Tag Archives: Joe Ralls

Magic Deulofeu

Lining up a free kick

Due to the Six Nations game between Wales and England being played in Cardiff on the Saturday, our match was changed to Friday night.  This meant an afternoon off work and a journey to Wales on an early afternoon train from London that was already full of rugby fans.  It has to be said that the train was definitely the right decision as the M4 was at a standstill and the supporters coach from Watford took over five hours to get there.

Having checked into the hotel, we headed for a real ale and cider bar.  It was in a basement under student accommodation, which didn’t sound promising, but it turned out to be a lovely comfortable place with a tremendous selection.  We had a drink there and then headed for our designated pre-match venue to meet up with Alice and have something to eat.  As I collected the cutlery, I was gratified to see that the napkins were yellow.  That had to be a good omen.  After a beer and a veggie chilli we headed for the ground.  It is a while since we have been there, and I still look wistfully at the flats that took the place of Ninian Park.  That was a tatty old place, but what an atmosphere.

Team news was that Gracia had made two changes with the suspended Holebas replaced by Masina and fit again Pereyra in for Sema.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Masina; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.

Hughes, Deeney and Doucoure challenging

As I pulled my green shirt out of my bag, Graham helpfully pointed out that it was the wrong colour.  My Girl Guide training came in handy as I went back to my bag and retrieved the yellow shirt instead.  I was all set for the game.

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s applause for former players Matthew Brazier and Brian Edgley, both of whom had recently passed away.

The first chance for the Hornets came from a decent cross from Janmaat which bounced off Pereyra who didn’t seem to have seen it coming.  Janmaat was also involved in the next goal attempt, playing a one-two with Deeney before firing over the target.  Cardiff’s first chance of note came as Paterson flicked a ball through to Niasse who only had Foster to beat, but the Watford keeper stood tall and blocked the shot. Watford took the lead in the 18th minute, Deeney did brilliantly to keep hold of the ball before finding Deulofeu who slotted the ball into the near corner.  The home side tried to strike back immediately, but the shot from distance from Murphy was easily gathered by Foster.

Ben Foster

Watford should have had a second just before the half hour mark as Deeney unleashed a powerful shot that was well saved by Etheridge.  The first booking of the game went to Capoue for a foul on Niasse which looked pretty innocuous from our vantage point.  The resulting free kick was taken low and touched on by Arter straight to Foster.  There was a very nervous moment just before half time as Janmaat tangled with Murphy just inside the box.  It was right in front of us and looked like a definite penalty, but the referee waved play on, much to the relief of the travelling Hornets.  The home fans made their displeasure known with a chorus of “You’re not fit to referee.”  So we reached half time with the Hornets a goal to the good.  While we were very fortunate with the penalty decision, we were so obviously the better team that an equaliser would have been a travesty.

Before the start of the second half, Foster’s warm-up was accompanied by howls of derision from the Cardiff fans behind the goal.  He good naturedly kicked the ball into the crowd, which backfired when the game had to be stopped as the ball was thrown back on the pitch during play.  The first chance of the half fell to the home side, but Bacuna’s shot from distance was well over the target.  Watford’s first chance of the half came after some lovely passing between Hughes and Deeney, the shot from the captain was deflected just wide.  Pereyra then found his way into the referee’s book after a silly pull on Niasse.

Celebrating Deeney’s first (celebrations do tend to be blurred)

Cardiff made the first substitution replacing Murphy with Hoilett.  Cardiff had another chance to grab an equaliser but Bennett’s shot from distance was easy for Foster.  Watford threatened again as Doucouré played a lovely through ball for Deulofeu, but Etheridge was first to the ball.  At the other end, Mariappa came to the rescue diverting a dangerous cross from Paterson wide of the target.  On the hour mark, Deulofeu got the ball in midfield and started running.  As he was bearing down on Etheridge, I held my breath as he has had a number of similar opportunities in the past and has made the wrong decision, losing his nerve and running into a defender or the keeper, but this time he rounded the keeper and finished into the empty net to send the away fans wild.  While I was delighted that we had scored a second, there was a nagging feeling in the back of my mind as I remembered being in a similar position in the home game.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry for long as three minutes later Capoue latched on to a poor pass from Arter before playing a lovely ball to Deulofeu who chipped the keeper to grab his hat trick.  At this point, many of the home fans had seen enough so started heading home.  Warnock made a second substitution bringing Mendez-Laing on for Ralls.  The home side won a free kick in a decent position, but Hoilett blasted it into the wall.  Gracia’s first change was to bring Quina on for Pereyra, while Cardiff made their last substitution replacing Niasse with Zohore.

