Tag Archives: Fitz Hall

An Unexpected Point

Taking the field

Taking the field

The success against Brighton last week gladdened the heart, but we could have done without following it up with a trip to Leicester.  Based on their performance at Vicarage Road earlier this season, they are the best team in this division by a considerable margin and the Championship table certainly backs that view.  Leaving the station on arrival, I was confronted by high winds that made walking difficult and didn’t bode well for the game, but I was soon tucked up in a warm pub with a pint of real ale wondering whether I should stay there all afternoon.

On arrival at the ground, I was told that the official supporter coach hadn’t made it.  Terrible traffic had meant that it arrived for the pick-up in Watford ridiculously late and that the driver was out of time by the time they got to Toddington, so they turned around after he’d had his break.  I really feel for those who use the coach, a number of whom are friends, as they missed a cracking game.

Tozser lines up a free kick

Tozser lines up a free kick

When the team was announced, I was disappointed to hear that Hall, who had been immense on Sunday, had been dropped to the bench with Cassetti moving back to take his place in the centre of the back three.  Merkel was the other to make way with Faraoni and Murray the replacements, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Anya, Tözsér, Murray, Battocchio, Faraoni, Forestieri and Deeney.

Leicester fans started their taunting early with “Did you cry at Wembley?” which was a bit foolish as it was immediately answered with “Did you cry when Deeney scored?”  Well, one of their players did.  Pre-match predictions were confounded as we went a goal up within 10 minutes, Deeney and Forestieri exchanged

Forestieri receives congratulations after scoring

Forestieri receives congratulations after scoring

passes before Troy crossed and Forestieri headed past Schmeichel.  Yes, really, a header from Forestieri!  Leicester had a great chance to equalize soon after as a corner reached Wasilewski in the middle of the box, but he headed wide when it looked easier to score.  Then Murray played a lovely long ball to Deeney who squared to Forestieri, but the Argentine was quickly closed down before he could shoot.  At the other end, a cross from Drinkwater was met with a back flick from Vardy which went wide.  Vardy threatened again soon after, this time meeting a cross from Konchesky with a header which flew over the bar.  Konchesky then made his way into the referee’s book after hacking down Faraoni.  On 24 minutes, Watford won their first corner of the game.  Tözsér’s delivery reached Deeney who headed down to Faraoni but he shot into the side netting.  The jeers from the home crowd that greeted this seemed to be down to relief on their part as there had not

Attacking a corner

Attacking a corner

been great celebrations in the away end.  On the half hour, a pass from Angella that Ian Bolton would have been proud of reached Forestieri on the edge of the area, he cut the ball back to Deeney whose powerful shot flew well over the bar.  The wind then threatened an equalizer as an innocuous looking corner from James changed direction and Almunia had to get a hand to it to divert it for a corner.  Then Dyer ran in to the box and cut the ball back for Nugent (he always scores against us) who wellied over (phew!).  Knockaert put a dangerous ball into the box and Angella did well to intercept and avert the danger.  Watford had a great chance for a second as a Tözsér corner reached Angella who took the ball down and hit an overhead kick that required a good save from Schmeichel to

Murray celebrating his goal

Murray celebrating his goal

keep it out.  We were not to be denied for long, though, as on 40 minutes, Forestieri battled to win the ball in the corner cut back to Anya who found Murray whose low shot from distance beat Schmeichel to nestle in the bottom corner.  At this point there was a mass exodus from the home stand to join the queue for a half-time cuppa.  More fool them as a couple of minutes later James got on the end of a cross from De Laet to cut the deficit.  It was disappointing to concede so soon after our second, but the build up for the goal was excellent.

Ekstrand in control

Ekstrand in control

Early in the second half, Almunia came to gather a cross from Konchesky, but Nugent was challenging with Ekstrand in attendance, the Swede clattered into the keeper so there was a delay as both Watford players received treatment.  Almunia needed a clear head almost immediately as Forestieri played a long ball in the direction of Deeney, which Morgan reached first and launched back for Vardy to break, he was one-on-one with the keeper but Almunia came out and made the clearance.  Then a flick from Faraoni found Forestieri in the box, he tried a shot that landed on the top of the net but had been flagged offside anyway.  Then Konchesky launched a speculative shot from distance that was well over the bar.  Konchesky threatened again with a deep cross that Almunia punched clear.  On 65 minutes, there was a brilliant break for Watford as Ekstrand released Forestieri but, instead of shooting, he opted to pass and put too much weight on it so Deeney received the ball at a tight angle and the chance was gone.  The Watford defending remained resolute as a shot from James was blocked by Murray and looped safely into Almunia’s arms.  Leicester

