Tag Archives: George Thorne

A Happy Homecoming

The Clough and Taylor statue is a gorgeous thing

The Clough and Taylor statue is a gorgeous thing

I have been away for a month travelling through Australia and New Zealand, so have followed the recent drama from afar.  I cheered when we topped the table.  Was horrified to hear of the dreadful attack on Nic Cruwys, my thoughts remain with him and his family.  I was also greatly saddened to hear of the loss of Guy Judge, a passionate Watford fan and friend to many.  He will be greatly missed by his Watford friends and family.

After so long away, it was a little odd to be setting off for a game again.  I left far too early and managed to forget my replica shirt.  When I arrived in the pre-match pub in rainy Derby, there was no sign of my companions, so I went to look upstairs but was told it was closed until 6.  I then heard my name being called …. from upstairs.  The security man looked shamefaced, “There have been infiltrators,” so I ducked under the guard rope to join my party.  When a couple more infiltrators arrived soon after, Mr Security gave up and opened the upstairs bar.

When we reached the ground, there was a terrific atmosphere in the concourse.  And, when the players came out, they were greeted with ticker tape, balloons and streamers.  There was no mistaking how important this game was to the travelling fans.

The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Motta, Guedioura, Watson, Layun, Ighalo, Deeney and Vydra.  Watford old boy, Forsyth started for Derby with former loanee Thorne back from his long-term injury.

Celebrating Vydra's goal

Celebrating Vydra’s goal

The first notable incident was an early card for Ben Watson who lost out to Bryson and hit back with a late tackle.  Watford’s first goal attempt came on 11 minutes when Deeney got on the end of a Layun corner but directed the ball wide of the goal.  At the other end, a Bent shot was deflected for a corner.  From the set piece, the ball was cut back to Bent but Gomes was alert, stuck a foot out and turned the shot around the post.  At the other end, Ighalo tried a shot from distance that was deflected wide.  Then Deeney won the ball on the right and advanced but there was no Watford player in the box to meet his cross.  Deeney had another chance to put the visitors ahead with a header from a Motta cross, but he directed it straight at Grant in the Derby goal.  Watford took the lead on 23 minutes as Vydra won the ball, played it to Ighalo then advanced into the box to receive the return and blast it past Grant to send the travelling Hornets into delirium.  There were chants of “We are top of the league,” but it was far too early for that.

Cathcart lines up a free kick

Cathcart lines up a free kick

Hughes had a chance to equalize almost immediately as his shot from distance was just narrowly wide of the target.  Thorne’s return to action didn’t last very long as he had to be replaced by Hendrick.  Bent broke into the Watford box, but he didn’t have the ball under control so Gomes was able to come and gather the ball.  Ince tumbled dramatically on the edge of the box and, with the crowd shouting for a penalty, Watford launched a counter attack where a ball over the top to Deeney led to a collision between the striker and the keeper.  At the other end, Bent had another chance with a header but he’d mistimed his jump so it was well wide of the target.  Another Derby attack was thwarted as Angella tackled with a back heel, total class.  The Derby forwards were then frustrated by some diligent harrying from Vydra putting in a shift in the defence.  Watford threatened again as Guedioura picked up a loose ball and broke into the box, his shot was saved by Grant and Deeney was unable to connect for the follow-up.

Motta takes a throw

Motta takes a throw

Another good Derby cross was missed by Bent, who then got the ball stuck under his feet when he found himself on the edge of the Watford area, so did not threaten the goal.  Ince then broke into the box but his shot was deflected for a corner.  Derby equalized just before half-time.  I must admit that my first impression of Motta’s challenge on Russell was that it had been a brilliant tackle, so I was gutted when Kevin Friend first pointed to the spot and then showed Motta a red card.  Not again!!  Bent, whose goal attempts so far had been somewhat wanting, stepped up and beat Gomes from the spot.

Needless to say, the conversation at half time was about the penalty incident.  Texts from friends watching the game on TV shared the pundits’ opinion that it was a penalty but the card was harsh.  Whatever the truth of the matter, we felt hard done by and were not relishing the prospect of the second period.

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

At the start of the second half, it was no surprise when Jokanovic sacrificed one of the strikers for Tözsér.  The only surprise was that it was Vydra who went off rather than Ighalo, who had had a rather frustrating first period.  The visitors started the half well and there was a taste of things to come as Guedioura played a lovely through ball for Deeney who, unfortunately, couldn’t reach it.  Deeney then had a couple of chances to regain the lead with, first, a header from a Tözsér free-kick that needed a good save from Grant to keep it out.  Then the ball found its way back to Troy but his shot from distance was wide of the target.  But it was the home side who took the lead as Ince skipped into the box and shot into the far corner past Gomes.  My heart sank.  Jokanovic decided to change things bringing Anya on for Layun.  The next notable action was another booking, this time for Deeney, for what could only be described as a coming together that ended with Shotton rolling dramatically on the ground.  What was particularly galling about this card was that Deeney was trying to get the ball near the Derby penalty area.  If you can’t challenge for a ball in that area of the field, you might as well give up.  An attempted forward break by Ince was stopped by a lovely tackle.

Heroes all

Heroes all

The Watford equalizer was a thing of beauty and played out right in front of us, so we got a wonderful view as Guedioura played a peach of a pass into the path of Ighalo who coolly tucked it past Grant sparking mayhem in the away end.  It was no more than we deserved at that point as we’d had a great spell.  McLaren reacted to the goal by bringing Chris Martin on.  A moment of carelessness soon after nearly undid all our good work as Ighalo gave the ball away to Bent who advanced and shot but was foiled by the legs of Gomes.  Jokanovic made a defensive substitution sacrificing Ighalo, who left the field to loud chants of his name, for Connolly.  It was backs against the wall stuff for the last 10 minutes.  Ince had a great chance to regain the lead for Derby as he turned and shot but directed his effort over the bar.  Hearts were in mouths as Angella tried to shepherd the ball out but had the ball nicked off his feet by a Derby player whose cross was cleared by Cathcart.  The fourth official held up the board to show six added minutes.  “Where did he get 6 minutes from,” asked the bloke next to me.  “McLaren” was my churlish reply.  My abiding memory of those interminable minutes was of 10 Watford players lining up across the field deep in their own half, which seemed a bit risky but the only real goal chance that the home side had was the last action of the game as a header from Keogh was brilliantly tipped over by Gomes.

