Tag Archives: Keith Andrews

County’s Cracking Strikes

The new Community Stand

The new Community Stand

Having suffered two defeats just before the international break, there was little confidence going into this game against a Derby side that started the day at the top of the table.  Any hopes that had been sparked by the news that Abdi and Angella were available for selection were dashed when neither of them was in the starting line-up which was Bond, Doyley, Ekstrand, Bassong, Paredes, Dyer, Andrews, Tözsér, Forestieri, Ighalo and Deeney.  The Derby team included Watford old boy, Craig Forsyth.  One positive on arrival at the ground was to see fans entering the new stand from Occupation Road.  The structure and the fact that we finally have a four sided ground again is certainly cause for celebration.

Derby had an early chance to take the lead as Andrews failed to clear and the ball fell to Hendrick whose shot was turned onto the post by Bond.  At the other end, Deeney released Dyer but his cross was terrible.

Keogh holds off Ighalo as Harry Hornet looks on

Keogh holds off Ighalo as Harry Hornet looks on

There was an early yellow card for Keogh who was penalized for dragging Deeney back as he attempted to break.  A cross from Andrews was dummied by Ighalo and ran through to Dyer whose shot was easily gathered by Butland.  A cross reached Ibe in Watford the box, but his shot was blocked by Ekstrand.  The resulting corner flew along in front of the goal but, fortunately, there was no Derby player on hand to turn it in.  Ibe had another shot on goal, this time it was Deeney on hand to block.  Forestieri played a through ball for Ighalo but Shotton was in close attendance and stopped the Nigerian with a great tackle.  Watford threatened with a shot from Deeney that Butland parried, it went out for a throw from which Forestieri unleashed a shot that Butland gathered.  Dyer did well to win the ball in the midfield, he passed to Deeney who found Forestieri in the box, sadly Fernando hesitated before shooting so was tackled and fell over.  He pleaded for a penalty but the referee gave the corner.  Tözsér took the set piece which Butland punched clear.

Deeney breaks into the box

Deeney breaks into the box

On the half hour, Paredes nearly put the home side in trouble as he tried to dribble out of defence, was dispossessed but the shot to the near post was easy for Bond.  The young keeper was in action again getting a hand to a shot from Martin and pushing it around the far post.  The visitors took the lead in the 38th minute as Russell found Ibe on the left of the Watford box from where he hit a great shot into the top right corner.  Watford tried to hit back immediately as Doyley played a lovely through pass to Dyer who was tripped as he shaped to shoot so he ended up belting the ball over the bar.  At the other end, Martin connected with a Mascarell free-kick but Bond pulled off another excellent reflex save to tip the ball over the bar.  There were boos at the half-time whistle, which was harsh.  We had been a bit careless in our passing, hesitant before shooting and indulged in some suicidal defending, but were only a goal down to a cracking strike.

Vydra knocked flying

Vydra knocked flying

At the start of the second half, Vydra replaced Ighalo.  There was an early scare for the home side as Hendrick went for a run along the bye-line, but his cross went begging.  Tözsér found Forestieri in another great position, but again, Fernando hesitated and the shot was blocked.  Then a low cross from Paredes was dummied by Vydra and reached Deeney whose shot was saved.  Derby immediately launched a counter-attack through Hughes whose cross was met by Russell but the shot was high and wide.  Vydra went on a storming run down the wing, his cross was cleared but reached Forestieri whose shot flew fractionally wide of the far post.  Martin beat Ekstrand to get through on goal, Bond bravely came and saved at his feet and was down for a while receiving treatment but, thankfully, was soon fit to continue.  In the 60th minute, there was a minute’s applause that started in the Rookery in memory of Colin Roe, a Watford fan who died on the way to the Millwall game.  A nice touch, it was well observed, although the players must have been baffled.  Thankfully, we were attacking at the time and they seemed to derive encouragement although it didn’t result in a shot on goal.

Munari running to celebrate his goal with the bench

Munari running to celebrate his goal with the bench

Soon after, Andrews was replaced by Munari.  Forestieri had another chance but, again, shot just wide.  Derby then made their first substitution with Bryson replacing Hughes.  Watford had a great chance to equalize as Doyley met a cross from Paredes with a header that Butland saved, the ball rebounded to Deeney, but he had his back to goal so could only pass to Dyer whose shot was blocked.  Watford drew level soon after as a lovely move finished with Munari running on to a ball into the box from Dyer and burying it past Butland.  We could have taken the lead soon after as Forestieri exchanged passes with Deeney before finding Vydra whose shot was just wide of the target.  Forestieri then found Deeney whose shot was blocked.  With a quarter of an hour remaining, both sides made a substitution with Anya replacing Dyer for the Hornets and the goal scorer, Ibe, making way for Dawkins for the visitors.  Munari and Vydra then exchanged passes, the ball rolled through to Deeney but his shot, on the run, was well over the target.  Derby had a rare second half chance as a cross from Forsyth was met with a glancing header from Russell that flew wide.  Bassong went on a run and found Vydra in the box but two defenders converged to stop the Czech from shooting.  Russell launched a counter attack and found Forsyth whose shot was saved by Bond.

Bond fit to continue

Bond fit to continue

Derby took the lead soon after with a gorgeous shot from distance by Bryson.  That was really harsh on the Hornets who had dominated the half.  Watford had a chance to hit back as a Vydra corner was met by a header from Munari that fell to Keogh who kindly played it back to Munari but the Italian’s shot was cleared by Butland.  The resulting corner reached Tözsér but his shot landed on the top of the Derby net.  The final chance for an equalizer fell to Anya who was thwarted as Butland stuck a foot out to deflect his shot wide.

There was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth from Watford fans after this game, which I found a little hard to understand.  We had been wasteful at times but had dominated the second half and had been beaten by two wonder strikes.  Still, I’m always happier when the expectation levels fall as high expectation breeds tiresome impatience in the crowd.

 

A Rare Defeat in Suffolk

The players are joined by servicemen for the minute's silence

The players are joined by servicemen for the minute’s silence

When I arrived at Liverpool Street at 10:30, I didn’t bother to text my travelling companions, just headed for the pub and, sure enough, there was Jac (with a pint of Stella) I turned around to find Toddy walking in, so we were soon sitting comfortably with a tasty breakfast (IPA).  If we started early, the Norfolk ‘Orns had started earlier and with some gusto, so were a very merry group on their arrival.  So much so that one of them was requested to pop over to the burger van for a cup of tea before he was allowed entrance at Portman Road.

For the second game running, Jokanovic had made 5 changes, although there were fewer complaints this time as the only change from the win against Millwall was Forestieri in for Ighalo.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Pudil, Ekstrand, Bassong, Paredes, Andrews, Munari, Tözsér, Forestieri, Deeney, Vydra.

A cross from Williams is cleared

A cross from Williams is cleared

The home side had an early corner that was cleared by Bassong.  Then a rebound fell perfectly for Forestieri who advanced into the box but was tackled before he could shoot.  Watford should have taken the lead after ten minutes when Vydra played a ball across to Forestieri, his pass found Munari in the box who had only the keeper to beat but hit his shot straight at Bialkowski.  Ipswich then had a wonderful chance of their own with a side foot volley from Murphy that was tipped over by Gomes.  The next goal attempt also fell to Murphy, but this one was a soft shot that was straight at Gomes.  At the other end Vydra fed Forestieri but again his shot was blocked.  The first card of the game came after half an hour when Paredes was booked for a foul on Williams, which was a bit frustrating as the referee had let a lot of fouls against Watford players go.  Watford had another half chance as Vydra received a ball from Andrews on the right, he cut it back to Pudil whose shot deflected off a defender into the keeper’s arms.  Then Paredes crossed for Deeney who had to control the ball before hitting his shot, which was blocked.

