Tag Archives: Fernando Forestieri

Beer, Wurstl and an Oompah Band

Welcome to Kingsmeadow

Welcome to Kingsmeadow

It was a gorgeous day for a football match, even better that the Football Manager Cup between Wimbledon and Watford had been scheduled to coincide with the beer festival.  It seemed appropriate to start the afternoon with a pint of Plough Lane Ale and rather lovely it was too.  To add to the pre-match treats, there was a German würstl stand and, later, an oompah band appeared which started their repertoire with “Staying Alive.”  I must say that I love a man in lederhosen.

When we finally dragged ourselves away and entered the ground, it was packed, but we managed to find space in the shade where the vertically challenged among us could see the game.

Ighalo and Deeney wait for a cross

Ighalo and Deeney wait for a cross

Team news was that Flores had made two changes from the line-up at St Albans with Vydra and Prödl in for Watson and Angella.  So the starting 11 was Gomes, Pudil, Cathcart, Prödl, Anya, Capoue, Abdi, Ighalo, Forestieri, Vydra and Deeney.  So, four forwards in the starting line-up.  What could possibly go wrong?

There was a promising start to the game from the Hornets as Pudil played a ball into the box but Vydra and Ighalo got in each other’s way.  The first action of note came in the 11th minute as Elliott appeared to be tripped by Anya.  Kennedy made no mistake with the penalty as Gomes went the wrong way.  Watford’s first goal attempt fell to Deeney as  Anya played a one-two with Vydra before cutting the ball back for Troy whose shot took a deflection and flew over the target.  Then Vydra cut the ball back to Deeney who moved it on to Ighalo, who was in a better shooting position but was not expecting the pass, so the chance went begging.

Odion hiding his embarrassment with a big smile after scoring

Odion hiding his embarrassment with a big smile after scoring

After 25 minutes, the game stopped for a drinks break as it was a scorching afternoon.  The next chance fell to the home side as Akinfenwa rose to meet a cross from Kennedy but headed over the bar.  Watford’s equalizer was ridiculous.  A clearance from Dons keeper, McDonnell, hit Ighalo and looped into the net.  Odion looked rather embarrassed as he retrieved the ball, but they all count.  Watford had a decent chance to take the lead after a quick free kick reached Forestieri whose shot was saved by the legs of McDonnell.  At the other end Elliott cut inside Prödl and shot, but Gomes pushed the ball over the bar.  Then Vydra found Ighalo whose shot was parried before being cleared.  Forestieri had a couple of great chances to send the Hornets in ahead at the break.  First a Vydra header reached him in the box but he shot wide of the target.  Then Fernando tried a shot across the keeper that appeared to be scuffed and was stopped by the feet of McDonnell.   Then he hit a shot into the turf which was deflected behind for a corner.  You had to feel sorry for him as he was trying so hard and nothing was coming off.

Forestieri after scoring

Forestieri after scoring

At the start of the second half, the home side made 10 changes, while the visitors brought Arlauskis and Watson on for Gomes and Vydra.  Watford’s first chance of the second half came from an Abdi free-kick which hit the crossbar and came down but, sadly, bounced away from the goal.  A minute later, the visitors took the lead as Deeney headed an Abdi cross goalwards, McDonnell blocked the header but Forestieri followed up to, at last, get his name on the scoresheet.  The Dons nearly equalized immediately as Arlauskis failed to gather a cross which reached Barcham whose header was cleared off the line by Prödl.  Anya went on a run down the wing and crossed, but it was a bit too far in front of Ighalo who could only direct it wide of the target.  The Dons thought they had equalized through Azeez, but Pudil had been fouled in the build-up, so the goal was disallowed.  A promising run and cross from Barcham came to nothing as Watson appeared in the box, pulled the ball out of the air and cleared.  Watford’s third substitution saw Paredes on for Anya. 

Paredes on a run down the wing

Paredes on a run down the wing

Watson then had a chance at the other end, but his shot from distance was easily gathered by McDonnell.  Forestieri was the next to threaten the Wimbledon goal, but McDonnell dropped to save his shot.  Despite rumours that Sheffield Wednesday had had a bid accepted for him, McGugan made an appearance in place of Ighalo and new boy, Holebas, came on for Pudil.  Forestieri hit a free-kick that was on target but was saved by McDonnell.  At the other end Oakley tried a turn and shot, but the attempt was weak and straight at Arlauskis.  With 10 minutes remaining, there was a further Watford substitution as Prödl made way for Hoban.  There was a dangerous scramble in the Watford box as a shot was blocked and the follow-up from Reeves flew over the bar.  The last minutes of the game saw two further substitutions for the Hornets as Fabbrini and Lewis replaced Forestieri and Abdi.  Just as Watford thought that the game was won, Barcham attacked down the left wing, Paredes appeared to have the measure of him but slipped and, when he recovered, made a silly challenge and conceded a penalty which Francomb scored to ensure that the Football Manager cup was shared, which was probably the ideal result for Miles Jacobson.

Deeney in discussion with Flores

Deeney in discussion with Flores

There were mutterings from Watford fans both during and after the game about the performance, which always seems a bit pointless at a friendly, which is very far from a competitive game at this stage of pre-season.  I’m sure that Flores learned something from the game (particularly that playing our four frontmen is not a guarantee of goals).

Post-match, it was back to the beer festival where the polite early applause for the oompah band had been replaced with a passionate crowd singing along.  The football apart, it was a lovely afternoon and I hope that this becomes a regular fixture in our pre-season calendar.

Quique Flores Takes a Walk in Clarence Park

Arlauskis warming up

Arlauskis warming up

I was supposed to be going to the theatre on Wednesday evening, but the announcement of a pre-season friendly at Clarence Park put paid to that.  I know that there are varying schools of thought about pre-season games, with many regarding attendance as pointless, but I love them.  It is a chance to ease yourself gently back in with games whose results don’t matter, to get an early look at new signings and to catch up with your football friends.

