Tag Archives: Heurelho Gomes

Second String Impress in the Cup

Gomes back at Vicarage Road

After a busy and frustrating day at work followed by a sweltering train journey, it was a relief finally to get to Watford and think only about football.  On leaving the station, the Coventry fans were already making their presence felt as they appeared to have taken over the pub formerly known as The Flag and were in very good voice.  Leaving them behind, I was soon in the West Herts for a well-earned pint.  It has to be said that the club was not particularly busy, so we were not overly concerned at leaving a little later than we usually do, after all there wouldn’t be any queues to get in to the ground.  As we turned into Occupation Road, our assumption was shown to be rather rash as Richard joined a longer than usual line to get into the SEJ and I was horrified to see a queue from the back of the Rookery reaching half-way up Occupation Road.  I had my fingers crossed that the crowd was heading for the ticket office rather than the turnstiles.  Thankfully it was and I was in the ground in plenty of time for kick-off.

I met up with the family in our usual seats.  Our Cate had brought her goddaughter, Evie, for her first game.  Seeing her resplendent in yellow shirt and yellow, red and black face-paint made me smile and just hope that the lads would do us proud in front of her.

The first sight of the Vicarage Road stand was impressive.  Coventry had been given the whole end and their fans had come in droves, which was great to see.

Gathering for a corner

The team news had come through in the West Herts and there had been a game of “guess the line-up”.  It has to be said that nobody was scoring highly.  I was probably alone in welcoming the selection of Gomes in goal but, after his incredible service to us, I couldn’t bear the thought of his last game being the cup final.

The starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Mariappa, Kabasele, Foulquier; Pereyra, Chalobah, Quina, Sarr; Welbeck, Success.  Watford Academy graduate, Brandon Mason, started for the visitors.

The first thing that I noted down was some lovely footwork from Quina, but the first chance of the game fell to the visitors as the Watford defence stopped, expecting a free kick to be awarded to Coventry, but the referee played advantage allowing O’Hare to break forward and unleash a shot that was wide of the target.  Watford’s first chance came as Pereyra played in Welbeck, but the shot was high and wide.  The best chance of the game so far came on the half hour with a cracking shot from Pereyra that required a smart save by Wilson in the Coventry goal.  The resulting corner tested the keeper, but he managed to make the catch at the second attempt.

Goalscorer Sarr

The Hornets took the lead in the 36th minute when Success played a perfect through ball for Sarr who shot across Wilson into the opposite corner to score on his full debut.  At this point, the “How sh*t must you be …” song rang out from our fans.  That took the post-goal smile off my face.  Why do fans spend so much energy abusing the opposition instead of supporting their own team?  There was a scare for the Hornets when Chalobah missed a tackle allowing Kelly to break forward, but his shot from distance was well over the target.  The visitors had a chance to level the game in time added on at the end of the half as Dabo broke forward, but salvation came in the unexpected form of Success who was back to stop the shot and concede a corner that came to nothing.

At half-time, Marvin Sordell, who had previously played for both sides, was the guest on the field.  I well remember watching him as a youngster and have been saddened by news of his mental health struggles over the years which have led to his premature retirement from the game.  I am delighted that he was given a tremendous reception as he walked along the front of the Rookery.

Celebrating Janmaat’s goal

The visitors made a change at half-time replacing Mason with McCallum.  They also had the first chance of the half, but a tackle from Janmaat ensured that a dangerous through ball into the box came to nothing.   Sarr looked to have lost the ball, due to a heavy touch, but raced down the wing after it and was able to put in a cross for Welbeck who had a couple of defenders on him so was unable to shoot.  Welbeck had another chance soon after when the ball came back to him via Janmaat, but his overhead kick was wide of the target.  A poor back pass from Mariappa nearly put the Hornets in trouble, but Gomes was out quickly to make the clearance.  Sarr went on another run and crossed, this time for Quina, but the youngster skyed his shot.  Coventry threatened with a low cross from Eccles, but Gomes was able to make the save.  Watford threatened again after a cross from Foulquier was blocked but fell to Chalobah whose shot was deflected over the target.    Ten minutes into the half, Watford scored a second goal as Success found Janmaat who advanced and hit a lovely shot into the top corner.  I breathed a sigh of relief at this point.  I know that 2-0 is a dangerous score, but surely the game was now ours.  Watford continued to attack as Sarr went on a brilliant run before crossing for Success whose shot was blocked.

Congratulating Penaranda after his wonder goal

Coventry made a second substitution bringing Godden on for Kastaneer.  The substitute tried to make a name for himself, but his shot was well over the bar.  Each side made a change on 64 minutes as Peñaranda replaced Pereyra for the home side and Eccles made way for Shipley for the visitors.  There was another lovely move from the Hornets as Sarr released Janmatt who found Welbeck who appeared to get the ball caught under his feet before shooting just wide.  The third goal came on 69 minutes and was a beauty from Peñaranda who picked up the ball on the edge of the box and powered it into the top corner.  Gracia introduced another new face as Sarr was replaced by Dele-Bashiru, who almost scored with his first touch of the game after receiving a lovely pass from Success, but his shot was just wide of the target.  The only caution of the game went to Dabo, who was booked for a foul on Success.  Chalobah stepped up to take the free kick and it was a wonderful attempt, but Wilson made the save.  Peñaranda had a chance to increase the lead further, but his shot cleared the bar.  Another lovely move involving Peñaranda and Janmaat deserved a better outcome, but the shot from the Dutchman cleared the bar.  A rare second half attack from the visitors finished with O’Hare going down after a series of challenges, but nothing was given.  The Hornets had one last chance in the game as Janmaat went on a lovely run before putting in a cross, but there was no Watford man to get on the end of it and it was headed clear.

Tom Dele-Bashiru

So at last a win, our first since the trip to Huddersfield in April.  It may have been against lower division opposition, but it was convincing and therapeutic.  All three goals were gorgeous, and it was great to see Sarr and Peñaranda getting their first goals for the club.  It was also pleasing to see a clean sheet at last.  A lot of the football was impressive, demonstrating the depth of our squad, but the only player that I would consider for a start on Saturday is Janmaat who was superb.  That said, I look forward to Sarr and Welbeck gaining full fitness as they will be a lot of fun to watch.

A special mention must go to the Coventry fans who, despite having little to cheer, were loud and proud in support of their team throughout the game.

But the most important news of the evening was that Evie enjoyed her first football match.  She would love to come again, although my suggestion that, as she is now our lucky mascot, she should make the trip to Newcastle fell on deaf ears, and that was before she heard about the steps to the away end.  Youngsters!!

Pride Overcomes Heartbreak at Wembley

Before the Cup Final in 1984

I will start by saying that I can’t bring myself to write a full match report.  Everyone who is reading this will have seen the match and I am sure, like me, you don’t want to relive it.  But what I do want to relive is the build-up to the game and the experiences of the day.

My build-up started straight after the semi-final when I received an email from David Hyams suggesting that we create a good luck banner for the final.  The idea was to collect messages from fans from all over the world and display them on a banner to present to the players before the game.  Banners had been produced on three previous occasions, for the 1999, 2006 and 2013 play-off finals.  My involvement in 1999 was limited to having my photo taken with the banner outside Wembley, but I got involved in 2006 and 2013 helping to publicise the initiative and liaising with the club.  On this occasion, we had a great point of initial contact at the club in Dave Messenger, who immediately supported the venture and put us in touch with Hamish in the media team.  Jon Marks then got involved, providing us with a great background photo to use on the banner and arranging for us to go to the ground to present it to the players.

On the big screen looking as nervous as I felt

My next contribution was a couple of weeks before the game when Jon Marks asked if I wanted to be one of the fans featuring in the FA’s pre-match video.  I was incredibly busy at work, so taking a Monday morning off for filming was really not a good idea.  Needless to say, I agreed to do it.  The filming was taking place at 10:30 on a Monday morning.  I arrived at the same time as the Watford Ladies’ captain, Helen Ward.  I was also told that Nigel Gibbs was currently being interviewed and my heart skipped a bit.  I knew that this was something out of the ordinary when we were sent to the players’ lounge in order to meet the make-up artist.  My request to her was to give me some eyebrows and remove one of my chins.  Bless her, she did her best.  Then Helen and I went down to the changing room (thrilling!!) where she was to be filmed.  They sent me back to the lounge so that my spontaneity wasn’t spoilt!  When they finally came to collect me, I was taken out into Occupation Road for the filming.  It took a while to find an angle which allowed them to use the Watford FC on the outside of the SEJ stand as background.  I have to admit that I was a little reserved as it started.  I’m not very good with all the jingoistic stuff, so told them that Roy Moore (who was the next to be filmed) would be great for that element.  Then they asked me to talk about Graham Taylor, Elton John, Heurelheo Gomes, Troy Deeney and generally my love for Watford and there was no stopping me.  I must admit that I often see those pieces and wonder why the participants have no dignity.  On this occasion, dear reader, dignity was completely dispensed with.

