Tag Archives: Federico Fernandez

Gorgeous Goals Brighten a Poor Game

The impeccable Ben Wilmot

When the draw for the fourth round was made and we were paired with either Blackburn or Newcastle, the waiting game started.  Train tickets could not be bought until we knew where we would be playing.  Also, as the match tickets were going on sale the morning after the replay, I had the task of drawing up two lists of attendees dependent on the outcome.  There were more takers for Blackburn, even though the consensus was that they would be a tougher opponent than Newcastle.  But Newcastle it was (again).

I left London bright and early and found myself on the same train as a fellow member of WML who I had notified of the pre-match pub, so I met up with him to ensure that he found it with no difficulties.  When we arrived, a couple of our party were already at the bar and had grabbed a table in the little enclosed area.  A well-dressed older couple then arrived and sat down to do their crossword.  This was shortly before a large contingent of Happy Valley and North West Horns descended and ruined their peace.  To be fair to them they took being surrounded by football fans in their stride and the crossword was duly completed.

Masina preparing for a corner

Team news was that Gracia had made wholesale changes, although this was hardly a second string as it did include the return of Cathcart and Hughes from injury as well as a number of others who have featured in the league this season.  So, the starting XI was Gomes; Janmaat, Cathcart, Britos, Masina; Quina, Wilmot, Chalobah; Success, Gray, Hughes.  We had been aware of the inclusion of Wilmot before the team was announced as his grandparents had bumped into Mike outside the pub.  Criticism by both pundits and fans of Watford’s changes ignored the fact that Newcastle, who have both a weaker team and squad than us, had made 7 changes of their own.  While I fully agree that we should be making every effort to advance in the cup, my feeling was that this was a team that had enough quality to beat Newcastle and I was very much looking forward to seeing more from Quina and Wilmot.

When we arrived at the away end turnstiles, the woman performing the search asked if I would be using the lift.  I wasn’t sure whether it was my heavy rucksack or my advancing age and girth that prompted the question, but assured her that I would take the stairs.  She then commented that she always takes the lift, so I decided not to take offence.  As we scaled the 14 flights, I was chatting to a friend, so lost track of our progress and was just wondering whether to stop for a much needed breather when I saw the top floor appear so soldiered on.  It always feels like an accomplishment to arrive at the top without the use of supplemental oxygen.  As we took our place in the stand, it was clear that there were plenty of empty seats in both the home and away ends.  Our allocation of 6000 was never going to be filled, but the temptation of £10 tickets had not attracted a huge home following either.

Quina on the ball

Watford made a very bright start with a brilliant shot from distance from Quina which needed a decent save from Woodman in the Newcastle goal to keep it out.  The next chance of note came from a free kick just outside the area which Chalobah hit just over the bar.  From that point, there was nothing worth retrieving my notebook for until the 23rd minute when Janmaat hit a terrible shot that was way off target.  Pete reckoned that his playing badly was a deliberate ploy to stop the home fans booing him.  Watford had a great chance to open the scoring when Quina played a lovely pass to Hughes, who slipped a through ball into the path of Gray but the shot was wide of the target, although it wouldn’t have counted as the offside flag was up.  Newcastle had offered little going forward and an attempt at a break by Murphy was stopped by a very good tackle from Britos.  And that was it for the first half.  The announcer on the pitch introducing the half-time competition summed it up when he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, if any of you are still awake …..”

Gray being congratulated on his goal

There was also a bright start to the second half as Hughes played a ball over the top for Gray to run on to, he broke clear of the defence but shot high and wide when he should at least have tested Woodman.  Success, who was having a frustrating afternoon, then lost out to a defender and clearly felt as though he had been manhandled (he hadn’t) so collapsed dramatically in the box and then had to get up and get on with it when it was clear that nobody cared.  It was as well that I was in the top stand half a mile from the pitch at that point as I was tempted to give him a slap.  Another chance went begging after some nice play around the edge of the Newcastle box finished with the ball with Gray who ran into a couple of defenders and lost the ball.  The first booking of the game went to Wilmot for a foul on Joselu.  The breakthrough for the Hornets came just after the hour mark as Hughes played a gorgeous through ball to Gray who finished past Woodman and continued his run to celebrate in front of the Watford fans up in the gods.  Peñaranda had been readied to come on, presumably for Gray, just before the goal.  He immediately put his bib back on.  Watford’s second booking went to Chalobah for a foul on Kenedy.  The home side should have equalized when Manquillo went on a decent run, Gomes came out to meet him but failed to stop the shot, however the impeccable Wilmot was on hand to head the ball off the line.

Success celebrating his goal in the distance

Gracia made his first change on 68 minutes finally bringing Peñaranda on for Gray.  Soon after, Chalobah broke forward but, with options to either side, played a through ball to where Gray would have been had he not been substituted a couple of minutes earlier.  Benitez made a double substitution bringing Pérez and Atsu on for Murphy and Ritchie.  The decision to replace Ritchie was greeted with loud boos from the home fans.  Britos was then booked for a foul on Pérez.  Each side made a final substitution with Schär replacing Fernandez for the home side and Chalobah making way for Capoue for the Hornets.  Newcastle had a chance to grab an equaliser in the final minutes of normal time when a defensive header fell to Pérez on the edge of the box from where he shot over the target.  The home side attacked again but a cross from Atsu was easily gathered by Gomes.  Watford made certain of their place in the fifth round with a lovely goal that started with Peñaranda playing the ball out to Quina, his cross found Success in space in the box to finish from close range and make me feel ever so slightly guilty for moaning about him all afternoon.  The home side had a chance to grab a consolation as Joselu crossed for Pérez, but his shot missed the target and the final whistle went on a comfortable win for the Hornets.

