Tag Archives: Jordan Ibe

The Cherries Steal a Point at the Death

The 1881 encouraging the crowd to sing

On Wednesday evening was an At Our Place event as fans were invited to question Javi Gracia, Tom Cleverley and Scott Duxbury. The evening started with an introduction to the diversity work of FSF by Anwar Uddin. He was a very engaging speaker, a former footballer who Watford once tried to sign. West Ham wouldn’t let him go at the time and, when they did release him, he found that Lloyd Doyley had come on leaps and bounds and he was no longer needed. He was the first British player of Asian origin and is still a rarity in that area and works with the community to find out why. But he also works in all areas of diversity including setting up a group for older supporters at West Ham called Any Old Irons, you had to love him for that. He was joined by Sam McLeod, the reporting officer for Kick it Out, who told us about the reporting mechanism when you hear abuse at the ground. After a short break, the Watford men took the stage. Javi is very engaging and did well in dealing with questions (with a little help from his translator). Tom Cleverley is a sweetheart and spoke positively about being back at Watford. Scott Duxbury talked about the business and how Gino Pozzo is in it for the long-term. It was a fabulous evening, fair play to the club for putting it on. They even gave us food and a free drink at the bar.

On Saturday morning, I was in Watford early in order to attend the Watford Community Trust exhibition at the museum, which was small, but perfectly formed. I particularly liked the Terry Challis painting of the two Robs (Smith and Clarke).

Gathering for a corner

Then it was on to the West Herts where our usual crew were treated to a visit from Debs and Jane over from Sydney on a flying visit. It was lovely to catch up as we all cheered the demise of Palace against Liverpool (sorry Ray Lew).

Team news was two changes from the trip to Liverpool with Janmaat and Hughes in for Britos and Richarlison. After his nightmare at Anfield, it wasn’t a huge surprise to find that Britos had called in sick. More of a surprise was that Richarlison was finally being given the rest that many fans have been calling for. So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Mariappa, Prödl, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Femenía, Hughes, Pereyra; Deeney. Nathan Aké started for the visitors, I know that I am not the only Watford fan who is still very disappointed that he didn’t sign for us instead.

Watford started the game brightly enough, but the visitors had the first chance from a free kick that was taken short to Stanislas whose cross was met by Aké whose header hit the crossbar. Bournemouth had another decent chance to take an early lead as a terrific shot from Stanislas was met by Karnezis who, at full stretch, managed to push the ball to safety.

Congratulating Femenia on his goal

Watford’s first goal attempt came after some good work from Hughes, who found Deeney whose shot from the edge of the box was blocked. Watford took the lead after 13 minutes as a corner was taken short to Holebas who crossed for Femenía whose volley took a deflection before beating Begović. Bournemouth had a chance to break back almost immediately as a free kick from Stansilas was headed over the bar by Aké, although the lino seemed to have the flag up for offside. There was a scare for the Hornets as Mariappa lost out to King, who was stopped by a terrific tackle from Prödl before he could get a shot in. Watford threatened again as Femenía went on a lovely run to meet a ball over the top, he found Hughes whose shot was sadly blocked by the legs of Deeney diverting it wide of the target. Holebas was the next to try his luck with a free kick that rebounded off the wall, his follow-up lob was easily gathered by Begović. Bournemouth then had a corner that was met by the head of Cook whose downward header was blocked. It was end to end action as Femenía found Deeney whose acrobatic shot was blocked, the ball went out to Janmaat whose low shot was easily saved. At the other end, a shot from Stanislas was stopped by a brilliant save from Karnezis, but the rebound was pushed to safety by a hand from Holebas as Ibe tried to turn it in and the referee pointed to the spot. King stepped up and sent Karnezis the wrong way to grab the equalizer for the visitors. Bournemouth were forced to make a substitution at the end of the half due to an injury to Stanislas who was replaced by Pugh.

So we went into half time with honours even after a competitive and entertaining half of football.

Deeney congratulates Pereyra on his goal

The second half started with a chance for the Hornets, but Femenía’s shot was blocked. Watford regained the lead in the 49th minute after Deeney battled past a defender and found Hughes who laid the ball back to Pereyra whose shot appeared to be in slow motion as it left Begović wrong footed and found the net. The Argentine looked to be on course for a second goal when he received a pass from Hughes, but the space in front of him was soon closed down. At the other end, Ibe had a shot from the edge of the area, but it was easily gathered by Karnezis. Watford made their first substitution replacing Prödl, who was on a yellow card, with Cathcart, whose return from injury was greeted with a very appreciative roar from the crowd. The visitors also made a change as Defoe came on for Ibe. Gracia’s second substitution was to bring Okaka on to replace Hughes, who had an excellent game. Back to matters on the pitch, a header from Defoe appeared to clear the bar, but Karnezis was adjudged to have helped it over and a corner was given which, thankfully, came to nothing. At the other end, Deeney raced to get on the end of a long ball, but Begović was out to clear the danger. With 10 minutes remaining, each side made their final change with Femenía making way for Richarlison and Surman on for Wilson.

Cathcart challenging as Okaka looks on

Watford won a corner and the delivery from Holebas was headed down by Deeney but was claimed by Begović. Deeney then tried a shot from the edge of the area but, again, Begović was behind it. In time added on, there was what appeared to be a coming together between Okaka and Cook as they challenged for a header. As the Bournemouth man was lying prostrate on the turf, we assumed that the referee had stopped the game due to the possibility of a head injury, but he gave a free kick, booked Okaka and Cook was miraculously restored to full fitness. The free kick was helped on by Aké to Defoe and the visitors were able to snatch a point at the death. A very frustrating end to the match and the final whistle went to boos from the Watford fans, which were directed at the referee and the opposition. Troy’s usual lap of the ground was oddly truncated and the final two people on the pitch were Aké and (a newly blond) Capoue having a lengthy chat before each returned to their dressing room.

