Tag Archives: James McClean

Deeney’s Goal Beats the Baggies

Deeney challenging in the West Brom box

After a week dominated by cold weather and snow disruption, it was a relief to end the week with some football.  Although for that we need to give thanks to the large number of kind souls who were at Vicarage Road early in the morning to help clear snow from the stadium and ensure that the game could be played.  Before 10am there was a notice on social media thanking the volunteers and saying that no more were needed.  Well played Hornets fans.  There was also a request from the 1881 for donations to the local foodbank.  When I arrived with my tins just before midday, there was a nice collection beginning and, at the end of the day, the foodbank thanked the fans with a message that “nearly a quarter of a tonne of food” had been donated.  A tremendous effort.

When I arrived at the West Herts, there were a couple of unfamiliar faces who turned out to be Norwegian friends of Trond.  One of them had been to Kaiserslauten home and away, which were his last Watford games before this one!

Holebas preparing for a free kick

After the unwelcome information midweek regarding the severity of Deulofeu’s injury, it was very disappointing when the team news came through to find that there was no sign of Femenía.  Thankfully a follow-up message said that it was due to sickness rather than injury.  Let us hope that he recovers very soon.  I was greatly cheered by the news that Hughes was fit enough to take a place on the bench.  Gracia’s only change from the Everton game was to replace Deulofeu with Carrillo.  So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Prödl, Mariappa, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Carrillo, Pereyra, Richarlison; Deeney.  Former loanee, Ben Foster started for the visitors, who also had Allan Nyom on the bench.

It looked as though our injury list was to have a further addition when Capoue needed treatment in the second minute but, thankfully, he was soon fit to continue.  There was then some danger for Watford as a series of attempted clearances rebounded to West Brom players before a shot from Krychowiak was blocked by Mariappa, who was making his 250th start in a Watford shirt.  Watford’s first chance came from a Holebas cross, Carrillo’s header was poor, but the ball broke to Pereyra whose shot deflected off Gibbs.  Soon after,

Capoue, Mariappa and Deeney

Mariappa was in action at both ends of the pitch, flicking on a corner that didn’t quite reach Deeney and then clearing Rondón’s cross after Capoue had lost out in midfield.  A lovely attacking move for the Hornets finished as Doucouré found Deeney whose shot looked more like a back pass to Foster.  The first card of the game went to Capoue who was booked for a clumsy collision, which seemed rather harsh.  West Brom had a decent chance to open the scoring but, thankfully, Rondón’s header was wide of the near post.  At this point attention was drawn to an advertising hoarding that appeared to be on fire, much to the amusement of the travelling Baggies who were singing “Watford’s burning down.”  Back on the pitch, Doucouré tried a strike from distance that was blocked.  There was then a great chance for the Hornets as Pereyra broke and found himself in space, he played the ball to Janmaat whose shot was goalbound until Foster stuck out a leg and deflected it wide.  The resultant corner was headed just over the bar by Prödl.  In the last minute of the first half, Holebas was penalised for a challenge on Rondón.  He wasn’t impressed with the decision and let the officials know in no uncertain terms and was very lucky not to talk his way into the referee’s book, in fact he probably would have seen a card had Deeney not manoeuvred him out of earshot.  The free-kick was taken by Brunt and landed on the roof of the net, so the half finished goalless.

Deeney and Okaka challenging

At half time, we were introduced to Lewis Gordon, the latest Academy graduate to sign as a professional.  We also had the rather sorry sight of St Bernadette’s school taking part in the half time shoot out with only 2 of the 5 penalty takers.  At first this appeared to be a ruse as the first penalty was excellent, but it was beginners luck and they were soon knocked out of the competition.

As he approached the goal at the Rookery end for the start of the second half, Ben Foster was greeted with a tremendous reception to which he reacted with applause and by blowing a kiss to the crowd.  How lovely.  Watford had the first chance of the half from a Holebas free kick that Richarlison headed wide.  The young Brazilian had another decent chance soon after, but ran into a crowd of players and lost the ball.  At the other end there was a low shot from Rondón that was easily gathered by Karnezis.  The West Brom man then had an identical chance from the opposite side, he struck this one with more power but, again, Karnezis was equal to it.  Carrillo then broke on a counter attack and crossed for Doucouré who headed the ball down to Richarlison whose overhead kick appeared to be deflected wide by Livermore, but a goal kick was given.  Rondón really should have opened the scoring but, again, directed a header wide of the target.

