Tag Archives: Fabian Delph

Another Self-inflicted Defeat

Doucoure gets stuck in

After a weekend off, it was good to get back to the West Herts even if, after the last two games, I was no longer feeling optimistic about our chances.  The pre-match discussion about the end of the transfer window was brief as it had been fairly quiet for the Hornets, although there was a lot of sadness at the departure of Seb Prödl who went from Player of the Season to invisible after injuries.  I do hope that he goes on to great things.  There was also some discussion of Ighalo’s move to Manchester United, which took me by surprise, and a hope that Richarlison’s head had been turned by the interest from Barcelona.

As we reached Vicarage Road on the way to the ground, you could tell that it wasn’t one of the bigger clubs visiting, as there was only one tout in view and even he may just have been a bloke trying to offload a spare ticket.  As we reached Occupation Road, there seemed to be a big crowd blocking the way but, once we passed the first turnstile for the SEJ stand, the crowd reduced to usual size and we were soon through the turnstiles.  As I was unable to find a programme at the home tie against Tranmere and then threw coffee over the programme I bought at the away game, I went to Doreen Pym’s programme stand at the GT end of the Rookery to try to get replacements.  Sadly, they did not have either publication, but the journey was not wasted as I bumped into a friend on the way.  The detour and chat meant a delay in getting to my seat and, when I arrived, I was told that I had just missed the lovely Seb Prödl saying goodbye to the Watford fans.  That made me very sad, as I have a very soft spot for Seb.  I was greatly cheered when my lovely friend, Alice, later told me that she had made him some Vanillekipferl as a goodbye gift.  I am told that they went down very well with Seb and he kindly shared them with his countryman, Daniel Bachmann.

Celebrating Masina’s opening goal

Team news was that Pearson had made just the one enforced change from the Villa game with Kabasele in for Dawson, who was missing due to injury.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Chalobah, Capoue; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney.  It was great to see both Welbeck and Hughes on the bench, although we were short of defensive options with only Holebas included.  Former Watford starlet, Richarlison, started for Everton and was booed as he has been ever since he left.  Something that baffles me as we got very good money for him when he moved to Everton.

The visitors had the first chance of the game as Richarlison got on the end of a cross from Iwobi, but his shot flew over the bar.  At the other end a great corner from Masina was met by the head of Kabasele, but he couldn’t get his effort on target.  Christian was then in action at the other end as Richarlison tried to break into the box, but Kaba was on hand to steal the ball from him and snuff out the danger.  The Hornets took the lead after 10 minutes and it was a wonderful goal that started with Capoue playing a lovely cross-field pass to Deulofeu who brought the ball down before passing back to Masina who shot past Pickford into the opposite corner.

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal

The Hornets threatened again as Capoue played another lovely ball, this time for Pereyra, but Pickford was out to gather.  The visitors created a decent chance as Sidibé crossed for Calvert-Lewin, but the header was easy for Foster.  Off the pitch, the first sight of Danny Welbeck warming up was greeted with applause.  Watford had a chance to increase their lead when a free kick from Masina was cleared as far as Doucouré whose bicycle kick cleared the bar.  The hosts threatened again as Deulofeu found Doucouré on the edge of the box, but the shot was blocked at close range.  VAR was then invoked as a nasty looking tackle by Digne on Pereyra was checked, but no punishment ensued.  Maxi returned after treatment and exacted revenge on Digne.  Again, VAR was called into action but, again, the offence was not deemed worthy of a red card (or a yellow for that matter).  The second goal for the Hornets came after Deeney latched on to a loose ball and played a lovely pass to Pereyra who finished beautifully to put the Hornets in a commanding position with two minutes to go until half time.  The goal had been against the run of play, but it was all looking so positive at that point.  Sadly, 2-0 is a dangerous score and there followed two minutes of madness.  The clock had reached 45 minutes when Everton won a corner.  The Watford defenders failed to clear and the ball pinged around the box until Mina turned it in.  It was a very scrappy goal to give away.  It got worse almost immediately as Everton won another corner, Sigurdsson’s delivery was met by Mina, who was allowed a free header which beat Foster to level the score.  The scorer was milking the celebrations right in front of the 1881 which irritated me immensely even if it is likely that he had been jeered by the home fans.

Everton Speedo Mick interviewed by Emma

There was shock at half time, we had appeared to be in control of the game and had been defending very solidly, but that was all undone by two corners when the defence went missing.  So frustrating in such an important game.

The first topic of the half time interviews was the National Citizen Service (NCS), a programme for 15-17 year-olds which has been one of the projects run by Watford Community Trust.  It is a very positive project that has benefited many local youngsters.

The legend on duty was Gary Porter talking about his distinguished career with the Hornets.  He was a part of some amazing teams and is very fondly remembered, although it shocks me to realise how long ago he retired as I think of him as one of the youngsters!

