Tag Archives: Dwight Gayle

Securing Safety on a Sunny Afternoon

All smiles after the Soccer Dice match

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

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

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

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal

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

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

Gray receives the congratulations of his team mates

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

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

Capoue takes a free kick

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

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

Deeney and Pereyra

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

Challenging at a corner

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

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

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

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

Great Performances on and off the Pitch

With Mapps and Will Hughes at the Quiz Night

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

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

The view from the gods

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

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

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

Zeegelaar and Hughes congratulated after the first goal

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

Richarlison congratulates Zeegelaar on the second goal

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

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

Gray celebrating his goal

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

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

Ricarlison on the ball

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

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

Palace Victors on The Box

Abdi in action

Abdi in action

We haven’t faced Palace since the play-off final two years ago and there is a lingering resentment that we were mugged that day.  While Palace’s spoiling tactics made for an unpleasant game, too many of our players didn’t turn up and we didn’t really deserve anything out of the match.  In all honesty, I am delighted that we had a couple more seasons in the Championship and were promoted at a time when we were better prepared for survival in the top division.

The late kick off on Sunday ensured that I had time for lunch with my Dad before the game.  Neither roast pork nor a glass of Malbec play any part in my usual pre-match ritual, so maybe what ensued is all my fault.

The usual suspects were gathered in the West Herts when I arrived and there was time for a pint of ale and a resumption of proper pre-match stuff.  While there we were entertained by the sight of Diego Fabbrini scoring for Middlesbrough (he fell over while doing so).  I must admit to having a soft spot for Diego following a sterling performance in a Herts Senior Cup game on a freezing cold night in Royston a couple of years ago, so I was glad to see that he is doing well at the Riverside.

Cathcart and Nyom

Cathcart and Nyom

It was a gorgeous afternoon and as we walked down Occupation Road, it was lovely to see Lloyd Doyley with his son, even if he was wearing a Jeter shirt.  I was (pleasantly) surprised then to see a smiling Matej Vydra, although it is a shame that he is not available for selection.

Team news was that there were no changes from Newcastle so the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Prödl, Cathcart, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi, Ighalo.  The Palace substitutes included the lovely Adrian Mariappa, whose name was greeted with warm applause from the Hornet faithful.

In his programme notes, Troy Deeney made mention of the sterling efforts of the 1881 and they were on top form pre-match putting on a show for the cameras.  As the teams emerged from the tunnel, the Legends flag was unfurled in the Rookery (or should that be upfurled as it went up the stand and over our heads).  I’m sure it looked amazing from the other stands and on TV.

Anya and Jurado

Anya and Jurado

Watford had a lively start to the game without threatening the Palace goal as a Capoue shot from outside the area and a Prödl header following a corner from Abdi were both wide of the target.  Hennessey’s first involvement came when Anya played the ball out to Deeney but Troy’s shot caused the keeper no problems.  Palace had a great chance to take the lead as Hangeland met a Cabaye free kick with a powerful header that was stopped by a great save from Gomes.  There was then a break in the game while Watson was treated for what appeared to be a dislocated thumb.  While I was concerned because Ben was clearly in a lot of pain, the loud bloke who sits a couple of rows behind me was more interested in speculating on why a penalty hadn’t been awarded, as he’d clearly handled in the box!  Palace threatened again as Cabaye blasted a free kick into the wall, the ball rebounded to Puncheon who shot wide of the target.  At the other end, Jurado played the ball out to Anya who dribbled along the by line before putting in a cross that Ledley headed out for a corner.  A cross from Jurado was then safely headed back to the Palace keeper.  The Hornets had a decent spell of pressure around the Palace box, but the nearest they came to threatening Hennessey was a Nyom shot that was blocked.  On the half hour Jurado found Abdi on the right, his first cross was blocked and came back to him, the second was headed tamely wide by Deeney.  Palace broke again as Sako muscled past Anya on his way towards goal, but his shot was straight at Gomes.  The first booking of the game was earned by Abdi for a late tackle on Bolasie that prompted a chant of “Dirty Northern Bastards” from the away fans.  The resultant free kick from Cabaye flew wide of the far post.  Bolasie, who had caused us problems all half, outpaced the defence to run on to a ball played over the top, Gomes came out to meet him and launched the ball over the SEJ stand to cheers.  Ighalo did really well to battle past a couple of robust challenges before the ball reached Anya by way of Jurado but the cross was cut out by Hangeland before it reached Ighalo who had made a run into the box.  In time added on at the end of the half, Ighalo won a free kick on the edge of the box.  Abdi took the set piece which was deflected for a corner.