Celebrations of the fifth in time added on

Watford scored a fourth on 73 minutes after a period of sublime passing, Capoue played a wonderful through ball to Deulofeu who accelerated into the box and cut the ball back to Deeney to finish past Etheridge.  The players celebrated right in front of us and Deeney was rightfully (but decently) deflecting the plaudits to Gerry.  Deulofeu had a decent chance to score his fourth as he received a pass from Hughes but shot wide of the far post.  Watford then made their second substitution bringing Cleverley on for Capoue.  Irritatingly, the Hornets failed to keep a clean sheet as a corner led to a goalmouth scramble, the Watford defence failed to clear and Bamba was able to prod the ball past Foster.  The first booking for the home side went to Paterson who was penalised for pulling Quina to the ground.  The final Watford substitution came with five minutes to go and it was the hat trick hero, Deulofeu, who left the field to a standing ovation as he made way for Gray.  Cleverley almost scored the fifth from a free kick which looked to be curling in but hit the near post.  Cardiff had a chance to reduce the deficit further but Paterson’s shot from distance was so far over the bar that it sparked the observation that he was supposed to score a try first.  Into time added on and Watford finally scored a fifth goal as Hughes played the ball back to Deeney who scored to finish off a cracking game.  The scoreboard operator was clearly exhausted as the goal wasn’t acknowledged until the players were back in the centre circle ready for the restart.  The final whistle went sparking wild celebrations in the away end.  The players all came over to celebrate with the crowd and the songs and cheers went on for some time.  Deulofeu secured the match ball, despite an attempt by Doucouré to steal it.  As the others left him to it, he stood alone in front of the away fans while we told him he was magic.  It was a lovely moment.

Deulofeu taking the plaudits while ensuring the match ball is in sight

We walked back into town and headed for the real ale bar expecting it to be heaving with rugby fans, so were delighted to find that there were seats available and we could have our post-match analysis in comfort.  That was easily our best performance this year so far.  We played some lovely football and finally turned dominance in possession into a convincing win.  It was an excellent team performance and at various points during the game I declared my love for Cathcart and Doucouré.  I also thought Hughes had a decent game, he seems to be getting back to his best.  But the plaudits have to go to Deulofeu.  Troy was spot on in his post-match comments.  Gerard can be incredibly frustrating, holding on to the ball too long, making poor decisions and not making the most of the chances that he creates.  However, he never stops working and he continues to create those chances.  This was a reward for all of that hard work and both the players and the fans were delighted for him.  I hope that he treasures that match ball.

It was a tremendous performance.  Our first top flight hat trick since 1986.  What pleased me most was that, despite having a comfortable lead, we didn’t sit back, we carried on attacking, playing with flair and going for goal.  To score five at any level is impressive.  In the Premier League it is very special.

I am still pinching myself as I look at the table and realise that we have reached the magic 40 point mark (which is unlikely to be needed this season) and it is still February.  This is a season that will go down in history and I am loving it.

A Sunny Day in Cardiff

The Norwegian contingent (and Don)

The Norwegian contingent (and Don)

After the dreadful performance on Boxing Day, you have to question the wisdom of getting up bright and early for a trip to Wales two days later.  My travelling companions for the game were the Norwegian contingent and WML stalwarts from the early days, Tim and Trond.  Tim was visiting from his home in Vietnam, with his lovely daughter, Jemima, who arrived decked out in Watford gear.  The pre-match venue was an arts centre which treated me to a couple of pints of Rosie’s Pig and a lovely Catalan-style fish stew.  Not your usual pre-football meal, but much appreciated on a cold day.

In contrast to Friday’s downpour, the walk to the ground was under a clear blue sky.  We soon encountered a local who asked us to be gentle with them.  He then changed his mind and said that a number of home fans were hoping for a tonking which would hasten the demise of their “clueless” manager.  I reflected that I could have been listening to a Watford fan in the aftermath of the Wolves game.  The merchandise stalls on the way to the ground were selling nothing but blue and white scarves.  Tan’s attempts to turn them red are on a hiding to nothing.

