Tag Archives: Jack Butland

Goalless but Happy on a Cold Night in Stoke

Javi Gracia takes charge of his first league game for Watford

Why is it that when you are taking the afternoon off work, nobody speaks to you until a couple of minutes before you are due to leave and then it is a crisis that has to be dealt with?  I must have appeared very rude as I packed my bag and changed into my walking shoes while answering the questions coming my way, but I had a train to catch.

Once I left the office, it was a nice easy journey to Stoke, and having opted to travel first class, there was the delight of a glass of wine with my late lunch.  When I arrived at the hotel, I was happy to see a number of regulars milling around the foyer and the bar.  I was soon joined by my companions for the evening and we headed for the pub.  The pre-match pub at Stoke is lovely.  In previous years it has had a sign indicating that it is home fans only (not that we have ever been turned away).  That was missing on this occasion and, as always, there was a nice mix of home and away fans present.  One of the main topics of conversation was the dreadful behaviour of the Watford fans at Southampton and the belief that we wouldn’t be seeing that section of the support on a cold night in Stoke.

We set off for the ground in plenty of time.  I must admit that the walk along the towpath isn’t the most picturesque in daylight.  On a dark Winter’s evening, there was nothing to see but the lights of the stadium which shone in the distance welcoming us.

Challenging at a corner

Team news was that Gracia had made four changes for his first game in the Premier League giving a debut to Deulofeu in place of Carrillo, with Deeney, Cleverley and Prödl coming in for Gray, Watson and Janmaat.  So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Mariappa, Kabasele, Prödl, Holebas; Doucouré, Cleverley; Deulofeu, Capoue, Richarlison; Deeney.

Watford started brightly as a cross from Holebas was met by Prödl, but Butland was equal to the shot.  The first chance for the home side came as a cross from Adam was flicked wide by Diouf.  Watford had a great shout for a penalty as Deulofeu appeared to be thrown to the ground in the box, but the referee saw no infringement.  Then Richarlison pulled the ball back for Cleverley whose shot was over the bar.  The first booking of the game was earned by Kabasele for a push on Shaqiri.  Stoke earned their first booking soon after when Adam was cautioned for a trip on Richarlison.  At this point in the game, I couldn’t help but notice how different the crowd were from Saturday.   Lots of positive chants in support of our team and, on transfer deadline day, there was a lot of love for Deeney and the fact that he would finish the season as a Watford player.  The home side had a great chance to open the scoring as a quick break finished with a shot from Adam that was stopped by a brilliant block from Mariappa, Choupo-Moting picked up the loose ball and curled a shot just wide of the far post.

Deulofeu makes his debut

It was then Watford’s turn to break forward and Butland needed two attempts to gather the cross from Holebas.  Bauer was the next to be cautioned for a nasty tackle on Cleverley.  His reaction was pure outrage pointing out that he had played the ball (as well as the man).  Utterly ridiculous.  A decent free-kick from Holebas was headed goalwards by Doucouré, but Adam managed to clear the shot off the line.  The resultant corner from Holebas bounced off the crossbar.  Watford threatened again when Cleverley picked up a loose ball in midfield, he played a square ball to Doucouré whose weak shot was easy for Butland.  The final chance of the half fell to the Hornets as Deulofeu broke forward and crossed for Richarlison whose shot flew over the bar.

As the players walked towards the tunnel in the corner by the away fans for the half time break, they were cheered off the pitch.  It had been a much better performance than of late, with considerably more effort and energy on show.  Deulofeu had made a lively debut, Mariappa had done very well fitting in at right back and even Capoue had put in a decent shift.

