Tag Archives: Gianni Munari

A Rather Dull Three Goal Win

 

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

After Saturday’s disaster against Norwich, it was good to have a midweek game to, hopefully, get back to winning ways.  Team news was that we were starting with four central defenders and without a recognized winger.  The starting XI was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Ekstrand, Cathcart, Tözsér, Watson, Layun, Abdi, Ighalo and Deeney lining up in a 4-3-1-2 formation.

The first chance of the game fell to the home side as Ighalo beat a defender on the byline, crossed for Deeney, who couldn’t get a touch, the ball was cleared to Tözsér whose shot was blocked.  The next incident of interest was an Angella pass that was annoyingly intercepted by the referee who then redeemed himself by falling over.  Honestly, I have no idea why a referee falling over is the height of comedy, but it is.  Abdi won the ball, turned and played a lovely pass to Tözsér who fired over the bar.

 

Congratulating Ighalo

Congratulating Ighalo

Watford took the lead on 17 minutes.  If you are going to misplace a pass in midfield, then the last player that you want to pick it up is Ighalo with the form he is in at the moment.  The unfortunate Rotherham player was Arnason, Ighalo took advantage advancing on the goal before rounding the keeper and slotting the ball home.  The visitors tried to break back as Derbyshire crossed in the direction of Milsom, but Cathcart made sure he didn’t get to the ball and it drifted wide.  Watford should have increased their lead in the 24th minute as Abdi received a pass from Layun, advanced and shot but Collin managed to parry the ball, it came out to Deeney whose shot was also saved.  From the resulting corner, Ekstrand flicked the ball goalwards, but Collin pulled off another save.  Watford had had most of the possession in the first half hour, but gradually Rotherham got back into the game.  Ekstrand lost the ball to Derbyshire who advanced but shot straight at Gomes.  From a Pringle corner, Arnason had a free header but he directed it straight at the Watford keeper.  Just before half time, there was a half chance for Ighalo who was played in by Deeney but snatched at his shot and it flew over the bar.  So we reached half time a goal to the good, but it hadn’t been terribly entertaining.  We’d started the half with some quick passing moves which looked nice but hadn’t amounted to much and, as the half went on, we’d let the visitors get a foothold in the game.

Celebrating  Deeney's strike

Celebrating Deeney’s strike

Watford increased their lead early in the second half after Arnason stuck a leg out to trip Tözsér, who was on his way into the box.  The Icelander was booked and Tözsér stepped up to hit a ferocious free-kick which stung Collins’ palms, the ball fell to Ekstrand who squared for Deeney to tap it into the net.  The third Watford goal came almost immediately as a shot from Layun was parried to Ighalo who tucked it away.  Rotherham never looked like getting back into the game after this.  We could have been further ahead soon after from an unlikely source as Tommie Hoban broke into the box and shot over the bar.  I am reliably informed that this was a source of great amusement for Troy Deeney.  A rare attack from the visitors resulted in a corner which was punched clear by Gomes.  Abdi was the next to threaten the Rotherham goal but his shot from the edge of the area was caught by Collin.  On 67 minutes, Jokanovic made his first substitution replacing Layun with Munari.  Green found himself in the Watford box, but his shot was cleared into the stand by Cathcart.

Preparing for a free kick

Preparing for a free kick

Ighalo was not to get the chance of a hat trick as he was replaced by Vydra with 15 minutes remaining.  Rotherham’s best chance of a goal so far came with a shot from distance by Hammill that flew just wide of the far post.  At the other end, a trip on Abdi earned Smallwood a yellow card and Watford a free kick from which Tözsér went close to increasing the lead but the ball went just wide of the near post.  Abdi really should have scored Watford’s fourth but he volleyed Deeney’s cross over the bar.  Watford’s final substitution saw Deeney make way for Forestieri.  The visitors had a decent chance to pull a goal back as the ball was given away to Hammill who broke forward, his shot was turned around the post for a corner from which Derbyshire shot wide of the target.  Rotherham’s final goal attempt in normal time came from Clarke-Harris, but Gomes dropped to make the save.  There were 6 minutes of time added on, which suited nobody, but it did contain two more goal attempts from the Hornets.  First a shot from Vydra which was blocked by Collin.  In the dying moments Abdi really should have got on the scoresheet as he broke into the box but his shot rebounded off the post.

There was much complaining after the game because, convincing as the win had been, it was the dullest 3-0 imaginable.  The way the team had been set up meant there was no width and little free-flowing football.  Still a win is a win, the goal difference is improved and it is very tight at the top of the table.  Sometimes dull is good.

Canaries do the Double

Ben Watson has his eye on the ball

Ben Watson has his eye on the ball

This fixture was always going to struggle to live up to the excitement of the last few games.  Norwich certainly promised to be tricky opponents having been in decent form since Alex Neil took over.  Team news was that Deeney was restored to the starting line-up which was Gomes, Angella, Ekstrand, Cathcart, Anya, Abdi, Watson, Layun, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney.  Former loanee, Sebastien Bassong, started for the visitors.

It all started rather brightly as Watford fashioned a chance in the second minute but Deeney headed Layun’s cross over the bar.  The first goal attempt for Norwich came from a controversial free kick that was taken short to Whittaker whose shot was high and wide.  Ighalo did really well to retain the ball under pressure from the defenders, played it out to Paredes whose cross was disappointingly hit straight to the Norwich keeper, Ruddy.

Layun lines up a free kick

Layun lines up a free kick

Ighalo won the ball from Bassong in the midfield and played it to Deeney whose shot from an acute angle went wide of the far post.  On 35 minutes, Abdi was hacked down by Tettey on the edge of the box.  The Norwich players surrounded the referee protesting ridiculously at a cynical foul ensuring that Johnson joined Tettey in the referee’s book.  The free-kick was in perfect position for Abdi, but his shot was deflected off a Norwich head and clear.  The half-time whistle went after a total non-event of a half.  Watford had had the better of the possession but Norwich, using fair means and foul, had done a very good job of disrupting our play so there had been little in the way of goalmouth action.  The fact that I had managed barely half a page of notes during the half tells its own story.

Paredes baffled and Jokanovic questioning the fourth official following another odd decision

Paredes baffled and Jokanovic questioning the fourth official following another odd decision

Watford also had the first goal attempt of the second half as a cross from Anya was headed clear.  The corner was disappointing with Layun’s set piece going straight to Ruddy.  Deeney did really well to keep the ball under pressure, he played it in to Ighalo in the box, but the ball was taken off his feet by a Norwich defender before he could shoot.  A break by Johnson was stopped by Cathcart who was booked for the foul.  Tettey shrugged off a challenge from Ighalo, knocking the Nigerian to the ground as he ran into the box, before wellying his shot over the bar.  On the hour, a cross from Anya was blocked, the ball fell to Abdi but he was off balance as he shot and it was an easy catch for Ruddy.  The game changed in the 64th minute as Hoolahan broke into the Watford box and executed a dramatic dive.  It was clear from our vantage point that he was play-acting, but the referee was behind him and pointed to the spot.  Grabban stepped up and hit the penalty to Gomes’s left.  The keeper went the right way but couldn’t reach the ball which nestled in the bottom corner.