Challenging at a corner

Challenging at a corner

The first, and only, card for Ipswich came when McGoldrick stopped Watford taking a quick free-kick.  Just before half time, McGoldrick was penalized for a handball which was greeted with red and yellow confetti in the away end from fans frustrated that none of the decisions seemed to be going our way.  When the whistle went for half time, the referee was booed off by the Watford fans.  In all honesty, it had been a scrappy half, the play had been end to end but there was little in the way of decent chances.

Deeney had a fantastic chance to put the visitors ahead early in the second half after Forestieri and Vydra broke forward, but Fernando’s shot from Matej’s cut back flew well over the crossbar.  The home side threatened after Andrews failed to clear, Williams hit a shot wide of the far post although it didn’t seem to concern Gomes who just stood and watched it drift wide.  A cut back from Murphy was cleared by Ekstrand.  Murphy then received a ball over the top and hit a shot that required an excellent save from Gomes to turn it over the bar.  The keeper’s sterling efforts proved unnecessary as the flag was already up for offside.

Deeney on the ball

Deeney on the ball

Ekstrand was the next Watford player to be booked as he fouled Williams to stop a breakaway.  That was the midfielder’s last involvement in the game as the injury that was inflicted by the tackle meant that he couldn’t continue.  He was replaced by Bishop.  The resulting free kick was punched clear by Gomes.  Hunt tried to lob the keeper, but the ball ended up on top of the net.  Watford had another wonderful chance as Vydra broke forward, he crossed for Forestieri who really should have hit the target, but he blasted his shot over the bar.  Then Hunt broke into the Watford box, Gomes bravely saved at his feet but they had come together with some force so the keeper needed treatment.  Bond readied himself to come on but Gomes eventually got back to his feet and was judged fit to continue.  On 70 minutes some lights appeared in the Ipswich crowd.  I have no idea what they signified and they were gone as soon as they appeared, but it was very bizarre.  On 73 minutes, Jokanovic made his first substitution as Forestieri made way for Ighalo.

Tozser takes a free kick

Tozser takes a free kick

A poor pass from Vydra allowed McGoldrick to break so Munari took the forward down and received a yellow card that he accepted with a handshake.  Bru had a great chance to put the home side ahead when a corner was cleared to him but he volleyed just wide.  The same player threatened the Watford goal again soon after but his shot was met with a brilliant catch from Gomes.  At the other end a Deeney cross found Ighalo free in the box, the flag stayed down but the Nigerian’s shot was blocked for a corner.  Increasingly it appeared that one goal would win this game.  Unfortunately that goal went to the home side.  Watford failed to clear from a free-kick, the ball bobbled around the box before falling to Smith who hit it past Gomes.  It was a scrappy goal that summed up the game.  There were a couple of late substitutions with Murray coming on for Andrews for the visitors and Sammon replacing McGoldrick for the home side.  Watford waited until the last minute of the six added on before attempting an equalizer, but the shot from Munari was blocked by Bialkowski and the three points stayed in Suffolk.

So, after a nine game unbeaten run, we had suffered two consecutive defeats.  Both performances were disappointing, but two draws would probably have been fair as neither side dominated in the games.  We now have the international break to regroup.  The last two breaks have seen the Watford manager replaced but that is very unlikely to happen again, so Jokanovic has two weeks to plot the downfall of Derby whose recent blip appears to be over.  Despite the disappointment of the last couple of games, I am really looking forward to that encounter.

 

A Miserable Night in Birmingham

The scoreboard prior to kick-off

The scoreboard prior to kick-off

As the train made its way to the midlands I received an e-mail from a colleague telling me to enjoy my holiday.  Looking at the rain streaking the window I replied that my enjoyment of the time off was completely in the hands of the Watford players.  Since my message to my usual travelling companions to see who wanted tickets for this fixture had elicited only negative responses, the football was the only thing I had to look forward to that evening.

Jokanovic had two changes forced on him due to injuries to Bassong and Munari and added three more for good measure so the starting line-up was Gomes, Doyley, Ekstrand, Hoban, Paredes, Anya, Tözsér, McGugan, Ighalo, Forestieri and Deeney.  This provoked much wailing among fans and doom-laden references to the game at Bristol City when Zola made wholesale changes.  On the positive side, it meant that Lloyd Doyley made his 400th start for Watford, what a tremendous servant he has been.  Birmingham’s captain was former Watford favourite Paul Robinson.  It still hurts to remember giving him away for peanuts.

The pre-match huddle

The pre-match huddle

As soon as I heard that Birmingham had won only once in their last 25 home games, my heart sank.  They had a new manager in Gary Rowett, who was introduced to great fanfare.  With the Watford fans chanting “We are top of the league,” and goading the home fans about their recent 8-0 defeat this was one of those nights where I feared that pride would come before a fall.

Donaldson threatened the Watford goal in the first minute but Tommie Hoban was on hand to make a saving tackle.  The respite was brief as the home side took the lead in the second minute as McGugan lost the ball on the sideline while trying to play out of defence, Gleeson crossed for Donaldson whose shot was deflected past Gomes by Ekstrand.  Forestieri tried to hit back immediately with an ambitious shot that was well over the bar.  But Watford drew level on seven minutes.

Celebrations following Forestieri's equalizer

Celebrations following Forestieri’s equalizer

Doyley got the ball in an advanced position where he was greeted with shouts of “shoooot”, he exchanged passed with McGugan then cut the ball back for Forestieri whose initial shot was blocked by Randolph, but he made no mistake with the follow-up.  Ighalo passed across to Deeney who played it back to McGugan but his shot was put out for a corner.  At the other end, Caddis crossed for Cotterill who wellied the ball well over the target.  Just before the half hour, Caddis put in another dangerous cross but Shinnie’s header was horrible as he directed the ball straight in front of him when the goal was some distance to his right.  Anya made a forward run and cut the ball back for Forestieri who had to stretch for the shot which was blocked.  Robbo was the next to threaten the Watford goal, but his header was cleared by Ekstrand.  Birmingham should have taken the lead with a great free-kick from Cotterill which required a flying save from Gomes to keep it out.  At the other end Randolph had to pull off a similar save to repel a belting shot from Deeney.  A shot from Cotterill was cleared and Watford launched a counter attack that finished with a cross from Ighalo which flew past the onrushing Forestieri.  Then a cross from Paredes was deflected to Randolph by one of his defenders.  In the final minute of the half, Gomes was on hand to push a shot from Gleeson clear.

Lining up to defend a corner

Lining up to defend a corner

At the start of the second half, Ighalo did well to keep the ball when tackled and eventually found space to shoot but his shot was over the target.  The first yellow card of the game went to Davis who hacked Anya down rather needlessly as the whistle had already gone.  Forestieri found McGugan who played a ball over the top into the box but it was too far in front of Deeney.  Ighalo played a square ball to McGugan whose curling shot was easily caught by Randolph.  A dangerous shot by Donaldson was cleared by Hoban, there followed a sustained Birmingham attack where the Watford defence could not clear but the home side eventually did us a favour by putting the ball out for a goal kick.  At this point the home fans found their voice and it has to be said that they make an impressive sound when they get going.  The first substitution came in the 58th minute as Ighalo made way for Andrews who was tasked with shoring up the midfield.

