Due to the Six Nations game between Wales and England being played in Cardiff on the Saturday, our match was changed to Friday night. This meant an afternoon off work and a journey to Wales on an early afternoon train from London that was already full of rugby fans. It has to be said that the train was definitely the right decision as the M4 was at a standstill and the supporters coach from Watford took over five hours to get there.
Having checked into the hotel, we headed for a real ale and cider bar. It was in a basement under student accommodation, which didn’t sound promising, but it turned out to be a lovely comfortable place with a tremendous selection. We had a drink there and then headed for our designated pre-match venue to meet up with Alice and have something to eat. As I collected the cutlery, I was gratified to see that the napkins were yellow. That had to be a good omen. After a beer and a veggie chilli we headed for the ground. It is a while since we have been there, and I still look wistfully at the flats that took the place of Ninian Park. That was a tatty old place, but what an atmosphere.
Team news was that Gracia had made two changes with the suspended Holebas replaced by Masina and fit again Pereyra in for Sema. So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Masina; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.
As I pulled my green shirt out of my bag, Graham helpfully pointed out that it was the wrong colour. My Girl Guide training came in handy as I went back to my bag and retrieved the yellow shirt instead. I was all set for the game.
Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s applause for former players Matthew Brazier and Brian Edgley, both of whom had recently passed away.
The first chance for the Hornets came from a decent cross from Janmaat which bounced off Pereyra who didn’t seem to have seen it coming. Janmaat was also involved in the next goal attempt, playing a one-two with Deeney before firing over the target. Cardiff’s first chance of note came as Paterson flicked a ball through to Niasse who only had Foster to beat, but the Watford keeper stood tall and blocked the shot. Watford took the lead in the 18th minute, Deeney did brilliantly to keep hold of the ball before finding Deulofeu who slotted the ball into the near corner. The home side tried to strike back immediately, but the shot from distance from Murphy was easily gathered by Foster.
Watford should have had a second just before the half hour mark as Deeney unleashed a powerful shot that was well saved by Etheridge. The first booking of the game went to Capoue for a foul on Niasse which looked pretty innocuous from our vantage point. The resulting free kick was taken low and touched on by Arter straight to Foster. There was a very nervous moment just before half time as Janmaat tangled with Murphy just inside the box. It was right in front of us and looked like a definite penalty, but the referee waved play on, much to the relief of the travelling Hornets. The home fans made their displeasure known with a chorus of “You’re not fit to referee.” So we reached half time with the Hornets a goal to the good. While we were very fortunate with the penalty decision, we were so obviously the better team that an equaliser would have been a travesty.
Before the start of the second half, Foster’s warm-up was accompanied by howls of derision from the Cardiff fans behind the goal. He good naturedly kicked the ball into the crowd, which backfired when the game had to be stopped as the ball was thrown back on the pitch during play. The first chance of the half fell to the home side, but Bacuna’s shot from distance was well over the target. Watford’s first chance of the half came after some lovely passing between Hughes and Deeney, the shot from the captain was deflected just wide. Pereyra then found his way into the referee’s book after a silly pull on Niasse.
Cardiff made the first substitution replacing Murphy with Hoilett. Cardiff had another chance to grab an equaliser but Bennett’s shot from distance was easy for Foster. Watford threatened again as Doucouré played a lovely through ball for Deulofeu, but Etheridge was first to the ball. At the other end, Mariappa came to the rescue diverting a dangerous cross from Paterson wide of the target. On the hour mark, Deulofeu got the ball in midfield and started running. As he was bearing down on Etheridge, I held my breath as he has had a number of similar opportunities in the past and has made the wrong decision, losing his nerve and running into a defender or the keeper, but this time he rounded the keeper and finished into the empty net to send the away fans wild. While I was delighted that we had scored a second, there was a nagging feeling in the back of my mind as I remembered being in a similar position in the home game. Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry for long as three minutes later Capoue latched on to a poor pass from Arter before playing a lovely ball to Deulofeu who chipped the keeper to grab his hat trick. At this point, many of the home fans had seen enough so started heading home. Warnock made a second substitution bringing Mendez-Laing on for Ralls. The home side won a free kick in a decent position, but Hoilett blasted it into the wall. Gracia’s first change was to bring Quina on for Pereyra, while Cardiff made their last substitution replacing Niasse with Zohore.
Watford scored a fourth on 73 minutes after a period of sublime passing, Capoue played a wonderful through ball to Deulofeu who accelerated into the box and cut the ball back to Deeney to finish past Etheridge. The players celebrated right in front of us and Deeney was rightfully (but decently) deflecting the plaudits to Gerry. Deulofeu had a decent chance to score his fourth as he received a pass from Hughes but shot wide of the far post. Watford then made their second substitution bringing Cleverley on for Capoue. Irritatingly, the Hornets failed to keep a clean sheet as a corner led to a goalmouth scramble, the Watford defence failed to clear and Bamba was able to prod the ball past Foster. The first booking for the home side went to Paterson who was penalised for pulling Quina to the ground. The final Watford substitution came with five minutes to go and it was the hat trick hero, Deulofeu, who left the field to a standing ovation as he made way for Gray. Cleverley almost scored the fifth from a free kick which looked to be curling in but hit the near post. Cardiff had a chance to reduce the deficit further but Paterson’s shot from distance was so far over the bar that it sparked the observation that he was supposed to score a try first. Into time added on and Watford finally scored a fifth goal as Hughes played the ball back to Deeney who scored to finish off a cracking game. The scoreboard operator was clearly exhausted as the goal wasn’t acknowledged until the players were back in the centre circle ready for the restart. The final whistle went sparking wild celebrations in the away end. The players all came over to celebrate with the crowd and the songs and cheers went on for some time. Deulofeu secured the match ball, despite an attempt by Doucouré to steal it. As the others left him to it, he stood alone in front of the away fans while we told him he was magic. It was a lovely moment.
We walked back into town and headed for the real ale bar expecting it to be heaving with rugby fans, so were delighted to find that there were seats available and we could have our post-match analysis in comfort. That was easily our best performance this year so far. We played some lovely football and finally turned dominance in possession into a convincing win. It was an excellent team performance and at various points during the game I declared my love for Cathcart and Doucouré. I also thought Hughes had a decent game, he seems to be getting back to his best. But the plaudits have to go to Deulofeu. Troy was spot on in his post-match comments. Gerard can be incredibly frustrating, holding on to the ball too long, making poor decisions and not making the most of the chances that he creates. However, he never stops working and he continues to create those chances. This was a reward for all of that hard work and both the players and the fans were delighted for him. I hope that he treasures that match ball.
It was a tremendous performance. Our first top flight hat trick since 1986. What pleased me most was that, despite having a comfortable lead, we didn’t sit back, we carried on attacking, playing with flair and going for goal. To score five at any level is impressive. In the Premier League it is very special.
I am still pinching myself as I look at the table and realise that we have reached the magic 40 point mark (which is unlikely to be needed this season) and it is still February. This is a season that will go down in history and I am loving it.