Tag Archives: Juan Carlos Paredes

The Gills Triumph in the League Cup

Guedioura makes amends

Guedioura makes amends

I suspect that I was one of very few people who bought tickets for this game as soon as they went on sale.  My season ticket seat is a couple of seats away from my niece’s.  Since I knew that the guys who sit between us don’t usually attend early League Cup games, I decided to buy their seats instead of mine.  When my sister found out on Monday that she would be able to get leave from work to attend and was able to buy my seat (prime in the middle of the Rookery), it was clear that the attendance at this game would be rather low.  That suspicion was confirmed when the West Herts was relatively empty pre-match and, after Don and Trond left early to go to the ground, I was Franny-no-mates at our usual table.  For this reason, it was a surprise to arrive at the ground twenty minutes before kick-off to see a huge queue at the ticket office.  Sadly, it seems that many fans were not aware that their tickets would not be uploaded to their Season Cards and so faced an irritating and unexpected queue to collect tickets that they thought they already had.

With a new head coach, there is always the question of whether he will make wholesale changes for the early cup games or use them to help the team to gel.  We were given our answer when Mazzarri made nine changes from the Chelsea game with only Guedioura and Deeney keeping their places.  The starting line-up was Pantilimon; Nyom, Hoban, Kabasele; Paredes, Guedioura, Watson, Doucouré, Anya; Deeney and Vydra.  So a chance to see Troy and Matěj teaming up again and it was rather lovely to see Hoban back after so long out injured.

Guedioura on a run

Guedioura on a run

As we waited for kick-off, a lot of balls were flying in to the Rookery, one of which hit a little lad a couple of rows behind me.  I heard applause and then saw Guedioura running up the aisle past us to make sure that the child was OK and give him a ball to take home.  That may well have been the highlight of the evening.

The game started promisingly enough as Anya cut the ball back to Deeney whose snap shot was saved.  At the other end our new defender, Kabasele, made a good start to his debut with a great tackle on Osadebe.  My notes relating to the next twenty minutes tell me that we were making a lot of deep crosses while none of our players were anywhere near the far post.  Watford had a decent chance on the half hour as a shot from Anya was parried and Doucouré hit the rebound from the edge of the area just wide.  Guedioura was the next to threaten the Gillingham goal but, again, shot wide from distance.   Gillingham’s first notable chance came just before half-time but Emmanuel-Thomas fired well wide of the target, so we reached half time goalless.  Watford had been the better side with the majority of the possession, but had rarely tested Nelson in the Gillingham goal.

Celebrating Ighalo's goal

Celebrating Ighalo’s goal

As we started the second half, I had high hopes that we would finally convert our dominance to goals and we started promisingly.  Watson had the first goal attempt of the second period with a shot that flew just over the bar.  Then Hoban met a Paredes cross with a header that was well over the target.  The first substitution came ten minutes into the half as Ighalo replaced Guedioura.  It was an attacking substitution that paid off almost immediately as Deeney chipped a ball over the defence and Ighalo turned it in from close range.  The Hornets should have been two up as Deeney and Vydra combined to find Ighalo in space but his shot was blocked.  That was the Czech’s last action of the game as he was replaced by Capoue.  I felt sorry for Matěj, he had worked hard and was obviously keen to impress.  It had been interesting to see Deeney and Vydra together again.  There were lots of little flicks between them, but they didn’t come to anything and you couldn’t help thinking that Troy was doing his best to help his strike partner to get the goal that he so desperately wanted.  There was very warm applause for Matěj as he left the field which he reciprocated.  Watford should have had a second goal as a header from Hoban was blocked on the line before an attempt at a clearance by a Gillingham defender hit the bar.

Hoban and Kabasele line up for a corner

Hoban and Kabasele line up for a corner

At the other end, a stupid tackle by Nyom on a player who was going nowhere led to a penalty award.  The Rookery started chanting Pantilimon’s name, but he didn’t need to get involved as Dack put the ball into Row Z.  Deeney could have turned the knife with a header from a Paredes cross, but Nelson was equal to it.  Watford were to rue not making the most of their chances as, with eight minutes to go, Byrne hit a shot from distance into the far corner of Pantilimon’s goal.  Watford had a couple of late chances to win the game but Doucouré skyed his shot and then Hoban fired just wide, although the flag was already up for offside.  So Watford had been punished again for dropping deep to preserve a narrow lead and we were to be treated to extra time.

In the first minute of extra time Ighalo should have regained the lead for the Hornets, but his shot was just wide of the near post.  Mazzarri’s second substitution saw Zúñiga replacing Anya and the Colombian could have broken the deadlock but shot just wide.  Against the run of play, it was the visitors who took the lead as the Watford defence failed to deal with a cross, allowing Dack to sneak in to shoot.  Pantilimon appeared to grab the ball but only succeeded in taking it over the line.  This was missed by the linesman but the referee was notified due to the goal line technology and indicated a goal.

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

Watford tried to strike back in the second period of extra time but it wasn’t to be our night as Hoban had another effort cleared off the line and goal machine, Capoue, hit a decent chance high and wide, much to the disappointment of my niece who is a big fan but has yet to see him score.  The final whistle went to a loud chorus of boos.

What is it with Watford and the early rounds of the League Cup?  This is the latest in a long line of dreadful performances.  These games should be an opportunity for fringe players to make a claim for a place but only Kabasele and Hoban really impressed.  Certainly, those who have expressed concern regarding some recent mistakes from Gomes will have derived no comfort from Pantilimon’s showing.  Deeney hasn’t looked himself in the early games this season, although he rarely does when things aren’t going his way.  You can’t help but think that this would have been a good game in which to rest him and give Sinclair a chance to impress.

So we are out of the cup to a League One side and anticipating a visit from Arsenal.  The international break can’t come quickly enough.

 

 

Goodbye Señor Flores and Thank-you

Deeney apologises to girl in the Rookery

Deeney apologises to girl in the Rookery

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

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

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

Cathcart challenged

Cathcart challenged

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

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

Deeney on the ball

Deeney on the ball

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

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

Congratulating Proedl

Congratulating Proedl

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

Ighalo congratulates Deeney after the penalty

Ighalo congratulates Deeney after the penalty

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

Goodbye and Thank you, Senor Flores

Goodbye and Thank you, Senor Flores

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

 

Mathematically Safe at Last

Abdi and Paredes

Abdi and Paredes

The week before this game was dominated by feelings of disappointment following the FA Cup semi-final at which our team really didn’t do themselves justice.  I had a clear indication of my level of disillusion after that game when I realized on Tuesday morning that I had completely forgotten to buy tickets for the trip to Norwich the previous day.  Normally I buy my tickets for away games as soon as they go on sale.

In the wider football world, the main news of the week had been the final verdicts in the Hillsborough inquest.  Those of us who went to football in the 80s were all too aware of the conditions that we faced at grounds and the attitudes of the authorities towards us.  What happened at Hillsborough could just as easily have happened to me and my family and friends and the vilification that the victims and their families have endured over the past 27 years has been shocking beyond belief.  I am very thankful that the truth that was so evident to anyone without an agenda in the 80s is now a matter of record.  Well done to the families for never giving up their fight for justice.

Miguel Britos

Miguel Britos

On the train to the game, I was reading the BBC football website and the responses to their request for people to comment on what they were looking forward to from the day’s football.  One comment stood out.  “Does anyone care about Watford vs Aston Villa? #deadrubber.”  It was hard to argue with that viewpoint although, even though I have felt that we were safe ever since we hit 37 points, Watford were not yet mathematically safe from relegation.  When we took our seats in the Rookery, I was very impressed with the number of Aston Villa fans who had made the journey from Birmingham for this fixture.  Although the mood among them did not seem particularly positive as, with good reason, they booed when the name of their captain, Lescott, was read out.

One other story dominating the Watford press during the week concerned the strong rumours that Flores would be on his way during the Summer.  Speculation regarding his future seemed grossly unfair given that he had achieved the aim of keeping Watford in the Premier League with the added bonus of an FA Cup semi-final.  The reaction to these rumours on the social media that I bother with had been mixed, so it was pleasing to see the 1881 display a flag bearing Flores’ face prior to kick off.

Flores in the dugout

Flores in the dugout

Team news was that there were four changes from Sunday with Gomes, Paredes, Anya and Suárez in for Pantilimon, Nyom, Aké and Capoue.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Britos, Cathcart, Paredes, Jurado, Watson, Suárez, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo.  The Watford players all took to the pitch wearing black armbands which I assumed were in honour of Ighalo’s father who passed away last week, but I am happy to be contradicted on that one.

