As always when we have a late kick-off, my pre-match routine was completely messed up. Due to the late finish time of the game and an appointment in Hertfordshire on Sunday, I had decided to stay over in Watford so I drove over and arrived at about 2:40. Despite knowing that the kick-off was at 5:30, this seemed to be cutting it a bit fine in the event that the kick-off time had been changed back at short notice (I know!!) But the lack of people in Watford shirts on the Rickmansworth Road convinced me that I hadn’t got kick-off time wrong. I checked in to the hotel before walking to the West Herts and managed to get caught in a nasty hailstorm on the way, so was very glad to arrive in the warm and find the usual suspects at ‘our’ table. I was greeted by a very apologetic Glenn, who had promised pork scratchings but arrived at the butcher to find that they only had scraps left. He needn’t have worried as there was just enough and they were gorgeous, although it gave us another excuse to complain about Sky Sports.
We spent the afternoon cheering on the opponents of the teams around us and could have done without West Ham beating Southampton. Liverpool came into this game looking to make it a record 19 Premier League wins in a row and to continue their unbeaten run in the league this season. A couple of very optimistic Watford fans said that they fancied us to get something from the game but, based on our recent form, I couldn’t see us getting anything other than soundly beaten. Richard was one who thought that we might get the win, but when he left early “to soak up the atmosphere”, we said our goodbyes as he wouldn’t be back in the West Herts after the game. Knowing that he never comes back after defeats made his positive prediction appear rather shallow.
Team news was that Pearson had made two changes, and what very welcome changes they were, as Femenía and Sarr came in for Dawson and Pereyra. So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Femenía; Hughes, Capoue; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Sarr; Deeney.
The game kicked off and the first chance fell to the Hornets as Deulofeu cut inside and shot wide of the near post. The home side also created the next chance of note as Doucouré fed Deulofeu, but the shot was just over the bar. The same players combined again soon after, this time Deulofeu played the ball back to Doucouré, whose shot was blocked by van Dijk for a corner that came to nothing. Despite having a lot of the play, Liverpool’s first chance didn’t come until the 20th minute when Oxlade-Chamberlain chipped the ball over to Salah in the box, he was in a great position but could only find the side netting. Just after the half hour mark, Deulofeu went down under a challenge from van Dijk. It looked pretty innocuous at first and I had just shouted “Get up, Geri” when I saw the referee waving to the bench for medical treatment. It was soon obvious that the injury was bad and, after treatment, he was stretchered off. This was so sad for the lad, and for us, as he had been having a superb game. He left the field to the sound of his name being sung from the home stands and was replaced by Pereyra.
Deeney could have been in trouble after a robust challenge on Alexander-Arnold. Troy went over and helped the lad to his feet and the referee was happy that no action needed to be taken, but the Watford captain may have been a bit lucky there. The visitors created a half chance as a cross reached Mané, but his body position was wrong and the ball bounced off his head. As it happened, his position on the field was wrong too as the offside flag was up. Sarr created a much better chance trying a shot from the edge of the area that was over the target. In time added on, there was the joy of a superb tackle from Masina on Alexander-Arnold. Tackles don’t get as much coverage as (even poor) goal attempts, but sometimes they are things of beauty and this was one of those. Watford could have taken the lead in time added on at the end of the half when, from a free kick, Alisson made a mistake allowing Deeney in, but the Liverpool keeper recovered to make a save and Deeney could only knock the follow-up wide.
So, we reached half time with the game goalless. Liverpool had most of the possession, but the Hornets had created all of the noteworthy chances. It had been an impressive performance but, as so often this season, I just worried that we would regret being so wasteful in front of goal.
The half time guest was Heiðar Helguson who was a man of few words but seeing some highlights of his time with us was just a joy. As would be expected, he was given a tremendous reception and appeared to appreciate it.
The Hornets started the second half as they had finished the first as Pereyra played a lovely ball through to Sarr whose shot was kept out by a one-handed save from Alisson. At the other end, there was a bit of pinball in the Watford box, but Foster was finally able to gather the ball. The Hornets took the lead on the 53rd minute as, from a Masina throw, the ball reached Doucouré who played the ball back to Sarr who finished from close range sparking mad celebrations in the home stand. I have to admit that, after last week, my celebration was slightly delayed while I assured myself that VAR wouldn’t intervene. I normally have a chance to grab some sort of photo of the players celebrating. On this occasion, we had only just stopped hugging each other as Sarr reached the centre circle for the restart. Lovely as the goal was, it felt far too early in the game to have any confidence in the lead, Liverpool had plenty of time to strike back.
