I’m not a fan of games being moved for television but, if we do have to play on a Friday night, it may as well be an away game a 45 minute train journey from home. Despite the run of poor results, I have been quite positive about the performances (Birmingham excepted), but a lunchtime listen to the Watford Weekend preview show on which Jon Marks trawled through a bucket load of stats about how bad we have been against Fulham made me wonder whether I should stay at home.
On arrival in Fulham, there were a lot of Watford fans in evidence and their demeanour suggested that they had been enjoying the local hospitality for some time. There was a lot of singing in the misnamed Temperance and I was hoping that it would continue in the ground. There is nothing worse than an away day when all the singing happens in the pub.
Team news was that Jokanovic had made just one change, with Cathcart in for Ekstrand, so the starting line-up was Gomes, Bassong, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Munari, Tözsér, Abdi, Paredes, Deeney and Vydra. I wasn’t best pleased to get to my seat to find a huge pillar obstructing my view, but we stood for the whole game which made it a bit easier to adjust position to look around it. When the players emerged, Richard noted with some joy that they were wearing red shorts. Prior to kick-off the two teams mingled for a photograph to commemorate the Christmas truce in 1914.
Watford could have taken the lead in the second minute as a Tözsér free-kick was heading for the top corner until Bettinelli got a hand to it and tipped it over. Tözsér took the resulting corner which flew across the goal but nobody could get a touch to it. Deeney received a ball from Tözsér in the box, Troy’s header beat the keeper but was cleared off the line. Fulham won a free-kick in a dangerous position, but McCormack blasted it over the bar. Tözsér threatened again with a powerful shot from outside the area that stung Bettinelli’s palms. Watford took the lead after 15 minutes as we won a free-kick in a dangerous position. Fulham lined up their wall but Abdi hit a low shot between legs and into the bottom corner. Cue crazy celebrations in the away end.
Two minutes later Abdi fed Vydra who was through on goal when Bettinelli took him down. The referee immediately pointed to the spot and brandished a red card at the Fulham keeper. Ruiz was sacrificed for Kiraly who, after all these years, still hasn’t worked out that pajama bottoms are not a good look for a keeper. For his fashion faux pas alone, it was sweet justice that he went the wrong way as Deeney hit the penalty down the middle to put Watford two up. The home side tried to strike back immediately as Christensen broke into the box but Tözsér was on hand to make a brilliant saving tackle. Paredes crossed for Deeney, but he had two defenders in attendance and the ball was taken off his feet. At the other end, McCormack hit a cross towards Rodallega, but Angella was on hand to turn it out for a corner. At this point the Watford fans started a chant of “We’ll bounce when we want” which we did in the rather rickety stand. This chant continued in various forms throughout the game and the exercise, in addition to the goals, ensured that I felt nice and warm all evening.
On the field, a through ball was played to Tözsér, with two defenders on him it looked as though any chance of a shot was gone but he continued to challenge, so the ball came off a defender and Kiraly had to scramble to prevent a corner. A lovely passing move finished with Tözsér feeding Deeney whose shot was deflected over the bar. Watford’s third goal came on 36 minutes as a Cathcart shot was blocked, Munari played it back in for Deeney who beat the defence and knocked it past Kiraly. Munari played a lovely ball to Vydra who shot first time and Kiraly had to make a smart save to keep it out. I was very happy to see Matej try the early shot as he only does that when he’s feeling confident and a confident Vydra is a joy to watch. He took the corner himself, but Cathcart headed over the bar. When the announcement of time added on was made, I was rather sad that it was no longer Diddy David Hamilton’s dulcet tones on the tannoy. Anya had the ball in the net in injury time, but the offside flag was up.
At half time, there was unconfined joy in the away end. That was, until I caught up with Don Fraser who said he’d like a fourth goal to calm his nerves! The Hornets duly obliged, five minutes into the second half, but I have to admit that I didn’t see the strike as Almen Abdi was behind the pillar when he hit the shot which I did see hitting the back of the net. I’m told it was a rather good strike. One of the guys sitting behind us came back into the stand and jokingly asked if he’d missed anything. It was a tad ironic that he had a better view of the goal in the concourse than I did from the stands. Abdi could have had his hat trick as Vydra beat a defender on the right, crossed to Anya who played the ball back but Almen shot just wide. Tözsér was the next to test Kiraly as he picked up a short corner from Vydra, but the keeper cleared. The home side made a rare foray into the Watford box but Rodallega’s shot was blocked.
On 65 minutes, Jokanovic replaced Vydra with Forestieri, much to the dismay of the Czech striker. There was a scare for the visitors as we gave the ball away to McCormack who was taken down on the edge of the box. Fortunately the free kick rebounded off the wall. Then Forestieri gave the ball away, it reached Williams who tried a shot from distance that was deflected goalwards, but Gomes got a hand to push it around the post. From the corner the header was easily gathered by Gomes. At this point the Watford fans launched into a chant of “There’s only one Graham Taylor”, that was followed by a few classic chants from the 90s. At first it seemed a bit odd, but we reasoned that it was a flashback to the last time we won at Craven Cottage. There had been a long period of Fulham possession without them creating much, but the Hornets revived. Forestieri should have scored the fifth as he received the ball with only the keeper to beat, but he tried to dribble around Kiraly who stuck out a hand to push the ball off his feet. You could just imagine Vydra on the bench muttering, “I’d have scored that.”
Paredes put in a dangerous cross but Deeney could not connect. With 8 minutes remaining, Tözsér made way for Guedioura. The departing player was given a rapturous send off by the travelling Hornets. Soon after Anya made way for Pudil. Deeney tried a shot from distance that Kiraly saved. Fulham broke down the other end, I was so hoping that we would keep our clean sheet so was very happy to see Rodallega’s shot fly well wide of the far post. In the final minute of the game, we finally achieved vengeance for that horrible defeat on Boxing Day 2000 when Munari played a through ball to Deeney who walloped it past Kiraly for his hat-trick. That was the last action of the game as the referee blew up before the restart.
What an evening. It was a tremendously assured performance. While Fulham were disadvantaged going down to 10 men early on, Watford were already well on top at that point and we certainly made the most of the extra man, constantly harrying the opposition, and giving them no time or space to get back into the game. Abdi was back to his best and Deeney’s recent struggles appear to be over. As if all that wasn’t enough, messages arrived during the game from friends informing me that Sir Nigel Gibbs is coming home to assist Jokanovic. Friday nights don’t get better than that.