Tag Archives: Isaac Success

Another Early Exit from the League Cup

Will Hughes on his debut

After the cracking performances in the first two games of the season, it was a happy band who met at the West Herts prior to this match.  Those who had been at Bournemouth were assuring those who hadn’t that the game had been as much fun as it sounded on the radio and in reports.  We also took time to teach them the new chant for Doucouré.

Team news was that Silva had made six changes from the Bournemouth game, giving Deeney and Hughes their first starts of the season.  Despite the changes, it was a very strong team with a starting XI of Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Kabasele, Holebas; Watson, Capoue; Amrabat, Hughes, Richarlison; Deeney.

As we approached the ground, there were long queues for the ticket office and many of the seats around us were empty at kick-off, although they soon filled up with unfamiliar, but eager, faces.

The game kicked off and the style of football transported us back to last season.  The first time that I felt inspired to make a note of the action was in the 26th minute when Deeney directed a header just wide of the target.  Deeney also had the next chance as he latched onto a ball into the box, but Flint made a saving tackle to prevent the shot.  The first goal chance for the visitors came following a corner but O’Dowda’s shot was straight at Gomes.  The Hornets had a half chance to open the scoring just before the break as Richarlison turned and shot from outside the area, but his effort was well over the bar.

Capoue celebrates his goal

The half time guest was Keith Millen who revealed that, even though he worked at Palace at the time, he thought that Harry Hornet’s dive in front of Zaha was very funny.

Silva made a substitution at the start of the second half bringing Success on for Amrabat.  The home side took the lead in the second minute of the half, before a large proportion of the crowd had returned from their visits to the concession stands.  Hughes played a one-two with Success before finding Capoue on the left from where he fired past Fielding in the City goal.  I relaxed at this point thinking that we would go on and win the game.  Honestly, what was I thinking?  I have been to enough of these games not to be so complacent.  The next action of note was Holebas receiving his first yellow card of the season for a foul on Eliasson.  On a more positive note, Capoue whipped in a lovely cross, but Deeney was unable to connect and the ball found its way to Success whose shot was straight at the keeper.  At the other end, a corner from Eliasson was met by the head of Flint, but the effort was blocked for a corner.

Richarlison in the box

Watford looked to increase the lead with a low cross from Success into the box, but Deeney was unable to connect.  On the hour mark, City equalized, as Hinds went on a run and hit a lovely shot from distance that found the bottom corner at the near post.  It was a chance out of nothing, but it was very well taken.  Watford’s first attempt to strike back came from Capoue who tried a shot from just outside the centre circle that was just wide of the target.  But, somehow, Watford managed to turn attack into defence again, as City launched another counter-attack, the cross from Kelly flew past a number of Watford defenders before reaching Reid who tucked it past Gomes to put the visitors into the lead.  Watford attempted to strike back as Richarlison met a cross from Success, but his header back came off the outside of the post.  Silva increased his striking options, bringing Gray on for Hughes.  City had a chance to increase their lead, but the shot from O’Dowda was straight at Gomes.  There was then a lovely passage of play from the Hornets as Gray exchanged passes with Deeney before trying a shot that was tipped wide by Fielding.  Silva made another change bringing Cleverley on for Capoue.  Watford continued to go for the equalizer as Richarlison met a cross from Success with a header that flew high and wide.  But things went from bad to worse for the Hornets in the final minutes as Holebas was shown a second yellow for a foul to stop a breakaway after an air kick caused him to lose possession.

Holebas and Watson line up a free kick

The visitors had a decent chance of a third in the final minute of normal time, but Gomes pulled off a lovely save to stop O’Dowda.  Sadly, the visitors weren’t to be denied as Eliasson received the ball in space and beat Gomes to put the tie out of Watford’s reach.   There was time to pull a goal back in the last minute of time added on as Mariappa headed home, but it was City who went into the early morning draw in Beijing on Thursday.

The players trudged off the pitch at the end, with only Deeney and Gomes making much of an effort to acknowledge the crowd.  Tim Coombs went for the ironic approach as we left the ground to “That’s Entertainment” playing over the tannoy.  On the way back up Occupation Road, I spotted Olly Wicken being interviewed for From The Rookery End.  Tonight’s was a game that definitely won’t be featured in Hornet Heaven.

Nobody had the stomach for a post-match review, so I was alone with my thoughts.  It was a strangely lack lustre performance which lacked the energy demonstrated in our league games this season.  Maybe worse than the result was losing Holebas for the next game after two silly tackles, a real blow as we lack cover in that position.  These terrible League Cup defeats have been a regular occurrence in recent seasons, which is a great shame as it is an opportunity to entertain and impress some fans (like the young boy in the row in front of us) who do not attend games regularly.  Still, if we beat Brighton on Saturday it will be forgotten until next August when, no doubt, we will all subject ourselves to the punishment again.

Thank-you, GT

Banner for the great man

I have to admit that I was furious when this game was changed from Vicarage Road to Villa Park.  I had booked my holiday after the announcement of the Graham Taylor tribute game, so to find that I would now be unable to attend was a bitter pill to swallow.  But an opportunity to go to Villa Park, a ground that I love, was not to be missed.  On the train to Birmingham, my podcast of choice was Colin Murray at home with Luther Blissett.  It is a great listen.  My annoyance at Murray’s lack of research when asking Luther about the first time he played at Old Trafford was tempered by his gleeful reaction when Luther told the story of what happened on that occasion.  Needless to say, they finished up talking about GT and both with great fondness. Since GT’s passing, Luther takes every opportunity to pay tribute to his friend.  Marking anniversaries of triumphs and just saying thank-you for the memories.  It has been lovely to see and is a mark of the great characters of both GT and Luther.

