Tag Archives: Kieran Gibbs

Deeney’s Goal Beats the Baggies

Deeney challenging in the West Brom box

After a week dominated by cold weather and snow disruption, it was a relief to end the week with some football.  Although for that we need to give thanks to the large number of kind souls who were at Vicarage Road early in the morning to help clear snow from the stadium and ensure that the game could be played.  Before 10am there was a notice on social media thanking the volunteers and saying that no more were needed.  Well played Hornets fans.  There was also a request from the 1881 for donations to the local foodbank.  When I arrived with my tins just before midday, there was a nice collection beginning and, at the end of the day, the foodbank thanked the fans with a message that “nearly a quarter of a tonne of food” had been donated.  A tremendous effort.

When I arrived at the West Herts, there were a couple of unfamiliar faces who turned out to be Norwegian friends of Trond.  One of them had been to Kaiserslauten home and away, which were his last Watford games before this one!

Holebas preparing for a free kick

After the unwelcome information midweek regarding the severity of Deulofeu’s injury, it was very disappointing when the team news came through to find that there was no sign of Femenía.  Thankfully a follow-up message said that it was due to sickness rather than injury.  Let us hope that he recovers very soon.  I was greatly cheered by the news that Hughes was fit enough to take a place on the bench.  Gracia’s only change from the Everton game was to replace Deulofeu with Carrillo.  So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Prödl, Mariappa, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Carrillo, Pereyra, Richarlison; Deeney.  Former loanee, Ben Foster started for the visitors, who also had Allan Nyom on the bench.

It looked as though our injury list was to have a further addition when Capoue needed treatment in the second minute but, thankfully, he was soon fit to continue.  There was then some danger for Watford as a series of attempted clearances rebounded to West Brom players before a shot from Krychowiak was blocked by Mariappa, who was making his 250th start in a Watford shirt.  Watford’s first chance came from a Holebas cross, Carrillo’s header was poor, but the ball broke to Pereyra whose shot deflected off Gibbs.  Soon after,

Capoue, Mariappa and Deeney

Mariappa was in action at both ends of the pitch, flicking on a corner that didn’t quite reach Deeney and then clearing Rondón’s cross after Capoue had lost out in midfield.  A lovely attacking move for the Hornets finished as Doucouré found Deeney whose shot looked more like a back pass to Foster.  The first card of the game went to Capoue who was booked for a clumsy collision, which seemed rather harsh.  West Brom had a decent chance to open the scoring but, thankfully, Rondón’s header was wide of the near post.  At this point attention was drawn to an advertising hoarding that appeared to be on fire, much to the amusement of the travelling Baggies who were singing “Watford’s burning down.”  Back on the pitch, Doucouré tried a strike from distance that was blocked.  There was then a great chance for the Hornets as Pereyra broke and found himself in space, he played the ball to Janmaat whose shot was goalbound until Foster stuck out a leg and deflected it wide.  The resultant corner was headed just over the bar by Prödl.  In the last minute of the first half, Holebas was penalised for a challenge on Rondón.  He wasn’t impressed with the decision and let the officials know in no uncertain terms and was very lucky not to talk his way into the referee’s book, in fact he probably would have seen a card had Deeney not manoeuvred him out of earshot.  The free-kick was taken by Brunt and landed on the roof of the net, so the half finished goalless.

Deeney and Okaka challenging

At half time, we were introduced to Lewis Gordon, the latest Academy graduate to sign as a professional.  We also had the rather sorry sight of St Bernadette’s school taking part in the half time shoot out with only 2 of the 5 penalty takers.  At first this appeared to be a ruse as the first penalty was excellent, but it was beginners luck and they were soon knocked out of the competition.

As he approached the goal at the Rookery end for the start of the second half, Ben Foster was greeted with a tremendous reception to which he reacted with applause and by blowing a kiss to the crowd.  How lovely.  Watford had the first chance of the half from a Holebas free kick that Richarlison headed wide.  The young Brazilian had another decent chance soon after, but ran into a crowd of players and lost the ball.  At the other end there was a low shot from Rondón that was easily gathered by Karnezis.  The West Brom man then had an identical chance from the opposite side, he struck this one with more power but, again, Karnezis was equal to it.  Carrillo then broke on a counter attack and crossed for Doucouré who headed the ball down to Richarlison whose overhead kick appeared to be deflected wide by Livermore, but a goal kick was given.  Rondón really should have opened the scoring but, again, directed a header wide of the target.

