Tag Archives: James Tarkowski

Legends Remembered, Football Forgotten

Cate and I with GT

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

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

Etienne Capoue

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

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

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

Holebas preparing for a throw-in

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

Adrian Mariappa

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

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

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

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

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

Holebas readies for a corner with Cleverley in attendance

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

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

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

Hooray for London Buses

Kabasele tracking Barnes

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

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

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

Holebas launches a throw to Pereyra

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

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

Cathcart takes a free kick

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

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

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

The Royal Dyche

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

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

 

Domination Leads to an Undeserved Defeat

Deeney, Mariappa and Capoue gather for a corner

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

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

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

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

Deeney tries to reason with the referee

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

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

Holebas prepares to take a corner

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

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

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

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal (photo by Cate Ephgrave)

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

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

Pereyra prepares to take a free kick

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

Gathering in the Burnley box

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

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

Frustrating Defeat in the Snow

Deeney escapes from a Bardsley challenge

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

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

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

Janmaat challenges Arfield

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

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

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

Carrillo on the ball

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

Pereyra and Deeney in the snow

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

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

Gomes takes a goal kick

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

Kabasele shaping to make a pass

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

Mariappa, Cleverley and Janmaat in defensive mode

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

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

Holebas waits to take a free kick

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

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

Proper Football

Gathering for the pre-match huddle

Gathering for the pre-match huddle

I woke up on Tuesday morning with a rotten cold which meant that I spent most of the day sneezing and with my nose streaming.  I felt awful, so my plan to spend the evening on a cold terrace seemed foolish in the extreme.  The thought crossed my mind that maybe I should give this one a miss.  That thought was quickly dismissed.  Instead I dosed myself up with Sudafed and best bitter and took my rightful place on the Griffin Park terrace for the top of the table clash.

Jokanovic had made two changes from Saturday with Tözsér and Forestieri coming in for Munari and Hoban.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Angella, Cathcart, Paredes, Tözsér, Watson, Ighalo, Layun, Forestieri and Deeney in what I am reliably informed was a 4-2-3-1 formation.  I must admit that the inclusion of both Anya and Paredes in the defence gave me some cause for concern.  The Brentford line-up included former Watford youngster, Diagouraga, with Jack Bonham and the lovely Tommy Smith taking their place on the home bench.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering to defend a corner

As Jokanovic walked across the pitch before the game he was greeted with a chant that I have not heard before.  He was suitably appreciative, turning to applaud the fans, which was another new experience for me.

The home side had an early chance with a first minute corner that was headed over by Douglas.  Next to threaten the Watford goal was Gray, who ran on to a through ball, but was met by Gomes who came out bravely to challenge and succeeded in winning a goal kick.  At the other end, a ball over the top to Deeney led to Watford’s first attempt on goal, but Button saved the shot at the second attempt.  Gray, who was receiving dog’s abuse from the away fans for his Luton connections, broke into the Watford box where he was stopped by Angella who coolly took the ball off his feet.  Watford’s first decent chance came when a lovely passing move led to a shot from Deeney, but Button was equal to it.  At the other end, Anya rose to head a Brentford free kick clear.  The Scot was soon in attacking mode as he made a great break and crossed for Watson whose shot seemed to take a deflection before the keeper pushed it around the post.

Attack versus defence

Attack versus defence

Ighalo’s first attempt on goal was a shot from outside the box that flew wide of the near post.  Deeney should have done better when he received a pass from Forestieri in the box, but he hesitated before shooting and ended up running into a defender and wasting the chance.  Paredes did really well to battle down the wing and cross for Forestieri to head goalwards but a Brentford defender was there to block.  A cheeky backheel from Deeney set Forestieri up for another attempt which was also blocked.  With 10 minutes remaining in the half, Forestieri won a free kick.  He took it quickly, exchanged passes with Deeney and hit a shot that swerved just wide.  Bidwell was mounting a rare Brentford attack when he lost the ball to Layun, his attempt to get the ball back was a studs up lunge which left the referee no option but to show him a red card.  Ironically, the reduction in personnel inspired Brentford into their best spell since the opening of the game.  But their only meaningful goal attempt in this period came from a free-kick that was confidently gathered by Gomes with Dean challenging.

