Tag Archives: Isaac Success

Another Self-inflicted Defeat

Doucoure gets stuck in

After a weekend off, it was good to get back to the West Herts even if, after the last two games, I was no longer feeling optimistic about our chances.  The pre-match discussion about the end of the transfer window was brief as it had been fairly quiet for the Hornets, although there was a lot of sadness at the departure of Seb Prödl who went from Player of the Season to invisible after injuries.  I do hope that he goes on to great things.  There was also some discussion of Ighalo’s move to Manchester United, which took me by surprise, and a hope that Richarlison’s head had been turned by the interest from Barcelona.

As we reached Vicarage Road on the way to the ground, you could tell that it wasn’t one of the bigger clubs visiting, as there was only one tout in view and even he may just have been a bloke trying to offload a spare ticket.  As we reached Occupation Road, there seemed to be a big crowd blocking the way but, once we passed the first turnstile for the SEJ stand, the crowd reduced to usual size and we were soon through the turnstiles.  As I was unable to find a programme at the home tie against Tranmere and then threw coffee over the programme I bought at the away game, I went to Doreen Pym’s programme stand at the GT end of the Rookery to try to get replacements.  Sadly, they did not have either publication, but the journey was not wasted as I bumped into a friend on the way.  The detour and chat meant a delay in getting to my seat and, when I arrived, I was told that I had just missed the lovely Seb Prödl saying goodbye to the Watford fans.  That made me very sad, as I have a very soft spot for Seb.  I was greatly cheered when my lovely friend, Alice, later told me that she had made him some Vanillekipferl as a goodbye gift.  I am told that they went down very well with Seb and he kindly shared them with his countryman, Daniel Bachmann.

Celebrating Masina’s opening goal

Team news was that Pearson had made just the one enforced change from the Villa game with Kabasele in for Dawson, who was missing due to injury.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Chalobah, Capoue; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney.  It was great to see both Welbeck and Hughes on the bench, although we were short of defensive options with only Holebas included.  Former Watford starlet, Richarlison, started for Everton and was booed as he has been ever since he left.  Something that baffles me as we got very good money for him when he moved to Everton.

The visitors had the first chance of the game as Richarlison got on the end of a cross from Iwobi, but his shot flew over the bar.  At the other end a great corner from Masina was met by the head of Kabasele, but he couldn’t get his effort on target.  Christian was then in action at the other end as Richarlison tried to break into the box, but Kaba was on hand to steal the ball from him and snuff out the danger.  The Hornets took the lead after 10 minutes and it was a wonderful goal that started with Capoue playing a lovely cross-field pass to Deulofeu who brought the ball down before passing back to Masina who shot past Pickford into the opposite corner.

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal

The Hornets threatened again as Capoue played another lovely ball, this time for Pereyra, but Pickford was out to gather.  The visitors created a decent chance as Sidibé crossed for Calvert-Lewin, but the header was easy for Foster.  Off the pitch, the first sight of Danny Welbeck warming up was greeted with applause.  Watford had a chance to increase their lead when a free kick from Masina was cleared as far as Doucouré whose bicycle kick cleared the bar.  The hosts threatened again as Deulofeu found Doucouré on the edge of the box, but the shot was blocked at close range.  VAR was then invoked as a nasty looking tackle by Digne on Pereyra was checked, but no punishment ensued.  Maxi returned after treatment and exacted revenge on Digne.  Again, VAR was called into action but, again, the offence was not deemed worthy of a red card (or a yellow for that matter).  The second goal for the Hornets came after Deeney latched on to a loose ball and played a lovely pass to Pereyra who finished beautifully to put the Hornets in a commanding position with two minutes to go until half time.  The goal had been against the run of play, but it was all looking so positive at that point.  Sadly, 2-0 is a dangerous score and there followed two minutes of madness.  The clock had reached 45 minutes when Everton won a corner.  The Watford defenders failed to clear and the ball pinged around the box until Mina turned it in.  It was a very scrappy goal to give away.  It got worse almost immediately as Everton won another corner, Sigurdsson’s delivery was met by Mina, who was allowed a free header which beat Foster to level the score.  The scorer was milking the celebrations right in front of the 1881 which irritated me immensely even if it is likely that he had been jeered by the home fans.

Everton Speedo Mick interviewed by Emma

There was shock at half time, we had appeared to be in control of the game and had been defending very solidly, but that was all undone by two corners when the defence went missing.  So frustrating in such an important game.

The first topic of the half time interviews was the National Citizen Service (NCS), a programme for 15-17 year-olds which has been one of the projects run by Watford Community Trust.  It is a very positive project that has benefited many local youngsters.

The legend on duty was Gary Porter talking about his distinguished career with the Hornets.  He was a part of some amazing teams and is very fondly remembered, although it shocks me to realise how long ago he retired as I think of him as one of the youngsters!

Last up was Everton Speedo Mick who is walking 1000 miles from John O’Groats to Lands End while dressed in Speedo swimming trunks to raise money for Leave the Light On which contributes to community projects that help disadvantaged young people.  His excitement at Everton’s comeback was a little hard to listen to, but I let him off as it is a tremendous charity https://www.gofundme.com/f/speedomick-1000-ml-charity.  I was a little embarrassed when the two guys in front of us commented on my taking photos.  It was for the blog, honest, not because I want photos of a middle-aged bloke in a Speedo.

Pereyra on the ball

The visitors had the first chance of the second half and, again, it was from a set piece.  Sigurdsson took a free kick which reached Calvert-Lewin, whose header was deflected over the bar.  There was then a tussle between Deeney and Mina, not the first of the afternoon.  The Everton man was rolling around trying to get Troy into trouble and Troy’s look of contempt mirrored my feelings.  Nigel Pearson made his first substitution just before the hour mark as Chalobah made way for Welbeck.  Nate did not look happy at being replaced, but the introduction of Welbeck was warmly received by the crowd.  The first booking of the game came soon after and went to Delph for a trip on Pereyra.  The visitors made two changes in quick succession bringing Kean and Schneiderlin on for Iwobi and Sigurdsson.  There were a couple of rash-looking tackles from the Hornets as Everton broke forward, but the referee finally blew up for a nudge on Richarlison on the edge of the box, with Masina booked for the most innocuous foul in that sequence.  The resulting free kick was taken by Digne who hit it straight into the wall.  With 20 minutes remaining, the visitors were reduced to ten men after Delph was shown a second yellow card for a clumsy foul on Capoue.  The resulting free kick was repelled as far as Capoue who shot over the target.

Danny Welbeck back in action

Each side then made a change with Keane replacing Calvert-Lewin for the visitors and Success on for Pereyra for the home side.  The first contribution from Success was unimpressive, he lost out to Sidibé and so brought him down and was shown a yellow card for his trouble.  Pearson made his final change replacing Deulofeu with Pussetto.  Geri left the pitch by the goal in front of the Rookery and walked half the length of the stand where he was applauded the whole way around but didn’t once acknowledge the crowd.  Late in the game the Hornets had a few decent chances to regain the lead.  First a corner from Masina was cleared to Doucouré on the edge of the box, his shot was hit well but flew wide of the far post.  The next yellow card went to Mina, who was seriously annoying me, so I was glad to see him booked for a foul on Success.  The Hornets threatened again as a lovely free kick from Pussetto was punched clear to Capoue who squared for Doucouré whose shot was wide of the near post.  The visitors picked up another yellow card as Holgate was booked for a foul on Doucouré.  There was another half chance to grab a winner for the Hornets when they got the ball into the Everton box, but no Watford man could get a meaningful touch on it.  The Hornets had been pushing for the winner, but it was the visitors who took all three points with a goal in the 90th minute.  Masina lost out in the middle of the pitch, Richarlison advanced and played in Kean who moved the ball on to Walcott, at first he appeared to have run wide of the goal, but that proved to be wishful thinking on my part as he finished past Foster.  There was a roar of encouragement from the Watford faithful as the fourth official held up the board indicating 5 minutes of added time, but the Hornets created nothing of note in added time and the final whistle went to boos from the home fans.

