Tag Archives: Gabriele Angella

Quique Flores Takes a Walk in Clarence Park

Arlauskis warming up

Arlauskis warming up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An early sight of Capoue on the ball

An early sight of Capoue on the ball

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

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

Waiting for a corner

Waiting for a corner

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

Abdi whips in a free kick

Abdi whips in a free kick

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

Prodl in Action

Prodl in Action

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

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

 

Gutted, but Proud

The GT Stand greeting the team

The GT Stand greeting the team

After the post-match excitement of last week, it had been another long wait for the Championship decider.  It was all in our own hands.  Win today and we were champions.

It was an earlier than usual start due to the lunchtime kick-off and, when I arrived in Watford, there were only a smattering of Watford shirts around, but the red and yellow bunting outside The Flag was a nice touch.  On arrival at the West Herts, there was already a decent crowd in there calming their nerves with a liquid breakfast.  When we left for the ground, you could already hear the roars from Vicarage Road.

There was a depressing sign of things to come with hawkers selling Premier League tat in Vicarage Road, although I didn’t actually see any ticket touts.  We have that treat awaiting us.  There was a tremendous atmosphere inside the ground.  A message from Elton John was shown on the big screen.  Then, as the players came out, the Rookery held up a foil display organized by the 1881.  The other stands had flags, streamers, ticker tape and balloons.  It was a tremendous spectacle and lovely to see four stands swathed in yellow.

The promoted Hornets come on to the pitch

The promoted Hornets come on to the pitch

Team news was three changes with Motta in for Paredes, Layun replacing Guedioura, whose loan period expired last week and Vydra preferred to Ighalo up front.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Connolly, Cathcart, Angella, Anya, Abdi, Watson, Layun, Motta, Vydra and Deeney.

Watford made a bright start as Abdi played a lovely ball out to Motta on the right wing, he crossed for Layun whose shot was blocked.  At the other end, Lavery headed the ball in the direction of Lee but Gomes leapt salmon-like to pluck the ball from the air.  Watford had a very good shout for a penalty as Watson won the ball and played in Deeney, who broke into the box and tried to dribble around Kirkland who took his legs from under him.  From the other end of the ground, it was hard to see how it could be anything other than a penalty, but Lee Probert thought otherwise.  In the 12th minute, as planned, there was a chant of “We’ve got Lloydinho.”  Sad to think that, with his contract expiring this Summer, we may never see Lloyd in a Watford shirt again.  Deeney was the next to win the ball back, he passed to Vydra whose shot was blocked by Kirkland.

Celebrating Vydra's goal

Celebrating Vydra’s goal

Watford took the lead after 25 minutes as Deeney broke through, his shot was saved but the ball rebounded to Vydra, who headed home.  We could have had a second soon after as Watson, again, won a ball in midfield, he passed to Deeney who played the ball out to Anya on the left but Ikechi’s shot was into the side netting.  A corner from Abdi was headed over by Angella.  Then Vydra played a short pass to Deeney who crossed for Abdi who just touched the ball wide.  Deeney battled into the box and tried a chip which drifted wide of the goal.  A rare chance for the visitors as a free-kick found Lees in the box, but his header was well wide.  Watford should have increased their lead from a lovely move as Deeney played the ball out to Motta who crossed for Abdi who really should have scored, but put it wide.  Abdi then released Motta who advanced down the wing and into the box where he should have squared for Deeney or Vydra but instead hit a weak shot that was easy for Kirkland.  The 44th minute was marked with applause for Nic Cruwys from every stand in the ground including the away end.  In the last minutes of the half, a crossfield ball found Anya, but there was no Watford player in the box to meet his cross.  The ball eventually found its way to Layun who shot just wide.  So the half-time whistle went with Watford a goal to the good.  It had been a tremendous performance from the Hornets who fought for every ball and restricted the opposition to the odd breakaway.  But the finishing had been wasteful.  We should have been 3 or 4 goals ahead and I just hoped that we wouldn’t live to rue those misses.

Lining up a free kick

Lining up a free kick

At half time, it was lovely to see Guedioura on the pitch presenting the Club Hero award to Mary Thompson, a very worthy recipient.  Cate and I also visited Casey Evans to buy some of the wristbands that she was selling in aid of the Nic Cruwys fund.  A lovely effort, which raised £200.