At half-time, I was treated to the sad story of the death of Tommy the cat.  His owner reminisced about our last league game at Griffin Park when a Tommy (Mooney) had scored and said that, in the cat’s honour, we needed the winning goal to come from Tommie Hoban who not only shared the late feline’s name but also the attributes of being ginger and Irish.  Okay!!

Deeney steps up to take the penalty

Deeney steps up to take the penalty

Brentford started the second half as they finished the first.  Forestieri lost out to Diagouraga in their box, the Frenchman released Gray whose shot was, thankfully, awful.  At the other end, Layun tried a shot that flew wide of the target.  From the goal kick, Brentford launched a fast break, Gray beat Angella and shot across Gomes into the roof of the net.  By way of celebration, the Brentford players all ran and surrounded Warburton.  The goal galvanized the visitors who had a chance to break back almost immediately as Douglas used his upper arm to control Watson’s cross into the box and the referee pointed to the spot.  Deeney stepped up but his penalty was too casual, Button went the right way and made an easy save.  Just before the hour, Jokanovic made his first substitution bringing Abdi on for Watson.  Ighalo found Forestieri in a great position for a shot, but the Argentine was being challenged so couldn’t get any power on it.  Anya beat a defender before hitting a cross that was saved by Button.  Anya tried another shot that was saved, the ball dropped to Ighalo whose follow-up flew wide.  Paredes exchanged passes with Layun before putting in a dangerous cross but there was no Watford player in the box to meet it.  Ighalo did really well to keep the ball on the by-line and cross for Abdi but he couldn’t control the ball which bounced off him to Button.

Proper old-school bundle

Proper old-school terrace celebration

On 68 minutes, the pressure from the visitors finally led to an equalizer.  Paredes was being given far too much space on the right which he exploited to cross for Ighalo to head home, prompting a joyous bundle on the away terrace.  Watford immediately pushed for a winner as, from a corner, Angella was knocked over, the ball fell to Deeney but Button was on hand to put the ball out for another corner.  The Brentford keeper was in action again as Ighalo exchanged passes with Forestieri before unleashing a shot that required a flying save to keep it out.  Forestieri was the next to try his luck, he did really well to wriggle clear of the defender but his shot was disappointing, flying well over the bar.  Brentford had their first goal attempt for some time as a quick break finished with a shot from Toral that Gomes blocked and then gathered at the second attempt.  Back up the other end, Forestieri played the ball back to Abdi whose shot was deflected into the side netting leading some on the other side of the goal to think we’d netted a winner.  With 12 minutes remaining, Tommy Smith replaced Pritchard to polite applause from the Watford faithful and shaking of heads around me due to concern that this would be the man to honour the dead moggy.  Tommy was immediately involved as Paredes did really well to keep an overhit pass from going out for a throw but found his reward was to be knocked over by Smith.  The former Hornet was rather harshly booked for the foul, much to the amusement of those in the away end who regaled him with a chorus of “Watford ‘til he dies.”   Tözsér played a short free-kick to Forestieri whose shot cannoned off the post.

Jokanovic takes another win in his stride

Jokanovic takes another win in his stride

With eight minutes remaining Deeney was replaced by Vydra.  The Czech had an early chance as he ran on to a pass into the box from Layun, but Button was first to the ball.  We were into time added on when a Vydra cross was blocked, it appeared to have gone out for a corner but a Brentford defender kept it in only to pass to Layun who returned the ball to Vydra, whose cross was volleyed home by Ighalo.  I have to say that being short and in the middle of the crowd behind the goal, I didn’t see Ighalo’s contribution, but it didn’t stop me joining in the sort of goal celebration that can only happen on a packed terrace.  We tried to run the clock down by replacing Anya with Hoban for the last minute of time added on.  Brentford appeared to have a final chance to get back on level terms, when the ball went out for a corner but the flag was up, much to our delight, and Watford came away with all three points.  At the end of the game, Deeney threw the boots that had missed the penalty into the crowd.

