Tag Archives: Giedrius Arlauskis

Capoue Breaks His Duck

A welcome to Stevenage in the Ladies

A welcome to Stevenage in the Ladies

Pre-season continued on Thursday night in Stevenage.  I was delighted when my final meeting of the day finished early, so I was able to make a quick getaway.  Not so pleased to find that my card wouldn’t work in the ticket machines and the trains were delayed.  Thankfully, a late running train left at the time that I had intended to leave and I was in the pub in Stevenage in plenty of time to meet my companions and have a swift pint or two.  After a dissection of last season and the Euros, we left for the ground.  Having thought that we had left plenty of time before kick-off, we were a bit shocked to arrive at the turnstiles to see huge queues and realize that having pre purchased our tickets was not going to speed our entry to the stadium.  I hate being outside the ground and hearing the whistle go for kick-off, but we were soon inside and took our place in a packed away stand.

Catching up on the team news, I noted that the conspiracy theorists would have been pleased (disappointed?) to see Deeney in the starting line-up replacing Vydra.  The starting XI was Gomes, Nyom, Britos, Hoban, Amrabat, Capoue, Suarez, Berghuis, Holebas, Deeney and Ighalo.

The first half was standard pre-season fare, although Watford did create the best of the chances.  Ighalo had a couple of shots cleared off the line, one of which had he and Deeney in a long discussion with the referee trying to convince him that a hand had kept the ball out of the net.  Capoue also had a couple of decent chances but, in usual fashion, the shots didn’t trouble the goalkeeper.  The referee was allowing the players to get away with some rather robust tackles, which had the consequence that the challenges were getting worse and worse as the half went on, culminating in a nasty looking scissor challenge from Berghuis on Fox that resulted in a spot of handbags.  It was the home side that had the last chance of the half with a shot from Godden that flew just over the bar.

Capoue congratulated on his first goal for the Hornets

Capoue congratulated on his first goal for the Hornets

Watford made four changes at the start of the second half, bringing Arlauskis, Anya, Doucouré and Guedioura on for Gomes, Amrabat, Suárez and Berghuis.  The visitors opened the scoring early in the second half.  I was quite glad that I wasn’t sitting behind the goal at this point as seeing Capoue shape to shoot would likely have meant that I would have ducked and missed the goal.  Instead I was in prime position to see him curl a gorgeous shot past Jones in the Stevenage goal.  The hearty rendition of his song stumbled a bit when it got to “Quique’s man”, but we recovered.  The second half was terrific entertainment.  Watford had chances to increase the lead as Ighalo hit the bar and Deeney was left smiling ruefully as his shot came back off the far post.  Sinclair went on a lovely run before crossing for Deeney, who was frustrated again as Chris Day, who had come on as a substitute, blocked the shot with his feet.  Finding out that Chris is now a veteran of 40 makes me feel very old indeed.  I remember a very young Chris presenting me with a cheque on the pitch when I won the Hornets lottery.  It is very hard to believe that was nearly 20 years ago.  It wasn’t all Watford and Pett had a decent chance to level the score with a shot from the edge of the area, but Arlauskis was equal to it.  The Hornets made certain of the victory in the last minute of the game when Sinclair headed home a lovely cross from Abdi.

Mazzarri expressing his frustration

Mazzarri expressing his frustration

So a perfect pre-season game.  A very entertaining performance on a lovely Summer evening with a couple of goals to savour and a chance to become more familiar with some of the new boys.  The more I see of Doucouré, the more I like him.  He has described himself as a box to box midfielder, which was every apparent in this game and he has a lovely touch.  Sinclair again looked lively and, this time, found the net.  But man of the match was Capoue who put in a typically assured performance topped off with a lovely goal.  Now that he has broken that duck, I hope he is a regular on the scoresheet.  It is early days but this team is shaping up to be quite formidable, which bodes well for the new season.

Mazzarri Braves the Wilds of Woking

Troy and Don discussing pre-season

Troy and Don discussing pre-season

I know that a lot of people have no interest in pre-season friendlies, but I love them.  It is a chance to catch up with old friends, get familiar with current players’ new hair styles and have a first look at any new players.  It is also a chance to watch your team in a game when the result doesn’t really matter, so you can just enjoy yourself.

When I checked Woking FC’s website for directions to the ground, I was a little perturbed to see a statement in bold text stating that, for personal safety reasons, they recommended that ‘unaccompanied women and children’ did not attempt the 15 minute walk from the railway station to the ground but took a taxi instead.  I pondered the danger while remembering walks back to hotels in Burnley and Doncaster after evening games and decided that I would take my chances in Woking.

