Tag Archives: John O’Shea

The Youngsters Shine Against the Royals

So good to see Chalobah back from injury

I was rather pleased when the draw for the second round of the League Cup gave us a trip to Reading as it is almost a home game for me.  Even more so when the game was scheduled for Wednesday evening as I was already planning to work from home due to a dental check-up in Maidenhead in the afternoon.  I always have a chat about football with my dentist, who is really an Arsenal fan but used to be a Reading Season Ticket holder who gave up going because the team were hopeless.  We chatted about the game and he warned that they may cause us problems.  I assured him that, given our recent history in this cup, I was taking nothing for granted.  Once he gave me the all clear, I was on my way to Reading where I was in the pre-match pub far too early, although not as early as the chap in the Watford shirt who was already sitting in the corner.  I bought myself a lovely real cider and then found a little booth to hide away in and wait for the rest of my party who arrived in due course.

On arrival at the ground, the bag search was being undertaken by a woman whose main concern seemed to be to find some goodies that could be shared with her.  It always makes the day a bit nicer when the stewards have a sense of humour.  As our pre-match pub is excellent for beer but doesn’t serve food, I had a chicken balti pie inside the ground that I have to say was very good indeed.  While waiting for kick-off, Sweet Caroline was played which apparently is a Reading favourite but made me a little homesick for Fenway Park.

Prodl lines up a free kick

Team news was that Gracia had made 11 changes with debuts for Navarro, Masina, Wilmot and Quina and the return of Chalobah, so the starting line-up was Gomes; Navarro, Mariappa, Prödl, Masina; Femenía, Chalobah, Wilmot, Quina, Sema; Success.  I have to say that looked like a pretty decent team.  Reading had also made 8 changes, but the main Watford connection with the opposition was in the dug out in the person of Sir Nigel Gibbs.

The first chance of the game came from a Navarro free kick from distance that was an easy save for Walker in the Reading goal.  Early in the game there was a switch in formation to three at the back with Wilmot in the middle and Navarro and Masina playing as wing backs.  Watford’s next chance also came from a free kick from Chalobah that just cleared the bar.  From a corner, Femenía played the ball back into the box where it was parried and fell to Mariappa whose shot was blocked before Wilmot tried a cheeky back heel that was cleared.  Young Wilmot was having an impressive start and he was soon in action at the other end of the pitch cutting out a dangerous ball into the box.  The first chance for the home side came in the 23rd minute as Watford failed to clear a cross into their box allowing McNulty to volley over the bar.  Then Watford launched a great break, Success got to the byline and put in a low cross, but nobody was there to take advantage.  Soon after, a corner from Sema reached Femenía who played it in to Success whose shot missed the target.  He wasn’t to make the same mistake a minute later as Masina played the ball back to him, he took one touch and then finished past Walker.  Reading had a chance to break back from a free kick which was launched over the wall, but Gomes dropped to make an easy catch.  So Watford reached half time a goal to the good and looking uncharacteristically comfortable.

Celebrating Quina’s magnificent strike

Reading made a change at the break bringing Sims on for Swift.  The second half started with a decent chance for the Hornets.  After a fast break, Navarro crossed for Success who headed just over the bar.  Soon after, the Watford striker had another chance to increase the lead, this time from a Masina cross, but he nodded wide.  The travelling Hornets were in good voice and a lovely bit of skill from Quina was greeted with an appreciative chorus of “sexy football”.  There was a decent chance to get a second as Chalobah played a lovely ball for Femenía to run on to, but the shot was blocked by the Reading keeper.  The second Watford goal was a thing of beauty, the ball was cleared to Quina outside the box, he advanced a couple of steps and then took the advice of the bloke standing behind me who was yelling ‘hit it’ and powered a rocket into the top corner.  It was quite a strike. There were changes for both sides soon after as Baldock and former Watford youngster Yiadom came on for O’Shea and Richards for the home side.  For the Hornets, Sema made way for Okaka.  The Watford substitute had an immediate chance to get on the score sheet as he got on the end of a looping cross from Femenía, but his glancing header was wide of the target.  There was a rare chance for the home side as a ball dropped to Kelly inside the box, but he hit it over the bar.  Quina’s enjoyable debut came to an end as he was replaced by Doucouré.  He looked shattered as he left to field to an ovation from the travelling Hornets.  Watford were still pushing to extend their lead as a shot from Navarro was pushed over the bar.  At the other end McNulty lobbed Gomes, but Mariappa was back to clear the ball.  Reading threatened again with a decent shot from distance from Méïté, but Gomes was down to make the save.  Watford’s final change saw Hughes come on for Chalobah, it was so great to see him back in action and managing almost 90 minutes.  Reading had one last chance to reduce the deficit from a free kick, but the shot was easily caught by Gomes.