Celebrating the winner

Watford made their first substitution on 54 minutes as Richarlison made way for Okaka.  Young Ricky was not happy and threw his gloves to the ground as he reached the dugout.  Thank goodness his Uncle Heurelho was there to look after him.  Okaka made an immediate impact playing a lovely through ball for Deeney who, sadly, wasn’t ready for it.  Then Doucouré tried to play in Okaka, but the ball bounced off the Italian and the chance was gone.  Watford were coming closer to breaking the deadlock and the next chance came as a cross from Pereyra reached Carillo whose shot was just over the bar with Foster beaten.  That was the last contribution from the Peruvian who was immediately replaced with Hughes.  We then had the bizarre experience of a player doing the time-wasting trudge off the pitch when there were still 24 minutes to go and he game was goalless.  Even his own fans were booing Carrillo before he reached the dugout.  West Brom had a great chance to take the lead as a cross came in for Rodriguez, but Janmaat made a vital intervention to stop the shot.  Mariappa earned a booking after losing Rondón and then hauling him down to stop his escape.  Watford should have taken the lead with 15 minutes remaining as a corner from Holebas reached Okaka in the box with the goal at his mercy, but his shot was blocked by Gibbs on the line.  The Hornets took the lead in the next move as a mistake in the West Brom midfield gifted Hughes the ball and he played a perfect pass for Deeney to run on to, Foster came out to meet him, but Troy was focussed on the goal and lifted the ball over Foster to send the Rookery wild.  The first substitution for the visitors saw McClean on to replace Krychowiak.

Hughes and Pereyra in the box

Mariappa, who had been tremendous, nearly put the Hornets in trouble with a terrible back pass but Karnezis was off his line to prevent Rondón taking advantage.  West Brom made two late substitutions with Livermore and Rodriguez making way for Field and Burke.  A deep corner from West Broom looked threatening, but Karnezis came confidently to claim the ball.  In time added on there was a decent chance for Hughes to increase Watford’s lead but his shot was deflected to Foster.  Gracia had intended to make a third substitution, bringing Lukebakio on for the final minute or so, when Holebas went down injured, so Britos was brought on to replace the limping Jose.  In the final minute of the game Watford won a free kick and I was baffled when Okaka went over towards the ball, leaving no one in the box, until the ball was played short for him to keep it in the corner until the final whistle went.

It had been another poor game, but another great three points.  On his 250th start, it was rather lovely that Mariappa was given man of the match.  It was also pleasing to see Deeney score his second goal in successive games.  His goals have been few and far between this season, but these were crucial to our survival in this division.  And there was a warm welcome back to Will Hughes, who provided the pass that led to the goal.

This win took us to 9th in the table and really has to mean that we are safe from relegation, which is a bit of a relief as our next two games are against Arsenal and Liverpool, although neither of those clubs are models of consistency, so points against them are not out of the question.

On our way back to the station, we met a group of West Brom fans trying to find their way back to The Flag.  They were very philosophical about our putting the final nail in their coffin which made me even happier that we could look forward to the last few games without stressing about the results.

A Last Minute Equaliser is a Great Cure for Jet-lag

Richarlison

I had to travel to the US this week for a meeting in Maryland on Friday morning.  Flights were booked to ensure that I was back in plenty of time to get to the match.  Imagine my frustration when I arrived at the airport to find that there was a delay of two hours.  I spent the extra time at the airport obsessively checking the train times for the next morning.  I needn’t have worried.  After arriving at Heathrow at 8am, I had time to go home for a quick shower, a change of clothes, pick up my football shirt (I had my match and train tickets with me) and was still in the pre-match pub before 1.  My party were already in place.  It was my first chance to catch up with a number of friends since Toddy’s passing so, needless to say, stories were exchanged, there was laughter and tears and glasses raised to our much missed friend.

When the team news came through there was much discussion of the only change from the Swansea game as Deeney was chosen in place of the previous week’s goalscorer, Gray.  To me the change made sense as, against a Pulis team, Deeney’s strength would be more important than Gray’s pace.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Mariappa, Kabasele, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Carrillo, Cleverley, Richarlison; Deeney.  Former Watford loanee and player of the season, Ben Foster, was in goal for the Baggies.

Come dancing in the West Brom box

Watford started the game very well without creating too much in front of goal.  The first chance came with a dangerous looking cross from Holebas which evaded all of the Watford heads in the box.  The home side’s first real attack came after a quick break, my nerves were jangling as the Watford defence were trying to play the ball out, but kept giving it away, finally Cleverley wellied it upfield to cheers from the travelling Hornets.  West Brom took the lead in the 18th minute, against the run of play, when Rondón received a through ball and broke into the box, Kabasele didn’t do enough to put him off and he finished past Gomes.  Watford looked rattled and conceded again soon after, Rondón was released, played the ball in to Gibbs whose shot was put behind for a corner which was flicked on by Doucouré for Evans to touch home.  After brilliant start in which the Hornets were playing some lovely football, I was reeling that we were two goals down.  At this point I wished I’d stayed at home and rested after my transatlantic journey.  West Brom had a chance to increase their lead after Carrillo lost out in midfield, allowing them to make another quick break, but this time the hopeful shot from Rodriguez cleared the bar.  But this Watford team is nothing if not resilient and were soon asserting themselves again and, on the half hour, a looping cross reached Richarlison but his header was straight at Foster.