Last up was Everton Speedo Mick who is walking 1000 miles from John O’Groats to Lands End while dressed in Speedo swimming trunks to raise money for Leave the Light On which contributes to community projects that help disadvantaged young people.  His excitement at Everton’s comeback was a little hard to listen to, but I let him off as it is a tremendous charity https://www.gofundme.com/f/speedomick-1000-ml-charity.  I was a little embarrassed when the two guys in front of us commented on my taking photos.  It was for the blog, honest, not because I want photos of a middle-aged bloke in a Speedo.

Pereyra on the ball

The visitors had the first chance of the second half and, again, it was from a set piece.  Sigurdsson took a free kick which reached Calvert-Lewin, whose header was deflected over the bar.  There was then a tussle between Deeney and Mina, not the first of the afternoon.  The Everton man was rolling around trying to get Troy into trouble and Troy’s look of contempt mirrored my feelings.  Nigel Pearson made his first substitution just before the hour mark as Chalobah made way for Welbeck.  Nate did not look happy at being replaced, but the introduction of Welbeck was warmly received by the crowd.  The first booking of the game came soon after and went to Delph for a trip on Pereyra.  The visitors made two changes in quick succession bringing Kean and Schneiderlin on for Iwobi and Sigurdsson.  There were a couple of rash-looking tackles from the Hornets as Everton broke forward, but the referee finally blew up for a nudge on Richarlison on the edge of the box, with Masina booked for the most innocuous foul in that sequence.  The resulting free kick was taken by Digne who hit it straight into the wall.  With 20 minutes remaining, the visitors were reduced to ten men after Delph was shown a second yellow card for a clumsy foul on Capoue.  The resulting free kick was repelled as far as Capoue who shot over the target.

Danny Welbeck back in action

Each side then made a change with Keane replacing Calvert-Lewin for the visitors and Success on for Pereyra for the home side.  The first contribution from Success was unimpressive, he lost out to Sidibé and so brought him down and was shown a yellow card for his trouble.  Pearson made his final change replacing Deulofeu with Pussetto.  Geri left the pitch by the goal in front of the Rookery and walked half the length of the stand where he was applauded the whole way around but didn’t once acknowledge the crowd.  Late in the game the Hornets had a few decent chances to regain the lead.  First a corner from Masina was cleared to Doucouré on the edge of the box, his shot was hit well but flew wide of the far post.  The next yellow card went to Mina, who was seriously annoying me, so I was glad to see him booked for a foul on Success.  The Hornets threatened again as a lovely free kick from Pussetto was punched clear to Capoue who squared for Doucouré whose shot was wide of the near post.  The visitors picked up another yellow card as Holgate was booked for a foul on Doucouré.  There was another half chance to grab a winner for the Hornets when they got the ball into the Everton box, but no Watford man could get a meaningful touch on it.  The Hornets had been pushing for the winner, but it was the visitors who took all three points with a goal in the 90th minute.  Masina lost out in the middle of the pitch, Richarlison advanced and played in Kean who moved the ball on to Walcott, at first he appeared to have run wide of the goal, but that proved to be wishful thinking on my part as he finished past Foster.  There was a roar of encouragement from the Watford faithful as the fourth official held up the board indicating 5 minutes of added time, but the Hornets created nothing of note in added time and the final whistle went to boos from the home fans.

Pussetto lines up a free kick

The reaction after the game was mostly anger.  Listening to fans as we left the ground, Nigel Pearson has gone from football genius to being utterly clueless.  Again, the withdrawal of Chalobah was questioned especially as he didn’t take advantage of the presence of Hughes on the bench who would have firmed up the midfield, but that could have been criticised as like-for-like when Pearson was making a change to the formation.  But most of the fury was directed towards the appearance of Success.  Given the amount of criticism Gray has attracted recently, I was rather amused to hear a comment that Andre must wonder what he has to do if Isaac is coming on ahead of him.  My assumption was that Success was brought on due to his strength and, given that Gray was awful at Tranmere, the greater likelihood that he would cause the Everton defence problems.  But when he does nothing it looks to be a poor substitution.

My great annoyance was at the fact that we have lost to Everton on three occasions this season and they haven’t had to play well in any of those games.  On Saturday we beat ourselves and that hurts.  We had scored two lovely goals in the first half and had kept Everton completely at bay through effective defending, but that was undone with some sloppy play at the end of the half.  Watford looked most likely to win the game late on, but we wasted our chances and one mistake allowed Everton the opportunity to grab the winner.

So, we are back in the bottom three and the visit to Brighton is looking to be crucial, given that it is followed by a trip to Old Trafford and the visit of Liverpool.  Consider me fickle, but I hate football again.