The players had to wait a long time on the pitch before the second half kicked off, presumably to keep time with the TV games.  Watford had an early attack as Connolly played a gorgeous dink to Deeney whose shot was blocked by Buxton, who needed treatment afterwards.  From the eventual corner, the ball came out to Layun whose shot from outside the box was well wide of the target.   At the other end Maguire attempted a shot that flew well over the bar.  Anya crossed for Motta who delayed his shot so was closed down when a welly may well have been a better option.  A Vydra cross was met with a powerful header from Deeney that was wide of the far post.  Then Abdi played a ball over the top for Vydra to run on to, but Kirkland got there first.  Another ball was played over the top, this time for Deeney but Kirkland was out of his area to clear.  Vydra gave the ball away in midfield, but the Wednesday player could not get the better of the Watford defence and the ball was shepherded out for a goal kick.  Watford’s first substitution saw Motta replaced by Paredes.  Abdi crossed into the box for Deeney, who chested the ball down, but the flag was up for offside.  Jokanovic made a second substitution with 20 minutes to go replacing Anya with Tözsér.  Deeney fed Abdi who was bearing down on goal, but Kirkland was down to block the shot.  Watford’s final substitution saw Ighalo replacing Vydra who left the field to a standing ovation.

Slavisa Jokanovic post match

Slavisa Jokanovic post match

With five minutes to go, people started streaming down the steps of the Rookery to gather pitchside for an invasion.  It all seemed a bit premature as there was still only one goal in it.  Then a flare was thrown on the pitch.  A steward went to retrieve it and another was thrown at him.  The rest of the Rookery let the idiot who threw the flares know exactly what they thought of him.  In the final minutes of the game, Abdi played a ball into the box for Ighalo, but he couldn’t reach it.  In time added on, we gave away a stupid free kick in a dangerous position.  There was a delay before the kick could be taken as a moron had wandered on to the pitch.  The free-kick was met with a defensive header, but we couldn’t get the ball clear and my heart broke when I saw the ball hit the net.  Watford tried to regain the lead with a tremendous shot from Tözsér that required a good save from Kirkland to keep it out.  Watford won a succession of corners which were hampered by the fans on the goalline.  The final whistle went with a Wednesday player breaking forward and Gomes still upfield after the corners.

Deeney having a well deserved celebration

Deeney having a well deserved celebration

There was a huge pitch invasion.  I have to say that, while I am all for pitch invasions when the game is over, it was disappointing to see how many people were more concerned with getting selfies on the pitch than with the result of the game.  I felt totally deflated and, talking to many people afterwards, that was a common feeling.  Eventually the pitch was cleared and the players came out.  Jon Marks interviewed a number of them on the pitch and eventually reached Troy Deeney who said how p*ssed off he was but then launched into a chant of “Watford FC” which brought a smile back to my face.

It was a sombre post match gathering, as it had all been a bit of an anti-climax.  We had made enough chances to have won several games and ended up losing the title to Wednesday’s only on-target shot.  But there was time to reflect on the tremendous job that the team and the staff have done this season.  The team is talented, hard-working and they play for each other with a great team spirit.  In years to come this will be a squad that is regarded with much affection.  It will be a hard job next season, but I believe that we already have a number of players who will shine in the Premier League.  It will be an exciting new adventure.  We now have the Summer to recover and get ourselves ready.  When are the fixtures out???

 

We are Going Up!

A kind greeting from our hosts

A kind greeting from our hosts

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

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

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

The teams emerge to streamers

The teams emerge to streamers

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

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

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

Celebrating Deeney's goal

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

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

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

Gomes in action

Gomes in action

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

Watson lines up a free kick

Watson lines up a free kick

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

Vydra runs back from celebrating his goal

Vydra runs back from celebrating his goal

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

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

Celebrating the win and a step nearer to promotion

Celebrating the win and a step nearer to promotion

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

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

Top of the Table

Flag in the Lower GT

Flag in the Lower GT

The nerves started on Friday night when Norwich played Middlesbrough.  If truth be told, a draw would have been the best result, but a Boro win was a decent second option.  However, the result of that game was irrelevant if we didn’t win on Saturday.