The support for Flores from the Watford fans continued after kick off as his name was chanted non-stop for the first 15 minutes of the game.  Watford started well and fashioned an early chance as a cross from Abdi reached Jurado who played the ball out to Suárez whose shot was over the bar.  Then Deeney got his head to a Jurado cross, but his connection was not solid and the ball flew wide of the Villa goal.  Jurado went on a promising run which finished with a cross that was too far in front of Ighalo.  Then Ighalo did well to beat a couple of defenders in the box, but his shot was blocked for a corner while Deeney was in space.  At this point Troy let his strike partner know in no uncertain terms how unhappy he was with his decision making.  A chant of “Championship you’re having a laugh” emanated from the away end and I could only assume this was aimed at their own players who had been woeful to that point.

Abdi and Suarez line up for the free kick that led to the goal

Abdi and Suarez line up for the free kick that led to the goal

Deeney made what looked like a terrible tackle on Bacuna who, thankfully, got up unharmed and there was no punishment for Deeney beyond the award of the free kick.  Paredes found Abdi on the overlap, his cross reached Ighalo at the far post where his shot was blocked by Bunn sticking a foot out.  At this point, half way through the first half, the Rookery crowd were yelling “shoot”, every time a Watford player got the ball anywhere near the Villa box and they were rewarded when Watson blasted a volley from distance that crashed off the crossbar.  Villa’s first goal attempt came on 26 minutes and it was a dreadful shot from distance by Ayew that flew well over the target.  This prompted the travelling Villa fans to jump up and down celebrating as if a goal had been scored while chanting “We’ve had a shot”.   So it was a shock to everyone in the ground when the visitors took the lead two minutes later as Clark met a Westwood corner and headed it past Gomes.  The Villa fans celebrated properly and followed up with “Easy, easy” and “We scored a goal.”  Watford looked to hit back through Deeney who latched on to a ball over the top and won a corner off Toner.  Jurado’s delivery was headed on by Britos to Abdi who should have done better with the shot, but he directed it way off target.  Villa threatened again with a cross from Hutton, but Cathcart was on hand to head clear.

Celebrating Abdi's strike

Celebrating Abdi’s strike

The Villa fans continued their continuous singing with “There’s only one Graham Taylor”, which was lovely and I was very disappointed that the Watford fans didn’t join in (I seemed to be on my own).  The first caution went to Bacuna for a trip on Anya.  Watford’s next chance on goal came when Deeney met a cross from Suárez with a hopeful header that flew wide.  The visitors nearly extended their lead with a header from Ayew that hit the post.  Watford had a decent chance to equalize as Ighalo met a cross from Abdi with a header, but Lescott was in close attendance and the ball bounced off him and safely to Bunn.  In time added on at the end of the half, when a large number of fans were already in the concourses queuing for their half time refreshments, Gueye was booked for a foul on Abdi just outside the box.  Almen stepped up to take the free kick himself and took the perfect free kick, hitting it up and over the wall and into the net past Bunn.  Having got my camera out to capture Deeney’s penalty at West Ham, I felt like I had jinxed it, so the camera was left in my pocket as Abdi stepped up I was rewarded with a goal.

Challenging at a Watford corner

Challenging at a Watford corner

On the balance of play, Watford deserved to go in to the break level.  We had been much the better side in the first 20 minutes and towards the end of the half, but heads had gone down after Villa took the lead and we had been poor in that period.

At half time, the U18s were given their trophy and medals for winning the Professional Development League 2 South.  The presentation took place in front of the SEJ stand, so they had their backs to those of us in the Rookery and I was disappointed that there was no lap of honour.

At the start of the second half, I realized that my notes on the first period had omitted any comment on the performance of the visitors.  As I looked up from writing “Villa dreadful” I saw Ayew running towards us with no Watford player anywhere near and he beat Gomes to restore the lead for the visitors.  That’ll teach me for tempting fate.  Villa threatened again as Ayew and Westwood broke forward before finding Gestede who shot high and wide prompting boos from the Rookery.

Cathcart and Deeney

Cathcart and Deeney

Flores made his first substitution just before the hour mark and, when the board went up showing that it was Paredes who would make way, there were loud cheers from the Watford fans.  He was replaced by Berghuis, who had impressed at West Ham.  More of the same please, Steven.  Watford had a great chance to draw level again as a Jurado corner was met by a header from Deeney that was cleared off the line.  At the other end, a free kick from Westwood was met with a header from Toner that went wide of the target.  Berghuis tried an audacious shot from distance which was deflected, taking the pace off it and ensuring it was easy for Bunn to deal with.  The 1881 had clearly lost patience with their team at this point as there were chants of “Are you Villa in disguise.”  Never good to hear fans getting so negative towards their own players.  Flores made a second substitution replacing Jurado with Amrabat.  Watford had an opportunity to equalize as Watson released Anya who went on a tremendous run down the middle of the pitch and was clean through on goal when Cissokho took him down on the edge of the box.  The Villa man was shown a red card for preventing a goal scoring opportunity.  Abdi’s free kick came back off the wall and the chance came to nothing.  The Villa keeper, Bunn, was booked for time wasting in an incident in which Ighalo lost patience with him delaying a kick, so decided to take it himself.

Gomes takes a goal kick

Gomes takes a goal kick

Watford threatened again as a Berghuis cross to the far post was blocked before it reached Deeney, it fell to Amrabat whose cross was headed wide by Ighalo.  There were hopeful appeals for a penalty when Britos went down under a challenge as a cross from Abdi came into the box, but the referee waved play on.  Frustration built further among the home fans as a series of crosses into the Villa box were met by defenders’ heads.  As the game drew to a close, Watford were pushing for an equalizer as a cross from Amrabat was palmed out by Bunn and then a powerful shot from Berghuis flew just wide.  The young Dutchman turned provider as the clock reached 90 minutes with a cross that was headed home by Deeney.  The Rookery went wild and, as Troy had been given constant abuse from the Villa fans, he appeared to enjoy his goal celebration at their end very much indeed.  The Watford fans followed the goal with a chant of “That boy, Troy Deeney, he hates the Villa.”  The announcement of five minutes of added time was greeted with loud cheers from the Watford faithful and they were rewarded three minutes into injury time as Ighalo knocked the ball down to Deeney who powered it past Bunn to win the game for the home side.

Abdi takes a throw-in

Abdi takes a throw-in

Just like the game at Villa Park earlier in the season, it was an unconvincing performance from the Hornets and we were very fortunate to come away with the three points.  Deeney had not looked happy during the game, but he was the hero of the day after hitting the two goals to secure the win.  As at West Ham, Berghuis had put in a very lively performance when he came on.  It was great to see him run at players.  He didn’t always succeed in beating them, but kept the ball on enough occasions to make you want to see him do it again.  The three points ensured that we remained in 12th position and were now mathematically safe from relegation.  I never thought that would be the case with three games remaining in the season.

We were listening to 3 Counties in the car on the way home and, given a lot of the anti-Flores stuff on social media during the week, I found it interesting that both the presenter and the majority of those sending in messages believed that Flores should still be the Watford manager next season.

It is all down to expectations.  I expected Watford to struggle this season and I suspect that my tolerance of the performances that I have seen lately is down to the fact that they are more in line with what I was expecting for this season.  The fact that we have also been treated to some very entertaining football and some historic wins means that Flores and his players are still in credit as far as I am concerned.

 

Our Last Visit to the Boleyn

Cathcart and Prodl bonding before kick off

Cathcart and Prodl bonding before kick off

Due to being busy at work and my niece having a driving lesson, there was no time to join the pre-match gathering with the City ‘Orns, so it was straight to Upton Park.  Leaving the station you have the walk down Green Street, which has a great character and is a lot less terrifying than it was in the 80s.  One drawback of an evening kick-off is that you miss the market experience.  I considered getting a beverage inside the ground but the crush in the concourse persuaded me to go straight to my seat.  My friend, Boyd, attending his last game before returning to the US, was already in his seat and showed me his photos of the statues outside, which made me regret walking straight to the away end.

When the team news came through, it was unsurprising to hear that Flores had made seven changes from the West Brom game.  I thought that the team selection would give us a good idea of who would play in the semi-final, so the fact that he had included Gomes suggested that Pantilimon would start at Wembley.  But I find it hard to believe that Cathcart won’t make the cut.  The starting XI was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart, Prödl, Paredes, Behrami, Suárez, Abdi, Jurado, Guedioura and Amrabat.  The major question among fans about the team was where were the strikers.  The answer ‘Amrabat’ was not accepted by many.  Once the pre match bubbles, both physical and in song form, were dealt with, it was time to kick off.

