Tag Archives: Kurt Zouma

Ben Foster Almost a Hero in Both Boxes

Daryl Janmaat

Our games this season have been mostly Saturday 3pm kick-offs, which has been a bit of a relief, but the visit of Chelsea meant an evening game and the stress that change to the matchday routine causes.  Having a commitment in Hertfordshire on Sunday meant that I decided to drive to Watford and stay over after the game.  This meant that I was leaving home horribly late for a matchday and arriving in Watford around normal kick-off time.  Thankfully, I arrived to very light traffic so knew that I hadn’t made a mistake.  I arrived at the West Herts just as Don was leaving for the ground so got to say Hello and congratulate him on his appearance in the club’s anti hate crime video which I had only caught up with this week.  Our usual crowd were depleted, but Elaine was there having been forced to take a detour for some Christmas shopping when she was alerted to the late kick-off, the news of which had passed her by.

We left the West Herts a bit later than was comfortable so, despite my recurring thought that I should really stay in the pub, I was rushing so that I wouldn’t miss kick-off.  We arrived in Vicarage Road to be greeted with a number of touts and one merchandise stand that had exclusively Chelsea scarves and tat, which irritated me immensely.

Our complaints about the leak in the Rookery roof had led to us being relocated for this game, so we headed for the SEJ stand where our seats were in the area where the players’ families are usually located.  My sister’s opinion when I arrived was, “The view is great, but it is a bit touristy.”

Ben Foster takes a goal kick

Team news was that Quique had made only the one enforced change from the Bournemouth game with Gray replacing the injured Cleverley.  Masina retained his place with Holebas left on the bench.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Kabasele, Dawson, Cathcart; Masina, Chalobah, Doucouré, Janmaat; Pereyra, Deulofeu; Gray.  There appeared to be a change in shape with Pereyra and Deulofeu playing behind Gray who was in the lone striker role.

Prior to kick-off, there was a minute’s silence to remember the fallen as this was the nearest home game to Remembrance Day.

The game did not start well for the Hornets as, in the fifth minute, Jorginho played a lovely defence-splitting pass to Abraham who ran on and finished past Foster.  There was a cheer from a lad sitting behind us, which irritated me immensely, and then Abraham slid to celebrate in front of us and I was moved to suggest to him that he celebrated somewhere else (I’m paraphrasing here).  It was not the start that we wanted or needed.  Chelsea had another chance soon after with a free kick from Mount that flew over the bar.  Ten minutes into the game, after it had been clear for a while that Cathcart was struggling, he went down needing treatment.  It was a concerning sight.

Mariappa takes a throw-in

Watford’s first goal attempt came on 14 minutes when a ball rebounded to Pereyra, he unleashed a shot but Kepa, in the Chelsea goal, was equal to it.  Abraham had a chance to increase Chelsea’s lead after a shot from Mount was deflected into his path, but this time Foster made a great save from close range.  From a corner Pulisic was left alone and Foster made a brilliant save to tip the header wide.  Twenty minutes into the game, Cathcart was unable to continue and was replaced with Mariappa.  This is the fourth game in a row that we have been forced into an early change.  There was a rare Watford attack as Janmaat released Gray, but Tomori made a tackle to stop the shot.  Then Chalobah tried a shot from distance, but, again, Tomori was on hand this time making a headed clearance.  On 38 minutes, the Hornets had a great chance to grab an equaliser as, from a corner, the ball was played out to Deulofeu who hit a lovely shot that curled just wide of the far post.  The Hornets had another late chance in the half with a shot from Doucouré which was blocked.  At the other end, Foster prevented the visitors extending their lead before half time as he tipped a shot from Mount onto the crossbar.

Steve Sherwood, the half time guest

So, despite going behind so early, we reached half time only a goal down thanks to some heroics from Foster.  It was also encouraging to note that the attacking play had been a little more promising late in the half.  The first half time interview was with a Kenyan Maasai warrior.  I missed the start, so I am not sure what the context was and why he was a Watford fan, but it was lovely to see him wearing our colours.  Then we were promised a Watford legend.  I saw this guy being escorted round and tried to work out when he had played for us.  I couldn’t put a name to the face and realised why when he was introduced as being from American Airlines, who are a new partner for the club.  He was there to meet a fan who had won two free tickets to any destination in the US.  It turned out that she and her husband were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary, so it was a timely treat.  Finally, I spotted Steve Sherwood coming past us, and all was right with my world.  He is a proper legend.