I have a recurring nightmare in which I am desperately trying to get to a match and events conspire to stop me.  The most recent variant of this had me on a train with a load of yobs who had caused delays, and it was clear that I wasn’t going to get to the stadium for kick-off.  Thankfully I woke up, remembered that I was driving to the game and was at the West Herts by 12:45.  Given the pre-match nerves it was hard to enjoy the gathering, although an unexpected appearance by Toddy was a welcome and delightful distraction.

The spectacle in the Rookery

The spectacle in the Rookery

When I reached Occupation Road, Doreen in the Bill Mainwood hut had sold out of programmes, but I was determined not to see this as a bad omen.  Positive thinking was the order of the day.  That was certainly the ethos of the 1881 who had ensured that the flags were out in force in the Rookery and, throughout the home areas, it was great to see the sea of yellow.

As on Wednesday there were four changes with Hoban, Paredes, Layun and Vydra replacing Connolly, Anya, Motta and Ighalo.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Cathcart, Angella, Paredes, Layun, Watson, Guedioura, Abdi, Vydra and Deeney.  Former Watford youngster Rob Kiernan started for the visitors and the legend that is Robbo was on their bench.

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

My hope for the game was much the same as on Wednesday.  Let us score early and often.  We started very brightly with an exchange of passes between Vydra and Guedioura finishing in a shot from Matej that was blocked.  Watson found Deeney on the right but Troy’s cross was too long and there was nobody to get on the end of it.  It had been all Watford until the 10th minute when Shinnie surged into the box, but Paredes was there to nick the ball off his feet before he could shoot.  Watford continued to dominate without mustering a shot on goal worthy of the name and in the 18th minute Birmingham had a free kick on the corner of the box which was headed clear by Hoban.  Watford broke forward through Guedioura who fed Deeney, his shot was blocked and the ball fell to Vydra whose shot appeared to hit the roof of the net.  There were wild celebrations in the Rookery until we realized that the ball had actually rebounded off the crossbar.  Vydra was straight back on the attack but this time his shot was wide of the far post.  Then Vydra battled into the box and passed to Abdi who moved the ball on to Guedioura whose shot was blocked.  The Algerian had the next goal attempt but his shot from distance was easily caught by Randolph.  Just before the half hour Watford had a great chance to take the lead as Vydra found Abdi who advanced into the box but his shot was deflected wide of the far post.  Deeney was the next to threaten the Birmingham goal as he latched on to a lovely ball from Guedioura but Randolph was down to block his shot.  The visitors threatened briefly with a shot from Donaldson that was straight at Gomes.  It was then Deeney’s turn to hit a shot that was easily caught.  Deeney’s next shot bounced off a defender for a corner.  As we approached the 44th minute, a shot from Gray was deflected wide by Angella.  Gomes rose to catch the corner as the applause rang out for Nic Cruwys, and it was very gratifying at that point to see the Birmingham fans joining in.

So at half time we were drawing, Bournemouth were a goal down to Sheffield Wednesday and we were reflecting that we had had all the possession, were playing some lovely football, but there was no end product.  However, more of the same and we would surely make the breakthrough.

Inspired substitution

Inspired substitution

Early in the second half, a forward run by Vydra was stopped when he was pushed over on the edge of the area, but the referee gave nothing.  The first goal chance of the second period fell to the visitors as Donaldson beat Angella and unleashed a shot which Gomes parried.  Jokanovic decided to make an early double substitution replacing Layun and Vydra with Anya and Ighalo.  It turned out to be an inspired move as Deeney passed to Anya on the overlap and his cross was met with a scissor kick volley by Cathcart to put Watford into the lead.  The celebrations in the stands were massive.  After the goal the Rookery had a bounce and it was lovely to see fellow bouncers in the SEJ stand, but I was amazed to see some in the Upper GT.  Unprecedented behaviour that will surely lead to season tickets being rescinded.  The first caution of the game went to Birmingham’s Grounds for a foul on Deeney.  Watford had a great chance to increase their lead as Angella came running in to connect with an Abdi free kick.

