Tag Archives: Ken Sema

Winning in the Yorkshire Sunshine

Pat Jennings, Adam Leventhal, Gerry Armstrong, John McClelland and Pat Rice on the Palace Theatre Stage

Thursday evening was another Tales from the Vicarage event.  Coming hot on the heels of the last one, as well as being on Maundy Thursday meant that the tickets were slow in selling.  I have to say that did me a favour as it meant that when I logged on as soon as they went on sale, I was able to bag front row seats.  The line-up was Pat Jennings, Pat Rice, Gerry Armstrong and John McClelland.  I am too young to have seen Pat Jennings in a Watford shirt, but he was a player that I admired.  The other three were all favourites but I have a particularly soft spot for McClelland, an intelligent defender who was blessed with deceptive pace that meant he was rarely beaten.  I have been to all of these evenings and this was certainly one of the best.  Four intelligent, articulate men with interesting stories to tell.  They spoke with great affection of their time at Watford and, for the guys who played in the 80s, their interactions with GT.  Even though Jennings was such a small part of our history, his contributions were fascinating.  He was so softly spoken, but had such stories to tell.  The boy who left Ireland for the first time to play in a tournament including facing a formidable England team at Wembley.  At 17 years old, he moved to Watford and was so grateful to Bill McGarry who made sure that he could go home regularly.  This is something that Pat has ensured happens for a new generation of youngsters who are far away from home.  He also roomed with George Best for years when playing for Northern Ireland, which probably gives him a whole evening of stories, which was encapsulated in “it gave a whole new meaning to room service”.  At the end of the evening, we were slow leaving the auditorium and the lads reappeared on the stage for their group photo.  Pat Jennings smiled at us and asked if we had enjoyed the evening and I came over all star-struck at the fact that Pat Jennings had spoken to me.  Then Johnny Mac appeared and was asked if we could have a photo with his biggest fan.  He came down off the stage for a cuddle and a photo and I am still ever so slightly weak at the knees.

Ben Foster

I was hoping that the evening had been recorded, so that I could relive it.  In answer to my prayers, the “From the Rookery End” podcast appeared on Friday evening which was an hour of the lads telling their stories.  I listened to this on the train up to Huddersfield and it was so good that, when it finished, I immediately listened to it again.  When I got to Huddersfield, I told everyone that I met to do the same.  The link is below.  You won’t regret it.

http://fromtherookeryend.com/2019/04/21/tftv-northern-ireland-9-48/

When I arrived, Huddersfield was bathed in gorgeous sunshine and I was in the pub very early doors so nabbed a table, only to find out that there had been an advance party who were sitting in the garden enjoying the lovely weather with the East Anglian and Norfolk Hornets.  As it was Toddy’s birthday, it was especially lovely to see his friends out in force and Jerry Ladell proposed a toast that was echoed by all Toddy’s friends in the garden.  We were also joined by Rich Walker, Watford FC’s Communications Director, who put money behind the bar for the Hornets fans to have a drink, which was a lovely thing to do.

Andre Gray on the ball

At the appointed time, we wandered to the ground, where there was much less of a queue for security than there had been last year, so we were soon inside where we met up with Becky and Lynn.  Becky had arrived early to find somewhere to display her flag, and was rather surprised to find that there would be no spare seats over which to drape the flag.  Like me, she had thought that the away crowd would be small on Easter Saturday.  In the event, she was able to hang the flag in front of the wheelchair enclosure, once Don had confirmed that it wouldn’t obstruct his view.

Team news was three changes from Monday with Mariappa, Sema and Deulofeu in for Janmaat, Kabasele and Deeney who failed to win his appeal against the red card.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Mariappa, Masina; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Sema; Deulofeu, Gray.  Lovely Jonathan Hogg started for Huddersfield.

After the teams came out, I was pleased to note that as Ben Foster appeared in the goal in front of the travelling Hornets, his name was sung with gusto, so there were no hard feelings after his mistake on Monday.

Returning from celebrating the first goal

The Huddersfield stadium is really gorgeous.  Unlike most of the new soulless bowls, it is just lovely with open concourses and seats near to the action while the ground, even though it is only a short walk from the town is surrounded by trees.  After admiring my surroundings, it was time to concentrate on the match and hopefully winning a crucial three points.

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets as Hogg lost the ball in midfield, Doucouré advanced and was tackled, but the ball fell to Deulofeu who dwelled on it, picking his spot and, in a very similar manner to his first at Wembley, guided it in with a low shot that went in off the post.  It was a great way to settle the nerves.  Watford threatened again as an attack by Gray was stopped with a tackle, the ball broke to Doucouré who found Sema in space, but the shot was straight at Lössl in the Huddersfield goal.  Then Deulofeu played a one-two with Hughes, but the shot was blocked.  The first chance of the game for the home side came following a sloppy pass from Femenía that was picked up by Bacuna, but his shot was well over the target.  The first caution of the game went to Capoue for a foul on Bacuna on the edge of the area.  Mooy stepped up to take the free kick but hit it wide of the near post.  Huddersfield threatened again as a great ball released Durm whose cross was cut out by a timely interception from Mariappa.  Hogg was then booked for a foul on Deulofeu.  It should have been two for the Hornets as Gray played a cross field ball to Sema who advanced and crossed back for Andre, but the shot was well over the target.  Huddersfield had their best chance of the game so far as Smith cut the ball back to Mbenza on the edge of the box, he unleashed a powerful shot that Foster did very well to get behind and push to safety.  Deulofeu was causing all sorts of problems for the home side and Bacuna was the next to be booked for fouling him.  The free kick was from a dangerous position, but Lössl was able to punch it to safety.

Captain Mariappa directing proceedings

Huddersfield threatened again as a cross from Smith reached Kachunga, but a great block from Mariappa averted the danger.  The last action of the half was an early substitution for Huddersfield as Hogg made way for Daly.  So we reached half time a goal to the good, but I couldn’t help feeling that we really needed another goal as Huddersfield were creating chances of their own.

The first action of note in the second half came as Gray was penalised for a very soft foul on Kongolo.  He was clearly furious so, when the Huddersfield man got back to his feet, he pushed him over.  Now that’s a foul!  There was a great chance for the Hornets to increase their lead as Deulofeu nipped into the box and tried a shot that was just off target, Gray stretched but couldn’t apply the crucial touch that would have turned it in to the net.  Another great chance for the home side came from a corner, the initial shot was blocked, the follow up was an acrobatic kick from Mounié that cleared the target.  At this stage it has to be said that, despite already being relegated, the Huddersfield fans were making a great noise in support of their team.