 

Nathaniel Chalobah

The second half started with a caution for Kabasele for a foul on Emerson.  The Hornets also had the first chance of the half as Deulofeu sped into the Chelsea area and squared for Gray whose shot was blocked.  I was then more than a little distracted as Seb Prödl had appeared and taken a seat behind us for the second half.  How on earth was I supposed to concentrate on the game?  The visitors threatened again as Willian broke forward and squared for Mount whose powerful shot drew a decent save from Foster.  Chelsea scored their second goal ten minutes into the half, a through ball released Abraham who cut the ball back to Pulisic who finished from six yards out.  It was a simple goal and a frustrating one.  The visitors had a chance to increase their lead further as Pulisic had a shot across goal, but Foster was able to get a foot to it to keep it out.  Then a cross from Azpilicueta was cleared to Kovacic whose shot was straight at Foster.  Chelsea should have had a third when a cross-cum-shot from Kovacic reached Abraham, but he was unable to turn it in.  Watford made their second substitution half-way through the second half bringing Hughes on in place of Chalobah.  Nate tried to head straight for the dugout, but the referee indicated that he should leave the field on the GT side of the ground.  This had the benefit (for him) of sending him past the Chelsea fans who greeted him with warm applause.

Deulofeu waits to take the penalty

Janmaat was booked for a foul on Pulisic before putting a cross over for Hughes whose header had no power and was easily dealt with by Kepa.  Chelsea had another decent chance with a shot from Mount, but Foster dropped to make the save.  When the board went up for Watford’s final substitution indicating that Janmaat was to make way for Femenía, boos rang out through Vicarage Road.  The boos stopped long enough for Janmaat to be cheered as he left the field, but started again as Femenía was introduced, and Quique was serenaded with “You don’t know what you’re doing.”  The boos were clearly born of frustration at Quique swapping full backs when we were two goals down and Success was sitting on the bench.  Even so, it seemed unfair on Femenía as he took the brunt of the boos.  There was then an extraordinary occurrence.  Deulofeu broke into the box, was challenged and the ball went just the wrong side of the post.  The referee indicated a goal kick, while we were shouting for a corner.  Then it became apparent that the referee was checking with the VAR.  Surely VAR don’t make decisions regarding corners.  Then it came up on the big screen “VAR checking penalty”.  I took this with a pinch of salt as there was no way that it would be awarded to us.  The decision took an age to come through and finally, the big screen announced the penalty and the referee pointed to the spot.  It turned out that Jorginho was adjudged to have tripped Geri as he tried to take the shot.  Having seen footage of it, there was contact, but it was nowhere near as clear cut as the challenge at Spurs which wasn’t given.  There was disbelief around us.  “We only wanted a corner.”  Deulofeu stepped up but had to wait an age to take it as Azpilicueta continued to argue with the ref.  When Geri finally got the chance to take the shot, he sent the keeper the wrong way and, suddenly and unexpectedly, Watford were back in the game.

No time to celebrate, Deulofeu returns the ball for the restart

The next booking for the Hornets went to Dawson for a robust challenge on Emerson.  It looked like a decent tackle to win the ball, but the man went down due to the challenge and those tackles are sadly no longer permitted.  Lampard made his first change bringing Hudson-Odoi on for Pulisic.  Watford were looking to draw level when Masina tried a shot from distance, but it was nowhere near the target.  With two minutes left on the clock, Batshuayi replaced Abraham.  He has scored every time he has faced the Hornets, so Mariappa was taking no chances and was booked for pulling him back.  The visitors won a late free kick, which Jorginho delayed until the referee cautioned him for time wasting.  Batshuayi was determined to maintain his goal scoring record against the Hornets so went on a dangerous run but his shot was blocked by Masina.  Pleasingly, Watford were continuing to attack, the next chance came from Doucouré who went on a run and took an early shot, but it was blocked.  Doucouré had another chance when he met a cross from Deulofeu, but his header was blocked.  Chelsea made their last substitution in time added on as James came on for Willian who dawdled off the field.  Watford had a couple of late chances to snatch a point.  First, Masina met a cross from Femenía with a header that flew wide of the near post.  Then, in the last minute of the game, Doucouré was fouled by Mount, who was booked for his trouble.  Foster came up for the free kick.  Deulofeu’s delivery was flicked on by Doucouré and we were all on our feet as Foster’s diving header looked to have won us a point, but Kepa managed to keep it out and the final whistle went on another defeat for the Hornets.