Cleverley takes a free kick

At the other end, a corner from Brunt was headed just over the bar by Hegazi.  Deeney did well to hold off a defender on the edge of the West Brom box before passing to Richarlison, he crossed for Carrillo who was in acres of space in the middle of the goal, the ball just needed to bounce off him for the goal, but he managed to head high and wide when it looked much easier to score.  He tried to redeem himself as he crossed for Richarlison whose header was put out for a corner.  This was much better from Watford and we pulled a goal back on 37 minutes as Deeney flicked the ball on to Richarlison, who found Doucouré, the Frenchman hesitated but he was just picking his moment before firing the ball past Foster into the opposite corner.  Watford were in the ascendency now and Cleverley played the ball out to Capoue whose shot was deflected for a corner.  The visitors came even closer to an equalizer as Capoue played a deep cross to Richarlison whose header was just over the target.  The Brazilian had one more chance to get on the scoresheet before half time as Cleverley played a great cross-field ball to him, but he curled his shot just wide of the target.

Deeney and Cleverley challenge Gareth Barry

It had been an odd first half.  Watford were brilliant in the first and last 15 minutes, but fell apart in the middle allowing the home side to take the lead.  On the balance of play it was hard to believe that Watford were losing the game, but Doucouré’s goal and the resurgence at the end to the half had given us hope of getting something out of the game.

It was Diversity Day at The Hawthorns, so we were treated to some bhangra music from the Dhol Blasters followed by the appearance of a Chinese dragon on the field.  It certainly made a change from children challenging mascots (not that there is anything wrong with that).

As Ben Foster took his place in goal in front of the away end at the start of the second half, he was greeted with very warm applause for which he showed his appreciation.  The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as Gomes dropped to save a shot from Phillips.

Abdoulaye Doucoure, never gives the ball away …

But the Hornets were soon dominating again, starting when a cross from Cleverley was headed clear and fell to Capoue whose shot was deflected for a corner.  The Frenchman had another chance soon after with a thunderbolt that must have left bruises on Gareth Barry who got in the way.  Then Carrillo tried a cross-cum-shot that was gathered by Foster.  There was a rash of substitutions around the hour mark with Phillips and Brunt replaced by McClean and Livermore for the home side while Pereyra come on for Capoue for the visitors.  Watford threatened again as Kabasele just failed to connect with a lovely corner from Holebas.  Cleverley then played a lovely ball to Holebas who made the wrong decision in going for goal from an acute angle when he should have cut the ball back.  Doucouré intercepted the ball in midfield and advanced before crossing for Richarlison who headed just wide.  The young Brazilian then battled into the box with three defenders in attendance, he still managed to put in a cross, but it was too high for his team mates.  Pulis made his final change as Rondón made way for Robson-Kanu who was immediately in action playing in McClean who broke forward to shoot, Gomes made the save, he spilled the ball but, thankfully Mariappa was alert and put the ball out for a corner.

In position to score the equaliser

With 15 minutes to go, Silva made another change bringing Gray on for Carrillo.  Watford continued to push for the equaliser as a lovely through ball released Richarlison, he was tackled and the ball broke to Gray whose shot was blocked.  We were getting so close, it was incredibly frustrating.  Richarlison tried another shot from the left that was straight at Foster.  The first booking of the game came in the 87th minute as Livermore was cautioned for a foul on Gray.  After a long period of Watford pressure, there was a scare as a cross found McClean in a great position to make the game safe for the Baggies, but Holebas blocked the shot.  In the last minute of time added on, Watford won a free kick on the left.  Gomes came up to join the attack.  Holebas delivered the corner and Richarlison headed home with his countryman on his shoulder trying his very best to get to the ball for his first goal for the club!  A goal from Gomes would have been something else, but this still provoked a mental celebration in the away end, shouts and screams, smiles and hugs.  Gomes always celebrates goals in a spectacular manner, but he is usually on his own.  This time he was at the right end but, as he celebrated with Deeney in front of the away fans, the rest of his team mates had run to the dugout to celebrate with the subs and the coaching staff.  Both were wonderful to see.

Pereyra and Kabasele

The celebrations at the final whistle were joyous.  The whole squad came over to join us as we sang their praises.  Shirts, gloves and boots were thrown into the crowd, Doucouré being the only player who left the field wearing his shirt (maybe he didn’t have a vest on underneath).  A draw was the very least we deserved from that game and it was gained by a never say die attitude that I haven’t seen in many years.

After my overnight journey, I really should have gone straight home, but my friends, the Happy Valley Horns, were having a drink in town, so …..  It was Angela’s first game of the season.  She was mightily impressed and I was able to assure her that the positive elements of the performance were typical of this season.  This is a team with skill and spirit and I am loving this season so far.

We go into the international break in the top half of the table, unbeaten on the road and watching some of the best football that I have ever seen from a Watford team.  There was a very interesting interview with Tom Cleverley in The Times this week in which he remarked of Silva, “He’s got the balance perfect: he’s approachable but there’s a fear factor about him.”  He sounds like Gino’s perfect coach and long may this continue.