Celebrating Deulofeu’s second goal

Another shot from Deulofeu was claimed by a low save from Lössl, but Gray challenged and his attempts to turn it into the goal as the Huddersfield keeper scrambled to keep hold of the ball did not go down well with Schindler, the Terriers’ captain.  But no action was taken beyond the award of a free kick.  Another chance came for the Hornets when Sema played the ball back to Deulofeu who tried a curling shot from distance that was an easy catch for Lössl.  Huddersfield threatened as Smith played a ball across the face of the goal where it went begging, but eventually reached Mooy whose shot was straight at Foster.  Each side made a substitution with Grant replacing Mounié for the home side and Gray making way for Success for the visitors.  Sadly, despite working hard, it really hadn’t been Andre’s day.  Deulofeu had another chance to increase Watford’s lead as a free kick from Foster reached him just outside the area, but his shot was over the target.  The second goal came with 10 minutes to go as Sema went on a run on the left wing, cut the ball back to Doucouré, whose shot was blocked, but the ball fell to Deulofeu who didn’t bother with anything fancy this time, he just buried it.  That was his work done as, a couple of minutes later he was replaced by Chalobah.  There was a feeling in our party that it is a bit mean to replace a player who is on a hat trick and Geri never likes being substituted, so it was nice to see him come out of the dug out to acknowledge the chants of his name from the away end.  Just before this change, the home side had also made a substitution replacing Mbenza with Lowe.

Capoue discusses a free kick with Sema and Chalobah

There was a half shout for a penalty for the Hornets as Capoue appeared to be fouled just inside the box but he had a looked off-balance just before going down, so I wasn’t too surprised when the appeal was waved away.  The visitors were still trying to increase their goal difference and won a free kick in a dangerous position that Capoue took and hit just over the target.  Doucouré was then through on goal, but the flag went up for offside, he went for the shot anyway and was booked for his trouble (and the ball rebounded off the post).  Gracia made his final substitution bringing Navarro on for Hughes.  Almost immediately the home side pulled a goal back from a header from Grant.  I looked at the clock and saw that it was showing 90 minutes.  I hadn’t seen the board go up with the added time, so was unaware that the goal had actually come two minutes into the three that had been added, so I was mightily relieved when the whistle went for full time.

 

Success taking on the Huddersfield defence

At the end of the game, a number of the players came over to give their shirts to fans.  Ben Foster was one of them.  He had hit a youngster with a ball in the warm up and was clearly concerned that he had hurt the child, so made a point of coming over the hoardings to give him his shirt.  A lovely gesture that was clearly much appreciated by the boy and his father.

We headed back to the pub for a swift drink before catching the train home.  It had been a frustrating game, we really should have had a more convincing win, but Deulofeu is a joy to watch at the moment.  Capoue is also putting in great performances that must make him one of the favourites for Player of the Season.  In previous seasons, he has been a player with a great deal of talent that wasn’t always on show.  Gracia has got the best out of him and it has been a pleasure to witness.  While it wasn’t the best team performance of the season, it saw Watford back in seventh position in the table (at least until Everton’s win on Sunday) and with their position at the end of the season in their own hands.  We have three home games remaining, which are all must wins.

I will really miss going to Huddersfield.  It is a lovely ground and the pre-match pub is excellent, with good beer, good food and plenty of friendly, efficient bar staff.  I hope that they return to the Premier League very soon.

 

Tremendous with Ten Men

Remembering the 96

When a match falls on 15th April, you can’t help but think of the events at Hillsborough 30 years ago.  On that day, I was standing on the terrace at the County Ground, Swindon.  Don was propped up on a crush barrier next to me and a police officer told us that a wall had fallen down at the cup semi-final between Liverpool and Forest. On the coach on the way home we listened to the horror unfolding on the radio.  I still find it hard to believe that 96 fans just like me went to a game that day and didn’t come home. What is even harder to take is that those lives were used for political grandstanding and their families have had to fight for justice for so long.  As Bill Kenwright said, “They picked on the wrong mums.”  I have always thought that what happened to them could have happened to any of us, so we all stand together in the fight for justice.

My departure from the office was a little later than I had planned so, when I arrived at the West Herts, the jerk chicken had run out and I had to make do with a burger.  Most disappointing.

 

Ben with Maddie and Amelia

Prior to the game, my sister had arranged for our nieces to recreate a photo they had taken with Ben Foster in 2007.  He was a good sport in doing it and the resulting montage was rather lovely.

Team news was four changes from the semi-final with Foster, Kabasele, Janmaat and Masina in for Gomes, Mariappa, Holebas and Pereyra.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Kabasele, Cathcart, Masina; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Femenía; Deeney, Gray.

As the players ran out, there was a shocking change as Z-cars was replaced by I’m Still Standing.  Now I love Elton and have seen him live on many occasions, but it just didn’t feel right.  All previous attempts to drop Z-cars have ended in tears, so I hope that the club rethink this terrible decision.

The game started very positively for the Hornets who created an early chance as Hughes received a cross from Femenía, but the shot was wide of the target.  Unfortunately, in the 10th minute, it seemed that an encounter with my family had quite put Ben off his game as he received a back pass and dwelt on the ball far too long giving Aubameyang time to nip in, tackle him and put the ball in the net.  It was an awful mistake.  To add insult to injury, a minute later the referee blew up for an unknown infringement.  He went to consult the linesman who indicated that he had seen an elbow.  The referee returned and showed Deeney a red card for an offence that nobody else appeared to have seen.  At that point I wished that I had gone to see Ian McEwan at the Southbank Centre, which had been my plan for the evening before the game was rearranged.

Cathcart. Capoue, Hughes and Doucoure

Arsenal had a chance to increase their lead as Iwobi broke down the wing and crossed for Aubameyang whose shot was deflected for a corner which came to nothing.  The Hornets should have equalised as Cathcart hit a volley that Leno tipped onto the post.  Watford created another great chance as Gray broke forward and tried to tee up Doucouré but Monreal put the ball out for a corner.  The delivery came back to Femenía whose shot was deflected by Mustafi and ended up on the roof of the net.  From the resulting corner, Kabasele took a shot but it was deflected wide of the target.  This time the corner was cleared and led to an Arsenal break that finished with a shot from Iwobi that was saved by Foster.  Hughes went on a tricky run and was tripped on the edge of the box.  Capoue took the free kick, a brilliant strike that was heading for the top corner, but Leno managed to get a hand to it to tip it wide.  Then a lovely move by the Hornets as Janmaat clipped a ball to Femenía who crossed for Kabasele, but the Watford man was penalised for a high boot.  The last action of the half was a low shot from Xhaka that was straight at Foster.

Christian Kabasele

When Ben appeared for the second half, he greeted the applause from the crowd by blowing a kiss and saying he was sorry.  Emery made a change at the start of the half replacing Troy’s “victim”, Torreira, with Özil.  The first chance of the second half fell to the visitors as Iwobi crossed for Aubameyang who touched the ball just wide.  Capoue then earned a booking for knocking Mkhitaryan over.  The visitors had a great chance to increase their lead as Aubameyang crossed for Mkhitaryan, but Foster pulled off an excellent save to keep the score down.  Just before the hour mark, there was a substitution for each side with the visitors bringing Guendouzi on for Mavropanos, while Femenía made way for Success for the Hornets.  An interesting change from Javi.  Watford should have drawn level as Masina hit a brilliant shot from distance, but it crashed back off the crossbar.  Then Janmaat played a lovely ball through to Gray, but his touch was poor and he could only direct his shot wide.  Emery made his final substitution replacing Ramsey with Maitland-Niles.  Watford threatened again as Janmaat crossed for Hughes, but the Arsenal defence were back to clear.  The visitors then looked to increase their lead as Aubameyang slid in to meet a cross that he turned wide with the flag up for offside.  Then Xhaka tried a shot from distance, but Foster was equal to it.  The Hornets created another great chance as Success headed the ball down to Gray, he rounded Leno but Maitland-Niles was back to block his shot.  Then Janmaat crossed for Hughes whose header was just over the bar.  Watford made a final substitution bringing Sema on for Masina.  But the last chance of the game fell to the visitors and was a terrible shot from Aubameyang that nearly hit us in the centre of the Rookery.

