Tag Archives: Jeff Hendrick

Anti Football Wins the Day

Vicki’s first Watford game

After finally achieving our first win of the season against Norwich, I went into this game feeling uncharacteristically positive.  I had an extra reason to feel positive as my friend, Vicki, was visiting from the US.  I have made it my mission to share my love of Watford with all of my friends, meaning that she first saw the Hornets play in 2010 when she arrived in the UK on an earlier flight than she originally intended in order to take in a pre-season game at Boreham Wood.  This occasion had added significance as it was also the occasion that Toddy bought her first pint in the UK.  Since then she has seen Watford a couple of other times including another pre-season at Wealdstone when she met Lloydy and Mapps.  Her most recent game was in 2013 when, following a midweek win against Doncaster, she made the trip to Barnsley.  I had strongly advised her against going to that game.  No visitor from the US looks at possible destinations in the UK and plumps for Barnsley and we never win there anyway.  She was determined and ended up having a cracking day out with a great pub, fantastic company and a 5-1 Watford win.  This would be her first Premier League game and she was very much looking forward to it.

Capoue plays the ball

I decided not to subject Vicki to the convoluted train journey, especially as there was disruption at Euston, so I drove to the West Herts.  We arrived to find our party at the usual table.  It was a flying visit for a couple of them as Mike had been offered the use of the Community Trust table in the Elton John Suite, so the prawn sandwich brigade had a swift drink and then headed for their posh seats, while we enjoyed a proper football lunch of burger/hot dog and chips.  While we waited for our food to arrive, Glenn appeared with his bag of treats.  Vicki looked sceptical as the bag of pork scratchings appeared on the table but was persuaded to try one.  “Oh, they are really good.”

We headed to the ground at the usual time.  Needless to say, the touts decided to give this one a miss.  Once inside the Rookery, I showed Vicki to our seats and sped around to the GT stand to take a bag of sweets to Don, who had left for the game before Glenn arrived.

Deulofeu lines up a free kick

Team news was that Quique had made three enforced changes from the win at Norwich with Kabasele (suspended), Janmaat and Pereyra (both injured) making way for Mariappa, Femenía and Gray.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Dawson, Mariappa; Holebas, Capoue, Doucouré,  Femenía; Hughes; Gray, Deulofeu.  Deeney was again on the bench, this time accompanied by exciting prospects Ismaïla Sarr and Tom Dele-Bashiru.

Just before kick-off someone observed that Dyche had swapped ends so the Hornets would be defending the Rookery in the second half.  And so the torture began.

Three minutes into the game Burnley were already indulging in time-wasting and Sean Dyche had just had his first rant at the fourth official.  Watford had the first chance of note as a free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Dawson, but his effort flew past the top corner.  The next chance for the Hornets came when Capoue released Holebas who crossed for Doucouré at the back post, but the header back towards goal was cleared.  The Hornets won a free kick in a dangerous position when Hughes was hacked down by Tarkowski.  Sadly, Deulofeu curled the set piece into the arms of Pope.

Capoue giving instructions to Hughes

Deulofeu’s next effort was more impressive, he robbed Tarkowski before belting into the box and taking a shot, but Pope made a superb save with his feet.  Burnley’s first attack of note came after 20 minutes when they won a corner.  The delivery from McNeil was deep and flew straight out of play.  The first booking of the game came when Gray went up for a header with Tarkowski, who went down clutching his face and the Watford man was cautioned.  The Hornets won another free kick in a good position after Tarkowski handled the ball.  There were protracted complaints from the Burnley players leading to a booking for Mee.  Deulofeu took the free kick and hit it straight into the wall.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead after Gray broke forward before finding Femenía on the right, Kiko tried a shot but Mee stuck a foot out and managed to turn it back to Pope.  Another decent chance went begging as Deulofeu played the ball back to Capoue whose shot was poor and flew wide of the near post.  A lovely exchange of passes between Hughes and Doucouré finished with a shot from a narrow angle from Will that was blocked for a corner.  Hearing some applause at the front of the Rookery, I looked down to see Jay DeMerit making his way around for the half time interview.  A shot from Cathcart was blocked to shouts of handball from the Watford faithful, but the VAR check confirmed that the block was legitimate.  Then there was some concern as Dawson went down with what appeared to be a head injury.  He didn’t move for quite some time, which is always a bad sign.  Thankfully, he was able to walk off the field, but he couldn’t continue and was replaced by Masina.  This was now the sixth league game in a row in which we have been forced to make a substitution in the first half.  Into the five minute of added time and Deulofeu tried a run into the box that was stopped by a judicious foul by Tarkowski on the edge of the area.  The free kick from Deulofeu was on-target but kept out by a great one-handed save from Pope.  So, we reached half-time goalless, although the Hornets had much the better of the half and would have been ahead but for two excellent saves from Pope.  Burnley had defended well, but their efforts in attack resulted in only one (off-target) shot in the whole of the first half.

Jay DeMerit back at the Vic

The half-time interview was with Jay DeMerit, who had been at Vicarage Road on Friday evening for the European Premiere of a short film, “Game Changer”, which was an episode of the US animated show for children, LaGolda, which encourages kids to accept everyone for who they are and promotes inclusiveness in football and wider society.  This particular episode was in support of LGBTQ youth.  Also in attendance, and being interviewed, was Executive Producer, Judy Reyes.  Both Judy and Jay spoke positively about how the club had allowed them to promote their message of inclusivity, which seemed only too right given that Elton John is such an important part of our club.  They then went and had their photo taken with the children who took part in the half-time penalty shoot-out, who had been playing with a rainbow football.  It was only after the game that I realised that Judy Reyes played Carla in “Scrubs”.  I loved that show and was a big fan of hers.