Awaiting a coner

Awaiting a coner

There was much consternation in the away concourse when the team news came through as Jokanovic had made six changes from Friday.  Although there was logic in all the changes, six seemed a step too far.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Pudil, Abdi, Munari, Guedioura, Paredes, Forestieri and Ighalo.  The announcement that the referee was Stuart Atwell was greeted with boos from the travelling Hornets.

Watford had a chance to take the lead in the second minute as a lovely passing move finished with a powerful shot from Abdi that Marshall did well to push over.  At the other end, a Cardiff free-kick appeared to be headed on by Guedioura but Morrison’s cross was cleared.  The Watford fans had been in good voice at the start of the game and soon started baiting the home fans with “Is this a library?”  I couldn’t help feeling sad at this as Ninian Park had always been an intimidating cauldron of noise.  These new soulless bowls just kill the atmosphere.

Congratulating Guedioura

Congratulating Guedioura

Cardiff threatened again as Whittingham hit a free kick wide.  I don’t know what the significance of the 19th minute was for the Cardiff fans, but at that point they stood and displayed their blue and white scarves just as Whittingham delivered a free kick that was headed home by Le Fondre.  Watford tried to hit back as Forestieri found Guedioura in the box, he was knocked over and felt it should have been a penalty so grabbed the ball.  Atwell signalled a free-kick and delivered a ticking off.  Paredes had been ineffectual in the opening quarter of the game but in the 23rd minute he delivered a cross that Ighalo volleyed over the bar.  At the other end Noone hit a shot from the edge of the box that flew wide of the near post.  Hoban gave the ball away to Jones who squared the ball for Le Fondre whose shot was weak and easy for Gomes to gather.  Just before the half hour, Watford started to dominate.  First a shot from Guedioura that was over the target.  Then Pudil and Forestieri exchanged passes but the Czech’s shot was also well over the bar.  A lovely cross by Guedioura was headed out for a corner by Jones.

Celebrating Ighalo's header

Celebrating Ighalo’s header

Guedioura played a free kick to Paredes whose cross was disappointingly hit straight at a defender.  Ighalo crossed for Forestieri, but he failed to capitalize and the ball was cleared.  I was making a note of this when I heard a noise and looked up to see the ball hitting the back of the net.  I hate it when that happens.  I now know that the ball had reached Munari who chipped it into the box for Guedioura to volley home.  The goal seemed to instil confidence in the visitors whose passing improved immensely.  Watford took the lead as the clock started for injury time when a Pudil cross was headed home by Ighalo.

It had been a weird first half.  We’d started well and completely dominated possession, but had done nothing with it.  The crowd had been on their feet chanting early in the game but by the half hour mark had fallen into silence and I had slumped to my seat in frustration at what I was watching.  Suddenly we scored two goals, the mood on the pitch and in the stands improved and we ended the half on our feet celebrating.

Abdi on the ball

Abdi on the ball

There was a warning from Cardiff at the start of the second period as Whittingham’s shot was blocked by Cathcart, it rebounded to Morrison who shot over the bar.  A lovely ball was played to Forestieri on the left, he dribbled into the box but couldn’t decide whether to shoot or pass so dithered on the ball until he was tackled.  The ball came back in and Guedioura was running on to it, but he was stretching so could only poke it wide.  Ighalo showed some silky skills with a couple of drag backs before a shot from an acute angle that Marshall blocked, it fell to Guedioura whose shot was gathered by Marshall.  Forestieri tried a shot from distance that was parried by Marshall.  Watford came close to increasing their lead as Abdi played the ball out to Guedioura who crossed for Ighalo but his shot was blocked at the post.  On the hour Slade made two substitutions with Adeyemi and Gunnarsson making way for Harris and Ralls.  This move was greeted with a chant of “You don’t know what you’re doing,” from the home fans.

