Tag Archives: Joe Bryan

Ole, Andre

Cathcart and Capoue

Having had to work on a planned day off last week, I decided to recoup some of that time by leaving early for the game.  On checking into the hotel in Watford, the manager commented on my scarf, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there was a match in town that evening.  The bar man, a fellow Hornet, joined in the conversation and said that he was sacrificing this game in order to be able to go to the semi-final.  It seemed like the right choice to me.  We had a chat about our prospects at Wembley and then I headed to the West Herts.  I arrived to see that Don’s car wasn’t in its usual place, which caused me a momentary panic, until I saw him sitting in his usual place inside.  Some interloper was in his space when he arrived.  Poor show indeed.  I settled down with a pint and to anticipate the evening ahead.  This was an odd prospect as, playing struggling Fulham, it should have been a game to enjoy, but every moment would be analysed with Sunday in mind.

On the walk along Vicarage Road, we found ourselves among Fulham fans who, given that a defeat would relegate them, were chanting, “The Whites are going down … and now you’re gonna believe us.”

Pre-match speculation was that certain key players would be rested, possibly to be brought on during the game if needed.  Needless to say, Gracia did the unexpected with the four changes from Saturday being the entire back four reverting to what most would consider to be our first choice.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenia, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.  I had everything crossed that there would be no injuries.

Celebrating Doucoure’s goal

As it is the 25th anniversary of the formation of Kick it Out, tonight was Watford’s game dedicated to the cause and the “No room for racism” message was all over the hoardings.  Sadly, recent events show that this message is needed now more than ever.

The first chance of the game went to the visitors as Mitrović got his head to a cross and diverted it wide of the target.  At this point, the Fulham fans were in very good voice indeed.  The first chance for the Hornets came on 15 minutes as Pereyra tricked his way into the box, but his shot was blocked.  The visitors had a great chance to take the lead as Babel played a lovely ball over to Sessegnon in the box, but the Fulham youngster was unable to connect.  Some rushed play from the Hornets allowed the ball to reach Mitrović whose shot was easily gathered by Foster.  Watford then had a great chance to break the deadlock as Femenía broke forward before crossing for Deeney but the header was wide of the near post.  The Hornets took a somewhat undeserved lead on 23 minutes as Doucouré picked up the ball, ran to the edge of the box and hit a sweet strike into the near corner of the Fulham net.

Holebas prepares for a corner

The next action of note came 10 minutes later and was an equaliser for the visitors as Sessegnon found Babel who rounded the onrushing Foster to score.  It was frustrating, but no more than the visitors deserved.  The Fulham faithful greeted the goal with “We are staying up” followed by “We’ve f*cking scored”.  Fair play to them.  This was greeted with a round of applause from the Rookery, as we’ve all been there.  The visitors threatened again as a bit of head tennis in the Watford box led to the ball falling to Babel whose shot was blocked.  Sessegnon had a great chance to grab the lead after a break, but his shot was easy for Foster.  The visitors looked sure to take the lead after Deulofeu overplayed and gave the ball away allowing them to break but, when he looked sure to score, Mitrović totally mishit his shot which flew high and well wide of the near post.  The first booking of the game came late in the half as Mariappa was booked for a foul on Mitrović.  The half time whistle was greeted with boos from some Watford supporters.  Granted it had been a poor half of football from the Hornets, but all of our minds were on the semi-final on Sunday, so it was a ridiculous reaction.

The half time guest was Marco Cassetti, who immediately apologised for giving away the penalty in the play-off final against Palace.  There was another penalty that he didn’t need to apologise for, given what it led to.  Knockaert’s dive was shown from multiple angles before we got to enjoy the terrific goal from the play-off semi-final.  He said what a great memory that was and how it makes him smile.  He seemed a bit baffled when the conversation turned to the subject of his beard.  It was lovely to see him back to hear how much he enjoyed his time with us.

Gracia made a double substitution at the break bringing Janmaat and Gray on for Pereyra and Deulofeu.