Gathering to defend a set piece

We headed back to the West Herts for a post-match drink where we were joined by a colleague of Jacque’s who is a Chelsea fan and was quite complimentary about the Hornets.  I have to say that it was a much better performance than midweek, but we are still far too weak up front.  I have my doubts about whether Success is the answer, but at least it would have shown some attacking intent to have brought him on late in the game.  Instead, Gray struggled again.  However, I have to say that Foster’s late header meant I left Vicarage Road with a huge smile on my face.

While we didn’t expect anything from this game, as the current Chelsea team are playing rather well, the wait for a win is becoming increasingly concerning.  We are not cut adrift yet, but we desperately need a win to kick start our season before it is too late.  We now have a run of games from which we should be expected to pick up some points, starting with the trip to Carrow Road on Friday.  It is the birthday of Amy, one of the Norfolk ‘Orns, next weekend, so they will be out in force.  It promises to get very messy off the pitch, we can only hope that the lads on the pitch give her a birthday to remember (in a good way).

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.

Goalless but Happy on a Cold Night in Stoke

Javi Gracia takes charge of his first league game for Watford

Why is it that when you are taking the afternoon off work, nobody speaks to you until a couple of minutes before you are due to leave and then it is a crisis that has to be dealt with?  I must have appeared very rude as I packed my bag and changed into my walking shoes while answering the questions coming my way, but I had a train to catch.

Once I left the office, it was a nice easy journey to Stoke, and having opted to travel first class, there was the delight of a glass of wine with my late lunch.  When I arrived at the hotel, I was happy to see a number of regulars milling around the foyer and the bar.  I was soon joined by my companions for the evening and we headed for the pub.  The pre-match pub at Stoke is lovely.  In previous years it has had a sign indicating that it is home fans only (not that we have ever been turned away).  That was missing on this occasion and, as always, there was a nice mix of home and away fans present.  One of the main topics of conversation was the dreadful behaviour of the Watford fans at Southampton and the belief that we wouldn’t be seeing that section of the support on a cold night in Stoke.

We set off for the ground in plenty of time.  I must admit that the walk along the towpath isn’t the most picturesque in daylight.  On a dark Winter’s evening, there was nothing to see but the lights of the stadium which shone in the distance welcoming us.

Challenging at a corner

Team news was that Gracia had made four changes for his first game in the Premier League giving a debut to Deulofeu in place of Carrillo, with Deeney, Cleverley and Prödl coming in for Gray, Watson and Janmaat.  So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Mariappa, Kabasele, Prödl, Holebas; Doucouré, Cleverley; Deulofeu, Capoue, Richarlison; Deeney.

Watford started brightly as a cross from Holebas was met by Prödl, but Butland was equal to the shot.  The first chance for the home side came as a cross from Adam was flicked wide by Diouf.  Watford had a great shout for a penalty as Deulofeu appeared to be thrown to the ground in the box, but the referee saw no infringement.  Then Richarlison pulled the ball back for Cleverley whose shot was over the bar.  The first booking of the game was earned by Kabasele for a push on Shaqiri.  Stoke earned their first booking soon after when Adam was cautioned for a trip on Richarlison.  At this point in the game, I couldn’t help but notice how different the crowd were from Saturday.   Lots of positive chants in support of our team and, on transfer deadline day, there was a lot of love for Deeney and the fact that he would finish the season as a Watford player.  The home side had a great chance to open the scoring as a quick break finished with a shot from Adam that was stopped by a brilliant block from Mariappa, Choupo-Moting picked up the loose ball and curled a shot just wide of the far post.