Football doesn’t get better than this.  A cracking game of football at a proper old-fashioned ground with the crowd almost on the pitch and goals celebrated with terrace bundles.  While the Brentford sending off will have influenced the outcome, Watford were great value for their win, dominating the game with some lovely play at times.  Please, Slavisa, now that we’ve got a song for you, can we have this Watford in our remaining games?  I’d be ever so grateful!

Another Week, Another Manager

New gaffer McKinlay in the dugout

New gaffer McKinlay in the dugout

Another week, another manager.  I’d hardly had time to learn which way the accent went on Garcia’s first name when he was gone to be replaced by Billy McKinlay.  The circumstances of his departure were rather sad so I can only wish him a happy and healthy future.  I must admit that a Scottish Head Coach was not what I expected from the Pozzos.  This feels like another era.  Billy’s first line-up was eagerly anticipated and, having styled him as a no-nonsense Scot, Fabbrini’s was not a name I expected to appear.  But he was in for Murray with Dyer and Ekstrand replacing Anya and the injured Angella.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Pudil, Cathcart, Ekstrand, Paredes, Munari, Tözsér, Dyer, Vydra, Fabbrini and Ighalo in a 4-2-3-1 formation.  Okayyyy!  Toumani Diagouraga (affectionately known as Dave) started for the visitors and Mark Warburton, ex-Academy coach, was in the opposition dugout.

Positioning themselves for a corner

Positioning themselves for a corner

It was a lively start for the home side with Fabbrini skipping over a couple of tackles and playing a one-two with Vydra before being closed down.  The Italian had also earned warm applause from the crowd for tracking back early doors.  Vydra did well to retain the ball following a challenge and get a cross in but Douglas got between Munari and the ball so Button was able to gather safely.  Vydra exchanged passes with Dyer before evading a tackle and hitting a shot that was deflected into the side netting.  From the corner, Munari headed the ball on to Ighalo whose shot was also deflected wide.  Another corner was cleared to Paredes who played it back in to Tözsér whose cross-shot was saved.  Then Dyer found Ighalo who saw yet another shot deflected wide.  After a quick counterattack, former Watford youngster, Diagouraga, had Brentford’s first goal attempt of the game but his shot was wide of the target.  Watford should have made the breakthrough as Dyer played a short corner to Tözsér who returned the pass for Dyer to cross towards Ighalo whose header rebounded off the crossbar.

Ighalo steps up to take the penalty

Ighalo steps up to take the penalty

Paredes controlled the ball on the right then nutmegged a defender, a move that deserved a better outcome than his cross flying into an empty box.  Pudil was booked for running into McCormack.  It looked a harsh yellow, especially as the Brentford players were going down very easily as a tactic to disrupt our play.  Off the field, Harry Hornet was hoovering just in front of the Lower GT stand.  I kid you not.  Our habit of falling asleep at set pieces continued as Judge lofted a free-kick to the far post where Douglas connected but Gomes saved comfortably.  Vydra and Paredes exchanged passes, the Ecuadorian hit a cross, but Button claimed the ball.  Jota broke and unleashed a shot which Gomes had to stretch to tip over.  Then Judge tried his luck with a shot from distance that flew well wide of the far post.