Will Hughes has his eyes on Babel

Janmaat’s first contribution was to earn a booking for a foul on Cairney.  Watford had an early chance to regain the lead when a cross from Holebas was headed on towards his own goal by Chambers and Rico had to stretch to tip it over and save his teammate’s blushes.  Holebas caused more problems for the Fulham defence, winning a free kick that he took himself which had to be punched clear by Rico.  A lovely exchange of passes between Janmaat and Gray ended with the Dutchman bearing down on goal, but Rico came out to smother the ball and was injured in the process.  Babel came to complain to the referee, trying to get Janmaat booked, which seemed harsh as he had every right to go for the ball.  Doucouré had a chance to grab a second goal, but took too long to take the shot and it was blocked.  Gray was the next Watford player to try his luck, but his shot from distance deflected wide.  My neighbour in the Rookery had been nervously bemoaning the fact that the players were acting as though they had already won the game.  His nerves were eased somewhat when a corner was headed clear to Hughes who belted a volley past Rico from outside the box.  It was a terrific goal and very welcome.  Fulham had a half chance to break back as an awkward header from Mitrović had to be tipped over the bar by Foster.

Celebrating Deeney’s strike

On 69 minutes, Watford made the scoreline a bit more comfortable as Gray broke forward before cutting the ball back for Deeney to score Watford’s third of the evening.  It may have been Deeney who applied the finishing touch, but the crowd was chanting “Olé, Andre.”  Harry the Hornet’s goal celebration was a little too enthusiastic and led to some repairs being needed for the corner flag.  At this point, the visitors made their first substitution replacing Ream with Seri.  Watford could have increased their lead as Doucouré found Holebas whose shot was pushed around the post by the keeper.  I swear that, as he walked in front of the Rookery to take the corner, Jose was smiling.  With 15 minutes remaining, Gray turned provider again, this time for Femenía, who scored Watford’s fourth and surely confirmed Fulham’s relegation.  Despite the comfortable lead, the home side continued to attack and Hughes got into a great position, but chose to tee up Gray whose shot was deflected wide.  At this point, Gracia made his final substitution bringing Quina on for Capoue.  Needless to say, every time the youngster got the ball there were shouts for him to shoot.  The visitors had a chance to pull a goal back as Mitrović found Seri whose close range shot was stopped by a brilliant save from Foster.  There was a second substitution for the visitors as Babel made way for Schürrle.  Watford threatened again as a lovely cross from Janmaat was met by the head of Doucouré, but Rico was equal to the effort.  Scott Parker made a final change with McDonald coming on for Cairney.   Gray had another chance to add a goal to his assists, but the keeper was down to make the save.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, Holebas earned his inevitable booking.  I am not sure whether it was for the foul on Sessegnon or his reaction to being penalised, but he risked further censure by refusing to speak to the referee.  Eventually Deeney had to take him over and make the peace.

A group hug among the goal scorers

The full time whistle went to terrific celebrations from the Watford faithful.  It was a testament to his contribution after coming on that Gray was named the man of the Match, a decision that went down well with the home crowd.  At the other end of the ground, a banner announcing “Fulham Relegation Party” was being waved.  I must admit to some regret at our relegating Fulham as it is a club that I like and I love going to Craven Cottage, but the win was needed both to keep up our fight for seventh place and to give us some momentum before the FA Cup semi-final on Sunday.

It was an odd game.  After a poor performance in the first half that seemed to result from the players not wanting to get hurt, they went for it in the second half and we were royally entertained.  Gray was everywhere, with the two assists and plenty of chances to score himself.  It was a very positive performance indeed.  At the same time Wolves were beating Man Utd, so also going in to the weekend on a positive note.  Sunday will be a very interesting game.  Two evenly matched teams who both play decent football.  It should be entertaining, whatever the result.  But I am really hoping that it is a repeat of our performance at Molineux, which was superb.  I am also hoping to get at least a few hours sleep between now and the game, but that is not guaranteed.

We have to be loud and proud on Sunday.  This is our best chance of reaching a cup final since 1984 and I would love my youngest sister and nieces to experience that as Rose and I did all those years ago.  These are the days that we dream about.  They should be savoured and I, for one, with endeavour to enjoy every minute.

