Tag Archives: Jerome Sinclair

A Horrible Day on the South Coast

Richarlison strikes a free kick

Due to unfavourable rail connections, I ended up reaching Southampton ridiculously early and my first attempt to enter the pub of choice was greeted with a locked door and a dog barking to warn me off.  Luckily Richard arrived very soon after me, so I had delightful company as we waited in the cold and wet for the clock to strike 12.

Arriving early meant that we secured a great table for our party, which soon filled up as subsequent trains (and a car from Cheshire) arrived and we raised a glass to absent friends, particularly remembering Toddy whose last away trip had been to St Mary’s.

Pre-match talk was about the new manager and whether he could arrest the current slide, so the team news was eagerly awaited.  Gracia’s first team showed four changes (two enforced) as Wagué, Deeney, Zeegelaar and Pereyra made way for Mariappa, Holebas, Capoue and Gray.  So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Mariappa, Kabasele, Holebas; Doucouré, Watson; Carrillo, Capoue, Richarlison; Gray.  So, the new manager was also opting for one up front, although, in the absence of Deeney, that seemed a sensible choice.

Kabasele on the ball

The game started in the worst way possible as a free kick from Boufal was met by Long whose shot was parried by Karnezis, Stephens was first to the rebound and beat the Watford keeper to open the scoring.  From two rows in front I heard “Are you Silva in disguise?”  It was going to be a very long afternoon.  The home side threatened again as Long crossed for Tadić, but his effort missed the target.  Watford’s first chance came from a free-kick, Richarlison stepped up to take it and curled his delivery just wide.  At the other end Long met a cross from Cédric and headed just wide.  A foul on Kabasele was met with a chant of “Same old Watford, always cheating,” which I guess was deserved after the Watford fans had gleefully sung “He scores with his hands” in honour of Doucouré.  Watford finally had some time on the ball but a lovely passing move finished with a terrible shot from Watson that flew well wide.  This was greeted with “What the f*ing hell was that” from the away fans.  Southampton threatened again after Doucouré lost out to Long who broke into the box, but Karnezis was able to make the save.  The Watford keeper was called into action again soon after as Cédric tried a shot from distance, Karnezis dropped to make the save.  The home side were forced into a substitution due to an injury to Bertrand who was replaced by Pied.  Southampton had a great chance to increase their lead as Cédric hit a cross that flew just past the far post as Long failed to connect.  As half time approached, Mike was urging the team to get an equalizer and, as Richarlison hit a cross, there was an exasperated cry of “Not like that,” but he was made to eat his words as McCarthy had to back pedal to tip it over the bar.  Watford had another chance as a cross from Richarlison reached Holebas whose header from the byline was straight into the arms of McCarthy.  Not for the first time in recent games, the half time whistle was greeted with boos from the away end.

Gathering for a corner

The half time entertainment at Southampton was a relay race in which participants are stationed at the corners and on the half way line.  A football is carried and passed between team mates until the last player gets the ball and then dribbles towards the goal to score and win the game.  On Saturday, the green team went off like a rocket and were well in the lead when the final player received the ball, but he appeared to want to score the perfect goal, while the lad in purple belted towards the goal and took an early shot and won the game for his team.  I hope that Gracia gets a video of this to show the lads as there was definitely a lesion to be learned.

The other action of interest at half time was Okaka coming on to warm up and being greeted with joyous cheers from the away end.  I suspect that those who were so thrilled at his impending introduction had missed the trip to Leicester.  But he had the second half to dispel that memory as he came on to replace Capoue.

Andre Gray

The first action of note in the second half was a penalty appeal for the Saints as Boufal fell over in the box under a challenge from Carrillo, but the referee waved play on.  The first chance of the half fell to Long but his shot was straight at Karnezis.  There was a rare bright moment for the visitors as Janmaat played a lovely through ball to Carrillo but the cross was punched clear by McCarthy as Okaka rose to meet it.  Southampton had a decent chance to increase their lead as Boufal tried a shot from distance, but Karnezis was equal to it.  Gracia made a second substitution just before the hour mark replacing Carrillo with Pereyra.  Holebas should have done better when, with the ball in a dangerous position, he ballooned his cross over the bar.  As poor as the effort was, it was embarrassing to hear Watford fans chanting about how hopeless the team were (I am paraphrasing to remove the expletives).  There was a card for each side as, first, Watson was booked for a foul on Tadić.  Then Cédric was cautioned for taking Richarlison down, which appeared harsh as the Southampton man had won the ball before he made contact.  The Saints were close to a second goal as a shot from distance from Hojbjerg rebounded off the crossbar.  Then Okaka exchanged passes with Pereyra before trying a shot from a narrow angle that McCarthy was down to save.  This was greeted with a chant of “We’ve had a shot.”