Gomes back in goal

So, in the end, it was a convincing and comfortable win for the Hornets.  The second string put in a very good performance which gives a pleasing indication of the strength of the squad.  Of the new guys, Wilmot was the most impressive, looking very assured in the middle of the back three.  The other youngster, Quina, made some lovely touches and his goal was a worldie.  These two look to have very promising futures.  It was also a delight to see Chalobah back on the pitch and putting in a great shift for almost the entire 90 minutes.  He was beaming as he responded to the chants of “Chalobah, my lord” after the final whistle.

Also, fair play to the 2514 fans who travelled to the game.  It is not a long journey but, given our recent record in this competition, they would have travelled more in hope than expectation, so thoroughly deserved that win.

We have Spurs next in both the league and the cup.  I don’t expect anything from either game, but if this team continues to perform as they have so far this season, we are in for a rather enjoyable season.

Back to Winning Ways

Kaboul

Despite the poor showings on the pitch in recent games, a week off for the international break meant that I travelled to Watford with renewed enthusiasm for seeing a match.  When I arrived at the West Herts, the external door was open, so the early arrivals had piled into the lobby waiting for the inner door to open, which was baffling as it was an absolutely gorgeous day, so I loitered in the sunshine for a little longer.  This meant that I saw a couple of roadie friends who wished me a very enjoyable pre-match as the pleasure from what would follow could not be guaranteed.

My low confidence regarding the game had not been helped by the news that there were fitness doubts over Deeney and Prödl and, sure enough, Mazzarri made four changes with Holebas, Doucouré, Amrabat and Okaka replacing Prödl, Janmaat, Behrami and Deeney.   So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kaboul, Britos, Holebas; Doucouré, Cleverley, Capoue; Amrabat, Okaka and Niang.

Capoue on the ball

It was certainly good to see Amrabat back in the starting XI and he made an immediate impact with a dangerous cross towards Niang that was headed out for a corner.  As the sun shone at Vicarage Road, I couldn’t help but note that Sunderland’s away kit had a touch of Real Madrid about it, which would have appealed to Kate who, on a visit from Saudi, was back in her seat in the Rookery.  Gomes was forced to make the first save of the game as he pushed a shot from Januzaj around the post for a corner.  Watford had a couple of great chances after Capoue broke forward and found Niang by way of Doucouré, the shot was parried by Pickford, the ball returned to Doucouré and Pickford had to pull off another smart save to keep the game goalless.  Okaka was the next to threaten the Sunderland goal, going on a lovely jinking run beating a couple of defenders before shooting, but Pickford was down to block the shot.  Doucouré had the next chance as a corner was headed out to him, but his shot from distance flew wide.  Okaka should have done better when he met a cross from Capoue, but his header flew over the bar.  Just before the half hour, Niang went on a wonderful forward run but, after doing all the hard work his shot was straight at a defender.  As the play returned to the other end of the pitch, he just ambled around.  I wondered whether he had an injury, but it soon became clear that he just needed a sit down after his exertions.

Holebas and Cleverley prepare for a corner

A lovely passing move from the Hornets ended with Capoue exchanging passes with Okaka before curling a shot just wide of the far post.  Late in the half, there was a break in the game to allow Kaboul to be treated for an injury after he stretched and appeared to pull his hamstring.  The players gathered on the touchline for refreshments and words of encouragement, most of which seemed to be coming from Troy Deeney.  Unfortunately Kaboul was unable to continue so was replaced by Janmaat who came on to a chorus of boos from the Sunderland fans.  Sunderland had a rare chance with a Januzaj shot that took a deflection for a corner which led to a break by Amrabat who played a lovely cross field ball to Niang whose shot was pushed wide by Pickford.  Cleverley’s corner was headed goalwards by Cathcart, but Pickford again made the save.  As the clock reached 45 minutes, there was a half chance for the visitors after Okaka failed to clear allowing the ball to fall to Koné, thankfully his shot was wide of the far post.  The final chance of the half fell to the home side with a shot from Britos that was straight at Pickford.

