Tag Archives: Ismaila Sarr

A Soggy Stalemate

Welbeck and Gray waltzing with the opposition defenders

Due to evening commitments in London last week, my commuting time was at a minimum, this meant that I hadn’t listened to the “From the Rookery End” podcast.  So, I made it my accompaniment for the train journey to Watford and wished that I hadn’t.  When even the ultra-positive Colin sounds exasperated, and that game at Wolves was enough to try the patience of a saint, you know that we are in trouble.

I arrived at the West Herts later than usual to find my sister at the bar.  She had arrived early for a chat and was somewhat put out to find that I wasn’t there yet.  We joined the usual suspects at our table before the Norfolk ‘Orns made an appearance.  They were on one of their days out, which generally means an early start on the beer and shots in the West Herts.  It has to be said that they were already very jolly when they arrived, but their early start meant that there were no pork scratchings in Glenn’s goodie bag to the consternation of all.

Pereyra preparing for a corner

On arrival at the Rookery turnstiles, I was patted down by a steward, I don’t believe that has happened before.  It was noticeable that, as there was only a female steward at that end of the turnstiles, while I was being searched, the men were streaming past unmolested, which was a source of some irritation.  On arrival in the Rookery, we found, as we had for the Swansea game, a pool of water under our seats.  We asked a steward for assistance in clearing it, his solution was to tell us we could find another seat if any were available.  We had seen one of the cleaning staff with a mop and a bucket further down the stand, so I went and asked him to assist us.  This meant that we missed joining in the “Forza” display prior to kick-off.  Even after the man with the mop had done his (much appreciated) thing, the floor was too wet to place my bag down, so I was relieved when the guy that sits next to me did not appear and I was able to use his seat for my bag.  To add insult to injury, when I tried to take a photograph for the blog, I found that my camera battery was drained.  Thankfully I had a charger with me so was able to remedy the situation and just hoped that there would be something worth photographing.

Team news was that Quique had made 4 changes with Prödl, Kabasele, Pereyra and Gray replacing Dawson, Capoue, Sarr and Deulofeu.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Prödl, Kabasele; Holebas, Cleverley, Doucouré, Janmaat; Pereyra; Welbeck, Gray.

Challenging at a corner

Watford had a great chance to open the scoring in the 8th minute after a terrific run from Pereyra, he put in a low cross for Gray who managed to blast the ball into the Vicarage Road stand when it looked much easier to score.  Soon after, Pereyra won a corner that was taken short but eventually led to a cross by Janmaat that was headed over by Prödl.  There was almost a disaster of our own making at the other end as Cathcart turned a cross from Baldock towards his own goal, but Foster pulled off a smart save to stop it.  The visitors had another chance to open the scoring with a low shot from Fleck, but it was an easy save for Foster.  The Blades threatened again as McBurnie slid in trying to convert a low cross from Basham, but Foster was able to gather.  Doucouré got himself into a great position for a shot, but there was a body in the way of his effort from the edge of the box.  The Hornets had one last chance to take a lead into the break as Prödl met a cross from Cleverley with a header that dropped to Kabasele who tried to turn it in, but Henderson was able to make the save.

It had been an incredibly dull half of football, which had done nothing to improve my mood.  The half time celebrity guest was Alan Smart.  Being reminded of the awful season that he was involved in at this level didn’t help.  The high point for him was scoring the winner against Chelsea.  Unfortunately, the prospect of any similar results this season are currently looking very remote.

Janmaat takes a free kick

The second half started promisingly for the Hornets as a misplaced header dropped to Welbeck who powered downfield with Gray running alongside.  As Henderson came out to meet him, he decided to take the shot himself and it was blocked by the keeper.  From our perspective in the Rookery, passing to Gray looked like a better option but, given his earlier miss, the outcome may well have been the same.  The Hornets had a really good spell, which galvanised the crowd, but they couldn’t fashion a goal attempt worthy of note.  The visitors had the next chance as Robinson volleyed goalwards, but Foster was able to make the save.  Watford made two substitutions in quick succession.  Prödl limped off due to a hamstring injury to be replaced by Dawson, a great shame as the presence of Seb in the back three had been a positive.  Then Gray made way for Deulofeu.  In between the substitutions McBurnie was booked for a foul on Kabasele.  Soon after being cautioned he was replaced by Mousset.  Next there was a break in play due to an injury to Holebas.  José was down for a while being treated but, once back on his feet, he walked off the pitch while giving the evil eye to his assailant, who had my sympathy.

Foster prepares to take a free kick

The visitors made a second substitution, replacing Robinson with Billy Sharp, who was once heralded as “the answer” by a section of Hornet fans.  Flores also made a change bringing Sarr on for Welbeck.  Deulofeu impressed as he ran to keep an impossible ball in play, advanced and crossed, but it was just too high for Doucouré and Henderson was able to make the catch.  Deulofeu created a half chance as he cut in from the left and tried a shot, but it was easy for the keeper.  As the clock struck 90 minutes, a break by Deulofeu was stopped by a foul by Lundstram, who was shown a yellow card for his trouble.  The Hornets had a great chance to snatch the three points when the free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Dawson, but Henderson managed to make the save.  There was one final chance for the Hornets as Doucouré was urged to shoot by the crowd, but the shot from distance was woeful and nearly hit the corner flag.  So, the game ended goalless.

