Tuesday night was the next instalment in the fight for seventh place and the opportunity for Watford fans to go on a European tour for the first time since 1983. This was a crucial game and my pre-match nerves were certainly out in force. I arrived at the West Herts in time for a couple of calming pre-match pints and, while there was no jerk chicken on offer, they did have a rather lovely curry instead, which set me up for the game rather nicely.
Team news was that Gracia had made three changes from Saturday with Janmaat, Kabasele and Pereyra in for Femenía, Mariappa and Sema. So the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Kabasele, Cathcart, Janmaat; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu, Gray.
Glenn, our West Herts sweetie man, had sent me with a bag of sweets for Don so, having had to take a detour to the lower GT to drop them off, the players were already on the pitch by the time I reached my seat. Having finished my pre-match ritual of putting on my replica shirt and retrieving my notebook, pen and camera from my bag, I noticed a big white envelope by my seat. I opened it to find a sheet with the words of “Rocket Man”, as if I don’t already know them. Irritation at this distraction was compounded when I looked up to see Shane Long bearing down on goal and shooting past Foster. Only 7 seconds of the game had elapsed. I had missed Cathcart hitting a pass at Long to lead to this chance. I was devastated and, again, I blamed the decision to dispense with Z-cars. You don’t mess with something so important at such a crucial point in the season.
The Hornets tried to hit back immediately as Hughes crossed for Gray, his first shot was blocked, his headed follow-up flew over the bar. Deulofeu then had a decent chance after a one-two with Doucouré, but he curled his shot just wide. Southampton then had a chance to increase their lead as a cross from Ward-Prowse was headed just wide of the near post by Long. The first booking of the game went to Romeu for a foul on Capoue. The normally reliable Cathcart was in trouble again, as Redmond beat him before hitting a shot that Foster touched around the far post. Tables were then turned as Capoue was booked for a foul on Romeu, the resultant free-kick was straight at Foster. Bertrand then dived on the edge of the box, thankfully the referee treated the theatrics with the contempt that they deserved, the ball was played out to Redmond whose cross was headed over by Long. The next chance for the Hornets fell to Pereyra whose shot through a sea of legs was easily dealt with by Gunn in the Southampton goal. There was danger for the Hornets as Kabasele slipped when trying to deal with a cross from Long, it ran through to Bertrand whose shot was turned onto the outside of the post. From the corner, the ball fell to Stephens in front of goal, Foster did well to smother his effort. The next booking went to Doucouré, who took one for the team, earning a yellow card after stopping a break by Armstrong. Southampton continued to threaten the Watford goal as Redmond crossed for Bertrand who saw another shot rebound off the outside of the post. Watford had a great chance to grab an undeserved equaliser just before half time as Deulofeu received a ball from Doucouré but his shot was just wide of the far post. Bednarek was the next to go into the referee’s book after a foul on Capoue. Just before the whistle went for half time, Deeney walked along the front of the Rookery, presumably to go to the dressing room and give the players a rocket.
I was furious at half time, so in no mood for a sing-along. Now, I will start by saying that I love Elton. I first saw him in concert in 1984, playing at Wembley a month after we had both been there for the Cup Final. Over the years, I have seen him live on numerous occasions and even spent a ridiculous amount of money to buy a shirt that he had signed in an auction. However, all efforts on this evening should have been concentrated on getting three points against Southampton. This promotional effort for Paramount Pictures was totally inappropriate and, combined with the replacement of Z-cars, made me vow not to see the film. It is probably just as well that I had missed the flag that was draped over the Rookery before the game. Shifting the focus of the evening from a fight for seventh place to a promotional push for a film, even one about our beloved Elton, was not sitting well with me. John Barnes was on the pitch leading the singing and when he started the “World in Motion” rap, I decided it was time to go to the loo.
Gracia made a substitution at the break replacing Cathcart with Femenía. You had to feel sorry for Craig. His mistake for the goal was terrible and he had looked shaky for the rest of the game, which had been really hard to watch as he is normally so reliable and unflappable.
My mood worsened further when Deulofeu went down in the box, an injury to him would have felt like the final straw. Thankfully, he was able to continue. Geri created the first chance of the second half crossing for Doucouré to head goalwards, but Gunn was able to make the catch. Deulofeu was then penalised for a push on Stephens and earned a booking for screaming at the linesman. He was as frustrated as I was, but he is a liability when he gets into this sort of mood and I was afraid that he was heading for a red card. A Southampton attack was stopped by a great interception from Masina, who was having a terrific game. Then a good passing move from the Hornets finished with a shot from Janmaat that was blocked for a corner. There was a shout for a penalty as Kabasele was pulled over in the box as he attempted to reach a cross from Pereyra, but the referee waved appeals away. From a short corner, a cross from Deulofeu was headed clear by Yoshida. The visitors made their first substitution bringing Sims on for Armstrong, this was soon followed by Romeu making way for Lemina. A challenge from Kabasele on Long resulted in the Southampton man falling in the box, but the offence was adjudged to have taken place outside. Before the free kick was taken, each side made a change with Success coming on for Hughes for the Hornets and Valery replacing Long, who had been injured in the challenge, for the visitors. When the free kick was finally taken, it was a good effort from Ward-Prowse that was heading for the bottom corner until Foster dived to make the save. The next card went to Masina who was cautioned after pulling Sims back to stop him escaping.
The Hornets were pushing for an equaliser in the last minutes of the game as Gray found Deulofeu whose return pass was intercepted by Yoshida and cleared. Deulofeu created another chance, this time for Pereyra who had a shot from the centre of the area that was blocked. But the Hornets finally grabbed an equaliser when the ball fell for Gray to lash past Gunn and send the Watford fans into wild celebration. In contrast, there was little celebration from the players who knew it was too little too late.
The final whistle went to a mixture of relief and disappointment. The players were warmly applauded by the fans and it was good to see Cathcart come back onto the pitch to join in.
I went back to the West Herts in an absolutely foul mood that was only slightly helped by a large quantity of red wine. It had been a difficult game. Conceding so early allowed Southampton to play a defensive game aiming to catch Watford on the break, which they did on more than one occasion. Watford had most of the possession and had more shots on goal, but didn’t test Gunn enough and the draw was probably fair. There were decent passages of play from the Hornets, but they didn’t appear to be playing as a team and we were desperately missing Troy’s leadership. Still, prior to Wolves playing Arsenal the following day, this moved us back into seventh place with the focus now shifting to Saturday and the need to beat Wolves for the third time this season. That thought set the nerves off again, but our fate was in our own hands, which is all you can ask for.