Pussetto lines up a free kick

The reaction after the game was mostly anger.  Listening to fans as we left the ground, Nigel Pearson has gone from football genius to being utterly clueless.  Again, the withdrawal of Chalobah was questioned especially as he didn’t take advantage of the presence of Hughes on the bench who would have firmed up the midfield, but that could have been criticised as like-for-like when Pearson was making a change to the formation.  But most of the fury was directed towards the appearance of Success.  Given the amount of criticism Gray has attracted recently, I was rather amused to hear a comment that Andre must wonder what he has to do if Isaac is coming on ahead of him.  My assumption was that Success was brought on due to his strength and, given that Gray was awful at Tranmere, the greater likelihood that he would cause the Everton defence problems.  But when he does nothing it looks to be a poor substitution.

My great annoyance was at the fact that we have lost to Everton on three occasions this season and they haven’t had to play well in any of those games.  On Saturday we beat ourselves and that hurts.  We had scored two lovely goals in the first half and had kept Everton completely at bay through effective defending, but that was undone with some sloppy play at the end of the half.  Watford looked most likely to win the game late on, but we wasted our chances and one mistake allowed Everton the opportunity to grab the winner.

So, we are back in the bottom three and the visit to Brighton is looking to be crucial, given that it is followed by a trip to Old Trafford and the visit of Liverpool.  Consider me fickle, but I hate football again.

From Coasting to Capitulation

Daniel Bachmann

Before the game, I was a little surprised to discover that the last time that we had played Tranmere Rovers had been GT’s final home game as manager in April 2001.  I was living in the US at the time and had flown home to be at the match.  From memory, it was an uninspiring draw and fans were unhappy.  I was also at the previous home game against them, the Easter Saturday tie which had looked to be heading for a dull defeat until two goals and two dismissals for the Hornets resulted in a comeback win that sparked our run to the play-offs in 1999.  Very happy memories of that one

It was nice to be back to the usual routine of a 3pm Saturday kick-off and I was in the West Herts just after midday.  They were clearly not expecting a big crowd as the car park stewards were nowhere to be seen.  But Don was in his usual spot and all was right with the world.  Jacque was getting food, so I went to join her and was rather gratified when the woman behind the counter identified our location as “the TV table”.  It is either that or “Are you sitting with Don?”  We are creatures of habit.  There were fond reminiscences about our visit to hospitality for the Wolves game.  Trond asked if we had been sitting in the new overhang which is in front of where they sit and commented that it had moved a lot more than in previous games.

The mysterious Spencer-Adams

Unsurprisingly, the team news was that there were nine changes from the Wolves game with only Dawson and Chalobah keeping their places.  I am ashamed to say that there was one name in the starting line-up that I didn’t recognise (Spencer-Adams).  As the U23s generally play their matches in the afternoon these days, I don’t get to see them anymore.  The starting XI was Bachmann; Masina, Spencer-Adams, Dawson, Mariappa; Dele-Bashiru, Chalobah, Quina; Pereyra, Gray, Success.

The walk down Vicarage Road was rather refreshing as there were no touts or half-and-half scarves.  But I was rather disappointed to find that the programmes had sold out, my search of the Rookery concourse failing to find any of the programme stalls still open.  That’ll teach me for leaving the pub so late.

The game kicked off at 15:01 in support of the “Heads Up” campaign and was designed to encourage everyone to take a minute to think about their mental health.

Celebrating Dele_Bashiru’s opener

There was a fairly quiet start to the game, although the Tranmere crowd, which was just under 2700, were already making a noise.  With 12 minutes on the clock, the Hornets won a corner.  This was played short, Chalobah found Dele-Bashiru at the edge of the box and he hit a lovely shot from distance past Chapman in the Tranmere goal to put the Hornets in the lead.  The home side were two up soon after as Tranmere struggled to clear, a shot from Success was blocked and the ball was cleared to Chalobah who also beat Chapman with a shot from outside the area.  Nate ran straight to Pearson to celebrate, so clearly there were no hard feelings after his quick substitution in the Villa game.  There was a decent chance of a third for the Hornets after 20 minutes when Quina made space for himself and unleashed a shot that was deflected over the bar.  Chalobah had a decent chance to score a second following a corner, but this time his shot was well over the bar.  Watford threatened again as Pereyra played a through ball for Gray but Andre was unable to reach it and it ran through to the keeper.  Just before the half hour mark Rovers won a corner, the delivery flew harmlessly across the goal.  Watford scored a third on 34 minutes when Success beat a defender before passing to Gray who helped it on to Pereyra who blasted past Chapman.  Tranmere had a chance to pull one back when a corner found Clarke at the far post, but his header was wide of the target.  They threatened again as a shot from Monthé deflected off the head of Dawson for a corner that came to nothing.  Bachmann was finally called into action with 5 minutes to go to half time, but the low curling shot by Jennings was easily gathered.   Jennings created another chance in time added on at the end of the half but his shot from distance was also comfortably stopped by Bachmann.

Mapps congratulates Chalobah (missed the hug with Pearson)

The half time whistle went with the Watford faithful feeling very comfortable.  It had been a convincing performance in the first half and the lads appeared to be coasting.

There was a change for the Hornets at half time which meant the much anticipated debut of João Pedro who came on in place of Chalobah, who had picked up an injury.  Tranmere made a double substitution with Blackett-Taylor and Woods replacing Payne and Nelson.  The first action from the Brazilian wonder boy was to jump into a tackle on Caprice giving away a free kick.  But he was soon showing his attacking skills as he received a pass from Pereyra and took a shot that was blocked.  He created a better chance soon after as Success went on a run before finding him in space, the shot was excellent and flew just wide of the near post.  Watford threatened again as a corner was played out to Quina who mishit his effort, the ball finished with Dawson whose shot was high and wide.  The visitors won a corner of their own, but the cross was easily caught by Bachmann.  Watford made a second substitution on the hour mark with Whelan coming on to make his debut in place of Quina who had picked up an injury.  Out of nowhere, the visitors then had the ball in the Watford net as Blackett-Taylor crossed for Jennings who headed in at the near post.  The flag was up indicating offside, but the shouts from the Watford end of “sit down, shut up” soon looked rather foolish as the VAR overruled the lino and allowed the goal.  This prompted joyful chants of “VAR, VAR” from the visiting supporters.

Masina and Success congratulating Pereyra on his goal (honestly!)

Tranmere had another decent chance as Jennings tried a flick at the near post, but Bachmann pushed it over the bar.  Jennings was then booked for a foul on João Pedro.  It was a poor foul, but disappointing to see the youngster roll over three times after the contact.  No harm done as, soon after, he went on a lovely run which deserved better, but nobody could get on the end of his cross.  Pearson made his final change and it was another player making his debut as Mason Barrett replaced Spencer-Adams.    Disaster befell the Hornets on 77 minutes as Bachmann failed to catch a cross from Blackett-Taylor, the ball dropped and was played to Monthé who turned the ball in past a couple of defenders on the line.  Tranmere made a final change bringing Mullin on for Ferrier.  There had been an indication that some of the Watford players were struggling for fitness and it was rather concerning to see Masina giving Success a leg massage, presumably to ward off cramp (GT would have been livid).  As I shouted encouragement, the thought crossed my mind that I had never been to Prenton Park, so what happened next is all my fault.  Blackett-Taylor was tackled by Barrett on the corner of the box.  He went down under the challenge and the initial decision from the referee was that it was a corner.  The Tranmere fans were shouting for VAR with good reason.  The decision was that it should have been a penalty and the footage shown on the big screen afterwards confirmed that as the correct decision.  Tranmere substitute, Mullin, stepped up and sent Bachmann the wrong way to draw the visitors level with three minutes left on the clock.  To add insult to injury, a couple of minutes later Pereyra was shown a straight red for a rather innocuous foul on Blackett-Taylor.  VAR was definitely not our friend on this afternoon as the decision stood and we played the six minutes of added time with ten men.  Watford had a chance to regain the lead when Success was taken down of the edge of the box by Monthé, who earned a yellow card for his trouble.  The free kick was awful as Masina played it short to Dele-Bashiru who played a return pass, but the Moroccan got under the ball and shot high and wide.

