Tag Archives: Jack Cork

Anti Football Wins the Day

Vicki’s first Watford game

After finally achieving our first win of the season against Norwich, I went into this game feeling uncharacteristically positive.  I had an extra reason to feel positive as my friend, Vicki, was visiting from the US.  I have made it my mission to share my love of Watford with all of my friends, meaning that she first saw the Hornets play in 2010 when she arrived in the UK on an earlier flight than she originally intended in order to take in a pre-season game at Boreham Wood.  This occasion had added significance as it was also the occasion that Toddy bought her first pint in the UK.  Since then she has seen Watford a couple of other times including another pre-season at Wealdstone when she met Lloydy and Mapps.  Her most recent game was in 2013 when, following a midweek win against Doncaster, she made the trip to Barnsley.  I had strongly advised her against going to that game.  No visitor from the US looks at possible destinations in the UK and plumps for Barnsley and we never win there anyway.  She was determined and ended up having a cracking day out with a great pub, fantastic company and a 5-1 Watford win.  This would be her first Premier League game and she was very much looking forward to it.

Capoue plays the ball

I decided not to subject Vicki to the convoluted train journey, especially as there was disruption at Euston, so I drove to the West Herts.  We arrived to find our party at the usual table.  It was a flying visit for a couple of them as Mike had been offered the use of the Community Trust table in the Elton John Suite, so the prawn sandwich brigade had a swift drink and then headed for their posh seats, while we enjoyed a proper football lunch of burger/hot dog and chips.  While we waited for our food to arrive, Glenn appeared with his bag of treats.  Vicki looked sceptical as the bag of pork scratchings appeared on the table but was persuaded to try one.  “Oh, they are really good.”

We headed to the ground at the usual time.  Needless to say, the touts decided to give this one a miss.  Once inside the Rookery, I showed Vicki to our seats and sped around to the GT stand to take a bag of sweets to Don, who had left for the game before Glenn arrived.

Deulofeu lines up a free kick

Team news was that Quique had made three enforced changes from the win at Norwich with Kabasele (suspended), Janmaat and Pereyra (both injured) making way for Mariappa, Femenía and Gray.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Dawson, Mariappa; Holebas, Capoue, Doucouré,  Femenía; Hughes; Gray, Deulofeu.  Deeney was again on the bench, this time accompanied by exciting prospects Ismaïla Sarr and Tom Dele-Bashiru.

Just before kick-off someone observed that Dyche had swapped ends so the Hornets would be defending the Rookery in the second half.  And so the torture began.

Three minutes into the game Burnley were already indulging in time-wasting and Sean Dyche had just had his first rant at the fourth official.  Watford had the first chance of note as a free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Dawson, but his effort flew past the top corner.  The next chance for the Hornets came when Capoue released Holebas who crossed for Doucouré at the back post, but the header back towards goal was cleared.  The Hornets won a free kick in a dangerous position when Hughes was hacked down by Tarkowski.  Sadly, Deulofeu curled the set piece into the arms of Pope.

Capoue giving instructions to Hughes

Deulofeu’s next effort was more impressive, he robbed Tarkowski before belting into the box and taking a shot, but Pope made a superb save with his feet.  Burnley’s first attack of note came after 20 minutes when they won a corner.  The delivery from McNeil was deep and flew straight out of play.  The first booking of the game came when Gray went up for a header with Tarkowski, who went down clutching his face and the Watford man was cautioned.  The Hornets won another free kick in a good position after Tarkowski handled the ball.  There were protracted complaints from the Burnley players leading to a booking for Mee.  Deulofeu took the free kick and hit it straight into the wall.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead after Gray broke forward before finding Femenía on the right, Kiko tried a shot but Mee stuck a foot out and managed to turn it back to Pope.  Another decent chance went begging as Deulofeu played the ball back to Capoue whose shot was poor and flew wide of the near post.  A lovely exchange of passes between Hughes and Doucouré finished with a shot from a narrow angle from Will that was blocked for a corner.  Hearing some applause at the front of the Rookery, I looked down to see Jay DeMerit making his way around for the half time interview.  A shot from Cathcart was blocked to shouts of handball from the Watford faithful, but the VAR check confirmed that the block was legitimate.  Then there was some concern as Dawson went down with what appeared to be a head injury.  He didn’t move for quite some time, which is always a bad sign.  Thankfully, he was able to walk off the field, but he couldn’t continue and was replaced by Masina.  This was now the sixth league game in a row in which we have been forced to make a substitution in the first half.  Into the five minute of added time and Deulofeu tried a run into the box that was stopped by a judicious foul by Tarkowski on the edge of the area.  The free kick from Deulofeu was on-target but kept out by a great one-handed save from Pope.  So, we reached half-time goalless, although the Hornets had much the better of the half and would have been ahead but for two excellent saves from Pope.  Burnley had defended well, but their efforts in attack resulted in only one (off-target) shot in the whole of the first half.

Jay DeMerit back at the Vic

The half-time interview was with Jay DeMerit, who had been at Vicarage Road on Friday evening for the European Premiere of a short film, “Game Changer”, which was an episode of the US animated show for children, LaGolda, which encourages kids to accept everyone for who they are and promotes inclusiveness in football and wider society.  This particular episode was in support of LGBTQ youth.  Also in attendance, and being interviewed, was Executive Producer, Judy Reyes.  Both Judy and Jay spoke positively about how the club had allowed them to promote their message of inclusivity, which seemed only too right given that Elton John is such an important part of our club.  They then went and had their photo taken with the children who took part in the half-time penalty shoot-out, who had been playing with a rainbow football.  It was only after the game that I realised that Judy Reyes played Carla in “Scrubs”.  I loved that show and was a big fan of hers.

The first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets when the ball broke to Capoue whose shot was deflected over the bar.  The home side threatened again as a cross from Capoue was headed goalwards by Mariappa, but his effort was blocked.  Mapps was then in action at the other end of the pitch, heading clear while under pressure from Mee.

The return of Deeney

The visitors took the lead from the resultant corner as Tarkowski’s header was blocked, Foster got stuck in the traffic in the box and was unable to intervene as Wood buried the rebound.  The goal was scored in the 53rd minute from the first on-target shot by the visitors.  After the goal the Burnley fans started a chant that I thought was “sexy football” but at a later rendition I heard “anti-football” which was much more accurate.  Flores decided to bring on the cavalry at this point replacing Gray with Deeney who took to the field to a huge ovation.  The Hornets had a chance to break back when they won a free kick in a dangerous position after Tarkowski fouled Capoue on the edge of the box.  Again the Burnley players protested the decision and Westwood was booked for dissent.  Capoue took the free kick himself, but it was a dreadful effort that flew well over the bar.  The visitors had a chance to increase their lead, but Foster blocked the shot from Hendrick and the follow-up from Bardsley was hit over the bar.  Flores made his final sub with a quarter of the match remaining, bringing Sarr on in place of Hughes.  As Pope wasted time retrieving the ball for a goal kick, Deulofeu placed the ball in position on the edge of the six yard box.  Needless to say, Pope wasted more time moving the ball to the other side of the area, much to the annoyance of the fans behind him in the Rookery.

