Tag Archives: Juan Camilo Zuniga

Belgians and Brides

Walter Mazzarri, he bought me a drink!

With the game moved to Friday evening so that Sky could show our match with Chelsea on Monday, Friday morning was spent trying to get everything at work in order so that I could enjoy my afternoon off.  A text from Pete brought my planned departure forward to give me time to meet him for a lunchtime pint in the Doric Arch.  As we queued to board the train we spotted Paolo de Toffol, prompting speculation as to why he hadn’t travelled with the rest of the team on the previous day’s flight.

On checking in to the hotel in Liverpool, I was told that I had been upgraded to a superior room, which meant there was a little gift basket in my room containing chocolate, jelly beans and crisps.  I also had a great view of the Liver Building and the Mersey which was rather lovely.  But we weren’t there for the view so, having dumped our overnight things, we headed for the pre-match pub.  We were not the first to arrive as some of the North-West ‘Orns were already in situ and, as is always the case, our group quickly grew and the beer and conversation flowed.  There has been a lot of discussion about our poor away form lately, but it was still a shock when Andy, who is a regular at our Northern excursions, said that he hadn’t seen us win all season.

Banner in support of Aaron Lennon

When we got off the bus at Goodison Park, the rain was starting so we made a rapid beeline for the turnstiles, an extra motivation being the announcement on social media before the game that “the first drink” would be on Walter this evening.  I have to say that having enjoyed a pint at Euston, red wine in first class on the train and more beer at the pre-match gathering, this was most certainly not my first of the day, but I am not one to pass up a free drink so I picked up my voucher from the steward inside the turnstiles and exchanged it for a (small) bottle of red wine.  The atmosphere in the concourse was particularly jovial with chants of “Beers up, if you love Walter” and “Walter Mazzarri, he bought me a beer.”

On reaching our seats, there was an appreciation of what a great (proper) ground Goodison Park is.  So much nicer than the soulless bowls that so many teams are moving to.  It was also lovely to see a banner in the home stands supporting Aaron Lennon who has been hospitalized due to mental health issues.  I wish him a speedy recovery.

Capoue over to take a corner

Team news was that Mazzarri had made three changes with Holebas, Behrami and Deeney replacing Amrabat, Cleverley (who was ineligible to play against his parent club) and Niang.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kabasele, Prödl, Mariappa; Janmaat, Doucouré, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Okaka and Deeney.

Everton had the first chance of the game with a shot from Barkley but Gomes was down quickly to make the save.  Watford’s first goal attempt came from a corner as Holebas crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked.  The next chance for the home side also came from a corner which Jagielka flicked goalwards needing Gomes to pull off a decent save to keep it out.  Okaka was the next to threaten, going on a run before unleashing a shot that flew wide of near post.  The Hornets nearly got themselves into trouble with a short back pass that Mirallas chased but, thankfully, Gomes was first to the ball.  The rather impressive youngster, Tom Davies (to whom I took an instant dislike, possibly due to his resemblance to Robbie Savage), then hit a cracking shot from distance that Gomes met with a flying save.  A lovely passing move featuring Okaka and Deeney finished with Doucouré shooting straight at Robles.  The Hornets came closer to opening the scoring as a Holebas cross was headed just over by Mariappa.

Waiting for the corner to be taken

Watford’s ridiculous run of injuries to defenders continued when Kabasele went down with an apparent hamstring pull.  Given that we had no central defender on the bench, there was some speculation in the away end about who would replace him, the answer was Zúñiga, who took Kabasele’s place in the back three until Holebas told him not to be ridiculous and swapped places.  Towards the end of the half, a Behrami tackle led to some handbags as Janmaat stupidly got involved until Prödl stepped in and pushed him away.  Both Behrami and Janmaat were booked for their trouble.  Towards the end of the half, Watford won a free kick in a decent position but, instead of directing it goalwards, Capoue chose to pass to Holebas on the wing and any possibility of a goal attempt disappeared.  So we reached the break goalless after an enjoyable half in which the visitors had put on a decent performance.

At half time, there were celebrations on the pitch as the Everton U23s received their trophy for winning Premier League 2.  The stewards then took to the pitch to celebrate being voted best stewards in the Premier League for the eighth year in succession.  An impressive record and, it has to be said, they are rather lovely so I was happy to join the applause.

Zuniga pretends to line up a free kick that Holebas will take

The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as a cross was punched by Gomes to Schneiderlin who belted the ball over the bar.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came as Janmaat exchanged passes with Okaka before feeding Deeney who, under challenge from Jagielka, could only direct his shot just wide of the near post.  But it was the home side who took the lead just before the hour mark, as Barkley picked up the ball and was allowed a free run at goal, Prödl failed to put in a tackle and actually moved away from the shot before it flew past the diving Gomes.  Another frustrating goal to give away.  Everton then had a decent shout for a penalty as Gomes spilled a long-range shot from Mirallas, Lukaku looked ready to pounce but was brought down by Janmaat.  The referee waved play on, but I couldn’t help thinking that Watford got away with that one.  Everton had another chance to increase their lead as Schneiderlin met a corner from Baines, but he headed it over the bar.  Okaka, who was being given no protection by the referee, broke into the box, he was tackled but did very well to win the ball back at which point he was adjudged to have committed a foul, a ridiculous decision.   Holebas picked up his 13th yellow card of the season for complaining about something (nothing new there).  During the game we had been regaled by chants for José from Colin and Flo who were sitting behind us.  “Hole, Hole, Hole, bas bas bas” was good, but “He always wins the ball, he never smiles at all” won my vote.