Holebas cherishing a ball

Watford’s final substitution saw Janmaat making way for Sinclair.  Watford threatened as a cross from Richarlison was deflected for a corner.  The delivery from Holebas was headed goalwards by Doucouré, but was blocked by a defender and he protested that it had hit a hand.  The irony!  Richarlison then played a cross-field pass to Sinclair whose shot was terrible, flying high and wide, but he was hardly going to be encouraged by his own “supporters” singing “f*ing useless” at him.  Southampton made their final substitution replacing Tadić with their new signing, Carrillo, to great excitement from the home fans.  But it was Watford who finished the game more positively, with a couple of late chances to earn a replay.  First a shot from Richarlison was charged down.  Then a Pereyra cross was met by an overhead kick from Okaka that flew over the bar.  Finally, in time added on, the best chance of the lot as Kabasele met a cross from Holebas with a header that flew just wide of the near post.

The final whistle prompted some ugly scenes in the away end.  There were three men behind my niece and I, screaming abuse at the players.  As this went on, Amelia was infuriated shouting, “Don’t come to games then,” as she applauded the players with more enthusiasm than the performance deserved.  Those men then got into a heated argument with another fan in our row.  Meanwhile, a couple of rows in front, an exchange of profanities between a couple of fans evolved into a punch-up.  The players were not immune from the unpleasantness as Kabasele came over to applaud the crowd and was subjected to a volley of abuse that clearly upset him.  Holebas was on the end of the same treatment and looked furious, with Ben Watson pushing him away from his abusers.  As poor as the performance on the pitch had been, this was disgraceful behaviour from some in the Watford crowd and must have made Gracia think twice about the “family feel” that he said pre-game he had experienced at Watford.

More than one person mentioned yesterday that I usually find something positive to say about games.  Sadly, I cannot find anything good to say about that game either on or off the pitch.  But I will be off to Stoke on Wednesday, more in hope than expectation of a win, but very hopeful that the travelling fans will get behind their team instead of spending most of the ninety minutes abusing them.

 

No Shame in Defeat at the Etihad

Capoue and Carrillo at the Etihad

When the television schedule was announced for the Christmas period, it was a source of some irritation that, despite the fact that none of our games would be televised, Man City’s game being moved to New Year’s Eve meant that our bank holiday game was now to be played on the evening of the 2nd.  This meant a very brief return to work on Tuesday morning, with just time to wish everyone a happy new year before catching a train to Manchester.  There had been an early indication that the away following would be reduced when I received a set of replacement tickets with a letter explaining that, to maximise attendance, the Watford fans would all be located in the lower tier.  There was a further indication on the day, when the club announced that all of the fans travelling to the game would be given a voucher for £10 towards food and drink on entry to the stadium.

When I arrived at the designated pre-match pub, the Happy Valley Horns were already there in force.  The table next to us was populated with Man City fans and we were a little taken aback to hear a loud cheer from one of them before he exclaimed in triumph that De Bruyne was starting.  Did he really think they needed him?  At this point in the evening, I had started to feel rather ropey and, given the excellent quality of the pie and pint that I had sampled, could only put this down to nerves at what I was about to witness on the football field.  City had put 6 goals past us when we were playing well, so this could prove to be an absolute annihilation.

Doucoure and Wague looking drenched

Apparently I wasn’t the only person of a Watford persuasion who wasn’t feeling at their best on Tuesday evening as Okaka and Cleverley were both missing from the starting XI due to illness, Gray and Capoue were the replacements.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Wagué, Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Doucouré, Watson; Carrillo, Capoue, Richarlison; Gray.

A late realisation that the clock in the pub was very slow and the group of City fans next to us were not going to the game meant that we left for the ground later than intended.  The persistent rain persuaded us to forego the half hour walk and take a tram but, having just missed one, we arrived at the Etihad very close to kick-off and the detour that we were forced to take to reach the away turnstiles meant that we heard the game kick off while still being searched.  I had just reached the turnstiles when I heard a roar that signalled the opening goal.  As I emerged into the concourse, I was greeted by Dave Messenger, handing out the promised vouchers, who confirmed that the goal that I had missed hadn’t been scored by a Watford player.  When I reached my seat those of our party already in position confirmed that the goal had been scored straight from kick-off and that no Watford player had touched the ball before it hit the net.  Having been treated to a replay at a later point I now know that Sané crossed for Sterling to tap in at the far post.

Janmaat after taking a throw-in

My first view of the game was of all the players still camped in the Watford half and it wasn’t long before City had another decent chance from a Sané cross but, on this occasion, Stones blazed the shot over the bar.  Happily, Watford launched an early attack as Gray latched onto a ball over the top but Ederson smothered the shot.  City threatened again as Sané sent a low cross in front of the goal, but nobody was there to apply the finishing touch.  The second City goal came on 13 minutes as De Bruyne crossed towards Agüero, Kabasele intercepted, but could only turn the ball past Gomes.  At this point the crowd just to my left erupted and I realised quite how few Watford fans were actually in the stadium (588 according to the Watford Police twitter).  The travelling Hornets greeted this new set back with a chant of “We want more vouchers.”  A young lad behind me then tried to set a positive tone with “We’re gonna win 3-2.”  Soon after, City won a free-kick on the edge of the box, and he reconsidered, “We’re gonna win 4-3.”  Thankfully, De Bruyne’s free kick came back off the crossbar and the follow-up header from Stones was caught by Gomes.  The unusual sight of the Watford players in possession was celebrated with “We’ve got the ball.”  Sadly, it wasn’t long before it had to be modified to “We’ve lost the ball.”