Gomes takes a free kick

Gomes takes a free kick

The referee continued to endear himself to the Watford fans as, following a nasty foul by Howson on Abdi, the yellow card was shown to Ben Watson.  I have no idea what he had done, but most likely he had critiqued the referee’s performance.  Jokanovic made his first substitution at this point bringing Munari on for Layun.  The visitors were two goals to the good soon after as Johnson played the ball to Jerome who chipped over Gomes and into the net.  Watford’s second substitution saw Vydra on for Ekstrand.  Watford’s goal was threatened again as Cathcart passed a clearance straight to Grabban whose shot had to be turned around the post by Gomes.  Watford’s final substitution came on 77 minutes as Tözsér replaced Watson.  Watford had a chance to hit back as Vydra received a pass from Ighalo in a decent position to try a shot but he elected to pass to Deeney instead and the ball was cut out.  Norwich had a great opportunity to further increase their lead as a Redmond free kick was met with a smart header from Johnson, but Gomes pulled off a great save as he dived and got a hand to the ball to keep it out.  Norwich scored their third with the next move as Cathcart failed to cut out a cross from Whittaker which reached Grabban, who turned it past Gomes.  Grabban could have had his hat trick soon after as he broke forward but his shot from an angle flew just over the bar.  The last chance of the game fell to Watford, a cross from Anya was headed away from goal by Deeney, it fell to Tözsér who shot wide of the target.

Deeney breaks forward

Deeney breaks forward

There were no boos at the final whistle, mainly because those who indulge in such behaviour had set off for home some time beforehand.  After some terrific performances in the last few weeks, it is difficult to be critical.  The penalty that shouldn’t have been was definitely a turning point, but it was disappointing that we capitulated rather than fighting back as we did at Bolton and Brentford.  Norwich came to disrupt our play and we allowed them to do so a little too easily.  The scoreline flattered the visitors, but we barely had a shot on goal so didn’t deserve anything from the game.  Thankfully, we have another home match on Tuesday in which to get this out of our system.

As there was so little to say about the game, there is time and space to mention a couple of off pitch incidents.  I am reliably informed that there was a fight between Watford fans in the SEJ stand.  Stewards involved and everything.  What is the World coming to?  I was also surprised to hear that Beppe Sannino was at the game.  He told Don afterwards that he was “Sorry Watford lost,” but that we would soon be a Premier League team.  At least Don thought he meant us, not Norwich!  It is good to see that there are no hard feelings there anyway.

Winning Against the Odds

Kick-off

Kick-off

After last week’s injustice on the South Coast, we returned to Vicarage Road, scene of recent goal fests.  With Angella’s red card rescinded the only change from the team that started at Bournemouth was the return of Paredes, meaning that Layun moved to a more central midfield position and Tözsér dropped to the bench.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Munari, Watson, Layun, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney.  With Abdi and Forestieri both back from injury we also had an incredibly strong bench.

In the first minute, a shot from Ighalo was blocked and rebounded to Layun who hit his shot wide of the target.  At the other end a Blackburn corner was headed goalwards by Hanley but deflected for a corner.  Anya broke forward and played a lovely through ball to Layun whose shot was turned around the post by Steele.  The resulting corner was met with a strong header from Angella, but again Steele was equal to it.

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

Ighalo did really well to muscle Hanley off the ball before playing a square pass to Watson whose shot was just over the bar.  As the 20th minute approached, there was a yellow card for each side as Spearing was penalized for taking Deeney out and Paredes was booked for giving Conway similar treatment.  From Blackburn’s free-kick, the ball reached Rhodes in the Watford box, but his shot was high and wide.  Blackburn had another decent chance from a free-kick soon after but Brown’s header flew just past the top corner.   Cathcart was the next player to go into Mr Madley’s book.  The referee was blowing up for some very soft fouls against both teams and this looked like a harsh booking.  Anya tried for some time to get into a position to cross, the Blackburn defence was harrying him, but he kept dropping back to relaunch his attack.  When he finally got his cross in, it dropped to Deeney who paused before shooting and so his attempt was blocked.  Deeney then played a one-two with Ighalo, but was stopped by a great saving tackle in the box.

A stout defence

A stout defence

A Layun corner was cleared as far as Angella who headed down to Anya whose shot was well wide of the near post.  In time added on at the end of the first half, Munari was booked for a foul on Rhodes.  Marshall’s free-kick required a good save from Gomes to ensure that the game was goalless at half time.  It had been a disappointing half of football.  Watford had had some decent possession, but weren’t doing themselves a lot of favours with some dreadful misplaced passes.  But credit to Blackburn who were ensuring that the home team had little time on the ball and, when they were in possession, were closed down and harried into making mistakes.

An attacking corner

An attacking corner

Blackburn had the first chance of the second half, as Rhodes headed a Marshall cross wide.  At the other end, Ighalo was fouled on the edge of the box.  It seemed a perfect position for Layun to try a shot but, instead, Watson played a short ball to Layun who was closed down before he could cross and the chance was gone.  That routine may have looked great on the training ground, but it looked appalling at Vicarage Road.  On the hour, Jokanovic made an attacking substitution taking Hoban off to make way for Vydra.  The Czech’s first shot was easily gathered by Steele who appeared to take it behind for a corner.  At the other end, Gomes had to drop to gather a shot from Conway.  Blackburn threatened again as Gestede headed the ball down to Rhodes whose shot looked likely to break the deadlock until Gomes got across to tip it wide.  Watford failed to clear the corner which fell to Conway whose shot was brilliantly saved by Gomes.  With 17 minutes remaining, it was great to see the return of Abdi as he came on to replace Watson.  Blackburn had another attempt on goal as Conway played the ball back to Cairney who shot over from distance.  Gomes saved the home side again as a Conway free-kick was met with another great save.

14 - Celebrating the miracle goalIn a rare Watford attack, Vydra exchanged passes with Deeney and tried a shot that was blocked, it fell to Paredes who played it out to Deeney whose shot was put out for a corner.  Watford then took an unexpected lead as Layun’s set piece was played on by Angella to Ighalo whose shot found the net by way of Steele’s hand and the post.  The celebration of this miracle included a very long prayer from the goalscorer.  Blackburn tried to hit back and there was a moment of drama as Gomes punched a cross then chased the ball out of the box to welly it over the SEJ stand to loud cheers from the Watford faithful.  Watford appeared to have increased their lead in the final moments as Vydra and Ighalo broke forward and the Czech won a corner from which a cross was headed home by a defender as Ighalo challenged, but the goal was ruled out for offside presumably as Ighalo was deemed to be interfering with play.  There were huge cheers at the final whistle.  It had been a difficult game and the win was hardly deserved, but Blackburn had been such unpleasant opponents that I felt no guilt.  It was no surprise that Gomes won the man of the match award and he was given a tremendous ovation as he did his lap of the pitch applauding the crowd at the end.