Celebrating Guedioura's second goal

Celebrating Guedioura’s second goal

After a rare mistake from Guedioura, the travelling Hornets started chanting his name.  We were rewarded as he received the ball 25 yards out and smashed it in off the underside of the bar.  Cue mental celebrations in the away stand and a smug feeling that we deserved an assist for that one.  The chant changed to “Sign him up” at that point.  We thought the fourth was coming a couple of minutes later as Forestieri ran on to a through ball from Paredes and had only the keeper to beat, but the linesman’s flag was up as he knocked it into the net.  There was a rare foray into the Watford box as a couple of Cardiff corners came to nothing, the second was punched clear by Gomes, who was fouled in the process.  Jokanovic made his first substitution on 70 minutes replacing Paredes with Anya.  Anya’s first contribution was a run down the right, he beat his man and whipped in a cross that rebounded to Guedioura whose shot was blocked and went out for a corner.  Watford could have increased their lead from the set piece, but Hoban directed his header over the bar.  At the other end a shot from distance from Noone curled wide of the near post.  Both sides made a substitution on 77 minutes, Macheda coming on for Le Fondre and Tözsér replacing Abdi for the visitors.

Angella celebrates in front of the travelling Hornets

Angella celebrates in front of the travelling Hornets

Watford’s final substitution saw Forestieri make way for Deeney for the last 10 minutes.  Troy made an immediate impact as he crossed for Angella to head the fourth past Marshall.  Into time added on, Watford were still looking to increase the lead as Guedioura played a through ball to Ighalo but the Nigerian was flagged offside.  Cardiff broke down the other end where Noone crossed for Jones to head home to reduce the deficit although there were very few Cardiff fans left in the stadium to cheer their goal.  There was one last chance for each side.  Deeney broke forward and crossed for Ighalo to volley goalwards, but Marshall was behind the ball.  At the other end a dangerous looking shot from distance from Noone flew just wide of the far post.  So Watford finished the game worthy winners.

What a difference a couple of days makes, as the travelling Hornets cheered their heroes off at the end of the game.  Guedioura was my man of the match, not just for the goals but for some strong tackles he made in the midfield.  That game marked the end of his loan spell.  I hope that it isn’t the last we see of him in a Watford shirt.  After the last two games, I can’t begin to predict what will happen in the new year, I just hope that it brings much happiness to my fellow hornets.

Honouring a Legend

GT receiving his salver from Stuart Timperley

GT receiving his salver from Stuart Timperley

Before the game was the official renaming of the Graham Taylor stand so we made sure that we were in our seats in plenty of time.  Players and coaching staff from both of GT’s spells at the club had been invited to join in the celebrations and they were introduced one by one.  Tom Walley, Steve Harrison, Dennis Booth, Ian Bolton, Steve Terry, Steve Sherwood, Neil Price, Iwan Roberts, Tony Coton, Richard Johnson, Alec Chamberlain, Tommy Mooney, Nigel Gibbs and Luther Blissett.  So many happy memories meant that each of them was cheered on to the pitch.  Needless to say Steve Harrison was greeted with roars of laughter as he came on doing his Norman Wisdom walk.  The legends formed a guard of honour for GT to walk through which he did to a chorus of “There’s only one Graham Taylor.”

GT with his family and many friends

GT with his family and many friends

He was then presented with a salver by Stuart Timperley.  Unfortunately I missed what happened next as the 1881 chose the moment that GT took centre stage to place a huge flag over the centre of the Rookery so that nobody in that section could see what was going on.  It meant that the climax of the presentation was greeted with a lot of very irritated people asking what the hell was going on.  It put a dampener on the occasion.  When we finally emerged into the light again, it was lovely to see messages on the big screen from some who could not be there including Kenny Jackett, Sean Dyche, Malky Mackay and John Barnes.

Jokanovic made six changes from the Derby game.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Bassong, Ekstrand, Angella, Anya, Munari, Tözsér, Abdi, Paredes, Deeney and Vydra.  It was certainly good to see Abdi and Angella back in the team.

Matej Vydra

Matej Vydra

Watford made a very bright start as Tözsér’s shot through a crowd of players was stopped by Marshall and Deeney’s follow-up was cleared off the line.  At the other end Pilkington headed a Noone cross wide of the target.  Deeney played a through ball to Vydra whose shot was blocked by Marshall.  Cardiff were inexplicably ahead after 12 minutes as a cross from Pilkington flew into the box, Gomes came out to challenge Jones who managed to head the ball goalwards, before both players collapsed to the ground.  The header was drifting wide but Le Fondre saved the ball from going out and was able to tap it in to an empty goal.  Le Fondre took so long to finish that I thought there had been a whistle for a foul, but the striker was just taking the piss out of the fans in the Rookery.  That didn’t help my foul mood at all.  Anya exchanged passes with Vydra but could not latch onto the return which was marshalled out by the defender.

