Tag Archives: Fulham FC

Ole, Andre

Cathcart and Capoue

Having had to work on a planned day off last week, I decided to recoup some of that time by leaving early for the game.  On checking into the hotel in Watford, the manager commented on my scarf, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there was a match in town that evening.  The bar man, a fellow Hornet, joined in the conversation and said that he was sacrificing this game in order to be able to go to the semi-final.  It seemed like the right choice to me.  We had a chat about our prospects at Wembley and then I headed to the West Herts.  I arrived to see that Don’s car wasn’t in its usual place, which caused me a momentary panic, until I saw him sitting in his usual place inside.  Some interloper was in his space when he arrived.  Poor show indeed.  I settled down with a pint and to anticipate the evening ahead.  This was an odd prospect as, playing struggling Fulham, it should have been a game to enjoy, but every moment would be analysed with Sunday in mind.

On the walk along Vicarage Road, we found ourselves among Fulham fans who, given that a defeat would relegate them, were chanting, “The Whites are going down … and now you’re gonna believe us.”

Pre-match speculation was that certain key players would be rested, possibly to be brought on during the game if needed.  Needless to say, Gracia did the unexpected with the four changes from Saturday being the entire back four reverting to what most would consider to be our first choice.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenia, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.  I had everything crossed that there would be no injuries.

Celebrating Doucoure’s goal

As it is the 25th anniversary of the formation of Kick it Out, tonight was Watford’s game dedicated to the cause and the “No room for racism” message was all over the hoardings.  Sadly, recent events show that this message is needed now more than ever.

The first chance of the game went to the visitors as Mitrović got his head to a cross and diverted it wide of the target.  At this point, the Fulham fans were in very good voice indeed.  The first chance for the Hornets came on 15 minutes as Pereyra tricked his way into the box, but his shot was blocked.  The visitors had a great chance to take the lead as Babel played a lovely ball over to Sessegnon in the box, but the Fulham youngster was unable to connect.  Some rushed play from the Hornets allowed the ball to reach Mitrović whose shot was easily gathered by Foster.  Watford then had a great chance to break the deadlock as Femenía broke forward before crossing for Deeney but the header was wide of the near post.  The Hornets took a somewhat undeserved lead on 23 minutes as Doucouré picked up the ball, ran to the edge of the box and hit a sweet strike into the near corner of the Fulham net.

Holebas prepares for a corner

The next action of note came 10 minutes later and was an equaliser for the visitors as Sessegnon found Babel who rounded the onrushing Foster to score.  It was frustrating, but no more than the visitors deserved.  The Fulham faithful greeted the goal with “We are staying up” followed by “We’ve f*cking scored”.  Fair play to them.  This was greeted with a round of applause from the Rookery, as we’ve all been there.  The visitors threatened again as a bit of head tennis in the Watford box led to the ball falling to Babel whose shot was blocked.  Sessegnon had a great chance to grab the lead after a break, but his shot was easy for Foster.  The visitors looked sure to take the lead after Deulofeu overplayed and gave the ball away allowing them to break but, when he looked sure to score, Mitrović totally mishit his shot which flew high and well wide of the near post.  The first booking of the game came late in the half as Mariappa was booked for a foul on Mitrović.  The half time whistle was greeted with boos from some Watford supporters.  Granted it had been a poor half of football from the Hornets, but all of our minds were on the semi-final on Sunday, so it was a ridiculous reaction.

The half time guest was Marco Cassetti, who immediately apologised for giving away the penalty in the play-off final against Palace.  There was another penalty that he didn’t need to apologise for, given what it led to.  Knockaert’s dive was shown from multiple angles before we got to enjoy the terrific goal from the play-off semi-final.  He said what a great memory that was and how it makes him smile.  He seemed a bit baffled when the conversation turned to the subject of his beard.  It was lovely to see him back to hear how much he enjoyed his time with us.

Gracia made a double substitution at the break bringing Janmaat and Gray on for Pereyra and Deulofeu.