If we learnt anything from this game it was that the team has finally injected some steel into their game and we can win when the opposition comes to stop us playing.  That bodes very well for the rest of the season.

Frustration on the South Coast

Jon and Rene in the media area

Jon and Rene in the media area

A Friday night game in Bournemouth meant that I had to take the morning off work to travel and then spend the afternoon in my hotel room calling into work teleconferences.  All of that ensured that there was no time for a walk on the beach, which was rather sad.  But the pub of choice in Bournemouth was delightful even if the cider was a little strong.

Team news was that there were two changes from the magnificent win over Blackpool with Munari and Watson replacing Paredes and Vydra.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Tözsér, Watson, Munari, Layun, Deeney and Ighalo.  As we took our place in the stand, I was surprised to see that we were adjacent to the press area and that Jon and Rene were required to commentate on the game while sitting between the banks of home and away fans.

Layun's extensive pre-match prayer

Layun’s extensive pre-match prayer

We’d been looking forward to this game all week, but it went horribly wrong in the first minute when Kermorgant dispossessed Tözsér, played Miller in and Angella took the escaping player down.  The whistle went and the Bournemouth players surrounded the referee who emerged brandishing a red card.  It seemed very harsh, especially as Cathcart was covering.  You have to wonder what the sea air does to referees facing Angella.  Although, at least on this occasion, he wasn’t dismissed for his remarkable resemblance to Fitz Hall!!!  With such an early dismissal, it felt like the game was over already.  Kermorgant took the free-kick himself which deflected off the wall for a corner from which Pugh headed over.  Watford rejigged the defence with Layun and Anya dropping into a back four.  Bournemouth threatened immediately with a curling cross from Ritchie that was palmed away by Gomes.  Then Deeney broke down the other end and played the ball out to Anya who shot wide of the far post.  The lovely Ighalo then indulged in a spell of showboating to cheer up the travelling Hornets.  Bournemouth threatened again as Ritchie cut inside and shot wide.

06 - Ighalo tries to beat FrancisBut Watford also had chances as Ighalo fed Munari who tried a shot from distance which was blocked.  Then Anya floated a high cross into the box that was caught by Boruc.  The home side had a great chance to take the lead in the 24th minute, but Kermorgant’s shot rebounded off the crossbar.  A great run from Deeney was stopped by Cook who only received a yellow card for the offence, which was greeted with anger from the Watford fans.  From Tözsér’s free-kick, the ball broke to Watson who shot just wide.  Soon after, the ball flew into the Watford crowd signalling a Bournemouth throw.  The away fans decided to indulge in a spot of volleyball and showed no sign of giving the ball back, so Ighalo came over and requested that it be returned in such an endearing manner that the ball was immediately thrown back onto the pitch.  With 10 minutes remaining in the half, Wilson was tripped by Cathcart in the box and the referee pointed to the spot.  With the team down to 10 men and working their socks off, a penalty against us seemed just cruel.  Kermorgant made no mistake from the spot to give the home side the lead.  Arter was very lucky not to follow Angella to the dressing rooms as a two-footed tackle on Munari was deemed worthy of only a yellow card.  Bournemouth had another goal chance but Wilson’s header flew wide of the far post.  Watford could have been in further trouble as Gomes parried a cross, but Cathcart was on hand to put it out for a corner that was easily gathered by the keeper.

When the half time whistle went, there were loud boos from the Watford fans targeting the referee for his appalling decision in sending Angella off.

Deeney and Ighalo waiting for a corner

Deeney and Ighalo waiting for a corner

At the start of the second half, Munari made way for Pudil, allowing Anya to move to the right and Layun to move up to the midfield.  Bournemouth had a good chance to increase their lead on 50 minutes as a Cathcart clearance fell to Ritchie who shot wide of the target.  At the other end a shot from distance by Tözsér was caught by Boruc.  Bournemouth increased their lead in the 56th minute as Ritchie received the ball on the right of the box and buried it in the far corner.  As much as it pains me to say it, it was a quality goal.  Watford tried to hit back as Ighalo played a through ball for Deeney, but he was tackled before he could shoot.  A lovely Bournemouth move finished with a shot from Francis that Gomes dropped to smother.  It looked as if Bournemouth would increase their lead with a powerful header from Kermorgant that Gomes did brilliantly to push wide.

Tozser and Layun line up a free kick

Tozser and Layun line up a free kick

Jokanovic made his second substitution bringing Vydra on for Ighalo.  I must say that I didn’t see that coming.  Bournemouth threatened again with a low shot from Francis that was gathered by Gomes.  Ritchie tested the Watford keeper again, but Gomes was equal to his shot.  Watford had a rare attack as Vydra played a square ball to Deeney who shot wide of the far post.  Bournemouth’s final attack started with a push on Anya that should have been penalised, but they broke forward resulting in a shot that needed another excellent save from Gomes.  In injury time, Mensah replaced Deeney, presumably for some first team experience.  After the final whistle, the Watford players all came over to thank the Watford fans who had continued to sing in support of their team for the entire 90 minutes.

We went into this game anticipating an exciting top of the table clash.  The sending off in the first minute meant that we will never know whether we could have overcome Bournemouth with eleven men.  With the game being changed to Friday evening for television, it also meant that most fans attending had to take time off work and possibly find accommodation for the night due to the lack of public transport home after the game.  In these circumstances, when a refereeing  decision has such an impact on the outcome of the game, you feel doubly cheated.  Let’s hope that we can take this anger into next week’s game.

Seventh Heaven

Paying tribute to Ken Furphy

Paying tribute to Ken Furphy

After last week’s wonderful display, we should have gone into this game with a lot of confidence.  But anyone who has watched Watford this season knows that you cannot predict which team will turn up.  I must admit that when I heard that Blackpool hadn’t won away all season, my heart sank.

We were joined in the West Herts by Jacob, a Danish Watford fan who was making his first visit to Vicarage Road.  Having met Jacob at a pre-season game in Horsens in 2006, it was lovely to see him again and I really hoped that he was in for a treat.

Jokanovic made a single change bringing in Vydra for Munari who had a hamstring problem.  The starting eleven was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Tözsér, Layun, Paredes, Vydra, Ighalo and Deeney lining up in a 3-4-1-2 formation.  Blackpool featured Watford old boy Nyron Nosworthy who was given a great reception by the Watford fans.

Before kick-off, there was a minute’s applause for Ken Furphy who passed away last week.  As the manager who first took us to the old second division and the FA Cup semi-final, he is rightly revered among Watford fans and the applause was warm and loud.

Defending a free kick

Defending a free kick

Blackpool made a good start to the game.  An early cross was caught by Gomes with Davies challenging.  Miller got into a good position, but shot just wide of the far post.  Watford also had an early goal attempt from a Tözsér free-kick which Angella headed over the bar.  The visitors took the lead in the 7th minute as Paredes tackled Ferguson in the box, the ball bounced off Gomes to Orlandi who buried the ball with the Watford keeper out of position.  The home side tried to hit back immediately as Ighalo found Vydra who played a one-two with Deeney before shooting wide of the far post.  Hoban played a ball over the top to Deeney, who appeared to have outpaced the Blackpool defence, but the defender recovered to make a tackle.  A lovely passing move ended with Anya behind the Blackpool defence but his low cross was gathered by Parish before Ighalo could reach it.