Should Have Stayed in the Pub with Prowsey

A rather gorgeous quilt at St George’s Hall

During the weeks that the rail companies are expecting leaves on the line my morning train to work leaves two minutes earlier than usual.  For someone who needs every minute in the mornings, this causes me issues.  As I prepared to leave the house with my bag packed for the overnight stay in Liverpool, I realised that I had forgotten something so, by the time I left, I was cutting it very fine.  Sure enough, I arrived at the station to see the train start to pull out.  As I had half an hour to wait for the next one, I decided to collect my tickets for the journey to Liverpool.  That was my second mistake of the morning as my credit card was damaged and became stuck in the machine, much to the displeasure of the woman in the ticket office.  At that point, I boarded my train, sat down with a coffee and hoped that was the end of my bad luck for the day.

After a shorter than anticipated morning at work, I arrived at Euston where I bumped into Mick Smithers, our Police liaison officer.  I almost didn’t recognise him as he was in civvies.  We had a chat speculating on the likely small away attendance and then went our separate ways.  I caught up with Adam, my travelling companion for the day, on the train and we settled down for the journey north.

As we arrived too early to head for the pub, I tried to do something cultural.  I didn’t fancy the clothing exhibition at the Walker, so headed for St George’s Hall as we believed there was a photography exhibition there.  The signage wasn’t good, so we scaled the three flights, had a look around the courtroom and into the gallery before descending and finding that the exhibition was on the ground floor.  It was diverting enough, but I found myself spending more time with the educational display about crime and punishment in Victorian Liverpool.  Of particular interest there were the cautionary tales of the punishment of habitual drunks, most of whom appeared to be female.   With this still fresh in my mind, we headed for the pub where we met up with Mike.

While sitting in the pub, we saw a man knocking on the window trying to attract someone’s attention.  The young lad sitting behind us went out to see him and returned to inform us that he had been summoned to see the Watford team boarding their coach which was parked opposite the pub.  It was only about 75 minutes to kick-off, so it seemed that they were also cutting it a bit fine.

Gomes back in goal

I am a big fan of the musician Ian Prowse of Amsterdam and Pele.  It just so happens that Mike is a friend of his, having worked with him on an educational video some years ago.  Ian had promised to drop in to say hello, but as time went on it appeared that he had found something better to do.  Just as we had given up on him, he appeared and told a few stories as only Scousers (and the Irish) can.  It was very tempting to get another drink and stay in the pub with him, but we dutifully headed to the ground at the appointed hour.

The seats that we had been allocated were at the back of the stand, so the view was somewhat restricted by the low roof.  Luckily, due to the small crowd, we were able to find seats at the front of the block where we could see most of the pitch (around the pillars) and at least we could sit when the ball was down our end.

Team news was that Quique had made eight changes but was sticking with first team players.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Cathcart; Foulquier, Chalobah, Quina, Hughes, Femenía; Pereyra, Gray.  Dalby, who has been impressing in the U23s had travelled with the team but only made the bench.

Kiko takes a throw-in

Everton had an early chance as a counter-attack finished with a shot from Kean that was blocked by Cathcart.  A mistake from Richarlison was greeted with jeers from the travelling Watford fans, which set the tone for the game as he was booed every time he touched the ball.  The animosity towards that young lad really baffles me.  Watford’s first chance came in the 17th minute, a low cross from Pereyra reached Quina at the far post, but he couldn’t sort his feet out and could only turn his shot wide.  It was a very cagey first half, so the next action of note was after half an hour.  Pereyra intercepted the ball, found Chalobah, who hesitated before shooting and was crowded out, the ball broke to Foulquier who won a throw.  The throw-in reached Pereyra, whose shot was very poor.  The fact that this uninspiring passage of play was deemed worthy of note highlights how poor the rest of the half had been.  At the other end a cross from Iwobi was easily caught by Gomes.  Each side was forced to make a substitution towards the end of the half.  Quina, who had been struggling for a while, made way for Doucouré and Mina was replaced by Keane.  The home side had a chance to open the scoring just before half time when Hornets gave the ball away on the edge of the box allowing Iwobi to get in a shot, but Gomes made the catch.

Pereyra prepares to take a corner

So the half ended goalless.  It had been a very dull half of football, and the cagey approach had led to a shout from behind me of “Don’t play for 0-0, it’s a cup game.”  There were some suggesting that the game should go straight to penalties rather than making us sit through another half of tedium, but we weren’t to be so lucky.

Everton made their second substitution at the break as Walcott replaced Kean.  On 54 minutes, Watford had the best chance of the game so far, and their first shot on target, as Gray went on a run before hitting a powerful shot that required a good save from Pickford to keep it out.  Then Gray tried to play Doucouré in, but it was a poor pass that was easily dealt with.  Everton had a decent chance from a Digne free kick, Keane had a free header, but he headed downwards and it bounced into the arms of Gomes.  Then Hughes picked up a loose ball and released Gray who played a square ball which went begging.    At the other end, Digne tried a low shot, but Gomes was down to gather.  The home side should have taken the lead when Richarlison cut the ball back to Gomes but the shot was cleared off the line by Mariappa.  Watford made another substitution bringing Kabasele on for Prödl.