Quality and Steel under the Lights

Britos on the ball

A month into a new job, I don’t have many regular meetings but one that I do have is on Tuesday from 5 to 6pm.  As the meeting came to a close, I was itching to get away.  When the request was made for any questions, the response of one of my colleagues that she had one immediately took her off my Christmas card list.  As soon as I was able, I made a rapid exit and was at Euston in time for the 18:30.  With a brief stop to check in to my hotel, I made a beeline for the ground.  As I reached the Rookery, it was lovely to see Gifton Noel-Williams outside chatting to someone.  After entering through the turnstiles, I found that the concourse was deserted.  In the stand, my family were in their seats but there were not many others there.  Then I heard Tim on the tannoy announce that it was 25 minutes to kick-off.  No wonder the place was so empty, I was ridiculously early … and I was going to have to watch this game sober, not a prospect I was relishing.  My early arrival did mean that I got to see the warm-up.  The notice on the big screen warning spectators to look out for balls flying into the crowd didn’t prevent a guy in the front of the stand being hit by an errant shot from Capoue.  The Frenchman leaped into the stand in order to apologise.  This had quite an effect on my niece, who is a big fan and came over all unnecessary, “I wish he’d hit me.”  Another off-pitch distraction came by way of my sister’s niece, who is studying for a degree in football broadcasting.  She had enquired about opportunities to gain experience at Watford and had been invited to shadow the media team for this game.  She was thrilled, but I think her aunt(s) were even more excited than she was.

Tom Cleverley

Team news was that Mazzarri had made two changes restoring Deeney and Prödl, both of whom had fitness problems on Saturday, to the starting line-up in place of Okaka and Janmaat.  So the starting XI was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Doucouré, Cleverley, Capoue; Niang, Amrabat; Deeney.  A surprise name on the bench was 18 year-old midfielder, Dion Pereira.  As the opposition team was read out, the loud cheers for Ben Foster were followed by equally loud boos for Allan Nyom.  I missed the visit to West Brom this season, so hadn’t witnessed the incidents that so incensed the travelling fans on that day.  Even so, the reception seemed rather harsh for a player of whom I have fond memories.

The visitors had a great chance to open the scoring in the sixth minute as Chadli ran on to a through ball and broke into the box, Gomes blocked his initial shot but the West Brom man recovered the ball and looked to have an open goal to aim at, but the angle was too narrow and his shot drifted harmlessly across the goal.  It was the home side who took the lead on 13 minutes with a shot from distance from Niang that he curled past Foster into the far corner.  Words cannot do the strike justice, it truly was a thing of beauty and there were no complaints that the replays on the big screen continued until after the restart.

Gathering for a corner

Niang impressed again, showing great resolve as, despite being tripped and lying on the ground, he managed to get a touch to direct the ball to Amrabat whose low cross was just too far in front of Deeney for him to apply the finish.  Niang had another great chance soon after, but this time he volleyed the ball over the target, so the guy in charge of the big screen just showed another replay of his goal.  At the other end, Robson-Kanu met a cross from Chadli with a header that flew wide of the target.  Watford’s next chance came as Amrabat put in a lovely cross that was cleared for a corner with Deeney challenging.  For the Baggies, Chris Brunt really should have done better as the ball came to him in the box, but it bounced down off his chest and Gomes gathered before he could get it under control.  Britos earned the first booking of the game after giving the ball away to McClean, he reacted by taking his opponent down.  As the wall was constructed for the free kick, it seemed that every player apart from the goalkeepers and the taker were involved.  Chadli stepped up and fired over the wall, hitting the outside of the post.  The first card for West Brom came soon after as Robson-Kanu fouled Holebas.  Jose took the set piece himself, delivering a lovely ball into the box but, again, no Watford player was able to get the decisive touch.  Just before half time, Prödl appeared to strain his midriff.  After receiving treatment, I was hoping that he would persevere until half time, but he soon indicated to the bench that he couldn’t continue and was replaced with Janmaat.  As the half came to an end, there were a number of niggly fouls from the visitors which culminated in McClean earning a yellow card for standing on Holebas’s heel.  The half time whistle was greeted with boos from the Rookery but, on this occasion, they were directed at the opposition, who can only be described as classic Pulis.  In contrast, the Hornets had been terrific playing some of the best football we have seen this season.  And that goal ….

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

As Foster took his place in front of the Rookery for the second half, he was given a very warm reception, which he acknowledged.  The visitors made a half time substitution with McLean making way for Phillips, presumably as his antics at the end of the first half suggested that he was at high risk of being sent off.  The second period started perfectly for the Hornets as a lovely pass over the top from Niang reached Deeney, who had two defenders on his case but, as Foster came out to meet him, somehow he managed to connect with the ball and send it into the net.  It was a goal as scrappy as Niang’s had been exquisite, but they all count and the celebrations were mighty.  Chadli had a decent chance to reduce the deficit for the visitors, but turned his shot wide of the near post.  At the other end, a misplaced clearance went straight to Niang, who advanced and tried a shot that was blocked.  The Hornets threatened again as Amrabat played the ball out to Janmaat, who put in a lovely cross, but neither Deeney nor Niang was able to connect.  On 65 minutes, there was a tussle between Britos and Rondon just outside the Watford box.  The West Brom man went down very easily sparking fury in the home crowd as the Uruguayan was shown a second yellow and sent off.