I am pleased to say that my walk through leafy Surrey passed without incident and, on arrival at the ground, I heard my name called and turned to see Dee and Mike who had just arrived.  When we passed through the turnstiles we spotted Don, Trond and Gavin and all was right with the World.  Prior to kick-off, Don and co. were joined by Troy Deeney who Don quizzed about the pre-season tour.  Troy was not playing because of a knock but said he’d done three training sessions that day.  As always, he was very willing to chat and pose for photos.  One guy asked if he was going to stay.  “I’ve just signed a new contract, what more can I do?”

Poke saving from Britos

Poke saving from Britos

Before the teams were announced, I wondered how many players I would recognize, but the starting line-up contained no newcomers and no new hair styles as Gomes, Nyom, Britos, Hoban, Anya, Capoue, Suarez, Berghuis, Amrabat, Ighalo and Vydra, lined up in a 3-5-2 formation.

We were stationed in the large stand behind the goal that Watford attacked in the first half and, after a quiet start to the game, there was suddenly a flurry of activity in front of us as Britos twice met Berghuis corners with headers, the first of which was cleared off the line, the second saved by the Woking keeper, Poke.  Suarez then tested the keeper with a volley from distance which required a decent save to deny the Spaniard.  Ighalo was the next to threaten from a corner, but I watch goalbound headers from Ighalo more in hope than expectation, so was not surprised to see Poke make the save.

Congratulating Berghuis on his goal

Congratulating Berghuis on his goal

The Hornets took the lead on 20 minutes as Anya cut the ball back to Berghuis whose shot took a deflection and ended up in the back of the net off the gloves of Poke.  It had been all Watford to this point so it was slightly irritating when the home side equalized soon after.  They won a free kick in a dangerous position, Gomes got his hand to the initial shot, but the loose ball was turned in.  I must admit that, at the time, I was rather distracted by the beautiful Red Kite that was soaring over the field, I hope that the same was not the case with the Watford defence.  The visitors had an excellent chance to regain the lead as Ighalo played a one-two with Capoue but his shot was well over the target.  The pitch had been cutting up rather badly so we were then treated to the sight of Capoue on groundsman duty, replacing the divots.  Les Simmons would have been impressed.  Ighalo tried to meet a Berghuis cross with a spectacular shot and missed completely.  In the last minute of the half, Woking had another free kick in a dangerous position but, with no Kite to help, it missed the target.

Suarez, Hoban and Britos

Suarez, Hoban and Britos

The start of the second half saw six substitutions with Arlauskis, Guedioura, Watson and Oularé coming on and a first chance to see Doucouré and Sinclair in Watford shirts.  Sinclair made a lively start as he turned in the box and forced a save before heading a cross from Anya over the bar.  Then Doucouré had a chance with a shot from distance.  Mazzarri made further substitutions during the half with Holebas coming on for Amrabat and Hoban replaced by Success.  The enthusiasm to see the young Nigerian play was slightly tempered by the fact that he was wearing Lloydy’s no 12 shirt (sob!)  Arlauskis was called into action to deal with a cracking shot from Kretzschmar that he parried with both hands.  An assured save that was in contrast to much of his performance.  His tendency to come charging out of goal to intercept balls that the defence is already dealing with was not doing my delicate nerves a lot of good.  Late in the game Britos made a great saving tackle that prevented a goal opportunity for the home side.  Soon after, the final substitution saw the Uruguayan replaced by Charlie Rowan.  The last action of the game was a weak shot from Thorburn that was easily saved by Arlauskis and the game ended in a draw.

Oulare and Doucoure

Oulare and Doucoure

It had been a game of two halves.  The first had been very enjoyable with Watford peppering the Woking goal and being frustrated by a combination of a decent performance from Poke and the 11 men lined up to stop them.  It was a shame that we didn’t make more of the chances, but it was a good run out.  In contrast, the second half was scrappy featuring a number of players who had only met the previous Monday and it showed.  Of the new players, Sinclair looked lively and fashioned a couple of chances.  Doucouré also showed up well, although a few times when he appeared to have an opportunity to shoot, he passed to Success instead.  The Nigerian was given less time to impress and, given that the overall performance was somewhat chaotic when he came on, it was difficult to form an impression.  It was lovely to see Tommy Hoban back in action.  Ighalo and Vydra were both in frustrating mode, although Ighalo had the better of the chances that were created.