Holebas takes a corner

The half time whistle went and, for the first time in a while, I felt throroughly entertained.  The Hornets had put in an attacking performance and were unlucky not to be ahead, although a lot of that had to do with the very impressive Jordan Pickford in the Sunderland goal.  During the interval, I caught up with Saudi Kate who expressed surprise at the level of impatience in the crowd around her during what was a decent performance from the Hornets.  It was also gratifying to see a report on the big screen featuring Stacey and Troy Deeney talking about their new charitable foundation’s project at Garston Manor School.  So lovely to see them making a difference in the local community.

At the start of the second half, Success was running down the touchline and the guy next to me commented that he was starting his 20 minute warm-up.  The visitors’ hearts must have sank as Defoe went down needing treatment.  It felt disloyal, but I was actually pleased when he got to his feet and was fit to continue.  The first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets but Niang’s cross flew just wide of the far post.  Success made an appearance rather earlier than usual as he came on after 53 minutes to replace Amrabat, who looked disappointed to be substituted.  You can only think that Mazzarri was saving him for Tuesday.

Celebrating Britos’s goal

Watford’s next chance fell to Holebas who cut inside and shot wide.  His reaction was typical Holebas, he looked furious at someone, but who??  A Cleverley corner was punched only as far as Success, whose shot was deflected wide.  Watford took the lead from the subsequent corner as Okaka’s header was deflected on to the crossbar, Cathcart headed the ball towards the far post where Britos rose above the defence to head home, finally beating Pickford.  My only thought as the game restarted was, please don’t defend for 30 minutes.  Watford should have increased their lead soon after as Okaka played a lovely through ball to Success who looked certain to score, but Pickford saved with his feet.  The ball found its way to Doucouré but his shot was also blocked.  The visitors had a rare chance when Borini tried a shot from the edge of the area, but Gomes was equal to it.  They had a better chance soon after when Ndong cut the ball back to Januzaj but his shock was weak and straight at the Watford keeper.  Holebas had a wonderful chance to increase the lead with a lovely shot that just took a deflection and cleared the crossbar.  Having heard boos from the away end for a former Newcastle player, it was a bit surprising when their own player, Januzaj, left the field to even louder boos when he was replaced by Khazri.

Britos, Cathcart and Okaka gathering for a corner

The first booking of the game went to Jones for hauling Success back when he was about to escape.  The Nigerian had the next chance of the game, holding off Jones to make space for the shot, but it was a disappointing effort, straight at Pickford.  Watford were almost made to regret not making the most of their chances as Borini hit a shot from the edge of the area but Gomes made a decent save to preserve the lead.  Mazzarri’s final change was to bring Zuñiga on for Niang, who had a decent game although his end product was disappointing.  I must admit that I was disappointed that Deeney wasn’t given a few minutes to extend his uninterrupted run of games.  Okaka had a chance to make the points safe as he met a cross from Janmaat with a header but, yet again, Pickford made the save.  In the last minute of added time, Cleverley fouled Khazri in a dangerous position, and I’m sure every Watford fan was holding their breath as the Sunderland man prepared for the free kick.  I think I celebrated as if we’d scored when the shot hit the wall and the final whistle was blown to confirm a precious, and very well deserved, three points for the Hornets.

Holebas lining up a free kick

As the players did their lap of honour, Cleverley and Cathcart were walking together and the Rookery sang Tom’s name in acknowledgement of his new contract.  I couldn’t help feeling sad that Cathcart, who has been consistently good, does not have a song, so his contribution appears to be unappreciated by the crowd.  It really isn’t.  The last player to pass the Rookery was Gomes, who was in super-animated mode which elicited a positive reaction from the crowd.  You just have to love him.

On the way out of the ground I heard someone say, “I think I’ll watch Match of the Day tonight,” which summed the last few week up perfectly.  It was a much better performance than of late.  Many players who have been substandard in recent games put in a much improved showing.  Of note was Capoue, who has attracted ire from many in my group, who had his best game in ages.  Niang was impressive, if disappointing in front of goal.  Doucouré put in a very good performance, Okaka led the line well and it was great to see Amrabat back, he certainly adds something.

So I will go into Tuesday’s game against West Brom in a much better frame of mind.  Another win or two and we can relax and look forward to taking up our recently renewed season ticket seats for another year of Premier League football.

Lucky Black Cats

Shark!

Shark!

I have missed the last three games due to an appointment in the Pacific diving on WW II wrecks.  The holiday was an experience of a lifetime with incredible wrecks, coral, tropical fish and sharks.  But there was still time to check up on what was happening with Watford and there was a twinge of regret when I saw the result of the Everton game.  Although I must admit that, in my jet-lagged state, I would have appreciated an easier trip than Sunderland for the first game on my return.