Masina whispering secret instructions to Janmaat

The final whistle went to loud cheers for the Hornets in appreciation of a tremendous performance with 10 men for 80 minutes.  Arsenal had been poor and, but for the intervention of the post and some terrific saves by Leno, Watford would have won the game.  The applause and chants for the Watford players at the end of the game continued until the last player left the pitch and were only interrupted in order to boo the officials.  It is odd to feel quite so positive after a defeat, but the reaction of all the fans that I spoke to was of pride in a committed and entertaining performance.  If only Troy had stayed on the pitch, it could have been very different.

I got back to my hotel in London quite late and, after seeing a link on Twitter, listened to Peter Jones summing up after the game at Hillsborough.  He finishes by mentioning the stewards gathering up the possessions of the victims, the red and white flags, scarves and rosettes of the Liverpool fans.  His last words are, “And the sun shines now.”  Just as heart breaking 30 years on as it was at the time.  The events of that day must never be forgotten.

Tears, Hugs and a Wonderful Win at Wembley

The pre-match display at Wembley

My build-up to the semi-final had been less than ideal as I had woken up in the middle of the night after the Fulham game with a streaming cold and felt rotten for the rest of the week.  For this reason, it seemed sensible to have a quiet Saturday at home to prepare for the game.  Big mistake.  I don’t know how many times I checked the fixture lists to confirm that the game wasn’t actually on Saturday and I was missing it.  I felt jumpy all day and settling down to watch the other semi-final didn’t help.  Sadly, that game was a non-event.  City scored early and that was it.  It was a very dull game but provided confirmation that we would be playing for the chance to meet City in the final.  My viewing on Saturday evening had to be carefully chosen and I opted for “I Believe in Miracles” the documentary about Clough’s Forest and their run to becoming European Cup winners.  It was just brilliant and set me up nicely for the next day (after I watched the segment on the Premier League show featuring Gracia, Deulofeu and Luther).

So, finally, the day of the FA Cup semi-final dawned, and I was up bright and early and facing the dilemmas that come on the day of an important match.  What top should I wear under my replica shirt?  What mug should I use for my coffee?  I was tempted to use my Hornets mug, but eventually plumped for the Luther8 one.  It seemed only right.  On social media in the morning there was a lovely exchange between Nigel Gibbs and Tony Coton about going to the game and the fact that they had bought tickets to be in with the fans.  Legends, both of them.  It had also been heart-warming to see Woking FC wishing us luck.  It was where the journey began.

The 1881 Singing Section

After ensuring that my (regulation size) bag was packed with everything that I would need (don’t forget your tickets) and that my lucky seashell from Woking was still in my pocket, I left to catch the train to London.  On the first leg from Windsor to Slough I noticed a guy looking at me, but assumed it was my loud scarf that had attracted his attention, so didn’t take much notice.

On arrival at Paddington, I spotted a flash of yellow, turned and realised it was actually the old gold of Wolves, so walked on.  My journey to our meeting place took me past Marylebone, which was surrounded with Wolves fans.  The first Watford scarves that I spotted were outside the designated pre-match pub and worn by the friends that I was meeting.  We had arrived before opening time and quite a crowd was gathering, so we were thankful that Richard had booked a table for us.  As we waited, some Wolves fans appeared and were absolutely lovely.  None of us was confident of a win, but all thought that it would be a good game.

As our group gathered, it was an occasion to remember absent friends.  Dee and Toddy were both with us on our last visit to Wembley and their absence was keenly felt.  We hoped that the lads would do them proud.

Gomes and Deeney

After we had been fed and watered, we left in plenty of time to get to Wembley as I had one final ticket to drop off and, after an easy journey, we were outside Entrance P.  I immediately bumped into Adam to hand over the ticket and then saw that the rest of our party, who had come from the Watford direction, were all in the queue just in front of us.  At this point, all was right with my world.

As we took our seats, Farzana handed out the A4 bags that she had made from Watford FC curtains and we draped the Rocket Men and Golden Gomes banners in front of our seats.  She had also knit Gomes and Deeney dolls, but sadly they were too large to bring into the stadium so had been left at home.  As we waited for kick-off, it was lovely to see our Emma and Tim on the pitch representing Watford.

We then got to see the pre-match displays.  The one planned by Wolves had been advertised the previous day and it had looked as though it would be impressive.  When we got to our seats, we found yellow flags.  I was concerned that they were a little too much on the amber side and it wouldn’t be a match for what Wolves had planned.  Then the Watford crowd started waving the flags and the yellow, red and black display with the movement was absolutely fantastic and the energy meant that the Wolves display looked far too static.

There had been a lot of discussion about the possible team selection, especially the goalkeeping position.  When the starting XI was announced, we found that Gracia had kept faith with Gomes and had decide to bring Gray in for Deulofeu after his terrific performance against Fulham.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Gray, Deeney.

Gathering for a corner

The game started brightly for Wolves who had their first chance on 23 seconds with a shot from Otto that flew over the bar.  Watford won an early corner, but Ruddy was up to punch it clear, Pereyra picked up the ball and put in a cross, but Ruddy made the catch.  Wolves then won a free kick in a dangerous position after Hughes fouled Otto.  Moutinho stepped up to take it and it landed on the roof of the net, much to my relief.  The first booking of the game went to Saïss for a foul on Pereyra.  Wolves threatened again as a cross from Otto was touched on by Jota, but they couldn’t get a shot away.  Neves was the next to go into the referee’s book, again for a foul on Pereyra.  Holebas took the free kick, but Hughes met it with a dreadful mishit shot that sent the ball ballooning away.  Some nice passing between Gray and Pereyra led to the ball reaching Deeney on the edge of the area, but his shot was high and wide of the target.  Watford should have taken the lead on the half hour as Deeney flicked the ball over to Gray who, with only Ruddy to beat, got his foot under the ball and it looped over the bar when it looked easier to score.  That miss looked all the more costly as Wolves took the lead soon after.  A shot from distance from Dendoncker was tipped over by Gomes.  The resulting corner was played short to Jota who crossed for Doherty to head past Gomes.  Wolves had their tails up now and threatened again as Boly found Jota who advanced and, thankfully, shot just wide.  Watford then had a corner which they also took short, but Femenía’s cross was a comfortable catch for Ruddy.  Gray had a chance to grab an equaliser just before half time, but this time Coady made the block when Gray looked sure to score.  So we reached half time a goal down, feeling rather hard done by after what had been an even half of football.

Heurelho Gomes at Wembley

Luther was the Watford representative at half time.  I still look back with sadness at seeing him walk around the pitch before the 1984 Cup Final, which came at the end of his gap year.  We passed our time in the stands enjoying half-time samosas to keep our strength up for the rest of the game.