Watford on the attack

Watford on the attack

really should have equalised in the 70th minute as Dyer cut a cross back to Nugent but his point-blank header was wide of the target.  At this point, Pudil replaced Faraoni.  Nugent had another chance but his header was straight at Almunia.  Then Cassetti was booked for barging Vardy out of the way.  Vardy soon made way for Kevin Philips and my heart sank.  Dyer was also withdrawn for Mahrez.  Watford’s next counter attack came through the substitute, Pudil, who went on a run down the left but his shot was straight at Schmeichel.  With five minutes to go, Sannino opted to shore up the defence as Hall replaced Forestieri, who left the field to boos from the home crowd.  We changed to a 4-4-2 formation with Anya moving further forward.  Leicester’s next substitution was an attacking one bringing Woos on for Wasilewski.  Leicester’s quest for a second goal continued as

Almunia takes a free kick surrounded by litter

Almunia takes a free kick surrounded by litter

Almunia pulled off a brilliant save from a close range shot from Phillips after good work from Nugent, but he needn’t have bothered as the flag was up for offside.  In time added on, Cassetti pulled the ball back to Murray but his short was poor and well wide of the target.  Leicester were pushing hard for the equaliser as first a shot from Phillips and then the follow-up from James were blocked.  Philips then crossed for Mahrez whose header was blocked by Ekstrand.  Alas, we could not survive the onslaught.  Leicester’s equalizer came in the fourth minute of added time as the ball fell to Drinkwater outside the box and his shot flew past Almunia.  It has to be said that this was not the former Watford player that we were expecting to get the winner.  Knockaert came over to goad the travelling Hornets and the home fans suddenly woke up.  Last roll of the dice for Watford was the introduction of Merkel for Battocchio.  In the last couple of minutes, Leicester could have won the game as Nugent found James in the box but a lovely sliding tackle from Pudil saved the day.  From the corner Nugent shot wide and it ended honours even.

A fair challenge?

A fair challenge?

I realise that my notes of the chances make it sound as if the second half had been even, when in fact it felt like a 45 minute onslaught from Leicester with Watford restricted to counter attacks.  But our defence deserves great credit for the fact that the Leicester possession did not translate into clear cut chances.  Special mention must go to the travelling fans who made a tremendous noise throughout the ninety minutes.  Also to the Leicester fans whose chant of “We’ll never play you again” betrayed a quite staggering level of delusion and prompted a conversation about whether they are the smallest club to believe they are a big club.  At the end of the game, despite the fact that we’d thrown away a two goal lead for the third game in four, most Watford fans left the ground happy with a point away at the league leaders, particularly as it had taken them until the 94th minute to win the point.  This had been another well-organized effort from the Hornets which augurs well for the remainder of the season.

A New Dawn?

Tozser lining up a free kick

Tozser lining up a free kick

After the horrible collapse at Forest on Thursday, I can’t say that I was looking forward to this game. Deadline day had seen some action with Iriney and Fabbrini departing on loan and Diakite and Park arriving.  However, having been crying out for a defensive midfielder, the arrival causing most interest was Tözsér who had come in on loan from Genoa, hopefully to shore up our midfield.  When the teams were announced, we found we were to get an early idea of whether he was “the answer”.  The starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Hall, Angella, Anya, Merkel, Tözsér, Battocchio, Cassetti, Forestieri and Deeney.  In goal for the visitors was former loanee, Kuszczak, although I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t recognize him.  I knew he looked familiar, but couldn’t quite place the face.