Suarez on the ball

Suarez on the ball

The home side took the lead in the 11th minute with the first shot of the game as Carroll floated balletically into the area to connect with a cross from Payet and poke the ball past Gomes.  From our perspective behind the goal it looked like a poor goal to give away.  When the replay was shown on the big screen from the side on perspective, there was a glimpse of someone in an offside position before the image went blank and they decided to show it from behind the striker instead.  I must admit that I thought at this stage that we could be on the end of a rout.  The next action did nothing to quell this fear as Payet’s shot was blocked and Gomes had to save the follow-up from Sakho, although the flag was up for offside.  Watford’s first shot came in the 17th minute when Jurado went on a run and Adrian had to push his shot clear.   Watford were involved in another good move which finished with a cross from Guedioura that was headed clear before it reached Jurado.  Jurado went on another run before cutting along the byline and pulling ball back for Abdi who couldn’t finish.  The first booking was earned by Prödl for a foul on Sakho.  Payet took the resulting free kick, hitting his shot through the wall but Gomes caught it comfortably.

Guedioura's free kick position marked

Guedioura’s free kick position marked

A promising move by the visitors broke down when Behrami lost the ball on the edge of the box, West Ham launched a counter attack which ended with a shot from Payet that flew over the target.  At the other end Adrian saved after a turn and shot by Amrabat.  West Ham really should have increased their lead when Payet broke into the box and curled a shot just over the bar.  On 38 minutes, a picture of Dylan Tombides was shown on the big screen and Watford fans joined the home crowd in a minute’s applause in memory of this young Hammer who died of testicular cancer two years ago (check ‘em lads!)  It was rather nice to see Sakho joining in the applause.  A Watford attack came to nothing when Guedioura’s cross met the head of a defender before Abdi could connect.  West Ham had a great chance to increase their lead as Carroll played the ball back to Sakho whose shot was tipped around the post by Gomes.  But they got their second goal just before half time when Holebas jumped into a challenge and flattened Kouyate prompting the referee to point to the spot.  It was a stupid penalty to concede.  Gomes was not to continue his penalty-saving heroics as Noble sent him the wrong way.  The Hammers should have scored a third goal in time added on after Lanzini got into the box but, thankfully, he hit his shot wide.

Challenging in the West Ham box

Challenging in the West Ham box

So we reached the interval two goals down, which was a bit harsh as it had been a decent performance from the Hornets but we were lacking a goal threat.  At the interval all that is wrong with modern football was encapsulated in the sight of a tourist in a half and half scarf taking photos with a selfie stick.  I can’t believe that made me nostalgic for the days when a trip to the Boleyn meant a police escort with horses taking us back to the tube station to catch an away fans’ tube straight back to Euston Square.

West Ham had a chance in the first minute of the second half as Sakho ghosted in but he put his shot wide.  At the other end a cross from Paredes was just too high for the leap of Abdi.  Jurado went on a great run before playing a square ball just in front of Abdi who was stretching to reach it so directed his shot over the bar.  On 52 minutes West Ham were awarded another penalty, this time for a trip by Abdi on Antonio on the edge of the box.  Again Noble stepped up and this time he hit the penalty down the middle over the diving Gomes.  Flores made a double substitution soon after bringing Berghuis and Anya on for Jurado and Guedioura.  Most of the singing in the Watford end to that point had been repetitious renditions of the Behrami song to the tune of La Bamba.

Berghuis taking a free kick

Berghuis taking a free kick

Since it is a relatively new/little used ditty, it seemed as if the crowd were indulging in some singing practice.  So it was good to have a bit of variety introduced with the appearance of the young Dutchman prompting a few choruses of “Berg-huis in the middle of our street.”  Catchy and easy to learn, it brought a smile to my face.  As did the performance of young Steven who was involved in Watford’s goal as his free kick was volleyed home by Prödl.  There was no celebration by the Watford players, they just headed back to the centre circle.  West Ham looked to regain their three goal lead as a corner was headed back by Carroll to Reid but the shot was deflected wide.  Berghuis had a great chance to cut the deficit further as he appeared in the West Ham box, but his shot hit the side netting.  Watford picked up a couple of bookings as both Suárez and Amrabat were cautioned for fouls.  Flores made his final substitution with 14 minutes to go, and it was a surprise to see Deeney coming on to replace Abdi.  I can’t have been the only Watford fan horrified at the thought that our captain and talisman may get an injury and miss the semi-final.  Bilic also made a change bringing Moses on for Sakho.  Watford could have pulled another goal back as Berghuis played a lovely through ball for Anya, but Adrian reached it first.  Berghuis played provider again playing the ball out to Anya, who should have tried an early shot but took the ball too far wide and his cross went begging.

Deeney looking relaxed before the penalty

Deeney looking relaxed before the penalty

As I was distracted by a steward dealing with a beach ball on the pitch, Gomes was busy saving a shot from Moses.  Gomes was in action again coming out to unnerve Lanzini and ensure that his shot missed the target.  West Ham’s second substitution saw Andy Carroll making way for Emenike.  On 90 minutes, Anya got to the by line and shot goalwards, but Adrian was equal to it.  Watford won a late penalty as Ogbonna fouled Prödl in the box.  Deeney looked confident as he stepped up, but I jinxed it by getting my camera out and Adrian made the save.  In time added on Amrabat was sent off for a second yellow after tripping Reid.  A silly thing to do with the opportunity to play at Wembley on the horizon.  The final whistle went to sighs of relief that none of our key players had picked up injuries and comments that we had won the double header on away goals.  I felt that 3-1 was a bit harsh on us as we had played some nice football while West Ham had not gone for it as I would have expected.

I was rather sad to leave the Boleyn ground for the last time.  It is a city centre ground (my cousins grew up in the street that continues on from Green Street and went to school next door) and the structure inside ensures that the crowd is close to the pitch which usually means a good atmosphere.  So I was disappointed that at this game it was all rather muted.  Very odd given that they still have a European place to play for.  I fear that the Olympic Park will be another in the pantheon of soulless bowls and not a fun place to visit at all.

Despite the defeat, we finished the evening in 12th position with an FA Cup semi-final to look forward to.  This game had been a distraction and an irritation as both the players and fans prepared themselves for the big one on Sunday.  Troy has talked in the build-up of the chance to make themselves Watford legends.  I would argue that he is already there, but leading the team out for an FA Cup final would cement that for him.  I do hope he gets that chance.

Much Improved Performance Against the Toffees

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

It seems like a very long time since our trip to Goodison Park for the first game of the season.  At that time, the memory of our last visit (and the Chris Powell ‘handball’) loomed large, but the spirited draw was the first sign that this would be a much more enjoyable season.  Even though we have been on a poor run of late, it is worth remembering that we are guaranteed to finish higher than in our last two seasons at this level and, while we are not mathematically safe from relegation, it looks highly unlikely that we will get dragged into a fight against the drop.  There was some great news prior to the game as we heard that the U18s had won their league.

While we had been bemoaning our own recent poor form, it was easy to forget that Everton have also been on a bad run.  So it was a bit shocking to see a ‘Martinez Out’ banner unfurled in the away stand before kick-off.

For those of a nervous disposition, the team news did nothing to quell their jitters as Flores had made five changes bringing Paredes, Britos, Holebas, Behrami and Jurado in for Nyom, Prödl, Aké, Suárez and Abdi.  While we had been awful last week, the almost complete overhaul of the defence caused some concern.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart, Britos, Paredes, Behrami, Watson, Capoue, Deeney, Jurado and Ighalo.

Jurado on the ball

Jurado on the ball

The first action of the game was indicative of what was to follow as Deeney tackled Barkley who collapsed like a spoilt child and won a free kick.  On the positive side, any concerns about the return of Holebas were quelled when he stopped an Everton break with a great saving tackle.  Kevin Friend had set his stall out early by penalising every Watford challenge, so it was no surprise when the first booking went to Capoue for a foul on Barkley, although it was the Watford man who required the longest period of treatment following the challenge.  Watford’s first goal attempt came after quarter of an hour when Paredes intercepted the ball and went on a run before passing to Behrami, he found Jurado who unleashed a fantastic shot that required a decent save from Robles.  When Watson was fouled on the edge of the box, Mr Friend was forced to wave play on as it was he who had taken the Watford man down.  The resultant Everton break was made to a chorus of boos particularly when Gomes had to make a sharp save to deny Deulofeu.  Watford attacked again after Holebas intercepted the ball before feeding Jurado who made a lovely turn, but his pass towards Deeney was too heavy.  Then Paredes found Ighalo whose shot was cleared.  Lukaku tried a shot from distance but, under challenge, he hit it well over the bar.

