Tag Archives: Guiseppe Sannino

A Glorious Afternoon in Clarence Park

Welcome to Clarence Park

Welcome to Clarence Park

While in Austria, there had been speculation that this weekend would see us playing a couple of games in Scotland.  Late last week, the bizarre prospect of playing Osasuna at Meadow Park raised its head.  But the final outcome was a trip to St Albans, which was rather lovely.

The main topic of discussion when the team was announced was the presence of Deeney on the bench.  None of our party really believe that he will be with us come the end of the transfer window so it felt like a treat to see him in a Watford shirt again.  It would also be our first chance to see Keith Andrews as the starting line-up was Gomes; Hoban, Tamas, Ekstrand, Pudil; McGugan, Andrews, Abdi; Anya, Ranegie and Dyer.

Ready for kick-off

Ready for kick-off

There was an early scare for the visitors as Andrews gave the ball away in midfield leading to a shot from McBean that Gomes collected.  A counterattack from the Saints finished with a shot from Kyriacou that flew well over the bar.  Watford then began to assert their authority.  Ranegie did well to beat the defender but, with only the keeper to beat, his shot was wide of the target.  A lovely Watford move finished with a shot from Dyer that beat Coulton in the St Albans goal, but the celebrations were cut short as the linesman’s flag was raised.

Congratulations for Anya

Congratulations for Anya

We were not to be denied for long, though, as the next move  saw Dyer outpace the defence, put a square cross to Ranegie who played it back to Anya whose powerful shot hit the back of the net.  Soon after, a lovely cross from Hoban went begging as McGugan couldn’t reach it.  Then Dyer tried to play Ranegie in, but the keeper was first to the ball.  There was a bit of pinball in the St Albans area as multiple shots from McGugan and Anya were blocked.  Then Andrews played a ball over to Dyer who teed up McGugan but his shot rebounded off the crossbar with the keeper beaten.  Abdi went on a forward run and crossed, but Ranegie could not connect with a header.  At the other end, a spectacular dive from Gomes seemed to be more to give him something to do than to reach a shot from Corcoran that was well wide of the target.

Abdi on the attack

Abdi on the attack

Anya went on another run down the left and beat a defender before crossing for Dyer who generously passed to McGugan, but the shot was weak and easy for Coulton, which left us wishing that Dyer had buried it himself.  Dyer and Anya combined again, but there was another weak finish, this time a poor header from Ranegie.  McGugan and Ranegie then played a one-two but the shot was blocked.  With 5 minutes to go to half time, we finally got a second goal as Tamas played a long ball to Hoban on the right wing, he put in a lovely cross and Ranegie was there to nod it past Coulton.  His celebration indicated his relief at finally capitalizing on one of his chances.  Abdi was the next to threaten, but his shot was blocked.  At the other end, Gomes had a chance to demonstrate his ball skills as, with two players closing in, he played himself out of trouble beating the forwards and clearing.  On the stroke of half-time, the Hornets were 3 up as Ekstrand headed an Abdi corner goalwards.  As the ball hit a defender on the way in, it was given as an own goal, but it looked like Ekstrand’s goal to me.

Very nearly there

Very nearly there

After the paucity of goals in most of the pre-season games, it was great to reach the interval with three to discuss.  St Albans may be playing in the same league as Boreham Wood next season, but the quality of their team was not a patch on their rivals and the Watford team had played very well.

At half time, we decided to swap ends to remain behind the goal that Watford were attacking. It was roasting at that end of the ground, but worth it to see the goals.

Sannino made five substitutions at the start of the second half, with Bond, Doyley, Angella, Tozser and Fabbrini replacing Gomes, Hoban, Ekstrand, Abdi and Dyer.  Early in the half, Anya went on a run and put in a cross that Coulton intercepted before it reached Fabbrini.  McGugan, who had taken the captain’s armband, played a ball over the top for Fabbrini to run on to, he received the return pass and unleashed a shot that Coulton turned around the post.  McGugan took the corner which was headed over by Angella.

Fabbrini on the ball

Fabbrini on the ball

On 55 minutes, Ranegie and Andrews made way for Vydra and Battocchio.  Vydra was involved immediately as he received the ball from Doyley then exchanged passes with Anya before shooting, but Coulton was equal to his effort.  Just after the hour, Deeney made an appearance in place of McGugan while Johnson came on for Pudil.  The next Watford chance came as Fabbrini cut into the box and hit a shot which required a good save to keep it out.  At the other end, St Albans had their first chance for some time as Pires, who had just come on as a substitute, shot just wide of the far post.  Bond was called into action soon after and pulled off a great save to tip Ward’s strike over.  This inspired the St Albans fans into a chant of “We’re the pride of Hertfordshire.”  Sannino’s final substitution saw Smith replacing Anya.

Deeney goes to congratulate Battocchio

Deeney goes to congratulate Battocchio

Battocchio tried a shot from too far out that was caught before it got anywhere near the goal.  He made up for that soon after as he latched on to a ball from Vydra and coolly chipped the keeper.  A lovely goal.  He scored his second, and Watford’s fifth, soon after as he ran onto a ball from Deeney, outpacing the defence, and hit the ball past Coulton.  With 10 minutes remaining, the game was stopped for a drinks break.  I suspect that the Saints players were hoping for something rather strong in theirs.  Bond was in action again with 6 minutes to go, but he dealt comfortably with Frendo’s shot.  Smith tried a shot from distance that was well wide of the target.

Deeney confirms Battocchio's brace

Is this our last view of Deeney in a Watford shirt?