Deeney and Davies

With 20 minutes to go Mazzarri made another substitution with Amrabat coming on in place of Behrami.  Nordin was in action almost immediately crossing for Okaka, whose goalbound header was blocked.  At the other end, a shot from Lukaku was cleared off the line by Mariappa.  As the travelling Hornets started the 72nd minute chorus of “One Graham Taylor”, it was lovely to see the Everton fans in the block to our left getting to their feet to join in with the applause.  There was then a rather bizarre pitch invasion as a couple of 10 year olds went belting across the pitch towards Robles, they were hugged by the smiling keeper before one ran off behind the goal while the other headed back to his seat in the block next to us to chants of “Sign him up” from the away fans.  They were both escorted from the ground and the stewards doubled up around the perimeter of the pitch.  Watford had a decent chance to equalize as Mariappa met a corner from Capoue with a header that flew just wide.  Into the last 10 minutes of the game and each side made substitutions.  Goalscorer, Barkley, and Mirallas made way for Barry and Koné for the home side while Niang replaced Capoue for the visitors.  Okaka had a great chance to level the score as he received the ball in the box with his back to goal, turned and shot but Robles was equal to it.  Watford continued to push for the equalizer as Niang curled a shot towards the far corner, but Barry got his head in the way to block it.  At the other end Gomes stopped a shot from Valencia.  There was one last attack from the visitors in time added on, but a cross from Amrabat flew over Okaka’s head and the Hornets fell to their fourth defeat in a row.

Challenging in the box

Despite the result, most of the 680 Watford fans who had travelled to Everton appreciated the efforts of the players.  It had been a lively performance which was only let down by the finishing.  Mariappa, who had kept Lukaku pretty quiet after the departure of Kabasele, looked really disappointed as he applauded the fans, and he certainly cheered me up no end by taking his shirt off and giving it to a fan.  Deeney followed suit and gestured to the other players around him to do the same.  Sadly there was one among the travelling fans who thought it appropriate to abuse the players.  There was a look of horror on the faces of the Everton stewards as Deeney crossed the hoardings into the away stand.  He listened to what the fella had to say and then headed over to talk to Flora, one of our young disabled fans, and hand her his boots.  Sadly, Mr Angry couldn’t leave it and carried on abusing the Watford captain at which point he was grabbed by the police and stewards and escorted out of the ground.  On a more pleasant note, as the Everton fans applauded their team on their end of season lap of honour, they also took time to applaud the Watford crowd and we replied in kind.

Behrami versus Barkley

We headed back to the city for a post-match pint.  The highlights of the game were showing in the pub and backed up my impression that Watford had made some decent chances.  We were also engaged in conversation with some Everton fans, all of whom were delightful.  Liverpool really is a fantastic city.

Then it was back to the hotel for the late night shenanigans in the bar.  Notable sights were a woman draped in a Belgian flag, no idea if she was supporting Lukaku and Mirallas or Kabasele.  Then a bride in full white dress appeared to get a round in, leaving the bar with a tray of drinks.  We were then joined by another group of Watford fans, so our attention went back to the post-match analysis which went on until we closed the bar at 3am.

Considering the Everton game in isolation, it would be seen as a decent performance against a good team.  But, at this stage of the season and with the poor run of late, it was just another in a series of disappointing results.  Mazzarri comes in for a lot of criticism, but so many of our defeats have been down to individual mistakes and he cannot be held responsible for that.  With Chelsea having won the league title on Friday evening, we can only hope that they are on the beach by Monday and that Hull don’t beat Palace.  Having to face Manchester City next Sunday needing points just doesn’t bear thinking about.

Undone by Defensive Errors

Pre-match huddle

I should have known that this was not going to be our day when, even before we’d left London, there was a message to say that the designated pre-match pub was closed.  Pete, who used to live in Leicester, was given the responsibility of nominating an alternative.  When we arrived, the outside was rather unprepossessing, but the interior was surprisingly gorgeous.  Having spotted our party towards the back of the pub, I made my way past the large group of blokes in my path.  I had assumed that they were all locals, but when I looked up, I realised that I knew most of them.  The beer choice was interesting, I went for a glass of mild, probably for the first time in my life.  I certainly wasn’t going to try the Vardy Volley!

Team news was that Mazzarri had decided to drop Deeney, with Okaka taking his place.  Needless to say, this led to speculation about Troy’s future at Watford with most thinking that, should Mazzarri stay on as manager (which looks likely), Deeney will be on his way.  The other change for the Hornets was Kabasele for Britos.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Kabasele; Amrabat, Doucouré, Cleverley, Capoue, Janmaat; Niang and Okaka.

Gomes launches a ball upfield

The first chance of the game fell to the Hornets as Niang released Janmaat whose curling shot was well wide of the target.  The Hornets nearly benefitted from a mistake by Schmeichel who threw the ball to Amrabat, it reached Cleverley in a great shooting position, but his shot was wide of the target.  Leicester then had two chances both of which could have resulted in own goals.  First, from a Mahrez free-kick, Vardy crossed and Mariappa diverted the ball onto the post, with Gomes beaten.  Soon after, a cross from Fuchs was met with a diving header from Kabasele that required a smart save from Gomes to keep it out of the net.  At the other end, a lovely through ball from Capoue set Niang free, but his shot hit the side netting.  After a long period of patient build-up play, Okaka turned and unleashed a shot that was blocked by the legs of Schmeichel.  Watford threatened again as Capoue met a cross from Janmaat with a looping header that was easily gathered by the Leicester keeper.  Then it was Leicester’s turn to break as Albrighton fed Drinkwater who could only find the side netting.  Cleverley had a decent chance to grab the first goal with a shot that required a great save from Schmeichel.  But it was the home side who took the lead in the 38th minute.  The events leading to the goal started when Okazaki broke forward and Prödl pulled him over to stop his progress.  The resulting free-kick hit the wall for a corner, from which Drinkwater crossed, the ball bounced off Capoue, who was unable to clear, and fell to Ndidi who finished past Gomes.  The Watford players looked rattled after conceding the goal and nearly let in another within minutes as a shot from Mahrez took a deflection off Cleverley and hit the top of the crossbar.  There was a half chance for an equalizer in time added on as Okaka received a Amrabat header with his back to goal, but his overhead kick cleared the bar.