Dmitri Foulquier

The second half was much livelier than the first but, unfortunately, it was the home side who were creating the most threat.  Their next chance came from a shot from Iwobi that rebounded off the crossbar.  Flores made his final change and it became clear that we were not to see U23 goal machine, Sam Dalby, instead Deulofeu replaced Pereyra.  The Spaniard took to the field to applause from the Everton fans.  That warm greeting for former players used to be the practice among Watford fans, I don’t know when we morphed into a group who jeer nastily.  The first booking of the game went to Doucouré for a foul on Gomes.  Digne took the free kick which was deflected off the Watford wall and, again, the crossbar saved us.  Everton took the lead in the 72nd minute as Walcott crossed for Holgate to head home.  The goal was greeted with a sense of resignation in the away end.  It had been coming and, given what had gone before, it seemed highly unlikely that Watford would get back into the game.  Silva made his final substitution bringing Tosun on in place of Calvert-Lewin.  Everton won a free kick in a dangerous position but, before they could take it, Hughes required treatment, which was of some concern as the Hornets had already used all of their substitutes.  When the free kick was eventually taken, it was a terrible delivery that flew wide of the near post.  As the game reached the 90 minute mark, Mariappa was booked for a clumsy tackle.  He protested the decision, I have no idea why.  There was 4 minutes of added time which was not welcomed in the away end.  The Hornets did have a half chance to draw level when Deulofeu exchanged passes with Chalobah, but his shot was straight at a defender.  Instead Everton broke downfield and Tosun fed Richarlison who finished past his mentor, Gomes, to seal the win for the Toffees.  The travelling Watford fans streamed out at that point.  I did stay around long enough to applaud the team off.  There was some consolation for the fans who had stayed to the bitter end as a number of the players came over to give away their shirts.

Deulofeu comes over to take a corner

We headed back to the pub a disappointed bunch.  It had been a miserable performance.  Everton were very poor, but we were worse.  Apart from the Gray shot early in the second half, we didn’t look likely to test Pickford.  That is what I am finding so frustrating this season.  Even if we are short on strikers, we have players who can create chances and they aren’t doing so.  The cup defeat means that we can now concentrate on the league, but I am increasingly concerned that this is a relegation season in the making.  We often joke about staying in the pub rather than going to the game and I couldn’t help thinking that we would have had a lot more entertainment if we had continued drinking with Prowsey.

On Wednesday, I had a lazy morning but caught a train in time to get to work for the afternoon.  At least that was the plan, but a combination of a broken-down train on the line and signal failure meant that I didn’t arrive back in London until after 3:30, so ended up having to book another half day off work for a game that certainly wasn’t worth using that much holiday.  This was certainly not the best trip I have ever been on.

Rainbows Under the Lights

The rainbow display in the Rookery (with thanks to Alice Arnold)

A rare midweek game, so I left work earlier than usual and made my way out to Watford and to the West Herts to meet the usual suspects.  Trond had kindly brought sweets and I was just commenting that this would be some compensation as Glenn (our usual sweetie man) wasn’t around when the man himself appeared through the door and filled the table with goodies, so we all left for the game with a bag of treats.  I had a feeling that this would be a day when we would need some sugar to sweeten the blow of the result.  City’s last two visits to Vicarage Road had seen them scoring 6 and 5 goals with no reply.  The pre-match consensus was that anything less than a four goal defeat would be an achievement.

As this was Watford’s “rainbow laces” game in support of LGBT+ inclusion in sport, the 1881 and the Proud Hornets had worked together to put on a rainbow banner display in the Rookery, which was absolutely magnificent.

Team news was that Gracia had made three changes with Capoue (whose ridiculous red card at Leicester was not rescinded), Mariappa and Deulofeu replaced by Chalobah, Kabasele and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Chalobah, Doucouré, Hughes; Success, Deeney.