As we left the ground, the players who had played in the first half were milling around the car park.  It was a chance for photos with a group who were all on good form.  Ighalo was in a particularly good mood, although his footwear was decidedly dodgy particularly as it was in Luton colours.  After a while, the second half team emerged to get on the team bus.  Last to emerge was Mazzarri, who I was surprised to see surrounded by stewards although a “Welcome to Watford” was greeted with a smile and “Thank-you,” which was repeated by the man that was identified as his translator, just in case I hadn’t understood the first time.

And so the build up to the new season starts.  Who knows what joys and sorrows we have to come, but I am really looking forward to finding out.

A Rare Win at Villa Park

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

Having endured the international break and then missed the Man Utd game due to work commitments, I was very happy to be going to a football match again.  On the train to Birmingham, I spotted a familiar face so was graced with delightful company for the journey.  The pre-match pub was a good one and even featured a blackboard offering “a match made in heaven” which was perched atop some gold and red baubles.  Was this a good omen?  A couple of the usual suspects were accompanied by Villa fans who, along with the locals, were prophets of doom for their team’s chances.  That always worries me as, in many years of following the Hornets, the bankers have never been those that we win.

Team news was that Flores had made two changes from the Man United game bringing Aké and Paredes in for Anya and Jurado.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Abdi, Deeney, Paredes and Ighalo.

A blurred celebration of the first goal

A blurred celebration of the first goal

The first chance of the game fell to the visitors as Ighalo played in Deeney on the edge of the box, but he hit the ball over the bar.  This bright start was followed by a longish spell of Villa pressure.  Ayew was the first to threaten the Watford goal as he broke forward and crossed, Gomes parried and Cathcart cleared.  Then, from a corner, a Sinclair header rebounded off the bar to safety.  Another Villa corner was met by Cathcart who cleared over the bar.  On 13 minutes, the young lad behind me complained that we should be winning.  That level of expectation is always worrying as it stops the crowd getting behind the team when they need them most.  Thankfully, he was placated 3 minutes later as Watford took the lead against the run of play.  Ighalo got into the box and manoeuvered into position for a shot, which was saved, the ball fell to Watson on the edge of the box, his shot was blocked and the ball rebounded to Ighalo who was in front of the Villa defence and made no mistake with his finish.  As we celebrated, the Villa players were calling for an offside decision.  Clark came over to question the lino on our side of the field, but was sent packing and the Hornets were a goal to the good.  The mood in the away end improved and there was even a spell of bouncing.  Watford looked to increase their lead but Deeney’s cross was cut out by Richards who had Ighalo lurking behind him.  Villa broke straight down the other end to win a corner from which they really should have scored, but Ayew shot wide from close range when it looked easier to hit the target.

An Abdi leap to challenge

An Abdi leap to challenge

Another Villa corner was headed clear by Watson.  At the other end, Deeney played a lovely through ball to Capoue, who had the goal at his mercy but shot straight at Guzan giving him an easy block.  Pete commented that maybe Capoue should get the odd half chance, because he never buries the easy ones.  A long ball from Britos was cleared by Richards with Deeney challenging.  Then Sánchez gave the ball away to Deeney, who probably should have tried a shot but instead tried a pass to Ighalo that was intercepted by Richards.  At the other end, a ball into the Watford box was cleared as far as Gueye who curled a shot just wide.  Villa had a great chance to equalize on the half hour as Ayew’s shot was parried by Gomes.  Sinclair should have done better with the follow-up, but hit it straight at the Watford keeper.  Sinclair then had a much better effort that required a really good save from Gomes to keep it out.  There was frustration for the visitors as Ighalo was prevented from reaching a lovely ball from Abdi by a tug on his shirt that was missed by the referee, much to his and our annoyance.  At the other end, the home side had another great chance to equalize as a corner reached Clark in the 6 yard box and he slid the ball wide from close range.  Villa threatened again as a Gomes punch went to Sánchez who, kindly, returned it to the Watford keeper.  With 10 minutes to half time, Villa won a free kick.  There were a lot of complaints in the away end about the distance that the referee pushed the wall back as it seemed considerably more than the required 10 yards.  The kick was taken, Richards had a free header and the game was level.  If truth be told, it was no more than Villa deserved as the visitors had been hanging on for some time.  The home side had a chance to take the lead just before half time, but Ayew just failed to connect with Sinclair’s ball across the box.

Britos lines up a free kick

Britos lines up a free kick

So the game was level at half time, but it had been a poor half from the visitors.  The weather which was windy with rain showers may have had an effect on the players, but it was certainly affecting the crowd.  Those who had priority booking for this game were housed in the lower tier.  My party were fortunate as our seats were far enough up that we had the protection of the roof, but half time saw the concourse packed with those from the seats at the front taking shelter from the rain.