Celebrating Deeney's goal

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

Deeney dispossessed Perkins and played the ball out to Ighalo whose shot was disappointingly weak and easy for the keeper.  Paredes crossed for Anya whose shot was blocked by Parish, the ball came out to Deeney who tried an overhead kick that flew well over the bar.  Watford’s next chance was a weak shot from Vydra that was blocked.  Layun was the next to try his luck, but his shot from distance was well off target.  Watford should have equalized on 32 minutes as Ighalo picked the ball up and unleashed a shot that Parish did really well to push over the bar.  The pressure on the visitors’ goal continued as Deeney played a low cross to Vydra but the Czech’s shot was blocked.  The only yellow card of the game went to Blackpool’s Davies who was booked for kicking the ball away to delay a Watford free-kick.  It was not his first effort at wasting time.  Given that the pressure had all been from Watford since the early goal it was something of a shock when Blackpool went two goals ahead.  A shot from Miller was going wide, but Gomes got a hand to it.  From the corner, McMahon found Davies on the goal line where he needed two attempts before he put the ball in the net.  In time added on, Miller had a chance to increase the lead but Gomes dropped to gather.

Congratulating Vydra

Congratulating Vydra

I must be becoming immune to boos from the home fans at the half time whistle as they didn’t register and I was only alerted to them when the bloke in front of me shouted “fickle fans” at those venting their displeasure.  It had been an odd half.  Watford had most of the possession, but had misplaced too many passes and the finishing had been woeful.  We needed a bit more aggression.  At this point I was feeling really sorry for Jacob.

At half-time, the Wealdstone Raider was on the pitch raising awareness of Autism Concern.  He finished his piece by mentioning that Watford season ticket holders can get into Wealdstone games for half price.  He exhorted us to “Come and see a decent team.”

Angella returns from celebrating his goal with the Watford bench

Angella returns from celebrating his goal with the Watford bench

I have no idea what Jokanovic said in his half-time team talk, or what was put in the tea, but whatever it was it worked.  He made a tactical change replacing Hoban with Ben Watson, who was making his debut after signing on Friday.  Anya and Paredes dropped into a back four, so the formation was now 4-3-3.  Within a minute of the restart, Watson won a ball in midfield, he released Ighalo who played it out to Layun who returned the pass for the Nigerian to beat Parish.  Ighalo didn’t wait around to celebrate.  He grabbed the ball from the back of the net and ran back to the centre circle.  Watford were suddenly on fire.  Vydra fed Layun whose cross flew wide of the far post with Deeney unable to connect.  Then Ighalo passed to Deeney who took time to control the ball before shooting just wide.  In a brief foray to the other end, the ball broke to Davies who shot straight at Gomes with the offside flag already raised.  A Tözsér free-kick was headed clear by O’Dea, although I’m not sure how much he knew about it as the impact knocked him over and the ball flew in to the Rookery.  My brother-in-law threw the ball back onto the pitch so is claiming an assist for the second goal which came as Deeney headed Tözsér’s corner home to level the score.

Ighalo thanks Deeney for his unselfish pass for the seventh goal

Ighalo thanks Deeney for his unselfish pass for the seventh goal

Unbelievably, we were ahead on 53 minutes as a long pass from Layun was headed down by Deeney to Ighalo who swept it under Parish and into the net.  The Nigerian did feel able to celebrate on this occasion.  Watford’s fourth came soon after as Anya broke down the left, his cross was cleared, but only as far as Vydra who buried it.  If the fans were happy to see Vydra score, it seemed that the players were even more so, they looked delighted for him as they celebrated.  Blackpool had a chance to pull one back as Gomes had to be smart to turn an O’Hara free-kick wide.  But that was a brief respite for the visitors as Deeney hit a cross which they were relieved to see headed out for a corner before it reached Angella.  Nosworthy almost got on the scoresheet for his former team but he turned the ball just wide of the goal.  From the corner, Angella headed the ball against the post, looked annoyed with himself and made no mistake with the follow-up to put the Hornets 5-2 ahead.  Anya went on another storming run down the left and passed to Vydra whose shot was saved by the feet of Parish.

Ighalo greets the Rookery

Ighalo greets the Rookery

On 68 minutes, Ken Furphy’s picture appeared on the big screen again prompting a minute’s applause to remember his achievement in leading Watford to promotion to the second division for the first time in our history in the 68-69 season.  The home side continued their siege on the Blackpool goal as Deeney crossed for Vydra who nodded the ball down to Ighalo whose shot was saved.  Ighalo’s hat-trick came on 72 minutes as Vydra played a through ball to Deeney, his shot bounced off the post to Ighalo who headed it in.  Jokanovic made his second substitution bringing Munari on for Tözsér.  With 10 minutes to go, Watford made it 7 as Deeney broke into the box and unselfishly played a square ball for Ighalo to tap into an empty net for his fourth goal of the afternoon.  There was only time for Anya to make way for Pudil.  The last 10 minutes were goalless.  At the final whistle, the ground was jumping and the players were warmly applauded.  Ighalo received the man of the match award for the second week running and looked delighted as he walked around the pitch proudly clutching the match ball.

Jokanovic’s half time changes will have done a lot to win over the more sceptical among the Watford faithful.  The early goals in the second half seemed to instil confidence in the Watford players and inject an energy that had been missing in the first half.  An unexpected joy was the work between the three forward players.  They were all playing for each other, which meant each of them put in a more effective performance.  There was just one niggling concern.  I hope that nobody tests that half-time tea for additives.  Oh, and someone needs to stop Jacob returning to Denmark.

Mexican Waves and Nigerian Goals

Tozser, Layun and the vanishing spray

Tozser, Layun and the vanishing spray

Despite the weather warnings, I was still surprised to see snow on the ground when I reached Watford, having seen none on leaving London.   I’m told there had been quite the snow storm in the morning but, thankfully, by lunchtime, the sun was out and the little snow that had settled was already melting.  In fact, having wrapped myself up for icy conditions, it felt positively mild and I was shedding layers as I walked to the West Herts.

There was much pre-match talk of the horror show at Huddersfield and annoyance that a team with such a wealth of talent could put in such an abject performance.  Team news was that there were three changes from that game with Anya, Paredes and Ighalo coming in for Abdi, Pudil and Vydra.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Angella, Cathcart, Hoban, Anya, Munari, Tözsér, Layún, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney.  I must say that only the inclusion of Ighalo was welcomed.  Certainly, the absence of Abdi was much lamented and there was some discussion of the formation until Layún lined up for kick-off in the midfield three.