Then Deeney, who had berated the lino for an earlier decision, was flagged offside but he chipped the ball past the keeper for the entertainment of the Watford fans in the crowd.  In the final minutes, Jallow had a chance to get a consolation for the home side, but his shot from wide right flew past the far post.  The last chance went Watford’s way as a shot from Fabbrini was blocked and the ball fell to Deeney whose cross was headed over by Vydra.

With goals having been at a premium in most of the other games, it was a treat to see so many in this one.  It was also rather pleasing to see the strength in depth that we have this season as every change was positive rather than weakening the team as the game went on.  All in all a fun pre-season afternoon.

 

Meeting the Russians in Bad Bleiburg

Drei Laerchen

Drei Laerchen

For the second weekend in a row, I was on an early morning flight to Austria.  This time we were heading for Salzburg where we picked up a hire car for the drive to Bad Bleiburg.  Once we worked out how to change the sat nav from what appeared to be a Scandinavian language to English, the drive was relatively straight forward.  As we headed through the mountain tunnels, the place names on the signs indicated that we were travelling through the towns that had constituted my favourite ski area when I lived in Austria.  It brought back very happy memories, but I don’t think I had ever visited that region when the slopes were green.  As we came off the motorway following the sat nav directions to Bad Bleiburg, we were a little concerned to find ourselves on a steep, narrow road through the forest that was difficult enough to negotiate in Summer.  Sure enough, barriers at both ends indicated that it can be closed in Winter.  On arriving in the village, we decided to have a look at the facilities.

The game is on

The game is on

Unlike the 30,000-seater stadium that we visited last week, this was a proper pre-season ground.  The standing area was mostly on one side with a small stand along half of that side of the ground and we were looking down onto the playing area with the mountains providing a picturesque backdrop.  What looked like a media box turned out to be the VIP section consisting of a couple of high seats with cup holders.  There were posters advertising our games over the weekend, which also indicated that there was a double-header planned for that afternoon with the local team playing Weiβenstein at 3pm.

After a detour for lunch and to check-in at our hotel, we arrived just before half-time in the warm up game to find the score was 2-2, which was a decent score against a team that we were told were from the division above our hosts.  The game was being played in blazing sunshine, so a beer was in order and then we were all set for the second half in which the visitors scored two additional goals thanks to some spectacularly bad goalkeeping.  The first being a free-kick which rather drifted in with the keeper berating his wall when it appeared that a step to his left would have allowed him to catch the ball which was hardly moving at pace.  The final goal was a speculative shot from the half way line.

Coming through the hedge

Coming through the hedge

The car park, such as it was, had filled up so I wondered where they would find space for two coaches. The Rubin Kazan team arrived and parked up and, soon after, our lads appeared through a gap in the hedge at the opposite side of the ground, having walked across the road from their hotel.  They crossed the pitch and then came up a covered stairway to the dressing rooms.  There had only been a couple of other Watford fans at the warm-up game but, as kick-off time approached, a few familiar faces appeared to supplement the local crowd.  Evidently there were some tricky pre-match negotiations between the officials of the two clubs, as I heard the conclusion that the game would be played with the Rubin Kazan ball in the first half and the Watford ball in the second.

Pre-match handshakes

Pre-match handshakes

The starting line-up for Watford was Gomes, Doyley, Tamas, Angella, Pudil, Tözsér, Battocchio, McGugan, Forestieri, Vydra and Deeney, who was captain for the afternoon.  The Rubin Kazan team lined up wearing the highest numbers that I have ever seen in a football match.  As the captains met for the pre-match formalities, which included swapping pennants, the referee was heard to ask if there was a spare pennant for him.  Deeney dutifully went back to the Watford staff to relay the referee’s request.

With two minutes on the clock, Kverkvelia flattened Pudil.  McGugan took the free-kick which was pushed just wide by the Russian keeper, Filtsolv.  Rubin Kazan launched an attack, which we were struggling to clear.  Thankfully it finished with a shot from Kislyak that Gomes claimed.  The Russian team then had a really good spell.  First, a cross from Kverkvelia was played back to Getigezhev who blazed over.  Then a snap shot from the left required a good reaction save from Gomes.

A chance goes begging

A chance goes begging

On 18 minutes, Livaja curled a shot wide of the near post.  There was some respite as Watford won a free kick which was well taken by Tözsér but Filtsolv leapt and tipped it over the bar.  From the corner, Deeney headed past the keeper, but our celebrations were cut short as the referee indicated a foul that none of our party saw.  A clever dummy by Battocchio allowed the ball to reach Doyley in the box, but his shot was blocked.  At the other end, Mullin tried a shot from distance that flew wide of the near post.  There was a bit of handbags then as Forestieri fouled Mullin, who screamed in agony as he went down.  Fernando was having none of it and tried to pull him to his feet.  The Russian angrily leapt up and Deeney rushed over to get between them.  The Russian then collapsed in agony again to derision from the travelling Hornets, but he got his way when Forestieri was booked for the challenge.  Nabiullin tried a weak shot that was easily gathered by Gomes.  In the 38th minute, Tözsér took a free kick from the right that went over the bar.

A miss for Rubin Kazan

A miss for Rubin Kazan

Revenge is a dish best served cold and, just before half time, Fernando fell theatrically under a challenge from Mullin and his rival’s name joined his in the referee’s book.  The resulting free kick from McGugan was disappointing and easily gathered by Filtsolv.  Rubin Kazan threatened as the ball was given away on the wing, but Pudil stopped the danger with a great challenge in the box and eventually a corner was conceded.  From the set piece, the ball broke dangerously in the box but Pudil was on hand again to clear.  The half finished with a couple of chances for the Russians, but they continued to be wasteful as, first, Burlak launched a shot from a mile out that flew well over the bar.  Then a header from Livaja was well wide of the target.