Deulofeu makes his debut

It was then Watford’s turn to break forward and Butland needed two attempts to gather the cross from Holebas.  Bauer was the next to be cautioned for a nasty tackle on Cleverley.  His reaction was pure outrage pointing out that he had played the ball (as well as the man).  Utterly ridiculous.  A decent free-kick from Holebas was headed goalwards by Doucouré, but Adam managed to clear the shot off the line.  The resultant corner from Holebas bounced off the crossbar.  Watford threatened again when Cleverley picked up a loose ball in midfield, he played a square ball to Doucouré whose weak shot was easy for Butland.  The final chance of the half fell to the Hornets as Deulofeu broke forward and crossed for Richarlison whose shot flew over the bar.

As the players walked towards the tunnel in the corner by the away fans for the half time break, they were cheered off the pitch.  It had been a much better performance than of late, with considerably more effort and energy on show.  Deulofeu had made a lively debut, Mariappa had done very well fitting in at right back and even Capoue had put in a decent shift.

Deeney and Doucoure in the Watford box

The first action of the second half was a booking for Holebas for a foul on Diouf.  Adam took the free kick, his low shot was easy for Karnezis.  There was another booking when Kabasele was knocked to the ground by Diouf.  I didn’t see the foul, but a number of comments post-match indicated that his reaction to the contact was over the top, which was interesting as the other Watford players reacted as if it had been a nasty challenge.  A lovely Watford move started with a break by Doucouré, who found Deulofeu, he flicked the ball on to Richarlison whose shot was deflected wide.  From the corner there was a total mishit from Deulofeu, allowing Stoke to break down the other end where Allen shot over the target.  Stoke made a substitution just before the hour mark replacing Adam with Crouch.  We had Karnezis to thank for keeping the game goalless as he pulled off a superb double save, first from Shaqiri, then the rebound from Crouch.  The Stoke substitute was having a lively start to the game and, soon after, he got on the end of a cross from Diouf but was forced to turn it wide under pressure from Mariappa.  Watford’s first substitution saw Richarlison make way for Gray.  I have to say that the young Brazilian appeared devastated at being taken off.  The Watford substitute was soon involved in the action as he played the ball to Doucouré whose shot was stopped by a great block from Shawcross.

Mapps takes a free kick

Watford’s next substitution was enforced as Pereyra came on for Cleverley who had appeared to go down with a hamstring injury.  The Stoke fans were less than sympathetic yelling at him for being a cheat.  Charming!  Watford continued to look for the breakthrough as Doucouré won the ball in the midfield before finding Pereyra whose shot was deflected for a corner.  There was an even better chance in the next move after Deulofeu beat a couple of players before the ball found its way to Pereyra but, again, Butland was equal to the strike, pushing it out for a corner.  The set piece was played out to Doucouré who shot wide of the target.  There was a late change for each side as Berahino replaced Diouf and Carrillo came on for Deulofeu, who went off to appreciative applause from the travelling Hornets.  The last chance of the game fell to the home side as a corner from Shaqiri was met by the head of Shawcross, but it was an easy save for Karnezis and the game finished goalless.

Kabasele and Prodl

It was a game of little quality, but plenty of action and endeavour and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  At the end of the game, the players were warmly applauded and Pereyra and Kabasele, who had been abused at the end of the previous game, handed over their shirts to smiling fans.  While a goalless draw at Stoke wouldn’t be everyone’s idea of a good night out, it was a point well won and I left the ground with a big smile on my face.

After a swift glass of red at the pub, we headed back to the hotel and spent a late night in the lounge with a large number of Watford fans.  Everyone in attendance had thoroughly enjoyed the performance and were happy to have been part of a more positive crowd.  One fan had actually contemplated staying at home due to the unpleasantness of the crowd on Saturday.  Thankfully he hadn’t and had his faith in his fellow fans restored.

The rest of the season will not be easy but there were more than enough positives in that performance and, if we all pull together, we could have an end to the season that is as much fun as the start was and that is something to look forward to.