Despite the disappointment of conceding such a late equaliser, a draw was probably a fair result and it had been a terrifically entertaining game. Hughes and Femenía both put in superb performances and highlighted Duxbury’s statement at the Fans’ Forum that, when our injured players returned, our squad would be of very high quality. It was lovely to see Aké back, just sad that he was wearing the wrong coloured shirt as he was terrific at both ends of the pitch.

We welcome Burnley next Saturday and the return of Sean Dyche. It will be another tough game but, after Saturday’s performance, I am very much looking forward to it.

A Brilliant Brazilian beats Bournemouth

On Friday this week I took the day off work and spent the afternoon/evening at Glyndebourne for La Traviata, which was absolutely delightful.  As I was staying overnight in Brighton before the game on Saturday, I had to make sure that I packed my posh frock and high heels alongside my Watford shirt and that I didn’t pack anything that would cause problems at the security check at the turnstiles.

I left Brighton early on Saturday to take the train to Bournemouth via Southampton.  I had a naïve expectation of a picturesque journey along the South coast, but the view out of the window was sadly free of sea views instead dominated by housing estates.  On arrival into Bournemouth, I bumped into Richard and we made our way to the pre-match pub, which is one of our favourites.  As we settled down to enjoy our pints, we were puzzled to see a number of St Albans City fans in the pub until they explained that they were playing Poole Town and there were no decent pubs in that area.

Man of the match Richarlison

Due to the time it took us to get through the security line at the stadium last season, we left in good time, just as Mike arrived, having taken 4 hours to drive from South London.  When we arrived at the ground, the line was long and I did wonder how I would get through with the luggage from my overnight stay.  My first offering for inspection was a tote bag that contained my opera handbag.  This caused confusion and required a number of labels to be attached before it was considered safe.  Then I presented my rucksack which I opened up to reveal toiletries.  There was a look of horror. “Do you have any cans?  Any sprays.” “No.”  That was the search over, so she didn’t get to admire my posh frock and kitten heels.

Team news was that Silva had made four changes with Femenía, Prödl and Richarlison replacing the injured trio of Janmaat, Kaboul and Pereyra.  Gray was preferred to Okaka up front, which seemed a bit harsh after his tremendous performance against Liverpool.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Doucouré, Chalobah; Amrabat, Cleverley, Richarlison; Gray.

Richarlison, Holebas and Britos waiting for the ball to drop

For a few seasons now, the travelling fans at Bournemouth have been uncharacteristically unpleasant and there was an early attempt to enforce that reputation as a bloke along the row from me started screaming at the female lino to get back in the kitchen.  She was the other end of the pitch from us so wouldn’t have heard anyway, but it wound me up.  I’m afraid that my response to this abuse was neither reasoned nor nuanced, but it was to the point.  On the pitch the first chance fell to the visitors as Cleverley turned and shot but it was blocked.   Bournemouth had an excellent chance to open the scoring as King advanced and found Fraser in the box, his shot was parried by Gomes, the ball fell to Afobe, but Britos was on hand to block the shot and send it over the bar.  It went quiet for a while after that, until Amrabat crossed for Chalobah who directed his header just wide of the near post.  The first booking was earned by Britos for a rather desperate tackle on Arter.  On the half hour, Afobe latched on to a long ball from Cook and advanced to shoot but Gomes pushed the ball to safety.  At the other end Gray cut the ball back to Chalobah who turned to shoot, but the strike was weak and easily gathered by Begović.  Richarlison impressed with a lovely move to beat a defender before cutting back to Doucouré whose shot was deflected over.  Holebas swung the corner in and Richarlison met it but nodded over the bar.  Bournemouth’s reputation for diving wasn’t done any favours as Afobe collapsed in the box with his hands to his face and no Watford player anywhere near.  Play continued.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead at the end of the half as a cross-field ball from Cleverley found its way to Richarlison, he beat a defender on the byline before playing the ball back to Gray who blazed over when he should have done better.

Richarlison at the bottom of a pile of celebrating players

So we reached half time goalless after an end to end half which, judging by the reactions of my friends, I judged rather harshly as it wasn’t as good as the first half against Liverpool.  The Watford fans were very loud throughout the half, although the repertoire was dominated by a chant that was new to me “Oo-oo-oo Abdoulaye Doucouré <repeat> never gives the ball away” to the tune of Earth Wind and Fire’s “September”.  It is very catchy indeed.

The home side started the second half brightly as Cook met a corner from Ibe with a header that was on target, but Gomes was down to save.  At the other end, a Holebas cross was headed on by a Bournemouth player to Amrabat whose shot was terrible, flying across the box and out for a throw.  There was a baffling moment as Amrabat pulled the ball back to Chalobah who, while in a great position to shoot, opted to leave it for the man behind him, Harry Arter.  Television pictures showed that the Bournemouth man had called for the ball.  All the Watford fans who have been complaining on social media about this unsportsmanlike behaviour have clearly forgotten how funny it was when the loathsome Dai Thomas did the same thing at Kenilworth Road.  Chalobah had a golden chance to put his team in the lead soon after as he robbed a player in midfield and found himself one on one with Begović, but he had too long think about the shot and his strike was blocked by the keeper.  He had a second bite as the ball found its way back to him, but this time he curled the shot just wide of the target.