As I walked back to the West Herts, I bumped into another regular.  He was very philosophical, reasoning that we’ve both been watching Watford for a long time and have seen a lot worse than this.  He was right, but the current winless streak is still a great cause for concern.

Man of the Match Kabasele calling the shots

The main positive from the afternoon was that this was the first clean sheet since February.  Our defence has been dreadfully leaky and we looked much stronger with three at the back, although this improvement at the back may have been helped by the opposition being Sheffield United.  Still, Prödl had a great game, he is much more of a commanding presence at the back than either Cathcart or Dawson.  Kabasele was immense and was named man of the match by the sponsors and thoroughly deserved it.  The strikers are still struggling, but at least they are making chances and we really should have won this game.  Sadly, I have felt that after most of the games this season, Brighton and Man City notwithstanding.  Most of the teams that we have played this season have been poor to mediocre and yet we find ourselves with only 3 points from 8 games.  The big problem with this team, as many have been saying for weeks is a lack of confidence and leadership.  Troy is badly missed and you can’t help thinking that a scrambled goal or one bouncing off someone would make a huge difference.

So we go into an international break for a much needed breather and the hope that we will soon see an upturn.  My dear friend, Don, always urges us to “Keep the Faith”.  It is becoming increasingly hard.

 

Another Defeat Despite Domination

Statue of Jack Hayward outside Molineux

Having been utterly miserable after the City game, the midweek win against Swansea cheered me up somewhat, so I was in a better mood for the journey to Wolverhampton.  I left London early and met Jacque on the train.  As has been usual for recent trips to Wolves, we were to have our pre-match refreshments in Birmingham.  Our ridiculously early arrival time confirmed that, due to a late decision about where to meet, both of us had booked a train based on its scheduled arrival in Wolverhampton rather than Birmingham.  Still, by the time we got to the pub it was a respectable hour to have a drink.  The pub was actually packed due, in part, to the presence of passengers of a Midland Red bus, that was parked outside.  I assume that they were on a tour of the city and the opportunity to mix with Villa fans having a pre-match pint was too much of a temptation.  Mike met us for lunch, and then we headed back to New Street to get the train to Wolverhampton and take the short walk to the ground.  We met the rest of our party inside where we were regaled with stories of traffic delays for those who had driven.  Luckily (?) they all made it in time for kick-off.

Team news was that Quique had made four changes from the side who were humiliated by Manchester City, with Janmaat, Cathcart, Welbeck and Sarr replacing Femenía, Mariappa, Foulquier and Hughes.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Dawson, Cathcart, Janmaat; Capoue, Doucouré; Deulofeu, Cleverley, Sarr; Welbeck.  The initial reaction was that this was the team that people wanted to see.  But I was rather surprised that Welbeck was included, having played 90 minutes in midweek.  In other news, today would see the first outing of our new away kit.  I hoped that it would be lucky for us.

Holebas takes a throw-in

Watford started well and, in the first minute, Sarr found Welbeck, but the shot was wide of the target.  Wolves also had an early chance as Boly released Jiménez who shot into the side netting.  The Hornets put themselves in trouble when a short corner routine broke down allowing Neto to break at pace and play a low cross for Jiménez who shot wide of the far post.  The home side opened the scoring in the 18th minute when a low cross from Neto was turned in by Doherty.  It was yet another poor goal to give away as the defence were nowhere to be seen.  It feels as though we have seen the same goal scored against us repeatedly this season and still have no idea how to stop it.  Deulofeu tried to hit back as he cut into the box but could only shoot into the side netting.  Deulofeu threatened again from a free kick, but his delivery was headed clear.  Wolves had a chance to increase their lead as Traoré beat Holebas to put in a cross, but no Wolves player could get on the end of it.  Sarr really should have done better after receiving a ball from Deulofeu in the box, but he turned and shot well wide of the target.  The Wolves fans were shouting for a penalty as a cross from Traoré was blocked by Holebas, but the referee was unmoved by their pleas.  Welbeck got into a decent position in the box, but his shot was blocked for a corner that came to nothing.  The end of the half was dominated by a couple of lengthy stoppages for injuries to Wolves players, but there was one final chance for the Hornets to draw level as Cleverley flicked a pass to Sarr in a dangerous position but, yet again, the shot was blocked.

Pereyra takes a corner

The half time whistle went to sighs of resignation in the away end.  It hadn’t been pretty.  Watford had had more of the possession but were ponderous and reluctant to shoot.  In contrast, Wolves were quick on the break and the Watford defence always looked vulnerable. The home side had scored with the only on-target shot of the half.

Looking at things off the field, I couldn’t help but notice that the stand behind the goal at one end and half of the other have been converted for safe standing.  It looked great and it will be interesting to see whether this becomes commonplace.