Celebrating the goal

Celebrating the goal

A move that was started by Ighalo finished with Jurado playing the ball back to Watson who shot straight at the keeper.  In the Watford box, Barry went down looking for a penalty which, fortunately, wasn’t given, the ball broke to Barkley whose shot was caught by Gomes.  Jurado exchanged passes with Holebas on the wing but his cross was straight at the keeper.  Then a cross from Holebas was met by a misdirected header from Ighalo which flew wide.  Just before half time, Watford had a good chance to take the lead as a Jurado free kick rebounded off the wall and Capoue’s follow-up was deflected just wide of the far post.  From Watson’s corner, Holebas headed just wide.  But it was the visitors who took the lead in time added on at the end of the half, as Britos lost out to McCarthy on the edge of the box and he finished past Gomes.  I felt so sorry for Britos, who was clearly devastated at his mistake.  But, at a time when the team needed the crowd to get behind them, one of my neighbours in the Rookery decided that the appropriate response was to boo very loudly.  Not for the first time, I told him exactly what I thought of him.  It made me feel a bit better, but what happened on the pitch next lightened my mood considerably.  Ighalo’s harrying forced Robles to concede a corner.  Ben Watson’s delivery to the far post was met by Holebas, whose header took a deflection before hitting the net and sending the home crowd into raptures.

So we were level at half-time, which was probably fair in an even game of few goal attempts.

The half time shoot out had reached the semi-final phase and was a cracking contest between Sacred Heart and St Paul’s with the latter prevailing during sudden death.  Both teams were applauded off the pitch with an enthusiasm that these contests rarely inspire.

Guedioura lines up a corner

Guedioura lines up a corner

Guedioura had spent the break on the pitch warming up, so it was no surprise when he replaced Behrami at the start of the second half.  Early in the half, irritation with the ref went up a notch as Ighalo was pushed over by Jagielka and nothing was given when Barkley appeared to get the benefit of the doubt every time he went to ground.  The first goal attempt of the half came 10 minutes in and took some remarkable work from Gomes to keep the scores level as he parried a shot from Lennon and then, somehow, prevented Lukaku reaching the loose ball.  At the other end, Watford had a free kick in a dangerous position, Watson played it short to Holebas whose shot went through the wall, but the pace was taken off and it was easy for Robles to gather.  Guedioura went on a great run, played the ball out to Deeney who crossed for Ighalo who couldn’t quite turn it in.  Watford’s second substitution saw Amrabat on for Jurado who had played very well.  Gomes was the hero again as Deulofeu broke into the box, he managed to shoot, despite a challenge from Paredes, and the Brazilian was down to make the save.  Martinez made his first substitution on 65 minutes replacing Barkley (who was booed off by the Watford faithful due to his tedious theatrics) with Tom Cleverley who was applauded on to the field for his Player of the Season turn as a loanee.  Everton threatened again as Coleman ran the length of the field, but his cross was safely caught by Gomes.

Ighalo, Deeney and Capoue challenge in the box

Ighalo, Deeney and Capoue challenge in the box

The visitors had a great chance to take the lead as Lukaku played a neat back heel to Lennon whose shot was kept out by yet another superb save from Gomes.  As we reached the last 10 minutes, each side made a substitution with Mirallas coming on for Deulofeu and Suárez replacing Capoue.  Everton could have won the game in the last couple of minutes of normal time as Mirallas won a free kick on the edge of the box.  His delivery was parried by Gomes and hearts were in mouths as Lukaku’s follow-up rebounded off the crossbar.  Lukaku had another chance to snatch a winner as he met a cross from Coleman with a header but he directed it downwards and it was easy for Gomes.  In time added on, it was Watford who had a chance to get the winner as Amrabat played the ball back to Watson whose long range shot took a deflection and appeared to be heading for the top corner when Robles pulled off a great save to keep it out.  Guedioura was the next with a sight of goal, but he shot well over the bar.  Each side had one final half chance to snatch a winner.  First the visitors as Barry met a free kick with a header that was saved comfortably by Gomes.  Then Suárez found Ighalo whose shot was disappointingly soft and easy for Robles.

So, the final whistle went on what had been a very entertaining game of football and a pleasing point for both teams after their recent run of defeats.  Watford had been much brighter than of late and the return of Capoue to a central position did both him and us a favour.

Post-game, I had a quick chat with Mick Smithers, Watford’s Football Liaison Officer, who mentioned that the Everton fans had been delightful.  This was backed up by Karoline the Roadie who said they had been the nicest group of fans to visit Vicarage Road this season.

It is hard to believe that there are only two more home games left in this season but, before the next we have a trip to West Bromwich, a final hurrah at the Boleyn and a semi-final at Wembley.  A lot to look forward to and let’s hope that the team go into them with the positive approach that they took today.

Yet Another Draw with the Cherries

Two Taylors

Two Taylors

After the cup win, we were back at Vicarage Road for a match against Bournemouth who, since our 6-1 win at the Vic in 2013, we have failed to beat in the league.  Not only that, there have been a number of incidents of gamesmanship in recent games that mean that the plucky underdogs are not well liked in our corner of Hertfordshire.  During our pre-match preparations in the West Herts, it was noted that one of the guest beers was “Win Win”.  We could only hope that was an omen.

During the week, there was a lot of upset amongst residents of the Upper GT at the news that they are all to be moved to provide extra seats for corporate hospitality.  It is an interesting decision to move (upset) all 1400 ST holders in that stand instead of only those in the blocks affected and does seem to be an unnecessary disruption.  As someone who is not a fan of the corporate seats at football (it is very telling that they don’t bother to announce the arrival of the teams for the second half in the lounge), my sympathies are with those who are being forcibly moved to accommodate the prawn sandwich brigade.  It would remain to be seen whether the anger expressed on social media would manifest itself in the form of some protest during the game.

Challenging at a corner

Challenging at a corner

Team news was that there were four changes from the cup game with Gomes, Aké, Behrami and Ighalo in for Pantilimon, Holebas, Suárez and Abdi.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Paredes, Behrami, Watson, Capoue, Deeney, Amrabat and Ighalo.  As the teams emerged prior to kick-off, Bournemouth’s shocking pink away kit was quite an assault on the senses.

There was a pleasing start to the game for the Hornets as Ighalo went on a run and beat a couple of players before unleashing a shot that was pushed over by Boruc.  Soon after, Paredes ran down the wing and crossed for Ighalo who volleyed wide.  At the other end, a clearance only got as far as Arter on the edge of the box who shot well wide.  Deeney played a one-two with Capoue before finding Amrabat, whose shot was deflected for the corner.  As previously mentioned, Bournemouth have not endeared themselves to Watford in recent games with their gamesmanship so there were angry shouts from the Rookery when Stanislaus pulled up with a hamstring strain, appeared to limp off before collapsing on the pitch a couple of feet from the dug-out, apparently on Howe’s instructions.  He was soon replaced by Gradel.  On the half hour, there was a promising break from Aké who crossed for Deeney whose shot flew over the bar.  In the last action of any note, in a half mostly devoid of incident, Capoue found Amrabat who won a corner from which Watson’s delivery was easily caught by Boruc.

Luther shows his trophy to the Rookery

Luther shows his trophy to the Rookery

After a lively start, it had been a half of very little action, the one shot on target coming from the Hornets.  Thankfully there was something to cheer us up during the interval.  Towards the end of the half, a chant of “One Graham Taylor” had gone up from the 1881.  The reason for this became apparent when GT and Luther were introduced so that “the Gaffer” could present Luther with an award as “Watford’s Favourite Son”.  The Bournemouth game was likely chosen for this as he is also very fondly remembered on the South Coast.  Tim had a few words with Luther during which he picked out the League Cup match at Old Trafford as his favourite, but couldn’t be drawn to choose a winner of today’s game.  After the presentation, Luther did a circuit of the pitch with his name ringing out throughout the stadium.  A heart-warming moment.

The first chance of the second half went to the visitors as a cross from Ritchie was volleyed over by King.  Then Aké found Amrabat whose cross was headed clear by Francis.  Paredes then showed a lovely piece of skill to beat his man on the wing before crossing for Amrabat, who looked odds on to score, but swung his leg and missed the ball completely.  At the other end, there was a decent chance for the visitors as Surman found Gradel who directed his shot over the bar.  Watford’s first substitution came just before the hour mark as Suárez replaced Capoue, who had a very poor game by his standards despite the loud chants of “We’ve got Capoue ….”  Perhaps the repeated claim that he’s better than Zidane is putting undue pressure on him.  The visitors had a great chance to take the lead as a shot from Arter appeared to be heading for the top corner but, as so often this season, Gomes came to the rescue with a superb one-handed save to keep it out.

Paredes takes a throw

Paredes takes a throw

Suárez played a lovely through ball to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  Then Aké exchanged passes with Amrabat before his cross was cut out.  Suárez tried a long pass to Ighalo, but Boruc was first to the ball.  Troy appeared to be fouled as he tried to reach a ball into the box but the referee penalized Deeney instead of the defender.  Watford really should have taken the lead on 67 minutes as Amrabat did well to skip past a defender on the by-line before delivering the perfect cross to Ighalo who was unmarked.  From where I sit, behind the goal in the Rookery, I could see Odion through the net and, when the ball was delivered, there seemed only one destination for the header but, unbelievably, it was directed over the bar.  Watford had another chance after Deeney was fouled on the edge of the box.  The free-kick was taken square by Watson to Deeney whose low shot flew wide of the target.  The same move was tried in the last game, with the same outcome, so I can only assume that this has been working in training.  Bournemouth had a decent chance with a cross from Daniels that Ritchie directed over the bar.  At the other end, a long distance volley from Aké cleared the target.  Bournemouth’s next substitution saw Gosling replaced Afobe.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead with quarter of an hour remaining as a Watson free kick reached Britos who shot just wide.   Soon after, a quick free kick found Ighalo who manoeuvred into position for a shot but hit it over the bar.