Cathcart congratulated on the opening goal

Cathcart congratulated on the opening goal

Watford started brightly and had an early shot on goal as Ighalo connected with a cross from Tözsér but headed wide.  Deeney played a through ball for Anya, but the Scot was pulled back by Solly who picked up a very early card for the offence.  In the next move, Anya broke down the left and found Ighalo, who did well to wriggle past the defender on the byline and get in a cross for Deeney whose shot was blocked by the keeper.  From Tözsér’s corner, Angella’s header was blocked by Etheridge and Munari’s follow-up was headed off the line.  Charlton had a moment’s respite when Vetokele broke forward and passed to Gudmundsson whose shot was blocked by Gomes.  When you have a number of early chances and fail to score there is that horrible feeling in the back of your mind that it is not going to be your day.  Thankfully, that feeling was quickly dispelled as Watford made the breakthrough in the 14th minute.  From a corner, the ball came out to Layún whose cross was knocked on by Ighalo to Cathcart who fired past Etheridge.  Layún was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that was blocked by the keeper.

Deeney, Paredes and Ighalo following the second goal

Deeney, Paredes and Ighalo following the second goal

Watford had to make an early substitution as an injury forced Munari off to be replaced by Pudil.  The change meant that Anya joined Layún and Tozser in the central midfield three.  This was interesting, if rather scary.  Watford’s second goal came soon after as a lovely ball over the top from Angella reached Deeney who shrugged off the attentions of Bikey before burying the ball.  Soon after, Etheridge did well to tip a shot from Ighalo around the post.  Then Paredes found Ighalo in the box, the Nigerian had both the ball and his feet taken away from him, but appeals for a penalty were waved away.  On the half hour, a Tözsér corner was headed just over the bar by Angella.  Watford continued to attack as Paredes broke down the right and unleashed a shot that flew just wide of the near post.  Charlton briefly threatened as Harriott found Gudmundsson in a dangerous position but, thankfully, he couldn’t control the ball and it went out for a goal kick.  Pudil played the ball in to Ighalo, who was in the clear, but shot straight at the keeper.  Watford got their third goal just before half-time as Layún found Paredes on the right, he advanced to the byline before cutting the ball back to Ighalo who knocked it past Etheridge.  The goal was no more than Ighalo deserved after his great first half showing and he ran to the corner flag in front of the 1881 and celebrated with Harry Hornet.

Ighalo celebrates with Harry Hornet

Ighalo celebrates with Harry Hornet

At half-time, Pete Fincham was on the pitch making an impassioned speech about Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), a group of genetic skin conditions which cause the skin to blister and tear at the slightest touch.  His two gorgeous elder children, Grace and Freddie, are both sufferers, and it was lovely to see Freddie on the pitch with his Dad and enjoying sliding along the sidelines afterwards.  The club dedicated Saturday’s match to help raise awareness of EB and the work that the charity DEBRA undertakes to care for those affected as well as their investment into researching potential treatments.  If you missed the bucket collection at Vicarage Road and would like to donate to this worthy cause, please visit http://www.debra.org.uk/donate/intro

Watford started the second half on the attack as a lovely passing move finished with Anya playing the ball back to Deeney whose shot was pushed wide of the far post.  For the visitors, Gudmundsson tried to find Cousins in the box, but Gomes was first to the ball.

Celebrating Ighalo's second goal

Celebrating Ighalo’s second goal

Just before the hour, Ighalo scored his second and Watford’s fourth heading home a Tözsér corner.  A rare attack from Charlton finished with a looping shot straight at Gomes.  At this point, Harry Hornet started a Mexican wave which made its way around the stadium twice before petering out.  Welcome to Vicarage Road, Miguel Layún.  Another ball into the Watford box was headed wide by Bikey under a challenge from Angella.  At the other end, a shot from Tözsér flew just over the bar.  Deeney then exchanged passes with Ighalo before curling a lovely shot that Etheridge did really well to push clear.  Ighalo wasn’t to get his hat trick as he was replaced by Vydra on 74 minutes.  He left the field to a standing ovation.  Deeney skipped past a couple of defenders, but his final ball was too far in front of Vydra.  Then Watford had a bizarre chance as Anya dinked the ball goalwards, it hit a defender and appeared to be going in with Etheridge stranded, but was spinning and bounced off the line and out.

Lining up a killer free-kick

Lining up a killer free-kick

With 9 minutes remaining, Anya made way for George Byers, who was making his first team debut.  The youngster was soon in the thick of the action and just as my sister smilingly noted his maiden foul in Championship football, the 1881 started a chant of “knocked down by a twelve year old”.  Watford were still looking to increase their lead as a chip from Deeney was gathered by the keeper.  Then Pudil hit a shot from the left which flew wide of the far post.  In time added on, Bikey was booked for a foul on Vydra.  Layún and Tözsér were both on hand to take the free-kick, but it was the Hungarian who stepped up and blasted it into the far corner for Watford’s fifth goal of the afternoon.

What a difference a week makes.  The players did a lap of the pitch taking very well deserved plaudits from all sides of the ground.  Layun’s home debut had been rather good and his inter-passing with Paredes was a big factor in the Ecuadorian’s best performance for some time.  George Byers had a tidy debut that bodes well for his future.  Ighalo thoroughly deserved his man of the match award although a special mention should also go to Tözsér for an assured performance in the centre capped by a goal and an assist.  It has to be said that Charlton were appalling and gave us the space to play, but we took full advantage.  We now need to start standing up to teams that look to nullify our midfield.  If we can only do that, the rest of the season will be a lot of fun.

Only Here for the Beer

Inside the John Smith's Stadium

Inside the John Smith’s Stadium

It all started so well.  When I arrived in Huddersfield, it was a crisp sunny afternoon.  The designated pre-match meeting place was a lovely proper old pub with the push buttons for ordering your drinks still in the snug (sadly no longer functioning).  The beer was excellent and the brisket butties were absolutely gorgeous.

On arrival at the ground, I assured the woman searching my bag that I had no bottles or cans only to be told, “We’re looking for chocolate.”  The programme was in newspaper format, which I rather liked.  I haven’t seen one of those since Derby stopped publishing the Ram.  The lad selling them increased the sales pitch with “You’re on the front page.”  Actually, they had a Watford picture on one cover page and Huddersfield on the other, but it was an appealing design.  Inside, the interview with young Murray Wallace included Troy Deeney as one of his top three opponents with the comment “At this level, he’s as good as you get.”  The stadium announcer preceded the announcement of the Watford team with “I’ll put my teeth in,” then got to Cathcart and commented “He sounds like a Yorkshireman.”  He also introduced the mascots, including the lad from Watford, listing their favourite players, which I thought was a nice touch.

Tozser on the ball

Tozser on the ball

Watford’s starting line-up looked very strong.  Our new Mexican signing, Layun, went straight into the line-up.  We started with Gomes, Angella, Cathcart, Hoban, Pudil, Munari, Tözsér, Abdi, Layun, Vydra and Deeney.  In the opposition dugout was former Hornet and the nicest man in football (allegedly), Chris Powell.