At the break Deulofeu was replaced by Pereyra.  The Hornets started the second half quite brightly.  Pereyra put in a lovely cross that Holebas met with a header that was blocked by the Wolves keeper, the first time he had been called into action.  The ball dropped to Cleverley, who tried to turn it in, but Rui Patricio was able to get a foot to it and put it out for a corner.  The corner summed up our afternoon as Pereyra’s delivery didn’t even make it onto the pitch before it flew behind the goal line.  Wolves had their first chance of the half as Neto broke forward but shot straight at Foster and was immediately replaced by Gibbs-White.

Waiting for the delivery at a corner

The Hornets had dominated the start of the second half, so it felt cruel when, on the hour mark, a cross from Doherty was flicked on by Gibbs-White, and Janmaat turned it past Foster.  There appeared no way back at that point.  Holebas tried to hit back with a shot through the area that flew just wide of the near post.  It was unsurprising to see José pick up the first booking of the game for a foul on Traoré.  Flores made his second substitution with twenty minutes to go as Sarr made way for Gray.  Andre made an immediate impact and the Hornets had a great chance to pull one back when Welbeck received a ball from Gray and unleashed a shot that required a decent save from Rui Patricio to keep it out.  Wolves had a chance to score a third as Traoré put a deep cross over to Jonny but he could only find the side netting.  Wolves made a second substitution bringing Cutrone on for Jiménez.  The substitute had a chance to make an immediate impact as he charged toward the Watford goal, but was stopped by a wonderful sliding tackle from Foster.  At the other end, Gray made a break into the Wolves box but his shot was poor and straight at the keeper.  Doucouré then tried his luck with a low shot from the edge of the area, but it was an easy catch for Rui Patricio.  There was one last chance for the Hornets as a corner from Holebas reached Welbeck but he could only head over the bar.  Santo made his final change bringing Neves on for Traoré.  There were three minutes of added time, which were rather soul destroying as, despite Hornets having plenty of possession, they just played it around on the halfway line with the Wolves defence happily lined up in front of them.  The final whistle went to half-hearted boos from a few among the Watford following, but most of us just felt as defeated as the team.

Holebas and Pereyra lining up a free kick

As there is nothing to stay in Wolves for, we made a rapid retreat to the station to get the train home and we bumped into a couple of fellow Hornets.  There was a lot of head shaking and failure to understand what is going wrong this season.  Our team still looks great on paper, but we continue to fail to attack with enough intent or defend convincingly.  On the evidence of the games so far, most of the teams in the Premier League are pretty poor (the obvious exception notwithstanding), but we have been unable to beat any of them.  The consensus was that we are desperately missing Deeney as there is no leadership on the pitch, which is a very sorry state of affairs.  It is difficult to see how we will turn this around, but football is a confidence game and maybe we just need a few balls to drop kindly and a couple of shots to creep inside the post for the belief to resurface.

As I left work on Friday, I had a chat with one of my colleagues about our chances for the weekend.  He reminded me that going to football was supposed to be fun.  He is so right and, sadly, the games really aren’t fun at the moment.  I hope that changes very soon.

Capitulation at the Etihad

Captain Mariappa

When I sent out the e-mail to our group asking who wanted tickets for this game, I couldn’t help noticing that there were more apologies for absence than usual.  I can’t say that I blamed them as the memory of the cup final is still rather raw and, given our start to the season, this was not a game that I was looking forward to.

I left London at a reasonable time and was joined on the train by Jacque when we reached Milton Keynes.  One topic of discussion was the no bag policy that we had heard about the previous day.  I don’t know how they expect people travelling for over two hours each way not to bring any possessions with them.  Luckily, I was staying overnight in Manchester, so was able to drop my bag (and Jacque’s) off at the hotel.  Despite it being a warm sunny day, I left the hotel carrying a waterproof coat which had pockets filled with the essentials for the game (notebook, pen, camera, purse, lipstick).  We then headed to meet up with the rest of our party for lunch.  On arrival, I was surprised to see Pete there.  I was sure that he had declined the invitation.  Sure enough, he had made a late decision to travel following the tremendous second half against Arsenal last week.

While enjoying lunch, I realised that I had left my distance glasses in my rucksack at the hotel, so I headed back to retrieve them.  Not the smartest thing that I have ever done.  Once they were in another of my pockets, I joined the others at the pub.  We left plenty of time to get to the ground.  The first tram leaving was packed and there was a father with a young boy on his shoulders standing near me.  I heard the father comment, “Maybe you’ll see six goals.”  I couldn’t help but exclaim, “Oh, I do hope not.”  We then had a chat and, as is usually my experience in Manchester, he was lovely.

Dawson, Capoue and Deulofeu preparing for kick-off

On arrival at the ground, we saw Mick, our Police liaison, and I asked how many bags he was looking after.  It seemed that there had been no issues by that point, which was a relief.  It seemed that the stewards were being pragmatic regarding the policy, so some bags did make it into the away end.