Captain Capoue

Another decent chance for the Hornets came to nothing as Capoue released Holebas who cut inside but shot straight at Pope.  At the other end, a cross was chested down to Barnes who shot over the target.  With 15 minutes remaining, there were chances at both ends of the pitch.  First a corner from Westwood appeared to be heading for the net, but Foster punched clear allowing Deulofeu to break forward, he played Doucouré in, but the shot was high and wide.  Dyche then made his only substitution of the game replacing Wood with Rodriguez.  The Burnley substitute almost made an immediate impact as he hit a powerful shot that came off the underside of the bar, but the ball bounced off the line and was headed over by Cathcart.  The visitors appealed for a penalty when Barnes appeared to run into Holebas, the referee waved play on and the Hornets broke down the other end.  When the ball went out of play, it was announced that VAR was checking the penalty.  When the decision came through, the referee pointed back up the field and the players returned to the Rookery end of the field.  Barnes took the spot kick, Foster got a hand to it to push it onto the post but it bounced back and into the net.  The authorities had said that they would be giving the fans in the stadium more information about the VAR decisions and, sure enough, the big screen showed footage of the challenge which clearly showed Holebas kicking Barnes so, much to my annoyance, it was the correct decision.  To add insult to injury, the visitors scored a third goal when a Burnley free kick reached Tarkowski whose first effort drew a good save from Foster, but the rebound found the net.  The traveling Burnley fans burst into a chorus of “Andre, what’s the score?” while the majority of the home fans headed for the exits.  There was a chance for a consolation goal as a powerful shot from Deulofeu hit the crossbar, but it wasn’t to be and the game finished in a humiliating defeat for the Hornets.  As if that wasn’t enough, Norwich won and Southampton drew so we finished the afternoon back at the foot of the table.

Preparing for a free kick

There wasn’t much enthusiasm at the end of the game, but Troy did his usual lap of the pitch and was warmly applauded by the few who were still in the ground.

Due to the many early leavers, the trip up Occupation Road was somewhat quicker than usual.  When we arrived back at the West Herts, Pete assured me that I didn’t have to write the blog.  That was certainly a tempting thought.  As we muttered miserably about what we had seen that afternoon, the folk from the posh seats joined us.  I have to say that an afternoon of drinking wine in hospitality meant that they were considerably jollier than the rest of us.  On the way home, Vicki was very apologetic about not having brought us luck when it should have been me apologising having subjected her to that game and being utterly miserable all afternoon.

It is very hard to articulate my feelings about that game.  Burnley were dreadful but still managed to beat us 3-0.  The first half performance had been decent with the Hornets totally dominating.  I would bemoan the fact that they didn’t turn the dominance into goals, but we would have been two up but for a couple of excellent saves by Pope.  The loss of Dawson just before half time certainly made a difference.  He had been solid in the middle of the back three and was just what we needed against a team like Burnley.  The second half had started well but once the first goal went in, despite the fact that it was horribly scrappy, the confidence disappeared and we never really looked like getting back in the game.

It is hard to see where we go from here.  We have played a number of very poor teams this season and failed to pick up points from most of them.  We have a squad with a lot of talent but are suffering with both injuries and a lack of confidence.  I am trying to hold on to the thought that this team is too good to go down but, as the weeks go on, it is harder and harder to convince myself that we will survive.

 

Legends Remembered, Football Forgotten

Cate and I with GT

I arrived bright and early at the West Herts where only Don was waiting outside the door.  It hadn’t got properly cold at this point, but we were certainly very grateful when the doors were opened a little early and we took our seats at our usual table with our beverages of choice to wait for the rest of our party to arrive.

The build-up to the game had been dominated by Dyche’s comments about Watford to the Burnley Telegraph.  His statement, “The club is a radical shift from when I was there, absolutely chalk and cheese, from a community club built on the community to now built on a model,” was somewhat baffling given that Dyche was manager during Bassini’s tenure which goes down as the most depressing period off the field that I have experienced during 40 years of being a Watford supporter.  The arrival of the Pozzos not only saved the club but, during their ownership, the community feel around the club has returned with a vengeance.  The comparison between now and then is certainly chalk and cheese, but not in the way that was implied.  I can only conclude that Sean hasn’t been paying attention to what has been happening in Watford over the past 6 years.

Etienne Capoue

As we arrived in the ground, I was initially surprised to see that the Rookery concourse was heaving as it is not usually like that.  Then I remembered that the club had promised everyone a free drink to toast Graham Taylor two years after his passing.  It was a lovely gesture.  Somehow I had managed to miss my voucher, but was quite glad to escape the crowd and take my seat.

Team news was that Gracia had made three changes due to injury with Kabasele, Cleverley and Sema in for Cathcart, Doucouré and Hughes.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Kabasele, Mariappa, Holebas; Sema, Cleverley, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu and Deeney.  I must admit that, much as I love Kabasele, the absence of Cathcart caused me some concern.  Burnley had former loanee, Cork, in their starting line-up, former management, Dyche and Woan, in their dugout and lovely Matěj Vydra on the bench.

As the teams took the field, the crowd (including a number of Burnley fans) raised their scarves in honour of GT (the fellow next to me was given my spare so he could join in).  It really was quite a sight.  That was followed by a minute’s applause for both GT and Duncan Welbourne who passed away this week.  Chopper’s family were guests of honour of the club for the afternoon.

Holebas preparing for a throw-in

There was an early chance for the Hornets as Deulofeu went on a terrific run and found himself one on one with Heaton in the Burnley goal, but the keeper was able to keep the shot out.  Another chance soon after as a cross from Femenía eluded Deulofeu and dropped for Pereyra whose cross was nodded down by Deeney to Sema, but the Swede couldn’t get a strong enough connection and the ball was cleared.  Burnley’s first chance came on 10 minutes as a corner from McNeil was headed wide.  Burnley then had a period of pressure without troubling Foster, the next chance falling to the Hornets on 23 minutes as the ball reached Holebas who hit a shot from distance over the target.  Just before the half hour mark, the sight of Vydra warming up provoked applause from those in the Rookery, which was acknowledged by Matěj.  Foster was then called into action as a cross from Westwood was headed goalwards by Barnes but Ben stood tall and blocked the effort.  Burnley got closer to opening the scoring with free kick from McNeil which hit the side netting.  There was another let off for the Hornets as a defensive header from Mariappa dropped to Barnes whose shot was just wide of the target.  Then a rare bit of quality from the Hornets as Capoue played a through ball to Pereyra who found Deulofeu who curled a shot just wide of the far post.  There was some controversy as a panicked bit of Burnley defending sent the ball back into the arms of Heaton.  There were howls of “back pass” from the Rookery, but the referee wasn’t interested.  Burnley threatened again through Wood but, again, the shot found the side netting.  Watford could have taken the lead just before half time as a cross from Femenía found Deeney in the box, I was already on my feet as his shot flew towards the goal, but Heaton was able to make the save, so we went into half time with the game goalless.