Deeney and Doucoure in the Watford box

The first action of the second half was a booking for Holebas for a foul on Diouf.  Adam took the free kick, his low shot was easy for Karnezis.  There was another booking when Kabasele was knocked to the ground by Diouf.  I didn’t see the foul, but a number of comments post-match indicated that his reaction to the contact was over the top, which was interesting as the other Watford players reacted as if it had been a nasty challenge.  A lovely Watford move started with a break by Doucouré, who found Deulofeu, he flicked the ball on to Richarlison whose shot was deflected wide.  From the corner there was a total mishit from Deulofeu, allowing Stoke to break down the other end where Allen shot over the target.  Stoke made a substitution just before the hour mark replacing Adam with Crouch.  We had Karnezis to thank for keeping the game goalless as he pulled off a superb double save, first from Shaqiri, then the rebound from Crouch.  The Stoke substitute was having a lively start to the game and, soon after, he got on the end of a cross from Diouf but was forced to turn it wide under pressure from Mariappa.  Watford’s first substitution saw Richarlison make way for Gray.  I have to say that the young Brazilian appeared devastated at being taken off.  The Watford substitute was soon involved in the action as he played the ball to Doucouré whose shot was stopped by a great block from Shawcross.

Mapps takes a free kick

Watford’s next substitution was enforced as Pereyra came on for Cleverley who had appeared to go down with a hamstring injury.  The Stoke fans were less than sympathetic yelling at him for being a cheat.  Charming!  Watford continued to look for the breakthrough as Doucouré won the ball in the midfield before finding Pereyra whose shot was deflected for a corner.  There was an even better chance in the next move after Deulofeu beat a couple of players before the ball found its way to Pereyra but, again, Butland was equal to the strike, pushing it out for a corner.  The set piece was played out to Doucouré who shot wide of the target.  There was a late change for each side as Berahino replaced Diouf and Carrillo came on for Deulofeu, who went off to appreciative applause from the travelling Hornets.  The last chance of the game fell to the home side as a corner from Shaqiri was met by the head of Shawcross, but it was an easy save for Karnezis and the game finished goalless.

Kabasele and Prodl

It was a game of little quality, but plenty of action and endeavour and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  At the end of the game, the players were warmly applauded and Pereyra and Kabasele, who had been abused at the end of the previous game, handed over their shirts to smiling fans.  While a goalless draw at Stoke wouldn’t be everyone’s idea of a good night out, it was a point well won and I left the ground with a big smile on my face.

After a swift glass of red at the pub, we headed back to the hotel and spent a late night in the lounge with a large number of Watford fans.  Everyone in attendance had thoroughly enjoyed the performance and were happy to have been part of a more positive crowd.  One fan had actually contemplated staying at home due to the unpleasantness of the crowd on Saturday.  Thankfully he hadn’t and had his faith in his fellow fans restored.

The rest of the season will not be easy but there were more than enough positives in that performance and, if we all pull together, we could have an end to the season that is as much fun as the start was and that is something to look forward to.

Stymied by Stoke

The piper plays Flowers of the Forest

Back to Vicarage Road again and, after a busy week, it was lovely to sit down with the crowd for the pre-match pint.  I bumped into someone that I hadn’t seen for a while, a regular who had almost given up in the dark days at the end of Mazzarri’s reign.  He was all smiles again, thoroughly enjoying the football as we all are.  I must admit that, going into this game I was less confident than last week against Chelsea.  There is something about Stoke and their negative style of play that made me think that we could struggle.

Since it was the last game before Remembrance Day, there was a piper on the pitch to play Flowers of the Forest.  This was followed by a minute’s silence.  Both were observed impeccably by the crowd.

Team news was two changes for the Hornets with Capoue and Carrillo coming in for Mariappa and Pereyra.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Holebas, Britos, Kabasele, Femenía; Capoue, Cleverley, Doucouré; Richarlison, Deeney, Carrillo.

Rare first half action in the Stoke box

There was a slow start to the game, with Watford having most of the possession but being given little space by the visitors.  So it was a bit of a shock when Stoke took the lead on 16 minutes after a corner from Shaqiri reached Fletcher on the edge of the box from where he powered a shot through the bodies in the box and past Gomes.  You couldn’t help thinking that, having taken the lead, Stoke would make it difficult for us.  There was certainly little in the way of goal attempts in the half.  The first half chance came as Holebas played a ball into the box for Deeney, who was unable to reach it.   A Cleverley corner was headed on by Britos, to Capoue who tried and failed to finish, but was in an offside position anyway.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came in the 38th minute as Cleverley played a lovely ball to Deeney who tried to place his shot, which drifted wide.

