After a promising performance in midweek, I was feeling a bit more positive on the long journey up to Newcastle. My mood was improved immensely by the gorgeous dog who was accompanying the woman sitting the other side of the aisle from me.
I arrived at the pub a little later than is my habit, by this I mean that it was already open, and was surprised to find that it was not as busy as it usually is, so our party plus the Happy Valley and North West Horns were able to gather in the lovely alcove. As usual, the beer and the ambience were wonderful, setting us up nicely for the trek uphill to the ground. As we arrived at St James’ Park, my companions were extolling the virtues of the stadium and I was admiring the statue of Bobby Robson, so I completely missed the fact that there was a kerb in front of me and went flying. It was mostly my pride that was hurt, but my bruised knees made me start to consider taking the lift up the 14 flights to our seats. The woman who searched my bag at the turnstiles told me I was gorgeous, which was Geordie for, “You are old and safe looking, so I won’t search your person.” We entered through the turnstiles and I looked for the lift, quickly realising that it was actually behind the turnstiles in the next block. So we started up the stairs. Alice was counting the steps, calling out milestones, as I just counted the flights. I would have yelled, “Yay, 14!!” at the top if I had any breath left. As we took our seats, I was thankful that I had recently taken delivery of new prescription distance glasses as it meant that I had a remote possibility of recognising some of the Watford players.
The team news had come through in the pub and was …. Interesting. Gracia had made three changes from the West Ham game, with Kabasele, Janmaat and Pereyra in for Holebas, Capoue and Deulofeu. I was surprised that Capoue had been dropped, but this was apparently due to illness. What was more surprising was that Femenía was still in the team, although the formation had been changed to three at the back. Playing as a wing-back rather than in a back four would likely be a better use of his skills. So the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Dawson, Kabasele; Femenía, Janmaat; Cleverley, Doucouré, Hughes; Pereyra, Gray.
Due to a clash of colours, the lads were resplendent in our green away shirt from last season. Thankfully this news had been communicated before I left home, so I was able to bring the correct shirt with me (sad, I know).
The game started brilliantly for the Hornets as Pereyra went on a great run before picking out Cleverley, his shot was blocked, but rebounded to Hughes who finished past Dúbravka to send the travelling Hornets wild with joy. The home side had a chance to break back almost immediately, Kabasele missed the chance to clear a cross from Atsu leaving Almirón with only the keeper to beat, but Foster came out and made the clearance. Femenía had a great chance to increase Watford’s lead after the ball fell to him on the edge of the area, but his effort was just over the bar. Then Pereyra found Gray, who really should have grabbed a second for the Hornets, but his shot was wide of the far post. Newcastle won a free kick some distance from goal, Longstaff lofted the ball into the box and Foster punched for a corner. Doucouré was the first into the referee’s book for what looked to be a clumsy challenge on Atsu. He was soon joined by Hayden who was booked for taking down Pereyra. Hayden’s afternoon didn’t get any better as he raced into the Watford box to latch on to a pass but was frustrated by a brilliant tackle from Kabasele. From the corner, Cathcart made a double block on shots from Joelinton and Hayden. Almirón had the ball in the Watford net after rounding Foster, but he had been flagged offside as he started his run. It was clear that he had seen the flag before putting the ball in the net, so I don’t know why he wasn’t booked. Watford had another chance to increase their lead when a corner from Femenía was knocked on to Dawson whose attempted bicycle kick was blocked. Newcastle equalised on 41 minutes after a counterattack finished with Krafth’s cross being knocked down by Hayden to Schär who scored past Foster. It was a scrappy goal and so frustrating to concede. Late in the half, there was a booking for each side as both Dawson and Dummett were cautioned for rash tackles.
The Watford fans were not happy at half time. Despite a promising start, it had been a dreadful half of football with each team scoring with their only on target shot. Watford spent far too much time trying to find Gray with long balls that he was never going to win, and the passing was generally poor. A friend commented that it was the sort of game in which both teams were likely to be booed off at half time. We could only hope for an improvement in the second half.