Our pre-match pub is lovely and it was great to have my sister, brother-in-law and niece joining a very reduced travelling party.  A gin festival was taking place which, added to the real ale and lovely food usually on offer, meant that everyone was happy after lunch.  As we waited at the bus stop to go to Villa Park, we struck up a conversation with a lovely couple.  It was a mixed marriage, she was a Villa fan, he was a blue-nose.  We talked about our mutual admiration for GT.  She told us about the tribute they had at Villa Park.  A wreath was laid on the pitch and Rita, Joanne and Karen were there.  As we parted company she wistfully commented, “I wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t taken the England job.”  That gave me pause for thought.  I wonder if he would have stayed at Villa and maybe moved on to a bigger club.  In that case, we wouldn’t have had that wonderful second spell.  But he didn’t and we were all there to celebrate the wonderful memories that he left us with.

Chalobah on the ball

The crucial piece of team news was that Pereyra would be making his first public appearance this pre-season after featuring against Rangers at London Colney earlier in the week.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kabasele, Kaboul, Mason; Cleverley, Doucouré, Chalobah; Amrabat, Sinclair, Pereyra.  Villa included former Watford loanees, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Henry Lansbury in their starting XI.

As soon as the teams emerged from the tunnel, they lined up and there was a minute’s applause for GT with both sets of fans singing “There’s only one Graham Taylor” at the tops of their voices.  It was very moving.

Villa had a very early chance as Agbonlahor broke free to challenge Gomes, but it was the Watford keeper who came out on top.  Watford had to make an early substitution.  I must admit that I was rather disappointed to hear Pereyra’s name announced as the player leaving the pitch.  He looked baffled himself and, to my shame, I was relieved when it turned out that it was Kabasele going off.  In my defence, he was being replaced by Prödl!

Waiting for a ball into the box

Sinclair should have opened the scoring after quarter of an hour.  Doucouré found Pereyra who played a through ball for Sinclair who only had the keeper to beat, but fired wide.  On the half hour, here was a stir in the away end as Deeney appeared pitch-side and, after some negotiation with the stewards, made his way into the stand to sit with the Watford fans.  Needless to say, it took him some time to get to his seat.  Watford had another chance as Chalobah got into a great shooting position, but he fired over.  We reached half time goalless.  It had been a pretty dull half of football.  The home side had the majority of the possession, but neither keeper had been tested.

At the restart, Pereyra made way for Success.  The Nigerian made an immediate contribution, crossing to Cleverley, who played the ball back to Chalobah who, again, fired over the bar.  Then Cleverley took a free kick from a dangerous position, but it was directed straight at the Villa keeper, Steer.  Disaster struck as Kaboul tripped Hutton in the box and the referee pointed to the penalty spot.  In the away end, we were singing the name of Heurelho Gomes with all our might and our man celebrated his new contract by guessing correctly and diving to his left to save Henry Lansbury’s spot kick.  We were located in the away section closest to the home stand.  When the penalty was awarded, they took the opportunity to taunt us.  So, when the penalty was saved, I was a little taken aback (and rather proud) when my usually mild-mannered niece, after celebrating the save, gave them some grief back.

My first look at Femenia

On the hour mark, Silva made five changes with Gomes, Kaboul, Cleverley, Doucouré and Amrabat making way for Pantilimon, Femenía, Watson, Hughes and Okaka.  There was a lovely move as Success released Femenía who advanced down the right wing before delivering the return ball for Success to try a shot from distance that flew wide of the near post.  The game had livened up since the substitutions and there was another nice move as Femenía crossed for Success, whose side footed shot was blocked and rebounded to Hughes who, unfortunately, was unable to follow-up.  Another chance fell to Success but, on this occasion, the shot was weak.  Just before the 72nd minute struck, the Villa fans started the applause, the travelling Hornets joined in and the chorus of “One Graham Taylor” rang out again in earnest.  The next decent chance fell to Villa as a cross reached Amavi in front of goal, but he slashed the ball wide of the near post.  Sinclair had a golden chance to open the scoring as he ran on to a ball over the defence from Success, but the keeper arrived first.  The final chance fell to the home side as Hourihane hit a shot from the edge of the area, but Pantilimon was equal to it and the game ended with honours even.

The shame of buying a half and half scarf

It had been a typical pre-season game with nobody taking any chances.  From a Watford perspective, the second half had been livelier than the first.  It was good to see Pereyra back.  The first impression of Femenía was very positive and there was some nice interplay between him and Hughes.  If Sinclair had been sharper in front of goal, we would all have gone home happy.  But this game was not about the result, it was about 10,900 people gathering to pay tribute to Graham Taylor.  The legacy that the man has left will never leave Watford and Villa also have reason to thank him hugely for rescuing them from the doldrums.  On the way out of the ground, I spotted some people with half and half scarves.  I usually sneer at these, but this scarf had a picture of GT sewn into it, so I had to have one.

On the train home, I opened the match programme.  I had to close it again pretty quickly as the sight of a middle-aged woman sobbing on the train would not have been a pretty one.  Typical of the man, among the tributes from former players were those from the kit man, the club secretary and the programme writer.  There was one word that featured in the majority of tributes, it was ‘gentleman’.  There was also a lovely piece written by his daughter, Joanne.  A fitting tribute to a wonderful man.

It was Graham Taylor who introduced me to Watford.  In the years that have passed, I have laughed and cried over football.  I have made many wonderful friends and spent time bonding with family over a shared passion.  But, behind it all, there was the man with the big smile, who always had time for you whoever you were.  The huge amount of love that his many fans feel for Graham is a mark of the warmth and kindness of the man.  He will be greatly missed for a long time to come.  The only thing I can say is “Thank-you, GT.”