That was it for the first half.  The whistle was greeted with a few boos from the Rookery.  Who are these people?  It hadn’t been pretty, but any football had been played by the home side.

The beautiful game did make an appearance during the half time penalty shoot-out when a young girl from Holy Rood floated a perfect chip over the keeper.  Sign her up!

Capoue and Holebas prepare for a short corner

The second half started at a cracking pace.  The first chance came as Doucouré played a gorgeous ball to Femenía who went on a run and crossed for Deeney, but Shawcross got a block in to prevent the shot.  The next chance followed the same pattern starting with a beautiful ball from Doucouré and finishing with Shawcross clearing before Deeney could shoot.  Next a cross from Holebas was flicked on by Deeney to Capoue, who couldn’t quite reach it to apply the finish.  Watford came closer still as Holebas played a cross-field pass to Carrillo who cut the ball back to Richarlison, but the angle was too acute for the Brazilian and his shot hit the side netting.  The first substitution came just before the hour mark as Gray replaced Capoue.  Stoke could have increased their lead when, completely against the run of play, there was a forward break from Sobhi, he cut the ball back to Allen who shot just wide of the target when he should have done better.  Watford continued to threaten as Cleverley advanced and put in a decent cross, but Butland’s fist reached the ball just before Richarlison’s head.  Another chance for the young Brazilian went begging as a cross from Britos reached him, but he couldn’t get a proper connection for the header and it flew wide.  Watford also should have done better with the next chance as a cross from Carrillo reached Gray, but he mishit the shot and it went wide of the near post.

Fisticuffs by the dugouts

Stoke’s first change came as Berahino replaced Sobhi in a substitution that seemed to take an age (they had been wasting time from soon after they scored).  Watford’s next chance came from a corner, but Doucouré’s shot was blocked and the ball was deflected over the target.  The second substitution for the Hornets came as Carrillo was replaced by Hughes, making his debut for the Hornets.  A rare attack by the visitors finished as Choupo-Moting shot straight at Gomes.  Watford had another decent chance as a lovely ball into the box from Doucouré was flicked on by the head of Gray, but Deeney couldn’t reach it to turn it in.  There was danger at the other end as a cross from Shaqiri wasn’t cut out but, even as Gomes hesitated, he did enough to cause Berahino to shoot wide.  Watford threatened again as Gray met a cross from Cleverley with a header that flew on to the roof of the net.  Soon after, it all kicked off on the sideline.  I don’t know what provoked it, but it seemed to start with Doucoure and Diouf who, in photographic evidence obtained from a friend in the SEJ stand, squared up to each other before everyone else got involved, including some members of the Stoke coaching staff, but it was only the initial perpetrators who were cautioned.  After the dust settled, Stoke made another substitution replacing Shaqiri with Adam.  There was another scuffle after Stoke had put the ball out when one of their players went down with cramp in their box.  It had appeared to be an attempt to waste time and the ball was, quite rightly in my opinion, not returned to them.  This incensed Allen who went for Deeney and it all got rather unpleasant.  The two men were booked, but the television pictures of the altercation suggest that Deeney may incur further punishment for his reaction, which would be unfortunate.  Watford had one last chance to win a point as Hughes found Gray, but the shot was deflected for a corner.  As it was late into time added on, Gomes came up to join the attack and was nearly caught out as Stoke broke upfield, Gomes was unable to tackle Adam, who advanced with an open goal to aim at but found the far post instead, much to the amusement of the Rookery faithful.

Doucoure on the ball

There were boos again at the final whistle, although most of these appeared to be aimed at the opposition.  Richarlison, Britos and Holebas had collapsed to the turf on full time with the latter staying prone with his shirt over his head for some considerable time.

It was a disappointing afternoon.  The football was horrible but, credit to Stoke, they played their game very well and we didn’t play ours.  The second half was much better as Watford attacked at pace, but the Stoke defence were very well organized and Butland didn’t have a save to make.  Special credit must go to Zouma, who had a great game keeping Richarlison very quiet.