Capoue and Cleverley prepare for a free kick

At half time, we felt rather unfortunate to be behind as, for once, Watford had more shots on and off target as well as dominating possession.  Unfortunately, we had been punished for a defensive mistake.

The home side had a great chance to increase their lead early in the second half as the defence stood off allowing Vardy to shoot but, thankfully, Gomes was equal to it.  Watford had a great chance to draw level as Amrabat crossed for Okaka at the far post, but his header was over the bar.  At this point, a section of the away support starting chanting for Deeney, who wasn’t even warming up.  This was followed by chants for Flores and Boothroyd!  The home side were two up on 58 minutes as a mistake from Mariappa allowed Mahrez to escape and finish past Gomes.  It was getting a bit fraught in the away end and there appeared to be some scuffles in the next block.  The stewards were certainly involved in some heated discussions with some of the fans.  Each manager rang the changes just after the hour mark as Slimani and King replaced Okazaki and Drinkwater for the home side, and Deeney came on for Capoue for the visitors, much to the approval of the bloke behind me who had been complaining about Etienne for the entire game.

Okaka

Leicester had a great chance to increase their lead as Vardy received a lovely through ball from Slimani, cut inside and shot from short range, but Gomes made a smart save at the near post.  The home side had another chance to increase the lead as a free kick from Fuchs just cleared the bar.  Mazzarri made a second, and rather odd, change bringing Zúñiga on for Kabasele.  The travelling Hornets stopped moaning long enough to give a rousing chorus of “One Graham Taylor” on the 72nd minute.  The noise from the away fans had a positive effect as the visitors had a series of goal attempts.  First, a lovely curling shot from Niang had to be pushed clear by Schmeichel.  Next Cleverley tried a shot from the edge of the area, but that was also saved.  Then an Amrabat cross was cleared to Cleverley but his shot was tipped over by Schmeichel.  There was a final substitution apiece as Mahrez made way for Gray for the home side while Mazzarri gave Dion Pereira his debut in place of Niang.  The youngster made a good start with a lovely cross that was headed down by Okaka and prodded just wide by Deeney.  Leicester’s third goal came in time added on, as a Watford attack broke down after Doucouré had the ball in the Leicester box, but decided not to shoot.  Leicester launched a quick break, Vardy found Albrighton who scored with a shot in off the post.  The scoreline was rather harsh and didn’t reflect the balance of play, but Watford had failed to make the most of their chances and were undone by a couple of defensive errors.

Dion Pereira

There was an interesting reaction from the travelling Hornets at the final whistle as the booing from those who are so inclined was almost drowned out by the warm applause from the majority in the crowd.  Debutant, Pereira, who had contributed a very pleasing cameo, approached the away end alongside Deeney.  Troy realised that the youngster would assume that any applause was being directed at his captain, so he stood back and allowed him to continue to receive an ovation from the crowd that he clearly appreciated.

As we queued in the ladies after the game, a little girl waiting for her Mum and little sister complained, “We are going to be relegated.”  When I pointed out that Hull had lost to Sunderland, she wasn’t placated.  “We lost to Hull, how embarrassing is that?  My friends at school take the mickey out of me.”  “At least you go to support your team.”  She smiled, “Yes.  I call them plastic fans.”

So, with three games remaining, we are still not mathematically safe, although it will take an extreme set of results for Watford to be relegated.  But it is still very frustrating that the season is fizzling out in such a manner.  There was a sad irony in hearing chants for Flores who, this time last season, was overseeing performances every bit as dull as those we are seeing under Mazzarri.  I spoke to a couple of fans after the game who can’t wait for the season to be over, which is a great shame.  But, come the end of May, I know we will all be counting the days until the fixtures are released.

A Disappointing Trip to the City of Culture

Phillip Larkin in the City of Culture

I had a very cultural week all in all, with plays by Tom Stoppard, Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare followed by a cracking evening spent with the Saw Doctors.  I just had to hope that my visit to the city of culture finished the week in style.

It all started rather well.  Being an unsociable type, I usually try to find an empty carriage for the journey, but the Hull Trains service was absolutely packed, so I took my assigned seat and found myself opposite a pleasantly chatty guy who kept me entertained.

On arrival in Hull, I headed for the designated pub, which was in the opposite direction from the ground and meant that I walked through some of the older areas of the city centre that I hadn’t visited in the past and, I must say, that it is a lot more attractive than I remember.  The pub was a cracker, a good selection of beers and lovely fresh fish (“skin on or off?”) for lunch.  The company (Happy Valley and West Yorks Horns) was delightful as always.  So we were in very good spirits as we set off for the walk to the ground.

Despite Hull’s precarious league position, the arrival of Marco Silva had heralded an upturn in form and Watford found themselves facing a manager who hadn’t lost a home game in more than 3 years.  Given Watford’s variable performances in recent weeks, it would have been a brave fan who predicted a positive result from this game.

Challenging in the Hull box

Team news was just the one change with Britos returning from suspension in place of Mariappa, who had been terrific since he was drafted into the starting line-up and was rather unlucky to have lost his place.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Janmaat, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Cleverley, Doucouré, Capoue; Amrabat, Deeney and Niang.

There had been speculation in the pub prior to the game about whether there would be a minute’s silence/applause following the tragic death of Ugo Ehiogu.  As he had no direct connection with either Watford or Hull, there was not, but the players were all wearing black armbands.

There was a very nervy start from the home side as a terrible back pass from Maguire looked to be sneaking in to the Hull net when Jakupovich managed to slide in and put the ball out for a corner which, sadly, came to nothing.  Watford’s next corner was marginally more effective as the delivery from Holebas was met by the head of Britos but the ball flew over the bar.  The next half chance went the way of the home side as Clucas tried a shot from distance that cleared the crossbar.