The first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets when the ball broke to Capoue whose shot was deflected over the bar.  The home side threatened again as a cross from Capoue was headed goalwards by Mariappa, but his effort was blocked.  Mapps was then in action at the other end of the pitch, heading clear while under pressure from Mee.

The return of Deeney

The visitors took the lead from the resultant corner as Tarkowski’s header was blocked, Foster got stuck in the traffic in the box and was unable to intervene as Wood buried the rebound.  The goal was scored in the 53rd minute from the first on-target shot by the visitors.  After the goal the Burnley fans started a chant that I thought was “sexy football” but at a later rendition I heard “anti-football” which was much more accurate.  Flores decided to bring on the cavalry at this point replacing Gray with Deeney who took to the field to a huge ovation.  The Hornets had a chance to break back when they won a free kick in a dangerous position after Tarkowski fouled Capoue on the edge of the box.  Again the Burnley players protested the decision and Westwood was booked for dissent.  Capoue took the free kick himself, but it was a dreadful effort that flew well over the bar.  The visitors had a chance to increase their lead, but Foster blocked the shot from Hendrick and the follow-up from Bardsley was hit over the bar.  Flores made his final sub with a quarter of the match remaining, bringing Sarr on in place of Hughes.  As Pope wasted time retrieving the ball for a goal kick, Deulofeu placed the ball in position on the edge of the six yard box.  Needless to say, Pope wasted more time moving the ball to the other side of the area, much to the annoyance of the fans behind him in the Rookery.

Captain Capoue

Another decent chance for the Hornets came to nothing as Capoue released Holebas who cut inside but shot straight at Pope.  At the other end, a cross was chested down to Barnes who shot over the target.  With 15 minutes remaining, there were chances at both ends of the pitch.  First a corner from Westwood appeared to be heading for the net, but Foster punched clear allowing Deulofeu to break forward, he played Doucouré in, but the shot was high and wide.  Dyche then made his only substitution of the game replacing Wood with Rodriguez.  The Burnley substitute almost made an immediate impact as he hit a powerful shot that came off the underside of the bar, but the ball bounced off the line and was headed over by Cathcart.  The visitors appealed for a penalty when Barnes appeared to run into Holebas, the referee waved play on and the Hornets broke down the other end.  When the ball went out of play, it was announced that VAR was checking the penalty.  When the decision came through, the referee pointed back up the field and the players returned to the Rookery end of the field.  Barnes took the spot kick, Foster got a hand to it to push it onto the post but it bounced back and into the net.  The authorities had said that they would be giving the fans in the stadium more information about the VAR decisions and, sure enough, the big screen showed footage of the challenge which clearly showed Holebas kicking Barnes so, much to my annoyance, it was the correct decision.  To add insult to injury, the visitors scored a third goal when a Burnley free kick reached Tarkowski whose first effort drew a good save from Foster, but the rebound found the net.  The traveling Burnley fans burst into a chorus of “Andre, what’s the score?” while the majority of the home fans headed for the exits.  There was a chance for a consolation goal as a powerful shot from Deulofeu hit the crossbar, but it wasn’t to be and the game finished in a humiliating defeat for the Hornets.  As if that wasn’t enough, Norwich won and Southampton drew so we finished the afternoon back at the foot of the table.

Preparing for a free kick

There wasn’t much enthusiasm at the end of the game, but Troy did his usual lap of the pitch and was warmly applauded by the few who were still in the ground.

Due to the many early leavers, the trip up Occupation Road was somewhat quicker than usual.  When we arrived back at the West Herts, Pete assured me that I didn’t have to write the blog.  That was certainly a tempting thought.  As we muttered miserably about what we had seen that afternoon, the folk from the posh seats joined us.  I have to say that an afternoon of drinking wine in hospitality meant that they were considerably jollier than the rest of us.  On the way home, Vicki was very apologetic about not having brought us luck when it should have been me apologising having subjected her to that game and being utterly miserable all afternoon.

It is very hard to articulate my feelings about that game.  Burnley were dreadful but still managed to beat us 3-0.  The first half performance had been decent with the Hornets totally dominating.  I would bemoan the fact that they didn’t turn the dominance into goals, but we would have been two up but for a couple of excellent saves by Pope.  The loss of Dawson just before half time certainly made a difference.  He had been solid in the middle of the back three and was just what we needed against a team like Burnley.  The second half had started well but once the first goal went in, despite the fact that it was horribly scrappy, the confidence disappeared and we never really looked like getting back in the game.

It is hard to see where we go from here.  We have played a number of very poor teams this season and failed to pick up points from most of them.  We have a squad with a lot of talent but are suffering with both injuries and a lack of confidence.  I am trying to hold on to the thought that this team is too good to go down but, as the weeks go on, it is harder and harder to convince myself that we will survive.

 

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.

The Second Good Win in a Week

Order of service for Graham Taylor's funeral

Order of service for Graham Taylor’s funeral

The week running up to this match had been an emotional rollercoaster for fans of the Hornets.  The dreadful cup defeat to Millwall had been followed by a magnificent win at Arsenal.  But both events were overshadowed on Wednesday as we said goodbye to Graham Taylor.  The family were very gracious in allowing the funeral to be broadcast to those who gathered outside the church.  The service was very sad but also uplifting.  His children and grandchildren all spoke beautifully about the family man that they knew.  I thought the club and the council did them proud with the little details.  The One Bell, which is boarded up had been decorated with pictures and quotes from GT.  There was also a gorgeous order of service that was handed to those outside, allowing us to join in with the hymns, which included “Abide with Me”.  A scanned copy of the order of service is available at http://www.wfc.net/files/GT/GT_Order_of_Service.pdf.