As we walked up Occupation Road, a familiar face passed us, and I couldn’t help wondering if Pereyra would have made a difference, but it was one of those afternoons.

Back in the West Herts and the post-match analysis focussed on how horrible Stoke were to watch.  All very true, but you have to find a way past these teams and we failed to do that.  The positive is that this is one of very few games that have not been entertaining so far this season.  So let us put this one behind us and look forward to Goodison Park next Sunday.

 

Stoked in the Potteries

 

The oatcake and beer barges

The oatcake and beer barges

I have just returned from a business trip, the original plans for which would have meant missing this game and, to be honest, if I had to miss a game then a trip to Stoke wasn’t one I would be too upset about.  As it turned out, I missed the Arsenal game instead, or rather I spent the morning sitting in a pub in San Francisco watching it.  I was so proud of our performance for the first hour, especially the fact that we went for it rather than the cautious approach that we took against Man City.  The three goals were a little hard to take, but our season won’t be decided by the results of games against the likes of Arsenal.  The game against Stoke was a different matter completely.  It would be a real test, with the result giving an indication of what we can expect for the rest of the season.

My previous trips to Stoke have been on the supporters’ coach, so I’ve always had the impression that the ground is miles out of town and a pig to get to.  Also, away fans are advised to avoid most of the pubs.  So, as I left home feeling fatigued after my travels, I did not have high hopes for my day out.  However, on arrival at the designated pub, which had a sign in the window indicating that only Stoke fans were welcome, the door was held open for me by the security guy, which is always a good sign.  Our advance party was already in place at a table, the beer was good and the food was hearty.  As the pub filled up, there seemed to be more faces that I recognized than not, so the sign in the window was not acting as any kind of deterrent.  The next adventure was to walk to the ground.  It turned out to be an easy stroll along the canal towpath which was not the most picturesque I have ever encountered, but certainly had lots to remark upon.  There was a group of ropey looking canal boats, one of which had foliage on the rudder suggesting a lack of custom.  They were just outside a ‘shooting range’ that appeared to be someone’s garden shed.  Then, as we arrived at the bridge to the ground, there were a couple of somewhat nicer looking barges which were serving oatcakes and beer and doing a roaring trade from the punters who had made the ‘long’ trek from town.

Gomes takes a free kick

Gomes takes a free kick

Team news was just the one change with Britos making his league debut in place of Prödl, a selection that raised eyebrows, especially from those who had witnessed his truncated performance at Deepdale.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Britos, Cathcart, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Anya, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.  Stoke came into the game in good form having won their previous three league games while only conceding a single goal.  Given Watford’s lack of goalpower, this record was a little worrying.  But we started well as Deeney got goalside of Cameron only for Johnson to appear to take the ball off his feet and redirect it towards Butland.  The home side’s first chance fell to Charlie Adam whose shot from the edge of the area flew wide of the near post.  Then Anya cut the ball back to Watson whose shot was blocked.  Stoke were forced into an early substitution as defender, Cameron, was replaced by Wilson due to an injury sustained in his early challenge with Deeney.  A cross into the Watford box was well blocked by Capoue, it came back in and Aké headed clear but only as far as Adam whose shot was deflected for a corner.  Abdi exchanged passes with Aké before finding Anya whose attempted cross was blocked so looped unthreateningly into the area before it was cleared.  Stoke had a great chance to take the lead just before the half hour as a dangerous cross from Shaqiri was headed wide by Arnautovic when he really should have done better.