The whistle went to huge cheers from the travelling Hornets.  The Derby players slumped to the ground, they needed 3 points from this game.  Our lads were completely exhausted and I was trembling due to the stress of the previous 20 minutes.  The players were given such a rapturous reception that you would have thought they’d won the game.  Nobody seemed to want to leave the away stand, it was reminiscent of games in the 80s when we were kept in for 15 minutes after the final whistle.  So we were all still there when Guedioura came over after receiving his man of the match award and was given a hero’s ovation and responded in kind.

Post match drinks went on long into the night with reflections on how much fun we’ve had following Watford this season.  We need a win on Monday, but the brave second half performance has set us up rather nicely.  It’s good to be home.

More Fight Off than On the Pitch

The teams emerge from the tunnel

The teams emerge from the tunnel

I woke up on Saturday feeling distinctly unwell, having had a cold for a couple of days.  I was so tempted to put the covers over my head and stay there for the day, but I dosed myself up with cold medication and made the journey to Pride Park.  I shouldn’t have bothered.

Team news was a couple of surprising changes as Almunia, Angella and Abdi all missed out due to injury and were replaced by Bond, Doyley and Battocchio.  Jakubiak was back from Braintree to take a place on the bench.  The starting line-up was Bond, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Doyley, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Battocchio, Riera, Ranegie and Deeney, who was captain for the day.  Watford old boy, Forsyth, started for Derby alongside previous loanee, Thorne, and Hemel’s Lee Grant whose finest hour, I’m led to believe, was playing for a (Watford fanzine) CYHSYF team.  The much missed John Eustace was on the bench.

Congratulating Deeney

Congratulating Deeney

It was all go in the fourth minute of the game with a booking and a goal.  First Cassetti received a yellow card for a foul on Russell.  Then Battocchio played a through ball to Deeney, who appeared out of nowhere to hit the ball into the roof of the net.  This season, we have had a nasty habit of sitting back and defending early leads with disastrous consequences.  I feared a repeat of that scenario but, rather than sitting back, we just stopped playing.  Deeney was in action at the other end soon after getting in a block as Ward turned and shot.  Then Forsyth cut the ball back, but it was cleared by Cassetti for a corner from which Ward’s shot was high and wide.  Ward was the danger man again as he skipped around a tackle from Ekstrand, advanced and shot wide of the far post.  Riera was

Indicating a free-kick

Indicating a free-kick

the second Watford player to be booked, but I didn’t see the challenge.  Derby really should have scored as we failed to clear a corner and the ball dropped to Martin, but he shot wide when he appeared to have an empty goal to aim at.  Martin had another decent chance with a cross to the near post, but Ekstrand’s attentions ensured he missed the target.  Watford finally made another attacking break twenty minutes after the goal, but McGugan’s shot from distance flew well over the bar.  Just before the half hour, Derby got their equalizer as Watford failed to deal with a cross into the box, Pudil could only head the ball on to Hendrick who poked it past Bond.  The home side could have taken the lead soon after as Ranegie dwelt too long on the ball and was robbed by Thorne who played

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

in Ward whose shot was saved by the feet of Bond.  A back heel to Derby player of the season, Bryson, teed him up to shoot but Pudil blocked his attempt.  Ward then got the ball in the box, and seemed to be there for ages before he found space for a shot that flew just wide.  In the 40th minute, a rare Watford attack saw McGugan play a one-two with Ranegie, his first shot was blocked, the follow-up went behind the goal.  Our ball retention had been appalling and another misplaced pass allowed Forsyth to set up Hendrick who shot wide.  In time added on McGugan fed Riera whose shot was blocked, the rebound looked about to fall to Battocchio in a great position for a shot, but McGugan picked it up and crossed for Ranegie whose header was too high.

That had been a truly shocking first half performance from Watford.  How we were level was a complete mystery.  “They are already on holiday” was the consensus in the concourse.

An effort flies wide of the target

An effort flies wide of the target

As the crowd returned to their seats for the second half there was a bizarre scuffle a couple of rows in front of me which was broken up by friends of the combatants.  I have no idea what started it, but one of those involved who, at first glance, appeared to be a gentle grandfatherly type, then spent the next five minutes offering a 30 year-old out.  Quite how he thought this would end well for him is a mystery to me and to his mates who were practically sitting on him to stop him causing any more trouble.

Watford started the second half brightly as a Deeney shot from distance looped into Grant’s arms.  Then a header from Ekstrand reached Ranegie whose attempt was blocked.  At this point, it was sad to see Ekstrand being carried off the pitch, he was replaced by Hoban.

However, it was hard to concentrate on matters on the pitch as the pensioner hoolie was still carrying on in front of us and the stewards waded in.  To be fair, the stewards dealt brilliantly with the incident and allowed the friends to act as peacemakers rather than just

Lining up to defend

Lining up to defend

dragging people out as is so often the case.  On the pitch, a cross from Pudil really should have been dealt with, but was allowed to roll across in front of goal but sadly Deeney couldn’t get a touch to turn it goalwards.  It was then McGugan’s turn to limp off and be replaced by Anya.  Derby went a goal up on the hour mark as Bryson and Russell exchanged passes before finding Forsyth who powered the ball into the roof of the net from the edge of the box.  Derby were immediately on a mission to increase their lead as Cassetti was robbed, Bond blocked Martin’s effort and Russell’s follow-up was wide of the far post.  Then a shot from Hendrick bobbled wide and a cross was met by a header from Ward that was just wide of the far post.  Martin then curled a shot wide from the edge of the box.  I was too busy trying to make out the number of the striker (gold on black and white stripes is a nightmare), so completely missed Cassetti’s sending off after getting a second yellow for a foul in  the build-up.  As that will probably be the last time we’ll see him in a Watford shirt, it was a very sad way to end to his time with us.