On Saturday we were back at Vicarage Road for the visit of Burnley.  Those who had been at the mid-week game were waxing lyrical about the performance, but there was a niggling feeling that this Watford team tends to raise its game for the big clubs and that Burnley, despite their failure to win on the road this season, were just the sort of team to cause us problems.

Team news was that Mazzarri made two changes from the team that won at the Emirates with Britos and Janmaat replaced by Holebas and Zárate, both of whom were returning from suspension, which seemed a little bizarre given that this was the Argentine’s debut.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kaboul, Prödl, Holebas; Behrami; Niang, Cleverley, Capoue, Zárate; Deeney.  The 4-1-4-1 formation that had served us well in the previous game making another appearance.

Deeney and Niang celebrate the first goal

Deeney and Niang celebrate the first goal

The notable action in the first few minutes of the game was all related to cards.  First, Niang was booked after flying into a tackle on Ward.  A minute later, Hendricks was shown a straight red card for a nasty foul on Holebas.  Playing against 10 men isn’t always easy, especially when the team is as well organized as Burnley, so it was a relief when Watford took the lead in the tenth minute as a lovely cross from Niang was headed home by Deeney from close range.  With Troy now having scored three goals in the last four games, it seems hard to believe that such a long period elapsed between his 99th and 100th goals.  There was another booking soon after as Holebas was penalised for a high foot as he challenged Barton.  Watford had a great chance for a second goal as Niang exchanged passes with Deeney before unleashing a shot that Heaton tipped over.  Then, from a throw, Zárate hit a lovely shot from the edge of the area that Heaton managed to catch.  Burnley’s first on-target shot came just before the half hour as Lowton tried his luck, but it was an easy catch for Gomes.  The Watford keeper was called into action again soon after tipping over a free kick that Barton hit from the edge of the area.  Niang threatened again, going on a lovely run before taking a shot from the edge of the box that was blocked, the ball rebounded back to him and his second shot was comfortably saved by Heaton.  Watford had another decent chance as Cleverley passed the ball out to Zárate on the wing, he burst into the box before shooting just wide of the far post.  Then Holebas took a short corner, exchanging passes with Zárate before crossing for Capoue whose shot was blocked by the face of Barnes.  As we reached time added on at the end of the half, I was beginning to worry that we had wasted too many chances, then Holebas whipped in a lovely cross that Niang met with a superb header and the Hornets went in to the break two goals to the good.

Celebrating Niang's goal

Celebrating Niang’s goal

The second half started with the Hornets on top.  A lovely early move finished with a cross from Holebas, but no Watford player was on hand to finish.  There was a better chance soon after as a cross from Capoue was just a fraction too far in front of Deeney for him to apply the finishing touch.  At the other end, a Burnley corner was headed goalwards by Keane, but Gomes dropped to push it around the post.  Sean Dyche was the first to make a substitution, replacing Gray with new signing, Brady.  Mazzarri’s first change was to bring Doucouré on for Behrami.  I was much more comfortable with that change on this occasion than I had been midweek.  Watford continued to threaten the Burnley goal as Capoue received a cut back from Holebas, but his shot was saved.  Burnley threatened briefly as Barnes had the ball in the Watford box but Cleverley just took it off his feet.  The Hornets created another excellent chance as Niang crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked on the line.  As we reached the 72nd minute, the Watford crowd got to their feet to applaud and sing Graham Taylor’s name.  It was very pleasing to see that both those in the Director’s box and a good portion of the visiting crowd joined in.  Burnley had a rare shot with a powerful strike from Arfield, which was blocked by Gomes.  That was the last act for the Burnley man as he was replaced by Westwood.

Zarate waits for a corner

Zarate waits for a corner

There was a flurry of activity in the Watford box following a corner as a shot from Barnes was cleared off the line, the ball reached Barton on the edge of the area, his shot was also blocked and the ball went out for a corner.  When I saw Prödl arguing with the referee, I thought that he was disputing the corner.  Then the awful realization dawned that a penalty had been awarded and Prödl had been shown the yellow card for handball.  Barnes stepped up to take the spot kick and, on this occasion, the Gomes psychology did not work and the shot went in off the post.  It was very frustrating as, despite a flurry of activity, Burnley really hadn’t looked like scoring, but Watford would have to keep it tight for the remaining 12 minutes.  Mazzarri made a second substitution as Niang, who had put in another terrific performance, made way for Success.  But the next chance fell to the visitors as Brady broke forward and unleashed a shot that was straight at Gomes.  There were two late substitutions as Vokes replaced Boyd for the visitors and Janmaat came on for Zárate.  In time added on, the Watford players seemed determined to push the self-destruct button.  First Gomes decided to dribble after receiving a back pass instead of wellying upfield, and was almost caught out.  Then Cathcart gave the ball away to Barnes on the edge of the box and Gomes had to make a smart save to stop the shot.  The keeper was so furious with his defender that he had to be held back by Prödl.

Zarate and Deeney wait for a throw-in

Zarate and Deeney wait for a throw-in

So it was a relief to see Watford on the attack in the final minute, Success crossed and Deeney powered the ball home to secure the win.  Or so we thought.  I was in mid-celebration when I turned back to the pitch to see a Burnley player flying upfield and it became apparent that the goal had been disallowed and the points were still up for grabs.  Thankfully a late free kick for the visitors came to nothing and the Hornets achieved their second win in a week.  The manner of the win had been rather frustrating as, after looking really comfortable for most of the game, we really shouldn’t have been holding on at the end.

