Tag Archives: Guus Hiddink

A Thrilling Goalless Draw

 

Ben Watson lining up a free kick

Ben Watson lining up a free kick

When Guus Hiddink took over at Chelsea, just before our game on Boxing Day, I certainly didn’t expect that when our home game came around they would still be unable to catch us in the table regardless of the result.  Since this was a televised game, we were able to watch the build-up on TV in the West Herts, but unable to hear what Flores had to say in the pre-match interview although the pictures were rather evocative showing his flamenco dancing aunt and plenty of Flores hugs.

Team news was that Flores had made just the two forced changes, with Britos unwell and Aké ineligible, Holebas and Prödl were in to replace them.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart Prödl, Paredes, Capoue, Watson, Behrami, Jurado, Deeney and Ighalo.

Watford started well as a promising attack from Costa was stopped by Prödl, his forward pass to Deeney was headed down to Ighalo whose shot was deflected for a corner.  Costa’s reputation goes before him, so it was pleasing from a Watford perspective to see an early dramatic fall ignored by Mike Dean, leaving him sitting on the turf while Watford broke back upfield.  He stayed on his feet in his next move and broke into the box, but Cathcart was on hand to block.

Capoue hits a free kick

Capoue hits a free kick

At the other end, Jurado released Capoue who won a corner from which there was a bit of a goalmouth scramble with three attempted shots, but the ball ended up in the arms of Courtois.  The first booking of the game went to Prödl who was penalized for a late challenge on Oscar.  A dangerous free kick from Holebas was deflected in the direction of Capoue but Courtois gathered.  The first sight of Watford substitutes warming up is usually greeted with polite applause, but the reaction this evening was more enthusiastic than usual due to the presence of our new signing Mario Suárez.  There were some hopeful shouts for a penalty from the home fans as Jurado appeared to be tripped in the box by Matic, but all appeals were waved away.  The Watford forwards combined as Deeney found Ighalo in the box, but his shot was blocked.  There followed a lovely sequence of passes around the midfield from the Hornets which drew cheers from the fans before Holebas broke forward and crossed towards Ighalo who was unable to connect.  Ighalo then battled into the box but his shot was blocked for a corner which was taken by Watson and met by the head of Prödl, but Courtois leapt to catch.  There was another chance for the Hornets as Deeney flicked the ball on to Ighalo but the Nigerian didn’t connect properly so it was easy for the keeper to gather.  Jurado, who had been impressive, beat a couple of players before feeding Capoue who unleashed a fierce shot that drew an instinctive save from Courtois.

Deeney on the ball

Deeney on the ball

A Watford free-kick was cleared only as far as Jurado who tried an overhead kick that was easily caught.  At the other end a long pass from Fabregas released Costa whose shot was deflected wide.  Chelsea had another chance with a shot from Oscar that was blocked by Prödl.  Then a moment of brilliance from Ighalo, who looked to be in a hopeless situation with two Chelsea players on him, but somehow managed to escape upfield before letting himself down by playing a terrible ball that was intercepted.  “That’s why he doesn’t pass” was the conclusion of a wit behind me.  With 5 minutes remaining of the half the Chelsea fans could finally be heard, but they were belting out a lengthy song about Frankie Lampard, which seemed rather odd under the circumstances.  Another break into the box by Holebas ended when he was tripped, but nothing given.  Then there was danger for the Hornets as Paredes played a poor pass to Capoue who failed to control which allowed Oscar to escape with the ball before finding Azpilicueta who, much to the relief of the home fans, shot wide of the far post.  The fourth official indicated a minute of added time at the end of the half, but that was extended considerably following an off the ball incident between Costa and Paredes.  I didn’t see what happened, but the Ecuadorian had collapsed holding his face and many around me were calling for a red card.  Costa had to be calmed down by a number of people, including Flores, and, eventually, both players ended in the referee’s book.  The post match consensus seemed to be that Paredes had over dramatized the contact.  Much as I dislike that aspect of the game, it was hard to sympathize with Costa, a definite case of the biter bit.

