Tag Archives: Jose Holebas

Battling Snakes on a Monday Night

Holebas launches a throw-in

A Monday night game at Everton was a good excuse for a weekend in Liverpool.  Things didn’t go quite to plan, but I had a fun weekend of comedy, music, art, film and hoped to finish it with a decent game of football.  After a lovely morning at the Tate and visiting the studio of an artist friend of a friend on the waterfront, I returned to the hotel to meet up with our much depleted party.  We were in the pub bright and early and found a table in our usual area where we were soon joined by a number of North-West and Happy Valley Horns, travelling fans who so rarely see us win in their neck of the woods.

Team news was that Gracia had made two changes with Sema and Quina (both making their Premier League debuts) replacing Hughes (who had picked up an injury against Man City) and Chalobah.  I must say that the inclusion of Sema was a surprise to everyone.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Doucouré, Quina, Sema; Deeney, Success.  Needless to say, the Everton line-up included former Watford starlet, Richarlison, and our former manager, Marco Silva, was in the home dugout.  It was clear that neither of them was going to get a good reception from the travelling Hornets, which was more understandable for Silva than for Richarlison who made the club a tidy sum when he was sold.

The meal voucher from the club

As we entered through the turnstiles, we were greeted by Dave Messenger who was handing out vouchers for £10 for food and drink.  A really lovely gesture from the club to reward those who had made the journey to Liverpool on a Monday night.  The smallish crowd meant that it was like the old days in the away stand, with us able to take any seat we wanted.  So we headed to an empty section further back where we could stretch out and move about in comfort.  Bliss!

On arrival at the ground, I had discovered that I did not have my purse with me.  The inconvenience of having to cancel and replace cards was overwhelmed by the fact that I now had no cash and no train ticket home.  My first thought was that I had left it on the bus to the ground, but a few minutes into the game I remembered exactly where I had left it.  A quick call to the pub to tell them that a wallet bearing a Watford crest had been left on an armchair by the fire and they confirmed that they had it and it would be behind the bar on my return.

Panic over, I was able to concentrate on the match, the start of which had been dominated by chants against Silva and Richarlison.  A number in the crowd had brought snakes with them to wave at Silva, which led to my first experience of seeing an inflatable snake being confiscated in a football ground.

Doucoure, Cathcart and Deeney in the box

There was an early chance for each side as, first, Pereyra had a shot from the edge of the box that was held by the Everton keeper, Pickford.  Then Walcott met a cross from Digne with a header that was easily saved by Foster.  The home side took the lead in the 15th minute when Gomes cut the ball back to Richarlison who blasted the ball past Foster.  The young Brazilian celebrated by patting the badge over his heart.  Oh Ricky, what a short memory you have.  Watford should have equalized within a couple of minutes as Quina crossed for Deeney who, with an open goal in front of him, somehow managed to clear the bar with his shot.  Richarlison could have had a second soon after, but a tremendous block by Holebas averted the danger.  The first caution of the game went to Everton’s Mina who had handled a cross from Sigurdsson.  Watford had a decent chance to draw level as a cross from Sema was met by Pereyra but his header was just wide of the target.  Watford threatened again as a cross from Femenía fell to Deeney whose shot was blocked by Mina for a corner.  Deeney was then in action at the other end of the pitch, snuffing out an Everton attack with a great tackle.  Richarlison then tangled with Kabasele and, as is his wont, executed an outrageous dive (not his first of the evening).  Kabasele’s expression as they made their way back upfield in conversation indicated that he was letting his former team mate know exactly what he thought of his actions.  Watford had a great chance to grab an equaliser just before half time as Deeney received a long ball from Quina but he volleyed just wide.  In the minute added on at the end of the half, Deeney found Success on the edge of the box where he was fouled by Mina.  If the referee had given the free kick, he would have had to show Mina a second yellow and Everton would have been down to ten men, but he waved play on and the half-time whistle went with the Hornets a goal down and feeling rather aggrieved.

Sema lines up a free kick

It had been a decent half of football.  The home side had dominated the early exchanges, but the Hornets had grown into the game and were the better side at the end of the half.  The half time discussion was around two crucial decisions and benefited from reports from those watching at home.  By all accounts, Everton’s goal should have been disallowed as Walcott, who had been involved in the build-up, had been in an off-side position.  So, that and the fact that Mina had got away with an obvious foul on Success that should have earned us a free kick and him a second yellow card, meant we were feeling very hard done by.

At half time, the shoot-out involved a lad in a wheelchair, which was rather lovely.

The first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets as Pereyra hit a free-kick that went into the side-netting, although a good number in the away end were celebrating as they thought it had gone in.  Watford continued to threaten as a long throw reached Doucouré in the box, but his shot was blocked.  Then Deeney played a one-two with Doucouré before taking a shot, but Pickford was down to make the save.  Gracia made his first change just before the hour mark with Sema making way for Deulofeu.

Celebrating the first Watford goal

I won’t say that the substitution was inspired, but the Hornets equalised on 63 minutes as Femenía crossed for Pereyra, whose shot hit the post but rebounded out to Coleman and bounced off the Everton man into the net.  For once it felt like luck was on our side and it has to be said that the equaliser was well deserved.  But that wasn’t the end of it, as the Hornets took the lead a couple of minutes later as Pereyra crossed for Doucouré who rose above the defence and headed past Pickford.  Needless to say, the celebrations in the away end were brilliant.  When the travelling Hornets started chants of “Silva, what’s the score?”  I couldn’t help feeling uneasy.  It is never a good idea to crow over the opposition that early in the game.  Sure enough, while I was distracted noting that Calvert-Lewin had come on for Bernard, I heard a cheer from the home fans.  At first I thought that they had scored, but it then became clear that the referee had awarded a penalty for a foul by Kabasele on Mina.  I had everything crossed as Sigurdsson stepped up to take the spot kick and was joy was unconfined when the shot was saved by Foster’s trailing leg.  In the confusion, I had missed that Silva had made a double substitution, as Walcott had made way for Lookman.  Quina, who had impressed on the ball, also showed what he can contribute to the defence as he tackled Richarlison in the box.

