Tag Archives: Jake Cooper

A Dismal Afternoon at the Den

Ben Watson leading the team out at the Den

Ben Watson leading the team out at the Den

When this game was moved for television, the potential for a good sized crowd immediately disappeared.  It is an easy enough journey from Watford, but a midday kick-off on a Sunday in January is enough to make most people opt for the sofa.  So I was delighted (and not a little proud) when my niece said she would join us.  Especially as it wasn’t even a new ground for her.

I had been pleased to hear the announcement earlier in the week that the controversial compulsory purchase order by Lewisham Council relating to land around the New Den that would have threatened Millwall’s future residence had been abandoned.  So it was rather sad to go there and see the stands so sparsely populated.

Before the game, Mazzarri had been reported as saying that he would make 11 changes if he could.  In fact, he made 7, a great chance for some of the fringe players to make a case for more game time.  The starting line-up was Pantilimon; Kaboul, Mariappa, Britos; Djédjé, Doucouré, Watson, Guedioura, Mason; Okaka and Sinclair.  I was pleased to see Watson back in the team, as well as Mariappa making his second debut.  The tannoy announcer decided to make a big deal of the fact that he would struggle with all the foreign names in the Watford team, although pretending to struggle with Costel Pantilimon was rather lame.  This, and a repeated request for the lads to bring their ladies to the Den on Valentines Day, felt like a throwback to the 80s.

Mason and Onyedinma tangle

Mason and Onyedinma tangle

Before kick-off, there was some discussion among our party of the 6-1 win, which it is hard to believe was in 2010.  I missed that game due to a work trip to Tokyo (I’m still seething).  The pessimist in me couldn’t help but say that we wouldn’t get a similar result.

The Hornets took the kick-off, but almost immediately Millwall launched a counter-attack through Morison whose cross was met with a strike from Gregory that, thankfully, rebounded off the crossbar.  The fear at this point was that 6-1 was a possibility, but that it would favour the home side.  This fear grew as a corner was headed off the line by Mariappa.  Then a shot from Craig took a nasty deflection causing Pantilimon to have to tip it over the bar.  The resulting corner was headed just wide by Cooper.  The first goal attempt from the visitors didn’t come until the 16th minute with a shot from distance from Guedioura that flew well wide.  The Algerian came closer soon after with a free-kick that took a slight deflection before hitting the outside of the post.  Okaka was having a torrid afternoon, going down far too easily under challenges by players he should have been able to shrug off.  The home crowd decided to join in the persecution with a chant of “You’re just a fat Danny Shittu!”  Sinclair should have done better after breaking into the box, but fell over as he attempted to shoot, his pleas for a penalty were waved away.

Gones takes a goal kick

Gones takes a goal kick

With 10 minutes of the half remaining there was a mix up as Britos played the ball back to Pantilimon, Gregory nipped in and, in the scramble to clear, the keeper was injured and Mariappa’s intervention had the home crowd screaming for a penalty for handball.  The Millwall fans lived up to their vile reputation chanting ‘let him die’ as the clearly injured Pantilimon was helped on to a stretcher.  Gomes took his place in goal and was called into action almost immediately to stop a shot from Gregory.  From the corner, Morison headed goalwards, but Guedioura was on hand to head the ball off the line.

It had been a frustrating first half.  The visitors had the bulk of the play but failed to test Archer in the Millwall goal.  The Watford players were spending far too much time passing the ball around, while Millwall launched pacy counter attacks and actually looked like scoring.

The home side started the second half in a similar manner to the first with a shot from Gregory that just cleared the bar.  At the other end there was a decent chance as a cross from Djédjé was diverted goalwards by Cooper, but Archer made the save.