Tozser readies himself for a disappointing free-kick

Tozser readies himself for a disappointing free-kick

A ball into the Watford box was headed back to Gleeson who wellied it wide.  Hopes rose in the away end as Tözsér stepped up to take a free-kick on the edge of the box, but it was woeful, clearing the bar by some distance.  My nerves were on edge as a deflected shot appeared to be drifting towards our goal, Doyley cleared but the flag was up anyway.  At last a moment of quality with a lovely passing move along the length of the pitch, a defender slipped allowing Andrews to get a cross in but it was put out for a corner.  Then Deeney broke free and played Anya in but he couldn’t muster a shot.  McGugan and Deeney exchanged passes before Lewis tried an early shot that was well wide of the near post.  Then Deeney chested the ball down to Andrews but he lifted his shot over the bar.  The home side made their first substitution replacing Arthur with Gray.  There were cheers from the travelling Horns as Vydra was spotted getting ready to come on.  His name had been chanted in the away end for about 10 minutes before the change.  He replaced Forestieri with 15 minutes remaining.  Anya looked as though he’d run the ball out of play on the sideline, but was allowed to continue, broke into the box executed some ridiculous step-overs and then ran the ball out of play behind the goal line.  Just awful.

Anya and McGugan checking the position of their wall

Anya and McGugan checking the position of their wall

The home side’s second substitution saw Thomas replace Shinnie.  Andrews was booked for a robust tackle on Caddis.  Cotterill took the resulting free-kick, hitting another dreadful shot that was well off target.  In the 84th minute, the home side took the lead as a cross from Cotterill was met with a powerful header from Donaldson that flew past Gomes.  Watford could have no complaints.  Watford tried to strike back as Deeney played a through ball to Anya but the Scot was offside.  Anya exchanged passes with Vydra whose shot was blocked, the ball rebounded to Andrews but got stuck under his feet as he was challenged and the ball was cleared.  Watford’s second booking went to Deeney who was penalized for a foul on Morrison.  Robbo rose to head a cross from Anya clear, the follow-up shot from the Scot was saved by Randolph and the home side took all three points.

At the final whistle, the players started to trudge off but Gomes could be seen calling Paredes back to applaud the travelling fans.  I couldn’t bring myself to applaud them back.  But when Robbo ran up the field as one of the last to leave, I and others around me couldn’t help but acknowledge his efforts and he responded in kind to the Watford fans who had been so sporting.

It had been a miserable performance on a cold evening.  Birmingham hadn’t been great, although I was relieved that Cotterill had been so wasteful with the chances that fell to him as it could have been much worse.  So the unbeaten run is at an end, but I’m still looking forward to the trip to Ipswich on Saturday where I’m hoping for better things.  The phrase “glutton for punishment” comes to mind.

A Fitting Tribute

The poppy display

The poppy display viewed from the family stand

With this being the closest home game to Armistice Day in the 100th year since the start of World War I, the usual commemorations were being supplemented with a foil display organized by the 1881 group and financed by Watford’s players.  A crowd turned up at the ground first thing to put the foils out, a job that was completed in double quick time.  According to the instructions from the club, we arrived at our seats earlier than usual to find all the usual stragglers were already there and that programmes had sold out.  When instructed, we raised our foils and, from our position under the display, could only wonder whether it had been a success.  I must admit that the photos were breath-taking and must thank a friend who sits in the Family Stand for providing the wonderful picture shown here.  Huge congratulations to Roy Moore and the other lads from 1881 who designed and executed the display.  It was a tremendous achievement.

On the pitch, the players were to wear the black and white kit from 1914, so Millwall wore their yellow change strip.  It was very bizarre to see the opposition in yellow at Vicarage Road.  Team news was that there were three changes with Gomes and Deeney returning from injury and Andrews in for Anya in midfield, so the starting line-up was Gomes, Pudil, Ekstrand, Bassong, Paredes, Tözsér, Munari, Andrews, Ighalo, Vydra and Deeney.  Undistinguished former loanee Matthew Briggs started for the visitors.  It should also be mentioned that, now the final seats have been installed in the Community stand, we have a four-sided ground for the first time in many years.  It is a wonderful sight to see.

Ighalo trying to hold off a defender

Ighalo trying to hold off a defender

The home side dominated the early exchanges, the first goal attempt coming as Deeney and Vydra exchanged passes in the box and Troy hit a shot that Forde dropped to save.  At the other end a low cross by Woolford was gathered by Gomes.  On 11 minutes, Millwall took the lead as McDonald crossed to Woolford inside the box, he shrugged off Bassong and slotted the ball into the bottom corner.  That certainly depressed the mood in the home stands.  Watford tried to strike back immediately as Vydra played a through ball to Paredes but his shot rebounded off the post.  Millwall’s Dunne went down dramatically after a challenge from Deeney.  Watford played on and Dunne leapt to his feet and sprinted back to defend.  At the next break in play Forde bafflingly went to remonstrate with the referee and was booked.  The next time that the ball went anywhere near the goal was on the half hour when a free-kick from Tözsér flew over the bar.  The next action of note was a bizarre challenge by Vydra, who was clearly frustrated as he jumped into Williams.  He was fortunate not to be carded.

Forde trying to organize his wall

Forde trying to organize his wall

Injury forced an early Watford substitution as Bassong made way for Hoban.  An attempted break by Ighalo was stopped by a push from Briggs who was shown a yellow card for his trouble.  From the free-kick, Ighalo unleashed a shot that was turned around the post by Forde.  The resultant corner was straight off the training ground as it was played out to Andrews, who dinked it in to Vydra, running into the box, who got the slightest touch and the ball trickled over the line.  The goal invigorated Matej who next hit a shot from a cut back by Ighalo which was turned just wide.  Then, from the corner, he headed just over.  For the visitors, Fuller broke into the box and went down under a challenge but the referee was having none of it and the forward was booked for his protests.  In time added on at the end of the first half, Dunne bundled Deeney over on the edge of the box and was booked for the offence.  Tözsér’s free-kick was a bullet that flew past the wall and into the net.  The Millwall keeper, Forde, didn’t move.  It had been a strange first half, with a long period when nothing much happened, but it had burst into life at the end and it was great to go into half time a goal to the good.

Tozser congraulated on his bullet

Tozser congraulated on his bullet

Millwall had the first chance of the second half as Woolford got his head to a corner from Williams but he directed it wide of the target.  At the other end, a header from Hoban was saved, but the flag was already up for offside.  Deeney and Munari exchanged passes then played a through ball for Vydra but Forde was first to the ball.  On the hour, Holloway made his first substitution as Briggs was replaced by Malone.  Martin tried to break forward but was taken down by Hoban who was booked for the foul.  On 63 minutes, Watford increased the lead as, from a free-kick, Vydra cut the ball back to Munari who lashed it past Forde for Watford’s third goal.  A frustrated Fuller kicked out at Ekstrand and was lucky not to see a second yellow card so Holloway did the sensible thing and replaced him with Gueye before he got himself sent off.

Harry joins in the celebrations for the third goal

Harry congratulates Munari on the third goal

Jokanovic also made a change replacing Vydra with Dyer.  Hearts were in mouths in the Rookery as Woolford beat Hoban and shot goalwards, but Pudil was on hand to clear the shot off the line.  Gueye’s first contribution was a shot through a crowd of players that was easily caught by Gomes.  A terrible back pass from Williams almost increased Watford’s lead as it appeared to beat Forde, but it drifted just wide.  With 10 minutes remaining, Pudil needed a team mate’s help with a touch of cramp, was told to leave the pitch having ‘received treatment’ and soon after was replaced by Doyley.  The Millwall players seemed determined to score an own goal, this time Forde had to reach to prevent a back header sneaking in.  Holloway’s final substitution saw Martin make way for O’Brien.  There was another bizarre occurrence as a Millwall player went behind the advertising hoardings to retrieve the ball and took the throw-in from there leading the referee to blow up for a foul throw.  Gueye broke into the box and cut the ball back but Gomes dropped to gather.  Gomes then had to be smart to tip over a header from Dunne.  Dyer released Paredes who ran the length of the pitch but his shot was deflected wide.  That was the last action of the game as the whistle went to cheers and chants of “We are top of the league.”