A first look at Joao Pedro

The final whistle went to boos and the sight of a lot of people storming out.  There was one bright spot in the gloom, though, as Masina came over and gave a child his shirt.  He was then looking in the crowd for someone.  When he finally spotted the person he was looking for, he waved and then came into the crowd and gave them his undershirt and a warm hug.  My sisters told me that, during the warm-up, he had kicked a ball into the crowd which had hit a woman.  She was rather shocked and upset at the time and his apologies had seemed to fall on deaf ears, although the offer of his gloves had been taken up by her husband.  Thankfully she was recovered by the end of the game and the apology, the shirt and the hug were gratefully received.

Back to the West Herts and there were a lot of very glum faces and a sense of shock.  We had been coasting at half time and Rovers had been poor.  But the loss of Chalobah and then Quina changed the game and the whole of the second half seemed to be played with Watford on the back foot.  I briefly thought that it looked like one of those games that Liverpool used to play in the 80s when they would play for a draw in the first leg of a league cup game before battering the opposition in the second leg.  But those games were controlled 0-0 draws.  This game was quite baffling.  It has to be said that it was an opportunity for those who were on the fringes to show Pearson what they can do.  Sadly, I don’t think that Success or Gray did anything that would convince him to include them against Bournemouth.  However, Chalobah had another good outing, Dele-Bashiru looked excellent and João Pedro put in a decent showing.  The fitness problems of the fringe players was a cause for concern and they may find themselves with some extra routines in training.

Spencer-Adams, Gray and Dele-Bashiru

I have to say that I did not share the concerns of some who thought this may derail our recovery in the Premier League as most of the players are not regular starters.  I did worry about it derailing the U23s who have had a decent season so far.  But they played on Monday and won 6-1, so no worries there.

We really could do without another game at the moment, but I am very much looking forward to a trip to Birkenhead.  If the Tranmere fans are half as impressive at their place as they were at Vicarage Road, we are in for a fun evening.

 

The First Home Win of the Season Comes in Style

Deeney and Capoue waiting for the ball to drop

Sunday games are always odd, but my hopes that the journey would be quieter than usual was soon dispelled when the fast train to London pulled in to Slough and was so packed that some were left on the platform.  I managed to get on, but it was not a comfortable journey.  For some reason, when I reached Euston I had forgotten who our opposition were so, when a friend boarded the train with a group of youngsters who were clearly not Watford fans, it was a while before I realised who they “supported” and then regarded them with the contempt that I have for those who choose a team based on their results rather than any connection to the community.

The West Herts had opened early so was busy when I arrived.  Our party was somewhat depleted by Christmas invitations, but those who were there were strangely optimistic after last week’s showing against Liverpool.  I left for the ground earlier than usual and headed for the 1881 bunker, which was packed.  I was only there to drop off some tins for their foodbank appeal and was very pleased to see the table stacked with bags of food donated by fans.  I entered the stadium by the Rookery entrance at the GT end of the ground, so was able to buy my programme from Doreen Pym.  Just like the old days.  I still miss the Bill Mainwood Programme Hut.

Team news was that the Hornet line-up was unchanged from the Liverpool game.  So, the starting XI was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Capoue, Hughes; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Sarr; Deeney.

Joao Pedro introduced at Vicarage Road

Prior to kick-off, João Pedro, who had arrived from Fluminense to a great fanfare during the week, was presented to the fans.  He held up the no 17 shirt that he will wear.  I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the boy, as he arrives to an incredible weight of expectation.  I am very glad that Heurelho Gomes is still on our books as this will be another adoptive son for him to take under his wing.

New manager Pearson was also welcomed but, having had his day in the sun before the Palace game, he made do with a wave from the dug-out.

The visitors created an early chance as James broke down the wing before finding Martial in the box, but he shot wide of the target.  Watford’s first half-chance came as Deeney picked up a misplaced pass and found Sarr whose cross into the box was blocked and cleared.  At the other end, a curling shot was easily gathered by Foster.  Then Femenía played a lovely through ball to Deulofeu whose cross was blocked for a corner.

Mariappa launches a throw-in

Watford had the ball in the net when Deulofeu’s delivery was dropped by de Gea and Doucouré turned the ball home, but the celebrations among the Hornet faithful were cut short as the keeper was adjudged to have been fouled.  The home side continued to threaten as Deulofeu went on a great run before finding Deeney, but the shot was blocked by Shaw.  United had a great chance to take the lead when a lucky ball fell for Martial who played in Lingard, but the shot cleared the crossbar.  I was briefly distracted by the sight of a red kite flying above the stadium.  There are a lot of kites where I live, but it still gives me joy every time I see one.  The first caution of the game went to Capoue for a rather benign foul on Lingard.  Almost immediately Shaw was booked for holding back Sarr.  The Hornets had a great chance to take the lead after a lovely passing move led to a great cross from Femenía which was met by Doucouré whose header was just wide of the target.  The Hornets had one last chance to take the lead in the first half with a cross from Sarr towards Deeney, but Troy was crowded out and the chance went begging.

So we reached half time with the game goalless and no shots on target, but some very promising play from the Hornets.

Sarr celebrating his goal

The half time guest was Neil Cox, who was asked about his experiences during a similarly trying time  and was very positive about our prospects.  I hadn’t realised that he and Neil Ardley are now the management team at Notts County.  Neil was also on hand to perform the on-pitch presentation of the award from the FSA to our wonderful Supporter Liaison Officer, Dave Messenger.  Dave is a tremendous advocate for the fans and will do anything to help, so this award was very well deserved indeed.

Six minutes into the second half and, suddenly, all was right with the world again.  A free kick from Hughes was met by Sarr who tried to hit the top corner, de Gea looked to have it covered, but the ball went through his hands and hit the net, sending the Rookery into raptures, apart from two rather gloomy blokes sitting just behind me.  The visitors had an immediate chance to break back, but the header from McTominay was straight at Ben Foster.  Instead, a foray by Sarr into the United box was stopped by Wan-Bissaka and the referee pointed to the spot.  It appeared to be a nailed-on penalty, but I was still holding my breath while the VAR check went on.  “Decision Penalty” had to be the best news of the afternoon.

Celebrating Troy scoring the penalty

It was a while before Troy was able to take the spot kick, so he amused himself by supping some of de Gea’s energy drink and ignoring any gamesmanship that was going on behind him.  When the whistle finally went to indicate that the penalty could be taken, he paused before taking his run up and blasting the ball down the middle as de Gea dived the wrong way.  It was a brilliantly composed penalty from Troy and I suddenly believed that we could win this game, despite there being 30 minutes left on the clock.  McTominay again tried to reduce the deficit but, again, Foster blocked the shot.  The first substitution of the game came just before the hour mark as Greenwood replaced James for the visitors.  At this point we were rather distracted by the sight of a cushion covered in a knitted Watford cover that was being used by a woman two rows in front.  It was a thing of great beauty and we were all very envious.  The Hornets had a chance to increase their lead when a corner from Capoue was cleared only as far as Hughes, but his shot was well over the bar.  The visitors made another change bringing Pogba on for Lingard, nothing for the Hornets to worry about there (gulp!!)  The visitors had a chance to break back following a corner, Rashford put the ball back into the Watford box, but the header from Greenwood was dreadful and well wide of the target.

This cushion inspired envy in our section of the Rookery

Watford had a chance to increase their lead further as Deulofeu found Sarr in the box, but he waited too long to take his shot and it was blocked, the ball came back in for Deeney, but he mishit his shot and the chance was gone.  Nigel Pearson made his first substitution with 20 minutes to go when he brought Chalobah on for Doucouré.  United won a free kick at an acute angle to the right of the Watford goal, Rashford went for goal but Foster punched clear.  Solskjær made his final substitution replacing McTominay with Mata.  The Hornets threatened again as Deulofeu battled his way into the United box, his shot was blocked, a follow-up effort from Deeney effort was also blocked.  At the other end, Pogba tried a shot from distance, but it was an easy catch for Foster.  Watford made a second substitution as Capoue was replaced by Pereyra, presumably as he was on a yellow card.  Another chance for the Hornets as a free kick was cleared to Femenía, whose shot was on target, but de Gea was able to make the save.  The visitors had a half chance from a corner as Mata’s delivery was met by the head of Maguire but his effort was straight at Foster.  United should have pulled one back with 8 minutes to go, but Pogba’s curling shot was saved by Foster.  There was another dangerous looking attempt from the visitors as Greenwood tried to lob Foster, but the ball flew over the bar.  With the clock running down, Pearson made a final change replacing Sarr, who had been magnificent, with Success.  With a minute left on the clock, Rashford tried a shot from close range which Foster blocked with his legs.  As the fourth official lifted the board to indicate the added time, I found myself celebrating the fact that it was only 3 minutes.  Into time added on and Martial cut inside and shot goalwards, but Foster was able to make the block.  United had a final chance to spoil our clean sheet when Cathcart took Rashford down on the edge of the box.  Mata stepped up to take the free kick, but it was a dreadful effort that flew well wide of the near post.