Chalobah getting back to his best

The heavens had opened towards the end of the second half, so we were absolutely drenched by the time that we reached the pub at the station.  As we sat down with our drinks for the post-match analysis, the most astute observation was that it appeared that two moments of quality from a different match had been inserted into a dreadful game.  The best cup ties are blood and thunder games where all of the players appear desperate to win.  This was certainly not one of those, but Watford had done enough to deserve the win and there had certainly been some bright points.  As he has been in every performance so far, Quina was a joy to watch.  He plays with a confidence that belies his years, has a wonderful touch and a brilliant eye for a pass.  I found myself almost purring with delight every time he got the ball.  Wilmot again showed what a great prospect he is.  He started the game playing in a defensive midfield position but later moved into the centre of defence allowing Masina to play further forward.  In both roles, he was composed and appeared totally in control of his surroundings.  He really does look like a young Cathcart and having two of them in the squad is something to treasure.  Of the players returning to first team action, Britos put in a decent shift in the defence and Chalobah put in the best performance that we have seen since his return.  He looked far more comfortable and performed the midfield fulcrum role with some assurance.  That was very pleasing to see.

While the game won’t last long in the memory, it does mean that we are in the fifth round of the cup and, with many of the top teams already out of the competition, this seems like a great opportunity to advance.  I would love a trip to Newport or Barnet/Brentford in the next round.  I just hope that we don’t draw another Premier League team.

While on the way home, I received a message from Pete F that just said “Lucky sea shells.”  I confess that having bought a new coat last weekend, I was superstitious enough to ensure that my shell was transferred and was gratified when Pete B showed that he had also brought his.  Those shells deserve a cup run, I hope that those making the draw agree.

Held at Home by the Magpies

Pereyra and Masina line up a free kick with Harry Hornet watching on

With Christmas all done and dusted, it was back to the West Herts for the last pre-game drinks of 2018.  I had arrived pretty early, but there were already a couple of friends at our usual table, including Don who is always there waiting for the doors to open.  One of my jobs of the day was to pass on the tickets for Woking to my group.  Being something of a control freak, I usually make the bookings for away games for my group of friends.  This does tend to make me a little anxious in case I forget someone.  The small number of tickets available for the cup tie increased the anxiety levels considerably.  There had been a sigh of relief when all the tickets arrived, and a weight lifted from my shoulders when I was able to pass them on.

Mike had spent Christmas in Lisbon and I had thoroughly enjoyed reading his blog posts about his trip, which had convinced me that I must make a proper visit, having only ever been there for work.  One of the features of his trip had been his daily consumption of pastel de nata, and he had kindly brought back a box to share.  They were absolutely delicious.  It was also a day to raise a glass to his lovely wife, Dee, on her anniversary.  She is greatly missed by us all.

When the team was announced, we were all rather surprised to hear that Gracia had made six changes from Boxing Day with Janmaat, Masina, Mariappa, Quina, Hughes and Success coming in for Femenía, Holebas, Kabasele, Doucouré, Sema and Deeney.  So the new look starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Masina; Hughes, Quina, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Success.  I must say that I was somewhat concerned at the number of changes.

Challenging in the Newcastle box

The first chance of the game fell to the home side as a corner from Pereyra reached Quina whose volley from distance cleared the bar.  It wasn’t long before the visiting Newcastle fans were in full voice, although I am sure Daryl Janmaat could have done without the chants that were being aimed at him.  Back on the pitch, a gorgeous ball from Hughes found Deulofeu, but Dummett was on hand to put him off and he poked wide of the near post.  Newcastle’s first attack of note came as Ritchie tried to release Rondón, but he was stopped by the linesman’s flag.  Deulofeu threatened again as he latched on to a through ball from Pereyra but his shot was blocked by the keeper, Dúbravka.  The visitors took the lead just before the half hour mark as Atsu broke forward and found Ritchie who crossed for Rondón to head past Foster.  Although the home side had been dominant up to that point, they had gone behind to the first on-target shot of the game.  The Watford players looked a bit shaken at going behind and a rare mistake from Cathcart looked as though it would cause more trouble, but Foster came out to make the tackle.  With 5 minutes to go until half time, Rondón had the ball in the net for the second time, but this time the flag was up and the goal was disallowed, which came as a great relief.  Watford tried to hit back as Hughes found Success but his shot from distance was saved by Dúbravka.  The first booking of the game went to Masina for a foul on Yedlin.  The last chance of the half came as Hughes found Success but, again the shot was blocked and we reached half time a goal down.

Capoue patiently waits to take a free kick

It was another frustrating half of football.  Watford had been rather lacklustre, but had still dominated the first half hour without creating any meaningful chances.  They fell apart a little after the goal and there were some nervous moments late in the half.  The performance would have to be much better in the second half if we were to get anything out of this game.

The visitors made a substitution at half time replacing Fernández, who had picked up an injury, with Schär.  Watford won a free kick on the edge of the area at the beginning of the second half, Pereyra stepped up to take it, but blasted it in to the wall.  Newcastle had a chance to increase their lead from a corner, but Rondón’s header flew just over the bar.  Gracia made two changes on 54 minutes replacing Hughes and Quina with Deeney and Doucouré.  The guy behind me summed up my feelings with his comment “We can play football, why aren’t we?”  There was a glimpse of what we can do as a good move ended with the ball with Deeney in the box, but he was crowded out before he could shoot.  Yedlin received a silly booking for throwing the ball away.  Then Ritchie tried a shot from distance, but it was straight at Foster.