Will Hughes has his eyes on Babel

Janmaat’s first contribution was to earn a booking for a foul on Cairney.  Watford had an early chance to regain the lead when a cross from Holebas was headed on towards his own goal by Chambers and Rico had to stretch to tip it over and save his teammate’s blushes.  Holebas caused more problems for the Fulham defence, winning a free kick that he took himself which had to be punched clear by Rico.  A lovely exchange of passes between Janmaat and Gray ended with the Dutchman bearing down on goal, but Rico came out to smother the ball and was injured in the process.  Babel came to complain to the referee, trying to get Janmaat booked, which seemed harsh as he had every right to go for the ball.  Doucouré had a chance to grab a second goal, but took too long to take the shot and it was blocked.  Gray was the next Watford player to try his luck, but his shot from distance deflected wide.  My neighbour in the Rookery had been nervously bemoaning the fact that the players were acting as though they had already won the game.  His nerves were eased somewhat when a corner was headed clear to Hughes who belted a volley past Rico from outside the box.  It was a terrific goal and very welcome.  Fulham had a half chance to break back as an awkward header from Mitrović had to be tipped over the bar by Foster.

Celebrating Deeney’s strike

On 69 minutes, Watford made the scoreline a bit more comfortable as Gray broke forward before cutting the ball back for Deeney to score Watford’s third of the evening.  It may have been Deeney who applied the finishing touch, but the crowd was chanting “Olé, Andre.”  Harry the Hornet’s goal celebration was a little too enthusiastic and led to some repairs being needed for the corner flag.  At this point, the visitors made their first substitution replacing Ream with Seri.  Watford could have increased their lead as Doucouré found Holebas whose shot was pushed around the post by the keeper.  I swear that, as he walked in front of the Rookery to take the corner, Jose was smiling.  With 15 minutes remaining, Gray turned provider again, this time for Femenía, who scored Watford’s fourth and surely confirmed Fulham’s relegation.  Despite the comfortable lead, the home side continued to attack and Hughes got into a great position, but chose to tee up Gray whose shot was deflected wide.  At this point, Gracia made his final substitution bringing Quina on for Capoue.  Needless to say, every time the youngster got the ball there were shouts for him to shoot.  The visitors had a chance to pull a goal back as Mitrović found Seri whose close range shot was stopped by a brilliant save from Foster.  There was a second substitution for the visitors as Babel made way for Schürrle.  Watford threatened again as a lovely cross from Janmaat was met by the head of Doucouré, but Rico was equal to the effort.  Scott Parker made a final change with McDonald coming on for Cairney.   Gray had another chance to add a goal to his assists, but the keeper was down to make the save.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, Holebas earned his inevitable booking.  I am not sure whether it was for the foul on Sessegnon or his reaction to being penalised, but he risked further censure by refusing to speak to the referee.  Eventually Deeney had to take him over and make the peace.

A group hug among the goal scorers

The full time whistle went to terrific celebrations from the Watford faithful.  It was a testament to his contribution after coming on that Gray was named the man of the Match, a decision that went down well with the home crowd.  At the other end of the ground, a banner announcing “Fulham Relegation Party” was being waved.  I must admit to some regret at our relegating Fulham as it is a club that I like and I love going to Craven Cottage, but the win was needed both to keep up our fight for seventh place and to give us some momentum before the FA Cup semi-final on Sunday.

It was an odd game.  After a poor performance in the first half that seemed to result from the players not wanting to get hurt, they went for it in the second half and we were royally entertained.  Gray was everywhere, with the two assists and plenty of chances to score himself.  It was a very positive performance indeed.  At the same time Wolves were beating Man Utd, so also going in to the weekend on a positive note.  Sunday will be a very interesting game.  Two evenly matched teams who both play decent football.  It should be entertaining, whatever the result.  But I am really hoping that it is a repeat of our performance at Molineux, which was superb.  I am also hoping to get at least a few hours sleep between now and the game, but that is not guaranteed.

We have to be loud and proud on Sunday.  This is our best chance of reaching a cup final since 1984 and I would love my youngest sister and nieces to experience that as Rose and I did all those years ago.  These are the days that we dream about.  They should be savoured and I, for one, with endeavour to enjoy every minute.

Entertainment on the Riverside

Another Saturday game, but also another on television meaning a stupid kick-off time.  This time at 12:30, which is the worst time for a football match.  I left home bright and early and, due to the timing of my trains, was outside the designated pub about 20 minutes before it opened so, as I refused to take refuge in the Wetherspoons next door, I sat on the side of the river in the drizzle watching an intrepid fellow constructing his windsurf board.  I love the water as much as the next guy, but that seemed a little adventurous on such a miserable day.