Celebrating the winner

Watford made their first substitution on 54 minutes as Richarlison made way for Okaka.  Young Ricky was not happy and threw his gloves to the ground as he reached the dugout.  Thank goodness his Uncle Heurelho was there to look after him.  Okaka made an immediate impact playing a lovely through ball for Deeney who, sadly, wasn’t ready for it.  Then Doucouré tried to play in Okaka, but the ball bounced off the Italian and the chance was gone.  Watford were coming closer to breaking the deadlock and the next chance came as a cross from Pereyra reached Carillo whose shot was just over the bar with Foster beaten.  That was the last contribution from the Peruvian who was immediately replaced with Hughes.  We then had the bizarre experience of a player doing the time-wasting trudge off the pitch when there were still 24 minutes to go and he game was goalless.  Even his own fans were booing Carrillo before he reached the dugout.  West Brom had a great chance to take the lead as a cross came in for Rodriguez, but Janmaat made a vital intervention to stop the shot.  Mariappa earned a booking after losing Rondón and then hauling him down to stop his escape.  Watford should have taken the lead with 15 minutes remaining as a corner from Holebas reached Okaka in the box with the goal at his mercy, but his shot was blocked by Gibbs on the line.  The Hornets took the lead in the next move as a mistake in the West Brom midfield gifted Hughes the ball and he played a perfect pass for Deeney to run on to, Foster came out to meet him, but Troy was focussed on the goal and lifted the ball over Foster to send the Rookery wild.  The first substitution for the visitors saw McClean on to replace Krychowiak.

Hughes and Pereyra in the box

Mariappa, who had been tremendous, nearly put the Hornets in trouble with a terrible back pass but Karnezis was off his line to prevent Rondón taking advantage.  West Brom made two late substitutions with Livermore and Rodriguez making way for Field and Burke.  A deep corner from West Broom looked threatening, but Karnezis came confidently to claim the ball.  In time added on there was a decent chance for Hughes to increase Watford’s lead but his shot was deflected to Foster.  Gracia had intended to make a third substitution, bringing Lukebakio on for the final minute or so, when Holebas went down injured, so Britos was brought on to replace the limping Jose.  In the final minute of the game Watford won a free kick and I was baffled when Okaka went over towards the ball, leaving no one in the box, until the ball was played short for him to keep it in the corner until the final whistle went.

It had been another poor game, but another great three points.  On his 250th start, it was rather lovely that Mariappa was given man of the match.  It was also pleasing to see Deeney score his second goal in successive games.  His goals have been few and far between this season, but these were crucial to our survival in this division.  And there was a warm welcome back to Will Hughes, who provided the pass that led to the goal.

This win took us to 9th in the table and really has to mean that we are safe from relegation, which is a bit of a relief as our next two games are against Arsenal and Liverpool, although neither of those clubs are models of consistency, so points against them are not out of the question.

On our way back to the station, we met a group of West Brom fans trying to find their way back to The Flag.  They were very philosophical about our putting the final nail in their coffin which made me even happier that we could look forward to the last few games without stressing about the results.

A Last Minute Equaliser is a Great Cure for Jet-lag

Richarlison

I had to travel to the US this week for a meeting in Maryland on Friday morning.  Flights were booked to ensure that I was back in plenty of time to get to the match.  Imagine my frustration when I arrived at the airport to find that there was a delay of two hours.  I spent the extra time at the airport obsessively checking the train times for the next morning.  I needn’t have worried.  After arriving at Heathrow at 8am, I had time to go home for a quick shower, a change of clothes, pick up my football shirt (I had my match and train tickets with me) and was still in the pre-match pub before 1.  My party were already in place.  It was my first chance to catch up with a number of friends since Toddy’s passing so, needless to say, stories were exchanged, there was laughter and tears and glasses raised to our much missed friend.