Goalscorer Doucoure

Watford were playing more positively now and a ball into the Newcastle box was punched by Dúbravka but fell to Janmaat whose cross was met by the head of Deeney, but his effort was easily gathered by the Newcastle keeper.  With 12 minutes to go, there was a substitution for each side as Shelvey replaced Hayden for the visitors and Masina made way for Holebas for the Hornets.  With only 8 minutes of normal time remaining, Watford finally got the equaliser as Deulofeu put in a lovely cross and Doucouré rose to head home.  Game on!  Watford were pushing for a winner and had a decent chance when a Holebas free kick dropped for Success, but his shot was over the bar.  Then Pereyra ran on to a ball into the box and went down under a challenge, he appealed for the penalty, but his appeals were rightly waved away, it would have been a very soft penalty if given.  Pereyra tried his luck again after receiving a ball from Success, but he ran into traffic in the box.  Schär was then booked for a nasty foul on Success, who had been going down far too easily when challenged, but actually had my sympathy on this occasion.  Holebas took the free kick, but Doucouré was unable to connect on this occasion.  The Frenchman had another chance to put the home side in front as he met a ball from Deulofeu, it rolled agonisingly just wide of the near post, but wouldn’t have counted anyway as the flag was up.  The Hornets had one last chance to grab a winner as a ball upfield was headed on by Deeney to Success but his low shot was saved by Dúbravka and the game ended with honours even.

Masina and Pereyra eyeing the Newcastle wall

That is the second time that we have played Newcastle this season and the second time that we have come away frustrated.  The visitors were certainly more impressive than they had been at St James’ Park, but we should have challenged them more.  They had come to put 10 men behind the ball and Watford just couldn’t find a way to break them down.  While there had been a lot of changes, the starting XI should have been good enough to create more than they did in the first half.  The performance was considerably better when Deeney and Doucouré came on.  They battled more when the opposition had the ball and we generally looked more dangerous.  We also missed Holebas’s attacking prowess.

There were some very odd results this weekend, with Cardiff beating Leicester and Wolves getting a surprising win at Spurs on Saturday and then West Ham losing to Burnley on Sunday, which all made me feel a bit better about our draw.  That was also helped by the fact that the result didn’t see us losing any ground, so we finish the year in the top half of the Premier League.

After the game, it was back to the West Herts for a couple of post-match pints accompanied by Liverpool’s frankly terrifying performance against Arsenal.  As I eventually made my way home, I reflected on the day as a whole.  I love football and the Hornets have given me many happy memories with their performances on the field over the years. But, even if the game is poor or frustrating, my match days are spent in the company of some lovely people and that is what makes them so very special.  So, as the year comes to an end, I will raise a glass to my football family and thank them for making even the worst football match a good day out.

I extend those good wishes to all who read this blog.  I hope that you have a very happy new year and that the Hornets continue to give us much to celebrate in 2019.

Wasteful Finishing Leads to a Loss on the Tyne

The view of the Tyne Bridge and the Sage, Gateshead from the back of the stand at St James Park

As has become our custom when playing in the North-East, we arranged to meet in Durham on Friday evening.  This plan appeared to be threatened when I received an invitation to travel to New York for a work event on Thursday morning.  But, despite a hiccup due to a slight delay on my return flight, my travel planning turned out to be spot on.  I arrived at Heathrow soon after 9:30am on Friday giving me time to get home for a shower and change of clothes before arriving at Kings Cross in plenty of time for my train at 1:30pm.

The Friday evening meal and drinks were lovely, although the wine flowed a little too freely, for which I have nobody to blame but myself.  The walk from the city centre to the railway station in Durham is up a series of flights of steps.  I saw it as training for the climb to the away stand in St James’s Park later in the day.  On arrival in Newcastle, we had a lovely breakfast followed by a walk along the Tyne which was enlivened by a troupe of teenage girl acrobats, wearing even less than your average Geordie, putting on a display that included some precariously standing on their friends’ shoulders and appearing in distinct danger of being blown into the river.  As if that wasn’t enough, there was a bonkers busker who decided to serenade the couples out for a ‘romantic’ walk with a rendition of Minnie Ripperton’s “Lovin’ You” which was unexpected and impressive as he (sort of) hit the high notes.

My view of the minute’s silence

We were outside the door of our chosen pre-match establishment before they opened and managed to secure a secluded area for our party.  As we enjoyed our refreshments, we were visited by a Newcastle fan dropping off flyers detailing the upcoming protests against Mike Ashley.  Today’s was an 11th minute brandishing of the leaflet reading “Get out of our Club” and a protest outside the lounge at the end of the game.  I was also delighted to be joined by my sister and brother-in-law who had come up on the supporters coach which had arrived in Newcastle uncharacteristically early.

We left in plenty of time to take the stroll uphill to the ground, before scaling the 14 flights to the stand.  On arrival, we were less than delighted to discover that our seats were almost at the back requiring us to negotiate another steep flight of steps and ensuring that I had worked off my breakfast prior to kick-off.

Team news was that Gracia had made the one change with Holebas returning in place of Masina.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Mariappa, Femenía; Pereyra, Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes; Success, Deulofeu.

The minute’s silence at pitch level

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s silence for Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the Leicester owner, and the others who lost their lives in the helicopter crash last weekend.  The silence spontaneously erupted into applause, which seemed appropriate for a man who had given so much to his community.  The contrast with the feelings of the locals for the Newcastle owner was not lost on me.

The first attack of note was made by the home side with a cross that was met by a wayward header from Mariappa that went out for a corner, the delivery of which by Shelvey was cleared by Hughes.  At the other end Capoue broke and fed Pereyra who was tackled, the ball fell to Deulofeu whose shot was deflected for a corner.  Former Watford loanee, Kenedy, was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that was well wide of the target.  Then, as Muto broke forward, a shout of “handball” went up from the travelling Hornets, who took full credit when the referee blew up even though we knew that he couldn’t possibly have heard us.