Silencing the Robins

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

Having left work a little later than was good for my blood pressure as I sat in traffic, I was very surprised on my arrival at the West Herts to find that none of my usual pre-match companions was present.  I went directly to the ground and took my usual seat in the Rookery to find that I was sitting in an acre of space.  I tried not to take these events to heart.  The Rookery did fill up as kick-off approached, but most of those who took the seats around me were unfamiliar faces.  The uninspiring performance in the game at Ashton Gate as well as the prospect of a win potentially treating us to another trip to Eastlands had meant that I was not relishing the prospect of this game.  Clearly this sentiment was widespread among my fellow season ticket holders.

Team news was that Sannino had made seven changes from Saturday.  However, none of the changes was radical and the bench was very experienced, unlike in the original fixture.  The news that gladdened the hearts of every Hornet was that Almen Abdi was named among the substitutes.  After the toss, we changed ends which provoked some disquiet among the superstitious around me.

Watford on the attack

Watford on the attack

The visitors launched an attack in the first minute, Emmanuel-Thomas finding Baldock with a through ball but the shot was straight at Bond.  McGugan had Watford’s first chance, dribbling along the top of the box to get a sight of goal but his shot was also straight at the keeper.  Then a through ball to Deeney was cut out and rebounded to Forestieri who was tackled and took a tumble but the referee waved play on.  At the other end, Moloney broke into the Watford box, but the attentions of a defender put him off and he shot wide of the far post.  Watford broke forward again as McGugan’s back heel reached Deeney, but he was closed down and his shot was blocked.  Baldock should have done better with a Flint header into the box, but his header looped over the bar.  Bond had to be smart

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

soon after as he came to punch a cross from Bryan.  Watford then threatened as Forestieri went on a rampaging run and crossed for McGugan who hit it first time and the ball flew high and wide.  Anya was the next to launch an attack, but his cross was blocked and ricocheted off him for a goal kick while he finished up on the grass behind the goal line.  It didn’t look good, especially when the St John’s Ambulance guys started wheeling the stretcher in his direction, but they were soon doing an impression of the vultures in Bedknobs and Broomsticks as they trudged back disappointed and Anya rejoined the fray.  On 20 minutes, Battocchio dinked a ball over to Forestieri who put a low cross into the box, McGugan dummied, fooling everyone including his own team mates, so the chance went begging.  Soon after, Anya skipped into the box but his shot was blocked.  Then Deeney

Goal!!

Goal!!

headed a McGugan corner past the far post.  It was another McGugan corner that led to the opening goal as the ball was headed out to Faraoni whose shot appeared to bounce off two or three City players before going in to the net.  It wasn’t pretty, but they all count.  Forestieri’s attempt to double the lead soon after resulted in a disappointing shot from the edge of the box that was well over the crossbar.  Into the last five minutes of the half, Emmanuel-Thomas shot from the edge of the area, but his shot was well held by Bond.  Then Anya found Forestieri whose shot was deflected wide.  In the final attack before the break, a lovely City move saw Reid feed Elliott and then get on the end of his cross but shoot agonizingly over.  We were slightly fortunate to be ahead at half-time.

McGugan lines up a free kick

McGugan lines up a free kick

City started the second half brightly as Pack hit a dangerous shot that Bond tipped around the post.  Angella then took advantage of his position on the right of the back three to go on a tremendous forward run and hit a shot that curled just wide of the near post.  Then Faraoni got on the end of a cross from Anya but sent it over the bar.  There were loud calls for a penalty for Bristol City as Osborne played a through ball to Baldock whose low cross bounced off Hall as he went to ground.  The City man turned and appealed passionately that it had hit the defender’s hand, but the officials were about as convinced as those in the Rookery who had a clear view of the incident.  There was a more convincing penalty appeal down the other end as Forestieri appeared to have been thrown to the ground by Flint, but the referee waved appeals away.  Watford doubled their lead soon after as Deeney tried to battle through the City defence, but lost the ball which fell to