Holebas congratulates Doucoure on his goal

Each side made another substitution as Everton brought Tosun on for Gueye and Success made way for Chalobah for the Hornets.  The Watford man’s first action of note was to get booked for time wasting.  Richarlison looked to bring the home side level as he ran on to a ball into the box, but Foster was out to save at his feet.  As the clock ran down, Everton won a series of corners, but only one (a Sigurdsson header from a Coleman cross) required a save from Foster.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, the board for extra time was held up indicating 6 minutes.  Oh, for goodness sake, my nerves were already in tatters.  Gracia made a final substitution replacing Quina with Mariappa.  Just when we thought we would finally see a win at Goodison Park, Kabasele needlessly handled a long forward ball and the referee awarded a free kick on the edge of the area.  Again, I had everything crossed, but when Digne stepped up I knew that there was only one outcome and, sure enough, his free kick cleared the wall and found the top corner to level the game.  There was just time for one last attack from the visitors as Deulofeu surged forward and found Pereyra, but he could only direct his shot across the front of the goal and the game ended in a draw.

Several of the players dropped to the turf in despair at the end of the game.  Most notably Holebas, who didn’t move for ages until Zigor Aranalde went over to commiserate when he reacted angrily.  The players were right to be angry and upset.  They had done more than enough to win the game and had been easily the better team in the second half.  But they were beaten by a mistake from the officials and a moment of madness from Kabasele.

Deeney and Success wait for a ball into the box

We headed back to the pub, where my purse was returned to me, so the least I could do was to buy a round.  We then settled down to analyse the game.  The overwhelming feeling was one of frustration.  It had been a terrific evening’s entertainment and if someone had offered me a point before the game, I would have bitten their hand off.  But, after that performance we deserved to come away with all three points.  Concentrating on the positives, Pereyra and Doucouré both put in their best performances in some time.  Quina continues to impress, for such a young man he plays with great assurance and is a tremendous addition to our squad.  Watford were clearly the better team, but we have to start translating that into victories.  This is a likeable and talented team, probably the best that Watford have ever had.  But the players are also working hard, so surely it must only be a matter of time before the talent translates into positive results.  Please let that start against Cardiff on Saturday.

Rainbows Under the Lights

The rainbow display in the Rookery (with thanks to Alice Arnold)

A rare midweek game, so I left work earlier than usual and made my way out to Watford and to the West Herts to meet the usual suspects.  Trond had kindly brought sweets and I was just commenting that this would be some compensation as Glenn (our usual sweetie man) wasn’t around when the man himself appeared through the door and filled the table with goodies, so we all left for the game with a bag of treats.  I had a feeling that this would be a day when we would need some sugar to sweeten the blow of the result.  City’s last two visits to Vicarage Road had seen them scoring 6 and 5 goals with no reply.  The pre-match consensus was that anything less than a four goal defeat would be an achievement.

As this was Watford’s “rainbow laces” game in support of LGBT+ inclusion in sport, the 1881 and the Proud Hornets had worked together to put on a rainbow banner display in the Rookery, which was absolutely magnificent.

Team news was that Gracia had made three changes with Capoue (whose ridiculous red card at Leicester was not rescinded), Mariappa and Deulofeu replaced by Chalobah, Kabasele and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Chalobah, Doucouré, Hughes; Success, Deeney.

Deeney sporting the rainbow captain’s armband

City had the first chance of the game with a shot from distance from David Silva that comfortably cleared the bar.  Watford had a much better chance soon after as Deeney found Pereyra, who beat a defender before curling a shot wide of the far post.  City should have taken the lead when a terrible ball from Pereyra was intercepted by Sané, who was into the box and looked sure to score, but Foster reached up and pushed the shot away for a corner which was turned wide by Kompany.  Foster was the hero again soon after as he made a double/triple save before the ball was finally cleared by Femenía.  Ederson was then called into action as Chalobah hit a volley from 25 yards, but it was an easy save for the City keeper.  So we’d reached the half hour mark with no score, a distinct improvement on previous seasons.  That looked likely to change as Jesus dinked into the box but, yet again, Foster came to the rescue blocking the shot.  Watford had a chance to grab an unlikely lead as Doucouré found Deeney with an overhead kick, the Watford captain got his shot away and it looked as though it was going in when Ederson got a foot to it to keep it out.  Just when we thought we may make it to half time with the game goalless, Mahrez crossed for Sané, who chested the ball past Foster to give the visitors the lead.  They threatened again before half time as Mahrez advanced on goal from what appeared to be an offside position, but he shot into the side netting.

Man of the match, Ben Foster

So we’d managed to reach half time with only a single goal separating the teams.  City had been very impressive indeed, but Watford’s defensive efforts had been decent and Foster was putting in a magnificent performance in goal.  Even better, the guy who had taken the seat behind me during the first half, who I had been sure was there to support City, turned out to be a Roma fan just taking in a game, so I didn’t have someone celebrating an opposition goal over my left shoulder.

The visitors were two goals up five minutes into the second half as Jesus played a low cross to Mahrez who turned it past Foster.  I feared that this may start a landslide.  I was wrong.  Watford had to make a substitution before the restart as Hughes, who had been limping, made way for Quina to make his Premier League debut.  Watford looked to break back as Success found Doucouré about 20 yards out, but his shot was blocked.  City had a chance for a third as a shot from Mahrez deflected up and over Foster, but the ball drifted wide.  Watford made a second substitution as Chalobah made way for Deulofeu.  Success had a chance to reduce the deficit with a shot from just outside the area, but it was well over the bar.  There was danger for the Hornets when Deulofeu slipped, allowing City to mount an attack, thankfully the effort from Jesus was wide of the near post.