We stationed ourselves outside the Sponsors’ Lounge and there was a different vibe from previous games at the same venue with the visit of Premier League opposition attracting a different class of visitor.  I don’t think I have ever seen glasses of white wine being drunk on the perimeter of a non-league pitch before.

Deeney doesn't look sure about the bloke with the bling next to him

Deeney doesn’t look sure about the bloke with the bling next to him

Our position turned to our advantage as I looked up to see our new manager approaching.  I took the opportunity to welcome him, for which he thanked me.  He was followed by the coaching staff and then the players.  I was impressed that Vydra didn’t look the least bit scared when I greeted him with “At last you are ours.”  Inside, he smiled and said, “At last.”  As the last of the players passed us, I wondered where Deeney was and then saw that he was having photos taken with fans.  He was running late behind his teammates, but still took time when he saw us ask how we were and to shake Don’s hand and give me a kiss.

Crowds had flocked to the game but, as the scheduled kick-off time drew near, many were still outside the gates so kick-off was delayed for 15 minutes.  That must be a first for a Watford pre-season game.

Quique Sanchez Flores named a very strong starting line-up:  Gomes, Pudil, Cathcart, Angella, Anya, Capoue, Watson, Ighalo, Abdi, Forestieri and Deeney.  I must admit that, since I always struggle to identify players in pre-season while writing my match reports (new hair-cuts usually do for me), I was happy that only one unfamiliar face was on show.

An early sight of Capoue on the ball

An early sight of Capoue on the ball

Prior to kick-off, as the players formed the line for the ‘respect’ handshake, they were joined by the Mayor of St Albans.  I don’t remember that happening when we played in the Football League.

Watford had an early chance as Deeney headed the ball down to Ighalo but the ball ran away from the Nigerian and the chance was gone.  Then Capoue released Pudil on the wing, he crossed for Deeney who couldn’t connect.  Forestieri played a low cross to Deeney who cut it back to Abdi, but the Professor’s shot was straight at the Saints keeper.  The first goal attempt from the home side was put out for a corner which Gomes punched in the direction of a Saints player but Forestieri was on hand to block the follow-up.  Watford resumed their attacks as Deeney passed to Forestieri, who found space for a shot but it was a bit soft, so easily saved.  An attempt by Deeney to reach an Abdi ball over the top to him in the box was stopped by a push, but there was no penalty appeal.  Deeney then shaped for a scissor kick, but a defender blocked the ball before he could connect.

Waiting for a corner

Waiting for a corner

A lovely Abdi corner should have been converted but Capoue’s header was mistimed and the ball went sailing past him.  Pudil found Forestieri who cut inside and shot into the side netting.  It had been mostly one way traffic in the first 25 minutes, but St Albans threatened as Cathcart was pushed off the ball and the cross reached Hilliard whose shot cleared the bar.  It was then Angella who lost out to Hilliard but the striker again shot over the target.  At the other end, an Abdi free kick was easily gathered by Jones.  The home side threatened again as a cross from Bishop was headed clear by Angella while Hilliard’s follow-up shot flew wide of the far post.  Watford took the lead in the 32rd minute as a cross from Anya was turned back by Pudil to Ighalo who powered the ball into the net.  We were two up very soon afterwards as Capoue played a one-two with Anya before very generously feeding Ighalo who finished.  It could have been three goals within five minutes as Deeney hit a lovely half volley that just cleared the bar.  So we went into the break two goals up after a half that was thoroughly entertaining.  The new boy certainly impressed and there was a lot of lovely passing and not tiki-taka stuff, but Bolton-esque crossfield balls.

Abdi whips in a free kick

Abdi whips in a free kick

I expected wholesale changes for the Hornets at half-time, but there were only five substitutions with Arlauskis, Prödl, Hoban, McGugan and Vydra replacing Gomes, Angella, Pudil, Watson and Ighalo.  The home side also made a number of changes.  Connor Smith soon joined the fray replacing Capoue, who had a very good first game in a Watford shirt.  Almost immediately, Deeney was bearing down on the St Albans goal but Jones came off his line and put him off so he shot over the bar.  The next change was Lloyd Dyer (no, I didn’t think I’d see him in a Watford shirt again either) replacing Forestieri.  For the home side, Ngoyi shot wide of the far post, although the whistle had already gone for a rather harsh offside decision.  On the hour Abdi shot just wide.  Another unexpected face returned as Belkalem came on for Cathcart.  Dyer played a one-two with Vydra before putting in a cross that was turned out for a corner from which Prödl’s header over the target.  Dyer was instrumental in the third Watford goal as he rounded the keeper and hit a shot which was cleared back to him so he squared for Deeney to blast home.  Watford’s next substitution saw young professional Dennon Lewis replacing Abdi.  The first time Arlauskis was called into action he impressed, blocking a close range shot and then saving the follow-up.

Prodl in Action

Prodl in Action

Watford’s next chance was a McGugan free-kick which flew over the bar.  There was a further substitution as Anya was replaced by Paredes.  The home side hadn’t given up and a shot from Medlock was saved by the legs of Arlauskis.  At the other end a chance for Deeney was slightly scuffed and went straight to the keeper.  Dennon Lewis broke into the box, but his shot was saved.  The final substitution saw the last of the starters, Deeney, replaced by Byers.  Watford’s fourth came in the 87th minute as a cut back from Paredes was met with a shot from Smith that took a wicked deflection to fly over Jones in the St Albans goal.  There was one last chance for the Hornets but McGugan’s shot was saved so the visitors ran out 4 goal winners.