Ranegie receives congratulations

Ranegie receives congratulations

Quite unbelievably, we were level on 70 minutes.  Anya went on a run into the box and crossed for Ranegie to head past Grant.  This was one of those goals that you celebrate with a certain embarrassment as it was so completely undeserved.  Derby immediately tried to strike back as Riera was robbed by Ward in the box, but his shot was saved by Bond.  Russell then tried a shot from the edge of the area which was blocked.  There was then a rash of substitutions as Ward and Russell were replaced by Dawkins and Bamford for the home side while Faraoni came on for Ranegie for the Hornets.  Anya tried another cross, but Deeney couldn’t reach it and it went out for a throw.  I missed Derby’s third goal as the pensioner hoolie decided to launch his attack at this point, so I was distracted by the revolting sight of his builder’s bum as he sat down in front of me before grabbing the neck of the 30 year old’s father who was sitting quietly with his wife and, it has to be said, still had 10 years or more on the idiot if he’d decided to take

Anya breaks forward

Anya breaks forward

him up on his offer of a scrap.  Pensioner hoolie’s mates tried to intervene, but this time the stewards were justified in ushering him out.  I hope to goodness that bloke has neither a wife nor a cat as I would fear for them when he got home.  Back to the game, the replay on the screen showed that the Derby goal had been a shot from distance by Hendrick.  With five minutes to go the score became a fairer reflection of the game as Derby scored their fourth when Bryson received a pass from Dawkins then played a through ball to Martin who shot past Bond.  That was Martin’s last action of the game as he made way for Hughes.  Watford tried to reduce the deficit as Faraoni met a Tözsér corner with a header at the near post that was blocked by Grant.   In time added on, Bryson tried a shot from the edge of the area but Bond pulled off a good save to keep the score respectable.  For the visitors, Pudil broke forward but his shot was high and wide.  At the final whistle we were well beaten and I couldn’t bring myself to applaud the team as the

The Clough & Taylor statue, a thing of beauty

The Clough & Taylor statue, a thing of beauty

performance had been dreadful.  After applauding the crowd, Deeney came over to the away end and gave away his wristbands.  When he saw a couple of disappointed kids, he took his boots off and made a present of them before leaving the pitch in his socks.

Travelling home with Mick, who generally takes defeat very badly, it was me who had the “raving hump” about the game.  All that money shelled out on a day that would have been better spent wrapped in a blanket with a mug of lemsip.  Mick also reminded me that we’d only won 4 away games this season (and I missed one of those).  But, as we passed through the British countryside on the train journey home, I felt rather sad that this was the last of my Saturdays out following the team until next season.  Despite the disappointment of the game, the days out are always good due to the lovely people that follow our team (with the notable exception of pensioner hoolie).  I’m already looking forward to next season.

A Good Point Against Rangers

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

Despite the tremendous performance and result against Millwall on Boxing Day, the visit of QPR would be a completely different prospect and I approached the game with some trepidation.  The derby nature of this match was indicated by the increased Police presence at the Junction and the huge Met Police van in Shady Lane, which I assume had brought the horses to town.  Pre-match we heard rumours of trouble in the town centre pubs and I was told that there were QPR youngsters chanting in the Rookery concourse but, fortunately, I didn’t witness any trouble either inside or outside the ground.

Team news was of injuries to Anya and Forestieri, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Angella, Doyley, Bellerin, McGugan, Thorne, Murray, Cassetti, Fabbrini and Deeney.

Fabbrini receives a pass

Fabbrini receives a pass

It was the visitors who had the first shot on goal, in the 6th minute, although I use that term loosely as Kranjcar’s attempt almost hit me as it flew into the Rookery.  The Croatian was responsible for the next two shots that I noted: a curler that was easily gathered by Almunia and then another that went wide of the far post.  Watford’s first goal attempt came on 21 minutes as the ball broke to Fabbrini who fed McGugan, but his shot was wayward and didn’t come near to troubling Green.  Then a cross from Cassetti was chested goalwards by Deeney, but was easily caught by Green.  At the other end Hoilett put in a cross which flew over the heads of all gathered in the Watford box.  Soon after, the ball was given away to Kranjcar, but his shot was wide of the target.  Then Fabbrini attempted a

McGugan lines up a free-kick

McGugan lines up a free-kick

run into the QPR box but was met with a robust, but fair, tackle.  Just before the half hour came Watford’s best move of the game so far as Bellerin passed to Deeney who exchanged passes with Murray as they advanced towards the QPR goal.  Murray shot from just outside the box but Green was able to gather the ball safely.  Then there was danger at the other end as Thorne gave the ball away to Hoilett who exchanged passes with Kranjcar who found space to shoot between two Watford defenders, but his shot was just wide.  Next Phillips skipped through the defence but shot wide of the near post.  On 38 minutes, Angella was booked for knocking Kranjcar over in the centre circle.  With five minutes remaining, Carroll delivered a dangerous cross into the box which Almunia parried, the ball bounced about dangerously in the resulting melee and was cleared after which Almunia required treatment.  There was one final goal chance in time added on as Phillips played a low cross in from the right towards Hoilett, but Doyley was on hand to stop the shot, the ball reached Carroll on the left, who crossed it in again, but Hoilett could not connect and we reached half-time goalless.  It hadn’t been pretty, but both teams were defending effectively.

Angella on the ball

Angella on the ball

At the start of the second half, Thorne released McGugan, who was battling the attentions of two defenders as he shot from distance way over the bar.  Almunia was called into action to punch a shot from Phillips clear.  On 51 minutes, Deeney and Fabbrini exchanged passes, the Italian shot goalwards but Green was down to gather the ball.  On 58 minutes, there was a great move down the pitch ending with Deeney putting a through ball to Cassetti who hit a cross off Assou-Ekotto to win a corner.  Angella connected with McGugan’s corner, but his header was over the bar.  On the hour, Phillips was booked for a foul on Fabbrini.  It was good to see the referee take some action at last as he had let a lot go, including some ridiculously blatant pushes.  Barton was then booked as he took Thorne down, although from the other end of the ground it appeared that Thorne