Wolves nearly had a great start to the second half as Saïss played a ball over to Jiménez, who beat the defence, but not Gomes who was down to make the block.  Watford created an opening as Femenía crossed for Doucouré, but the Frenchman couldn’t make a firm connection, so his header looped wide.  Jota then beat Cathcart (I know!!!) before crossing for Jiménez, but the shot was easy for Gomes.  Deeney then got the ball just outside the box and played a low cross, but it was too heavy and flew past Gray and wide of the target.  The first booking for the Hornets went to Cathcart for a foul on Jota just outside the box.  Neves took the free kick which flew well wide of the far post.  Watford then had a free kick in a dangerous position, Pereyra’s delivery reached Deeney who headed just wide.  Watford had another decent chance to equalise as Pereyra played a through ball to Gray, but the shot was poor and over the bar.

Pereyra takes a free kick

Holebas received his booking of the afternoon for stopping a break by Jota.  From the free kick, Jiménez took the ball down and poked it past Gomes to put Wolves two goals ahead.  So frustrating to concede again after a really good spell for the Hornets.  There was still half an hour to go, but it wasn’t looking good for the Hornets.  We hadn’t taken our chances and it looked as though we would be punished for it.  Gracia made his first substitution bringing Deulofeu on for Hughes.  Soon after, while waiting for a throw-in, there was an announcement that a VAR check was underway for a red card.  Nobody had any idea what this related to until my brother-in-law, who listens to the commentary during the game, said that it was due to Deulofeu putting his head into Moutinho’s face.  It had looked rather innocuous from where we were sitting and, thankfully, the decision was not to show a card.  There was another identical announcement soon after, I have no idea whether it was related to the same incident, but it was extremely irritating.  Watford threatened again when Gray got on the end of a cross from Femenía, but again it was headed over the bar.  There were then a number of half chances for the Hornets.  Deulofeu put in a cross which Ruddy gathered under challenge from Doucouré.  Holebas crossed again for Doucouré, but his shot was blocked.  It had been a good spell, but we just didn’t look like we would get the breakthrough.

Deulofeu goes to celebrate with Deeney after the penalty

Then a throw-in from Holebas was knocked back to Deulofeu, it didn’t look particularly dangerous for the opposition until Gerry nonchalantly lifted the ball into the top far corner.  It was a gorgeous goal out of nothing and suddenly it was game on with 10 minutes remaining.  Watford’s next chance came from a corner, the delivery from Holebas was good, but it was headed behind for another corner.  This one was flicked on by Deeney to Holebas, but his shot was blocked.  Wolves made their first substitution as Bennett replaced Neves.  Watford threatened again with a great cross from Kiko, but Ruddy just got to it.  Then the ball fell to Holebas in a great position, but he blasted it over the bar.  It wasn’t going to be our day.  As Wolves made a late substitution, replacing Jota with Cavaleiro, I prepared myself for defeat.  But, when the four minutes of added time was announced, I joined with my fellow Watford fans in roaring our encouragement to the team.  Then, just as the four minutes were almost up, Deeney got the ball in the box and fell under a challenge from Dendoncker.  Referee Oliver continued his habit of awarding late, dramatic penalties, but this one had to wait for the VAR review.  I was beside myself at this point.  After what seemed like an age, VAR confirmed the referee’s decision.  Luckily, I was able to take a seat to watch it, as my legs were jelly.  Troy’s weren’t, he stepped up and the ball hit the net in front of us and the crowd went properly wild.  Screams and hugs and tears greeting the goal we thought would never come.  The game restarted, but the whistle soon went for the end of normal time and we had earned ourselves another 30 minutes.

Holebas prepares for a corner

I have to say that we thoroughly deserved that.  A draw seemed like a fair result, and surely the Hornets would have the momentum going into extra time.  However, it was the Wolves side who had the upper hand in the early exchanges and the first goal opportunity came from a decent shot from Otto that Gomes managed to tip over.  There was some bad news for Watford as Holebas went down injured.  He tried to carry on, but eventually limped off to be replaced by Masina.  I was concerned at this point as Holebas had been terrific.  There was another booking for the Hornets as Capoue was cautioned for a foul on Dendoncker.  Santo made another substitution as Traore came on for Moutinho.  Then, in the last minute of the first period of extra time, Watford broke forward, Gray released Deulofeu who beat a defender before shooting into the far corner past Ruddy to send the Watford fans wild again.  Wolves tried to hit back immediately, but their break was foiled by a great tackle from Mariappa.  The resultant corner was easily gathered by Gomes.   There was a substitution for each side as Vinagre replaced Otto for Wolves and Femenía made way for Janmaat for the Hornets.  Wolves had a chance to level the game but the header from Jiménez flew wide of the near post.  Then the goal hero, Deulofeu, picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Sema.  Watford tried to consolidate their lead as Deeney got into the box and tried to lay the ball off to Doucouré, but the pass was intercepted.  Then Traore tried a shot from a tight angle, but it was an easy catch for Gomes.  Wolves had one last chance to take the game to penalties, and it was a great one, as Cavaleiro beat Mariappa and rounded Gomes, but Heurelho did enough to put the Wolves man off and he lost control of the ball allowing Mariappa to clear the danger.  The whistle went to euphoria mixed with disbelief in the Watford end.  There was a lot of tearful hugging among our group.  I couldn’t quite believe what I had seen.  Amelia was the clearest thinking as she commented that maybe they should rethink the Man of the Match award (that had been given to Jiménez some time before the end of normal time).

The family at the semi-final

After the game, there were rapturous celebrations both on and off the pitch.  We stayed in the stand to cheers the lads on and witness their joy.  It was lovely to see that this meant as much to the players as it did to us.  The cheers of the fans who had remained in their seats were finally rewarded as the players came together to rush towards the crowd behind the goal.  It was just joyous.  We seemed to be there for an age, but it still took us a long time to leave the ground as we kept bumping into friends for more hugs and expressions of disbelief.

A number of us headed back to central London for a celebratory beverage and to raise a glass to Dee and Toddy who would have loved the day.  There was nothing but pride in the team and what they had achieved against a very good Wolves side.  The Wolves fans that we had met before the game had returned to the pub and, as they left, wished us well.

I stayed rather longer in the pub than was sensible, so missed the last train from Slough to Windsor.  As the taxi dropped me off at the end of my road, I heard a voice.  “Excuse me.  Were you at Wembley today?  Is that your car with the Watford stuff in the back?”  It was the guy that I had seen on the train this morning.  Turns out I am not the only Hornet in my small street in Windsor.  Who knew?

Golden Gomes

A day later and I have still not quite come to terms with what I witnessed yesterday.  To come back from two goals down against a team like Wolves shows the tremendous spirit in this team.  They seem to be a group of players who love each other and the manager and that love has transmitted to the fans.  This has been the best season that I can remember for decades and it will end with an FA Cup final at Wembley.  As someone who has supported an unfashionable team for 40 years, I find it amazing that in that time I have been to six FA Cup semi-finals.  On 18th May, I will attend my second FA Cup final and will be accompanied by a large group of family and friends.  I have met so many lovely people while following the Hornets and it is really special to share these great times with them.