But what a difference a week makes.  After the abject performance in the cup against Millwall and some very disappointing showings over the past few weeks, most of us were looking nervously down the table.  Two wins in a week and we are back in the top half and looking forward to the rest of the season.  The club have done some terrific business in the transfer window.  It was very sad to see both Ighalo and Guedioura go, they were terrific servants to the club.  But the return of Cleverley and the addition of Niang and Zárate seems to have strengthened the squad considerably.  Zarate did well on his first showing.  Niang was superb, scoring one goal and creating the other, and he already seems to have built up an understanding with Deeney.  Cleverley was named man of the match and deservedly so.  The smiles are now back on the faces of Watford fans as we seem to be over our slump and can look forward to the rest of the season with some optimism.

Can They Do It On a Wet Night in Burnley?

Dyche & Mazzarri

Dyche & Mazzarri

As I left work to catch the train to Burnley, I bumped into a colleague who, on spotting my overnight bag, asked where I was going.  My response left her confused, “Burnley?  Where is Burnley?”  I tried to describe the location adding that it is not the nicest of towns but I was going there for football.  “Why not watch it in the comfort of your own home?”  A good question, but I don’t particularly enjoy watching football on television and don’t have Sky TV at home, so off to Burnley it was.

My journey included an hour ‘layover’ at Preston.  There was a time not so long ago when I was travelling though Preston very regularly but, since our promotion, it has become a rare occurrence and, for some inexplicable reason, I’ve actually missed it.  On arrival, Burnley was grey and damp.  After a brief detour to check in to the surprisingly pleasant hotel, I set off for the cricket club spotting a good few familiar faces on the way.  My first thought when this game was moved for television was that it would a bit of a throw-back to our Championship days when the midweek away crowd was mostly the hard core.  But the club having subsidized the tickets and laid on cheap coaches meant that we had sold over 1400 tickets, so there would be a very impressive turn out for a Monday TV game.

Ighalo waiting for the ball to drop

Ighalo waiting for the ball to drop

The Cricket Club had been spruced up and our usual corner was already occupied by a couple of our party.  Our welcome to the North was cask ale at £1.50 a pint and “Annie’s kitchen” was doing a roaring trade in the pie, chips peas and gravy.  The side room where we had gathered soon filled up with familiar Watford faces.  So, as Angela started telling us that her daughter had bought her a copy of “On this Day” by one of the BSaD guys, I was a little bit confused.  I assumed that everyone there knew everyone else, but she was totally oblivious to the fact that the author of her lovely birthday present was at the other end of table.  So, of course, I introduced them.

Team news was just the one change with Amrabat in for the injured Janmaat.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos; Amrabat, Capoue, Behrami, Pereyra, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.  Rather oddly, for the second away game in a row the Hornets faced a team in claret and blue wearing their white away kit which meant that both teams were wearing the same coloured shorts and Gomes was in a purple shirt that would have been deemed a clash in a bygone age.  After our last two convincing performances, confidence was high among the fans before the game.  But there was a question in the back of my mind as to whether this team could do it on a wet Monday night in Burnley.  With former Watford boss, Dyche, in charge, our hosts were not going to be a pushover.

Behrami

Behrami

The first chance of the game was a warning of things to come from the home side as, from a corner, the ball fell to Boyd whose shot drew a decent save from Gomes who tipped it over the bar.  Watford were a little lucky to escape a penalty appeal as a ball hit Holebas on the upper arm.  It was definitely a case of ball to arm, but I have seen them given.  After 20 minutes, I made a note that it had been mostly Burnley on top.  I wasn’t to know at that point that I could have made the same note at almost any time in the game.  The first sign that the Watford players were rattled came when Pereyra fouled Boyd and was booked for arguing with the referee.  It was a really stupid booking to attract.  Despite their dominance, Burnley didn’t threaten again until the 23rd minute when Gudmundsson took a shot from the edge of the area that flew just wide.  Watford’s first chance on goal came soon after as a corner from Capoue reached Holebas whose shot was blocked on the line.  In the 38th minute, Burnley won a disputed corner, Holebas was booked for protesting and many around me were unhappy at the decision although, to be fair, most of them had been unhappy since kick-off.  Burnley took the lead from the corner as Defour’s deep delivery was headed home by Hendricks.  It was a poor goal to give away, but the home side’s lead was well deserved on the balance of play.  Watford’s best chance of the half came in time added on as a free kick reached Pereyra whose cross was headed goalwards by Ighalo, but Heaton gathered easily.  It was a relief to hear the half time whistle.  It had been an utterly dreadful performance from the Hornets but that had a lot to do with the opposition.  Sean Dyche had done a tremendous job in organizing his team to stop the Watford players, who had no space to play in, although I’m not sure that excuses them not being able to string two passes together or defend set pieces.

Holebas and Capoue readying for a free kick

Holebas and Capoue readying for a free kick

It was hoped that Mazzarri would make changes at half time, but the only change in personnel was to bring Zúñiga on for Cathcart.  Watford started the half brightly with a lovely passing move ending in a shot from Deeney that was blocked and then cleared for a corner before he could connect with the follow-up.  But the good play didn’t last long and the home side increased their lead on 51 minutes as Defour’s corner was returned to him, his follow-up cross was met by Keane who was allowed a free header to beat Gomes.  Watford never really looked like getting back in the game after that, although there was some hope with the second substitution which saw Success come on for Amrabat.  That change went down very well among the away support who had been berating Nordin throughout the game.  On the hour, the Hornets had Gomes to thank for keeping the score respectable as he did brilliantly to save a shot from Defour.  At the other end Deeney met a Pereyra cross with a header that Heaton saved, but it would have been off target anyway.  Success had been lively since he came on and a run at the Burnley defence drew a foul and a free kick in a decent position.  Holebas stepped up to take it and shot into the wall, the ball rebounded to Capoue whose shot was blocked and Deeney’s follow-up was saved.  Watford were having a lot of possession during this period but too often were passing sideways or backwards, any forward passes seemed to be from Gomes launching the ball upfield, much to the frustration of those around me who were letting their feelings be known.