Andre Gray

The referee was in action then, booking Grey for dissent after he was fouled by Cook.  There was time for Pugh and Defoe to come on in place of Afobe and Ibe before the Bournemouth man was finally booked for the foul.  There was a lovely move for the Hornets as Cleverley and Amrabat exchanged passes on the overlap before crossing for Richarlison on the other flank, he played the ball back to Chalobah who blasted his shot over the bar.  The youngster’s day went from bad to worse as he was then booked for a foul on King.  Watford were severely testing the Bournemouth defence and came close from a Cleverley corner which Richarlison met with a shot that was blocked on the line.  The Brazilian was a constant threat and had two decent chances after receiving a long ball from Holebas, his first shot was blocked, the second saved.  But he wasn’t to be denied and the GT chant had to be delayed as Gray crossed and Richarlison slid in to attempt to make contact. as he was on the ground with a defender and Begović in close proximity, it seemed that the chance had gone, but he stuck out his foot and prodded the ball past the prone keeper to give Watford a well deserved lead.  The celebrations were passionate and a large number of fans decided to pile down to the front to celebrate at pitch side.  The problem with that is that the disabled fans are located in the first row and, in the ensuing melee, were either trampled or found themselves no longer able to see the pitch due to the fans who remained standing in front of them.  As in previous years, it got ugly at this point with fans arguing among themselves and with stewards, and the police got involved.  It was all so unnecessary.

Celebrating Capoue’s goal

Back to the action on the pitch and Richarlison had a chance to increase the lead as he met a cross from Holebas with a header that flew just over the bar.  The visitors created another opportunity as Amrabat played the ball over the top for Gray but, as on so many other occasions this afternoon, Aké was on hand to stop the attack.  Silva made his first substitution with 10 minutes to go, as Capoue replaced the goal scorer, who had been suffering from cramp.  Richarlison was given a well-deserved ovation as he left the field.  The home side had a chance to draw level as Defoe flicked the ball on to King who headed just over the bar, much to the relief of the travelling Hornets.  Silva made a second change, bringing Kabasele on for Amrabat, whose place on the wing was taken by Femenía.  Watford made the points safe with four minutes to go, a shot from Gray was saved, but the clearance was only as far as Capoue, who chested it down before hitting a powerful shot past Begović.  One of those belters that causes an explosion of a celebration in the crowd.  Watford had one final chance to increase their lead as Holebas tried a shot from outside the area, but Begović was equal to it.  Silva made one last change, bringing Watson on for Chalobah for the six minutes of stoppage time, but there was no further goal action and, after the misfortune of recent visits to Boscombe, it was great to see the Hornets leave with a deserved win.

The players came over to celebrate with the travelling fans, who were loud and proud, as they had been for most of the game, and shirts were tossed into the crowd.  There was a lovely moment as the players were heading towards the tunnel.  Chalobah was one of the last to leave the field.  He had a very frustrating afternoon and was trudging away when the away end burst into a rousing chorus of “Chalobah, my lord.”  The youngster turned to face the fans with a beaming smile on his face.  It was good to know that we sent him home happy (and that was before he met Alice!).

It took a while for the away crowd to vacate the stand, the stewards were pleading with us to leave so that they could go home.  We headed back to the pub where we were joined by the victorious St Albans fans celebrating their position at the top of the National League South after a 100% start to their season.  We congratulated them and then returned to the reflections on our deserved win and impressive performance.  It had been another entertaining game.  Richarlison’s first start had built on his impressive debut as substitute the previous week.  He was certainly the man of the match.  The goal was typical of his hard work for the whole game, during which he never gave up.  At times last season the players appeared only to want to score perfect goals so to see a young Brazilian happy to score the scrappiest of strikes was a lovely contrast.  Andre Gray had an assist for the goal and had worked really hard, but was up against Aké who was tremendous and gave him very little space.  But the most pleasing aspect was the teamwork.  This looks like a group of lads who are playing for each other and their manager.  After the misery of the end of last season, that is just wonderful to see and bodes well for a terrific season.  The future certainly looks golden.

 

You Don’t Get Cramp at this Club

img_8679After the emotion of last week as we tried to come to terms with the loss of Graham Taylor, it felt a little odd to be attending a game of football where all that mattered was the result.  I must admit that I had downloaded last week’s Football Focus to my tablet for the train journey, so that I could watch the montage of his interviews that started the programme for one last time before it disappeared from iplayer.

On my arrival in Bournemouth, it was a short walk to the lovely pub that has become our local.  Most in there had Bournemouth shirts on, so it was gratifying when one of the locals came over and wished us luck.  He said that he was happy to see opposition fans there as it is a friendly pub.  As we chatted, it was clear that none of us was particularly confident about our prospects for the afternoon.  The reasons for that were fairly clear.  They had conceded three goals in their last three matches, and we have struggled horribly in front of goal.  On this afternoon, something had to give.

We thought that we had left plenty of time to get to the ground, but when we arrived we found a massive queue to get through the turnstiles, mostly because of the strict security.  As we discussed the possibility of missing kick-off, we consoled ourselves that we were unlikely to miss a Watford goal, although we could miss a sending off!  When I reached the stewards, my bag was searched a lot less thoroughly than I was.  I don’t know why, but Bournemouth always seems to attract the most unpleasant away crowd of the season and the rest of us suffer as a consequence.  So, having arrived at the ground with more than a quarter of an hour to kick-off, we finally entered through the turnstiles at 14:58.  My irritation was tempered by the sign outside the turnstiles welcoming us that showed a photo of Graham Taylor alongside their condolences.  This was replicated on the television screens inside, which was a really lovely touch.