When the pub opened, I bought a couple of pints and found a cosy corner to wait for my party to gather.  The early kick-off meant that it really didn’t seem like time for football, but the walk to Craven Cottage has to be the nicest in the league and I enjoyed the stroll along the Thames through the park to the ground.  On entry, I decided to find the Ladies, which I was told was under the stand.  Instead of the usual entrance, there was a series of doors allowing multiple queues and complete privacy.  I was also impressed to see that there were free sanitary products in the cubicles.  Well done, Fulham, for that gesture.

Team news was, as expected, an unchanged team for the sixth league game this season, so the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deeney, Gray.  The opposition dugout would, of course, contain Slaviša Jokanović, the man who took the Hornets to the Premier League, and the lovely Marco Cesarini, former head of medical at Watford, even if he is mostly remembered for translating for Beppe Sannino.

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets as, in the second minute, Hughes cut the ball back to Gray who finished smartly past Bettinelli in the Fulham goal to ensure that the away stand started shaking bright and early in the game.  The goal celebration continued with an inflatable woman in a Watford shirt bouncing around the stand.  Fulham tried to strike back as Johansen broke into the box, but Foster was out to save at his feet.  Vietto was the next to try his luck, drawing a save from Foster before latching on to the loose ball and shooting wide of the far post.  At the other end, Deeney met a low cross from Gray with a shot that was blocked for a corner.  The corner was met by the head of Kabasele, but his effort was blocked on the line by Sessegnon.  Watford had a couple of great chances to increase their lead.  First a Watford free-kick was saved, but the Fulham keeper could only push it out to Doucouré who hit a delicate shot wide when if he’d wellied it it would have hit the back of the net!  Then a clearance fell to Gray whose close range shot was blocked by Bettinelli.  A Fulham break was frustrated by the Watford defence who refused to allow Mitrović a sight of goal.  As Kabasele amiably reacted to some grief he was getting from the Fulham fans, I couldn’t help noticing that those at the front of the stand were wearing the “Come on Fulham” clappers that had been left on seats as hoods to protect them from the rain.  The first booking went to Mawson for a nasty foul on Pereyra.  This was followed by another booking for an even worse foul on Deeney by Fosu-Mensah, who was possibly lucky to stay on the pitch.   Doucouré then impressed and frustrated in equal measure, beating a couple of players before hitting a shot that was weak and straight at the keeper.  There was a huge shout for a penalty when Gray got on the end of a through ball and passed to Hughes, who was taken out by Mawson, but the referee waved play on while we all looked at each other in amazement.  At the other end, Mitrović fell over Hughes in the box and made his own penalty claim, thankfully his was also given short shrift by the referee.  With five minutes to go to half-time, the Watford substitutes all paraded past us on the way to the dressing room.  I know many fans try to beat the crowds to get to the tea bar, but this was the first time that I had seen that from the players.  There was one last chance for the Hornets to increase their lead before half time, but Pereyra’s curling shot flew just wide of the far post.

So we reached half time a goal to the good, but the consensus was that we should have finished Fulham off.  We had dominated the half, but not made enough of our chances.

As the half time tannoy announcer did his stuff, I couldn’t help missing the voice of Diddy David Hamilton.

As the teams came out for the second half, Jokanović was warmly applauded by the travelling Hornets, but I don’t think he realised that the applause was for him as he didn’t react.  He made two changes at the break with Mawson and McDonald making way for Odoi and Ayité.  The changes immediately made a difference and the hosts started strongly.  First, a cross from Schürrle was headed over by Mitrović, then Vietto advanced but his shot was high and wide.  Watford’s first booking went to Holebas for what looked like a decent tackle on Vietto.  Watford’s first goal attempt of the second half came as Doucouré played the ball out to Gray whose low shot was saved by Bettinelli.  Pereyra then almost played the visitors into trouble as he tried to dribble out of defence but lost the ball, thankfully the resulting header from Mitrović was deflected for a corner.  Jokanović made his final substitution on 63 minutes bringing Anguissa on for Johansen.  Deeney had a great chance to increase the lead for the visitors, but was too greedy and ran into a defender who forced him to shoot wide when maybe he should have passed to someone in a better position.  Gracia made his first substitution as Femenía came on for Hughes. The home side equalised on 78 minutes as a low cross from Vietto was turned home by Mitrović.  It was frustrating, but on the balance of play in the second half, it felt as though it had been coming.  Gracia made his second change soon after bringing Success on for Gray.  Watford should have regained the lead on 84 minutes as Deeney gained possession and powered into the box but, on this occasion, he wasn’t selfish enough as he tried to play in Success and his cross was cut out.  The Nigerian then had a chance of his own but his low shot was saved.  At the other end, the home side nearly took the lead with a fabulous shot from Mitrović that required a wonderful flying save from Foster to keep it out.  The resulting corner was met by the head of Mitrović, but Foster came to the rescue again, getting a touch on it to push it on to the crossbar.  There was a late substitution from the Hornets as Sema came on for Pereyra.  In time added on Watford had a couple of chances to snatch a victory.  First, Success unleashed a rocket of a shot from distance, but it was well over the target.  Then Foster launched a free kick which was headed down by Deeney towards Success but the keeper gathered.  Just before the final whistle, a tap on the shoulder alerted me to the sight of the Queen’s rowbarge, Gloriana, passing by the ground on the Thames.  Obviously hoping to get glimpse of the Golden Boys.