Anya being congratulated for his goal

Anya being congratulated for his goal

The first action of note came in the 11th minute.  Almunia came out of his area to clear as Ulloa threw himself to the ground in the box, the clearance fell to Forestieri who tried a shot which didn’t trouble Kuszczak.  We were a goal up soon after as Forestieri won the ball in the middle of the park, turned and fed Merkel, he found Anya on the left who made no mistake shooting across Kuszczak into the far corner.  Anya was involved again soon after, going on a long run up the left wing, crossing the touchline just in front of the linesman at one point, but in the absence of a flag the run continued and culminated in a shot from distance, but Kuszczak was equal to it.  On 25 minutes, Brighton threatened for the first time as a López cross flew across our area but Battocchio was back to make a crucial tackle.  We should have been two goals up a minute later as Cassetti won the ball on the right and crossed to Forestieri who, with only the keeper to beat, opted to place

Battocchio on the attack

Battocchio on the attack

the shot instead of going for power and did so right into Kuszczak’s arms.  Irritation at the miss was tempered with relief that we hadn’t built a two goal lead to throw away.  Brighton’s next goal attempt came from a corner, the ball fell to Andrews but his shot from distance was well over the bar.  On the half hour, Almunia had to come out to get a hand to a dangerous cross from Ward before Ulloa could get his head on it.  López’s follow up shot was wide of the far post.  Then another Brighton corner was met by Upson who headed well over the bar.  On 39 minutes, an injury forced the first substitution as Forster-Caskey was replaced by LuaLua.  In the closing minutes of the half, Forestieri played a square ball to Battocchio on the edge of the box, but his speculative shot was straight at Kuszczak.  Brighton could have equalized as the substitute, LuaLua, went on a run down the left and unleashed a fierce shot that hit the corner of the bar and post, the ball reached Lopez, who shot into the side netting.

Ready to attack a corner

Ready to attack a corner

As the players came out for the second half, Kuszczak’s appearance in the goal at the Rookery end was greeted with very warm applause.  Brighton threatened early on, as a ball into our box was met with a firm header by Hall, it fell to López whose shot was caught by Almunia.  On 52 minutes, Brighton were wasteful again as the ball fell to Andrews on the edge of the box, but his shock was reckless and well wide of the target.  Then Forestieri must have won the ball three or four times as he fought off the attentions of Brighton defenders before releasing Anya but, sadly, all that resulted from their hard work was a corner.  Another Brighton attack failed to muster a shot on target as Ulloa’s shot was blocked, the ball fell to López whose shot was well wide.  Deeney then closed down a clearance by Greer, but the ball looped over the bar.  Watford had another decent chance to increase their lead as a ball came in to Forestieri who held off two defenders to head the

Forestieri celebrates

Forestieri celebrates

ball down to Deeney, but his shot was over the bar.  At the other end LuaLua found Stephens but he shot well wide.  Just before the hour mark, Forestieri won the ball on the left, dribbled around Kuszcazk and shot into the open goal.  The goal was a just reward for Fernando’s tremendous performance.  However, there were a few muttering about us being two up given what that heralded in the last two games.  I was heartened at the fact that on the hour it was us scoring rather than the opposition.  Soon after, new boy Tözsér lined up a free-kick which looped just over the bar.  Brighton made their second substitution as Rodríguez replaced Orlandi.  There was a let off for the Hornets on 67 minutes as a free-kick was headed past Almunia by Ulloa but it was ruled out for off-side.  Harry Hornet was highly amused at this turn of events.  Another Brighton free-kick was hit

New boy, Merkel, takes a throw

New boy, Merkel, takes a throw

straight at the wall, but they regained possession and a cross to the far post was met with a header that Almunia caught.  Then a sliced shot by LuaLua was blocked by Angella.  The resulting corner was met with a header from Ulloa that was going wide, but Almunia was taking no chances and claimed it.  With 15 minutes remaining, Murray replaced Merkel after spending some considerable time standing on the touchline waiting for a suitable break in the game.  Watford’s next attack was thwarted as Deeney received the ball in an advanced position but was hacked down by Greer, who was booked for the offence.  Murray took the resulting free-kick which flew through the wall but was gathered by Kuszczak.  With 10 minutes remaining March replaced López.  Deeney had a half chance as he ran into the box to a ball that had bounced off Murray, but Kuszczak got there first.  In the last minutes of normal time, Battocchio made way for Diakite, and Forestieri was withdrawn to a standing ovation and replaced by Park.  There was five minutes of time added on, but the only action of note was a reckless challenge by Park on the edge of our area which led to another silly yellow card for Ekstrand for kicking the ball away.  The resulting free kick curled over the bar and our clean sheet was preserved.