Deeney and Okaka waiting for the ball

Deeney and Okaka waiting for the ball

Team news was just one change from the Middlesbrough game with Cleverley replacing the injured Behrami.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Kabasele, Cleverley, Doucouré, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney and Okaka.

The home side started very brightly and fashioned an early chance as Wilshere chipped a ball into the box which was met with a looping header from Fraser that had to be tipped over the bar by Gomes.  Callum Wilson has gained a reputation among Watford fans for simulation, so there were jeers from the away support when he went down in the box in the 16th minute.  Since he appeared to be in an offside position and there was minimal contact, the referee was having none of it.  Wilshere, who had made a superb start to the game, was the next to threaten the Watford goal as he unleashed a shot from distance, but Gomes was behind it and did well to parry.  Against the run of play, it was the visitors who took the lead.  A corner from Holebas was headed back across goal by Britos to Kabasele, who nodded it past Boruc in the Bournemouth goal.  After the excessively thorough search that I had undergone, it was extremely irritating to see three smoke bombs thrown on to the pitch.  This led to a gathering of stewards in front of our stand, one of whom was filming the crowd, although you couldn’t help thinking that he was a bit late to the show.

Deeney in a discussion with the ref which wasn't quite as confrontational as it appears

Deeney in a discussion with the ref which wasn’t quite as confrontational as it appears

The home side had been dominant before the goal, but Watford took the initiative at this point and had a great chance to increase the lead when Cleverley tried a shot from distance that flew just wide of the far post.  The Hornets very nearly gifted their hosts an equalizer as Prödl gave the ball away to Stanislas who advanced and struck a shot that bounced off Britos and was looping into the net until Gomes pulled off a decent save to keep it out.

So the Hornets reached half time a goal to the good and we were all feeling positive as it had been a much better performance than we have seen of late.

Sadly, the hosts drew level early in the second half as Smith beat a couple of defenders before hitting a cross through a crowd of defenders in the box where it was met with a tap in from King.  As has often been the case of late, it was a poor goal to give away.  Holebas tried to make amends at the other end as he cut inside before hitting a lovely shot that was turned around the post by Boruc.  Bournemouth threatened again as Wilshere found Fraser on the left of the box from where he hit a curling shot that was tipped around the post by Gomes.

Celebrating Deeney's header

Celebrating Deeney’s header

The first substitution came just after the hour mark, when Okaka made way for Janmaat.  At this point, Deeney took the forward position and Janmaat replaced him on the wing.  The change immediately paid dividends as, from a Cleverley corner, Deeney rose above the Bournemouth defence to head home.  As with the first Watford goal, it was totally against the run of play, but none of the Watford fans were complaining.  Despite having scored both goals from corners, Watford next tried a short corner routine as Holebas passed to Cleverley, which would have been fine had the loan man whipped a cross into the box, but he passed it back to Holebas who was soon dispossessed and had to foul the escaping Wilshere, so earning his tenth yellow card of the season, meaning he will be suspended for the next two games.  In the 72nd minute the travelling Hornets burst into applause and chants of “One Graham Taylor”.  Eddie Howe’s first substitutions came with 15 minutes to go as he replaced King and Stanislas with Ibe and Afobe.  There was a delay in play as the ball was hit into the away stand and some idiots there indulged in a bit of time wasting, first refusing to return the ball and then, when it was finally thrown towards the pitch, it was caught by another fan who threw it back into the crowd.

Waiting for a corner to be delivered

Waiting for a corner to be delivered

Bournemouth’s final substitution saw Pugh replace Fraser.  Just when it looked as though Watford would hold on for a rare away win, Kabasele went down with what appeared to be cramp, Surman played a through ball into the area that Kabasele should have been covering and Afobe ran on to it and finished past Gomes into the far corner.  GT would have been livid.  I certainly was.  After a spell of treatment, Kabasele was replaced by Cathcart and, a couple of minutes later, Ighalo came on for Doucouré.  The home side appeared to have snatched a last minute winner as a punched ball was headed in off the crossbar.  I thought that Gomes had punched the ball but, much to my relief, it had been Bournemouth’s Cook, so the goal was disallowed and the game finished with honours even.  A draw was probably a fair result and I would certainly have taken a point before the game, but, having lost the lead twice during the match, it felt like 2 points dropped.

While the defensive mistakes are still a cause for concern, this was a decent performance.  I was particularly pleased to see what Tom Cleverley added to the team.  When his return was mooted, I had seen some comments from Watford fans suggesting that if he couldn’t get into the Everton team, then we shouldn’t consider him.  I am glad that we did.  He was a joy to watch, acting as a midfield fulcrum with an assured touch, playing passes that allowed us to build momentum.  If you add to that his deliveries from set pieces, I think he will prove to be a great addition to the squad.  With his arrival and the likes of Janmaat returning from injury, I feel pretty confident for the rest of the season.