Team news was that Quique had made two changes from the Newcastle game with Foulquier and Mariappa in for Gray and Kabasele.  Clearly the selection of Foulqier, for his debut, in place of Gray was not a direct swap, Femenía was pushed forward and Deulofeu was to play alone up front.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Foulquier, Mariappa, Dawson, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Femenía, Cleverley, Hughes; Deulofeu.  Again. there were some puzzled reactions to the team selection, but the Arsenal game meant that Quique had a lot of brownie points.

When we took our seats in the away end, I noticed that we were very close to the home fans on our left.  I then turned and realised that they were almost as close on the right.  I don’t know how many Watford fans travelled, but it appeared to be a very small group.

Gathering for a rare Watford corner

A couple of seasons ago, a late departure from the pub and a delay on the tram meant that we missed Sterling scoring in the first minute.  On this occasion, we were comfortably in our seats when De Bruyne crossed for David Silva to finish past Foster to open the scoring.  Watford had a chance for an immediate equaliser as Deulofeu ran into the City box, but Ederson saved at his feet.  Deulofeu threatened again, beating Otamendi before dinking a shot that deflected wide off the City keeper.  We weren’t to know it at the time, but that would be pretty much it for our chances.  The second City goal came after 7 minutes.  Mahrez had the ball in the box, he was running out of space and the ball was rolling out for a goal kick, but Foster had committed himself and took him down, so the referee pointed to the spot.  Agüero stepped up to take the spot kick and powered the ball down the middle while Foster dived.  It got even worse on 12 minutes after Doucouré fouled Mahrez on the edge of the box.  The Algerian took the free kick himself, the Watford wall parted, but the ball took a deflection off one of the defenders and beat Foster for City’s third.  At this point I bemoaned the fact that we are not allowed to take hip flasks into football stadia, as I definitely needed a shot of something strong.  The fourth City goal came from a corner which was flicked on to Bernardo Silva who stooped to head home.

Femenia takes a throw-in

We were 5 down after 18 minutes when Agüero put a low cross in for Otamendi to finish at the back post.  It could have been 6 after 25 minutes as Agüero broke forward, but Foster narrowed the angle and the shot was wide of the far post.  When Watford won a free kick after a foul on Cleverley, the travelling Hornets sang “We’ve got the ball.”  Sadly, we didn’t have it for long as Deulofeu’s delivery was straight into the arms of Ederson.  There was an immediate break from the home side, and I feared the worst, but Agüero’s shot took a ricochet off Foster for a corner.  Flores made his first substitution on 33 minutes cutting Foulquier’s debut short as he was replaced by Pereyra.  Fair play to Don Fraser who was still shouting encouragement to the team at this point.  On 38 minutes the Hornets had a rare foray into the City half, Deulofeu’s shot was blocked, the ball fell to Pereyra who could only win a corner that came to nothing.  The home side impressed again as a perfect cross field pass from Fernandinho reached De Bruyne who crossed for Agüero whose header was saved by Foster, Mahrez picked up the loose ball and crossed for Bernardo Silva who headed just wide.  There were three minutes of added time at the end of the half.  Every second was agony, but at least there was no further score.

Abdoulaye Doucoure

At half time, I noted that City had had 6 shots on target and scored 5 of them.  This looked like it could be a record score, although the scoreboard looked as though it couldn’t display double figures, so we could end up back at 0-0.

City made a change at the break bringing Angeliño on for Mendy.  It appeared that the second half would also see a goal in the first minute, but Walker’s shot was high and wide.  Sadly, the sixth goal wasn’t long in coming as, three minutes into the half, the Watford defence went missing yet again and the ball bounced around the Watford box before Bernardo Silva scored his second.  At the break, Pete had come to stand in the row behind us.  I expected the guys who had been there to return, they didn’t and a good few more departed after this goal.  Guardiola made a second substitution as Cancelo replaced Walker.  City should have scored a seventh when they won a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery from De Bruyne flew just over the bar.  Flores made his second substitution bringing Sarr on for Hughes.  The Hornets were then shown two yellow cards in quick succession, first Deulofeu was booked after a foul on Rodrigo, then Femenía was cautioned for a foul on Bernardo Silva.

Proof that we had a corner in the second half

The seventh goal came on the hour mark as De Bruyne crossed to the far post and Bernardo Silva finished from close range to seal his hat trick and claim the match ball.  At this point the City fans very reasonably asked, “Why are you still here?”  Pete’s comment was, “For the same reason that you would be.”  City’s final substitution saw Garcia come on for Otamendi.  Mahrez should have scored the 8th with a header that rebounded off the bar.  As City claimed the rebound an exasperated shout of “Get the second ball” came from behind me.  I think that was the least of our problems at this point.  The City fans were having fun with the group to our right taunting the group to our left with, “Where were you when we were sh*t?”  I have to admit that made me smile.  There was a brief moment of quality possession from the Hornets as Sarr found Cleverley who played in Deulofeu but he could only win a corner off the keeper.   Soon after, Gerry was replaced by Gray and you have to ask what Andre had done to deserve being put into the fray.  Just before the substitution the ball had flown into the Watford crowd.  There were shouts of “keep it” and it was a while before it was returned, eliciting boos from the away end.  A chant from the travelling Hornets of “7 nil and you still don’t sing” was countered with “We only sing at 6 nil.”  Ouch!!  De Bruyne, who had been a menace all afternoon, finally got his goal with five minutes left on the clock as his shot from the edge of the area hit the top corner.  He should have had a second soon after as he ran through the Watford defence before shooting just wide.  There was a half chance for a consolation as a Holebas throw was headed goalwards by Gray, but it was an easy catch for Ederson and a goal would have been more than the Hornets deserved.