Ekstrand takes a free-kick

Ekstrand takes a free-kick

What a difference a couple of days make.  Three points are always welcome, but it was the performance that really pleased.  Tözsér impressed immediately, putting his foot in when needed and acting as that midfield fulcrum that we’ve missed.  Hall was immense in the centre of defence.  They formed the spine that was so obviously missing on Thursday and the overall performance improved immeasurably.  I sometimes feel that Forestieri wins man of the match awards for being eye-catching rather than effective, but today it was thoroughly deserved.  He was tireless, playing like a terrier whose favourite ball you were trying to take.  But he wasn’t the only one in that regard.  Where, on Thursday, we were nowhere to be seen as Forest took their chances, today we refused to allow the Brighton players any space.  If a ball was lost, there was a player instantly fighting to get it back.  While I’m not convinced that we’ll get anything at Leicester next week, I’m very encouraged that we are going in the right direction.

A Battle on the South Coast

The decoration inside the ground

The decoration inside the ground

After a few days of scare stories about bad weather that could lead to another postponement, it was a relief to have a pleasant drive down to the South Coast and lovely weather for my walk across town from the hotel to the pre-match pub.  The pub itself was another little gem.  The back room used to be a boxing gym, and was rather lovely.  The bar staff were friendly and welcoming.  The clincher for me, though, was the Rosie’s Pig.  Delicious. Bournemouth was a new stadium for me, so I was looking forward to the visit.  It is quite a neat little ground.  They have decorated the inside of the ends of each stand with pictures of players, which is a nice touch, although it has to be said that they didn’t appear to be from particularly classic games.  The away fans were located at one end of a stand down one side of the ground and were very close to the pitch which, despite the rain, appeared to be in excellent condition.

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

Sannino made three changes from Tuesday’s cup replay, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Hall, Angella, Pudil, McGugan, Iriney, Battocchio, Faraoni, Fabbrini and Deeney.  Main team news for Bournemouth was that their top scorer, Grabban, was recalled having signed a new contract after a brief flirtation with Brighton.  Other pre-match news was that, due to colour clashes involving both our home and away kit, we were playing in all yellow.  The only time I can remember seeing that colour combination before was due to some Boothroyd bloody-mindedness at Charlton.  From memory, the game that day was awful.

McGugan delivers a corner

McGugan delivers a corner

The home team threatened first, but Pugh failed to get on the end of a dangerous cross from Ritchie.  Watford’s first chance came through a counter-attack.  Fabbrini broke forward, he was tackled but the ball fell to Battocchio who advanced down the right and crossed to McGugan in the box, but Lewis swung his boot and didn’t get a decent connection so the shot flew wide.  The referee went back and booked Ritchie for felling Fabbrini.  On 16 minutes, Battocchio found Fabbrini on the right, his low cross was put out for a corner from which the ball fell to Battocchio, who squared to Faraoni whose cross was easily caught by Camp in the Bournemouth goal.  Soon after, repeated attempts to break down a Bournemouth attack failed and Surman was able to fashion a shot from the edge of the box but it was wide of the target.  On 24 minutes, Iriney went down injured.  I

Angella launching the ball forward

Angella launching the ball forward

have criticised his contributions in the past, but he had been immense in this game so far and his substitution was very bad news, even if his replacement was Abdi.  Bournemouth threatened again through Ritchie who advanced into the box, but the attentions of Pudil ensured that his shot was well over the bar.  Angella then joined the attack but, when his cross was cut out, it left our defence weakened allowing Grabban to break and cut the ball back for Ritchie whose shot was deflected over.  Camp was called into action for the first time as a Battocchio shot was deflected and the keeper had to dive to push it around the post.  The corner was headed out to Pudil, but his shot was horribly reminiscent of McGugan’s mishit earlier in the game.  A back header from Abdi reached Surman who broke forward and found Pugh in space but he shot well over when he really should have

Angella celebrating his goal

Angella celebrating his goal

tested Almunia.  Five minutes before the break, Angella found Fabbrini who turned and shot over.  On 44 minutes, Grabban was through but could not quite connect with a cross from Ritchie.  Then, on the stroke of half time, McGugan was taken down on the left.  He took the free-kick himself and Angella rose highest to nod it past Camp.  We were somewhat fortunate to be ahead, but it was a great time to score. At the start of second half, McGugan pulled up requiring treatment although he was able to continue.  Then Abdi passed to Fabbrini whose through ball deflected to Deeney, but Troy’s shot was blocked and went out for a

