My niece, Amelia, has been coming to occasional games for years. This season she has become a regular, so a half season ticket seemed a perfect Christmas present and Boxing Day’s game against Wolves was her first match as a season ticket holder. Since the game was at an odd time, I wasn’t sure what time to leave, but wanted to get to the West Herts early to ensure a decent parking space. When we arrived the car park was oddly deserted.
The rain was pouring down as we made our way to the ground, it was cold and wet and nasty. Not the best conditions for football.
Jokanovic made three changes from the Reading game. Doyley was in for the suspended Angella, Munari and Paredes returned in place of Guédioura and Pudil. The starting line-up was Gomes, Bassong, Cathcart, Doyley, Anya, Abdi, Tözsér, Munari, Paredes, Deeney and Vydra. For the visitors, Kuszczak and Danny Graham were on the bench for Wolves, the latter getting a tremendous reception from the home crowd when his name was announced. The Wolves dugout also contained a Watford legend, in the person of their manager, Kenny Jackett.
The pre-match build-up was a bit of a shambles. When the player photo went up on the screen for the number seven, there was Battocchio smiling out at us instead of Guédioura. Then the music system malfunctioned, so there was an eerie silence and I found myself humming Z-cars as the teams came out. As a final straw, there were boos following the toss as the players changed ends. There is a superstition that we never do well when we attack the Rookery in the first half.
Wolves had the best of the early exchanges. From a corner, Gomes punched the ball as far as Iorfa who, luckily for the home side, opted to pass instead of shooting. Paredes lost the ball to Sako who played it to Van La Parra whose shot from distance was just wide. Iorfa exchanged passes with McDonald in the Watford box before shooting wide. A low cross from van La Parra was almost turned in at close range by Edwards, but Gomes dropped to push it around the post. From the corner, the ball squirmed out of Gomes’s hands but was thankfully cleared. At this point, Paredes took his gloves off, it looked like he meant business but, sadly, it didn’t improve his performance.
Watford threatened the Wolves goal for the first time from a Tözsér free-kick, but the keeper, Ikeme, dropped and gathered the ball. Wolves were completely dominant at this point. They were strong and their passing was effective, in contrast to the sloppy play that the home side were demonstrating. Wolves should have taken the lead in the 17th minute with a strong shot from Hause that was curling in when Gomes pushed it over the bar. From the corner, the ball was headed out to van La Parra whose shot was pushed clear by the keeper. In a rare Watford attack, Vydra found Deeney who advanced and shot, but it was blocked, the ball came back in to Munari who played it to Tözsér whose shot was also blocked. Deeney played the ball out to Paredes whose shot was deflected wide. Then Anya played the ball back to Abdi but again the shot was deflected wide. This had been a better spell from the Hornets, but they hadn’t really threatened the Wolves goal. The visitors had another chance to take the lead as Sako broke through the defence but Gomes came out to challenge and caused him to shoot wide. Deeney stretched to play a ball on the sidelines, Hause fell over him and Troy was booked. In time added on, Gomes had to be alert again to punch a corner clear. The half-time whistle went after a dreadful first half performance from the home side who, if not for the brilliance of Gomes, could have been three goals behind.
The visitors threatened early in the second half as a corner was punched out by Gomes, it was headed back in by Price but the keeper was able to gather. Watford had their first shot on target as Vydra received a cross from Paredes but Ikeme caught the ball. A lovely passing move featuring Deeney, Vydra and Anya finished with a low shot from Tözsér which was caught by Ikeme. It felt like we were punished for finally showing a moment of quality as van La Parra immediately broke upfield and crossed for Dicko to hit the ball past Gomes. After the keeper’s first half heroics, it was a terrible shame that he was beaten by what was rather a poor effort. Another ball into the Watford box, this time by Sako, was met with a weak overhead kick from Edwards that went wide of the near post. Just after the hour Jokanovic made two changes bringing Ighalo on for Vydra and replacing Munari with Forestieri. Stearman was the first Wolves player to be booked as he handled to stop a Watford break.
A Tözsér free-kick led to a goalmouth scramble, but no Watford player was able to apply the finishing touch. Then Doyley headed a Tözsér corner down for Bassong, but Ikeme saved on the line. Tözsér was the next player to be booked as he delayed passing and was tackled by Edwards so pulled him back to prevent a break. He was substituted almost immediately with Guédioura coming on. Deeney got in a great position to try for an equalizer but his shot drifted wide of the far post. Ighalo then stung Ikeme’s hands, Doyley’s follow-up was blocked. At the other end Doyley chested the ball down to Gomes, but Dicko was close by and the keeper had to be quick to gather. There was some head tennis in the Wolves box, but it didn’t result in a shot. In time added on, we thought we’d rescued a point as Ighalo’s powerful shot was heading for the goal but clattered off the crossbar. It was disappointing but, despite the improved performance in the second half, Wolves were worthy winners.
It was cold and wet as we trudged back to the car. Thankfully, despite the crowd of over 17K, there was no traffic and we were home in the warm in no time. I spent most of the journey apologising to Amelia and suggesting that she would have been better off watching it on TV. But, when we said our goodbyes, I got a big hug and thanks for her lovely Christmas present. What have I done?