Yet again, it hadn’t been a brilliant performance but we had broken down a well-organized Holloway side and, once we’d got the third goal had never been in any danger.  We all agreed that sometimes you have to win ugly.  It is far too early in the season and far too tight at the top of the Championship to get too excited, but we are now none games unbeaten and the signs are all good for an exciting season.

A Deserved Draw on Teesside

A "parmo"

A “parmo”

It’s a long old trip up to Middlesbrough but, despite setting out to travel on my own, I soon found myself in the company of fellow Hornets on the journey north so it passed very quickly.  The pre-match pub of choice was Dr Browns, which may not have the best selection of beers but, after a dodgy first visit, over the years I’ve become quite a fan of the DJ.  Where else would you hear T Rex, Slade and Sweet blasting out and have the realization that, while I can barely remember what I did yesterday, I still know all the words to the glam rock hits of the 70s.  He also runs a spot quiz with questions for both home and away fans with “fantastic prizes” (a free pint).  Not the most sophisticated entertainment, but a lovely pre –match welcome to the town.  One of our party had also been eagerly looking forward to reacquainting himself with the parmo.  A whole week’s worth of calories in one meal.  It has to be seen to be believed.

There was a late change in goal with Bond coming in for Gomes who was injured in the warm up.  The only other change from Tuesday was Anya coming in for the injured Adbi, so the starting line-up was Bond, Pudil, Bassong, Ekstrand, Paredes, Munari, Anya, Tözsér, Forestieri, Vydra and Ighalo.

Jonathan Bond making an unexpected start

Jonathan Bond making an unexpected start

After the last two games, expectations were for another good performance, but the early chances in the game fell to the home side.  First Tomlin’s shot was blocked by Pudil.  Then a cross from Adomah was chested down by Kike to Bamford whose shot was blocked by Tözsér.  On 16 minutes, Kike looked to capitalize on a ball into the box but Ekstrand curled his leg in and cleared, although he needn’t have bothered as the Spaniard was offside.  Friend beat Paredes on the wing, although he appeared to use a hand to control the ball, and put in a cross that Bassong headed clear.  The ball eventually went out for a corner that fell to Adomah on the edge of the box where he hit it well over the bar.  Paredes failed to clear a ball into the box so Friend was able to cross for Bamford whose shot was blocked by Bond.  Friend nutmegged Paredes, but Bond saved the shot.  Friend was able to get in another cross soon after but Kike got under it and headed it over.

Tozser on the ball

Tozser on the ball

On the half hour, Watford launched their first attack since the opening minutes of the game as Vydra received a pass from Forestieri but Konstantopoulos dropped to save the shot.  A forward run by Anya was stopped when he was knocked flying by Ayala who received a yellow card for his trouble.  The next card was shown to Forestieri who saw the ball flying over his head on the way out for a throw-in, so decided to reach up and handle the ball.  A completely unnecessary card to pick up.  Vydra broke forward and appeared to have released Forestieri, but the flag was up for offside.  Kike threatened again but his header from a Fredericks cross was over the bar.  Forestieri got the ball on the edge of the Boro box and manoeuvred into a position to shoot but his attempt was wide of the near post.  On the stroke of half time, Forestieri passed to Anya, who ran along the bye-line and hit a shot that was parried by the keeper.  The half time whistle was a bit of a relief, we had rallied a bit in the last few minutes, but Boro had had most of the possession in the half without creating too many chances.  Uncharacteristically, Paredes was having a nightmare.

Deeney congratulated on his goal

Deeney congratulated on his goal

In the first minute of the second half, Bamford took Pudil out and saw yellow.  The home side sent out a warning as Pudil failed to clear a cross and Fredericks shot just wide of the far past.  On 48 minutes, Boro took the lead as the defenders again failed to clear a cross from Bamford, the ball fell to Kike who knocked it past Bond.  It was disappointing, but it had been coming.  The home side could have been two up almost immediately, but Bond was equal to Bamford’s shot.  Whitehead was booked for a foul on Forestieri.  Vydra had a great chance to equalize as Konstantopoulos punched a cross down to him but he shot over the bar.  Deeney’s name was chanted as he could be seen getting ready to come on to replace Forestieri.  Tözsér played the ball out to Paredes, whose cross was straight at the keeper, which was disappointing as Vydra was running in and a better delivery could have paid dividends.  On the hour Watford drew level as Anya put in a low cross from the left that Deeney drilled past the keeper, much to the delight of the travelling Hornets.  Soon after, Ighalo made way for Andrews.  The departing player was given a good send off by the fans so acknowledged us and shook the referee’s hand on his way off.  What a polite young man.  We had a great chance to take the lead as Deeney played a fantastic long ball to Anya whose cross was met by Andrews whose shot was deflected for a corner.

Anya calling for a ball from Vydra

Anya calling for a ball from Vydra

From a Tözsér free kick, Ekstrand headed the ball against the post.  Watford were now in the ascendancy and the next chance came as Munari flicked a cross from Paredes on to Vydra whose scissor kick was blocked.  Boro threatened on the counter as Fredericks crossed for Kike whose shot looked as though it was on target but, thankfully, flew past the far post.  Bamford, who had tormented us was replaced by Reach.  Deeney played a ball back to Vydra in the box who moved it on to Paredes who volleyed wide.  A shot that made me smile as it was a terrific effort from a player who had had a bad day.  Tözsér tried a shot from distance that was deflected wide.  From the corner, the ball was played back to Andrews who shot well over the target.  Watford had dominated since the Boro goal, but the home side still posed a threat as a shot from the edge of the box by Tomlin was deflected wide.  That was his last action of the game as he was replaced by Vossen.  A low free-kick by Tözsér was on target but Konstantopoulos turned it around the post.  The final whistle went with both sides earning a deserved point.

Harry Hornet being interviewed by the Police

Harry Hornet being interviewed by the Police

While this game was not as entertaining as Tuesday’s, it was very pleasing to see Jokanovic make changes that had a positive effect on the game.  Troy had looked very rusty when he came on against Forest, but that was far from the case today and some of the interplay between him and Vydra was a delight.  Equally, Anya had a poor first half, but was very impressive on the attack in the second period.  Kudos must also go to Jonathan Bond, who wasn’t expecting to play but put in a solid performance.  Post-match discussions with Boro fans both on the train and on Twitter turned into a bit of a love-in.  Both teams were impressive and will be challenging for promotion.  This season may be one of the most competitive in the Championship and I am loving it.

 

A Tremendous Performance Both On and Off the Pitch

Pre match huddle

Pre match huddle

There was a certain amount of trepidation going in to this fixture.  I was still seething about the non-performance in the cup on Tuesday.  Actually I was still seething about the horror of the final game of last season when we played the same team and our players were already on holiday.  This history was of particular concern as my niece, Amelia, who has been coming to games on and off for years was accompanying me.  I am still haunted by her distress at the end of the last play-off final, so I was hoping that the lads would give her something to smile about.