Prodl on the ball

During the next ten minutes of the game, the only things even remotely worthy of note were the chants from the away end.  I rather enjoyed “We’re only here for the culture.”  A later chant of “It’s just like watching Brazil” was countered by a more realistic and downcast “more like Italy” from the bloke behind me.  On 25 minutes, there was a potentially game-changing incident as a challenge by Niasse on Niang, that hadn’t looked particularly nasty from the stands, was greeted with an immediate red card from the referee.  Watford’s approach to the game up to this point had been rather cagey, so my hope was that the reduction in opposition numbers would lead to a more attacking approach.  The first few minutes following the sending off were not promising as the Watford men continued to play the ball around at the back.  But things brightened up as a corner was met by a header from Prödl that required a smart save from Jakupovich tip it over the bar.  Niang, who was getting abuse from the home crowd every time he got a touch, didn’t let it faze him as he played a through ball to Deeney who finished, but I think I was the only Watford fan who hopefully punched the air as the flag was up for a clear offside.  Niang then found Amrabat whose shot was blocked for a corner.

Waiting at the back post

Watford won another corner and, as Cleverley lined up to take it, he was greeted with the latest in a series of loud complaints from the home fans about the positioning of the ball so, on this occasion, the referee decided to check that there was no infringement.  Much to the amusement of the away fans at the other end of the ground, he nodded approval and indicated that the kick should be taken.  Britos managed to get a head to it but the ball flew just wide of the target.  A promising move started with Troy coming away with the ball after a tackle, he found Amrabat in a good position in the box, but Nordin decided to pass instead of trying a shot and the chance was gone.  In time added on at the end of the half, Grosicki went down in the box following a challenge from Amrabat, but the referee waved appeals away.   As if the Hull fans weren’t already angry enough, Niang then went flying in the air after a challenge, so the half time whistle went to loud boos from the home fans and the stewards coming on to escort the referee off the pitch.

It had been a disappointing half of football.  Watford had most of the possession, but were being rather cagey, which made for a very dull spectacle.  There was some increase in attacking threat after the sending off, but not the high tempo that we were hoping for.

Capoue and Niang

Silva made a substitution at the start of the second half bringing Hernández on for Evandro.  The first meaningful action of the half came with a lovely ball from Capoue to Amrabat but the cross was blocked.  The first goal attempt came from the Hull substitute, but he chipped the ball into the arms of Gomes.  Watford should have taken the lead just before the hour mark as a throw from Holebas reached Capoue in the box, the Frenchman looked sure to score but he was being tackled and so just swung at the ball and Jakupovich was able to block with his feet.  The Hornets were to rue that miss as, against the run of play, the home side took the lead after Watford lost the ball following a free kick allowing Hull to launch a counter attack, Grosicki crossed for Marcovic whose header rebounded off the crossbar and he made no mistake at the second attempt.  The Hornets attempted to get back into the game as Amrabat crossed for Deeney, but a well-timed nudge from a defender ensured that Troy failed to make contact, the ball came back into the area but, again, there was nobody to apply the final touch.

Cleverley lines up a free kick

The travelling Hornets had been crying out for a substitution and were rewarded when Success replaced Amrabat.  But it was Hull who had a great chance to increase their lead with a free kick from a dangerous position which Clucas directed over the wall and just wide.  The relief was short-lived as, soon after, a clearing header following a free kick reached Clucas who curled a beautiful shot past Gomes.  It was a moment of quality in a game that had been sadly devoid of it.  In an effort to save the game, Mazzarri replaced Doucouré with Okaka, but Watford goal attempts remained at a premium.  Capoue tried a shot from distance that was well over the bar.  Then a Capoue free kick reached Prödl whose shot was easy for the keeper.  Mazzarri’s final throw of the dice was to bring Zúñiga on to replace Holebas.  The Hornets had one last chance to reduce the deficit as Deeney volleyed just over.

As the final whistle went on a humiliating defeat for the visitors, it was greeted with loud boos from the travelling fans.  A young lad who was sitting behind me had been complaining loudly throughout the game and, on the final whistle, he went charging down to get himself into prime position to lambast any players who came over to greet the crowd.  Prödl was the first to approach us, making a gesture of regret but, despite having little to apologise for, was given the full force of the crowd’s invective.  This happened to each of the players in turn.  Troy quickly turned to leave the field, but had second thoughts and came back with Gomes holding something that he was clearly intending to gift to a young fan.  When he reached the perimeter, he hurdled it and walked up to the youngster, but was soon facing a number of very angry fans who were yelling at him.  It had the potential for a very nasty outcome but Troy just listened to what they had to say before returning over the wall at which point he was given an ovation by those still in the crowd.

Amrabat and Proedl challenging

As someone who is very much in the “happy-clapper” camp, I don’t boo the players but I am also not inclined to applaud them after a dreadful performance like that.  After the sending off, we should have been attacking at pace in order to tire the ten men and gain an advantage.  Instead we used our dominance of the possession to play the ball around at the back allowing Hull to sit back and wait for an opportunity to break and, when they did, it was at pace and decisive.  There have been accusations that the players were already on the beach, but the performance looked very much as if they were following instructions from the head coach.  Deeney was isolated up front with very little service and there was a distinct reluctance to break forward.  So, to my mind, blame for the defeat sits very firmly with the head coach.  The fact that this abject performance was delivered by the team in 10th position in “the best league in the world” is an indication of the dreadful lack of quality in the Premier League this season.

The post-match discussion in the queue for the Ladies came back to a theme that has been visited a number of times in recent weeks.  We miss the Championship.  Another theme in the post-match discussion was the behaviour of the travelling Watford fans.  Many of the people that I see week in, week out at games have been going for many years and have witnessed dreadful seasons of football, so tend to be rather circumspect.  But, since promotion, we seem to have attracted a large number of people whose lofty expectations leave them open to regular disappointment which leads to outbursts of (often irrational) anger.  Of course it may be that these people were always there, it was just that in times past we rarely sold out our away allocation so you tended to choose your position in the stand to sit with likeminded people.

Anyway, back to on pitch affairs.  Last season, when survival was the aim, we finished the season in 13th position with 45 points.  We have five games remaining this season to better that record but, given the opposition that we will be facing, it is hard to see us gaining any more points.  Maybe, for the next month, we should trust our instincts and just stay in the pub!