Man of the match, Deeney, after scoring the penalty

The Watford fans had been noisy all afternoon, but the cheers at the final whistle were rapturous. As the game was being televised, there was a big announcement of the man of the match that was given to Troy Deeney who then had to be interviewed for the television.  As the players did a lap of the ground to thank the fans, Kabasele came over and gave his shirt to a young child at the front of the Rookery.  While all this was going on, I had kept my eye on Pearson who had enthusiastically congratulated every player and stood and waited for Troy to finish his TV commitment before hugging him and then retreating to the dressing room.

Back in the West Herts, the smiles were wide and we all seem to have fallen in love with football again.  While discussing all that was good in the game, every player came in for some praise.  I have to say that, while Deeney was given the plaudits from the broadcaster, my award would have gone to Hughes who was everywhere and gave the United players no time on the ball.  Sarr was excellent again and Deulofeu was a menace even though his decision-making has me screaming with frustration (while knowing that if it was better he wouldn’t be playing for us).  My sister had observed during the game that she was looking at these famous names on the United shirts while not seeing performances that matched those reputations.  A lot of that was down to the way that our team played.  There was great quality in our play, but it was the hard work that made the difference.  The United players were given no time or space to play and that made the difference.  Pearson has only been with Watford for a short time, but he has instilled a discipline in the team that seems to be making a difference and the future appears to be much more positive,

Happy Christmas to all of my readers.  I hope you have a wonderful time and an extra belated Christmas present on Boxing Day.

 

No Points, but Some Positive Signs

A nice welcome from our hosts

I worked at home in the morning before heading into London to catch the train to Leicester.  There had been problems on the line earlier on, so my arrival was slightly delayed, but I was still in the hotel in time to call in to my last meeting of the day and was in the pub before 5:30.  Our party was severely depleted with only Pete and I making the journey.  The pub was also pleasantly empty so we were able to have a couple of drinks (I moved on to wine from the beer) and something to eat in relative comfort.  As we headed to the ground, I began to question whether the game was going ahead as when we reached within 5 minutes of the stadium, there were no other football supporters to be seen.  As we got slightly closer, the other fans appeared.

In the past, I have had some very unpleasant experiences with Leicester stewards, but I have to say that the woman who performed the search at the turnstile was very friendly and pleasant.  Once inside, I decided to try to go and see Don in the disabled area.  This was a somewhat risky endeavour as a previous request to a steward to do this a few years ago was met with the response that I would be arrested if I stepped on to the perimeter around the ground.  At the time, I was with a friend who is a serving Police officer who was more patient than I would have been with the steward in question.  The woman that I spoke to on this occasion was much nicer and let me through.  I hadn’t realised when I made the request that the disabled fans were located in with the Leicester crowd.  I wasn’t wearing colours at the time, but still restricted myself to a quick hello, before making a rapid retreat.  How awful for the disabled fans.

The rainbow laces arch

With the departure of Flores, U23 coach, Hayden Mullins, was in charge of the first team for this match.  Team news was that he had made just the one change from the defeat to Southampton with Deeney returning to the starting line-up in place of Holebas, who had picked up an injury.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Mariappa, Cathcart, Femenía; Hughes, Capoue, Doucouré, Sarr, Deulofeu; Deeney.

It was lovely to see Troy leading the team out, it has been far too long.  The Premier League arch (or whatever it is) was coloured in keeping with the fact that this was the rainbow laces game, a stand against homophobia in football.  Although, given the silly boots that the players wear these days, rainbow laces seem terribly outdated.  Or am I overthinking this?  The other thing that caught my eye before kick-off was Femenía changing into a long-sleeved shirt.   Roy Clare would never have stood for that.

Ben Foster takes a free kick

The home side had an early attack as Vardy broke forward and cut the ball back for Pérez whose shot was over the target, but the flag was up anyway.  The Watford fans were on form with an early chant of “Brendan Rodgers, he’ll walk out on you.”  There was a very promising attack from the Hornets as Sarr raced forward with Deulofeu alongside him, he played in the Spaniard who got the ball tangled up in his feet before running in to a defender and the ball went out for a corner that came to nothing.  At the other end Barnes exchanged passes with Maddison before shooting from a tight angle, from where he could only find the side netting.  A nice move from the Hornets finished with Sarr finding Deeney just outside the box, but the shot was blocked.  Leicester threatened again when Barnes broke into the box, but Foster was able to block the shot.  On 38 minutes, the home side appealed for a penalty as Vardy went down in the box.  The referee was having none of it and booked the Leicester man for simulation.  However, in the VAR era, that means nothing, so we had to wait while the VAR check was done which confirmed the on-pitch decision, although those watching the live stream were not convinced.  A promising break by Sarr stopped when he was taken down by Söyüncü who was booked for the foul.  Deulofeu took the free kick which flew wide of the far post.  Watford should have taken the lead just before half time when Deulofeu played the ball back to Hughes, who was in an acre of space, but his shot flew wide of the target.  We were baffled when a goal kick was awarded as the shot must surely have taken a deflection.  Sadly, it transpired that the deflection was off Deeney.  The home side also had a great chance just before half time, but Vardy was unable to get the ball under control and Cathcart was able to usher the ball back to Foster.  So, we reached half time with the game goalless and somewhat lacking in incident.

Deeney and Sarr in the Leicester box

Leicester made a substitution at the break bringing Praet on for Pérez.  The home side won an early free kick when Söyüncü was tripped by Doucouré, who was booked for his trouble.  The delivery dropped to Söyüncü whose shot was over the bar.  Barnes broke into the box, but Foster dropped to block the shot.  Leicester won a penalty in the 53rd minute as Masina fouled Evans.  The arguments from the Watford players were impassioned and protracted, but VAR upheld the decision and Vardy beat Foster to give the Foxes the lead.  The Hornets were almost in more trouble as the ball reached Fuchs in a dangerous position, but Cathcart was able to intervene and turn the shot wide of the target.   Leicester threatened again as Vardy crossed the ball in for Barnes, but Masina did well to put it out for a corner.   Watford tried to hit back as Sarr broke and crossed from a dangerous position, but the cross wasn’t high enough and was headed clear by Söyüncü.  Leicester made a second substitution replacing Tielemans with Choudhury.  Watford won a corner and Hughes stepped up to take it.  He played it short to Deulofeu who returned the ball, Will crossed for Cathcart who flicked the ball goalwards, but it was an easy catch for Schmeichel.  Mullins made his first substitution replacing Deulofeu with Success. Then Justin came on for Barnes and was greeted with chants of “scum” from those that pay more attention to these things than I do.  Surely he should have been lauded for escaping Luton.  Watford made two late changes with Quina replacing Hughes and Gray on for Deeney, who had managed 87 minutes.  There was five minutes of stoppage time during which the Hornets finally had their first shot on target with a shot from Quina from outside the area that was an easy catch for Schmeichel.  But it was the home side who grabbed a late goal as Maddison broke forward and beat Mariappa before shooting past Foster.  It was a cruel end to the game.  I felt very sorry for Don and my other friends in the disabled enclosure as they were surrounded by cheering Leicester fans.  But, after the negativity in the crowd on Saturday, fair play to the travelliing Hornets who were singing “Watford til I die” and “I love you, Watford, I do” at the tops of their voices.

Mariappa, Deeney and Cathcart

At the final whistle, there was a decent away crowd left in the ground and, despite the result, they warmly applauded the players off the pitch.