When the team news came in, there were two changes from the win over Leeds with Anya coming in for Paredes and Ekstrand coming straight back after serving his three match suspension, which seemed very harsh on Hoban who had been excellent.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Angella, Ekstrand, Tamas, Pudil, Abdi, Tözsér, Munari, Anya, Deeney and Forestieri.  I noted the presence of a Sinnott on the Huddersfield bench, who did turn out to be the son of former Watford player Lee.  The news during the week of Troy Deeney’s new contract had been a delightful surprise as I had resigned myself to his departure.  Needless to say, he was given a tremendous reception and, in turn, showed his appreciation to the crowd who sang his name.

Defending a corne4

Defending a corner

The first action of note was on the sideline as Angella challenged Coady who went sliding off the pitch and collided with Beppe Sannino in his technical area (for once) sending him flying.  There were no histrionics from the gaffer who was immediately back on his feet and it was nice to see that his well-being was checked by both Coady and the Terriers boss, Lillis.  The first attempt on goal came from the visitors as Harry Bunn cut inside Angella but shot high and wide.  Then Vaughan put a header over the bar.  Forestieri had the ball in the net having broken forward while avoiding the attentions of Wallace, but the linesman was flagging.  Fernando was not deterred as he went on a great run, evading a couple of tackles before being taken down on the edge of the box, the ball broke to Deeney who played it out to Anya running in from the right, but his shot was wide of the far post.  Deeney had a great chance to take the lead as he connected with a Tözsér free-kick, but he directed the header just over the bar.  At the other end, a corner was punched clear by Gomes.

Deeney congratulated on his goal

Deeney congratulated on his goal

On 15 minutes, we were ahead as Tözsér played a fabulous through ball to Deeney who sprinted clear and shot past Smithies.  What a perfect way to celebrate his new contract.  Five minutes later, Troy muscled Coady out of the way and bore down on goal again, but this time his shot was into the side netting.  Pudil tried to catch the Huddersfield defence out with a quick throw to Forestieri whose shot was deflected for a corner.  It wasn’t all Watford, though, as Majewski tried a shot that Gomes dropped to push clear.  Then Tamas lost the ball to Majewski leading to a goalmouth scramble as first Butterfield’s shot was blocked, then Coady’s attempt was parried by Gomes, the ball finally dropped to Vaughan who beat the keeper, so it was a relief to see the linesman’s flag raised.  On the half hour, Deeney headed a ball back to Forestieri who tried a shot from distance that was easily gathered by Smithies.  Butterfield tried another shot that Gomes was down to gather.  Scannell snuck in behind Pudil and put in a low cross that flew across the goalmouth but no Huddersfield player was there to get the vital touch, so it was cleared.  Munari was the first Watford player to be booked as he knocked Lynch to the ground.  We had another great chance as Pudil found Deeney in the middle and we were waiting for the net to bulge in front of us, but Troy’s shot was just wide.  Tamas played a long ball to Pudil who crossed to Forestieri who played the ball over to Anya whose snap shot was caught by Smithies.  Just before half time, Tamas played a lovely cross into the box for Forestieri who came flying at it and headed just over.  Then Anya found Deeney who also shot over.  Munari had pulled up a few minutes earlier, so it was sad to see him limping off to be replaced by Andrews.

It had been a lively and enjoyable first half.  Huddersfield had their chances, but Watford had played some lovely football and really should have been further ahead.  I have to say that watching Deeney and Forestieri playing together in that half, in the knowledge that this was not the last time I would see Troy in a Watford shirt, had been an absolute joy.

Abdi congratulated on his first goal

Abdi congratulated on his first goal

The second half started horribly for the Hornets as there was a mix up between Tamas and Gomes over a ball into the box, it broke to Bunn who buried it past Gomes and, for some inexplicable reason, decided to celebrate in front of the Rookery.  Soon after, Dixon tried a speculative shot from distance that was well over the target.  We were ahead again in the 53rd minute as the ball broke to Abdi in the box and he powered it past Smithies.  Huddersfield continued to threaten.  Gomes dropped to gather a shot from Majewski.  Then a Scannell cross appeared to be heading for the goal when Tözsér lifted a foot to flick it wide.  Tamas was booked for what looked like a soft tackle on Bunn, who had spent a lot of the game on the ground.  Vaughan got his head to a cross from Scannell, but Gomes pushed it wide.  Unfortunately, from the resulting corner, Wallace had a free header to restore parity.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, within a couple of minutes we were down to 10 men as Tamas made an unnecessary tackle on the sideline which earned him a second yellow card.  There was no danger in the position, so the tackle seemed utterly pointless.  I am a fan of Tamas, but he had a mare during this game.

Andrews congratulated by his team mates

Andrews congratulated by his team mates

There was also a booking for the visitors as Wallace saw yellow for taking Abdi down.  Almen took the free-kick himself, it was on-target but Smithies pushed it out for a corner.  Abdi took the corner which curled deep and was headed in by Andrews to restore a slightly surprising lead for the Hornets.  At the other end, the ball fell to Majewski but his shot was blocked.  Majewski then had another shot that crept wide with Vaughan closing in.  Huddersfield really should have drawn level as a cross reached Vaughan in front of the goal, but he cleared the ball instead of sending it goalwards.  During this period of Huddersfield pressure, every time the ball came into our box, I could feel Amelia flinch.  I was desperately hoping that we didn’t disappoint her again.  Each side made a substitution with Vaughan making way for Wells and Hoban coming on for Anya to shore up the defence in the absence of Tamas.  Huddersfield threatened again as a cross came in with Scannell sneaking in at the back post, but Pudil was there to put him off and he knocked the ball into the side netting.

Abdi takes a free kick

Abdi takes a free kick

The final substitutions saw Hammill and Stead replacing Bunn and Dixon for the visitors with Paredes replacing Forestieri for the home side.  Wells tried a shot from the middle of the box, which was caught by Gomes who was in action again almost immediately, dropping to stop a shot from Hammill.  Then a ball came in to the Watford box with Pudil and Gomes both challenging for it and Pudil seemed to step on Gomes.  They both went down and it didn’t look good, but the upshot was that Gomes had cramp which took a while to treat but he was able to continue.  Huddersfield continued to press for a third equalizer as Bunn tried a shot from distance that was well over the bar.  At this point something remarkable happened.  There had been some encouraging chants coming from the Rookery, but I saw Tözsér gesture for us to raise the volume and the next thing I knew, the whole of the Rookery were on their feet singing and clapping.  The same was true of the family stand.  Then I turned to my left and saw something I have rarely seen before, the whole of the GT stand singing and clapping.  As my attention returned to the pitch, I saw Gomes parrying a shot, Hammill followed up but Gomes was equal to it.  There were six minutes of injury time and the Vicarage Road faithful kept up the chanting for the team.

Ekstrand congratulates Abdi

Ekstrand congratulates Abdi

Then Tözsér played a ball across to Abdi who advanced into the box and curled the ball around defender and keeper and into the net.  At 4-2 in injury time, that had to be the winner.  Cue a properly mental celebration.  With the singing that had preceded the goal, I felt like I had earned an assist.  But I nearly had heart failure when I saw my sister pointing.  I looked at the lino whose flag was down and then realized that she was indicating the Gomes celebration, which was as mental as ours.  What a relief!

At the final whistle, there was a joyful celebration.  When Tamas was dismissed just after the visitors had equalized, it looked like our afternoon was over, but this had been a tremendous performance both on the pitch and in the stands.  One that we could all be proud of.  There was a nice touch at the end of the game from Deeney who threw his boots into the 1881.