No Shame in a Harsh Defeat

Cleverley and Holebas line up a free kick

The lunchtime kick-off meant an earlier than usual departure for a London game.  I had arranged to meet my niece at Euston and decided to get an earlier train to give me time for a leisurely breakfast at Café Rouge (and very good it was too).  When Amelia arrived, we got the tube to Seven Sisters before taking a walk in the sunshine up Tottenham High Road to the stadium.  As we arrived at the security cordon outside the ground, there was a woman in front of us with a couple of children who had “Daddy 6” on the back of their shirts.  How lovely to see Mariappa’s young family back in Watford kit.

Team news was that Mazzarri had made four changes (two forced, two tactical) with Mariappa, Janmaat, Success and Okaka in for Britos, Prödl, Capoue and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Janmaat, Cleverley, Doucouré, Amrabat; Niang, Okaka and Success.  An interesting formation and a little surprising to see Deeney dropped to the bench.

Gathering for a ball into the Spurs box

The game started very well for the Hornets as Holebas won an early free kick.  He took it himself and curled a lovely shot towards the far corner, but it ended up in the arms of Lloris.  Soon after, Holebas played a corner short to Doucouré before running into the box to receive a return ball, but it ran through and was gathered by the Spurs keeper.  For the home side, Son had a decent chance from a tight angle, but the ball was deflected onto the post and out for a corner.  Watford challenged again as a cross from Doucouré was punched clear by Lloris as Okaka challenged.  The hosts should have taken the lead as Janssen turned in the box and shot, but Gomes saved with his feet.  At the other end, Holebas played a free kick to the far post where Cathcart prodded it into the side netting.  Hoping to repeat his goal from midweek, Niang tried a shot from distance, but this time it was straight at Lloris.  Spurs had a great chance to take the lead in the 18th minute as a cross from Trippier reached Janssen in front of an open goal, but he could only divert the ball onto the crossbar.  Another cross from Trippier soon after went begging as Janssen was unable to connect.  At the other end, a smart exchange of passes ended with the ball reaching Success who snatched at his shot which flew the width of the field and out for a throw-in!  The home side took the lead in the 32nd minute and it was a brilliant goal, a lovely curling shot from Dele that nestled in the top corner of the Watford net.

Niang on the ball

The visitors were appealing for a penalty soon after when Success went down in the box, but the appeals were waved away.  The Hornets were two goals down after 39 minutes when a shot from Son deflected off Doucouré and fell to Dier who smashed it past Gomes.  After the terrific start from the Hornets, they really didn’t deserve to be two goals down at this stage.  But it got worse before half time as Son hit a lovely shot from distance for the third goal.  That was just nasty.

If you were only to look at the half time score, this looked like a pasting, but Watford had played some really lovely football in the first half.  However, Spurs are easily the best team that I have seen this season and their moments of quality in front of goal were the difference between the teams.

It could have been much worse early in the second half as, from a Watford corner, Eriksen intercepted the ball and went haring the length of the pitch and was only stopped by a terrific tackle from Janmaat in the box.  Watford’s Dutchman then had a chance himself at the other end, dribbling along the top of the box before shooting just wide of the target.

Cathcart, Deeney, Mariappa, Okaka and Success gathering for a set piece

Spurs scored their fourth ten minutes into the second half, the Watford defence should have done better with this one as Trippier crossed for Son who was in an acre of space as he finished for his second goal of the game.  Mazzarri’s first change was to bring Zuñiga on in place of Doucouré.  This substitution wasn’t as protracted as usual, probably because, I am reliably informed, Zuñiga waved Frustalupi away as he produced his tactic book.  Despite the scoreline, Watford were not giving up and Okaka broke into the box and cut the ball back for Niang who was muscled off the ball.  On the hour, Spurs brought Kane on for Janssen, which seemed rather cruel from my perspective.  Watford should have done better when Okaka played a lovely through ball to Success, but the Nigerian hit his shot into the ground and it flew wide.  Watford’s second substitution was an attacking change as Deeney came on for Amrabat, who had played through the middle all afternoon.  As the Watford crowd were singing for GT, the Hornets won a corner, which came out to Deeney who had a great chance to reduce the deficit, but shot well over the bar.  On 80 minutes, the away fans were indulging in shouts of Olé as the players passed the ball around beautifully, but one misplaced pass and Dele escaped towards the Watford box, the ball found its way to Son, who looked nailed on for his hat trick, but managed to shoot wide of the near post.  The South Korean had another great chance to go home with the match ball, but this time whipped his shot onto the crossbar and over.

Zuniga challenged by Dembele

Mazzari’s final substitution was a case of shutting the stable door some considerable time after the horse had bolted, as he replaced Okaka with Kabasele.  Spurs had one final chance of a fifth goal as they won a free kick in the final minute of added time, but Kane wasted the last kick of the game directing the ball on to the crossbar.

4-0 was a rather cruel scoreline for the Hornets, but Spurs had been excellent.  Having scored three in the first half, the home side appeared to relax a bit in the second period, which was nothing like as entertaining as the first 45 minutes.  But fair play to the Watford players for still giving it a go.  Fair play also to the travelling fans, as they were singing all afternoon and then applauded the players off the pitch.  That support was rewarded with a nice little gesture as Success reappeared after the cameras had departed to hand out a couple of shirts, one of which was held aloft by Don Fraser as he left the ground.  That made me very happy.