Those who shun pre-season games missed a treat.  It was a very good performance on a gorgeous Summer’s evening.  The new boys all looked impressive, the old boys played their part, there were four goals and I got a kiss from the Watford captain.  All in all, a very good evening.

 

We are Going Up!

A kind greeting from our hosts

A kind greeting from our hosts

Where do you start with this game?  I guess the best place is the preceding week and how much time was spent staring at the table that had Watford top by a single point with two games to go and then working through all the possible permutations of results and their implications.  Whichever way you looked at it, we needed the three points from our trip to Brighton.

Normally I hate early kick-offs, but it was quite a relief to get this game out of the way early doors.  I arrived on the platform at Clapham Junction to find it packed with Watford fans who piled onto the Brighton train while I waited for the Lewes connection, which proved to be a smart move as it was relatively quiet.  I met up with Pete & Richard at East Croydon.  When asked how I was, the answer that I didn’t feel too good was met with concerned looks until I explained that it was just nerves.  We were delighted to be joined by Becky and Simon at Haywards Heath as we made our way to Falmer.

By 11:30, the away concourse at the Amex was packed with noisy fans.  There is a tradition of wearing fancy dress to the last game of the season but somehow, with the importance of this game, dressing up seemed inappropriate, as if we were celebrating before we’d achieved anything.  This was a day for serious concentration on and off the pitch.  Brighton had their usual welcoming poster thanking us for travelling 163 miles to the game.  It was a little early, but the offer of Harvey’s bitter was one that I had to take up.  The guest pie was a breakfast one which contained baked beans and appeared to be a treat too far, so I opted for safe (and incredibly bland) chicken and ham.

The teams emerge to streamers

The teams emerge to streamers

Team news was that Jokanovic had made three changes with Connolly, Anya and Ighalo in for Hoban, Layun and Vydra.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Connolly, Cathcart, Angella, Anya, Guedioura, Watson, Abdi, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney.  I could only hope that the players were not feeling as nervous as I was.

The teams emerged to ticker tape, streamers, balloons and various inflatables being thrown around the away end.  Before kick-off there was a minute’s silence to mark 30 years since the Bradford fire.  On this occasion, the sadness was mingled with anger following the recent stories about the Chairman at the time.

So, how were Brighton going to approach this game, given that they had nothing to play for?  I was hoping that they would already be on the beach but an attacking move in the first minute indicated that this was not the case as O’Grady’s shot was blocked and eventually cleared.  Soon after, Bruno lofted a ball into the box, but Gomes was there to make a comfortable catch.  Watford’s first goal attempt came in the sixth minute as Abdi found Ighalo who juggled the ball which found its way to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  At the other end Carayol crossed for Bennett who shot well wide from the edge of the box.

Celebrating Deeney's goal

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

There was a very nervous moment in the away end as Bennett went past Paredes into the box and was knocked down.  He went down very easily, but it looked like a foul from where I was standing, so I was mightily relieved when the referee waved play on.  Deeney almost latched on to a dodgy pass back to the Brighton keeper, he certainly made Stockdale play the ball.  At this point, chants for Sean Murray went up in the block next to us, as the youngster was watching the game from towards the back of that stand.  Although I’m not sure that standing for 90 minutes will have been ideal therapy for his knee.  Brighton had another chance from a corner, but Halford headed well over the bar.  Jokanovic decided to make an early change at this point sacrificing Anya for Tözsér and changing to four at the back and a diamond in midfield.  The change had an immediate effect as Watson moved to the left and got a cross in, the ball found its way to Deeney who fired across Stockdale and into the net sparking massive celebrations in the away end.  Only an hour to go!!  Watford had another chance soon after as Guedioura found Abdi, but Stockdale was behind his shot.  We almost shot ourselves in the foot as an attempt by Guedioura to cut the ball out only succeeded in giving the ball away and O’Grady’s shot needed a brilliant save from Gomes to keep it out.  With five minutes to the end of the half, Cathcart made a wonderful tackle that allowed Abdi to break but he was taken down by Kayal, who was booked for the foul.  As usual, the 44th minute was filled with applause and chants for Nic Cruwys.  In time added on, Gomes came to punch a corner clear.  There was then a scary moment as Deeney and Gomes got in each other’s way as they went to deal with a ball in the box, thankfully it rolled harmlessly out for a goal kick.

So we reached half time a goal up, but Brighton were making things uncomfortable for us.  We all agreed that another couple of goals were needed to settle the nerves on and off the pitch.

Gomes in action

Gomes in action

Watford started the second half really well as Watson found Abdi in scoring position, but his shot hit Deeney and was deflected wide.  Deeney then found Guedioura who should have passed to Abdi, but tried a cross to Ighalo, which was cut out.  A free kick in a dangerous position was hit well over by Tözsér.  Watford should have had a second in the 53rd minute as a Guedioura shot was blocked, Ighalo was in a great position to turn the loose ball in, but Guedioura got in his way and Stockdale was able to put the ball out for a corner.  Odion looked furious with his team mate.  From Abdi’s corner, Ighalo headed wide.  Brighton’s first substitution saw Watford boy Mackail-Smith come on for Carayol.  Watford’s first booking of the afternoon went to Cathcart for a clumsy tackle on O’Grady.  Brighton threatened again as a corner was headed wide by Greer.  Jokanovic’s second substitution saw Vydra come on for Ighalo.  Another Brighton attack was stopped by a reckless tackle from Angella, who saw yellow.