Celebrating Deeney's goal

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

Watford had been dreadful for most of the half, they looked sluggish and passes were going horribly astray.  But, just as I was thinking I should have stayed at home and slept off the jet-lag, we had a great chance to take the lead.  Anya broke forward and crossed for Ighalo.  I was already celebrating when the Nigerian’s header came back off the crossbar, but the chance had not gone.  Odion’s follow-up shot was blocked and rebounded to Abdi, the ball got stuck under his feet so he moved it on to Deeney who was in space but his shot hit the same spot on the crossbar that Ighalo had found and rebounded to safety.  At the other end a Stoke break was stopped as a cross from Johnson was blocked by the brilliant Watson.  From the corner, Shaqiri’s delivery appeared to be flying in but Gomes punched it clear.  Surprisingly, it was the visitors who took the lead just before half time.  A lovely back heel from Ighalo found Deeney who got into position and curled the ball into the corner past Butland.  The celebrations in the away end had extra impetus due to Deeney finally having scored his first goal of the season.  He has worked his socks off and thoroughly deserved it.  Most of the first half had been dreadful, but the goal ensured that the Hornets left the pitch to applause and with Troy Deeney’s name ringing out in the Britannia.

Deeney congratulating Abdi after he scored the second

Deeney congratulating Abdi after he scored the second

Watford launched the first attack of the second half as a long free kick from Gomes reached Deeney whose header was soft and straight at Butland.  At the other end, Shaqiri hit a shot from outside the area that flew high and wide.  Deeney had a great chance for a second as Ighalo found him in space.  Last season he would have buried the ball, but this time he took one touch too many and the chance was gone.  Watford had a shout for a penalty as Ighalo tumbled in the box, but the referee waved appeals away, which was fine by me as it would have been rather soft.  A corner from Watson reached Ighalo in the centre of the box, he volleyed goalwards, but there was a body in the way to block the shot which was hit with such power that I would suspect that body was hurting for some time.  Watford were on top now and a Cathcart free kick was nodded down by Deeney towards Ighalo who was held off by a defender so couldn’t reach the ball.  Flores made his first substitution on 64 minutes replacing Anya with Paredes.  Watford’s second goal came on 69 minutes as Ighalo battled to dispossess Wilson on the left and played a perfect pass into the path of Abdi who advanced and hit a gorgeous shot past Butland at the near post.  The celebrations in the away end were joy unconfined.

Challenging at a corner

Challenging at a corner

Watford were looking to increase their lead further as Paredes advanced down the right, his cross reached Abdi who balooned his shot wide.  Paredes then had a chance himself as he hit a powerful shot from outside the area that Butland dived to keep out, although the block was such that the ball could have flown anywhere.  A Stoke counter-attack finished with Walters shooting well wide of the far post.  The first booking of the game went to Whelan for taking Capoue down in the centre circle.  Watford’s second substitution saw Behrami replacing goalscorer, Abdi, who went off to warm applause and the sound of his name being chanted.  Another Stoke chance was scuppered as the attentions of Deeney ensured that Adams shot high and wide.  At the other end, Deeney played a ball to Capoue whose shot curled just wide of the target.  Stoke’s late attempts to cut the deficit were poor as, first, a Johnson cross was headed wide by Arnautovic and then a corner flew across goal and straight out for a goal kick.  A late substitution by the visitors saw Guedioura coming on for Igahlo.  The Nigerian took a while to leave the pitch so was pushed by Pieters, there was a bit of handbags and both men received a caution.  Stoke’s frustration manifested again as Adam hacked Capoue down and was carded for the offence.  As the fourth official signalled four minutes of time added on, the home stands were almost empty.  The final chance of the game fell to Capoue whose low free kick was disappointing and flew well wide of the goal.

Just after the post-match hug

Just after the post-match hug

There were great celebrations in the away end after the final whistle and it was lovely to see Flores, Deeney and Gomes return from thanking the referee with their arms around each other.  As the last Watford player left the pitch the travelling Hornets were still bouncing and singing and my earlier jet-lagged state had been replaced with euphoria.  If we had been fortunate in the first half, we had been excellent in the second and thoroughly deserved the win.  While the goals for Deeney and Abdi and Ighalo’s two assists will attract the headlines, the consensus among our party was that the man of the match award should go to Watson, who was quietly magnificent running the midfield, with a special mention for Capoue who had the home side rattled throughout.

So 10 games played, 13 points and 13th in the table.  We’d have taken that in August.  We’ve also broken our Premier League duck for October.  It is always good to see records like that falling.