As we left the ground in search of the brewery tap who had sent a message to Dave M suggesting that Watford fans would be welcomed after the game, we found the locals very pleasant (quite understandably) but also the stewards on the way, a number of whom helpfully gave us directions for the supporters coach which was parked quite a distance from the ground and very close to the bar.  The location for the brewery wasn’t the most attractive that I have ever seen, being a unit on an industrial estate, but the welcome was warm, the beer was very pleasant, the sun was shining and the company was second to none.  As we eventually left to make our way to our evening commitments, we were all in a very good mood.  This wasn’t a game that we expected to win and, despite the scoreline, the Watford performance had certainly not been as cowed as in the game at Liverpool.  The patched together defence had done a decent job in the first half hour and most of the Spurs goals had been down to individual brilliance from the players in question.  We ended the afternoon with our team in the top half of the table, amongst good friends with the sun shining.  So, despite the defeat, all felt right with the world.

Back to Winning Ways

Kaboul

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

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

Capoue on the ball

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

Holebas and Cleverley prepare for a corner

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

Holebas takes a corner

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

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

Celebrating Britos’s goal

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

Britos, Cathcart and Okaka gathering for a corner

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

Holebas lining up a free kick

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

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

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

Saying Goodbye to Our Hero

Don & I with Graham & Rita

Don & I with Graham & Rita

The first time I ‘met’ Graham Taylor was one Summer in the early 80s.  I had heard that the Hornets trained at Shendish, which was a short walk across the fields from our house.  We headed over there a couple of times, while walking the dog, before the golden day when we saw the Watford players streaming on to the training pitch.  We were awestruck.  As they played a training game, every time the ball rolled off the pitch towards her, my young sister would pick it up and hold it for one of the players to collect.  After she had done this a few times, GT gently said, “You can throw it, you know.”  She started doing that and the practice flowed more smoothly.  Then my attention switched to Nigel Callaghan who was practising his ball skills when our Border Collie decided to challenge him.  When I look back on that day, I am horrified.  We were a group of children disrupting their training session, and GT would have been totally justified in sending us packing, but he didn’t once make us feel as though we shouldn’t be there.  That was just one of a number of encounters that I have had over the years with Graham Taylor that have always left me walking on air and adoring the man.  When I heard about his death this week, I felt as though I had lost a favourite uncle and discussions with fellow fans and those throughout the football world who had been lucky enough to come into contact with him showed that my feelings were shared by many.

Suddenly Saturday’s game with Middlesbrough had taken on a great significance and the tickets that were unsold as of Thursday morning were soon snapped up.

Graham Taylor, We Love You

Graham Taylor, We Love You

As always on an important football day, I took some time choosing my outfit for the game.  I could not find my “Golden Boy Forever” t-shirt, but did find “Elton John’s Taylor-made Champions” from 97-98.  I also took my Cup Final replica shirt to wear in the ground so that both eras were covered.

I left home earlier than usual so that I could get to the Hornet Shop to sign the book of condolence before the crowds descended.  On the train journey, I listened (again) to the 5Live tribute show.  The outpouring of love was just remarkable and it was wonderful to know that it wasn’t just Watford fans that loved the man so much.

As I walked along Market Street, I saw a friend coming in the opposite direction.  No words were exchanged as we met, just a heartfelt hug.  That would become a feature of the day.  I arrived at the ground at about 11:30 and took a while to admire the tributes that had already been left before joining the queue to sign the book.  It was lovely to see that the display in the windows of the club shop had been changed to feature shirts and tracksuits from GT’s time at the club.

There's only one Graham Taylor

There’s only one Graham Taylor

We took up residence at our usual table in the West Herts which soon filled up with the regulars and with some more occasional visitors, each arrived looking bereft and was greeted with warm hugs.  The build up to the Spurs v WBA game was being shown on the televisions and I was not taking much notice when suddenly I became aware of the sound of clapping.  I looked up to see Graham Taylor’s picture displayed on the screen at the ground and the players and crowd taking part in a minute’s applause.  All conversation in the bar ceased and you could have heard a pin drop until the referee’s whistle went on the television when we applauded the gesture and went back to our previous discussions.

I am usually guilty of getting to my seat just in time for Z-cars, but on this occasion, I wanted to be there early to pay my respects, particularly as Graham’s family would be in attendance, which I thought was incredibly brave given how recently they had lost him.  But, as Pete pointed out, “It’s what Graham would have done.”  As we got to the ground, the size of the crowds and the floral tributes had grown considerably since my earlier visit.  So many flowers and shirts with lovely messages and each of the bollards had Watford scarves tied around them.  Arriving inside the Rookery I saw yet another queue to sign the condolence book which brought tears to my eyes.

The tribute in the Rookery (many thanks to Sarah Priestley for the photo)

The tribute in the Rookery (many thanks to Sarah Priestley for the photo)

On the way through the concourse, I bumped into more and more friends, all in or on the verge of tears.  As we reached our seats, GT’s picture was on the big screen and “There’s only one Graham Taylor” was rolling across the electronic hoardings and being sung by the crowd.  Then I noticed other little details such as the black corner flags and that Harry Hornet was wearing the CTX shirt from the 97-98 season.  As we waited for kick-off, they were playing GT’s favourite songs and the big screen was showing highlights from past triumphs.  They then cut to show Rita, Joanne and Karen in the GT stand and I lost it completely.  Just before the teams came out, they played GT’s favourite song which is Buddy Holly’s “Raining in my Heart.”  If there was anybody in the ground who had kept it together until that point, I expect that finished them off.

As Z-cars was played and the teams came on to the pitch, the big screen was showing GT leading the team out at Wembley on cup final day.  The 1881 had arranged a foil display and as we held them up, I managed to catch a glimpse of the big screen.  The design GT on a yellow background was just perfect and those holding them were loudly singing “There’s only one Graham Taylor”.  The pre-match tribute continued as the foils were lowered and the legends flag was displayed in the centre of the Rookery.

The players lined up for the minute's applause

The players lined up for the minute’s applause

There had been some discussion before the game about whether a minute’s silence or applause was the most appropriate.  Tim Coombs closed the discussion with the statement that, at the family’s request, a minute’s applause would be held.  This had the benefit of allowing all in the ground to belt out “One Graham Taylor”, at least those who were capable of chanting through the tears.  It was wonderful to see that the Middlesbrough fans joined in with both the applause and the singing.