Vydra congratulating Ighalo

Vydra congratulating Ighalo

Vydra played a great ball to Ighalo in the box, but it was on his wrong foot so he took a couple of touches and was then knocked over by Tarkowski.  It looked a bit soft and the referee paused but eventually pointed to the spot.  To the surprise of everyone in the Rookery, Ighalo stepped up to take the penalty himself, hitting it straight down the middle where it was saved by Button but Ighalo was alert and knocked the follow-up over the keeper much to the relief of the Watford faithful.  As the players returned to the centre circle for the restart, Tarkowski and others expressed their displeasure at what they must have perceived to be a dive, which was a bit rich given their collective inability to stay on their feet when any Watford player was in the vicinity.  The referee came to calm the situation and showed both Ighalo and Tarkowski the yellow card.  In time added on at the end of the first half, Gray slashed a shot well wide of the target.  His blushes were spared by the offside flag.  So we reached half time happy to be a goal to the good, if a bit disappointed that the complete dominance of the first twenty minutes had not yielded more.

Paredes attacking the ball

Paredes attacking the ball

Brentford had the first chance of the second half as a cross from Bidwell flashed across the Watford goal but Gray couldn’t connect and it was he, rather than the ball, that ended up in the net.  Vydra found Fabbrini who hesitated before playing the ball so lost out to Judge who he then fouled and so found himself in the referee’s book.  Jota got himself into a great position, but hit his shot into the ground and it bounced wide of the far post.  Then Gray beat the defence, but his shot was straight at Gomes.  The visitors were level on 57 minutes as Judge played the ball out to Douglas who slotted it past Gomes.  It was too easy and very disappointing, but no more than Brentford deserved for their dominance in this period.  McKinlay made a change immediately, replacing Fabbrini with Anya.  Gray broke forward again, but his cross went begging.  Then Judge tried another shot which flashed wide.  The first 20 minutes of the second half had been all Brentford so it was encouraging to see Vydra break forward, he found Anya who advanced, but Bidwell intervened and the ball went out for a corner.

Vydra receives congratulations for a stunning strike

Vydra receives congratulations for a stunning strike

On 70 minutes, Watford took the lead again with another beauty from Vydra.  The ball was bouncing in and around the Brentford box when it came out to the Czech who hit a pile-driver past Button into the net.  It was one of those rare occasions when I am glad that the goal was at the opposite end of the pitch as I fear I would have ducked if I’d seen that ball flying at me with power that looked fit to burst the net.  The home side brightened up at this point and could have increased the lead further as a poor clearance reached Anya who crossed for Ighalo, his shot was blocked and rolled to Vydra whose first touch was poor so he just helped the ball on to Button.  Brentford tried to strike back as Odubajo broke into the box but he shot over the bar.  With a quarter of an hour remaining, Abdi replaced Ighalo.  Gomes threw the ball out to Dyer who ran the length of the pitch, but his cross was behind Anya.  Brentford made another substitution as Diagouraga made way for Proschwitz.  Abdi played a through ball aimed for Vydra but it was a little too heavy and rolled through to Button.  Anya played a one-two with Vydra before his shot was deflected wide.  After more great work from Vydra, Dyer found Anya but his cross was straight at the keeper.

Tozser organizing

Tozser organizing

The fourth official indicated four minutes of added time with the Rookery roaring their team on.  Early in the added period, Paredes was booked for time wasting as he strolled over to take a throw-in.  Then Gray beat Pudil on the wing and was dragged down by the Czech who accepted his second yellow and was applauded off by the Rookery for taking one for the team.  Vydra then made way for Hoban, to shore up the defence, while Pritchard waited to take the set piece.  The free kick was met with a header from Bidwell that was just pushed over by Gomes.  The Brentford keeper, Button, had come up for the free-kick so could then be seen dribbling the ball around our box before he had to belt back upfield as Anya was breaking  and crossed for Dyer whose shot from distance was blocked.  Brentford cleared but Anya picked the ball up and advanced again, this time crossing for Munari who couldn’t control his header which went across the goal.  The final whistle went to cheers from the home fans who had been thoroughly entertained.  I’m not sure that we learned too much from that game, given the injuries, but the highlight for me was seeing Vydra back doing what he does well, scoring cracking goals, but also getting involved making chances for others.  That bodes very well for the rest of the season.