Cleverley and Aguero

Watford’s second goal attempt came just before the half hour mark as Janmaat hit a shot from distance well wide of the far post.  This proved to be a good spell for the Hornets as Gray broke forward and called Ederson into action to push his shot around the post.  The rolling banner around the ground was displaying facts relating to the two teams and I really could have done without being informed that City had won the last 7 meetings with an aggregate score of 24-3.  Watford had something to cheer in defence as Wagué pulled off a great saving tackle on Agüero in the Watford box just as he was about to shoot.  Silva was the next to try his luck, but his shot was over the bar.  A dangerous cross from De Bruyne reached Agüero in the box, Gomes fell at his feet to pull off a brave save, but was hurt in the process.  Hearts sank at the thought that he may have to be replaced by Karnezis, but he just needed a breather and was soon back on his feet.  It wasn’t all one-way traffic, though, and the next chance fell to Capoue, who found space for a shot, but it was easily gathered by Ederson.  The home side had another chance to increase their lead soon after with a curling free kick from De Bruyne which flew just wide.  The home side launched one final attack in time added on at the end of the first half as De Bruyne crossed for Agüero but the shot was easily gathered by Gomes.  So we reached half time with City only leading by two goals.  After the way that the game had started, that was a bit of a relief.

By half time I was feeling rather better than I had been at kick-off.  Then the players came out for the second half and I felt distinctly unwell again.  It was clearly the thought of the football that was making me ill.

Gray’s goal celebration was to run back to the centre circle

The first chance of the second half came from the usual source as a cross from De Bruyne was met by the head of Agüero, but his effort was well wide of the target.  City fans were shouting for a penalty when Agüero broke into the box and appeared to be taken down by Wagué, it looked nailed on from our vantage point at the other end, but the referee waved play on.  From a short corner, De Bruyne crossed for Otamendi who should have increased City’s lead but directed his header wide of the target.  Marco Silva made a double substitution just after the hour mark with Watson and Capoue making way for Pereyra and Cleverley, who was roundly booed by the home fans, presumably for his history at United.  City’s third goal came soon after as a cross from De Bruyne was spilled by Gomes and Agüero poked the loose ball home.  I was really fed up at this point and found myself bizarrely muttering abuse at the image of Agüero on the big screen that they used to celebrate the goal.  City also made a couple of changes as, first, Danilo came on for Stones, then Touré replaced Fernandinho.  De Bruyne threatened again, playing a one-two with Sané before taking a shot that was deflected into the side netting.  Thankfully for our goal difference, that was his last action of the game as he was replaced by Bernardo Silva.  I did have to join in the applause as he left the pitch as he was truly excellent.  There was an unexpected treat as Watford pulled a goal back, a cross from Richarlison was punched clear but only as far as Carrillo who crossed back for Gray to finish.  The goal was celebrated with considerably more gusto in the stands than on the pitch.  The final substitution for the Hornets saw Richarlison make way for Sinclair.  Gray had a chance to further reduce the deficit as he received a through ball from Zeegelaar, but he was stretching and poked the ball just wide of the target.  There was one final chance for the home side with a shot from Sterling, but Gomes was equal to it.  In time added on, Pereyra tumbled in the box under a challenge from Otamendi.  There were howls for a penalty from the travelling Hornets, but I must admit that I wouldn’t have given it, so was not surprised when the referee waved play on.

Goalscorer Gray

Given my pessimism prior to kick-off, which had been compounded by the early goal, I was oddly relieved at a 3-1 defeat.  I would have taken that before the game.  There was a feeling that City had taken their foot off the pedal, they certainly were not as relentless as they had been at Vicarage Road.  But the Hornets had given a good account of themselves in the second half and the game had not damaged the goal difference unduly.

At the end of the game, Gomes came over to the away end and gave his shirt to a young fan.  Richarlison also came over, but was very particular about the recipient of his shirt, it turned out to have been presented to his Dad.  At this point I must mention the fans who travelled to the game.  There were not many of us, but those in attendance were singing until the final whistle, so did their team proud.

We retired to the hotel bar for a post-match drink, trying to avoid the highlights of the game that seemed to be showing on a loop on the televisions around the bar.  Our last visit to this hotel had been for a game against United and the bar had been packed with foreign tourists sporting brand spanking new red shirts.  On this occasion, the only City fans were old fellas whose scarves had accompanied them for many a year.  As we relaxed, we reflected on why we travel around the country on days like this when the likelihood of a positive result is so low.  The fear of missing something and the delightful company were both mentioned, but in the end there was no rational explanation, we just do.