Presenting the banner to the players (credit Alan Cozzi)

The league season had finished with a disappointing set of results, but the thing that upset me most was the red card shown to José Holebas.  I remember when Wilf Rostron was sent off at Luton in 1984.  The photo of Wilf’s face when he realised that he would miss the cup final is etched on my memory.  The idea that another player would suffer the same fate was almost too much to take.  I stayed in Watford on the Sunday night after the game, with the idea that I would spend the evening writing my match report.  I was so upset after the game that I couldn’t bring myself even to make a start.  On Monday morning, I drove over to the training ground at London Colney arriving on schedule and was shown to the media room where some of our party were already gathered.  Jon told us the plans for the presentation and then we were taken to the training pitch to wait for the players.  As they started to gather, Javi was introduced to each of us.  When Troy arrived, he recognised me, so said hello and gave me a kiss.  Then David showed him the memento pack that he had made with a replica of the banner and print-out of the messages and the video from the semi-final with the voice over from GT.  Troy could easily have said thanks and dismissed him, but he spent the time listening to David talking about what we had done, and he appeared interested and engaged.  I love him for doing that.  As the players gathered around the banner, it was lovely to see them reading the messages.  The photo with the banner was taken, the players left to start training and we went home.

Fuzz in all her magnificent glory

I had spotted José Holebas at the training ground, but he lurked in the background and looked a bit down, although I am not sure that is unusual.  There had been some discussion amongst the fans there about the appeal going in to the FA and there were varying opinions on what the outcome would be.  I was not hopeful.  I worked from home in the afternoon, which was just as well because, when the news came through that the red card had been rescinded, I found myself sobbing with relief and joy for José.  When we went to Wembley in 1984, my sister took a banner reading “Wilf is Innocent”.  I was so thankful that we wouldn’t have to cross out “Wilf” and write in “José”.

In the week before the game, the club put out a series of videos with the tag line “Imagine if”.  The From the Rookery End guys put out a couple of pre-final podcasts including a great interview with Ben Foster.  Then there were the Hornet Heaven specials.  All of these were wonderful, but the Hornet Heaven episode entitled “35 Years of Hurt” was just incredible.  Added to that we had fans uploading their photos from 1984 and the memories of the game, often involving family members who are no longer with us.  I spent a fortune on tissues this week.

Pre-match, I tried to follow the same pattern as for the semi-final.  I packed my bag with essentials including my scarf with the badge featuring Toddy and Steve Brister and the GT memorial game badge.  I made sure that I took the lucky seashell that Pete Fincham gave me at Woking.  I also added my first scarf, bought in 1979, which accompanied me to Wembley in 1984.  That may have been my mistake.  I took the train into Paddington listening to the latest Hornet Heaven episodes and then took the wrong exit out of the station (as I had previously) and again took an ill-advised detour on the way to the pub.

Fuzz and the family at Wembley (as is my usual practice, my yellow shirt and scarf were donned when I got to my seat)

Richard had booked a table for 11am, when the pub opened, under the assumption that leaving it much later would mean that we would arrive to a packed pub and have to evict those on our table.  I arrived just before the advertised opening time to find the doors open and a couple of guys lurking outside.  I entered a pub that was empty apart from the bar staff who looked a little askance, before breaking out in broad smiles and welcoming me, showing me to our table (the same one as we had for the semi-final) and offering me a drink.  I thought about having a coffee, but that seemed rude, so a pint of Doom Bar it was.  The guys that had been lurking outside also came in and turned out to be the door staff for later in the day, when there was more than one customer.  Thankfully Richard wasn’t far behind me and our party was soon in full swing.  As the “Happy Valley” contingent arrived, I was able to hand out the last of the match tickets that I had purchased (they had better nerves than I did, being able to wait until matchday to receive their tickets).  The ticket handover was accompanied by personalised bracelets that Fuzz had made for all of our party which were very gratefully received.  When Mike arrived, much was made of his winning the Supporter of the Season award.  Then we had lunch and more beer and waited for the designated time to leave the pub as I got more and more nervous.

35 years on, Rose’s daughters accompanied her to Wembley

The journey to Wembley was as simple as last time and we were through the turnstiles very quickly. It has to be said that, despite the strict bag policy, the search was the very definition of cursory.  When we reached the upper level, my family, who had travelled in from Hertfordshire so not joined us in the pub in central London, were all there to greet us.  As was my friend, Farzana.  Now, Fuzz had long talked about she and I dressing as Hornets if we ever went to a cup final.  Thankfully, after years of telling her that I would do nothing of the kind, she had decided to do her own thing.  “Think 70s Elton John.”  The last time that she had promised such a costume, she turned up dressed as a chicken.  This time, the costume was a work of art.  She had added bling and feathers to a yellow mac and it was absolutely gorgeous.  We had photos taken, but then she had to meet her people as so many admired her attire.

The band playing Abide with Me

We were in our seats in plenty of time for the pre-match entertainment, although we had missed the marching band playing Z-cars.  Thankfully, Annie Mac had added it to her play-list and it got an amazing cheer.  She followed with Elton’s “Are you ready for love?” and then “Wonderwall”, which was roundly booed by the Watford fans.  Next up was the FA film.  For Watford, Luther, Gibbsy and Roy Moore said their pieces before my face appeared, to cheers from my family.  I think (hope) that I didn’t make too much of a fool of myself.  This was followed by Abide with Me which always brings memories of Elton’s tears in the stands in 1984.  Then the FA Cup was brought onto the pitch by Tony Book and Luther Blissett.  It was lovely seeing Luther as part of the proceedings, I well remember seeing him walk around the pitch in 84, at the end of his sabbatical in Milan and being so sad that he wasn’t able to play.  At this point, a banner was displayed for each club.  City’s included the dates of their previous cup wins and a picture of Tony Book who had been on the winning team in 1969.  Watford’s showed a shirt with “Ossie 10” on it and “Ossie with us at Wembley” in honour of young Watford fan, Ossie Robinson who died of neuroblastoma in 2017.  That was a lovely gesture by the club.

Troy deep in conversation with Will Hughes

The teams came out and Troy was joined by Elton’s sons, Zachary and Elijah, with their Dad working in Copenhagen so unable to make the game.

The Cup Final team was, as expected, Gomes; Holebas, Mariappa, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu, Deeney.

At last the game kicked off.  City started brightly but, on 10 minutes, the Hornets broke, Deulofeu played in Pereyra who shot straight at the onrushing Ederson.  There was a shout for a penalty as a shot from Doucouré seemed to hit Kompany on the arm, but it wasn’t given and Abdoulaye was booked for his protest.  City took the lead on 26 minutes.  It looked a bit of a soft goal, Doucouré lost possession, Sterling broke forward, the Watford defence were unable to clear the ball and Silva finished from a tight angle.  The second goal came after a series of corners, finally Silva found Jesus who beat Gomes.  It appeared that Sterling had applied the final touch, but the ball had already crossed the line and the goal was awarded to Jesus.  I was feeling pretty miserable at this point, so I was grateful for a moment that made me smile as Holebas lost the ball in the City half but sprinted back to make a magnificent recovering tackle.  So, we were two goals down at half time.  There were some among our group making positive noises after our comeback in the semi-final, but it was hard to see us coming back from this against City.

