Tag Archives: Kevin McDonald

Ole, Andre

Cathcart and Capoue

Having had to work on a planned day off last week, I decided to recoup some of that time by leaving early for the game.  On checking into the hotel in Watford, the manager commented on my scarf, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there was a match in town that evening.  The bar man, a fellow Hornet, joined in the conversation and said that he was sacrificing this game in order to be able to go to the semi-final.  It seemed like the right choice to me.  We had a chat about our prospects at Wembley and then I headed to the West Herts.  I arrived to see that Don’s car wasn’t in its usual place, which caused me a momentary panic, until I saw him sitting in his usual place inside.  Some interloper was in his space when he arrived.  Poor show indeed.  I settled down with a pint and to anticipate the evening ahead.  This was an odd prospect as, playing struggling Fulham, it should have been a game to enjoy, but every moment would be analysed with Sunday in mind.

On the walk along Vicarage Road, we found ourselves among Fulham fans who, given that a defeat would relegate them, were chanting, “The Whites are going down … and now you’re gonna believe us.”

Pre-match speculation was that certain key players would be rested, possibly to be brought on during the game if needed.  Needless to say, Gracia did the unexpected with the four changes from Saturday being the entire back four reverting to what most would consider to be our first choice.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenia, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.  I had everything crossed that there would be no injuries.

Celebrating Doucoure’s goal

As it is the 25th anniversary of the formation of Kick it Out, tonight was Watford’s game dedicated to the cause and the “No room for racism” message was all over the hoardings.  Sadly, recent events show that this message is needed now more than ever.

The first chance of the game went to the visitors as Mitrović got his head to a cross and diverted it wide of the target.  At this point, the Fulham fans were in very good voice indeed.  The first chance for the Hornets came on 15 minutes as Pereyra tricked his way into the box, but his shot was blocked.  The visitors had a great chance to take the lead as Babel played a lovely ball over to Sessegnon in the box, but the Fulham youngster was unable to connect.  Some rushed play from the Hornets allowed the ball to reach Mitrović whose shot was easily gathered by Foster.  Watford then had a great chance to break the deadlock as Femenía broke forward before crossing for Deeney but the header was wide of the near post.  The Hornets took a somewhat undeserved lead on 23 minutes as Doucouré picked up the ball, ran to the edge of the box and hit a sweet strike into the near corner of the Fulham net.

Holebas prepares for a corner

The next action of note came 10 minutes later and was an equaliser for the visitors as Sessegnon found Babel who rounded the onrushing Foster to score.  It was frustrating, but no more than the visitors deserved.  The Fulham faithful greeted the goal with “We are staying up” followed by “We’ve f*cking scored”.  Fair play to them.  This was greeted with a round of applause from the Rookery, as we’ve all been there.  The visitors threatened again as a bit of head tennis in the Watford box led to the ball falling to Babel whose shot was blocked.  Sessegnon had a great chance to grab the lead after a break, but his shot was easy for Foster.  The visitors looked sure to take the lead after Deulofeu overplayed and gave the ball away allowing them to break but, when he looked sure to score, Mitrović totally mishit his shot which flew high and well wide of the near post.  The first booking of the game came late in the half as Mariappa was booked for a foul on Mitrović.  The half time whistle was greeted with boos from some Watford supporters.  Granted it had been a poor half of football from the Hornets, but all of our minds were on the semi-final on Sunday, so it was a ridiculous reaction.

The half time guest was Marco Cassetti, who immediately apologised for giving away the penalty in the play-off final against Palace.  There was another penalty that he didn’t need to apologise for, given what it led to.  Knockaert’s dive was shown from multiple angles before we got to enjoy the terrific goal from the play-off semi-final.  He said what a great memory that was and how it makes him smile.  He seemed a bit baffled when the conversation turned to the subject of his beard.  It was lovely to see him back to hear how much he enjoyed his time with us.

Gracia made a double substitution at the break bringing Janmaat and Gray on for Pereyra and Deulofeu.