Ighalo preparing for a corner

Ighalo preparing for a corner

When the half time whistle finally sounded, Watford had been the better team.  We were playing some lovely football, but I was particularly pleased to see that our defence was organized and joining with the midfield to harry the Chelsea players and not allow them to get comfortable on the ball.  Also, Jurado, who is a marmite player for the Watford fans, was combining really well with Ighalo and Deeney.  It had all been very pleasing apart from our inability to score.

The half time draw was carried out by Nathan Aké.  The usual interview was rather engaging, so I think he was a little taken aback when Tim finished by asking whether if Chelsea got relegated there was a clause in his contract that allowed us to sign him permanently.  He laughed that off, but we can only hope.

Gomes had nothing to do in the first half, but was called into action early in the second period as a shot from Mikel took a nasty deflection and appeared to be looping in when the Brazilian leaped to tip it over the bar.  At the other end, Behrami’s pass towards Ighalo was met by Zouma who could only head clear as far as Deeney whose volley was just wide of the target.

Cathcart and Behrami ready for a free kick

Cathcart and Behrami ready for a free kick

Holebas made a menacing run into the box, exchanged passes with Capoue but his run gave him too narrow an angle and he shot into the side netting.  Watford looked to be in trouble as Gomes left his goal to try to stop Costa on the byline, but the striker succeeded in cutting the ball back to Oscar who, thankfully, put his shot wide.  There was a lovely break from Jurado, but his cross was too deep, flying over Ighalo’s head, and there was no other Watford player in the box to meet it.  At the other end, a clearance dropped to Matic whose shot was easily gathered by Gomes.  For Watford, Holebas found Ighalo who was prevented from doing any damage by a challenge from Terry.  At the other end, Costa was equally frustrated by Prödl, who was having an excellent game.  Just after the hour mark, Flores made two substitutions in quick succession.  First Abdi replaced Jurado, who had been superb so went off to loud cheers.  Then Nyom replaced Paredes.  Oscar tried to threaten the Watford goal as he cut inside and shot, but Gomes made the save.  Chelsea’s first change came with 20 minutes to go and saw Matic replaced by Hazard.  The Belgian was immediately involved, playing a ball to Ivanovic whose shot was tipped around the post by Gomes.  The Watford keeper was having a much busier second half and had to be alert again as Willian found Hazard, but Gomes was out to save at his feet.  My nerves were becoming a little frayed at this point at the possibility of Chelsea nicking the game, and were severely tested when Hazard crossed to the far post but, thankfully, Costa shot into the side netting.  Flores gave new signing Suárez a brief run out as he came on to replace Capoue to great cheers.  Chelsea nearly won it at the death as a cross from Willian was headed goalwards by Costa.  From the opposite end of the ground it looked in all the way until a purple blur appeared and there was Gomes flying through the air to make a superb save and ensure that the Man of the Match award went his way.

Man of the Match Gomes

Man of the Match Gomes

So a second point won from the defending Champions this season in the most entertaining 0-0 you will ever see.  While the visitors had the better of the second half, as the Hornets tired, a draw was probably a fair result.  It had been a tremendous performance from the Watford lads who never looked out of place against their supposedly more illustrious opponents.  The memory of watching Costa charging into the box to be met by Cathcart who then calmly took the ball off his feet still makes me smile.  The point took us to 9th in the table and we are 12 points clear of the drop zone with 14 games remaining, which is a position that would have been beyond my wildest dreams at the start of the season.

When I got back from the game, I was finally able to watch the pre-match interview with Flores and fill in the blanks.  It didn’t disappoint as he spoke of the pride in his family and the emotion when his lovely aunt was commemorated with a Google doodle in Spain.  He spoke of the fact that, with many nationalities and mentalities in the squad, you have to touch the players’ hearts to make them most effective.  His last comment of the piece was in relation to his time at Watford and he said, “This is the right place to be happy.”  And so say all of us, Quique.

Boxing Day at the Bridge

The pre-match huddle

The pre-match huddle

When the ticket prices for this game were announced, I sent the usual message to my regular travelling companions to see who wanted tickets only to receive a raft of refusals due to the excessively high price.  Luckily for me, I have a lovely niece who has never been to Stamford Bridge and was very excited at the prospect.  I thought long and hard before inviting her, as recent trips to Chelsea have meant pretty brutal defeats and I didn’t want to give her the worst Christmas present ever.  As it was Boxing Day and there were no trains, I decided to go on the club coach for the first time in a number of years.  It was nice to catch up with some old friends and, as luck would have it, we ended up sitting close to a couple of friends for the short journey to West London.  As we approached the turnstiles, Amelia asked if they didn’t want us to go in as there were lines of stewards blocking our path.  Thankfully, our turkey sandwiches passed the inspection and we were allowed entry.

