Tag Archives: Johann Berg Gudmundsson

Hooray for London Buses

Kabasele tracking Barnes

In my enthusiasm to buy train tickets for the first away game of the season, I completely forgot about Burnley’s involvement in the Europa League, so was booked on the 8:03 from King’s Cross via Leeds on Saturday morning.  When the game was moved to the Sunday, I looked at changing the ticket but found that the first train leaving London on Sunday would not arrive in time for me to make kick-off.  Just as I was contemplating a lonely Saturday night in Burnley, a dear friend offered to show me the sights of Bradford, so I was treated to a Hockney exhibition followed by curry, beer and putting the world to rights.  All rather lovely.

We made good time on the journey from Bradford to Burnley on Sunday morning and were in the Cricket Club by 11 and soon joined by a couple of VIPs from the club as well as the Happy Valley Horns and Kate and the two Janices who had caught the supporters’ coach at 6am.  The cricket club is a lovely friendly place and we were soon in conversation with a local who is clearly enjoying their European exploits.

On arrival at the turnstiles, the steward looked slightly aghast at my tightly packed overnight bag and the discovery of toiletries inside had her shaking her head, declaring them flammable and therefore not allowed inside the stadium.  Thankfully her supervisor decided that roll-on deodorant and lemon shower gel were not too dangerous in the hands of a middle-aged woman so I was allowed to keep them. I assured her that I wouldn’t put a match to them.

Holebas launches a throw to Pereyra

Team news was that Gracia had kept faith with the team who did so well last week, so the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Kabasele, Janmaat; Pereyra, Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes; Gray, Deeney.  Burnley featured former Watford loanee Jack Cork and, of course, had Sean Dyche and Ian Woan in the dugout.

As I was on a flight to the US last Saturday for work, I missed the Brighton game, so I was really looking forward to my season starting properly.  But, as Watford hadn’t scored away from home since January 2nd and we never get anything at Burnley, my expectations were pretty low prior to kick-off.  Thankfully they were confounded as the Hornets started brilliantly with a chance in the second minute as Deeney crossed for Gray, whose shot was blocked by Tarkowski.  The visitors took the lead a minute later as Deeney and Gray exchanged passes before the former Burnley man hit a superb volley that gave Hart no chance.  I am pleased to confirm that, despite the length of time that had elapsed since the last away goal, the travelling Hornets had not forgotten how to celebrate.  The home fans were not so happy and, as if in sympathy, the big screen in the opposite corner went blank.

Cathcart takes a free kick

Unfortunately, Watford’s lead was very short lived as Burnley won a corner and Tarkowski rose highest to head home for the equaliser.  The home side then had a period of dominance and had a great chance to take the lead as Gudmundsson curled a gorgeous free kick towards the Watford goal, but Foster pulled off a decent save to keep the scores level.  Gray should have done better after exchanging passes with Pereyra but his shot was mishit and flew wide.  At the other end a Cork shot was blocked and, in the ensuing goalmouth scramble some tenacious defending ensured that no Burnley player got a clear sight of goal before the ball was finally cleared.  The Hornets had a decent end to the half and could have regained the lead when Deeney tried a shot from distance, but Hart got a hand to it and kept it out.  The first caution of the game went to Hughes for a silly challenge on Ward that appeared to take place off the field when Watford had already won a throw-in.  The home side had one last chance to take the lead before half time as a cross-cum-shot from Hendrick was saved by Foster, it fell to Lennon, but Holebas made a terrific tackle to prevent the shot.  So we reached half time with honours even.  It has to be said that Burnley had slightly the better of the half, but it had been a good contest.