Watson lines up a free kick

Watson lines up a free kick

Watford had another great chance to extend the lead as Abdi exchanged long passes with Vydra before shooting over when you would have put money on him burying the ball.  Abdi had another chance with a shot from the edge of the area that flew wide.  Then Vydra had the ball on the edge of the Brighton box but was crowded out before he could shoot.  A long Brighton throw was headed goalwards by Greer, but Gomes caught the header.  Another great Watford chance came as a cross from Guedioura was dummied by Vydra and reached Deeney whose shot was deflected for a corner.  At the other end, Mackail-Smith tried to break into the box but Gomes gathered the ball with the Brighton man claiming, to no avail, that his run had been impeded.  Brighton made a couple of substitutions as LuaLua replaced Forster-Caskey and then Calderon came on for Bruno.  Jokanovic’s last substitution was to replace Abdi with Forestieri.  Not a move to calm the nerves.  Brighton looked to level as a Calderon cross was headed just wide.  Then Deeney found Vydra in a great position, but the shot was dreadful and didn’t test Stockdale.  Deeney took one for the team as he was booked for taking Bennett down in order to stop a break.

Vydra runs back from celebrating his goal

Vydra runs back from celebrating his goal

The last few minutes of normal time were torture as, first, a Brighton free-kick was headed over by O’Grady.  Then a Calderon cross was met by a shot from Stephens which Gomes dropped to save.  Guedioura and Dunk appeared to collide, although the Brighton fans thought that an arm was raised and were calling for a red card, but only yellow was shown.  Dunk was down for a while, but was eventually fit to continue for the five minutes of time added on.  What happened next had to be seen to be believed.  Some brave goalkeeping from Gomes kept Brighton out, the eventual clearance reached Deeney who was breaking down the right wing with Vydra in an acre of space to his left, he played a great pass, but Vydra’s touch to control the ball appeared to allow a defender to catch him.  No matter, he belted the ball into the opposite corner of the goal to spark pandemonium in the away end.  I am not ashamed to admit that I was screaming like a banshee as I leapt up and down.  The bench were equally raucous in their celebrations.  It was lovely to see Ighalo run onto the pitch to join in.  The final whistle went to rapturous scenes on and off the pitch.  We were even treated to the unusual sight of Jokanovic coming over to applaud the crowd.  This was a special day indeed.

On the way out of the ground a Brighton fan asked if the ref was from Watford, we were very happy to be able to tell him that he was actually a Luton fan from Bournemouth!

Celebrating the win and a step nearer to promotion

Celebrating the win and a step nearer to promotion

After the game, we decided against indulging in the bright lights of Brighton, instead heading for Lewes where we found a rather lovely pub with good beer and a nice garden.  We then spent the next two hours obsessively refreshing the football scores on our phones.  It was all going rather well until Norwich scored, then Middlesbrough got a late equalizer against Fulham and we were resigned to another tense week.  One more refresh and I couldn’t believe my eyes as Rotherham scored a late equalizer.  Another one showed that Fulham had got a winner.  It took several more before we saw FT next to those scores to confirm that Watford had been promoted.  We were hugging each other while some nice women at a neighbouring table asked what had provoked this outburst of emotion.  Football!!  When we calmed down (a little) it was time to reflect and remember absent friends.  Guy Judge and Steve Brister would have loved the end of this season and we raised a glass to them.

When I got home, it was lovely to see friends posting photos from Watford of them with the players.  It is a measure of this team that they hadn’t found some exclusive place to celebrate, they had headed into central Watford to have dinner at their favourite Italian.  Who knows what will happen to us in the Premier League.  With the support of the Pozzos, we must be better placed to compete than we were on our last two visits.  But this is a team that thoroughly deserves their chance in the top flight and I look forward to cheering them on home and away on our next adventure.

A Rather Dull Three Goal Win

 

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

After Saturday’s disaster against Norwich, it was good to have a midweek game to, hopefully, get back to winning ways.  Team news was that we were starting with four central defenders and without a recognized winger.  The starting XI was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Ekstrand, Cathcart, Tözsér, Watson, Layun, Abdi, Ighalo and Deeney lining up in a 4-3-1-2 formation.

The first chance of the game fell to the home side as Ighalo beat a defender on the byline, crossed for Deeney, who couldn’t get a touch, the ball was cleared to Tözsér whose shot was blocked.  The next incident of interest was an Angella pass that was annoyingly intercepted by the referee who then redeemed himself by falling over.  Honestly, I have no idea why a referee falling over is the height of comedy, but it is.  Abdi won the ball, turned and played a lovely pass to Tözsér who fired over the bar.

 

Congratulating Ighalo

Congratulating Ighalo

Watford took the lead on 17 minutes.  If you are going to misplace a pass in midfield, then the last player that you want to pick it up is Ighalo with the form he is in at the moment.  The unfortunate Rotherham player was Arnason, Ighalo took advantage advancing on the goal before rounding the keeper and slotting the ball home.  The visitors tried to break back as Derbyshire crossed in the direction of Milsom, but Cathcart made sure he didn’t get to the ball and it drifted wide.  Watford should have increased their lead in the 24th minute as Abdi received a pass from Layun, advanced and shot but Collin managed to parry the ball, it came out to Deeney whose shot was also saved.  From the resulting corner, Ekstrand flicked the ball goalwards, but Collin pulled off another save.  Watford had had most of the possession in the first half hour, but gradually Rotherham got back into the game.  Ekstrand lost the ball to Derbyshire who advanced but shot straight at Gomes.  From a Pringle corner, Arnason had a free header but he directed it straight at the Watford keeper.  Just before half time, there was a half chance for Ighalo who was played in by Deeney but snatched at his shot and it flew over the bar.  So we reached half time a goal to the good, but it hadn’t been terribly entertaining.  We’d started the half with some quick passing moves which looked nice but hadn’t amounted to much and, as the half went on, we’d let the visitors get a foothold in the game.