Quina hoping to take a free kick before Holebas intervened

Watford had a decent chance as Success met a free kick from Holebas with a header, but Ederson was down to save.  City made their first change with quarter of an hour to go, bringing Gundogan on for David Silva.  An interception from Deeney started a lovely move in which he exchanged passes with Pereyra before finding Doucouré whose shot was saved by Ederson.  Watford then made their final substitution, bringing Gray on for Success.  Mahrez should have had a second goal but Foster got a hand to the shot to keep it out.  City made another change replacing Kompany with Otamendi.  Then the unexpected happened.  Deulofeu did really well to dispossess Delph before crossing for Gray who touched the ball on to Doucouré who fluffed his first attempt, but put the rebound past Ederson.  It wasn’t the most elegant of finishes, but it sent the Rookery into raptures and, suddenly, it was game on.  As the Watford fans cheered their team on, they nearly got an unlikely equaliser as a Holebas corner was headed goalwards by Deeney, but Ederson made the save.  The visitors made a final change to waste some time as Laporte came on for Jesus, who went off at a snail’s place to boos from the home fans.  Ederson joined in the time wasting, including leaving the ball on the roof of the net for an age before a Watford man returned it to him.  I am glad to say that he was booked for his trouble.  In time added on, Watford won a succession of corners, Foster came up to join the fray, but the equalizer didn’t come.  There was still some considerable satisfaction at witnessing the relief from the City players and fans when the final whistle went.

Pushing for the win

So, despite the defeat, we left Vicarage Road with smiles on our faces.  There was certainly no disgrace in losing so narrowly to City and the fighting spirit shown by the team was something to be savoured.  There was an irony that, having managed only one shot on target in our past two games, the lads managed seven against a City side who are far and away the best team in the country.  Special mention must go to Ben Foster, who was absolutely superb in goal, and Quina who made a tidy appearance as a substitute.  We can look forward to good things from him in the future.

So on to Everton on Monday, a game that will be dominated by the presence of Marco Silva in the home dugout.  But I do hope that the travelling fans can concentrate on encouraging the players, as Goodison Park is not a happy hunting ground for us and it would be lovely to come away with a result.

Pride in the Solidarity Off the Field

The tribute banner makes its way around the stand

It is a nice short journey from London to Leicester and the rail connections are excellent, but I was still surprised to arrive at St Pancras and see that there were two trains leaving within 3 minutes of each other, so took another look at my ticket to ensure I was on the one I had booked.  I took my allocated seat and found myself opposite a young Watford fan who was wearing rainbow laces in support of the Stonewall campaign to stop homophobia in the game.  I admired his choice while feeling somewhat ashamed that my boots were zipped, so I was not able to join in.

Arriving in the designated pub before midday, it was already very busy and there were a number of the Watford regular away travellers in situ.  The pub has a great selection of real ale and there was a chocolate orange stout on offer that seemed to be a particular favourite with that group, but I went for the safer option of the local bitter.  Our party soon gathered and one or two did sample the stout, but there were eyebrows raised at my sister’s tipple.  Raspberry gin just doesn’t seem right pre match.

Team news was that Gracia had made two changes bringing Holebas and Success in for Masina and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu and Success.

Doucoure and Capoue

Prior to the teams taking the field, the 1881 unveiled two banners that they had crowdfunded to pay tribute to Khun Vichai and the other victims of the tragic helicopter crash.  When the large one was unfurled, I found myself under it, but I could see the Leicester fans in the stand to the left of us and they were all on their feet applauding.  After a short time the banner was surfed across the stand and it was lovely to see it move from the away to the home stand and to be moved around as it would have been in the Rookery.  The appreciation of the home fans was reflected by the Leicester announcer who started his reading of the team sheets with “To the Watford fans, thank-you.”

Watford had the first chance of the game as Deulofeu and Pereyra combined to advance before finding Doucouré whose shot was deflected for a corner that came to nothing.  But disaster struck for the Hornets on 11 minutes as Vardy ran on to a through ball in to the box, Foster came out to challenge, Vardy went down and the referee pointed to the spot.  The challenge was right in front of us and looked like a definite penalty, although the Leicester man did go down rather easily.  Vardy doesn’t miss those chances and powered past Foster to give the home side an early lead.

Holebas takes a corner

The visitors tried to strike back immediately as some great work led to a corner, the delivery from Holebas was met by the head of Success, but Schmeichel got a hand to it and it went out for another corner.  Watford were two goals down soon after as a mistake in the midfield gifted the ball to the opposition, Albrighton played a long pass to Maddison, who shook off the attentions of the Watford defenders with a bit of ball juggling before volleying past Foster.  The Foxes had a chance to increase their lead further, but Pereira shot over the target.  They threatened again as the ball was played through the legs of Doucouré to Demarai Gray whose shot was deflected for a corner.  This was taken short and turned into a chance for the Hornets when an attempted forward pass hit Deulofeu who broke at speed, and found Success, who should have done better, but shot over the target.  At this point, word spread through the away end that Vichai’s son, Khun Top, would pay for all the food and drink consumed by the away fans at half time.  A lovely gesture.  But there was still action on the pitch and in the last minute of the half Watford won a free kick.  It took an age to take as the referee insisted that it was taken from a certain spot, inches from where it had originally been placed, and Deulofeu’s delivery disappointingly cleared the bar.

So we reached half time two goals down due to Leicester making the most of the few chances that they had.  A decent contingent of the away support made their way to the concourse to drown their sorrows and, as promised, the beer (and tea and coffee) flowed and the tills were closed.

Gathering for a corner

Watford had the first chance of the second half as the ball was crossed to Success in the box, but he had no space and just side footed it into an area occupied by Leicester players.  Then Deulofeu found Success in space in the box and, with an open goal in front of him, he passed the ball to Schmeichel.  Deulofeu broke again, this time finding Pereyra whose shot was agonizingly just wide of the far post.  Gracia made a double substitution at this point with Deulofeu, who had created a great deal, and Pereyra, who had another quiet game, making way for Gray and Deeney.  It was an attacking substitution, but the home side had the next chance and I was mightily relieved to see Demarai Gray’s shot rebound off the post.  The first caution of the game went to Albrighton for handball.  The Hornets should have pulled a goal back when Holebas crossed for Andre Gray, who had a free header but managed to direct it wide of the target.  The Watford man had another chance soon after as Success played the ball back to him, but he wasn’t expecting it and hit a shot that looked more like a cross and drifted wide.  The home side made a couple of substitutions with first Söyüncü replacing Gray and then Iheanacho coming on for Vardy.  Watford had another promising chance as Femenía crossed for Success, he played it back to Gray who horribly miskicked the ball and the danger was gone.  Gracia made his last change bringing Chalobah on for Hughes.  Watford had another chance to get on the scoresheet from a corner as the ball was headed out to Doucouré, but his shot flew over the bar.  Then there was more frustration for the travelling Hornets as a cross from Femenía was blocked, the ball fell to Chalobah but his shot was also blocked.  The first card for the visitors was shown to Success for a high boot, although he didn’t seem to make much contact, so it appeared rather harsh. Puel made his final substitution bringing Iborra on for Evans.  In time added on, the Hornets were reduced to ten men as Capoue was dismissed for a coming together with Iheanacho.  I didn’t see the contact at the time, but the television pictures indicated that it was a very harsh decision.  The last chance of the game fell to the home side as Maddison tried a shot from distance, but Foster was equal to it.