Kenedy makes an appearance

Kenedy makes an appearance

Mazzarri’s final change saw Kenedy on for Pereyra who had been lucky to avoid a second yellow card after a petulant challenge.  Into the last ten minutes and the involvement of Success and Kenedy had introduced some energy on the field that transferred itself to the stands and the travelling Hornets started making some positive noise.  Deeney went on a run and found Success who cut in, beating a couple of defenders, but his shot was from a tight angle and no Watford player could connect with the ball as it rolled along the goal line before it was put out by a defender.  The resulting corner came to Behrami on the edge of the box whose shot flew just wide.  Success had one final chance to reduce the deficit in the last minute of time added on, but his shot from an angle flew over the bar.  The final whistle was greeted with boos from the away stand.  Although this was followed by some sympathy applause for the players from the soft-hearted among us.  Deeney looked livid as he applauded the crowd and he certainly did not hold back in his post-match comments.

Deeney, Pereyra, Behrami and Britos

Deeney, Pereyra, Behrami and Britos

There was a lot of grumbling on the way out about the players being able to motivate themselves for the big teams while capitulating against Burnley.  There is a sad irony in fans criticising the players for arrogance while taking it as a given that we should beat a team like Burnley.  Personally, I am rather heartened that this division is competitive, so results cannot easily be predicted.  But I hope that future performances are a bit more entertaining to reward those who travel.  As I saw the fans piling on to the coaches for the long journey home, I was very happy that I had decided to stay over so only had a short walk back to my hotel room.

On checking out of the hotel the next morning, the woman on reception asked if I’d been to the football.  I bemoaned our performance, but we then had an interesting conversation about Sean Dyche.  She was definitely a fan, praising the efforts that he has put into developing the infrastructure of the club, so that they are set up for a future in the Premier League.  I’m told they have a nice new training ground and that the academy has grown under his leadership.  While he’s not a local he seems to have taken the club to his heart much as he did at Watford, which has gone down very well.

Saturday we will be back to Vicarage Road and there needs to be no complacency from either the players or the fans.  Bournemouth will be tough opposition and we will need to be at our best to ensure that we get a result against a team that we have had little success against recently.  This has been a great start to the season, so I sincerely hope that Monday was just a blip and we can return to winning ways very soon.

A Happy Homecoming

The Clough and Taylor statue is a gorgeous thing

The Clough and Taylor statue is a gorgeous thing

I have been away for a month travelling through Australia and New Zealand, so have followed the recent drama from afar.  I cheered when we topped the table.  Was horrified to hear of the dreadful attack on Nic Cruwys, my thoughts remain with him and his family.  I was also greatly saddened to hear of the loss of Guy Judge, a passionate Watford fan and friend to many.  He will be greatly missed by his Watford friends and family.

After so long away, it was a little odd to be setting off for a game again.  I left far too early and managed to forget my replica shirt.  When I arrived in the pre-match pub in rainy Derby, there was no sign of my companions, so I went to look upstairs but was told it was closed until 6.  I then heard my name being called …. from upstairs.  The security man looked shamefaced, “There have been infiltrators,” so I ducked under the guard rope to join my party.  When a couple more infiltrators arrived soon after, Mr Security gave up and opened the upstairs bar.

When we reached the ground, there was a terrific atmosphere in the concourse.  And, when the players came out, they were greeted with ticker tape, balloons and streamers.  There was no mistaking how important this game was to the travelling fans.

The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Motta, Guedioura, Watson, Layun, Ighalo, Deeney and Vydra.  Watford old boy, Forsyth started for Derby with former loanee Thorne back from his long-term injury.

Celebrating Vydra's goal

Celebrating Vydra’s goal

The first notable incident was an early card for Ben Watson who lost out to Bryson and hit back with a late tackle.  Watford’s first goal attempt came on 11 minutes when Deeney got on the end of a Layun corner but directed the ball wide of the goal.  At the other end, a Bent shot was deflected for a corner.  From the set piece, the ball was cut back to Bent but Gomes was alert, stuck a foot out and turned the shot around the post.  At the other end, Ighalo tried a shot from distance that was deflected wide.  Then Deeney won the ball on the right and advanced but there was no Watford player in the box to meet his cross.  Deeney had another chance to put the visitors ahead with a header from a Motta cross, but he directed it straight at Grant in the Derby goal.  Watford took the lead on 23 minutes as Vydra won the ball, played it to Ighalo then advanced into the box to receive the return and blast it past Grant to send the travelling Hornets into delirium.  There were chants of “We are top of the league,” but it was far too early for that.

Cathcart lines up a free kick

Cathcart lines up a free kick

Hughes had a chance to equalize almost immediately as his shot from distance was just narrowly wide of the target.  Thorne’s return to action didn’t last very long as he had to be replaced by Hendrick.  Bent broke into the Watford box, but he didn’t have the ball under control so Gomes was able to come and gather the ball.  Ince tumbled dramatically on the edge of the box and, with the crowd shouting for a penalty, Watford launched a counter attack where a ball over the top to Deeney led to a collision between the striker and the keeper.  At the other end, Bent had another chance with a header but he’d mistimed his jump so it was well wide of the target.  Another Derby attack was thwarted as Angella tackled with a back heel, total class.  The Derby forwards were then frustrated by some diligent harrying from Vydra putting in a shift in the defence.  Watford threatened again as Guedioura picked up a loose ball and broke into the box, his shot was saved by Grant and Deeney was unable to connect for the follow-up.

Motta takes a throw

Motta takes a throw

Another good Derby cross was missed by Bent, who then got the ball stuck under his feet when he found himself on the edge of the Watford area, so did not threaten the goal.  Ince then broke into the box but his shot was deflected for a corner.  Derby equalized just before half-time.  I must admit that my first impression of Motta’s challenge on Russell was that it had been a brilliant tackle, so I was gutted when Kevin Friend first pointed to the spot and then showed Motta a red card.  Not again!!  Bent, whose goal attempts so far had been somewhat wanting, stepped up and beat Gomes from the spot.