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

The second half started brilliantly for the Hornets as a blocked ball into the box rebounded to Doucouré, who played a gorgeous pass to Deeney, with only Hart to beat he made no mistake and the Hornets were ahead again.  It turns out that Watford away goals are like London buses, you don’t see one for over seven months and then three come along at once.  This time it was Hughes who intercepted a terrible ball from Lowton, advanced and found the bottom corner.  At this point, the travelling Hornets were beside themselves.  The first Burnley booking was born of frustration as Ward was cautioned for pulling Hughes down.  Watford had a decent chance to increase their lead as Capoue launched a long cross into the box, but it was just too far in front of Deeney. As the game reached the final quarter hour, both sides made substitutions as Barnes and Vokes came on for Wood and Hendrick for the home side and Sema replaced Gray for the visitors with Watford switching to just one up front.  Vokes almost made an instant impact as he met a Gudmundsson free kick with a header that flew just wide.  Each side made a further substitution as Taylor came on for Ward and Femenía replaced Will Hughes, who went off to a standing ovation.  With time running out, Sema had a great chance to grab a fourth goal for the Hornets, but his low shot was put out for a corner.  Watford’s final substitution came with a minute to go as Deeney made way for Success.  As the fourth official raised the board showing time added on, Vokes crossed for Mee but the shot was poor and missed the target.  There was a better-looking chance as a cross reached Barnes but the shot was met with a good catch from Foster and the flag was up for offside anyway.  There was another caution for the Hornets as Janmaat was booked for a late tackle that was totally unnecessary.  But the final whistle went on a very satisfying win for the Hornets.

The Royal Dyche

As we streamed out of the ground, there were beaming smiles among the Watford fans who couldn’t quite believe what they had seen.  Not just three goals away from home, but against a very decent Burnley side at Turf Moor.  The first half had been even but, once Watford took the lead in the second half, the home side never looked like they would get back in the game.  It was great to see both Gray and Deeney on the scoresheet, they are playing very effectively together and making chances for each other and others.  There was some lovely football played, with three excellent goals, but that sublime pass from Doucouré was the pick of the bunch.  I think most Watford fans consider him to be the signing of the Summer but, after missing all of the pre-season games, he could have been forgiven if he had taken a few games to get back to his best.  On Sunday he was running after everything and playing as if he had never had a break.  He wasn’t the only one, another pleasing contrast to last season is the fitness of the players.  Most games last season started at pace but fizzled out after about 70 minutes as the players tired.  On Sunday, they were working until the end and saw the game out effectively.  A lot of people were nervous at the start of the season, but this is looking like a very strong side and they are playing the sort of football that we knew they were capable of last season, but so rarely saw.

On the way back to the station, I was delighted to pass the Royal Dyche pub.  The sign is a thing of beauty and I wish Sean luck for the rest of the season, but am delighted that it was the Watford fans who were smiling on Sunday.

 

Frustrating Defeat in the Snow

Deeney escapes from a Bardsley challenge

The weather forecast for the weekend had been for cold temperatures and some snow and, sure enough, we were not far out of London when the landscapes became white under a beautiful blue sky.  The sky changed to grey as we went further north and, on changing trains at Preston, the snow was falling.

The train bookings I had made for this journey were a little odd, to say the least.  I had booked to arrive at Burnley Barracks, as it allowed the earliest connection to my train from London, only to find that the same train was going on to Burnley Central and that the Barracks station was a request stop on the line which meant that you had to ask the conductor to let you off there.  Since Central was a better option for the ground, I asked whether there would be a penalty if I stayed on for the extra stop and was assured that I would be fine.  So, with the snow falling heavily, I opted for an extra 2 minutes on the train to save a further 10 minute walk.

As I walked towards the ground, I was amazed to see someone setting up a stall selling Burnley/Watford half-and-half scarves.  Who on earth did he think would buy one?  This was not a game likely to attract a lot of tourists.  When I arrived at the Cricket Club, I was expecting to see some of my party in our usual spot, but the room was empty.  Thankfully, they arrived soon after and we were soon thoroughly enjoying the cask beer and the pie, chips, mushy peas and gravy on offer at Annie’s Kitchen.  Our party grew quickly and there was a lovely surprise when the arrival of the supporters’ coach led to us being joined by the two Janices, who declared that they had finally found somewhere in Burnley that they liked.

Janmaat challenges Arfield

As we got to the turnstiles, we endured the usual search which was made unusually pleasant by the stewards being rather apologetic about the intrusion.

Team news was two changes from the Spurs game with Janmaat and Carrillo coming in for Femenía and Prödl.  Silva had also opted for a change in formation to 4-2-3-1.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Mariappa, Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Cleverley, Doucouré; Carrillo, Pereyra, Richarlison; Deeney.  Burnley’s starting line-up included former Watford loanee, Jack Cork, but the main connection was in the dug-out with former player and manager, Sean Dyche, and his best mate, Ian Woan.