Celebrating  Deeney's strike

Celebrating Deeney’s strike

Watford increased their lead early in the second half after Arnason stuck a leg out to trip Tözsér, who was on his way into the box.  The Icelander was booked and Tözsér stepped up to hit a ferocious free-kick which stung Collins’ palms, the ball fell to Ekstrand who squared for Deeney to tap it into the net.  The third Watford goal came almost immediately as a shot from Layun was parried to Ighalo who tucked it away.  Rotherham never looked like getting back into the game after this.  We could have been further ahead soon after from an unlikely source as Tommie Hoban broke into the box and shot over the bar.  I am reliably informed that this was a source of great amusement for Troy Deeney.  A rare attack from the visitors resulted in a corner which was punched clear by Gomes.  Abdi was the next to threaten the Rotherham goal but his shot from the edge of the area was caught by Collin.  On 67 minutes, Jokanovic made his first substitution replacing Layun with Munari.  Green found himself in the Watford box, but his shot was cleared into the stand by Cathcart.

Preparing for a free kick

Preparing for a free kick

Ighalo was not to get the chance of a hat trick as he was replaced by Vydra with 15 minutes remaining.  Rotherham’s best chance of a goal so far came with a shot from distance by Hammill that flew just wide of the far post.  At the other end, a trip on Abdi earned Smallwood a yellow card and Watford a free kick from which Tözsér went close to increasing the lead but the ball went just wide of the near post.  Abdi really should have scored Watford’s fourth but he volleyed Deeney’s cross over the bar.  Watford’s final substitution saw Deeney make way for Forestieri.  The visitors had a decent chance to pull a goal back as the ball was given away to Hammill who broke forward, his shot was turned around the post for a corner from which Derbyshire shot wide of the target.  Rotherham’s final goal attempt in normal time came from Clarke-Harris, but Gomes dropped to make the save.  There were 6 minutes of time added on, which suited nobody, but it did contain two more goal attempts from the Hornets.  First a shot from Vydra which was blocked by Collin.  In the dying moments Abdi really should have got on the scoresheet as he broke into the box but his shot rebounded off the post.

There was much complaining after the game because, convincing as the win had been, it was the dullest 3-0 imaginable.  The way the team had been set up meant there was no width and little free-flowing football.  Still a win is a win, the goal difference is improved and it is very tight at the top of the table.  Sometimes dull is good.

The Beautiful Game

Layun takes the kick-off

Layun takes the kick-off

Since it was FA Cup 5th round day, I waited to book my train to this game until we were knocked out of the cup.  Needless to say, I’d completely ignored the fact that our opponents were still in the competition so was sweating during their 4th round replay.  An added complication was that, at the time that I booked my tickets, there was signalling work planned for the West Coast line so I had booked a slow cross-country train which would get me in later than I would usually plan for.  In the interim there had been a landslip that meant that my already long train journey was interrupted with a bus between Banbury and Leamington adding another hour with the consequence that there would be no time for a pre-match pint.  Bulletins picked up on the way indicated that there were also problems on the roads so the away contingent could be severely depleted.  The final leg of the journey was another rail replacement bus and, as we reached the stadium with less than half an hour to kick off, I could see that the official supporters’ coach was just parking.  Relief all round.

When we arrived outside the turnstiles, one of the stewards asked what we thought the score would be.  “Depends which Watford turns up,” “Yes, we’re a bit like that too.”  An interesting game in prospect.

The main item of team news was that Troy had been dropped to the bench with Vydra taking his place.  He was joined by Hoban and Tözsér who were replaced by Ekstrand and Abdi, both returning after spells on the sidelines.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Angella, Ekstrand, Cathcart, Anya, Watson, Layun, Abdi, Paredes, Vydra and Ighalo.

Paredes passes

Paredes passes

The first goal attempt of the game went to the home side as Clough played the ball back to Le Fondre in the box, he always scores against us, but this time his shot was high and wide.  There was an early yellow card for Cathcart who was penalized for pulling Feeney back as he tried to escape down the wing.  For the visitors, Abdi played the ball out to Anya whose cross was blocked, the ball found its way to Vydra whose shot went out for a goal kick.  Janko broke into the box with Angella in close attendance ensuring that the ball ran through to Gomes.  Anya broke forward and crossed, but there was no Watford player in the box to take advantage.  We waited 18 minutes for Watford’s first goal attempt and then two came at once.  Anya broke forward again, played the ball back to Vydra who found Abdi in the box whose shot was blocked by Lonergan.  The clearance fell to Anya who played it back in, it finally reached Vydra on the edge of the box but his shot was gathered by the Bolton keeper.  Watford put themselves in danger as a mix up between Angella and Gomes resulted in a corner and Gomes needing treatment.  From Feeney’s set piece, Wheater had a free header that flew just wide.  Then Vydra gave the ball away to Wheater who released Le Fondre, he found Janko who fired a shot wide of the target when he really should have done better.

Ighalo gives thanks for his goal

Ighalo gives thanks for his goal

It was the visitors who took the lead on 25 minutes through who else but Ighalo.  The Nigerian had received a pass from Watson, appeared to get the ball stuck under his feet but recovered to shoot and the ball seemed to enter the net in slow motion.  The home side had a great chance to break back soon after as a Gomes punch fell to Le Fondre whose shot was blocked on the line by Watson.  Bolton’s first yellow card went to Bannan who was booked for pulling Abdi back.  Bolton should have equalized with a curling shot from Bannan that was tipped over the bar by Gomes.  Watford threatened again as Vydra exchanged passes with Ighalo, the ball was played to Paredes who just passed it to the keeper.  Bolton equalized in controversial circumstances.  The lino was flagging for offside against Le Fondre so the Watford players and fans took little notice when Feeney crossed and Clough turned the ball into the net.  I was baffled to see the home fans celebrating as they must have seen the flag.  Then the realization hit that the lino had lowered his flag and the referee had signalled for the goal.  There were heartfelt appeals from the Watford players and strong opinions being expressed by the fans, but the goal stood.  This knocked the stuffing out of the Hornets and the home side took advantage.  From a free kick, Ream shot into the side netting.  Then Bolton took the lead as Feeney broke forward and crossed for Le Fondre (who always scores against us) to shoot past Gomes.  We were all feeling pretty aggrieved at half time, but the players and the fans just needed to forget the injustice and get on with the game.