Gathering for a corner

The second half started with the ball in the Watford net from a diving header, but Jesus was in an offside position, so the goal was disallowed.  Watford then created a couple of decent chances, but seemed reluctant to take a shot, which is the story of our season.  Ten minutes into the half Guardiola made his first substitution bringing De Bruyne on for Mahrez.  Now that seemed just mean and the feeling was compounded when De Bruyne scored the third after receiving a square ball from Jesus, dribbling past Gomes and finding the net.  At this point “Blue Moon” was ringing out from the City end.  De Bruyne also had a hand in the fourth, playing a through ball for Jesus who was one-on-one with Gomes and made no mistake.  At this point I pleaded “Please make this stop,” before commenting to my sister on how amazing the 1881 in the stand below us were, still singing their hearts out.  I was joining in as much as I could and certainly joined the “One Graham Taylor” chant that came on 72 minutes.  Despite the scoreline, Watford hadn’t given up, and Success and Capoue both created chances but couldn’t get the ball in the net.  City’s fifth came as a low cross from Silva was converted by Sterling.  At this point something remarkable happened, the flags started waving in the Watford end.  First a few and then the stand was a sea of red and yellow, all around us getting to their feet to wave the flags and sing our hearts out for the lads.    The sixth City goal came when a shot from Sterling was turned onto the post by Gomes, but Raheem was there to finish from the rebound.  At this point the guy next to me muttered that was a joint record defeat in the final, not something that I wanted to hear.  Thankfully there were only a couple of minutes of added time.  Stones had a great chance to score a seventh, but Gomes saved with his feet.  The final whistle went to cheers from all corners of the ground.  I was so proud of the Watford fans who were still on their feet waving their flags and applauding their team.  The players must have been devastated but when they came to acknowledge the fans, there was a lovely moment as they stood to applaud a crowd that applauded back in recognition of all that they have done this season.

It must have been a long walk as the team took the steps up to the Royal Box, so it was lovely to see Gino Pozzo greeting Javi and the lads so warmly.  A good number of us waited to applaud the winners as Vincent Kompany lifted the cup.  I must admit that he is a player that I have always liked.  I was interested to see that Guardiola did not go up with the players, he was chatting with the Watford players with Deulofeu (who would have played for him at Barcelona) getting a particularly warm hug.

It took a while to leave the ground.  On the way out, I was delighted to bump into a woman who used to have a season ticket behind us in the Rookery.  She gave it up when she had her first child, which didn’t seem too long ago until she introduced us to her youngest who is now 9 years old.

On the way back to the station, we bumped into Steve Terry who was very chatty and felt that the result was unfair on the lads.

The banner says it all

I headed back to the pub in desperate need of a glass of wine.  I was feeling pretty low and it must have been obvious as Jacque gave me a warm hug saying that she had never seen me look so down after a game.  I must admit that I didn’t expect us to win, but the thrashing was very hard to take.  Mostly for the players who have been magnificent for most of this season and really didn’t deserve to be beaten that badly.  A City fan that we encountered in the pub reflected that they were a good team, but not often that good.  They clearly wanted to finish their season on a high and did so and there was nothing that we could do about it.

As the wine flowed and we reflected on our season, it was time to put the game in some perspective.  The defeat was awful and will hurt for a long time, but it is always the good times that you remember most.  For most of us, the abiding memory of 2013 is that amazing semi-final win against Leicester.  Going back to 1987, the quarter-final win at Arsenal remains one of my most fondly remembered games in the FA Cup.  In years to come, the semi-final against Wolves will be much talked about in a way that the final won’t be.

As I received messages of commiseration today, my response was that it really hurt, but this season has been the best that I have experienced since the glory days of Graham Taylor.  I am so thankful to Gino Pozzo and Scott Duxbury for what they have done for Watford.  In my time following the Hornets, I have seen many highs but also many lows.  I lived through times when I thought that I would no longer have a club to support. These are great times for the club, but we can never take them for granted. That is why I was so proud of the Watford fans yesterday.   To give the team such incredible support when they are being badly beaten is the mark of a true fan in my eyes.  “We’ll support you ever more”, doesn’t mean only when they are winning.  The Watford fans as a whole were amazing and the lovely people that I meet at games, either in the pub beforehand or in the stadium, are a massive part of what makes going to watch Watford special for me.

It has been a tough end to the season, but the fixtures are out on 13th June.  Who knows what joys next season will bring.

Come on you Hornets!!

Tears, Hugs and a Wonderful Win at Wembley

The pre-match display at Wembley

My build-up to the semi-final had been less than ideal as I had woken up in the middle of the night after the Fulham game with a streaming cold and felt rotten for the rest of the week.  For this reason, it seemed sensible to have a quiet Saturday at home to prepare for the game.  Big mistake.  I don’t know how many times I checked the fixture lists to confirm that the game wasn’t actually on Saturday and I was missing it.  I felt jumpy all day and settling down to watch the other semi-final didn’t help.  Sadly, that game was a non-event.  City scored early and that was it.  It was a very dull game but provided confirmation that we would be playing for the chance to meet City in the final.  My viewing on Saturday evening had to be carefully chosen and I opted for “I Believe in Miracles” the documentary about Clough’s Forest and their run to becoming European Cup winners.  It was just brilliant and set me up nicely for the next day (after I watched the segment on the Premier League show featuring Gracia, Deulofeu and Luther).

So, finally, the day of the FA Cup semi-final dawned, and I was up bright and early and facing the dilemmas that come on the day of an important match.  What top should I wear under my replica shirt?  What mug should I use for my coffee?  I was tempted to use my Hornets mug, but eventually plumped for the Luther8 one.  It seemed only right.  On social media in the morning there was a lovely exchange between Nigel Gibbs and Tony Coton about going to the game and the fact that they had bought tickets to be in with the fans.  Legends, both of them.  It had also been heart-warming to see Woking FC wishing us luck.  It was where the journey began.

The 1881 Singing Section

After ensuring that my (regulation size) bag was packed with everything that I would need (don’t forget your tickets) and that my lucky seashell from Woking was still in my pocket, I left to catch the train to London.  On the first leg from Windsor to Slough I noticed a guy looking at me, but assumed it was my loud scarf that had attracted his attention, so didn’t take much notice.

On arrival at Paddington, I spotted a flash of yellow, turned and realised it was actually the old gold of Wolves, so walked on.  My journey to our meeting place took me past Marylebone, which was surrounded with Wolves fans.  The first Watford scarves that I spotted were outside the designated pre-match pub and worn by the friends that I was meeting.  We had arrived before opening time and quite a crowd was gathering, so we were thankful that Richard had booked a table for us.  As we waited, some Wolves fans appeared and were absolutely lovely.  None of us was confident of a win, but all thought that it would be a good game.

As our group gathered, it was an occasion to remember absent friends.  Dee and Toddy were both with us on our last visit to Wembley and their absence was keenly felt.  We hoped that the lads would do them proud.

Gomes and Deeney

After we had been fed and watered, we left in plenty of time to get to Wembley as I had one final ticket to drop off and, after an easy journey, we were outside Entrance P.  I immediately bumped into Adam to hand over the ticket and then saw that the rest of our party, who had come from the Watford direction, were all in the queue just in front of us.  At this point, all was right with my world.

As we took our seats, Farzana handed out the A4 bags that she had made from Watford FC curtains and we draped the Rocket Men and Golden Gomes banners in front of our seats.  She had also knit Gomes and Deeney dolls, but sadly they were too large to bring into the stadium so had been left at home.  As we waited for kick-off, it was lovely to see our Emma and Tim on the pitch representing Watford.

We then got to see the pre-match displays.  The one planned by Wolves had been advertised the previous day and it had looked as though it would be impressive.  When we got to our seats, we found yellow flags.  I was concerned that they were a little too much on the amber side and it wouldn’t be a match for what Wolves had planned.  Then the Watford crowd started waving the flags and the yellow, red and black display with the movement was absolutely fantastic and the energy meant that the Wolves display looked far too static.

There had been a lot of discussion about the possible team selection, especially the goalkeeping position.  When the starting XI was announced, we found that Gracia had kept faith with Gomes and had decide to bring Gray in for Deulofeu after his terrific performance against Fulham.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Gray, Deeney.

Gathering for a corner

The game started brightly for Wolves who had their first chance on 23 seconds with a shot from Otto that flew over the bar.  Watford won an early corner, but Ruddy was up to punch it clear, Pereyra picked up the ball and put in a cross, but Ruddy made the catch.  Wolves then won a free kick in a dangerous position after Hughes fouled Otto.  Moutinho stepped up to take it and it landed on the roof of the net, much to my relief.  The first booking of the game went to Saïss for a foul on Pereyra.  Wolves threatened again as a cross from Otto was touched on by Jota, but they couldn’t get a shot away.  Neves was the next to go into the referee’s book, again for a foul on Pereyra.  Holebas took the free kick, but Hughes met it with a dreadful mishit shot that sent the ball ballooning away.  Some nice passing between Gray and Pereyra led to the ball reaching Deeney on the edge of the area, but his shot was high and wide of the target.  Watford should have taken the lead on the half hour as Deeney flicked the ball over to Gray who, with only Ruddy to beat, got his foot under the ball and it looped over the bar when it looked easier to score.  That miss looked all the more costly as Wolves took the lead soon after.  A shot from distance from Dendoncker was tipped over by Gomes.  The resulting corner was played short to Jota who crossed for Doherty to head past Gomes.  Wolves had their tails up now and threatened again as Boly found Jota who advanced and, thankfully, shot just wide.  Watford then had a corner which they also took short, but Femenía’s cross was a comfortable catch for Ruddy.  Gray had a chance to grab an equaliser just before half time, but this time Coady made the block when Gray looked sure to score.  So we reached half time a goal down, feeling rather hard done by after what had been an even half of football.