Holebas takes a throw-in

As the players came over to thank the fans they faced the additional challenge of a phalanx of mowers that had been employed to trim the pitch.  Leicester stewards have a reputation for being inflexible and aggressive but this level of weaponry was a new one on me.

After another defeat for the Hornets, the overwhelming feeling among the away following was frustration.  It had not been a bad performance, but our defence had been unable to cope with the Leicester counter attacks, while our domination of the possession and goal attempts did not lead to one on target shot.  For all the complaints about tactics and personnel, all the ‘strikers’ had their chances and not one of them tested the Leicester keeper.  It is hard to know how to remedy that.  We face Manchester City on Tuesday and, given their form, I am sorely tempted to go to the Herts Senior Cup game in Leverstock Green instead (I won’t).

But, despite the disappointment on the pitch, what we will remember from this game is the kindness of the 1881 in commissioning a banner to pay tribute to Leicester’s chairman and the reaction that this provoked from both his family and the fans.  It was an emotional moment as the banner was unfurled in the away end, but when I saw Top’s reaction on Match of the Day, it was clear how much it meant to him.  There are bitter rivalries on the pitch, but we are all football fans and that camaraderie between fans of different teams in times of trouble is what makes being a football fan special.  Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was not a Leicester native, but he made a tremendous difference to the lives of the people of that city and will be fondly remembered for what he did for both the football team and the city.  May he rest in peace.

Controversy in the Rain

Pereyra versus Hojbjerg

Another Saturday, another away game.  This week the somewhat shorter trip to Southampton.  Due to engineering work, there was no easy train route to the station nearest to the pub.  My last experience of trying to get a taxi at Southampton Central had been hideous so, when I arrived and left the station by the rear entrance, I decided to walk the mile and a half to the pub.  I had a brief moment of regret as the rain started, but it soon cleared and I arrived feeling very deserving of my pint and lunch.  As it did last year, the heavens opened in time for us to leave for the walk to the ground and, despite Alice kindly sharing her umbrella, I was properly soaked by the time we reached the ground.  Pete’s comment to the local Police officer that it always rained in Southampton was met with the response that we must have brought it with us as it had been lovely the previous week.

Team news was that Gracia had made only the one enforced change with Chalobah coming in for the suspended Capoue.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Mariappa, Femenía; Pereyra, Doucouré, Chalobah, Hughes; Success, Deulofeu.  It was good to see Chalobah back and I couldn’t help wondering whether Capoue, who has been excellent so far this season, would live to regret giving his place away.

Deeney waiting for a ball into the box

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s silence to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War which was accompanied by a rendition of The Last Post.  The only other sound that could be heard was the rain on the roof of the stand.

Watford started well and had an excellent early chance when Femenía released Deulofeu who broke into the box, but his shot was blocked.  Deulofeu had another chance soon after, this time with Success as provider, but the shot flew over the target.  Then Success burst forward and tried his luck himself, but his shot was deflected over the bar.  The home side had their first chance after 15 minutes with a shot from distance by Gabbiadini that flew over the bar.  Then, from a corner, Hoedt headed goalwards, Foster parried and Cathcart headed out conceding another corner.  From the delivery, the danger appeared to have passed when Pereyra claimed the ball, but instead of putting a boot through it, he dwelled too long, Ings dispossessed him and found Gabbiadini who finished past Foster.  Very frustrating after the bright start that the Hornets had made to the game.  The novelty of the lead for the home fans was reflected in the chant of “We scored a goal.”

Ben Foster launches a ball upfield

Watford should have struck back almost immediately as Deulofeu picked up a misplaced pass and broke forward but, instead of shooting, he tried to play Success in and the pass was intercepted.  A lovely passing move by the Hornets finished disappointingly as Pereyra’s cut back was just behind Deulofeu.  At this point, the Saints fans regaled us with a chorus of “You only came for the weather.”  Oh yes!  Success released Deulofeu again but, when he found a position from which to shoot, the angle was narrow and the shot was blocked.  At the other end, a Yoshida header from the edge of the area flew wide of the target.   I thought we had the equaliser as a lovely curling shot from Pereyra headed for the bottom corner, but McCarthy was down to parry.  Almost immediately there was a similarly good chance for the Saints with a shot from Armstrong that was saved by the legs of Foster.  The first booking of the game went to Bertrand for a foul on Doucouré.  With 6 minutes to go until half time, each side made a substitution, presumably due to injuries, as Deeney replaced Hughes for the Hornets and Austin came on for Ings for the home side.

Doucoure on the ball

The half time whistle went with the home side leading by a goal and, yet again, Watford fans were feeling frustrated at the wasteful finishing as, like last week, Deulofeu could have had a hat trick before the break.  There was a similar problem with finishing for one of the teams taking part in the half time relay around the pitch.  The lad who was well in the lead shot wide of the far post allowing his opponent to catch up, dribble the ball to just in front of the goal and drop to the ground to head the ball over the line.  Cheeky so and so, but his opponent gave him the opportunity.

The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as Gabbiadini tried a shot from distance that just cleared the crossbar.  At the other end, Success did well to battle his way down the right wing before crossing for Deeney whose close range shot at the near post was smothered by McCarthy.  The first booking for the visitors went to Chalobah who was cautioned for pulling Redmond back as he tried to escape.  The same two players then tussled again in the Southampton box, on this occasion the travelling Hornets were shouting for a penalty as Chalobah went down under a strong challenge from Redmond, the ball broke for Pereyra whose shot was blocked and the referee pointed for a corner instead of to the penalty spot.  The Watford fans were baffled and Deulofeu was incandescent with rage and was shouting at the linesman, which seemed to be a pointless exercise.