The Hornets had a decent chance to grab a second soon after when Deeney got his head to a Hughes free kick, but his effort was wide of the target. Watford did not have long to rue that miss as Hughes played a lovely back heel down the line to Deeney, he released Sarr who bore down on goal before lifting the ball over Alisson. It was another lovely goal and the Liverpool players looked rather shocked. I did get a photo of the celebration for this one, but my hands were shaking so much that it is just a yellow blur. Klopp made a change before the restart bringing Lallana on for Wijnaldum. The visitors had a chance to hit back almost immediately with a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery from Alexander-Arnold was woeful and flew well wide of the near post. Hughes had a chance to make it three for the Hornets, but his shot hit Sarr and was cleared. Klopp made a second change replacing Oxlade-Chamberlain with Origi. Liverpool had a great chance to pull a goal back when a ball into the Watford box was headed clear to Lallana who hit it well, but his effort rebounded off the outside of the far post. Sarr should have grabbed a hat-trick when he got on the end of a cross from Masina, but he tried to hit a volley and ended up mishitting the shot which flew wide of the near post.
The third goal came from a Liverpool mistake as Sarr intercepted a backpass from Alexander-Arnold, he coolly held the ball up before playing a gorgeous pass to Deeney who lofted a beautiful shot into the empty net. It was a fantastic goal and the celebrations were suitably manic. Thankfully, this time I got some lovely shots of the players celebrating. But, when my brain engaged again, all I could think was “Tranmere”. As those around me were singing rather rude things about “invincibles” I was muttering that there was just under 20 minutes to go so it was far too early to be celebrating. With 10 minutes remaining, Klopp made his final substitution replacing Firmino with Minamino. Meanwhile I was trying to keep calm, but my heart was racing. Sarr then had a superb chance to score a fourth goal as he received a lovely through ball from Capoue but the shot was just wide of the target. That was his last action of the game as Pearson replaced him with Pussetto. I have to say that I was a little disappointed that he was denied the chance to get a hat-trick, but it was a sensible decision given the lack of game time that he has had of late. With 5 minutes to go the Rookery was rocking with a chant of “Can we play you every week,” while I was still shouting “too early”. Liverpool had a chance to pull one back as Salah crossed, but it was an easy catch for Foster. Then van Dijk tried his luck from distance, but his effort was well over the bar. Pearson made his second substitution on 89 minutes replacing Doucouré with Chalobah. All eyes were on the fourth official as he held up the board indicating that there were 4 minutes of added time. Those four minutes were mostly played in Watford’s half, but every poor pass from the visitors and the odd catch from Foster was loudly cheered. It must have been the 93rd minute when I finally believed that we would win the game. The final whistle went to joyous scenes in the home stands.
After the celebratory hugs, we all just stood looking incredulously at each other. I don’t think any of us could believe what we had just witnessed. Michael in the row in front suggested that was possibly the best game we have ever played. It was certainly up there with the best. As we gathered in the concourse, Rose got a message from Amelia (her season ticket holding daughter who was unable to make the game) saying that last time we beat Liverpool 3-0 I had cried, and she hoped that we were all crying with joy. We assured her that we had been. The atmosphere in the concourse was a little muted. Usually after games like this the concourse is noisy as songs are being belted out. On this occasion, I think everyone was a little stunned.
We emerged onto Occupation Road to find a huge crowd, a sign that nobody had left early. I left my family at the school car park and bumped into a West Herts regular with whom I waxed lyrical about the performance. As I entered the bar the first person that I saw was Richard. My enquiry as to what he was doing there was met with a broad smile and the offer of a drink. The post-match analysis was joyous. We all agreed that every one of our players had been magnificent. The stats showed that Liverpool had enjoyed 71% of the possession, but the Watford defence had restricted them to only a single shot on target. Deeney, Deulofeu and Pereyra had all been disappointing at Old Trafford, but had been superb in this game with even Pereyra working his socks off. The performance of Femenía showed how much we had missed him. What was really impressive was that, after two months out, he looked as though he had never been away. Similarly with Sarr, who frightened the life out of the Liverpool defence, the only disappointment had been that he didn’t get his hat trick. The midfield three of Hughes, Capoue and Doucouré had worked tirelessly and been incredibly solid. Sometimes it is the silly things that give you immense pleasure and one of the memories that I will take from this game involved Capoue. I love him as a player, but he can blow hot and cold. Watching him when he is enjoying himself is utterly joyous and there was a point in the game when he sprinted from one side of the pitch to the other and back again, frustrating the Liverpool midfield and it was one of those moments that has me clapping my hands in glee.
At the end of the day, we had beaten the team who are running away with the League. Their recent performances have not been perfect, but they have continued to grind out results and were proving very hard to beat. The fact that this Watford team not only beat them but did so convincingly was just amazing. Although there is still a part of me waiting to wake up to find out that we have lost 6-0.
I was back in the hotel just in time to see the highlights on Match of the Day. Any fears that the pundits would focus on how poor Liverpool had been were dispelled as they gave our lads the credit they deserved for their performance. I was also gratified to get a message from a Scouse friend who congratulated us on a brilliant performance commenting that we were impressive all though the team.
Obviously, one win doesn’t keep you in the division, but we went on a great run after our impressive performance at Anfield. I can only hope that this even more impressive performance at Vicarage Road gives the lads the confidence that they need to start playing with the quality that they know they have and getting the results that they deserve.
What a difference a week makes. I love football again.