Deeney sporting the rainbow captain’s armband

City had the first chance of the game with a shot from distance from David Silva that comfortably cleared the bar.  Watford had a much better chance soon after as Deeney found Pereyra, who beat a defender before curling a shot wide of the far post.  City should have taken the lead when a terrible ball from Pereyra was intercepted by Sané, who was into the box and looked sure to score, but Foster reached up and pushed the shot away for a corner which was turned wide by Kompany.  Foster was the hero again soon after as he made a double/triple save before the ball was finally cleared by Femenía.  Ederson was then called into action as Chalobah hit a volley from 25 yards, but it was an easy save for the City keeper.  So we’d reached the half hour mark with no score, a distinct improvement on previous seasons.  That looked likely to change as Jesus dinked into the box but, yet again, Foster came to the rescue blocking the shot.  Watford had a chance to grab an unlikely lead as Doucouré found Deeney with an overhead kick, the Watford captain got his shot away and it looked as though it was going in when Ederson got a foot to it to keep it out.  Just when we thought we may make it to half time with the game goalless, Mahrez crossed for Sané, who chested the ball past Foster to give the visitors the lead.  They threatened again before half time as Mahrez advanced on goal from what appeared to be an offside position, but he shot into the side netting.

Man of the match, Ben Foster

So we’d managed to reach half time with only a single goal separating the teams.  City had been very impressive indeed, but Watford’s defensive efforts had been decent and Foster was putting in a magnificent performance in goal.  Even better, the guy who had taken the seat behind me during the first half, who I had been sure was there to support City, turned out to be a Roma fan just taking in a game, so I didn’t have someone celebrating an opposition goal over my left shoulder.

The visitors were two goals up five minutes into the second half as Jesus played a low cross to Mahrez who turned it past Foster.  I feared that this may start a landslide.  I was wrong.  Watford had to make a substitution before the restart as Hughes, who had been limping, made way for Quina to make his Premier League debut.  Watford looked to break back as Success found Doucouré about 20 yards out, but his shot was blocked.  City had a chance for a third as a shot from Mahrez deflected up and over Foster, but the ball drifted wide.  Watford made a second substitution as Chalobah made way for Deulofeu.  Success had a chance to reduce the deficit with a shot from just outside the area, but it was well over the bar.  There was danger for the Hornets when Deulofeu slipped, allowing City to mount an attack, thankfully the effort from Jesus was wide of the near post.

Quina hoping to take a free kick before Holebas intervened

Watford had a decent chance as Success met a free kick from Holebas with a header, but Ederson was down to save.  City made their first change with quarter of an hour to go, bringing Gundogan on for David Silva.  An interception from Deeney started a lovely move in which he exchanged passes with Pereyra before finding Doucouré whose shot was saved by Ederson.  Watford then made their final substitution, bringing Gray on for Success.  Mahrez should have had a second goal but Foster got a hand to the shot to keep it out.  City made another change replacing Kompany with Otamendi.  Then the unexpected happened.  Deulofeu did really well to dispossess Delph before crossing for Gray who touched the ball on to Doucouré who fluffed his first attempt, but put the rebound past Ederson.  It wasn’t the most elegant of finishes, but it sent the Rookery into raptures and, suddenly, it was game on.  As the Watford fans cheered their team on, they nearly got an unlikely equaliser as a Holebas corner was headed goalwards by Deeney, but Ederson made the save.  The visitors made a final change to waste some time as Laporte came on for Jesus, who went off at a snail’s place to boos from the home fans.  Ederson joined in the time wasting, including leaving the ball on the roof of the net for an age before a Watford man returned it to him.  I am glad to say that he was booked for his trouble.  In time added on, Watford won a succession of corners, Foster came up to join the fray, but the equalizer didn’t come.  There was still some considerable satisfaction at witnessing the relief from the City players and fans when the final whistle went.

Pushing for the win

So, despite the defeat, we left Vicarage Road with smiles on our faces.  There was certainly no disgrace in losing so narrowly to City and the fighting spirit shown by the team was something to be savoured.  There was an irony that, having managed only one shot on target in our past two games, the lads managed seven against a City side who are far and away the best team in the country.  Special mention must go to Ben Foster, who was absolutely superb in goal, and Quina who made a tidy appearance as a substitute.  We can look forward to good things from him in the future.

So on to Everton on Monday, a game that will be dominated by the presence of Marco Silva in the home dugout.  But I do hope that the travelling fans can concentrate on encouraging the players, as Goodison Park is not a happy hunting ground for us and it would be lovely to come away with a result.

No Shame in Defeat at the Etihad

Capoue and Carrillo at the Etihad

When the television schedule was announced for the Christmas period, it was a source of some irritation that, despite the fact that none of our games would be televised, Man City’s game being moved to New Year’s Eve meant that our bank holiday game was now to be played on the evening of the 2nd.  This meant a very brief return to work on Tuesday morning, with just time to wish everyone a happy new year before catching a train to Manchester.  There had been an early indication that the away following would be reduced when I received a set of replacement tickets with a letter explaining that, to maximise attendance, the Watford fans would all be located in the lower tier.  There was a further indication on the day, when the club announced that all of the fans travelling to the game would be given a voucher for £10 towards food and drink on entry to the stadium.