Celebrating Cathcart's wonder goal

Celebrating Cathcart’s wonder goal

Gabriele ended up in the net but, sadly, his header cleared the bar.  Then Anya ran down the left wing and cut into the box but his shot was wide of the near post.  Goalscorer Cathcart was the next to see yellow as he hacked Gray down on the wing.  Deeney benefited from a ball rebounding off the referee, he found Guedioura who fed Anya whose shot was blocked, although it would have gone wide anyway.  Deeney then tried a shot from distance that was deflected wide.  Angella had another great goal attempt from an Abdi corner, this time his header was on target and had to be cleared off the line.  Guedioura broke into the Birmingham box, but his shot was blocked for a corner.  Deeney ran onto a through ball and his shot hit the angle of the crossbar and post but the flag was up for offside.  Anya was taken down on the side of the penalty area.  The free kick was from an acute angle and pushed clear by Randolph.  At the other end, a Birmingham free-kick was headed wide by Kiernan.  Jokanovic made a final change late bringing Tözsér on for Abdi.  Into time added on, the Watford crowd were singing their hearts out, encouraging their team on to the win.

Attacking a corner

Attacking a corner

At the final whistle there were tremendous celebrations, but they were slightly tinged with disappointment at the news filtering through that Bournemouth had come from behind to win.  All the same, as the team did their tour of the stands to thank the crowd, the Rookery was still packed with fans waving flags and chanting.  Promotion was now in our own hands.  When the players had all left the pitch we made our way into the concourse.  As we waited for my brother-in-law, the TV was showing the Sky Sports reporter at the Goldsands giving what I assumed was the round-up of the game.  Then Nigel appeared and informed us that Sheffield Wednesday had won a penalty and the picture on the screen took on a different significance.  There was a group of fans celebrating behind the reporter and I could have sworn that their shirts were red but then the word ‘goal’ appeared on the screen and the celebration in the Rookery concourse was probably more mental than that at the game itself.  There was an agonizing wait for the final whistle but, at last, the final score was confirmed sparking another manic celebration in the concourse.

As we made our way up Occupation Road, the sun shining down was nothing like as bright as the huge smiles of the Watford faithful.  It is all in our hands now.  Two wins and we go up as champions.

In a pre-match interview, Troy Deeney was asked about pressure, “You could be struggling to pay your bills or playing a game of football.  To win one game of football.  That’s not pressure, that is enjoyment.”  Well said that man.  Two more wins and he’ll be a title-winning captain.  I just hope my nerves can take it.

Forest Felled

Going to a football match on April 15th has a special significance.  On that day in 1989 I was on a sparsely populated terrace at Swindon when I was told that “a wall had fallen down” at the semi-final at Hillsborough.  The reality of what had actually happened unfolded on the way home and it beggars belief that it is only now that the truth about the events of that day is coming into the open.  In common with most football fans, particularly those who regularly attended games in the 80s, I look forward to the day when the 96 and their families finally receive justice.

Cloughie

Cloughie

It was a lovely day when I arrived in Nottingham and the first pre-match pint was taken sitting outside.  We discussed the upcoming game and the previous evening’s results as the sun went down, and it was hard to determine which contributed most to the shivering.  The real shame when so much is at stake is that the fun gets taken out of watching the game as you just want to get it over and know the result.

Team news was four changes for the Hornets with Cathcart, Motta, Abdi and Ighalo in for Hoban, Paredes, Tözsér and Vydra.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Connolly, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Abdi, Watson, Guedioura, Motta, Deeney and Ighalo.

My position in the City Ground was in the back row under the overhang, so I expected plenty of noise to be generated.  I was also delighted to find that I was in exalted company as the Rowson men were sitting next to me.

Returning to the centre circle after Ighalo's goal

Returning to the centre circle after Ighalo’s goal

There was a fright for the visitors in the first minute as a mis-hit shot from Antonio reached Burke whose shot was repelled by the feet of Gomes.  In the fourth minute, a group of lads were walking along our row trying to find their seats.  I stopped the fella who was about to stand in front of me as Abdi took a corner.  That proved to be a smart move as it meant I had a clear view of Ighalo’s header which gave us the lead.  Before the game I had expressed the hope that goals would come early and often.  The first criterion was met, I was fervently hoping that the second would be too.  I was to be disappointed.  Watford won another corner soon after, but this one was headed over by Cathcart.  At the other end, Connolly made a great tackle in the box, which he followed with a block on a shot but the danger wasn’t cleared and Gomes had to pull off two saves in quick succession to shots from distance, first from Antonio and then Osborn.