Abdi takes a free kick

Abdi takes a free kick

Thankfully, the players started the second half on the front foot.  Abdi and Ighalo combined to find Vydra who was fouled on the edge of the box.  Abdi’s free-kick was heading for the top corner until Lonergan got a hand to it to keep it out.  Vydra played the ball to Anya who juggled it to get some space before taking the shot which was saved.  Abdi tried a shot from the edge of the area that flew wide.  On 56 minutes, Jokanovic made an attacking substitution taking Angella off for Deeney.  Troy’s first act was to play a ball to Paredes whose dangerous cross was headed clear.  Soon after, Deeney got the ball in the box, he turned to shoot but the shot was blocked.  There was danger for the visitors as Watson lost out to Clough who passed to Le Fondre who was one on one with Gomes who did very well to block the shot.  Clough broke forward and again fed Le Fondre who looked sure to score but hit a dreadful chip over Gomes and wide.  At the other end, there was a scramble in the Bolton box as first Deeney and then Watson had shots blocked.  Then Deeney and Ighalo exchanged passes but the shot was deflected for a corner.  Jokanovic made two more substitutions bringing Forestieri on for Vydra and Tözsér for Watson.  Another decent shot from Abdi was stopped by Lonergan who also saved Ighalo’s follow-up, although the flag was up anyway.  A ball reached the dangerous Feeney in the box but Gomes came out to gather.

Ighalo congratulates Ekstrand

Ighalo congratulates Ekstrand

Watford’s equalizer was a thing of beauty as, just as he did at Fulham, Abdi curled a ball into the top corner in front of the Watford fans.  Thankfully this time I was not behind a pillar so had a perfect view.  It was no more than we (and Almen) deserved.  Bolton tried to hit back immediately from the restart and it took heroics from Gomes to deny them as he parried a shot from distance by Feeney, blocked the follow-up from Le Fondre and somehow got across the goal to deny Clough.  A remarkable effort.  At the other end a corner was headed straight at Cathcart, the ball dropped to Deeney who tried to turn it in but the effort was blocked.  Watford regained the lead in style as a cross from Abdi was met with a gorgeous header from Ekstrand.  A wonderful way to mark his return from injury.  Abdi tried another shot from distance, but Lonergan was equal to this one.  Bolton’s first substitution saw Gudjohnsen come on for Janko.  We were waiting for Neil Cox to join him.  The home side drew level again on 84 minutes as Feeney, who had been a menace on the right all afternoon, crossed for Clough who fired past Gomes.  Watford continued to attack as Anya advanced to the by-line and tried a cut back that was cleared.  Abdi then tried a shot from distance that just cleared the crossbar.  There was pandemonium in the away end as Ighalo played the ball across to Deeney who fired past Lonergan just as the clock hit 90 minutes.  Obviously the celebrations were mighty and Ighalo was booked for his part.  The fourth official’s board went up during the celebrations so I didn’t see it, but someone nearby reckoned there were 4 additional minutes.  Bolton did have the ball in the net again through Wheater, but the flag had been raised before it reached him and thankfully on this occasion the lino kept the flag up.

The players had given their all by the final whistle

The players had given their all by the final whistle

When the final whistle went, a couple of the Watford players dropped to the ground as did a number of the Bolton players.  They all looked dead on their feet and certainly those of us in the stands were completely drained.  What a terrific game of football.  There were ecstatic grins in the away end and hugs between friends and, most likely, complete strangers.  The players came over and were greeted as the heroes that they were.  Ighalo, Layun, Forestieri and Deeney thanked us by nipping over the advertising hoardings to give their shirts to the crowd.

I have always found the people of Bolton to be lovely and this was shown again as an official walking around the pitch while we retrieved Becky’s flag commented to us that it had been a good match.  We also saw our friendly steward on the way out and he was equally gracious.

Just before 10pm I boarded a rail replacement bus at Leamington Spa with the prospect of three further trains before I was home.  Soon after, a father and son got on and I was greeted with a “You Orns”.  That perked me up and we were soon waxing lyrical about the terrific game we had seen.  I finally arrived home over 16 hours after I had left.  It had been a very long day but one that I will remember for a very long time.

As the match was coming to an end, the thought had gripped me that this must be a terrific game for the neutral and I felt a twinge of regret that I couldn’t see it through their eyes.  In the cold light of day I realise what a ridiculous thought that was.  No neutral would experience the joy and despair that I did yesterday.  The rollercoaster that ranged from anger at the injustice to the sheer lunacy of the goal celebrations that had me leaping up and down punching the air long after the ball had hit the net.

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend about the season so far and the fact that, despite being in the play-off places, it had not been an enjoyable season.  That has been completely turned on its head since.  The character and the passion on show in the past few games have made this team one to love.  We even saw some emotion from our usually impassive manager at the final whistle.  I can’t wait for next week.

Proper Football

Gathering for the pre-match huddle

Gathering for the pre-match huddle

I woke up on Tuesday morning with a rotten cold which meant that I spent most of the day sneezing and with my nose streaming.  I felt awful, so my plan to spend the evening on a cold terrace seemed foolish in the extreme.  The thought crossed my mind that maybe I should give this one a miss.  That thought was quickly dismissed.  Instead I dosed myself up with Sudafed and best bitter and took my rightful place on the Griffin Park terrace for the top of the table clash.