Okaka knocked off the ball

Okaka struggling with the Millwall approach

Watford had another chance when Mason crossed from the opposite wing, but Okaka just failed to connect.  The Italian then felt that he was pulled back as he challenged for a cross from Guedioura and complained loudly to the referee or anyone else who would listen.  By this point, he should have worked out that he was going to have to fight his own battles as the referee wasn’t going to help him.  In the build-up Djédjé had gone down injured and the Millwall fans continued their charm offensive cheering as a stretcher was brought on to the pitch.  Thankfully it wasn’t needed and nor was Janmaat who had readied to come on.  From a Kaboul cross, Okaka again appeared to be held down allowing the keeper to punch clear.  Half way through the second period, Djédjé did make way for Janmaat.  He hadn’t had the best of games, so it was to be hoped that the Dutchman would provide more of an attacking threat.  An attempt by Sinclair to break into the box was stopped by an excellent tackle on the edge of the area.  Jerome was replaced soon after by Deeney, whose name had been sung with some enthusiasm as he warmed up.  Troy was involved almost immediately as he headed a ball from Watson goalwards, but it was a fairly easy catch for Archer.  Mason then went flying into a tackle and was lucky only to see a yellow card.  Then a bit of pinball in the area finished with a save from Gomes.

The return of Mariappa

The return of Mariappa

Just as we were contemplating a replay at Vicarage Road, a cross reached Morison in the box and he finished through the legs of Gomes.  The home side were celebrating a second soon after as a corner was bundled home by Wallace, but it was ruled out for handball.  The home side had one final attempt to finish the game as Wallace tried a shot from distance, but Gomes was equal to it.  There was a flurry of activity as the visitors tried to equalize, first through a header from Deeney that was caught by Archer.  Then, in time added on, Troy looked sure to score with only the keeper to beat, but a last ditch intervention from Webster allowed him to block the shot and the Hornets were out of the cup.

The final whistle was met with loud boos from the travelling fans.  It had been a shocking performance mostly due to a distinct lack of effort.  Despite having the majority share of possession, they had managed only a single shot on target.  The players drafted in had not impressed.  Okaka couldn’t cope with the physical attentions of the Millwall players which, for a man of his stature, is just shocking.  Sinclair was anonymous and Djédjé offered little.  Guedioura put in more effort than most, but his execution was found wanting.  Watson, Mason and Mariappa were the only ‘fringe’ players that didn’t let themselves down.  It wasn’t until Deeney came on that Watford really threatened the Millwall goal.  Given the quality of the team that was selected, that is just unacceptable.  The action that summed up the afternoon for me was when a Millwall attack broke down with many of their players committed forward.  Instead of immediately breaking downfield, the Watford players decided to play the ball about between themselves giving the opposition plenty of time to regroup.  Having watched Millwall threaten on the counter all afternoon, you do have to wonder.

Next up a trip to Arsenal on Tuesday.  I’m dreading it.

Oh What Fun It is to See Watford Win Away

A welcome from our hosts

A kind welcome from our hosts

My Friday night entertainment this week was Kristin Scott-Thomas in a Greek tragedy at the Old Vic, I was hoping for somewhat jollier fare at Reading, but it couldn’t be guaranteed.  Certainly the pre-match meeting place was top notch, lovely real ale in a pub with lots of nooks and crannies that has been described by a friend as a Harry Potter house.

Jokanovic made two changes from the win over Wigan.  One was forced, as Munari had a slight hamstring injury that necessitated the inclusion of Guedioura.  For the other, Pudil was preferred to Paredes, allowing him to make his 100th appearance.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Bassong, Angella, Cathcart, Pudil, Tözsér, Guedioura, Abdi, Anya, Deeney and Vydra.

There was a very lively start as a first minute cross found Murray on the right of the box, but his volley was well over the target.  Watford’s first goal attempt came soon after as Pudil headed a Guedioura cross goalwards, Federici pushed it out for a corner from which Guedioura’s shot was blocked.  Abdi was the next to threaten the Reading goal with a powerful curling shot that Federici pushed clear.  The half then became incredibly dull, the next action of note being a nothing foul on the half hour that earned Abdi a yellow card.