Cathcart and Cook challenge for a header

Cathcart and Cook challenge for a header

The first booking of the game came on 77 minutes for a foul by Watson on Gradel.  The referee had been blowing up for fouls every time a player went to the ground and was pretty consistent in that, but this did seem like a fairly run of the mill challenge and hardly worthy of a card.  From the free kick, the clearance went back to a Bournemouth player, so it was a relief to see Gomes finally gather.  A lovely ball towards Amrabat went begging as he lost sight of the ball, which was a shame as he was in a great position.  Gomes kept the Hornets in the game again as he pushed a header from Gradel clear.  Watford’s second change saw Abdi replacing Amrabat.  Almen’s first involvement was to be hacked down by Surman, who was, rightly, booked for the challenge.  There was anger in the home stands as a push on Paredes was ignored before a similar challenge on Gradel earned Cathcart a yellow card.  Gradel then did well to beat Paredes before unleashing a shot that Gomes turned over the bar.  The corner was delivered into the box, but Gomes rose to catch it and the game finished goalless.

The final whistle went to shrugs around Vicarage Road.  Watford shaded the first half and Bournemouth the second, but a draw was probably fair.  During the second half it felt like Gomes had saved the game for us, but both Ighalo and Amrabat had chances that they should have finished which would have guaranteed the three points.  Bournemouth had put in a good performance and, on this showing, both of the teams that gained automatic promotion last season should stay up, something that no pundit would have predicted in August.

So, while there was disappointment that we didn’t take all three points from this game, we remain 13 points clear of the relegation zone with 11 games left to play.  This season has delivered beyond our wildest dreams.  The annoyance at the relocation of the fans in the Upper GT did not lead to any obvious protests on Saturday and was tempered somewhat by the news that we can renew our season tickets for the same price as we paid last season.  Premier League football at Championship prices for the second year running was a very pleasant surprise, as was the retention of the 75 mile season tickets for current holders.  Well done to the Pozzos (and Scott Duxbury) for that decision.

Progression to the Quarter Finals

Good luck to Watford legend, Doyley

Good luck to Watford legend, Doyley, with his new club

The West Herts was surprisingly quiet when I arrived for my pre-match refreshments.  I did wonder whether a cup game against a team that we have faced regularly meant that the crowd would be depleted, but it soon filled up.  I had the added pleasure of the company of my sister, who was a regular in the early 80s, but is now known to my Watford friends as Amelia’s Mum!

Team news was that Flores had made six changes bringing Pantilimon, Paredes, Britos, Holebas, Suárez and Abdi in for Gomes, Nyom, Prödl, Aké, Behrami and Ighalo.  So the starting line-up was Pantilimon, Holebas, Cathcart, Britos, Paredes, Watson, Suárez, Capoue, Deeney, Abdi and Amrabat.  For the visitors, Watford Academy graduate Toumani Diagouraga (Dave), for whom I’ve always had a soft spot, lined up alongside former loanee Liam Bridcutt.

Walking through the Rookery concourse, I had to stop and take a photo of the poster marking Doyley’s debut.  Much as I am happy that he has a new club, it is really hard to think of him playing for another team.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

As always on cup days, there were a lot of strange faces in the seats around us.  Having seen the complaints on social media from Leeds fans that there were nowhere near enough tickets available for their massive fan base, I feared that we would have some opposition fans around us.  But, thankfully, yet again, all of the new faces around us were Watford fans.

Watford almost had a dream start to the game as Deeney met a Capoue cross with a header that was deflected just wide.  Then a Watson corner was headed over by Britos when he really should have hit the target.  The next chance came from a Holebas cross which Amrabat headed upwards so that it looped safely into the arms of Silvestri.  Watson’s next corner was delivered deep and headed back across the goal and wide of the far post by Britos.  The visitors won a corner which was taken by Taylor and caught by Pantilimon who didn’t have to leave the ground.  I’d heard that he was tall, but was taken aback to find out that he was a similar height to the bloke standing in the row in front at Palace last week.  There was a moment of joy as Capoue nutmegged a couple of Leeds players before passing to Abdi who found Holebas whose shot was deflected for a corner.  Then a cross came in to Capoue, who played the ball out to Abdi, whose shot was blocked.  The first booking of the game went to Bellusci who was penalized for stopping Watford taking a quick throw-in.

A half hearted goal celebration

A half hearted goal celebration

The first real attack by Leeds came through a dangerous looking break from Antenucci who played the ball to Dallas whose shot was very weak and easy for Pantilimon.  Soon after, Dallas got into another good position, but the presence of Watson ensured that his shot was wide of the far post.  The first yellow card for the home side came when Paredes pulled Taylor’s shirt.  A silly booking to pick up.  Watford threatened again as Troy battled past a couple of players before playing a through ball to Paredes whose cross was easily gathered by Silvestri.  The visitors had a late chance to take the lead in the first half with a shot from Dallas that was deflected wide.

The half time mood in the home end was one of frustration.  Watford had dominated the game and Leeds had been rather poor opposition, but all our dominance in possession had not led to Silvestri being tested.

A premature celebration caught on camera

A premature celebration caught on camera

In a similar manner to the first period, Watford had a great start to the second half.  Deeney had an early foray into the box, but his shot from a narrow angle was blocked for a corner.  Watson’s delivery was disappointing, but resulted in another corner from which the delivery was considerably better and was met by the head of Cathcart who put the ball over the bar.  Bridcutt was the next player to find his name in the referee’s book for a tackle on Capoue.  Watford continued to attack and a cross towards Cathcart at the far post was intercepted by Taylor who headed it out for a corner.  But Watford took the lead very soon afterwards as a lovely cross from Watson was turned home by Wootton who was probably concerned that Deeney was just behind him, not knowing that one of his team mates had flattened the Watford man.  Celebration of an own goal is always a bit odd for the players, but Watson received plaudits for his cross.  The home side should have been two up very soon after as Abdi went on a great run, the Leeds defence opened up in front of him, but his shot was over the bar.  A minute later, Watford thought they had scored a second as Holebas released Amrabat who crossed to Capoue who buried the ball.  I heard the whistle before the ball hit the net but many others didn’t, including my sister whose celebration was broadcast on the BBC, as she discovered when the screen shot was sent to her by one of her daughters.  Television pictures showed that Deeney was deemed to have pushed one of the defenders, but it was a soft foul and it seems much more likely that there is an unwritten rule that Capoue must not be allowed to score.

Watson takes a free kick

Watson takes a free kick

The first substitution was made by the visitors as Mowatt replaced Dallas.  Another Watford corner resulted in another Cathcart header over the bar.  Leeds had their best chance of the game so far on 65 minutes as Bridcutt unleashed a stinging shot that was easily caught by Pantilimon.  At the other end, Deeney broke into the box but, with only the keeper to beat, the angle was narrowed so he passed to Capoue who was tripped, but the referee waved penalty appeals away.  Flores made his first substitution on 67 minutes replacing Amrabat with Ighalo.  The Nigerian was immediately involved as he broke forward but he slipped before he could shoot and the chance was lost.  Yet again Deeney battled into the box, but this time he was deemed to have fouled the defender and a free kick was given to the opposition.  Quique’s second substitution saw Guedioura coming on for Abdi.  The impressive Holebas went on a great run which finished with a poor shot that was easy for Silvestri.  There was a break in the game as the perennially unpleasant Steve Evans kicked off about something.  Flores wasn’t going to be drawn and retreated graciously.  I think he was right in thinking that a Quique hug wouldn’t have helped the situation, and it would have been wasted on Evans.  Guedioura played a lovely cross for Ighalo but the Nigerian was held off the ball so couldn’t connect.  Then Deeney broke forward before finding Capoue who reverted to his usual accuracy in front of goal blasting well over and leaving me with my head in my hands.

