Tag Archives: Joel Ekstrand

A Rather Dull Three Goal Win

 

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

After Saturday’s disaster against Norwich, it was good to have a midweek game to, hopefully, get back to winning ways.  Team news was that we were starting with four central defenders and without a recognized winger.  The starting XI was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Ekstrand, Cathcart, Tözsér, Watson, Layun, Abdi, Ighalo and Deeney lining up in a 4-3-1-2 formation.

The first chance of the game fell to the home side as Ighalo beat a defender on the byline, crossed for Deeney, who couldn’t get a touch, the ball was cleared to Tözsér whose shot was blocked.  The next incident of interest was an Angella pass that was annoyingly intercepted by the referee who then redeemed himself by falling over.  Honestly, I have no idea why a referee falling over is the height of comedy, but it is.  Abdi won the ball, turned and played a lovely pass to Tözsér who fired over the bar.

 

Congratulating Ighalo

Congratulating Ighalo

Watford took the lead on 17 minutes.  If you are going to misplace a pass in midfield, then the last player that you want to pick it up is Ighalo with the form he is in at the moment.  The unfortunate Rotherham player was Arnason, Ighalo took advantage advancing on the goal before rounding the keeper and slotting the ball home.  The visitors tried to break back as Derbyshire crossed in the direction of Milsom, but Cathcart made sure he didn’t get to the ball and it drifted wide.  Watford should have increased their lead in the 24th minute as Abdi received a pass from Layun, advanced and shot but Collin managed to parry the ball, it came out to Deeney whose shot was also saved.  From the resulting corner, Ekstrand flicked the ball goalwards, but Collin pulled off another save.  Watford had had most of the possession in the first half hour, but gradually Rotherham got back into the game.  Ekstrand lost the ball to Derbyshire who advanced but shot straight at Gomes.  From a Pringle corner, Arnason had a free header but he directed it straight at the Watford keeper.  Just before half time, there was a half chance for Ighalo who was played in by Deeney but snatched at his shot and it flew over the bar.  So we reached half time a goal to the good, but it hadn’t been terribly entertaining.  We’d started the half with some quick passing moves which looked nice but hadn’t amounted to much and, as the half went on, we’d let the visitors get a foothold in the game.

Celebrating  Deeney's strike

Celebrating Deeney’s strike

Watford increased their lead early in the second half after Arnason stuck a leg out to trip Tözsér, who was on his way into the box.  The Icelander was booked and Tözsér stepped up to hit a ferocious free-kick which stung Collins’ palms, the ball fell to Ekstrand who squared for Deeney to tap it into the net.  The third Watford goal came almost immediately as a shot from Layun was parried to Ighalo who tucked it away.  Rotherham never looked like getting back into the game after this.  We could have been further ahead soon after from an unlikely source as Tommie Hoban broke into the box and shot over the bar.  I am reliably informed that this was a source of great amusement for Troy Deeney.  A rare attack from the visitors resulted in a corner which was punched clear by Gomes.  Abdi was the next to threaten the Rotherham goal but his shot from the edge of the area was caught by Collin.  On 67 minutes, Jokanovic made his first substitution replacing Layun with Munari.  Green found himself in the Watford box, but his shot was cleared into the stand by Cathcart.

Preparing for a free kick

Preparing for a free kick

Ighalo was not to get the chance of a hat trick as he was replaced by Vydra with 15 minutes remaining.  Rotherham’s best chance of a goal so far came with a shot from distance by Hammill that flew just wide of the far post.  At the other end, a trip on Abdi earned Smallwood a yellow card and Watford a free kick from which Tözsér went close to increasing the lead but the ball went just wide of the near post.  Abdi really should have scored Watford’s fourth but he volleyed Deeney’s cross over the bar.  Watford’s final substitution saw Deeney make way for Forestieri.  The visitors had a decent chance to pull a goal back as the ball was given away to Hammill who broke forward, his shot was turned around the post for a corner from which Derbyshire shot wide of the target.  Rotherham’s final goal attempt in normal time came from Clarke-Harris, but Gomes dropped to make the save.  There were 6 minutes of time added on, which suited nobody, but it did contain two more goal attempts from the Hornets.  First a shot from Vydra which was blocked by Collin.  In the dying moments Abdi really should have got on the scoresheet as he broke into the box but his shot rebounded off the post.

There was much complaining after the game because, convincing as the win had been, it was the dullest 3-0 imaginable.  The way the team had been set up meant there was no width and little free-flowing football.  Still a win is a win, the goal difference is improved and it is very tight at the top of the table.  Sometimes dull is good.

Canaries do the Double

Ben Watson has his eye on the ball

Ben Watson has his eye on the ball

This fixture was always going to struggle to live up to the excitement of the last few games.  Norwich certainly promised to be tricky opponents having been in decent form since Alex Neil took over.  Team news was that Deeney was restored to the starting line-up which was Gomes, Angella, Ekstrand, Cathcart, Anya, Abdi, Watson, Layun, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney.  Former loanee, Sebastien Bassong, started for the visitors.

It all started rather brightly as Watford fashioned a chance in the second minute but Deeney headed Layun’s cross over the bar.  The first goal attempt for Norwich came from a controversial free kick that was taken short to Whittaker whose shot was high and wide.  Ighalo did really well to retain the ball under pressure from the defenders, played it out to Paredes whose cross was disappointingly hit straight to the Norwich keeper, Ruddy.

Layun lines up a free kick

Layun lines up a free kick

Ighalo won the ball from Bassong in the midfield and played it to Deeney whose shot from an acute angle went wide of the far post.  On 35 minutes, Abdi was hacked down by Tettey on the edge of the box.  The Norwich players surrounded the referee protesting ridiculously at a cynical foul ensuring that Johnson joined Tettey in the referee’s book.  The free-kick was in perfect position for Abdi, but his shot was deflected off a Norwich head and clear.  The half-time whistle went after a total non-event of a half.  Watford had had the better of the possession but Norwich, using fair means and foul, had done a very good job of disrupting our play so there had been little in the way of goalmouth action.  The fact that I had managed barely half a page of notes during the half tells its own story.