Success in the Boxing Day Fox Hunt

Wague making his first start

After a lovely Christmas day with the family, it was off to Vicarage Road to see if we could arrest the recent slump.   The Boxing Day game is one of the first that I look for when the fixtures come out.  I always look forward to them, even if they rarely give us anything to cheer (I am still smarting from the injury time goal by Kirk Stephens in 1979).  I had anticipated traffic and trouble parking but, once I had negotiated the classic car rally in Sarratt, it was plain sailing and I was surprised to be waved into the car park at the West Herts and find it almost empty.  Happily, our table was pleasantly populated although, as he likes to make sure he doesn’t miss anything, Don had already made his way to the ground.

Team news was that Wagué was to make his first start for the Hornets in place of Prödl.  Holebas and Gray also made way for Zeegelaar and Doucouré on their return from suspension.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Wagué, Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Doucouré, Watson; Carrillo, Cleverley, Pereyra; Richarlison.  The team selection was described as ‘random’ by one of our party.  It was noticeable that there was no striker in the starting XI but, given the lack of end product from the current incumbents, that was an option that had been discussed after the game on Saturday.  As we walked along Vicarage Road to the ground, Glenn predicted a 3-1 win.  He was feeling a lot more positive than I was.

Heurelho Gomes

Following the coin toss, the teams swapped ends, an event that is seen by many as a bad omen.  But my brother-in-law pointed out that having a female lino usually leads to good fortune, so the omens cancelled each other out.

The first fifteen minutes of the game was notable for the three yellow cards that were shown.  The first to Leicester’s Maguire, before Watson and Kabasele followed him into the referee’s book.  The first goal chance went to the visitors after a slack defensive header by Janmaat was intercepted, Chilwell’s cross was headed goalwards by Okazaki, but Gomes pulled off a flying save, tipping it over the bar.  A lovely move by the Hornets saw Carrillo beat a player to get into the box and pull the ball back to Pereyra who tried a back-heel towards the goal which was blocked.  Carrillo gave the ball away in midfield allowing Albrighton to release Vardy, who broke forward but, with only Gomes to beat, managed to find the side netting at the near post, much to the relief of the home fans.  Watford had a decent chance from a free kick which dropped to Doucouré, but his shot was blocked.  The next caution was earned by Dragović, who pulled Pereyra to the ground to stop him escaping.

Celebrating Wague’s goal

The visitors threatened with a shot from Mahrez which probably looked more dangerous than it was as it flew through a crowd of players who may have unsighted Gomes, so I was relieved to see it nestle in the keeper’s arms.  Leicester took the lead in the 37th minute as Albrighton crossed for Mahrez to head past Gomes.  It was a sickener as it followed a decent spell of play by the Hornets.  After recent set-backs, you could only see one result following, but the Hornets reacted well and should have equalised almost immediately as Carrillo played a lovely through-ball to Richarlison. With only Schmeichel to beat, an instinctive shot would probably have done the job, but the young Brazilian overthought it, delayed the shot and found the side-netting.  There was some light relief as a coming together between Pereyra and Ndidi resulted in the Leicester man tumbling over the hoardings.  I know that it could have ended in injury, but it always make me laugh and, thankfully, he returned to the field with no harm done.  That proved to be the Argentine’s last involvement in the game as he was withdrawn due to a knock and replaced by Okaka.  A change that was greeted with approval by the home fans.  The Hornets equalised as the clock reached 45 minutes when a corner from Cleverley was met with an overhead kick from Richarlison that was blocked, but it fell to Wagué who finished past Schmeichel.  The home side could have taken the lead in time added on at the end of the half as a lovely move finished with Cleverley finding Richarlison on the left of the box, his shot was powerful and cannoned off the post, but it sent the Vicarage Road faithful into the break with smiles on their faces.

Richarlison and Wague challenging at a corner

The guest for the half-time draw was Nigel Gibbs, who commented that he had been home for Christmas earlier than expected after the managerial change at Swansea.  It is always lovely to see Gibbsy back at Vicarage Road and, as he approached the Rookery on his way back into the stand, he was given a tremendous reception, which he clearly appreciated.

Early in the second half, a lovely ball over the top from Watson reached Richarlison who looked as though he’d escape, but his first touch was too heavy and the chance was gone.  The first goal attempt of the second half fell to the home side as Carrillo found Doucouré on the edge of the box, he had time to swap feet and pick his spot, but his shot sailed well over the bar.  Leicester had a great chance to regain the lead as a dangerous cross looked as though it would drop nicely for Vardy, but Gomes was first to the ball.  At the other end Richarlison found Okaka, who tried an overhead kick which flew wide of the post.  A dangerous counter attack by the visitors was foiled as Watson did well to get back and cut out Albrighton’s cross before it reached Vardy.