When the team news came through there was much discussion of the only change from the Swansea game as Deeney was chosen in place of the previous week’s goalscorer, Gray.  To me the change made sense as, against a Pulis team, Deeney’s strength would be more important than Gray’s pace.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Mariappa, Kabasele, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Carrillo, Cleverley, Richarlison; Deeney.  Former Watford loanee and player of the season, Ben Foster, was in goal for the Baggies.

Come dancing in the West Brom box

Watford started the game very well without creating too much in front of goal.  The first chance came with a dangerous looking cross from Holebas which evaded all of the Watford heads in the box.  The home side’s first real attack came after a quick break, my nerves were jangling as the Watford defence were trying to play the ball out, but kept giving it away, finally Cleverley wellied it upfield to cheers from the travelling Hornets.  West Brom took the lead in the 18th minute, against the run of play, when Rondón received a through ball and broke into the box, Kabasele didn’t do enough to put him off and he finished past Gomes.  Watford looked rattled and conceded again soon after, Rondón was released, played the ball in to Gibbs whose shot was put behind for a corner which was flicked on by Doucouré for Evans to touch home.  After brilliant start in which the Hornets were playing some lovely football, I was reeling that we were two goals down.  At this point I wished I’d stayed at home and rested after my transatlantic journey.  West Brom had a chance to increase their lead after Carrillo lost out in midfield, allowing them to make another quick break, but this time the hopeful shot from Rodriguez cleared the bar.  But this Watford team is nothing if not resilient and were soon asserting themselves again and, on the half hour, a looping cross reached Richarlison but his header was straight at Foster.

Cleverley takes a free kick

At the other end, a corner from Brunt was headed just over the bar by Hegazi.  Deeney did well to hold off a defender on the edge of the West Brom box before passing to Richarlison, he crossed for Carrillo who was in acres of space in the middle of the goal, the ball just needed to bounce off him for the goal, but he managed to head high and wide when it looked much easier to score.  He tried to redeem himself as he crossed for Richarlison whose header was put out for a corner.  This was much better from Watford and we pulled a goal back on 37 minutes as Deeney flicked the ball on to Richarlison, who found Doucouré, the Frenchman hesitated but he was just picking his moment before firing the ball past Foster into the opposite corner.  Watford were in the ascendency now and Cleverley played the ball out to Capoue whose shot was deflected for a corner.  The visitors came even closer to an equalizer as Capoue played a deep cross to Richarlison whose header was just over the target.  The Brazilian had one more chance to get on the scoresheet before half time as Cleverley played a great cross-field ball to him, but he curled his shot just wide of the target.

Deeney and Cleverley challenge Gareth Barry

It had been an odd first half.  Watford were brilliant in the first and last 15 minutes, but fell apart in the middle allowing the home side to take the lead.  On the balance of play it was hard to believe that Watford were losing the game, but Doucouré’s goal and the resurgence at the end to the half had given us hope of getting something out of the game.

It was Diversity Day at The Hawthorns, so we were treated to some bhangra music from the Dhol Blasters followed by the appearance of a Chinese dragon on the field.  It certainly made a change from children challenging mascots (not that there is anything wrong with that).

As Ben Foster took his place in goal in front of the away end at the start of the second half, he was greeted with very warm applause for which he showed his appreciation.  The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as Gomes dropped to save a shot from Phillips.

Abdoulaye Doucoure, never gives the ball away …

But the Hornets were soon dominating again, starting when a cross from Cleverley was headed clear and fell to Capoue whose shot was deflected for a corner.  The Frenchman had another chance soon after with a thunderbolt that must have left bruises on Gareth Barry who got in the way.  Then Carrillo tried a cross-cum-shot that was gathered by Foster.  There was a rash of substitutions around the hour mark with Phillips and Brunt replaced by McClean and Livermore for the home side while Pereyra come on for Capoue for the visitors.  Watford threatened again as Kabasele just failed to connect with a lovely corner from Holebas.  Cleverley then played a lovely ball to Holebas who made the wrong decision in going for goal from an acute angle when he should have cut the ball back.  Doucouré intercepted the ball in midfield and advanced before crossing for Richarlison who headed just wide.  The young Brazilian then battled into the box with three defenders in attendance, he still managed to put in a cross, but it was too high for his team mates.  Pulis made his final change as Rondón made way for Robson-Kanu who was immediately in action playing in McClean who broke forward to shoot, Gomes made the save, he spilled the ball but, thankfully Mariappa was alert and put the ball out for a corner.