Watford had the first chance of the game as Deeney flicked the ball on to Vydra who shot wide of the far post.  The bright start for the visitors didn’t continue.  Scannell was giving Angella a torrid time on the Watford left from where he fashioned two early chances.  For the first he cut in but shot across goal and wide of the far post.  For the other his shot was high and wide.  Butterfield played Wells in but his cross was gathered by Gomes.  A shot from the right by Coady was grabbed by Gomes with a little more drama than it deserved.  For the visitors, Abdi broke forward and passed to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  Another Watford break finished with Vydra playing the ball out to Layun, but there were no takers for his cross.  Huddersfield launched a break of their own, which finished with a Vaughan shot that nestled on top of the net.

Waiting to challenge a corner

Waiting to challenge a corner

Huddersfield had a great chance to take the lead as a Butterfield cross was met with a header from Wells that Gomes did very well to tip over.  As Gomes launched a long ball, I was complaining that we should be playing the ball out instead when Deeney flicked the ball on to Munari whose powerful volley was well saved by Smithies.  That had been Watford’s best move of the game so far.  A ball over the top from Abdi was hit first time by Vydra but easily gathered by Smithies.  Vaughan tried a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  Layun’s long-range shot flew wide of the target.  In time added on at the end of the half, Gomes had to drop to gather a shot from Butterfield.

On the balance of play, we were lucky to be level at the interval.  The half-time draw was done by Jonathan Hogg who was also interviewed on the pitch.  I couldn’t help wishing that more of our current team had something of Mr Hogg about them.

Layun, Cathcart and Hoban challenge Vaughan and Wells

Layun, Cathcart and Hoban challenge Vaughan and Wells

The first chance of the second half fell to Watford as Vydra exchanged passes with Abdi before passing out to Layun whose shot was saved.  Soon after, Deeney played the ball out to Pudil whose shot was wide of the far post.  At this point the weather had taken a nasty turn and there was swirling sleet in the stadium.  Miguel Layun must have wondered what he’d got himself into.  On 51 minutes, Huddersfield took the lead as Scannell mishit a shot, it fell to Wells and he buried it.  On the hour, Layun failed to control a ball in midfield and Robinson picked it up but his shot from distance was just over the bar.  Jokanovic made three changes just after the hour bringing Bond on for the injured Gomes as well as Ighalo and Anya for Vydra and Pudil.

Celebrating Ighalo's goal

Celebrating Ighalo’s goal

Ighalo’s first act was to bag the equalizer.  A throw-in from Anya was headed on by Deeney, the Nigerian’s shot went through the keeper’s legs and the ball trickled across the line.  The goal sparked a lively spell for the visitors.  Anya played the ball back to Tözsér whose curling shot was easy for Smithies.  Then Anya cut the ball back to Deeney who returned the pass when he really should have tried a shot and the ball went out for a goal kick.  Watford had a golden chance to take the lead as Ighalo found Abdi in space but, with Smith closing him down, he shot way over the target.  That miss proved very costly as a couple of minutes later a cross from Wells reached Vaughan who shot past Bond’s stretching arm.  That goal had come when Watford were in control and sadly stopped the revival.  Huddersfield’s third came after Bond had punched a corner clear, the ball came back in and fell to Lynch who buried it with an overhead kick.  Watford had a couple of half chances after that, but the game was over and Huddersfield were worthy winners.

It had been a very poor performance against a lively Huddersfield side.  I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if Abdi had taken the chance he had just before the home side scored their second.  But he didn’t and we were well beaten.  We now have two home games and have to quickly find some form.

 

A View from the Bridge

Angella late to the pre-match huddle

Angella late to the pre-match huddle

I love the third round of the FA Cup as it can give an opportunity to play unfamiliar opposition and visit a new ground.  I was on a flight to the US when the draw was made.  On landing I eagerly checked who we’d be playing and my heart sank when I saw it was Chelsea.  How terribly dull.  Still, the pre-match pub had good beer and decent pies and we had a lovely stroll through Brompton Cemetery on the way to the ground.  There we were met by a ridiculous security cordon.  There were so many checking the tickets of those trying to enter the away end that it was almost impossible to find a space to walk between them.  Inside the stadium, I marveled at the array of banners declaring the support of fans from all over the place.  The Cornish flag emblazoned with “East Cornwall” was particularly bizarre.  Oddly enough there were no banners for Chelsea fans that actually come from London.  I much preferred Stamford Bridge when we stood on that open terrace with the hut selling wagon wheels at the back.  It had a bit of character then.

Team news was that there were three changes from the Cardiff game with Bond, Deeney and Tözsér coming in for the injured Gomes, the departed Guedioura and the rested Abdi.  The starting line-up was Bond, Angella, Cathcart, Hoban, Pudil, Forestieri, Tözsér, Munari, Paredes, Deeney & Ighalo.  There was a nice touch from the announcer when he welcomed Jokanovic back to Stamford Bridge.

Challenging for a ball into the box

Challenging for a ball into the box

The first five minutes were awful to watch for a Watford fan as Chelsea played the ball about between themselves as if the Watford players were not there.  Pete commented that we should have kicked off because at least that would have meant a touch.  The home side’s first goal attempt came as a free kick reached Cahill but he volleyed it over the bar.  Thankfully, the visitors soon began to get a foothold in the game and had their first shot on goal with a Tözsér attempt from distance that was easily held by Cech.  Soon after a Tözsér free-kick was headed clear by Drogba.  At the other end a shot from Remy curled past the top corner.  Paredes was booked for jumping into Schürrle much to the disgust of those around me, but it had been a silly challenge.  Deeney tried a shot from distance but Cech was behind it.  Chelsea’s first on target attempt was a decent one as Drogba got his head to a cross from Remy, Bond dropped and did well to keep it out.  Drogba held the ball up and played it square to Schürrle who fired over the target.  Just before half time, Forestieri went on a run into the box but his shot was deflected for a corner.  Watford could have taken the lead on the stroke of half time as Pudil was released and crossed for Ighalo who disappointingly scuffed his shot wide of the near post.

So we reached half time having matched Chelsea, actually having the majority of the three on-target shots.  Mourinho was clearly not impressed with his side’s first half showing as he replaced Schürrle and Oscar with Willian and Diego Costa.

Troy wants the ball

Troy wants the ball

Ten minutes into the half, there was a brilliant reaction save from Cech who stuck out a foot to prevent a Deeney shot deflecting into the far corner.  Chelsea took the lead a couple of minutes later as Willian got the ball on the edge of the box and looped it into the top corner.  Watford tried to strike back immediately as Deeney exchanged passes with Ighalo and unleashed a shot, but Cech was behind it.  Jokanovic made his first substitution replacing Ighalo with Vydra.  Watford’s second booking came as Tözsér knocked Ramires over in an innocuous looking coming together.  A free-kick from distance looped into Bond’s arms.  Chelsea increased their lead on 69 minutes as a shot from Costa was charged down, the ball dropped to Remy who hit it past Bond.  Forestieri, who had been guilty of some poor decision making throughout the game, hit a shot from the edge of the box when a pass to Vydra may have been the better option.  Chelsea’s third came on 73 minutes as Zouma got on the end of a cross to the back post and headed it past Bond.  Jokanovic immediately made his second substitution replacing Tözsér with Abdi.