Paredes baffled and Jokanovic questioning the fourth official following another odd decision

Paredes baffled and Jokanovic questioning the fourth official following another odd decision

Watford also had the first goal attempt of the second half as a cross from Anya was headed clear.  The corner was disappointing with Layun’s set piece going straight to Ruddy.  Deeney did really well to keep the ball under pressure, he played it in to Ighalo in the box, but the ball was taken off his feet by a Norwich defender before he could shoot.  A break by Johnson was stopped by Cathcart who was booked for the foul.  Tettey shrugged off a challenge from Ighalo, knocking the Nigerian to the ground as he ran into the box, before wellying his shot over the bar.  On the hour, a cross from Anya was blocked, the ball fell to Abdi but he was off balance as he shot and it was an easy catch for Ruddy.  The game changed in the 64th minute as Hoolahan broke into the Watford box and executed a dramatic dive.  It was clear from our vantage point that he was play-acting, but the referee was behind him and pointed to the spot.  Grabban stepped up and hit the penalty to Gomes’s left.  The keeper went the right way but couldn’t reach the ball which nestled in the bottom corner.

Gomes takes a free kick

Gomes takes a free kick

The referee continued to endear himself to the Watford fans as, following a nasty foul by Howson on Abdi, the yellow card was shown to Ben Watson.  I have no idea what he had done, but most likely he had critiqued the referee’s performance.  Jokanovic made his first substitution at this point bringing Munari on for Layun.  The visitors were two goals to the good soon after as Johnson played the ball to Jerome who chipped over Gomes and into the net.  Watford’s second substitution saw Vydra on for Ekstrand.  Watford’s goal was threatened again as Cathcart passed a clearance straight to Grabban whose shot had to be turned around the post by Gomes.  Watford’s final substitution came on 77 minutes as Tözsér replaced Watson.  Watford had a chance to hit back as Vydra received a pass from Ighalo in a decent position to try a shot but he elected to pass to Deeney instead and the ball was cut out.  Norwich had a great opportunity to further increase their lead as a Redmond free kick was met with a smart header from Johnson, but Gomes pulled off a great save as he dived and got a hand to the ball to keep it out.  Norwich scored their third with the next move as Cathcart failed to cut out a cross from Whittaker which reached Grabban, who turned it past Gomes.  Grabban could have had his hat trick soon after as he broke forward but his shot from an angle flew just over the bar.  The last chance of the game fell to Watford, a cross from Anya was headed away from goal by Deeney, it fell to Tözsér who shot wide of the target.

Deeney breaks forward

Deeney breaks forward

There were no boos at the final whistle, mainly because those who indulge in such behaviour had set off for home some time beforehand.  After some terrific performances in the last few weeks, it is difficult to be critical.  The penalty that shouldn’t have been was definitely a turning point, but it was disappointing that we capitulated rather than fighting back as we did at Bolton and Brentford.  Norwich came to disrupt our play and we allowed them to do so a little too easily.  The scoreline flattered the visitors, but we barely had a shot on goal so didn’t deserve anything from the game.  Thankfully, we have another home match on Tuesday in which to get this out of our system.

As there was so little to say about the game, there is time and space to mention a couple of off pitch incidents.  I am reliably informed that there was a fight between Watford fans in the SEJ stand.  Stewards involved and everything.  What is the World coming to?  I was also surprised to hear that Beppe Sannino was at the game.  He told Don afterwards that he was “Sorry Watford lost,” but that we would soon be a Premier League team.  At least Don thought he meant us, not Norwich!  It is good to see that there are no hard feelings there anyway.

The Beautiful Game

Layun takes the kick-off

Layun takes the kick-off

Since it was FA Cup 5th round day, I waited to book my train to this game until we were knocked out of the cup.  Needless to say, I’d completely ignored the fact that our opponents were still in the competition so was sweating during their 4th round replay.  An added complication was that, at the time that I booked my tickets, there was signalling work planned for the West Coast line so I had booked a slow cross-country train which would get me in later than I would usually plan for.  In the interim there had been a landslip that meant that my already long train journey was interrupted with a bus between Banbury and Leamington adding another hour with the consequence that there would be no time for a pre-match pint.  Bulletins picked up on the way indicated that there were also problems on the roads so the away contingent could be severely depleted.  The final leg of the journey was another rail replacement bus and, as we reached the stadium with less than half an hour to kick off, I could see that the official supporters’ coach was just parking.  Relief all round.

When we arrived outside the turnstiles, one of the stewards asked what we thought the score would be.  “Depends which Watford turns up,” “Yes, we’re a bit like that too.”  An interesting game in prospect.

The main item of team news was that Troy had been dropped to the bench with Vydra taking his place.  He was joined by Hoban and Tözsér who were replaced by Ekstrand and Abdi, both returning after spells on the sidelines.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Angella, Ekstrand, Cathcart, Anya, Watson, Layun, Abdi, Paredes, Vydra and Ighalo.

Paredes passes

Paredes passes

The first goal attempt of the game went to the home side as Clough played the ball back to Le Fondre in the box, he always scores against us, but this time his shot was high and wide.  There was an early yellow card for Cathcart who was penalized for pulling Feeney back as he tried to escape down the wing.  For the visitors, Abdi played the ball out to Anya whose cross was blocked, the ball found its way to Vydra whose shot went out for a goal kick.  Janko broke into the box with Angella in close attendance ensuring that the ball ran through to Gomes.  Anya broke forward and crossed, but there was no Watford player in the box to take advantage.  We waited 18 minutes for Watford’s first goal attempt and then two came at once.  Anya broke forward again, played the ball back to Vydra who found Abdi in the box whose shot was blocked by Lonergan.  The clearance fell to Anya who played it back in, it finally reached Vydra on the edge of the box but his shot was gathered by the Bolton keeper.  Watford put themselves in danger as a mix up between Angella and Gomes resulted in a corner and Gomes needing treatment.  From Feeney’s set piece, Wheater had a free header that flew just wide.  Then Vydra gave the ball away to Wheater who released Le Fondre, he found Janko who fired a shot wide of the target when he really should have done better.