The view from the away end at Burnley is rather delightful.  If there is nothing interesting to see on the pitch, you have the hills to look at which, on this occasion, looked enchanting with their frosting of snow.

Carrillo on the ball

The first chance of the game fell to the visitors as an early corner from Cleverley was touched on by Pereyra to Deeney who nodded wide.  Watford should have opened the scoring when Carrillo played a great ball to Richarlison but the young Brazilian shot just wide of the near post.  The travelling Hornets had great faith in him, though, as they started a chant of “He’ll score in the snow.”  At this point, there was some discussion about the players who were wearing gloves, Carrillo and Richarlison I accepted, but Janmaat is Dutch, he shouldn’t be bothered by a little snow!  Burnley’s first chance came with a shot from Wood which was comfortably gathered by Gomes.  The home side had a wonderful chance to take the lead when they won a free kick in a dangerous position.  Gudmundsson delivered a superb shot over the wall which was met by an equally brilliant save by Gomes to keep the game goalless.  The Icelander had another go, but this time his shot from distance was wide of the near post.  The next Burnley chance came from a long pass upfield that Wood met on the volley, but Gomes had an easy catch.  Watford threatened when a long throw was met by a snapshot from Doucouré which was saved resulting, eventually, in a corner, which came to nothing as Kabasele shot well wide.

Pereyra and Deeney in the snow

The snow was coming down in earnest now, but we were warmed by a lovely passing move from the Hornets that finished with a cross from Pereyra being headed goalwards by Janmaat, unfortunately Pope was able to make the save.  A couple of minutes later, it all went horribly wrong as Zeegelaar slid into a challenge on Defour.  It didn’t look particularly bad from our vantage point, so there was shock among the travelling fans when a red card was brandished.  Due to the dismissal, Silva made the decision to sacrifice Pereyra for Holebas.  The Watford fans were calling for a penalty soon afterwards when Richarlison was knocked down in the box, but nothing was given.  Holebas had a chance to put Watford in the lead as he latched on to a cross from Carrillo, but he powered his shot into the side netting.  Burnley took the lead just before half time as Gudmundsson found Arfield in space and he slotted home.  It was all rather cruel.

At half time there was a lot of complaining about the referee, apart from those who had received messages from friends with a better view who were all of the opinion that the card had been justified.  Whatever the truth of the matter, we were looking forward to a very tough 45 minutes.

Gomes takes a goal kick

Early in the second half, there was an angry exchange between Gomes and the referee. The keeper had taken off his gloves and appeared to be gesturing to his hand, possibly to an injury that he had sustained that had evaded the notice of the referee.  The first chance of the second half came when Richarlison played a square ball to Doucouré who directed the shot wide of the target.  Then Janmaat did well to battle past a couple of defenders into the box, but was tackled and the ball went out for what looked like a corner, but a goal kick was given.  Carrillo had the ball in the box with the goal at his mercy, but he thought too long about the shot and was tackled.  Then, following a couple of blocked shots after a corner, the ball fell to Cleverley on the edge of the box but he fired over the target.  It appeared to be game over just before the hour mark when a ball over the top found Wood who tapped home, but his celebrations were stopped by an offside flag.  Burnley threatened again as a free kick reached Long who shot over the bar.  There was another shout for a Watford penalty as Carrillo collided with a Burnley player in the box, he went down protesting, but it looked like a coming together to me and the referee was right to wave play on.

Kabasele shaping to make a pass

Burnley had the ball in the net again as Watford failed to clear allowing the ball through to Barnes, who was flagged offside although, on this occasion, there was a long discussion between the linesman and referee before he indicated the free kick as opposed to a goal, much to the relief of those in the away end.  Burnley were then awarded a free kick on the edge of the box for what appeared to be a foul on Kabasele.  Thankfully Defour hit it just wide of the target.  Deeney played in Richarlison who was taken down in the box but, with the travelling Hornets again howling for a penalty, the referee indicated a corner.  Watford’s second substitution came with 10 minutes to go as Carrillo made way for Gray who was welcomed back to Turf Moor with boos and chants of “short, greedy b*st*rd.”  It is so lovely to be warmly remembered.  A Watford corner came to nothing as Janmaat headed just over.  Gray had an early chance to anger the home fans further as he ran on to a lovely ball from Richarlison, but Pope arrived first to avert the danger.  Burnley had a great chance to increase their lead but Gomes stretched to pull off a great save to stop Gudmundsson’s shot.  Richarlison was in the wars again as Bardsley sent him flying and was booked for his trouble.  Watford threatened from a free-kick, Holebas delivered a lovely ball into the box, but no Watford player could connect to shoot.  The visitors had a final chance to save a point when they were awarded a free kick in the last minute of added time.  Gomes joined his colleagues in the Burnley box, but Pope plucked the delivery out of the air and the game ended in a narrow defeat for the Hornets.