Congratulating Doucoure after the winner

The Hornets took the lead on 65 minutes following a Cleverley free-kick.  From our vantage point at the opposite end of the ground, Doucouré’s shot appeared to have been cleared off the line.  There was a pause as the Watford players claimed the goal, the referee looked at his ‘watch’ and, as I held my breath, pointed to the centre circle, sending the Rookery into wild celebrations.  Leicester made two substitutions replacing Okazaki and Dragović with Slimani and Gray.  It appeared that Glenn’s score prediction would be spot on as Cleverley robbed Chilwell and advanced on goal, but his shot was just wide of the far post.  Puel’s last change saw Ulloa coming on for King.  The visitors had a great chance to draw level from a corner as the ball dropped to Morgan, but Gomes did brilliantly to block the shot.  The keeper was called into action again from the resultant corner, dropping to save Ulloa’s header, and the danger was averted.  Silva made a couple of late substitutions, bringing Prödl on for Watson, followed by Carrillo, who had another great game, making way for Sinclair.  I must admit that it was a relief to see only three minutes of added time.  There was time for a lovely passing move up the wing which finished with a cross to Okaka, who won a corner and used up some of the remaining seconds.  The last action of the game was a cross from Albrighton that was gathered by Gomes under a challenge from Maguire that he did not appreciate, he was raging at both the player and the referee.  But he was to end the game with a smile on his face as Watford grabbed a win that was probably deserved based on the quality of the play, if not the tally of shots on target.

This game wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a pleasing return to some kind of form.  Following a couple of lack lustre performances, the work rate that had been such a pleasing aspect of the play in the early part of the season was back, with players pressuring their opponents, giving them no space to play and causing them to make mistakes.  Wagué played well on his full debut, topping it off with a goal.  What had appeared to be a bit of a makeshift team had given us the best ninety minutes for some time and provided a rather lovely finish to this Christmas.  We just need to continue in the same vein against Swansea.

No Respite on the South Coast

Norman Wisdom welcomes us to the Amex

Our last visit to Brighton was memorable for all the right reasons.  After taking the lead in the first half, the game had been a bit of a slog, before Vydra’s injury time goal sent us all away happy.  It having been the lunchtime game, we retired to a lovely pub and, after spending the preceding couple of hours in the garden anxiously checking phones, we interrupted a quiet afternoon by erupting in joy as last minute goals confirmed our promotion.

It seemed appropriate to return to the scene of the celebrations, although there was no way we could sit in the pub garden on a cold December afternoon.  The beer and food was excellent and the company delightful as we were joined by Kevin Le Belge.  The locals were friendly and helpful, warning us to leave in plenty of time due to the queuing system at the station (which turned out not to be required on this occasion).

After the short train journey to the ground, the walk to the turnstiles was enhanced by the banners recalling memorable Brighton moments.  One which really appealed to me was Norman Wisdom stopping at a bus stop to give a young lad a lift to the game.  The Brighton stewards are among the nicest I have encountered on my travels, so the usual search was done with smiles and the sign inside the ground welcoming us after our journey always engenders goodwill.

Team news was that Silva had made four changes, two enforced by suspension, with Watson, Cleverley, Pereyra and Gray coming in for Mariappa, Capoue, Doucouré and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Prödl, Kabasele, Holebas; Watson, Cleverley; Carrillo, Pereyra, Richarlison; Gray.  It would be interesting to see Watson back in the team, but you had to feel sorry for Mariappa, who has been a stalwart this season.

Holebas debating a corner with the lino as Pereyra looks on

We were hoping for an improvement on last week’s dire performance, but the early signs were not good as a shot across goal from Hemed went begging, but Knockaert picked up the loose ball and his shot had to be saved by Gomes.  Pröpper then tried a shot from the edge of the box, but it was well over the bar.  Brighton threatened again as a cross from March flew across the goal but, on this occasion, Hemed just missed making the connection.  Watford’s first chance came after a quarter of an hour when a corner from Cleverley reached Pereyra on the edge of the box, he volleyed goalwards, but it was well wide of the target.  We waited another 15 minutes for the next action worthy of note when Carrillo tried a shot that appeared to take a deflection and was easily gathered by Ryan in the Brighton goal.  The home side had a decent chance to take the lead from a corner that was delivered to the far post where Goldson had a free header, but Gomes made a great save at close range.  It had been a dull half, but there was a moment of rare quality as Pereyra and Janmaat exchanged some slick passes to make their way out of defence and up the right wing, sadly the resultant cross was caught by the keeper, but the move was just wonderful.  At the other end, Knockaert had a chance to open the scoring, but his shot was straight at Gomes.  The Frenchman threatened again, but this time was thwarted by a great tackle from Richarlison who emerged with the ball.  The Brazilian had a half chance at the other end after a counter-attack, but his shot was weak and easy for the keeper.

Andre Gray up against Suttner

It had been a dull first half, the most positive thing anyone could find to say about it was that the score remained at 0-0 and there were still eleven Watford players on the pitch.