Ighalo gives thanks for his goal

Ighalo gives thanks for his goal

It was the visitors who took the lead on 25 minutes through who else but Ighalo.  The Nigerian had received a pass from Watson, appeared to get the ball stuck under his feet but recovered to shoot and the ball seemed to enter the net in slow motion.  The home side had a great chance to break back soon after as a Gomes punch fell to Le Fondre whose shot was blocked on the line by Watson.  Bolton’s first yellow card went to Bannan who was booked for pulling Abdi back.  Bolton should have equalized with a curling shot from Bannan that was tipped over the bar by Gomes.  Watford threatened again as Vydra exchanged passes with Ighalo, the ball was played to Paredes who just passed it to the keeper.  Bolton equalized in controversial circumstances.  The lino was flagging for offside against Le Fondre so the Watford players and fans took little notice when Feeney crossed and Clough turned the ball into the net.  I was baffled to see the home fans celebrating as they must have seen the flag.  Then the realization hit that the lino had lowered his flag and the referee had signalled for the goal.  There were heartfelt appeals from the Watford players and strong opinions being expressed by the fans, but the goal stood.  This knocked the stuffing out of the Hornets and the home side took advantage.  From a free kick, Ream shot into the side netting.  Then Bolton took the lead as Feeney broke forward and crossed for Le Fondre (who always scores against us) to shoot past Gomes.  We were all feeling pretty aggrieved at half time, but the players and the fans just needed to forget the injustice and get on with the game.

Abdi takes a free kick

Abdi takes a free kick

Thankfully, the players started the second half on the front foot.  Abdi and Ighalo combined to find Vydra who was fouled on the edge of the box.  Abdi’s free-kick was heading for the top corner until Lonergan got a hand to it to keep it out.  Vydra played the ball to Anya who juggled it to get some space before taking the shot which was saved.  Abdi tried a shot from the edge of the area that flew wide.  On 56 minutes, Jokanovic made an attacking substitution taking Angella off for Deeney.  Troy’s first act was to play a ball to Paredes whose dangerous cross was headed clear.  Soon after, Deeney got the ball in the box, he turned to shoot but the shot was blocked.  There was danger for the visitors as Watson lost out to Clough who passed to Le Fondre who was one on one with Gomes who did very well to block the shot.  Clough broke forward and again fed Le Fondre who looked sure to score but hit a dreadful chip over Gomes and wide.  At the other end, there was a scramble in the Bolton box as first Deeney and then Watson had shots blocked.  Then Deeney and Ighalo exchanged passes but the shot was deflected for a corner.  Jokanovic made two more substitutions bringing Forestieri on for Vydra and Tözsér for Watson.  Another decent shot from Abdi was stopped by Lonergan who also saved Ighalo’s follow-up, although the flag was up anyway.  A ball reached the dangerous Feeney in the box but Gomes came out to gather.

Ighalo congratulates Ekstrand

Ighalo congratulates Ekstrand

Watford’s equalizer was a thing of beauty as, just as he did at Fulham, Abdi curled a ball into the top corner in front of the Watford fans.  Thankfully this time I was not behind a pillar so had a perfect view.  It was no more than we (and Almen) deserved.  Bolton tried to hit back immediately from the restart and it took heroics from Gomes to deny them as he parried a shot from distance by Feeney, blocked the follow-up from Le Fondre and somehow got across the goal to deny Clough.  A remarkable effort.  At the other end a corner was headed straight at Cathcart, the ball dropped to Deeney who tried to turn it in but the effort was blocked.  Watford regained the lead in style as a cross from Abdi was met with a gorgeous header from Ekstrand.  A wonderful way to mark his return from injury.  Abdi tried another shot from distance, but Lonergan was equal to this one.  Bolton’s first substitution saw Gudjohnsen come on for Janko.  We were waiting for Neil Cox to join him.  The home side drew level again on 84 minutes as Feeney, who had been a menace on the right all afternoon, crossed for Clough who fired past Gomes.  Watford continued to attack as Anya advanced to the by-line and tried a cut back that was cleared.  Abdi then tried a shot from distance that just cleared the crossbar.  There was pandemonium in the away end as Ighalo played the ball across to Deeney who fired past Lonergan just as the clock hit 90 minutes.  Obviously the celebrations were mighty and Ighalo was booked for his part.  The fourth official’s board went up during the celebrations so I didn’t see it, but someone nearby reckoned there were 4 additional minutes.  Bolton did have the ball in the net again through Wheater, but the flag had been raised before it reached him and thankfully on this occasion the lino kept the flag up.

The players had given their all by the final whistle

The players had given their all by the final whistle

When the final whistle went, a couple of the Watford players dropped to the ground as did a number of the Bolton players.  They all looked dead on their feet and certainly those of us in the stands were completely drained.  What a terrific game of football.  There were ecstatic grins in the away end and hugs between friends and, most likely, complete strangers.  The players came over and were greeted as the heroes that they were.  Ighalo, Layun, Forestieri and Deeney thanked us by nipping over the advertising hoardings to give their shirts to the crowd.

I have always found the people of Bolton to be lovely and this was shown again as an official walking around the pitch while we retrieved Becky’s flag commented to us that it had been a good match.  We also saw our friendly steward on the way out and he was equally gracious.

Just before 10pm I boarded a rail replacement bus at Leamington Spa with the prospect of three further trains before I was home.  Soon after, a father and son got on and I was greeted with a “You Orns”.  That perked me up and we were soon waxing lyrical about the terrific game we had seen.  I finally arrived home over 16 hours after I had left.  It had been a very long day but one that I will remember for a very long time.