Etienne Capoue

The final whistle finally went to put us out of our misery.  There were a surprising number of Watford fans still in the ground as the players came over to thank us and the majority of fans applauded them back.  Not for anything impressive in their performance, but more in empathy as that cannot have been any more fun for them than it was for us.  Pete was asked whether he regretted his late decision to attend the game but reasoned that he was much happier to have been there than he would have been if he had listened to it on the radio.

On the way back to the City centre, Ashley was checking the scores in the other games and a City fan asked if he knew the Stevenage score.  It turned out that this lad had managed Stevenage in Football Manager and taken a shine to them.  In a couple of weeks, when City are playing Wolves, he is giving his season ticket to a friend so that he can see Stevenage play in Colchester.  He also consoled us with, “We only scored two more than we put past United.”

As we sat in the pub after the game, it felt more like a support group than anything else.  Between us we could not find any positives to take from the game.  While City had been very good, Watford had been utterly dreadful.  This is a team that has long struggled with confidence and it was clear that it had completely drained from them as soon as the second goal went in.  I still think that we are a much better side than our results indicate, but we need to start showing that against Swansea in midweek and then at Wolves.  Otherwise, I may finally find myself deciding to stay in the pub instead of heading to the ground.

 

Fun in the Sun with Flores

Quique back in the Watford dug-out

I hate it when matches are moved to a Sunday.  It completely changes the pattern of the weekend and is very disconcerting.  However, the change of time for this game did have the benefit that I was able to take up the offer of hospitality for the Ashes game on Saturday.  Although I must admit to checking the fixture list while on the train to the Oval, just to make sure that Watford were not playing.  I was further reassured when I spotted Johnno in the queue for the coffee.  I was desperate to ask him his opinion on the changes at the club but resisted as I didn’t want to spoil his day.

As usual when there is a change in routine, I wasn’t sure what time to arrive in the West Herts.  I aimed for soon after 1pm and was pleased (and unsurprised) to see Don and Jacque already at our usual table.  Needless to say the primary topic of conversation was the change in head coach.  The departure of Javi had seemed inevitable after the Newcastle game, but it was very sad.  He has left us with some very happy memories, not just of the football but of what a lovely man he was.  He will always have a place in my heart.  The return of Flores was a total shock.  He was another lovely chap and his season was a lot of fun, but it had run out of steam in much the same way that Javi’s did, so I wondered what extra he had to offer and had been feeling a bit numb about it all last week.  One benefit of his return was that we wouldn’t have to learn a new song for the head coach.

Rita and GT

There was an added poignancy to the occasion as the game was taking place on what would have been GT’s 75th birthday, so I made the effort to say hello to his statue before the game.

Team news was that Quique had made three changes from the Newcastle game with Holebas, Capoue and Deulofeu in for Cathcart (who was injured), Janmaat and Pereyra.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Kabasele, Dawson, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Hughes, Cleverley, Deulofeu; Gray.  The selection caused some puzzlement among the inhabitants of the West Herts.  The decision not to put Welbeck on the bench elicited a lot of comment.

But, as we took our seats in a packed Rookery to see the teams take the field to Z-cars (hoorah!), the atmosphere was very positive and the crowd was soon chanting the name of Quique Sanchez Flores.

Gathering for a corner

The game started brightly enough for the Hornets who created an early chance as Deulofeu curled a shot from the edge of the box, but it was straight at Leno in the Arsenal goal.  The visitors created their first chance soon after, but Özil’s free-kick was headed clear by Dawson.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead in the 11th minute as Cleverley hit a powerful shot that required a flying save from Leno to keep it out.  From the corner, the ball reached Cleverley again, but his curling shot was easily caught by Leno.  Watford had another chance as a gorgeous cross-field pass found Deulofeu on the wing, he played in Holebas, but the shot was poor.  At the other end, Guendouzi released Pépé who advanced and shot wide of the far post.  The visitors took the lead in the 21st minute.  Hughes appeared to be fouled in the midfield and the Watford players stopped, anticipating the whistle, while Kolašinac broke forward before finding Aubameyang who fired past Foster.  While the Watford players protested, the goal was (presumably) checked via VAR and was confirmed, to loud boos from the Watford faithful.  It was a devastating blow as the goal had been totally against the run of play.  Sadly, as has happened far too often, this seemed to drain confidence from the Watford players and a terrible pass from Kabasele allowed the visitors to attack again, this time the shot from Aubameyang was deflected for a corner.