So, for the second week running, we came away disappointed at the result.  I think we would all have taken a point before the game, but our first half performance was such that we should have been further ahead at half-time and, had that happened, it seemed unlikely that the home side would have been able to recover.  Instead, Fulham were still in the game at the break and Jokanović made changes that strengthened his team, who pressed harder against the Hornets who then misplaced more passes and allowed the home side to threaten more.  Still, it was another terrific game for the neutral, this season has seen some excellent entertainment and that is something to be enjoyed.

 

A Long Awaited Revenge on the Banks of the Thames

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

I’m not a fan of games being moved for television but, if we do have to play on a Friday night, it may as well be an away game a 45 minute train journey from home.  Despite the run of poor results, I have been quite positive about the performances (Birmingham excepted), but a lunchtime listen to the Watford Weekend preview show on which Jon Marks trawled through a bucket load of stats about how bad we have been against Fulham made me wonder whether I should stay at home.

On arrival in Fulham, there were a lot of Watford fans in evidence and their demeanour suggested that they had been enjoying the local hospitality for some time.  There was a lot of singing in the misnamed Temperance and I was hoping that it would continue in the ground.  There is nothing worse than an away day when all the singing happens in the pub.

Commemorating the Christmas truce in 1914

Commemorating the Christmas truce in 1914

Team news was that Jokanovic had made just one change, with Cathcart in for Ekstrand, so the starting line-up was Gomes, Bassong, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Munari, Tözsér, Abdi, Paredes, Deeney and Vydra.  I wasn’t best pleased to get to my seat to find a huge pillar obstructing my view, but we stood for the whole game which made it a bit easier to adjust position to look around it.  When the players emerged, Richard noted with some joy that they were wearing red shorts.  Prior to kick-off the two teams mingled for a photograph to commemorate the Christmas truce in 1914.

Watford could have taken the lead in the second minute as a Tözsér free-kick was heading for the top corner until Bettinelli got a hand to it and tipped it over.  Tözsér took the resulting corner which flew across the goal but nobody could get a touch to it.  Deeney received a ball from Tözsér in the box, Troy’s header beat the keeper but was cleared off the line.  Fulham won a free-kick in a dangerous position, but McCormack blasted it over the bar.  Tözsér threatened again with a powerful shot from outside the area that stung Bettinelli’s palms.  Watford took the lead after 15 minutes as we won a free-kick in a dangerous position.  Fulham lined up their wall but Abdi hit a low shot between legs and into the bottom corner.  Cue crazy celebrations in the away end.

Deeney sends Kiraly the wrong way

Deeney sends Kiraly the wrong way

Two minutes later Abdi fed Vydra who was through on goal when Bettinelli took him down.  The referee immediately pointed to the spot and brandished a red card at the Fulham keeper.  Ruiz was sacrificed for Kiraly who, after all these years, still hasn’t worked out that pajama bottoms are not a good look for a keeper.  For his fashion faux pas alone, it was sweet justice that he went the wrong way as Deeney hit the penalty down the middle to put Watford two up.  The home side tried to strike back immediately as Christensen broke into the box but Tözsér was on hand to make a brilliant saving tackle.  Paredes crossed for Deeney, but he had two defenders in attendance and the ball was taken off his feet.  At the other end, McCormack hit a cross towards Rodallega, but Angella was on hand to turn it out for a corner.  At this point the Watford fans started a chant of “We’ll bounce when we want” which we did in the rather rickety stand.  This chant continued in various forms throughout the game and the exercise, in addition to the goals, ensured that I felt nice and warm all evening.