Needless to say, the conversation at half time was about the penalty incident.  Texts from friends watching the game on TV shared the pundits’ opinion that it was a penalty but the card was harsh.  Whatever the truth of the matter, we felt hard done by and were not relishing the prospect of the second period.

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

At the start of the second half, it was no surprise when Jokanovic sacrificed one of the strikers for Tözsér.  The only surprise was that it was Vydra who went off rather than Ighalo, who had had a rather frustrating first period.  The visitors started the half well and there was a taste of things to come as Guedioura played a lovely through ball for Deeney who, unfortunately, couldn’t reach it.  Deeney then had a couple of chances to regain the lead with, first, a header from a Tözsér free-kick that needed a good save from Grant to keep it out.  Then the ball found its way back to Troy but his shot from distance was wide of the target.  But it was the home side who took the lead as Ince skipped into the box and shot into the far corner past Gomes.  My heart sank.  Jokanovic decided to change things bringing Anya on for Layun.  The next notable action was another booking, this time for Deeney, for what could only be described as a coming together that ended with Shotton rolling dramatically on the ground.  What was particularly galling about this card was that Deeney was trying to get the ball near the Derby penalty area.  If you can’t challenge for a ball in that area of the field, you might as well give up.  An attempted forward break by Ince was stopped by a lovely tackle.

Heroes all

Heroes all

The Watford equalizer was a thing of beauty and played out right in front of us, so we got a wonderful view as Guedioura played a peach of a pass into the path of Ighalo who coolly tucked it past Grant sparking mayhem in the away end.  It was no more than we deserved at that point as we’d had a great spell.  McLaren reacted to the goal by bringing Chris Martin on.  A moment of carelessness soon after nearly undid all our good work as Ighalo gave the ball away to Bent who advanced and shot but was foiled by the legs of Gomes.  Jokanovic made a defensive substitution sacrificing Ighalo, who left the field to loud chants of his name, for Connolly.  It was backs against the wall stuff for the last 10 minutes.  Ince had a great chance to regain the lead for Derby as he turned and shot but directed his effort over the bar.  Hearts were in mouths as Angella tried to shepherd the ball out but had the ball nicked off his feet by a Derby player whose cross was cleared by Cathcart.  The fourth official held up the board to show six added minutes.  “Where did he get 6 minutes from,” asked the bloke next to me.  “McLaren” was my churlish reply.  My abiding memory of those interminable minutes was of 10 Watford players lining up across the field deep in their own half, which seemed a bit risky but the only real goal chance that the home side had was the last action of the game as a header from Keogh was brilliantly tipped over by Gomes.

The whistle went to huge cheers from the travelling Hornets.  The Derby players slumped to the ground, they needed 3 points from this game.  Our lads were completely exhausted and I was trembling due to the stress of the previous 20 minutes.  The players were given such a rapturous reception that you would have thought they’d won the game.  Nobody seemed to want to leave the away stand, it was reminiscent of games in the 80s when we were kept in for 15 minutes after the final whistle.  So we were all still there when Guedioura came over after receiving his man of the match award and was given a hero’s ovation and responded in kind.

Post match drinks went on long into the night with reflections on how much fun we’ve had following Watford this season.  We need a win on Monday, but the brave second half performance has set us up rather nicely.  It’s good to be home.

County’s Cracking Strikes

The new Community Stand

The new Community Stand

Having suffered two defeats just before the international break, there was little confidence going into this game against a Derby side that started the day at the top of the table.  Any hopes that had been sparked by the news that Abdi and Angella were available for selection were dashed when neither of them was in the starting line-up which was Bond, Doyley, Ekstrand, Bassong, Paredes, Dyer, Andrews, Tözsér, Forestieri, Ighalo and Deeney.  The Derby team included Watford old boy, Craig Forsyth.  One positive on arrival at the ground was to see fans entering the new stand from Occupation Road.  The structure and the fact that we finally have a four sided ground again is certainly cause for celebration.

Derby had an early chance to take the lead as Andrews failed to clear and the ball fell to Hendrick whose shot was turned onto the post by Bond.  At the other end, Deeney released Dyer but his cross was terrible.

Keogh holds off Ighalo as Harry Hornet looks on

Keogh holds off Ighalo as Harry Hornet looks on

There was an early yellow card for Keogh who was penalized for dragging Deeney back as he attempted to break.  A cross from Andrews was dummied by Ighalo and ran through to Dyer whose shot was easily gathered by Butland.  A cross reached Ibe in Watford the box, but his shot was blocked by Ekstrand.  The resulting corner flew along in front of the goal but, fortunately, there was no Derby player on hand to turn it in.  Ibe had another shot on goal, this time it was Deeney on hand to block.  Forestieri played a through ball for Ighalo but Shotton was in close attendance and stopped the Nigerian with a great tackle.  Watford threatened with a shot from Deeney that Butland parried, it went out for a throw from which Forestieri unleashed a shot that Butland gathered.  Dyer did well to win the ball in the midfield, he passed to Deeney who found Forestieri in the box, sadly Fernando hesitated before shooting so was tackled and fell over.  He pleaded for a penalty but the referee gave the corner.  Tözsér took the set piece which Butland punched clear.