It had been an enjoyable half of football with the Russian side providing a much sterner test than the two previous games in Austria.  They’d had a number of chances early on that they really should have done better with, but we were happy enough going into the break on level terms.  During the interval the heavens opened, but that wasn’t to deter those of us standing at the side of the pitch.  A bit of rain never hurt anyone.

Waiting for a corner

Waiting for a corner

At half time, Ekstrand, Anya, Dyer and Abdi replaced Angella, Vydra, Forestieri and McGugan.  Five minutes into the half, there was a fantastic move as Anya fed Deeney, who played a through ball to Dyer in the box, but a defender was on hand to take the ball from his feet.  In another cracking move, Battocchio fed Abdi who found Dyer who unleashed a vicious shot that cannoned back off the crossbar.  It fell to Deeney whose shot was blocked and cleared.  After what had been a really good spell for Watford, a chance fell to Devic but his shot was easy for Gomes.  Just before the hour, Abdi tried a speculative shot that was put out for a corner.  At this point Burlak, who was wearing 4 for Rubin Kazan, was replaced by Diakhite, who was wearing 99.  I can only think that Burlak’s shirt number was deemed too low.  There was danger for Watford as a free-kick from Karadeniz flew just over the bar.

Ready for a clearance

Ready for a clearance

Then there was a slight delay to the game as Pudil left the ground and appeared to go into a neighbouring garden to retrieve the ball.  Abdi and Battocchio combined before passing back to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  The opposition were struggling to cope with our pace upfront and Anya was the next to break into the box but shot wide of the target.  At the half-way point in the second half Murray replaced Tözsér.  The Russians threatened with a back header from Asmoun which Gomes caught.  On a side note, Asmoun was wearing no 69 provoking sniggers from the less mature among our support (most of us).  Then Pudil tried a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  There was a spate of substitutions as Ranegie replaced Deeney, Hoban came on for Tamas and Fabbrini for Forestieri.  By this stage, the incessant rain meant that my notebook was a sopping mess, and any notes that I managed to make are barely legible.

Anya can't quite reach the ball before Filtsolv

Anya can’t quite reach the ball before Filtsolv

But I believe there was some lovely interplay between Fabbrini and Anya whose shot was blocked.  Then Fabbrini, Ranegie and Dyer combined, this time it was Fabbrini’s turn to shoot, but his effort was also blocked.  Doyley was replaced by Brown.  At this point, the conditions meant that note-making was almost impossible but I did note a decent Watford chance as a double shot from Ranegie was blocked followed by a great shot from Pudil that was deflected wide.  Doherty came on to replace Pudil for the final couple of minutes.  When the final whistle went, those of us who had stuck it out watching from the side of the pitch were soaked through.  The Watford squad waved goodbye and then disappeared through the hedge again to walk back to their hotel.

Doyley takes a throw in

Doyley takes a throw in

Despite the goalless scoreline, it had been an enjoyable game with Watford excellent in the second half.  It may seem sacrilege to suggest playing without Vydra and Forestieri in the starting line-up, but the thought of a front three of Dyer, Deeney and Anya terrorising Championship defences makes me very excited indeed.  As for the return of Tözsér, my shout of “welcome home” to him when he arrived at the ground was heartfelt and he didn’t disappoint in the game.

We went in search of some warmth and somewhere to eat.  The only place in wheelchair pushing distance was the hotel where the team were staying.  We tried to keep a respectful distance although I did beckon Doyley over for a kiss.  Beppe kindly came over and shook all of our hands and bought a round of drinks.  Since eating at the hotel didn’t seem to be an option, and we wanted to leave the players in peace, we made our way back towards town for dinner where we were joined by Gary and Dan, who we’d met in the ground so spent a lovely evening chatting about all things Watford.  Saturday was my birthday.  I had a lovely day watching Watford play in a gorgeous part of the world and even had a kiss from Lloyd Doyley.  I can’t imagine any better way to have spent the day.

A Win with no Caveats

Abdi on the attack

Abdi on the attack

There was a cricket match going on at the West Herts, which is always a sad sight as it means that the season is nearly over.  When I arrived to get my programme from Doreen at the Bill Mainwood programme hut, she had run out.  This interruption to my pre-match routine always puts my nerves on edge as I assume that the rest of the afternoon will go equally badly.

Team news was that Sannino had made one change with Ranegie replacing the injured Anya.  So the starting line-up was Almunia, Angella, Ekstrand, Hoban, Riera, McGugan, Tözsér, Abdi, Faraoni, Ranegie and Deeney.

Riera being congratulated on his goal

Riera being congratulated on his goal

The first goalmouth action was an odd juggling match at the left hand post between Almunia and Wordsworth which, fortunately, ended with Manuel knocking the ball out for a corner.  A lovely Watford breakaway started with Riera passing to Faraoni who advanced and played a through ball for Ranegie who was stopped by a brilliant tackle on the edge of the box.  There was danger at the other end of the pitch as a shot rebounded off Ekstrand to Williams whose shot was blocked by Almunia.  Watford took the lead on 21 minutes with a lovely goal, which started with a brilliant interception by Hoban who found McGugan, he released Riera who advanced before cutting inside and curling a wonderful

Tozser takes a corner

Tozser takes a corner

shot into the corner.  From kick-off, Ipswich tried to strike back as Williams broke into the box and played a low cross that nobody could get on the end of.  Abdi played in Ranegie, who mishit a shot which fell to Riera but his shot flew past the far post.  Then Deeney did well to hold the ball up before passing to McGugan who whipped in a cross that was put out for a corner just before it reached Ranegie.

At half time, it was great to see my lovely friend, Sarah, on the pitch with the NCS youngsters who had raised money for the Teenage Cancer Trust with an event at the museum.