Costel Pantilimon

Costel Pantilimon

There was a rare attack from the visitors as Wootton broke forward before finding Doukara who hit the ball over the bar.  Anya came on for Capoue just before the fourth official indicated an additional five minutes.  In his first action, Ikechi went on a great run and crossed for Ighalo whose touch was poor so the chance went begging.  There was one last chance for the Hornets to make the game safe as Ighalo was brought down on the edge of the box.  Deeney played the free kick short to Watson whose shot was low and into the wall.  There was one final chance for the visitors as a cross was punched by Pantilimon to Doukara whose shot was blocked before the final whistle went to signal a Watford win.  The young lad sitting behind me had become quite philosophical towards the end as he reasoned that, if Leeds did get an equalizer, we would win the replay.  I wasn’t quite so calm about this outcome as I really didn’t fancy a midweek trip to Leeds in a couple of weeks.

As we left the ground through the GT stand, there were Police horses at the hospital side of the ground and a large crowd of Leeds fans blocking the road and making snide comments about how miserable we looked.  Having had a number of unpleasant experiences at Elland Road dating back to the late 80s, I would not have dared to have come out celebrating and was very happy to escape up Harwoods Road and back among the Watford fans making their way home.

There were a number of people who expressed their disappointment at the narrow win, but it appeared to me to be an efficient win against a team that never really threatened.  So we are in the quarter finals, but won’t know our opponents until a couple of days before the game when Arsenal and Hull play their replay.  The prospect of facing Arsenal in the quarter finals will always evoke memories of 1987, the non-penalty, Luther scoring the third goal and GT ducking under a rain of coins which, unlike Chris Brunt’s experience, came from the opposition.  Whatever happens from now on, being in 9th position in the table and the quarter-final of the FA Cup is pretty impressive.

A Thrilling Goalless Draw

 

Ben Watson lining up a free kick

Ben Watson lining up a free kick

When Guus Hiddink took over at Chelsea, just before our game on Boxing Day, I certainly didn’t expect that when our home game came around they would still be unable to catch us in the table regardless of the result.  Since this was a televised game, we were able to watch the build-up on TV in the West Herts, but unable to hear what Flores had to say in the pre-match interview although the pictures were rather evocative showing his flamenco dancing aunt and plenty of Flores hugs.

Team news was that Flores had made just the two forced changes, with Britos unwell and Aké ineligible, Holebas and Prödl were in to replace them.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart Prödl, Paredes, Capoue, Watson, Behrami, Jurado, Deeney and Ighalo.

Watford started well as a promising attack from Costa was stopped by Prödl, his forward pass to Deeney was headed down to Ighalo whose shot was deflected for a corner.  Costa’s reputation goes before him, so it was pleasing from a Watford perspective to see an early dramatic fall ignored by Mike Dean, leaving him sitting on the turf while Watford broke back upfield.  He stayed on his feet in his next move and broke into the box, but Cathcart was on hand to block.

Capoue hits a free kick

Capoue hits a free kick

At the other end, Jurado released Capoue who won a corner from which there was a bit of a goalmouth scramble with three attempted shots, but the ball ended up in the arms of Courtois.  The first booking of the game went to Prödl who was penalized for a late challenge on Oscar.  A dangerous free kick from Holebas was deflected in the direction of Capoue but Courtois gathered.  The first sight of Watford substitutes warming up is usually greeted with polite applause, but the reaction this evening was more enthusiastic than usual due to the presence of our new signing Mario Suárez.  There were some hopeful shouts for a penalty from the home fans as Jurado appeared to be tripped in the box by Matic, but all appeals were waved away.  The Watford forwards combined as Deeney found Ighalo in the box, but his shot was blocked.  There followed a lovely sequence of passes around the midfield from the Hornets which drew cheers from the fans before Holebas broke forward and crossed towards Ighalo who was unable to connect.  Ighalo then battled into the box but his shot was blocked for a corner which was taken by Watson and met by the head of Prödl, but Courtois leapt to catch.  There was another chance for the Hornets as Deeney flicked the ball on to Ighalo but the Nigerian didn’t connect properly so it was easy for the keeper to gather.  Jurado, who had been impressive, beat a couple of players before feeding Capoue who unleashed a fierce shot that drew an instinctive save from Courtois.

Deeney on the ball

Deeney on the ball

A Watford free-kick was cleared only as far as Jurado who tried an overhead kick that was easily caught.  At the other end a long pass from Fabregas released Costa whose shot was deflected wide.  Chelsea had another chance with a shot from Oscar that was blocked by Prödl.  Then a moment of brilliance from Ighalo, who looked to be in a hopeless situation with two Chelsea players on him, but somehow managed to escape upfield before letting himself down by playing a terrible ball that was intercepted.  “That’s why he doesn’t pass” was the conclusion of a wit behind me.  With 5 minutes remaining of the half the Chelsea fans could finally be heard, but they were belting out a lengthy song about Frankie Lampard, which seemed rather odd under the circumstances.  Another break into the box by Holebas ended when he was tripped, but nothing given.  Then there was danger for the Hornets as Paredes played a poor pass to Capoue who failed to control which allowed Oscar to escape with the ball before finding Azpilicueta who, much to the relief of the home fans, shot wide of the far post.  The fourth official indicated a minute of added time at the end of the half, but that was extended considerably following an off the ball incident between Costa and Paredes.  I didn’t see what happened, but the Ecuadorian had collapsed holding his face and many around me were calling for a red card.  Costa had to be calmed down by a number of people, including Flores, and, eventually, both players ended in the referee’s book.  The post match consensus seemed to be that Paredes had over dramatized the contact.  Much as I dislike that aspect of the game, it was hard to sympathize with Costa, a definite case of the biter bit.

Ighalo preparing for a corner

Ighalo preparing for a corner

When the half time whistle finally sounded, Watford had been the better team.  We were playing some lovely football, but I was particularly pleased to see that our defence was organized and joining with the midfield to harry the Chelsea players and not allow them to get comfortable on the ball.  Also, Jurado, who is a marmite player for the Watford fans, was combining really well with Ighalo and Deeney.  It had all been very pleasing apart from our inability to score.

The half time draw was carried out by Nathan Aké.  The usual interview was rather engaging, so I think he was a little taken aback when Tim finished by asking whether if Chelsea got relegated there was a clause in his contract that allowed us to sign him permanently.  He laughed that off, but we can only hope.

Gomes had nothing to do in the first half, but was called into action early in the second period as a shot from Mikel took a nasty deflection and appeared to be looping in when the Brazilian leaped to tip it over the bar.  At the other end, Behrami’s pass towards Ighalo was met by Zouma who could only head clear as far as Deeney whose volley was just wide of the target.

Cathcart and Behrami ready for a free kick

Cathcart and Behrami ready for a free kick

Holebas made a menacing run into the box, exchanged passes with Capoue but his run gave him too narrow an angle and he shot into the side netting.  Watford looked to be in trouble as Gomes left his goal to try to stop Costa on the byline, but the striker succeeded in cutting the ball back to Oscar who, thankfully, put his shot wide.  There was a lovely break from Jurado, but his cross was too deep, flying over Ighalo’s head, and there was no other Watford player in the box to meet it.  At the other end, a clearance dropped to Matic whose shot was easily gathered by Gomes.  For Watford, Holebas found Ighalo who was prevented from doing any damage by a challenge from Terry.  At the other end, Costa was equally frustrated by Prödl, who was having an excellent game.  Just after the hour mark, Flores made two substitutions in quick succession.  First Abdi replaced Jurado, who had been superb so went off to loud cheers.  Then Nyom replaced Paredes.  Oscar tried to threaten the Watford goal as he cut inside and shot, but Gomes made the save.  Chelsea’s first change came with 20 minutes to go and saw Matic replaced by Hazard.  The Belgian was immediately involved, playing a ball to Ivanovic whose shot was tipped around the post by Gomes.  The Watford keeper was having a much busier second half and had to be alert again as Willian found Hazard, but Gomes was out to save at his feet.  My nerves were becoming a little frayed at this point at the possibility of Chelsea nicking the game, and were severely tested when Hazard crossed to the far post but, thankfully, Costa shot into the side netting.  Flores gave new signing Suárez a brief run out as he came on to replace Capoue to great cheers.  Chelsea nearly won it at the death as a cross from Willian was headed goalwards by Costa.  From the opposite end of the ground it looked in all the way until a purple blur appeared and there was Gomes flying through the air to make a superb save and ensure that the Man of the Match award went his way.

Man of the Match Gomes

Man of the Match Gomes

So a second point won from the defending Champions this season in the most entertaining 0-0 you will ever see.  While the visitors had the better of the second half, as the Hornets tired, a draw was probably a fair result.  It had been a tremendous performance from the Watford lads who never looked out of place against their supposedly more illustrious opponents.  The memory of watching Costa charging into the box to be met by Cathcart who then calmly took the ball off his feet still makes me smile.  The point took us to 9th in the table and we are 12 points clear of the drop zone with 14 games remaining, which is a position that would have been beyond my wildest dreams at the start of the season.