Handbags

The Gunners were two up after 31 minutes as Özil played in Maitland-Niles, who squared for Aubameyang who had an easy tap in for his second.  It was a decently worked goal, but the Watford defence had gone completely missing and the game looked lost.  Watford had a chance to pull one back as Femenía crossed for Hughes, but the shot was poor and flew wide of the near post.  A mistake from the visitors almost gifted the Hornets a goal, but the shot from Deulofeu was blocked and the follow-up from Gray hit the side netting.  The first booking of the game went to Kolašinac for a poor foul on Hughes.  Sadly, the free kick from Holebas was straight at Leno.  It all looked very promising when Deulofeu went on a dangerous run, but he was pushed wide and ran out of space.  Just before half time, there was a bit of handbags which led to Holebas and Guendouzi being booked.  We could see that José was complaining about an elbow. TV pictures showed that this had come from Pépé, which started the melee, but the instigator escaped without punishment.  The half time whistle went to a chorus of boos aimed at the officials.

At half time, I was feeling utterly miserable.  A friend came for a chat.  She is normally very measured and level-headed, so I was a little surprised to hear her say that we were being cheated out of the game but, judging by the half time boos, there were many that agreed with her.

Doucoure congratulates Cleverley on his goal

I cheered up a little when Jay DeMerit appeared as the half time guest.  He spoke about how the “Rise and Shine” film (on which I am credited as an Executive Producer) had led to a number of ventures including camps for youngsters that combine sporting pursuits with leadership training.  It was lovely to see him back at Vicarage Road.

The second half started with a run from Femenía that finished with a cross that was an easy catch for Leno.  Then Deulofeu found Hughes who, under challenge, put his shot over the bar.  A promising move by the Hornets finished with a dreadful shot from Doucouré, which drifted out for a throw.  The Hornets pulled a goal back on 53 minutes after a dreadful mistake from the visitors.  Leno tried a short goal kick to Sokratis, he was challenged by Deulofeu, the ball broke to Cleverley who finished past Leno to raise the temperature at the (already rather warm) Vic.  Suddenly all was right with the world and there was a new confidence both on the pitch and in the stands.  Immediately after the goal, Flores made his first change bringing Sarr on for Gray.  This would be interesting (we hoped).  There was another caution for the Hornets as Femenía was booked for a foul on Özil.

Pereyra enjoys the cheers from the Rookery

Deulofeu had a great chance to level the game after cutting in from the left, but his shot was just wide of the far post.  Femenía then tried his luck with a shot from the right, but it cleared the bar.  Emery made his first substitution bringing Willock on for Ceballos.  The visitors had a rare second half chance as Aubameyang tried a shot from distance, but it was easily dealt with by Foster.  Just after the hour mark, Flores made his second change replacing Hughes with Pereyra.  There was an absolutely gorgeous chance for an equaliser as Deulofeu played the ball through the legs of Guendouzi to Sarr who turned and shot just wide.  He may have missed the target, but that brought a huge smile to my face.  Femenía then went on a threatening run and put in a great cross, Pereyra met it with a back heel that rolled wide of the target.  Arsenal made a second substitution bringing Torreira on for Guendouzi.  Deulofeu had another chance to level the score, but his shot was deflected wide.  The corner was deep and just too high for Kabasele whose header was wide of the target.  Emery made his final substitution replacing Özil with Nelson.  The substitute almost made the perfect start, but his shot from outside the area was easily gathered by Foster.  There was danger for the Hornets as Doucouré lost out allowing an Arsenal break, but he redeemed himself by regaining the ball with a great tackle in the box.  This allowed the Hornets to mount a break of their own which finished with a shot from Deulofeu but, again, it was straight at the keeper.

Sarr in the Arsenal box

Flores made his final substitution replacing Holebas with Janmaat.  Arsenal had a chance to increase their lead through a powerful shot from Torreira, but Foster was equal to it.  Instead, at the other end, Pereyra was tripped by Luiz and the referee pointed to the spot.  From the middle of the Rookery it appeared that the foul had taken place outside the box, so we held our breath as the referee checked with his mate at VAR headquarters, when he received the verdict and pointed to the spot we cheered, then remembered that Deeney was injured.  Pereyra stepped up and placed the ball on the spot, sent Leno the wrong way and hit the back of the net sending the Watford fans wild with joy.  There were nine minutes remaining at this point and the Hornets were going for the victory as Janmaat played a lovely cross to Cleverley whose shot was blocked before Deulofeu hit the rebound just wide.  Cleverley then received a pass from Doucouré and hit a shot that was deflected over the bar via the head of Luiz.  The corner was played out to Janmaat whose shot was high and wide.  Arsenal had a rare chance as the ball was played to Xhaka at the back post but he couldn’t control.  Cleverley had a shot blocked allowing Willock to break but Capoue pulled him over and was booked for his trouble.  From the free kick, Willock made his way into the Watford box and I had a horrible feeling that all our heroics would be for nothing, but Kabasele was on hand to stop him shooting.  There was one final chance for the Hornets to snatch the victory as Doucouré went on a tremendous run before exchanging passes with Sarr but his shot was low and easily caught by Leno.