Deeney congratulates Angella

Deeney congratulates Angella

Ipswich started the second half brightly as Nouble broke into the box and fired a shot over the bar.  Watford nerves were jangling as a ball bounced dangerously around the box before being cleared off the line by Hoban.  Then McGugan released Deeney who controlled the ball before shooting, but his effort was straight at Gerken.  The visitors were level five minutes into the half as a cross from Nouble was flicked past Almunia by Wordsworth who was wandering lonely as a cloud in our box.  Soon after, Deeney was prevented from reaching an Angella cross by a push that went unpunished.  Angella then made a rare error in losing out to Murphy who was stopped by a great saving tackle from Ekstrand.  Angella was booked soon after for a push on Williams who had been winding him

Tozser breaks into the box to set up McGugan

Tozser breaks into the box to set up McGugan

up for a while and whose play-acting was seriously getting on my nerves.  Just after the hour mark, Ipswich should have taken the lead as a header from Hyam was pushed up onto the bar by Almunia and bounced out.  After these scares, it was a relief to see Watford score again as Angella appeared out of nowhere to nod a Tözsér free-kick past Gerken.  His mental celebration is becoming a bit of a trademark, but always makes me smile.  We had hardly sat down from celebrating that goal when Tözsér broke into the box and cut the ball back to McGugan who shot past Gerken into the far corner for Watford’s third.  Given the start that Ipswich had made to the half, they must have wondered what had hit them.  It was Watford who looked like increasing the lead as Angella bust a gut

McGugan congratulated by his team mates

McGugan congratulated by his team mates

to get on the end of a Tözsér corner at the far post, but didn’t quite make it.  Then McGugan did really well to keep the ball in play on the sideline, cut in but shot well over.  With 10 minutes remaining, Abdi was replaced by Battocchio, it was so good to see the youngster make such a rapid recovery from what had looked like a nasty injury two weeks ago.  Green replaced Wordsworth for the visitors.  A ball over the top from Tözsér was won in the air by Deeney who continued to fight off the attentions of the defender before getting in a cross that deserved more than to be blocked.  The evil Williams went down theatrically again and this time earned Tözsér a booking.  As a fan in the stands most of my shouting is reserved for encouraging our lads so I was greeted with open mouthed surprise from my sister and our neighbours in the row in front as I let Williams know in no

Angella  challenges almost out of shot :-)

Angella challenges almost out of shot 🙂

uncertain terms what I thought of him.  Sannino made another substitution as Pudil replaced Riera.  A Williams cross was met with a header by Nouble that the attentions of Hoban ensured was directed over the bar.  There was a final rash of substitutions as Murray replaced McGugan for the home side while Hyam and the obnoxious Williams were replaced by Watford’s old friend, Hunt, and Taylor for the visitors.  In the final minute of the game, Hunt tried a shot from distance which bounced off the roof of the net.  Then Ranegie and Murray combined to feed Battocchio, whose shot was blocked and rebounded to Murray who volleyed just over.  After the start that Ipswich had to the half, I had been concerned that this would be another disappointing afternoon, but the two quick goals killed them off and they didn’t muster another chance worthy of the name.

Post match congratulations

Post match congratulations

In recent games, I have been drawn to watching Gabriele Angella’s reaction at the end of the match.  When we lose, he is livid and his team mates are better staying well out of his way.  But at the end of this game he joined a number of the others in front of the Lower Rous.  It was so lovely to see so many players signing autographs and Gabriele was the last to leave.

We have had a couple of decent home wins recently in which any praise of the team has been tempered with comments regarding the poor quality of the opposition.  The win over Ipswich had no such caveat.  They are a decent team and we thoroughly deserved that win.

A Day at the Training Ground

Fitz Hall, Don and I

Fitz Hall, Don and I

A major element of my sponsorship package this year was a trip to Watford’s training ground.  I was a little perturbed that it was scheduled for April Fool’s Day, but this was no prank. On arrival, Don and I were met by Martine and April from the Commercial department who took us to the canteen for a welcome cup of coffee and to meet up with Richard Walker, who was to be our guide for the day.  We were told that a friendly match against Northampton had been arranged for that afternoon, so the first team players would not be arriving until lunch time.

We started with a tour of the facilities.  When we reached the boot room we were handed a fluorescent orange monstrosity.  I had no idea that these new-fangled boots were so light, my ballerina pumps weigh more. While we were there, Fernando Forestieri appeared.  He stopped to have his photo taken with the only youngster in the group whose smile couldn’t have been wider.

Marco Cassetti with Luke O'Nien looking on

Marco Cassetti with Luke O’Nien looking on

When we reached the training pitches, Glyn Evans was on hand to tell us about the new pitches that they are putting in, a project that will cost £500K.  The training ground only has natural drainage and, because some of it is clay based, that is not ideal.  The new pitches will follow the model of the pitch at Vicarage Road, apart from the Desso addition. On arrival, we had seen the piles of coiled tubing in the car park waiting to be laid to provide the drainage.  There was a question about the new East stand at Vicarage Road and it was stressed that this is a stand built for business reasons, rather than a vanity project as so many new grounds are. For that reason, it will be a simple “bums on seats” stand that has the possibility to increase in capacity if needed.  The figures that they have suggest that it should make back the cost of construction within three years.  They are also looking to make further improvements to the training ground.  The current changing block was described as being to the standard of “a good council facility”.  The physio area is an old changing room and the medical room is a converted shower.  So the club is planning to build a new changing block with bespoke medical facilities including a hydrotherapy pool.  They will also include a new gym block. This proposed investment in the training ground is impressive and indicates a long term commitment by the Pozzo family.