Jurado takes a free kick

Jurado takes a free kick

The half ended with both sides having had just a single shot on target.  It had been a disjointed half constantly interrupted by the referee’s whistle as the Palace players tumbled under the slightest challenge.

The best chance of the game so far came at the start of the second half and fell to the home side as Jurado hit the crossbar with a free kick, Deeney met the rebound but headed it over the bar.  Watford put together another good move as Deeney fed Ighalo who chested the ball down to Abdi whose shot was saved.  There was a scare for the Hornets as a free-kick from Sako was deflected just wide of the target.  And another as Gayle bore down on goal, but the attentions of Cathcart ensured that the shot hit the bar and rebounded safely into the arms of Gomes.  Around the hour mark, there was a substitution for each side as Zaha replaced Sako for the visitors and Berghuis came on for Abdi.  The Palace substitution proved to be the decisive one as Zaha fell in the corner of the box under a challenge from Nyom and the referee pointed to the spot.  It was a very soft penalty and one of those that irritates as it was given for an offence that certainly didn’t prevent a goal scoring opportunity.  In the aftermath, Jurado was booked for his protests.  Cabaye stepped up to take the spot kick which went in off the post.  There was a spirited reaction to the goal, both on the pitch and in the stands.  The Rookery were on their feet chanting while Deeney headed the ball down to Ighalo who was tackled before he could shoot.

Gomes with a Watford legend in the background

Gomes with a Watford legend in the background

Watford’s second substitution saw Nyom make way for Aké.  The first booking for the visitors came as Cabaye took down Jurado as he bore down on goal.  Palace threatened to increase their lead as Zaha crossed to the back post where Bolasie headed the ball down to Gayle who shot wide of the target.  A free kick from Puncheon flew over the wall, but was comfortably caught by Gomes.  The Palace midfielder was then booked for sending Watson flying well after the ball had gone.  That was Ben’s last involvement in the game as he was replaced by Ibarbo.  A counter attack from the visitors finished with a shot from Gayle which was well wide and soon after he was replaced by Campbell.  There was a lovely exchange of passes between Ibarbo and Aké on the wing, the ball was crossed for Deeney who headed down to Ighalo but the Nigerian was being wrestled away from the ball which was permitted on this occasion, rather bizarre given the referee’s previous sensitivity to challenges of any kind.  Puncheon threatened with a run along the by line, but Gomes was there to snuff out the danger.  There was a flurry of activity in injury time.  First the ever-threatening Bolasie had a decent chance with another break and a shot that flew just over the bar.  Then Anya crossed for Ibarbo whose shot was turned around for a corner.  Just before the final whistle there was a bit of a scramble in the Palace box, but each of the attempts to shoot was blocked.  There were late shouts for a Watford penalty as Prödl went down in the box, but the referee (correctly) gave the free kick the other way.

Lining up a free kick

Lining up a free kick

It was a disappointing loss, but Pardew had got the tactics right particularly through the Palace wide men who had given Anya and Nyom a torrid time.  One plus point was a considerably improved performance from Jurado who showed what Flores sees in him, although his set pieces still leave something to be desired, but he is not alone in that regard.

As the only game played on Sunday we were, of course, the featured game on Match of the Day.  I wondered whether to bother watching, but was glad that I did as the montage that they showed at the start of the game featuring Blissett, Barnes, Callaghan and co. brought the smile back to my face.  I look back on those glory days with great fondness while being well aware that they must have featured frustrating days like today.  I can’t help wondering which of today’s team will achieve legend status.  Based on performances to date, I feel it will be the majority.