Football on New Year’s Day is a thing of the past in the Premier League. Due to the knock-on effect of the games that were shown on television over the weekend, most of the matches had to be moved this year and, of the three games that actually took place on New Year’s Day, only one of them was a 3pm kick-off. Moving the games means more time off work, expense and inconvenience for travelling fans, but it was still a sell-out.
I arrived in Bournemouth mid-afternoon and relaxed at the hotel before heading for the pub at a respectable time to find that there was already a decent crowd there. Luckily we were still able to find a table in the lovely room at the back of the pub (that used to be a boxing gym). While there we were notified of a fire alarm at the ground which had delayed the arrival of the players and would result in a 15 minute delay to the kick-off. We left plenty of time for our walk to the ground and as we turned the corner to the away stand were greeted with the customary queue for the search. I left the queue for a moment to wish Mick, our Police liaison officer, a happy new year. Then, following the usual comprehensive search, I was finally through the turnstiles. Our seats in the ground were right at the back of the stand so I braced myself for 90 minutes of uncomfortable standing.
For some reason, I had convinced myself that we never get anything against Bournemouth (bad memories of Angella receiving red cards have coloured my view). We are also usually accompanied by Pete’s son, Matt, who hasn’t seen us win since 2006. So I was surprised to find that, apart from the thrashing at Vicarage Road in October (luckily the only league game that I have missed this season) and the win away last season, most of our recent games have ended in draws.
Team news was the reinstatement of the players who were left out on Saturday, so five changes with Femenía, Holebas, Doucouré, Sema and Deeney replacing Janmaat, Masina, Quina, Hughes and Success. So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Sema, Capoue, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney. Former loanee Nathan Aké started for the home side. It still hurts that he went there.
The game started brightly for the home side as a quick break finished with Brooks curling a shot just over the target. The Cherries had another early chance as a cross was cleared only as far as Lerma on the edge of the box, but his effort was well over the target. On 14 minutes, the Hornets took the lead against the run of play. Some good work from Doucouré ended with Sema receiving the ball, he put in a lovely cross for Deeney who headed home. As has become a tradition at Bournemouth, the goal was greeted with a flare. The stringent searches failing yet again. Watford had a decent chance to increase their lead as a shot from Sema was blocked, Pereyra picked up the rebound but fired over the target. At the other end Wilson played the ball back to Fraser whose shot was straight at Foster.
The second goal came after good work from Deulofeu who intercepted the ball in the midfield and advanced into the box, he was crowded out, but the loose ball broke to Deeney, who powered his shot home to put the Hornets in what appeared to be a comfortable lead. The first caution of the game went to Doucouré for a foul on Fraser. I haven’t seen any replays of the incident, but those watching television pictures reckoned that it could have been a red card. Bournemouth tried to hit back as King broke into the Watford box, but he was stopped by a brilliant tackle by Cathcart. At the other end, Watford had a decent chance of a third goal as Doucouré hit a curler from the edge of the area that just cleared the crossbar. Deeney was the next to see a yellow card for a foul on Fraser. But, just when Watford were looking to be in total control, the home side hit back. Foster made a brilliant save from Gosling, but his great work was for nothing as Aké was on hand to nod in the rebound. It was noted that the former Watford loanee did not celebrate. Four minutes later and the hosts were level as a Brooks free kick was headed home by Wilson. At this point I noted that what I was watching was “unbelievable”. I spoke too soon as the goal spree hadn’t finished and the travelling Hornets were soon celebrating again as Watford retook the lead when a free kick from Foster was headed on by Deeney to Sema who volleyed past Begović. I don’t think the celebrations in the away end had finished when Stanislas broke forward and found Fraser who beat Foster to draw the game level again. Having seen four goals in six minutes, it felt as though every attack would finish with the ball in the net, so I was relieved when a cross from Stanislas was headed wide by King. When the half time whistle went, we all drew breath. It had been exhausting to watch and you had to feel sorry for Javi. What sort of team talk do you deliver after a half like that?
At half time, a number of supporters from each team were invited on to the pitch for a “beer goggles” penalty shoot-out. I couldn’t help but wonder if the defenders had been wearing these goggles for the last 15 minutes of the half.
The first action of note in the second half was a booking for Capoue for a foul on Gosling. The first substitution came on 56 minutes as Doucouré, who was on a yellow card and looking in danger of picking up a second, made way for Cleverley. The first chance of the second half for the Hornets came from a Holebas free kick, but Deeney’s looping header was saved easily by Begović. There was finally a caution for the home side as Gosling was booked for a really nasty challenge on Cleverley. Thankfully Tom emerged unscathed. Then another Holebas free kick was met by the head of Deeney, this time the effort was wide of the target. At the other end, a close range header from Wilson was stopped by a brilliant save from Foster. When Deeney went down in the box clutching his head, there were some weak shouts for a penalty. It would have been a very soft decision, but the referee had been falling for the theatrics from the Boscombe divers all evening, so it would have felt like sweet revenge if it had been given.
Watford’s second change came on 70 minutes as Hughes came on in place of Sema, who had a decent game and had scored a lovely goal. Bournemouth had a great chance to take the lead as King broke into the box, but Foster was down to make a brave save, even if he needed a couple of goes before he finally gathered the ball. Foster was in action again soon after making a low save from a Gosling strike. A lovely move by the Hornets saw Deulofeu find Deeney who played Pereyra into space, but he was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Cook. Into the last 10 minutes and Eddie Howe made two substitutions replacing Wilson and Fraser with Ibe and Mousset. Watford had a great chance to regain the lead as Deeney played a square ball to Deulofeu but the shot was just wide of the near post. At the other end King tried his luck, but his shot was straight at Foster. Deulofeu broke forward again, but was too greedy and ran into a crowd of defenders when Pereyra was in space to his left. Watford had the ball in the net for a fourth time, but Deeney’s header came after the whistle had gone for a foul on Aké, so the goal wasn’t given. Watford made a final substitution on 90 minutes, replacing Deulofeu with Success. Pete had been calling for this change, but I wasn’t so sure as the stature of Success seemed likely to encourage the Bournemouth players to bounce off him calling foul. The first contribution from the substitute was a dangerous-looking run, but he was stopped by the always impressive Aké. There was another half shout for a penalty as Cleverley was fouled in the box and the ball bounced up and hit Aké’s hand. But, again, it would have been a soft one and the referee was right to deny it. As the three minutes of injury time came to a close, Watford had one last free kick which came to nothing and the whistle went on a surprisingly goalless half with the score still at 3-3.
My first reaction at the end of the game, after a huge sigh of relief, was that I wished I had been a neutral. It had been a properly bonkers game of football and must have been thrilling if your nerves weren’t on edge every time either team got near the goal. When the Hornets had taken the early two goal lead, it looked as though it was going to be a comfortable win as Bournemouth were looking really poor. As soon as they got a goal back, the tables had turned and Watford looked in shock. The defence were in pieces and even the normally reliable Craig Cathcart had some dodgy moments. The second half was much calmer. Bournemouth had the majority of the possession and chances, Ben Foster made a couple of excellent saves, but the Hornets had also created a couple of decent chances and could easily have grabbed a winner. The man of the match for the Hornets was probably Deeney, who took his goals well and was absolutely immense all over the field, although his post match interview could have done with some editing.
So, we now have a break in league action for the FA Cup third round this weekend and a trip to Woking. Pete’s reminiscences about the visit to Northwich Victoria in 1977 have made me a bit nervous about this one. I just hope that we don’t go expecting an easy game and that we put on a decent show as a cup run would be rather lovely.