Deeney breaks into the box

Deeney breaks into the box

On the half hour, Paredes nearly put the home side in trouble as he tried to dribble out of defence, was dispossessed but the shot to the near post was easy for Bond.  The young keeper was in action again getting a hand to a shot from Martin and pushing it around the far post.  The visitors took the lead in the 38th minute as Russell found Ibe on the left of the Watford box from where he hit a great shot into the top right corner.  Watford tried to hit back immediately as Doyley played a lovely through pass to Dyer who was tripped as he shaped to shoot so he ended up belting the ball over the bar.  At the other end, Martin connected with a Mascarell free-kick but Bond pulled off another excellent reflex save to tip the ball over the bar.  There were boos at the half-time whistle, which was harsh.  We had been a bit careless in our passing, hesitant before shooting and indulged in some suicidal defending, but were only a goal down to a cracking strike.

Vydra knocked flying

Vydra knocked flying

At the start of the second half, Vydra replaced Ighalo.  There was an early scare for the home side as Hendrick went for a run along the bye-line, but his cross went begging.  Tözsér found Forestieri in another great position, but again, Fernando hesitated and the shot was blocked.  Then a low cross from Paredes was dummied by Vydra and reached Deeney whose shot was saved.  Derby immediately launched a counter-attack through Hughes whose cross was met by Russell but the shot was high and wide.  Vydra went on a storming run down the wing, his cross was cleared but reached Forestieri whose shot flew fractionally wide of the far post.  Martin beat Ekstrand to get through on goal, Bond bravely came and saved at his feet and was down for a while receiving treatment but, thankfully, was soon fit to continue.  In the 60th minute, there was a minute’s applause that started in the Rookery in memory of Colin Roe, a Watford fan who died on the way to the Millwall game.  A nice touch, it was well observed, although the players must have been baffled.  Thankfully, we were attacking at the time and they seemed to derive encouragement although it didn’t result in a shot on goal.

Munari running to celebrate his goal with the bench

Munari running to celebrate his goal with the bench

Soon after, Andrews was replaced by Munari.  Forestieri had another chance but, again, shot just wide.  Derby then made their first substitution with Bryson replacing Hughes.  Watford had a great chance to equalize as Doyley met a cross from Paredes with a header that Butland saved, the ball rebounded to Deeney, but he had his back to goal so could only pass to Dyer whose shot was blocked.  Watford drew level soon after as a lovely move finished with Munari running on to a ball into the box from Dyer and burying it past Butland.  We could have taken the lead soon after as Forestieri exchanged passes with Deeney before finding Vydra whose shot was just wide of the target.  Forestieri then found Deeney whose shot was blocked.  With a quarter of an hour remaining, both sides made a substitution with Anya replacing Dyer for the Hornets and the goal scorer, Ibe, making way for Dawkins for the visitors.  Munari and Vydra then exchanged passes, the ball rolled through to Deeney but his shot, on the run, was well over the target.  Derby had a rare second half chance as a cross from Forsyth was met with a glancing header from Russell that flew wide.  Bassong went on a run and found Vydra in the box but two defenders converged to stop the Czech from shooting.  Russell launched a counter attack and found Forsyth whose shot was saved by Bond.

Bond fit to continue

Bond fit to continue

Derby took the lead soon after with a gorgeous shot from distance by Bryson.  That was really harsh on the Hornets who had dominated the half.  Watford had a chance to hit back as a Vydra corner was met by a header from Munari that fell to Keogh who kindly played it back to Munari but the Italian’s shot was cleared by Butland.  The resulting corner reached Tözsér but his shot landed on the top of the Derby net.  The final chance for an equalizer fell to Anya who was thwarted as Butland stuck a foot out to deflect his shot wide.

There was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth from Watford fans after this game, which I found a little hard to understand.  We had been wasteful at times but had dominated the second half and had been beaten by two wonder strikes.  Still, I’m always happier when the expectation levels fall as high expectation breeds tiresome impatience in the crowd.

 

More Fight Off than On the Pitch

The teams emerge from the tunnel

The teams emerge from the tunnel

I woke up on Saturday feeling distinctly unwell, having had a cold for a couple of days.  I was so tempted to put the covers over my head and stay there for the day, but I dosed myself up with cold medication and made the journey to Pride Park.  I shouldn’t have bothered.

Team news was a couple of surprising changes as Almunia, Angella and Abdi all missed out due to injury and were replaced by Bond, Doyley and Battocchio.  Jakubiak was back from Braintree to take a place on the bench.  The starting line-up was Bond, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Doyley, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Battocchio, Riera, Ranegie and Deeney, who was captain for the day.  Watford old boy, Forsyth, started for Derby alongside previous loanee, Thorne, and Hemel’s Lee Grant whose finest hour, I’m led to believe, was playing for a (Watford fanzine) CYHSYF team.  The much missed John Eustace was on the bench.

Congratulating Deeney

Congratulating Deeney

It was all go in the fourth minute of the game with a booking and a goal.  First Cassetti received a yellow card for a foul on Russell.  Then Battocchio played a through ball to Deeney, who appeared out of nowhere to hit the ball into the roof of the net.  This season, we have had a nasty habit of sitting back and defending early leads with disastrous consequences.  I feared a repeat of that scenario but, rather than sitting back, we just stopped playing.  Deeney was in action at the other end soon after getting in a block as Ward turned and shot.  Then Forsyth cut the ball back, but it was cleared by Cassetti for a corner from which Ward’s shot was high and wide.  Ward was the danger man again as he skipped around a tackle from Ekstrand, advanced and shot wide of the far post.  Riera was

Indicating a free-kick

Indicating a free-kick

the second Watford player to be booked, but I didn’t see the challenge.  Derby really should have scored as we failed to clear a corner and the ball dropped to Martin, but he shot wide when he appeared to have an empty goal to aim at.  Martin had another decent chance with a cross to the near post, but Ekstrand’s attentions ensured he missed the target.  Watford finally made another attacking break twenty minutes after the goal, but McGugan’s shot from distance flew well over the bar.  Just before the half hour, Derby got their equalizer as Watford failed to deal with a cross into the box, Pudil could only head the ball on to Hendrick who poked it past Bond.  The home side could have taken the lead soon after as Ranegie dwelt too long on the ball and was robbed by Thorne who played