As I was waiting for the train home, I was joined on the platform by Stuart Timperley and Miles Jacobson, fresh from the Stoke boardroom, so had a very interesting journey home with these two delightful gentlemen.  A wonderful end to an unexpectedly enjoyable day in Stoke.

 

County’s Cracking Strikes

The new Community Stand

The new Community Stand

Having suffered two defeats just before the international break, there was little confidence going into this game against a Derby side that started the day at the top of the table.  Any hopes that had been sparked by the news that Abdi and Angella were available for selection were dashed when neither of them was in the starting line-up which was Bond, Doyley, Ekstrand, Bassong, Paredes, Dyer, Andrews, Tözsér, Forestieri, Ighalo and Deeney.  The Derby team included Watford old boy, Craig Forsyth.  One positive on arrival at the ground was to see fans entering the new stand from Occupation Road.  The structure and the fact that we finally have a four sided ground again is certainly cause for celebration.

Derby had an early chance to take the lead as Andrews failed to clear and the ball fell to Hendrick whose shot was turned onto the post by Bond.  At the other end, Deeney released Dyer but his cross was terrible.

Keogh holds off Ighalo as Harry Hornet looks on

Keogh holds off Ighalo as Harry Hornet looks on

There was an early yellow card for Keogh who was penalized for dragging Deeney back as he attempted to break.  A cross from Andrews was dummied by Ighalo and ran through to Dyer whose shot was easily gathered by Butland.  A cross reached Ibe in Watford the box, but his shot was blocked by Ekstrand.  The resulting corner flew along in front of the goal but, fortunately, there was no Derby player on hand to turn it in.  Ibe had another shot on goal, this time it was Deeney on hand to block.  Forestieri played a through ball for Ighalo but Shotton was in close attendance and stopped the Nigerian with a great tackle.  Watford threatened with a shot from Deeney that Butland parried, it went out for a throw from which Forestieri unleashed a shot that Butland gathered.  Dyer did well to win the ball in the midfield, he passed to Deeney who found Forestieri in the box, sadly Fernando hesitated before shooting so was tackled and fell over.  He pleaded for a penalty but the referee gave the corner.  Tözsér took the set piece which Butland punched clear.

Deeney breaks into the box

Deeney breaks into the box

On the half hour, Paredes nearly put the home side in trouble as he tried to dribble out of defence, was dispossessed but the shot to the near post was easy for Bond.  The young keeper was in action again getting a hand to a shot from Martin and pushing it around the far post.  The visitors took the lead in the 38th minute as Russell found Ibe on the left of the Watford box from where he hit a great shot into the top right corner.  Watford tried to hit back immediately as Doyley played a lovely through pass to Dyer who was tripped as he shaped to shoot so he ended up belting the ball over the bar.  At the other end, Martin connected with a Mascarell free-kick but Bond pulled off another excellent reflex save to tip the ball over the bar.  There were boos at the half-time whistle, which was harsh.  We had been a bit careless in our passing, hesitant before shooting and indulged in some suicidal defending, but were only a goal down to a cracking strike.

Vydra knocked flying

Vydra knocked flying

At the start of the second half, Vydra replaced Ighalo.  There was an early scare for the home side as Hendrick went for a run along the bye-line, but his cross went begging.  Tözsér found Forestieri in another great position, but again, Fernando hesitated and the shot was blocked.  Then a low cross from Paredes was dummied by Vydra and reached Deeney whose shot was saved.  Derby immediately launched a counter-attack through Hughes whose cross was met by Russell but the shot was high and wide.  Vydra went on a storming run down the wing, his cross was cleared but reached Forestieri whose shot flew fractionally wide of the far post.  Martin beat Ekstrand to get through on goal, Bond bravely came and saved at his feet and was down for a while receiving treatment but, thankfully, was soon fit to continue.  In the 60th minute, there was a minute’s applause that started in the Rookery in memory of Colin Roe, a Watford fan who died on the way to the Millwall game.  A nice touch, it was well observed, although the players must have been baffled.  Thankfully, we were attacking at the time and they seemed to derive encouragement although it didn’t result in a shot on goal.