Dave Hughes drilling the youth players

Dave Hughes drilling the youth players

We then watched the youth team training under the guidance of Dave Hughes who, we were told, used to be a defender so gives fulsome praise for good defensive play in the drills and ignores the players who break through to score!  The second year scholars have been told which of them will be given professional contracts, so it is a difficult time for those who are being released.  Dave stressed that these lads were still working hard in training and that they would be helped, as far as possible, to find a new club. He pointed out that, during a footballer’s career, they have the prospect of facing decisions about their future almost every year, so this is an early introduction to a difficult part of a footballer’s life. Rich Walker said that the primary consideration when deciding whether to offer a scholar a professional contract was whether they were likely to play in the first team the next season. If they were not, then they would not be kept on.

The lovely Beppe

The lovely Beppe

Beppe then came to talk to us. He was determined to respond to us in English, bless him. He was asked what the difference had been on Saturday (at Sheffield Wednesday) that allowed us to win. He said that a lot of the problems were mental and that finally getting a win would really help the team. He reiterated that the win was for the fans who travel week in, week out. He was asked what surprised him about the Championship. He said the money in this division was a surprise to him and, consequently, the quality of players is much higher than you would see in Serie B in Italy. He also said how amazing the fans are. In Italy you don’t see people following their club around the country in the same way.  Serie B clubs will have fans turn up if they are doing well, but you don’t see the same degree of loyalty and passion that he has seen at Watford. He was asked his opinion on referees. He said that the fourth official follows him everywhere telling him about the lines he should not cross. His next comment was really interesting. He said that he likes referees in England, because they are ordinary men doing a job, whereas in Italy they are all actors. He said that, since football began, people have made mistakes, whether they were referees, players or managers and he felt that mistakes made honestly should be forgiven. He then did his amazing impression of a referee’s whistle which is, apparently, how he finishes his press conferences.  When the questions were over, he thanked us for our support. He really is a sweetheart.

Youth players practising skills

Youth players practising skills

We then visited the analyst’s room where we were told about this role and were shown an example of one of the packages that they use.  It had the game playing live on one side of the screen, while a schematic of the moves taking place were shown on the other side so that you could see formations and how the players were moving.  You could also superimpose lines joining up the defenders/midfielders/forwards to see how each of the areas were set up and the distances between the players at any time.  He showed a graphic summary of the game that indicated successful and unsuccessful passes.  At first look, it appeared to be a bit of a mess, as it was just a bunch of lines.  But, when I looked again understanding what it was representing, you could see the areas of the ground where the home and away teams had success. There were statistics about passing success, interceptions etc.  I asked whether they do any statistical modelling to predict the probability of success based upon various scenarios.  I was saddened to be told that this is not part of their remit, so my follow-up questions about data input and logistic regression went begging.

Almen Abdi fit and well

Almen Abdi fit and well

While we were in the analyst’s room, Gian Luca Nani and Scott Duxbury came in and made themselves available for questions.  Gian Luca was asked about his role and why they were using the European model of a Head Coach and Technical Director at the club.  He described the split between the two roles. He said that the head coach works long hours and does not have time to be travelling around looking at players. The most telling point that he made was that, in the English model, the manager’s focus is the team and that they will be looking at what they need to succeed in the present season.  In his role, he is looking at what is best for the club as a business in the long term.  Both Gian Luca and Scott spoke about the ultimate aim, which is to be in the Premier League, but that there is no timescale on when that should happen.  We had been told about the players’ routine at the training ground which includes breakfast, lunch, training and then yoga and pilates.  Gian Luca was asked whether he does yoga or pilates.  “I do breakfast and lunch.” J

Troy, Don and I

Troy, Don and I

At lunchtime, we ate in the canteen and the food choices were extensive and very tasty.  As the first team players arrived for lunch, a number of them were invited over to talk to us.  They were all delightful.  I asked Anya whether he was going to appear in any more rap videos and he thanked me for watching his brother’s work (even though, as a woman almost as elderly as his mother, I don’t think that I am in their target audience).  I told Troy that he nearly gave me a heart attack with his first goal at Sheffield Wednesday as it looked as though the ball wasn’t going to reach the goal line. He laughed, ‘Did I look worried?’ ‘I wasn’t looking at you.  I was looking at the ball!’  Sean Murray and Luke O’Nien both had huge smiles on their faces.  I also took the time to thank Nani and Duxbury for coming to the City Orns meeting, which was a fantastic event.  Gian Luca went all “Italian” on me, recklessly inviting me to contact him any time I wanted to chat.  Scott wasn’t quite as effusive, but he did say that he’d thoroughly enjoyed talking to us all in a relaxed environment as the fans’ forums are too much like press conferences.

Belkalem taking a throw-in

Belkalem taking a throw-in

After lunch, we watched the friendly game. These are practice matches, so you don’t learn a lot from them, but it did confirm what a great touch Riera has.  Gary Woods played in goal and I was interested to hear how shouty he was, constantly making his defenders aware of the proximity of the opposition players.  Cassetti was captain and was a joy.  He executed one beautiful move when he twisted away from a couple of defenders before playing an exquisite pass that had the fans applauding.  He also proved to be shouty in two languages including asking a rogue midfielder, who will remain nameless, if he wanted to play in his position.  The first half featured pretty much a first team.  There were a couple of substitutions at half time and the game finished with a number of the Academy boys on the pitch, including Tom Rosenthal whose father was on the sidelines watching him. The game was short on goal attempts, with Watford’s best chance being a shot from Abdi that came back off the post. When the full time whistle went, the game was goalless and it was time for us all to leave.

Rocket Ronnie watching his lad

Rocket Ronnie watching his lad

Anyone who knows me will be well aware that I am one of those fanatics who attends as many of the off field activities as my day job allows, so I felt like I knew quite a lot about the running of the club.  But this day at the training ground was a tremendous experience.  While being respectful to the day-to-day running of the club, we were given access to all aspects of the management and I learned a lot.  I came away, as I usually do, with a renewed affection for the club but also with an assurance that my beloved club appears to be in very good hands.