 

Wimbledon Prevail at Kingsmeadow

Neal Ardley and Marco Silva make their way to the dugouts

In contrast to the warmth and bright sunshine that we enjoyed during the Woking game, I arrived in Kingston to cool temperatures and drizzle for the short walk to Kingsmeadow.  A number of the City ‘Orns had been put off meeting at the ground due to the advertised beer festival for which the tickets were advertised at £17.  In fact, all of the bars at the ground were open and, if you wanted the odd drink at the beer festival, there were tokens available, so I was able to avail myself of a lovely pint (or two) of Rosie’s Pig.  I had forgotten about the German theme of our last visit and, in particular, the oompah band, until the men (and one woman) in lederhosen appeared and struck up.  To be fair, there wasn’t a lot of oompah going on and I enjoyed the entertainment.  The German theme continued with the offerings at the burger van.  Miles Jacobson (fresh from a trip to Japan, the sole purpose of which seemed to be to import sake kit-kats) recommended the krakuer, a wurst infused with cheese, which is as good and as bad as it sounds.

Preliminary team news had focussed on the players who were out through injury and the fact that we were unlikely to see many of the new signings.  Sure enough, the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Watson, Doucouré; Success, Capoue, Berghuis; Okaka.

We took up a position on the terraces quite close to the dugouts.  When Marco Silva appeared, he was given a very enthusiastic reception from the Watford fans.  It was gratifying to see that Neal Ardley was greeted in an equally warm manner.

Proedl on the ball

Watford had an early chance as Doucouré went on a run before finding Capoue whose chip cleared the crossbar.  Then there was an early display of petulance from Holebas as he failed to keep a ball in play.  It was oddly endearing and indicated that we were back.  Jose was then serenaded with Colin and Flo’s song “He always wins the ball, he never smiles at all.”  I’m sure he loved that.  Especially when it was followed by “Jose, give us a smile.”  Back to the football, Wimbledon were on the attack, but Barcham’s shot cleared the crossbar.  The home side very nearly made the breakthrough as, from a Francomb corner, a glancing header from Taylor rebounded off the post.  Down the other end a cross reached Doucouré at an awkward angle so he could only head it away from goal.  There was a better opportunity as a Holebas free kick was cleared to Capoue who lashed it wide. Then Britos met a Watson corner with a decent header that was blocked by the Dons keeper, Long.  Watford should have opened the scoring from a lovely free kick by Holebas, but Long pushed it clear, so we reached half time goalless.

Watford made three substitutions at the break with Janmaat, Britos and Success making way for Dja Djédjé, Kabasele and Amrabat.

Challenging at a corner

Those who were late leaving the bar after half time (no names mentioned) returned completely oblivious to the fact that Wimbledon had scored two goals in the first five minutes of the half.  The first came as a cross from Taylor was turned in by McDonald.  The second came after a mistake in midfield allowed Barcham to escape and cross for McDonald to score his second.  Watford hit back as Holebas crossed for the ever reliable Watson, who beat the Dons keeper.  Watford then had a great chance for an equalizer as Berghuis played the ball back to Capoue who shot just wide of the target.  On the hour, Silva substituted the goalkeeper as Gomes made way for Bachmann.  The goal action continued at the Wimbledon end as a close range shot from Amrabat was blocked, it fell to Okaka who, under a challenge, was unable to bundle it in.  Then Amrabat played a through ball to Dja Djédjé who crossed for Watson whose shot was blocked, as was the follow-up from Capoue who immediately appealed for handball, but the referee was having none of it.  There was a great chance for an equalizer as a throw from Holebas was headed on by Okaka to Berghuis but the header was just wide of the target.  The Dutchman was not to be denied, though and, with 13 minutes remaining, he met a cross from Dja Djédjé with a pin-point header to level the score.

Daniel Bachmann

Capoue should have put the visitors in the lead as Amrabat found Dja Djédjé on the overlap again, he crossed for Capoue who appeared to kick the ground so failed to test the keeper.  Wimbledon then tried a shot from an angle, but Bachmann was able to push it over the bar.  Watford had a golden chance as Doucouré found Capoue with a lovely pass but, with the goal at his mercy, the Frenchman hit his shot straight at the keeper.  Soon after, Etienne made way for Folivi.  The home side had a great chance to snatch the winner as Appiah found himself one on one with Bachmann, but the keeper prevailed  Sadly, the home side were not to be denied, Watford failed to clear a cross, Antwi’s shot was blocked only for the ball to fall to Egan who hit a low shot past Bachmann to secure the victory.  There was only time for 16 year-old Lewis Gordon to replace Berghuis for the Hornets before the final whistle went.  I heard some boos in the away stand …. at the end of our first pre-season game.  As so often, I ask myself, who are these people?

Okaka and Doucoure after the goal from Berghuis

The post match conclusion was that it had been an entertaining game that had raised a number of questions.  Ben Watson didn’t put a foot wrong but, with the influx of midfielders, would he be on his way or is there still a place for his presence as a defensive midfielder.  The hope from our party was that there is.  Capoue was his usual mixture of brilliance and frustration, if only the former can outweigh the latter, we will all be happy.  But the main topics of discussion were the full backs and the strikers.  We have made a number of impressive signings in this transfer window, but we still need bolstering in those departments.  The discussion of possible strikers to bring in seemed rather hopeful and I dreamed of a young Blissett lurking in the wings.  No doubt the Pozzos will bring in somebody that I have never heard of and let us hope that it is someone who can make a sustained contribution.

I’m unable to make the trip to Austria for the games there, so my next opportunity to see the Hornets will be the trip to Villa.  It will be very interesting to see what changes have been made to the line-up by then.