When I arrived at the designated pre-match pub, the Happy Valley Horns were already there in force.  The table next to us was populated with Man City fans and we were a little taken aback to hear a loud cheer from one of them before he exclaimed in triumph that De Bruyne was starting.  Did he really think they needed him?  At this point in the evening, I had started to feel rather ropey and, given the excellent quality of the pie and pint that I had sampled, could only put this down to nerves at what I was about to witness on the football field.  City had put 6 goals past us when we were playing well, so this could prove to be an absolute annihilation.

Doucoure and Wague looking drenched

Apparently I wasn’t the only person of a Watford persuasion who wasn’t feeling at their best on Tuesday evening as Okaka and Cleverley were both missing from the starting XI due to illness, Gray and Capoue were the replacements.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Wagué, Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Doucouré, Watson; Carrillo, Capoue, Richarlison; Gray.

A late realisation that the clock in the pub was very slow and the group of City fans next to us were not going to the game meant that we left for the ground later than intended.  The persistent rain persuaded us to forego the half hour walk and take a tram but, having just missed one, we arrived at the Etihad very close to kick-off and the detour that we were forced to take to reach the away turnstiles meant that we heard the game kick off while still being searched.  I had just reached the turnstiles when I heard a roar that signalled the opening goal.  As I emerged into the concourse, I was greeted by Dave Messenger, handing out the promised vouchers, who confirmed that the goal that I had missed hadn’t been scored by a Watford player.  When I reached my seat those of our party already in position confirmed that the goal had been scored straight from kick-off and that no Watford player had touched the ball before it hit the net.  Having been treated to a replay at a later point I now know that Sané crossed for Sterling to tap in at the far post.

Janmaat after taking a throw-in

My first view of the game was of all the players still camped in the Watford half and it wasn’t long before City had another decent chance from a Sané cross but, on this occasion, Stones blazed the shot over the bar.  Happily, Watford launched an early attack as Gray latched onto a ball over the top but Ederson smothered the shot.  City threatened again as Sané sent a low cross in front of the goal, but nobody was there to apply the finishing touch.  The second City goal came on 13 minutes as De Bruyne crossed towards Agüero, Kabasele intercepted, but could only turn the ball past Gomes.  At this point the crowd just to my left erupted and I realised quite how few Watford fans were actually in the stadium (588 according to the Watford Police twitter).  The travelling Hornets greeted this new set back with a chant of “We want more vouchers.”  A young lad behind me then tried to set a positive tone with “We’re gonna win 3-2.”  Soon after, City won a free-kick on the edge of the box, and he reconsidered, “We’re gonna win 4-3.”  Thankfully, De Bruyne’s free kick came back off the crossbar and the follow-up header from Stones was caught by Gomes.  The unusual sight of the Watford players in possession was celebrated with “We’ve got the ball.”  Sadly, it wasn’t long before it had to be modified to “We’ve lost the ball.”

Cleverley and Aguero

Watford’s second goal attempt came just before the half hour mark as Janmaat hit a shot from distance well wide of the far post.  This proved to be a good spell for the Hornets as Gray broke forward and called Ederson into action to push his shot around the post.  The rolling banner around the ground was displaying facts relating to the two teams and I really could have done without being informed that City had won the last 7 meetings with an aggregate score of 24-3.  Watford had something to cheer in defence as Wagué pulled off a great saving tackle on Agüero in the Watford box just as he was about to shoot.  Silva was the next to try his luck, but his shot was over the bar.  A dangerous cross from De Bruyne reached Agüero in the box, Gomes fell at his feet to pull off a brave save, but was hurt in the process.  Hearts sank at the thought that he may have to be replaced by Karnezis, but he just needed a breather and was soon back on his feet.  It wasn’t all one-way traffic, though, and the next chance fell to Capoue, who found space for a shot, but it was easily gathered by Ederson.  The home side had another chance to increase their lead soon after with a curling free kick from De Bruyne which flew just wide.  The home side launched one final attack in time added on at the end of the first half as De Bruyne crossed for Agüero but the shot was easily gathered by Gomes.  So we reached half time with City only leading by two goals.  After the way that the game had started, that was a bit of a relief.

By half time I was feeling rather better than I had been at kick-off.  Then the players came out for the second half and I felt distinctly unwell again.  It was clearly the thought of the football that was making me ill.