Adrian Mariappa

After a bright start, it had been an awful half of football.  Burnley had the better of the play without causing Foster too many concerns.

At half time, the family of Thomas Sawyer, a young soldier who was killed in Afghanistan 10 years ago, were on the pitch and Thomas’s father paid heartfelt tribute to his son.  Then, as the players came out for the second half, the 1881 lads unfurled the Legends banner which we held over our heads in the Rookery in the knowledge that it features both GT and Duncan Welbourne.  Both events were touching tributes and a clear sign that the club has not lost its community focus.

The visitors should have taken the lead in the first minute of the second half as a ball through a defender’s legs led to a shot from Barnes that rolled across the front of the goal with no Burnley player able to turn it in.  The Clarets threatened again as a cross from Wood found Hendrick in the Watford box, but Foster was off his line to make the block.  Then a corner was headed back by Mee to McNeil whose shot was over the target.  Watford’s first chance of the half came as Femenía crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked.

Capoue waits for the ball to drop watched by Cleverley, Success and Britos

The first substitution of the game was made on 56 minutes as Sema, who had been struggling playing out of position on the right, was replaced by Success.  The substitute’s first action was to find Pereyra in a dangerous position, but the shot was high and wide.  Soon after, Success was flattened by Mee, who was booked for his trouble.  The Hornets were doing much better at this stage and Cleverley tried a shot from just outside the area, but it was an easy save for Heaton.  On the 72nd minute, GT’s picture appeared on the big screen and the crowd rose to cheer him.  I couldn’t quite decide whether I should be applauding or raising my scarf, so I tried to do both by applauding with the scarf draped over my arms.  I probably looked very strange, but it made me feel as though I was doing my part.  Gracia was then forced into a second substitution as Femenía left the field with an injury and was replaced by Britos.  There followed a booking for each side.  First a silly yellow for a display of petulance by Deulofeu when a throw was given to the opposition (choose your battles, Gerard).  Then Bardsley was booked for a foul on Success.  There was a major let off for the Hornets in time added on as, with the Rookery screaming for a foul in the build-up, McNeil’s shot was parried by Foster and fell to Barnes who found the net but was denied by the linesman’s flag.  I haven’t seen the incident again, but it seems that we were a bit fortunate with the decision.

Holebas readies for a corner with Cleverley in attendance

The final whistle went to a half-hearted chorus of boos in the Rookery.  It was a terrible game of football, but I still don’t understand the need to boo your own team.  As so often this season, we cannot play against teams set up to defend.  Burnley are masters of this art, but it is horrible to watch.  They also have a nasty habit of backing into defenders trying to get to high balls.  A dangerous tactic that won them numerous undeserved free kicks.  I also couldn’t help feeling sorry for the fourth official who must have been driven to despair by the constant moaning from Dyche and Woan.  To be honest, this is not a new tactic from Dyche, he honed his skills complaining to the officials from the touchline when he was in charge of our reserves (when such a team existed).

But enough about the opposition.  We missed Cathcart and Doucouré, so I was pleased to hear that their absence was due to minor injuries.  The absence of Doucouré seems to have an adverse effect on Capoue, who has more to think about and less freedom.  There is also less creativity going forward which may have played a part in Deulofeu and Pereyra having off days, although each had shots that were not that far off.  If one of those had gone in, it would have been a very different story.  On the way back to the West Herts I was told of a chap in the Rookery who declared that he had been watching Watford for 61 years and that this afternoon had felt as though it lasted all of those 61 years.  Still, looking at the positives, we don’t have to face Burnley again this season and are still 7th in the table.

So to St James’ Park next week for another crack at Newcastle.  I suspect that the crowd will be much depleted, but I hope that the lads give those who do travel something to cheer.  We owe Newcastle a beating, let us hope that it comes next week as a cup run would be rather good fun.

Hooray for London Buses

Kabasele tracking Barnes

In my enthusiasm to buy train tickets for the first away game of the season, I completely forgot about Burnley’s involvement in the Europa League, so was booked on the 8:03 from King’s Cross via Leeds on Saturday morning.  When the game was moved to the Sunday, I looked at changing the ticket but found that the first train leaving London on Sunday would not arrive in time for me to make kick-off.  Just as I was contemplating a lonely Saturday night in Burnley, a dear friend offered to show me the sights of Bradford, so I was treated to a Hockney exhibition followed by curry, beer and putting the world to rights.  All rather lovely.

We made good time on the journey from Bradford to Burnley on Sunday morning and were in the Cricket Club by 11 and soon joined by a couple of VIPs from the club as well as the Happy Valley Horns and Kate and the two Janices who had caught the supporters’ coach at 6am.  The cricket club is a lovely friendly place and we were soon in conversation with a local who is clearly enjoying their European exploits.

On arrival at the turnstiles, the steward looked slightly aghast at my tightly packed overnight bag and the discovery of toiletries inside had her shaking her head, declaring them flammable and therefore not allowed inside the stadium.  Thankfully her supervisor decided that roll-on deodorant and lemon shower gel were not too dangerous in the hands of a middle-aged woman so I was allowed to keep them. I assured her that I wouldn’t put a match to them.

Holebas launches a throw to Pereyra

Team news was that Gracia had kept faith with the team who did so well last week, so the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Kabasele, Janmaat; Pereyra, Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes; Gray, Deeney.  Burnley featured former Watford loanee Jack Cork and, of course, had Sean Dyche and Ian Woan in the dugout.

As I was on a flight to the US last Saturday for work, I missed the Brighton game, so I was really looking forward to my season starting properly.  But, as Watford hadn’t scored away from home since January 2nd and we never get anything at Burnley, my expectations were pretty low prior to kick-off.  Thankfully they were confounded as the Hornets started brilliantly with a chance in the second minute as Deeney crossed for Gray, whose shot was blocked by Tarkowski.  The visitors took the lead a minute later as Deeney and Gray exchanged passes before the former Burnley man hit a superb volley that gave Hart no chance.  I am pleased to confirm that, despite the length of time that had elapsed since the last away goal, the travelling Hornets had not forgotten how to celebrate.  The home fans were not so happy and, as if in sympathy, the big screen in the opposite corner went blank.