Mariappa, Cleverley and Janmaat in defensive mode

After the final whistle, both Silva and Gomes had stern words with the referee and, once the players had been applauded off, he attracted the wrath of the away fans, although I don’t think he was flavour of the month for the home fans either after the disallowed ‘goals’.  Sean Dyche again acknowledged the Watford fans on his way towards the tunnel and was rewarded with warm applause.

My eccentric train booking meant that I had a couple of hours to kill in Burnley after the game.  Having been irritated by some goading on our way back to the cricket club, I was thankful that those inside were generally very pleasant and our post-match reflections took place in a convivial atmosphere.  The general feeling among the Watford fans was pure frustration.  Burnley were always going to be difficult opponents, but the game had been shaping up nicely as a contest when Zeegelaar was dismissed.  The ten men competed admirably for the whole of the second half and nobody could have argued it was undeserved if they had gone home with a point.  But I would have loved to see what we could have done with 11 against 11 for 90 minutes.

Holebas waits to take a free kick

The journey home started with a treacherous walk on icy pavements to the station.  We were then treated to a slow running train to Preston, which had us anxiously checking our watches and connection time.  We needn’t have worried as the London train was kept in Preston station to meet a train from Glasgow that was not going any further south.  This also had the knock-on effect of extra stops and an arrival in London after 11pm.  There was an upside, though, as one of the passengers who transferred from the Glasgow train was the lovely James McArdle whose work at the National Theatre I have greatly admired.  He walked past me half a dozen times before I plucked up the courage to ask if he was who I thought he was and, when he answered in the affirmative, tell him how much I enjoyed his work.  The encounter cheered me up no end.

Due to further delays on top of my late booking, it was nearly 1am before I arrived home.  It is a long journey home after a defeat but somehow it doesn’t discourage me and I found myself looking at the route to Huddersfield today (although trains won’t be booked until the TV fixtures are out for April).  We go again at Selhurst Park on Tuesday, another ground that most people dread visiting, but I quite like for the atmosphere and the feel of a ‘proper’ football ground (even if I can’t see much).  I am forgoing my work Christmas party for this match, so am very much hoping that it is worth the sacrifice.

Can They Do It On a Wet Night in Burnley?

Dyche & Mazzarri

Dyche & Mazzarri

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

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

Ighalo waiting for the ball to drop

Ighalo waiting for the ball to drop

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

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

Behrami

Behrami

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

Holebas and Capoue readying for a free kick

Holebas and Capoue readying for a free kick

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

Kenedy makes an appearance

Kenedy makes an appearance

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

Deeney, Pereyra, Behrami and Britos

Deeney, Pereyra, Behrami and Britos

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

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

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

Mexican Waves and Nigerian Goals

Tozser, Layun and the vanishing spray

Tozser, Layun and the vanishing spray

Despite the weather warnings, I was still surprised to see snow on the ground when I reached Watford, having seen none on leaving London.   I’m told there had been quite the snow storm in the morning but, thankfully, by lunchtime, the sun was out and the little snow that had settled was already melting.  In fact, having wrapped myself up for icy conditions, it felt positively mild and I was shedding layers as I walked to the West Herts.

There was much pre-match talk of the horror show at Huddersfield and annoyance that a team with such a wealth of talent could put in such an abject performance.  Team news was that there were three changes from that game with Anya, Paredes and Ighalo coming in for Abdi, Pudil and Vydra.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Angella, Cathcart, Hoban, Anya, Munari, Tözsér, Layún, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney.  I must say that only the inclusion of Ighalo was welcomed.  Certainly, the absence of Abdi was much lamented and there was some discussion of the formation until Layún lined up for kick-off in the midfield three.