Will Hughes has his eyes on Babel

Janmaat’s first contribution was to earn a booking for a foul on Cairney.  Watford had an early chance to regain the lead when a cross from Holebas was headed on towards his own goal by Chambers and Rico had to stretch to tip it over and save his teammate’s blushes.  Holebas caused more problems for the Fulham defence, winning a free kick that he took himself which had to be punched clear by Rico.  A lovely exchange of passes between Janmaat and Gray ended with the Dutchman bearing down on goal, but Rico came out to smother the ball and was injured in the process.  Babel came to complain to the referee, trying to get Janmaat booked, which seemed harsh as he had every right to go for the ball.  Doucouré had a chance to grab a second goal, but took too long to take the shot and it was blocked.  Gray was the next Watford player to try his luck, but his shot from distance deflected wide.  My neighbour in the Rookery had been nervously bemoaning the fact that the players were acting as though they had already won the game.  His nerves were eased somewhat when a corner was headed clear to Hughes who belted a volley past Rico from outside the box.  It was a terrific goal and very welcome.  Fulham had a half chance to break back as an awkward header from Mitrović had to be tipped over the bar by Foster.

Celebrating Deeney’s strike

On 69 minutes, Watford made the scoreline a bit more comfortable as Gray broke forward before cutting the ball back for Deeney to score Watford’s third of the evening.  It may have been Deeney who applied the finishing touch, but the crowd was chanting “Olé, Andre.”  Harry the Hornet’s goal celebration was a little too enthusiastic and led to some repairs being needed for the corner flag.  At this point, the visitors made their first substitution replacing Ream with Seri.  Watford could have increased their lead as Doucouré found Holebas whose shot was pushed around the post by the keeper.  I swear that, as he walked in front of the Rookery to take the corner, Jose was smiling.  With 15 minutes remaining, Gray turned provider again, this time for Femenía, who scored Watford’s fourth and surely confirmed Fulham’s relegation.  Despite the comfortable lead, the home side continued to attack and Hughes got into a great position, but chose to tee up Gray whose shot was deflected wide.  At this point, Gracia made his final substitution bringing Quina on for Capoue.  Needless to say, every time the youngster got the ball there were shouts for him to shoot.  The visitors had a chance to pull a goal back as Mitrović found Seri whose close range shot was stopped by a brilliant save from Foster.  There was a second substitution for the visitors as Babel made way for Schürrle.  Watford threatened again as a lovely cross from Janmaat was met by the head of Doucouré, but Rico was equal to the effort.  Scott Parker made a final change with McDonald coming on for Cairney.   Gray had another chance to add a goal to his assists, but the keeper was down to make the save.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, Holebas earned his inevitable booking.  I am not sure whether it was for the foul on Sessegnon or his reaction to being penalised, but he risked further censure by refusing to speak to the referee.  Eventually Deeney had to take him over and make the peace.

A group hug among the goal scorers

The full time whistle went to terrific celebrations from the Watford faithful.  It was a testament to his contribution after coming on that Gray was named the man of the Match, a decision that went down well with the home crowd.  At the other end of the ground, a banner announcing “Fulham Relegation Party” was being waved.  I must admit to some regret at our relegating Fulham as it is a club that I like and I love going to Craven Cottage, but the win was needed both to keep up our fight for seventh place and to give us some momentum before the FA Cup semi-final on Sunday.

It was an odd game.  After a poor performance in the first half that seemed to result from the players not wanting to get hurt, they went for it in the second half and we were royally entertained.  Gray was everywhere, with the two assists and plenty of chances to score himself.  It was a very positive performance indeed.  At the same time Wolves were beating Man Utd, so also going in to the weekend on a positive note.  Sunday will be a very interesting game.  Two evenly matched teams who both play decent football.  It should be entertaining, whatever the result.  But I am really hoping that it is a repeat of our performance at Molineux, which was superb.  I am also hoping to get at least a few hours sleep between now and the game, but that is not guaranteed.

We have to be loud and proud on Sunday.  This is our best chance of reaching a cup final since 1984 and I would love my youngest sister and nieces to experience that as Rose and I did all those years ago.  These are the days that we dream about.  They should be savoured and I, for one, with endeavour to enjoy every minute.