Cathcart takes a free kick

Unfortunately, Watford’s lead was very short lived as Burnley won a corner and Tarkowski rose highest to head home for the equaliser.  The home side then had a period of dominance and had a great chance to take the lead as Gudmundsson curled a gorgeous free kick towards the Watford goal, but Foster pulled off a decent save to keep the scores level.  Gray should have done better after exchanging passes with Pereyra but his shot was mishit and flew wide.  At the other end a Cork shot was blocked and, in the ensuing goalmouth scramble some tenacious defending ensured that no Burnley player got a clear sight of goal before the ball was finally cleared.  The Hornets had a decent end to the half and could have regained the lead when Deeney tried a shot from distance, but Hart got a hand to it and kept it out.  The first caution of the game went to Hughes for a silly challenge on Ward that appeared to take place off the field when Watford had already won a throw-in.  The home side had one last chance to take the lead before half time as a cross-cum-shot from Hendrick was saved by Foster, it fell to Lennon, but Holebas made a terrific tackle to prevent the shot.  So we reached half time with honours even.  It has to be said that Burnley had slightly the better of the half, but it had been a good contest.

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

The second half started brilliantly for the Hornets as a blocked ball into the box rebounded to Doucouré, who played a gorgeous pass to Deeney, with only Hart to beat he made no mistake and the Hornets were ahead again.  It turns out that Watford away goals are like London buses, you don’t see one for over seven months and then three come along at once.  This time it was Hughes who intercepted a terrible ball from Lowton, advanced and found the bottom corner.  At this point, the travelling Hornets were beside themselves.  The first Burnley booking was born of frustration as Ward was cautioned for pulling Hughes down.  Watford had a decent chance to increase their lead as Capoue launched a long cross into the box, but it was just too far in front of Deeney. As the game reached the final quarter hour, both sides made substitutions as Barnes and Vokes came on for Wood and Hendrick for the home side and Sema replaced Gray for the visitors with Watford switching to just one up front.  Vokes almost made an instant impact as he met a Gudmundsson free kick with a header that flew just wide.  Each side made a further substitution as Taylor came on for Ward and Femenía replaced Will Hughes, who went off to a standing ovation.  With time running out, Sema had a great chance to grab a fourth goal for the Hornets, but his low shot was put out for a corner.  Watford’s final substitution came with a minute to go as Deeney made way for Success.  As the fourth official raised the board showing time added on, Vokes crossed for Mee but the shot was poor and missed the target.  There was a better-looking chance as a cross reached Barnes but the shot was met with a good catch from Foster and the flag was up for offside anyway.  There was another caution for the Hornets as Janmaat was booked for a late tackle that was totally unnecessary.  But the final whistle went on a very satisfying win for the Hornets.

The Royal Dyche

As we streamed out of the ground, there were beaming smiles among the Watford fans who couldn’t quite believe what they had seen.  Not just three goals away from home, but against a very decent Burnley side at Turf Moor.  The first half had been even but, once Watford took the lead in the second half, the home side never looked like they would get back in the game.  It was great to see both Gray and Deeney on the scoresheet, they are playing very effectively together and making chances for each other and others.  There was some lovely football played, with three excellent goals, but that sublime pass from Doucouré was the pick of the bunch.  I think most Watford fans consider him to be the signing of the Summer but, after missing all of the pre-season games, he could have been forgiven if he had taken a few games to get back to his best.  On Sunday he was running after everything and playing as if he had never had a break.  He wasn’t the only one, another pleasing contrast to last season is the fitness of the players.  Most games last season started at pace but fizzled out after about 70 minutes as the players tired.  On Sunday, they were working until the end and saw the game out effectively.  A lot of people were nervous at the start of the season, but this is looking like a very strong side and they are playing the sort of football that we knew they were capable of last season, but so rarely saw.

On the way back to the station, I was delighted to pass the Royal Dyche pub.  The sign is a thing of beauty and I wish Sean luck for the rest of the season, but am delighted that it was the Watford fans who were smiling on Sunday.

 

Domination Leads to an Undeserved Defeat

Deeney, Mariappa and Capoue gather for a corner

Pre-match I had a very frustrating encounter at the ticket office where I was told that, unless we could provide a letter from the university proving that my niece has a place for her second year (we can’t as she has yet to finish her first year), we wouldn’t be able to renew her season ticket at student prices so she would jump from paying the 18 and under to the adult price, which is very steep for a 19 year old student.  After the Fans Forum event, at which the club made noises about encouraging local youngsters to support the club, I was very

disappointed that the club would treat a loyal young fan so appallingly.

Thankfully I was able to go to the West Herts to calm down.  Our usual pre-match crew was joined a couple of very welcome guests, who I hope will join us more regularly in the future.

Team news was that Gracia had named the same team as last week, so the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Mariappa, Prödl, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Femenía, Hughes, Pereyra; Deeney.  The Burnley team included former Watford loanee, Jack Cork, and their Management team, of course, includes Sean Dyche and Ian Woan.  Tim Coombs made a point of welcoming Sean back after the teams were announced and the Burnley manager was given a terrific welcome by the Vicarage Road faithful.

Deeney tries to reason with the referee

As at all Premier League grounds, there was a minute’s applause for Ray Wilkins, whose passing at the ridiculously young age of 61 hit me rather hard.  His time at Vicarage Road was not one that is remembered fondly by Watford fans, but when I met him at the kit sponsors do, I found him to be a lovely man (unlike Vialli).  It was pleasing that the applause in his memory started well before it was instructed.

Burnley started the game very brightly and had the ball in the net in the second minute from a Wood header, but the goal was disallowed for offside.  The visitors threatened again as a cross from Ward was met with a header from Barnes that cleared the crossbar.  Watford’s first chance came from a Janmaat cross that Deeney glanced just wide of the far post.  The next chance for the Hornets came from a lovely move involving Capoue, Janmaat and Hughes, who found Pereyra whose shot needed a decent save from the Burnley keeper, Pope, to keep it out.  Pereyra had another chance soon after as a short corner was played to Holebas who crossed for the Argentinian, whose shot from distance was saved.  The home side executed another lovely move as Hughes played a gorgeous pass to Femenía, who tried to return the compliment, but Pope was out to gather before the pass reached the Watford man.

Holebas prepares to take a corner

A rare attacking move for the visitors led to the ball pin-balling around the Watford box before it fell to Westwood whose shot was blocked by Mariappa.  Another short corner for the home side allowed Holebas to put in a dangerous looking cross, but Pope was able to claim it.  Watford attacked again, and the ball bounced between players without any of them being able to make a decent contact, finally it fell to Capoue who shot wide of the far post, to groans from the Rookery.  Pereyra had another great chance to put the Hornets in the lead as he beat a defender to get into the box and shot towards the top corner, but Pope pulled off another great save to deny him.  Deeney was the next to try his luck with a low shot that was cleared and that was it for the first half action.

It had been a terrific half of football.  The visitors started strongly but, from the 10th minute onwards, Watford were in control, playing some superb football and, were it not for a terrific performance from Pope in the Burnley goal, would have been a couple of goals to the good.

At half time, the crowd was introduced to Ryan Cassidy, a first year scholar who has just signed his first professional contract with Watford.  The little I have seen of him in action for the U18/U23 has been impressive.  Let us hope that he goes on to make a name for himself in the first team.