Man of the match Doucoure

For the second game running, Amrabat was substituted after a terrific showing.  This time he made way for Mariappa making his first Premier League appearance since his return to Vicarage Road.  Any concerns that young Ady might be rusty due to his lack of game time disappeared with his first involvement as he met a ball into the Watford box with a confident clearing header.  West Brom had a decent chance to get back into the game as the evil Rondon met a cross from Morrison, but his header was just over the bar.  Success was given his customary ten minutes on the pitch as replacement for Niang whose departure gave the guy running the big screen an excuse to show his goal yet again.  Following the sending off, the Hornets had spent most of the time in their own half, but it had been a sterling rearguard effort with the Baggies rarely threatening the goal.  The effort off the pitch had been equally impressive as the fans in each of the stands were on their feet singing their hearts out for the lads.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, there was little chance of the Hornets getting anything other than a win, but the clean sheet became of paramount importance.  So hearts were in mouths in time added on as a cross reached Nyom at the far post, thankfully his shot rebounded off a team mate to safety.  The former Watford man had another chance to reduce the deficit but, despite having two shots, he couldn’t make the breakthrough as the first was blocked and the second saved by Gomes.  The visitors had one final chance and I punched the air when Morrison put his shot into the Family Stand.

Capoue, Doucoure and Amrabat celebrate in front of the Rookery

At the final whistle, there were great celebrations and hugs in the Rookery and it was lovely to see the players gathering to do a proper lap of honour, enjoying the adulation of the fans.  This had been a truly impressive performance against a decent team who are very adept at stopping other teams playing.  Niang put in a performance showcasing what he can really do and was a joy to watch.  Doucouré was man of the match for an impressive turn running the show in midfield.  Special mention also to Adrian Mariappa, who could be forgiven for struggling when drafted in to a ten man team after so long without a game, but he was excellent.

When Britos was sent off, it seemed disastrous.  But it resulted in a resilient performance from the players and a passionate reaction from the fans, which is always better when played under the lights.

Before the game last Saturday, there was a genuine fear that we could be pulled into a relegation battle.  Three days and six points later we are feeling comfortable in 9th position in the table and Walter Mazzarri is a football genius.  It’s a funny old game.

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.

No Boing from the Baggies

Applause for Chris Dyer

Applause for Chris Dyer

After the good start at Everton, it was lovely to be home again. The usual suspects gathered at the West Herts to reflect on last week’s performance and what had been a very enjoyable visit to Liverpool.

As we approached the ground, the improvements to the outside were apparent and very pleasing to the eye but, as we turned into Occupation Road, there were long queues at the SEJ turnstiles, which made me fear that we’d see the same thing at the Rookery. The other obvious change was that the Bill Mainwood hut had been demolished so Doreen and her friend were at a table out on the street. That’s no way to treat a former Supporter of the Season. The Rookery turnstiles were pleasingly empty so we were quickly in to see the improvements to the concourse which included a series of pictures commemorating great moments in Watford history such as Lloyd Doyley’s debut. I realised that my reaction to these pictures was a little OTT when my niece asked if I was going to cry. It was touch and go!

Team news was that there was one change from the Everton game with Ighalo in for Holebas whose position was taken by Anya. So the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Prodl, Cathcart, Nyom, Capoue, Behrami, Layun, Jurado, Ighalo and Deeney.

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s applause for Chris Dyer, a Watford fan who was a victim of the terrorist attack in Tunisia.

Anya breaks into the box

Anya breaks into the box

Watford had an early chance with a shot from distance by Ighalo that was saved by Myhill. It was an encouraging sign. Soon after, a lovely cross from Layun was headed wide by Deeney. Jurado went on a great run down the left, which continued along the byline before he crossed for Deeney whose header was blocked. West Brom’s first attack of note finished with a shot from distance by Lambert which was blocked by Prodl. Deeney received a cross from Capoue and shot goalwards but Myhill was equal to it. Nyom looked beaten on the right but caught his man, picked up the ball and played it up to Capoue who crossed for Jurado whose bicycle kick was high and wide. Another cross into the West Brom box was gathered by Myhill with Ighalo challenging.  Then Anya played a cross-field ball to Deeney who headed down to Ighalo but the ball was cleared. Just before the half-hour mark, there was a rare foray forward by the visitors. Fletcher’s cross was put out by Nyom. The resulting corner was headed over by Berahino.

Cathcart leaps for a cross

Cathcart leaps for a cross

Another West Brom corner was headed clear by Deeney to launch a counter attack as Anya found Nyom who advanced and unleashed a shot which must have stung the palms of Myhill as he blocked. Ighalo robbed a West Brom player but his break was stopped by a foul from Olsson who was booked for his trouble. Jurado’s free-kick was just wide of the near post. Watford had another great chance to take the lead just before half time as Behrami crossed for Deeney who headed down to Ighalo whose shot cleared the crossbar.

Even though we reached the interval scoreless, the half-time analyses in the Rookery were universally positive. It had been an exhilarating half of football with some lovely play. It was just lacking a goal.