An Entertaining Draw with the Cherries

Awaiting a ball into the box

Awaiting a ball into the box

As we waited for the doors to open at the West Herts, we were thoroughly entertained by a fellow fan who knew Stuart Attwell’s father.  Apparently he had been a referee and encouraged his boys down that route rather than actually playing the game, which all sounded rather sad and explains a lot.  There was also a meeting of the Burnley survivors who reflected on their Monday evening.  It has to be said that those of us who gathered in the Cricket Club concluded that it had been a cracking evening until the football started.  However there was a lot of sympathy for Don, who had taken the coach, so he didn’t have the pre-match fun and wasn’t home until after 4am.  That certainly convinced me that spending a night in Burnley was the right decision.

In the run up to the match, there had been concern about widespread injuries to our defenders.  Also, after the Burnley defeat, a lot of fans were calling for Ighalo and Amrabat to be dropped, so Mazzarri’s selection was hotly anticipated.  It wasn’t a great surprise to hear that the only two changes were those enforced by injuries to Cathcart and Britos who made way for Zúñiga and Kaboul who, thankfully, was fit to play.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Zúñiga, Kaboul, Prödl, Holebas; Amrabat, Behrami, Capoue; Pereyra; Deeney and Ighalo.  Former loanee, Nathan Aké, was named on the Bournemouth bench and was given a very warm reception by the Watford fans.

Holebas takes a corner

Holebas takes a corner

There has been a lot of discussion recently about Watford wearing their change kit at away games on many occasions when there is no clash with the home team.  Those unhappy with this cite the fact that we have a very distinctive kit and lose some advantage when not playing in yellow, so it was interesting to note that the “Cherries” walked out at Vicarage road wearing blue.

Watford started the game well and had a very early chance as Deeney flicked the ball on to Ighalo whose instinctive shot flew wide of the far post.  There was then a bizarre incident as Prödl was knocked flying and punched the ball as he went down.  When Mike Dean blew the whistle the Watford fans were expecting a free kick to go our way, instead Bournemouth were awarded the free kick and Prödl was cautioned for deliberate hand ball.  Mazzarri was furious at the decision although, if the referee didn’t believe that there had been a foul, then deliberate hand ball was the correct decision.  It could have cost Watford dearly as Gomes had to be smart to tip the free kick clear.  Bournemouth’s first caution was earned by Wilshere for a cynical foul on Zúñiga.

Capoue takes a free kick

Capoue takes a free kick

Watford had another chance to open the scoring as Ighalo laid the ball back to Holebas, but the shot was well wide of the target.  I was rather surprised soon afterwards to see sarcastic celebrations from the Bournemouth fans on winning a free kick.  Given that the Rookery had witnessed a disproportionate amount of soft fouls being given against their team, seemingly every time one of the Bournemouth players dropped to the ground, it was a perfect example of how two sets of fans can see games completely differently.  Bournemouth took the lead just after the half hour as the Watford defence failed to stop a break down the right, Stanislas crossed and Wilson headed past Gomes, who will likely be disappointed as it appeared that he could have stopped the shot.  It was (another) frustrating goal to concede, made all the more annoying as Wilson decided to goad the crowd in the Rookery by way of celebration.  Watford had a great chance to equalize as Ighalo exchanged passes with Capoue, then did some good work holding the ball up before passing to Amrabat whose shot was saved by Boruc, the ball rebounded to the Dutchman but Boruc also saved the follow-up.  At the break in play, Smith was booked for a nasty foul on Holebas in the build-up.  There was a scare for the Hornets as Prödl allowed Wilson to win the ball, he passed back to Surman whose shot was, thankfully, well over the bar.  The visitors earned another caution, this time for Francis who had taken Capoue out.  Watford had a further chance to equalize in time added on at the end of the half, but Kaboul’s header was gathered by Boruc.

Deeney and Amrabat after the first goal

Deeney and Amrabat after the first goal

It had been a frustrating half, but the Watford performance was a considerable improvement on the Burnley game and I felt that we were unlucky to be behind.  Interestingly, Amrabat who had been berated on Monday and whose inclusion was rather unpopular was playing very well.

Watford made an excellent start to the second half as a free kick from Holebas was met with a header from Prödl that flew well wide of the target.  That was followed by a corner that Prödl headed on to Deeney who attempted a spectacular acrobatic kick that flew over the bar.  The Hornets were level soon after as Amrabat received a throw in before brilliantly beating a defender and skipping along the byline then cutting the ball back to Deeney who beat Boruc to score his 99th goal for the Hornets.  It was a gorgeous goal.  The visitors had a great chance to regain the lead almost immediately so it was a relief to see Wilshere’s shot hit the post.  Just before the hour, Isaac Success replaced Ighalo.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead as Amrabat crossed for Deeney whose header was saved on the line by Boruc.

Watson joins in the applause for Success

Watson joins in the applause for Success

We were then treated to another strange decision from Mike Dean as two Bournemouth players collided allowing Amrabat to come away with the ball, but the referee deemed the Dutchman to have committed a foul and awarded the visitors a free kick.  Eddie Howe made his first substitution bringing Josh King on for Jordan Ibe.  The substitute made an immediate impact, coming away with the ball after a mistake from Holebas, and going on a run before unleashing a shot from distance that took a deflection to beat Gomes.  It was very disappointing to be behind again when we’d made such a good start to the half.  But we weren’t behind for long.  A foul on Success led to a free-kick which was beautifully delivered by Holebas for the Nigerian to nod home.  Watford fans were celebrating taking the lead soon after as a terrific through ball from Amrabat found Pereyra who crossed for Deeney to head home.  I didn’t see the ball cross the line, but Mike Dean appeared to be signalling a goal.  Sadly, it soon became apparent that he had actually given a free kick for a foul by Deeney on Boruc.  Watford had another great chance soon after as a lovely move finished with a cross from Amrabat that flew a fraction in front of the head of Success.  At the other end Pereyra lost out to Smith, he crossed for Wilshere who hit the post for the second time and was substituted almost immediately, making way for Gosling.