It was an early start for the journey to Sunderland and when I arrived at Kings Cross it was still dark and quite foggy.  The fog continued for most of the journey, but the weather in Sunderland was clear and also rather mild, which was in stark contrast to our last visit on which we were greeted with snow.  Our party were meeting in Newcastle for pre-match drinks which has the advantage of being a beautiful city and allowing us to get a seat in a cracking pub.  When we arrived at the Stadium of Light, there was some confusion regarding the location of our turnstile as we searched for 73-74 and found that when we reached 62, the next turnstile was number 1.  A question to a steward alerted us to the fact that there were other turnstile entrances on the opposite side.  After entering the ground, we had the trek up the steps with the amusing facts on the landings which give you a chance to catch your breath as you ascend to the gods.  The only positive thing that can be said about the away vantage point is that it isn’t as far from the pitch as it is in Newcastle.

There's only one Bradley Lowery

There’s only one Bradley Lowery

Team news was that Mazzarri had made four changes from the midweek trip to Manchester with Kaboul, Behrami, Zúñiga and Deeney coming in for Janmaat, Guedioura, Pereyra and Sinclair.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Amrabat, Behrami, Capoue, Zúñiga; Deeney and Ighalo.  When Pantilimon’s name was announced on the substitutes’ bench, the guy on the tannoy welcomed him back and there was applause from the home fans, which was a nice touch.

The Hornets had a wonderful chance in the second minute as a Capoue corner reached Amrabat on the edge of the area, his tremendous volley required a smart save from Pickford to keep it out.  If that had gone in, it would have been a very different afternoon.  In the fifth minute, there was applause and chants of “There’s only one Bradley Lowery” as a flag was unfurled in the home end in support of the young Sunderland fan who is terminally ill with neuroblastoma.  The support given to this little boy by the football community has been very moving and it was lovely to see a message of support from the Watford players pre-match as well as the Watford fans enthusiastically joining in with the applause and the chants.

Capoue lines up a free kick

Capoue lines up a free kick

As attention returned to events on the pitch, Holebas played a lovely through ball to Deeney who beat a couple of defenders before trying to cut the ball back to Ighalo, but his pass was poor and was cleared.  Ighalo had a better chance soon after as he received a cross from Holebas, he tried to flick it into the goal, but it flew past the far post.  Ighalo then did well to beat a defender on the byline, before he was fouled.  The free kick from Holebas was excellent but, unfortunately, the header from Britos header was poor and flew wide.  From another free kick, Prodl’s header was straight at Pickford.  That was the Austrian’s last involvement in the game as he could not continue due to an injury picked up earlier in the game.  He was replaced by Kabasele.  There were two bookings in quick succession, first Januzaj for pulling Behrami to the ground.  Then the same two players clashed again, on this occasion, the Watford man bundled his opponent over and was also cautioned.  Sunderland’s best chance of the half came in time added on as van Aanholt went on a run into the box and took a shot from a narrow angle that Gomes put out for a corner.

The wonderful Wilf Rostron

The wonderful Wilf Rostron

It was disappointing to reach half time with the score still goalless as Sunderland had been terrible and Watford had had enough decent chances to have been two or more goals ahead at the break.  To cheer me up, the half time draw was made by Watford legend Wilf Rostron.  It was lovely to be in his vicinity, but I can’t say that I could have picked him out from our vantage point.

There was a disastrous start to the second half for the Hornets as the home side took the lead when Januzaj broke forward, found Defoe who crossed for van Aanholt who was initially tackled by Kabasele, but the ball broke back to him and he finished past Gomes.  Watford fell apart for a period after the goal.  Walter made a change before the hour as he replaced Zúñiga with Success much to the disappointment of the youngster behind me who spent most of the second half bemoaning how utterly useless Ighalo was (‘What has he ever done for us …. apart from last season.”)  Soon after the substitution, Amrabat had another decent chance from a Capoue corner but again sent his volley over the bar.  At the other end Anichebe had a shot from the edge of the area that was just wide of the far post.