Stymied by Stoke

The piper plays Flowers of the Forest

Back to Vicarage Road again and, after a busy week, it was lovely to sit down with the crowd for the pre-match pint.  I bumped into someone that I hadn’t seen for a while, a regular who had almost given up in the dark days at the end of Mazzarri’s reign.  He was all smiles again, thoroughly enjoying the football as we all are.  I must admit that, going into this game I was less confident than last week against Chelsea.  There is something about Stoke and their negative style of play that made me think that we could struggle.

Since it was the last game before Remembrance Day, there was a piper on the pitch to play Flowers of the Forest.  This was followed by a minute’s silence.  Both were observed impeccably by the crowd.

Team news was two changes for the Hornets with Capoue and Carrillo coming in for Mariappa and Pereyra.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Holebas, Britos, Kabasele, Femenía; Capoue, Cleverley, Doucouré; Richarlison, Deeney, Carrillo.

Rare first half action in the Stoke box

There was a slow start to the game, with Watford having most of the possession but being given little space by the visitors.  So it was a bit of a shock when Stoke took the lead on 16 minutes after a corner from Shaqiri reached Fletcher on the edge of the box from where he powered a shot through the bodies in the box and past Gomes.  You couldn’t help thinking that, having taken the lead, Stoke would make it difficult for us.  There was certainly little in the way of goal attempts in the half.  The first half chance came as Holebas played a ball into the box for Deeney, who was unable to reach it.   A Cleverley corner was headed on by Britos, to Capoue who tried and failed to finish, but was in an offside position anyway.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came in the 38th minute as Cleverley played a lovely ball to Deeney who tried to place his shot, which drifted wide.

That was it for the first half.  The whistle was greeted with a few boos from the Rookery.  Who are these people?  It hadn’t been pretty, but any football had been played by the home side.

The beautiful game did make an appearance during the half time penalty shoot-out when a young girl from Holy Rood floated a perfect chip over the keeper.  Sign her up!

Capoue and Holebas prepare for a short corner

The second half started at a cracking pace.  The first chance came as Doucouré played a gorgeous ball to Femenía who went on a run and crossed for Deeney, but Shawcross got a block in to prevent the shot.  The next chance followed the same pattern starting with a beautiful ball from Doucouré and finishing with Shawcross clearing before Deeney could shoot.  Next a cross from Holebas was flicked on by Deeney to Capoue, who couldn’t quite reach it to apply the finish.  Watford came closer still as Holebas played a cross-field pass to Carrillo who cut the ball back to Richarlison, but the angle was too acute for the Brazilian and his shot hit the side netting.  The first substitution came just before the hour mark as Gray replaced Capoue.  Stoke could have increased their lead when, completely against the run of play, there was a forward break from Sobhi, he cut the ball back to Allen who shot just wide of the target when he should have done better.  Watford continued to threaten as Cleverley advanced and put in a decent cross, but Butland’s fist reached the ball just before Richarlison’s head.  Another chance for the young Brazilian went begging as a cross from Britos reached him, but he couldn’t get a proper connection for the header and it flew wide.  Watford also should have done better with the next chance as a cross from Carrillo reached Gray, but he mishit the shot and it went wide of the near post.