Deeney imparts instructions

Deeney imparts instructions

Gomes then showed his bravery as he dropped to push a shot from Gardner clear at the post as a Forest player closed in.  Gardner was the next to threaten the Watford goal with a shot from distance, but Gomes was behind the ball and caught it comfortably.  We were allowing the home side far too much possession at this stage and it wasn’t doing my nerves any good at all.  On 22 minutes, Watford had a great chance to increase their lead as Ighalo found Abdi one-on-one with the keeper, but Almen shot wide of the target when it looked easier to score.  A lovely passing move finished with a shot from Guedioura which cleared the bar.  Just after the half hour Forest had another shot at goal from Antonio, but again Gomes was behind the ball.  Abdi won a free-kick in a dangerous position.  He stepped up to take it himself and struck it well, but Darlow was across the goal to gather.  Gomes then pulled off a brilliant save as he dropped to the near post to keep out a shot from Lichaj.  Ighalo received the ball in a dangerous position, but his shot was straight at the Forest keeper.  Watford nerves were settled somewhat as Watford scored a second just before half time.  Connolly won the ball on the edge of the Watford box and went haring upfield before playing the ball out to Ighalo whose shot was saved but Connolly had continued his run so was on hand to turn in the rebound.  Gomes was called into action again as Antonio cut the ball back to Gardner whose shot from the edge of the area was saved.  On the 44 minute mark, the travelling Hornets were in full voice with applause and a chant of “One of our own” in support of Nic Cruwys.

At the break we felt a little fortunate to be two goals ahead.  Gomes had been the star of the show, but credit should be given for the fact that we had scored the goals that we needed.

Abdi anticipating a pass

Abdi anticipating a pass

Watford had an early chance in the second period as Anya met a Motta cross with a lovely volley but Darlow was able to turn it around the post.  From the corner Watson’s shot was blocked.  Forest’s first chance of the half came from an Antonio cut back but Burke’s shot was way over the bar.  The first booking of the game went to Deeney for a foul on Antonio that was borne out of frustration.  Gomes was in action soon after, saving a shot from the edge of the area by Burke.  Abdi’s was the next name in the referee’s book as he took one for the team in stopping a break by Burke.  Just before the hour mark, Forest received their first caution as Wilson was dismissed for lashing out at Ighalo, who was a little fortunate not to see a card for his retaliation.  Two goals up and with ten men in opposition, we really should have capitalized, but this is Watford and we insist on making things difficult for ourselves.  The first chance of this period did fall to the visitors as Watson found Abdi, whose shot was blocked for a corner.  Watford’s first substitution saw goalscorer Connolly make way for Hoban.  Motta was then booked for what looked like a nothing foul on Antonio and was replaced soon after by Paredes.

Tozser lines up a free kick

Tozser lines up a free kick

With 20 minutes to go Deeney gave the ball away to Lichaj, who was brought down by Cathcart on the edge of the Watford area.  Gardner’s free kick flew over the wall and in off the crossbar to halve the deficit.  Watford’s final substitution saw Anya make way for Tözsér.  Watford had a chance to regain their two goal lead with a cross from Ighalo that Angella headed wide.  Then Abdi broke into the Forest box and hit a shot that was blocked when a pass to a player in space may have been the better decision.  Heart rates were raised in the away end as a cross was allowed to drift across the Watford box but Gardner met it with a poor shot that was well off target.  Ighalo had a decent chance, but Darlow was able to keep it out.  Then Deeney played a one-two with Ighalo in the box but, again, Darlow was able to block the shot.  At the other end, a shot from Gardner was parried by Gomes and Antonio’s follow-up was poor and flew wide, much to the relief of the Watford faithful at the other end of the ground.