Watford started the second half as they had finished the first. Jurado received the ball on the left, beat two players but shot over. Then Deeney found Ighalo who switched feet before shooting straight at Myhill. Watford’s first substitution came 10 minutes into the half and there were roars of approval as Abdi made his first appearance of the season to replace Layun. A gorgeous pass found Anya on the left, he crossed for Ighalo whose shot was blocked.

Deeney organizing the attack

Deeney organizing the attack

Just after the hour mark, the Baggies made their first substitution with record signing Salomon Rondon coming on in place of Gardner. He was quickly in action as he advanced up the field before hitting a horrible shot well over the bar much to the amusement of the Vicarage Road faithful who serenaded him with “What a waste of money!” Normal service resumed with another Watford attack as Nyom, who is fast becoming a favourite of mine, made a great break upfield before whipping in a cross which went begging due to lack of bodies in the box. West Brom’s second yellow card went to Lambert for a foul on Behrami (more sinned against than sinner!) Then Abdi played the ball out to Nyom who put in a lovely cross which both Ighalo and Deeney leapt for but neither could connect. Ighalo tried a shot from distance which was caught by Myhill but was going wide anyway. Deeney was the next to try to break the deadlock but his shot was just over the target. With ten minutes to go, West Brom had a great chance to take an undeserved lead as Berahino had a free header following a corner but he directed it wide, much to the relief of the home crowd.

Anya taking a throw-in

Anya taking a throw-in

Berghuis made his debut with seven minutes remaining coming on for Jurado. Capoue gave away a free kick on the edge of the box which Brunt wellied over. Watford’s last chance of the game came and went as Anya played the ball back to Abdi who shot straight at Myhill. In time added on, Nyom took McClean down and was booked. A foul borne of fatigue. The final whistle went on a goalless draw that was certainly not lacking in entertainment.

I felt a bit deflated at the end of the game. We could have won by 3 or 4 goals while West Brom were the epitome of a Pulis side, dour, negative and time-wasting from early in the game. Their large contingent of travelling fans deserved more from them than a performance in which they didn’t have a single shot on target. As I applauded the team off, my disappointment was tempered somewhat when I heard the bloke behind me say “undefeated”. On reflection, it had been another terrific performance from a team that will only get better. It was rather nice, for the second week running, to want to see us on Match of the Day and to hear positive comments from the pundits. Let us hope that is a feature of this season.

Elton’s Homecoming

Elton, David, Zachary and Elijah on the pitch as the SEJ stand is opened

Elton, David, Zachary and Elijah on the pitch as the SEJ stand is opened

Pre-match, all the attention was on Elton’s return to Vicarage Road for the naming of his stand.  As requested, we entered the ground early and were treated to Elton John songs over the tannoy.  The new stand now has words from “Your Song” along the back and there was a request that we welcome Elton by singing along.  I joined in with some gusto, although it is a song that always chokes me up.  When Elton was announced, the crowd were already singing “Elton John’s Taylor-made Army”, which sent shivers down the spine.  When Elton took centre stage, he said that it was one of the greatest days of his life.  He recalled coming as a six year old to stand on the cinder bank.  At that time he never imagined having a stand named after him, in fact he never imagined sitting in a stand.  He paid tribute to the people of Watford and turned to address each stand as he spoke.  He also paid tribute to Dave Whelan and the Wigan fans.  He thanked the Pozzos and said the club was in good hands.  “Watford Football Club is forever in my heart.”  He was clearly moved by the occasion and there wasn’t a dry eye in the Rookery.  The fans sang his name loud and proud.  It was so lovely seeing him there with his two sons in Watford scarves and hats.  They must have loved hearing the crowd singing their Dad’s name.  Well done to the Pozzos for such a lovely gesture, and thank-you, Elton, for decades of wonderful memories.

Back to the game against Wigan.  Jokanovic had named an unchanged side from the Fulham game, so we started with Gomes, Bassong, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Munari, Tözsér, Abdi, Paredes, Deeney and Vydra.  Wigan featured former players Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor as well as Malky Mackay and David Kerslake in the dugout.

Celebrations after Deeney's first goal

Celebrations after Deeney’s first goal

Watford had an early goal chance as Anya played the ball back to Abdi who curled a cross wide of the target.  At the other end, Espinoza tried a shot from distance that hit the side netting.  Carson had to drop to keep a shot from Munari out.  Vydra played a lovely ball to Paredes whose shot was cleared.  Wigan threatened as a high cross from Taylor was gathered by Gomes with McClean challenging.  Watford won a free kick in a dangerous position, but Tözsér’s low delivery was stopped by Carson. Watford took the lead on 20 minutes, a lovely headed pass from Anya reached Deeney in the box, where he beat Carson from a tight angle.  Another cross from Anya was knocked wide of the near post by Munari.  Wigan had a decent chance to equalize from a Watson free-kick which was headed goalwards by Barnett but Gomes caught it.  McClean hit a decent shot that was blocked by the legs of Gomes.  With a couple of minutes remaining in the half, Watford had their first chance for a while as Abdi found Deeney on the right, but Troy’s shot was wide of the far post.  Wigan equalized just before half time as McCann was allowed a free header as he connected with a corner from McClean and beat Gomes.  It felt like that goal had been coming.  In the aftermath, Anya and Tözsér squared up to each other and had to be held apart.  I have mixed feelings about that.  It is not good to see team mates arguing, but it is good to see them care so much.  When the half time whistle went, it had been a half with little goalmouth action and the draw seemed a fair reflection of the play.