The first chance of the second half fell to the visitors but the shot from Hemed flew well over the bar.  Goldson then had a chance from a corner, but directed his header wide of the target.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came as Richarlison played a one-two with Pereyra before unleashing a great shot that stung the palms of Ryan as he kept it out.  At the other end, Groß went close with a shot from the right that flashed across goal and flew just wide of the far post.  The home side should have taken the lead with a great shot that was met by a terrific flying save from Gomes.  The blokes in the row in front arrived back from their half time refreshments just in time to see Groß receive the ball on the edge of the area and unleash a shot that Gomes really should have stopped, but it bounced off him and in to give the home side the lead.  Brighton almost had a second soon after as a corner was met by the head of Dunk whose effort was just wide of the target.

Watson back in the team

Silva made his first substitution with 20 minutes remaining bringing Sinclair back from the wilderness to replace Pereyra.  The home side had a terrific chance to increase their lead as March broke upfield before crossing for Hemed whose close-range shot missed the target.  Silva’s second change saw Capoue come on for Watson, who had had a disappointing return to the team.  Watford had a decent chance for an equalizer from a Cleverley free kick which Kabasele met, but headed just over the target.  Silva’s last substitution saw Okaka come on for Gray.  The rapturous reception given to the Italian told you all that you needed to know about the afternoon’s performance.  The substitute almost made an immediate impact, breaking through on goal, but his shot was blocked.  There was an even better chance for the Hornets as Holebas crossed for Richarlison whose header was just wide of the target.  Hughton made his first change bringing Kayal on for the goalscorer, Groß.  The home side threatened to kill the game off with a quick break from Hemed whose shot was blocked, the ball fell to Knockaert but he could only hit the side netting.  Brighton made a couple of late substitutions as Hemed and March made way for Murray and Izquierdo.  Okaka had a couple of late chances to snatch a point for the Hornets, first he met a cross with a header, but it was weak and drifted wide.  Then, with the last action of the match, Ryan fumbled a cross from Carrillo, the ball dropped to Okaka at the far post, hit his knee and bounced wide.  He was looking straight at us as we clutched our heads in despair and, it has to be said, looked pretty devastated himself.

Jerome Sinclair

Since the last action was at the end of the ground that was housing the Watford fans, we were treated to the unpalatable spectacle of Knockaert celebrating with glee right in front of us.  Even more distasteful was the chorus of boos from the travelling fans as Silva applauded us at the end of the game.  I despair of football fans, while not being surprised, as some had started their complaints in the first minute.

It is a funny old game football.  We finish the first half of the season with 22 points siting pretty in tenth place in the table.  If you had told me that at the start of the season, I would have been delighted.  But, following the highs of the early games when I thought we could beat anybody (except Man City), the recent run of 4 defeats, means that the cushion that we had has all but disappeared and there are fears of an upcoming battle against relegation.  Our team selections have been disrupted by injuries and ill-discipline and I still believe that, with a full squad to pick from, we could establish ourselves in mid-table, although that faith is being sorely tested at the moment.  Still, the friendship of the group that I travel with and the regular encounters with so many other lovely Watford fans mean that every match day has its pleasures, even if the game isn’t up to much.

To all of you who read this blog, thank you for your support.  I wish you all a very happy Christmas and three very welcome points on Boxing Day.

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.”

 

A Dismal Afternoon at the Den

Ben Watson leading the team out at the Den

Ben Watson leading the team out at the Den

When this game was moved for television, the potential for a good sized crowd immediately disappeared.  It is an easy enough journey from Watford, but a midday kick-off on a Sunday in January is enough to make most people opt for the sofa.  So I was delighted (and not a little proud) when my niece said she would join us.  Especially as it wasn’t even a new ground for her.

I had been pleased to hear the announcement earlier in the week that the controversial compulsory purchase order by Lewisham Council relating to land around the New Den that would have threatened Millwall’s future residence had been abandoned.  So it was rather sad to go there and see the stands so sparsely populated.

Before the game, Mazzarri had been reported as saying that he would make 11 changes if he could.  In fact, he made 7, a great chance for some of the fringe players to make a case for more game time.  The starting line-up was Pantilimon; Kaboul, Mariappa, Britos; Djédjé, Doucouré, Watson, Guedioura, Mason; Okaka and Sinclair.  I was pleased to see Watson back in the team, as well as Mariappa making his second debut.  The tannoy announcer decided to make a big deal of the fact that he would struggle with all the foreign names in the Watford team, although pretending to struggle with Costel Pantilimon was rather lame.  This, and a repeated request for the lads to bring their ladies to the Den on Valentines Day, felt like a throwback to the 80s.

Mason and Onyedinma tangle

Mason and Onyedinma tangle

Before kick-off, there was some discussion among our party of the 6-1 win, which it is hard to believe was in 2010.  I missed that game due to a work trip to Tokyo (I’m still seething).  The pessimist in me couldn’t help but say that we wouldn’t get a similar result.