Acuna's appeals fall on deaf ears

Acuna’s appeals fall on deaf ears

fell over him and that booking looked rather harsh, even if it was Barton.  With 20 minutes to go, Johnson replaced Carroll.  On his first foray into the box, he was accompanied by Angella and Doyley who gave him no space to cross or shoot so the ball went out for a goal kick.  Benayoun was then replaced by O’Neil.  Johnson was on the attack again soon after as he ran on to a through ball from Kranjcar, but he was flagged offside.  More substitutions followed as Acuna replaced Fabbrini and Hoilett made way for Traore.  Soon after, McGugan attempted an audacious back heel, but Deeney wasn’t expecting it and stopped his run so the chance was gone.  Then Murray unleashed a long range shot that took a deflection, but Green was behind it.  Acuna was then booked for what appeared to be

Jostling for position at a corner

Jostling for position at a corner

a tame foul.  A spell of attack and counter-attack finished with a back header by Phillips that was well wide of the target.  Then Johnson met a cross from Phillips with a header that flew wide, but the linesman had his flag raised anyway.  With 4 minutes remaining, Battocchio replaced Murray.  In time added on, a free-kick by Barton was deflected into the side netting.  The resultant corner was punched clear by Almunia.  The final action was a cross from Deeney on the run which flew well wide.

It has to be said that this game did not deliver much in the way of entertainment, but it was a very pleasing point and I came away immensely impressed by our defensive efforts against a team that will likely win automatic promotion this season.

Taming the Lions

Harry Hornet and Almunia prior to kick-off

Harry Hornet and Almunia prior to kick-off

I don’t understand the appeal of Christmas jumpers, so I was rather disturbed to find myself in the minority in the West Herts prior to the game on Boxing Day.  Everywhere I looked there was someone else sporting Rudolf on their chest.  It was like a scene from “The World’s End”.  These people may have looked ‘normal’ but their dead eyes betrayed the fact that they were automatons who had replaced the humans that they resembled.  But I digress …

 

Sannino had made two changes from the team that faced Ipswich, bringing in Anya for Pudil and Forestieri for Fabbrini.  So the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Angella, Doyley, Anya, McGugan, Thorne, Murray, Cassetti, Forestieri and Deeney.  The lovely Danny Shittu captained Millwall sporting a few pounds more than when he played for us.  The referee was the not-so-lovely Andy D’Urso, never a welcome visitor to Vicarage Road. 

Giuseppe Sannino in the home dug out for the first time

Giuseppe Sannino in the home dug out for the first time

We started the game brightly as Cassetti received a pass from Forestieri and put in a deep cross that was headed back by Deeney, but the ball was cleared before Murray could get on the end of it.  In the 9th minute, we were a goal up and Millwall were a man down.  McGugan played a lovely ball over the top to Deeney.  From the other end of the ground, I saw Forde drop to make a save while Deeney tumbled over so I was a little surprised when the referee pointed to the spot and brandished a red card, which I assumed was for the keeper, Forde.  It was only when Shittu walked off that I realized that it was he who had pulled Deeney to the ground.  I’m not sure how I missed his presence in the box.  I must need distance glasses after all.  Deeney stepped up and put the penalty to

Celebrating Deeney's penalty

Celebrating Deeney’s penalty

Forde’s right.  Our first goal at home since mid-October and the Boxing Day celebrations started.  The visitors could have equalized soon after as Morison met a corner with a header, but Anya was on the line to block it.  The Rookery started singing his chant, which I adapted to “Ikechi Anya stands on the line for me.”  It didn’t catch on.  Had that chance gone in, it may have been a very different game, such are the fine margins between success and failure.  On 17 minutes, the ball dropped to Murray on the edge of the box, but his shot was wide of the far post.  Soon after, there appeared to be a replay of the

McGugan takes a free-kick

McGugan takes a free-kick

penalty incident as Forestieri played a ball through to Deeney who tumbled again, apparently pulled down by Robinson this time, but D’Urso waved play on.  We were two up on 26 minutes as Murray found Anya on the left who crossed for Forestieri who controlled the ball and poked it past Forde.  Just before the half hour we could have been three up as Cassetti really should have done better with a header from a McGugan free-kick.  Then McGugan fed Cassetti again, the Italian put in a great cross but it was headed clear.  On 38 minutes, Deeney found McGugan in space but his shot was wide of the far post.  Just before half-time, while Thorne was on the ground injured, Forestieri took revenge with a high tackle on Trotter which left both players needing treatment and earned him a yellow card.  When the whistle went for half-time there were happy smiles in the Rookery for the first time in ages.

 

Anya celebrating with the bench

Anya celebrating with the bench

The second half started superbly as Anya curled a shot from 25 yards into the top corner.  Sitting behind the goal in the Rookery, there is a particular pleasure to these goals as they come flying towards you and into the net.  Anya, after being smothered by his team-mates, went running to the bench to celebrate with the coaching staff.  We could have been four up soon after as Forestieri also tried a shot from distance but it crashed off the post.  Then Thorne put a ball over the top to Deeney who headed back to Forestieri but his shot was blocked and the linesman had already raised his flag.  On 53 minutes, the visitors appeared to have pulled one back as Beevers headed past Almunia from a free kick but it was ruled out for offside.  At this point, Chaplow replaced Easter for Millwall.  McGugan was the next player to try a shot from distance which hit the underside

That can't be Jack Smith, can it?

That can’t be Jack Smith, can it?

of the crossbar and bounced down and out.  Just before the hour, young Jack Smith replaced Trotter to applause from the home crowd.  I know I’m getting old, but I still find it shocking when a player that I seem to have watched play in the youth team only recently appears and he’s thirty and follically challenged!  I didn’t have too long to mull on this thought as there were shouts for a handball in the Millwall box.  Andy D’Urso waved it away, but the linesman was waving his flag as if it was his favourite Christmas present and, when he had attracted the referee’s attention, held it across his chest so D’Urso had no choice but to point to the spot.  McGugan stepped up this time and hit the penalty