Tozser's free-kick through the wall

Tozser’s free-kick through the wall

At the start of the second half, Paredes made way for Dyer.  The substitute was involved immediately with a ball to Abdi who found Deeney whose cross was blocked.  Deeney then had a shot which hit the side netting.  For the visitors, a free kick from Watson was headed wide by Barnett.  Watson then headed over from a McClean free-kick.  McClean threatened again with a cross to the near post which Gomes got down to block.  On the hour, Abdi played a ball into the box for Vydra, but it was too far in front of him so he had to stretch and knocked it out.  Vydra then played the ball out to Dyer who hit a low cross but there was no one in the box to turn it in.  A cross from Anya was cleared to Tözsér whose shot flew just wide of the target.  Then a long ball forward saw Deeney running to connect while Carson came out to clear and the two collided, the ball broke to Vydra who was tackled before he could shoot.  Deeney was down injured for a while but, thankfully, was fit to continue.  There was a period then when the Watford players played some lovely passes, but it was all show with no end product.  With 15 minutes remaining Vydra was replaced by Ighalo.  A Tözsér free-kick was cleared to Bassong whose shot was weak and easily cleared.

Deeney celebrates his second goal with the Rookery

Deeney celebrates his second goal with the Rookery

With 10 minutes remaining, Watford regained the lead as Anya crossed from the bye-line and Deeney powered the header home.  Troy followed the ball into the net where his powerful reaction showed how much the goal meant.  It was all Watford after that.  Ighalo chested the ball down to Abdi, who should have hit the target, but blasted the ball over.  That was the Kosovan’s last involvement in the game as he was replaced by Guedioura.  Wigan had their first chance for some time with a deep free kick, but Gomes was equal to it.  At the other end, Dyer played a deep cross towards Ighalo who stretched but could not connect with it.  Ighalo then showed some skills in the box before cutting back to Deeney whose shot was way over the bar.  Ighalo then played a lovely ball for Deeney who was flagged offside.  The last action of the game was a shot from Guedioura from the edge of the box that went over the bar.

Elton points to the cinder track where he stood 61 years ago

Elton points to the cinder track where he stood 61 years ago

The final whistle went to cheers from the home fans.  It was not the greatest of performances from Watford, but those were two thrilling goals.  We’ve played better and lost, so there was a certain pride in winning ugly.  Special mention must go to the referee whose playing of the advantage rule was very impressive.

After the game, there were lots of hugs and kisses as we wished our friends and neighbours a happy Christmas as we won’t see them again until Boxing Day.  The game may ultimately be forgettable, but seeing Elton John opening the stand will stay long in the memory and the post-match tweets from players proudly sharing their photos with Elton was just lovely

The Road Past Wigan Pier

Wigan Pier

Wigan Pier

The last couple of games were played on lovely Spring days and, when I left home, it was rather warm and I feared I was over-dressed.  In the event, I was nothing of the sort as the trip north took place under darkening skies and I arrived to chilly temperatures.  On previous visits to Wigan, I have taken the supporters coach, so this was a new town to visit.  Our pre-match pub was at Wigan Pier.  The ironic name and Orwellian associations meant that I was expecting a rather dreary location, so was pleasantly surprised at how attractive the area was.  Added to that, the beer was decent and the local speciality on the menu, a steak pudding, was cracking.  There was soon a lovely gathering of Hornets, of whom I was the only one that had started my journey down south.  The walk to the ground was along the canal and would have been delightful had it not been punctuated with cold showers.  I was soaked through by the time I arrived at the DW

A nervous-looking local

A nervous-looking local

Stadium.  Recent games have been preceded by airport-level searches before you were permitted to enter the ground, so when I approached a steward and asked if he wanted to search my bag, I was delighted to hear “Na, you’re all right, Love.”  That endeared me to the town even more.

We came in to this game having not won away since early October while Wigan’s mid-week draw with Yeovil was the first time that they hadn’t won in a home league game this year.  Team news was that Belkalem would replace Doyley.  Oh, Beppe, Beppe, Beppe, what were you thinking?  The starting line-up was Almunia, Angella, Cassetti, Belkalem, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Battocchio, Faraoni, Anya and Deeney.  Wigan’s line-up included Watford Academy graduate Rob Kiernan.