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal (photo by Cate Ephgrave)

The 50-50 draw was made by Malky Mackay, who mentioned that he had been joined by Aidy Boothroyd at the game.  Malky was given a very warm welcome, which made me happy as I sponsored him for a few years as player/manager and always found him to be a lovely man.

There was an early scare for the Hornets in the second half, as Karnezis came to gather a high ball and failed, thankfully it rebounded to safety.  Watford’s first chance of the second period came as Femenía found Hughes who played the ball back to Janmaat whose shot was straight at the keeper.  Watford won a free kick as Hughes was tripped on the edge of the Burnley box.  Pereyra’s set piece rebounded off the wall, but Watford kept possession and the ball reached Pereyra in the box, his strike was more impressive than last week’s, and had the same impact as it also ended up in the net to give Watford a very deserved lead.  At that point, I thought we would go on and win the game.  It wasn’t to be.

Pereyra prepares to take a free kick

With 20 minutes to go, Dyche made his first substitution bringing Vokes on for N’Koudou.  The Burnley substitute had an immediate impact as a free-kick was headed on by an off-balance Mariappa, and fell to Vokes who poked it past Karnezis.  It was his first touch and Burnley’s first shot of the half, but the visitors were level.  It went from bad to worse as, within 3 minutes, Burnley took the lead.  A free-kick into the box bounced around, it appeared that Karnezis had cleared it, but the referee indicated a goal from a Cork header and Burnley were inexplicably ahead.  Gracia made his first substitution bringing Okaka on for Janmaat.  Watford had a chance to hit back as a cross reached Deeney, but it appeared to bounce off his head and the chance was gone.  There was a better chance as Femenía crossed for Okaka, who headed over when he should have done better.  There was a rash of substitutions, as Hendrick replaced Lennon for the visitors, and Doucouré and Hughes made way for Carrillo and Richarlison for the Hornets.  The last 10 minutes were notable for a series of dramatic collapses by Burnley players when in the vicinity of an opponent, too many of which the referee fell for.  These were supplemented by other antics that my friend, Jacque, described as elevating time-wasting into an art-form.  The Hornets had one last chance to rescue a point as Holebas launched a cross into the box, but Pope was there to gather and the points went to the visitors who celebrated with chants of “We’re all going on a European tour.”

Gathering in the Burnley box

There were a lot of complaints from those around us on the way up Occupation Road and it was very hard to come to terms with the fact that we had lost a game that we had dominated so convincingly.  But, once Burnley equalized, we lost our nerve against a very well-organized team, so the game finished very badly for the Hornets.

It is a source of some frustration that we have finished two very winnable games with only a point to show for a couple of excellent performances.  There have been some very promising signs, Hughes and Pereyra have been outstanding, but we are not clinical enough in front of goal and make too many mistakes at the back.  But the football has been (mostly entertaining), we must be safe and we have a terrific squad to build on for next year.  These are still the good old days.

Frustrating Defeat in the Snow

Deeney escapes from a Bardsley challenge

The weather forecast for the weekend had been for cold temperatures and some snow and, sure enough, we were not far out of London when the landscapes became white under a beautiful blue sky.  The sky changed to grey as we went further north and, on changing trains at Preston, the snow was falling.

The train bookings I had made for this journey were a little odd, to say the least.  I had booked to arrive at Burnley Barracks, as it allowed the earliest connection to my train from London, only to find that the same train was going on to Burnley Central and that the Barracks station was a request stop on the line which meant that you had to ask the conductor to let you off there.  Since Central was a better option for the ground, I asked whether there would be a penalty if I stayed on for the extra stop and was assured that I would be fine.  So, with the snow falling heavily, I opted for an extra 2 minutes on the train to save a further 10 minute walk.

As I walked towards the ground, I was amazed to see someone setting up a stall selling Burnley/Watford half-and-half scarves.  Who on earth did he think would buy one?  This was not a game likely to attract a lot of tourists.  When I arrived at the Cricket Club, I was expecting to see some of my party in our usual spot, but the room was empty.  Thankfully, they arrived soon after and we were soon thoroughly enjoying the cask beer and the pie, chips, mushy peas and gravy on offer at Annie’s Kitchen.  Our party grew quickly and there was a lovely surprise when the arrival of the supporters’ coach led to us being joined by the two Janices, who declared that they had finally found somewhere in Burnley that they liked.

Janmaat challenges Arfield

As we got to the turnstiles, we endured the usual search which was made unusually pleasant by the stewards being rather apologetic about the intrusion.

Team news was two changes from the Spurs game with Janmaat and Carrillo coming in for Femenía and Prödl.  Silva had also opted for a change in formation to 4-2-3-1.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Mariappa, Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Cleverley, Doucouré; Carrillo, Pereyra, Richarlison; Deeney.  Burnley’s starting line-up included former Watford loanee, Jack Cork, but the main connection was in the dug-out with former player and manager, Sean Dyche, and his best mate, Ian Woan.

The view from the away end at Burnley is rather delightful.  If there is nothing interesting to see on the pitch, you have the hills to look at which, on this occasion, looked enchanting with their frosting of snow.

Carrillo on the ball

The first chance of the game fell to the visitors as an early corner from Cleverley was touched on by Pereyra to Deeney who nodded wide.  Watford should have opened the scoring when Carrillo played a great ball to Richarlison but the young Brazilian shot just wide of the near post.  The travelling Hornets had great faith in him, though, as they started a chant of “He’ll score in the snow.”  At this point, there was some discussion about the players who were wearing gloves, Carrillo and Richarlison I accepted, but Janmaat is Dutch, he shouldn’t be bothered by a little snow!  Burnley’s first chance came with a shot from Wood which was comfortably gathered by Gomes.  The home side had a wonderful chance to take the lead when they won a free kick in a dangerous position.  Gudmundsson delivered a superb shot over the wall which was met by an equally brilliant save by Gomes to keep the game goalless.  The Icelander had another go, but this time his shot from distance was wide of the near post.  The next Burnley chance came from a long pass upfield that Wood met on the volley, but Gomes had an easy catch.  Watford threatened when a long throw was met by a snapshot from Doucouré which was saved resulting, eventually, in a corner, which came to nothing as Kabasele shot well wide.

Pereyra and Deeney in the snow

The snow was coming down in earnest now, but we were warmed by a lovely passing move from the Hornets that finished with a cross from Pereyra being headed goalwards by Janmaat, unfortunately Pope was able to make the save.  A couple of minutes later, it all went horribly wrong as Zeegelaar slid into a challenge on Defour.  It didn’t look particularly bad from our vantage point, so there was shock among the travelling fans when a red card was brandished.  Due to the dismissal, Silva made the decision to sacrifice Pereyra for Holebas.  The Watford fans were calling for a penalty soon afterwards when Richarlison was knocked down in the box, but nothing was given.  Holebas had a chance to put Watford in the lead as he latched on to a cross from Carrillo, but he powered his shot into the side netting.  Burnley took the lead just before half time as Gudmundsson found Arfield in space and he slotted home.  It was all rather cruel.