Lining up to defend

Lining up to defend

corner.  On 50 minutes, the injury got the better of McGugan and he was replaced by Murray.  The youngster was in action almost immediately putting in a low cross that was met with a shot from Hall which was blocked.  At the other end, a good sliding tackle from Ekstrand prevented Grabban from getting on the end of a cross from Pugh.  On the hour, Grabban broke into the Watford box, where he was jostled and eventually pulled to the ground.  The referee didn’t give the penalty immediately but, after consulting with the linesman, he pointed to the spot and sent Angella off.  There was some confusion from the stands as to who the recipient of the red card was, and some argument on the pitch about the decision, but eventually the Italian walked.  It was Grabban himself

Almunia the hero

Almunia the hero

who stepped up to take the penalty, and he made no mistake, shooting straight down the middle with Almunia diving to his left.  Straight from the restart, Bournemouth were on the attack again but Faraoni was alert and headed the cross clear.  Then Surman latched onto a pass from O’Kane but shot well over the bar.  Bournemouth had a great chance to take the lead as Pugh cut the ball back to Daniels in the box, but his shot curled just wide.  On 70 minutes, another penalty was awarded.  Pugh broke into the box and should have shot but, instead went to ground in a dramatic fashion.  Protests from the travelling fans and the Watford players fell on deaf ears and only led to a yellow card for Almunia.  At this point a group of Watford fans who had gathered in front of the seats surged forward and started tussling with the stewards who were standing behind the advertising hoardings and some idiot threw a smoke bomb onto the pitch that was removed by Almunia.  When everything had calmed down, Grabban stepped up again, but justice was done as Almunia dived to his right to save.  The Spaniard then did brilliantly, standing tall to block the follow-up from Ritchie and then dropping to save an O’Kane shot from the edge of the box.  On 77 minutes, Pugh was replaced by Pitman and left the field to loud boos from the travelling Hornets.  At the same time, Rantie replaced Surman and Anya came on for

Bournemouth threaten

Bournemouth threaten

Fabbrini.  With 10 minutes remaining, Almunia parried a long-range shot from Ritchie then dropped to gather the ball with Grabban and Pitman challenging.  The latter was adjudged to have come in too hard on the keeper and was shown a yellow card.  Bournemouth continued to threaten as O’Kane fed Daniels on the left, but his cross was cut out by Hall.  From the corner, Arter handled in his own box, was penalized and another argument broke out on the field in what was becoming a bad tempered game both on and off the field.  Then Watford launched an attack as Deeney broke and hit a ball over to Anya who cut in from the bye-line but couldn’t find a pass and the ball went out for a goal kick.  In the last minute of normal time, the Cherries should have won the game as Rantie cut the ball back to Ritchie who unleashed a powerful shot, but Pudil threw himself in front of the ball and saved the day.  From the corner, the ball fell to Pitman whose shot just cleared Almunia’s bar.  There was 7 minutes of time added on, so plenty of time for a winner.  For Bournemouth, Pitman tried a chip, but it was straight at Almunia.  Then the ball fell to Deeney in the box, but his shot was deflected into the side netting.  At this point, it became clear that defending the point was the priority for the visitors as the corner was taken with 4 Watford players on the half way line.  In the last minute, Daniels got his head to a corner but it drifted over the bar. 

Thanking the travelling fans

Thanking the travelling fans

At the final whistle, 8 stewards escorted the referee as he left the pitch, which seemed excessive since he was walking towards the home stand.  For all the complaints about the penalties and the performance of the referee, we were quite fortunate to come away with a point from that game.  But what will live longer in the memory was the unpleasant atmosphere in the away end.  There were scuffles both with stewards and among some Watford fans who got into an argument about one bloke who insisted on standing about half way up when all around him were seated.  Another Watford fan threw a bottle that hit one of our disabled supporters.  Due to the disorder, the fans in wheelchairs were moved to sit with the home fans.  One fan also threw the ball hard at one of the Bournemouth players who was about to take a throw-in.  Unnecessary and unpleasant, and I have to give credit to the player in question who didn’t react.  I also thought the stewards did a tremendous job.  As they investigated the scuffle in the crowd near us, they did so in a reasonable manner and were very pleasant to those in the area.  The Leicester stewards should take a lesson from these guys.  Coming up, we have the prospect of another away trip, this time to Man City.  The post-match realization that we are now on a run of seven away draws was soon nullified by the news that City had scored another 4 goals.  I have to admit that my head is telling me to go to Vicarage Road to see the Youth Cup game next Saturday, but there is that niggling “what if?” that will ensure I travel to Manchester.  I hope they are gentle with us.

