My Friday night entertainment this week was Kristin Scott-Thomas in a Greek tragedy at the Old Vic, I was hoping for somewhat jollier fare at Reading, but it couldn’t be guaranteed. Certainly the pre-match meeting place was top notch, lovely real ale in a pub with lots of nooks and crannies that has been described by a friend as a Harry Potter house.
Jokanovic made two changes from the win over Wigan. One was forced, as Munari had a slight hamstring injury that necessitated the inclusion of Guedioura. For the other, Pudil was preferred to Paredes, allowing him to make his 100th appearance. The starting line-up was Gomes, Bassong, Angella, Cathcart, Pudil, Tözsér, Guedioura, Abdi, Anya, Deeney and Vydra.
There was a very lively start as a first minute cross found Murray on the right of the box, but his volley was well over the target. Watford’s first goal attempt came soon after as Pudil headed a Guedioura cross goalwards, Federici pushed it out for a corner from which Guedioura’s shot was blocked. Abdi was the next to threaten the Reading goal with a powerful curling shot that Federici pushed clear. The half then became incredibly dull, the next action of note being a nothing foul on the half hour that earned Abdi a yellow card.
There was a worrying scramble in the Watford box as Gomes parried a header from Murray, the ball came back in but was eventually cleared. Then Gunter beat Pudil to get into the box and crossed for Blackman who headed over under a challenge from Cathcart. On 37 minutes, Angella got into a tussle with Murray who was backing into him. It was six of one and half a dozen of the other, so there were roars of derision from the travelling Hornets as the referee showed Angella a yellow card. Guedioura had the first Watford chance for some considerable time when he shot over the bar. Pudil played a lovely ball to Abdi whose cross was headed down to Deeney who tried an overhead kick that flew wide. Reading should have taken the lead just before half time as Murray received the ball in the box but managed to fire wide of the far post. In time added on at the end of the half, Angella was tripped on the edge of the box and his arm hit the ball as he fell. The referee, with the help of the lino, decided that this constituted deliberate handball and was worthy of a second yellow, so Angella was given his marching orders. It had been a dire half of football, but that decision ensured that the half time boos were directed towards the officials rather than the players.
At the start of the second half, Vydra was sacrificed for Paredes. Watford, facing a second half playing with ten men, had to decide their approach. They started the half by pressing the home side and in the 53rd minute, a Tözsér corner was curling in when Federici got a hand to it and pushed it clear. At the other end, Murray got behind the Watford defence where he directed his shot wide of the far post. A break by the home side finished with a cross from Blackman which was caught by Gomes. Reading threatened again as a shot from McCleary was parried by Gomes, the follow-up from Gunter was turned around the post. A low cross from McCleary went just wide of the far post as Blackman was sliding in and just failed to connect. Watford fashioned a good move that appeared to give several chances for a strike on goal, but finished with the ball being taken off Abdi’s foot as he shaped to shoot. For Reading, Blackman shot well over the bar.
Watford had mounted a decent rearguard action to this point. Then, all of a sudden, we took the lead. Unlike the 70 minutes that had preceded it, Watford’s goal was a thing of beauty as Guedioura won a tackle in midfield and played it out to Anya on the left, he crossed back to Abdi who blasted it past Federici right in front of the Watford fans who reacted with total delirium. The goal changed the momentum of the game. Reading’s first yellow card was shown to Williams who was penalized for taking Paredes down as he attempted to break. Guedioura played a ball over the top for Deeney, but it was a bit too far in front of him so Federici gathered the ball just as Deeney arrived and the players collided resulting in treatment for the Watford man. At the other end, Gunter went down as he was challenged on the edge of the box, thankfully the referee waved penalty appeals away. The board went up for a Watford substitution and we expected Deeney to leave the field, but instead Anya made way for Dyer. Deeney only lasted another couple of minutes, clearly he couldn’t run the injury off, so he was replaced by Ighalo.
A ball into the Watford box appeared to be headed on by Paredes but, thankfully, Blackman volleyed over. The referee added four minutes which were then extended as an off-the ball altercation between Murray and Paredes ended with the Ecuadorean poleaxed and the Reading player being shown a yellow card. Reading’s last attempt at an equalizer was a soft header from Cooper that was comfortably caught by Gomes. The final whistle went to loud cheers from the Watford fans. Jokanovic was his usual, calm self, but Martinez was going mental on the sidelines. The players came over and applauded the appreciative fans who had certainly done their part in cheering the ten men on in the second half. In gratitude, Abdi and Pudil kindly donated their shirts to a couple of lucky fans.
Since the away stand is the opposite end of the ground from the shuttle buses back to town, it was no surprise that the bus we took was packed with Watford fans. The youngsters on the top deck were making a lot of joyful noise and the old folk (including me) on the lower deck were just grinning like fools. As Jingle Bells (Oh what fun it is to see Watford win away) rang out, my friend commented that he was surprised that it had not had an earlier airing, but I don’t think anyone dared tempt fate like that until the final whistle.
I wish all my readers a very happy Christmas. See you all on Boxing Day.