Tozser clears

Tozser clears

I am still struggling to understand what went on yesterday.  On a normal Saturday at Vicarage Road, you will see a good number of people leaving to ‘beat the traffic’ even when we are drawing and pushing for a winner.  In this game, we were already ahead and, while Huddersfield were pushing for an equalizer, this was only the 5th game of the season, so the result was hardly make or break.  Despite that, this became one of those times when the players and fans become one team and the joy at the end of the game is something to be treasured.  The best part of the afternoon for me was that Amelia went home happy.  But this now makes her a lucky mascot so she will be invited back very soon.

While I’ve been writing this report, the news of Beppe Sannino’s departure has broken.  In my few encounters with Beppe, I found him a very engaging man, but I hadn’t always been a fan of the way his teams played.  There were a lot of dreadful performances last season and the last encounter with Huddersfield was certainly one in which you felt that the players had no respect for the manager.  That was also my impression at the end of season dinner.  When Beppe took the stage to make his speech, there was little warmth or respect emanating from the tables of players who were just next to us.  I was amazed that he was still in charge at the start of the season.  The fact that he has now left suggests that the Pozzos have found his replacement.  Someone described the contrast of the Zola and Sannino reigns as being from a holiday camp to a boot camp.  I hope that the new manager is somewhere in the middle.  We have a huge amount of talent in this team, with some organization and discipline we could be unbeatable.

 

Little Strength Shown by the Depth

Jonathan Bond

Jonathan Bond

Discussion before the match centred on memories of dire games at this stage of the competition, the Accrington Stanley tedium taking centre stage.  When there is little expectation of great entertainment, I tend to turn up “just in case”.  As expected, there were nine changes from Saturday, but the strength of our squad meant that it was still a pretty formidable team.  There had been speculation as to whether, following his indiscretion last week, Dyer would be picked.  He was.  The starting line-up was Bond, Doyley (c), Tamas, Hoban, Anya, McGugan, Andrews, Murray, Dyer, Ighalo and Vydra.

The walk from the West Herts to the ground in the half hour before kick-off was through eerily empty streets.  But, inside the ground, the seats around us were well populated with a high proportion of kids and neutrals.

Doncaster gave a warning of what was to come in the second minute as Bennett found Tyson on the right whose shot flew just past the far post.  At the other end, Vydra cut inside but his shot was blocked.  Doncaster had another decent chance as Coppinger fired just wide.

Dyer all smiles after scoring

Dyer all smiles after scoring

The visitors should have been ahead when Tyson connected with a free-kick, but he headed the ball down and it flew just wide.  Doncaster took the lead in the 12th minute as Tamas needlessly fouled Bennett in the box.  Tyson stepped up to take the penalty firing it straight down the middle with Bond diving to his right.  Watford fans in the Rookery thought we had equalized almost immediately as a shot from Lewis McGugan cannoned off the crossbar at the Vicarage Road end before bouncing down and out.  Sean Murray’s follow-up was blocked.  This was better from the home side as Ighalo robbed Coppinger of the ball and went on a run before passing to McGugan whose shot flew wide.  Watford drew level after half an hour when Dyer broke forward and buried the ball past Steer.  His celebration this week involved running away from the bench with his hand over his mouth.  Tyson had an opportunity to regain the lead, but his shot was straight at Bond.  Vydra and Dyer exchanged passes but the return ball was too heavy and the chance was gone.  Just before half-time, Coppinger tried a shot that was well wide of the far post.  It had been a half of few chances.

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

Five minutes into the second period, Bennett shot over the bar from outside the area.  A minute later Doncaster retook the lead as a lovely passing move was finished with Wakefield turning a cut-back from Furman past Bond.  Wabara nearly provided Watford with an unlikely equalizer as he mis-hit the ball goalwards and had to recover to clear off the line.  Bennett threatened again with a shot from distance that was just wide of the far post.  Bennett’s next shot was from a free-kick which Bond parried before gathering.  Vydra won a free-kick on the edge of the box, but McGugan hit it straight into the wall and then skyed the follow-up.  With 20 minutes remaining, Pudil replaced Doyley, who handed the captain’s armband to Tamas, and McGugan made way for Munari.  The ever dangerous Bennett should have put the game beyond Watford’s reach with a shot from distance that was tipped over the bar by Bond.  At the other end, Vydra did well to retain the ball, riding a couple of tackles, but his final shot was way off target and into the Rookery.  Sannino made his last change at this point replacing Murray with Fabbrini.

Andrews and McGugan lining up a free-kick

Andrews and McGugan lining up a free-kick

On 75 minutes, Doncaster appeared to have scored a third as Keegan’s shot beat Bond, but the linesman flagged for an offside.  De Val was booked for persistent fouling after taking Vydra down.  Munari failed to connect with Fabbrini’s free-kick, the follow-up was blocked, the ball was played back into the area and Dyer shot over.  With 5 minutes remaining, Pudil took a free-kick into the box which flew over the head of the leaping Hoban.  In time added on, Tyson was booked for time-wasting after blocking Bond’s attempts to take a free kick.  You have to wonder why he bothered as Watford really hadn’t looked like scoring for some time.

The final whistle went to boos from the Rookery.  The home side were very poor on the night, although that should not detract from a very decent performance by the visitors.  Sannino had picked a strong side, but there was little sign of those players fighting to be first choice, which was unforgivable.  The game can be summed up by the fact that I could only find a pocket notebook in which to record the incidents in the game and I failed to cover more than a page and a half.  I think I will put a link to this report on my calendar for next August to remind me to find something else to do during the early rounds of the cup.

 

Dirty Leeds Crushed

An earlier close encounter with the lovely Johnny Mac

A previous close encounter with the lovely Johnny Mac

There was plenty to discuss pre-match what with the Mackay-Moody text messages and the rumours of unrest in the dressing room.  With all that doom and gloom, it was good to turn my thoughts to happier things such as the fact that the wonderful John McClelland was the guest in the corporate lounge.  When I entered the ground, Macca was being interviewed by Luther.  What a joy to listen to my two all-time favourite players chatting.  When they finished, I made my way around to the Lower Rous to give Don a bag that he had left in the West Herts.  As I reached the disabled area, Don was coming to greet me and pointing rather urgently behind me.  I turned and there was John McClelland looking exactly as he did in the 80s.  I immediately turned into a gibbering star struck fan.  I managed to blurt out that I’d loved watching him play and went to shake his hand and found myself being warmly hugged.  It is quite possible that my feet will never touch the ground again.

Challenging at a corner

Challenging at a corner

There were four changes from Tuesday night with Abdi and Tözsér back in the midfield and Pudil and Forestieri replacing Anya and Vydra, who had limped off at the end of the previous game.  Unsurprisingly, after his goal celebration on Tuesday, Dyer was not in the 18.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Tamas, Pudil, Munari, Tözsér, Abdi, Paredes, Deeney and Forestieri.

We started brightly with an early corner from Adbi requiring a smart save from Silvestri.  Then Deeney tried to find Forestieri in the box, but Silvestri beat him to the ball.  Munari received a lovely pass, but dwelled too long on it so had to play the ball back to Paredes who crossed for Deeney whose header flew well over the bar.  Tözsér played a ball over the top to Deeney who played a low cross to Abdi, but he was crowded out before he could shoot.  For Leeds, a shot from Tonge was blocked by Pudil, the ball came out to Austin whose shot was wide of the far post.