Deeney and Holebas discuss a free kick

Deeney and Holebas discuss a free kick

Deeney should have done better when he met a cross from Amrabat but his header flew wide.  Mazzarri’s final substitution was to replace Kaboul with Janmaat.  This was greeted with loud boos from the home fans which could have been for Kaboul who had left Sunderland in the Summer, but appeared to be for Janmaat for his time at Newcastle.  As Watford pushed for an equalizer, Success played the ball back to Holebas whose shot was blocked, leading to a corner which was headed goalwards by Denayer, Ighalo got a touch but it was straight at Pickford.  A great run by Success came to nothing as his cross was blocked.  The resultant corner was punched clear but fell to Janmaat who powered a shot from the edge of the box which was saved by Pickford.  Soon after Ighalo had a similar shot but, again, Pickford made the stop.  The Hornets had one final chance to rescue a point as Holebas curled a free kick just past the top corner, but it wasn’t to be and the visitors left the Stadium of Light with a defeat.

At the end of the game, I have to say that it was a performance that I was reluctant to applaud.  On reflection, that was a bit churlish.  We had played well in the first half and, if we had finished one of the chances that we’d had I doubt that Sunderland would have come back.  The second half had been disappointing, but we had still had the majority of the chances and a bit of luck or a lack of concentration from Pickford would have meant at least a point from the game.  Still we remain in the middle of the Premier League table so there is no need for the panic that seems to be breaking out among a certain section of the fan base.

To all of you who read my reports, I wish you a very happy Christmas.

Goodbye Señor Flores and Thank-you

Deeney apologises to girl in the Rookery

Deeney apologises to girl in the Rookery

At the start of the season, I doubt that any Watford fan would have believed that if we came into the last game of the season with nothing to play for, it would be because we had already secured safety.  This should have been a reason for celebration.  But the excitement of the first half of the season has been contrasted with a rather dull second half.  It seemed that, once we hit 37 points, the players switched off.  Despite that, Flores made few changes and often played players out of position, although I would argue that he chose his best team as, when alternatives were drafted in, they rarely added anything (apart from the odd Berghuis cameo).  It has to be said that when the transfer window came and went with no competition brought in for Ighalo and Deeney, and an embarrassment of riches in central midfield, the second half of the season was rather inevitable.  But the sad consequence of this was that, after stories emerged before the semi-final casting the future of Flores into question, it was finally announced on Friday that he would be leaving the club at the end of the season.  Despite the fact that this announcement was expected and that I was still annoyed after the non-performance at Norwich, this news upset me greatly.  Pre match discussions indicated a split in opinion among the fans regarding the departure of our head coach.  However everyone wished Flores well and wanted to give him a good send off.

There was some idle speculation that Flores would go for broke in the last game, but I found it rather reassuring that he stuck with his usual suspects.  He had made three changes from Norwich with Prödl, Aké and Guedioura in for Nyom, Anya and Suárez and was playing Cathcart at right back.  So, the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Prödl, Britos, Cathcart, Jurado, Watson, Guedioura, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo.

When I arrived at the ground, my sister told me that Deeney had been in the crowd near them.  A ball that he had kicked in the warm-up had hit a young girl so immediately he came into the stand to make sure she was OK and give her a shirt.  A really lovely thing to do.

Cathcart challenged

Cathcart challenged

Pre-match there were 1881 banners for Quique, Gino Pozzo and Troy Deeney, but I still don’t know which one was over my head.  The crowd were enthusiastically chanting for Flores, which was very pleasing.

There was a wonderful move early in the game involving Deeney, Ighalo and Abdi which finished with Almen shooting just wide of the far post.  Soon after Jurado found Ighalo who just missed the target.  Abdi threatened again, evading defenders while dribbling along the top of the box before curling a shot wide.  From a corner, Prödl’s header was blocked, the ball broke to Abdi but, again, the shot was blocked.  Jurado then tried his luck with a shot from distance that was caught by Pickford in the Sunderland goal.  Sunderland’s first venture into the Watford box came on the half hour and was nearly a disaster for the Hornets as a cross from Watmore was met by Britos who turned it over the bar when it looked as though he may have threatened Gomes in goal.  Ighalo received a ball from Abdi before executing a trademark scoop but, sadly, he shot wide of the far post.  Abdi had a shot blocked before Ake’s follow-up was saved by Pickford.  There were shouts for a penalty as Ighalo was wrestled in the box, but nothing was given.