Entertainment on the Riverside

Another Saturday game, but also another on television meaning a stupid kick-off time.  This time at 12:30, which is the worst time for a football match.  I left home bright and early and, due to the timing of my trains, was outside the designated pub about 20 minutes before it opened so, as I refused to take refuge in the Wetherspoons next door, I sat on the side of the river in the drizzle watching an intrepid fellow constructing his windsurf board.  I love the water as much as the next guy, but that seemed a little adventurous on such a miserable day.

When the pub opened, I bought a couple of pints and found a cosy corner to wait for my party to gather.  The early kick-off meant that it really didn’t seem like time for football, but the walk to Craven Cottage has to be the nicest in the league and I enjoyed the stroll along the Thames through the park to the ground.  On entry, I decided to find the Ladies, which I was told was under the stand.  Instead of the usual entrance, there was a series of doors allowing multiple queues and complete privacy.  I was also impressed to see that there were free sanitary products in the cubicles.  Well done, Fulham, for that gesture.

Team news was, as expected, an unchanged team for the sixth league game this season, so the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deeney, Gray.  The opposition dugout would, of course, contain Slaviša Jokanović, the man who took the Hornets to the Premier League, and the lovely Marco Cesarini, former head of medical at Watford, even if he is mostly remembered for translating for Beppe Sannino.

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets as, in the second minute, Hughes cut the ball back to Gray who finished smartly past Bettinelli in the Fulham goal to ensure that the away stand started shaking bright and early in the game.  The goal celebration continued with an inflatable woman in a Watford shirt bouncing around the stand.  Fulham tried to strike back as Johansen broke into the box, but Foster was out to save at his feet.  Vietto was the next to try his luck, drawing a save from Foster before latching on to the loose ball and shooting wide of the far post.  At the other end, Deeney met a low cross from Gray with a shot that was blocked for a corner.  The corner was met by the head of Kabasele, but his effort was blocked on the line by Sessegnon.  Watford had a couple of great chances to increase their lead.  First a Watford free-kick was saved, but the Fulham keeper could only push it out to Doucouré who hit a delicate shot wide when if he’d wellied it it would have hit the back of the net!  Then a clearance fell to Gray whose close range shot was blocked by Bettinelli.  A Fulham break was frustrated by the Watford defence who refused to allow Mitrović a sight of goal.  As Kabasele amiably reacted to some grief he was getting from the Fulham fans, I couldn’t help noticing that those at the front of the stand were wearing the “Come on Fulham” clappers that had been left on seats as hoods to protect them from the rain.  The first booking went to Mawson for a nasty foul on Pereyra.  This was followed by another booking for an even worse foul on Deeney by Fosu-Mensah, who was possibly lucky to stay on the pitch.   Doucouré then impressed and frustrated in equal measure, beating a couple of players before hitting a shot that was weak and straight at the keeper.  There was a huge shout for a penalty when Gray got on the end of a through ball and passed to Hughes, who was taken out by Mawson, but the referee waved play on while we all looked at each other in amazement.  At the other end, Mitrović fell over Hughes in the box and made his own penalty claim, thankfully his was also given short shrift by the referee.  With five minutes to go to half-time, the Watford substitutes all paraded past us on the way to the dressing room.  I know many fans try to beat the crowds to get to the tea bar, but this was the first time that I had seen that from the players.  There was one last chance for the Hornets to increase their lead before half time, but Pereyra’s curling shot flew just wide of the far post.

So we reached half time a goal to the good, but the consensus was that we should have finished Fulham off.  We had dominated the half, but not made enough of our chances.

As the half time tannoy announcer did his stuff, I couldn’t help missing the voice of Diddy David Hamilton.