When Watford lost the Play-off final in 2013, my niece Amelia was in tears and I was devastated.  Yesterday she was in tears again, but they were tears of joy and it made the day all the more special.  Her Mum and I were at Villa Park for the semi-final against Plymouth and at Wembley for the final against Everton.  Now we will all be at Wembley for this year’s final and we can dare to dream.  Whatever the outcome, this season will live long in the memory.

Winners in the South Oxhey Derby

Celebrating Forster’s goal in the U23 game

 

I was still at work when the draw for the fifth round of the FA Cup took place.  When Chelsea were pulled out of the bag to play at home, I was convinced that we would be the next to be drawn.  When the next ball was Man Utd, I celebrated almost as much as I did when we were paired with Portsmouth/QPR.  I was thankful that the office was almost empty at this point.  I would have been happy to play either team.  Both are clubs with passionate support and are great grounds to visit.  But QPR won the replay to set up what I am told is called the South Oxhey Derby.

But, before the visit to Loftus Road, I took the afternoon off work to travel to Finchley to see the U23s play Charlton.  As the U23 games are played in the afternoon, I haven’t managed to make it to the new venue, so this was a great chance to do so.  It was a gorgeous afternoon and I made the most of the opportunity to stand on the side of the pitch, although I had to shade my eyes to see the left hand goal.  It was a disappointing afternoon for the youngsters.  They went one down early on, but Forster got an immediate equaliser and it looked very positive until the visitors scored a second before half time.  Watford never looked like getting back into the game and Charlton scored two in the second half, one of which was a cracking shot from distance.  I left the Maurice Rebak Stadium hoping that would be the only defeat that I witnessed that day.

Lucky cup sea shells

Due to the pubs in the vicinity of Loftus Road nearly all demanding to see a QPR home ticket before allowing you in, our party met at a pub near Edgware Road in order for me to hand out the tickets.  You have no idea how many times I checked my bag to ensure that I hadn’t misplaced those precious tickets.  Having done my Stan Flashman bit and had a nice glass of Malbec, I was ready for the game.

Team news was that Gracia had made five changes with Gomes, Kabasele, Britos, Cleverley and Gray coming in for Foster, Mariappa, Cathcart, Doucouré and Deulofeu.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos, Holebas; Hughes, Capoue, Cleverley, Sema; Deeney and Gray.  This looked to be a very good side and one that should be more than able to beat QPR.   But this was a cup game so all bets were off.  It was also Gomes 38th birthday, so I was hoping that, having to work on his birthday, he would have something to celebrate.

After taking our seats in the upper tier, Pete, Alice and I retrieved the lucky shells that we had been given at Woking for a group photo.  These things are important.

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s applause for Gordon Banks who passed away this week.  It has to be said that nobody waited for the referee’s whistle to start the tribute.

Birthday boy Gomes in front of an advertisement for Pepe’s Chicken on Watford High Street

The first notable incident of the game was a clash of heads between Britos and Smith.  Both players were down for a while, so it didn’t look good.  Thankfully, both recovered after treatment, Smith returning with a bandage around his head.  There was nothing even resembling a goal chance until the 24th minute and that was a horrible scramble in the Watford box that ended with Kabasele being hit in the face, thankfully he was able to recover and the ball was cleared.  QPR threatened again from a free kick, but Gomes emerged from the crowd to claim the ball.  Watford’s first chance came when Janmaat, unrecognisable due to a very severe haircut, broke into the box and tried to play a one two with Sema, which didn’t quite come off but the ball broke back to him and he hit a shot that flew just over the bar.  An ill-advised back pass led to Gomes conceding a corner, which he came out to punch clear, but it fell to Luongo who shot just wide of the target.  QPR had another chance to take the lead as a cross into the box was headed wide by Smith but the flag was up anyway, so it wouldn’t have counted.  Kabasele then came to the Hornets’ rescue blocking a dangerous looking shot by Smith.  With five minutes to go until half time, QPR had the best chance of the game so far as a sloppy pass from Holebas was intercepted by Freeman who ran upfield before flicking the ball to Wells whose shot had to be tipped around the post by Gomes.  Rather surprisingly, the Hornets took the lead in time added on at the end of the half.  Sema played a short corner to Holebas who crossed for Cleverley whose horrendous mishit turned into an assist as it found Capoue who shot into the far corner.  The celebrations of the travelling Hornets were joyous, but still not a patch on the celebratory run from Gomes.  I have missed seeing his goal celebrations this season.

Deeney and Gray in position at a set piece

So we reached half time a goal to the good after a half that had been short on excitement.  Watford had completely dominated possession, but had spent most of the half passing around the midfield without threatening the Rangers goal.  QPR had been more attacking, but they had also only managed a single shot on target.

The home side had a great start to the second half creating a couple of early chances, but both shots flew well wide of the target.  There was a let off for the Hornets as a terrible clearance from Kabasele went straight to Wells but his shot was wide of the target.  Sema then provided some entertainment, demonstrating silky skills on the left of the box before finally winning a corner.  The delivery was headed out but only as far as Cleverley whose shot was well over the target.  QPR made their first change on 71 minutes bringing Hemed on for Wells.  Watford had a great chance to score a second when Deeney played a lovely through ball for Gray who had rounded the keeper when he noticed that the flag had been raised, he put the ball in the net anyway.  The offside decision looked marginal at the time and television pictures suggest that the goal should have stood.  The first booking of the game went to Luongo for a foul on Sema.

Cleverley lines up a free kick

With 15 minutes remaining, Watford made a double substitution with Mariappa and Doucouré coming on for Sema and Gray.  Mariappa’s first act of the game was to get booked for a foul as he obstructed Freeman.   QPR made a second substitution bringing Eze on for Wszolek.  Watford threatened to increase their lead with a deep free kick from Holebas, but Kabasele could only knock it wide.  Each side made a final change with Quina coming on for Cleverley for the Hornets and Osayi-Samuel replacing Hall for Rangers.  The Rangers substitute went on a good run that was stopped by Doucouré who was booked for his efforts.  The professional foul was nearly in vain as, from the free kick, Furlong played the ball along inside the box to Leistner who really should have scored the equaliser, but managed to miss the target.  As the clock ran down to full time, Deeney gave us all a smile as he dribbled down the wing and ended up having to run around the lino in his efforts to keep the ball in (which he did).  The four minutes of added time passed without incident and the final whistle went confirming that the Hornets were through to the quarter finals.

As a game it wasn’t a classic, but in the cup all that matters is the result.  Watford were livelier in the second half and the introduction of Doucouré added a dimension that we had been missing.  But, discounting the disallowed effort from Gray, there was no on-target shot from either side in the second half.  So, in the end it looked like job done from the Hornets.  We haven’t been playing great football recently, but we are not conceding many goals and so are proving hard to beat.

We headed back to Baker Street for a celebratory glass of wine.  We are now in the quarter final of the FA Cup with a great chance to progress further given a favourable draw.  Sitting in the top 8 of the Premier League and now in the last 8 of the FA Cup, this is proving to be a very good season indeed.