Pete had made a quick getaway in order to catch the last train home, so I was left alone for the post-match analysis.  I have to say that I felt a lot happier than I did on Saturday.  It had been a much more positive performance overall both on the pitch and in the stands.  I was particularly pleased to see the players still fighting for an equaliser in time added on at the end of the game.  Sarr was a joy to watch, his speed was clearly worrying the Leicester defenders who were resorting to lumping the ball into row Z.  At the back, Masina was very impressive and was unlucky to give away the penalty.  It was also great to see Troy back.  He didn’t do a lot, but his presence gives the team a lift.  So, all in all, there was much to like in a performance against a very good team.  Maybe I shouldn’t write off this season just yet.

A Slog on the Tyne

The statue of Bobby Robson that caused my fall

After a promising performance in midweek, I was feeling a bit more positive on the long journey up to Newcastle.  My mood was improved immensely by the gorgeous dog who was accompanying the woman sitting the other side of the aisle from me.

I arrived at the pub a little later than is my habit, by this I mean that it was already open, and was surprised to find that it was not as busy as it usually is, so our party plus the Happy Valley and North West Horns were able to gather in the lovely alcove.  As usual, the beer and the ambience were wonderful, setting us up nicely for the trek uphill to the ground.  As we arrived at St James’ Park, my companions were extolling the virtues of the stadium and I was admiring the statue of Bobby Robson, so I completely missed the fact that there was a kerb in front of me and went flying.  It was mostly my pride that was hurt, but my bruised knees made me start to consider taking the lift up the 14 flights to our seats.  The woman who searched my bag at the turnstiles told me I was gorgeous, which was Geordie for, “You are old and safe looking, so I won’t search your person.”  We entered through the turnstiles and I looked for the lift, quickly realising that it was actually behind the turnstiles in the next block.  So we started up the stairs.  Alice was counting the steps, calling out milestones, as I just counted the flights.  I would have yelled, “Yay, 14!!” at the top if I had any breath left.  As we took our seats, I was thankful that I had recently taken delivery of new prescription distance glasses as it meant that I had a remote possibility of recognising some of the Watford players.

The view from the away end with no zoom employed

The team news had come through in the pub and was …. Interesting.  Gracia had made three changes from the West Ham game, with Kabasele, Janmaat and Pereyra in for Holebas, Capoue and Deulofeu.  I was surprised that Capoue had been dropped, but this was apparently due to illness.  What was more surprising was that Femenía was still in the team, although the formation had been changed to three at the back.  Playing as a wing-back rather than in a back four would likely be a better use of his skills.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Dawson, Kabasele; Femenía, Janmaat; Cleverley, Doucouré, Hughes; Pereyra, Gray.

Due to a clash of colours, the lads were resplendent in our green away shirt from last season.  Thankfully this news had been communicated before I left home, so I was able to bring the correct shirt with me (sad, I know).

 

Celebrating the opener from Hughes

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets as Pereyra went on a great run before picking out Cleverley, his shot was blocked, but rebounded to Hughes who finished past Dúbravka to send the travelling Hornets wild with joy.  The home side had a chance to break back almost immediately, Kabasele missed the chance to clear a cross from Atsu leaving Almirón with only the keeper to beat, but Foster came out and made the clearance.  Femenía had a great chance to increase Watford’s lead after the ball fell to him on the edge of the area, but his effort was just over the bar.  Then Pereyra found Gray, who really should have grabbed a second for the Hornets, but his shot was wide of the far post.  Newcastle won a free kick some distance from goal, Longstaff lofted the ball into the box and Foster punched for a corner.  Doucouré was the first into the referee’s book for what looked to be a clumsy challenge on Atsu.  He was soon joined by Hayden who was booked for taking down Pereyra.  Hayden’s afternoon didn’t get any better as he raced into the Watford box to latch on to a pass but was frustrated by a brilliant tackle from Kabasele.  From the corner, Cathcart made a double block on shots from Joelinton and Hayden.  Almirón had the ball in the Watford net after rounding Foster, but he had been flagged offside as he started his run.  It was clear that he had seen the flag before putting the ball in the net, so I don’t know why he wasn’t booked.  Watford had another chance to increase their lead when a corner from Femenía was knocked on to Dawson whose attempted bicycle kick was blocked.  Newcastle equalised on 41 minutes after a counterattack finished with Krafth’s cross being knocked down by Hayden to Schär who scored past Foster.  It was a scrappy goal and so frustrating to concede.  Late in the half, there was a booking for each side as both Dawson and Dummett were cautioned for rash tackles.

A corner from Femenia

The Watford fans were not happy at half time.  Despite a promising start, it had been a dreadful half of football with each team scoring with their only on target shot.  Watford spent far too much time trying to find Gray with long balls that he was never going to win, and the passing was generally poor.  A friend commented that it was the sort of game in which both teams were likely to be booed off at half time.  We could only hope for an improvement in the second half.

We were to be disappointed.  The home side had an early chance to take the lead as Dawson gave the ball away allowing Almirón to release Atsu, but the shot was terrible and straight at Foster.  Cathcart was the next to be booked for a foul on Almirón.  Newcastle should have done better from the resulting free kick as Schär got on the end of Longstaff’s delivery, but the header was awful and didn’t trouble Foster.  The home side created a much better chance soon after as Atsu ran the length of the field before cutting the ball back to Almirón, but Kabasele put in an excellent block to stop the shot.  Newcastle had a great chance to take the lead as Hayden unleashed a powerful shot from distance which Foster did well to turn over the bar.

Goalscorer, Hughes, leaves Janmaat to take the throw

At this point, an hour into the game, the travelling Hornets started chanting “We want subs,” but Gracia was unmoved by our plea.  Newcastle threatened again, this time with a shot through a crowd of legs that Foster was down to save.  The Hornets had their first half chance of the second period when the ball bobbled through to Cleverley who had time to control and pick his shot but snatched at a volley which flew wide of the near post.  At the other end, Joelinton went down in the box after a challenge, but the referee deemed the tackle to be fair.  There was a rare decent move from the Hornets as Doucouré broke forward, but his cross was deflected to Dúbravka.  Gracia finally made a double substitution with 20 minutes to go, and it was not the change that the crowd had been calling for as Doucouré made way for Chalobah and Success replaced Hughes.  I have to admit that even I booed the removal of Hughes who had been the best player on the pitch.  Will left the field on the side opposite the dugout, so walked in front of the away fans and his name was sung with some gusto.  Success showed his worth to us naysayers as he received a ball over the top and put in a low cross for Gray, but it was intercepted.  Not satisfied with the changes so far, the away fans were chanting for Deulofeu to make an appearance.  Bruce made his first change at this point bringing Manquillo on for Krafth.

Roberto Pereyra

Watford created a decent chance as Cleverley put in a lovely cross for Success who headed goalwards, but Dúbravka pushed the ball out for a corner.  Dawson met the delivery with a header that was blocked, the ball rebounded to Chalobah whose shot was closed down.  Each side made a substitution with 10 minutes to go as Muto came on for Atsu and the travelling fans finally got their wish as Deulofeu came on in place of Gray.  The home side looked as though they were going to take the lead as a low cross from a corner led to a scramble in the Watford box, it seemed inevitable that the ball would be turned into the net, so I was massively relieved when Foster claimed the ball.  The next chance fell to the Hornets as a shot from Cleverley took a wicked deflection off one of his teammates and flew just wide.  It has to be said that, had the ball flown into the net, a flukey winner would have been in keeping with the poor quality of the game.  Newcastle made a final change as Fernández replaced Schär.  The Hornets had a late chance to grab a winner as Success played a lovely ball to Pereyra whose shot was decent, but Dúbravka was able to make the save.  The last chance of the game fell to the home side, Chalobah had appeared to be fouled and was waiting for a free kick as Muto escaped downfield, but the Newcastle man was tracked all the way by Cathcart and could only find the side netting with his shot.  Despite 5 minutes of added time, there were no further chances and the game finished in a draw.