Beaten by a Worldy

Capoue and Cleverley line up a free kick

At the end of a busy bank holiday weekend, it felt rather odd to be going to a game on the Monday evening.  You certainly had to feel sorry for the Liverpool fans who would get home in the early hours with work beckoning in the morning.  I don’t live far from Watford, but even I booked a hotel room for the convenience.  Imagine my surprise when the receptionist asked whether I was here for the football and who I was supporting.  I thought I would be fine when I assured her that I was a Watford fan.  Instead I was told, in no uncertain terms, that if I was a proper Watford fan I would live locally rather than being ‘posh in Windsor’.  I found myself begging forgiveness on the basis that I had moved west for work.

As always when the schedule is messed with, I had no clue what time to arrive at the West Herts.  For once I judged it right.  The food menu for the evening had a Caribbean influence.  I briefly considered the goat curry, but couldn’t resist the jerk chicken.  Although I should have asked for the rice and peas instead of the chips that accompanied the chicken.  It certainly made a welcome change from the usual bacon/sausage in a roll.

Deeney and Niang tracking the flight of the ball

After the results at the weekend, the only team currently in the relegation zone who can still catch us are Swansea.  They would have to win all of their remaining games, which sounds like a tall order but, before the match, I heard more than one person predict that they would overtake us in the table.  I am starting to think that I am becoming very complacent.

Team news was just the one change from Hull with Mariappa replacing the injured Holebas.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Britos; Janmaat, Cleverley, Doucouré, Capoue, Amrabat; Deeney and Niang.

The first chance of the game came in the fifth minute as, following a rapid passing move, Niang found space for a shot but fired it straight at Mignolet.  Klopp was forced into making an early substitution as Coutinho, who had been injured in an earlier challenge with Mariappa, was replaced by Lallana.  Watford threatened again as a lovely move finished with a shot from Deeney that was blocked.  Mazzarri was also forced into an early change as Britos went down injured before limping off to be replaced by Kabasele.

Cleverley taking a corner

The first chance for the visitors came after 20 minutes as a shot from distance by Can was met with a one-handed save from Gomes.  The next Liverpool attack came to nothing as Origi reached the by-line before cutting the ball back into the arms of Gomes.  There were hopeful shouts for a penalty from the Vicarage Road faithful when Deeney was knocked over in the box but he quickly got up and nothing was given.  The referee had been rather flaky, with many decisions appearing to be given according to the volume of protest in the crowd rather than any severity of the offence, so he incurred the wrath of the Rookery when a corner, that appeared to be awarded as an afterthought, nearly led to the visitors taking the lead as Gomes punched the clearance only as far as Lallana whose shot hit the crossbar.  There was hilarity mixed with anger as Lucas went down on the edge of the box with the most obvious of dives and was booked for his trouble.  In time added on at the end of what had been a very dull half, Lucas chipped the ball to Can who hit a superb overhead kick to open the scoring.  Apparently it is the best goal he has ever scored, with pundits declaring it one of the goals of the season.  It was totally out of place in this game.

Ross Jenkins and his grandson

The half time interviews on the pitch couldn’t have been more different.  First lovely Rene Gilmartin appeared with his wife, Emma, talking about the Ross Nugent foundation http://rossnugentfoundation.ie/ which was set up in memory of Emma’s brother, who died at the tragically young age of 18, with the aim of helping cancer sufferers and their families at the hospital where he was treated.

The next to make an appearance was Ross Jenkins.  When asked what it was like to step on to the grass of the Vicarage Road pitch again his response was, “I don’t remember the grass being this good.”  He also said how poor he had been when he first broke into the Watford team but hoped that he had done all right in the end.  I think the reaction of the crowd assured him that he had.  He was accompanied by his grandson who had come over from Spain to watch some Premier League football.  Sadly the first half was enough to give the poor child nightmares.

Isaac Success

Buoyed by the goal, Liverpool started the second half really well.  The first chance came from a Milner free kick from the edge of the area which was saved by Gomes.  The Watford keeper was in action again soon after as Origi tried a shot from distance, but Gomes was able to push it round the post for a corner.  The Belgian threatened again, breaking into the box to shoot, but Gomes again made the save.  Watford had been on the back foot for the first 20 minutes of the second half, so it was a relief to see them on the attack.  When Janmaat beat Clyne on the wing, he appeared in two minds about what to do next.  In the end he hit a decent cross, but it was easily gathered by Mignolet.  Watford came close to an equaliser as an Amrabat shot was blocked, the ball fell to Capoue outside the area who hit a lovely dipping shot that Mignolet did well to tip over the bar.  Sadly the referee appreciated neither the shot nor the save as he awarded a goal kick instead of a corner.  This infuriated Capoue, who was booked for his protests.  Amrabat threatened again, this time with a cross that was gathered by Mignolet.  Mazzarri’s second substitution came on 72 minutes with Success replacing Capoue.  Janmaat had a great chance to equalize as he surprised Mignolet with a shot that the Liverpool keeper was just able to keep it out.  There was a rash of late substitutions as Origi and Lallana (who was a sub himself) made way for Sturridge and Klaven for the visitors and Okaka replaced Amrabat for the home side.  In the 90th minute, Liverpool had a great chance to seal the victory when Sturridge shot from the edge of the box but, yet again, Gomes kept it out.  Watford could have won a point in time added on as Prödl volleyed goalwards but his shot cannoned off the crossbar and the visitors left with all three points.

