was Ross Jenkins.  When asked what it was like to step on to the grass of the Vicarage Road pitch again his response was, “I don’t remember the grass being this good.”  He also said how poor he had been when he first broke into the Watford team but hoped that he had done all right in the end.  I think the reaction of the crowd assured him that he had.  He was accompanied by his grandson who had come over from Spain to watch some Premier League football.  Sadly the first half was enough to give the poor child nightmares.

Isaac Success

Buoyed by the goal, Liverpool started the second half really well.  The first chance came from a Milner free kick from the edge of the area which was saved by Gomes.  The Watford keeper was in action again soon after as Origi tried a shot from distance, but Gomes was able to push it round the post for a corner.  The Belgian threatened again, breaking into the box to shoot, but Gomes again made the save.  Watford had been on the back foot for the first 20 minutes of the second half, so it was a relief to see them on the attack.  When Janmaat beat Clyne on the wing, he appeared in two minds about what to do next.  In the end he hit a decent cross, but it was easily gathered by Mignolet.  Watford came close to an equaliser as an Amrabat shot was blocked, the ball fell to Capoue outside the area who hit a lovely dipping shot that Mignolet did well to tip over the bar.  Sadly the referee appreciated neither the shot nor the save as he awarded a goal kick instead of a corner.  This infuriated Capoue, who was booked for his protests.  Amrabat threatened again, this time with a cross that was gathered by Mignolet.  Mazzarri’s second substitution came on 72 minutes with Success replacing Capoue.  Janmaat had a great chance to equalize as he surprised Mignolet with a shot that the Liverpool keeper was just able to keep it out.  There was a rash of late substitutions as Origi and Lallana (who was a sub himself) made way for Sturridge and Klaven for the visitors and Okaka replaced Amrabat for the home side.  In the 90th minute, Liverpool had a great chance to seal the victory when Sturridge shot from the edge of the box but, yet again, Gomes kept it out.  Watford could have won a point in time added on as Prödl volleyed goalwards but his shot cannoned off the crossbar and the visitors left with all three points.

Prodl looking predatory

The post-game reaction was very mixed.  Some had enjoyed the game and were happy enough with a narrow defeat, particularly as the goal was an unstoppable strike. Others, as has often been the case of late, were frustrated with Mazzarri’s defensive tactics arguing that, given Liverpool’s inconsistency, this may well have been our last chance to gain points this season so we should have been trying to win the game.  I think that is doing Liverpool something of a disservice given their lofty position in the table.  My position fell somewhere between the two, certainly an attacking end to the game goes a long way to sending me home happy, but it also makes me wonder why we can’t take that approach earlier in the game.  Having been brought up on GT’s brand of football where the aim was to score more than the opposition, I hate to see teams set up to stifle play.  So, as the season winds down, I can’t help feeling rather sad that, despite having spent most of the season comfortably clear of the relegation zone, a large proportion of our fans are both bored and frustrated.  I wonder whether this would still be the case if Mazzarri’s approach to games was more attacking or is this what mid-table obscurity in the Premier League feels like?

 

Embarrassing the Reds

The flags fly in the SEJ Stand

The flags fly in the SEJ Stand

Sunday lunchtime games always feel a bit odd.  I usually spend most of Saturday worrying that I have somehow misunderstood the fixture list and am missing the game.  So it is always a relief to arrive at the West Herts early doors and see a host of Hornet fans.  Prior to the game I indulged in the breakfast of champions, a pint and a ‘bumper breakfast baguette’, which went down a treat.  The addition of black pudding was what sold it to me, it set me up for the day.  It was a little odd to be watching the build-up to the game on the television, but every appearance of Quique, Troy and Odion was greeted with cheers. It was also lovely to see Johnny Barnes back at Vicarage Road.

Team news was that the team was unchanged from the Sunderland game so the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.

As requested by the 1881, we were in our seats in plenty of time for kick off and, as the teams came out to Z-cars, those of us in the Rookery held up our foils which, I discovered later, showed an Ighalo celebration.  At the front of the stand, some of the 1881 were holding a banner thanking the Pozzos.  A really lovely touch.  From our perspective in the Rookery, it was also good to see the flags waving in the SEJ stand.  We are usually behind them so it was a pleasure to see how good they look.

Celebrating Ake's goal

Celebrating Ake’s goal

Watford had the best possible start to the game as Aké forced a corner, Bogdan dropped Watson’s delivery and Nathan was on hand to turn the ball in to the net.  Cue mad celebrations and a bit of celebratory bouncing.  Watford continued in a positive vein and Škrtel had to throw his body in the way to stop a cross from Deeney.  Liverpool’s first forward foray ended with a cut back into the box that was cleared by Capoue.  The resulting corner was headed clear by Ighalo.  I always enjoy seeing forward players helping out in defence.  Coutinho had Liverpool’s first shot on target, but it was an easy catch for Gomes.  After our early goal, I had commented that I hoped we wouldn’t be hanging on for the next 87 minutes,  so I was very grateful, after a quarter of an hour, when Deeney played a ball over the top for Ighalo who battled past Škrtel and scored with a shot that went in off the far post.  At this point, there was a joyful rendition of “Jürgen, Jürgen, what’s the score?”  Liverpool’s first attempt to strike back came from a corner by Coutinho that went straight to Gomes.  At the other end, an Abdi back-heel reached Capoue whose shot was blocked.  There was a great chance for a third Watford goal as Deeney played the ball over to Ighalo, his initial shot was blocked and then Bogdan blocked Jurado’s shot at the far post.