There was a lively start to the second half as a Watson corner was met by a back-header from Deeney that was cleared.  Another corner was met with a side foot from Deeney that was cleared off the line.  On the hour, Gomes parried a cross and, while we missed seeing his collision with Cathcart, it was soon apparent from our vantage point in the stands that he was in a lot of pain, holding his head.  Heurelho was down having treatment for a considerable time, which is always a worry.  During the long break in play, the Villa fans decided to goad Deeney and the Watford fans responded with “Troy Deeney, Watford’s Number 9”.  I think it was also during this period that a moron in the Watford crowd decided to throw a flare onto the pitch.  They were identified and arrested so no more away days for them.  Heurelho was finally put into a neck brace and carried off on a stretcher, a sad sight.  But I was very impressed to see the Villa fans all rising to stand and applaud him off.  That is the way that it should be, but it was still really nice to see.  He was replaced by Arlauskis who came on wearing a short sleeved shirt on a cold day.  At the same time, Anya came on for Paredes, who had not had the best of games.  For the home side Adama Traoré replaced Gil.

Paredes on the move

Paredes on the move

Very soon after the game restarted Watford regained the lead.  A ball into the box from Deeney just seemed to drift into the Villa goal.  I couldn’t see who applied the final touch but it was put down as an own goal by Hutton.  Villa tried to bounce back from a corner, but the ball was turned just wide by Watson.  Then Nyom exchanged passes with Capoue on the right wing and hit a cross that was just a little too far in front of Ighalo.  Traoré had been menacing the Watford defence with his pace since he came on and soon drew a foul from Capoue that earned the Watford man a yellow card.  With 10 minutes remaining, Guedioura, the man with a permanent smile on his face, came on for Abdi.  Watford had a decent chance to further increase their lead as a lovely ball over the top from Cathcart was met with a volley by Deeney which flew over the bar.  Villa’s next substitution saw Gueye replaced by Gestede, which was a bit of a worry as I feel that he has done well against us in the past.  Arlauskis’s first involvement was not impressive as he dropped a cross from Traoré but, luckily, a defender was on hand to welly the ball clear.

The players' celebration masked by that in the Deadly Doug stand

The players’ celebration masked by that in the Deadly Doug stand

Watford were given a welcome cushion as a shot from Ighalo was blocked and looped up for Deeney to head home in front of the Holte End.  Judging by his reaction, I think Troy enjoyed that goal as much as, if not more than, we did.  The next contribution from Arlauskis was as worrying as his first, as an easy ball into the box that appeared to be falling straight into his arms was fumbled and dropped.  Thankfully he was alone in the box so had time to recover.  Villa pulled a goal back with a couple of minutes of normal time remaining as Ayew got the ball in the box turned and hit a terrific shot past Arlauskis to set up a nervous end to the game for the travelling Hornets.  From the restart Guedioura went on an impressive run and unleashed a shot that Guzan pushed around the post.  There was no surprise when the fourth official indicated 10 minutes of time added on but we could have done without it.  However, the first chance of time added on fell to the Hornets and it was Guedioura again but, again, Guzan was equal to his shot.  Aké was the next to get in on the act, hitting a shot from the edge of the area that was deflected wide.  Then a long ball flew over the head of Sánchez, as Deeney ran on to it the travelling faithful were screaming at him to shoot, but he took his time and his shot was blocked for a corner.  Deeney had another run on goal, this time instead of shooting he passed to Capoue whose cross was blocked for a corner, which was a good opportunity to waste a bit of time and the full time whistle went for a Watford win, provoking huge cheers in the away end.  In the post-match celebrations Flores blew a kiss to the crowd, while Deeney was beaming and couldn’t stop himself from gesturing (although not in a vulgar manner) to the home crowd.  They had given him enough grief that they deserved a little back.  Apart from that, there were very few of them left and it amused us greatly.