Challenging at a corner

Southampton appeared to have scored a second as Austin shot past Foster.  The celebrations continued for some time before any of us noticed that the linesman’s flag was raised and the goal had been disallowed.  What a relief.  Gracia then made a second substitution bringing Gray on for Pereyra, who had a disappointing afternoon.  The Hornets had a decent chance to draw level as Deulofeu chipped a cross for Deeney, whose back header was caught by McCarthy, although the flag was up for this one as well.  Deeney then found Gray in a good position, but he kicked the ball into the ground so it lost momentum allowing McCarthy an easy save.  Mark Hughes made his second substitution bringing Ward-Prowse on for Armstrong.  Southampton threatened as Yoshida appeared to connect with a cross, but Holebas made enough contact to put it out for a corner. Femenía then had a chance from a decent position but volleyed over.  I didn’t see what prompted the altercation, but Femenía and Redmond squared up to each other.  Seeing this, Deulofeu belted over and angrily pulled Redmond away.  Others have described this as breaking up the confrontation, but Deulofeu had seemed to be spoiling for a fight all afternoon.  He had rowed with the referee after he felt he’d been fouled early in the game, then with the lino when the penalty wasn’t given and his aggressive pull on Redmond was well deserving of a yellow card.

Doucoure congratulating Holebas on his goal

Watford grabbed an equaliser with 9 minutes to go as Deeney found Gray in the box, he passed back towards Doucouré and, just when the chance appeared to have gone, the ball bounced off Deulofeu and fell to Holebas whose shot took a deflection and beat McCarthy to send the travelling Hornets into raptures.  Southampton had a chance to break back immediately but Gabbiadini’s shot from outside the box was stopped by Foster.  The Hornets could have had a winner as a Holebas corner was headed goalwards by Gray, but it came back off the bar.  The home side made a final substitution bringing Obafemi on for Redmond.  The Hornets were pushing for the winner in added time, so it was very frustrating to see a powerful shot from Success rebound back off Deeney.  The captain tried to make amends by crossing for Gray, but the shot flew wide and the final whistle went with the points shared.

It was probably a fair result, although Charlie Austin didn’t agree.  His interview on Match of the Day berating the referee for disallowing his goal was brilliant for its passion.  Someone set it perfectly to Blur’s Parklife and it was great to see Austin himself tweet #Parklife in acknowledgement.  However, he had overlooked the fact that Watford should have had a penalty and that Redmond may have seen red for the challenge, which would have set up a completely different game.  It was another odd performance from the Hornets.  Deulofeu made some brilliant chances, failed to take any of them and then almost got himself sent off with a series of displays of petulance.  Capoue was greatly missed in the midfield.  Chalobah is not match fit and did nothing to indicate that he should continue in that role.  The passing was sloppy and the team seemed to lack leadership until Deeney came on.  Troy does not always earn his place on footballing grounds, but his leadership is greatly missed when things are not going well and there was a clear improvement when he was on the pitch.

But, for all our disappointment at the outcome of the last two games, there were a series of odd results over the weekend, so this result still sees us sitting in 7th place in the table equidistant from the top and the relegation zone which is fine with me.

Wasteful Finishing Leads to a Loss on the Tyne

The view of the Tyne Bridge and the Sage, Gateshead from the back of the stand at St James Park

As has become our custom when playing in the North-East, we arranged to meet in Durham on Friday evening.  This plan appeared to be threatened when I received an invitation to travel to New York for a work event on Thursday morning.  But, despite a hiccup due to a slight delay on my return flight, my travel planning turned out to be spot on.  I arrived at Heathrow soon after 9:30am on Friday giving me time to get home for a shower and change of clothes before arriving at Kings Cross in plenty of time for my train at 1:30pm.

The Friday evening meal and drinks were lovely, although the wine flowed a little too freely, for which I have nobody to blame but myself.  The walk from the city centre to the railway station in Durham is up a series of flights of steps.  I saw it as training for the climb to the away stand in St James’s Park later in the day.  On arrival in Newcastle, we had a lovely breakfast followed by a walk along the Tyne which was enlivened by a troupe of teenage girl acrobats, wearing even less than your average Geordie, putting on a display that included some precariously standing on their friends’ shoulders and appearing in distinct danger of being blown into the river.  As if that wasn’t enough, there was a bonkers busker who decided to serenade the couples out for a ‘romantic’ walk with a rendition of Minnie Ripperton’s “Lovin’ You” which was unexpected and impressive as he (sort of) hit the high notes.

My view of the minute’s silence

We were outside the door of our chosen pre-match establishment before they opened and managed to secure a secluded area for our party.  As we enjoyed our refreshments, we were visited by a Newcastle fan dropping off flyers detailing the upcoming protests against Mike Ashley.  Today’s was an 11th minute brandishing of the leaflet reading “Get out of our Club” and a protest outside the lounge at the end of the game.  I was also delighted to be joined by my sister and brother-in-law who had come up on the supporters coach which had arrived in Newcastle uncharacteristically early.

We left in plenty of time to take the stroll uphill to the ground, before scaling the 14 flights to the stand.  On arrival, we were less than delighted to discover that our seats were almost at the back requiring us to negotiate another steep flight of steps and ensuring that I had worked off my breakfast prior to kick-off.

Team news was that Gracia had made the one change with Holebas returning in place of Masina.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Mariappa, Femenía; Pereyra, Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes; Success, Deulofeu.

The minute’s silence at pitch level

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s silence for Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the Leicester owner, and the others who lost their lives in the helicopter crash last weekend.  The silence spontaneously erupted into applause, which seemed appropriate for a man who had given so much to his community.  The contrast with the feelings of the locals for the Newcastle owner was not lost on me.