As the match was coming to an end, the thought had gripped me that this must be a terrific game for the neutral and I felt a twinge of regret that I couldn’t see it through their eyes.  In the cold light of day I realise what a ridiculous thought that was.  No neutral would experience the joy and despair that I did yesterday.  The rollercoaster that ranged from anger at the injustice to the sheer lunacy of the goal celebrations that had me leaping up and down punching the air long after the ball had hit the net.

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend about the season so far and the fact that, despite being in the play-off places, it had not been an enjoyable season.  That has been completely turned on its head since.  The character and the passion on show in the past few games have made this team one to love.  We even saw some emotion from our usually impassive manager at the final whistle.  I can’t wait for next week.

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.

County’s Cracking Strikes

The new Community Stand

The new Community Stand

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

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

Keogh holds off Ighalo as Harry Hornet looks on

Keogh holds off Ighalo as Harry Hornet looks on

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

Deeney breaks into the box

Deeney breaks into the box

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

Vydra knocked flying

Vydra knocked flying

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

Munari running to celebrate his goal with the bench

Munari running to celebrate his goal with the bench

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

Bond fit to continue

Bond fit to continue

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

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

 

A Rare Defeat in Suffolk

The players are joined by servicemen for the minute's silence

The players are joined by servicemen for the minute’s silence

When I arrived at Liverpool Street at 10:30, I didn’t bother to text my travelling companions, just headed for the pub and, sure enough, there was Jac (with a pint of Stella) I turned around to find Toddy walking in, so we were soon sitting comfortably with a tasty breakfast (IPA).  If we started early, the Norfolk ‘Orns had started earlier and with some gusto, so were a very merry group on their arrival.  So much so that one of them was requested to pop over to the burger van for a cup of tea before he was allowed entrance at Portman Road.

For the second game running, Jokanovic had made 5 changes, although there were fewer complaints this time as the only change from the win against Millwall was Forestieri in for Ighalo.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Pudil, Ekstrand, Bassong, Paredes, Andrews, Munari, Tözsér, Forestieri, Deeney, Vydra.

A cross from Williams is cleared

A cross from Williams is cleared

The home side had an early corner that was cleared by Bassong.  Then a rebound fell perfectly for Forestieri who advanced into the box but was tackled before he could shoot.  Watford should have taken the lead after ten minutes when Vydra played a ball across to Forestieri, his pass found Munari in the box who had only the keeper to beat but hit his shot straight at Bialkowski.  Ipswich then had a wonderful chance of their own with a side foot volley from Murphy that was tipped over by Gomes.  The next goal attempt also fell to Murphy, but this one was a soft shot that was straight at Gomes.  At the other end Vydra fed Forestieri but again his shot was blocked.  The first card of the game came after half an hour when Paredes was booked for a foul on Williams, which was a bit frustrating as the referee had let a lot of fouls against Watford players go.  Watford had another half chance as Vydra received a ball from Andrews on the right, he cut it back to Pudil whose shot deflected off a defender into the keeper’s arms.  Then Paredes crossed for Deeney who had to control the ball before hitting his shot, which was blocked.

Challenging at a corner

Challenging at a corner

The first, and only, card for Ipswich came when McGoldrick stopped Watford taking a quick free-kick.  Just before half time, McGoldrick was penalized for a handball which was greeted with red and yellow confetti in the away end from fans frustrated that none of the decisions seemed to be going our way.  When the whistle went for half time, the referee was booed off by the Watford fans.  In all honesty, it had been a scrappy half, the play had been end to end but there was little in the way of decent chances.

Deeney had a fantastic chance to put the visitors ahead early in the second half after Forestieri and Vydra broke forward, but Fernando’s shot from Matej’s cut back flew well over the crossbar.  The home side threatened after Andrews failed to clear, Williams hit a shot wide of the far post although it didn’t seem to concern Gomes who just stood and watched it drift wide.  A cut back from Murphy was cleared by Ekstrand.  Murphy then received a ball over the top and hit a shot that required an excellent save from Gomes to turn it over the bar.  The keeper’s sterling efforts proved unnecessary as the flag was already up for offside.

Deeney on the ball

Deeney on the ball

Ekstrand was the next Watford player to be booked as he fouled Williams to stop a breakaway.  That was the midfielder’s last involvement in the game as the injury that was inflicted by the tackle meant that he couldn’t continue.  He was replaced by Bishop.  The resulting free kick was punched clear by Gomes.  Hunt tried to lob the keeper, but the ball ended up on top of the net.  Watford had another wonderful chance as Vydra broke forward, he crossed for Forestieri who really should have hit the target, but he blasted his shot over the bar.  Then Hunt broke into the Watford box, Gomes bravely saved at his feet but they had come together with some force so the keeper needed treatment.  Bond readied himself to come on but Gomes eventually got back to his feet and was judged fit to continue.  On 70 minutes some lights appeared in the Ipswich crowd.  I have no idea what they signified and they were gone as soon as they appeared, but it was very bizarre.  On 73 minutes, Jokanovic made his first substitution as Forestieri made way for Ighalo.

Tozser takes a free kick

Tozser takes a free kick

A poor pass from Vydra allowed McGoldrick to break so Munari took the forward down and received a yellow card that he accepted with a handshake.  Bru had a great chance to put the home side ahead when a corner was cleared to him but he volleyed just wide.  The same player threatened the Watford goal again soon after but his shot was met with a brilliant catch from Gomes.  At the other end a Deeney cross found Ighalo free in the box, the flag stayed down but the Nigerian’s shot was blocked for a corner.  Increasingly it appeared that one goal would win this game.  Unfortunately that goal went to the home side.  Watford failed to clear from a free-kick, the ball bobbled around the box before falling to Smith who hit it past Gomes.  It was a scrappy goal that summed up the game.  There were a couple of late substitutions with Murray coming on for Andrews for the visitors and Sammon replacing McGoldrick for the home side.  Watford waited until the last minute of the six added on before attempting an equalizer, but the shot from Munari was blocked by Bialkowski and the three points stayed in Suffolk.