Munari running to celebrate his goal with the bench

Munari running to celebrate his goal with the bench

Soon after, Andrews was replaced by Munari.  Forestieri had another chance but, again, shot just wide.  Derby then made their first substitution with Bryson replacing Hughes.  Watford had a great chance to equalize as Doyley met a cross from Paredes with a header that Butland saved, the ball rebounded to Deeney, but he had his back to goal so could only pass to Dyer whose shot was blocked.  Watford drew level soon after as a lovely move finished with Munari running on to a ball into the box from Dyer and burying it past Butland.  We could have taken the lead soon after as Forestieri exchanged passes with Deeney before finding Vydra whose shot was just wide of the target.  Forestieri then found Deeney whose shot was blocked.  With a quarter of an hour remaining, both sides made a substitution with Anya replacing Dyer for the Hornets and the goal scorer, Ibe, making way for Dawkins for the visitors.  Munari and Vydra then exchanged passes, the ball rolled through to Deeney but his shot, on the run, was well over the target.  Derby had a rare second half chance as a cross from Forsyth was met with a glancing header from Russell that flew wide.  Bassong went on a run and found Vydra in the box but two defenders converged to stop the Czech from shooting.  Russell launched a counter attack and found Forsyth whose shot was saved by Bond.

Bond fit to continue

Bond fit to continue

Derby took the lead soon after with a gorgeous shot from distance by Bryson.  That was really harsh on the Hornets who had dominated the half.  Watford had a chance to hit back as a Vydra corner was met by a header from Munari that fell to Keogh who kindly played it back to Munari but the Italian’s shot was cleared by Butland.  The resulting corner reached Tözsér but his shot landed on the top of the Derby net.  The final chance for an equalizer fell to Anya who was thwarted as Butland stuck a foot out to deflect his shot wide.

There was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth from Watford fans after this game, which I found a little hard to understand.  We had been wasteful at times but had dominated the second half and had been beaten by two wonder strikes.  Still, I’m always happier when the expectation levels fall as high expectation breeds tiresome impatience in the crowd.

 

Whites-wash

Yesterday was a very sad day for me as I handed the Supporter of the Season shield back to the club ready to be engraved with the name of this year’s winner.  I have to admit that I had it sitting on my desk at work all day, just to eke out the final moments with it in my possession.

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

Team news was that Beppe had made four changes from Saturday’s team, the most significant of which was Abdi’s first start since August.  The announcement of Almen’s involvement was greeted with loud cheers from the Vicarage Road crowd.  The starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Riera, Tözsér, Abdi, Murray, Faraoni, Anya and Deeney.  The Leeds line-up included the evil Poleon, whose actions last season in causing Bond’s injury cast a pall over the last game of the season.  But, as always, it was lovely to see Watford legend Nigel Gibbs back at Vicarage Road, even if it pains me to see him with that crest on his chest.

Gibbsy and Sannino exhibiting their national characteristics

Gibbsy and Sannino exhibiting their national characteristics

Watford started brightly and, in the third minute, Anya released Abdi on the left, he crossed for Faraoni whose shot was blocked.  Anya then received a pass from Deeney on the edge of the box, but was taken out by a sliding tackle.  We were a goal up after 8 minutes as Abdi played a lovely ball to Anya on the left wing, he advanced and crossed and there was Abdi to head the ball past Butland.  It was a lovely goal, made all the more enjoyable by the identity of the goalscorer.  It is great to have Almen back.  For the next twenty minutes, Leeds had a lot of possession but were not allowed to do anything with it.  Then Marco Cassetti executed a high tackle on Tonge and found his way into the referee’s book just in time to earn himself a suspension for his tenth caution of the season.  Just before the half hour, Deeney played a lovely through ball to Anya, but the Scot got the ball caught under his feet and the defence got back to thwart him.  Then McCormack saw Almunia off his line and launched an audacious shot from the halfway line that had the Watford keeper back-pedalling to get

Celebrating Anya's Goal

Celebrating Anya’s Goal

behind it.  We went two goals up as Anya played a short pass to the overlapping Riera, his low cross reached Murray who played it short to Faraoni whose cross back to the far post was met with a header from Anya that flew past Butland.  Watford attacked again as Deeney released Murray who advanced before playing a through ball to Faraoni but his shot was put out for a corner.  At half time, there was satisfaction that we were comfortably two goals ahead.  Leeds had had a lot of possession, but our defence had restricted their shooting opportunities so that the only shot that Almunia had to deal with was a punt from the half-way line.