Fisticuffs by the dugouts

Stoke’s first change came as Berahino replaced Sobhi in a substitution that seemed to take an age (they had been wasting time from soon after they scored).  Watford’s next chance came from a corner, but Doucouré’s shot was blocked and the ball was deflected over the target.  The second substitution for the Hornets came as Carrillo was replaced by Hughes, making his debut for the Hornets.  A rare attack by the visitors finished as Choupo-Moting shot straight at Gomes.  Watford had another decent chance as a lovely ball into the box from Doucouré was flicked on by the head of Gray, but Deeney couldn’t reach it to turn it in.  There was danger at the other end as a cross from Shaqiri wasn’t cut out but, even as Gomes hesitated, he did enough to cause Berahino to shoot wide.  Watford threatened again as Gray met a cross from Cleverley with a header that flew on to the roof of the net.  Soon after, it all kicked off on the sideline.  I don’t know what provoked it, but it seemed to start with Doucoure and Diouf who, in photographic evidence obtained from a friend in the SEJ stand, squared up to each other before everyone else got involved, including some members of the Stoke coaching staff, but it was only the initial perpetrators who were cautioned.  After the dust settled, Stoke made another substitution replacing Shaqiri with Adam.  There was another scuffle after Stoke had put the ball out when one of their players went down with cramp in their box.  It had appeared to be an attempt to waste time and the ball was, quite rightly in my opinion, not returned to them.  This incensed Allen who went for Deeney and it all got rather unpleasant.  The two men were booked, but the television pictures of the altercation suggest that Deeney may incur further punishment for his reaction, which would be unfortunate.  Watford had one last chance to win a point as Hughes found Gray, but the shot was deflected for a corner.  As it was late into time added on, Gomes came up to join the attack and was nearly caught out as Stoke broke upfield, Gomes was unable to tackle Adam, who advanced with an open goal to aim at but found the far post instead, much to the amusement of the Rookery faithful.

Doucoure on the ball

There were boos again at the final whistle, although most of these appeared to be aimed at the opposition.  Richarlison, Britos and Holebas had collapsed to the turf on full time with the latter staying prone with his shirt over his head for some considerable time.

It was a disappointing afternoon.  The football was horrible but, credit to Stoke, they played their game very well and we didn’t play ours.  The second half was much better as Watford attacked at pace, but the Stoke defence were very well organized and Butland didn’t have a save to make.  Special credit must go to Zouma, who had a great game keeping Richarlison very quiet.

As we walked up Occupation Road, a familiar face passed us, and I couldn’t help wondering if Pereyra would have made a difference, but it was one of those afternoons.

Back in the West Herts and the post-match analysis focussed on how horrible Stoke were to watch.  All very true, but you have to find a way past these teams and we failed to do that.  The positive is that this is one of very few games that have not been entertaining so far this season.  So let us put this one behind us and look forward to Goodison Park next Sunday.

 

A Thrilling Goalless Draw

 

Ben Watson lining up a free kick

Ben Watson lining up a free kick

When Guus Hiddink took over at Chelsea, just before our game on Boxing Day, I certainly didn’t expect that when our home game came around they would still be unable to catch us in the table regardless of the result.  Since this was a televised game, we were able to watch the build-up on TV in the West Herts, but unable to hear what Flores had to say in the pre-match interview although the pictures were rather evocative showing his flamenco dancing aunt and plenty of Flores hugs.

Team news was that Flores had made just the two forced changes, with Britos unwell and Aké ineligible, Holebas and Prödl were in to replace them.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart Prödl, Paredes, Capoue, Watson, Behrami, Jurado, Deeney and Ighalo.

Watford started well as a promising attack from Costa was stopped by Prödl, his forward pass to Deeney was headed down to Ighalo whose shot was deflected for a corner.  Costa’s reputation goes before him, so it was pleasing from a Watford perspective to see an early dramatic fall ignored by Mike Dean, leaving him sitting on the turf while Watford broke back upfield.  He stayed on his feet in his next move and broke into the box, but Cathcart was on hand to block.

Capoue hits a free kick

Capoue hits a free kick

At the other end, Jurado released Capoue who won a corner from which there was a bit of a goalmouth scramble with three attempted shots, but the ball ended up in the arms of Courtois.  The first booking of the game went to Prödl who was penalized for a late challenge on Oscar.  A dangerous free kick from Holebas was deflected in the direction of Capoue but Courtois gathered.  The first sight of Watford substitutes warming up is usually greeted with polite applause, but the reaction this evening was more enthusiastic than usual due to the presence of our new signing Mario Suárez.  There were some hopeful shouts for a penalty from the home fans as Jurado appeared to be tripped in the box by Matic, but all appeals were waved away.  The Watford forwards combined as Deeney found Ighalo in the box, but his shot was blocked.  There followed a lovely sequence of passes around the midfield from the Hornets which drew cheers from the fans before Holebas broke forward and crossed towards Ighalo who was unable to connect.  Ighalo then battled into the box but his shot was blocked for a corner which was taken by Watson and met by the head of Prödl, but Courtois leapt to catch.  There was another chance for the Hornets as Deeney flicked the ball on to Ighalo but the Nigerian didn’t connect properly so it was easy for the keeper to gather.  Jurado, who had been impressive, beat a couple of players before feeding Capoue who unleashed a fierce shot that drew an instinctive save from Courtois.