Deeney on the ball

Deeney on the ball

As we reached the last 10 minutes of the first half, Sunderland had their first real chance of the game as Rodwell shot just wide of the far post.  The visitors took the lead a couple of minutes later as Prödl slipped allowing Lens to shoot, Gomes pulled off a decent save, but the ball wasn’t cleared and Lens was able to cross for Rodwell to tap in at the far post.  It seemed unfair for the Hornets to go behind following Sunderland’s first real shot of the game and it nearly got worse a couple of minutes later as Watmore latched on to a through ball from N’Doye and finished under Gomes but, thankfully the linesman had raised the flag for offside.  At this point the Sunderland fans were chanting “Leicester City, we’re coming for you.”  We seemed to want to put ourselves in trouble as Jurado gave the ball away and N’Doye went on a run but he was stopped by a great tackle from Prödl.  There were boos at half time, which was harsh as Watford had dominated all but the last 10 minutes of the half.

At half time, there was a very emotional presentation as Gina Van Dort, who survived the Tunisia terrorist attack in which her husband, Chris Dyer, was killed, made an appearance on the pitch.  Her words were read out by Tim.  She said that this was her first game of the season and she was determined to make it as she had attended a game every season since she and Chris became season ticket holders.  This was their wedding anniversary and they have a brick in the lower GT stand that commemorates the date.  She appreciated all the support that had been given to her since the attack.  She then said a few words of thanks herself and was greeted with a tremendous ovation for her bravery.

Congratulating Proedl

Congratulating Proedl

Flores made a trademark substitution at half time bringing Paredes on for Cathcart.  The Hornets equalized three minutes into the half as a corner from Guedioura was headed home by Prödl.  A cracking strike just in front of us, which cheered us up no end.  Sadly the good mood in the home stands was short lived as Deeney was flattened following a corner, play was waved on and the counter attack finished with Watmore finding Lens who finished past Gomes to restore the lead for the visitors.  Watford came close to getting an equaliser soon after as Aké unleashed a shot that had to be tipped to safety by Pickford.  From the corner Britos headed just over the bar.  Then Jurado found himself in space but his shot was awful.  The Spaniard turned provider as he cut the ball back to Guedioura who shot over.  There was another scare for the Hornets as a free-kick was headed home by N’Doye but, again, it was disallowed for offside.  Watford’s fortunes improved when Paredes crossed for Deeney, he headed the ball back to Jurado who was sandwiched between two defenders and the referee pointed to the spot.  Having learned my lesson at West Ham, I put my camera away as Deeney stepped up and was delighted to see him send Pickford the wrong way as he buried the ball to the keeper’s left.

Ighalo congratulates Deeney after the penalty

Ighalo congratulates Deeney after the penalty

Watford’s second substitution saw Abdi make way for Suárez.  There was a very promising move by the Hornets as Jurado intercepted and played a lovely through ball for Deeney who was tripped on the edge of the box.  Kevin Friend consulted his linesman and waved play on.  A terrible decision.  While there was a break in play due to an injury to Yedlin, Troy went to pick up a water bottle from the side of the pitch and seemed to be having a discussion with the lino about recent decisions.  The Rookery helpfully sang ‘Knock him out.’  Troy laughed and shook his head.  After play restarted, Jurado released Aké whose cross was too close to the keeper.  The only booking of the game went to Guedioura for a clumsy challenge on Honeyman.  With 10 minutes to go, Flores brought Amrabat on for Jurado, who left the field to cheers after putting in a good performance.  Suárez had a chance to take the lead for the Hornets, but his shot was well over.  Ighalo battled well on one flank to keep the ball before crossing for Guedioura who also beat a couple of players before putting in a really disappointing shot.  Sunderland had a good chance to regain the lead, but Gomes came off his line to stop Watmore.  Watford looked the most likely to steal the three points in the final minutes but were unable to test the keeper.  The best chance came when Suárez found Ighalo in the middle of the box, but his first touch was poor, and when he turned and shot there was a Sunderland defender in the way.  There was a final chance when Watson found Guedioura, but his volley was wild and way off target.

Goodbye and Thank you, Senor Flores

Goodbye and Thank you, Senor Flores

The final whistle went signalling a draw in an entertaining game.  It would have been nice to send Flores off with a win, but the draw meant that we retained 13th position.  When we had our prediction competition at the start of the season, my entry was 15th, but that was me being ultra-positive.  We waited behind to cheer the players on their lap of honour.  For a few weeks now, people have been asking whether Flores was waving goodbye at the end of the game.  He does that every week but, on this occasion, he was waving goodbye, which saddened me greatly.  But you couldn’t help wondering who else had been seen for the last time in a Watford shirt.  Certainly, as Deeney videoed the crowd singing his name, I couldn’t help but wonder if he would be on his way.  The final word at Vicarage Road this season went to Troy who said, “This is all about these guys <the fans> and the gaffer.”  That sums it up for me.  This has been an incredible season of ups and downs.  There are moments I will never forget with the home games against Liverpool and West Ham and the FA Cup tie at Arsenal being high on that list.  It is very sad that the season has ended on such a low note, but I am still eagerly writing the pre-season games into my calendar.  When are the fixtures out??!!