In position to score the equaliser

With 15 minutes to go, Silva made another change bringing Gray on for Carrillo.  Watford continued to push for the equaliser as a lovely through ball released Richarlison, he was tackled and the ball broke to Gray whose shot was blocked.  We were getting so close, it was incredibly frustrating.  Richarlison tried another shot from the left that was straight at Foster.  The first booking of the game came in the 87th minute as Livermore was cautioned for a foul on Gray.  After a long period of Watford pressure, there was a scare as a cross found McClean in a great position to make the game safe for the Baggies, but Holebas blocked the shot.  In the last minute of time added on, Watford won a free kick on the left.  Gomes came up to join the attack.  Holebas delivered the corner and Richarlison headed home with his countryman on his shoulder trying his very best to get to the ball for his first goal for the club!  A goal from Gomes would have been something else, but this still provoked a mental celebration in the away end, shouts and screams, smiles and hugs.  Gomes always celebrates goals in a spectacular manner, but he is usually on his own.  This time he was at the right end but, as he celebrated with Deeney in front of the away fans, the rest of his team mates had run to the dugout to celebrate with the subs and the coaching staff.  Both were wonderful to see.

Pereyra and Kabasele

The celebrations at the final whistle were joyous.  The whole squad came over to join us as we sang their praises.  Shirts, gloves and boots were thrown into the crowd, Doucouré being the only player who left the field wearing his shirt (maybe he didn’t have a vest on underneath).  A draw was the very least we deserved from that game and it was gained by a never say die attitude that I haven’t seen in many years.

After my overnight journey, I really should have gone straight home, but my friends, the Happy Valley Horns, were having a drink in town, so …..  It was Angela’s first game of the season.  She was mightily impressed and I was able to assure her that the positive elements of the performance were typical of this season.  This is a team with skill and spirit and I am loving this season so far.

We go into the international break in the top half of the table, unbeaten on the road and watching some of the best football that I have ever seen from a Watford team.  There was a very interesting interview with Tom Cleverley in The Times this week in which he remarked of Silva, “He’s got the balance perfect: he’s approachable but there’s a fear factor about him.”  He sounds like Gino’s perfect coach and long may this continue.

Pereyra Strikes in a Game of Two Halves

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

As I boarded the train at Euston on my way to the game, I assumed that it was standing room only as the vestibules were packed with blokes holding cans of beer.  Not at all, the Arsenal lads were starting the day as they meant to go on but were very polite as they moved to let the tutting old woman through to take her seat.  I thought I had timed things perfectly this week, but still managed to arrive at the West Herts before the doors opened.  There had been a recent change in their catering that meant, on the last two visits, all food was delivered in styrofoam cartons with plastic cutlery.  The horrors of adding to landfill meant that I bought lunch on the way to the game, only to find that they had reverted to using plates and metal cutlery.  Hoorah!!  Even better, after the brief loneliness of Tuesday evening, all the usual suspects were back in position.

Team news was that there were two changes from the Chelsea game.  Both in defence and both enforced (Cathcart had a groin injury and Britos’s partner was about to give birth).  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Kabasele; Amrabat, Guedioura, Capoue, Behrami, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.