Prodl looking predatory

The post-game reaction was very mixed.  Some had enjoyed the game and were happy enough with a narrow defeat, particularly as the goal was an unstoppable strike. Others, as has often been the case of late, were frustrated with Mazzarri’s defensive tactics arguing that, given Liverpool’s inconsistency, this may well have been our last chance to gain points this season so we should have been trying to win the game.  I think that is doing Liverpool something of a disservice given their lofty position in the table.  My position fell somewhere between the two, certainly an attacking end to the game goes a long way to sending me home happy, but it also makes me wonder why we can’t take that approach earlier in the game.  Having been brought up on GT’s brand of football where the aim was to score more than the opposition, I hate to see teams set up to stifle play.  So, as the season winds down, I can’t help feeling rather sad that, despite having spent most of the season comfortably clear of the relegation zone, a large proportion of our fans are both bored and frustrated.  I wonder whether this would still be the case if Mazzarri’s approach to games was more attacking or is this what mid-table obscurity in the Premier League feels like?

 

A Disappointing Trip to the City of Culture

Phillip Larkin in the City of Culture

I had a very cultural week all in all, with plays by Tom Stoppard, Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare followed by a cracking evening spent with the Saw Doctors.  I just had to hope that my visit to the city of culture finished the week in style.

It all started rather well.  Being an unsociable type, I usually try to find an empty carriage for the journey, but the Hull Trains service was absolutely packed, so I took my assigned seat and found myself opposite a pleasantly chatty guy who kept me entertained.

On arrival in Hull, I headed for the designated pub, which was in the opposite direction from the ground and meant that I walked through some of the older areas of the city centre that I hadn’t visited in the past and, I must say, that it is a lot more attractive than I remember.  The pub was a cracker, a good selection of beers and lovely fresh fish (“skin on or off?”) for lunch.  The company (Happy Valley and West Yorks Horns) was delightful as always.  So we were in very good spirits as we set off for the walk to the ground.

Despite Hull’s precarious league position, the arrival of Marco Silva had heralded an upturn in form and Watford found themselves facing a manager who hadn’t lost a home game in more than 3 years.  Given Watford’s variable performances in recent weeks, it would have been a brave fan who predicted a positive result from this game.

Challenging in the Hull box

Team news was just the one change with Britos returning from suspension in place of Mariappa, who had been terrific since he was drafted into the starting line-up and was rather unlucky to have lost his place.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Janmaat, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Cleverley, Doucouré, Capoue; Amrabat, Deeney and Niang.

There had been speculation in the pub prior to the game about whether there would be a minute’s silence/applause following the tragic death of Ugo Ehiogu.  As he had no direct connection with either Watford or Hull, there was not, but the players were all wearing black armbands.

There was a very nervy start from the home side as a terrible back pass from Maguire looked to be sneaking in to the Hull net when Jakupovich managed to slide in and put the ball out for a corner which, sadly, came to nothing.  Watford’s next corner was marginally more effective as the delivery from Holebas was met by the head of Britos but the ball flew over the bar.  The next half chance went the way of the home side as Clucas tried a shot from distance that cleared the crossbar.

Prodl on the ball

During the next ten minutes of the game, the only things even remotely worthy of note were the chants from the away end.  I rather enjoyed “We’re only here for the culture.”  A later chant of “It’s just like watching Brazil” was countered by a more realistic and downcast “more like Italy” from the bloke behind me.  On 25 minutes, there was a potentially game-changing incident as a challenge by Niasse on Niang, that hadn’t looked particularly nasty from the stands, was greeted with an immediate red card from the referee.  Watford’s approach to the game up to this point had been rather cagey, so my hope was that the reduction in opposition numbers would lead to a more attacking approach.  The first few minutes following the sending off were not promising as the Watford men continued to play the ball around at the back.  But things brightened up as a corner was met by a header from Prödl that required a smart save from Jakupovich tip it over the bar.  Niang, who was getting abuse from the home crowd every time he got a touch, didn’t let it faze him as he played a through ball to Deeney who finished, but I think I was the only Watford fan who hopefully punched the air as the flag was up for a clear offside.  Niang then found Amrabat whose shot was blocked for a corner.

Waiting at the back post

Watford won another corner and, as Cleverley lined up to take it, he was greeted with the latest in a series of loud complaints from the home fans about the positioning of the ball so, on this occasion, the referee decided to check that there was no infringement.  Much to the amusement of the away fans at the other end of the ground, he nodded approval and indicated that the kick should be taken.  Britos managed to get a head to it but the ball flew just wide of the target.  A promising move started with Troy coming away with the ball after a tackle, he found Amrabat in a good position in the box, but Nordin decided to pass instead of trying a shot and the chance was gone.  In time added on at the end of the half, Grosicki went down in the box following a challenge from Amrabat, but the referee waved appeals away.   As if the Hull fans weren’t already angry enough, Niang then went flying in the air after a challenge, so the half time whistle went to loud boos from the home fans and the stewards coming on to escort the referee off the pitch.

It had been a disappointing half of football.  Watford had most of the possession, but were being rather cagey, which made for a very dull spectacle.  There was some increase in attacking threat after the sending off, but not the high tempo that we were hoping for.

Capoue and Niang

Silva made a substitution at the start of the second half bringing Hernández on for Evandro.  The first meaningful action of the half came with a lovely ball from Capoue to Amrabat but the cross was blocked.  The first goal attempt came from the Hull substitute, but he chipped the ball into the arms of Gomes.  Watford should have taken the lead just before the hour mark as a throw from Holebas reached Capoue in the box, the Frenchman looked sure to score but he was being tackled and so just swung at the ball and Jakupovich was able to block with his feet.  The Hornets were to rue that miss as, against the run of play, the home side took the lead after Watford lost the ball following a free kick allowing Hull to launch a counter attack, Grosicki crossed for Marcovic whose header rebounded off the crossbar and he made no mistake at the second attempt.  The Hornets attempted to get back into the game as Amrabat crossed for Deeney, but a well-timed nudge from a defender ensured that Troy failed to make contact, the ball came back into the area but, again, there was nobody to apply the final touch.