We were to be disappointed. The home side had an early chance to take the lead as Dawson gave the ball away allowing Almirón to release Atsu, but the shot was terrible and straight at Foster. Cathcart was the next to be booked for a foul on Almirón. Newcastle should have done better from the resulting free kick as Schär got on the end of Longstaff’s delivery, but the header was awful and didn’t trouble Foster. The home side created a much better chance soon after as Atsu ran the length of the field before cutting the ball back to Almirón, but Kabasele put in an excellent block to stop the shot. Newcastle had a great chance to take the lead as Hayden unleashed a powerful shot from distance which Foster did well to turn over the bar.
At this point, an hour into the game, the travelling Hornets started chanting “We want subs,” but Gracia was unmoved by our plea. Newcastle threatened again, this time with a shot through a crowd of legs that Foster was down to save. The Hornets had their first half chance of the second period when the ball bobbled through to Cleverley who had time to control and pick his shot but snatched at a volley which flew wide of the near post. At the other end, Joelinton went down in the box after a challenge, but the referee deemed the tackle to be fair. There was a rare decent move from the Hornets as Doucouré broke forward, but his cross was deflected to Dúbravka. Gracia finally made a double substitution with 20 minutes to go, and it was not the change that the crowd had been calling for as Doucouré made way for Chalobah and Success replaced Hughes. I have to admit that even I booed the removal of Hughes who had been the best player on the pitch. Will left the field on the side opposite the dugout, so walked in front of the away fans and his name was sung with some gusto. Success showed his worth to us naysayers as he received a ball over the top and put in a low cross for Gray, but it was intercepted. Not satisfied with the changes so far, the away fans were chanting for Deulofeu to make an appearance. Bruce made his first change at this point bringing Manquillo on for Krafth.
Watford created a decent chance as Cleverley put in a lovely cross for Success who headed goalwards, but Dúbravka pushed the ball out for a corner. Dawson met the delivery with a header that was blocked, the ball rebounded to Chalobah whose shot was closed down. Each side made a substitution with 10 minutes to go as Muto came on for Atsu and the travelling fans finally got their wish as Deulofeu came on in place of Gray. The home side looked as though they were going to take the lead as a low cross from a corner led to a scramble in the Watford box, it seemed inevitable that the ball would be turned into the net, so I was massively relieved when Foster claimed the ball. The next chance fell to the Hornets as a shot from Cleverley took a wicked deflection off one of his teammates and flew just wide. It has to be said that, had the ball flown into the net, a flukey winner would have been in keeping with the poor quality of the game. Newcastle made a final change as Fernández replaced Schär. The Hornets had a late chance to grab a winner as Success played a lovely ball to Pereyra whose shot was decent, but Dúbravka was able to make the save. The last chance of the game fell to the home side, Chalobah had appeared to be fouled and was waiting for a free kick as Muto escaped downfield, but the Newcastle man was tracked all the way by Cathcart and could only find the side netting with his shot. Despite 5 minutes of added time, there were no further chances and the game finished in a draw.
Our first point of the season should have been cause for celebration, but the performance was so disappointing that it was hard to muster any enthusiasm. It was a pretty terrible game of football between two teams who struggled to string more than a couple of passes together. So many Watford attacks broke down after a long ball to Gray, or rather, the defender marking Gray, which is no criticism of Andre at all as he is not tall enough to outjump the defenders. Either that or a pass was hit straight at a defender. It was a much poorer performance than against either West Ham or Everton, although not as abject as the Brighton showing. But, at the end of a challenging week, this did not improve my mood at all and left me wondering where our next points would come from. Particularly as our next two games are home to Arsenal and away to Manchester City. While I will, of course, be in attendance at both, I am also planning to do other things on those weekends so that I have something to distract me from the football as I am not expecting any enjoyment from either game. I just hope that the lads prove me wrong.