The Hornets took the kick-off, but almost immediately Millwall launched a counter-attack through Morison whose cross was met with a strike from Gregory that, thankfully, rebounded off the crossbar.  The fear at this point was that 6-1 was a possibility, but that it would favour the home side.  This fear grew as a corner was headed off the line by Mariappa.  Then a shot from Craig took a nasty deflection causing Pantilimon to have to tip it over the bar.  The resulting corner was headed just wide by Cooper.  The first goal attempt from the visitors didn’t come until the 16th minute with a shot from distance from Guedioura that flew well wide.  The Algerian came closer soon after with a free-kick that took a slight deflection before hitting the outside of the post.  Okaka was having a torrid afternoon, going down far too easily under challenges by players he should have been able to shrug off.  The home crowd decided to join in the persecution with a chant of “You’re just a fat Danny Shittu!”  Sinclair should have done better after breaking into the box, but fell over as he attempted to shoot, his pleas for a penalty were waved away.

Gones takes a goal kick

Gones takes a goal kick

With 10 minutes of the half remaining there was a mix up as Britos played the ball back to Pantilimon, Gregory nipped in and, in the scramble to clear, the keeper was injured and Mariappa’s intervention had the home crowd screaming for a penalty for handball.  The Millwall fans lived up to their vile reputation chanting ‘let him die’ as the clearly injured Pantilimon was helped on to a stretcher.  Gomes took his place in goal and was called into action almost immediately to stop a shot from Gregory.  From the corner, Morison headed goalwards, but Guedioura was on hand to head the ball off the line.

It had been a frustrating first half.  The visitors had the bulk of the play but failed to test Archer in the Millwall goal.  The Watford players were spending far too much time passing the ball around, while Millwall launched pacy counter attacks and actually looked like scoring.

The home side started the second half in a similar manner to the first with a shot from Gregory that just cleared the bar.  At the other end there was a decent chance as a cross from Djédjé was diverted goalwards by Cooper, but Archer made the save.

Okaka knocked off the ball

Okaka struggling with the Millwall approach

Watford had another chance when Mason crossed from the opposite wing, but Okaka just failed to connect.  The Italian then felt that he was pulled back as he challenged for a cross from Guedioura and complained loudly to the referee or anyone else who would listen.  By this point, he should have worked out that he was going to have to fight his own battles as the referee wasn’t going to help him.  In the build-up Djédjé had gone down injured and the Millwall fans continued their charm offensive cheering as a stretcher was brought on to the pitch.  Thankfully it wasn’t needed and nor was Janmaat who had readied to come on.  From a Kaboul cross, Okaka again appeared to be held down allowing the keeper to punch clear.  Half way through the second period, Djédjé did make way for Janmaat.  He hadn’t had the best of games, so it was to be hoped that the Dutchman would provide more of an attacking threat.  An attempt by Sinclair to break into the box was stopped by an excellent tackle on the edge of the area.  Jerome was replaced soon after by Deeney, whose name had been sung with some enthusiasm as he warmed up.  Troy was involved almost immediately as he headed a ball from Watson goalwards, but it was a fairly easy catch for Archer.  Mason then went flying into a tackle and was lucky only to see a yellow card.  Then a bit of pinball in the area finished with a save from Gomes.

The return of Mariappa

The return of Mariappa

Just as we were contemplating a replay at Vicarage Road, a cross reached Morison in the box and he finished through the legs of Gomes.  The home side were celebrating a second soon after as a corner was bundled home by Wallace, but it was ruled out for handball.  The home side had one final attempt to finish the game as Wallace tried a shot from distance, but Gomes was equal to it.  There was a flurry of activity as the visitors tried to equalize, first through a header from Deeney that was caught by Archer.  Then, in time added on, Troy looked sure to score with only the keeper to beat, but a last ditch intervention from Webster allowed him to block the shot and the Hornets were out of the cup.

The final whistle was met with loud boos from the travelling fans.  It had been a shocking performance mostly due to a distinct lack of effort.  Despite having the majority share of possession, they had managed only a single shot on target.  The players drafted in had not impressed.  Okaka couldn’t cope with the physical attentions of the Millwall players which, for a man of his stature, is just shocking.  Sinclair was anonymous and Djédjé offered little.  Guedioura put in more effort than most, but his execution was found wanting.  Watson, Mason and Mariappa were the only ‘fringe’ players that didn’t let themselves down.  It wasn’t until Deeney came on that Watford really threatened the Millwall goal.  Given the quality of the team that was selected, that is just unacceptable.  The action that summed up the afternoon for me was when a Millwall attack broke down with many of their players committed forward.  Instead of immediately breaking downfield, the Watford players decided to play the ball about between themselves giving the opposition plenty of time to regroup.  Having watched Millwall threaten on the counter all afternoon, you do have to wonder.

Next up a trip to Arsenal on Tuesday.  I’m dreading it.

Beating Burton in the Cup

Cathcart, Capoue and Britos

Cathcart, Capoue and Britos

When the draw was made for the third round of the cup, there was a twinge of regret that we hadn’t been drawn away to Burton, as it would have been a new ground.  But a Saturday 3pm kick-off at Vicarage Road made a very pleasant change.  I arrived at the West Herts just before it opened, in time for the guvnor to open the interior door for Don, offer him his usual (tea with milk and two sugars) and have it delivered to the table before I’d ordered my pint.  These celebrities, don’t know they are born.