Cathcart congratulated on the opening goal

Cathcart congratulated on the opening goal

Watford started brightly and had an early shot on goal as Ighalo connected with a cross from Tözsér but headed wide.  Deeney played a through ball for Anya, but the Scot was pulled back by Solly who picked up a very early card for the offence.  In the next move, Anya broke down the left and found Ighalo, who did well to wriggle past the defender on the byline and get in a cross for Deeney whose shot was blocked by the keeper.  From Tözsér’s corner, Angella’s header was blocked by Etheridge and Munari’s follow-up was headed off the line.  Charlton had a moment’s respite when Vetokele broke forward and passed to Gudmundsson whose shot was blocked by Gomes.  When you have a number of early chances and fail to score there is that horrible feeling in the back of your mind that it is not going to be your day.  Thankfully, that feeling was quickly dispelled as Watford made the breakthrough in the 14th minute.  From a corner, the ball came out to Layún whose cross was knocked on by Ighalo to Cathcart who fired past Etheridge.  Layún was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that was blocked by the keeper.

Deeney, Paredes and Ighalo following the second goal

Deeney, Paredes and Ighalo following the second goal

Watford had to make an early substitution as an injury forced Munari off to be replaced by Pudil.  The change meant that Anya joined Layún and Tozser in the central midfield three.  This was interesting, if rather scary.  Watford’s second goal came soon after as a lovely ball over the top from Angella reached Deeney who shrugged off the attentions of Bikey before burying the ball.  Soon after, Etheridge did well to tip a shot from Ighalo around the post.  Then Paredes found Ighalo in the box, the Nigerian had both the ball and his feet taken away from him, but appeals for a penalty were waved away.  On the half hour, a Tözsér corner was headed just over the bar by Angella.  Watford continued to attack as Paredes broke down the right and unleashed a shot that flew just wide of the near post.  Charlton briefly threatened as Harriott found Gudmundsson in a dangerous position but, thankfully, he couldn’t control the ball and it went out for a goal kick.  Pudil played the ball in to Ighalo, who was in the clear, but shot straight at the keeper.  Watford got their third goal just before half-time as Layún found Paredes on the right, he advanced to the byline before cutting the ball back to Ighalo who knocked it past Etheridge.  The goal was no more than Ighalo deserved after his great first half showing and he ran to the corner flag in front of the 1881 and celebrated with Harry Hornet.

Ighalo celebrates with Harry Hornet

Ighalo celebrates with Harry Hornet

At half-time, Pete Fincham was on the pitch making an impassioned speech about Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), a group of genetic skin conditions which cause the skin to blister and tear at the slightest touch.  His two gorgeous elder children, Grace and Freddie, are both sufferers, and it was lovely to see Freddie on the pitch with his Dad and enjoying sliding along the sidelines afterwards.  The club dedicated Saturday’s match to help raise awareness of EB and the work that the charity DEBRA undertakes to care for those affected as well as their investment into researching potential treatments.  If you missed the bucket collection at Vicarage Road and would like to donate to this worthy cause, please visit http://www.debra.org.uk/donate/intro

Watford started the second half on the attack as a lovely passing move finished with Anya playing the ball back to Deeney whose shot was pushed wide of the far post.  For the visitors, Gudmundsson tried to find Cousins in the box, but Gomes was first to the ball.

Celebrating Ighalo's second goal

Celebrating Ighalo’s second goal

Just before the hour, Ighalo scored his second and Watford’s fourth heading home a Tözsér corner.  A rare attack from Charlton finished with a looping shot straight at Gomes.  At this point, Harry Hornet started a Mexican wave which made its way around the stadium twice before petering out.  Welcome to Vicarage Road, Miguel Layún.  Another ball into the Watford box was headed wide by Bikey under a challenge from Angella.  At the other end, a shot from Tözsér flew just over the bar.  Deeney then exchanged passes with Ighalo before curling a lovely shot that Etheridge did really well to push clear.  Ighalo wasn’t to get his hat trick as he was replaced by Vydra on 74 minutes.  He left the field to a standing ovation.  Deeney skipped past a couple of defenders, but his final ball was too far in front of Vydra.  Then Watford had a bizarre chance as Anya dinked the ball goalwards, it hit a defender and appeared to be going in with Etheridge stranded, but was spinning and bounced off the line and out.