A blurred goal celebration

A blurred goal celebration

Former Watford loanee, Henri Lansbury made a late substitute appearance for Forest.  Abdi went on a run into the Forest box, he appeared to be fouled all the way but stayed on his feet and was frustrated to see Darlow gather the ball.  Almen wasn’t to be frustrated for long as a great shot from Guedioura was blocked and rebounded back to him, so he buried it much to the relief of the travelling Hornets whose nervous mutterings were suddenly replaced with encouraging roars.  Forest tried to strike back with an ambitious shot from distance from Gardner that flew well over the target.  “We want four,” rang out from the away end and Abdi tried to make it so but his shot from distance was over the bar.  The final whistle went to relieved cheers from the Hornets faithful.  It hadn’t been a particularly good performance, but Gomes had played a blinder, we’d scored three goals and we had the three points.  We are now guaranteed a place in the play-offs, but the battle for automatic promotion places looks as though it will continue to the final game.

It was back to a lovely local pub for a couple of post-match pints to settle our nerves.  We need to rest ourselves up for Saturday while hoping for a favourable result at Carrow Road on Friday night.  It is all to play for in the next three games.

Job Done at the Den

Me and mine at the Den

Me and mine at the Den

After a gorgeous week weather-wise, we awoke to rain on Saturday morning.  But, thankfully, by the time I arrived in London, it had cleared up so I walked along the Thames from Waterloo to London Bridge.  There I met family and friends for lunch at a lovely pub before making the short trip to South Bermondsey.  The train was packed with Watford fans making a lot of noise.  The travelling faithful were full of confidence but, while Millwall were unlikely to provide the sort of challenge that Derby and Middlesbrough did, they were fighting relegation so this was not going to be an easy game.

Jokanovic had made two changes from the Middlesbrough match.  Connolly came in for the injured Cathcart and Vydra was preferred to Ighalo.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Connolly, Anya, Guedioura, Tözsér, Watson, Paredes, Vydra and Deeney.  As they took the field, the Watford players were greeted with ticker tape, streamers and yellow balloons from the travelling Hornets.

The teams take to the pitch

The teams take to the pitch

Watford almost made the perfect start as Tözsér played a ball over to Deeney but Forde was quickly out of his goal to block the shot.  Millwall threatened as Gregory broke forward and appeared to be held back by Hoban which gave Gomes time to gather the ball at his feet.  Gregory had another chance when the ball dropped to him in the box, but his shot was poor and flew well wide.  At the other end, Deeney got on the end of a Guedioura cross but he headed over the bar.  At this point the chanting in the away end turned to the subject of the bizarre pigeon that was suspended from the roof in front of us.  There were loud appeals for a Millwall penalty as Upson went down in the box.  It didn’t look like a penalty from our vantage point, although I would say that.  Thankfully the referee agreed and waved play on.  The visitors had a good chance on the counter attack as Tözsér released Vydra who found Anya on the overlap but the Scot’s cross was disappointingly straight at Forde.

Celebrating Vydra's strike

Celebrating Vydra’s strike

Watford took the lead on 25 minutes as a lovely long pass from Tözsér found Anya on the left, he cut it back to Vydra who hit a clever volley into the corner.  It was a gorgeous goal well worthy of a manic celebration.  We could have been two up soon afterwards as Paredes found Vydra who couldn’t get a shot in so moved the ball on to Watson whose shot was well wide of the target.  Another Watford chance went begging as Deeney found Anya on the left but his low cross was just too far in front of Vydra.  Millwall had a chance to hit back with a free kick in a dangerous area, but Upson directed the ball well over the bar.  Watford almost pushed the self-destruct button as Angella failed to shepherd the ball out, thankfully it was eventually cleared.  In the next move, the ball reached Woolford in the box but Gomes dropped to save his shot.  Needless to say, the 44th minute was greeted with applause and chants of “One of our own” for Nic Cruwys, about whom it was good to hear some positive news this week.  Millwall had a great chance of an equalizer just before half time as a shot from Abdou came through a crowd of players and Gomes seemed to see it late, but managed the save.

So we reached half-time a goal to the good.  It hadn’t been a classic performance from Watford, but Vydra had scored with a lovely strike and Millwall, despite having a lot of possession, had not really threatened the Watford goal.  There was encouraging news from the other grounds as the half-time scores meant that we would overtake Norwich to take second place in the table.  But there was much more important stuff going on at half-time as the tannoy announcer congratulated Gladys Protheroe on the occasion of her 75th birthday.