Heurelho Gomes at Wembley

Luther was the Watford representative at half time.  I still look back with sadness at seeing him walk around the pitch before the 1984 Cup Final, which came at the end of his gap year.  We passed our time in the stands enjoying half-time samosas to keep our strength up for the rest of the game.

Wolves nearly had a great start to the second half as Saïss played a ball over to Jiménez, who beat the defence, but not Gomes who was down to make the block.  Watford created an opening as Femenía crossed for Doucouré, but the Frenchman couldn’t make a firm connection, so his header looped wide.  Jota then beat Cathcart (I know!!!) before crossing for Jiménez, but the shot was easy for Gomes.  Deeney then got the ball just outside the box and played a low cross, but it was too heavy and flew past Gray and wide of the target.  The first booking for the Hornets went to Cathcart for a foul on Jota just outside the box.  Neves took the free kick which flew well wide of the far post.  Watford then had a free kick in a dangerous position, Pereyra’s delivery reached Deeney who headed just wide.  Watford had another decent chance to equalise as Pereyra played a through ball to Gray, but the shot was poor and over the bar.

Pereyra takes a free kick

Holebas received his booking of the afternoon for stopping a break by Jota.  From the free kick, Jiménez took the ball down and poked it past Gomes to put Wolves two goals ahead.  So frustrating to concede again after a really good spell for the Hornets.  There was still half an hour to go, but it wasn’t looking good for the Hornets.  We hadn’t taken our chances and it looked as though we would be punished for it.  Gracia made his first substitution bringing Deulofeu on for Hughes.  Soon after, while waiting for a throw-in, there was an announcement that a VAR check was underway for a red card.  Nobody had any idea what this related to until my brother-in-law, who listens to the commentary during the game, said that it was due to Deulofeu putting his head into Moutinho’s face.  It had looked rather innocuous from where we were sitting and, thankfully, the decision was not to show a card.  There was another identical announcement soon after, I have no idea whether it was related to the same incident, but it was extremely irritating.  Watford threatened again when Gray got on the end of a cross from Femenía, but again it was headed over the bar.  There were then a number of half chances for the Hornets.  Deulofeu put in a cross which Ruddy gathered under challenge from Doucouré.  Holebas crossed again for Doucouré, but his shot was blocked.  It had been a good spell, but we just didn’t look like we would get the breakthrough.

Deulofeu goes to celebrate with Deeney after the penalty

Then a throw-in from Holebas was knocked back to Deulofeu, it didn’t look particularly dangerous for the opposition until Gerry nonchalantly lifted the ball into the top far corner.  It was a gorgeous goal out of nothing and suddenly it was game on with 10 minutes remaining.  Watford’s next chance came from a corner, the delivery from Holebas was good, but it was headed behind for another corner.  This one was flicked on by Deeney to Holebas, but his shot was blocked.  Wolves made their first substitution as Bennett replaced Neves.  Watford threatened again with a great cross from Kiko, but Ruddy just got to it.  Then the ball fell to Holebas in a great position, but he blasted it over the bar.  It wasn’t going to be our day.  As Wolves made a late substitution, replacing Jota with Cavaleiro, I prepared myself for defeat.  But, when the four minutes of added time was announced, I joined with my fellow Watford fans in roaring our encouragement to the team.  Then, just as the four minutes were almost up, Deeney got the ball in the box and fell under a challenge from Dendoncker.  Referee Oliver continued his habit of awarding late, dramatic penalties, but this one had to wait for the VAR review.  I was beside myself at this point.  After what seemed like an age, VAR confirmed the referee’s decision.  Luckily, I was able to take a seat to watch it, as my legs were jelly.  Troy’s weren’t, he stepped up and the ball hit the net in front of us and the crowd went properly wild.  Screams and hugs and tears greeting the goal we thought would never come.  The game restarted, but the whistle soon went for the end of normal time and we had earned ourselves another 30 minutes.

Holebas prepares for a corner

I have to say that we thoroughly deserved that.  A draw seemed like a fair result, and surely the Hornets would have the momentum going into extra time.  However, it was the Wolves side who had the upper hand in the early exchanges and the first goal opportunity came from a decent shot from Otto that Gomes managed to tip over.  There was some bad news for Watford as Holebas went down injured.  He tried to carry on, but eventually limped off to be replaced by Masina.  I was concerned at this point as Holebas had been terrific.  There was another booking for the Hornets as Capoue was cautioned for a foul on Dendoncker.  Santo made another substitution as Traore came on for Moutinho.  Then, in the last minute of the first period of extra time, Watford broke forward, Gray released Deulofeu who beat a defender before shooting into the far corner past Ruddy to send the Watford fans wild again.  Wolves tried to hit back immediately, but their break was foiled by a great tackle from Mariappa.  The resultant corner was easily gathered by Gomes.   There was a substitution for each side as Vinagre replaced Otto for Wolves and Femenía made way for Janmaat for the Hornets.  Wolves had a chance to level the game but the header from Jiménez flew wide of the near post.  Then the goal hero, Deulofeu, picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Sema.  Watford tried to consolidate their lead as Deeney got into the box and tried to lay the ball off to Doucouré, but the pass was intercepted.  Then Traore tried a shot from a tight angle, but it was an easy catch for Gomes.  Wolves had one last chance to take the game to penalties, and it was a great one, as Cavaleiro beat Mariappa and rounded Gomes, but Heurelho did enough to put the Wolves man off and he lost control of the ball allowing Mariappa to clear the danger.  The whistle went to euphoria mixed with disbelief in the Watford end.  There was a lot of tearful hugging among our group.  I couldn’t quite believe what I had seen.  Amelia was the clearest thinking as she commented that maybe they should rethink the Man of the Match award (that had been given to Jiménez some time before the end of normal time).

The family at the semi-final

After the game, there were rapturous celebrations both on and off the pitch.  We stayed in the stand to cheers the lads on and witness their joy.  It was lovely to see that this meant as much to the players as it did to us.  The cheers of the fans who had remained in their seats were finally rewarded as the players came together to rush towards the crowd behind the goal.  It was just joyous.  We seemed to be there for an age, but it still took us a long time to leave the ground as we kept bumping into friends for more hugs and expressions of disbelief.

A number of us headed back to central London for a celebratory beverage and to raise a glass to Dee and Toddy who would have loved the day.  There was nothing but pride in the team and what they had achieved against a very good Wolves side.  The Wolves fans that we had met before the game had returned to the pub and, as they left, wished us well.

I stayed rather longer in the pub than was sensible, so missed the last train from Slough to Windsor.  As the taxi dropped me off at the end of my road, I heard a voice.  “Excuse me.  Were you at Wembley today?  Is that your car with the Watford stuff in the back?”  It was the guy that I had seen on the train this morning.  Turns out I am not the only Hornet in my small street in Windsor.  Who knew?

Golden Gomes

A day later and I have still not quite come to terms with what I witnessed yesterday.  To come back from two goals down against a team like Wolves shows the tremendous spirit in this team.  They seem to be a group of players who love each other and the manager and that love has transmitted to the fans.  This has been the best season that I can remember for decades and it will end with an FA Cup final at Wembley.  As someone who has supported an unfashionable team for 40 years, I find it amazing that in that time I have been to six FA Cup semi-finals.  On 18th May, I will attend my second FA Cup final and will be accompanied by a large group of family and friends.  I have met so many lovely people while following the Hornets and it is really special to share these great times with them.

When Watford lost the Play-off final in 2013, my niece Amelia was in tears and I was devastated.  Yesterday she was in tears again, but they were tears of joy and it made the day all the more special.  Her Mum and I were at Villa Park for the semi-final against Plymouth and at Wembley for the final against Everton.  Now we will all be at Wembley for this year’s final and we can dare to dream.  Whatever the outcome, this season will live long in the memory.