Abdi lines up a free-kick

Abdi lines up a free-kick

There were loud shouts for a penalty both on the pitch and in the away end as a cross from Forestieri appeared to be handled by Zouma, but the referee waved the appeals away.  Watford pushed for a goal as a shot from Vydra was pushed over by Cech who punched the resulting corner clear while Angella challenged.  Watford’s final change saw Murray come on for Munari.  Chelsea had a great chance for a fourth as Costa hit a free kick over the wall but Bond got a hand to it to push the ball clear.  In the final minute Cathcart exchanged passes with Vydra but his shot was over the target.

While the result may have been expected, the performance had been excellent and the score flattered our hosts.  The Watford fans had been on their feet singing for 90 minutes so deserved the gratitude of the players who came over to thank us.  I looked beyond them to see no Chelsea player on the pitch and the home stands deserted.  What a shame to be so complacent that a 3-0 win is not worthy of celebration.  I’m glad we have that over and done with.  We can now concentrate on the league and look forward to a trip to Huddersfield on Saturday.

A Sunny Day in Cardiff

The Norwegian contingent (and Don)

The Norwegian contingent (and Don)

After the dreadful performance on Boxing Day, you have to question the wisdom of getting up bright and early for a trip to Wales two days later.  My travelling companions for the game were the Norwegian contingent and WML stalwarts from the early days, Tim and Trond.  Tim was visiting from his home in Vietnam, with his lovely daughter, Jemima, who arrived decked out in Watford gear.  The pre-match venue was an arts centre which treated me to a couple of pints of Rosie’s Pig and a lovely Catalan-style fish stew.  Not your usual pre-football meal, but much appreciated on a cold day.

In contrast to Friday’s downpour, the walk to the ground was under a clear blue sky.  We soon encountered a local who asked us to be gentle with them.  He then changed his mind and said that a number of home fans were hoping for a tonking which would hasten the demise of their “clueless” manager.  I reflected that I could have been listening to a Watford fan in the aftermath of the Wolves game.  The merchandise stalls on the way to the ground were selling nothing but blue and white scarves.  Tan’s attempts to turn them red are on a hiding to nothing.

Awaiting a coner

Awaiting a coner

There was much consternation in the away concourse when the team news came through as Jokanovic had made six changes from Friday.  Although there was logic in all the changes, six seemed a step too far.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Pudil, Abdi, Munari, Guedioura, Paredes, Forestieri and Ighalo.  The announcement that the referee was Stuart Atwell was greeted with boos from the travelling Hornets.

Watford had a chance to take the lead in the second minute as a lovely passing move finished with a powerful shot from Abdi that Marshall did well to push over.  At the other end, a Cardiff free-kick appeared to be headed on by Guedioura but Morrison’s cross was cleared.  The Watford fans had been in good voice at the start of the game and soon started baiting the home fans with “Is this a library?”  I couldn’t help feeling sad at this as Ninian Park had always been an intimidating cauldron of noise.  These new soulless bowls just kill the atmosphere.

Congratulating Guedioura

Congratulating Guedioura

Cardiff threatened again as Whittingham hit a free kick wide.  I don’t know what the significance of the 19th minute was for the Cardiff fans, but at that point they stood and displayed their blue and white scarves just as Whittingham delivered a free kick that was headed home by Le Fondre.  Watford tried to hit back as Forestieri found Guedioura in the box, he was knocked over and felt it should have been a penalty so grabbed the ball.  Atwell signalled a free-kick and delivered a ticking off.  Paredes had been ineffectual in the opening quarter of the game but in the 23rd minute he delivered a cross that Ighalo volleyed over the bar.  At the other end Noone hit a shot from the edge of the box that flew wide of the near post.  Hoban gave the ball away to Jones who squared the ball for Le Fondre whose shot was weak and easy for Gomes to gather.  Just before the half hour, Watford started to dominate.  First a shot from Guedioura that was over the target.  Then Pudil and Forestieri exchanged passes but the Czech’s shot was also well over the bar.  A lovely cross by Guedioura was headed out for a corner by Jones.

Celebrating Ighalo's header

Celebrating Ighalo’s header

Guedioura played a free kick to Paredes whose cross was disappointingly hit straight at a defender.  Ighalo crossed for Forestieri, but he failed to capitalize and the ball was cleared.  I was making a note of this when I heard a noise and looked up to see the ball hitting the back of the net.  I hate it when that happens.  I now know that the ball had reached Munari who chipped it into the box for Guedioura to volley home.  The goal seemed to instil confidence in the visitors whose passing improved immensely.  Watford took the lead as the clock started for injury time when a Pudil cross was headed home by Ighalo.

It had been a weird first half.  We’d started well and completely dominated possession, but had done nothing with it.  The crowd had been on their feet chanting early in the game but by the half hour mark had fallen into silence and I had slumped to my seat in frustration at what I was watching.  Suddenly we scored two goals, the mood on the pitch and in the stands improved and we ended the half on our feet celebrating.

Abdi on the ball

Abdi on the ball

There was a warning from Cardiff at the start of the second period as Whittingham’s shot was blocked by Cathcart, it rebounded to Morrison who shot over the bar.  A lovely ball was played to Forestieri on the left, he dribbled into the box but couldn’t decide whether to shoot or pass so dithered on the ball until he was tackled.  The ball came back in and Guedioura was running on to it, but he was stretching so could only poke it wide.  Ighalo showed some silky skills with a couple of drag backs before a shot from an acute angle that Marshall blocked, it fell to Guedioura whose shot was gathered by Marshall.  Forestieri tried a shot from distance that was parried by Marshall.  Watford came close to increasing their lead as Abdi played the ball out to Guedioura who crossed for Ighalo but his shot was blocked at the post.  On the hour Slade made two substitutions with Adeyemi and Gunnarsson making way for Harris and Ralls.  This move was greeted with a chant of “You don’t know what you’re doing,” from the home fans.

Celebrating Guedioura's second goal

Celebrating Guedioura’s second goal

After a rare mistake from Guedioura, the travelling Hornets started chanting his name.  We were rewarded as he received the ball 25 yards out and smashed it in off the underside of the bar.  Cue mental celebrations in the away stand and a smug feeling that we deserved an assist for that one.  The chant changed to “Sign him up” at that point.  We thought the fourth was coming a couple of minutes later as Forestieri ran on to a through ball from Paredes and had only the keeper to beat, but the linesman’s flag was up as he knocked it into the net.  There was a rare foray into the Watford box as a couple of Cardiff corners came to nothing, the second was punched clear by Gomes, who was fouled in the process.  Jokanovic made his first substitution on 70 minutes replacing Paredes with Anya.  Anya’s first contribution was a run down the right, he beat his man and whipped in a cross that rebounded to Guedioura whose shot was blocked and went out for a corner.  Watford could have increased their lead from the set piece, but Hoban directed his header over the bar.  At the other end a shot from distance from Noone curled wide of the near post.  Both sides made a substitution on 77 minutes, Macheda coming on for Le Fondre and Tözsér replacing Abdi for the visitors.