Deeney on the ball

Deeney on the ball

A Watford free-kick was cleared only as far as Jurado who tried an overhead kick that was easily caught.  At the other end a long pass from Fabregas released Costa whose shot was deflected wide.  Chelsea had another chance with a shot from Oscar that was blocked by Prödl.  Then a moment of brilliance from Ighalo, who looked to be in a hopeless situation with two Chelsea players on him, but somehow managed to escape upfield before letting himself down by playing a terrible ball that was intercepted.  “That’s why he doesn’t pass” was the conclusion of a wit behind me.  With 5 minutes remaining of the half the Chelsea fans could finally be heard, but they were belting out a lengthy song about Frankie Lampard, which seemed rather odd under the circumstances.  Another break into the box by Holebas ended when he was tripped, but nothing given.  Then there was danger for the Hornets as Paredes played a poor pass to Capoue who failed to control which allowed Oscar to escape with the ball before finding Azpilicueta who, much to the relief of the home fans, shot wide of the far post.  The fourth official indicated a minute of added time at the end of the half, but that was extended considerably following an off the ball incident between Costa and Paredes.  I didn’t see what happened, but the Ecuadorian had collapsed holding his face and many around me were calling for a red card.  Costa had to be calmed down by a number of people, including Flores, and, eventually, both players ended in the referee’s book.  The post match consensus seemed to be that Paredes had over dramatized the contact.  Much as I dislike that aspect of the game, it was hard to sympathize with Costa, a definite case of the biter bit.

Ighalo preparing for a corner

Ighalo preparing for a corner

When the half time whistle finally sounded, Watford had been the better team.  We were playing some lovely football, but I was particularly pleased to see that our defence was organized and joining with the midfield to harry the Chelsea players and not allow them to get comfortable on the ball.  Also, Jurado, who is a marmite player for the Watford fans, was combining really well with Ighalo and Deeney.  It had all been very pleasing apart from our inability to score.

The half time draw was carried out by Nathan Aké.  The usual interview was rather engaging, so I think he was a little taken aback when Tim finished by asking whether if Chelsea got relegated there was a clause in his contract that allowed us to sign him permanently.  He laughed that off, but we can only hope.

Gomes had nothing to do in the first half, but was called into action early in the second period as a shot from Mikel took a nasty deflection and appeared to be looping in when the Brazilian leaped to tip it over the bar.  At the other end, Behrami’s pass towards Ighalo was met by Zouma who could only head clear as far as Deeney whose volley was just wide of the target.

Cathcart and Behrami ready for a free kick

Cathcart and Behrami ready for a free kick

Holebas made a menacing run into the box, exchanged passes with Capoue but his run gave him too narrow an angle and he shot into the side netting.  Watford looked to be in trouble as Gomes left his goal to try to stop Costa on the byline, but the striker succeeded in cutting the ball back to Oscar who, thankfully, put his shot wide.  There was a lovely break from Jurado, but his cross was too deep, flying over Ighalo’s head, and there was no other Watford player in the box to meet it.  At the other end, a clearance dropped to Matic whose shot was easily gathered by Gomes.  For Watford, Holebas found Ighalo who was prevented from doing any damage by a challenge from Terry.  At the other end, Costa was equally frustrated by Prödl, who was having an excellent game.  Just after the hour mark, Flores made two substitutions in quick succession.  First Abdi replaced Jurado, who had been superb so went off to loud cheers.  Then Nyom replaced Paredes.  Oscar tried to threaten the Watford goal as he cut inside and shot, but Gomes made the save.  Chelsea’s first change came with 20 minutes to go and saw Matic replaced by Hazard.  The Belgian was immediately involved, playing a ball to Ivanovic whose shot was tipped around the post by Gomes.  The Watford keeper was having a much busier second half and had to be alert again as Willian found Hazard, but Gomes was out to save at his feet.  My nerves were becoming a little frayed at this point at the possibility of Chelsea nicking the game, and were severely tested when Hazard crossed to the far post but, thankfully, Costa shot into the side netting.  Flores gave new signing Suárez a brief run out as he came on to replace Capoue to great cheers.  Chelsea nearly won it at the death as a cross from Willian was headed goalwards by Costa.  From the opposite end of the ground it looked in all the way until a purple blur appeared and there was Gomes flying through the air to make a superb save and ensure that the Man of the Match award went his way.