So, after a nine game unbeaten run, we had suffered two consecutive defeats.  Both performances were disappointing, but two draws would probably have been fair as neither side dominated in the games.  We now have the international break to regroup.  The last two breaks have seen the Watford manager replaced but that is very unlikely to happen again, so Jokanovic has two weeks to plot the downfall of Derby whose recent blip appears to be over.  Despite the disappointment of the last couple of games, I am really looking forward to that encounter.

 

A Miserable Night in Birmingham

The scoreboard prior to kick-off

The scoreboard prior to kick-off

As the train made its way to the midlands I received an e-mail from a colleague telling me to enjoy my holiday.  Looking at the rain streaking the window I replied that my enjoyment of the time off was completely in the hands of the Watford players.  Since my message to my usual travelling companions to see who wanted tickets for this fixture had elicited only negative responses, the football was the only thing I had to look forward to that evening.

Jokanovic had two changes forced on him due to injuries to Bassong and Munari and added three more for good measure so the starting line-up was Gomes, Doyley, Ekstrand, Hoban, Paredes, Anya, Tözsér, McGugan, Ighalo, Forestieri and Deeney.  This provoked much wailing among fans and doom-laden references to the game at Bristol City when Zola made wholesale changes.  On the positive side, it meant that Lloyd Doyley made his 400th start for Watford, what a tremendous servant he has been.  Birmingham’s captain was former Watford favourite Paul Robinson.  It still hurts to remember giving him away for peanuts.

The pre-match huddle

The pre-match huddle

As soon as I heard that Birmingham had won only once in their last 25 home games, my heart sank.  They had a new manager in Gary Rowett, who was introduced to great fanfare.  With the Watford fans chanting “We are top of the league,” and goading the home fans about their recent 8-0 defeat this was one of those nights where I feared that pride would come before a fall.

Donaldson threatened the Watford goal in the first minute but Tommie Hoban was on hand to make a saving tackle.  The respite was brief as the home side took the lead in the second minute as McGugan lost the ball on the sideline while trying to play out of defence, Gleeson crossed for Donaldson whose shot was deflected past Gomes by Ekstrand.  Forestieri tried to hit back immediately with an ambitious shot that was well over the bar.  But Watford drew level on seven minutes.

Celebrations following Forestieri's equalizer

Celebrations following Forestieri’s equalizer

Doyley got the ball in an advanced position where he was greeted with shouts of “shoooot”, he exchanged passed with McGugan then cut the ball back for Forestieri whose initial shot was blocked by Randolph, but he made no mistake with the follow-up.  Ighalo passed across to Deeney who played it back to McGugan but his shot was put out for a corner.  At the other end, Caddis crossed for Cotterill who wellied the ball well over the target.  Just before the half hour, Caddis put in another dangerous cross but Shinnie’s header was horrible as he directed the ball straight in front of him when the goal was some distance to his right.  Anya made a forward run and cut the ball back for Forestieri who had to stretch for the shot which was blocked.  Robbo was the next to threaten the Watford goal, but his header was cleared by Ekstrand.  Birmingham should have taken the lead with a great free-kick from Cotterill which required a flying save from Gomes to keep it out.  At the other end Randolph had to pull off a similar save to repel a belting shot from Deeney.  A shot from Cotterill was cleared and Watford launched a counter attack that finished with a cross from Ighalo which flew past the onrushing Forestieri.  Then a cross from Paredes was deflected to Randolph by one of his defenders.  In the final minute of the half, Gomes was on hand to push a shot from Gleeson clear.

Lining up to defend a corner

Lining up to defend a corner

At the start of the second half, Ighalo did well to keep the ball when tackled and eventually found space to shoot but his shot was over the target.  The first yellow card of the game went to Davis who hacked Anya down rather needlessly as the whistle had already gone.  Forestieri found McGugan who played a ball over the top into the box but it was too far in front of Deeney.  Ighalo played a square ball to McGugan whose curling shot was easily caught by Randolph.  A dangerous shot by Donaldson was cleared by Hoban, there followed a sustained Birmingham attack where the Watford defence could not clear but the home side eventually did us a favour by putting the ball out for a goal kick.  At this point the home fans found their voice and it has to be said that they make an impressive sound when they get going.  The first substitution came in the 58th minute as Ighalo made way for Andrews who was tasked with shoring up the midfield.

Tozser readies himself for a disappointing free-kick

Tozser readies himself for a disappointing free-kick

A ball into the Watford box was headed back to Gleeson who wellied it wide.  Hopes rose in the away end as Tözsér stepped up to take a free-kick on the edge of the box, but it was woeful, clearing the bar by some distance.  My nerves were on edge as a deflected shot appeared to be drifting towards our goal, Doyley cleared but the flag was up anyway.  At last a moment of quality with a lovely passing move along the length of the pitch, a defender slipped allowing Andrews to get a cross in but it was put out for a corner.  Then Deeney broke free and played Anya in but he couldn’t muster a shot.  McGugan and Deeney exchanged passes before Lewis tried an early shot that was well wide of the near post.  Then Deeney chested the ball down to Andrews but he lifted his shot over the bar.  The home side made their first substitution replacing Arthur with Gray.  There were cheers from the travelling Horns as Vydra was spotted getting ready to come on.  His name had been chanted in the away end for about 10 minutes before the change.  He replaced Forestieri with 15 minutes remaining.  Anya looked as though he’d run the ball out of play on the sideline, but was allowed to continue, broke into the box executed some ridiculous step-overs and then ran the ball out of play behind the goal line.  Just awful.