Ake and Ighalo anticipate

Ake and Ighalo anticipate

This wasn’t a great performance from the Hornets.  Our defence has been masterful this season, but was challenged more than might have been expected by a team that are struggling.  Deeney frustrated me as he seemed reluctant to shoot at times.  But we left Villa Park with three points and Deeney had scored his fourth goal in five games, so it seemed churlish to complain.  I couldn’t help harking back to our last visit to Villa Park for a league game when we went down to a harsh defeat at a time when we already felt doomed.  On this occasion, it was the home fans that were bemoaning their fate on the way out of the ground.  On the train back to London, we were sat opposite a Villa fan travelling with his son.  He had been very impressed with our movement and was much more positive about our performance than we were.  He said that he had a soft spot for Watford, probably because we had shared a manager (and what a manager).  He said that he had travelled on the local train to the ground surrounded by Watford fans and had been impressed by their spirit and conversation.  He then bemoaned what he was doing to his son by encouraging him to follow Villa when he could have chosen to support Chelsea or Man Utd.  Richard and I both assured him that his parenting skills were spot on in that regard.

We are now 14 games in to the season in 11th place and with 19 points on the board.  So just over a third of the way through the season with a points total that is almost halfway to safety.  I was sceptical about our chances following promotion, but I am loving this mid-table obscurity.

Of course the icing on the cake was the news that Gomes had been given the all clear and was able to travel home on the team bus.  He even tweeted to say that he just had a stiff neck.  What a relief.

Ultras and Bouncy Castles

The cycle rack outside the  Eintracht Stadion

The cycle rack outside the Eintracht Stadion

Having had plenty of notice of the pre-season tour this year, flights were booked some time ago for the trip to Braunschweig and Paderborn.  The evening before I left, I was on the way home from a performance of La Boheme at the Royal Opera House when I was greeted with the news that Friday’s game had been cancelled.  So, after very little sleep, I was not best pleased to be on an early flight to Germany with little idea of what to do with the next two days.  Still, I was sure that I could keep myself amused.

When I changed trains at Hannover, I saw some familiar faces on the platform.  Ian is one of the regular away travellers that I often meet on trains to games, but it was still a little incongruous to encounter him and his brother at a station in Germany.  I must say that, having travelled out on my own, I was rather pleased to have companions for the remainder of the journey.  During the trip to Braunschweig it was decided that, since Rayo Vallecano were to take Watford’s place in that evening’s game, we would take in the match at the Eintracht Stadion anyway.

On arrival at the ground, the first thing that I noticed was the huge number of bicycles that were chained up outside.  You would never see that at an English ground.  The next thing of note was the beer stand where I met my travelling companions and quenched my thirst after the long walk in the heat.

You'll Never Walk Alone Braunschweig Style

You’ll Never Walk Alone Braunschweig Style

When we entered the stadium, we found that the standing area that we had chosen was the home of the local Ultras.  They were gathered at the front of the terrace, so we were in a good position to observe.  As the teams emerged, we were a little surprised when scarves were raised and a rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” rang out.  The home fans were great entertainment.  The level of noise generated for a pre-season game was incredible, with quite a variety of songs ringing out.  There was also rather a lot of liquid being thrown about.  At first I thought they were throwing beer around, then it became apparent that there was a barrel of water at the front that was being liberally distributed into the crowd to cool them down on a warm evening.  With the score at one apiece going in to the final few minutes, there was a conga through the stand.  I’m not sure that any of the participants were aware that they conceded a late goal and lost the game.  After the match, we headed on the tram back to town and had dinner and beers at a traditional German restaurant.

Behrami before I saw him put in a tackle

Behrami before I saw him put in a tackle

My plan for Saturday had been to do a bit of sightseeing.  But, having been deprived of a chance to see Watford play, those travelling had been invited to send their contact details to the club and so I had received a call from Jon Marks informing me that we were invited to a training session at the team’s hotel.  The slight drawback was that this was in the middle of nowhere in a small town some distance from Braunschweig.  But we are seasoned travellers, so soon found details of the trains we needed to take and, after a late night out in Braunschweig, it was a slightly delicate bunch that met to catch the train to Gütersloh followed by a cab to Marienfeld.  On arrival at the team’s hotel, we found the Sportsplätze and there was a group of people in yellow shirts watching the Watford team going through some fitness routines that appeared to include trying to wreck the fence around the field.  The team had been split up into a number of different groups for these sessions and, as each group finished their routines, they emerged to sign autographs and have photographs taken with the supporters gathered there.

IMG_6359

Welcome to Arminia Bielefeld

While watching the training, we saw some Hamburg players and found out that they were scheduled to play Bielefeld that afternoon.  Since this was only one stop from Gütersloh on the train, we decided to take in the game.  On arrival at Bielefeld railway station, we followed the crowds to the stadium.  Again we opted to join the fans on the terraces.  The home end was packed.  As the team emerged, we were treated to a rendition of their club song, which had several verses.  They had a number of songs including a very effective call and answer of Arminia … Bielefeld.  To our surprise, a group that we thought were Hamburg fans in the opposite corner also participated in this chant (it was very difficult to distinguish between them as both sets of fans were wearing blue shirts).  Athough, judging by the flag that was waving in that section, there seemed to be a good number of home fans in that section.  The game resulted in a 2-0 win for the home side against a very poor Hamburg team.