Silencing the Robins

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

Having left work a little later than was good for my blood pressure as I sat in traffic, I was very surprised on my arrival at the West Herts to find that none of my usual pre-match companions was present.  I went directly to the ground and took my usual seat in the Rookery to find that I was sitting in an acre of space.  I tried not to take these events to heart.  The Rookery did fill up as kick-off approached, but most of those who took the seats around me were unfamiliar faces.  The uninspiring performance in the game at Ashton Gate as well as the prospect of a win potentially treating us to another trip to Eastlands had meant that I was not relishing the prospect of this game.  Clearly this sentiment was widespread among my fellow season ticket holders.

Team news was that Sannino had made seven changes from Saturday.  However, none of the changes was radical and the bench was very experienced, unlike in the original fixture.  The news that gladdened the hearts of every Hornet was that Almen Abdi was named among the substitutes.  After the toss, we changed ends which provoked some disquiet among the superstitious around me.

Watford on the attack

Watford on the attack

The visitors launched an attack in the first minute, Emmanuel-Thomas finding Baldock with a through ball but the shot was straight at Bond.  McGugan had Watford’s first chance, dribbling along the top of the box to get a sight of goal but his shot was also straight at the keeper.  Then a through ball to Deeney was cut out and rebounded to Forestieri who was tackled and took a tumble but the referee waved play on.  At the other end, Moloney broke into the Watford box, but the attentions of a defender put him off and he shot wide of the far post.  Watford broke forward again as McGugan’s back heel reached Deeney, but he was closed down and his shot was blocked.  Baldock should have done better with a Flint header into the box, but his header looped over the bar.  Bond had to be smart

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

soon after as he came to punch a cross from Bryan.  Watford then threatened as Forestieri went on a rampaging run and crossed for McGugan who hit it first time and the ball flew high and wide.  Anya was the next to launch an attack, but his cross was blocked and ricocheted off him for a goal kick while he finished up on the grass behind the goal line.  It didn’t look good, especially when the St John’s Ambulance guys started wheeling the stretcher in his direction, but they were soon doing an impression of the vultures in Bedknobs and Broomsticks as they trudged back disappointed and Anya rejoined the fray.  On 20 minutes, Battocchio dinked a ball over to Forestieri who put a low cross into the box, McGugan dummied, fooling everyone including his own team mates, so the chance went begging.  Soon after, Anya skipped into the box but his shot was blocked.  Then Deeney

Goal!!

Goal!!

headed a McGugan corner past the far post.  It was another McGugan corner that led to the opening goal as the ball was headed out to Faraoni whose shot appeared to bounce off two or three City players before going in to the net.  It wasn’t pretty, but they all count.  Forestieri’s attempt to double the lead soon after resulted in a disappointing shot from the edge of the box that was well over the crossbar.  Into the last five minutes of the half, Emmanuel-Thomas shot from the edge of the area, but his shot was well held by Bond.  Then Anya found Forestieri whose shot was deflected wide.  In the final attack before the break, a lovely City move saw Reid feed Elliott and then get on the end of his cross but shoot agonizingly over.  We were slightly fortunate to be ahead at half-time.

McGugan lines up a free kick

McGugan lines up a free kick

City started the second half brightly as Pack hit a dangerous shot that Bond tipped around the post.  Angella then took advantage of his position on the right of the back three to go on a tremendous forward run and hit a shot that curled just wide of the near post.  Then Faraoni got on the end of a cross from Anya but sent it over the bar.  There were loud calls for a penalty for Bristol City as Osborne played a through ball to Baldock whose low cross bounced off Hall as he went to ground.  The City man turned and appealed passionately that it had hit the defender’s hand, but the officials were about as convinced as those in the Rookery who had a clear view of the incident.  There was a more convincing penalty appeal down the other end as Forestieri appeared to have been thrown to the ground by Flint, but the referee waved appeals away.  Watford doubled their lead soon after as Deeney tried to battle through the City defence, but lost the ball which fell to

