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Ton Up Troy

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

Christmas was spent with family, so we travelled en masse to the early kick-off on Boxing Day.  The roads were surprisingly empty but as we got nearer to the ground, the crowds were gathering and the pulses quickened.

Despite Palace’s poor performances this season, the news that Pardew had been replaced by Allardyce was not what we needed going in to this game and I approached it with low expectations.

The main team news was that Deeney had been named on the bench, with Janmaat taking his place in a front three.  Mazzarri’s other change was to bring Guedioura in for Zúñiga.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Capoue, Behrami, Guedioura; Amrabat, Ighalo and Janmaat.

Challenging for the ball

Challenging for the ball

Mazzarri’s game plan was scuppered in the first couple of minutes as Janmaat picked up an injury while tackling Zaha and was stretchered off to be replaced by Zúñiga.  I was gratified to see that a good number of the Palace fans joined us in applauding Janmaat off the pitch.  There was an early scare for the Hornets when Zaha, who was booed from the start by the Watford fans, was tripped by Guedioura in a dangerous position.  I held my breath as Clattenburg pointed to where the offence was committed but could breathe again when he confirmed that it was outside the box.   Thankfully, the free kick did not trouble Gomes.  There were more injury woes for the Hornets on 13 minutes as Behrami went down holding his hamstring.  He was replaced by Deeney, whose first touch was a lovely ball to Ighalo, but the Nigerian’s cross was blocked.  There was nothing in the way of notable chances before the 24th minute when Prödl tackled Benteke on the edge of the box, the ball broke to Cabaye whose shot was just wide of the near post.  The Palace man was more successful in the next move, Townsend broke forward and played a lovely through ball to Cabaye, who looked a mile offside when he slotted home, but our hopes were dashed as the linesman kept his flag down and the visitors took the lead.  Cabaye also had the next chance with a shot that was well wide of the near post.

Etienne Capoue on the ball

Etienne Capoue on the ball

Watford’s first meaningful chance of the game came on the half hour as Holebas played the ball out to Guedioura who shot wide of the far post.  Another chance came Watford’s way when Ighalo was tripped on the edge of the box, the ball fell to Amrabat but his cross-cum-shot hit Zúñiga and ran through to Hennessey.  The home side looked to be the architects of their own downfall on 36 minutes as Prödl played a terrible back pass to Gomes, Benteke ran on to it and was tripped by the Watford keeper.  The referee had no choice but to point to the spot.  Benteke stepped up to take the penalty himself and, with the Rookery doing their best to put him off, hit a terrible shot that was easily saved by Gomes on his 100th appearance for the club.  Boos greeted the half time whistle.  It had been a very poor half from the Hornets who had created next to nothing.  Salt was rubbed into the wound by the half time entertainment, which was a montage of goals on the big screen.  As I watched it, I despaired that the same players were now incapable of hitting a barn door.

Celebrating Troy's 100th Goal

Celebrating Troy’s 100th Goal

The Hornets made a much better start to the second half but the lively play didn’t translate into many chances.  The first was a shot from distance from Guedioura that flew wide of the far post.  Then Prödl played a ball the length of the pitch, Ighalo latched onto it in the box, but could only shoot wide of the near post.  The next chance fell to Zúñiga, as a Prödl free kick was headed down to him by Deeney, but he shot into Row ZZ, so I didn’t have to duck.  Amrabat went on a lovely run and crossed to the opposite wing where Zúñiga picked the ball up, but his cross was blocked.  Then Watford got the break that they needed as, at a corner, Prödl was dragged to the ground by Delaney and Mark Clattenburg pointed to the spot.  The significance of the penalty award was not lost on anyone in the Rookery as Deeney picked up the ball and the tension grew.  Trevor in the row in front said he didn’t have a good feeling about this.  “Shut up, Cassandra!”  Our Cate wasn’t sure she could look.  I was just concentrating on the man with the ball muttering a mantra, “Come on Troy. Come on Troy.”  Deeney kissed the ball and placed it on the spot, sent Hennessey the wrong way and the Rookery into raptures as he finally scored his hundredth goal for the Hornets.  It had been a long time coming, but it was richly deserved as he had worked incredibly hard since he came on.

Congratulations to Troy on his milestone

Congratulations to Troy on his milestone

The visitors tried to hit back as Puncheon took a free kick, but it was headed over the target by Dann.  A Palace substitution saw former Watford loanee Jordon Mutch replace a less fondly remembered loanee, Andros Townsend.  There was a rare moment of quality as Zúñiga played a clever back heel to Guedioura whose cross was met with a flick header from Ighalo that was easily gathered by Hennessey.  Mazzarri’s final substitution saw Sinclair come on for Zúñiga.  The next action of note was Zaha going down in the Watford box, my heart sank and then swelled when I saw the referee indicate a Watford free kick and brandish a yellow card at the Palace man.  The final chance of the game came with a lovely bit of ball juggling from Guedioura, but his volley was saved by Hennessey and the game finished with honours even.