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

in Ward whose shot was saved by the feet of Bond.  A back heel to Derby player of the season, Bryson, teed him up to shoot but Pudil blocked his attempt.  Ward then got the ball in the box, and seemed to be there for ages before he found space for a shot that flew just wide.  In the 40th minute, a rare Watford attack saw McGugan play a one-two with Ranegie, his first shot was blocked, the follow-up went behind the goal.  Our ball retention had been appalling and another misplaced pass allowed Forsyth to set up Hendrick who shot wide.  In time added on McGugan fed Riera whose shot was blocked, the rebound looked about to fall to Battocchio in a great position for a shot, but McGugan picked it up and crossed for Ranegie whose header was too high.

That had been a truly shocking first half performance from Watford.  How we were level was a complete mystery.  “They are already on holiday” was the consensus in the concourse.

An effort flies wide of the target

An effort flies wide of the target

As the crowd returned to their seats for the second half there was a bizarre scuffle a couple of rows in front of me which was broken up by friends of the combatants.  I have no idea what started it, but one of those involved who, at first glance, appeared to be a gentle grandfatherly type, then spent the next five minutes offering a 30 year-old out.  Quite how he thought this would end well for him is a mystery to me and to his mates who were practically sitting on him to stop him causing any more trouble.

Watford started the second half brightly as a Deeney shot from distance looped into Grant’s arms.  Then a header from Ekstrand reached Ranegie whose attempt was blocked.  At this point, it was sad to see Ekstrand being carried off the pitch, he was replaced by Hoban.

However, it was hard to concentrate on matters on the pitch as the pensioner hoolie was still carrying on in front of us and the stewards waded in.  To be fair, the stewards dealt brilliantly with the incident and allowed the friends to act as peacemakers rather than just

Lining up to defend

Lining up to defend

dragging people out as is so often the case.  On the pitch, a cross from Pudil really should have been dealt with, but was allowed to roll across in front of goal but sadly Deeney couldn’t get a touch to turn it goalwards.  It was then McGugan’s turn to limp off and be replaced by Anya.  Derby went a goal up on the hour mark as Bryson and Russell exchanged passes before finding Forsyth who powered the ball into the roof of the net from the edge of the box.  Derby were immediately on a mission to increase their lead as Cassetti was robbed, Bond blocked Martin’s effort and Russell’s follow-up was wide of the far post.  Then a shot from Hendrick bobbled wide and a cross was met by a header from Ward that was just wide of the far post.  Martin then curled a shot wide from the edge of the box.  I was too busy trying to make out the number of the striker (gold on black and white stripes is a nightmare), so completely missed Cassetti’s sending off after getting a second yellow for a foul in  the build-up.  As that will probably be the last time we’ll see him in a Watford shirt, it was a very sad way to end to his time with us.

Ranegie receives congratulations

Ranegie receives congratulations

Quite unbelievably, we were level on 70 minutes.  Anya went on a run into the box and crossed for Ranegie to head past Grant.  This was one of those goals that you celebrate with a certain embarrassment as it was so completely undeserved.  Derby immediately tried to strike back as Riera was robbed by Ward in the box, but his shot was saved by Bond.  Russell then tried a shot from the edge of the area which was blocked.  There was then a rash of substitutions as Ward and Russell were replaced by Dawkins and Bamford for the home side while Faraoni came on for Ranegie for the Hornets.  Anya tried another cross, but Deeney couldn’t reach it and it went out for a throw.  I missed Derby’s third goal as the pensioner hoolie decided to launch his attack at this point, so I was distracted by the revolting sight of his builder’s bum as he sat down in front of me before grabbing the neck of the 30 year old’s father who was sitting quietly with his wife and, it has to be said, still had 10 years or more on the idiot if he’d decided to take

Anya breaks forward

Anya breaks forward

him up on his offer of a scrap.  Pensioner hoolie’s mates tried to intervene, but this time the stewards were justified in ushering him out.  I hope to goodness that bloke has neither a wife nor a cat as I would fear for them when he got home.  Back to the game, the replay on the screen showed that the Derby goal had been a shot from distance by Hendrick.  With five minutes to go the score became a fairer reflection of the game as Derby scored their fourth when Bryson received a pass from Dawkins then played a through ball to Martin who shot past Bond.  That was Martin’s last action of the game as he made way for Hughes.  Watford tried to reduce the deficit as Faraoni met a Tözsér corner with a header at the near post that was blocked by Grant.   In time added on, Bryson tried a shot from the edge of the area but Bond pulled off a good save to keep the score respectable.  For the visitors, Pudil broke forward but his shot was high and wide.  At the final whistle we were well beaten and I couldn’t bring myself to applaud the team as the

The Clough & Taylor statue, a thing of beauty

The Clough & Taylor statue, a thing of beauty

performance had been dreadful.  After applauding the crowd, Deeney came over to the away end and gave away his wristbands.  When he saw a couple of disappointed kids, he took his boots off and made a present of them before leaving the pitch in his socks.

Travelling home with Mick, who generally takes defeat very badly, it was me who had the “raving hump” about the game.  All that money shelled out on a day that would have been better spent wrapped in a blanket with a mug of lemsip.  Mick also reminded me that we’d only won 4 away games this season (and I missed one of those).  But, as we passed through the British countryside on the train journey home, I felt rather sad that this was the last of my Saturdays out following the team until next season.  Despite the disappointment of the game, the days out are always good due to the lovely people that follow our team (with the notable exception of pensioner hoolie).  I’m already looking forward to next season.