Angella celebrates in front of the travelling Hornets

Angella celebrates in front of the travelling Hornets

Watford’s final substitution saw Forestieri make way for Deeney for the last 10 minutes.  Troy made an immediate impact as he crossed for Angella to head the fourth past Marshall.  Into time added on, Watford were still looking to increase the lead as Guedioura played a through ball to Ighalo but the Nigerian was flagged offside.  Cardiff broke down the other end where Noone crossed for Jones to head home to reduce the deficit although there were very few Cardiff fans left in the stadium to cheer their goal.  There was one last chance for each side.  Deeney broke forward and crossed for Ighalo to volley goalwards, but Marshall was behind the ball.  At the other end a dangerous looking shot from distance from Noone flew just wide of the far post.  So Watford finished the game worthy winners.

What a difference a couple of days makes, as the travelling Hornets cheered their heroes off at the end of the game.  Guedioura was my man of the match, not just for the goals but for some strong tackles he made in the midfield.  That game marked the end of his loan spell.  I hope that it isn’t the last we see of him in a Watford shirt.  After the last two games, I can’t begin to predict what will happen in the new year, I just hope that it brings much happiness to my fellow hornets.

Defeat to Wolves in the Rain

The teams take to the field

The teams take to the field

My niece, Amelia, has been coming to occasional games for years.  This season she has become a regular, so a half season ticket seemed a perfect Christmas present and Boxing Day’s game against Wolves was her first match as a season ticket holder.  Since the game was at an odd time, I wasn’t sure what time to leave, but wanted to get to the West Herts early to ensure a decent parking space.  When we arrived the car park was oddly deserted.

The rain was pouring down as we made our way to the ground, it was cold and wet and nasty.  Not the best conditions for football.

Jokanovic made three changes from the Reading game.  Doyley was in for the suspended Angella, Munari and Paredes returned in place of Guédioura and Pudil.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Bassong, Cathcart, Doyley, Anya, Abdi, Tözsér, Munari, Paredes, Deeney and Vydra.  For the visitors, Kuszczak and Danny Graham were on the bench for Wolves, the latter getting a tremendous reception from the home crowd when his name was announced.  The Wolves dugout also contained a Watford legend, in the person of their manager, Kenny Jackett.

Kenny Jackett in the visitors' dugout

Kenny Jackett in the visitors’ dugout

The pre-match build-up was a bit of a shambles.  When the player photo went up on the screen for the number seven, there was Battocchio smiling out at us instead of Guédioura.  Then the music system malfunctioned, so there was an eerie silence and I found myself humming Z-cars as the teams came out.  As a final straw, there were boos following the toss as the players changed ends.  There is a superstition that we never do well when we attack the Rookery in the first half.

Wolves had the best of the early exchanges.  From a corner, Gomes punched the ball as far as Iorfa who, luckily for the home side, opted to pass instead of shooting.  Paredes lost the ball to Sako who played it to Van La Parra whose shot from distance was just wide.  Iorfa exchanged passes with McDonald in the Watford box before shooting wide.  A low cross from van La Parra was almost turned in at close range by Edwards, but Gomes dropped to push it around the post.  From the corner, the ball squirmed out of Gomes’s hands but was thankfully cleared.  At this point, Paredes took his gloves off, it looked like he meant business but, sadly, it didn’t improve his performance.

A throw from Anya

A throw from Anya

Watford threatened the Wolves goal for the first time from a Tözsér free-kick, but the keeper, Ikeme, dropped and gathered the ball.  Wolves were completely dominant at this point.  They were strong and their passing was effective, in contrast to the sloppy play that the home side were demonstrating.  Wolves should have taken the lead in the 17th minute with a strong shot from Hause that was curling in when Gomes pushed it over the bar.  From the corner, the ball was headed out to van La Parra whose shot was pushed clear by the keeper.  In a rare Watford attack, Vydra found Deeney who advanced and shot, but it was blocked, the ball came back in to Munari who played it to Tözsér whose shot was also blocked.  Deeney played the ball out to Paredes whose shot was deflected wide.  Then Anya played the ball back to Abdi but again the shot was deflected wide.  This had been a better spell from the Hornets, but they hadn’t really threatened the Wolves goal.  The visitors had another chance to take the lead as Sako broke through the defence but Gomes came out to challenge and caused him to shoot wide.  Deeney stretched to play a ball on the sidelines, Hause fell over him and Troy was booked.  In time added on, Gomes had to be alert again to punch a corner clear.  The half-time whistle went after a dreadful first half performance from the home side who, if not for the brilliance of Gomes, could have been three goals behind.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

The visitors threatened early in the second half as a corner was punched out by Gomes, it was headed back in by Price but the keeper was able to gather.  Watford had their first shot on target as Vydra received a cross from Paredes but Ikeme caught the ball.  A lovely passing move featuring Deeney, Vydra and Anya finished with a low shot from Tözsér which was caught by Ikeme.  It felt like we were punished for finally showing a moment of quality as van La Parra immediately broke upfield and crossed for Dicko to hit the ball past Gomes.  After the keeper’s first half heroics, it was a terrible shame that he was beaten by what was rather a poor effort.  Another ball into the Watford box, this time by Sako, was met with a weak overhead kick from Edwards that went wide of the near post.  Just after the hour Jokanovic made two changes bringing Ighalo on for Vydra and replacing Munari with Forestieri.  Stearman was the first Wolves player to be booked as he handled to stop a Watford break.

Watford on the attack

Watford on the attack

A Tözsér free-kick led to a goalmouth scramble, but no Watford player was able to apply the finishing touch.  Then Doyley headed a Tözsér corner down for Bassong, but Ikeme saved on the line.  Tözsér was the next player to be booked as he delayed passing and was tackled by Edwards so pulled him back to prevent a break.  He was substituted almost immediately with Guédioura coming on.  Deeney got in a great position to try for an equalizer but his shot drifted wide of the far post.  Ighalo then stung Ikeme’s hands, Doyley’s follow-up was blocked.  At the other end Doyley chested the ball down to Gomes, but Dicko was close by and the keeper had to be quick to gather.  There was some head tennis in the Wolves box, but it didn’t result in a shot.  In time added on, we thought we’d rescued a point as Ighalo’s powerful shot was heading for the goal but clattered off the crossbar.  It was disappointing but, despite the improved performance in the second half, Wolves were worthy winners.

It was cold and wet as we trudged back to the car.  Thankfully, despite the crowd of over 17K, there was no traffic and we were home in the warm in no time.  I spent most of the journey apologising to Amelia and suggesting that she would have been better off watching it on TV.  But, when we said our goodbyes, I got a big hug and thanks for her lovely Christmas present.  What have I done?