Holebas takes a corner

The final whistle went to rapturous cheers.  As the players applauded the crowd, Quique’s name was being sung and he responded with a broad smile and an enthusiastic wave.

There were broad smiles among the crowd who gathered at the West Herts.  It seems that I wasn’t the only one who had been miserable at half time, as Jacque mentioned that she had seriously thought about going home at that point.  Of course, she didn’t and was rewarded with a thoroughly enjoyable game.

The second half had been a sustained onslaught on the Arsenal goal, but I was still surprised to hear that we had 31 shots on goal, something that would have made GT very happy. It was a tremendous performance all round.  Deulofeu, who I often find incredibly frustrating, had a wonderful afternoon and was a constant threat to the Arsenal defence.  Pereyra was another who was on his game and was a joy to watch.  Cleverley was absolutely magnificent, running the show and he deserved more than the one goal.  But it was probably the introduction of Sarr that ultimately changed the game.  He is clearly an incredible talent and his presence meant that there was finally an outlet for the excellent build-up play that has been a feature of most of our games this season.  A couple of his moves were just a joy to watch and I am really looking forward to seeing more from him.

What a difference a couple of weeks makes.  My report from Newcastle was among the most miserable that I have written, but Sunday’s game reminded me why I go to football.  It was a joyous afternoon of football and showed what this team can do.  Despite the slow start, I am now much more confident for the rest of the season.  Well, maybe after we get the Man City game out of the way.

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!!

A Goal at Last, but No Points

Gathering for a corner

After the poor start to the season, the last thing that I needed to hear before this game was that Deeney was out after surgery and Doucouré and Pereyra were both doubtful due to injury.  I had not been very hopeful anyway, but any vestiges of confidence disappeared completely.

I arrived at the West Herts at my usual time to see Don already in place, the rest of our crew gathered slowly.  When the team news came through, a bloke at the other end of the table told his friends that they wouldn’t want to see it.  So, I was rather relieved to discover that Gracia had been forced to make only the two changes with Cleverley and Gray coming in for Pereyra and Deeney.  Doucouré had passed a late fitness test.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Dawson, Femenía; Capoue, Doucouré; Deulofeu, Cleverley, Hughes; Gray.  Record signing, Sarr, was to make his first appearance on the bench.

As the teams came out, the Audentior banner was run up the centre of the Rookery.

After the past few games, when Foster has been wearing a disturbing shade of orange, it was good to see him sporting a blue shirt.  Maybe this would herald a change in our fortunes.

Cleverley congraulates Gray on his goal

Those hopes were dashed in a mad first couple of minutes.  First Deulofeu tumbled in the West Ham box, the penalty appeal was waved away.  The visitors then broke down the other end of the pitch, Cathcart put in a welcome tackle, but the ball broke to Lanzini who went down under a challenge from Doucouré and the referee pointed to the spot.  The crowd in the Rookery behind the goal, tried their best to put Noble off, but he sent Foster the wrong way and the visitors were ahead.  The Hornets had a great chance for an equaliser when Femenía surged down the wing, the ball reached Deulofeu by way of Hughes and Gray, but his shot hit the top of the crossbar, I felt that he should have done better.  Watford had a really good spell of possession at this point, but the next chance fell to the visitors as Anderson broke forward and found Lanzini whose flicked shot was just wide.  From the goal kick, Watford had a great chance to level the score, but Deulofeu’s shot was blocked by Diop.  A lovely passing move from the Hornets finished with a shot from Doucouré being put behind for a corner which came to nothing.  The equaliser came in the 17th minute when Hughes played in Gray who shot across Fabianski into the opposite corner.  It was lovely to have a goal to celebrate at last and, given the positive way that we were playing, I now felt that we could get something from this game.

Cleverley getting into position while Kiko is distracted

Gray had a decent chance to grab a second soon after, but his shot was wild and flew high and wide.  At the other end, West Ham’s record signing Haller attempted an overhead kick, but Foster was equal to it.  On 25 minutes, there was a break in the game for the players to take on water and cool down a bit.  The rehydration was certainly needed, as the game had been end-to-end and played at quite a pace.  The match restarted with a decent chance for the Hornets as Holebas put a great cross in for Gray, but the shot was terrible and flew wide of the near post.  At the other end, Anderson tried his luck with a shot from distance that was deflected over the bar.  The corner was met by the head of Ogbonna, but it was an easy catch for Foster.  There were appeals for a penalty as Gray appeared to be fouled in the box while attempting to get on the end of a cross from Holebas.  It was clear that the referee was checking via VAR, but he indicated that the previously awarded throw-in should go ahead.  Watford created another good chance as Deulofeu played the ball out to Femenía, who put in a lovely cross for Doucouré whose header was deflected for a corner.  The delivery from Holebas fell to Cleverley who shanked it way over the bar.  The visitors should have increased their lead from a corner as Anderson’s shot came back off the inside of the far post, much to my relief.