A draw was probably a fair result.  The visitors had the best of the first half, but the Hornets had been the better team in the second.  The game would probably have been very different had Watford’s starting XI lasted a bit longer, but there was a great deal of frustration at the lack of service to the forwards.  Amrabat and Holebas have been two of our better performers this season but they managed one decent cross into the box between them.  One positive for me was that there were some indications of a revival of the understanding between Deeney and Ighalo.  But when I start fretting about recent results, I look at the table and marvel at the fact that we will finish the year in 10th place in the Premier League so, despite some awful performances, we are doing something right.

An Important Win South of the River

One of the lovely catering staff in his Luther t-shirt (picture courtesy of Karoline Hasley)

One of the lovely catering staff in his Luther sweat shirt (picture courtesy of Karoline Hasley)

While getting ready to leave for the match I listened, as I usually do, to the sausage sandwich game on Danny Baker’s show.  On Saturday one of the competitors was representing Watford.  On a match day, something like this suddenly becomes immensely important.  So I listened intently and, thankfully, Watford beat Bath City after extra time.  An omen that all would be fine in the afternoon.

As always, there was a stringent search policy on the way in to the ground although on this occasion I wasn’t asked whether I had any keys on me as I was on a previous visit.  Inside Selhurst Park the catering staff were wearing “Cult heroes” sweat shirts bearing Luther’s picture.  How very wonderful.  There was also a deck at one of the windows just outside the Ladies’ loo which was blasting out music at a ridiculous volume.  I’m too old for that sort of thing.

Team news was that Flores had made four changes from Spurs.  Unsurprisingly, Deeney was restored to the starting line-up.  Also, there was no sign of Jurado which, without having heard the reasoning, tended to indicate an injury.  This meant a first start for Amrabat and I was intrigued to see how he would fit in alongside both Deeney and Ighalo.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Capoue, Watson, Behrami, Deeney, Amrabat and Ighalo.  Former Watford loanee, Jordon Mutch, started for Palace and lovely Aidy Mariappa was on the bench.

I am the only person I know that loves going to Selhurst Park.  My reasoning is that there is always a great atmosphere and, in days gone by when our away following was not as it is now, you could choose where to position yourself and I was usually able to join a group standing and singing at the back.  However, the increase in numbers in the travelling support now means that you are stuck with your assigned seat and, when all are standing in front of you, those of us who are on the short side or, even worse, those that struggle to stand are only able to see very small sections of the pitch, which meant that my notes were rather sparse.

Deeney waiting to take the penalty

Deeney waiting to take the penalty

Nothing happened of note in the first quarter of an hour until Capoue played a lovely cross field ball to Aké whose cross was blocked.  As the resulting corner came in, play stopped and most of us in the away end assumed that the home side had been awarded a free kick.  But it soon became apparent that the referee had pointed to the spot and the chants went up for Deeney who stepped up in front of the hostile Holmesdale Road end, sent Hennessey the wrong way and buried the penalty in the corner.  During the goal celebration, someone behind me let off a flare which brings into question the effectiveness of the stringent crowd searches outside the ground.  Palace tried to hit back almost immediately as Cabaye hit a volley from outside the area that Gomes had to turn around the post.  The next goal attempt from the home side was a looping shot that was straight into the arms of Gomes.  Some lovely play from the Hornets came to nothing as a pass from Deeney, intended to release Capoue, was a little too heavy and went out for a throw.  Soon after, Deeney exchanged passes with Ighalo before shooting over the target.  At the other end, a dangerous looking cross from Wickham flew over the head of Dann as Aké challenged.  Watford looked to increase their lead as Deeney found Ighalo whose shot was saved by the feet of Hennessey, but Palace couldn’t clear and, when the ball came back into the box, Amrabat had a shot from close range but, again, the keeper saved.

Capoue giving instructions while Deeney looks on

Capoue giving instructions while Deeney looks on

Watford threatened again as Deeney headed a free kick from Watson on to Ighalo who volleyed over the target.  There was another lovely break from the Hornets, a cross field ball was played to Capoue who played it back inside, but nobody would shoot and, finally, Hennessey gathered.  Deeney was putting in a real captain’s shift and was next to be seen back in defence shepherding a ball in the box back to Gomes.  Unbelievably, the home side were level just before half time.  A throw came into the box and the Watford defence stopped, possibly claiming a goal kick as the ball looked to be going out of play, but it was recovered and played out to Wickham who crossed for Adebayor to head over Gomes.  The goal had come from nothing and it was typical that it came from a player who had been linked with us in the transfer window.