Deeney and Amrabat challenging in the box

Deeney and Amrabat challenging in the box

Mazzarri’s second substitution saw Guedioura on for Capoue.  Given Bournemouth’s talent for winning penalties, my nerves were on edge when Smith was fouled on the edge of the area.  Thankfully, only a free kick was awarded, although Stanislas did manage to hit the crossbar.  Watford’s last chance to get a winner came as Pereyra played a wonderful crossfield ball to Success who controlled and found space before unleashing a shot which Boruc saved.  The final whistle went to appreciative cheers.

In the end a draw was probably a fair result.  The game had been pretty even and great entertainment, particularly in the second half.  While there was a lot of discussion of Mike Dean’s decision-making after the game, irritating as it was, it did not influence the result.  It has to be said that media darlings, Bournemouth, don’t get any more likeable on repeat viewing.  We seem to come away from every game angry at their gamesmanship, but they never get called on it.  Still, there were many positives to take from the game.  Amrabat, when allowed to concentrate on attacking, was a joy to behold.  He was a constant menace and his contribution to the first goal was a thing of beauty.  Success was wonderful to watch when he came on.  He is strong with a brilliant first touch, although I did comment to my neighbour that I wondered if he would be able to maintain that level of performance for ninety minutes.  Post-match comments from Mazzarri suggest that he is sceptical about that and has concerns about the lad’s defensive contributions.  But that is to be expected for a youngster and he certainly appears to be a very exciting prospect.

So we go into the international break in mid table and looking forward to the rest of the season.  Even if our next fixture does mean a Sunday lunchtime in Middlesbrough.

 

A Better Performance at Anfield

Justice for the 96

Justice for the 96

Liverpool’s progression to the semi-final of the Europa League meant that our trip to Anfield was delayed to Sunday.  Thankfully, I had bought refundable train tickets, so was able to reschedule with no hassle.  It also meant that I had a Saturday afternoon free to see The Caretaker at the Old Vic which I had missed (slept through) after watching the U18s lose in their play-off a couple of weeks before.  The play was marvellous, Timothy Spall absolutely brilliant, and it made a lovely start to the weekend.

The train journey north seemed overly leisurely with a number of stops at intermediate stations to remain on schedule, so I was happy finally to arrive in Liverpool.  Even better to find that the pre-match pub was pleasantly empty, so I joined the advance party and was soon happily sat with good beer, a nice lunch and wonderful company.

The build-up to this match was oddly devoid of discussions of the home game against Liverpool, which seemed like a distant memory.  That was an amazing game and, sadly, our league form since has been rather poor, meaning that the achievements of this season have been overshadowed by the recent disappointments.

Team news was that Flores had made one change from the Villa game, bringing Prödl in for Paredes, meaning that Cathcart moved to the right back position.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Prödl, Britos, Cathcart, Jurado, Watson, Suarez, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo.  The inclusion of three centre backs did not go down well with many in the pre-match pub, but I’d trust Cathcart anywhere across the back.

The Kop pre-game

The Kop pre-game

We got on the bus to the ground with some friendly Liverpool fans and were dropped off to meet the rest of our party who had driven directly to the ground and visited the Fan Zone to pass the time.  As we waited at the away turnstiles, we saw the East Anglian Horns with a banner celebrating the final achievement of justice for the Hillsborough 96.  Well done to all involved in the banner for paying tribute to their fellow fans.

Prior to kick off, the rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” made the hairs on the back of the neck stand up.

Watford had the first shot on goal as Ighalo made an audacious attempt to lob Mignolet that was only just over the bar.  The visitors had another chance to take the lead as Ighalo played the ball out to Anya who crossed for Abdi whose shot was disappointingly over the bar.  I noticed, at this point, that the entire Kop was sitting down.  It puzzled me for a minute as it was such an unusual sight but, of course, Liverpool fans are passionately anti standing following the Hillsborough disaster.

Ighalo challenges for the ball

Ighalo challenges for the ball

Liverpool’s first chance came on 11 minutes with a shot from Coutinho that was deflected just wide.  At the other end, a cross from Abdi flew just over the head of Jurado.  For the home side, Moreno’s shot from just outside the area flew well over the bar.  Then Anya broke forward and tried a shot from a tight angle which flew over.  There was a very odd interlude as Coutinho prepared to take a free kick.  The referee marked the spot the kick should be taken from with his spray.  The player chose his spot and was told to move the ball.  But, as the referee walked away to mark the line for the defence, Coutinho picked the foam spot up and moved it and the ball to where he wanted to take the kick.  Bizarre.  A ball over the top reached Ighalo in the box, but it was taken off his feet by a defender who conceded a corner.  The corner was cleared to Abdi whose shot was blocked on the line.  Suárez conceded a free kick when he tripped Ibe just outside the box.  Benteke hit both the set piece and his follow-up into the wall.  Liverpool opened the scoring soon afterwards and it was a poor goal to give away.  A cross from Coutinho was knocked down by Benteke into the path of Allen and he finished past Gomes.  Watford almost hit back immediately as Anya found Jurado on the wing, his cross was headed just wide by Ighalo.  It was Watson’s turn next as he made up for his initial mis-kick with a better shot that was blocked.  At the other end Coutinho had two chances: first a shot from distance that was saved by Gomes, then a shot that was blocked by Prödl.  There was a shout for a penalty from the Hornets faithful as Skrtel appeared to be on Deeney’s shoulders in the box, but nothing was given so the Hornets went in at the break a goal down.  Despite the moans at the team selection, it had been a much better performance than of late and we were unfortunate to be behind.  In particular, Ighalo had been much livelier and I lived in hope that he would find his shooting boots in the second half.