Lining up a killer free-kick

Lining up a killer free-kick

With 9 minutes remaining, Anya made way for George Byers, who was making his first team debut.  The youngster was soon in the thick of the action and just as my sister smilingly noted his maiden foul in Championship football, the 1881 started a chant of “knocked down by a twelve year old”.  Watford were still looking to increase their lead as a chip from Deeney was gathered by the keeper.  Then Pudil hit a shot from the left which flew wide of the far post.  In time added on, Bikey was booked for a foul on Vydra.  Layún and Tözsér were both on hand to take the free-kick, but it was the Hungarian who stepped up and blasted it into the far corner for Watford’s fifth goal of the afternoon.

What a difference a week makes.  The players did a lap of the pitch taking very well deserved plaudits from all sides of the ground.  Layun’s home debut had been rather good and his inter-passing with Paredes was a big factor in the Ecuadorian’s best performance for some time.  George Byers had a tidy debut that bodes well for his future.  Ighalo thoroughly deserved his man of the match award although a special mention should also go to Tözsér for an assured performance in the centre capped by a goal and an assist.  It has to be said that Charlton were appalling and gave us the space to play, but we took full advantage.  We now need to start standing up to teams that look to nullify our midfield.  If we can only do that, the rest of the season will be a lot of fun.

Robbed at the Valley

Oscar Garcia's first appearance on the touchline as Watford manager

Oscar Garcia’s first appearance on the touchline as Watford manager

As I headed for South London on Saturday, the heroics of the Huddersfield game where our 10 men won out against the odds with the help of the crowd seemed a lifetime ago.  In the meantime, we had an international break and a change of manager, so it felt like we were starting the season over again.  As I’ve said previously, I liked Beppe as a man.  But it had been obvious at the end of last season that there was something seriously wrong on the playing side of the club.  Despite the early results this season, that impression had continued, so the replacement of the manager was an obvious move and it was now Oscar Garcia’s chance to work with our talented squad.  A lack of decent watering holes in the vicinity of Charlton’s ground meant pre-match drinks were had in Borough Market which, in turn, meant a lovely walk along the South Bank of the Thames to build up a thirst.

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

Given the injuries and suspensions, there were no real surprises in Garcia’s first team selection.  He had to do some early tweaking, though, as Andrews picked up a knock in the warm up so was replaced at the last minute by McGugan.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Angella, Ekstrand, Hoban, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Abdi, Anya, Deeney and Vydra in a 3-5-2 formation.  After the sartorial elegance of Sannino on the sidelines, Garcia took his place in the dugout wearing a tracksuit.

The first action of the game saw the home side take the lead, Cousins went on a run and passed to Vetokele in the box, Gomes came out and took him down.  The referee had no choice but to point to the penalty spot and show Gomes a yellow card.  Buyens made no mistake with the spot kick sending the keeper the wrong way.

Ekstrand and Vetokele both eyeing the ball

Ekstrand and Vetokele both eyeing the ball

Watford tried to strike back immediately as Pudil played a long pass down the left to Deeney who turned and curled a shot just wide of the far post.  We had another chance with a free kick but McGugan hit it wide of the near post.  In the 10th minute, the Charlton fans started a minute’s applause for former player David Whyte who died at a tragically young age this week, in this they were joined by many of the Watford fans.  Watford launched a great break that started with Anya playing a cross field ball to Pudil, the ball came back to him and he crossed for McGugan whose header flew wide.  At this point, Garcia instructed Pudil to drop back and changed the shape to 4-4-2.  There was an announcement over the tannoy asking the Watford fans to sit down which was drowned out as Abdi played a cross that was dummied by Vydra and ran through to Deeney whose shot was heading for the bottom corner until Henderson got down to save it.