 

Whites-wash

Yesterday was a very sad day for me as I handed the Supporter of the Season shield back to the club ready to be engraved with the name of this year’s winner.  I have to admit that I had it sitting on my desk at work all day, just to eke out the final moments with it in my possession.

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

Team news was that Beppe had made four changes from Saturday’s team, the most significant of which was Abdi’s first start since August.  The announcement of Almen’s involvement was greeted with loud cheers from the Vicarage Road crowd.  The starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Riera, Tözsér, Abdi, Murray, Faraoni, Anya and Deeney.  The Leeds line-up included the evil Poleon, whose actions last season in causing Bond’s injury cast a pall over the last game of the season.  But, as always, it was lovely to see Watford legend Nigel Gibbs back at Vicarage Road, even if it pains me to see him with that crest on his chest.

Gibbsy and Sannino exhibiting their national characteristics

Gibbsy and Sannino exhibiting their national characteristics

Watford started brightly and, in the third minute, Anya released Abdi on the left, he crossed for Faraoni whose shot was blocked.  Anya then received a pass from Deeney on the edge of the box, but was taken out by a sliding tackle.  We were a goal up after 8 minutes as Abdi played a lovely ball to Anya on the left wing, he advanced and crossed and there was Abdi to head the ball past Butland.  It was a lovely goal, made all the more enjoyable by the identity of the goalscorer.  It is great to have Almen back.  For the next twenty minutes, Leeds had a lot of possession but were not allowed to do anything with it.  Then Marco Cassetti executed a high tackle on Tonge and found his way into the referee’s book just in time to earn himself a suspension for his tenth caution of the season.  Just before the half hour, Deeney played a lovely through ball to Anya, but the Scot got the ball caught under his feet and the defence got back to thwart him.  Then McCormack saw Almunia off his line and launched an audacious shot from the halfway line that had the Watford keeper back-pedalling to get

Celebrating Anya's Goal

Celebrating Anya’s Goal

behind it.  We went two goals up as Anya played a short pass to the overlapping Riera, his low cross reached Murray who played it short to Faraoni whose cross back to the far post was met with a header from Anya that flew past Butland.  Watford attacked again as Deeney released Murray who advanced before playing a through ball to Faraoni but his shot was put out for a corner.  At half time, there was satisfaction that we were comfortably two goals ahead.  Leeds had had a lot of possession, but our defence had restricted their shooting opportunities so that the only shot that Almunia had to deal with was a punt from the half-way line.

Challenges in the penalty area

Challenges in the penalty area

Leeds were immediately on the attack at the start of the second half as Riera lost out to Poleon who played a through ball to Hunt whose shot was wide of the near post and bounced behind the goal.  Deeney played a ball over to Anya but he was tripped by Wootton, who was booked.  Then Murray played a lovely ball to Deeney in the box, but Butland came out to block.  The clearance eventually reached Tözsér who, with shouts of “shoooot” ringing in his ears, curled a shot just wide of the target.  Then Riera intercepted the ball, it reached Deeney who tried to release Anya, but the pass was too far in front of him.  At the other end, a low shot from the substitute, Stewart, was straight at Almunia.  On the hour mark, Faraoni put the ball out to allow McCormack to receive treatment and was rewarded with a kick from Hunt, who was lucky to escape with a yellow card.  Hunt was involved in the next attack but his header from a free kick was straight at

Deeney is under there somewhere

Deeney is under there somewhere

Almunia.  Watford’s third goal was a testament to the persistence of two men.  First Abdi intercepted and then battled a defender to keep the ball, he passed to Deeney who went past a couple of defenders in the box, while never appearing to have control of the ball, before hitting a shot from an acute angle that hit the roof of the net.  By way of celebration, he leapt into the Rookery and was engulfed in the celebrating crowd.  When he emerged he was given a yellow card.  Then Anya beat a defender and cut the ball back to Deeney who tried to find his strike partner with a through ball, but Butland was first to it.  Poleon tried a shot at Almunia, which was parried, and, when he lined up to shoot from the rebound, he was tackled and Watford launched a counter attack which finished with Anya playing a square ball to Deeney who looked certain to score but Butland stood tall

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

and blocked his shot.  At the other end, Warnock tried a shot that was well over the bar.  In the last ten minutes, both sides made substitutions as White replaced McCormack for Leeds and McGugan and Pudil came on for Abdi and Riera.  McGugan’s first action was to latch on to a throw-in and hit a cross that was blocked by Pearce with no little pain for the defender.  Leeds then put themselves into trouble as a corner bounced off the back of Tonge’s thigh and needed an intervention from Butland to prevent them from going further behind.  Merkel replaced Murray for the last couple of minutes of the game, but there was no subsequent action of note.

Applauding the crowd

Applauding the crowd

At the final whistle, there was a feeling of job done by the home team against an opposition that had had a lot of possession but were very poor.  But, sometimes, you have to give credit to a team in that situation.  I was impressed with the performance as, despite their possession, the Leeds players were allowed no time on the ball to create anything and never really threatened Almunia.  A feature after the final whistle of recent games has been the rage that Angella demonstrates when we underachieve, so it was nice to see him celebrating with his team mates rather than them running from his fury.

After the players had been applauded off the pitch, Cristian Battocchio made his way on crutches along the front of the Rookery and was greeted with warm applause and the faithful chanting his name.  Despite his injury, he was smiling broadly as he acknowledged the crowd.