The first attack of note was made by the home side with a cross that was met by a wayward header from Mariappa that went out for a corner, the delivery of which by Shelvey was cleared by Hughes.  At the other end Capoue broke and fed Pereyra who was tackled, the ball fell to Deulofeu whose shot was deflected for a corner.  Former Watford loanee, Kenedy, was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that was well wide of the target.  Then, as Muto broke forward, a shout of “handball” went up from the travelling Hornets, who took full credit when the referee blew up even though we knew that he couldn’t possibly have heard us.

Holebas lining up a corner with Pereyra in attendance

Pereyra and Holebas then combined brilliantly to get the ball to Hughes in the box, but the ball stuck under his feet and a tackle came in before he could shoot.  Watford should have taken the lead after 15 minutes when Mariappa met a Holebas corner with a header that was blocked on the line, the rebound fell to Hughes whose shot was also blocked, Mariappa had a second chance to score but shot just wide of the near post.  Newcastle were still causing the Hornets problems and a terrific shot from Diamé needed a good save from Foster to keep it out.  A lovely Watford move deserved more as Success found Deulofeu who broke into the box but was tackled before he could shoot.  This was followed by another gorgeous passage of play from the Hornets as Pereyra played the ball out to Holebas who put in a low cross for Deulofeu, but the Spaniard snatched at his shot and the ball flew wide of the near post.   At the other end, a misplaced pass allowed Kenedy to break, but he was stopped by a brilliant saving tackle by Mariappa.  Watford had another great chance to open the scoring as Success broke forward and passed to Deulofeu who was in an acre of space and should have done better with only the keeper to beat, but his shot was wide of the far post.

Breaking at a corner

A decent break from the home side was stopped by some clever defending from Holebas who managed to get in front of the Newcastle man and draw a foul.  Holebas was the centre of attention again soon after as he changed his shorts on the sideline.  Unfortunately my camera was in my pocket at the time.  Watford then won a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery from Capoue flew just over the bar.  The Frenchman was then booked for a tackle from behind on Muto.  Shelvey took the free kick, which was in an equally dangerous position, but his effort was well over the bar.  Deulofeu threatened again as he broke down the left, but his shot hit the side netting.  Watford had yet another decent chance as Pereyra played Success in, but the shot was blocked.  There was a final chance for the Hornets to take the lead before the break when Deulofeu slid the ball through to Success, but Dubravka was equal to the shot.  Despite Watford’s numerous chances during the half, that was the first save that the Newcastle keeper had had to make.  In the minute added on at the end of the half, Benitez made a substitution bringing Pérez on for Muto, who had taken a knock.  A decision that provoked a furious rant from Pete about the sheer pointlessness of the move when he could have had 20 minutes to recover.  Needless to say, the half time whistle went with the substitute not having had a touch and the game goalless.  It had been a frustrating half for the travelling Hornets.  Watford had much the better of the play and had created plenty of chances, Deulofeu could have had a hat trick on his own, but the finishing had been wasteful.

Pereyra, Holebas and Capoue gather for a free kick

The home side made another injury-enforced change at the break with Lascelles making way for Schär.  Watford had a superb chance to take the lead early in the second half when Success fought his way past Yedlin before passing to Pereyra whose shot looked all the way in until the crossbar got in the way.  Benitez was forced to make his final substitution only five minutes into the half when Shelvey was replaced by Ki, again due to an injury. Watford had another chance to take the lead from a corner, but Cathcart’s header was just over the bar.  Newcastle threatened as Rondón ran on to a through ball, Foster made a brave save, although he needn’t have bothered as the flag had gone up for offside anyway.  Foster came to the rescue again, punching a Ritchie corner clear, the ball came back in from Ki, but Foster gathered.  Hughes was then booked for a foul on Ki, conceding a free kick in a dangerous position.  Ki delivered the free-kick himself and it was headed home by Pérez to give the home side an unexpected lead.  Gracia made an immediate change bringing Gray on for Deulofeu.

Holebas delivers a corner

From the restart Newcastle broke forward, but Foster came out to make the tackle and avert the danger.  The home side had a great chance for a second goal soon after as a Kenedy cross was met by a header from Rondón that flew just wide of the target.  At the other end, a ball was launched for Success to run on to, but he let it run out of play much to the frustration of the travelling Hornets.  Kenedy did well to beat Mariappa and cross for Rondón, but Cathcart was on hand to make a saving header.  Success then did really well to break forward and cross for Gray who was stopped by a tackle from Kenedy.  Watford’s second substitution saw Hughes make way for Okaka.  Watford’s attempts to draw level continued as Pereyra crossed for Gray, but Dubravka was able to gather the ball.  A lovely passing move by the Hornets finished with a poor cross and the chance was lost.  Gracia made his final substitution replacing Success with Chalobah. I was shocked to hear cheers greeting this change.  I tried to be charitable and reason that the cheers must have been for the return of Chalobah, but it was so clear that they weren’t.  Now I am not Isaac’s biggest fan, he frustrates me greatly with some of his decision making.  A bit more thought allied with his skill and he would be a world beater.  He was also getting knocked off the ball a little too easily.  But he had worked hard and created some brilliant chances and certainly did not deserve that treatment from his own fans.  Watford had a late chance as Doucouré fired across the goal, but there was nobody on hand to turn the ball in.

Gathering for a Watford corner

There had been some theatrical feigning of injury by the Newcastle players (interspersed with bouts of cramp) which culminated in Yedlin going down dramatically after a collision with Pereyra.  The Newcastle man was claiming that his opponent had stamped on him.  As the Argentine protested, Holebas got involved and it all kicked off on the sideline with Holebas and Schär both being shown a yellow card after the handbags had been put down.  The Hornets had one last chance to snatch a point and it was a decent one as Doucouré played the ball back to Okaka who should have scored, but fired over the bar instead and Newcastle gained their first win of the season.

There were a lot of angry Watford fans after the game.  There was some justification for this as Newcastle had been very poor and were there for the taking.  But the first half performance had been impressive and the Hornets should have been 3 or 4 up at half time.  If the Pereyra shot that hit the crossbar early in the second half had gone in, we would have won the game.  But Newcastle worked hard, managed to get a goal from a set piece and it seemed to be game over from that point.  Still it is very dispiriting to hear so much anger directed at the players who have entertained us wonderfully so far this season.  We are half way to safety with less than 30% of the games played, so are already on the way to having a great season.  There will be the odd blip, but that shouldn’t derail the support as we are all in this together.  It would be great if some of our more volatile supporters could remember that.