Holebas lining up a corner with Pereyra in attendance

Pereyra and Holebas then combined brilliantly to get the ball to Hughes in the box, but the ball stuck under his feet and a tackle came in before he could shoot.  Watford should have taken the lead after 15 minutes when Mariappa met a Holebas corner with a header that was blocked on the line, the rebound fell to Hughes whose shot was also blocked, Mariappa had a second chance to score but shot just wide of the near post.  Newcastle were still causing the Hornets problems and a terrific shot from Diamé needed a good save from Foster to keep it out.  A lovely Watford move deserved more as Success found Deulofeu who broke into the box but was tackled before he could shoot.  This was followed by another gorgeous passage of play from the Hornets as Pereyra played the ball out to Holebas who put in a low cross for Deulofeu, but the Spaniard snatched at his shot and the ball flew wide of the near post.   At the other end, a misplaced pass allowed Kenedy to break, but he was stopped by a brilliant saving tackle by Mariappa.  Watford had another great chance to open the scoring as Success broke forward and passed to Deulofeu who was in an acre of space and should have done better with only the keeper to beat, but his shot was wide of the far post.

Breaking at a corner

A decent break from the home side was stopped by some clever defending from Holebas who managed to get in front of the Newcastle man and draw a foul.  Holebas was the centre of attention again soon after as he changed his shorts on the sideline.  Unfortunately my camera was in my pocket at the time.  Watford then won a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery from Capoue flew just over the bar.  The Frenchman was then booked for a tackle from behind on Muto.  Shelvey took the free kick, which was in an equally dangerous position, but his effort was well over the bar.  Deulofeu threatened again as he broke down the left, but his shot hit the side netting.  Watford had yet another decent chance as Pereyra played Success in, but the shot was blocked.  There was a final chance for the Hornets to take the lead before the break when Deulofeu slid the ball through to Success, but Dubravka was equal to the shot.  Despite Watford’s numerous chances during the half, that was the first save that the Newcastle keeper had had to make.  In the minute added on at the end of the half, Benitez made a substitution bringing Pérez on for Muto, who had taken a knock.  A decision that provoked a furious rant from Pete about the sheer pointlessness of the move when he could have had 20 minutes to recover.  Needless to say, the half time whistle went with the substitute not having had a touch and the game goalless.  It had been a frustrating half for the travelling Hornets.  Watford had much the better of the play and had created plenty of chances, Deulofeu could have had a hat trick on his own, but the finishing had been wasteful.

Pereyra, Holebas and Capoue gather for a free kick

The home side made another injury-enforced change at the break with Lascelles making way for Schär.  Watford had a superb chance to take the lead early in the second half when Success fought his way past Yedlin before passing to Pereyra whose shot looked all the way in until the crossbar got in the way.  Benitez was forced to make his final substitution only five minutes into the half when Shelvey was replaced by Ki, again due to an injury. Watford had another chance to take the lead from a corner, but Cathcart’s header was just over the bar.  Newcastle threatened as Rondón ran on to a through ball, Foster made a brave save, although he needn’t have bothered as the flag had gone up for offside anyway.  Foster came to the rescue again, punching a Ritchie corner clear, the ball came back in from Ki, but Foster gathered.  Hughes was then booked for a foul on Ki, conceding a free kick in a dangerous position.  Ki delivered the free-kick himself and it was headed home by Pérez to give the home side an unexpected lead.  Gracia made an immediate change bringing Gray on for Deulofeu.

Holebas delivers a corner

From the restart Newcastle broke forward, but Foster came out to make the tackle and avert the danger.  The home side had a great chance for a second goal soon after as a Kenedy cross was met by a header from Rondón that flew just wide of the target.  At the other end, a ball was launched for Success to run on to, but he let it run out of play much to the frustration of the travelling Hornets.  Kenedy did well to beat Mariappa and cross for Rondón, but Cathcart was on hand to make a saving header.  Success then did really well to break forward and cross for Gray who was stopped by a tackle from Kenedy.  Watford’s second substitution saw Hughes make way for Okaka.  Watford’s attempts to draw level continued as Pereyra crossed for Gray, but Dubravka was able to gather the ball.  A lovely passing move by the Hornets finished with a poor cross and the chance was lost.  Gracia made his final substitution replacing Success with Chalobah. I was shocked to hear cheers greeting this change.  I tried to be charitable and reason that the cheers must have been for the return of Chalobah, but it was so clear that they weren’t.  Now I am not Isaac’s biggest fan, he frustrates me greatly with some of his decision making.  A bit more thought allied with his skill and he would be a world beater.  He was also getting knocked off the ball a little too easily.  But he had worked hard and created some brilliant chances and certainly did not deserve that treatment from his own fans.  Watford had a late chance as Doucouré fired across the goal, but there was nobody on hand to turn the ball in.

Gathering for a Watford corner

There had been some theatrical feigning of injury by the Newcastle players (interspersed with bouts of cramp) which culminated in Yedlin going down dramatically after a collision with Pereyra.  The Newcastle man was claiming that his opponent had stamped on him.  As the Argentine protested, Holebas got involved and it all kicked off on the sideline with Holebas and Schär both being shown a yellow card after the handbags had been put down.  The Hornets had one last chance to snatch a point and it was a decent one as Doucouré played the ball back to Okaka who should have scored, but fired over the bar instead and Newcastle gained their first win of the season.