After all that, it was easy to forget that a game was taking place.  Team news was that Mazzarri had made five changes from the Burton game with Gomes, Prödl, Behrami, Holebas and Okaka coming in for Pantilimon, Cathcart, Mason, Sinclair and Ighalo.  So, the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Kabasele, Doucouré, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney and Okaka.  Returning loan signing, Tom Cleverley was on the bench.

Capoue lines up a free kick

Capoue lines up a free kick

Watford had a great chance to open the scoring in the 9th minute as Capoue went on a run, a defender attempted a tackle but the ball rebounded in the direction of the goal, Etienne continued his run while the ball took an age to drop, sadly the Frenchman’s first touch was poor and Boro keeper, Valdés, had time to save at his feet.  At the other end, a ball into the box was headed down to Stuani who poked it home but, much to the relief of the Watford fans, the flag was up for offside, so it didn’t count.  The next action of note was on the 26th minute as Okaka nodded the ball down for Doucouré, whose lovely strike was blocked by Valdés.  Soon after, the same players combined again as Okaka broke forward and fed Doucouré whose shot was blocked, a cross back into the box was just missed by the head of Okaka.  The Italian launched another attack, beating two players before putting in a cross that Chambers cleared just before Deeney could connect.  The visitors threatened again as a ball was flicked into the Watford box and Stuani chipped over Gomes but, thankfully, also over the bar.  A guy near the front of the Rookery stood up to remonstrate with the Watford keeper who, to everyone’s surprise, gave the fan a piece of his mind.  Just before half time, some more good work from Okaka allowed Doucouré to try another shot but, again, it was just over the bar.

The former players at half time

The former players at half time

There were boos at the half time whistle.  It had been a poor half, although Watford had the better of the chances.

I felt very sorry for the children taking part in the half-time penalty shoot-out in front of the Rookery as all attention was on the former players gathered on the side of the pitch being interviewed by Tim and Emma.  Ian Bolton, Les Taylor, Nick Wright, Allan Smart, Tommy Mooney and Luther Blissett all spoke about the great man and, as he has done a number of times this week, it fell to Luther to pay the most perfect tribute, “He is the greatest man I’ve known.”

The second half started with a great chance for the Hornets, but Kabasele headed Capoue’s cross just wide of the near post.  The home side had another half chance as a free kick from Capoue was headed goalwards by Okaka, but Valdés dropped to make the save.  At the other end a Prödl clearance found Fabio who forced Gomes into a flying save.

Waiting for a ball into the box

Waiting for a ball into the box

Capoue should have opened the scoring with a lovely curling shot that was just wide of the far post.  On 65 minutes, Gomes had to be replaced after picking up an injury when he fell awkwardly making a save.  Pantilimon took the field to chants of “Mackem reject” from the Boro faithful.  At the same time, the visitors brought Gestede on to make his debut in place of De Roon.  The substitute keeper’s first test came from a free kick that he gathered safely.  At the other end, Deeney played the ball out to Kabasele whose cross was headed just wide by Doucouré.  At this point (the 72nd minute) another minute’s applause started with the accompanying chants for Graham Taylor, again the Boro fans joined in.  Watford’s next substitution saw Tom Cleverley making his second debut for Watford in place of Behrami.  The Watford fans were screaming for a penalty as Okaka battled with a defender in the box before being pulled to the ground.  Instead, the referee awarded a free kick to the visitors and showed Okaka a yellow card.  Boro substitute, Gestede, tried his luck from 25 yards, but his shot flew over the bar.  Watford’s substitute had a much better chance and we were already on our feet celebrating when Cleverley’s shot rebounded off the post, Capoue’s follow-up cleared the bar.  Nothing was going our way.

Kaboul and Okaka

Kaboul and Okaka

Deeney had a great chance in the last few minutes as he ran on to a lovely ball over the top from Cleverley, with only Valdés to beat, the keeper stuck his leg out and the shot deflected wide of the far post.  From the corner, Prödl headed goalwards, but Valdés was able to make the save.  Watford’s final substitution saw Zúñiga take the place of Holebas, who took an age to leave the field, much to the displeasure of the Watford fans.  Watford had one final chance from a corner in time added on, but Kabasele’s header was saved.  There was just time for some handbags as Fabio and Deeney clashed after Britos had been booked for a foul on the Middlesbrough man.  So a disappointing game ended goalless.

There were a number of complaints after the game, but we had a considerably improved second half and had made enough chances to have won the game easily.  There were a number of positives for me.  There had been some good signs from Okaka.  Doucouré had an excellent game playing as the box-to-box midfielder that we had been promised.  Capoue was much improved with some good deliveries from set pieces and a couple of decent chances himself.  Finally, it was nice to see Tom Cleverley back, he made some lovely touches and almost grabbed the winner.  Off the pitch, the fans had been magnificent, both the 1881 for the pre-match displays, which were remarkable given the short time that they had to organize them, and the fans as a whole for singing Graham Taylor’s name for most of the ninety minutes.  I hope that Rita and the rest of the family took a little comfort from the outpouring of love from the fans.

The tributes outside Vicarage Road

The tributes outside Vicarage Road

We left the ground through the stand named after the great man, taking the time to remember all his achievements that are commemorated there.  We then stopped outside the shop to admire all the tributes that had been left.  It was a beautiful display.

Back in the West Herts, the post-match analysis was soon replaced with talk of Graham Taylor.  Unusually, perhaps, there were no reminiscences about great games, but all the talk was about encounters with him and the legacy that he has left for the club and the town.  We went back to the 80s when football grounds were generally nasty places to be and yet families were flocking to Vicarage Road to watch football in safety on the family terrace that had been built after GT raised money for it by running the London marathon.  At away games, we watched football from inside cages, but there were never any fences separating the fans from the players at the Vic.  He had also refused to have a covered dugout built until the fans in the Vicarage Road end had a roof.  At a time when football fans were treated like criminals, Graham Taylor refused to take this stance.  He treated the fans as he would want to be treated and the fans responded in kind.  The football club was built in his image and was a wonderful warm place to be.