Anya and McGugan checking the position of their wall

Anya and McGugan checking the position of their wall

The home side’s second substitution saw Thomas replace Shinnie.  Andrews was booked for a robust tackle on Caddis.  Cotterill took the resulting free-kick, hitting another dreadful shot that was well off target.  In the 84th minute, the home side took the lead as a cross from Cotterill was met with a powerful header from Donaldson that flew past Gomes.  Watford could have no complaints.  Watford tried to strike back as Deeney played a through ball to Anya but the Scot was offside.  Anya exchanged passes with Vydra whose shot was blocked, the ball rebounded to Andrews but got stuck under his feet as he was challenged and the ball was cleared.  Watford’s second booking went to Deeney who was penalized for a foul on Morrison.  Robbo rose to head a cross from Anya clear, the follow-up shot from the Scot was saved by Randolph and the home side took all three points.

At the final whistle, the players started to trudge off but Gomes could be seen calling Paredes back to applaud the travelling fans.  I couldn’t bring myself to applaud them back.  But when Robbo ran up the field as one of the last to leave, I and others around me couldn’t help but acknowledge his efforts and he responded in kind to the Watford fans who had been so sporting.

It had been a miserable performance on a cold evening.  Birmingham hadn’t been great, although I was relieved that Cotterill had been so wasteful with the chances that fell to him as it could have been much worse.  So the unbeaten run is at an end, but I’m still looking forward to the trip to Ipswich on Saturday where I’m hoping for better things.  The phrase “glutton for punishment” comes to mind.

A Fitting Tribute

The poppy display

The poppy display viewed from the family stand

With this being the closest home game to Armistice Day in the 100th year since the start of World War I, the usual commemorations were being supplemented with a foil display organized by the 1881 group and financed by Watford’s players.  A crowd turned up at the ground first thing to put the foils out, a job that was completed in double quick time.  According to the instructions from the club, we arrived at our seats earlier than usual to find all the usual stragglers were already there and that programmes had sold out.  When instructed, we raised our foils and, from our position under the display, could only wonder whether it had been a success.  I must admit that the photos were breath-taking and must thank a friend who sits in the Family Stand for providing the wonderful picture shown here.  Huge congratulations to Roy Moore and the other lads from 1881 who designed and executed the display.  It was a tremendous achievement.

On the pitch, the players were to wear the black and white kit from 1914, so Millwall wore their yellow change strip.  It was very bizarre to see the opposition in yellow at Vicarage Road.  Team news was that there were three changes with Gomes and Deeney returning from injury and Andrews in for Anya in midfield, so the starting line-up was Gomes, Pudil, Ekstrand, Bassong, Paredes, Tözsér, Munari, Andrews, Ighalo, Vydra and Deeney.  Undistinguished former loanee Matthew Briggs started for the visitors.  It should also be mentioned that, now the final seats have been installed in the Community stand, we have a four-sided ground for the first time in many years.  It is a wonderful sight to see.

Ighalo trying to hold off a defender

Ighalo trying to hold off a defender

The home side dominated the early exchanges, the first goal attempt coming as Deeney and Vydra exchanged passes in the box and Troy hit a shot that Forde dropped to save.  At the other end a low cross by Woolford was gathered by Gomes.  On 11 minutes, Millwall took the lead as McDonald crossed to Woolford inside the box, he shrugged off Bassong and slotted the ball into the bottom corner.  That certainly depressed the mood in the home stands.  Watford tried to strike back immediately as Vydra played a through ball to Paredes but his shot rebounded off the post.  Millwall’s Dunne went down dramatically after a challenge from Deeney.  Watford played on and Dunne leapt to his feet and sprinted back to defend.  At the next break in play Forde bafflingly went to remonstrate with the referee and was booked.  The next time that the ball went anywhere near the goal was on the half hour when a free-kick from Tözsér flew over the bar.  The next action of note was a bizarre challenge by Vydra, who was clearly frustrated as he jumped into Williams.  He was fortunate not to be carded.

Forde trying to organize his wall

Forde trying to organize his wall

Injury forced an early Watford substitution as Bassong made way for Hoban.  An attempted break by Ighalo was stopped by a push from Briggs who was shown a yellow card for his trouble.  From the free-kick, Ighalo unleashed a shot that was turned around the post by Forde.  The resultant corner was straight off the training ground as it was played out to Andrews, who dinked it in to Vydra, running into the box, who got the slightest touch and the ball trickled over the line.  The goal invigorated Matej who next hit a shot from a cut back by Ighalo which was turned just wide.  Then, from the corner, he headed just over.  For the visitors, Fuller broke into the box and went down under a challenge but the referee was having none of it and the forward was booked for his protests.  In time added on at the end of the first half, Dunne bundled Deeney over on the edge of the box and was booked for the offence.  Tözsér’s free-kick was a bullet that flew past the wall and into the net.  The Millwall keeper, Forde, didn’t move.  It had been a strange first half, with a long period when nothing much happened, but it had burst into life at the end and it was great to go into half time a goal to the good.

Tozser congraulated on his bullet

Tozser congraulated on his bullet

Millwall had the first chance of the second half as Woolford got his head to a corner from Williams but he directed it wide of the target.  At the other end, a header from Hoban was saved, but the flag was already up for offside.  Deeney and Munari exchanged passes then played a through ball for Vydra but Forde was first to the ball.  On the hour, Holloway made his first substitution as Briggs was replaced by Malone.  Martin tried to break forward but was taken down by Hoban who was booked for the foul.  On 63 minutes, Watford increased the lead as, from a free-kick, Vydra cut the ball back to Munari who lashed it past Forde for Watford’s third goal.  A frustrated Fuller kicked out at Ekstrand and was lucky not to see a second yellow card so Holloway did the sensible thing and replaced him with Gueye before he got himself sent off.