At half time there was a lot of complaining about the referee, apart from those who had received messages from friends with a better view who were all of the opinion that the card had been justified.  Whatever the truth of the matter, we were looking forward to a very tough 45 minutes.

Gomes takes a goal kick

Early in the second half, there was an angry exchange between Gomes and the referee. The keeper had taken off his gloves and appeared to be gesturing to his hand, possibly to an injury that he had sustained that had evaded the notice of the referee.  The first chance of the second half came when Richarlison played a square ball to Doucouré who directed the shot wide of the target.  Then Janmaat did well to battle past a couple of defenders into the box, but was tackled and the ball went out for what looked like a corner, but a goal kick was given.  Carrillo had the ball in the box with the goal at his mercy, but he thought too long about the shot and was tackled.  Then, following a couple of blocked shots after a corner, the ball fell to Cleverley on the edge of the box but he fired over the target.  It appeared to be game over just before the hour mark when a ball over the top found Wood who tapped home, but his celebrations were stopped by an offside flag.  Burnley threatened again as a free kick reached Long who shot over the bar.  There was another shout for a Watford penalty as Carrillo collided with a Burnley player in the box, he went down protesting, but it looked like a coming together to me and the referee was right to wave play on.

Kabasele shaping to make a pass

Burnley had the ball in the net again as Watford failed to clear allowing the ball through to Barnes, who was flagged offside although, on this occasion, there was a long discussion between the linesman and referee before he indicated the free kick as opposed to a goal, much to the relief of those in the away end.  Burnley were then awarded a free kick on the edge of the box for what appeared to be a foul on Kabasele.  Thankfully Defour hit it just wide of the target.  Deeney played in Richarlison who was taken down in the box but, with the travelling Hornets again howling for a penalty, the referee indicated a corner.  Watford’s second substitution came with 10 minutes to go as Carrillo made way for Gray who was welcomed back to Turf Moor with boos and chants of “short, greedy b*st*rd.”  It is so lovely to be warmly remembered.  A Watford corner came to nothing as Janmaat headed just over.  Gray had an early chance to anger the home fans further as he ran on to a lovely ball from Richarlison, but Pope arrived first to avert the danger.  Burnley had a great chance to increase their lead but Gomes stretched to pull off a great save to stop Gudmundsson’s shot.  Richarlison was in the wars again as Bardsley sent him flying and was booked for his trouble.  Watford threatened from a free-kick, Holebas delivered a lovely ball into the box, but no Watford player could connect to shoot.  The visitors had a final chance to save a point when they were awarded a free kick in the last minute of added time.  Gomes joined his colleagues in the Burnley box, but Pope plucked the delivery out of the air and the game ended in a narrow defeat for the Hornets.

Mariappa, Cleverley and Janmaat in defensive mode

After the final whistle, both Silva and Gomes had stern words with the referee and, once the players had been applauded off, he attracted the wrath of the away fans, although I don’t think he was flavour of the month for the home fans either after the disallowed ‘goals’.  Sean Dyche again acknowledged the Watford fans on his way towards the tunnel and was rewarded with warm applause.

My eccentric train booking meant that I had a couple of hours to kill in Burnley after the game.  Having been irritated by some goading on our way back to the cricket club, I was thankful that those inside were generally very pleasant and our post-match reflections took place in a convivial atmosphere.  The general feeling among the Watford fans was pure frustration.  Burnley were always going to be difficult opponents, but the game had been shaping up nicely as a contest when Zeegelaar was dismissed.  The ten men competed admirably for the whole of the second half and nobody could have argued it was undeserved if they had gone home with a point.  But I would have loved to see what we could have done with 11 against 11 for 90 minutes.

Holebas waits to take a free kick

The journey home started with a treacherous walk on icy pavements to the station.  We were then treated to a slow running train to Preston, which had us anxiously checking our watches and connection time.  We needn’t have worried as the London train was kept in Preston station to meet a train from Glasgow that was not going any further south.  This also had the knock-on effect of extra stops and an arrival in London after 11pm.  There was an upside, though, as one of the passengers who transferred from the Glasgow train was the lovely James McArdle whose work at the National Theatre I have greatly admired.  He walked past me half a dozen times before I plucked up the courage to ask if he was who I thought he was and, when he answered in the affirmative, tell him how much I enjoyed his work.  The encounter cheered me up no end.

Due to further delays on top of my late booking, it was nearly 1am before I arrived home.  It is a long journey home after a defeat but somehow it doesn’t discourage me and I found myself looking at the route to Huddersfield today (although trains won’t be booked until the TV fixtures are out for April).  We go again at Selhurst Park on Tuesday, another ground that most people dread visiting, but I quite like for the atmosphere and the feel of a ‘proper’ football ground (even if I can’t see much).  I am forgoing my work Christmas party for this match, so am very much hoping that it is worth the sacrifice.

A Very Blue Monday for the Hornets

The Liberty Stadium

The Liberty Stadium

After a run of three league defeats, the trip to Swansea seemed to be a decent opportunity to get our season back on track.  The journey west was rather pleasant and, having bumped into a fellow regular away traveler as I boarded the train to Swansea, I was treated to delightful company as we crossed the border.

Team news was that there were three changes from the Southampton game with Britos and Aké coming back in place of Prödl and Holebas, while Behrami was a surprising inclusion in place of Abdi.  Flores had opted for a 4-4-2 formation with Behrami in the centre of the midfield and Capoue on the right.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Jurado, Behrami, Watson, Capoue, Deeney and Ighalo.  Former loanee, Jack Cork, started for Swansea.  The game was given an interesting twist as the Swans confirmed the appointment of Francesco Guidolin, formerly Head Coach of Udinese, a role which he left to take up a position that was supposed to involve oversight all three Pozzo teams, although it was never clear how this impacted the Hornets.

Abseiling marines

Abseiling marines

On taking our seats in the Liberty Stadium, I have to say that I was very impressed with the Swansea support.  The ground was packed and they were noisy from the start.  I was not quite so impressed with the mortifying spectacle of ‘kiss-cam’ on the big screen before the game as they focused on random pairs of men and women and trained a camera on them until they kissed or the cameraman got bored.  In some cases there were empty seats between the ’couple’ so a kiss could have led to an ejection as the actual partner witnessed an infidelity.  There was no warning about ‘kiss-cam’ but there was a warning to the disabled seating area that the ropes hanging down from the top of the stand would soon be occupied by some marines abseiling down, one of whom would bring the match ball to the referee.  It wasn’t the most coordinated of manoeuvres, but that could be said of a lot that we have seen on the pitch of late.  The lack of coordination extended to my pre-match equipment check as I left my camera at the hotel, so the quality of my photos is even worse than usual.