McGugan lining up the penalty

McGugan lining up the penalty

into the bottom corner to Forde’s right to put the Hornets 4-0 up.  This prompted a chorus of “You should have gone to the sales” from the home crowd.  Watford continued to go for goal as a Forestieri free-kick went over the wall but straight into Forde’s arms.  On 67 minutes, Iriney replaced Thorne.  Soon after, Ekstrand earned a bizarre yellow card as he tried a basketball dribble in the middle of the field for no apparent reason.  He has only played 3 games since his suspension for 5 yellow cards and has already picked up two more without making a tackle.  On 72 minutes, there was a spell of lovely passing to olés from the home crowd which finished with Deeney trying to break clear but he was stopped by a tackle from Beevers.  We could have been five up as Forestieri got on the end of a lovely cross from Murray but he used his shoulder to divert the ball into the net and was flagged offside anyway.  Then McGugan got on the end of a pass from Murray and crashed another shot off the crossbar.  He should have had a hat-trick at this stage.  That was his last contribution to the game as he was replaced by Battocchio.  Cassetti then tried to beat Lowry to get into the box but the defender just reached out and hauled him down.  Lowry’s

Celebrating McGugan's penalty

Celebrating McGugan’s penalty

defeated expression as he trudged away with the yellow card being waved at his back spoke volumes for the mood in the Millwall team.  But the visitors did launch an attack with 10 minutes to go.  First a shot from distance by Abdou was deflected over.  Then Almunia leapt to catch a bizarre looping ball that I think was a pass back to the keeper, this elicited gasps from the Millwall end which were ridiculed by the home fans.  But, to be fair, it was probably the first chance that they had seen for their team at that end of the ground.  At the other end, Anya and Iriney exchanged bouncing passes before finding Forestieri whose shot was over the bar.  Sannino made his last substitution at this point replacing Anya with Bellerin.  With 3 minutes remaining, Almunia was finally required to make a save as he tipped over a shot from Hoyte.  We had one final goal attempt in time added on as Forestieri tried an overhead kick, which Forde blocked.

So, for the first time since mid-October the final whistle was greeted with cheers from the Rookery.  It had been a spirited performance and, at last, the players were playing with confidence and taking their chances rather than waiting for the perfect shot on goal.  Also, there was a feeling that things had fallen our way for a change.  Millwall had been awful and Steve Lomas was sacked after the game, but you can only play what is in front of you and this felt like a return to the team that we were watching last season.  QPR will be much more of a test on Sunday, but at least we can go into that game with renewed hope.

The King is Dead. Long Live the King

After the news of Zola’s resignation this week, our party travelled to Ipswich with rather heavy hearts.  Last season was a lot of fun and, while this one has been disappointing so far, there is a feeling of a story only half told for which we will never know the ending.

The new man in the dugout

The new man in the dugout

The team lined up with a 3-5-2 formation and the first piece of good news was that Sannino’s first game would feature Lloyd Doyley and would see the return of Angella after injury.  The new gaffer also put Almunia back in goal.  So the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Angella, Doyley, Pudil, Murray, Thorne, McGugan, Cassetti, Fabbrini and Deeney.  Our new manager was looking very elegant on the touchline, although I thought that the club really should have provided him with a coat to cover his smart suit in the pouring rain.

The welcome return of Doyley

The welcome return of Doyley

The first action of note was a McGugan free-kick at some distance from the goal, which was disappointingly soft and straight at Gerken.  On 15 minutes, Cassetti beat a defender on the wing and put in a cross that was met with a headed clearance.  Then Murphy tried a cross into the Watford box, but Almunia came out to punch clear.  On 21 minutes, a free-kick from McGugan was cleared only as far as Angella whose shot flew well over the bar.  Then McGoldrick threatened down the other end dribbling into the box and flicking the ball harmlessly past the far post.  On 25 minutes, Deeney headed a Cassetti cross back to Fabbrini whose shot rebounded off the corner of the post and the crossbar.  Then a shot from Cresswell was blocked by Ekstrand for the first corner of the game.  The first really dangerous on target attempt came just before the half hour from

A pass to Murray

A pass to Murray

McGoldrick whose shot was tipped over by Almunia.  From the corner, Murphy headed the ball to Nouble whose header went over the bar.  Then McGugan played a one-two with Fabbrini, but delayed too long before shooting and was tackled.  With 10 minutes remaining in the half, Murphy headed wide from a McGoldrick cross.  On 39 minutes, Ipswich tried a free-kick routine which clearly needs more practice as Skuse passed to McGoldrick on the left of the box, presumably to avoid the wall but he blasted the ball over the bar.  Then McGoldrick fed Cresswell who crossed into the box, but there was nobody to get on the end of it and the ball drifted wide.  Just before half time, Nouble broke through the defence and unleashed a shot that Almunia parried.  So we reached half-time goalless, without a single Watford shot on target.  On the way back to the stand at the end of the half time break, one of the screens was showing the score as 2-0 to Watford.  If only.

Thorne on defensive duties

Thorne on defensive duties

Early in the second half, McGugan played a through ball to Pudil who crossed for Fabbrini, but the Italian was closed down before he could shoot.  Then it was Fabbrini’s turn to play a through ball to Murray whose shot was put out for a corner by Gerken.  On 55 minutes, this was our first shot on target.  On the hour Pudil fouled Chambers who rolled over a few times prompting shouts of “off, off, off” from the home crowd which seemed to convince the referee to show a yellow card.  On 66 minutes, Fabbrini passed back to McGugan, who played a lovely through ball to Deeney, but Troy was well offside. 

Lloydy on the attack

Lloydy on the attack

Then McGugan battled to keep the ball on the wing and put in a cross for Deeney to run on to, but his shot rebounded off a defender.  On 70 minutes, a nothing ball into the box bounced up and hit Angella’s arm and the referee pointed to the spot.  The Watford players surrounded the ref to argue their case and Ekstrand was booked for his protests.  McGoldrick stepped up to take the spot kick and buried the ball in the bottom corner to shouts of “cheat” from the travelling Hornets.  With 15 minutes remaining, Battocchio replaced Murray.   There were shouts for a penalty at the other end as a Deeney cross appeared to be carried in the box before being cleared, but the referee didn’t give it. 