Lucky, Lucky Arsenal

Watford fans invading Highbury

During the week, I received an email from a Watford friend who lives in one of the apartments at the old Highbury stadium inviting our party for a pre-match tour.  As arranged, we met outside the main entrance which is part of the old East Stand facade and were taken into the marble hall to see the bust of Herbert Chapman and the Arsenal insignia that adorn the floors.  Then out to “the pitch”, which is now a communal garden.  We stood on the centre circle, noted the spot at which GT had his altercation with Steve Williams in 1987 and admired the memorial bench that has been added in memory of all the Arsenal fans who had had their ashes scattered at Highbury.  It was all rather lovely, and pleasing that so much of the façade has been retained.  Apparently, you don’t have to be an Arsenal fan to live there, but a couple of residents who turned up after a game wearing their West Ham shirts found that they could not get past security, so they do have some standards.

From there we made our way to one of the few pubs around the ground that allows away fans in.  It wasn’t the most salubrious of venues and the selection of beer was limited and not particularly appealing, it certainly reminded me why we usually have our pre-match pint further afield.

As expected, team news was that Gracia would make his first change to the starting XI this season, with the enforced omission of the injured Janmaat who was replaced by Navarro.  Thankfully, the red card shown to Kabasele during the week had been rescinded, so he was available for selection.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Navarro; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deeney, Gray.

Pereyra and Holebas preparing for a free kick

Watford started the game brightly, but had an early scare as Lacazette burst into the area, he was tripped by Kabasele but stayed on his feet and shot wide.  I suspect that if the Arsenal man had gone to ground, the referee would have awarded a penalty, so we were grateful to him for his honesty.  Watford then had a terrific chance to take the lead as Deeney headed a cross from Holebas back to Hughes but the shot was just wide of the target.  The hosts then had a great chance as Lacazette robbed Cathcart in midfield and advanced towards Foster, he lifted the ball over the keeper, but it drifted just wide of the target, much to the relief of the travelling Hornets.  At the other end, Deeney found Hughes whose shot was deflected over, but the flag was up for an infringement anyway.   The first caution of the game went to Deeney for a foul on Monreal.  A free kick from Holebas caused some concern in the Arsenal defence, but Cech was able to make the block as Kabasele challenged, before also blocking the follow-up from Deeney.  At the other end, Xhaka tried a shot from the edge of the area, but Foster was down to gather.  The first card for the home side went to Torreira, who was booked for a foul on Deeney.  Arsenal were forced to make a substitution in time added on at the end of the first half, when Cech pulled a hamstring while taking a free kick and had to be replaced by Leno making his debut in the Arsenal goal.

I must admit that at the end of the half, I felt that Arsenal had more of the play, which may have been due to my position low down in the stand at the end which Arsenal were attacking. Although, I seemed to have been unduly intimidated by their attacking prowess as others around me were bemoaning us not taking our chances and feeling that we should have had the lead.

Deeney and Success ready for a ball into the box

The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as a corner from Özil was headed over the bar by Holding.  There was a much better chance for the Hornets as Deeney met a Holebas free kick with a shot that was heading for the bottom corner until Leno made a great save to put it out for a corner.  At the other end, an Arsenal breakaway finished with Lacazette heading wide of the target.   Mustafi was booked for a protest and then Emery made his first unforced substitution bringing Iwobi on for Ramsey.  Watford threatened as Gray latched on to a through ball from Deeney, but Leno was out to block the shot.  Leno was called into action again soon after, gathering a cross from Holebas.  Then Pereyra had a terrific chance to open the scoring, cutting inside Torreira before shooting just wide of the far post.  Gracia made his first change with 20 minutes to go, bringing Success on for Gray.  The substitute made an immediate impact as he received a pass from Deeney and took a shot that was blocked by Holding.  Watford threatened again as a Holebas free kick broke to Cathcart who poked the ball goalwards, it was blocked and his follow-up was caught by Leno.  Success should have given Watford the lead when he broke into the box, but he aimed for the far corner and the shot bounced agonizingly off the post.

Deeney passing instructions to Pereyra

At this point the voice of Cassandra could be heard behind me, “We know what will happen now.”  Arsenal’s final substitution came with quarter of an hour remaining as Aubameyang made way for Welbeck.  Then the normally mild mannered Doucouré went into the book for a protest.  With nine minutes to go, Cassandra’s prophesy came true as Iwobi crossed for Lacazette and Cathcart’s intervention only served to deflect the ball into the net.  So irritating.  Watford had had their best spell of the game and looked totally in control, but the home side were ahead.  Watford had a chance to break back as Pereyra played the ball out to Doucouré who shot well over the bar.  But it wasn’t to be and insult was added to injury as Arsenal scored a second two minutes later after another quick break as Lacazette exchanged passes with Iwobi before sliding the ball to Özil who side-footed home. Watford made a second change with Femenía coming on for Navarro.  At this point, the Arsenal fans could be heard for pretty much the first time all afternoon with a chant of “Deeney, what’s the score?”  The visitors had a couple of late chances to reduce the deficit.  First, Pereyra went on a run before firing over the bar.  Then Doucouré met a cross from Holebas with a header that flew over the bar.  Into time added on and the final chance of the game fell to the home side, but the shot from

Herbert Chapman in the Marble Halls

Lacazette was just wide of the far post.

It was a cruel finish to the game.  Watford had been the better side for most of the second half and had considerably more shots on goal, but the hosts made the most of those that they had and it was the finishing that proved the difference between the teams.

Still, it was difficult to be too upset.  It had been another terrific performance with the Hornets yet again showing themselves to be easily the match of one of the top six.  On the evidence of the performances so far this season, we have little to fear when facing the majority of the teams in this division and I never thought that I would be saying that when we were first promoted.