 

A Snowy Day in Sunderland

A distraction on the stairs to the away end

A distraction on the stairs to the away end

This game was the first that I looked for when the fixture list came out as it would be my only opportunity to visit a new ground in the league.  Most of my away travelling was done in the late 80s and in the last 10 years, so I have not previously had an opportunity to go to the Stadium of Light.  My abiding memory of a game away to Sunderland is of sitting in a hotel room in San Diego looking at a stunning view of the Pacific with tears running down my face as I wished I was in Sunderland with my sister for the FA Cup game with the twice taken Tommy Smith penalty.

I had booked a ridiculously early train to Sunderland via Newcastle and thought I would probably be alone, but that was far from the case as I saw a number of yellow clad people at Kings Cross.  I had arranged to meet the Hebden/Bradford massive for pre-match drinks in Newcastle, but arrived too early for the pub of choice to be open so I went for a walk into town until the cold rain drove me into an alternative hostelry for an early lunch.  At opening time, I headed across the road to join the queue (of 3) to get in and grab a comfy berth.  Needless to say, it was considerably quieter than when Newcastle are at home, but all the locals were friendly and wished us a lovely afternoon and to leave Sunderland with 3 points.  The pub had a proper record player on the bar on which they started playing some Christmas tunes, but soon got bored and reverted to some 60s classics, which made me very happy indeed.

The pre-match huddle

The pre-match huddle

The trip up to Newcastle had been in rain but, as we left the pub to get the metro to Sunderland, thick snowflakes were falling and there was some questioning of whether the game could be in jeopardy, the conclusion being that undersoil heating meant that was unlikely.  After entering the Stadium of Light we found several flights of stairs to an away end that is not quite as high as Newcastle’s but not far off.  The trip up was made easier by the entertainment provided by a string of football related quotes.  For Watford interest, there were references to GT, Ronnie Rosenthal and Jason Lee.  It made me smile through the exhaustion.

Team news was that there was one change from the win against Norwich as Abdi came in for Anya.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.

 

Celebrating Ighalo's goal

Celebrating Ighalo’s goal

Watford had the perfect start to the game, taking the lead after 4 minutes.  In real time, I thought that Ighalo had missed Nyom’s cross and the keeper had turned it in, but I was doing Odion a grave disservice as the ball had been poked goalwards and what I saw was it going through the goalie’s legs.  Whoever had provided the final touch, it was Ighalo’s battling presence that led to the goal.  Happily there was some early bouncing in the away end.  Watford continued in this positive manner as a cross from Aké dropped to Abdi, whose shot was blocked for a corner.  I am still shaking my head at why the next passage of play didn’t result in a goal.  Ighalo got into the box and beat O’Shea before hitting a shot that was blocked, his follow-up appeared to be going in but was cleared off the line, then Abdi tried a shot that was blocked, finally Jurado’s shot hit the post.  There were heads in hands in the away end.  We had started the game very well.  Apart from the goal, the lads had been playing the ball around in a very composed manner.  It was looking very impressive, but why weren’t we two up?!  The home side had their first shot on goal in the 14th minute, but it didn’t trouble Gomes as Jones wellied the ball high and wide.  Their next chance came soon after and was much more dangerous.  Deeney lost the ball to M’Vila who played a lovely ball to Borini, but his shot flew wide of the far post.  Sunderland made an early tactical substitution replacing Yedlin with Rodwell.

Watson and Capoue all smiles as our midfield generals

Watson and Capoue all smiles as our midfield generals

Watford’s impressive play continued with a lovely cross-field passing move which resulted in Nyom having the ball in space on the right, he started to advance upfield but got bored and launched a shot from a mile out that was well over the target.  I love you, Allan, but Why???  Ighalo nicked the ball in the midfield and passed to Abdi who crossed for Capoue whose curling shot required a good save from Pantilimon.  Then Abdi lost the ball in midfield, but he and Watson were soon back to snuff out the danger.  Another dangerous break by Sunderland was briefly interrupted as Aké was back to block the cross for a corner.  Gomes came to meet the corner, but his punch reached Borini who shot well wide.  The home side had a great chance to equalize just before half time as a M’Vila free-kick appeared to be flying in when Gomes made a really good save to keep it out.  I was puzzled at half-time to see that Sunderland had no shots on target, until I found out that the ball had been flicked on by Britos.  The last action of the half was another chance for the Hornets.  Jurado appeared to be in a good position to shoot, but passed to Deeney who needed time to position himself and shot wide.

