Tag Archives: James Chester

Thank-you, GT

Banner for the great man

I have to admit that I was furious when this game was changed from Vicarage Road to Villa Park.  I had booked my holiday after the announcement of the Graham Taylor tribute game, so to find that I would now be unable to attend was a bitter pill to swallow.  But an opportunity to go to Villa Park, a ground that I love, was not to be missed.  On the train to Birmingham, my podcast of choice was Colin Murray at home with Luther Blissett.  It is a great listen.  My annoyance at Murray’s lack of research when asking Luther about the first time he played at Old Trafford was tempered by his gleeful reaction when Luther told the story of what happened on that occasion.  Needless to say, they finished up talking about GT and both with great fondness. Since GT’s passing, Luther takes every opportunity to pay tribute to his friend.  Marking anniversaries of triumphs and just saying thank-you for the memories.  It has been lovely to see and is a mark of the great characters of both GT and Luther.

Our pre-match pub is lovely and it was great to have my sister, brother-in-law and niece joining a very reduced travelling party.  A gin festival was taking place which, added to the real ale and lovely food usually on offer, meant that everyone was happy after lunch.  As we waited at the bus stop to go to Villa Park, we struck up a conversation with a lovely couple.  It was a mixed marriage, she was a Villa fan, he was a blue-nose.  We talked about our mutual admiration for GT.  She told us about the tribute they had at Villa Park.  A wreath was laid on the pitch and Rita, Joanne and Karen were there.  As we parted company she wistfully commented, “I wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t taken the England job.”  That gave me pause for thought.  I wonder if he would have stayed at Villa and maybe moved on to a bigger club.  In that case, we wouldn’t have had that wonderful second spell.  But he didn’t and we were all there to celebrate the wonderful memories that he left us with.

Chalobah on the ball

The crucial piece of team news was that Pereyra would be making his first public appearance this pre-season after featuring against Rangers at London Colney earlier in the week.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kabasele, Kaboul, Mason; Cleverley, Doucouré, Chalobah; Amrabat, Sinclair, Pereyra.  Villa included former Watford loanees, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Henry Lansbury in their starting XI.

As soon as the teams emerged from the tunnel, they lined up and there was a minute’s applause for GT with both sets of fans singing “There’s only one Graham Taylor” at the tops of their voices.  It was very moving.

Villa had a very early chance as Agbonlahor broke free to challenge Gomes, but it was the Watford keeper who came out on top.  Watford had to make an early substitution.  I must admit that I was rather disappointed to hear Pereyra’s name announced as the player leaving the pitch.  He looked baffled himself and, to my shame, I was relieved when it turned out that it was Kabasele going off.  In my defence, he was being replaced by Prödl!

Waiting for a ball into the box

Sinclair should have opened the scoring after quarter of an hour.  Doucouré found Pereyra who played a through ball for Sinclair who only had the keeper to beat, but fired wide.  On the half hour, here was a stir in the away end as Deeney appeared pitch-side and, after some negotiation with the stewards, made his way into the stand to sit with the Watford fans.  Needless to say, it took him some time to get to his seat.  Watford had another chance as Chalobah got into a great shooting position, but he fired over.  We reached half time goalless.  It had been a pretty dull half of football.  The home side had the majority of the possession, but neither keeper had been tested.

At the restart, Pereyra made way for Success.  The Nigerian made an immediate contribution, crossing to Cleverley, who played the ball back to Chalobah who, again, fired over the bar.  Then Cleverley took a free kick from a dangerous position, but it was directed straight at the Villa keeper, Steer.  Disaster struck as Kaboul tripped Hutton in the box and the referee pointed to the penalty spot.  In the away end, we were singing the name of Heurelho Gomes with all our might and our man celebrated his new contract by guessing correctly and diving to his left to save Henry Lansbury’s spot kick.  We were located in the away section closest to the home stand.  When the penalty was awarded, they took the opportunity to taunt us.  So, when the penalty was saved, I was a little taken aback (and rather proud) when my usually mild-mannered niece, after celebrating the save, gave them some grief back.

My first look at Femenia

On the hour mark, Silva made five changes with Gomes, Kaboul, Cleverley, Doucouré and Amrabat making way for Pantilimon, Femenía, Watson, Hughes and Okaka.  There was a lovely move as Success released Femenía who advanced down the right wing before delivering the return ball for Success to try a shot from distance that flew wide of the near post.  The game had livened up since the substitutions and there was another nice move as Femenía crossed for Success, whose side footed shot was blocked and rebounded to Hughes who, unfortunately, was unable to follow-up.  Another chance fell to Success but, on this occasion, the shot was weak.  Just before the 72nd minute struck, the Villa fans started the applause, the travelling Hornets joined in and the chorus of “One Graham Taylor” rang out again in earnest.  The next decent chance fell to Villa as a cross reached Amavi in front of goal, but he slashed the ball wide of the near post.  Sinclair had a golden chance to open the scoring as he ran on to a ball over the defence from Success, but the keeper arrived first.  The final chance fell to the home side as Hourihane hit a shot from the edge of the area, but Pantilimon was equal to it and the game ended with honours even.