As the teams came out for the second half, Jokanović was warmly applauded by the travelling Hornets, but I don’t think he realised that the applause was for him as he didn’t react.  He made two changes at the break with Mawson and McDonald making way for Odoi and Ayité.  The changes immediately made a difference and the hosts started strongly.  First, a cross from Schürrle was headed over by Mitrović, then Vietto advanced but his shot was high and wide.  Watford’s first booking went to Holebas for what looked like a decent tackle on Vietto.  Watford’s first goal attempt of the second half came as Doucouré played the ball out to Gray whose low shot was saved by Bettinelli.  Pereyra then almost played the visitors into trouble as he tried to dribble out of defence but lost the ball, thankfully the resulting header from Mitrović was deflected for a corner.  Jokanović made his final substitution on 63 minutes bringing Anguissa on for Johansen.  Deeney had a great chance to increase the lead for the visitors, but was too greedy and ran into a defender who forced him to shoot wide when maybe he should have passed to someone in a better position.  Gracia made his first substitution as Femenía came on for Hughes. The home side equalised on 78 minutes as a low cross from Vietto was turned home by Mitrović.  It was frustrating, but on the balance of play in the second half, it felt as though it had been coming.  Gracia made his second change soon after bringing Success on for Gray.  Watford should have regained the lead on 84 minutes as Deeney gained possession and powered into the box but, on this occasion, he wasn’t selfish enough as he tried to play in Success and his cross was cut out.  The Nigerian then had a chance of his own but his low shot was saved.  At the other end, the home side nearly took the lead with a fabulous shot from Mitrović that required a wonderful flying save from Foster to keep it out.  The resulting corner was met by the head of Mitrović, but Foster came to the rescue again, getting a touch on it to push it on to the crossbar.  There was a late substitution from the Hornets as Sema came on for Pereyra.  In time added on Watford had a couple of chances to snatch a victory.  First, Success unleashed a rocket of a shot from distance, but it was well over the target.  Then Foster launched a free kick which was headed down by Deeney towards Success but the keeper gathered.  Just before the final whistle, a tap on the shoulder alerted me to the sight of the Queen’s rowbarge, Gloriana, passing by the ground on the Thames.  Obviously hoping to get glimpse of the Golden Boys.

So, for the second week running, we came away disappointed at the result.  I think we would all have taken a point before the game, but our first half performance was such that we should have been further ahead at half-time and, had that happened, it seemed unlikely that the home side would have been able to recover.  Instead, Fulham were still in the game at the break and Jokanović made changes that strengthened his team, who pressed harder against the Hornets who then misplaced more passes and allowed the home side to threaten more.  Still, it was another terrific game for the neutral, this season has seen some excellent entertainment and that is something to be enjoyed.

 

Defeat to Wolves in the Rain

The teams take to the field

The teams take to the field

My niece, Amelia, has been coming to occasional games for years.  This season she has become a regular, so a half season ticket seemed a perfect Christmas present and Boxing Day’s game against Wolves was her first match as a season ticket holder.  Since the game was at an odd time, I wasn’t sure what time to leave, but wanted to get to the West Herts early to ensure a decent parking space.  When we arrived the car park was oddly deserted.

The rain was pouring down as we made our way to the ground, it was cold and wet and nasty.  Not the best conditions for football.

Jokanovic made three changes from the Reading game.  Doyley was in for the suspended Angella, Munari and Paredes returned in place of Guédioura and Pudil.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Bassong, Cathcart, Doyley, Anya, Abdi, Tözsér, Munari, Paredes, Deeney and Vydra.  For the visitors, Kuszczak and Danny Graham were on the bench for Wolves, the latter getting a tremendous reception from the home crowd when his name was announced.  The Wolves dugout also contained a Watford legend, in the person of their manager, Kenny Jackett.

Kenny Jackett in the visitors' dugout

Kenny Jackett in the visitors’ dugout

The pre-match build-up was a bit of a shambles.  When the player photo went up on the screen for the number seven, there was Battocchio smiling out at us instead of Guédioura.  Then the music system malfunctioned, so there was an eerie silence and I found myself humming Z-cars as the teams came out.  As a final straw, there were boos following the toss as the players changed ends.  There is a superstition that we never do well when we attack the Rookery in the first half.