Celebrations of the first goal featuring three dear friends

Celebrations of the first goal featuring three dear friends

We were a goal up after 20 minutes when Forestieri passed to Deeney who flicked the ball to Munari in the box, the Italian went down under a challenge, but the ball ran through to Forestieri whose initial shot was blocked but his follow-up header beat Silvestri.  I finally witnessed the Gomes goal celebration as he joyfully leapt in front of the Rookery.  Heartwarming.  Leeds got the ball in a dangerous position, but Antenucci’s shot was high and wide.  On the half hour, Deeney passed to Forestieri whose shot through a crowd of players was easily gathered by Silvestri.  Leeds equalized soon after as an innocuous-looking ball in from Sharp was diverted past Gomes by the foot of Tamas, when he really didn’t need to intervene.  It was a very disappointing equalizer that was totally undeserved for the visitors who had yet to have a shot on target.  I was pleased to see Gomes offering commiserations to Tamas.  At the other end, Deeney fed Paredes whose shot was deflected over for a corner from which Abdi’s delivery was headed over by the unmarked Hoban.  Just before half-time, Pudil broke forward but his shot was gathered by Silvestri.  Then Sharp played for a foul and succeeded in getting Tözsér booked.

Harry undertaking the ALS/MND ice-bucket challenge

Harry undertaking the ALS/MND ice-bucket challenge

I was a hell of a lot happier at half-time than I had been on Tuesday and not just because of the close encounter with John McClelland.  While it was annoying that Leeds were level without having had a shot on target, we had played very well and were definitely the better side.  Half-time entertainment included Harry Hornet accepting Miles Jacobson’s ALS/MND ice-bucket challenge and being given his soaking on the sidelines.  What was he thinking?  He could have caught his death of cold.

We started the second half brightly as Forestieri curled a shot just past the far top corner.  At the other end, Murphy’s free-kick was headed over by Pearce.  Then Abdi found Deeney who was hacked down just outside the box.  Tözsér stepped up to take the free kick, but the delivery was awful, flying well over the bar.  Sannino’s first substitution of the afternoon saw Anya coming on for Paredes.

Deeney steps up to take the penalty

Deeney steps up to take the penalty

We took the lead again just before the hour as Forestieri beat Bellusci to a dropping ball in the box and was taken down by the defender.  The referee had no choice but to point to the spot and dismiss Bellusci.  Deeney stepped up and hit the ball straight down the middle while Silvestri dived to his right.  Soon after, there was a break for treatment as a Deeney shot was blocked by Pearce’s head knocking the defender to the ground.  Pudil latched onto a cross-field ball from Tözsér but his shot went wide of the near post.  Watford’s third goal was a thing of beauty as Munari passed to Forestieri who skipped past numerous defenders in the box before unleashing a shot that bounced in off the post.

Congratulations for Forestieri's wonderful second

Congratulations for Forestieri’s wonderful second

Forestieri and Deeney were working really well together as, first Fernando fed Troy whose shot from the right was blocked, then it was Deeney’s turn to find Forestieri whose shot appeared to be going in, but flew just wide.  That was Fernando’s last action of the game as he was replaced by Ighalo.  For Leeds, the evil Dominic Poleon came on as a substitute and was roundly booed by the Hornets faithful.  Watford had a chance to increase their lead as Munari connected with a corner from Tözsér, but his header was wide of the target.  Tözsér then played a lovely crossfield ball to Pudil, who crossed back for Ighalo who was challenged and couldn’t find room for a shot.  Abdi made way for Andrews who was involved immediately as a corner was cleared to him but his shot was well wide.  Murphy was the next to find his way into the referee’s book after a foul on Pudil.

Tozser congratulated for a superb strike

Tozser congratulated for a superb strike

In the 90th minute, Austin was booked for a foul on Deeney.  In the crowd, people were preparing to go home as Tözsér stepped up to take the free-kick, which was so far out that there appeared to be no danger.  But Tözsér thought otherwise, as he stepped up and hit the ball straight into the bottom corner with no Leeds player appearing to move.  As way of celebration, he ran straight over to his family in the Lower GT.  In injury time, Deeney was breaking upfield when the whistle went.  At first I thought it was signalling the end of the game, but the referee went over to where Pudil was lying on the ground and, after talking to the linesman, sent Byram off, apparently for a head butt.  The final whistle went soon after.  It had been a superb performance by the Hornets, restricting the visitors so much that their only shot on target was from Watford’s Tamas.  There was a nice touch from Harry Hornet at the end, as the players celebrated he got on his knees and polished Tözsér’s right boot.

The reports of unrest among the squad in the week had been unsettling, so it was a relief that any unhappiness stayed in the dressing room and the lads put on a great display for the home crowd.  This is a talented, exciting squad.  If our displays away from home start to match the quality of those at Vicarage Road, we are in for a wonderful season.

New York, New York

The New York Stadium

The New York Stadium

I had never been to Rotherham, so this midweek trip to South Yorkshire to visit a new ground was hotly anticipated.  However, when I researched places to stay, there didn’t seem to be anywhere in the vicinity of the ground or the station, so I decided on a hotel in Sheffield, which had the added benefit of pre-match drinks at my favourite away pub.  There was some concern that our libations might be interrupted by the arrival of hoards from Millwall, who were playing at Hillsborough, but we escaped with no sign of the Lions.

A lovely Aran cardi worn by the opposition

A lovely Aran cardi worn by the opposition

After the short drive to Rotherham, we parked up next to the ground for the princely sum of £2.  The New York stadium looked impressive from the outside, although I was disappointed to find that there was no scoreboard.  On hearing the team news, there was much discussion of the wholesale changes with concern expressed at the omission of both Abdi and Tözsér, plus all of our dead-ball specialists.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Tamas, Paredes, Fabbrini, Munari, Andrews, Anya, Deeney and Vydra.  The teams emerged to “New York, New York”, but the pre-match cider and the position of the seat in front of me meant that, for the good of my health, high-kicking was kept to a minimum.

Rotherham threatened in the first minute as Revell tried a shot from distance that flew well wide of the far post.  Soon after, Parades gave the ball away to Taylor who found Pringle whose shot was weak and straight at Gomes.

Vydra lines up a free-kick

Vydra lines up a free-kick

On 11 minutes, Fabbrini was taken down just outside the box.  Vydra’s free-kick was woeful and flew well over the bar.  At the other end, Revell got on the end of a cross, but hit it wide of the target.  Watford had a shout for a penalty as a high ball into the box reached Deeney who went down under a challenge from Collin, but the referee waved play on.  Just before the half hour, we saw the first decent chance of the game which fell to Rotherham’s Pringle whose curling shot was pushed around the post by Gomes.  Pringle took the resulting corner which was headed over the bar by Morgan.  Hoban played a good ball to Deeney who headed it on to Anya, but his looping shot was easily gathered by Collin.  Taylor tried a shot from the edge of the area, but it was well over the target.  Taylor threatened again as he went on a run into the box but his shot was blocked by Angella.  On the stroke of half time, a shot from Frecklington flew wide of the far post.  In time added on, Anya hit a shot into the side netting.  It had been a poor first half, with Pringle’s shot the only one to test either of the keepers.

Morgan booked for a foul on Deeney

Morgan booked for a foul on Deeney

In the first minute of the second half, Morgan received a pass from Pringle but his shot was well over the bar.  Vydra found Andrews who turned and shot, it was blocked and fell to Munari whose follow-up shot was also blocked.  At this point, the travelling Hornets expressed their displeasure with the personnel currently on the pitch by chanting the names of Abdi and Forestieri.  Just before the hour, there was a card for each side as Morgan was booked for a foul on Deeney and Andrews saw yellow for taking Green down just before Vydra was replaced by Ighalo.  Watford’s first decent attack came soon after as Deeney broke forward, passed to Anya on the left who played a low cross into the box which Ighalo hit past Collin, but the linesman was flagging for offside.  The next chance fell to Munari, but his shot from distance was well over the bar.  Sannino’s next change was to bring Dyer on for Fabbrini.