Waiting for a corner

Waiting for a corner

Deeney then brought the ball down and played it out to Pudil who found McGugan who really should have done better with his shot which flew high and wide.  The first substitution was for the home side as Gudmundsson, who had been a doubt for the game, was replaced by Wilson.  On the half hour, Watford had a really good shout for a penalty as Tözsér played Deeney in, he got goal side of Ben Haim who tripped him in the box, but the referee waved play on.  Abdi played in Anya who went on a run before whipping in a cross that was tipped over by Henderson.  From the corner, the ball came out to Anya whose shot from distance was pushed around the post.  An attempted break by Vetokele was stopped by Abdi who was booked for his trouble.  Then Anya did very well to keep the ball under a challenge, advanced and, after some lovely passing, the ball reached Vydra who thrashed it wide.  Hoban was the next Watford player to see yellow for a foul on Tucudean.  He was followed soon after by Ekstrand as Vetokele was again stopped from breaking forward.  We reached half-time a goal down despite having had the lion’s share of the possession, playing some lovely football and having had a good shout for a penalty.  That has been a familiar position this season.

Tozser taking a corner

Tozser taking a corner

At the start of the half-time break, the only Watford substitute warming up was Paredes, so it was no surprise when he replaced Hoban at the beginning of the second period.  Charlton had the first chance of the second half as Vetokele had a shot deflected over.  Anya was fouled by Wiggins who was booked for the offence.  Anya then found Deeney who played a lovely ball through to Vydra who was running into the box, unfortunately the ball bounced off the Czech’s foot and ran through to Henderson.  A cross from Pudil reached Deeney, he chested the ball down to Vydra who returned it to Deeney but his shot was wide of the near post.  Abdi played a lovely ball to Anya who ran along the byline and put in a cross that was knocked out for a corner.  Then Tözsér took a low free-kick in a dangerous position that deflected off the wall for a corner.  McGugan put in a cross that was too high for the leap of Deeney.  Just before the hour, Charlton had only their second attack of the half as a couple of crossfield passes brought the ball to Vetokele who headed wide when he should have done better.  Garcia made another change as Lloyd Dyer replaced Vydra, who had got into some great positions but seemed reluctant to shoot.

McGugan and Tozser line up a free kick

McGugan and Tozser line up a free kick

McGugan should have done better as Deeney nodded the ball down to him and he skyed his shot.  Gomes was called into action for the first time since the penalty, pushing out a cross from Moussa and knocking both Angella and Vetokele flying at the same time.  Fortunately they were both fit to continue after a visit from the physios.  Anya found McGugan whose shot from distance was well over.  There was a silly spell of handbags as Ben Haim objected to a robust, but fair looking, tackle from Deeney with Bikey also getting involved.  This was immediately followed by Buyens stopping a run from Anya by elbowing the Scot to the floor and making his way into the referee’s book.  I thought we were finally going to get the equalizer that we deserved as Tözsér crossed to Dyer at the far post, but his shot hit the side netting.  There was then a goalmouth scramble, Dyer’s shot was greeted by cheers and then groans from the away end as it bounced out, Deeney’s follow-up was celebrated before we saw the linesman’s flag.  I have to admit that the details of that spell are a mystery to me as I couldn’t see over the heads in front of me so I was reacting to the mood in the crowd.

Paredes in action

Paredes in action

With 15 minutes remaining, there was a change for each team as Ighalo replaced McGugan and Harriott replaced former Watford loanee, Jackson.  A Watford corner was floated into Henderson’s hands.  Then Deeney and Ighalo combined to feed Dyer whose shot was pushed wide by the keeper.  Angella headed a Tözsér cross wide of the target.  Dyer had another great chance, but his shot was blocked by Henderson.  Harriott broke forward for the home side, but Gomes was equal to his shot.  Charlton broke again and it was looking worrying for the visitors until Paredes strolled over and swept up rather delightfully.  Ighalo had a shot from inside the box but it flew over the bar.  At this point, the Charlton fans could be heard singing The Great Escape.  In time added on it all got a bit frantic.  Abdi had a shot blocked, then Tözsér played Anya in, but his shot was over the bar.  It just wasn’t our day and Garcia’s first game finished in a defeat that the performance didn’t deserve.

There were a lot of complaints from Watford fans on the way out that I really didn’t understand.  While we’d wasted some possession and our set pieces were very poor, we had completely dominated the game, had the majority of the shots on goal and really should have won the game.  This was a far better footballing performance than we had against Huddersfield and streets ahead of what we saw on our last away trip, but most Watford fans in the queue for the train were complaining while the Charlton fans were commenting on what a good team Watford were and that they’d got away with that one.  I fear that the expectations among the Watford fans are sky high and it is making them impatient.  It is a long season and we’ve made a terrific start so let’s just enjoy that.