Troy celebrates his goal

Troy celebrates his goal

With 10 minutes remaining Anya replaced Pudil.  The equalizer came soon after as a cross from Cassetti was deflected into the path of Deeney, but he still did really well to reach it and prod it past Gerken.  At this point some idiot child let off a smoke bomb at the top of the stand.  Despite how windy it was, the stand is quite enclosed so the smoke took quite some time to dissipate.  I wasn’t particularly close to it and it made me cough so I can only hope that it choked the idiot who set it off.  On the pitch Forestieri replaced Fabbrini.  With a couple of minutes remaining, Ipswich had a great chance to win the game as Almunia parried a shot from McGoldrick only as far as Hyams whose header crashed back off the crossbar.  Then Watford had their own chance to win it as McGugan passed to Anya on the wing but he curled his shot wide of the far post.  In injury time McGugan put the ball into the box but neither Deeney nor Battocchio could get on the end of it. 

Thanking the fans

Thanking the fans

So, everything changes, everything stays the same.  That was our fifth away draw in a row and we only had two shots on target.  Sannino has only been with the club for 4 days so it will be some time before see his how his team will play.  We certainly looked tighter at the back, but the return of Angella and Doyley contributed to that and our forward line still appears unconvincing.  The visits of Millwall and QPR to Vicarage Road will be very interesting.

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas and a wonderful 2014.

Zola’s Last Stand

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

Deeney and Thorne ready for kick-off

Deeney and Thorne ready for kick-off

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

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

Hall back in action

Hall back in action

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

Anya on the ball

Anya on the ball

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

Watford on the attack

Watford on the attack

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

Thorne challenging

Thorne challenging

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

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

Zola in happier times

Zola in happier times

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

 

Six Goals at Elland Road

A kind welcome

A kind welcome

This was an expensive week for the travelling Hornets with two away games up North.  After an encouraging performance against Burnley midweek, I travelled with a better spirit but, knowing that Leeds have been on a decent run, my expectations were not high.  Our pre-match pub in Leeds is a good ‘un.  The cider was lovely, the pie was tasty and the company was excellent.  The top deck of the shuttle bus to the ground was inhabited by a group of Leeds fans who were loud and obnoxious, so I was glad to reach Elland Road to escape the racket.  As we entered the stadium, we were greeted by posters thanking us for traveling 179 miles to attend the game.  Rather a nice touch, I thought.

Team news was that Pudil and Anya were in for Cassetti and Murray.  If I hadn’t seen his midweek post on Twitter, I would have struggled to recognize Anya as he has shaved off his Afro.  A big mistake to my mind, I hope he grows it back very soon.

A minute's silence for Mandela or Bremner!

A minute’s silence for Mandela or Bremner!

Before kick-off, the minute’s applause for Nelson Mandela was announced.  Much as I am a admirer of the great man, I questioned the wisdom of such a gesture at a sporting occasion in the UK.  Clearly, the Leeds hierarchy had similar questions, so they announced that it was also to mark the anniversary of the passing of Billy Bremner, which meant that the applause was accompanied with chants of Bremner’s name which rather defeated the object.

The starting line-up was Bond, Faraoni, Nosworthy, Ekstrand, Pudil, Bellerin, Battocchio, Thorne, McGugan, Anya and Deeney.  There were no Watford alumni in the Leeds line-up, but it cannot be forgotten that one of Watford’s favourite sons, Nigel Gibbs, was on the Leeds bench.

A new-look Anya

A new-look Anya

Leeds started brightly, and in the second minute, Smith headed a cross from McCormack straight at Bond. The next Leeds attack was a free-kick by McCormack into the box which was headed over by Zaliukas.  Then Bellerin intercepted the ball in midfield, his pass was deflected back to Battocchio who crossed for the young loanee to head the ball wide of the far post.  Then a low through ball reached Austin whose shot was parried by Bond to Murphy whose follow-up flew wide.  Watford were immediately on a counter attack as Faraoni put a ball through to Anya, who ran into the box but his shot was parried.  On 11 minutes Watford took a rather surprising lead. McGugan exchanged passes with Bellerin, tried a cross which bounced back to him off a defender so he played a languid through ball which Deeney tucked between Kenny and the near post.  It

Leeds line up a free kick

Leeds line up a free kick

had been so long since we last scored that I half convinced myself that the ball had hit the side netting, so my celebration was a bit hesitant, but finally got going once I realized that we had actually scored!  We had the next decent chance on 23 minutes when a McGugan through ball reached Anya, but Kenny narrowed the angle and Ikechi’s shot was just past the far post.  Leeds then threatened with a dangerous cross from Austin, which looked as though it may have snuck in if Bond hadn’t caught it at the near post.  Then McCormack latched on to a pass into the box.  Bond ran out and dived at his feet to make a great save, so it seemed unfair that the ref pulled play back for a free kick as he’d previously played advantage that the home side had not been able to capitalise on.  McCormack took the free kick, which bounced off the wall for a corner.  Then McGugan played a lovely defensive move as a Leeds player, whose number I didn’t note, ran into the box.  I was concerned that he would draw a penalty, but McGugan coolly shepherded the ball out for a goal kick.  Then a dangerous ball came in towards Smith in the box, but Nosworthy stuck out a foot to deflect it for a corner.  From the corner, there were loud shouts for a penalty from the Leeds fans as Smith went down in the box, but the ref made the right decision.  On 29 minutes, a shot from McCormack bounced off Ekstrand and rebounded to

Celebrations after the second goal

Celebrations after the second goal

Smith, whose follow-up shot was just wide of the far post.  On 37 minutes, Smith latched onto a ball in the Watford box, Bond pulled off a fantastic save, but must have been frustrated again to see that his efforts were unnecessary as the forward had been flagged offside.  On 43 minutes, Nosworthy seemed to think he had all the time in the world to control a ball in our box, Pugh came up behind him and threw himself over Nyron trying to win a penalty.  Fortunately the referee was having none of it and all he won was a yellow card, but Nosworthy had taken a huge risk.  As the clock reached 45 minutes, Mowatt took a free kick from a dangerous position to the right of the Watford box.  Bond came out to punch the ball clear and it reached Bellerin, who ran the length of the pitch then squared for Battocchio, who took a couple of touches and seemed to have lost his chance, but found space between two defenders to fire the ball past Kenny.  This time I celebrated immediately and chants of “We want six,” rang out from the travelling Hornets. In injury time, McGugan took a shot that went straight into Kenny’s arms.  As the half-time whistle went, Anya was on the ball running up the left wing and he kept on going, not wanting to stop!