The pre-match huddle

The pre-match huddle

The home side had much the better start to the game.  Although there was a very early chance for the visitors as Deeney headed the ball down to Ighalo whose shot was blocked.  From then it was all Swansea for a while.  First Sigurdsson played a back heel to Routledge, but Gomes saved, not knowing that the flag was already up for offside.   A cross from Ayew was headed clear by Cathcart.  Then Cork hit a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  Sigurdsson tried a through ball to Ki, who was also flagged offside.  A cross into the box from Routledge was headed for a corner by Britos.  Over a quarter of an hour had passed before Watford looked like creating another chance, this time Deeney released Ighalo, but Odion couldn’t control the ball and the chance was lost.  Swansea threatened again as Britton played a one-two with Ayew before breaking into the box, but Aké was in close attendance and ensured that Gomes could save at his feet.  At the other end, a free kick from Watson was cleared only as far as Deeney whose shot was blocked.  Deeney then did really well to battle past Taylor and cross for Ighalo but his header was off target.  The first booking of the game was picked up by Jurado for a silly tackle on Routledge.  Swansea threatened again as Ayew exchanged passes with Sigurdsson before unleashing a shot that Gomes was down to save.

Watson preparing for a free kick

Watson preparing for a free kick

On 27 minutes, the home side took the lead as Williams headed a cross from Ki past Gomes.  I was hoping for an immediate reaction from the Hornets, but the nearest we came was a booking for Nyom who was penalised for sticking out a foot to stop Taylor.  The resulting free kick was punched clear by Gomes.  Nyom didn’t redeem himself as a soft clearance went straight to Ki who, thankfully, shot well over the bar.  Hornet hearts beat a little faster as Ighalo picked up a misplaced pass from Ki and looked to be bearing down on goal, but Williams was soon back to make a tackle.  There were a couple of chances for an equalizer just before half time.  First a Watson free kick reached Deeney who hit a hopeful shot over the bar.  Then, Watford’s best chance of the half, as Jurado exchanged passes with Capoue before shooting but the Swans’ keeper, Fabianski, was behind the ball.

So we reached half time a goal behind.  It had been another frustrating half of football.  Our successful start to the season had been built upon being difficult to break down through hard work and constantly pressing the opposition.  That aspect of the game seems to have disappeared from recent performances although more due to a lack of confidence than desire.  We could only hope for an improvement in the second period, although Flores made no changes at the break.

Watson preparing for a free kick

Watson preparing for a free kick

The first chance of the second half fell to Jurado who cut in from the left and then hit a silly shot high and wide when a little more composure was needed.  The Spaniard also had the next chance, after a decent run he passed to Deeney who back-heeled the return but Jurado curled his shot over the bar.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came as a free-kick from Watson was met by a header from Britos that landed on the roof of the net although, for a split second, many of the travelling Hornets thought that it was in.  Swansea’s first attack of the half came after Capoue lost the ball to Routledge who advanced and crossed, but Nyom was on hand to clear.  The visitors continued to attack as Deeney played the ball out to Jurado, but his cross was blocked.  At the other end, the ball fell to Cork on the edge of the box but he volleyed over the bar.  On the hour, a Watford attack was stopped when Britton put out a hand to block a pass from Behrami and was booked for his trouble.  The resulting free kick was dreadful from Watson flying high and wide of the goal.  Another chance went begging for the visitors as Ighalo played the ball back to Jurado whose shot was just wide of the far post.  Deeney threatened to break with Ighalo alongside him, but his pass was snuffed out by a defender.  Flores made his first substitution with 15 minutes remaining bringing Paredes on for Nyom, who had had a poor game.  Capoue played two decent crosses into the box in quick succession but, on each occasion, the Swansea captain, Williams, headed clear.  Ighalo then won a free kick in a dangerous position but Watson opted to hit the ball low and straight at the wall, much to the frustration of the away fans.

Hoping to convert a corner

Hoping to convert a corner

The Hornets continued to push for an equalizer as a downward header from Deeney was cleared for a corner.  At the same time Ighalo went down in the box under a challenge and there were some half-hearted shouts for a penalty, which would have been very harsh.  The corner was cleared to Jurado but Fabianski was equal to his shot.  Flores made his second substitution with 3 minutes remaining, replacing Behrami with Oularé.  The Belgian almost made an immediate impact as Deeney headed the ball towards him on the edge of the box, but he couldn’t quite connect and it fell to Jurado who shot just wide.  Soon after, a corner from Watson was punched clear.  Despite Watford’s dominance of the second half, it appeared that the home side had increased their lead as substitute Gomis broke into the box and thumped a shot that looked to have beaten Gomes before it rebounded off the inside of the post and was cleared.  The last chance of the game fell to the visitors in time added on as the ball dropped to Deeney on the edge of the box but his shot was wide of the near post and the Hornets fell to their fourth consecutive defeat in the league.

Watson takes a free kick

Watson takes a free kick

There was a lot of frustration among the travelling fans at the end of the game and one young man went to the front of the stand to berate Deeney.  I then bumped into someone who told me that we are going to be relegated.  All rather dramatic and, on reflection, it certainly doesn’t feel as bad as that.  The Hornets had made a much better fist of the second half.  Jurado was coming in for a lot of stick from some near me for disappearing after his booking and, while he seemed reluctant to commit to a tackle, most of the shots on goal came from him and a couple were only fractionally wide.  Without his contribution, it would have been a far more miserable evening.  There has been a lot of talk of teams working out how to play against us, but a lot of what the opposition is doing now, they have been trying to do all season with little success.  The extra defenders on Deeney and Ighalo are stifling their contribution but Odion seems to have lost a bit of his previous confidence as he is not muscling his way out of trouble as he did earlier in the season and there were a couple of occasions when he passed to a teammate when you would have put money on him trying a shot.  What has been the biggest concern for me is that we have stopped harrying the opposition meaning that they have far too much space.  So I was pleased to see much more ‘gegenpressing’ in the second half which, consequently, meant we had more of the ball and more shots on the Swansea goal.

While the recent record is worrying, I am not going to get too despondent yet.  The players and manager have not become poor overnight so we need to continue supporting them.  Whatever happens at the end of this season, this will still have been the best season that we have seen at this level since the 80s.

Our First Home Win of the Season

The Lower GT prior to kick-off

The Lower GT prior to kick-off

In the run up to this game, having had two weeks to stew after the visit to City, we’d had lots of time to agonize about our lack of goals. At the Tales from the Vicarage event, Troy Deeney had been rather dismissive of his “goal drought” and said that they would come. However, having not had a shot on target in the last two games and having seen Deeney’s frustration, you couldn’t help but worry about the visit of Swansea who had had a decent start to the season and came into this game in 4th place and unbeaten.