The Return of Silva

Deeney versus Keane

The return of Marco Silva to Vicarage Road had been hotly anticipated, although his recent on-field problems had led to many Watford fans being concerned that he may be sacked before they played us.  There had been some negative reports in the press relating to a fans forum that had taken place in a London pub during the week.  These related to some very innocuous comments that Deeney had made when asked whether the players knew what the Everton game meant to the fans.  He basically said that the fans shouldn’t have a go at Everton as it would motivate them, but that the players would do the job (I’m paraphrasing here).  He was also very positive in talking about Richarlison, saying he had done nothing wrong.  Sadly the language that he had used was a little ripe, so the reports built his comments into an attack that provided a rallying cry for Everton, which was a shame as it was nothing of the kind.  On the subject of that forum, Scott Duxbury, Fillippo Giraldi and Troy Deeney came along to a London pub on a Wednesday night to answer questions fired at them from a crowd of fans.  This took place in a crowded bar and I have to give credit to them all for coming along and answering all of the questions openly and honestly.  It was a tremendous evening.

Saturday and we were back to the West Herts for our only home game in February.  While we may be only occasional visitors at the moment, it is always lovely to gather at ‘our’ table and the beer and jerk chicken were both excellent.

Holebas takes a throw in

Team news was that Gracia had made just the one change from the Brighton game with the welcome return of Doucouré in place of Cleverley.  I must admit that I was a bit disappointed to hear that Femenía hadn’t even made the bench.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Sema; Deulofeu and Deeney.  This would be Holebas’s 100th appearance for the club.  Everton’s starting XI included Richarlison, the announcement of whose name was met with a mixture of boos and applause.  Emma Saunders then welcomed Marco Silva back, which elicited only boos.  On the way into the ground I couldn’t help noticing how many fans had turned up with plastic snakes.

As the teams came out, the “Audentior” banner was raised over the middle of the Rookery.  We were under this when the announcement was made of a minute’s appreciation for Emiliano Sala, which was honoured with applause from those of us under the flag.

Deulofeu orchestrates proceedings

Watford had a great chance to take the lead in the 10th minute as Janmaat crossed for Deeney who chested the ball down to Capoue but the shot from close range was turned over the bar by Pickford.  At the other end a dangerous cross from Richarlison was headed clear by Mariappa before it could reach Tosun.  Richarlison went down rather too easily (nothing new there) to win a free kick.  Digne’s effort reached Keane who headed goalwards, but it was an easy save for Foster.  The visitors had another chance as Zouma latched on to a cross from Digne, it was a much better header but Foster was equal to it.  At the other end a cross from Hughes went straight to the keeper.  Watford then made problems for themselves as a misplaced pass, while trying to clear the ball, led to Tosun gaining possession, thankfully his powerful shot was stopped by Foster.  Watford then had a chance as Deulofeu crossed towards Hughes, but Zouma intervened and headed over the bar.  Deulofeu threatened again, this time his shot was blocked.  Watford could have taken the lead in the last minute of the half as Pickford dropped a free kick, but they couldn’t capitalise on the mistake so the half ended goalless.

Steve Sherwood was the guest for the half time draw.  He will still have nightmares over a certain game against Everton, so it was very gratifying to see the incredible reception that he was given as he walked along the front of the Rookery.  He looked very happy as he applauded the fans back.

Goal celebration with Chalobah very happy for Gray

At the start of the second half, Gracia replaced Sema with Gray, a positive move.  Everton had the first chance of the second half with a shot from Sigurdsson that hit the top of the crossbar.  Holebas then tried his luck with a shot from outside the area that flew wide of the far post.  A deep corner from Holebas caused Pickford some concern, but the ball bounced off an Everton player for a corner which wasn’t given as the referee believed there had been a push on the keeper.  Just after the hour mark, the visitors made their first change bringing Walcott on for Gomes.  Watford had another decent chance with an angled shot from Holebas that flew just wide of the target as Deeney was bearing down on goal but couldn’t quite reach it.  The goal came on 65 minutes and started with a gorgeous pass by Cathcart to Hughes who put in a low cross for Gray to power past Pickford from close range and send the Hornets fans wild.  Marco Silva was then serenaded with a chorus of “Sacked in the morning.”  Before the restart, Richarlison was replaced by Bernard and left the field to a chorus of “50 million, you’re having a laugh.”  I must say that I felt sorry for young Ricky.  He had started brightly enough, but soon found himself in Holebas’s pocket and was reduced to falling over looking for sympathy which quickly elicited the opposite reaction.  Deeney received the first booking of the game for a challenge on Zouma.

Doucoure and Janmaat taking a breather

Watford had a chance to grab a second when a Holebas corner was cleared to Mariappa whose shot cleared the bar.  Silva made another change with 15 minutes remaining, bringing Calvert-Lewin on for Sigurdsson.  Everton attempted to hit back as a cross from Walcott found Tosun, but his shot flew wide of the target.  Gracia made his second substitution bringing Cleverley on for Deulofeu, who had had another frustrating afternoon.  Holebas received his 10th booking of the season for a push on Walcott.  It was needless and means that we will lose him for two games, just when he is in such tremendous form.  The resultant free kick rebounded off the top of the crossbar, but it had never looked likely to trouble Foster.   Zouma wrestled Hughes off the ball in midfield, which was completely within the laws of the game according to Lee Probert, so he was allowed to break upfield and cross for Calvert-Lewin who, thankfully, headed wide of the target.  Gracia made his final change in the last minute of normal time, bringing Chalobah on for Hughes.  There were four minutes of added time during which Everton had a couple of chances to gain a point.  First a free kick from Digne was headed goalwards by Calvert-Lewin, but Foster was behind it.  In the last minute of added time, Bernard crossed for Tosun whose header looked as though it was flying in, so there were a lot of very relieved Hornets when the ball cleared the bar, although Tosun was in an offside position so any goal would have been disallowed, but we didn’t know that as our hearts raced.

Deeney, Cathcart and Capoue gather for a corner

The final whistle went to tremendous celebrations among the Watford fans, who belted out “Javi Gracia, he’s better than you,” with a renewed vigour.  Mariappa came over, as he usually does, and gave his shirt to a young fan, before a tremendous fist pumping celebration that showed exactly what this win meant.  As icing on the cake, Zouma, who had been a niggly and unpleasant presence during the game, had words with the referee after the final whistle and earned himself two yellow cards and a sending off.

As we walked along Vicarage Road away from the ground, we could see something going on by the Everton coaches.  There was a crowd by the cemetery wall looking in and first reports were that there had been a stabbing, although that was proved wrong after the game.  But two Watford fans were hospitalised, one with a nasty head injury.  As someone who started to go to football matches in 1979, these scenes were seen on a weekly basis in those days but had become a rarity in recent times.  I really hope that it remains that way.

That was a sad end to what had been a good day.  It hadn’t been a classic game by any stretch of the imagination, but the Marco Silva factor meant that there was an edge to the game that spurred on both the crowd and the players.  The second half had been much better for the Hornets.  The introduction of Andre Gray made a difference, he was linking up well with Deeney and took his goal very well.  The defence had been superb.  Both Cathcart and Mariappa were assured and solid.  Holebas was magnificent, giving Richarlison no room to play.  And Janmaat was excellent, making my pre-game disappointment at the absence of Femenía look rather foolish.  The return of Doucouré was very welcome, he makes such a difference especially as he allows Capoue to shine.  So, not a brilliant performance, but still very pleasing and a deserved win against a team that were thought to be a step up for Marco Silva last season.