Guedioura and Kaboul

Guedioura and Kaboul

The first notable action of the game was a foul by Amrabat on Sánchez in the box.  It was an age before the referee pointed to the spot which provoked fury among the home fans.  It has to be said that, even from our vantage point just behind the goal, we didn’t really see the challenge and it appeared that the dramatic reaction by the Arsenal player had influenced the referee, but footage of the incident showed that it was the correct decision.  Cazorla stepped up and sent Gomes the wrong way giving Arsenal an early lead and the Hornets a mountain to climb.  Kevin Friend, the referee, didn’t endear himself to the home crowd as Walcott appeared to run into Prödl and the Austrian was shown a yellow card.  Arsenal could have been two up as a cross from Bellerin was cleared off the line, then a shot from Walcott was saved.  Watford’s first goal chance came following a break from Amrabat whose cross was almost turned home by Koscielny but Cech managed to keep it out.  Deeney’s follow-up was just wide.  Soon after, a shot-cum-cross from Amrabat landed on the roof of the net.  Mr Friend had been very quick to blow his whistle for anything remotely resembling a challenge on an Arsenal player, so there was annoyance when Amrabat was knocked to the ground with no consequences.  This was compounded when the next challenge on Nordin, which looked powder puff, was punished with a free kick.  Watford had had a really good spell around the half hour culminating with a corner from Capoue that was headed just wide by Kabasele.

Capoue takes a corner

Capoue takes a corner

At the other end, Sánchez broke into the box and shot, but Gomes saved with his feet.  Against the run of play, Arsenal increased their lead with five minutes of the half remaining, as Sanchez met a cross from Walcott, the shot appeared to have been cleared off the line but, for the second game running, the goalline technology indicated that a goal had been scored.  The visitors could have been further ahead as Walcott had a shot from a tight angle saved by Gomes.   The third goal came in time added on at the end of the half as Özil appeared out of nowhere to head a Sánchez cross home.  It was a quality goal, but the scoreline was very harsh on the Hornets who had made a game of it once they had gone behind.  My reaction at half time was “Please make it stop.”  Most others among the home fans were booing the referee.

At the start of the second period we saw the introduction of Pereyra in place of Guedioura.  The lad who sits next to me remarked, “Unless he can walk on water, I’m not sure that he can live up to these levels of expectation.”  Soon after, the less heralded Janmaat replaced Kabasele.  Watford had a great chance to pull one back after some great work from Ighalo who beat a couple of challenges before passing to Amrabat who found Capoue whose powerful shot was saved by Cech.

Congratulating the new boy, Pereyra, on his goal

Congratulating the new boy, Pereyra, on his goal

Watford finally made the breakthrough on 57 minutes as a shot from Capoue was blocked, but the ball dropped to Pereyra who beat Cech to score with his first shot for the Hornets.  The home side could have pulled another one back when a lovely cross from Janmaat was met by Holebas whose shot required a good save from Cech to keep it out; Ighalo’s follow-up was blocked.  Watford had another great chance as a throw was headed on by an Arsenal player to Ighalo whose overhead kick was only just over the bar.  Amrabat’s last action of the game was a foul on Wilshere.  As he was about to be substituted he ran off the pitch and had to be recalled from the depths of the dugout to be shown the yellow card.  Well it made me smile.  Success was the player who took his place, and he almost made an immediate impact as he met a corner from Capoue with a header that flew just wide.  Pereyra, who had made an impressive debut, turned provider as he laid the ball off to Behrami who shot just wide.  At the other end, there was a rare second half chance for the Gunners as a mistake from Kaboul allowed Sánchez a shot on goal, but a flying save from Gomes stopped it.  As we reached time added on at the end of the second half, Arsenal received their first booking of the game as Wilshere was punished for a foul on Capoue.  This was met by loud, ironic cheers from the Rookery faithful.  In a game that was far from dirty, Watford had managed to amass 6 yellow cards while, Sánchez, who stats showed had committed the most fouls in the game, remained card-free.

An attacking corner

An attacking corner

The game finished to applause for the second half performance and boos for the officials.  As the players congratulated each other, it was interesting to see Gomes and Cech deep in conversation and then swapping shirts.