When I got back from the game, I was finally able to watch the pre-match interview with Flores and fill in the blanks.  It didn’t disappoint as he spoke of the pride in his family and the emotion when his lovely aunt was commemorated with a Google doodle in Spain.  He spoke of the fact that, with many nationalities and mentalities in the squad, you have to touch the players’ hearts to make them most effective.  His last comment of the piece was in relation to his time at Watford and he said, “This is the right place to be happy.”  And so say all of us, Quique.

A Very Blue Monday for the Hornets

The Liberty Stadium

The Liberty Stadium

After a run of three league defeats, the trip to Swansea seemed to be a decent opportunity to get our season back on track.  The journey west was rather pleasant and, having bumped into a fellow regular away traveler as I boarded the train to Swansea, I was treated to delightful company as we crossed the border.

Team news was that there were three changes from the Southampton game with Britos and Aké coming back in place of Prödl and Holebas, while Behrami was a surprising inclusion in place of Abdi.  Flores had opted for a 4-4-2 formation with Behrami in the centre of the midfield and Capoue on the right.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Jurado, Behrami, Watson, Capoue, Deeney and Ighalo.  Former loanee, Jack Cork, started for Swansea.  The game was given an interesting twist as the Swans confirmed the appointment of Francesco Guidolin, formerly Head Coach of Udinese, a role which he left to take up a position that was supposed to involve oversight all three Pozzo teams, although it was never clear how this impacted the Hornets.

Abseiling marines

Abseiling marines

On taking our seats in the Liberty Stadium, I have to say that I was very impressed with the Swansea support.  The ground was packed and they were noisy from the start.  I was not quite so impressed with the mortifying spectacle of ‘kiss-cam’ on the big screen before the game as they focused on random pairs of men and women and trained a camera on them until they kissed or the cameraman got bored.  In some cases there were empty seats between the ’couple’ so a kiss could have led to an ejection as the actual partner witnessed an infidelity.  There was no warning about ‘kiss-cam’ but there was a warning to the disabled seating area that the ropes hanging down from the top of the stand would soon be occupied by some marines abseiling down, one of whom would bring the match ball to the referee.  It wasn’t the most coordinated of manoeuvres, but that could be said of a lot that we have seen on the pitch of late.  The lack of coordination extended to my pre-match equipment check as I left my camera at the hotel, so the quality of my photos is even worse than usual.

The pre-match huddle

The pre-match huddle

The home side had much the better start to the game.  Although there was a very early chance for the visitors as Deeney headed the ball down to Ighalo whose shot was blocked.  From then it was all Swansea for a while.  First Sigurdsson played a back heel to Routledge, but Gomes saved, not knowing that the flag was already up for offside.   A cross from Ayew was headed clear by Cathcart.  Then Cork hit a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  Sigurdsson tried a through ball to Ki, who was also flagged offside.  A cross into the box from Routledge was headed for a corner by Britos.  Over a quarter of an hour had passed before Watford looked like creating another chance, this time Deeney released Ighalo, but Odion couldn’t control the ball and the chance was lost.  Swansea threatened again as Britton played a one-two with Ayew before breaking into the box, but Aké was in close attendance and ensured that Gomes could save at his feet.  At the other end, a free kick from Watson was cleared only as far as Deeney whose shot was blocked.  Deeney then did really well to battle past Taylor and cross for Ighalo but his header was off target.  The first booking of the game was picked up by Jurado for a silly tackle on Routledge.  Swansea threatened again as Ayew exchanged passes with Sigurdsson before unleashing a shot that Gomes was down to save.

Watson preparing for a free kick

Watson preparing for a free kick

On 27 minutes, the home side took the lead as Williams headed a cross from Ki past Gomes.  I was hoping for an immediate reaction from the Hornets, but the nearest we came was a booking for Nyom who was penalised for sticking out a foot to stop Taylor.  The resulting free kick was punched clear by Gomes.  Nyom didn’t redeem himself as a soft clearance went straight to Ki who, thankfully, shot well over the bar.  Hornet hearts beat a little faster as Ighalo picked up a misplaced pass from Ki and looked to be bearing down on goal, but Williams was soon back to make a tackle.  There were a couple of chances for an equalizer just before half time.  First a Watson free kick reached Deeney who hit a hopeful shot over the bar.  Then, Watford’s best chance of the half, as Jurado exchanged passes with Capoue before shooting but the Swans’ keeper, Fabianski, was behind the ball.

So we reached half time a goal behind.  It had been another frustrating half of football.  Our successful start to the season had been built upon being difficult to break down through hard work and constantly pressing the opposition.  That aspect of the game seems to have disappeared from recent performances although more due to a lack of confidence than desire.  We could only hope for an improvement in the second period, although Flores made no changes at the break.

Watson preparing for a free kick

Watson preparing for a free kick

The first chance of the second half fell to Jurado who cut in from the left and then hit a silly shot high and wide when a little more composure was needed.  The Spaniard also had the next chance, after a decent run he passed to Deeney who back-heeled the return but Jurado curled his shot over the bar.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came as a free-kick from Watson was met by a header from Britos that landed on the roof of the net although, for a split second, many of the travelling Hornets thought that it was in.  Swansea’s first attack of the half came after Capoue lost the ball to Routledge who advanced and crossed, but Nyom was on hand to clear.  The visitors continued to attack as Deeney played the ball out to Jurado, but his cross was blocked.  At the other end, the ball fell to Cork on the edge of the box but he volleyed over the bar.  On the hour, a Watford attack was stopped when Britton put out a hand to block a pass from Behrami and was booked for his trouble.  The resulting free kick was dreadful from Watson flying high and wide of the goal.  Another chance went begging for the visitors as Ighalo played the ball back to Jurado whose shot was just wide of the far post.  Deeney threatened to break with Ighalo alongside him, but his pass was snuffed out by a defender.  Flores made his first substitution with 15 minutes remaining bringing Paredes on for Nyom, who had had a poor game.  Capoue played two decent crosses into the box in quick succession but, on each occasion, the Swansea captain, Williams, headed clear.  Ighalo then won a free kick in a dangerous position but Watson opted to hit the ball low and straight at the wall, much to the frustration of the away fans.

Hoping to convert a corner

Hoping to convert a corner

The Hornets continued to push for an equalizer as a downward header from Deeney was cleared for a corner.  At the same time Ighalo went down in the box under a challenge and there were some half-hearted shouts for a penalty, which would have been very harsh.  The corner was cleared to Jurado but Fabianski was equal to his shot.  Flores made his second substitution with 3 minutes remaining, replacing Behrami with Oularé.  The Belgian almost made an immediate impact as Deeney headed the ball towards him on the edge of the box, but he couldn’t quite connect and it fell to Jurado who shot just wide.  Soon after, a corner from Watson was punched clear.  Despite Watford’s dominance of the second half, it appeared that the home side had increased their lead as substitute Gomis broke into the box and thumped a shot that looked to have beaten Gomes before it rebounded off the inside of the post and was cleared.  The last chance of the game fell to the visitors in time added on as the ball dropped to Deeney on the edge of the box but his shot was wide of the near post and the Hornets fell to their fourth consecutive defeat in the league.

Watson takes a free kick

Watson takes a free kick

There was a lot of frustration among the travelling fans at the end of the game and one young man went to the front of the stand to berate Deeney.  I then bumped into someone who told me that we are going to be relegated.  All rather dramatic and, on reflection, it certainly doesn’t feel as bad as that.  The Hornets had made a much better fist of the second half.  Jurado was coming in for a lot of stick from some near me for disappearing after his booking and, while he seemed reluctant to commit to a tackle, most of the shots on goal came from him and a couple were only fractionally wide.  Without his contribution, it would have been a far more miserable evening.  There has been a lot of talk of teams working out how to play against us, but a lot of what the opposition is doing now, they have been trying to do all season with little success.  The extra defenders on Deeney and Ighalo are stifling their contribution but Odion seems to have lost a bit of his previous confidence as he is not muscling his way out of trouble as he did earlier in the season and there were a couple of occasions when he passed to a teammate when you would have put money on him trying a shot.  What has been the biggest concern for me is that we have stopped harrying the opposition meaning that they have far too much space.  So I was pleased to see much more ‘gegenpressing’ in the second half which, consequently, meant we had more of the ball and more shots on the Swansea goal.

While the recent record is worrying, I am not going to get too despondent yet.  The players and manager have not become poor overnight so we need to continue supporting them.  Whatever happens at the end of this season, this will still have been the best season that we have seen at this level since the 80s.

Silencing the Canaries

 

Lloydy at City 'Orns

Lloydy at City ‘Orns

On Thursday evening the City ‘Orns had their traditional Christmas curry.  This year the usual delightful company was enhanced with a visit from Lloyd Doyley who, for many years, was sponsored by the group.  He was in good form, he’s still training at Watford while he searches for a new club.  He’s had offers, but is waiting for the right one.  After chatting away all evening and submitting to an excess of photos, as we left the restaurant he asked if anyone wanted a lift back to Watford.  What a sweetheart.  One of our newer members declared that it was the best night of his year.