We go into the FA Cup weekend comfortably in 8th place.  It will be very interesting to see what the team is next week, but we have to give of our best as, for a team in our position, a cup run can only be a positive thing.

The Ballad of Jose’s Gloves

Captain Troy Deeney

On Saturday, Watford played their third away game in 8 days.  Thankfully, this was the second with an easy journey, this time to the south coast.  I changed trains at Clapham Junction where I bumped into Jacque.  As we sat on the train, Pete appeared looking for Richard, who was also supposed to have been on that train, but had left an hour earlier so was already in Lewes.  As we disembarked on arrival, there were a lot of familiar faces who had also chosen this as their pre-match meeting place.  On the walk to the pub, I admired the pretty town of Lewes that I only ever visit fleetingly on the way to Falmer or Glyndebourne, and determined to make a proper visit to take in their football ground, the wonderfully named Dripping Pan.

We have very happy memories of the pub in Lewes as we were there the day that Watford won promotion to the Premier League, attracting quizzical looks from the others in the beer garden as we cheered and hugged following the confirmation of the final scores from around the country. The pub had recently undergone a refurbishment, and it has to be said that the food and the beer were both excellent.

After lunch we took the short journey to Falmer and, on arrival at the ground contemplated the best way to head to the away end (which is about half way around the ground).  A helpful local pointed to the left and I had to agree that the gentle slope is definitely preferable to the flights of steps at the other side (we had enough of those at Newcastle).

Sema, Cathcart and Capoue looking quizzical

Team news was that Gracia had made just the one change from the Spurs game in mid-week with Sema in for Pereyra, who had picked up a knock in training.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Hughes, Cleverley, Capoue, Sema; Deulofeu and Deeney.

The concourse at the ground has the appearance of being huge, so it always baffles me that it is always so packed and you have to fight through the crowd to get to your seat.  The game kicked off on an icy afternoon and took a while to get going, so I wasn’t moved to retrieve the notebook from my bag until the 17th minute when Janmaat crossed for Deeney whose header was just wide of the target.  Brighton’s first chance of note was a shot from distance from Bissouma that flew high and wide.  The next chance fell to Groß who shot wide of the near post.  Locadia was the next to try his luck, but his shot was high and wide.  Brighton threatened again from a free kick, but the header from Dunk was wide of the target.

Holebas preparing for a free kick without his gloves

The most entertaining moment of the first half came on the half hour as Holebas battled with March on the wing and ended up giving away the first corner of the game.  In typical Jose manner he then walked towards the goal to defend the set piece, looking furious as only he can.  He was looking for someone or something to blame, and suddenly focussed on his gloves which were ripped from his hands and thrown behind the goal line.  I realise that this loses a lot in translation, but it caused great amusement to the Holebas fans in our party.  Thankfully, for Jose’s blood pressure as much as anything else, the corner came to nothing.  Brighton had another chance to take the lead as a free kick reached Pröpper at the far post but he fired wide.  Foster, who had been a spectator to this point, was then called into action to claim a cross from Locadia while under challenge from Murray.  The first shot on target came in the 41st minute as a lovely cross from Groß was met by the head of Locadia, Foster did brilliantly to push the ball clear.  And that was it for a very dull first half.

Janmaat launching a throw-in

Brighton started the second half with a dangerous looking corner from March that Foster tipped over the bar, but he was being fouled at the time so won a free kick.  Watford had a rare goal attempt as a long ball was headed down by Deeney to Hughes, whose shot was poor and going wide when Ryan dropped to make the save.  The Hornets created a better chance as Janmaat crossed for Sema but his header was just over the target.  It had been the brightest spell of the game for the Hornets but Ryan didn’t have to make a save worthy of the name and it was very short lived.  Normal service resumed as Brighton attacked with a Groß free kick that was headed wide by Murray.  With 20 minutes to go, each side made a substitution as Gray replaced Deulofeu, who had another disappointing game, for the Hornets, and Murray made way for Andone for the Seagulls.  The next goal attempt was a good reflection of the quality of the game as Locadia’s effort went out for a throw in.  His next effort was considerably better, the header appeared to be goalbound until Foster pulled off another brilliant save to keep it out.  The resulting corner was flicked on by Dunk to Duffy who tried an overhead kick that was blocked on the line by Foster.  Gracia made another change as Sema was replaced by Quina, presumably to inject a bit of pace into Watford’s game.

Adrian Mariappa (still wearing his shirt)

The Hornets really should have taken the lead during a scramble in the Brighton box.  It was right in front of us and there seemed to be a number of opportunities to get a shot in, but each time another pass was made.  Hughes and Gray were both in the box and you felt that one of them had to score but, bizarrely, the ball then spent some time motionless between the legs of a defender before it was finally cleared without the keeper having to get involved.  Brighton threatened again as Andone advanced into the Watford box, but Foster was out to clear.  It was end to end at this point and the Hornets had a decent chance when Capoue found Hughes but the shot was from an acute angle and hit the side netting.  Andone had another chance to snatch a winner as he turned and unleashed a shot that cleared the bar.  The home side had one last opportunity to take all three points but Bissouma’s shot from distance flew just wide of the target and the game ended goalless.

After the final whistle, as is their habit, Deeney and Mariappa came over to give their shirts to fans.  On seeing that Mapps was not wearing an undershirt, I couldn’t help but exclaim, “You’ll catch your death!!”  However, the shirts were a distraction from the real prize which was Jose’s gloves that were still lying by the goal where they had been discarded.  Unfortunately we were too far back to claim them and some lucky fan alerted an official who retrieved them and handed them over.  I was green with envy.

Magnificent Ben Foster

On the way out of the ground, we walked past the celebratory banners.  When the ground was first opened, these were of heroes from Brighton’s history, but they have been replaced with a series celebrating last season’s Premier League campaign, which was rather interesting but not a patch on Norman Wisdom.

We headed back to Lewes, although nearly missed our stop as nobody on the station had bothered to mention the fact that the doors in the rear carriages of the train would not open, this meant that there was a rather extended stop at Lewes station as the majority of the passengers in the rear four coaches left the train through the same door.

We headed back to the pub for the post game analysis, although there was little to discuss.  It had been a very dull game in which Watford failed to manage a shot on target.  The defence had again been impressive and restricted the opportunities for the home side who, any time they did manage to break through, were faced with the barrier that is Ben Foster, who put in yet another man of the match performance.  But, despite the lack of entertainment on the pitch, results mostly went our way, so we remain eighth in the table with a decent cup tie to come.  When these dull games have been forgotten (they almost have already), this will be remembered as a good season to have followed the Hornets.

 

Legends Remembered, Football Forgotten

Cate and I with GT

I arrived bright and early at the West Herts where only Don was waiting outside the door.  It hadn’t got properly cold at this point, but we were certainly very grateful when the doors were opened a little early and we took our seats at our usual table with our beverages of choice to wait for the rest of our party to arrive.