Nathaniel Chalobah

Our first point of the season should have been cause for celebration, but the performance was so disappointing that it was hard to muster any enthusiasm.  It was a pretty terrible game of football between two teams who struggled to string more than a couple of passes together.  So many Watford attacks broke down after a long ball to Gray, or rather, the defender marking Gray, which is no criticism of Andre at all as he is not tall enough to outjump the defenders.  Either that or a pass was hit straight at a defender.  It was a much poorer performance than against either West Ham or Everton, although not as abject as the Brighton showing.  But, at the end of a challenging week, this did not improve my mood at all and left me wondering where our next points would come from.  Particularly as our next two games are home to Arsenal and away to Manchester City.  While I will, of course, be in attendance at both, I am also planning to do other things on those weekends so that I have something to distract me from the football as I am not expecting any enjoyment from either game.  I just hope that the lads prove me wrong.

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!!

Disappointing Defeat to Start the Season

Sarr visits the lower GT

During the week, I changed trains at Embankment station and found myself looking at a poster for Sky Sports which featured a large photo of Troy Deeney.  I sat staring at it, feeling ridiculously proud.  I am sure that when Troy was working as a brickie he never imagined himself as captain of a Premier League team and that he would be a poster boy for Sky.  But he has worked incredibly hard for his success and has become a real role model.  I am delighted for him and a poster like this will always make me smile.

After the appetiser last week, it was back to the West Herts to prepare for a proper football match.  Our party gradually gathered and the mood was positive.  The transfer window has been a good one for us.  The arrival of both Sarr and Welbeck this week was very welcome.  The Welbeck signing came out of nowhere and seems to be an excellent piece of business.  Added to that, we have kept all of our key players, so come into this season stronger than we finished last.  Then, to make us all even happier, sweetie man, Glenn, arrived with a bag of freshly made pork scratchings that he gets from his local butcher.  They are absolutely gorgeous and always welcome.  The one negative for me going into the new season was the introduction of VAR.  I have always been against the technology.  Football is not a game that stops and starts, so is not suited to lengthy reviews.  I have experienced them as a baseball fan in the US, and never been convinced that they always lead to ‘correct’ decisions.  Also the idea that the spontaneity of goal celebrations may be impacted due to the wait for confirmation really bothers me.  If the lino has his flag down, I am gone.  My first experience of VAR in the Premier League was watching the West Ham vs Man City game in the West Herts and the interruptions were attracting a lot of negative comment and irritating me immensely.

Gathering for a corner

As Trond was away, I had the honour of accompanying Don to the ground.  As we reached the disabled entrance, the young steward who, to be fair to her, had never seen me before asked if I was into football.  “Well, I’m a season ticket holder and have been coming here for 40 years, so ….”  She looked suitably embarrassed.  Entering through the opposite end of the Rookery to normal, I was able to buy my programme from Doreen Pym.  It was like old times, I must admit that I still miss seeing her in Bill Mainwood’s programme hut.

Team news was that there would not be debuts for either of the new signings with the only change from the Real Sociedad game being the return of Deulofeu in place of Sema.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Feminía, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas; Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu; Gray, Deeney.  Even if we weren’t to see them on the pitch, Welbeck and Sarr were introduced to the crowd before the game and were given a very warm welcome.

Just before the teams took to the field, Z-cars rang out and was greeted with cheers throughout the ground.  At last the club have seen sense.  I wasn’t to know at that point, that it would be the highlight of the afternoon.

Holebas takes a throw in

The game started positively and there was an early chance for the Hornets as Deulofeu showed some quick feet to get himself into position and then took a shot from the edge of the area which was well over the crossbar.  The first shot on target fell to the visitors, but Locadia’s effort was straight at Foster.  The Hornets immediately launched a counter attack, Deeney was tackled, the ball fell to Hughes, who was also closed down, the ball fell to Deeney again, he managed to get in a shot, but it was easily saved by Ryan.  There was a great chance for the visitors as Stephens played the ball out to Propper whose shot was only just over the crossbar.  Watford then had a great opportunity as the ball broke to Deulofeu who charged into the box, but was tracked all the way by Duffy and eventually went down under a challenge.  He called for a penalty, but his appeal was waved away.  Brighton took the lead with a bizarre goal.  From the other end of the pitch, it appeared that the initial cross was going out for a goal kick when Holebas headed it back in, it reached Groß whose cross was turned in by Doucouré.  It was a poor goal to concede, but there was plenty of time to recover and Watford tried to break back immediately as Doucouré looked to make amends by finding Hughes in the box, but Will was being challenged and could only shoot wide of the near post.  The visitors looked to increase their lead when a dangerous looking cross came in from Groß, Foster did well to make the catch as Murray challenged.  At the other end Capoue tried a shot from distance, but it was well over the target.  Capoue then played Femenía in, but the shot was deflected for a corner.  The Spaniard had another chance from the set piece as Ryan’s punch dropped to him, but this time his shot cleared the bar.  Watford nearly grabbed an equaliser before half time as a free kick from Holebas appeared to be heading for the goal until Ryan stretched to get a hand to it and keep it out.

Deulofeu and Capoue

It had been a disappointing half of football, but we were only a goal down and I was hopeful that the second half would see a similar turnaround to the previous week.

For half time entertainment, we had the introduction of the dizzy kicks competition.  Bizarrely, it was won by the only bloke who failed to score.  He was given the win due to getting the loudest cheer from the crowd!!  Now, not that I am biased as I know one of the lads who was defeated, but the rules need to be examined as that can’t be right.

Gracia made a substitution at the break bringing a bleached blond Pereyra on for Deulofeu.  I wasn’t sure about the wisdom of this change, replacing like with like, but was happy to see Roberto tracking back and fighting for possession.  The Hornets should have drawn level early in the half as Femenía nipped in while a defender was shepherding the ball out, he dribbled around him on the by-line before pulling the ball back for Gray whose shot was blocked on the line by a combination of Dunk and Ryan.

Deeney waiting for the ball to drop

Watford won a free kick in a dangerous position when Hughes was brought down on the edge of the box.  Pereyra took the free kick, which hit the wall prompting him to shout for a penalty.  I had already moved on when the scoreboard informed us that VAR was checking for the penalty, and then confirmed that it was not a penalty.  It all seemed rather pointless.  If a penalty is awarded, I want to see the referee pointing to the spot and, if not, waving it away, the series of statements on the big screen just irritated me.  Brighton made a double substitution on 64 minutes with Andone and Maupay replacing Locadia and Murray.  The visitors got a second goal almost immediately as Holebas failed to stop a cross from Groß allowing Andone to score with his first touch of the game.  At this point, the Brighton fans started a chant of “We’re gonna win the league.”  Watford tried to reduce the deficit with a deep cross that was met by the head of Dawson, but Ryan was equal to it.  Gracia made another substitution as Success replaced Gray, again this seemed like an odd change as the problem was not the finishing but the creation of chances.  Sure enough, it was the visitors who got a third as a through ball was played to Maupay who rounded Foster to score on his debut.  At this point there were loud boos from the Watford fans and the ground started to empty.  Success was almost gifted a chance to get one back through a terrible back pass from Dunk, but Ryan was first to the ball.  There was one last chance to spare our blushes as Pereyra was tripped on the edge of the box and Dunk received the first booking of the game.  Pereyra’s free kick rebounded off the wall, the follow-up reached Dawson but, again, the shot was blocked on the line.  When 4 minutes of added time was announced, there were loud boos from the Watford fans.  The only action during added time was the appearance of Bernardo in place of March for the visitors.

Pereyra and Capoue prepare for a free kick

The final whistle went to boos from the Watford faithful and, while the Brighton players spent some time celebrating with their fans, the Watford players disappeared pretty quickly.  But, fair play to Deeney, he did his usual lap of the pitch to applaud the fans in each stand and, despite the anger and disappointment in the crowd, he was warmly applauded for it.

The crowd back at the West Herts were subdued.  It had been a very disappointing performance with nothing to redeem it.  Hughton-era Brighton were difficult to play against as they defended resolutely, and that hasn’t changed under the new manager.  They gave the Watford players no space in which to play and this team has always struggled against teams who close them down.  The midfield was smothered and any promising passages of play finished with passes going astray.  But Potter has added some attacking prowess, so Brighton look to be a much better team than they were last season and we were all taken a little by surprise.  The main disappointment, though, was the fact that we have so much talent in the team but were given a completely lacklustre performance.  I was also disappointed in the substitutions.  Given how the midfield was struggling, it seemed pointless to replace Deulofeu with Pereyra, I thought that Cleverley would have been a better bet as he could offer something different.  Also, given that Gray has been on fire in pre-season, it seemed unlikely that Success would be a better bet up front.  Anyway, with a visit to Everton next week (we never win there), I am trying to convince myself that we can’t possibly be that bad two weeks in a row.  But, if we are, at least Everton is a cracking day out.