Gray’s goal celebration was to run back to the centre circle

The first chance of the second half came from the usual source as a cross from De Bruyne was met by the head of Agüero, but his effort was well wide of the target.  City fans were shouting for a penalty when Agüero broke into the box and appeared to be taken down by Wagué, it looked nailed on from our vantage point at the other end, but the referee waved play on.  From a short corner, De Bruyne crossed for Otamendi who should have increased City’s lead but directed his header wide of the target.  Marco Silva made a double substitution just after the hour mark with Watson and Capoue making way for Pereyra and Cleverley, who was roundly booed by the home fans, presumably for his history at United.  City’s third goal came soon after as a cross from De Bruyne was spilled by Gomes and Agüero poked the loose ball home.  I was really fed up at this point and found myself bizarrely muttering abuse at the image of Agüero on the big screen that they used to celebrate the goal.  City also made a couple of changes as, first, Danilo came on for Stones, then Touré replaced Fernandinho.  De Bruyne threatened again, playing a one-two with Sané before taking a shot that was deflected into the side netting.  Thankfully for our goal difference, that was his last action of the game as he was replaced by Bernardo Silva.  I did have to join in the applause as he left the pitch as he was truly excellent.  There was an unexpected treat as Watford pulled a goal back, a cross from Richarlison was punched clear but only as far as Carrillo who crossed back for Gray to finish.  The goal was celebrated with considerably more gusto in the stands than on the pitch.  The final substitution for the Hornets saw Richarlison make way for Sinclair.  Gray had a chance to further reduce the deficit as he received a through ball from Zeegelaar, but he was stretching and poked the ball just wide of the target.  There was one final chance for the home side with a shot from Sterling, but Gomes was equal to it.  In time added on, Pereyra tumbled in the box under a challenge from Otamendi.  There were howls for a penalty from the travelling Hornets, but I must admit that I wouldn’t have given it, so was not surprised when the referee waved play on.

Goalscorer Gray

Given my pessimism prior to kick-off, which had been compounded by the early goal, I was oddly relieved at a 3-1 defeat.  I would have taken that before the game.  There was a feeling that City had taken their foot off the pedal, they certainly were not as relentless as they had been at Vicarage Road.  But the Hornets had given a good account of themselves in the second half and the game had not damaged the goal difference unduly.

At the end of the game, Gomes came over to the away end and gave his shirt to a young fan.  Richarlison also came over, but was very particular about the recipient of his shirt, it turned out to have been presented to his Dad.  At this point I must mention the fans who travelled to the game.  There were not many of us, but those in attendance were singing until the final whistle, so did their team proud.

We retired to the hotel bar for a post-match drink, trying to avoid the highlights of the game that seemed to be showing on a loop on the televisions around the bar.  Our last visit to this hotel had been for a game against United and the bar had been packed with foreign tourists sporting brand spanking new red shirts.  On this occasion, the only City fans were old fellas whose scarves had accompanied them for many a year.  As we relaxed, we reflected on why we travel around the country on days like this when the likelihood of a positive result is so low.  The fear of missing something and the delightful company were both mentioned, but in the end there was no rational explanation, we just do.

No Goal Attempts but Impressive Defence

A gorgeous pre-match pub

A gorgeous pre-match pub

Another departure at the crack of dawn.  A rail strike and bank holiday engineering work threatened to disrupt the journey but, fortunately, everything ran to schedule.  On our last visit to Manchester, we had been turned away from our designated pre-match pub and ended up in a Wetherspoons.  So this time we had chosen a meeting place that was slightly out of town.  As I approached the pub and saw that the doors were closed, I was a little concerned that we would end up finding that the walk out of the city had been in vain.  However, just before John and I reached the doors, they opened to welcome us and we were soon sitting in a comfy corner of a beautiful pub with a couple of lovely pints in front of us and all was right with the world.

On arrival at the Etihad, I instantly regretted buying one of the seats in the top tier as it was a hell of a trek up there, although good practice for our trip to Newcastle.  When the teams were announced on the big screen, there was a duplication of Christian names so we had Heurelho Nyom and Sebastian Jurado.  I was a little disappointed not to see Valon Deeney in the team.  The starting line-up showed one change as Abdi replaced Anya so was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Capoue, Behrami, Abdi, Ighalo, Jurado and Deeney.  When the team lined up, the apparent 4-2-3-1 formation became 4-2-4-0 as Deeney was playing out wide on the right.  The tannoy guy repeatedly welcomed us to the ‘newly expanded’ stadium.  It has to be said that the new upper tier was pretty deserted and so far from the pitch that I needed to find the distance glasses that I rarely use.

The pre-match huddle

The pre-match huddle

Prior to the match we also found out that Daniel Pudil had moved (on loan) to Sheffield Wednesday.  I will miss muttering “Who killed Danny?” as he collapsed under an innocuous challenge.  But, I will particularly miss seeing the photos of his family in and around Watford.  To see a player who has moved from overseas proudly posting photos of his wife and son in Cassiobury Park made me ridiculously happy.  Sadly Dan never looked likely to be part of the Premier League plans, but he will be remembered fondly for his contributions on the pitch and his proudly embracing Watford as his home.