Defending a throw-in

Defending a throw-in

A ball into the Watford box bounced to Le Fondre but he shot over the target.  Vydra really should have done better when Deeney played a gorgeous ball to him but he took several attempts to control and get into scoring position and eventually the chance was lost.  Vydra then did well to keep the ball under a challenge and played a cross field pass to Anya whose shot was well off target.  On the half hour, a lovely move finished with Abdi playing in Vydra but Connolly challenged, blocking the shot which flew over the bar.  Another great passing move finished with Angella shooting wide.  At the other end, Le Fondre left Ekstrand on the ground but shot wide of the near post.  For the home side Deeney cut the ball back to Paredes who was running into the box with a defender in attendance but the ball rolled through to the keeper.  Paredes then played a cross field ball to Angella whose shot was way off target.  On the stroke of half time, Paredes lost the ball to Le Fondre, it was Gomes to the rescue parrying Le Fondre’s shot and saving the follow-up from Jones, but the flag had been raised for offside.

At half-time we were ruing wasted chances against a poor Cardiff side.  It was very similar to the first half of the U21 game in midweek so I was hoping for a similar turnaround.

Tozser and Vydra line up a free kick

Tozser and Vydra line up a free kick

Watford started the second half on the attack as Deeney played a short pass to Munari whose shot was smothered by Marshall.  Deeney played provider again playing a through ball to Vydra but Marshall was first to the ball.  Deeney then headed a ball down to Anya who was running in but shot into the side netting.  Watford had another wonderful chance to take the lead ten minutes into the half when Abdi met a cross from Anya with a terrific header which Marshall parried, Munari’s follow-up was blocked and, finally, Vydra’s shot was caught by Marshall.  Then Anya cut the ball back to Vydra who shot over the bar.  Anya’s next cut back was for Deeney whose shot was deflected wide.  Fans in the Rookery thought that we had equalized as a shot from Vydra hit the inside of the post but it rebounded out and Paredes was unable to follow up.  On the hour, Anya fizzed in a high cross, but it was flying too fast for Deeney to connect with a header.  Jokanovic made a double substitution as Adbi made way for Guedioura and Forestieri replaced Paredes, whose withdrawal was greeted with loud cheers from the home fans.  While I wouldn’t normally approve of such behaviour, he had had a nightmare so I was pleased to see the change.

Gathering for a set piece

Gathering for a set piece

It was the 67th minute before Cardiff mustered their first shot of the second half as Pilkington broke forward and unleashed a shot, Gomes pulled off a good save.  An attempted break by Vydra was stopped by Le Fondre who was booked for the foul.  At this point the guy who sits next to me turned and remarked, “If this was a boxing match the referee would have stopped it.”  An accurate assessment that underlined the frustration that Watford were still losing the game.  A couple of Watford shots were blocked before the ball broke to Angella who shot wide of the near post.  Another rare attack from the visitors as Le Fondre crossed for Jones whose shot was cleared off the line by Guedioura.  At the other end Tözsér had the ball in space, he maybe should have played a pass for Vydra to run on to but opted for a shot from distance that was over the target.  Then a cross to the far post by Anya reached Forestieri whose header was straight at Marshall.

Steve Terry catching up with Tom Walley, plus Iwan Roberts, Ian Bolton, Steve Harrison, Steve Sherwood and Dennis Booth

Steve Terry catching up with Tom Walley, plus Iwan Roberts, Ian Bolton, Steve Harrison, Steve Sherwood (wearing the GT commemorative scarf) and Dennis Booth

Forestieri exchanged passes with Vydra before shooting just wide.  Vydra then turned provider playing a square ball to Tözsér who shot over.  There was another booking for the visitors as Noone was penalized for grabbing Vydra around the neck in order to impede him.  On 90 minutes Deeney knocked the ball down to Angella whose scissor kick was blocked.  There was five minutes of added time but all Watford could muster in that period was a side-foot from Bassong that was easily caught by Marshall.

So, another week, another frustrating defeat.  This one was much harder to take than the loss to Derby as Cardiff did not play well, we completely dominated but could not find the net.  But I remain optimistic about our prospects this season.  We are creating a lot of chances, we just need to start finishing them again.