It had been a very encouraging performance from the Watford lads, especially in the second half.  Some commented that Arsenal were already three up at the start of the half so didn’t have to do much, but that seemed rather churlish and unfair to the guys who worked so hard and didn’t let their heads drop when 3 goals behind.  Amrabat and Capoue continue to perform well and the new guys all looked good.  If Pereyra didn’t actually walk on water he certainly showed why he is so widely admired within the game.  I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do once he gets to know his team mates.  Ighalo also had an encouraging game creating a couple of decent chances, which was pleasing to see.

Sadly, there was also confirmation of the news that Vydra had moved to Derby, so those that believed he was saying goodbye as he was substituted on Tuesday were proved correct.  This was rather disappointing if not surprising.  I must admit that, while I have very fond memories of that stunning half season, I have been a little surprised at the hero’s welcome that he has had on every appearance this season.  It is a real shame that he never built on the great start that he had.  He has a chance of a new start at Derby.  I wish him well and hope that he finally realizes his potential.

After the international break, we have the last of our run of nightmare games to start the season and it will be in the following run of games that we see what this team is capable of.  On the basis of this performance, I am very much looking forward to it.

1987 All Over Again

The pre match huddle

The pre match huddle

The build-up to this game had been distinctly odd.  There was some annoyance when the draw for the quarter final paired us against the winner of the only game in the previous round that required a replay.  This irritation was exacerbated by the fact that there was a full Premier League programme in the midweek that the replay would normally have been played, meaning that we only knew our opponents late on the Tuesday night prior to the quarter final weekend.  Hearts, if not wallets, wanted an away tie at Hull, but Arsenal’s comprehensive win meant that wouldn’t be the case, so we had an easy journey but considerably more formidable opponents.  Watford committed to take an allocation of 9000 tickets which, with only 4 days to sell them, was a risk as they were committed to pay for them.  They also subsidised the cost of adult tickets in the upper tier, so made a financial commitment towards ensuring that a large number of fans followed the team and that faith was repayed with a high take up and only around 700 tickets remaining unsold.

Social media indicated that there was a lot of excitement building up before the tie.  But I was not relishing the prospect.  Much as I enjoyed reliving the 1987 win in the build-up to the match, while wondering how we escaped Highbury in one piece.  That win was not unexpected as we always beat Arsenal in those glory years.  This season they are a different proposition and, while they lack consistency, the comprehensive defeat at Vicarage Road filled me with pessimism for the outcome and meant that I awoke on Sunday morning with a feeling of impending doom.

Lovely Paddy Rice

Lovely Paddy Rice

The day did not start well as we arrived at the pre-match pub to find that they were only serving soft drinks until midday and we could not move on as this was the designated venue for distributing the tickets for the City ‘Orns.  Given the state of my nerves, a caffeinated beverage would not have been a good idea, so I was parched by the time all tickets had been collected and we only had time for a swift pint at Kings Cross before leaving for the match.  The tube journey was remarkable only for the delightfully polite and gracious Arsenal fans that we met on the way.  It is always a pleasure to go to an away ground and feel like a guest rather than the enemy.  On arrival at the stadium, as we walked around to get to the away turnstiles, I was drawn to the photo of lovely Pat Rice, a man who is, deservedly, a legend at both clubs.

As the inclusion of Pantilimon in goal had been announced earlier in the week, it was a surprise when Gomes was named in the starting line-up.  However this was corrected prior to kick-off, and there were 3 further changes from the last game with Cathcart, Behrami and Guedioura in for Holebas, Suarez and Amrabat.  So we started with Pantilimon, Aké, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Behrami, Watson, Guedioura, Deeney, Capoue and Ighalo.

Arsenal started the game very brightly, and crafted a chance in the first couple of minutes as Chambers put in a dangerous cross that was just missed by Sánchez.  Watford, in contrast, looked nervous and some sloppy play almost put us in trouble on 9 minutes as Watson gave the ball away, Prödl missed a chance to clear and allowed Sánchez to play a through ball to Giroud, but the flag was up before he slotted it past Pantilimon.  Watford’s first chance came soon after through Ighalo, but his shot was blocked.  Capoue had the next chance as a cross from Nyom was headed back by Deeney, but he was unable to shoot and, given his misfortune in front of goal, would probably have missed anyway.