Cleverley lines up a free kick

The travelling Hornets had been crying out for a substitution and were rewarded when Success replaced Amrabat.  But it was Hull who had a great chance to increase their lead with a free kick from a dangerous position which Clucas directed over the wall and just wide.  The relief was short-lived as, soon after, a clearing header following a free kick reached Clucas who curled a beautiful shot past Gomes.  It was a moment of quality in a game that had been sadly devoid of it.  In an effort to save the game, Mazzarri replaced Doucouré with Okaka, but Watford goal attempts remained at a premium.  Capoue tried a shot from distance that was well over the bar.  Then a Capoue free kick reached Prödl whose shot was easy for the keeper.  Mazzarri’s final throw of the dice was to bring Zúñiga on to replace Holebas.  The Hornets had one last chance to reduce the deficit as Deeney volleyed just over.

As the final whistle went on a humiliating defeat for the visitors, it was greeted with loud boos from the travelling fans.  A young lad who was sitting behind me had been complaining loudly throughout the game and, on the final whistle, he went charging down to get himself into prime position to lambast any players who came over to greet the crowd.  Prödl was the first to approach us, making a gesture of regret but, despite having little to apologise for, was given the full force of the crowd’s invective.  This happened to each of the players in turn.  Troy quickly turned to leave the field, but had second thoughts and came back with Gomes holding something that he was clearly intending to gift to a young fan.  When he reached the perimeter, he hurdled it and walked up to the youngster, but was soon facing a number of very angry fans who were yelling at him.  It had the potential for a very nasty outcome but Troy just listened to what they had to say before returning over the wall at which point he was given an ovation by those still in the crowd.

Amrabat and Proedl challenging

As someone who is very much in the “happy-clapper” camp, I don’t boo the players but I am also not inclined to applaud them after a dreadful performance like that.  After the sending off, we should have been attacking at pace in order to tire the ten men and gain an advantage.  Instead we used our dominance of the possession to play the ball around at the back allowing Hull to sit back and wait for an opportunity to break and, when they did, it was at pace and decisive.  There have been accusations that the players were already on the beach, but the performance looked very much as if they were following instructions from the head coach.  Deeney was isolated up front with very little service and there was a distinct reluctance to break forward.  So, to my mind, blame for the defeat sits very firmly with the head coach.  The fact that this abject performance was delivered by the team in 10th position in “the best league in the world” is an indication of the dreadful lack of quality in the Premier League this season.

The post-match discussion in the queue for the Ladies came back to a theme that has been visited a number of times in recent weeks.  We miss the Championship.  Another theme in the post-match discussion was the behaviour of the travelling Watford fans.  Many of the people that I see week in, week out at games have been going for many years and have witnessed dreadful seasons of football, so tend to be rather circumspect.  But, since promotion, we seem to have attracted a large number of people whose lofty expectations leave them open to regular disappointment which leads to outbursts of (often irrational) anger.  Of course it may be that these people were always there, it was just that in times past we rarely sold out our away allocation so you tended to choose your position in the stand to sit with likeminded people.

Anyway, back to on pitch affairs.  Last season, when survival was the aim, we finished the season in 13th position with 45 points.  We have five games remaining this season to better that record but, given the opposition that we will be facing, it is hard to see us gaining any more points.  Maybe, for the next month, we should trust our instincts and just stay in the pub!

No Shame in a Harsh Defeat

Cleverley and Holebas line up a free kick

The lunchtime kick-off meant an earlier than usual departure for a London game.  I had arranged to meet my niece at Euston and decided to get an earlier train to give me time for a leisurely breakfast at Café Rouge (and very good it was too).  When Amelia arrived, we got the tube to Seven Sisters before taking a walk in the sunshine up Tottenham High Road to the stadium.  As we arrived at the security cordon outside the ground, there was a woman in front of us with a couple of children who had “Daddy 6” on the back of their shirts.  How lovely to see Mariappa’s young family back in Watford kit.

Team news was that Mazzarri had made four changes (two forced, two tactical) with Mariappa, Janmaat, Success and Okaka in for Britos, Prödl, Capoue and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Janmaat, Cleverley, Doucouré, Amrabat; Niang, Okaka and Success.  An interesting formation and a little surprising to see Deeney dropped to the bench.

Gathering for a ball into the Spurs box

The game started very well for the Hornets as Holebas won an early free kick.  He took it himself and curled a lovely shot towards the far corner, but it ended up in the arms of Lloris.  Soon after, Holebas played a corner short to Doucouré before running into the box to receive a return ball, but it ran through and was gathered by the Spurs keeper.  For the home side, Son had a decent chance from a tight angle, but the ball was deflected onto the post and out for a corner.  Watford challenged again as a cross from Doucouré was punched clear by Lloris as Okaka challenged.  The hosts should have taken the lead as Janssen turned in the box and shot, but Gomes saved with his feet.  At the other end, Holebas played a free kick to the far post where Cathcart prodded it into the side netting.  Hoping to repeat his goal from midweek, Niang tried a shot from distance, but this time it was straight at Lloris.  Spurs had a great chance to take the lead in the 18th minute as a cross from Trippier reached Janssen in front of an open goal, but he could only divert the ball onto the crossbar.  Another cross from Trippier soon after went begging as Janssen was unable to connect.  At the other end, a smart exchange of passes ended with the ball reaching Success who snatched at his shot which flew the width of the field and out for a throw-in!  The home side took the lead in the 32nd minute and it was a brilliant goal, a lovely curling shot from Dele that nestled in the top corner of the Watford net.