The shame of buying a half and half scarf

It had been a typical pre-season game with nobody taking any chances.  From a Watford perspective, the second half had been livelier than the first.  It was good to see Pereyra back.  The first impression of Femenía was very positive and there was some nice interplay between him and Hughes.  If Sinclair had been sharper in front of goal, we would all have gone home happy.  But this game was not about the result, it was about 10,900 people gathering to pay tribute to Graham Taylor.  The legacy that the man has left will never leave Watford and Villa also have reason to thank him hugely for rescuing them from the doldrums.  On the way out of the ground, I spotted some people with half and half scarves.  I usually sneer at these, but this scarf had a picture of GT sewn into it, so I had to have one.

On the train home, I opened the match programme.  I had to close it again pretty quickly as the sight of a middle-aged woman sobbing on the train would not have been a pretty one.  Typical of the man, among the tributes from former players were those from the kit man, the club secretary and the programme writer.  There was one word that featured in the majority of tributes, it was ‘gentleman’.  There was also a lovely piece written by his daughter, Joanne.  A fitting tribute to a wonderful man.

It was Graham Taylor who introduced me to Watford.  In the years that have passed, I have laughed and cried over football.  I have made many wonderful friends and spent time bonding with family over a shared passion.  But, behind it all, there was the man with the big smile, who always had time for you whoever you were.  The huge amount of love that his many fans feel for Graham is a mark of the warmth and kindness of the man.  He will be greatly missed for a long time to come.  The only thing I can say is “Thank-you, GT.”

 

Gomes the Hero as We Hit Forty Points

A lovely welcome from the Baggies

A lovely welcome from the Baggies

After a brighter performance against Everton last week, we travelled in the hope that we would finally get the points to take us over the magical 40 mark.  I thought I had got to the pre-match pub at the crack of dawn, but there was already a table full of the usual suspects to greet me and more soon joined us for our usual friendly gathering.  I hadn’t really marked West Brom out as a bogey side until a Birmingham-based friend pointed out that we hadn’t beaten them in the league since 1995.  Pre-match discussions harked back to the meeting in our first home game of the season where a spirited performance from the Hornets had been met by negative opponents who shut us down.  It was a frustrating game and we hoped for better in the return.

In the early game on Saturday, Sunderland had beaten Norwich.  I must admit that I was torn over this result.  I would rather have a trip to Sunderland than Norwich next season and the Sunderland win meant that the gap between us and fourth from bottom remained the same, but they were now closer to our points tally.  Of course, Sunderland’s win would be irrelevant if we got three points at the Hawthorns, but none of us were confident about that.

As we waited for the train to the Hawthorns at Snow Street, there were a couple of locals chanting “Elton John’s a homosexual” and I began to think I was in an episode of Life on Mars.

Watson on the ball

Watson on the ball

After the now customary bag search and pat down, we entered the ground.  In line with a number of clubs, West Brom put posters in the away end thanking the travelling fans for making the journey, but I thought it was a really nice touch that they also wished us luck in the semi-final next week.

Team news was that Flores made four changes with Nyom, Prödl, Aké and Guedioura, making his first start of the season, in for Paredes, Cathcart, Holebas and Behrami.  So the starting XI was Gomes, Aké, Britos, Prödl, Nyom, Jurado, Watson, Capoue, Guedioura, Deeney and Ighalo.  Former loanee, Ben Foster, started for the Baggies and was given a tremendous welcome by the travelling Hornets.

There was a slow start to the game, the first goal attempt falling to the home side on 12 minutes with a shot from Rondón that was high and wide.  Watford’s first chance came as Jurado went on a run and squared for Guedioura whose shot from distance was just wide of the near post.

The Guedioura corner that led to the goal

The Guedioura corner that led to the goal

The next chance fell to Sessegnon whose initial shot was punched by Gomes, his follow-up was over the bar.  Guedioura played a square ball to Jurado whose shot was straight at Foster.  On 27 minutes, Watford took the lead with their first shot on target.  Guedioura had done well to win a corner, from which his delivery was disappointing, but groans in the away end soon changed to cheers as Watson volleyed the ball in off the far post.  Up to that point, there had been an angry atmosphere among the Watford fans, but that was supplanted with some joyful bouncing.  Sadly they undid all that good work with the most unsupportive chant.  Why anyone chooses to sing, “How shit must you be, we’re winning away,” baffles me.  The Baggies tried to fight back through McClean, but his shot was wide of the target.  The first booking of the game went to Watford’s Britos, who was beaten by Rondón, so decided to take him down and deserved the card.  The resulting free kick was hit straight at the Watford wall.  Deeney played a lovely ball to Jurado who cut it back for Aké, but the youngster’s shot was well over the target.  Then a ball over the top to Rondón came to nothing as Gomes came out to gather.  The last chance of the half came after Jurado gave the ball away in the box but, thankfully, Berahino shot wide of the target.