It had been a cracking half.  We were slightly fortunate to take a two goal lead in at the break and well aware that there was still a long way to go in the game.

A defensive header from Ekstrand

A defensive header from Ekstrand

Leeds came out like a rocket at the start of the second half.  Within a minute of kick-off, a Bellerin pass up the wing was intercepted and the counterattack finished with a header from Smith tipped over the bar by Bond.  From Mowatt’s corner, it was Smith again, but this time he headed over the bar while climbing on Thorne.  Leeds’ first goal came in the 49th minute and had an element of fortune as a clearance hit Thorne and dropped to Pugh who beat Nosworthy and slipped the ball past Bond at the near post.  The Watford heads didn’t drop as Faraoni audaciously nutmegged a Leeds defender to get into the box, but his cross was blocked. However, ten minutes into the half, Leeds were level as Peltier robbed Anya as he tried to dribble the ball across the middle of the park, he passed to McCormack on the wing who crossed for Smith to power a header past Bond.  Straight from the restart, Battocchio freed Bellerin, but he couldn’t quite reach the return pass in the box and the chance was cleared.  Leeds carried on threatening the Watford goal.

Gibbsy on the wrong bench

Gibbsy on the wrong bench

First Austin broke in to the box and Bond stood tall to block his close range shot.  Then, from a corner, Mowatt’s shot came crashing back off the crossbar.  There was some relief for Bond as Watford launched a counter attack with Anya finding McGugan whose shot from distance was pushed wide by Kenny.  Soon after, Smith shot straight at Bond.  Then a Thorne ball over the top reached Deeney, who shot wide but had been in an offside position anyway.

On 65 minutes Murray replaced McGugan, seven minutes later Faraoni made way for Cassetti.  Soon after, Cassetti failed to challenge Smith whose header reached McCormack who turned the ball into the net, but his celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s flag.

Faraoni down the wing

Faraoni down the wing

However, Leeds were to take the lead a couple of minutes later as McCormack got on the end of a pass from Murphy, outran Nosworthy and shot past Bond.  Watford almost hit back immediately as Battocchio shot from inside the box and Kenny had to drop smartly to gather the ball.  With 10 minutes remaining, Murray jinked into the Leeds box and curled a shot just wide of the far post.  On 85 minutes, while Forestieri was on the sidelines waiting to come on, Anya went on a run down the wing and crossed for Thorne whose shot was parried by Kenny, but Deeney was on hand to pick up the loose ball and grab the equalizer.  With a couple of minutes to go, Mowatt played a through ball to

An attacking throw-in

An attacking throw-in

Smith whose shot was over the bar, but he was flagged offside anyway.  After the equalizer, Forestieri had returned to the bench and the final Watford substitution was Hall replacing Battoccio.  In injury time, Anya and Bellerin combined on a counter attack, and the young Spaniard won a corner which came to nothing as Ekstrand was booked for a foul on Zaliukas.  But it was the Swede who could have won the game for the Hornets as Deeney received a pass from Cassetti and squared the ball but Zaliukas was on hand to make a great tackle and prevent Ekstrand from shooting.

Applauding the crowd

Applauding the crowd

At the final whistle, there was a lot of shirt swapping on the field and rapture from the stands.  It had been a thrilling game of football and I think all the fans were happy to leave with a point.  Watford had played some lovely stuff, but gave the ball away a little too much by getting caught in possession and our defence was vulnerable in the second half when Nosworthy tired, but it is churlish to criticize after such a thoroughly entertaining afternoon.  It has to be said that Anya’s pace made a difference and some of his interplay with Bellerin was excellent.

How the mood has changed in the past week with two terrific points from difficult away games.  Hopefully, this will make Monday’s fans’ forum a more positive occasion and we can take this spirit back to Vicarage Road for the visit of Wednesday.  It is fun being a Watford fan again.

A Gutsy Performance at Turf Moor

Lighting my way

Lighting my way

The trip to Burnley is not high on my list of favourite away days.  When the game falls on a Tuesday night, it makes it even less appealing.  Given our recent run of form, I found myself questioning my sanity in taking a day and a half off work and spending a small fortune on train and hotel.  Still, there is always that niggling feeling in the back of your mind that it could be 7-4 again and you’d kick yourself if you were sitting at home.

The first challenge in planning the trip had been where to stay.  The hotel at which I’d stayed on a previous visit had closed down and hotels in central Burnley were conspicuous by their absence from the usual booking websites.  But then I found a boutique hotel located a short walk from Manchester Road station.  A boutique hotel in Burnley?  That I had to see.  When I arrived, I was delighted to find a characterful place with lots of art on display including a print of one of Matisse’s blue nudes.  Very pleasant indeed.

Welcome to Burnley

Welcome to Burnley

Pre-match there wasn’t a lot of confidence among the Watford faithful, but the team news indicated a switch in formation to 4-5-1 with Faraoni coming in for Pudil and Battocchio replacing Forestieri.  As the Burnley manager emerged from the tunnel, it was great to see Sean Dyche turn and applaud the Watford fans behind the goal and receive a warm reception from the travelling Hornets.

Burnley started strongly with an early foray into the Watford box that was smothered by Bond.  Then Bond was in action again, coming out to punch a free kick clear.  On 7 minutes, Treacy had a shot from distance but it was straight at Bond.  The next attack saw the young keeper come out of his penalty area to take the ball down on his chest and clear.  It was a confident move that was a sign of things to come.  On 8 minutes a corner by Stanislas flashed across the Watford goal, but there was no Burnley player near enough to apply the finishing touch.

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

On 10 minutes, Watford had their first attack with Murray passing to McGugan whose shot was blocked.  It has to be said that there were some pretty robust tackles coming in from the Burnley boys, but the ref let those go while he seemed to blow up for the slightest infringement by a Watford player.  On 14 minutes, the ball fell to Arfield on the edge of the box, but his shot flew well over the crossbar.  Then McGugan put a dangerous cross into the Burnley box, but Heaton reached the ball just before Battocchio.  On 19 minutes, Burnley won a free-kick for a minor infringement, Trippier took the kick and hit it straight at Bond.  Soon after, the referee blew up to penalize a Burnley player for climbing.  A decision that was met with ironic cheers from the travelling Hornets.