 

The defence lines up

The defence lines up

The first chance on goal came from the home side with a lovely ball from Jordi Gómez to Beausejour who only had the keeper to beat, but Almunia blocked the shot.  The Chilean threatened again with a cross that needed a hand from Almunia to keep it out.  The corner was met with a header by Ramis that was blocked on the line and rebounded out off the inside of the post.  Waghorn then tried a shot from distance, but it was straight at Almunia.  On 18 minutes, Watford had their first meaningful attack but Anya’s shot flew well wide of the target.  He pleaded with the referee that it had taken a deflection, but a goal kick was given.  Ikechi was the next to threaten as he received a long pass from Deeney, advanced towards goal but shot well over.  McClean then played a dangerous cross in the direction of Waghorn, but Almunia was first to the ball.  At the other end, McGugan tried

Watford on the attack

Watford on the attack

a shot from distance that flew well wide.  Then a through ball from Beausejour found McClean in front of goal, somehow he managed to miss the target but the linesman was flagging anyway.  McClean then broke into the box and Almunia did really well to block the shot.  At the other end, McGugan tried a shot that took a slight deflection off a defender which slowed it down so it was easily gathered by Al Habsi.  Then McClean cut the ball back to Waghorn in the Watford box, but he was stopped by a brilliant tackle.  McClean was tormenting the Watford defence.  This time he attacked from the left, fortunately his shot was in to the side netting.  On 35 minutes, Watford took a totally undeserved lead with our first decent shot on goal.  Angella played a gorgeous ball to

Celebrating McGugan's strike

Celebrating McGugan’s strike

McGugan who shot past Al Habsi into the far corner.  We weren’t ahead for long as Beausejour found himself one-on-one with Almunia, the Spaniard parried the initial shot, but was beaten by the follow-up header.  McClean nearly struck soon after as he skipped through the defence and shot past the near post.  Just before half-time, Angella was penalized for a foul on Perch, he was completely distraught and I was rather amused to see Perch trying to placate him.  In time added on, Al Habsi dropped the ball but McGugan couldn’t capitalize, although a foul on the keeper was given anyway.

Almunia gathers

Almunia gathers

The second half started with a shower of icy rain that made a rather lovely musical accompaniment to the game.  The home side were ahead ten minutes into the half as Waghorn got the ball in the box, it appeared to be caught under his feet but he managed to turn and shoot past Almunia.  Almost straight from kick-off, Tözsér was booked for an innocuous looking tackle.  Waghorn was the next to make his way into the referee’s book after a foul on Faraoni.  On the hour, Waghorn was replaced by Jack Collison making his Wigan debut after joining on loan from West Ham.  Beausejour then found Jordi Gómez whose shot from distance was well over the bar.  Anya latched on to a throw-in and advanced on goal, but was closed down before he could shoot.  With 20 minutes remaining, McClean, who had been a menace all afternoon, was replaced by Powell.  Beausejour threatened again with a volley that flew wide of the far post.  Watford’s first substitution saw

These foreign managers all look the same to me :-)

These foreign managers all look the same to me 🙂

Belkalem make way for Ekstrand.  Deeney tried a shot that was blocked and came back to him, but he was closed down before he could get a second shot in.  Then Angella played another great forward ball, this time to Pudil who ran into the box and was tackled, the ball fell to Anya who shot wide of the target.  Wigan made their final substitution as Rogne replaced Kiernan.  At this point, the rain became quite biblical, but the music that it played in our stand was gorgeous.  A corner from Tözsér was met with a powerful defensive header from Boyce.  With 10 minutes remaining, Diakite replaced McGugan.  His first act in the game was to earn a yellow card for a foul on Jordi Gómez.  This provoked a chant of “send him back to QPR” from some of the travelling crowd.  Based on

Anya on the attack

Anya on the attack

what little I have seen, I am no fan of Diakite, but how does abusing your own players help when the team is fighting to get back in the game?  I despair of some of our fans.  We had a great chance to equalize soon after as Anya found himself in the box with just Al Habsi to beat, but he shot wide when he maybe should have done better although he was complaining of being held back.  Wigan then threatened but Fortuné’s shot was into the side netting.  In the Wigan box, Battocchio played a ball back to Tözsér whose shot was blocked.  The home side launched a counter-attack and there was Battocchio back in defence where he intercepted the ball as Powell tried to play Fortuné in.  With two minutes remaining, Ekstrand received his inevitable yellow card, although this one was very harsh as he’d merely tripped Jordi Gómez.  In time added on, Deeney played a low cross towards Battocchio that was cleared, Cassetti picked it up and found Deeney whose shot was blocked but the flag was already up.  The last chance of the game fell to McArthur whose shot was wide of the far post.

Ekstrand clears

Ekstrand clears

It was another disappointing away day for the Hornets.  The team worked hard, but there were too many misplaced passes and Wigan seemed to be first to every loose ball.  We lost the game in midfield, where we couldn’t gain a foothold.  Wigan are a decent team, although nothing special, but we didn’t really trouble them and the score flattered us a bit.  Still, as always, it was a good day out.  I loved my visit to Wigan so am a bit conflicted when I say that I hope they win the third promotion spot as they are a very likeable club.  We only have a short break before facing another team from Lancashire.  Our away performance against Blackburn was truly horrible, so I’m hoping that we revert to our marvellous home form on Tuesday.