Abdi lines up a free kick

Abdi lines up a free kick

The home side had the first chance of the second period as Coutinho played the ball out to Benteke before receiving a return ball which he put wide.  The Brazilian had another chance soon after, but this time his shot was easily saved by Gomes.  Ojo made a dangerous break before shooting high and wide.  Flores made his first substitute on 52 minutes bringing Guedioura on for Suárez.  Ighalo had a great chance to equalize as Anya crossed from the left and Deeney dummied leaving the Nigerian to hit a sweet shot that was heading for the top corner when Mignolet got his fingertips to it to push it behind.  Guedioura was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that flew high and wide.  Flores made a second substitution replacing Jurado with Berghuis.  Britos was the first to find his way into the referee’s book, although he was a bit unfortunate as he was swinging his leg at the ball when Benteke came running in and was kicked.  Liverpool’s first change came on the hour as Firmino replaced Coutinho.  The substitute tried his luck immediately but his shot was comfortably saved by Gomes.  A promising Watford move was stopped by a cynical foul by Flanagan on Abdi.  The Kosovan had a decent chance soon after as, with the Watford fans chanting his name, he hit a free kick just over the bar.  That was his last contribution to the game as he was replaced immediately by Amrabat.

Britos lines up a free kick

Britos lines up a free kick

Deeney did brilliantly to keep the ball while being challenged, his cross reached Ighalo, but the Nigerian couldn’t convert.  Deeney played the ball out to Berghuis whose shot was straight at Mignolet.  The Dutchman was then booked for a late tackle on Ibe.  It had been a lovely spell of play for the Hornets, so it was a great disappointment when Anya gave the ball away and it reached Firmino whose shot beat Gomes, who got a hand to it but couldn’t keep it out.  Again the Hornets tried to hit back as a shot from Ighalo was deflected into the side netting.  Britos met the corner from Berghuis with a header that flew over the bar.  Amrabat crossed for Ighalo who didn’t catch the ball properly, so the shot looped into the keeper’s arms.  At the other end a cross from Benteke was gathered by Gomes.  The home side could have increased their lead as Firmino’s cross drifted along in front of goal and Ibe met it with a powerful shot that came back off the post.  At this point, there was an announcement over the tannoy for the Watford supporters thanking them for their support for the 96 and particularly the banner and wishing us a safe journey home.  This was met with warm and lengthy applause from the travelling Hornets.  There was one last chance in time added on and it fell to the home side with a cross that Benteke somehow turned over the bar when it would have been easier to score.

Flores consoling Deeney

Flores consoling Deeney

So the final whistle went to a 2-0 defeat which was met with a chant of ‘3-2 on aggregate.’  It had been a much better performance, let down by a couple of mistakes which led to goals, and poor finishing from a Watford perspective.  Ighalo had the best game he has had for months but, earlier in the season, would have converted at least two of his chances.  After the final whistle we stayed behind to applaud the team.  Troy is normally the last player to come to the away end after he has completed his captain’s duties, but this afternoon was different.  I saw him standing talking to Flores, he had his head down and looked distraught.  Flores spoke to him for a while and then they came towards us together to take the plaudits.

As we left the ground we were wished a safe journey home by some of the nicest stewards that I have encountered all season.  That was also the most positive that I have felt after a defeat for some time.  It is hard to believe that there is only a week left of the season.  It has flown by and, at this stage, our only relegation concerns are regarding where we will be visiting next season.  That makes me very happy.

 

Embarrassing the Reds

The flags fly in the SEJ Stand

The flags fly in the SEJ Stand

Sunday lunchtime games always feel a bit odd.  I usually spend most of Saturday worrying that I have somehow misunderstood the fixture list and am missing the game.  So it is always a relief to arrive at the West Herts early doors and see a host of Hornet fans.  Prior to the game I indulged in the breakfast of champions, a pint and a ‘bumper breakfast baguette’, which went down a treat.  The addition of black pudding was what sold it to me, it set me up for the day.  It was a little odd to be watching the build-up to the game on the television, but every appearance of Quique, Troy and Odion was greeted with cheers. It was also lovely to see Johnny Barnes back at Vicarage Road.

Team news was that the team was unchanged from the Sunderland game so the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.

As requested by the 1881, we were in our seats in plenty of time for kick off and, as the teams came out to Z-cars, those of us in the Rookery held up our foils which, I discovered later, showed an Ighalo celebration.  At the front of the stand, some of the 1881 were holding a banner thanking the Pozzos.  A really lovely touch.  From our perspective in the Rookery, it was also good to see the flags waving in the SEJ stand.  We are usually behind them so it was a pleasure to see how good they look.