At half time, Watford were well worth the lead but there was frustration that we hadn’t got a second goal.

Heurelho Gomes kept us in the game

Heurelho Gomes kept us in the game

The first action of the second half was a shot from van Aanholt that flew wide of the target.  Watford also had an early chance as Ighalo got on the end of a cross from Nyom to head goalwards, Pantilimon made the save, but the flag was up anyway.  The positive part of that move was seeing Ighalo beat his man, as he had spent a lot of the first half being frustrated by the attentions of the Sunderland players.  At the other end a Cathcart clearance only went as far as Fletcher, but the Irishman redeemed himself getting into position to block the shot.  Gomes was then on hand to punch a shot from Rodwell.   There was another substitution for Sunderland as former Watford loanee, Adam Johnson, came on to replace Borini.  He was booed by many in the away end and then received sustained abuse relating to his upcoming trial.  The only yellow card of the game went to Rodwell who was booked for a nasty tackle on Watson.  Just after the hour mark, the home side’s decision to take a free kick quickly backfired as the ball was passed straight to Ighalo but the Nigerian was knocked over before he could do any harm and the referee, who I credit with letting the game flow, didn’t see a foul.

Ake on the ball

Ake on the ball

Rodwell got the ball on the edge of the Watford box but his shot was high and wide.  The home side took a very poor corner and the ball broke to Ighalo, who went haring up field but the break came to nothing as he played a poor pass towards Nyom.  Watford’s first substitution saw Guedioura come on to replace Abdi.  The nerves in the away end became even more frayed as Allardyce made his final substitution replacing Fletcher with Defoe.  He almost made an immediate impact as he latched on to a through ball from Johnson and fired it past Gomes.  Thankfully the linesman raised his flag and the goal was disallowed.  Flores made a second substitution replacing Jurado with Anya.  New graduate, Watmore, came close to scoring an equalizer with a shot that curled just wide.  Watford broke forward again as Aké released Ighalo, but a defender was snapping at his heels as he ran into the box, which was enough to put him off his shot so Pantilimon was able to block.  At the other end, Gomes was called in to action pulling off a great diving save to keep out a shot from Defoe.

Jurado on the attack

Jurado on the attack

With 10 minutes remaining, Capoue released Ighalo but Coates got back to block his shot.  Despite the early goal, it was looking like it just wasn’t Odion’s day.  At the other end, a cross from van Aanholt was touched just wide by Defoe to the great relief of those in the upper tier behind the goal.  Gomes then added to the jangling nerves by delaying picking up a ball into the box, he didn’t see the Sunderland player approaching and ended up having to grab it.  Watford nearly killed the game off as Anya played the ball back to Guedioura who hit a lovely curling shot that was pushed clear.  There was another assault on the Watford goal that finished with Johnson shooting wide of the far post.  Then Guedioura advanced down the wing and played the ball back to Capoue who moved it on to Deeney whose shot was deflected for a corner.  As we approached time added on, it baffled me to see so many Sunderland fans leaving.  I was far from confident that we would win the game.  There was a final scramble in the Watford box that finished with a block from Gomes and then Watson making a strong clearance.  The final attack of the game came from the visitors as Deeney released Ighalo, who appeared to be a mile offside, but we were not to have another late goal as the shot was saved.  When the final whistle went, it was clear that the relief on the pitch matched that in the stands.

On the way out of the ground most of the conversation was about how Deeney and Ighalo had both had off days.  There had been plenty of positives about the performance but the two of them seemed to be muscled out of the game.  That was followed by the reflection that successful teams are those who win when they are not at their best.  The third stage was the grins as we reflected that we were seventh in the table and had already exceeded our points total from 99/00 after 15 games.  When my friend showed me the table at the end of the game, my initial reaction was that the table at 5pm on Saturday can be misleading.  I am writing this after the games on Sunday and we are still seventh and go into the Liverpool game above them in the table (and above Everton, West Ham and Chelsea).  Wow, just wow!!  We now go into a difficult run of games, but we can go into them with some hope of points and, if the worst happens, we have a decent cushion to tide us over.  Who knew the Premier League could be fun!