Team news for this game promised to be interesting.  Would Walter opt to put out an inexperienced team and rest the remaining first team players or would a better performance and (hopefully) a win be worth risking further injuries?  In the event, the only change that wasn’t enforced by injury or illness was the inclusion of Cathcart in place of Prödl (although it is likely that Pantilimon would have made an appearance even if Gomes had been well).  It was very pleasing to see Brandon Mason given a start after his substitute appearance against Spurs.  The starting line-up was Pantilimon; Kaboul, Cathcart, Britos; Kabasele, Capoue, Doucouré, Mason; Sinclair, Ighalo; Deeney.  Former Watford men, Lloyd Dyer and Lee Williamson started for visitors.  It was also great to see Ben Watson back on the Watford bench.

Celebrating Kabasele's goal (and Mason's assist)

Celebrating Kabasele’s goal (and Mason’s assist)

We had opted for a change of scene for this game, swapping our seats in the Rookery for a place in the SEJ stand.  Our seats were low down and right next to the Watford dugout, which was a little distracting while having the extra attraction of a good view of Nigel Clough (for whom I have had a very soft spot for many years).

Watford’s first attack of the game came through Mason who beat a defender on the wing to go on a run and put in a cross which was caught by the Burton keeper, McLaughlin.  Watford’s injury curse continued as, following a clash of heads with Britos, Cathcart was unable to continue and, with only a quarter of an hour on the clock, was replaced by Prödl.  Being close to the dugout, so we got to see first-hand the time taken to prepare the top knot (which isn’t meant as criticism, I find it rather fetching and it was done while he was receiving instructions).  Burton threatened with a cross from Dyer, but it was an easy catch for Pantilimon.  Watford took the lead through a lovely move as Mason played a one-two with Deeney before putting in a terrific cross that Kabasele stabbed home.  I think that the goal calmed a lot of nerves both on and off the pitch.

Deeney waiting for Brayford's throw

Deeney waiting for Brayford’s throw

Watford had a decent chance to increase the lead as Capoue played a through ball to Ighalo who played a quick one-two with Deeney before executing a trademark scoop and shooting just over the bar.  Burton had to make a substitution just after the half hour mark as Ward replaced the injured Miller.  The visitors had a great chance to equalize just before half time as a cross was punched to Ward on the edge of the box but Capoue was on hand to block the shot.  The Frenchman then went on a counter attack ending with a low shot that was saved by McLaughlin.  The first card came at the end of the half with Naylor booked for pulling Ighalo back as he tried to escape.

There was an atmosphere of satisfaction in the home stands at half time.  It was pleasing to have the lead and there had been some good signs, especially going forward.

 

Celebrating Sinclair's solo effort

Celebrating Sinclair’s solo effort

The visitors started the second half well and had the first chance as a Flanagan cross was headed just wide of the target by Varney.  Sinclair had a chance with a shot from inside the area, but it was straight at McLaughlin.  Another Flanagan cross flew across the face of the goal just missing the outstretched boot of Harness.  At the other end, Capoue’s shot from distance flew just wide of the target.  Watford’s second substitution came on the hour as Kaboul was replaced by Brice Dja Djédjé making his first appearance for the Hornets, having been injured since his transfer from Marseille.  There was a long stoppage after Varney went down following a clash with Pantilimon.  It looked nasty as the Burton man was stretchered off wearing an oxygen mask.  I hate to see players carried off, I hope he makes a rapid recovery.  He was replaced by Akins.  Watford were two goals to the good on 77 minutes as Sinclair went on a run at the Burton defence before unleashing a shot that beat the keeper.  The goal was doubly gratifying as it seemed to make the game safe for the Hornets as well as giving an example to some of his team mates just to shoot if you get a sight of goal.  There was a great chance for a third as Capoue played a through ball to Sinclair who found Ighalo running in to the box, he scooped the ball on to his right foot and shot, but it was blocked by the keeper’s legs.

Djédjé takes a throw-in

Djédjé takes a throw-in

Watford had another decent chance as a corner was cleared to Mason, he played a square ball to Djédjé who shot over the target.  Due to the long stoppage for Varney’s injury, there were 8 minutes of time added on, which gave Sinclair a chance to go on another run towards goal but this time McLaughlin was equal to his strike.  There was just time to give youngster Carl Stewart a debut as he replaced Sinclair after what seemed like an age waiting for a break in the game.  He is the 60th player from the Watford Academy to make an appearance for the first team (the third in the past week).

The final whistle went on a very pleasing win for the Hornets as, while Burton had their moments, it had been a comfortable afternoon.  Mason certainly took his chance, with some great runs down the wing and was clearly delighted with his assist.  I hope that we see a lot more of him.  Doucouré had another good game in the midfield and Capoue had his best game for some time.  Sinclair played well and was clearly buoyed by his goal and our first sight of Djédjé was very promising indeed.  After weeks of doom and gloom, it was lovely to have a post-match discussion with so many positives to reflect on.  Next week’s visit by Middlesbrough will be very interesting indeed.