Team news was that the only change was the replacement of the ineligible Aké with Holebas.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.  Prior to kick-off there was a nice tribute to Don Howe who, sadly, died this week.

Challenging at a corner

Challenging at a corner

Most Watford fans I know were pretty unhappy when Mourinho left, as Chelsea’s current position in the table seems to have more to do with the players’ dislike of Jose than any lack of talent.  The consensus was that, following their win against Sunderland and the appointment of Hiddink, we could be in for a very difficult game.  The home side certainly started very well and had an early chance as Costa met a corner from Pedro but diverted it over the bar.  Soon after Willian had a shot from the edge of the area that was blocked by Britos for a corner.  The home side completely dominated the first 10 minutes, but Watford then gained a foothold in the game and the first chance for the visitors was a shot from Jurado that was put out for a corner.  Then Deeney fed Ighalo who was tripped on the edge of the box, but the foul was given the other way.  Some good build-up play finished with a cross from Holebas that was put out for a corner.  Jurado then found Ighalo in a great position in front of goal, but he completely mishit his shot and it flew well wide.  There was danger at the other end as Costa broke forward, but Gomes was out to save at his feet.  Deeney, again, found Ighalo in the box but, in the words of the bloke behind me, he took one scoop too many and the ball went out for a goal kick.  A dangerous cross from Holebas was calmly chested back to Courtois in the Chelsea goal.

Holebas lines up a free kick

Holebas lines up a free kick

Holebas then exchanged passes with Deeney on the wing and whipped in another cross that was put out for a corner.  From Watson’s delivery, Ighalo had a free header but directed it wide of the target.  There was another decent chance for Watford as Jurado went on a great run and crossed for Ighalo whose shot unfortunately bounced off Deeney to safety.  Then Watson intercepted a pass in the midfield and fed Abdi whose shot from distance was high and wide.  Just after the half hour mark, Chelsea took the lead against the run of play.  Costa broke forward and tried a cross that was put out for a corner from which Terry headed the ball down, it bounced off Cahill’s back and dropped for Costa to rifle home.  It was a cruel blow at a time in the game when Watford had been on top.  The Watford heads dropped a bit after the goal and I feared that Chelsea would increase their lead.  Willian, who had been a menace down the Chelsea right, broke forward, but his cross was deflected wide by Britos.  Then Oscar received a cross from Ivanovich that he hit wide.

Holebas and Ighalo congratulate Deeney on his penalty

Holebas and Ighalo congratulate Deeney on his penalty

Watford hit back just before half time after Ighalo was brought down just outside the box.  Jurado took the free-kick which deflected off the wall for a corner.  Watson’s delivery looked like it would come to nothing until it was handled by Matic.  It was a nonsensical thing to do as no Watford player was anywhere near the ball, but the referee had no choice but to point to the spot.  Deeney stepped up and coolly sent Courtois the wrong way to draw the Hornets level.  It was no more than we deserved and there was a spot of joyful bouncing in the away end.  The home side had a couple of chances to regain the lead in the dying minutes of the half.  First when Britos fouled Costa just outside the box and received a card for his trouble.  Willian took the free kick which flew a mile over the bar.  Then a heart-stopping moment as Pedro broke forward and put in a cross that evaded all the Watford defenders in the box but, thankfully, no Chelsea player could get near it either and it flew wide of the far post.

So honours even at half time after an exciting and pretty even half.