Celebrating Ake's goal

Celebrating Ake’s goal

Watford had the best possible start to the game as Aké forced a corner, Bogdan dropped Watson’s delivery and Nathan was on hand to turn the ball in to the net.  Cue mad celebrations and a bit of celebratory bouncing.  Watford continued in a positive vein and Škrtel had to throw his body in the way to stop a cross from Deeney.  Liverpool’s first forward foray ended with a cut back into the box that was cleared by Capoue.  The resulting corner was headed clear by Ighalo.  I always enjoy seeing forward players helping out in defence.  Coutinho had Liverpool’s first shot on target, but it was an easy catch for Gomes.  After our early goal, I had commented that I hoped we wouldn’t be hanging on for the next 87 minutes,  so I was very grateful, after a quarter of an hour, when Deeney played a ball over the top for Ighalo who battled past Škrtel and scored with a shot that went in off the far post.  At this point, there was a joyful rendition of “Jürgen, Jürgen, what’s the score?”  Liverpool’s first attempt to strike back came from a corner by Coutinho that went straight to Gomes.  At the other end, an Abdi back-heel reached Capoue whose shot was blocked.  There was a great chance for a third Watford goal as Deeney played the ball over to Ighalo, his initial shot was blocked and then Bogdan blocked Jurado’s shot at the far post.

Celebrating Ighalo's first

Celebrating Ighalo’s first

A Liverpool break was stopped by a biting tackle from Aké.  With 5 minutes remaining in the half, Klopp was forced to make a substitution bringing Origi on for the injured Škrtel.  The frustration of the visitors was clearly demonstrated when Henderson was flagged offside and reacted with a prolonged show of petulance.  In the last minute of the half, Abdi and Deeney exchanged passes but the cross was put out for a corner.

So we reached the break two goals up after a wonderfully controlled performance that thoroughly justified the lead.

At half time, Robbo was on the field to draw the 50-50 tickets.  It was great to see him back and he was greeted with a tremendous reception.

When Ádám Bogdán took his place in the goal at the Rookery end before the start of the second half, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the lad as he arrived to great cheers after his contribution to our first goal.

Gomes takes a kick

Gomes takes a kick

The visitors started the second half very brightly and had an early chance as Henderson played the ball over to Moreno in space, but Gomes narrowed the angle so the shot was into the side netting.  Origi fought off the attentions of Britos to get in a shot, but Gomes was down to save.  At this point. The Liverpool fans could be heard for the first time all afternoon.  At the other end, Watson released Nyom whose cross went out for a corner off the chest of Henderson.  A Liverpool break was stopped as Nyom closed the player down and prevented the cross.  Then Deeney tried a dink into the box for Ighalo, but there were three Liverpool players on him to stop him shooting.  Ighalo broke into the box again and tried a shot from a narrow angle, it was blocked and broke to Jurado who tried to poke the ball in but, somehow, it was kept out.  On the hour mark, a dangerous Henderson cross was headed wide by Lallana.  Then Jurado played a lovely through ball for Ighalo whose shot was saved by Bogdan.  It took until the 66th minute for Liverpool to really test Gomes and the Watford keeper was equal to the shot from Henderson, tipping it over the bar.  Then Troy won the ball on the wing and advanced, but his cross was blocked.  We almost shot ourselves in the foot as a terrible clearance went straight to Can, but Gomes was on hand to push the shot clear.  Klopp made a double substitution as Ibe and Benteke replaced Lallana and Firmino.

Harry joins the celebrations as the game is won

Harry joins the celebrations as the game is won

Watford threatened again as Capoue played the ball out to Ighalo but he had to run wide of the goal and his cross was over Jurado’s head and went begging.  Flores made his first substitution bringing Anya on for Jurado, who had another decent game.  The next attack by the visiotrs finished with a shot from Henderson that was blocked.  The only card of the game went to Britos who was booked for rather an innocuous challenge.  The visitors had a great chance to pull a goal back as Henderson hit a dangerous free-kick, but it was headed well wide by Benteke.  Flores made his second substitution replacing Abdi with Behrami.  At this point, my sister told me that she’d checked her heart rate and found it was 134 bpm.  Ighalo kindly calmed us all down as he won the ball, played it to Deeney, who found Behrami who crossed for the Nigerian to head home and seal the win.  Once I had stopped screaming, I started bouncing and was amused as I looked around the ground to see the Lower GT, the SEJ stand and, unbelievably, the Upper GT all bouncing.  The Upper GT??  Seriously, where were the stewards?  Flores made a final change bringing Guedioura on for Igahlo who went off to a standing ovation.  The game finished with the Rookery singing ‘We’re all going on a European tour.’

Flores with one of his goalscorers

Flores with one of his goalscorers

The final whistle sparked huge celebrations.  We were all looking at each other, not quite believing what we had just witnessed.  Not only had we beaten Liverpool 3-0, but it had been such a convincing performance that the margin could have been higher.  Suddenly I found there were tears in my eyes.  My niece, Amelia, was laughing at me, but it was she who had prompted the tears.  I have always felt really lucky that I watched Watford playing in the first division in the 80s when we went out every week expecting to get a result.  The thought that the youngsters following Watford now, such as Amelia, would never experience what we did has saddened me.  But this afternoon, it felt like 1982 all over again.

Back to the West Herts where the smiles were so wide, that I don’t know how some of them got through the door.  But the reflections were on a great win against a Liverpool team that was very poor or, at least, that we made to look very poor.  Every Watford player deserved plaudits, they all did their jobs and worked their socks off.  No Liverpool player who got the ball was given time to work with it.  The visitors were comprehensively beaten.

We go into Christmas, a point off the Champions League places and 13 points off the relegation zone after a string of performances that mean that we need fear nobody.  These truly are the good old days.

To all you lovely people who read my reports, I wish you a very happy Christmas and a wonderful 2016.

 

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.