McGugan receives the congratulations of his team mates

McGugan receives the congratulations of his team mates

McGugan who made no mistake in shooting past Parish.  There was a good break by McGugan soon after but he maybe should have played Anya in a bit earlier as the Scot had a narrower angle to shoot from and his shot was deflected into the side netting.  From the corner, Faraoni’s cross was punched clear by Parish.  As Watford continued to threaten the City goal, Deeney got the ball in space, but his shot was deflected wide.  Battocchio then received the ball on the edge of the area, the shouts of ‘shooot’ from the Rookery must have gone to his head as he hit the ball straight at Parish.  Then Faraoni found McGugan whose shot was just wide of the target.  With 15 minutes remaining, all attention was focused on the sidelines as the Hornet faithful were treated to the sight of Almen Abdi stripped and ready to come on.  It was a while before the ball went out of play and I have

Abdi waiting to come on

Abdi waiting to come on

never heard such loud cheers for a throw-in.  McGugan was the man who made way.  There was something delightful about seeing Abdi on the field again.  He was immediately in the middle of everything, barking orders and organizing his team mates.  How we have missed him.  His first few touches were greeted with enthusiastic cheers from the crowd and then an ironic boo as he horribly misplaced a pass.  But it wasn’t all about Abdi as Deeney went on a run and shot straight at Parish.  City had been quiet in this period of the game but, when Bryan tried to break, he was stopped by a sliding tackle from Angella that earned the Italian a yellow card.  With 10 minutes to go, Abdi latched on to a ball and passed to Battocchio who found Forestieri in the box but his shot was dreadful and

Battocchio dispossessed

Battocchio dispossessed

well wide of the near post.  The frustration began to show in the visitors as Wagstaff was booked for kicking the ball away.  With five minutes remaining Pudil replaced Anya.  The last action of note was a bit of a scramble in the Watford box, but Bond was able to poke the ball clear and maintain the clean sheet.

The final whistle went to cheers from the home crowd.  The performance was considerably better than that at Ashton Gate and, while the Robins had their chances, Bond was never really tested and Watford looked increasingly in control as the game went on.  After going ahead, we never really looked like losing.  Hall had a great game in the centre of defence, with the change in formation allowing the always impressive Angella a chance to break forward.  It was wonderful to see Abdi back, his mere presence on the pitch seems to induce a calm.  Let’s hope that he is a fixture in the team again very soon.  Despite my lack of appetite for another trip to either the Etihad or Ewood Park, that win cheered me up no end and should give us some momentum for the upcoming games.

Zola’s Last Stand

After two good away points married to decent performances, we returned to Vicarage Road in good spirits for the visit of Sheffield Wednesday.  Apart, that is, from certain of our party, who will remain nameless, who had carried on the festivities after the Christmas Lunch with GT et al at the club the previous day, and were feeling a little the worse for wear.

Deeney and Thorne ready for kick-off

Deeney and Thorne ready for kick-off

Team news was that Hall would replace the suspended Ekstrand with Cassetti and Murray in for Pudil and McGugan.  Having recovered from recent illness & injury, Almunia returned to the squad, but Zola kept faith with his young deputy so the line-up was Bond, Faraoni, Nosworthy, Hall, Cassetti, Bellerin, Thorne, Battocchio, Murray, Anya and Deeney.

The first action of note was a ball over the top to Anya, who advanced and put a low ball across the goal but no Watford player was anywhere near.  On 7 minutes a Murray corner was met by Cassetti who headed over the bar when he really should have done better.  Soon after, Bellerin showed a lot of skill to flick the ball past a defender, he advanced down the wing, but his cross was straight at the keeper. 