Harry joins in the celebrations for the third goal

Harry congratulates Munari on the third goal

Jokanovic also made a change replacing Vydra with Dyer.  Hearts were in mouths in the Rookery as Woolford beat Hoban and shot goalwards, but Pudil was on hand to clear the shot off the line.  Gueye’s first contribution was a shot through a crowd of players that was easily caught by Gomes.  A terrible back pass from Williams almost increased Watford’s lead as it appeared to beat Forde, but it drifted just wide.  With 10 minutes remaining, Pudil needed a team mate’s help with a touch of cramp, was told to leave the pitch having ‘received treatment’ and soon after was replaced by Doyley.  The Millwall players seemed determined to score an own goal, this time Forde had to reach to prevent a back header sneaking in.  Holloway’s final substitution saw Martin make way for O’Brien.  There was another bizarre occurrence as a Millwall player went behind the advertising hoardings to retrieve the ball and took the throw-in from there leading the referee to blow up for a foul throw.  Gueye broke into the box and cut the ball back but Gomes dropped to gather.  Gomes then had to be smart to tip over a header from Dunne.  Dyer released Paredes who ran the length of the pitch but his shot was deflected wide.  That was the last action of the game as the whistle went to cheers and chants of “We are top of the league.”

Yet again, it hadn’t been a brilliant performance but we had broken down a well-organized Holloway side and, once we’d got the third goal had never been in any danger.  We all agreed that sometimes you have to win ugly.  It is far too early in the season and far too tight at the top of the Championship to get too excited, but we are now none games unbeaten and the signs are all good for an exciting season.

A Deserved Draw on Teesside

A "parmo"

A “parmo”

It’s a long old trip up to Middlesbrough but, despite setting out to travel on my own, I soon found myself in the company of fellow Hornets on the journey north so it passed very quickly.  The pre-match pub of choice was Dr Browns, which may not have the best selection of beers but, after a dodgy first visit, over the years I’ve become quite a fan of the DJ.  Where else would you hear T Rex, Slade and Sweet blasting out and have the realization that, while I can barely remember what I did yesterday, I still know all the words to the glam rock hits of the 70s.  He also runs a spot quiz with questions for both home and away fans with “fantastic prizes” (a free pint).  Not the most sophisticated entertainment, but a lovely pre –match welcome to the town.  One of our party had also been eagerly looking forward to reacquainting himself with the parmo.  A whole week’s worth of calories in one meal.  It has to be seen to be believed.

There was a late change in goal with Bond coming in for Gomes who was injured in the warm up.  The only other change from Tuesday was Anya coming in for the injured Adbi, so the starting line-up was Bond, Pudil, Bassong, Ekstrand, Paredes, Munari, Anya, Tözsér, Forestieri, Vydra and Ighalo.

Jonathan Bond making an unexpected start

Jonathan Bond making an unexpected start

After the last two games, expectations were for another good performance, but the early chances in the game fell to the home side.  First Tomlin’s shot was blocked by Pudil.  Then a cross from Adomah was chested down by Kike to Bamford whose shot was blocked by Tözsér.  On 16 minutes, Kike looked to capitalize on a ball into the box but Ekstrand curled his leg in and cleared, although he needn’t have bothered as the Spaniard was offside.  Friend beat Paredes on the wing, although he appeared to use a hand to control the ball, and put in a cross that Bassong headed clear.  The ball eventually went out for a corner that fell to Adomah on the edge of the box where he hit it well over the bar.  Paredes failed to clear a ball into the box so Friend was able to cross for Bamford whose shot was blocked by Bond.  Friend nutmegged Paredes, but Bond saved the shot.  Friend was able to get in another cross soon after but Kike got under it and headed it over.

Tozser on the ball

Tozser on the ball

On the half hour, Watford launched their first attack since the opening minutes of the game as Vydra received a pass from Forestieri but Konstantopoulos dropped to save the shot.  A forward run by Anya was stopped when he was knocked flying by Ayala who received a yellow card for his trouble.  The next card was shown to Forestieri who saw the ball flying over his head on the way out for a throw-in, so decided to reach up and handle the ball.  A completely unnecessary card to pick up.  Vydra broke forward and appeared to have released Forestieri, but the flag was up for offside.  Kike threatened again but his header from a Fredericks cross was over the bar.  Forestieri got the ball on the edge of the Boro box and manoeuvred into a position to shoot but his attempt was wide of the near post.  On the stroke of half time, Forestieri passed to Anya, who ran along the bye-line and hit a shot that was parried by the keeper.  The half time whistle was a bit of a relief, we had rallied a bit in the last few minutes, but Boro had had most of the possession in the half without creating too many chances.  Uncharacteristically, Paredes was having a nightmare.

Deeney congratulated on his goal

Deeney congratulated on his goal

In the first minute of the second half, Bamford took Pudil out and saw yellow.  The home side sent out a warning as Pudil failed to clear a cross and Fredericks shot just wide of the far past.  On 48 minutes, Boro took the lead as the defenders again failed to clear a cross from Bamford, the ball fell to Kike who knocked it past Bond.  It was disappointing, but it had been coming.  The home side could have been two up almost immediately, but Bond was equal to Bamford’s shot.  Whitehead was booked for a foul on Forestieri.  Vydra had a great chance to equalize as Konstantopoulos punched a cross down to him but he shot over the bar.  Deeney’s name was chanted as he could be seen getting ready to come on to replace Forestieri.  Tözsér played the ball out to Paredes, whose cross was straight at the keeper, which was disappointing as Vydra was running in and a better delivery could have paid dividends.  On the hour Watford drew level as Anya put in a low cross from the left that Deeney drilled past the keeper, much to the delight of the travelling Hornets.  Soon after, Ighalo made way for Andrews.  The departing player was given a good send off by the fans so acknowledged us and shook the referee’s hand on his way off.  What a polite young man.  We had a great chance to take the lead as Deeney played a fantastic long ball to Anya whose cross was met by Andrews whose shot was deflected for a corner.