Wolves had the best of the early exchanges.  From a corner, Gomes punched the ball as far as Iorfa who, luckily for the home side, opted to pass instead of shooting.  Paredes lost the ball to Sako who played it to Van La Parra whose shot from distance was just wide.  Iorfa exchanged passes with McDonald in the Watford box before shooting wide.  A low cross from van La Parra was almost turned in at close range by Edwards, but Gomes dropped to push it around the post.  From the corner, the ball squirmed out of Gomes’s hands but was thankfully cleared.  At this point, Paredes took his gloves off, it looked like he meant business but, sadly, it didn’t improve his performance.

A throw from Anya

A throw from Anya

Watford threatened the Wolves goal for the first time from a Tözsér free-kick, but the keeper, Ikeme, dropped and gathered the ball.  Wolves were completely dominant at this point.  They were strong and their passing was effective, in contrast to the sloppy play that the home side were demonstrating.  Wolves should have taken the lead in the 17th minute with a strong shot from Hause that was curling in when Gomes pushed it over the bar.  From the corner, the ball was headed out to van La Parra whose shot was pushed clear by the keeper.  In a rare Watford attack, Vydra found Deeney who advanced and shot, but it was blocked, the ball came back in to Munari who played it to Tözsér whose shot was also blocked.  Deeney played the ball out to Paredes whose shot was deflected wide.  Then Anya played the ball back to Abdi but again the shot was deflected wide.  This had been a better spell from the Hornets, but they hadn’t really threatened the Wolves goal.  The visitors had another chance to take the lead as Sako broke through the defence but Gomes came out to challenge and caused him to shoot wide.  Deeney stretched to play a ball on the sidelines, Hause fell over him and Troy was booked.  In time added on, Gomes had to be alert again to punch a corner clear.  The half-time whistle went after a dreadful first half performance from the home side who, if not for the brilliance of Gomes, could have been three goals behind.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

The visitors threatened early in the second half as a corner was punched out by Gomes, it was headed back in by Price but the keeper was able to gather.  Watford had their first shot on target as Vydra received a cross from Paredes but Ikeme caught the ball.  A lovely passing move featuring Deeney, Vydra and Anya finished with a low shot from Tözsér which was caught by Ikeme.  It felt like we were punished for finally showing a moment of quality as van La Parra immediately broke upfield and crossed for Dicko to hit the ball past Gomes.  After the keeper’s first half heroics, it was a terrible shame that he was beaten by what was rather a poor effort.  Another ball into the Watford box, this time by Sako, was met with a weak overhead kick from Edwards that went wide of the near post.  Just after the hour Jokanovic made two changes bringing Ighalo on for Vydra and replacing Munari with Forestieri.  Stearman was the first Wolves player to be booked as he handled to stop a Watford break.

Watford on the attack

Watford on the attack

A Tözsér free-kick led to a goalmouth scramble, but no Watford player was able to apply the finishing touch.  Then Doyley headed a Tözsér corner down for Bassong, but Ikeme saved on the line.  Tözsér was the next player to be booked as he delayed passing and was tackled by Edwards so pulled him back to prevent a break.  He was substituted almost immediately with Guédioura coming on.  Deeney got in a great position to try for an equalizer but his shot drifted wide of the far post.  Ighalo then stung Ikeme’s hands, Doyley’s follow-up was blocked.  At the other end Doyley chested the ball down to Gomes, but Dicko was close by and the keeper had to be quick to gather.  There was some head tennis in the Wolves box, but it didn’t result in a shot.  In time added on, we thought we’d rescued a point as Ighalo’s powerful shot was heading for the goal but clattered off the crossbar.  It was disappointing but, despite the improved performance in the second half, Wolves were worthy winners.

It was cold and wet as we trudged back to the car.  Thankfully, despite the crowd of over 17K, there was no traffic and we were home in the warm in no time.  I spent most of the journey apologising to Amelia and suggesting that she would have been better off watching it on TV.  But, when we said our goodbyes, I got a big hug and thanks for her lovely Christmas present.  What have I done?