Don and Johnno

Don and Johnno

On the way out of the ground, I went to meet Don Fraser in the Lower Rous.  During the game, he had been joined by Richard Johnson, a corporate guest for the game, who chose to watch from the disabled platform rather than the posh seats in the Upper Rous.  As we left through the lounge, I greeted Johnno, although I wasn’t sure that he could hear me after 90 minutes of listening to Don barracking the referee.  As we left through the hospitality entrance, there was a bloke surrounded by a crowd of people having photographs taken with him.  I assumed he was a retired footballer and that I would kick myself when I found out who he was.  Then I read the report of the game on the BBC website and saw a photograph of Massimo Cellino and the penny dropped.  Although why on earth anyone would want to have their picture taken with him completely baffles me.

The Return of Dyche and Attwell

 

Watford managers past and present

Watford managers past and present

All the talk before this game was about the return of two men, the much loved former manager, Sean Dyche, and equally much reviled referee, Stuart Attwell, who was making his first appearance at Vicarage Road since awarding the ghost goal.

On arrival at my seat in the Rookery, I was delighted to see the elderly couple who sit in front of my sister. They have been absent for a considerable time and we feared the worst.  As so often with the people you see at every game, we only knew their first names, so had no way of finding out how they were.  It was such a relief to see them back where they belong.

Waiting for a ball into the box

Waiting for a ball into the box

Team news was that Beppe had made only one change from the win at Sheffield Wednesday with Cassetti coming in for the injured Doyley, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Battocchio, Anya, Ranegie and Deeney.  Former Watford loanees, Chris Baird and Michael Kightly, started for Burnley.

There had been much pre-game talk on social media about giving Attwell a hard time and, sure enough, the first time that the ball went out for a goal kick it was greeted with cheers and a rendition of 1-0 to the Golden Boys.  This elicited a smile from the referee.  Early in the game, Burnley won a free-kick in a dangerous position but Treacey delivered it

Celebrating Deeney's goal

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

straight into the arms of Almunia.  On 9 minutes, Watford were ahead as Deeney hit a shot from distance, which took a nasty deflection and looped over Heaton and into the net for Troy’s 20th league goal of the season.  The visitors appeared to have equalized almost immediately as a cross from Treacey was booted into the net from point blank distance by Barnes, so we were relieved to see that the flag was up for offside.  Immediately the Rookery started a chorus of “There’s only one Stuart Attwell.”  We had a couple of great chances to increase the lead.  First, McGugan brought the ball down and hit a lovely curling shot that was just wide of the far post.  Then Battocchio found Ranegie with his back to goal on the edge of the box, he played a short pass to Deeney

Anya on a run

Anya on a run

but his shot was just over the bar.  Then McGugan put a dangerous cross into the box but Ranegie couldn’t quite get his head to it.  At the other end, Barnes got on the end of a Kightly cross, but the presence of Angella ensured that his header was wide of the target.  Battocchio then played a ball over to Pudil, who didn’t have time to control and poked it wide.  Ten minutes before half-time Battocchio collided with a Burnley player and stayed down.  It was a while before play stopped and the physio could come on.  The treatment went on for some considerable time before the stretcher was waved on and Cristian was carried off and straight out through the gap between the Rookery and the Main Stand.  It is horrible to see a player carried off like that and it put a dampner on the rest of the half.  Abdi took his place in the midfield.  There were 6 minutes added on at the end of the half, during which a Tözsér corner was flying around the Burnley box as a number of shots were blocked, but McGugan’s final attempt flew over the bar.

At half-time, there was much satisfaction in a good first half performance tinged with worry about Battocchio’s injury.  Cristian had been playing really well before he went off.  Deeney was playing like a man possessed and the often maligned McGugan had been excellent.  In addition, Almunia did not punch a single cross, each time assuredly catching the ball.

A Watford attack

A Watford attack

At the start of the second half, the Watford players were out early and found themselves kicking their heels waiting for their opponents.  It nearly started badly for Watford as a clearance by Ekstrand rebounded off Barnes and went just wide.  Then a shot from Arfield curled just wide of the far post. At the other end, Ranegie released Deeney who played a low cross to McGugan who shot wide.  A scramble in the Watford box that appeared to include a handball by the home side, finished with Kightly shooting into the side-netting.  McGugan received a pass from Abdi but his shot from distance was well over the bar.  Then Anya exchanged passes with Deeney who crossed for McGugan, but Baird cut it out.  Then a Tözsér cross was met with a lovely header from

Ranegie challenged for a header

Ranegie challenged for a header

Ranegie, but Heaton was equal to it.  With 15 minutes to go, Faraoni replaced Ranegie for the home side and Burnley brought on Stock for Jones.  There was anger in the home stands as a ball crossed the sideline, but play was allowed to go on and Burnley won a free-kick in a dangerous position.  It could have spelled disaster as the deep free-kick was on target, but Abdi headed the ball off the line.  From Kightly’s corner, Ben Mee sent a header goalwards, but Almunia pulled off a fabulous save to keep it out.  McGugan then played a brilliant through ball to Anya, who rounded the goalkeeper, but his shot lacked pace and Baird had time to get back to clear.    From the corner, Pudil’s header was well saved by Heaton.  At the other end Edgar’s header flew just wide.  The Clarets got the equalizer with five minutes remaining as Arfield found space on the edge of the box and shot into the

The lovely Stuart Attwell

The lovely Stuart Attwell

corner past the diving Almunia.  Riera came on in place of the excellent McGugan for the last minutes of the game.  The first booking of the game went to Faraoni after what looked like a soft foul, although I was informed that he threw the ball away.  In the last minute of time added on, Angella released Pudil who advanced and found Deeney who played a one-two with Anya before shooting just wide.