Bouncy castle with footballs being fired at the 'goalie'

Bouncy castle with footballs being fired at the ‘goalie’

Sunday morning, I woke up to a storm of biblical proportions.  But, thankfully, the long train journey to Paderborn meant we left the rain behind.  After freshening up in the hotel, we headed into town for a beer and then got a cab to take us to the ground.  The last stage of the short journey took us up a narrow street that required a barricade to be moved for us to get through.  We then emerged into a country road bordered with a cornfield which happened to have a football stadium at the end of it.  There was a party atmosphere at the ground, with a bouncy castle goal and another bouncy full size fussball game, a carousel and the obligatory beer and würst.  Something for everyone.

After good experiences on the previous two days, I was looking forward to the performance of the Paderborn fans, so was disappointed when their club song was played over the tannoy rather than being sung by the spectators.  However, from a Watford perspective, it was just lovely to see our players warming up for the game.

At last I see a Watford team in Germany

At last I see a Watford team in Germany

The starting line-up was Arlauskis, Holebas, Prödl, Cathcart, Nyom, Behrami, Capoue, Watson, Abdi, Vydra and Deeney.

We’d had a conversation at a previous game about the drinking, smoking, water throwing and flares that are in evidence in German stadia and speculated on what would not be allowed.  We found out when a steward appeared to tell some fans that they couldn’t have their flag hanging from a crush barrier.  When they tried to protest, his gambit was “Look, they sent the fat bloke up to tell you, so do me a favour.”  It worked.

Troy congratulating the invisible Vydra

Troy congratulating Vydra

The first notable action of the game was Behrami knocking one of the Paderborn players flying.  It was a statement of intent.  Watford took the lead in the 11th minute as Deeney played a lovely through ball for Vydra who hit his shot sweetly past Kruse in the Paderborn goal.  The home side could have equalized soon afterwards as a cross reached Ouali in the box, but he blasted the ball way over the target.  In the 23rd minute, Abdi exchanged passes with Nyom, but the return pass was poor allowing the home side to launch a counter attack which finished with Ndjeng shooting straight at Arlauskis.  Behrami was then penalized for a tackle on Koc, who went down with a dramatic scream which was something of an over-reaction, but ensured that the Swiss international received a yellow card for the offence.  Koc took the resulting free-kick himself and blasted it way over the bar.  We had a great chance to increase the lead as, from an Abdi cross, Watson nodded the ball down to Deeney, whose shot appeared to be going in, but the keeper pulled off a good save to deny him.  From the corner, Deeney’s header was straight at the keeper.  The battle between Behrami and Koc continued, but on this occasion the Watford man was sinned against and won the free kick.

Abdi lines up a free kick

Abdi lines up a free kick

Paderborn had the ball in the net as a cross was headed home by Proschwitz, but he had been a mile offside.  Abdi came in for a tackle, won the ball and was booked, very harshly I thought.  In the 32nd minute the travelling Hornets started a minute’s applause and chants of “Only one Chris Dyer” for the Watford supporting victim of the terrorist attack in Tunisia.  Deeney challenged the keeper for a long ball, leaving the stopper on the floor, but his shot from a narrow angle went wide.  A Paderborn corner, for which the ball wasn’t even in the vicinity of the corner arc, was met with a header that was caught by Arlauskis, who stepped behind the goal line, but kept the ball out.  Paderborn challenged again with a free kick from Ndjeng that flew wide of the far post.  Deeney exchanged passes with Vydra but his shot took a deflection and went wide.  Vydra then hit a cross-cum-shot that a defender, under no pressure at all, put out for a corner.  The corner was met by a header from Deeney, but he was adjudged to have fouled the keeper so the referee blew up.  At the other end, Ndjeng broke into the box, but Prödl was on hand to challenge as he tried to shoot, so the ball was easily gathered by Arlauskis.

So the Hornets went into half time with the lead.  When we went looking for beers, we found that the stall was in the home section, which was rather interesting.  Some who had bought seats also took this opportunity to swap to the terrace.

