I have missed the last three games due to an appointment in the Pacific diving on WW II wrecks. The holiday was an experience of a lifetime with incredible wrecks, coral, tropical fish and sharks. But there was still time to check up on what was happening with Watford and there was a twinge of regret when I saw the result of the Everton game. Although I must admit that, in my jet-lagged state, I would have appreciated an easier trip than Sunderland for the first game on my return.
It was an early start for the journey to Sunderland and when I arrived at Kings Cross it was still dark and quite foggy. The fog continued for most of the journey, but the weather in Sunderland was clear and also rather mild, which was in stark contrast to our last visit on which we were greeted with snow. Our party were meeting in Newcastle for pre-match drinks which has the advantage of being a beautiful city and allowing us to get a seat in a cracking pub. When we arrived at the Stadium of Light, there was some confusion regarding the location of our turnstile as we searched for 73-74 and found that when we reached 62, the next turnstile was number 1. A question to a steward alerted us to the fact that there were other turnstile entrances on the opposite side. After entering the ground, we had the trek up the steps with the amusing facts on the landings which give you a chance to catch your breath as you ascend to the gods. The only positive thing that can be said about the away vantage point is that it isn’t as far from the pitch as it is in Newcastle.
Team news was that Mazzarri had made four changes from the midweek trip to Manchester with Kaboul, Behrami, Zúñiga and Deeney coming in for Janmaat, Guedioura, Pereyra and Sinclair. So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Amrabat, Behrami, Capoue, Zúñiga; Deeney and Ighalo. When Pantilimon’s name was announced on the substitutes’ bench, the guy on the tannoy welcomed him back and there was applause from the home fans, which was a nice touch.
The Hornets had a wonderful chance in the second minute as a Capoue corner reached Amrabat on the edge of the area, his tremendous volley required a smart save from Pickford to keep it out. If that had gone in, it would have been a very different afternoon. In the fifth minute, there was applause and chants of “There’s only one Bradley Lowery” as a flag was unfurled in the home end in support of the young Sunderland fan who is terminally ill with neuroblastoma. The support given to this little boy by the football community has been very moving and it was lovely to see a message of support from the Watford players pre-match as well as the Watford fans enthusiastically joining in with the applause and the chants.
As attention returned to events on the pitch, Holebas played a lovely through ball to Deeney who beat a couple of defenders before trying to cut the ball back to Ighalo, but his pass was poor and was cleared. Ighalo had a better chance soon after as he received a cross from Holebas, he tried to flick it into the goal, but it flew past the far post. Ighalo then did well to beat a defender on the byline, before he was fouled. The free kick from Holebas was excellent but, unfortunately, the header from Britos header was poor and flew wide. From another free kick, Prodl’s header was straight at Pickford. That was the Austrian’s last involvement in the game as he could not continue due to an injury picked up earlier in the game. He was replaced by Kabasele. There were two bookings in quick succession, first Januzaj for pulling Behrami to the ground. Then the same two players clashed again, on this occasion, the Watford man bundled his opponent over and was also cautioned. Sunderland’s best chance of the half came in time added on as van Aanholt went on a run into the box and took a shot from a narrow angle that Gomes put out for a corner.
It was disappointing to reach half time with the score still goalless as Sunderland had been terrible and Watford had had enough decent chances to have been two or more goals ahead at the break. To cheer me up, the half time draw was made by Watford legend Wilf Rostron. It was lovely to be in his vicinity, but I can’t say that I could have picked him out from our vantage point.
There was a disastrous start to the second half for the Hornets as the home side took the lead when Januzaj broke forward, found Defoe who crossed for van Aanholt who was initially tackled by Kabasele, but the ball broke back to him and he finished past Gomes. Watford fell apart for a period after the goal. Walter made a change before the hour as he replaced Zúñiga with Success much to the disappointment of the youngster behind me who spent most of the second half bemoaning how utterly useless Ighalo was (‘What has he ever done for us …. apart from last season.”) Soon after the substitution, Amrabat had another decent chance from a Capoue corner but again sent his volley over the bar. At the other end Anichebe had a shot from the edge of the area that was just wide of the far post.
Deeney should have done better when he met a cross from Amrabat but his header flew wide. Mazzarri’s final substitution was to replace Kaboul with Janmaat. This was greeted with loud boos from the home fans which could have been for Kaboul who had left Sunderland in the Summer, but appeared to be for Janmaat for his time at Newcastle. As Watford pushed for an equalizer, Success played the ball back to Holebas whose shot was blocked, leading to a corner which was headed goalwards by Denayer, Ighalo got a touch but it was straight at Pickford. A great run by Success came to nothing as his cross was blocked. The resultant corner was punched clear but fell to Janmaat who powered a shot from the edge of the box which was saved by Pickford. Soon after Ighalo had a similar shot but, again, Pickford made the stop. The Hornets had one final chance to rescue a point as Holebas curled a free kick just past the top corner, but it wasn’t to be and the visitors left the Stadium of Light with a defeat.
At the end of the game, I have to say that it was a performance that I was reluctant to applaud. On reflection, that was a bit churlish. We had played well in the first half and, if we had finished one of the chances that we’d had I doubt that Sunderland would have come back. The second half had been disappointing, but we had still had the majority of the chances and a bit of luck or a lack of concentration from Pickford would have meant at least a point from the game. Still we remain in the middle of the Premier League table so there is no need for the panic that seems to be breaking out among a certain section of the fan base.
To all of you who read my reports, I wish you a very happy Christmas.