Anya calling for a ball from Vydra

Anya calling for a ball from Vydra

From a Tözsér free kick, Ekstrand headed the ball against the post.  Watford were now in the ascendancy and the next chance came as Munari flicked a cross from Paredes on to Vydra whose scissor kick was blocked.  Boro threatened on the counter as Fredericks crossed for Kike whose shot looked as though it was on target but, thankfully, flew past the far post.  Bamford, who had tormented us was replaced by Reach.  Deeney played a ball back to Vydra in the box who moved it on to Paredes who volleyed wide.  A shot that made me smile as it was a terrific effort from a player who had had a bad day.  Tözsér tried a shot from distance that was deflected wide.  From the corner, the ball was played back to Andrews who shot well over the target.  Watford had dominated since the Boro goal, but the home side still posed a threat as a shot from the edge of the box by Tomlin was deflected wide.  That was his last action of the game as he was replaced by Vossen.  A low free-kick by Tözsér was on target but Konstantopoulos turned it around the post.  The final whistle went with both sides earning a deserved point.

Harry Hornet being interviewed by the Police

Harry Hornet being interviewed by the Police

While this game was not as entertaining as Tuesday’s, it was very pleasing to see Jokanovic make changes that had a positive effect on the game.  Troy had looked very rusty when he came on against Forest, but that was far from the case today and some of the interplay between him and Vydra was a delight.  Equally, Anya had a poor first half, but was very impressive on the attack in the second period.  Kudos must also go to Jonathan Bond, who wasn’t expecting to play but put in a solid performance.  Post-match discussions with Boro fans both on the train and on Twitter turned into a bit of a love-in.  Both teams were impressive and will be challenging for promotion.  This season may be one of the most competitive in the Championship and I am loving it.

 

Frustrating, but Fun

Slavisa Jokanovic's First Game at Vicarage Road

Slavisa Jokanovic’s First Game at Vicarage Road

Due to an appointment with some sharks and rays in the Indian Ocean, I missed the trip to Hillsborough and Jokanovic’s first game in charge.  But having thoroughly enjoyed the highlights, particularly Vydra’s energetic display, I was eagerly anticipating this game.

Jokanovic made one change from Saturday with Paredes in for Doyley meaning that Lloyd’s 400th start had to be delayed.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Pudil, Bassong, Ekstrand, Paredes, Munari, Abdi, Tözsér, Vydra, Forestieri, Ighalo.  Former Watford youngster and unexpected cash cow, Britt Assombalonga, started for Forest.

Forest had the first chance of the game as the ball dropped to Antonio, but the angle was very narrow and he couldn’t turn it in.  Watford then had a terrific chance as Forestieri tried to chip Darlow in the Forest goal but the keeper managed to parry the ball.  Vydra lost the ball in midfield, but fought back to reclaim it, went on a run and crossed for Abdi whose shot was

Celebrating Ighalo's goal

Celebrating Ighalo’s goal

blocked.  Paredes went storming down the right but his cross was straight at the keeper.  Watford had another great chance to take an early lead as a cross from Tözsér was cleared only as far as Forestieri who hit a belter just over the bar.  After a long spell of Watford pressure, Forest countered with Antonio who broke into the box and crossed but Gomes gathered easily.  Pudil and Forestieri combined to feed Vydra who broke into the box and hit a shot that required a close range save from Darlow.  Following a corner, the ball fell to Paredes outside the box, but his shot was well wide of the target.  At the other end, Paredes fouled Assombalonga after the youngster got in front of him.  Vaughan took the resulting free kick which was met with a header from Wilson which flew over the bar.  Abdi played a lovely ball out to Forestieri, he cut it back to Vydra who hit a great shot that required a good save from Darlow.  Watford took a deserved lead on 28 minutes as a cross from Abdi fell to Ighalo in a crowded box and he knocked it past Darlow.  The lead only lasted two minutes as Abdi gave the ball away to Antonio who advanced into the box, Gomes came out to meet him but the Forest man tapped the ball past the keeper for the equalizer.  Adbi immediately left the field for treatment.  Watford tried to strike back as Forestieri played a short pass to Munari but he shot just wide of the near post.

Watford players surround the referee following Mancienne's foul on Vydra

Watford players surround the referee following Mancienne’s foul on Vydra

Vydra picked up a loose ball in midfield, broke forward and was through on goal when he was pushed over by Mancienne.  From our vantage point it appeared that the offence took place in the box, but a free-kick was given and, despite shouts for a red card, Mancienne only saw yellow.  The free-kick was disappointing bouncing back off the wall.  Forest definitely got away with that one.  In injury time, a corner was cleared to Forestieri who hit a brilliant shot from outside the area but Darlow pulled off an equally brilliant save to keep it out.  So at half-time the scores were level although Watford really should have been ahead on the balance of play.  We had played some lovely passing football and Darlow had been required to pull off some cracking saves.

 

Vydra scores the penalty past Darlow

Vydra scores the penalty past Darlow

Early in the second half, Jokanovic made his first substitution with Abdi, who was carrying an injury, being replaced by Murray.  Vydra got on the end of a cross from Forestieri but was bundled over in the box, so the referee pointed to the spot.  Vydra stepped up to take the penalty himself and coolly slotted it in as Darlow went the wrong way.   On 64 minutes Deeney replaced Ighalo, both players were given ovations by the Vicarage Road faithful.  Burke went on a run down the right wing, the ball appeared to go out of play and the defenders tracking him stopped briefly in anticipation of the throw-in while he continued his run and crossed for Antonio to head the equalizer.  Infuriating!  Watford’s final substitution saw Hoban replacing Bassong.  Assombalonga tried a speculative shot that was well wide of the target.  Vydra found Deeney at the near post, but Darlow was perfectly placed to block his toe poke.  Tözsér found Vydra in space but the Czech curled his shot straight at Darlow.  In time added on, Assombalonga was substituted and received warm applause from both sets of fans.  The final whistle went with the score level.  The second half had been short of incident, but overall it had been a very entertaining game and one from which Watford really should have taken all three points.  It was difficult to complain, though, as there were so many good performances that bode well for the upcoming games.