Ighalo congratulated on his 6th goal of this pre-season

Ighalo congratulated on his 6th goal of this pre-season

Flores made no changes to the Hornets’ line up at half time.  The home side made a decent start with an early shot that was straight at the Watford keeper.  Then a cross-cum shot from Koc was saved by the feet of Arlauskis.  Capoue lost out to Ndjeng, who went down on the edge of the box, a bit of a soft free kick to give away.  Saglik hit the set piece low and Arlauskis dropped to save.  Watford’s first substitutions came 10 minutes into the second half as Ighalo, Anya and Pudil came on for Vydra, Behrami and Holebas.  The Swiss left the field to boos from the home fans.  On the hour Saglik chested the ball down and shot wide.  We were two goals up soon after as Anya ran down the left and crossed for Deeney, who appeared to mishit the shot but the ball reached Ighalo who found the net for his 6th goal of this pre-season.  Watford should have had a penalty soon after as a cross from Anya appeared to be handled by Hünemeier, but the referee gave nothing.  Deeney was the next to be substituted, being replaced by Fabbrini.  Then Stoppelkamp went on a run into the box and took a tumble, thankfully no Watford player was anywhere near him so we didn’t concede the penalty that he seemed to be playing for.

Nyom, Abdi and Proedl

Nyom, Abdi and Proedl

Ndjeng tried to beat Arlauskis with a curling shot, but the Lithuanian was behind the ball and gathered comfortably.  That was his last action of the game as he was replaced by Gilmartin.  The Irishman was called into action immediately, although his dive proved to be unnecessary, as Proschwitz’s shot was just wide of the target.  That was the striker’s last contribution as he was substituted immediately.  At the same time, Dyer came on to replace Abdi.  Gilmartin was tested with a cross-cum-shot that he parried before gathering.  Then Stoppelkamp shot across goal and wide.  Eyes were then drawn to the Watford bench where Deeney could be seen getting up and limping to the dressing room.  Hopefully, he was just a bit stiff rather than something more concerning.  Watford’s final substitution saw Murray replacing Watson for the last couple of minutes, but there was no further score so Watford ran out comfortable 2-0 winners after a decent performance.

After the final whistle some of the fans around me starting muttering about a ‘disgrace’ and there were a few boos.  I was a bit baffled until it became apparent that they were angry that some of the Watford players had not come over to applaud them at the end.  As a result they cheered the Paderborn players off.  It seemed an overly sensitive reaction, but applause from the players is expected by English (and German) fans in a way that it isn’t in some other European countries.

Cathcart and Gilmartin

Cathcart and Gilmartin

We took the shuttle bus back into town and, while searching for somewhere to have dinner, met some Paderborn fans who had enjoyed the game and were very happy to direct us to a traditional restaurant, which turned out to be an excellent recommendation.

There is always a risk in attending pre-season friendlies.  Early matches are, effectively, training games to build up fitness, so nothing can be read into them.  I quite like the relaxation of watching games in which the score doesn’t matter so you can just watch the players perform.  The most appealing part of these tours, though, is the opportunity to experience a game in an unfamiliar city with the opportunities that gives for exploration.  I love Germany, the landscape, the food and the people so, despite the difficulties on this tour, it turned out to be a cracking long weekend away.

I will miss the rest of our pre-season campaign as I gather my strength for a trip to Everton.  Hope springs eternal at this stage.  We can only hope that this season heralds our best showing in the top division since the 80s.

Beer, Wurstl and an Oompah Band

Welcome to Kingsmeadow

Welcome to Kingsmeadow

It was a gorgeous day for a football match, even better that the Football Manager Cup between Wimbledon and Watford had been scheduled to coincide with the beer festival.  It seemed appropriate to start the afternoon with a pint of Plough Lane Ale and rather lovely it was too.  To add to the pre-match treats, there was a German würstl stand and, later, an oompah band appeared which started their repertoire with “Staying Alive.”  I must say that I love a man in lederhosen.

When we finally dragged ourselves away and entered the ground, it was packed, but we managed to find space in the shade where the vertically challenged among us could see the game.

Ighalo and Deeney wait for a cross

Ighalo and Deeney wait for a cross

Team news was that Flores had made two changes from the line-up at St Albans with Vydra and Prödl in for Watson and Angella.  So the starting 11 was Gomes, Pudil, Cathcart, Prödl, Anya, Capoue, Abdi, Ighalo, Forestieri, Vydra and Deeney.  So, four forwards in the starting line-up.  What could possibly go wrong?