 

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!!

A Frustrating Sunday Afternoon at the Bridge

Foster about to take a free kick

This is one of the easiest of away trips for me and, for once, the bizarre weekend schedules of South Western Railway did not cause me any problems.  They had even cleared the tree that had meant a trip from Clapham Junction to Windsor on Saturday evening required a detour via Paddington.  So, after a pleasant train journey to Putney and a walk through some dodgy looking areas of Fulham, I found myself in Parsons Green to meet friends for Sunday lunch.  Lots of talk of what we had been up to since we last met.  Mike and I had seen Maggie Smith in “A German Life”, which was superb.  Graham had been to the Don McCullin exhibition and was still a bit shell shocked from it.  I had missed City Orns to see The Unthanks, so was updated on the gathering that I had missed while enjoying an evening of Northumbrian folk music.  Our peace was briefly shattered when the Norfolk/East Anglian Horns turned up to say “Hello”.  Glenn told us that, as it was the last away game of the season, he had started his trip with champagne and strawberries.  Our friends from Norfolk know how to travel in style.  A Chelsea fan appeared and wished us luck in the Cup Final.  The Sunday roasts were absolutely delicious, and we were enjoying our lunch so much that we almost forgot that there was a match to go to.  Almost …

The welcome return of Deeney

We left plenty of time for our walk to Stamford Bridge and to negotiate our way past the multiple phalanxes of security guards.  There was a surprise in store as we were greeted by a voice announcing, “FA Cup Finalists to the left.”  I was still smiling when I heard another directing us on “The road to Wembley.”  A rather lovely and unexpected welcome which meant that my opinion of Chelsea went up massively.

Team news was that Gracia had made two changes with the welcome return of Deeney in place of Gray and a rare start for Chalobah deputising for the injured Capoue.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Mariappa, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Chalobah, Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu, Deeney.  The choice of Chalobah over Cleverley, who was on the bench, was an interesting one.  Our hope was that Nate’s return to Chelsea would give him an extra incentive to impress.  It was pleasing to see that he was given a warm welcome back by the Chelsea fans.

As we took our seats, Alice produced her flag.  Designed by the 1881, in an homage to our previous cup final, it bore the legend “Hot cross Barnes Holebas.”  Just wonderful.

Mariappa on the ball

The game kicked off and there was a great early chance for the Hornets as Deulofeu turned and hit a shot that was just wide of the target.  Watford should have taken the lead on 8 minutes when, from a short corner, Holebas crossed for Deeney whose header was heading for the top corner until Kepa somehow got a hand to it and kept it out, the ball dropped to Hughes whose shot was well over the bar.  Sarri was forced into an early change as Kanté picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Loftus-Cheek.  Chelsea had their first shot in the 14th minute, a chip from Jorginho that was blocked by Foster.  The home side threatened again as Higuaín broke into the box but was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Mariappa.  Watford created another decent chance as Hughes laid the ball off to Deulofeu, but the shot was wide of the target.  The next chance for the Hornets came as a lovely passing move finished with Holebas shooting over the bar.  Chelsea had a half chance as the ball was dinked to Hazard in the box, Foster appeared to hesitate, but recovered and was able to gather the ball.  Then Pereyra and Deeney combined to get the ball to Doucouré in shooting position, but his shot flew wide of the target.  There was a shout for a penalty as Femenía tussled with Luiz in the box.  From our angle, it looked as though the Chelsea man was playing for the foul, the referee was equally unimpressed and waved play on.  Another chance for the home side came as Hazard took the ball off Doucouré before playing in Pedro, whose shot curled over the target.  There was some frustration in the away end as the ball was passed from Doucouré to Deeney to Pereyra, all of whom could have taken a shot, but none did, and the chance was gone.    At the other end, Pedro played a one-two with Higuaín before taking a shot that was just wide of the target.  Another opportunity went begging after some good work from Pereyra who slipped in the build-up, but recovered to put in a decent cross, sadly there was no Watford player on hand to take advantage.  The half time whistle went to boos from the Chelsea fans and cheers from the travelling Hornets who had seen their team completely dominate the half, playing some exquisite football, but failing to make the most of their chances.  When have we heard that before this season?

Great to see Chalobah back in the team

All our good work was undone in the first five minutes of the second half.  Hazard tried a shot from an acute angle that Foster pushed around the post for a corner.  From the corner Hazard crossed and Loftus-Cheek beat Chalobah to open the scoring.  Two minutes later, the home side were two up as, from another corner, Luiz came around the blind side of Mariappa and headed home.  It was the Manchester City away game all over again.  The Hornets tried to hit back as Deeney found Deulofeu just outside the box, he took his time to pick his shot before firing just wide of the far post.  Pereyra played a lovely through ball to Deulofeu whose shot was weak and easily dealt with by Kepa.  We then had the interesting sight of a fired-up Holebas (what other kind is there), tackling Pereyra before snapping into a set of challenges.  Even when we are losing, angry José can make me smile.  Chelsea had a decent chance to score a third as Hazard found Pedro in the box, thankfully the shot was saved by Foster and Loftus-Cheek put the follow-up wide.  The Hornets had a chance to pull one back as Mariappa crossed for Doucouré, who couldn’t get above the ball, so it came off the top of his head and flew over the bar.  At the other end, the home side had a great chance to increase their lead as a shot from Higuaín was kept out by a brilliant save from Foster.  Then Chalobah played a lovely ball for Deulofeu who hit a decent cross towards Deeney, but Alonso put the ball out for a corner.

Holebas and Pereyra prepare for a free kick

Gracia made his first substitution replacing Chalobah with Cleverley.  It had been an interesting choice before the game, but Nate had justified his selection putting in the best performance that I have seen from him since he came back from injury.  Watford had another chance to reduce the deficit when Deulofeu found Hughes in prime position, but the shot was appalling.  A number around us were berating him for passing instead of shooting.  It looked like a shot to me, but it was that poor that it was mistaken for a pass.  Any hopes the Hornets had of a comeback were dashed when Pedro played the ball to Higuaín, Foster came out to meet him, but the Argentine chipped the keeper and found the net.  But Watford were still fighting and Deeney should have done better when the ball fell to him, but he belted his shot over the bar.  There was a much better chance soon after when Holebas nicked the ball and rounded Luiz, but his shot rebounded agonisingly off the crossbar.  Each side made late substitutions.  Giroud replaced Higuaín for the home side, while Deeney and Deulofeu made way for Gray and Success.  Troy looked furious when he saw the board go up indicating that his afternoon was over.  Watford finally had the ball in the net, and it was typical of our day.  A free kick from Pereyra appeared to have been cleared off the line by Holebas, Success got his head on it, but it bounced off Gray on the way in and was flagged offside due to Gray’s inadvertent touch.  Chelsea should have scored a fourth as Hazard crossed for Giroud who scuffed his shot and cleared the bar.

Pereyra takes a free kick

Watford had a half chance as Hughes crossed for Success, but the header was an easy catch for Kepa.  The last substitution for Chelsea saw Cahill come on for Luiz, he was handed the captain’s armband and got the biggest cheer of the afternoon.  Femenía went on a decent run, but his cross was turned around for a corner.  The first card of the game came in time added on as Doucouré was cautioned for a pull on Hazard.  Foster was in action twice in added time, first to divert a shot from Hazard into the side netting, then to gather a low shot from Giroud.  The last chance of the game fell to the Hornets, but the shot from Success was poor and easily saved by Kepa.