Back to Saturday and, having missed the last home game, it has been over a month since I was at Vicarage Road, so it was good to be back home.  The West Herts was packed when I arrived, but it was good to see all the usual suspects and a special treat to see Tim and Jemima visiting from Norway.  A number of our party are Norfolk ‘Orns, so this is a Derby game for them.  The Canaries have also been a bogey team for us so, despite our relative positions in the table, there was no complacency in the pre-match discussions.

Ake taking a throw

Ake taking a throw

Team news was that Gomes was fit to start, while Anya and Jurado came in for Paredes and Abdi.  There was a lot of muttering about the inclusion of Jurado, who has not impressed to date, over Abdi and Guedioura who, it was said, were not being risked due to knocks that they had picked up at Villa.  This caused much muttering, “If they are on the bench, they must be fit.”  The starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Anya and Ighalo.  When Gomes’s name was read out pre-match, it was greeted with an even louder and longer cheer than usual.  Norwich’s starters included former Watford loanee, Sebastien Bassong, who was given a good reception from the Hornet faithful.  I was also interested to hear that the visitors had Rudd in goal in place of the more famous Ruddy.  Do they share shirts?

The improvement of the ground by the Pozzos continues with the addition of a big screen over the Police control room at the Rookery end of the ground.  Lucky me as, from my position in the middle of the Rookery, I can see both screens.  I am spoiled.

Deeney waiting to take the penalty

Deeney waiting to take the penalty

The start of the game seemed to be dominated by the visitors but they only had one effort anywhere near the goal, a cross from Grabban that went begging.  The first chance for the home side came when Watson hit a shot from distance that was deflected wide by Bassong.  Soon after, a shot from Aké was blocked to shouts of ‘hand ball’, but the referee gave nothing.  There were more pleas directed at the referee as Capoue put in a looping cross and Deeney went down under a challenge from Bennett but, again, play was waved on.  Then Nyom played a lovely through ball to Anya, but he slipped as he put in the cross, so Rudd was able to gather the ball as Ighalo closed in.  On 28 minutes Capoue played a ball to Ighalo in the box, where he became the meat in a Tettey-Bassong sandwich and the referee finally pointed to the spot.  Rudd delayed the taking of the penalty for as long as he could but, when Deeney stepped up, he coolly put the ball to Rudd’s left sending the keeper the wrong way.  Watford had a great chance to increase the lead as Deeney headed the ball down to Ighalo who broke free of the defence but was flagged offside.  At the other end a ball into the box seemed to bounce past Gomes with a Norwich player closing in, but the keeper turned and gathered the ball.  Watford looked to have increased their lead on 36 minutes as a Nyom cross was slotted home by Ighalo, but the celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s flag.

Deeney sending Rudd the wrong way

Deeney sending Rudd the wrong way

The next chance fell to Capoue, who is an absolute hero everywhere on the pitch except in front of goal, he tried a volley from outside the box which was way off target which he acknowledged to the Rookery.  Ighalo’s harrying caused Rudd to make a poor clearance that went straight to Jurado, who passed to Deeney who tried to play it through to Anya, but the ball was cut out before it reached the Scotsman.  A lovely period of pressing from Ighalo and Deeney frustrated the Norwich defence who could not find a way to get the ball out of their half, eventually Watson got involved and forced Olsson to concede a throw-in to loud applause from the Hornet faithful.  Ighalo threatened the Norwich goal yet again in the dying minutes of the half but, again, Rudd managed to block.  In time added on, Norwich had their first shot on goal as a Brady free kick was headed over by Bassong.

So we reached half time a goal ahead.  Apart from the first few minutes, Watford had completely dominated, Ighalo should have had a couple of goals and Gomes hadn’t had a save to make.

During the break, Malky Mackay was on the pitch with his son, Callum, making the half time draw.  He said nice things about both of his old clubs and predicted that we would both survive.  He paid tribute to the Pozzos for what they have done since they came in and was also very complimentary about his fellow Glaswegian, Anya.  There were a few boos from the back of the Rookery as his name was announced, but he received warm applause as he walked along the front of the Rookery.

Gomes in goal

Gomes in goal

There was a lively start to the second half.  A quick throw from Ighalo set Anya up, but his shot was over the target.  At the other end, Capoue and Cathcart both let a ball go over their heads under the assumption that Gomes would gather, but they hadn’t seen Brady lurking and there were huge sighs of relief in the Rookery when he shot wide.  There was a worrying moment as Aké and Wisdom challenged for a header, the Watford man was knocked flying and fell very awkwardly.  We could see his legs moving, but he was keeping his head and neck rigid and there was soon a stretcher on the pitch.  Thankfully, on this occasion, it wasn’t required and Nathan was able to continue in the game.  Almost immediately he showed that there were no ill effects as he went on a storming run down the left before putting in a great cross that Ighalo was unable to convert.  Soon after, Jurado won the ball and broke clear, he found Ighalo who battled against a defender to get a shot in but the ball was deflected into the side netting.  A Norwich break was stopped as Deeney bundled Brady over and was shown a yellow card for his trouble.  A lovely passing move from Watford, including a trademark nutmeg from Capoue, finished disappointingly with a welly from Aké.  Watson slid into a tackle on Olsson, he won the ball but the Norwich player fell over his trailing leg so Ben received a yellow card for what appeared to be a good tackle.  From Brady’s free kick, Mbokani was challenging but Gomes caught the ball.

Capoue lining up in the box with Ake and Deeney

Capoue lining up in the box with Ake and Deeney

Capoue showed his skills again, taking the ball from between a Norwich player’s legs and disappearing up the field, he skipped past two players before playing a through ball to Ighalo whose shot was saved.  Ighalo threatened again as he received a ball over the top from Deeney, he did well to get into position for the shot but it was rather weak and easily gathered by Rudd.  A dangerous clearance from the Norwich keeper was gathered by Gomes as Brady challenged.  Deeney played another ball over the top to Ighalo and this time the Nigerian’s shot was wide of the far post.  Flores’s first substitution was to replace Anya with Paredes.  A break from Ighalo was stopped as he was sent flying by Bennett who was booked for the offence.  Watford’s second substitution saw Jurado replaced by Abdi.  It has to be said that, after a ropey start, Jurado had grown into the game and put in his best performance to date.  Watford’s next chance came as Aké played a cross field ball to Paredes, who crossed for Ighalo whose shot was saved by Rudd.  Yet another chance fell to Ighalo and, yet again, Rudd blocked it.  A rare threat by the visitors was wasted as a ball into the box was met with a back header by Jerome that went out for a goal kick, when Brady was lurking behind him in a more dangerous position.

Watson takes a free kick

Watson takes a free kick

Gomes gave us another worrying moment as he went down needing treatment but, thankfully, he was able to continue.  Abdi had been a man possessed since he came on, putting in an uncharacteristically aggressive performance, and after a battling run down the wing alongside Brady his opponent was booked for a petulant push.  In the last moments of the game, Ighalo took another tumble in the box, but this time the referee waved play on.  There was a spell of pressure in the Watford area as we failed to clear but it finished with a looping ball into the area from Bennett that was easily gathered by Gomes.  As Emma announced six minutes of time added on, my heart sank, but our nerves were soon calmed as Deeney found Ighalo in the box who worked his way into position and shot past Rudd.  He thoroughly deserved his goal as he had been working his socks off and he celebrated by throwing his shirt away.  I’m sure the booking didn’t faze him.  Soon after, he was replaced by Guedioura and went up to shake the referee’s hand before he left the field.  Bless his heart.  Norwich never looked like striking back and the last goal chance of the game came when a poor clearance from Rudd reached Guedioura, he tried to chip the keeper who was out of his goal but the ball flew over the bar.  It was worth trying.

Deeney and Britos ready for action

Deeney and Britos ready for action

The final whistle went after the quickest 6 minutes of injury time that I have ever experienced.  Despite the scoreline, it had been a convincing win.  In the celebrations on the pitch, the Quique hugs were in evidence.  First a very warm embrace for Gomes.  Then he approached Harry Hornet, who dropped his drum like a brick in order to enjoy his hug.  Well done to Flores for recognizing the incredible work that Harry does during games.  The performances this season have not generally needed the addition of his entertainment, but he is always there in a quiet moment to make the crowd laugh and encourage them to cheer their team on.

The table on Saturday evening showed us in 9th place.  Due to the number of games played at odd times, the position at 5pm on Saturday can be misleading but examination of the remaining fixtures for the weekend indicated that only Everton, playing on Monday, could overtake us, so we are guaranteed to be in the top half at the end of the weekend.  I expected us to make a good fist of it this season, but this is beyond my wildest dreams.