There were a lot of angry Watford fans after the game.  There was some justification for this as Newcastle had been very poor and were there for the taking.  But the first half performance had been impressive and the Hornets should have been 3 or 4 up at half time.  If the Pereyra shot that hit the crossbar early in the second half had gone in, we would have won the game.  But Newcastle worked hard, managed to get a goal from a set piece and it seemed to be game over from that point.  Still it is very dispiriting to hear so much anger directed at the players who have entertained us wonderfully so far this season.  We are half way to safety with less than 30% of the games played, so are already on the way to having a great season.  There will be the odd blip, but that shouldn’t derail the support as we are all in this together.  It would be great if some of our more volatile supporters could remember that.

Year Ends with Disappointment against the Swans

Ben Watson waiting to take a free kick

After our return to winning ways on Boxing Day, I entered the West Herts on Saturday with a more positive attitude than of late.  The Boxing Day absentees were mostly back in attendance and I was delighted to arrive in plenty of time to see Don before he left for the ground.  Mike was back from his Christmas trip and, it being a year since we lost lovely Dee, there was a heartfelt toast to absent friends.

Team news was that Silva had made one change from Boxing Day with Okaka coming in for Pereyra, who was fit enough to make the bench.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Wagué, Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Doucouré, Watson; Carrillo, Cleverley, Richarlison; Okaka.  Swansea were facing their first game under new manager, Carlos Carvalhal, so fingers were crossed in the home end that this wouldn’t result in a new lease of life for the struggling team.

The first action of the game was a yellow card for Fernández after he stopped a break by Richarlison.  That poor lad must be black and blue by the end of each game.  The first chance fell to the visitors as a shot from distance from Ayew rattled the crossbar with Gomes rooted to the spot.  But Watford soon had a chance of their own as Okaka headed the ball down to Cleverley who turned and curled a shot just wide of the target. 

Celebrating Carrillo’s goal

The home side had another decent chance when Doucouré released Richarlison who advanced before shooting just wide of the far post.  Watford took the lead on 11 minutes as Okaka found Richarlison whose shot was parried by Fabianski but the ball rebounded to Carrillo who headed home from close range.  I was hopeful that this would calm the Watford nerves and set up a comfortable win for the Hornets, but it all went a bit quiet and the next shot came from a Swansea boot, although the shot from Mesa didn’t trouble Gomes, however it did trouble my sister in Row QQ of the Rookery, who had to duck out of the way to avoid injury.  There were a couple of bookings around the half hour mark as Carrillo was cautioned, rather harshly, for tripping Ayew as they battled for the ball.  Then Carroll was booked for a pull on Doucouré’s shirt.  Kabasele did a sterling job in defence stopping a dangerous looking run by Ayew by getting in front of the Swansea man and shepherding the ball back to Gomes.  The effort was well worthy of the applause that it received.  Watford threatened again as a deep cross from Janmaat was met by the head of Richarlison, but the Brazilian’s effort was straight at Fabianski.  Watford had another chance to increase their lead late in the half as Doucouré shot just wide from the edge of the box.  So the Watford team went into the break a goal to the good and looking in control although without really testing Fabianski.  Swansea really had been poor and it was apparent why they are in the relegation zone.

Crowding for a corner

The visitors made a change after the break replacing Mesa with Narsingh.  The second half started brightly for the Hornets as a dangerous cross almost reached Carrillo, but Fabianski was first to the ball.  The Hornets had a great chance to increase their lead as Cleverley released Richarlison whose cross was just inches in front of Okaka’s boot as he slid in.  The home side had the ball in the net when a Cleverley corner was headed home by Wagué, but the whistle had already gone for an infringement and the goal was disallowed.  Swansea’s second substitution saw McBurnie coming on for Abraham, who appeared to have an injury.  Swansea fashioned a rare chance as Mawson met a corner from Carroll and headed just over the bar.   Gomes was called on to make his first save of the game on the hour mark, after a shot from Ayew was cleared only as far as Narsingh, but the shot was straight at the Watford keeper.  Watford’s first substitution came as Prödl replaced Wagué.  The second change saw Okaka making way for Gray.  This change came 13 minutes after the first, sadly nothing of interest had happened in that period.  The visitors also made a change as Dyer replaced Clucas.  Into the last 10 minutes and there was finally something to quicken the pulse as a cross from Richarlison was deflected to Doucouré whose shot was blocked.

Doucoure in action

Silva’s final change saw Carrillo make way for Pereyra.  The Argentine made an immediate impact playing a gorgeous ball to Gray who only had the keeper to beat, I nervously glanced at the lino, but Gray beat himself shooting straight at the keeper with the goal at his mercy, prompting howls from the Rookery.  A voice behind me had been expressing his concern at the narrow lead for some time and there was a certain inevitability when the visitors launched a counter attack and a header from McBurnie found Ayew who poked the ball past Gomes.  I was hoping that there would be a repeat of the end of the game at the Liberty Stadium when the Hornets snatched a last minute goal to secure the win.  Instead, this was Palace all over again as a shot from Dyer was parried by Gomes and Narsingh grabbed the winner.  Watford had a chance to reclaim a point in time added on, but Doucouré’s shot was wild and flew well wide of the target.

The reaction of the Watford fans at the final whistle ranged from stunned silence to vociferous anger as a large volley of abuse was directed at the players, who made a quick exit from the pitch, with the admirable exception of Heurelho Gomes who did his usual lap applauding each of the stands.  He was given a hero’s ovation by most, apart from one individual at the front of the Rookery who decided to have a go at him.  He listened to the concerns and responded, but neither he nor the fan appeared happy with the conclusion.