Heurelho Helps Us to Wembley

The GT Stand before the game

I had to travel to the US for work again this week.  Leaving after the City game and returning on Thursday morning, meant I didn’t have too much time to prepare for this match.  The crucial thing was not forgetting the paper ticket that had been sent out.  This was taken with me to the US as I was scared that jet-leg would lead to me leaving it in a drawer.

Due to the early kick-off, I decided to stay in London overnight on Friday.  On waking, and before I had really had time to think about my plans for the day, the nerves had already kicked in.  I caught the 9:24 from Euston to Watford and settled down with a coffee while noting that others on the train had already started on the beer.  Contemplating which podcast should accompany me, I decided to have another listen to the previous week’s From the Rookery End.  If I needed any more inspiration for the day, the rallying cry from the Parkin men, Mike and Arlo, certainly did the job.  As I passed Wembley on the train, I stared at the arch.  The new stadium hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for us, but that has to change one of these days and I wanted the chance to return (although I wish it wasn’t for a semi-final, those should be at Villa Park).  When the train emptied at the Junction, as it often does, it made a nice change to see that those disembarking were fans of football rather than Harry Potter.

Heurelho Gomes

I reached the West Herts a few minutes before the doors were due to open at 10 and there was already quite a crowd waiting.  When the doors opened, we took up position at ‘our’ table and were soon enjoying a pint and a bacon roll.  Breakfast of Champions.

Just to spite us, the clock there was running 30 minutes slow, but we noticed early enough to ensure that we left in plenty of time.  As we walked along Vicarage Road among the crowds, the anticipation built.  I noted that Wolfie had already sold out of programmes and hoped that my usual lady still had some left when I entered the ground (she did).  As we turned the corner into Occupation Road, I glanced over at the statue and knew that I had to greet GT.  I went over and took his hand, knowing that today would be a day he would have savoured.

The 1881 had put incredible efforts into making sure that there would be a tremendous atmosphere.  When we took our seats, the ground was already full of people waving flags.  The big screen was showing footage of earlier quarter-finals.  I enjoyed watching John Barnes lobbing Tony Coton in 1984, but it is the Arsenal game in 1987 that always comes to mind.  I loved that day out at Highbury.

Jose Holebas on the ball

The Palace fans had been given their required allocation, no more, no less.  Due to problems with segregation in the Vicarage Road end, this meant that the Palace fans were housed in two blocks in the stand with a netting area between them and a banner wishing the Hindu community Happy Holi India for their festival on Thursday this week.  It was an odd sight and one that had infuriated the visiting fans.

Team news was that Gracia had chosen what most would consider to be his strongest team with the exception of Gomes coming in for Foster for what would probably be his last game at Vicarage Road.  What a game to go out on.  It was interesting that Femenía had been chosen in place of Janmaat, who had done well recently.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.  The major news for Palace was that Zaha would miss the game through injury.  While he is undoubtedly a very talented player, he often seems to go missing.  So I wasn’t sure that his absence would have a major effect on the game, although it may have changed Harry Hornet’s game plan.  Of course, the lovely Ray Lew was back at Vicarage Road in the opposition dug out.  He managed us through times of penury, but still took us to an FA Cup semi-final.  He will always be a legend to me for that.

As the teams came out, the flags waved in the home stands, there were streamers and the Legends banner was unfurled from the Upper GT stand, meaning that Nigel Gibbs found himself sitting under his picture.  That had to be a good omen.

Doucoure and Pereyra

My niece, Maddie, had enjoyed the Leicester game so much that she made a late decision to come to this one.  Her seat was in a part of the Rookery away from the rest of us, but she hung around just in case one of the seats in our section remained unoccupied.  That didn’t happen, but the crowd in the Rookery forgot to sit down, so the extra person in our row was not apparent and we were able to enjoy the match together.

The game kicked off and the Rookery were in good voice singing “Is that all you take away” to the Palace fans, before launching into “Heurelho Gomes baby” for our veteran keeper.  He was in action early in the game as the first goal chance fell to the visitors as Townsend played the ball back to Milivojevic whose shot was saved by Gomes, although it was off target anyway.  Watford’s first action of note came from a free kick, Holebas floated it into the box where McArthur took Hughes down, but the referee. Kevin Friend, waved away our appeals for a penalty.  After a quarter of an hour, there was a break in play as the players burst a number of red and blue balloons that were invading the pitch in the corner in front of the Family Stand.  Having found a pitchfork somewhere, Harry joined in with some enthusiasm.

Capoue giving thanks for his goal

Watford’s first chance of the game came as Deulofeu burst into the box and shot from a narrow angle, but the Palace keeper, Guaita, stood tall and blocked the shot.  Palace won a free kick in a dangerous position, but Gomes rose to make a comfortable catch.  Watford then had a spell when they were in and around the Palace box, but couldn’t fashion a shot on target.  Instead we won a series of corners and, as each one was repelled, I hoped that we wouldn’t regret missing those chances.  Then, from yet another corner, the ball fell to Capoue and he knocked it into the net to send us all crazy.  Just what we needed to settle the nerves a bit.  The Hornets could have had a second as Deulofeu advanced into the box and hit a gorgeous shot but Guaita did brilliantly to get a hand to it and keep it out.  The first booking of the game went to Milivojevic for a foul on Hughes.  Watford had another great chance to increase their lead as Deulofeu hit a free kick over the wall, but Guaita was down to make the save.  Palace made a rare foray into the Watford half as Townsend broke forward, but was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Holebas who was injured in the process.  Thankfully, he was able to continue after treatment.  Palace had a chance to equalise just before half time as Wan-Bissaka chipped the ball to Meyer but the shot was weak and easily gathered by Gomes.  The visitors had one last attack in time added on but Deulofeu was back to make a superb tackle on McArthur and avert the danger.  An unexpected and very welcome showing in defence from young Gerry.

Holebas and Pereyra line up a free kick

So we went into half time in a deserved lead.  It had been a dominant performance from the Hornets, who were not giving their opponents any space to play.  We should really have been further ahead, but I was happy with what I had seen.

Half time and the first talking point was a hornet onesie that was being worn by a woman in the Rookery.  It was an interesting fashion choice.  Back to the official entertainment and the special guest was Tommy Smith who was asked about his appearances in previous cup quarter finals.   His goal from the game against Burnley was shown, I couldn’t help remembering that Ray Lew then left him out for the semi-final after Chopra’s heroics in another game against Burnley.  Tommy had also played in the game against Plymouth in 2007 (as had Mariappa).  I had forgotten that game, until he mentioned it.  It was truly dire.

 

A tremendous showing by Femenia

Watford had to make a substitution at the break as Holebas was unable to continue, so was replaced by Masina.  The Hornets had the first attack of the second half as a poor goal kick from Gomes was rescued and flicked on to Deulofeu who put in a decent cross, but nobody was on hand to connect with it.  Then a Palace corner was flicked goalwards by Meyer, but Gomes pulled off an excellent save to deny him.  Masina was booked after taking Meyer down soon after executing another robust challenge.  Townsend took the free kick and it was on target, but Gomes tipped it over the bar.  Batshuayi should have done better when he received a ball from Schlupp, but he knocked it wide of the near post.  He did much better soon after as Mariappa dwelled on the ball instead of clearing it, the Palace man nipped in to dispossess him and shoot across Gomes into the opposite corner to draw the game level.  It was a howler from Mariappa, who would have been devastated given his history at Palace.  At this point, the nerves set in with a vengeance again.  Surely Palace wouldn’t snatch this from us.  Watford had a chance to regain their lead as Deeney played the ball back to Deulofeu but his shot was straight at the keeper.  The Hornets had another great chance as Guaita punched a cross from Masina only as far as Pereyra, his shot was saved but Doucouré could only put the follow-up over the bar.