Anya and Behrami run to join the goal celebrations

Anya and Behrami run to join the goal celebrations

Hiddink made a change at half time bringing Mikel on for Fabregas.  There was an early scare for the Hornets as Azpilicueta was allowed to get into the Watford box, but his cross was cleared.  At the other end, Jurado played a ball out to Holebas whose cross was put out for a corner.  Nothing came of the set piece as Deeney was floored in the box, but the referee saw no infringement.  A break by Chelsea was stopped by Cathcart, who earned a yellow card for the foul.  From a Chelsea corner, there were shouts of hand ball from the home fans as a shot was blocked, but it had been a hopeful shout and nothing was given.  Capoue had a great chance to take the lead for the visitors with two stunning shots in quick succession, the first saved by Courtois, the second blocked by Terry.  The disappointment didn’t last too long, however, as a minute later Ighalo dribbled into the box and hit a shot past Courtois from an angle.  Cue mayhem in the away end and the trademark Ighalo celebration by the corner flag right in front of us.  The celebration again continued with a spot of bouncing and chants of “We’re all going on a European tour”.  The Chelsea fans had another go at winning a penalty for their side after Oscar took a tumble as the ball was rolling harmlessly through to Gomes.  Thankfully the referee was unmoved by the shouts.  Back on his feet, Oscar played the ball back to Pedro whose shot was blocked brilliantly by Watson.  Another cross from Willian was claimed by Gomes.  Willian threatened again as he ran on to a lovely cross-field ball but Gomes saved the resulting shot.

Cathcart, Capoue and Britos

Cathcart, Capoue and Britos

The home side were level on 64 minutes after Jurado lost the ball in midfield, Willian played a through ball to Costa who finished past Gomes to claim his and Chelsea’s second.  This prompted chants of “We are staying up” from some of the Chelsea fans near us.  Good on them!  Chelsea had a decent chance to take the lead with a dangerous cross from Oscar that Costa nearly finished, but the attentions of Gomes and two defenders were enough to make him put the ball wide.  There were a series of substitutions as Behrami and Anya replaced Abdi and Jurado for the visitors and Hazard came on for Pedro for the home side.  With 15 minutes remaining, Willian went down rather easily on the edge of the box, but justice was done as he fired the ball well over the bar.  Watford nearly handed Chelsea the three points as Behrami made a rash challenge on Hazard and the referee pointed to the spot.  There were chants of “Heurelho Gomes Baby” ringing out in the away end, but he didn’t need to get involved as Oscar slipped just as he was about to hit the penalty and put the ball into orbit sparking yet more celebrations in the Watford end.  More Chelsea gamesmanship as a decision to award a throw-in to the Hornets was revised after Ivanovich rolled about a bit, the referee over-ruled his linesman and gave a free kick and a yellow card to Holebas.  Soon after, Behrami also found his way into the referee’s book, this time deservedly, after a poor challenge on Azpilicueta.

Deeney and Ighalo in the Chelsea box

Deeney and Ighalo in the Chelsea box

A lovely break by Anya was stopped by the linesman’s flag.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead as Ighalo and Deeney both broke into the box, Odion was the first take a shot that was blocked and rebounded to Troy, whose follow-up was also blocked.  A nasty tackle on Cathcart earned Costa a yellow card with the Hornet faithful screaming for a red.  As we reached injury time, the home fans were streaming out while the visitors were on their feet chanting “Watford FC” encouraging the lads to go for a winner.  There was a final substitution in time added on as Deeney made way for Guedioura, handing the captain’s armband to Ben Watson on his way off.  There was one last chance to win the game and it fell to the home side, so it was a relief to see Mikel hit a shot just wide.

The final whistle went to the customary celebrations.  I don’t think I will ever get tired of seeing Flores with a huge smile on his face hugging his players (and the odd member of the opposition) and then waving and blowing a kiss to the fans in the away stand.  As we got back on the coach for the journey home, there were big smiles.  Although it is a measure of the season that we’ve had that there was disappointment that we hadn’t taken all three points and concern that we’d shown the opposition a bit too much respect at the start.  Certainly we had misplaced more passes than usual.  To reflect on the positives, we are in 7th position, 3 points off the Champions League places and 12 points from the relegation zone (Don asked me to check that one).  Already we have taken 4 points from the first two of our ‘difficult Christmas fixtures’ and even I am moving from my usually super cautious viewpoint and acknowledging that we could get something from the next two games.  But, even if we don’t, it will still have been a remarkable start to the season.  Best of all, I didn’t spoil Amelia’s Christmas and the memory of bouncing with her at Stamford Bridge is one to be treasured.