Attacking at a corner

It is difficult to put into words how I felt after the game.  It had been incredibly frustrating as Watford were so much better than their opponents who showed little in the way of threat.  But the longer the game stayed at 1-0, the more likely it appeared that Swansea would leave Vicarage Road with at least a point.  It had been incredibly dull for most of the ninety minutes and Pete’s observation that the second half appeared as if it was being played at London Colney summed it up perfectly.  There was no sense of urgency or pressing to get a second goal and it cost us dearly.

However, thanks to Huddersfield only claiming a point on Saturday, we finish the year in the top half of the table, although we are now nervously looking down rather than up.  It is sad to end the year this way after such a terrific start to the season.  My niece, who had ended the game slumped forward with her head in her hands followed it up by tweeting “I hate football.”  I sympathise with that sentiment and only hope that the return in the new year of some of the missing players will mean an upturn in form and we can enjoy the second half of the season as much as we did the early months.

I wish you and your families a very happy new year and much joy in following the Hornets.

That Was For You, Toddy

Toddy and I in happier times

This week, the Watford family lost someone very special. Stephen Todd, known to his football friends as Toddy, was a lifelong Watford fan. He regularly travelled to away games and was a stalwart at club events. He was an enthusiastic member of the Norfolk Hornets and a regular contributor to various fanzines over the years, where his quirky sense of humour shone through. More than that, he was one of my closest friends, someone who always added laughter to a social occasion. Sadly, he has had a number of health issues over the past year, but has bravely soldiered on and travelled to see the tremendous game at Southampton before his final appearance at last week’s defeat to Manchester City. As the news of his passing reached the club, I was very moved to see a tweet from Troy on how much he would be missed. Similar sentiments were expressed on social media by Luther, Gibbsy, Nick Cox, Ross Wilson, Dave Messenger and Jon Marks. The kind words from the great and the good were echoed by many fellow fans and this outpouring of love has bought great comfort to his family and friends. I will miss him terribly.

Doucoure on the ball

As is my usual practice, I booked the train to Swansea some time before the match tickets went on sale. So, when my usual e-mail to ask who wanted tickets was met with a chorus of ‘no thanks’, I began to regret booking the early train as this meant that I would be spending rather a long time sitting alone in a pub with my thoughts. I have to say that the pre-match pub was pleasant and welcoming and I quite enjoyed my solitary pints before the walk to the ground. I was feeling a little empty as I entered the stadium, but it wasn’t long before I encountered familiar faces and was able to share happy memories of Toddy and his exploits.

Team news was that Silva had made two changes from the heavy defeat to City with Femenía and Capoue replacing Janmaat and Chalobah, who had picked up an injury in training. So the starting line-up was Gomes, Femenía, Mariappa, Kabasele, Holebas; Doucouré, Cleverley; Carrillo, Capoue, Richarlison; Gray. Swansea’s Watford connection was in the dug out in the form of Hornet legend Nigel Gibbs.

Celebrating Gray’s first goal for the club

After the heavy defeat last week, there was a fear that the early season spirit may have been crushed, but the concerns were eased as Watford started brilliantly and had an early chance to open the scoring as Doucouré played a through ball to Femenía, he crossed for Gray whose shot was deflected just wide. The visitors took the lead in the 13th minute as the ball broke to Gray, he played it out to Carrillo whose cross evaded the Swansea defence and found its way back to the former Burnley man who blasted home for the first goal of his Watford career. It was great to see Andre get off the mark at last. Not so great was the fact that the goal was celebrated with a flare. There is an irony in the fact that it is always at the grounds at which the searches are most stringent (the steward who searched me could feel what I had for breakfast) that flares are smuggled in. Swansea nearly equalized almost immediately from their first chance of the game as a corner was almost poked home by Fernandez, but Gomes made the block to preserve the lead. Watford threatened again, as Holebas played a brilliant pass down the touchline to Richarlison who crossed for Capoue who belted a shot from distance just wide of the near post. At the other end, Bony met a free kick from Carroll with a header that flew just wide of the target.

Carrillo picking a pass

Carrillo then went on a fantastic run before putting in a cross that was half cleared to Femenía, his volley was parried by Fabianski, the ball dropped to Richarlison, who crossed back for Carrillo to tap the ball home. Sadly, and correctly, the celebrations in the away end were curtailed by the linesman’s flag. The first booking of the game came as Capoue slid into a tackle, he was hurt in the process and, to add insult to injury, the referee showed him the yellow card. Swansea’s next half chance came as a looping cross from Naughton was pulled out of the air by Gomes. Then Olsson broke into the box, Mariappa tripped as he went to make the tackle, so the cross reached Bony who could only direct a soft shot straight at Gomes. Watford had a great chance to increase their lead as a poor back pass was intercepted by Gray, who advanced into the box, but the keeper, Fabianski, narrowed the angle and the shot drifted across the face of the goal. Swansea had another chance to draw level from a free kick that was headed wide by Bony. The last action of the half was a caution for Doucouré for pulling Fer back as he tried to escape. So Watford went into the break a goal to the good. The visitors had been brilliant for the first half hour, playing the ball around and showing some sublime moments of skill, Swansea couldn’t get near us. But I was concerned that we hadn’t made more of our chances and the flurry of activity from the home side towards the end of the half clearly demonstrated that the game was far from over.

New boy, Wague, and Mariappa

Both sides made substitutions at the break with Abraham and Mesa replacing van der Hoorn and Clucas for Swansea. For the visitors, Marco Silva gave Wagué his first appearance in place of Capoue, a defender for a midfielder.