Tozser places the ball for a free kick

Tozser places the ball for a free kick

Millwall threatened in the first minute of the second half as a header from O’Brien appeared to be blocked on the line.  Deeney then had a chance to increase the lead as the ball rebounded to him in the box, but Forde was out to save at his feet.  At this point the Watford crowd started a chant for our head coach to the tune of Amarillo, which seemed most incongruous.  On 50 minutes Millwall’s Williams hit a free kick just wide of the target.  Watford nerves were settled just before the hour mark as Vydra played the ball to Deeney who advanced before passing to Anya who cut the ball back to Guedioura who fired past Forde in front of the travelling fans who erupted for yet another mental celebration.  The first Watford substitution saw Anya make way for Abdi.  Millwall looked sure to pull a goal back as O’Brien powered into the box, but Gomes made himself huge and blocked the shot.  Watford had a good chance of a third goal as Vydra was one-on-one with Forde but the keeper managed to gather the ball.

Gomes takes a goal kick

Gomes takes a goal kick

Gomes did brilliantly to keep his clean sheet as he punched a header clear with Maierhofer closing in.  Both players ended up on the turf, but there was no harm done.  A run down the wing by Abdi was stopped by a hack from Nelson.  The Millwall man received a yellow card for the foul and, thankfully, Almen was fit to continue after treatment.  The home side wasted another chance as Gueye met a cross from Martin with a poor volley that cleared the target.  The home fans appealed in vain for another penalty as a shot was blocked by the chest (arm?) of Angella.  Into the final 10 minutes there was another shot from Gueye which was easily gathered by Gomes.  Jokanovic made his second substitution replacing Vydra, who was given an ovation from the Watford fans, with Ighalo, who was greeted in a similar manner.  The Nigerian almost made an immediate impact as Guedioura found him in the box but Forde was there to block his shot and then reached up to push the rebound away from the head of Abdi.  A quite brilliant double stop from the Galwegian.

Ighalo replaces Vydra

Ighalo replaces Vydra

Deeney had a great chance to increase the lead with a powerful shot from an Abdi cross, but Forde pulled off another fantastic save to deny him.  When Guedioura found Abdi in space, you would have put your house on Almen scoring from that position, but he hit it well wide, much to the bemusement of the travelling Hornets.  Watford made a final substitution in time added on as Motta replaced Paredes, who left the field with the jeers of the home fans ringing in his ears as he had just fallen rather theatrically under a challenge.  The final whistle went on a convincing win by the Hornets which was slightly marred as news of Norwich’s injury time winner filtered through.  Abdi’s miss and Forde’s brilliant saves suddenly took on a greater significance.

But it was job done for the Hornets who remain third in the table and have cut the gap in goal difference to a single goal.  So, we have four games remaining, which will all feel like cup finals.  Both players and fans have to approach them with the belief that we can win every game and score enough goals to gain automatic promotion.  See you all at the City Ground on Wednesday.

A Very Happy Easter for the Hornets

Nigel does his part in raising a flag for the Hornets

Nigel does his part in raising a flag for the Hornets

Monday afternoon saw part 2 of the Easter promotion challenge.  After the drama of the game at Pride Park, the nerves were kicking in again for the visit of Middlesbrough.  Due to the lunchtime kick-off, the West Herts was not open before the game so, for the first time in many years, I was at the ground before the gates opened.  When I gained access to the stadium, I saw that Roy and the 1881 lads were placing large flags throughout the Rookery.

Team news was that there were three changes with Anya, Tözsér and Paredes replacing Vydra, Layun and the suspended Motta.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Guedioura, Watson, Tözsér, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney.  It was good to see both Vydra and Adbi on the bench in case they were needed.

The crowd was swelled by a group from Genk who were supporting their former players, Pudil, Tozser and Vossen.  The were cheers when each of the players’ names was announced and enthusiastic applause for Daniel Pudil’s warm up runs down the touchline during the game.

Deeney chasing his quarry down

Deeney chasing his quarry down

The tension ratcheted up before kick-off.  The “We are Watford” video was shown and then the players emerged to a wall of noise and a great spectacle from the flags.  The Middlesbrough fans had one small banner about “Belief” which looked pitiful in comparison.  Round one to the Hornets then.