There was a promising start to the game from the Hornets as Pudil played a ball into the box but Vydra and Ighalo got in each other’s way.  The first action of note came in the 11th minute as Elliott appeared to be tripped by Anya.  Kennedy made no mistake with the penalty as Gomes went the wrong way.  Watford’s first goal attempt fell to Deeney as  Anya played a one-two with Vydra before cutting the ball back for Troy whose shot took a deflection and flew over the target.  Then Vydra cut the ball back to Deeney who moved it on to Ighalo, who was in a better shooting position but was not expecting the pass, so the chance went begging.

Odion hiding his embarrassment with a big smile after scoring

Odion hiding his embarrassment with a big smile after scoring

After 25 minutes, the game stopped for a drinks break as it was a scorching afternoon.  The next chance fell to the home side as Akinfenwa rose to meet a cross from Kennedy but headed over the bar.  Watford’s equalizer was ridiculous.  A clearance from Dons keeper, McDonnell, hit Ighalo and looped into the net.  Odion looked rather embarrassed as he retrieved the ball, but they all count.  Watford had a decent chance to take the lead after a quick free kick reached Forestieri whose shot was saved by the legs of McDonnell.  At the other end Elliott cut inside Prödl and shot, but Gomes pushed the ball over the bar.  Then Vydra found Ighalo whose shot was parried before being cleared.  Forestieri had a couple of great chances to send the Hornets in ahead at the break.  First a Vydra header reached him in the box but he shot wide of the target.  Then Fernando tried a shot across the keeper that appeared to be scuffed and was stopped by the feet of McDonnell.   Then he hit a shot into the turf which was deflected behind for a corner.  You had to feel sorry for him as he was trying so hard and nothing was coming off.

Forestieri after scoring

Forestieri after scoring

At the start of the second half, the home side made 10 changes, while the visitors brought Arlauskis and Watson on for Gomes and Vydra.  Watford’s first chance of the second half came from an Abdi free-kick which hit the crossbar and came down but, sadly, bounced away from the goal.  A minute later, the visitors took the lead as Deeney headed an Abdi cross goalwards, McDonnell blocked the header but Forestieri followed up to, at last, get his name on the scoresheet.  The Dons nearly equalized immediately as Arlauskis failed to gather a cross which reached Barcham whose header was cleared off the line by Prödl.  Anya went on a run down the wing and crossed, but it was a bit too far in front of Ighalo who could only direct it wide of the target.  The Dons thought they had equalized through Azeez, but Pudil had been fouled in the build-up, so the goal was disallowed.  A promising run and cross from Barcham came to nothing as Watson appeared in the box, pulled the ball out of the air and cleared.  Watford’s third substitution saw Paredes on for Anya. 

Paredes on a run down the wing

Paredes on a run down the wing

Watson then had a chance at the other end, but his shot from distance was easily gathered by McDonnell.  Forestieri was the next to threaten the Wimbledon goal, but McDonnell dropped to save his shot.  Despite rumours that Sheffield Wednesday had had a bid accepted for him, McGugan made an appearance in place of Ighalo and new boy, Holebas, came on for Pudil.  Forestieri hit a free-kick that was on target but was saved by McDonnell.  At the other end Oakley tried a turn and shot, but the attempt was weak and straight at Arlauskis.  With 10 minutes remaining, there was a further Watford substitution as Prödl made way for Hoban.  There was a dangerous scramble in the Watford box as a shot was blocked and the follow-up from Reeves flew over the bar.  The last minutes of the game saw two further substitutions for the Hornets as Fabbrini and Lewis replaced Forestieri and Abdi.  Just as Watford thought that the game was won, Barcham attacked down the left wing, Paredes appeared to have the measure of him but slipped and, when he recovered, made a silly challenge and conceded a penalty which Francomb scored to ensure that the Football Manager cup was shared, which was probably the ideal result for Miles Jacobson.

Deeney in discussion with Flores

Deeney in discussion with Flores

There were mutterings from Watford fans both during and after the game about the performance, which always seems a bit pointless at a friendly, which is very far from a competitive game at this stage of pre-season.  I’m sure that Flores learned something from the game (particularly that playing our four frontmen is not a guarantee of goals).

Post-match, it was back to the beer festival where the polite early applause for the oompah band had been replaced with a passionate crowd singing along.  The football apart, it was a lovely afternoon and I hope that this becomes a regular fixture in our pre-season calendar.

Quique Flores Takes a Walk in Clarence Park

Arlauskis warming up

Arlauskis warming up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An early sight of Capoue on the ball

An early sight of Capoue on the ball

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

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

Waiting for a corner

Waiting for a corner

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

Abdi whips in a free kick

Abdi whips in a free kick

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

Prodl in Action

Prodl in Action

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

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