McGugan receives the congratulations of his team mates

McGugan receives the congratulations of his team mates

McGugan who made no mistake in shooting past Parish.  There was a good break by McGugan soon after but he maybe should have played Anya in a bit earlier as the Scot had a narrower angle to shoot from and his shot was deflected into the side netting.  From the corner, Faraoni’s cross was punched clear by Parish.  As Watford continued to threaten the City goal, Deeney got the ball in space, but his shot was deflected wide.  Battocchio then received the ball on the edge of the area, the shouts of ‘shooot’ from the Rookery must have gone to his head as he hit the ball straight at Parish.  Then Faraoni found McGugan whose shot was just wide of the target.  With 15 minutes remaining, all attention was focused on the sidelines as the Hornet faithful were treated to the sight of Almen Abdi stripped and ready to come on.  It was a while before the ball went out of play and I have

Abdi waiting to come on

Abdi waiting to come on

never heard such loud cheers for a throw-in.  McGugan was the man who made way.  There was something delightful about seeing Abdi on the field again.  He was immediately in the middle of everything, barking orders and organizing his team mates.  How we have missed him.  His first few touches were greeted with enthusiastic cheers from the crowd and then an ironic boo as he horribly misplaced a pass.  But it wasn’t all about Abdi as Deeney went on a run and shot straight at Parish.  City had been quiet in this period of the game but, when Bryan tried to break, he was stopped by a sliding tackle from Angella that earned the Italian a yellow card.  With 10 minutes to go, Abdi latched on to a ball and passed to Battocchio who found Forestieri in the box but his shot was dreadful and

Battocchio dispossessed

Battocchio dispossessed

well wide of the near post.  The frustration began to show in the visitors as Wagstaff was booked for kicking the ball away.  With five minutes remaining Pudil replaced Anya.  The last action of note was a bit of a scramble in the Watford box, but Bond was able to poke the ball clear and maintain the clean sheet.

The final whistle went to cheers from the home crowd.  The performance was considerably better than that at Ashton Gate and, while the Robins had their chances, Bond was never really tested and Watford looked increasingly in control as the game went on.  After going ahead, we never really looked like losing.  Hall had a great game in the centre of defence, with the change in formation allowing the always impressive Angella a chance to break forward.  It was wonderful to see Abdi back, his mere presence on the pitch seems to induce a calm.  Let’s hope that he is a fixture in the team again very soon.  Despite my lack of appetite for another trip to either the Etihad or Ewood Park, that win cheered me up no end and should give us some momentum for the upcoming games.

Yet Another Trip to Bristol in the Cup

The teams come on to the pitch

The teams come on to the pitch

For the second time in four days I set off in the rain to drive westwards wondering if there was to be a game at the end of it.  The postponement on New Year’s Day was very frustrating.  Particularly because the flooded roads on the way in to Yeovil had made the decision inevitable and there was a sneaking feeling that, without the promise of Sky money, the game would have been called off earlier and saved us a wasted journey.  On Saturday, I had arranged to visit friends after the game, so a postponement wouldn’t have been as much of a disappointment.  I had been tasked with choosing the pre-match pub and stumbled on one a short walk from where I was staying, which turned out to be a little gem.  Real ale, excellent pies served with delicious minty mushy peas and very friendly bar staff.  In fact, the pub was so delightful that we nearly forgot to leave for the game.  In retrospect that would have been a good decision.

Prior to the match, we had speculated on who would fill in at left wing back in the absence of Anya, Pudil and Bellerin.  The answer was Battocchio, an interesting and slightly worrying choice.  I was disappointed to hear that Doyley had been relegated to the bench, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Angella, Nosworthy, Battocchio, McGugan, Iriney, Murray, Cassetti, Fabbrini and Deeney.