The change of formation benefitted the home side, who started the second half as they had finished the first. They had an early chance to draw level as Fer headed over from a Carroll corner. The equaliser came in the next move as Watford failed to clear a ball into the box allowing Bony to shoot, the strike was stopped by Gomes, who appeared to have it under control, but it spilled to Abraham who finished from close range, much to the frustration of the Watford keeper. The home side threatened again as a cross reached Abraham, who was about to shoot from close range when Mariappa made a brilliant saving tackle. Watford’s first real attack of the second half came as Richarlison made a brilliant run into the box which deserved a better finish than him slipping before he could shoot. Silva made a second substitution with 15 minutes to go, bringing Pereyra on for Carrillo. Watford’s improved showing continued as a cross from Cleverley was met by a lovely header from Gray that was deflected wide.

Gray and Carrillo congratulate Richarlison

Nerves were jangling in the away end as Mariappa was penalised for what looked like a good tackle on the edge of the box. Our vantage point at the opposite end of the ground was such that we could visualize the perfect shot for the home side to take the lead. Instead, Carroll directed the free kick into the wall and we breathed again. The first caution for the home side came as Bony was booked for a foul on Holebas. That was the Swansea man’s last action of the game as he was replaced by Sanches. Watford’s last change came at the same time, as Deeney came on for Gray. The Watford captain made an immediate impact as Pereyra crossed for Doucouré, who played the ball back to Deeney, but Fabianski was equal to the shot. Watford were to snatch all three points in the last minute of the game as a misplaced Swansea pass was picked up by Richarlison, who bore down on Fabianski. With only the keeper to beat, you worried that the Brazilian had too much time to think, but his shot went in off the crossbar sending the travelling Hornets into raptures and the home fans towards the exits. The scorer ripped his shirt off to celebrate and was booked for his trouble, but it was worth the card to see the passion. The fourth official indicated five minutes of added time, but there was no further excitement and the Hornets secured all three points.

Femenia

There were loud celebrations at the final whistle. Watford had started the game superbly, but once Swansea started closing us down and denying us space, we started to struggle. During that period, we also seemed to stand back and let Swansea play. In the last 15 minutes, we started reasserting ourselves. The tenacious tackling was back and it unnerved the opposition players causing them to make mistakes. Going forward, we were taking more time to pick passes, and stopped playing the aimless balls that had been getting us into trouble. If I’m honest, a draw would have been a fair result, and winning a point away at a rival has got to be a positive thing. But it was a measure of the spirit of this team that they kept battling for the three points. I have to pay tribute to Deeney here as his cameo showed the strength and battling spirit that he brings to the team. As is usual, Troy was the last to come and applaud the fans and, after his kindness in paying tribute to Toddy this week, I sang his name even louder and prouder than I usually do.

As I waited for my train, I picked up a voicemail from a friend who’d been listening to Three Counties and had heard Jon Marks mention that we were one short today and how much Toddy would be missed. That epitomised what I will take from this week. The Premier League and the clubs that make it up have become so corporate that it is apparent that the fans who go to matches week-in, week-out don’t matter any more. But the actions of the people in and around Watford Football Club this week have shown that, in our little corner of Hertfordshire, they still have time to show that they care. That is why I am especially proud to be a Watford fan this week.

That win was for you, Toddy.  Sleep well, dear friend, you will be greatly missed.

 

A Very Blue Monday for the Hornets

The Liberty Stadium

The Liberty Stadium

After a run of three league defeats, the trip to Swansea seemed to be a decent opportunity to get our season back on track.  The journey west was rather pleasant and, having bumped into a fellow regular away traveler as I boarded the train to Swansea, I was treated to delightful company as we crossed the border.

Team news was that there were three changes from the Southampton game with Britos and Aké coming back in place of Prödl and Holebas, while Behrami was a surprising inclusion in place of Abdi.  Flores had opted for a 4-4-2 formation with Behrami in the centre of the midfield and Capoue on the right.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Jurado, Behrami, Watson, Capoue, Deeney and Ighalo.  Former loanee, Jack Cork, started for Swansea.  The game was given an interesting twist as the Swans confirmed the appointment of Francesco Guidolin, formerly Head Coach of Udinese, a role which he left to take up a position that was supposed to involve oversight all three Pozzo teams, although it was never clear how this impacted the Hornets.

Abseiling marines

Abseiling marines

On taking our seats in the Liberty Stadium, I have to say that I was very impressed with the Swansea support.  The ground was packed and they were noisy from the start.  I was not quite so impressed with the mortifying spectacle of ‘kiss-cam’ on the big screen before the game as they focused on random pairs of men and women and trained a camera on them until they kissed or the cameraman got bored.  In some cases there were empty seats between the ’couple’ so a kiss could have led to an ejection as the actual partner witnessed an infidelity.  There was no warning about ‘kiss-cam’ but there was a warning to the disabled seating area that the ropes hanging down from the top of the stand would soon be occupied by some marines abseiling down, one of whom would bring the match ball to the referee.  It wasn’t the most coordinated of manoeuvres, but that could be said of a lot that we have seen on the pitch of late.  The lack of coordination extended to my pre-match equipment check as I left my camera at the hotel, so the quality of my photos is even worse than usual.

The pre-match huddle

The pre-match huddle

The home side had much the better start to the game.  Although there was a very early chance for the visitors as Deeney headed the ball down to Ighalo whose shot was blocked.  From then it was all Swansea for a while.  First Sigurdsson played a back heel to Routledge, but Gomes saved, not knowing that the flag was already up for offside.   A cross from Ayew was headed clear by Cathcart.  Then Cork hit a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  Sigurdsson tried a through ball to Ki, who was also flagged offside.  A cross into the box from Routledge was headed for a corner by Britos.  Over a quarter of an hour had passed before Watford looked like creating another chance, this time Deeney released Ighalo, but Odion couldn’t control the ball and the chance was lost.  Swansea threatened again as Britton played a one-two with Ayew before breaking into the box, but Aké was in close attendance and ensured that Gomes could save at his feet.  At the other end, a free kick from Watson was cleared only as far as Deeney whose shot was blocked.  Deeney then did really well to battle past Taylor and cross for Ighalo but his header was off target.  The first booking of the game was picked up by Jurado for a silly tackle on Routledge.  Swansea threatened again as Ayew exchanged passes with Sigurdsson before unleashing a shot that Gomes was down to save.