A Brace of Watford Managers

A Brace of Watford Managers

On 26 minutes, a string of lovely passes across the pitch finished with Faraoni beating the defender on the right and whipping in a cross that was blocked.  Then Trippier crossed for Arfield, whose shot was easily gathered by Bond.  Another cross from Trippier reached Jones, whose shot was blocked and put out for a corner which was headed over by Shackell.  At this point, I was distracted by an advertisement on the big screen.  On previous visits, I have marvelled at the unlikelihood of a “Clarets Wine Club”, so imagine my delight at the iPie advertisement.  Yes, Burnley have an app with which you can order your half time pie with a ‘click and collect’ service.  Will the wonders of technology

Thorne and Arfield wait for the ball to drop

Thorne and Arfield wait for the ball to drop

ever cease?  On 40 minutes, Burnley should have been ahead as Arfield met a cross from Stanislas with a close range header, but Bond leapt to his left to keep it out.  Then McGugan and Murray combined to feed Faraoni whose shot was wide of the far post.  Treacy then went on a run across the top of the area and unleashed a stinging shot that Bond first parried and then caught.  Just before half-time, Battocchio intercepted a ball in midfield and advanced on the Burnley goal, but his shot was blocked.  Then Cassetti won a free-kick close to the bye-line.  McGugan put a deep cross into the box which was met with a defensive header back to Heaton.  The half-time whistle went and, for the first time in weeks, the Watford players left the pitch to applause from their fans and chants of “Johnny Bond” and “Yellow Army” following them down the tunnel.  Burnley had been the better team in the half, but there was a pleasing resilience to Watford’s play and Bond had been superb.

Pre-corner jostling

Pre-corner jostling

A Burnley fan came to chat to us at half time to hear our opinion of our team and ask whether we thought Zola’s position was in danger.  He said that we had been the best passing team that they’d seen last season.  We said that we could still pass, but we were lacking the pace and penetration we had last season.  He said that they have a first eleven and then a bench full of kids so their current position was unlikely to be maintained at the end of the season.

We started the second half brightly.  An early shot from Battocchio went just past the far post.  Then a Burnley shot was met by a bicycle kick from Deeney to clear.  On 53 minutes, Battocchio went on a run down the wing, his cross was cut out and Burnley launched a counter-attack, Arfield shot goalwards and Bond had to drop smartly to gather.  Then Murray

Bond takes a goal kick

Bond takes a goal kick

broke into the box, but was closed down and lost the ball.  On 54 minutes, we had a great chance to take the lead as Battocchio passed the ball to Cassetti on the left and the Italian’s cross was met with a shot from close range by McGugan that Heaton did very well to keep out of the bottom corner.  Then a ball over the top reached Deeney, he passed it out to Murray whose cross was just missed by the leaping Bellerin.  Next Bellerin headed the ball down to McGugan who crossed for Murray to shoot, but again the shot was blocked.  Then a dangerous cross into the Watford box by Trippier was put wide by Mee under the attentions of a defender.  He was injured in the process and, after a spell of treatment on the pitch, went off and changed his shirt and came back numberless.  On 63 minutes, McGugan lifted a pass in the direction of Ekstrand, but the Swede did not react and Stanislas intercepted the ball but his shot was deflected for a corner.  Then a Watford shot from distance was deflected wide.  From McGugan’s corner, the ball bounced up and hit a defender’s hand, but the shouts for a penalty from the travelling ‘Orns fell on deaf ears.  On 66 minutes, a Murray cross was, again, too high for Bellerin but the ball fell to McGugan whose shot was cleared off the line.  From the throw-in, Murray fed Bellerin, but the Arsenal

Ready to defend a corner

Ready to defend a corner

youngster’s header was easy for Heaton.  On 68 minutes, our friend from half-time’s claim that they had the youth team on the bench was contradicted as Kightly replaced Treacy.  The former Watford loanee was involved in the next attack as he received a ball from Mee, but his shot landed on the netting on top of the goal.  On 74 minutes, Murray battled to keep the ball, he was tripped, fell over, got up still with the ball at his feet and was finally taken down to win a free kick.  At this point, he was replaced by Fabbrini.  McGugan took the free-kick which was deep into the box, but cleared.  Then Fabbrini passed to McGugan whose cross was headed out for a corner.  He took the corner which reached Faraoni who put the shot wide.  With 10 minutes remaining, Hewitt replaced Stanislas and Pudil came on for Cassetti.  Soon after, a deep shot straight at Bond did not test the young

Post-match congratulations

Post-match congratulations

keeper.  I have to say that our defence were doing a great job of closing the Burnley players down and restricting their shooting opportunities.  In the 87th minute, a cross from Trippier was met by a clearance from Fabbrini for a corner.  From the corner, the shot went harmlessly wide.  Then Fabbrini brought the ball down on his chest, went on a great run, but when he released the ball his pass was too far in front of Bellerin and the attack broke down.  It had been a frantic last five minutes, but the game remained scoreless.  At the start of the 4 minutes of injury time, we were taking time over our set pieces and Nosworthy, who’d shaped to take a free kick and then left it for Bond, was booked for time wasting.  We almost snatched the win in time added on as McGugan and Deeney exchanged passes and the former Forest man’s shot was deflected into the side-netting.  Pudil got a head to the resulting corner, but the ball was cleared and the game ended with honours even

This was such a contrast to Saturday both on and off the pitch.  Gone were the on field nervousness and the hostility from the stands.  Instead we had a brave, committed performance on the pitch which was cheered on enthusiastically by the 274 travelling Hornets.  The players spent some time on the pitch at the end thanking the fans for their support.  Zola looked a lot happier than he did at the weekend and must have been gratified to hear his name chanted again.  As a final gesture of thanks, Daniel Pudil removed his shirt, climbed over the advertising hoardings into the disabled enclosure and handed it to Gavin Ricketts.

All in all, it had been a very enjoyable evening and a timely reminder of why I go to these games.