Guedioura and Nyom appearing pensive

Guedioura and Nyom appearing pensive

Ighalo got the ball in the box again, but held onto it a little too long, losing out in a tackle when Deeney was in space.  For the home side, Chambers hit another cross, but this one was an easy catch for Pantilimon.  Gibbs was the next to threaten with a cross that caused some panic in the Watford box, but the danger was snuffed out by a decisive tackle from Aké.  Ighalo was frustrated again as he tried to latch on to a Deeney header, but the keeper, Ospina, was first to the ball.  Arsenal had been a constant danger down the right and Chambers threatened again, but his cross was safely gathered by Pantilimon.  At the other end, Guedioura whipped in a cross which was caught by Ospina, with Deeney lurking just behind him.  Then Capoue played a lovely ball to Ighalo and the man who never passes opted to play the ball towards Deeney, allowing Mertesacker to intercept, while every fan in the away end was devastated that, for once, he hadn’t gone for goal himself when it seemed the better option.  Just before the half hour, what appeared from our vantage point to be a 50-50 challenge in the middle of the pitch, left Deeney needing treatment.  Replays showed that Gabriel had launched a two footed tackle on the Watford captain, who was lucky to avoid serious injury while the Arsenal man was fortunate still to be on the pitch.  The home side had a decent chance to take the lead as a corner was cleared to Elneny who shot over the bar with a horrible miskick.  Capoue released Ighalo who, again, passed instead of shooting, this time a dreadful ball that rolled behind Deeney so the chance was gone.  One of our party declared that he was doing it deliberately so that nobody would ever again berate him for shooting instead of passing to a team mate.  Aké was nutmegged by Özil who found Elneny but the Egyptian, again, shot over from the edge of the box.  Arsenal had one last chance to go in at the break with a lead as Campbell got behind the defence, but Pantilimon was able to put him off and he fired over the target.

The celebration for Ighalo's goal

The celebration for Ighalo’s goal

So we reached the break goalless.  Arsenal had much the better of the first half and had looked very dangerous on the break.  There had been far too many misplaced passes from the Hornets.  Particular culprits were Prödl, who appeared to have put his boots on the wrong feet, and Guedioura, who was looking very rusty.  However the Gunners had failed to capitalize on the mistakes from Watford and neither goalkeeper had faced a shot worthy of the name.

The home side came out early for the second half and they had the first chance with a corner from Özil that was headed over by Giroud.  But it was Watford who took the lead on 50 minutes.  It started with a dangerous cross from Guedioura which was taken off the head of Deeney and put out for a throw-in, which Aké took, it was headed on by Deeney to Ighalo who held off the defender, turned and fired past Ospina to send the away end into rapture.  It was so good to see Ighalo on the score sheet again and a joy that the players were celebrating directly in front of the away fans.  The goal unnerved Arsenal and injected a new confidence into the visitors and Ighalo could have had a second soon after as a Nyom cross was headed down by Deeney but, this time, Ighalo shot over the bar.  Just before the hour, Deeney and Ighalo came storming up the field with a lovely exchange of passes, it was a great shame when a tackle stopped the break.

Pantilimon lines up a goal kick

Pantilimon lines up a goal kick

There was another great chance for the Nigerian as Capoue released Aké who broke forward and crossed for Ighalo but he couldn’t quite connect.  It wasn’t all Watford, though, as a cross from Campbell found Giroud whose close range shot was stopped by a decent save from Pantilimon.  The second goal was a thing of beauty.  Deeney did tremendously well to hold the ball up in the box then he passed it out to Guedioura and WELLY!!!  The shot nearly burst the net and would have knocked out someone in the upper tier if it had.  If the first goal celebration had been joyous, this one was truly mental and, suddenly, the Watford fans started thinking that we could actually win this, and those of us who had been calling for Adlene’s replacement were left with egg on our faces.  Arsenal had a rare second half foray into the Watford box as a Sánchez shot was deflected wide before Giroud’s volley from the corner missed the target.  Wenger had seen enough and made three substitutions with a quarter of the game remaining as Elneny, Campbell and Giroud were replaced by Iwobi, Welbeck and Walcott.  Soon after, Flores also rang the changes replacing Capoue and Guedioura, both of whom left the field to loud cheers from the travelling Hornets, with Anya and Abdi.  In between the substitutions, Özil had been booked for a late challenge on Behrami.