Jokanovic had made two changes from Saturday with Tözsér and Forestieri coming in for Munari and Hoban.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Angella, Cathcart, Paredes, Tözsér, Watson, Ighalo, Layun, Forestieri and Deeney in what I am reliably informed was a 4-2-3-1 formation.  I must admit that the inclusion of both Anya and Paredes in the defence gave me some cause for concern.  The Brentford line-up included former Watford youngster, Diagouraga, with Jack Bonham and the lovely Tommy Smith taking their place on the home bench.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering to defend a corner

As Jokanovic walked across the pitch before the game he was greeted with a chant that I have not heard before.  He was suitably appreciative, turning to applaud the fans, which was another new experience for me.

The home side had an early chance with a first minute corner that was headed over by Douglas.  Next to threaten the Watford goal was Gray, who ran on to a through ball, but was met by Gomes who came out bravely to challenge and succeeded in winning a goal kick.  At the other end, a ball over the top to Deeney led to Watford’s first attempt on goal, but Button saved the shot at the second attempt.  Gray, who was receiving dog’s abuse from the away fans for his Luton connections, broke into the Watford box where he was stopped by Angella who coolly took the ball off his feet.  Watford’s first decent chance came when a lovely passing move led to a shot from Deeney, but Button was equal to it.  At the other end, Anya rose to head a Brentford free kick clear.  The Scot was soon in attacking mode as he made a great break and crossed for Watson whose shot seemed to take a deflection before the keeper pushed it around the post.

Attack versus defence

Attack versus defence

Ighalo’s first attempt on goal was a shot from outside the box that flew wide of the near post.  Deeney should have done better when he received a pass from Forestieri in the box, but he hesitated before shooting and ended up running into a defender and wasting the chance.  Paredes did really well to battle down the wing and cross for Forestieri to head goalwards but a Brentford defender was there to block.  A cheeky backheel from Deeney set Forestieri up for another attempt which was also blocked.  With 10 minutes remaining in the half, Forestieri won a free kick.  He took it quickly, exchanged passes with Deeney and hit a shot that swerved just wide.  Bidwell was mounting a rare Brentford attack when he lost the ball to Layun, his attempt to get the ball back was a studs up lunge which left the referee no option but to show him a red card.  Ironically, the reduction in personnel inspired Brentford into their best spell since the opening of the game.  But their only meaningful goal attempt in this period came from a free-kick that was confidently gathered by Gomes with Dean challenging.

At half-time, I was treated to the sad story of the death of Tommy the cat.  His owner reminisced about our last league game at Griffin Park when a Tommy (Mooney) had scored and said that, in the cat’s honour, we needed the winning goal to come from Tommie Hoban who not only shared the late feline’s name but also the attributes of being ginger and Irish.  Okay!!

Deeney steps up to take the penalty

Deeney steps up to take the penalty

Brentford started the second half as they finished the first.  Forestieri lost out to Diagouraga in their box, the Frenchman released Gray whose shot was, thankfully, awful.  At the other end, Layun tried a shot that flew wide of the target.  From the goal kick, Brentford launched a fast break, Gray beat Angella and shot across Gomes into the roof of the net.  By way of celebration, the Brentford players all ran and surrounded Warburton.  The goal galvanized the visitors who had a chance to break back almost immediately as Douglas used his upper arm to control Watson’s cross into the box and the referee pointed to the spot.  Deeney stepped up but his penalty was too casual, Button went the right way and made an easy save.  Just before the hour, Jokanovic made his first substitution bringing Abdi on for Watson.  Ighalo found Forestieri in a great position for a shot, but the Argentine was being challenged so couldn’t get any power on it.  Anya beat a defender before hitting a cross that was saved by Button.  Anya tried another shot that was saved, the ball dropped to Ighalo whose follow-up flew wide.  Paredes exchanged passes with Layun before putting in a dangerous cross but there was no Watford player in the box to meet it.  Ighalo did really well to keep the ball on the by-line and cross for Abdi but he couldn’t control the ball which bounced off him to Button.

Proper old-school bundle

Proper old-school terrace celebration

On 68 minutes, the pressure from the visitors finally led to an equalizer.  Paredes was being given far too much space on the right which he exploited to cross for Ighalo to head home, prompting a joyous bundle on the away terrace.  Watford immediately pushed for a winner as, from a corner, Angella was knocked over, the ball fell to Deeney but Button was on hand to put the ball out for another corner.  The Brentford keeper was in action again as Ighalo exchanged passes with Forestieri before unleashing a shot that required a flying save to keep it out.  Forestieri was the next to try his luck, he did really well to wriggle clear of the defender but his shot was disappointing, flying well over the bar.  Brentford had their first goal attempt for some time as a quick break finished with a shot from Toral that Gomes blocked and then gathered at the second attempt.  Back up the other end, Forestieri played the ball back to Abdi whose shot was deflected into the side netting leading some on the other side of the goal to think we’d netted a winner.  With 12 minutes remaining, Tommy Smith replaced Pritchard to polite applause from the Watford faithful and shaking of heads around me due to concern that this would be the man to honour the dead moggy.  Tommy was immediately involved as Paredes did really well to keep an overhit pass from going out for a throw but found his reward was to be knocked over by Smith.  The former Hornet was rather harshly booked for the foul, much to the amusement of those in the away end who regaled him with a chorus of “Watford ‘til he dies.”   Tözsér played a short free-kick to Forestieri whose shot cannoned off the post.