Many Watford fans have talked this week about how much influence Graham Taylor had on their lives.  He was a man of great kindness and integrity who was a great role model to us all.  As a fan meeting GT, he had an incredible knack of making you feel that it was his pleasure to be speaking you.  He built a football club that still retains the family ethos that he instilled.  Last week that club lost its father.  We will miss him terribly.

Ton Up Troy

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

Christmas was spent with family, so we travelled en masse to the early kick-off on Boxing Day.  The roads were surprisingly empty but as we got nearer to the ground, the crowds were gathering and the pulses quickened.

Despite Palace’s poor performances this season, the news that Pardew had been replaced by Allardyce was not what we needed going in to this game and I approached it with low expectations.

The main team news was that Deeney had been named on the bench, with Janmaat taking his place in a front three.  Mazzarri’s other change was to bring Guedioura in for Zúñiga.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Capoue, Behrami, Guedioura; Amrabat, Ighalo and Janmaat.

Challenging for the ball

Challenging for the ball

Mazzarri’s game plan was scuppered in the first couple of minutes as Janmaat picked up an injury while tackling Zaha and was stretchered off to be replaced by Zúñiga.  I was gratified to see that a good number of the Palace fans joined us in applauding Janmaat off the pitch.  There was an early scare for the Hornets when Zaha, who was booed from the start by the Watford fans, was tripped by Guedioura in a dangerous position.  I held my breath as Clattenburg pointed to where the offence was committed but could breathe again when he confirmed that it was outside the box.   Thankfully, the free kick did not trouble Gomes.  There were more injury woes for the Hornets on 13 minutes as Behrami went down holding his hamstring.  He was replaced by Deeney, whose first touch was a lovely ball to Ighalo, but the Nigerian’s cross was blocked.  There was nothing in the way of notable chances before the 24th minute when Prödl tackled Benteke on the edge of the box, the ball broke to Cabaye whose shot was just wide of the near post.  The Palace man was more successful in the next move, Townsend broke forward and played a lovely through ball to Cabaye, who looked a mile offside when he slotted home, but our hopes were dashed as the linesman kept his flag down and the visitors took the lead.  Cabaye also had the next chance with a shot that was well wide of the near post.

Etienne Capoue on the ball

Etienne Capoue on the ball

Watford’s first meaningful chance of the game came on the half hour as Holebas played the ball out to Guedioura who shot wide of the far post.  Another chance came Watford’s way when Ighalo was tripped on the edge of the box, the ball fell to Amrabat but his cross-cum-shot hit Zúñiga and ran through to Hennessey.  The home side looked to be the architects of their own downfall on 36 minutes as Prödl played a terrible back pass to Gomes, Benteke ran on to it and was tripped by the Watford keeper.  The referee had no choice but to point to the spot.  Benteke stepped up to take the penalty himself and, with the Rookery doing their best to put him off, hit a terrible shot that was easily saved by Gomes on his 100th appearance for the club.  Boos greeted the half time whistle.  It had been a very poor half from the Hornets who had created next to nothing.  Salt was rubbed into the wound by the half time entertainment, which was a montage of goals on the big screen.  As I watched it, I despaired that the same players were now incapable of hitting a barn door.

Celebrating Troy's 100th Goal

Celebrating Troy’s 100th Goal

The Hornets made a much better start to the second half but the lively play didn’t translate into many chances.  The first was a shot from distance from Guedioura that flew wide of the far post.  Then Prödl played a ball the length of the pitch, Ighalo latched onto it in the box, but could only shoot wide of the near post.  The next chance fell to Zúñiga, as a Prödl free kick was headed down to him by Deeney, but he shot into Row ZZ, so I didn’t have to duck.  Amrabat went on a lovely run and crossed to the opposite wing where Zúñiga picked the ball up, but his cross was blocked.  Then Watford got the break that they needed as, at a corner, Prödl was dragged to the ground by Delaney and Mark Clattenburg pointed to the spot.  The significance of the penalty award was not lost on anyone in the Rookery as Deeney picked up the ball and the tension grew.  Trevor in the row in front said he didn’t have a good feeling about this.  “Shut up, Cassandra!”  Our Cate wasn’t sure she could look.  I was just concentrating on the man with the ball muttering a mantra, “Come on Troy. Come on Troy.”  Deeney kissed the ball and placed it on the spot, sent Hennessey the wrong way and the Rookery into raptures as he finally scored his hundredth goal for the Hornets.  It had been a long time coming, but it was richly deserved as he had worked incredibly hard since he came on.

Congratulations to Troy on his milestone

Congratulations to Troy on his milestone

The visitors tried to hit back as Puncheon took a free kick, but it was headed over the target by Dann.  A Palace substitution saw former Watford loanee Jordon Mutch replace a less fondly remembered loanee, Andros Townsend.  There was a rare moment of quality as Zúñiga played a clever back heel to Guedioura whose cross was met with a flick header from Ighalo that was easily gathered by Hennessey.  Mazzarri’s final substitution saw Sinclair come on for Zúñiga.  The next action of note was Zaha going down in the Watford box, my heart sank and then swelled when I saw the referee indicate a Watford free kick and brandish a yellow card at the Palace man.  The final chance of the game came with a lovely bit of ball juggling from Guedioura, but his volley was saved by Hennessey and the game finished with honours even.

A draw was probably a fair result.  The visitors had the best of the first half, but the Hornets had been the better team in the second.  The game would probably have been very different had Watford’s starting XI lasted a bit longer, but there was a great deal of frustration at the lack of service to the forwards.  Amrabat and Holebas have been two of our better performers this season but they managed one decent cross into the box between them.  One positive for me was that there were some indications of a revival of the understanding between Deeney and Ighalo.  But when I start fretting about recent results, I look at the table and marvel at the fact that we will finish the year in 10th place in the Premier League so, despite some awful performances, we are doing something right.