Hall back in action

Hall back in action

Then Deeney exchanged passes with Bellerin and crossed into the box for the inrushing Anya, but Martinez was first to the ball.  On 20 minutes, Anya had a great chance as he received the ball with his back to goal, turned and curled his shot just wide.  By the midpoint of the first half, Sheffield Wednesday had failed to launch an attack worthy of the name.  Then Wickham won a free-kick and hit it over the Watford wall and past the reach of Bond for the visitors to take the lead.  A couple of minutes later, Murray played a cross-field ball to Deeney whose pass into the box was too far in front of Battocchio.  Next Anya went on another run, but his cross was headed out for a corner.  Nosworthy met the deep corner with a header which

Anya on the ball

Anya on the ball

was cleared.  On the half hour, the Wednesday fans were shouting for a penalty.  Maghoma appeared to have escaped from Nosworthy, but Nyron recovered to make a last ditch tackle on the edge of the box, and the referee waved play on.  Anya then had another chance at goal but his shot from distance was well over the bar.  With five minutes remaining in the half, Deeney played the ball across to Anya who buried it.  Sadly the celebrations in the home stands were cut short by the linesman’s flag, although those with a better view than I had suggested that the Scot was onside.  Wednesday threatened immediately as a cross from Hélan was cut out by Cassetti before it reached Lee.  Then a ball over the top by Cassetti was headed out to Murray whose shot was straight at Martinez.  Just before half time, a cross from Faraoni was cut out but reached Murray whose shot from distance was parried to Anya but the follow-up shot was also blocked by Martinez.  So we reached half time a goal down to Wednesday’s only shot on target.  I braced myself but, thankfully, there were only a couple of boos from the home stand.

Watford on the attack

Watford on the attack

At the start of the second half, Faraoni picked up an injury and was replaced by Fabbrini.  Just before the hour, Murray took a free-kick that was cleared by Martinez.  Then a shot from distance by Maghoma was easily gathered by Bond.  On 64 minutes, there was an almighty scramble in the Wednesday goal mouth with half a dozen shots blocked.  It just wouldn’t fall for us.  Since coming on, Fabbrini was spending a lot of time on the floor and both Lee and Wickham were booked for fouls on the Italian.  In between these offences, Battocchio was replaced by Forestieri.  With 15 minutes remaining, a cross from Cassetti was missed by Forestieri and Anya, who probably thought that Fernando would get on the end of it.  Then Fabbrini fed Murray whose cross-cum-shot was wide of the far

Thorne challenging

Thorne challenging

post.  With 10 minutes to go, McGugan replaced Hall.  In the 83rd minute, there was another goalmouth scramble as first Murray’s shot was blocked, then his through ball to Fabbrini was met with a shot, but the Italian was flagged offside.  In the last minutes of the half, Bellerin fed Forestieri whose cross reached Deeney, but he couldn’t get the header on target.  Then Forestieri was flattened in the box, but the referee waved play on.  In time added on, Thorne passed to Fabbrini who chested the ball down to McGugan who was closed down before he could shoot.  Then we had a fantastic chance to level the game as Fabbrini played a perfect through ball to Forestieri but, with the way the afternoon had gone, there was a certain inevitability in the way the Argentine’s shot flew agonizingly wide.

There were loud boos at the final whistle.  I don’t boo a team that has put in an effort and I believe that these lads were trying, but it wasn’t working for them.  Who knows what would have happened if Anya’s goal had been allowed to stand.  But it wasn’t and we were faced with our fifth successive defeat at home.  In the post-match analysis in the pub, we agreed that it was hard to see what could be done to turn it around as different combinations and formations had failed to address our woeful home form.  Sadly, Zola’s subsequent resignation indicates that he was also at a loss.  While the news was not unexpected, it left me saddened and feeling rather empty.

Zola in happier times

Zola in happier times

The first time I saw Zola in person was at a tribute match for Mike Keen at Wycombe a few years ago that I attended because Malky and Alec were playing.  I lived abroad during the time that Zola played in England, so had no recollection of ever seeing him in action before.  I have to say that he was mesmerizing and had the crowd on their feet on more than one occasion.  But what impressed me most on that day was when he was substituted and greeted with a crowd requesting autographs and photos, he responded with a huge, warm smile and took the time to satisfy all the demands.  When he came to Watford, he brought us some of the best football that I have seen in nearly 35 years of watching the Hornets.  Like others, I will never forget that tremendous finish to the Leicester game and the wonderful goal against Huddersfield but another thing that will remain with me is Zola’s off-field presence.  He was a delight at the At Your Place events.  A warm, funny man, who was passionate about football, but also cared about the people that came to watch his team.  Anyone who was lucky enough to meet him came away with an increased respect for the man.  He is a football genius and an utter gentleman.  I’ll miss him greatly.