At half time, there was some frustration that we were not leading as we had dominated the half.  It had been a poor half of football, but any quality there was had come from the visitors, the home side had been utterly dreadful.  Given the lack of entertainment on the field, I was rather annoyed that I had reached my seat too late to see the eagle performing prior to the game which is always rather lovely.

Gomes taking a free kick

Gomes taking a free kick

Palace made a substitution at the start of the second half, replacing Wickham with Lee.  The home side made a lively start as Zaha went on a run down the left wing and whipped in a cross that landed in the arms of Gomes.  At the other end, a free kick from Watson towards Deeney was headed clear by Jedinak.  Watford threatened again as Amrabat picked up a misplaced pass and found Deeney, but the pass was a bit short and Troy was unable to get in position to shoot.  Nyom, who was having a terrible game, gave the ball away to Zaha whose cross, thankfully, was cleared.  A dangerous cross from Souaré eluded Gomes, but Cathcart was on hand to clear with some help from the keeper.  Gomes was then called into action twice in quick succession.  First to block a shot from Adebayor, then to pull off a flying save to keep a long range shot from Mutch out of the top corner.  A free kick from Watson bounced off a succession of heads in the box before being cleared.  Then Zaha went on a dangerous counter attack, but this time Nyom was in the right place and headed his cross clear.  At the other end Deeney broke free and exchanged passes with Ighalo before trying a shot that was blocked, his follow-up drifted tamely wide of the post.  Watford’s first substitution came just after the hour mark as Abdi replaced Amrabat, who hadn’t made much of a mark on the game.  Watford had a decent chance to regain the lead as a Watson free kick reached Aké at the far post but he was sliding in to shoot and the ball flew wide.

Watson lining up a free kick

Watson lining up a free kick

Flores’ second substitution saw Capoue make way for Suárez while, for the home side, there was an attacking change as Campbell replaced Mutch.  From a corner, Adebayor threatened the Watford goal again, but this time Gomes pushed the header clear.  At the other end Deeney found Ighalo in the box, he couldn’t shoot so moved it on to Aké whose shot was saved by the sprawling Hennessey.  Deeney’s next attempt on goal was blocked by Ighalo, always a frustrating sight.  The first booking of the game went to Suárez who was cautioned for bringing down Ward.  Palace had a decent chance with a free kick from Lee that Gomes did well to save.  But it was Watford who regained the lead on 82 minutes, as a Watson cross found Deeney at the far post, he took a touch before shooting past Hennessey and provoking mayhem in the away end.  “Trooy Deeney, Watford’s number nine.”  The visitors tried to extend the lead as Abdi looked for Ighalo with a cross, but the Palace defence shut the Nigerian out.  In the last minute of normal time, a corner was cleared to Cabaye on the edge of the box, his powerful shot was pushed onto the post by Gomes and a follow up from Zaha flew harmlessly over the target.  There was shock in the away end when the fourth official indicated 5 minutes of added time.  Where had that come from?  The first chance in injury time came as Adebayor broke forward and shot, but it was easy for Gomes.  At the other end, Abdi combined with Deeney and Ighalo before unleashing a shot that came back off his team mate.

Gathering for a free kick

Gathering for a free kick

Despite it happening directly in front of where I was standing, I didn’t see Souaré’s tackle on Behrami, but it was clear from the reaction of those who could see that it had been a poor challenge and the referee had no hesitation in showing the red card.  So the home side played the last minute of time added on with 10 men.  They had one final chance to draw level as a cross from Zaha was met by the head of Ward, but he directed his header over the bar and the Hornets left South London with all three points.

Palace put in a considerably better performance in the second half, with Zaha giving Nyom a torrid time down the left wing, but the win was probably a fair result and Deeney’s second goal a pleasingly moment of quality to win the game.  Neither Amrabat nor Suárez made much of an impression, with the stand out performances being from old hands Deeney and Gomes with a special mention for Behrami, who continues to impress in the midfield.

When the final whistle went, Pete said, “We’re safe,” and, while that is not mathematically certain, the teams in 17th and 18th are 12 points behind us with a considerably worse goal difference, so it is hard to see them catching us.  Time to concentrate on the cup!!

Palace Victors on The Box

Abdi in action

Abdi in action

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

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

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

Cathcart and Nyom

Cathcart and Nyom

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

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

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

Anya and Jurado

Anya and Jurado

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

Jurado takes a free kick

Jurado takes a free kick

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

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

Gomes with a Watford legend in the background

Gomes with a Watford legend in the background

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

Lining up a free kick

Lining up a free kick

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

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