So, the half-time whistle went with the score level.  It had been an entertaining half of football with some lovely play from the Hornets but, as is so often the case, the finishing was wasteful.

During the break, there was a presentation about the WFC Community Trust’s Golden Memories programme.  This is aimed at people with mild to moderate dementia and “will use a host of memorabilia and magic moments to stimulate the senses and evoke personal memories”.  This was introduced by Hannah Foster who is the contact point for the programme (Hannah.foster@watfordfc.com) with a guest appearance by Watford legend Tom Walley, who is suffering from dementia.  I was delighted at the reception that Tom was given as he waved appreciatively to the crowd.

Capoue and Cleverley wait for the ball in

The first attack of the second half came from the Hornets, Deulofeu’s shot was blocked with a number in the Rookery claiming that it was stopped by a hand.  The referee did not agree.  At the other end Yarmolenko tried a looping shot, but Foster parried and then gathered at the second attempt.  The Hornets should have taken the lead ten minutes into the half when a lovely ball from Deulofeu released Gray who rounded the goalkeeper before crossing for Hughes, who looked to have an easy tap in from close range but managed to knock the ball wide.  West Ham made their first substitution as Antonio replaced Yarmolenko.  The substitute almost made an immediate impact as he bore down on goal, but Foster came out to block the shot and then followed up to make a tackle outside the box and clear the ball.  Watford had another excellent chance as Hughes played a lovely ball back to Deulofeu in the box, but the shot was straight at Fabianski.  The first booking of the game went to Holebas (of course) for a poor tackle on Antonio.  A minute later, the visitors retook the lead with a goal that was gifted to them by poor defending.  Anderson was allowed to waltz into the box without a challenge before pulling the ball back for Haller to score.  It was incredibly dispiriting after some excellent attacking work by the Hornets.  The home side had a chance to hit back almost immediately as a free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Gray whose effort was just wide of the far post.

Sarr and Welbeck waiting to come on

The Hornets threatened again after Cleverley made a tackle in midfield and advanced down the wing, the ball found its way to Deulofeu whose shot was easily caught by Fabianski.  A nasty looking foul on Cleverley was not penalised, allowing the visitors to break, the resultant shot was deflected for a corner.  Antonio was allowed a free header from Anderson’s delivery, Foster made an excellent save to keep it out, but he conceded another corner.  Again, from the corner, Foster was equal to the header from Antonio, but he could only tip it onto the bar and Haller scored the rebound.  While all this was going on, Welbeck and Sarr had been on the sidelines waiting to come on.  They finally replaced Deulofeu and Hughes, but it looked like the substitutions were too late for the Hornets.  Welbeck’s first meaningful attack was stopped short as he was taken down by Ogbonna, who was booked for his trouble.  The visitors made a second substitution with Fornals replacing Anderson who angered the home fans by walking across the pitch instead of leaving at the touchline where he had been standing.  Some good work from Sarr created a chance for Cleverley who spun and shot just over the target.  Cleverley then turned provider, playing in Doucouré whose shot was saved by Fabianski.  Watford continued to create chances as a corner reached Gray, who held off the defender before hitting a shot that was just wide of the target.  Each side made a final substitution as Quina replaced Cleverley for the home side and Lanzini made way for Sanchez for the visitors.  The Hornets had one last chance to reduce the deficit after a foul on Welbeck, but the free kick from Holebas was cleared to Capoue whose shot from distance flew over the bar.  The final whistle went to boos from a good number of the home fans who had remained in the ground.

Our first sight of record signing, Sarr

Back at the West Herts, our numbers were depleted as some of our group had made a rapid departure.  But, as Jacque and I were going to have to get trains home that were likely to be packed with celebrating West Ham fans, we decided to have a couple of drinks to let the crowds disperse.

The post-match mood was sombre.  As last week against Everton, we faced a team that we could and should have beaten, but we were undone by our lack of clinical finishing and the generosity of our defence.  Dawson is getting a lot of criticism, but he was left exposed by Femenía who certainly adds to our attacking options but is so often missing in defence.  I was encouraged by a lot of the forward play but, too often, the players wait for the perfect sight of goal and end up losing out to a defender.

As I sat there sulking, I commented to one of the West Herts regulars that I hate football.  This started a conversation in which the complaints about the current performances were followed by reminiscences of watching football in the Furphy years, terrible pitches and away trips to Workington and Torquay with less than friendly welcomes from the locals.  We then got on to a discussion of recent owners and how close we were to not having a club at all and suddenly the day’s defeat didn’t seem so bad.  I have watched with horror the goings on at Bolton and Bury in recent months.  Knowing how easily that could have been our fate, I find it hard to get too despondent about a couple of Premier League defeats.  I have every confidence that we can turn this poor run of form around and in years to come we will be looking back on these as the good old days.