Watson preparing for a free kick

Watson preparing for a free kick

On 27 minutes, the home side took the lead as Williams headed a cross from Ki past Gomes.  I was hoping for an immediate reaction from the Hornets, but the nearest we came was a booking for Nyom who was penalised for sticking out a foot to stop Taylor.  The resulting free kick was punched clear by Gomes.  Nyom didn’t redeem himself as a soft clearance went straight to Ki who, thankfully, shot well over the bar.  Hornet hearts beat a little faster as Ighalo picked up a misplaced pass from Ki and looked to be bearing down on goal, but Williams was soon back to make a tackle.  There were a couple of chances for an equalizer just before half time.  First a Watson free kick reached Deeney who hit a hopeful shot over the bar.  Then, Watford’s best chance of the half, as Jurado exchanged passes with Capoue before shooting but the Swans’ keeper, Fabianski, was behind the ball.

So we reached half time a goal behind.  It had been another frustrating half of football.  Our successful start to the season had been built upon being difficult to break down through hard work and constantly pressing the opposition.  That aspect of the game seems to have disappeared from recent performances although more due to a lack of confidence than desire.  We could only hope for an improvement in the second period, although Flores made no changes at the break.

Watson preparing for a free kick

Watson preparing for a free kick

The first chance of the second half fell to Jurado who cut in from the left and then hit a silly shot high and wide when a little more composure was needed.  The Spaniard also had the next chance, after a decent run he passed to Deeney who back-heeled the return but Jurado curled his shot over the bar.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came as a free-kick from Watson was met by a header from Britos that landed on the roof of the net although, for a split second, many of the travelling Hornets thought that it was in.  Swansea’s first attack of the half came after Capoue lost the ball to Routledge who advanced and crossed, but Nyom was on hand to clear.  The visitors continued to attack as Deeney played the ball out to Jurado, but his cross was blocked.  At the other end, the ball fell to Cork on the edge of the box but he volleyed over the bar.  On the hour, a Watford attack was stopped when Britton put out a hand to block a pass from Behrami and was booked for his trouble.  The resulting free kick was dreadful from Watson flying high and wide of the goal.  Another chance went begging for the visitors as Ighalo played the ball back to Jurado whose shot was just wide of the far post.  Deeney threatened to break with Ighalo alongside him, but his pass was snuffed out by a defender.  Flores made his first substitution with 15 minutes remaining bringing Paredes on for Nyom, who had had a poor game.  Capoue played two decent crosses into the box in quick succession but, on each occasion, the Swansea captain, Williams, headed clear.  Ighalo then won a free kick in a dangerous position but Watson opted to hit the ball low and straight at the wall, much to the frustration of the away fans.

Hoping to convert a corner

Hoping to convert a corner

The Hornets continued to push for an equalizer as a downward header from Deeney was cleared for a corner.  At the same time Ighalo went down in the box under a challenge and there were some half-hearted shouts for a penalty, which would have been very harsh.  The corner was cleared to Jurado but Fabianski was equal to his shot.  Flores made his second substitution with 3 minutes remaining, replacing Behrami with Oularé.  The Belgian almost made an immediate impact as Deeney headed the ball towards him on the edge of the box, but he couldn’t quite connect and it fell to Jurado who shot just wide.  Soon after, a corner from Watson was punched clear.  Despite Watford’s dominance of the second half, it appeared that the home side had increased their lead as substitute Gomis broke into the box and thumped a shot that looked to have beaten Gomes before it rebounded off the inside of the post and was cleared.  The last chance of the game fell to the visitors in time added on as the ball dropped to Deeney on the edge of the box but his shot was wide of the near post and the Hornets fell to their fourth consecutive defeat in the league.

Watson takes a free kick

Watson takes a free kick

There was a lot of frustration among the travelling fans at the end of the game and one young man went to the front of the stand to berate Deeney.  I then bumped into someone who told me that we are going to be relegated.  All rather dramatic and, on reflection, it certainly doesn’t feel as bad as that.  The Hornets had made a much better fist of the second half.  Jurado was coming in for a lot of stick from some near me for disappearing after his booking and, while he seemed reluctant to commit to a tackle, most of the shots on goal came from him and a couple were only fractionally wide.  Without his contribution, it would have been a far more miserable evening.  There has been a lot of talk of teams working out how to play against us, but a lot of what the opposition is doing now, they have been trying to do all season with little success.  The extra defenders on Deeney and Ighalo are stifling their contribution but Odion seems to have lost a bit of his previous confidence as he is not muscling his way out of trouble as he did earlier in the season and there were a couple of occasions when he passed to a teammate when you would have put money on him trying a shot.  What has been the biggest concern for me is that we have stopped harrying the opposition meaning that they have far too much space.  So I was pleased to see much more ‘gegenpressing’ in the second half which, consequently, meant we had more of the ball and more shots on the Swansea goal.

While the recent record is worrying, I am not going to get too despondent yet.  The players and manager have not become poor overnight so we need to continue supporting them.  Whatever happens at the end of this season, this will still have been the best season that we have seen at this level since the 80s.