Angella begs for (and is shown) forgiveness as Murray falls to the ground

On this occasion Angella begs for (and is shown) forgiveness as Murray falls to the ground

There was a worrying scramble in the Watford box as Gomes parried a header from Murray, the ball came back in but was eventually cleared.  Then Gunter beat Pudil to get into the box and crossed for Blackman who headed over under a challenge from Cathcart.  On 37 minutes, Angella got into a tussle with Murray who was backing into him.  It was six of one and half a dozen of the other, so there were roars of derision from the travelling Hornets as the referee showed Angella a yellow card.  Guedioura had the first Watford chance for some considerable time when he shot over the bar.  Pudil played a lovely ball to Abdi whose cross was headed down to Deeney who tried an overhead kick that flew wide.  Reading should have taken the lead just before half time as Murray received the ball in the box but managed to fire wide of the far post.  In time added on at the end of the half, Angella was tripped on the edge of the box and his arm hit the ball as he fell.  The referee, with the help of the lino, decided that this constituted deliberate handball and was worthy of a second yellow, so Angella was given his marching orders.  It had been a dire half of football, but that decision ensured that the half time boos were directed towards the officials rather than the players.

Tozser lines up a free kick

Tozser lines up a free kick

At the start of the second half, Vydra was sacrificed for Paredes.  Watford, facing a second half playing with ten men, had to decide their approach.  They started the half by pressing the home side and in the 53rd minute, a Tözsér corner was curling in when Federici got a hand to it and pushed it clear.  At the other end, Murray got behind the Watford defence where he directed his shot wide of the far post.  A break by the home side finished with a cross from Blackman which was caught by Gomes.  Reading threatened again as a shot from McCleary was parried by Gomes, the follow-up from Gunter was turned around the post.  A low cross from McCleary went just wide of the far post as Blackman was sliding in and just failed to connect.  Watford fashioned a good move that appeared to give several chances for a strike on goal, but finished with the ball being taken off Abdi’s foot as he shaped to shoot.  For Reading, Blackman shot well over the bar.

Celebrations of Abdi's goal

Celebrations of Abdi’s goal

Watford had mounted a decent rearguard action to this point.  Then, all of a sudden, we took the lead.  Unlike the 70 minutes that had preceded it, Watford’s goal was a thing of beauty as Guedioura won a tackle in midfield and played it out to Anya on the left, he crossed back to Abdi who blasted it past Federici right in front of the Watford fans who reacted with total delirium.  The goal changed the momentum of the game.  Reading’s first yellow card was shown to Williams who was penalized for taking Paredes down as he attempted to break.  Guedioura played a ball over the top for Deeney, but it was a bit too far in front of him so Federici gathered the ball just as Deeney arrived and the players collided resulting in treatment for the Watford man.  At the other end, Gunter went down as he was challenged on the edge of the box, thankfully the referee waved penalty appeals away.  The board went up for a Watford substitution and we expected Deeney to leave the field, but instead Anya made way for Dyer.  Deeney only lasted another couple of minutes, clearly he couldn’t run the injury off, so he was replaced by Ighalo.

Red sky at night

Red sky at night

A ball into the Watford box appeared to be headed on by Paredes but, thankfully, Blackman volleyed over.   The referee added four minutes which were then extended as an off-the ball altercation between Murray and Paredes ended with the Ecuadorean poleaxed and the Reading player being shown a yellow card.  Reading’s last attempt at an equalizer was a soft header from Cooper that was comfortably caught by Gomes.  The final whistle went to loud cheers from the Watford fans.  Jokanovic was his usual, calm self, but Martinez was going mental on the sidelines.  The players came over and applauded the appreciative fans who had certainly done their part in cheering the ten men on in the second half.  In gratitude, Abdi and Pudil kindly donated their shirts to a couple of lucky fans.

Since the away stand is the opposite end of the ground from the shuttle buses back to town, it was no surprise that the bus we took was packed with Watford fans.  The youngsters on the top deck were making a lot of joyful noise and the old folk (including me) on the lower deck were just grinning like fools.  As Jingle Bells (Oh what fun it is to see Watford win away) rang out, my friend commented that he was surprised that it had not had an earlier airing, but I don’t think anyone dared tempt fate like that until the final whistle.

I wish all my readers a very happy Christmas.  See you all on Boxing Day.