Deep in conversation after Gray’s goal

Gracia then made his first unforced substitution bringing Gray on for Hughes.  I dare not say it out loud, but my mind was screaming “super sub!”  A lovely exchange of passes deserved a better finish than a cross from Doucouré that was too heavy and went out for a goal kick.  The second goal for the Hornets was a thing of beauty as Pereyra dinked a ball over to Gray who finished past Guaita sending the Watford fans crazy again and also giving us the opportunity to see a Gomes celebration in front of the Rookery for what may well be the last time.  With 10 minutes remaining, I was hoping that we would hold on, but the visitors then won a free kick in a dangerous position.  I held my breath as Milivojevic stepped up to take it, my joyous shout of “into the wall” may have been stating the obvious but it indicated my profound relief.  Hodgson made a substitution at this point, replacing McArthur with Benteke.  Watford could have grabbed a third, but Deeney’s powerful shot was parried by Guaita and Wan-Bissaka managed to clear as Deulofeu closed in on the rebound.  The Hornets had another great chance as Cathcart met a corner with a header that was cleared off the line by Milivojevic.  Gracia made his final change bringing Cleverly on for Deulofeu who left the field to an ovation and some laughter as, when the referee went over to tell him to speed up his departure from the pitch, he innocently turned and shook his hand.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, the visitors had a chance to take the game into extra time when a corner reached Tomkins, who seemed to be taken by surprise and turned it wide of the near post.  Late into time added on and the visitors really should have been level as the ball fell to Wan-Bissaka and we watched despairingly as his shot appeared to be heading for the opposite corner before rolling wide.  I noted something in my notebook at this point, but my hand was shaking so much that it is totally illegible.  When the whistle went to confirm our place in the semi-final, Vicarage Road erupted with joy.

Harry Hornet in his Superman cape

I was distracted at the sight of Harry Hornet running on wearing a Superman style cape, so missed the moment when Gracia warmly embraced Gomes.  The keeper was then hugged by Deeney and it was apparent that he was in tears.  The crowd were cheering him on and he was very emotional in his response.  It was lovely to see the mutual respect between the player and the crowd.  Finally, as he always used to, he brought his sons on to the pitch to enjoy the applause with him.  While this was going on, the tannoy had Que Sera Sera playing and the Watford crowd were singing along with gusto.  It was all fabulous.

Normally we stay to applaud the last player off the pitch, so the stands are empty by the time we leave (everyone is in Occupation Road).  It is a mark of how much this win meant that when the pitch emptied the stand was still full and, for the first time in years, we had to wait to leave our row.

As we reached the Hornet shop we noticed that they already had t-shirts commemorating the semi-final in the window.  Being a sucker for that sort of thing, we all went in and bought the shirts.  Then came out and had a family photo with GT.

A family photo with GT

When I finally got back to the West Herts, my group were happily sitting outside celebrating the victory.  It is hard to analyse a game when the result is all that counts, but it had been a great performance from the Hornets and the win was well deserved.  Deeney may not have scored, but he had put in a great Captain’s performance which was noted by us all.  I have to say that I had almost forgotten how good Femenía is, he had a tremendous game and certainly justified his inclusion.  While enjoying our celebratory beers, I had a quick read of the BBC online match report and was a little taken aback to see a comment to the effect that the win mean that we had reached “only” our sixth semi-final.  Actually it is our seventh, but we are a small town club and to have reached seven semi-finals is actually a tremendous achievement.  I am still pinching myself.

When I finally decided to head for home, the walk through the town centre to the station was to the sound of Watford fans singing Que Sera Sera.  It was a lovely feeling.

The draw for the semi-final took place when I was in the car driving home this afternoon.  When Alan Green announced that Watford were playing Wolves, I screamed with relief.  They will not be easy opponents, they are a very good side.  But at least we go into the game knowing that it is winnable and that is all that you can ask at this stage.  Troy has been on the losing side in a previous semi-final at Wembley and he will certainly not want to repeat that experience.  It should be a great day out.

I am still buzzing after that win.  Over the past 40 years, I have many wonderful days following the Hornets, but also some very miserable ones.  We go week in, week out, sometimes travelling a long distance to see our team badly beaten, but days like this make it all worthwhile.  There is a tremendous spirit around the club at the moment, so I hope that we can sell out our allocation and roar the boys on to a cup final.  That would be a fitting end to what has been a wonderful season.

Winners in the South Oxhey Derby

Celebrating Forster’s goal in the U23 game

 

I was still at work when the draw for the fifth round of the FA Cup took place.  When Chelsea were pulled out of the bag to play at home, I was convinced that we would be the next to be drawn.  When the next ball was Man Utd, I celebrated almost as much as I did when we were paired with Portsmouth/QPR.  I was thankful that the office was almost empty at this point.  I would have been happy to play either team.  Both are clubs with passionate support and are great grounds to visit.  But QPR won the replay to set up what I am told is called the South Oxhey Derby.

But, before the visit to Loftus Road, I took the afternoon off work to travel to Finchley to see the U23s play Charlton.  As the U23 games are played in the afternoon, I haven’t managed to make it to the new venue, so this was a great chance to do so.  It was a gorgeous afternoon and I made the most of the opportunity to stand on the side of the pitch, although I had to shade my eyes to see the left hand goal.  It was a disappointing afternoon for the youngsters.  They went one down early on, but Forster got an immediate equaliser and it looked very positive until the visitors scored a second before half time.  Watford never looked like getting back into the game and Charlton scored two in the second half, one of which was a cracking shot from distance.  I left the Maurice Rebak Stadium hoping that would be the only defeat that I witnessed that day.

Lucky cup sea shells

Due to the pubs in the vicinity of Loftus Road nearly all demanding to see a QPR home ticket before allowing you in, our party met at a pub near Edgware Road in order for me to hand out the tickets.  You have no idea how many times I checked my bag to ensure that I hadn’t misplaced those precious tickets.  Having done my Stan Flashman bit and had a nice glass of Malbec, I was ready for the game.

Team news was that Gracia had made five changes with Gomes, Kabasele, Britos, Cleverley and Gray coming in for Foster, Mariappa, Cathcart, Doucouré and Deulofeu.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos, Holebas; Hughes, Capoue, Cleverley, Sema; Deeney and Gray.  This looked to be a very good side and one that should be more than able to beat QPR.   But this was a cup game so all bets were off.  It was also Gomes 38th birthday, so I was hoping that, having to work on his birthday, he would have something to celebrate.

After taking our seats in the upper tier, Pete, Alice and I retrieved the lucky shells that we had been given at Woking for a group photo.  These things are important.

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s applause for Gordon Banks who passed away this week.  It has to be said that nobody waited for the referee’s whistle to start the tribute.

Birthday boy Gomes in front of an advertisement for Pepe’s Chicken on Watford High Street

The first notable incident of the game was a clash of heads between Britos and Smith.  Both players were down for a while, so it didn’t look good.  Thankfully, both recovered after treatment, Smith returning with a bandage around his head.  There was nothing even resembling a goal chance until the 24th minute and that was a horrible scramble in the Watford box that ended with Kabasele being hit in the face, thankfully he was able to recover and the ball was cleared.  QPR threatened again from a free kick, but Gomes emerged from the crowd to claim the ball.  Watford’s first chance came when Janmaat, unrecognisable due to a very severe haircut, broke into the box and tried to play a one two with Sema, which didn’t quite come off but the ball broke back to him and he hit a shot that flew just over the bar.  An ill-advised back pass led to Gomes conceding a corner, which he came out to punch clear, but it fell to Luongo who shot just wide of the target.  QPR had another chance to take the lead as a cross into the box was headed wide by Smith but the flag was up anyway, so it wouldn’t have counted.  Kabasele then came to the Hornets’ rescue blocking a dangerous looking shot by Smith.  With five minutes to go until half time, QPR had the best chance of the game so far as a sloppy pass from Holebas was intercepted by Freeman who ran upfield before flicking the ball to Wells whose shot had to be tipped around the post by Gomes.  Rather surprisingly, the Hornets took the lead in time added on at the end of the half.  Sema played a short corner to Holebas who crossed for Cleverley whose horrendous mishit turned into an assist as it found Capoue who shot into the far corner.  The celebrations of the travelling Hornets were joyous, but still not a patch on the celebratory run from Gomes.  I have missed seeing his goal celebrations this season.

Deeney and Gray in position at a set piece

So we reached half time a goal to the good after a half that had been short on excitement.  Watford had completely dominated possession, but had spent most of the half passing around the midfield without threatening the Rangers goal.  QPR had been more attacking, but they had also only managed a single shot on target.

The home side had a great start to the second half creating a couple of early chances, but both shots flew well wide of the target.  There was a let off for the Hornets as a terrible clearance from Kabasele went straight to Wells but his shot was wide of the target.  Sema then provided some entertainment, demonstrating silky skills on the left of the box before finally winning a corner.  The delivery was headed out but only as far as Cleverley whose shot was well over the target.  QPR made their first change on 71 minutes bringing Hemed on for Wells.  Watford had a great chance to score a second when Deeney played a lovely through ball for Gray who had rounded the keeper when he noticed that the flag had been raised, he put the ball in the net anyway.  The offside decision looked marginal at the time and television pictures suggest that the goal should have stood.  The first booking of the game went to Luongo for a foul on Sema.

