It has been a very stressful week. Work has been full on, with a number of important deadlines meaning that I was working long hours. But this game had taken on enormous importance, as it would surely be key in our fight with Wolves for seventh place, so it was never far from my thoughts. The importance was brought home when I woke with a jolt at 5am on Saturday, knowing that I had to be somewhere and stressing about how I would get there. When I was awake enough to realise that kick-off was at 3pm, so I had plenty of time, I calmed down a bit.
For once, I timed my journey perfectly. After having a quick chat with Mick, our Police liaison officer, at the Junction (he was confident of a win, I wasn’t), I arrived at the West Herts just after it opened. Our party was a little depleted due to commitments elsewhere, but there was still a good turnout at ‘our’ table. Glenn appeared with his sweets as usual but, as it was a Saturday, there was the extra treat of the delicious pork scratchings that he gets from his butcher which I had as dessert after a portion of jerk chicken. I left for the ground a little earlier than usual to pick up my tickets for the FA Cup Final. It was so good to have them in my hands at last.
Team news was three changes from Tuesday with Gracia again alternating his defensive options with Femenía and Mariappa in for Janmaat and Kabasele, we also had the welcome return of Holebas taking the place of Masina. Adam was terrific in the game against Southampton, but Jose would always be in my first XI. So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Mariappa, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucoure, Hughes; Deulofeu, Gray. I must say that I felt very reassured by the team selection.
The teams ran out to “I’m Still Standing” and I was left cold again. It is not growing on me, but at least you can hear it, unlike the Superman theme.
The game kicked off and some of our fans decided that this was a good time to goad Wolves after our cup semi-final win. I always think that pride comes before a fall, so the chants worried me greatly. There was a cagey start to the game, the first chance for either side came on 12 minutes when Deulofeu won a corner. The delivery from Holebas was deep and headed back by Capoue to Doucouré whose shot was blocked, the ball fell to Pereyra whose shot was also blocked. I must admit that, with the early disasters in the previous two home games, I was very happy when we got to 15 minutes on the clock without a catastrophic event.
The first shot on target didn’t come until the 21st minute when Neves tried a shot from distance, Foster was equal to it. The Hornets had a great chance to take the lead when Pereyra played a lovely ball to Deulofeu, but Geri slipped as he was about to take the shot and the chance was gone. Hughes did brilliantly to control a dropping ball, he found Deulofeu, but the shot was turned around a post for a corner, which Deulofeu played short to Holebas whose shot was terrible and flew well wide of the target. From my position in the Rookery, I thought that Wolves had taken the lead when a shot from Jiménez was cleared off the line by Capoue. I can’t have been the only one holding my breath waiting for the referee to indicate that the ball had actually crossed the line before it was cleared, but that indication didn’t come, and the game remained goalless. A lovely forward passing move involving Pereyra and Hughes finished with the ball with Deulofeu whose shot was blocked. Watford should have opened the scoring from the resultant corner which Holebas delivered deep to Pereyra, he crossed for Mariappa who headed back to Hughes, who had the goal at his mercy, but directed his header over the target. The opening goal came late in the half. From our vantage point, it appeared that the ball had gone out for a throw-in. The linesman on that side, must have seen the ball rolling past him, but felt the need to consult with the referee before giving a corner. The Hornets failed to clear from the corner allowing Jota to cross for Jiménez to head home and then celebrate by showing us the name on the back of his shirt, while our hearts sank. In retrospect I wonder if he lost the mask at Wembley. Watford should have hit back almost immediately as Hughes found Gray in the box, but he shot over the bar when it looked easier to score. In mitigation, Andre claimed that he had been fouled, but the referee was having none of it. Just on half time, Deulofeu played a neat one-two with Pereyra, but his shot was blocked.
So we went into the break a goal down after a very even half of football that had been short on chances. In contrast to Tuesday, the half time entertainment was restricted to the schools’ penalty shoot-out. This was much more like it.
The second half started brilliantly for the Hornets as a mistake in the Wolves defence allowed the ball to break to Deulofeu, he tried to beat Patricio but the ball broke to Gray who found the net and sent the Watford fans wild. After we had finished celebrating, we then had the entertainment of watching other fans coming back after getting their half time refreshments. Their faces were a picture. Wolves had a half chance to regain the lead as Doherty crossed for Jota but the shot was well over the target. Deulofeu then played a lovely ball to Gray, but Boly muscled him off the ball and came away with it. Pereyra released Deulofeu who tried to chip the keeper, but Patricio made the catch. The first booking of the game went to Moutinho for barging Hughes over. Not wanting to be left out, Holebas then fouled Jota to get a yellow card of his own. Watford had a decent chance to take the lead as Doucouré headed the ball down to Pereyra, but the shot was wide of the near post.
There were shouts for a penalty as a shot from Hughes appeared to be handled, but the referee wasn’t interested. That was Will’s last involvement in the game as he was replaced with Kabasele. Hughes had been terrific, absolutely everywhere, and deserved the ovation that he was given when he left the pitch. But the change in formation did not favour the Hornets and the next chance fell to Moutinho who tried a shot from distance that was deflected over the bar. The winning goal for the visitors seemed to come out of nothing. A long cross-field ball from Neves found Jota who finished past Foster. From the other end of the ground, it just looked unfortunate, but reports from those at the Vicarage Road end indicated that Foster should have done better with the cross. Others blamed Storm Hannah. Gracia was forced into a substitution bringing Success (!) on for Cathcart who had been limping for a while. I love Javi, but his substitutions on Saturday were interesting to say the least. Jota was booked for time wasting after kicking the ball away when Watford were awarded a free kick. It was amusing to see him trying to claim that he had been passing the ball back to Foster. The visitors made a late substitution bringing Cavaleiro on for Jiménez, who ambled off the pitch. There were shouts for a penalty from the Wolves fans as Kabasele brought Jota down in the box. It looked like a superb tackle from where we were and the referee agreed. There was a late booking for Capoue who then got involved in a spot of handbags. Nuno brought Gibbs-White on for Jota to waste a little more time. The final whistle went soon after, ensuring that Wolves left Hertfordshire with the three points and in pole position to finish in seventh place.
Unlike on Tuesday, it was hard to be angry at the end of this game. The word that I heard repeatedly was “disappointing”. It had been a very even contest between two well matched teams and the best team on the day won the game. Again, we missed Deeney’s leadership. That harsh sending off has probably prevented us finishing as the best of the rest. However, we can only hope that the rest has done him good and he comes back to spearhead a barnstorming end to the season that finishes with him lifting the FA Cup.
After the game, my sister, Rose, insisted on going into the Hornet shop, having seen our Cate’s purchase of the cup final shirt placing GT in 1984 alongside Javi in 2019. We both emerged with the same t-shirt, probably the first time the three of us will have an identical item of clothing since our lovely Mum used to make our dresses in the 70s.
I know that the most important game is the next one, but now that seventh place looks impossible, all focus is on the Cup Final, which has to be the better way to qualify for Europe. Oh dear, there go those nerves again.