Celebrating Ben Watson's strike

Celebrating Ben Watson’s strike

It had been a dreadful first half.  An end of season game between two clubs with nothing to play for, although many Watford fans were of the opinion that we could still find ourselves fighting relegation.  It was obvious that the Watford players were not taking any risks with an FA Cup semi-final looming on the horizon, and they cannot be blamed for that, but it didn’t explain the West Brom performance.

The first chance of the second half fell to West Brom, but McClean shot wide of the near post.  Then Guedioura went on a promising run which he spoiled with a dreadful cross.  West Brom had a great chance to draw level as McAuley met a free kick with a header that was tipped over the bar by Gomes.  Watford then had a chance to increase their lead as Guedioura found Deeney in space, but Troy’s shot was pushed over the bar by Foster.  The same two players combined for the next chance as Deeney met a Guedioura cross with a header that was blocked.  At the other end, a West Brom corner was met by the head of Rondón but Gomes was down to gather the ball.  Jurado passed to Aké on the overlap but his cross was straight at Foster.

Gomes having saved a penalty

Gomes having saved a penalty

There were boos in the away end as Flores made his first substitution bringing Suárez on for Guedioura, who is much loved among Watford fans, many of whom have yet to warm to either Jurado or the Algerian’s replacement.   On 67 minutes, it looked as if Watford’s luck had run out as Berahino broke into the box, Gomes dived to save at his feet and brought the striker down.  The referee pointed to the spot and showed the Watford keeper a yellow card.  Berahino stepped up to take the penalty himself, placing his shot to Gomes’ right, but the Watford keeper saved the effort and the follow-up was blocked before Rondón shot over the target.  The celebrations in the away end included a smoke bomb, making a nonsense of the searches that we all underwent on the way into the stadium.  Tony Pulis immediately made a double substitution bringing McManaman and Anichebe on for Chester and Rondón.  Watford attacked again as Deeney found Ighalo in the box, but the Nigerian made a poor pass and the chance was lost.  Then Capoue went on a great run before playing a cross field ball to Jurado whose shot was caught by Foster.  For the home side, Dawson tried a shot from the edge of the area which flew over the bar.  West Brom’s final substitution saw Gardner come on for Yacob.  Jurado had another chance to make the win secure, but his shot from the edge of the box flew over the bar.

Prodl heads goalwards

Prodl heads goalwards

Ighalo won a free kick which was taken quickly, a poor decision since the Watford players weren’t ready and the ball was given away.  Berahino hit what looked like a poor shot, but it was looping over Gomes who had to tip it over the bar.  With four minutes remaining, Capoue tripped Sessegnon in the box and the referee pointed to the spot again.  The yellow card on this occasion went to Deeney for his protests.  As Berahino stepped up again, I was willing him to put the penalty high or wide, but I had reckoned without the brilliance of Gomes who dived to his left to make another save.  At this point I must apologise to the family who were sitting in front of me as the only reaction that seemed appropriate, after a hug with Jacque, was leaping up and down like a madwoman screaming “You F***ing beauty.”  It would have been nice to add another goal, and Watford fashioned a chance on the stroke of 90 minutes as Ighalo played the ball back to Suarez but the Spaniard skyed his shot.  In time added on, Flores made another substitution replacing Jurado with the more defensive Behrami.  West Brom had one final chance to grab a point as Dawson shot over the bar.  This proved to be the last kick of the game and the final whistle was greeted with loud cheers and chants of “We are staying up.”  Whilst I have been convinced that we were safe since we hit 37 points, I was singing as loud as anyone and found myself strangely choked up.  On the pitch, there were hugs between the players after the final whistle and it was rather lovely to see Gomes congratulated so warmly by Ben Foster.  As the players reached the corner housing the travelling Hornets, the stand rang out with “Heurelho Gomes baby” and the heroic keeper showed his gratitude to the fans.

Gomes, Man of the Match and the Season

Gomes, Man of the Match and the Season

Once the players had left the pitch it seemed to take an age to leave the ground.  The home stands were completely empty some time before we were able to move from our seats in the second row from the back.  Someone suggested that Gomes was at the bottom of the gangway with his arms outstretched declaring, “You will not pass.”  It had not been a pretty game to watch, but that mattered little now that we were in 12th position with 41 points.

On the train on the way home I took the unusual decision (for me) of going to my assigned seat only to find Miles Jacobson was sitting opposite and when my friend, Toby, arrived to sit on the other side of the aisle I found myself with delightful company for the journey home.  Until we arrived at Coventry, that is, and the carriage was invaded by Millwall fans who continued the throwback to the seventies theme with their chanting.

So the upcoming week sees a trip to West Ham which, as it will be Watford reserves against a team still fighting for a place in Europe, is not likely to be a lot of fun.  But that fades into insignificance against the prospect of a very winnable FA Cup semi-final.  Palace are always tricky opponents, but we have to go into that game hoping for a performance on a par with that at the Emirates.  These are good times to be a Watford fan.