Cleverley lines up a free kick

With 15 minutes remaining, Watford made a double substitution with Mariappa and Doucouré coming on for Sema and Gray.  Mariappa’s first act of the game was to get booked for a foul as he obstructed Freeman.   QPR made a second substitution bringing Eze on for Wszolek.  Watford threatened to increase their lead with a deep free kick from Holebas, but Kabasele could only knock it wide.  Each side made a final change with Quina coming on for Cleverley for the Hornets and Osayi-Samuel replacing Hall for Rangers.  The Rangers substitute went on a good run that was stopped by Doucouré who was booked for his efforts.  The professional foul was nearly in vain as, from the free kick, Furlong played the ball along inside the box to Leistner who really should have scored the equaliser, but managed to miss the target.  As the clock ran down to full time, Deeney gave us all a smile as he dribbled down the wing and ended up having to run around the lino in his efforts to keep the ball in (which he did).  The four minutes of added time passed without incident and the final whistle went confirming that the Hornets were through to the quarter finals.

As a game it wasn’t a classic, but in the cup all that matters is the result.  Watford were livelier in the second half and the introduction of Doucouré added a dimension that we had been missing.  But, discounting the disallowed effort from Gray, there was no on-target shot from either side in the second half.  So, in the end it looked like job done from the Hornets.  We haven’t been playing great football recently, but we are not conceding many goals and so are proving hard to beat.

We headed back to Baker Street for a celebratory glass of wine.  We are now in the quarter final of the FA Cup with a great chance to progress further given a favourable draw.  Sitting in the top 8 of the Premier League and now in the last 8 of the FA Cup, this is proving to be a very good season indeed.

Gorgeous Goals Brighten a Poor Game

The impeccable Ben Wilmot

When the draw for the fourth round was made and we were paired with either Blackburn or Newcastle, the waiting game started.  Train tickets could not be bought until we knew where we would be playing.  Also, as the match tickets were going on sale the morning after the replay, I had the task of drawing up two lists of attendees dependent on the outcome.  There were more takers for Blackburn, even though the consensus was that they would be a tougher opponent than Newcastle.  But Newcastle it was (again).

I left London bright and early and found myself on the same train as a fellow member of WML who I had notified of the pre-match pub, so I met up with him to ensure that he found it with no difficulties.  When we arrived, a couple of our party were already at the bar and had grabbed a table in the little enclosed area.  A well-dressed older couple then arrived and sat down to do their crossword.  This was shortly before a large contingent of Happy Valley and North West Horns descended and ruined their peace.  To be fair to them they took being surrounded by football fans in their stride and the crossword was duly completed.

Masina preparing for a corner

Team news was that Gracia had made wholesale changes, although this was hardly a second string as it did include the return of Cathcart and Hughes from injury as well as a number of others who have featured in the league this season.  So, the starting XI was Gomes; Janmaat, Cathcart, Britos, Masina; Quina, Wilmot, Chalobah; Success, Gray, Hughes.  We had been aware of the inclusion of Wilmot before the team was announced as his grandparents had bumped into Mike outside the pub.  Criticism by both pundits and fans of Watford’s changes ignored the fact that Newcastle, who have both a weaker team and squad than us, had made 7 changes of their own.  While I fully agree that we should be making every effort to advance in the cup, my feeling was that this was a team that had enough quality to beat Newcastle and I was very much looking forward to seeing more from Quina and Wilmot.

When we arrived at the away end turnstiles, the woman performing the search asked if I would be using the lift.  I wasn’t sure whether it was my heavy rucksack or my advancing age and girth that prompted the question, but assured her that I would take the stairs.  She then commented that she always takes the lift, so I decided not to take offence.  As we scaled the 14 flights, I was chatting to a friend, so lost track of our progress and was just wondering whether to stop for a much needed breather when I saw the top floor appear so soldiered on.  It always feels like an accomplishment to arrive at the top without the use of supplemental oxygen.  As we took our place in the stand, it was clear that there were plenty of empty seats in both the home and away ends.  Our allocation of 6000 was never going to be filled, but the temptation of £10 tickets had not attracted a huge home following either.

Quina on the ball

Watford made a very bright start with a brilliant shot from distance from Quina which needed a decent save from Woodman in the Newcastle goal to keep it out.  The next chance of note came from a free kick just outside the area which Chalobah hit just over the bar.  From that point, there was nothing worth retrieving my notebook for until the 23rd minute when Janmaat hit a terrible shot that was way off target.  Pete reckoned that his playing badly was a deliberate ploy to stop the home fans booing him.  Watford had a great chance to open the scoring when Quina played a lovely pass to Hughes, who slipped a through ball into the path of Gray but the shot was wide of the target, although it wouldn’t have counted as the offside flag was up.  Newcastle had offered little going forward and an attempt at a break by Murphy was stopped by a very good tackle from Britos.  And that was it for the first half.  The announcer on the pitch introducing the half-time competition summed it up when he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, if any of you are still awake …..”

Gray being congratulated on his goal

There was also a bright start to the second half as Hughes played a ball over the top for Gray to run on to, he broke clear of the defence but shot high and wide when he should at least have tested Woodman.  Success, who was having a frustrating afternoon, then lost out to a defender and clearly felt as though he had been manhandled (he hadn’t) so collapsed dramatically in the box and then had to get up and get on with it when it was clear that nobody cared.  It was as well that I was in the top stand half a mile from the pitch at that point as I was tempted to give him a slap.  Another chance went begging after some nice play around the edge of the Newcastle box finished with the ball with Gray who ran into a couple of defenders and lost the ball.  The first booking of the game went to Wilmot for a foul on Joselu.  The breakthrough for the Hornets came just after the hour mark as Hughes played a gorgeous through ball to Gray who finished past Woodman and continued his run to celebrate in front of the Watford fans up in the gods.  Peñaranda had been readied to come on, presumably for Gray, just before the goal.  He immediately put his bib back on.  Watford’s second booking went to Chalobah for a foul on Kenedy.  The home side should have equalized when Manquillo went on a decent run, Gomes came out to meet him but failed to stop the shot, however the impeccable Wilmot was on hand to head the ball off the line.

Success celebrating his goal in the distance

Gracia made his first change on 68 minutes finally bringing Peñaranda on for Gray.  Soon after, Chalobah broke forward but, with options to either side, played a through ball to where Gray would have been had he not been substituted a couple of minutes earlier.  Benitez made a double substitution bringing Pérez and Atsu on for Murphy and Ritchie.  The decision to replace Ritchie was greeted with loud boos from the home fans.  Britos was then booked for a foul on Pérez.  Each side made a final substitution with Schär replacing Fernandez for the home side and Chalobah making way for Capoue for the Hornets.  Newcastle had a chance to grab an equaliser in the final minutes of normal time when a defensive header fell to Pérez on the edge of the box from where he shot over the target.  The home side attacked again but a cross from Atsu was easily gathered by Gomes.  Watford made certain of their place in the fifth round with a lovely goal that started with Peñaranda playing the ball out to Quina, his cross found Success in space in the box to finish from close range and make me feel ever so slightly guilty for moaning about him all afternoon.  The home side had a chance to grab a consolation as Joselu crossed for Pérez, but his shot missed the target and the final whistle went on a comfortable win for the Hornets.

Chalobah getting back to his best

The heavens had opened towards the end of the second half, so we were absolutely drenched by the time that we reached the pub at the station.  As we sat down with our drinks for the post-match analysis, the most astute observation was that it appeared that two moments of quality from a different match had been inserted into a dreadful game.  The best cup ties are blood and thunder games where all of the players appear desperate to win.  This was certainly not one of those, but Watford had done enough to deserve the win and there had certainly been some bright points.  As he has been in every performance so far, Quina was a joy to watch.  He plays with a confidence that belies his years, has a wonderful touch and a brilliant eye for a pass.  I found myself almost purring with delight every time he got the ball.  Wilmot again showed what a great prospect he is.  He started the game playing in a defensive midfield position but later moved into the centre of defence allowing Masina to play further forward.  In both roles, he was composed and appeared totally in control of his surroundings.  He really does look like a young Cathcart and having two of them in the squad is something to treasure.  Of the players returning to first team action, Britos put in a decent shift in the defence and Chalobah put in the best performance that we have seen since his return.  He looked far more comfortable and performed the midfield fulcrum role with some assurance.  That was very pleasing to see.