There was a tentative start to the game from both sides.  The first goal attempt came after 9 minutes and fell to the home side as Deeney headed a cross from Anya over the bar.  For the visitors, Leadbitter tried to catch Gomes out with an audacious free kick from distance, but the Watford keeper was equal to it.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead as Anya played a one-two with Ighalo and unleashed a shot that was saved by the feet of the Boro keeper.  Angella was the next to threaten the Boro goal, but his header from a Tözsér corner went wide.  The first card of the afternoon was shown to Boro’s Reach for a hack on Tözsér.  Deeney exchanged passes with Ighalo and fired a shot from distance that was wide of the target.

Congratulating Deeney on his 20th goal of the season

Congratulating Deeney on his 20th goal of the season

Watford almost pushed the self-destruct button in taking a quick free kick that was cut out and allowed the visitors to launch a counter attack that finished with a shot from Bamford which, thankfully, was blocked.  Soon after, a cross from Friend was volleyed goalwards by Tomlin but Gomes was behind the shot.  On 36 minutes, Watford took the lead in some style as Guedioura played a gorgeous long pass to Deeney in the box who hit the ball past Konstantopoulos into the far corner.  Cue mayhem in the home stands.  That goal gave Deeney the distinction of being the first Watford player to score 20 or more goals in three consecutive seasons.  Quite a remarkable record.  On 44 minutes, the Watford fans rose to their feet for the tremendous ovation of support for Nic Cruwys who remains in the thoughts of all of us.

If truth be told, there had been very little action of note in the first half.  But we had scored a terrific goal and, given the levels of fatigue after Friday’s game, I had been very impressed at the work rate of the Watford players.  They were giving the visitors no space, nor any time on the ball.  To distract us from our worries about the second half, there was a half-time egg and spoon race between Harry Hornet and a Nando’s chicken.  Needless to say, our Harry won by a country mile.  Hopefully that was to be a good omen.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

Watford had the better of the opening exchanges in the second half.  Ighalo released Guedioura who found Anya, but his cross went begging due to the lack of any Watford player in the box.  Boro then threatened the Watford goal as a cross from Friend was turned just wide by Adomah.  At the other end, Guedioura played a through ball to Ighalo whose shot was easily caught by Konstantopoulos.  Watford’s first substitution came on the hour mark when Cathcart was replaced by Connolly.  Watford had another chance to increase their lead as the ball fell to Watson outside the area but his shot was deflected wide.  From the corner, Angella headed over the bar.  My notes about the next incident read, “Watson to Ighalo, wallop!” which does a great disservice to the Nigerian who did brilliantly to beat Woodgate and hit the target.  In mitigation, I would say that my goal celebration probably left my brain starved of oxygen.  I had been counting down the minutes in the second half until that point.  The second goal gave us some breathing room.

Ighalo's goal celebration obscured by that in the stands

Ighalo’s goal celebration obscured by that in the stands

The goal was Ighalo’s last contribution to the game as he was replaced by Vydra.  We now have strikers on 20 and 19 goals for the season, so why not give Matej a chance to improve his tally.  Middlesbrough tried to strike back as Friend broke into the Watford box but there was Tommie Hoban to make a quite brilliant tackle.  Reach tried a hopeful shot from distance that was well wide of the far post.  Then Kike got under a header that flew well over the bar.  Deeney was the next to try a shot from distance that was deflected wide.  From the corner, Troy headed the ball out to Guedioura whose dipping shot was goalbound until it was tipped over by Konstantopoulos.  Into the last 10 minutes, Friend shot well wide of the far post.  Middlesbrough’s best chance of pulling a goal back came with a ball over the top to Kike who unleashed a shot that Gomes pushed out for a corner.  The final Watford substitution saw Layun come on for Guedioura who was given a rapturous ovation as he left the pitch.  The final whistle went to loud cheers and waving flags.

It had been a terrific performance from the Hornets who, once we went ahead, had never really looked like anything other than winners.  It had been an equally superb performance in the stands where the fans got behind the team throughout the game.

So, before the rest of the division kicked off, Watford topped the table.  Later results did not go our way, but we will have taken a lot of confidence from our performances this weekend, which will set us in good stead for the run-in.  There is a lot of football still to be played, and will be plenty more twists in the tale before May 2nd.  Let’s just enjoy the football and continue the terrific support.