Deeney congratulated for his goal

Deeney congratulated for his goal

On the field, a through ball was played to Tözsér, with two defenders on him it looked as though any chance of a shot was gone but he continued to challenge, so the ball came off a defender and Kiraly had to scramble to prevent a corner.  A lovely passing move finished with Tözsér feeding Deeney whose shot was deflected over the bar.  Watford’s third goal came on 36 minutes as a Cathcart shot was blocked, Munari played it back in for Deeney who beat the defence and knocked it past Kiraly.  Munari played a lovely ball to Vydra who shot first time and Kiraly had to make a smart save to keep it out.  I was very happy to see Matej try the early shot as he only does that when he’s feeling confident and a confident Vydra is a joy to watch.  He took the corner himself, but Cathcart headed over the bar.  When the announcement of time added on was made, I was rather sad that it was no longer Diddy David Hamilton’s dulcet tones on the tannoy.  Anya had the ball in the net in injury time, but the offside flag was up.

Abdi congratulated after scoring his second

Abdi congratulated after scoring his second

At half time, there was unconfined joy in the away end.  That was, until I caught up with Don Fraser who said he’d like a fourth goal to calm his nerves!  The Hornets duly obliged, five minutes into the second half, but I have to admit that I didn’t see the strike as Almen Abdi was behind the pillar when he hit the shot which I did see hitting the back of the net.  I’m told it was a rather good strike.  One of the guys sitting behind us came back into the stand and jokingly asked if he’d missed anything.  It was a tad ironic that he had a better view of the goal in the concourse than I did from the stands.  Abdi could have had his hat trick as Vydra beat a defender on the right, crossed to Anya who played the ball back but Almen shot just wide.  Tözsér was the next to test Kiraly as he picked up a short corner from Vydra, but the keeper cleared.  The home side made a rare foray into the Watford box but Rodallega’s shot was blocked.

Munari and Abdi congratulate Deeney

Munari and Abdi congratulate Deeney

On 65 minutes, Jokanovic replaced Vydra with Forestieri, much to the dismay of the Czech striker.  There was a scare for the visitors as we gave the ball away to McCormack who was taken down on the edge of the box.  Fortunately the free kick rebounded off the wall.  Then Forestieri gave the ball away, it reached Williams who tried a shot from distance that was deflected goalwards, but Gomes got a hand to push it around the post.  From the corner the header was easily gathered by Gomes.  At this point the Watford fans launched into a chant of “There’s only one Graham Taylor”, that was followed by a few classic chants from the 90s.  At first it seemed a bit odd, but we reasoned that it was a flashback to the last time we won at Craven Cottage.  There had been a long period of Fulham possession without them creating much, but the Hornets revived.  Forestieri should have scored the fifth as he received the ball with only the keeper to beat, but he tried to dribble around Kiraly who stuck out a hand to push the ball off his feet.  You could just imagine Vydra on the bench muttering, “I’d have scored that.”

Deeney applauds the travelling Hornets after scoring his third

Deeney applauds the travelling Hornets after scoring his third

Paredes put in a dangerous cross but Deeney could not connect.  With 8 minutes remaining, Tözsér made way for Guedioura.  The departing player was given a rapturous send off by the travelling Hornets.  Soon after Anya made way for Pudil.  Deeney tried a shot from distance that Kiraly saved.  Fulham broke down the other end, I was so hoping that we would keep our clean sheet so was very happy to see Rodallega’s shot fly well wide of the far post.  In the final minute of the game, we finally achieved vengeance for that horrible defeat on Boxing Day 2000 when Munari played a through ball to Deeney who walloped it past Kiraly for his hat-trick.  That was the last action of the game as the referee blew up before the restart.

What an evening.  It was a tremendously assured performance.  While Fulham were disadvantaged going down to 10 men early on, Watford were already well on top at that point and we certainly made the most of the extra man, constantly harrying the opposition, and giving them no time or space to get back into the game.  Abdi was back to his best and Deeney’s recent struggles appear to be over.  As if all that wasn’t enough, messages arrived during the game from friends informing me that Sir Nigel Gibbs is coming home to assist Jokanovic.  Friday nights don’t get better than that.