As may have been expected, Agüero was an immediate threat on the Watford goal.  His first foray forward was closed down by the Watford defence, the next resulted in a shot that was blocked by Cathcart.  Watford’s first attack saw Layun play the ball out to Holebas whose cross was headed clear by Kompany.  The resulting corner led to a bit of a goalmouth scramble with a couple of shots blocked before the ball was cleared.  At the other end, a cross in the direction of Agüero was cut out by Prödl.  The corner by Silva was also headed clear by the Austrian.

Abdi on the ball

Abdi on the ball

The Watford goal was threatened further as, first, Navas played a cross into the box which flew off target, then a free kick from Kolarov curled wide of the far post.  Watford caused themselves problems as Jurado gave the ball away, Sterling broke into the box but was tackled by Cathcart for a corner.  Then Gomes was called into action, dropping to save a shot from Sagna.  The best chance of a goal so far came as Sterling broke into the box with only Gomes to beat, the keeper stopped the shot, but the ball squirmed out of his hands and, thankfully, rolled out for a corner.  A rare Watford attack ended when a Nyom cross from distance was easily gathered by Hart.  The home side threatened again as the ball was taken off Abdi’s feet and Agüero hit a shot that flew just wide of the target.  The first booking of the game went to the home side as Kompany was punished for a foul on Jurado.  The cards were evened up soon after Nyom was booked for flying through the back of Sterling.  The Frenchman’s reaction was priceless as he expressed his outrage by mimicking Sterling’s dramatic collapse.  I have a certain sympathy with his annoyance at the player’s dramatic reaction, but he probably shouldn’t have knocked him flying in the first place.  The Hornets had their longest spell of possession in the half in time added on, but, typically of their defensive approach to the game, it finished with a pass back to Gomes.

Half-time conversations expressed pleasure at the strong defensive performance of the Hornets, but concern that we had no player up front so never looked likely to score.

Deeney attacks

Deeney on the attack

At the start of the second half Pellegrini made a change, bringing Nasri on for Navas and changing the formation to put two up front.  This immediately paid dividends as Sagna crossed to the far post and Sterling ghosted in to tap the ball past Gomes.  The home side were soon two goals ahead as a Touré free-kick hit the wall, Watford failed to clear so the ball reached Fernandinho who hit a powerful shot across Gomes and into the far corner.  At this point it looked like City may score a hat full, especially when Agüero attacked again but on this occasion he mishit his shot which spun before being caught easily by Gomes.  A rare forward passing move by the Hornets finished when a cross from Layun was cut out by Kompany, the City break was stopped (not for the first time) by a tackle from Cathcart.  On the hour mark Flores made his first substitution replacing Abdi with Anya.  This appeared to be an uncharacteristically attacking substitution.  City’s next break by Agüero was stopped by Prödl who was booked for the infringement.  Silva took the resulting free kick, which flew just wide.  Watford’s best move of the game came as Jurado broke into the box, his low cross was dummied by Deeney and reached Anya whose cross was blocked for a corner.  Watford’s second substitution saw Layun on for Ighalo, much to the disappointment of many in the away end who would have liked to have seen Vydra given a chance.  City brought Delph on for Silva.

Anya down the wing

Anya down the wing

City had a great chance to increase their lead as Nasri released Kolorov, his cross was met by Touré whose shot flew just wide.  The final substitution for the Hornets saw Watson come on for Capoue to loud boos from the home fans who haven’t forgiven him for winning the FA Cup for Wigan.  Some of the Watford fans were equally unhappy at this substitution as Vydra’s name rang out again in the away end.  Another Watford attack came to nothing as Jurado played the ball out to Layun whose low cross was straight at Joe Hart.  As City seemed to settle for a two goal win, there were a couple of late attacks by the Hornets.  First Anya broke forward but his cross was behind Deeney and cut out before it reached Layun.  Nasri tried a shot from outside the box that was saved by Gomes.  The last action of the game was a shot from distance by Layun that was weak and flew well wide of the target.  At the end of the game, a frustrated-looking Deeney tried to cheer up a couple of people in the away end by throwing his boots into the crowd.

It was hard to know how to feel after this game.  The defensive set-up had worked in so far as we only conceded two goals against the best team in the division.  However, for someone who came to football watching Graham Taylor’s attacking teams, it is really difficult to watch a team that not only don’t have a shot on goal but don’t look as though they want one.  We have now gone two games without a shot on target, although in the Southampton game that wasn’t for lack of trying.  Between now and the next game are the end of the transfer window and an international break so predictions of what we will see in the Swansea match are futile at this point.

On the way home I heard that Forestieri had joined Pudil at Wednesday, with Fernando’s being a permanent move.  This was another sad piece of news if only because Forestieri never reached his potential.  Fernando was a player who was loved for his enthusiasm while he irritated for his poor judgement.  But he is probably the only player in history to have tweeted a photo of himself buying a toaster in the pound shop and he also had a crucial part in *that goal*.  For those reasons he will always have a place in Hornet history.