Jokanovic takes another win in his stride

Jokanovic takes another win in his stride

With eight minutes remaining Deeney was replaced by Vydra.  The Czech had an early chance as he ran on to a pass into the box from Layun, but Button was first to the ball.  We were into time added on when a Vydra cross was blocked, it appeared to have gone out for a corner but a Brentford defender kept it in only to pass to Layun who returned the ball to Vydra, whose cross was volleyed home by Ighalo.  I have to say that being short and in the middle of the crowd behind the goal, I didn’t see Ighalo’s contribution, but it didn’t stop me joining in the sort of goal celebration that can only happen on a packed terrace.  We tried to run the clock down by replacing Anya with Hoban for the last minute of time added on.  Brentford appeared to have a final chance to get back on level terms, when the ball went out for a corner but the flag was up, much to our delight, and Watford came away with all three points.  At the end of the game, Deeney threw the boots that had missed the penalty into the crowd.

Football doesn’t get better than this.  A cracking game of football at a proper old-fashioned ground with the crowd almost on the pitch and goals celebrated with terrace bundles.  While the Brentford sending off will have influenced the outcome, Watford were great value for their win, dominating the game with some lovely play at times.  Please, Slavisa, now that we’ve got a song for you, can we have this Watford in our remaining games?  I’d be ever so grateful!

A View from the Bridge

Angella late to the pre-match huddle

Angella late to the pre-match huddle

I love the third round of the FA Cup as it can give an opportunity to play unfamiliar opposition and visit a new ground.  I was on a flight to the US when the draw was made.  On landing I eagerly checked who we’d be playing and my heart sank when I saw it was Chelsea.  How terribly dull.  Still, the pre-match pub had good beer and decent pies and we had a lovely stroll through Brompton Cemetery on the way to the ground.  There we were met by a ridiculous security cordon.  There were so many checking the tickets of those trying to enter the away end that it was almost impossible to find a space to walk between them.  Inside the stadium, I marveled at the array of banners declaring the support of fans from all over the place.  The Cornish flag emblazoned with “East Cornwall” was particularly bizarre.  Oddly enough there were no banners for Chelsea fans that actually come from London.  I much preferred Stamford Bridge when we stood on that open terrace with the hut selling wagon wheels at the back.  It had a bit of character then.

Team news was that there were three changes from the Cardiff game with Bond, Deeney and Tözsér coming in for the injured Gomes, the departed Guedioura and the rested Abdi.  The starting line-up was Bond, Angella, Cathcart, Hoban, Pudil, Forestieri, Tözsér, Munari, Paredes, Deeney & Ighalo.  There was a nice touch from the announcer when he welcomed Jokanovic back to Stamford Bridge.

Challenging for a ball into the box

Challenging for a ball into the box

The first five minutes were awful to watch for a Watford fan as Chelsea played the ball about between themselves as if the Watford players were not there.  Pete commented that we should have kicked off because at least that would have meant a touch.  The home side’s first goal attempt came as a free kick reached Cahill but he volleyed it over the bar.  Thankfully, the visitors soon began to get a foothold in the game and had their first shot on goal with a Tözsér attempt from distance that was easily held by Cech.  Soon after a Tözsér free-kick was headed clear by Drogba.  At the other end a shot from Remy curled past the top corner.  Paredes was booked for jumping into Schürrle much to the disgust of those around me, but it had been a silly challenge.  Deeney tried a shot from distance but Cech was behind it.  Chelsea’s first on target attempt was a decent one as Drogba got his head to a cross from Remy, Bond dropped and did well to keep it out.  Drogba held the ball up and played it square to Schürrle who fired over the target.  Just before half time, Forestieri went on a run into the box but his shot was deflected for a corner.  Watford could have taken the lead on the stroke of half time as Pudil was released and crossed for Ighalo who disappointingly scuffed his shot wide of the near post.

So we reached half time having matched Chelsea, actually having the majority of the three on-target shots.  Mourinho was clearly not impressed with his side’s first half showing as he replaced Schürrle and Oscar with Willian and Diego Costa.

Troy wants the ball

Troy wants the ball

Ten minutes into the half, there was a brilliant reaction save from Cech who stuck out a foot to prevent a Deeney shot deflecting into the far corner.  Chelsea took the lead a couple of minutes later as Willian got the ball on the edge of the box and looped it into the top corner.  Watford tried to strike back immediately as Deeney exchanged passes with Ighalo and unleashed a shot, but Cech was behind it.  Jokanovic made his first substitution replacing Ighalo with Vydra.  Watford’s second booking came as Tözsér knocked Ramires over in an innocuous looking coming together.  A free-kick from distance looped into Bond’s arms.  Chelsea increased their lead on 69 minutes as a shot from Costa was charged down, the ball dropped to Remy who hit it past Bond.  Forestieri, who had been guilty of some poor decision making throughout the game, hit a shot from the edge of the box when a pass to Vydra may have been the better option.  Chelsea’s third came on 73 minutes as Zouma got on the end of a cross to the back post and headed it past Bond.  Jokanovic immediately made his second substitution replacing Tözsér with Abdi.

Abdi lines up a free-kick

Abdi lines up a free-kick

There were loud shouts for a penalty both on the pitch and in the away end as a cross from Forestieri appeared to be handled by Zouma, but the referee waved the appeals away.  Watford pushed for a goal as a shot from Vydra was pushed over by Cech who punched the resulting corner clear while Angella challenged.  Watford’s final change saw Murray come on for Munari.  Chelsea had a great chance for a fourth as Costa hit a free kick over the wall but Bond got a hand to it to push the ball clear.  In the final minute Cathcart exchanged passes with Vydra but his shot was over the target.

While the result may have been expected, the performance had been excellent and the score flattered our hosts.  The Watford fans had been on their feet singing for 90 minutes so deserved the gratitude of the players who came over to thank us.  I looked beyond them to see no Chelsea player on the pitch and the home stands deserted.  What a shame to be so complacent that a 3-0 win is not worthy of celebration.  I’m glad we have that over and done with.  We can now concentrate on the league and look forward to a trip to Huddersfield on Saturday.