While the game won’t last long in the memory, it does mean that we are in the fifth round of the cup and, with many of the top teams already out of the competition, this seems like a great opportunity to advance.  I would love a trip to Newport or Barnet/Brentford in the next round.  I just hope that we don’t draw another Premier League team.

While on the way home, I received a message from Pete F that just said “Lucky sea shells.”  I confess that having bought a new coat last weekend, I was superstitious enough to ensure that my shell was transferred and was gratified when Pete B showed that he had also brought his.  Those shells deserve a cup run, I hope that those making the draw agree.

Avoiding a Banana Skin

Breaking at a corner

FA Cup 3rd round day is always one that I look forward to.  While the magic of the cup has been somewhat tarnished over recent years, the prospect of teams from different divisions meeting is always thrilling.  When the draw was made, I was just hoping for a new ground to visit, so was a little disappointed when Woking came out of the hat as I have been there twice for pre-season games (including having the memorable experience of seeing Mazzarri escorted back to the team coach by a phalanx of stewards so that he didn’t have to mix with the fans).  I soon got over this disappointment and my appetite for the game was only increased when I heard the interview that the “From the Rookery End” guys did with (Woking assistant manager) Martin Tyler at the FSF awards.  Martin spoke about Watford in such glowing terms that I was genuinely moved and felt incredibly proud of the club that I support.  I only hoped that he (and I) would be feeling equally positive about our club after the game.

As I usually do when Watford are playing on Sunday, I checked the fixtures a ridiculous number of times on Saturday in order to ensure that I hadn’t got the wrong day.  Sunday morning I was up early (for me) and off to Woking.  Having not seen any football related clothing on the train, my first indication that there was a game going on was when I emerged from the station to see a chap selling half and half scarves (the horror!).  We had arranged to meet at a local pub for Sunday lunch, which was a great way to prepare for the game.  The place was soon packed with a mix of fans and it has to be said that the locals were a lot more convinced of a comprehensive Watford win than I was.

Cleverley and Masina line up a free kick

Since we would be on the terraces, we made sure that we arrived at the ground earlier than is usual for us and we met up with Pete and Freddie at the front of the terrace near the half way line.  A perfect spot for watching the game.  Pete had been on a beach clean the day before and had come away with a pocket full of shells.  He shared them around, starting a new tradition of the lucky shell that was to be carried all the way to Wembley (we can dream).

Team news was that Gracia had made wholesale changes, with Peñaranda finally making his Watford debut.  The starting XI was Gomes; Janmaat, Britos, Wilmot, Masina; Cleverley, Chalobah, Quina; Hughes, Success, Peñaranda.  It was pleasing to note that the Woking team were wearing numbers 1-11.

Watford started brilliantly with their first chance coming in the first minute of the game as Success tried an overhead kick that sailed over the bar.  Quina was the next to trouble the Woking defence with a dangerous run that finished with a shot that was blocked.  At this point, with less than 10 minutes gone, the Woking fans behind the goal started a chant of “0-0 to the Cardinals,” fair play to them for that.  Peñaranda’s first goal attempt came after he cut inside and hit a shot that was just wide of the target.

The happy walk back after Hughes opened the scoring

Watford continued to threaten as a corner from Hughes was headed down by Britos to Masina whose shot was blocked at the near post to give the visitors another corner.  This time the set piece appeared to have come straight from the training ground as Masina played a low ball to Hughes who was running into space in the box and he belted it home to give Watford an early lead.  It was a very well taken goal and certainly calmed my nerves.  The first caution of the game went to Success, who was adjudged to have dived.  The card seemed a little harsh.  The Woking fans were at it again soon after as their keeper, Ross, gathered a cross, they started a chant of “We’ve got the ball.”   Watford had a decent chance to increase their lead as a cross from Janmaat was headed goalwards by Success, but Ross made the save.  Quina was the next to threaten but his shot flew over the bar.  The first goal attempt for the home side came on 23 minutes as Casey crossed for Gerring who met it with a decent header, but Gomes dropped to make the save.  Then Success found Cleverley whose shot was blocked.  On the half hour Gerring, who had been on 5Live telling Troy Deeney that he would have to let him know he was there, turned his attentions to Success in the absence of the Watford captain.  It was quite a nasty challenge and well worth the booking that he received.  Watford had another chance to grab a second from a fantastic free kick by Cleverley, but the shot rebounded off the bar.   The last chance of the half came as Quina played the ball back to Hughes who tried to place the shot, which rolled to the keeper, when a welly would have gone in.

Chalobah translating for Penaranda (possibly)

So Watford reached half time a goal to the good, after a half that they had completely dominated.  It was a shame that we hadn’t scored more of our chances, but we were looking in control of the game.

At half time, I spotted Lionel Birnie standing behind me and took the opportunity to tell him how much I had enjoyed the GT autobiography.  I loved the style of the book, with GT telling his own story in a way in which you could hear his voice.  The book is a real gift to those of us who loved and admired GT and I wanted to thank Lionel for his work in ensuring that GT’s story was told.

The first action of the second half was the rather thrilling sight of the lino on the opposite side falling backwards over the hoardings.  It is dreadfully childish, but you can’t help but laugh when the officials come a cropper.  The first real chance of the half fell to the visitors as Peñaranda cut inside and curled a lovely shot just wide of the target.  Woking then created their first chance of the half, but Hyde’s header was easily stopped by Gomes.

Ben Wilmot

The home side made their first substitution on the hour as Little replaced Taylor.  The substitute made an immediate impact firing a low shot through a crowd of players, but Gomes made the save.  With 20 minutes remaining, each side made a double substitution.  Bradbury and Hodges replaced Luer and Edser for the home side, while Success and Peñaranda made way for Deeney and Sema for the visitors.  Javi’s substitutions proved to be inspired as a couple of minutes later Sema pulled the ball back for Deeney to score Watford’s second goal.  The niggling worry in the back of my mind that Woking could grab an equaliser was quelled at this point.  The Woking substitute, Bradbury, had briefly been on Watford’s books and Pete was not a fan having known of him from Havant & Waterlooville, where his father had been manager.  Pete decided to engage with the player.  “Not even your Dad would play you.”  A comment which, to be fair to Bradbury, drew a smile.  Watford made their final substitution with 10 minutes to go as Hughes made way for Navarro.  The Hornets had a good chance to grab a third as Deeney got on the end of a cross from Sema, but his header was blocked.  At the other end Bradbury should have reduced the deficit with a header from close range that flew just over the bar.  I swear there was fear in his eyes as he looked over to see Pete’s reaction.  That was the last action of the game and the whistle went on what had been a comfortable victory for the Hornets.

Quina, Penaranda and Success

As we were leaving the ground, someone mentioned that Lloyd Doyley had been in the away end and, perfectly on cue, he appeared from one of the portaloos.  We said hello and he shook hands with the guys and greeted me with a kiss.  He was then surrounded by Watford fans asking for photos.  Never have so many selfies have been taken in front of a toilet.  He chatted to us on the way out, talking about his recent move to Billericay.  He was accompanied by his son, resplendent in a Watford shirt, and told us that his lad is a regular at Watford but goes with his friends now.  That made me very happy.

As we emerged onto the street outside, it was evident that all was not well and I was shocked to witness a couple of punch-ups as if to emphasise the retro feeling of the day and remind me that it wasn’t all good in the olden days.

I bade my farewells to the others and headed for a visit to my Dad’s cousin who lives in the town centre.  When I had called to invite myself over, they had told me how the town was thrilled about the visit of Watford and it was nice to hear how much this had meant, although they had been hoping for a replay.

Penaranda and Masina waiting to take a free kick

On the journey home, I reflected on the game.  While the finishing had been a bit disappointing, the win had been convincing with the Hornets never really looking in any danger.  The debut of Peñaranda was decent enough for a lad who has not played for a while and for whom a non-league ground must have been an eye-opener (decent as the ground is).  Quina and Wilmot continue to impress when given their opportunities and it was great to see another strong performance from Cleverley.  The disappointments were Success, who continues to frustrate more than delight, and Chalobah, who is a shadow of his former self at present.

When I got home, I must say that it gladdened my heart to see Woking’s kind words about our visit on their Twitter feed as well as the photo of the two managers having exchanged bottles of their traditional beverages (sangria and Newcy brown).  I had thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon on the terrace, although my aching back didn’t agree with me.  I am just hoping that the fourth round draw is kind to us.  A trip to Accrington, Newport or Oldham would go down very nicely indeed, although I suspect we will end up at the Etihad.