We headed back to Parsons Green to drown our sorrows.  As we arrived at the pub, we saw the Chelsea fan who had wished us luck at Wembley before the game.  His verdict, “We robbed you.”  He wasn’t wrong.  The scoreline indicated that we had been well beaten, the pattern of the game nothing of the kind.  But this has been the case in a number of our games against the top six this season.  Similar to the matches against Arsenal and Manchester United, we dominated large parts of the game, but could not turn that domination into goals and were let down by defensive mistakes.  In the first half in particular, the passing was incredibly slick, and we played some gorgeous football but our finishing let us down.  It was great to see Troy back.  He looked hungry and desperate to make up for lost time and we saw the leadership that we had been missing.  As frustrating as the afternoon had been, the conversation soon took a positive turn as we reflected how far this team has come.  In contrast to when we were first promoted, I now travel to most games feeling that we have a team good enough to get something from the game.  It is very rare that we leave a ground with that humiliating feeling of having been taught a lesson by a much better team.  That is something to be relished and when we look back on this season, it will be with pride and happiness and a sense that we have progressed.

 

The Battle for Seventh Place

Gathering for a corner

It has been a very stressful week.  Work has been full on, with a number of important deadlines meaning that I was working long hours.  But this game had taken on enormous importance, as it would surely be key in our fight with Wolves for seventh place, so it was never far from my thoughts.  The importance was brought home when I woke with a jolt at 5am on Saturday, knowing that I had to be somewhere and stressing about how I would get there.  When I was awake enough to realise that kick-off was at 3pm, so I had plenty of time, I calmed down a bit.

For once, I timed my journey perfectly.  After having a quick chat with Mick, our Police liaison officer, at the Junction (he was confident of a win, I wasn’t), I arrived at the West Herts just after it opened.  Our party was a little depleted due to commitments elsewhere, but there was still a good turnout at ‘our’ table.  Glenn appeared with his sweets as usual but, as it was a Saturday, there was the extra treat of the delicious pork scratchings that he gets from his butcher which I had as dessert after a portion of jerk chicken.  I left for the ground a little earlier than usual to pick up my tickets for the FA Cup Final.  It was so good to have them in my hands at last.

Doucoure on the ball

Team news was three changes from Tuesday with Gracia again alternating his defensive options with Femenía and Mariappa in for Janmaat and Kabasele, we also had the welcome return of Holebas taking the place of Masina.  Adam was terrific in the game against Southampton, but Jose would always be in my first XI.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Mariappa, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucoure, Hughes; Deulofeu, Gray.  I must say that I felt very reassured by the team selection.

The teams ran out to “I’m Still Standing” and I was left cold again.  It is not growing on me, but at least you can hear it, unlike the Superman theme.

The game kicked off and some of our fans decided that this was a good time to goad Wolves after our cup semi-final win.  I always think that pride comes before a fall, so the chants worried me greatly.  There was a cagey start to the game, the first chance for either side came on 12 minutes when Deulofeu won a corner.  The delivery from Holebas was deep and headed back by Capoue to Doucouré whose shot was blocked, the ball fell to Pereyra whose shot was also blocked.  I must admit that, with the early disasters in the previous two home games, I was very happy when we got to 15 minutes on the clock without a catastrophic event.

Geri looking baffled at Jose’s secret instructions

The first shot on target didn’t come until the 21st minute when Neves tried a shot from distance, Foster was equal to it.  The Hornets had a great chance to take the lead when Pereyra played a lovely ball to Deulofeu, but Geri slipped as he was about to take the shot and the chance was gone.  Hughes did brilliantly to control a dropping ball, he found Deulofeu, but the shot was turned around a post for a corner, which Deulofeu played short to Holebas whose shot was terrible and flew well wide of the target.  From my position in the Rookery, I thought that Wolves had taken the lead when a shot from Jiménez was cleared off the line by Capoue.  I can’t have been the only one holding my breath waiting for the referee to indicate that the ball had actually crossed the line before it was cleared, but that indication didn’t come, and the game remained goalless.  A lovely forward passing move involving Pereyra and Hughes finished with the ball with Deulofeu whose shot was blocked.  Watford should have opened the scoring from the resultant corner which Holebas delivered deep to Pereyra, he crossed for Mariappa who headed back to Hughes, who had the goal at his mercy, but directed his header over the target.  The opening goal came late in the half.  From our vantage point, it appeared that the ball had gone out for a throw-in.  The linesman on that side, must have seen the ball rolling past him, but felt the need to consult with the referee before giving a corner.  The Hornets failed to clear from the corner allowing Jota to cross for Jiménez to head home and then celebrate by showing us the name on the back of his shirt, while our hearts sank.  In retrospect I wonder if he lost the mask at Wembley.  Watford should have hit back almost immediately as Hughes found Gray in the box, but he shot over the bar when it looked easier to score.  In mitigation, Andre claimed that he had been fouled, but the referee was having none of it.  Just on half time, Deulofeu played a neat one-two with Pereyra, but his shot was blocked.

Celebrating Gray’s equaliser

So we went into the break a goal down after a very even half of football that had been short on chances.  In contrast to Tuesday, the half time entertainment was restricted to the schools’ penalty shoot-out.  This was much more like it.

The second half started brilliantly for the Hornets as a mistake in the Wolves defence allowed the ball to break to Deulofeu, he tried to beat Patricio but the ball broke to Gray who found the net and sent the Watford fans wild.  After we had finished celebrating, we then had the entertainment of watching other fans coming back after getting their half time refreshments.  Their faces were a picture.  Wolves had a half chance to regain the lead as Doherty crossed for Jota but the shot was well over the target.  Deulofeu then played a lovely ball to Gray, but Boly muscled him off the ball and came away with it.  Pereyra released Deulofeu who tried to chip the keeper, but Patricio made the catch.  The first booking of the game went to Moutinho for barging Hughes over.  Not wanting to be left out, Holebas then fouled Jota to get a yellow card of his own.  Watford had a decent chance to take the lead as Doucouré headed the ball down to Pereyra, but the shot was wide of the near post.

Perayra prepares to take a corner

There were shouts for a penalty as a shot from Hughes appeared to be handled, but the referee wasn’t interested.  That was Will’s last involvement in the game as he was replaced with Kabasele.  Hughes had been terrific, absolutely everywhere, and deserved the ovation that he was given when he left the pitch.  But the change in formation did not favour the Hornets and the next chance fell to Moutinho who tried a shot from distance that was deflected over the bar.  The winning goal for the visitors seemed to come out of nothing.  A long cross-field ball from Neves found Jota who finished past Foster.  From the other end of the ground, it just looked unfortunate, but reports from those at the Vicarage Road end indicated that Foster should have done better with the cross.  Others blamed Storm Hannah.  Gracia was forced into a substitution bringing Success (!) on for Cathcart who had been limping for a while.  I love Javi, but his substitutions on Saturday were interesting to say the least.  Jota was booked for time wasting after kicking the ball away when Watford were awarded a free kick.  It was amusing to see him trying to claim that he had been passing the ball back to Foster.  The visitors made a late substitution bringing Cavaleiro on for Jiménez, who ambled off the pitch.  There were shouts for a penalty from the Wolves fans as Kabasele brought Jota down in the box.  It looked like a superb tackle from where we were and the referee agreed.  There was a late booking for Capoue who then got involved in a spot of handbags.  Nuno brought Gibbs-White on for Jota to waste a little more time. The final whistle went soon after, ensuring that Wolves left Hertfordshire with the three points and in pole position to finish in seventh place.

Capoue leaving Mapps to do the work at a corner 😉

Unlike on Tuesday, it was hard to be angry at the end of this game.  The word that I heard repeatedly was “disappointing”.  It had been a very even contest between two well matched teams and the best team on the day won the game.  Again, we missed Deeney’s leadership.  That harsh sending off has probably prevented us finishing as the best of the rest.  However, we can only hope that the rest has done him good and he comes back to spearhead a barnstorming end to the season that finishes with him lifting the FA Cup.

After the game, my sister, Rose, insisted on going into the Hornet shop, having seen our Cate’s purchase of the cup final shirt placing GT in 1984 alongside Javi in 2019.  We both emerged with the same t-shirt, probably the first time the three of us will have an identical item of clothing since our lovely Mum used to make our dresses in the 70s.

I know that the most important game is the next one, but now that seventh place looks impossible, all focus is on the Cup Final, which has to be the better way to qualify for Europe.  Oh dear, there go those nerves again.