The build-up to the game had been dominated by Dyche’s comments about Watford to the Burnley Telegraph.  His statement, “The club is a radical shift from when I was there, absolutely chalk and cheese, from a community club built on the community to now built on a model,” was somewhat baffling given that Dyche was manager during Bassini’s tenure which goes down as the most depressing period off the field that I have experienced during 40 years of being a Watford supporter.  The arrival of the Pozzos not only saved the club but, during their ownership, the community feel around the club has returned with a vengeance.  The comparison between now and then is certainly chalk and cheese, but not in the way that was implied.  I can only conclude that Sean hasn’t been paying attention to what has been happening in Watford over the past 6 years.

Etienne Capoue

As we arrived in the ground, I was initially surprised to see that the Rookery concourse was heaving as it is not usually like that.  Then I remembered that the club had promised everyone a free drink to toast Graham Taylor two years after his passing.  It was a lovely gesture.  Somehow I had managed to miss my voucher, but was quite glad to escape the crowd and take my seat.

Team news was that Gracia had made three changes due to injury with Kabasele, Cleverley and Sema in for Cathcart, Doucouré and Hughes.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Kabasele, Mariappa, Holebas; Sema, Cleverley, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu and Deeney.  I must admit that, much as I love Kabasele, the absence of Cathcart caused me some concern.  Burnley had former loanee, Cork, in their starting line-up, former management, Dyche and Woan, in their dugout and lovely Matěj Vydra on the bench.

As the teams took the field, the crowd (including a number of Burnley fans) raised their scarves in honour of GT (the fellow next to me was given my spare so he could join in).  It really was quite a sight.  That was followed by a minute’s applause for both GT and Duncan Welbourne who passed away this week.  Chopper’s family were guests of honour of the club for the afternoon.

Holebas preparing for a throw-in

There was an early chance for the Hornets as Deulofeu went on a terrific run and found himself one on one with Heaton in the Burnley goal, but the keeper was able to keep the shot out.  Another chance soon after as a cross from Femenía eluded Deulofeu and dropped for Pereyra whose cross was nodded down by Deeney to Sema, but the Swede couldn’t get a strong enough connection and the ball was cleared.  Burnley’s first chance came on 10 minutes as a corner from McNeil was headed wide.  Burnley then had a period of pressure without troubling Foster, the next chance falling to the Hornets on 23 minutes as the ball reached Holebas who hit a shot from distance over the target.  Just before the half hour mark, the sight of Vydra warming up provoked applause from those in the Rookery, which was acknowledged by Matěj.  Foster was then called into action as a cross from Westwood was headed goalwards by Barnes but Ben stood tall and blocked the effort.  Burnley got closer to opening the scoring with free kick from McNeil which hit the side netting.  There was another let off for the Hornets as a defensive header from Mariappa dropped to Barnes whose shot was just wide of the target.  Then a rare bit of quality from the Hornets as Capoue played a through ball to Pereyra who found Deulofeu who curled a shot just wide of the far post.  There was some controversy as a panicked bit of Burnley defending sent the ball back into the arms of Heaton.  There were howls of “back pass” from the Rookery, but the referee wasn’t interested.  Burnley threatened again through Wood but, again, the shot found the side netting.  Watford could have taken the lead just before half time as a cross from Femenía found Deeney in the box, I was already on my feet as his shot flew towards the goal, but Heaton was able to make the save, so we went into half time with the game goalless.

Adrian Mariappa

After a bright start, it had been an awful half of football.  Burnley had the better of the play without causing Foster too many concerns.

At half time, the family of Thomas Sawyer, a young soldier who was killed in Afghanistan 10 years ago, were on the pitch and Thomas’s father paid heartfelt tribute to his son.  Then, as the players came out for the second half, the 1881 lads unfurled the Legends banner which we held over our heads in the Rookery in the knowledge that it features both GT and Duncan Welbourne.  Both events were touching tributes and a clear sign that the club has not lost its community focus.

The visitors should have taken the lead in the first minute of the second half as a ball through a defender’s legs led to a shot from Barnes that rolled across the front of the goal with no Burnley player able to turn it in.  The Clarets threatened again as a cross from Wood found Hendrick in the Watford box, but Foster was off his line to make the block.  Then a corner was headed back by Mee to McNeil whose shot was over the target.  Watford’s first chance of the half came as Femenía crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked.

Capoue waits for the ball to drop watched by Cleverley, Success and Britos

The first substitution of the game was made on 56 minutes as Sema, who had been struggling playing out of position on the right, was replaced by Success.  The substitute’s first action was to find Pereyra in a dangerous position, but the shot was high and wide.  Soon after, Success was flattened by Mee, who was booked for his trouble.  The Hornets were doing much better at this stage and Cleverley tried a shot from just outside the area, but it was an easy save for Heaton.  On the 72nd minute, GT’s picture appeared on the big screen and the crowd rose to cheer him.  I couldn’t quite decide whether I should be applauding or raising my scarf, so I tried to do both by applauding with the scarf draped over my arms.  I probably looked very strange, but it made me feel as though I was doing my part.  Gracia was then forced into a second substitution as Femenía left the field with an injury and was replaced by Britos.  There followed a booking for each side.  First a silly yellow for a display of petulance by Deulofeu when a throw was given to the opposition (choose your battles, Gerard).  Then Bardsley was booked for a foul on Success.  There was a major let off for the Hornets in time added on as, with the Rookery screaming for a foul in the build-up, McNeil’s shot was parried by Foster and fell to Barnes who found the net but was denied by the linesman’s flag.  I haven’t seen the incident again, but it seems that we were a bit fortunate with the decision.

Holebas readies for a corner with Cleverley in attendance

The final whistle went to a half-hearted chorus of boos in the Rookery.  It was a terrible game of football, but I still don’t understand the need to boo your own team.  As so often this season, we cannot play against teams set up to defend.  Burnley are masters of this art, but it is horrible to watch.  They also have a nasty habit of backing into defenders trying to get to high balls.  A dangerous tactic that won them numerous undeserved free kicks.  I also couldn’t help feeling sorry for the fourth official who must have been driven to despair by the constant moaning from Dyche and Woan.  To be honest, this is not a new tactic from Dyche, he honed his skills complaining to the officials from the touchline when he was in charge of our reserves (when such a team existed).

But enough about the opposition.  We missed Cathcart and Doucouré, so I was pleased to hear that their absence was due to minor injuries.  The absence of Doucouré seems to have an adverse effect on Capoue, who has more to think about and less freedom.  There is also less creativity going forward which may have played a part in Deulofeu and Pereyra having off days, although each had shots that were not that far off.  If one of those had gone in, it would have been a very different story.  On the way back to the West Herts I was told of a chap in the Rookery who declared that he had been watching Watford for 61 years and that this afternoon had felt as though it lasted all of those 61 years.  Still, looking at the positives, we don’t have to face Burnley again this season and are still 7th in the table.

So to St James’ Park next week for another crack at Newcastle.  I suspect that the crowd will be much depleted, but I hope that the lads give those who do travel something to cheer.  We owe Newcastle a beating, let us hope that it comes next week as a cup run would be rather good fun.