Team news was just the one change with Anya in for Holebas. The starting XI was Gomes, Anya, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Capoue, Behrami, Abdi, Ighalo, Jurado, Deeney. Former loanee jack Cork started for the visitors.

 

Kick-off

Kick-off

Watford’s first attack came after a spell of patient build-up play that was beginning to frustrate when the ball reached Anya and he went on a run before playing the ball out to Jurado whose cross was blocked. The first goal attempt came when a cross from Anya was headed clear but only as far as Prödl who blasted just over the bar. Then a cross from Nyom was deflected to Deeney on the edge of the box, but his shot was blocked. Abdi looked certain to score until his shot took a wicked deflection that sent it wide of the target. Jurado took the corner, but it was a poor effort that didn’t beat the first man. Troy stole the ball from a Swansea player’s feet before advancing and whipping in a cross that Fabianski gathered before it reached the head of Ighalo. Swansea’s first threat on the Watford goal came on 20 minutes as a shot from Gomis was met by a flying save from Gomes who pushed the ball clear of the goal before gathering it safely. Watford continued to threaten as a free kick from Prödl was headed out to Abdi who unleashed a volley that flew high and wide.

Abdi takes a free kick

Abdi takes a free kick

On 23 minutes, I was convinced that we would open the scoring as Deeney got the ball on the edge of the box and, from our vantage point behind the goal, the path to the bottom corner opened up, so there were heads in hands in the Rookery when the shot curled wide. Capoue played a lovely ball to Jurado in the box, but the Spaniard took one touch too many and was dispossessed. Swansea could have taken the lead as Anya was dispossessed by the corner flag, Ayew cut in and crossed for Gomis, who was tumbling so his shot from close range shot was easily caught by Gomes. At the other end, Ighalo battled into the Swansea box and, much to the frustration of the Rookery faithful and his captain, tried a shot from a narrow angle that was saved by the feet of Fabianski when a cut back to Deeney would have been a better option. Soon after, a cross from Anya was just missed by Deeney as he came flying at the ball. Watford put themselves in trouble just before half time as the ball was lost on the right and a cross reached Gomis whose shot drew a great save from Gomes who wasn’t to know that the offside flag was up.

So, again, we reached half time scoreless, but this had been a really positive performance from the Hornets who had the best of the chances. It was particularly pleasing to see Deeney playing an effective role in the hole behind Ighalo with the two front men linking up in a way that we haven’t seen in the past couple of games. During the interval, Jay DeMerit was interviewed on the pitch talking about his happy memories of his time at Watford. Lovely to see him again.

Cathcart leaping to meet the ball

Cathcart leaping to meet the ball

The second half started with a period of possession for the visitors, but they didn’t create any goal scoring opportunities, the first shot of the half falling to Abdi whose shot rolled towards goal where Fabianski saved easily at the near post. Then Deeney’s shot from a Nyom cross was blocked. Deeney was in action again as he held the ball up before feeding Ighalo whose shot was just wide of the post. Just before the hour mark, Gomes launched a ball upfield that Deeney headed on to Ighalo who shot past Fabianski to send those inside Vicarage Road wild. That goal had been coming, but it was a great relief to finally break the home duck. Spirits were dampened soon after as the Hornets were reduced to 10 men. There was some confusion in the Rookery as it appeared that Behrami had been fouled by Ayew and that the card was being brandished at the Swansea man, but it was the Watford man who left the field and pictures later showed a stamp by Behrami had caused his departure. It was a worrying development as Behrami had been excellent.

Deeney, Behrami and Cathcart awaiting a free kick

Deeney, Behrami and Cathcart awaiting a free kick

This could very well have been a turning point and it is great credit to the lads that it wasn’t. Flores’ immediate response to the sending off was to sacrifice Abdi for Watson. Thankfully Watford continued to attack as a cross from Anya was only cleared as far as Jurado whose shot was blocked, the ball found its way to Capoue whose shot across goal flew wide. Watford’s second substitution saw Berghuis replace Ighalo. The next action was in the Watford box as Éder came flying in to challenge Gomes and left the keeper in a heap on the ground. Thankfully, after a short period of treatment, he was able to continue. Shelvey attempted an exchange of passes with Montero but the return ball was cut out by Watson. Swansea’s next goal attempt was a shot from distance by Fernandez that landed in Row TT of the Rookery almost hitting a child whose Dad was on a final warning from his mother about keeping him out of danger. Capoue continued to impress as he broke into the box but his low shot was saved. There were shouts of ‘handball’ from the Rookery as Ki controlled the ball and passed to Fernandez whose shot was well over the bar.

Anya launches a throw

Anya launches a throw

Capoue was again on the attack as he pirouetted to shrug off the attentions of a defender and went on a run that deserved more than a blocked shot at the end of it. With 7 minutes remaining, Flores replaced Deeney with Diamanti leaving us with no strikers on the pitch and a clear mandate to defend the lead, which is always risky at 1-0. As the minutes ticked down, the nerves increased so it was a relief when a ball from Naughton to Shelvey was intercepted by Anya who took it out of the danger area. Swansea’s best chance of the game came in the last minute of normal time as a powerful shot from Shelvey was blocked by Gomes who spilled the ball before pouncing to gather as Éder closed in. The announcement that the fourth official had indicated seven minutes of injury time prompted an increase in both the heart rates of the Rookery faithful and the volume of the chants, which had already been quite impressive. Jurado broke forward and crossed for Berghuis who had two shots on goal, both of which were blocked by Fabianski. There was a bit of a frantic scramble in the Watford box, with the home defence unable to clear so it was a relief when Fernandez headed over the target to loud cheers from the Rookery. As the Hornets broke down the other end, there was a cry from behind me “We don’t need another goal, just keep it there,” which they duly did.

Gomes and Deeney applaud the crowd

Gomes and Deeney applaud the crowd

As injury time ticked on, Watford fans in all the stands were on their feet loudly encouraging their heroes and as the final whistle went there were rapturous cheers and the feeling that we had all played our part in that victory. My niece declared that it had been the longest 7 minutes of her life and, judging by the exhausted looks of those around us, that was a popular opinion. There was loud applause, singing and flags waving as the players made their way around the ground applauding the fans. Then, as we made a move to leave, “Gold” came blasting over the tannoy meaning one last rendition of “Ighalo-oh” before we went home. On the way out through the concourse there were groups standing around the televisions just waiting to see confirmation of our 12th place in the table which was greeted with cheers.

Outside the ground there was an unpleasant atmosphere as the Swansea fans were as niggly and aggressive as their team had been, but we were soon back to the West Herts and the smiles couldn’t have been wider as we reflected on the game. There had been a far more positive approach and the partnership of Deeney and Ighalo looked back to its best. The only player that drew any criticism was Jurado who is yet to convince, his set pieces were just awful. Still, it is churlish to criticise, as this was one of those games that reminds me why I go to football. A tremendous performance on the pitch and a wonderful supportive atmosphere in the stands. Bring on Newcastle.