Deeney gets into position

Deeney gets into position

As the game entered the last 10 minutes, Gibbs had a chance to reduce the deficit, but his back header was straight at Pantilimon.  Flores made his final substitution replacing Ighalo with Amrabat as the home fans left the ground in droves.  Arsenal had a decent chance as Sánchez cut the ball back to Chambers but he shot well wide.  At this point, Lynn commented that it looked like it was our day.  My look of horror was greeted with, “I hope I haven’t jinxed it.”  So did I.  My heart was pounding at this point and I couldn’t bring myself to join in the chants of “Que sera, sera”.  Watford then threatened again as Anya released Amrabat who broke forward before cutting the ball back to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  Deeney then turned provider playing a through ball to Anya who tried a shot from a narrow angle, which was stopped by Ospina, when a pull back to Amrabat may have been a better decision.  The count down to the 90th minute was stopped short at 88 when Welbeck pulled a goal back with a close range shot past Pantilimon and the nervous tension in the away end went up a (large) notch.  It was a relief that the next attack came from the Hornets, but Amrabat’s shot from distance was well wide of the near post.  There was almost collective heart failure among the travelling fans as a shot from Iwobi rebounded off the inside of the post and hit Pantilimon before Welbeck turned the loose ball wide when he really should have buried it.

The celebration run towards the crowd

The celebration run towards the crowd

The fourth official indicated an additional four minutes, which was the minimum we could have expected.  Welbeck had another chance to equalize as he latched on to a long pass, but Prödl and Pantilimon combined to ensure that his shot was off target.  There was one final chance for Arsenal as a shot from Iwobi was deflected for a corner which came to nothing.  I didn’t hear the final whistle over the thumping of my heart, but I did see the referee catch the ball and the Watford bench belting on to the pitch and over to celebrate with the Watford fans.  Ighalo’s beaming smile was back, I don’t think I have ever seen him so happy, and Capoue was dancing joyously while I was trying to choke back happy tears.

The celebrations in the ground continued as the players finished the handshakes with the opposition and the officials and the hugs among themselves and the players lined up to do one of those German-style rush to the crowd celebrations, which clearly hadn’t been practiced so was endearingly rubbish which, strangely, added to the joy.  The advertising continued on the big screen in the ground and I couldn’t help but laugh when it flashed up “Next match: Arsenal vs Watford.”  They even played “Yellow” over the tannoy.  But I must give a special mention to the Arsenal fans who hadn’t left with 10 minutes to go as there was still a decent number who stayed to applaud the Watford players.

The Cally

The Cally

As we left the ground there was a large group singing and celebrating outside, which was all rather lovely.  We decided to walk back to King’s Cross (it was only a couple of miles and I am down to do 27 in a couple of weeks).  It seemed oddly fitting to pass a pub called “The Cally” and we were congratulated by numerous people on the way, all of whom I assumed were Spurs fans.  We arrived back to the pub to see a lot of familiar faces and a number of strangers in yellow, red and black who elicited big smiles.  Everyone there, in their own way, was trying to come to terms with what had just happened.  Because, the apparently one sided stats notwithstanding, we came away feeling that we had thoroughly deserved that victory as we had created (and finished) the best of the chances and had shown incredible strength of character in holding out after Arsenal scored.  I have seen too many Watford teams that would have collapsed at that point.

A day later, I have been congratulated by so many neutrals (as well as the odd lovely Arsenal fan) and have to keep pinching myself.  When I started following a small town club in the late 70s, I could never have known how much joy they would bring me.  We have had so many ups and downs over the years, they have made me ecstatic and broken my heart.  But, in March 2016, I find myself supporting a little club that appears to be about to have a second season in the Premier League and I am planning to attend my fifth FA Cup semi-final.  Plus we are doing this while still feeling that our owners respect the history of our small town club.  And that is just remarkable.