Challenges in the penalty area

Challenges in the penalty area

Leeds were immediately on the attack at the start of the second half as Riera lost out to Poleon who played a through ball to Hunt whose shot was wide of the near post and bounced behind the goal.  Deeney played a ball over to Anya but he was tripped by Wootton, who was booked.  Then Murray played a lovely ball to Deeney in the box, but Butland came out to block.  The clearance eventually reached Tözsér who, with shouts of “shoooot” ringing in his ears, curled a shot just wide of the target.  Then Riera intercepted the ball, it reached Deeney who tried to release Anya, but the pass was too far in front of him.  At the other end, a low shot from the substitute, Stewart, was straight at Almunia.  On the hour mark, Faraoni put the ball out to allow McCormack to receive treatment and was rewarded with a kick from Hunt, who was lucky to escape with a yellow card.  Hunt was involved in the next attack but his header from a free kick was straight at

Deeney is under there somewhere

Deeney is under there somewhere

Almunia.  Watford’s third goal was a testament to the persistence of two men.  First Abdi intercepted and then battled a defender to keep the ball, he passed to Deeney who went past a couple of defenders in the box, while never appearing to have control of the ball, before hitting a shot from an acute angle that hit the roof of the net.  By way of celebration, he leapt into the Rookery and was engulfed in the celebrating crowd.  When he emerged he was given a yellow card.  Then Anya beat a defender and cut the ball back to Deeney who tried to find his strike partner with a through ball, but Butland was first to it.  Poleon tried a shot at Almunia, which was parried, and, when he lined up to shoot from the rebound, he was tackled and Watford launched a counter attack which finished with Anya playing a square ball to Deeney who looked certain to score but Butland stood tall

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

and blocked his shot.  At the other end, Warnock tried a shot that was well over the bar.  In the last ten minutes, both sides made substitutions as White replaced McCormack for Leeds and McGugan and Pudil came on for Abdi and Riera.  McGugan’s first action was to latch on to a throw-in and hit a cross that was blocked by Pearce with no little pain for the defender.  Leeds then put themselves into trouble as a corner bounced off the back of Tonge’s thigh and needed an intervention from Butland to prevent them from going further behind.  Merkel replaced Murray for the last couple of minutes of the game, but there was no subsequent action of note.

Applauding the crowd

Applauding the crowd

At the final whistle, there was a feeling of job done by the home team against an opposition that had had a lot of possession but were very poor.  But, sometimes, you have to give credit to a team in that situation.  I was impressed with the performance as, despite their possession, the Leeds players were allowed no time on the ball to create anything and never really threatened Almunia.  A feature after the final whistle of recent games has been the rage that Angella demonstrates when we underachieve, so it was nice to see him celebrating with his team mates rather than them running from his fury.

After the players had been applauded off the pitch, Cristian Battocchio made his way on crutches along the front of the Rookery and was greeted with warm applause and the faithful chanting his name.  Despite his injury, he was smiling broadly as he acknowledged the crowd.

Don and Johnno

Don and Johnno

On the way out of the ground, I went to meet Don Fraser in the Lower Rous.  During the game, he had been joined by Richard Johnson, a corporate guest for the game, who chose to watch from the disabled platform rather than the posh seats in the Upper Rous.  As we left through the lounge, I greeted Johnno, although I wasn’t sure that he could hear me after 90 minutes of listening to Don barracking the referee.  As we left through the hospitality entrance, there was a bloke surrounded by a crowd of people having photographs taken with him.  I assumed he was a retired footballer and that I would kick myself when I found out who he was.  Then I read the report of the game on the BBC website and saw a photograph of Massimo Cellino and the penny dropped.  Although why on earth anyone would want to have their picture taken with him completely baffles me.