Celebrating Ighalo's first

Celebrating Ighalo’s first

A Liverpool break was stopped by a biting tackle from Aké.  With 5 minutes remaining in the half, Klopp was forced to make a substitution bringing Origi on for the injured Škrtel.  The frustration of the visitors was clearly demonstrated when Henderson was flagged offside and reacted with a prolonged show of petulance.  In the last minute of the half, Abdi and Deeney exchanged passes but the cross was put out for a corner.

So we reached the break two goals up after a wonderfully controlled performance that thoroughly justified the lead.

At half time, Robbo was on the field to draw the 50-50 tickets.  It was great to see him back and he was greeted with a tremendous reception.

When Ádám Bogdán took his place in the goal at the Rookery end before the start of the second half, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the lad as he arrived to great cheers after his contribution to our first goal.

Gomes takes a kick

Gomes takes a kick

The visitors started the second half very brightly and had an early chance as Henderson played the ball over to Moreno in space, but Gomes narrowed the angle so the shot was into the side netting.  Origi fought off the attentions of Britos to get in a shot, but Gomes was down to save.  At this point. The Liverpool fans could be heard for the first time all afternoon.  At the other end, Watson released Nyom whose cross went out for a corner off the chest of Henderson.  A Liverpool break was stopped as Nyom closed the player down and prevented the cross.  Then Deeney tried a dink into the box for Ighalo, but there were three Liverpool players on him to stop him shooting.  Ighalo broke into the box again and tried a shot from a narrow angle, it was blocked and broke to Jurado who tried to poke the ball in but, somehow, it was kept out.  On the hour mark, a dangerous Henderson cross was headed wide by Lallana.  Then Jurado played a lovely through ball for Ighalo whose shot was saved by Bogdan.  It took until the 66th minute for Liverpool to really test Gomes and the Watford keeper was equal to the shot from Henderson, tipping it over the bar.  Then Troy won the ball on the wing and advanced, but his cross was blocked.  We almost shot ourselves in the foot as a terrible clearance went straight to Can, but Gomes was on hand to push the shot clear.  Klopp made a double substitution as Ibe and Benteke replaced Lallana and Firmino.

Harry joins the celebrations as the game is won

Harry joins the celebrations as the game is won

Watford threatened again as Capoue played the ball out to Ighalo but he had to run wide of the goal and his cross was over Jurado’s head and went begging.  Flores made his first substitution bringing Anya on for Jurado, who had another decent game.  The next attack by the visiotrs finished with a shot from Henderson that was blocked.  The only card of the game went to Britos who was booked for rather an innocuous challenge.  The visitors had a great chance to pull a goal back as Henderson hit a dangerous free-kick, but it was headed well wide by Benteke.  Flores made his second substitution replacing Abdi with Behrami.  At this point, my sister told me that she’d checked her heart rate and found it was 134 bpm.  Ighalo kindly calmed us all down as he won the ball, played it to Deeney, who found Behrami who crossed for the Nigerian to head home and seal the win.  Once I had stopped screaming, I started bouncing and was amused as I looked around the ground to see the Lower GT, the SEJ stand and, unbelievably, the Upper GT all bouncing.  The Upper GT??  Seriously, where were the stewards?  Flores made a final change bringing Guedioura on for Igahlo who went off to a standing ovation.  The game finished with the Rookery singing ‘We’re all going on a European tour.’

Flores with one of his goalscorers

Flores with one of his goalscorers

The final whistle sparked huge celebrations.  We were all looking at each other, not quite believing what we had just witnessed.  Not only had we beaten Liverpool 3-0, but it had been such a convincing performance that the margin could have been higher.  Suddenly I found there were tears in my eyes.  My niece, Amelia, was laughing at me, but it was she who had prompted the tears.  I have always felt really lucky that I watched Watford playing in the first division in the 80s when we went out every week expecting to get a result.  The thought that the youngsters following Watford now, such as Amelia, would never experience what we did has saddened me.  But this afternoon, it felt like 1982 all over again.

Back to the West Herts where the smiles were so wide, that I don’t know how some of them got through the door.  But the reflections were on a great win against a Liverpool team that was very poor or, at least, that we made to look very poor.  Every Watford player deserved plaudits, they all did their jobs and worked their socks off.  No Liverpool player who got the ball was given time to work with it.  The visitors were comprehensively beaten.

We go into Christmas, a point off the Champions League places and 13 points off the relegation zone after a string of performances that mean that we need fear nobody.  These truly are the good old days.

To all you lovely people who read my reports, I wish you a very happy Christmas and a wonderful 2016.