I worked at home in the morning before heading into London to catch the train to Leicester. There had been problems on the line earlier on, so my arrival was slightly delayed, but I was still in the hotel in time to call in to my last meeting of the day and was in the pub before 5:30. Our party was severely depleted with only Pete and I making the journey. The pub was also pleasantly empty so we were able to have a couple of drinks (I moved on to wine from the beer) and something to eat in relative comfort. As we headed to the ground, I began to question whether the game was going ahead as when we reached within 5 minutes of the stadium, there were no other football supporters to be seen. As we got slightly closer, the other fans appeared.
In the past, I have had some very unpleasant experiences with Leicester stewards, but I have to say that the woman who performed the search at the turnstile was very friendly and pleasant. Once inside, I decided to try to go and see Don in the disabled area. This was a somewhat risky endeavour as a previous request to a steward to do this a few years ago was met with the response that I would be arrested if I stepped on to the perimeter around the ground. At the time, I was with a friend who is a serving Police officer who was more patient than I would have been with the steward in question. The woman that I spoke to on this occasion was much nicer and let me through. I hadn’t realised when I made the request that the disabled fans were located in with the Leicester crowd. I wasn’t wearing colours at the time, but still restricted myself to a quick hello, before making a rapid retreat. How awful for the disabled fans.
With the departure of Flores, U23 coach, Hayden Mullins, was in charge of the first team for this match. Team news was that he had made just the one change from the defeat to Southampton with Deeney returning to the starting line-up in place of Holebas, who had picked up an injury. So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Mariappa, Cathcart, Femenía; Hughes, Capoue, Doucouré, Sarr, Deulofeu; Deeney.
It was lovely to see Troy leading the team out, it has been far too long. The Premier League arch (or whatever it is) was coloured in keeping with the fact that this was the rainbow laces game, a stand against homophobia in football. Although, given the silly boots that the players wear these days, rainbow laces seem terribly outdated. Or am I overthinking this? The other thing that caught my eye before kick-off was Femenía changing into a long-sleeved shirt. Roy Clare would never have stood for that.
The home side had an early attack as Vardy broke forward and cut the ball back for Pérez whose shot was over the target, but the flag was up anyway. The Watford fans were on form with an early chant of “Brendan Rodgers, he’ll walk out on you.” There was a very promising attack from the Hornets as Sarr raced forward with Deulofeu alongside him, he played in the Spaniard who got the ball tangled up in his feet before running in to a defender and the ball went out for a corner that came to nothing. At the other end Barnes exchanged passes with Maddison before shooting from a tight angle, from where he could only find the side netting. A nice move from the Hornets finished with Sarr finding Deeney just outside the box, but the shot was blocked. Leicester threatened again when Barnes broke into the box, but Foster was able to block the shot. On 38 minutes, the home side appealed for a penalty as Vardy went down in the box. The referee was having none of it and booked the Leicester man for simulation. However, in the VAR era, that means nothing, so we had to wait while the VAR check was done which confirmed the on-pitch decision, although those watching the live stream were not convinced. A promising break by Sarr stopped when he was taken down by Söyüncü who was booked for the foul. Deulofeu took the free kick which flew wide of the far post. Watford should have taken the lead just before half time when Deulofeu played the ball back to Hughes, who was in an acre of space, but his shot flew wide of the target. We were baffled when a goal kick was awarded as the shot must surely have taken a deflection. Sadly, it transpired that the deflection was off Deeney. The home side also had a great chance just before half time, but Vardy was unable to get the ball under control and Cathcart was able to usher the ball back to Foster. So, we reached half time with the game goalless and somewhat lacking in incident.
Leicester made a substitution at the break bringing Praet on for Pérez. The home side won an early free kick when Söyüncü was tripped by Doucouré, who was booked for his trouble. The delivery dropped to Söyüncü whose shot was over the bar. Barnes broke into the box, but Foster dropped to block the shot. Leicester won a penalty in the 53rd minute as Masina fouled Evans. The arguments from the Watford players were impassioned and protracted, but VAR upheld the decision and Vardy beat Foster to give the Foxes the lead. The Hornets were almost in more trouble as the ball reached Fuchs in a dangerous position, but Cathcart was able to intervene and turn the shot wide of the target. Leicester threatened again as Vardy crossed the ball in for Barnes, but Masina did well to put it out for a corner. Watford tried to hit back as Sarr broke and crossed from a dangerous position, but the cross wasn’t high enough and was headed clear by Söyüncü. Leicester made a second substitution replacing Tielemans with Choudhury. Watford won a corner and Hughes stepped up to take it. He played it short to Deulofeu who returned the ball, Will crossed for Cathcart who flicked the ball goalwards, but it was an easy catch for Schmeichel. Mullins made his first substitution replacing Deulofeu with Success. Then Justin came on for Barnes and was greeted with chants of “scum” from those that pay more attention to these things than I do. Surely he should have been lauded for escaping Luton. Watford made two late changes with Quina replacing Hughes and Gray on for Deeney, who had managed 87 minutes. There was five minutes of stoppage time during which the Hornets finally had their first shot on target with a shot from Quina from outside the area that was an easy catch for Schmeichel. But it was the home side who grabbed a late goal as Maddison broke forward and beat Mariappa before shooting past Foster. It was a cruel end to the game. I felt very sorry for Don and my other friends in the disabled enclosure as they were surrounded by cheering Leicester fans. But, after the negativity in the crowd on Saturday, fair play to the travelliing Hornets who were singing “Watford til I die” and “I love you, Watford, I do” at the tops of their voices.
At the final whistle, there was a decent away crowd left in the ground and, despite the result, they warmly applauded the players off the pitch.
Pete had made a quick getaway in order to catch the last train home, so I was left alone for the post-match analysis. I have to say that I felt a lot happier than I did on Saturday. It had been a much more positive performance overall both on the pitch and in the stands. I was particularly pleased to see the players still fighting for an equaliser in time added on at the end of the game. Sarr was a joy to watch, his speed was clearly worrying the Leicester defenders who were resorting to lumping the ball into row Z. At the back, Masina was very impressive and was unlucky to give away the penalty. It was also great to see Troy back. He didn’t do a lot, but his presence gives the team a lift. So, all in all, there was much to like in a performance against a very good team. Maybe I shouldn’t write off this season just yet.