Tag Archives: Jed Steer

Thank-you, GT

Banner for the great man

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

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

Chalobah on the ball

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

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

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

Waiting for a ball into the box

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

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

My first look at Femenia

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

The shame of buying a half and half scarf

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

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

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

 

Little Strength Shown by the Depth

Jonathan Bond

Jonathan Bond

Discussion before the match centred on memories of dire games at this stage of the competition, the Accrington Stanley tedium taking centre stage.  When there is little expectation of great entertainment, I tend to turn up “just in case”.  As expected, there were nine changes from Saturday, but the strength of our squad meant that it was still a pretty formidable team.  There had been speculation as to whether, following his indiscretion last week, Dyer would be picked.  He was.  The starting line-up was Bond, Doyley (c), Tamas, Hoban, Anya, McGugan, Andrews, Murray, Dyer, Ighalo and Vydra.

The walk from the West Herts to the ground in the half hour before kick-off was through eerily empty streets.  But, inside the ground, the seats around us were well populated with a high proportion of kids and neutrals.

Doncaster gave a warning of what was to come in the second minute as Bennett found Tyson on the right whose shot flew just past the far post.  At the other end, Vydra cut inside but his shot was blocked.  Doncaster had another decent chance as Coppinger fired just wide.

Dyer all smiles after scoring

Dyer all smiles after scoring

The visitors should have been ahead when Tyson connected with a free-kick, but he headed the ball down and it flew just wide.  Doncaster took the lead in the 12th minute as Tamas needlessly fouled Bennett in the box.  Tyson stepped up to take the penalty firing it straight down the middle with Bond diving to his right.  Watford fans in the Rookery thought we had equalized almost immediately as a shot from Lewis McGugan cannoned off the crossbar at the Vicarage Road end before bouncing down and out.  Sean Murray’s follow-up was blocked.  This was better from the home side as Ighalo robbed Coppinger of the ball and went on a run before passing to McGugan whose shot flew wide.  Watford drew level after half an hour when Dyer broke forward and buried the ball past Steer.  His celebration this week involved running away from the bench with his hand over his mouth.  Tyson had an opportunity to regain the lead, but his shot was straight at Bond.  Vydra and Dyer exchanged passes but the return ball was too heavy and the chance was gone.  Just before half-time, Coppinger tried a shot that was well wide of the far post.  It had been a half of few chances.

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

Five minutes into the second period, Bennett shot over the bar from outside the area.  A minute later Doncaster retook the lead as a lovely passing move was finished with Wakefield turning a cut-back from Furman past Bond.  Wabara nearly provided Watford with an unlikely equalizer as he mis-hit the ball goalwards and had to recover to clear off the line.  Bennett threatened again with a shot from distance that was just wide of the far post.  Bennett’s next shot was from a free-kick which Bond parried before gathering.  Vydra won a free-kick on the edge of the box, but McGugan hit it straight into the wall and then skyed the follow-up.  With 20 minutes remaining, Pudil replaced Doyley, who handed the captain’s armband to Tamas, and McGugan made way for Munari.  The ever dangerous Bennett should have put the game beyond Watford’s reach with a shot from distance that was tipped over the bar by Bond.  At the other end, Vydra did well to retain the ball, riding a couple of tackles, but his final shot was way off target and into the Rookery.  Sannino made his last change at this point replacing Murray with Fabbrini.

Andrews and McGugan lining up a free-kick

Andrews and McGugan lining up a free-kick

On 75 minutes, Doncaster appeared to have scored a third as Keegan’s shot beat Bond, but the linesman flagged for an offside.  De Val was booked for persistent fouling after taking Vydra down.  Munari failed to connect with Fabbrini’s free-kick, the follow-up was blocked, the ball was played back into the area and Dyer shot over.  With 5 minutes remaining, Pudil took a free-kick into the box which flew over the head of the leaping Hoban.  In time added on, Tyson was booked for time-wasting after blocking Bond’s attempts to take a free kick.  You have to wonder why he bothered as Watford really hadn’t looked like scoring for some time.

The final whistle went to boos from the Rookery.  The home side were very poor on the night, although that should not detract from a very decent performance by the visitors.  Sannino had picked a strong side, but there was little sign of those players fighting to be first choice, which was unforgivable.  The game can be summed up by the fact that I could only find a pocket notebook in which to record the incidents in the game and I failed to cover more than a page and a half.  I think I will put a link to this report on my calendar for next August to remind me to find something else to do during the early rounds of the cup.