 

Entertainment on the Riverside

Another Saturday game, but also another on television meaning a stupid kick-off time.  This time at 12:30, which is the worst time for a football match.  I left home bright and early and, due to the timing of my trains, was outside the designated pub about 20 minutes before it opened so, as I refused to take refuge in the Wetherspoons next door, I sat on the side of the river in the drizzle watching an intrepid fellow constructing his windsurf board.  I love the water as much as the next guy, but that seemed a little adventurous on such a miserable day.

When the pub opened, I bought a couple of pints and found a cosy corner to wait for my party to gather.  The early kick-off meant that it really didn’t seem like time for football, but the walk to Craven Cottage has to be the nicest in the league and I enjoyed the stroll along the Thames through the park to the ground.  On entry, I decided to find the Ladies, which I was told was under the stand.  Instead of the usual entrance, there was a series of doors allowing multiple queues and complete privacy.  I was also impressed to see that there were free sanitary products in the cubicles.  Well done, Fulham, for that gesture.

Team news was, as expected, an unchanged team for the sixth league game this season, so the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deeney, Gray.  The opposition dugout would, of course, contain Slaviša Jokanović, the man who took the Hornets to the Premier League, and the lovely Marco Cesarini, former head of medical at Watford, even if he is mostly remembered for translating for Beppe Sannino.

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets as, in the second minute, Hughes cut the ball back to Gray who finished smartly past Bettinelli in the Fulham goal to ensure that the away stand started shaking bright and early in the game.  The goal celebration continued with an inflatable woman in a Watford shirt bouncing around the stand.  Fulham tried to strike back as Johansen broke into the box, but Foster was out to save at his feet.  Vietto was the next to try his luck, drawing a save from Foster before latching on to the loose ball and shooting wide of the far post.  At the other end, Deeney met a low cross from Gray with a shot that was blocked for a corner.  The corner was met by the head of Kabasele, but his effort was blocked on the line by Sessegnon.  Watford had a couple of great chances to increase their lead.  First a Watford free-kick was saved, but the Fulham keeper could only push it out to Doucouré who hit a delicate shot wide when if he’d wellied it it would have hit the back of the net!  Then a clearance fell to Gray whose close range shot was blocked by Bettinelli.  A Fulham break was frustrated by the Watford defence who refused to allow Mitrović a sight of goal.  As Kabasele amiably reacted to some grief he was getting from the Fulham fans, I couldn’t help noticing that those at the front of the stand were wearing the “Come on Fulham” clappers that had been left on seats as hoods to protect them from the rain.  The first booking went to Mawson for a nasty foul on Pereyra.  This was followed by another booking for an even worse foul on Deeney by Fosu-Mensah, who was possibly lucky to stay on the pitch.   Doucouré then impressed and frustrated in equal measure, beating a couple of players before hitting a shot that was weak and straight at the keeper.  There was a huge shout for a penalty when Gray got on the end of a through ball and passed to Hughes, who was taken out by Mawson, but the referee waved play on while we all looked at each other in amazement.  At the other end, Mitrović fell over Hughes in the box and made his own penalty claim, thankfully his was also given short shrift by the referee.  With five minutes to go to half-time, the Watford substitutes all paraded past us on the way to the dressing room.  I know many fans try to beat the crowds to get to the tea bar, but this was the first time that I had seen that from the players.  There was one last chance for the Hornets to increase their lead before half time, but Pereyra’s curling shot flew just wide of the far post.

So we reached half time a goal to the good, but the consensus was that we should have finished Fulham off.  We had dominated the half, but not made enough of our chances.

As the half time tannoy announcer did his stuff, I couldn’t help missing the voice of Diddy David Hamilton.

As the teams came out for the second half, Jokanović was warmly applauded by the travelling Hornets, but I don’t think he realised that the applause was for him as he didn’t react.  He made two changes at the break with Mawson and McDonald making way for Odoi and Ayité.  The changes immediately made a difference and the hosts started strongly.  First, a cross from Schürrle was headed over by Mitrović, then Vietto advanced but his shot was high and wide.  Watford’s first booking went to Holebas for what looked like a decent tackle on Vietto.  Watford’s first goal attempt of the second half came as Doucouré played the ball out to Gray whose low shot was saved by Bettinelli.  Pereyra then almost played the visitors into trouble as he tried to dribble out of defence but lost the ball, thankfully the resulting header from Mitrović was deflected for a corner.  Jokanović made his final substitution on 63 minutes bringing Anguissa on for Johansen.  Deeney had a great chance to increase the lead for the visitors, but was too greedy and ran into a defender who forced him to shoot wide when maybe he should have passed to someone in a better position.  Gracia made his first substitution as Femenía came on for Hughes. The home side equalised on 78 minutes as a low cross from Vietto was turned home by Mitrović.  It was frustrating, but on the balance of play in the second half, it felt as though it had been coming.  Gracia made his second change soon after bringing Success on for Gray.  Watford should have regained the lead on 84 minutes as Deeney gained possession and powered into the box but, on this occasion, he wasn’t selfish enough as he tried to play in Success and his cross was cut out.  The Nigerian then had a chance of his own but his low shot was saved.  At the other end, the home side nearly took the lead with a fabulous shot from Mitrović that required a wonderful flying save from Foster to keep it out.  The resulting corner was met by the head of Mitrović, but Foster came to the rescue again, getting a touch on it to push it on to the crossbar.  There was a late substitution from the Hornets as Sema came on for Pereyra.  In time added on Watford had a couple of chances to snatch a victory.  First, Success unleashed a rocket of a shot from distance, but it was well over the target.  Then Foster launched a free kick which was headed down by Deeney towards Success but the keeper gathered.  Just before the final whistle, a tap on the shoulder alerted me to the sight of the Queen’s rowbarge, Gloriana, passing by the ground on the Thames.  Obviously hoping to get glimpse of the Golden Boys.

So, for the second week running, we came away disappointed at the result.  I think we would all have taken a point before the game, but our first half performance was such that we should have been further ahead at half-time and, had that happened, it seemed unlikely that the home side would have been able to recover.  Instead, Fulham were still in the game at the break and Jokanović made changes that strengthened his team, who pressed harder against the Hornets who then misplaced more passes and allowed the home side to threaten more.  Still, it was another terrific game for the neutral, this season has seen some excellent entertainment and that is something to be enjoyed.