Dyer on his way to 'celebrate' his goal

Dyer on his way to ‘celebrate’ his goal

On 70 minutes, we lost possession from a throw-in, Tidser was powering forward when Tamas brought him down and was shown a yellow card.  From our vantage point, the foul appeared to have been in the area, but the free-kick was taken from outside the box and Taylor hit it well over the bar.  We finally made a breakthrough with our first decent shot on target as Ighalo’s initial attempt was saved, the ball dropped to Dyer who buried it past Collin.  The goal celebration was somewhat surprising as Dyer didn’t stop to receive the congratulations of his team mates, but went running back up the pitch, apparently to berate the manager.  At this point, the travelling fans were feeling more kindly towards Sannino and started chanting his name.  Rotherham tried to hit back immediately with a shot from Swift that was just over the bar.  Hoban played a lovely ball over the top to Ighalo who went down in the box, when he should have stayed on his feet and tried the shot as he was never going to win a penalty.

Munari and Hoban both congratulated for the second goal

Munari and Hoban both congratulated for the second goal

With 10 minutes remaining, Tözsér replaced Anya.  Troy tried a shot from the half way line that flew over the bar.  Then Smallwood took Dyer down and ran off with his hands raised, gesturing his innocence, but turned around to see the referee brandishing a yellow card.  From the resulting free-kick, Deeney’s shot was parried by Collin before being cleared.  Our second goal was a rare moment of quality as Tommie Hoban ran to the byeline before playing a lovely low cross to Munari who buried it from close range.  In time added on, Taylor tried a shot from the left which was well over the bar.  The final whistle went to loud cheers from the travelling Hornets.  It has to be said that 2-0 flattered us.  It had been a disappointing performance saved by a couple of moments of quality.  It was also worrying to see Vydra limping badly as he came over to applaud the fans.

Back to the car and we were on the road in no time, with plenty of time for a nightcap before heading back to the hotel.  The game had been low on entertainment, but the company was great which is what makes these midweek trips worthwhile.

Honours Even Against our Italian Brothers

First pre-match huddle of the season at Vicarage Road

First pre-match huddle of the season at Vicarage Road

Saturday saw the long-awaited visit of Udinese to Vicarage Road.  But, before that, was the joy of our first pre-match gathering of the new season.  Time to catch up on what people had been doing during the Summer and to speculate on the season to come.  Then it was off to Vicarage Road to see what changes had occurred since our last visit (most of which were additions to the new stand and the squad).

When the starting line-up came through, it appeared a bit odd, mainly because Beppe had abandoned the 4-3-3 that we’ve seen for most of the pre-season to revert to 3-5-2.  But also because some of the standout players in pre-season so far were left on the bench.  We started with Gomes, Angella, Tamas, Ekstrand, Pudil, McGugan, Andrews, Abdi, Anya, Deeney and Vydra.  Udinese’s team featured Watford old boy, Albert Riera, as well as Di Natale, much to the excitement of the Vicarage Road crowd.  It has to be said that, given the popularity of the new away shirt, it was very difficult to distinguish the Watford fans in the crowd from those from Udinese.

Gomes gathers the ball

Gomes gathers the ball

The first attempt on goal from either side was a weak shot from Fernandes that drifted over the bar.  A free-kick soon after was easily gathered by Gomes.  We had to wait until the 18th minute for Watford’s first attack of note as McGugan fed Vydra who played a through ball to Anya but the Scot’s first touch was too heavy and Brkic gathered safely.  The visitors threatened as a shot from Fernandes rebounded off the crossbar and Di Natale’s follow-up was gathered by Gomes.  On 23 minutes, Udinese went ahead as Widmer nodded a cross past Gomes.  I was a little surprised by the warmth of the applause that this elicited from the Watford fans.  The ironic chants of “sign him up” were less surprising.

Udinese on the attack

Udinese on the attack

We had a chance to hit back almost immediately as Vydra won a free-kick, but McGugan floated it into the arms of Brkic.  On the half hour, Adbi found Deeney who turned and shot but the ball looped into the keeper’s arms.  Di Natale looked to break into the box but Ekstrand was on hand to stop him.  At the other end, the ball was taken off Vydra’s feet on the edge of the box.  A defensive header from Deeney in our box reached McGugan who played a through ball to Anya to set up a counter attack, but the ball was too far in front of him and the chance lost.  In the dying minutes of the half, McGugan played a ball across the box to Pudil who cut back to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  On the stroke of half-time, Tamas gave the ball away to Fernandes but, thankfully, his shot was caught by Gomes so we went into the break just one goal down.  It has to be said that the first half had been rather lack lustre.

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

There were no personnel changes at half-time and we started the second half brightly as Anya went on a run down the right and pulled the ball back for the strikers but it rolled behind both Deeney and Vydra, so was left to Pudil to run in and unleash a shot that was deflected over.  The subsequent corner was punched clear by Brkic.  At the other end, Di Natale tried a shot but it was well off target.  A corner from McGugan was cleared with Angella challenging, it reached Ekstrand who wellied his shot over.  We should have equalized on 50 minutes as Deeney knocked the ball down to McGugan whose shot flew just wide.  A stinging shot from distance from Muriel was parried by Gomes.

McGugan congratulated on his goal

McGugan congratulated on his goal

On 58 minutes, Watford equalized.  Vydra was taken down and McGugan stepped up to take the free kick and curled it perfectly into the top corner.  That was his last involvement, as he was replaced by Battocchio, while Dyer and Ighalo came on for Anya and Vydra.  The subs were involved almost immediately as Battocchio found Deeney who passed across to Ighalo whose shot sadly hit the side netting.  At this point, Riera was replaced by Silva and left the field to very warm applause from the Watford faithful.  Deeney also left the field to be replaced by Ranegie.  Muriel went down injured and was replaced by Thereau.  At the same time Udinese swapped keepers with Scuffet coming on for Brkic.  At this point there was a delay in proceedings as Muriel was still down injured, but the ref finally stepped in and dragged him from the pitch by his arm to the sidelines where he was “looked after” by Harry Hornet.  I almost felt sorry for the guy.

Ighalo on the ball

Ighalo on the ball

Fernandes curled a shot from distance just wide of the near post.  Watford went behind again as Ranegie lost out to Allan who played a through ball to the substitute, Thereau, who fired a shot across Gomes into the far corner.  With 15 minutes remaining, Hoban and Fabbrini replaced Tamas and Abdi.  The next piece of skill was in the home dugout as a ball flew in and was controlled and returned to the field by Forestieri, who gloried in the cheers from the crowd.  Watford drew level again as Fabbrini went on a run down the left and crossed for Pudil whose header looked as though it was on target but Ranegie nodded it on, just in case, with Scuffet appealing for offside.

The architects of the second equalizer

The architects of the second equalizer

That was Pudil’s last contribution as he was replaced by Doyley.  We had a great chance to win the game as Scuffet came out to meet Ranegie who dinked the ball past the keeper and crossed back for Ighalo, but the Nigerian was unable to reach the ball and, with the goal begging, the chance was lost.

It had been a more enjoyable second half and a draw was a decent result against our Italian brothers.  But I left Vicarage Road with little idea of what our starting line-up or formation will be next week.  However, on a positive note, well done to the club for the pricing of this game, my ticket was £3 in contrast to the £14 asked for the Coventry game at Boreham Wood.  This encouraged a crowd of 11,085 into Vicarage Road, a very impressive attendance at a pre-season friendly.  Now bring on the Bolton.