Niang on the ball

The visitors were appealing for a penalty soon after when Success went down in the box, but the appeals were waved away.  The Hornets were two goals down after 39 minutes when a shot from Son deflected off Doucouré and fell to Dier who smashed it past Gomes.  After the terrific start from the Hornets, they really didn’t deserve to be two goals down at this stage.  But it got worse before half time as Son hit a lovely shot from distance for the third goal.  That was just nasty.

If you were only to look at the half time score, this looked like a pasting, but Watford had played some really lovely football in the first half.  However, Spurs are easily the best team that I have seen this season and their moments of quality in front of goal were the difference between the teams.

It could have been much worse early in the second half as, from a Watford corner, Eriksen intercepted the ball and went haring the length of the pitch and was only stopped by a terrific tackle from Janmaat in the box.  Watford’s Dutchman then had a chance himself at the other end, dribbling along the top of the box before shooting just wide of the target.

Cathcart, Deeney, Mariappa, Okaka and Success gathering for a set piece

Spurs scored their fourth ten minutes into the second half, the Watford defence should have done better with this one as Trippier crossed for Son who was in an acre of space as he finished for his second goal of the game.  Mazzarri’s first change was to bring Zuñiga on in place of Doucouré.  This substitution wasn’t as protracted as usual, probably because, I am reliably informed, Zuñiga waved Frustalupi away as he produced his tactic book.  Despite the scoreline, Watford were not giving up and Okaka broke into the box and cut the ball back for Niang who was muscled off the ball.  On the hour, Spurs brought Kane on for Janssen, which seemed rather cruel from my perspective.  Watford should have done better when Okaka played a lovely through ball to Success, but the Nigerian hit his shot into the ground and it flew wide.  Watford’s second substitution was an attacking change as Deeney came on for Amrabat, who had played through the middle all afternoon.  As the Watford crowd were singing for GT, the Hornets won a corner, which came out to Deeney who had a great chance to reduce the deficit, but shot well over the bar.  On 80 minutes, the away fans were indulging in shouts of Olé as the players passed the ball around beautifully, but one misplaced pass and Dele escaped towards the Watford box, the ball found its way to Son, who looked nailed on for his hat trick, but managed to shoot wide of the near post.  The South Korean had another great chance to go home with the match ball, but this time whipped his shot onto the crossbar and over.

Zuniga challenged by Dembele

Mazzari’s final substitution was a case of shutting the stable door some considerable time after the horse had bolted, as he replaced Okaka with Kabasele.  Spurs had one final chance of a fifth goal as they won a free kick in the final minute of added time, but Kane wasted the last kick of the game directing the ball on to the crossbar.

4-0 was a rather cruel scoreline for the Hornets, but Spurs had been excellent.  Having scored three in the first half, the home side appeared to relax a bit in the second period, which was nothing like as entertaining as the first 45 minutes.  But fair play to the Watford players for still giving it a go.  Fair play also to the travelling fans, as they were singing all afternoon and then applauded the players off the pitch.  That support was rewarded with a nice little gesture as Success reappeared after the cameras had departed to hand out a couple of shirts, one of which was held aloft by Don Fraser as he left the ground.  That made me very happy.

As we left the ground in search of the brewery tap who had sent a message to Dave M suggesting that Watford fans would be welcomed after the game, we found the locals very pleasant (quite understandably) but also the stewards on the way, a number of whom helpfully gave us directions for the supporters coach which was parked quite a distance from the ground and very close to the bar.  The location for the brewery wasn’t the most attractive that I have ever seen, being a unit on an industrial estate, but the welcome was warm, the beer was very pleasant, the sun was shining and the company was second to none.  As we eventually left to make our way to our evening commitments, we were all in a very good mood.  This wasn’t a game that we expected to win and, despite the scoreline, the Watford performance had certainly not been as cowed as in the game at Liverpool.  The patched together defence had done a decent job in the first half hour and most of the Spurs goals had been down to individual brilliance from the players in question.  We ended the afternoon with our team in the top half of the table, amongst good friends with the sun shining.  So, despite the defeat, all felt right with the world.

Quality and Steel under the Lights

Britos on the ball

A month into a new job, I don’t have many regular meetings but one that I do have is on Tuesday from 5 to 6pm.  As the meeting came to a close, I was itching to get away.  When the request was made for any questions, the response of one of my colleagues that she had one immediately took her off my Christmas card list.  As soon as I was able, I made a rapid exit and was at Euston in time for the 18:30.  With a brief stop to check in to my hotel, I made a beeline for the ground.  As I reached the Rookery, it was lovely to see Gifton Noel-Williams outside chatting to someone.  After entering through the turnstiles, I found that the concourse was deserted.  In the stand, my family were in their seats but there were not many others there.  Then I heard Tim on the tannoy announce that it was 25 minutes to kick-off.  No wonder the place was so empty, I was ridiculously early … and I was going to have to watch this game sober, not a prospect I was relishing.  My early arrival did mean that I got to see the warm-up.  The notice on the big screen warning spectators to look out for balls flying into the crowd didn’t prevent a guy in the front of the stand being hit by an errant shot from Capoue.  The Frenchman leaped into the stand in order to apologise.  This had quite an effect on my niece, who is a big fan and came over all unnecessary, “I wish he’d hit me.”  Another off-pitch distraction came by way of my sister’s niece, who is studying for a degree in football broadcasting.  She had enquired about opportunities to gain experience at Watford and had been invited to shadow the media team for this game.  She was thrilled, but I think her aunt(s) were even more excited than she was.

Tom Cleverley

Team news was that Mazzarri had made two changes restoring Deeney and Prödl, both of whom had fitness problems on Saturday, to the starting line-up in place of Okaka and Janmaat.  So the starting XI was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Doucouré, Cleverley, Capoue; Niang, Amrabat; Deeney.  A surprise name on the bench was 18 year-old midfielder, Dion Pereira.  As the opposition team was read out, the loud cheers for Ben Foster were followed by equally loud boos for Allan Nyom.  I missed the visit to West Brom this season, so hadn’t witnessed the incidents that so incensed the travelling fans on that day.  Even so, the reception seemed rather harsh for a player of whom I have fond memories.