Almunia keeping warm

Almunia keeping warm

The game was played with a pink ball, which was one of the brighter aspects of the afternoon.  We started well enough and, in the second minute, McGugan broke into the box but shot wide.  City were on the attack on 7 minutes with a dangerous ball into the box, Almunia was nudged out of the way as he came to collect it, the ball went out of play and the free kick was delayed as the Bristol City fans in the Wedlock stand refused to give the ball back.  On 8 minutes, Fabbrini lost the ball in the middle of the pitch, Baldock went on a run and shot from distance but Almunia dropped to gather.  The Watford keeper was in action again soon after, plucking a cross from Bryan out of the air.  On the quarter hour, Fabbrini went on a great run down the wing and broke into the box where he went down under a challenge.  Given that Diego’s tumble was greeted with groans from the travelling ‘Orns, it was no surprise when the referee waved play on.  Battocchio tried a shot from the edge of the area, but Parish was equal to it.  City were soon on the counter-attack, but Reid’s shot was also from distance and was wide of the target.  At the break in play, the ref had words with Fabbrini.  On 20 minutes, Emmanuel-Thomas shot wide of the far post.  Then McGugan got the ball in the area ran across the box to get into a better shooting position but skewed his shot disappointingly over the bar.  Bristol threatened again as a cross was headed on to Bryan whose shot required a decent save from Almunia who pushed it around the post.  The corner fell to Elliott who shot over the bar.  Down the other end

Bryan clearing the ball

Bryan clearing the ball

McGugan hit a lovely shot towards the top corner and Parish had to leap to tip it over.  On 34 minutes McGugan hit a free kick from a long way out which flew wide of the near post.  Then a run and cross from Bryan had both Emmanuel-Thomas and Wagstaff coming to meet it, they got in each other’s way and the header was wide.  With five minutes to half time, Battocchio required a bit of  juggling to control the ball and give it to Fabbrini who advanced into the box and squared to McGugan whose shot was blocked.  From the resultant corner, the ball fell to Battocchio whose cross was met by a header from Angella that hit the top of the crossbar.  In time added on, a free-kick from Reid was headed wide by Osborne.

 

McGugan on the attack

McGugan on the attack

At half-time, our wing-back situation became even stranger as Cassetti was replaced by Smith who is neither a winger nor a back.  I thought moving Murray out may have been a better bet, with Smith playing in the middle, until I had a flashback to the game at Ashton Gate last season when Sean took Cassetti’s place and had a complete nightmare.  Bristol City made the running at the start of the second half as Emmanuel-Thomas played a through ball to Baldock whose shot was easily saved by Almunia.   Soon after, Almunia was in action again as Elliott got on the end of a corner but his header was straight at the Watford keeper.   Then a move started with a ball to Deeney that should have allowed him to break free, but instead we saw a sequence involving several awful misplaced passes by Watford players which finished with Emmanuel-Thomas shooting wide.  The only other notable events in the first 25 minutes of the half were a McGugan free-kick that he put over the bar and a tannoy announcement requesting that Watford’s Italian coach driver make himself known to the stewards.  I am still trying to work out if that was a coded message. 

Fabbrini on the attack

Fabbrini on the attack

Just after 70 minutes, Watford finally made their first attack of the half as Fabbrini played a through ball to McGugan who fell over in the box.  Then Fabbrini broke again and fed Deeney whose shot was saved by Parish.  Next a free-kick for the home team was headed back from the far post by Elliott to Osborne who headed it over the bar.  Fabbrini was on the attack again but this time his cross was headed wide by Burns. Then McGugan broke into the box but his shot was deflected for a corner.  On 83 minutes, we appeared to have won the game as Smith squared the ball to Murray.  I saw the Watford youngster shoot, but my view of the goal was blocked by the crowd in front of me standing up so I was a little late to join in the celebrations as the ball went in to the bottom

Goal celebrations in the Wedlock Stand

Goal celebrations in the Wedlock Stand

corner.  I had just remarked that we didn’t really deserve the lead when we no longer had it, as Emmanuel-Thomas scored at the other end, Burns having beaten Battocchio to set him up.  We tried to regain the lead as Fabbrini broke and played a ball for Deeney, but the defender was quicker to it and the chance was gone.  In the last minute of normal time, a shot from distance came in that was pushed over by Almunia, who was also required to come and punch clear from the corner.  The home side had one final chance to win the game as Osborne met a free-kick with a header, but Almunia was equal to it.  On the final whistle, my first thought was annoyance that I would have to endure that a second time.  It was not an enjoyable game.  I hope that some of the absentees are fit for Saturday or it could be a very difficult afternoon indeed.