After the final whistle, Sean Dyche graciously applauded all four stands and the Watford faithful loudly applauded him in return.  It was disappointing to come away from that game with only a point, but pleasing to see such a positive performance against a team that will likely claim the second automatic promotion spot.  If we continue to build and key players stay fit, next season could be very interesting indeed.

 

An Evening with Beppe and Friends

Beppe Sannino and Marco Cesarini

Beppe Sannino and Marco Cesarini

City Orns is a group of Watford fans living or working in London who meet for dinner once a month.  The evenings are always good fun, but last month’s meeting was a bit different as it was an At Your Place type event.  We’d had a dry run in February when Alan McTavish and Richard Walker joined us in a pub in East London for a few bevvies and to have their ears bent.  Thankfully, this didn’t put them off and last month Richard had Beppe Sannino, Marco Cesarini, Scott Duxbury and Gian Luca Nani in tow.  It was billed as an informal evening.  The room was set up with the fans in attendance sitting around three tables which were visited in turn by each of the guests for a drink-fuelled natter.  One of our number described it as akin to speed dating.  As it was such an informal occasion, no subject was off-limits and the guests were remarkably open and honest.  For that reason, and the fact that the Malbec was flowing, I did not take notes and this will not be a Q&A type report more an impression of the evening with a few insights thrown in.

First to visit our table were Scott Duxbury and Gian Luca Nani.  Gian Luca has come in for a lot of criticism on WFC social media recently, so I was impressed that he was willing to attend for questioning, especially as we weren’t expecting him.

We talked about recruits good and bad and about his best friend, Zola.  We also talked at length about John Eustace, who was clearly being missed by those at our table.  Gian Luca and Scott really wanted Eustace to stay but saw him more in a coaching role than as a player due to his injury record.  John wanted to continue playing, so chose to make the move to Derby.  Scott said that the decision was made on medical advice and that we should ask

Gian Luca and Toddy

Gian Luca and Toddy

Marco about it.  They said that John’s leadership was greatly missed at the training ground and that was a key reason why Lucas Neill had been brought in as, even if he didn’t get much playing time, it was felt that the players would benefit from his experience.  “Most of the work is done at the training ground.”

Gian Luca also talked about the scouting network that they have and how, through their contacts, they hear about players who are unsettled at their clubs and that can give them a head start in getting players in.  Tözsér was mentioned in this regard.

Scott was then treated, as was Alan last month, to my rant about the demise of the kit sponsorship scheme, which I feel very strongly about.  When Scott came to the club, he talked about how impressed he was by the Open Day.  I argued that the kit sponsors’ evening is like the open day for adults in the way that it generates good will and some revenue.  Scott listened patiently to my arguments and it seemed to give him food for thought.  I’ve done everything I can on that matter, so now it is over to the club.

Our next date was with Beppe Sannino, accompanied by fitness coach, Marco Cesarini, who was acting as his translator as well as being available for questions related to the fitness of the squad.  Poor Marco was greeted by a fierce woman barking, “I’m told that it is your fault that John Eustace left.”  His response was utterly charming as well as being logical.  Since John only played a handful of times in the previous season and the medical assessment was that that scenario was unlikely to change, it was felt that they couldn’t risk signing John to a playing contract.

Jacque, Beppe and I

Jacque, Beppe and I

Regarding his translation role, having listened to interviews on Watford World I have found that the translation of questions and answers makes them very difficult to follow, which made me wonder how it would work in person.  But Beppe’s charm and enthusiasm ensured that even if he didn’t understand my questions or I didn’t understand his answers I still felt as though I was having a conversation with him.

Important questions included whether Beppe was as fluent in English as I am in German when the drink flows.  It seems not.  Beppe rejected our offer of a glass of Argentinian wine, but that led us on to a discussion of which team Forestieri supported.  Since neither Beppe nor Marco knew, the lovely Marco offered to call Fernando and find out.  Sadly he didn’t answer his phone as he was out on a date with Beyonce.  I blow hot and cold with Forestieri, but he was spoken of very fondly by all present who all said that he really is in love with Watford.

We found out that Beppe runs 10K as day and is much fitter now than he was when he played.  When we asked what he was like as a player, he was quite scathing about his contributions, said he didn’t work hard enough and drove his team mates mad.  He said that the player Sannino would not get into manager Sannino’s team.

He made a point of saying how impressed he is by the passion of the Watford fans at games.  He said that he has searched YouTube to watch videos of Watford fans at games and has always been impressed by the noise <this came as a surprise to many of us who think we have rather quiet fans>.

Beppe was asked whether he would ever stay in his technical area.  “No.”  He was then asked about referees.  He said that he likes English referees as they let the game flow much more than the referees in Italy do.  At one of the other tables Beppe was asked how he could play Deeney, Ranegie and Forestieri in the same team and pint glasses were used to demonstrate the formation.

Our last guest was Richard Walker.  Many of those in attendance have known Rich for longer than we care to remember and all know that he is a great bloke and a bone fide Watford fan.  He was happy to answer questions, but also used the opportunity to do a bit of market research on season ticket pricing which impressed me.

The lovely Marco

The lovely Marco

At the end of the evening, there were a few photos and then our guests left.  Even Marco smiled as we had a photo taken together, so I can’t have upset him too much.  It was only as I was on the train home that it hit me what a privilege this evening had been and how special Watford FC is.  When the Pozzos took over many, including myself, feared that, as a foreign owned club run by people with no history with Watford, the connection with the fans would no longer be there.  But on that Thursday evening, Watford FC’s Head Coach, CEO, Technical Director, Head of Medical and Head of Communications came along to a pub in London in response to an invitation to meet with a group of 20-30 fans.  Even better, they appeared to enjoy the evening as much as we did.  Wow, just wow!