The visitors had a great chance to open the scoring in the sixth minute as Chadli ran on to a through ball and broke into the box, Gomes blocked his initial shot but the West Brom man recovered the ball and looked to have an open goal to aim at, but the angle was too narrow and his shot drifted harmlessly across the goal.  It was the home side who took the lead on 13 minutes with a shot from distance from Niang that he curled past Foster into the far corner.  Words cannot do the strike justice, it truly was a thing of beauty and there were no complaints that the replays on the big screen continued until after the restart.

Gathering for a corner

Niang impressed again, showing great resolve as, despite being tripped and lying on the ground, he managed to get a touch to direct the ball to Amrabat whose low cross was just too far in front of Deeney for him to apply the finish.  Niang had another great chance soon after, but this time he volleyed the ball over the target, so the guy in charge of the big screen just showed another replay of his goal.  At the other end, Robson-Kanu met a cross from Chadli with a header that flew wide of the target.  Watford’s next chance came as Amrabat put in a lovely cross that was cleared for a corner with Deeney challenging.  For the Baggies, Chris Brunt really should have done better as the ball came to him in the box, but it bounced down off his chest and Gomes gathered before he could get it under control.  Britos earned the first booking of the game after giving the ball away to McClean, he reacted by taking his opponent down.  As the wall was constructed for the free kick, it seemed that every player apart from the goalkeepers and the taker were involved.  Chadli stepped up and fired over the wall, hitting the outside of the post.  The first card for West Brom came soon after as Robson-Kanu fouled Holebas.  Jose took the set piece himself, delivering a lovely ball into the box but, again, no Watford player was able to get the decisive touch.  Just before half time, Prödl appeared to strain his midriff.  After receiving treatment, I was hoping that he would persevere until half time, but he soon indicated to the bench that he couldn’t continue and was replaced with Janmaat.  As the half came to an end, there were a number of niggly fouls from the visitors which culminated in McClean earning a yellow card for standing on Holebas’s heel.  The half time whistle was greeted with boos from the Rookery but, on this occasion, they were directed at the opposition, who can only be described as classic Pulis.  In contrast, the Hornets had been terrific playing some of the best football we have seen this season.  And that goal ….

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

As Foster took his place in front of the Rookery for the second half, he was given a very warm reception, which he acknowledged.  The visitors made a half time substitution with McLean making way for Phillips, presumably as his antics at the end of the first half suggested that he was at high risk of being sent off.  The second period started perfectly for the Hornets as a lovely pass over the top from Niang reached Deeney, who had two defenders on his case but, as Foster came out to meet him, somehow he managed to connect with the ball and send it into the net.  It was a goal as scrappy as Niang’s had been exquisite, but they all count and the celebrations were mighty.  Chadli had a decent chance to reduce the deficit for the visitors, but turned his shot wide of the near post.  At the other end, a misplaced clearance went straight to Niang, who advanced and tried a shot that was blocked.  The Hornets threatened again as Amrabat played the ball out to Janmaat, who put in a lovely cross, but neither Deeney nor Niang was able to connect.  On 65 minutes, there was a tussle between Britos and Rondon just outside the Watford box.  The West Brom man went down very easily sparking fury in the home crowd as the Uruguayan was shown a second yellow and sent off.

Man of the match Doucoure

For the second game running, Amrabat was substituted after a terrific showing.  This time he made way for Mariappa making his first Premier League appearance since his return to Vicarage Road.  Any concerns that young Ady might be rusty due to his lack of game time disappeared with his first involvement as he met a ball into the Watford box with a confident clearing header.  West Brom had a decent chance to get back into the game as the evil Rondon met a cross from Morrison, but his header was just over the bar.  Success was given his customary ten minutes on the pitch as replacement for Niang whose departure gave the guy running the big screen an excuse to show his goal yet again.  Following the sending off, the Hornets had spent most of the time in their own half, but it had been a sterling rearguard effort with the Baggies rarely threatening the goal.  The effort off the pitch had been equally impressive as the fans in each of the stands were on their feet singing their hearts out for the lads.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, there was little chance of the Hornets getting anything other than a win, but the clean sheet became of paramount importance.  So hearts were in mouths in time added on as a cross reached Nyom at the far post, thankfully his shot rebounded off a team mate to safety.  The former Watford man had another chance to reduce the deficit but, despite having two shots, he couldn’t make the breakthrough as the first was blocked and the second saved by Gomes.  The visitors had one final chance and I punched the air when Morrison put his shot into the Family Stand.

Capoue, Doucoure and Amrabat celebrate in front of the Rookery

At the final whistle, there were great celebrations and hugs in the Rookery and it was lovely to see the players gathering to do a proper lap of honour, enjoying the adulation of the fans.  This had been a truly impressive performance against a decent team who are very adept at stopping other teams playing.  Niang put in a performance showcasing what he can really do and was a joy to watch.  Doucouré was man of the match for an impressive turn running the show in midfield.  Special mention also to Adrian Mariappa, who could be forgiven for struggling when drafted in to a ten man team after so long without a game, but he was excellent.

When Britos was sent off, it seemed disastrous.  But it resulted in a resilient performance from the players and a passionate reaction from the fans, which is always better when played under the lights.

Before the game last Saturday, there was a genuine fear that we could be pulled into a relegation battle.  Three days and six points later we are feeling comfortable in 9th position in the table and Walter Mazzarri is a football genius.  It’s a funny old game.