Man of the Match Gomes

Man of the Match Gomes

So a second point won from the defending Champions this season in the most entertaining 0-0 you will ever see.  While the visitors had the better of the second half, as the Hornets tired, a draw was probably a fair result.  It had been a tremendous performance from the Watford lads who never looked out of place against their supposedly more illustrious opponents.  The memory of watching Costa charging into the box to be met by Cathcart who then calmly took the ball off his feet still makes me smile.  The point took us to 9th in the table and we are 12 points clear of the drop zone with 14 games remaining, which is a position that would have been beyond my wildest dreams at the start of the season.

When I got back from the game, I was finally able to watch the pre-match interview with Flores and fill in the blanks.  It didn’t disappoint as he spoke of the pride in his family and the emotion when his lovely aunt was commemorated with a Google doodle in Spain.  He spoke of the fact that, with many nationalities and mentalities in the squad, you have to touch the players’ hearts to make them most effective.  His last comment of the piece was in relation to his time at Watford and he said, “This is the right place to be happy.”  And so say all of us, Quique.

A View from the Bridge

Angella late to the pre-match huddle

Angella late to the pre-match huddle

I love the third round of the FA Cup as it can give an opportunity to play unfamiliar opposition and visit a new ground.  I was on a flight to the US when the draw was made.  On landing I eagerly checked who we’d be playing and my heart sank when I saw it was Chelsea.  How terribly dull.  Still, the pre-match pub had good beer and decent pies and we had a lovely stroll through Brompton Cemetery on the way to the ground.  There we were met by a ridiculous security cordon.  There were so many checking the tickets of those trying to enter the away end that it was almost impossible to find a space to walk between them.  Inside the stadium, I marveled at the array of banners declaring the support of fans from all over the place.  The Cornish flag emblazoned with “East Cornwall” was particularly bizarre.  Oddly enough there were no banners for Chelsea fans that actually come from London.  I much preferred Stamford Bridge when we stood on that open terrace with the hut selling wagon wheels at the back.  It had a bit of character then.

Team news was that there were three changes from the Cardiff game with Bond, Deeney and Tözsér coming in for the injured Gomes, the departed Guedioura and the rested Abdi.  The starting line-up was Bond, Angella, Cathcart, Hoban, Pudil, Forestieri, Tözsér, Munari, Paredes, Deeney & Ighalo.  There was a nice touch from the announcer when he welcomed Jokanovic back to Stamford Bridge.

Challenging for a ball into the box

Challenging for a ball into the box

The first five minutes were awful to watch for a Watford fan as Chelsea played the ball about between themselves as if the Watford players were not there.  Pete commented that we should have kicked off because at least that would have meant a touch.  The home side’s first goal attempt came as a free kick reached Cahill but he volleyed it over the bar.  Thankfully, the visitors soon began to get a foothold in the game and had their first shot on goal with a Tözsér attempt from distance that was easily held by Cech.  Soon after a Tözsér free-kick was headed clear by Drogba.  At the other end a shot from Remy curled past the top corner.  Paredes was booked for jumping into Schürrle much to the disgust of those around me, but it had been a silly challenge.  Deeney tried a shot from distance but Cech was behind it.  Chelsea’s first on target attempt was a decent one as Drogba got his head to a cross from Remy, Bond dropped and did well to keep it out.  Drogba held the ball up and played it square to Schürrle who fired over the target.  Just before half time, Forestieri went on a run into the box but his shot was deflected for a corner.  Watford could have taken the lead on the stroke of half time as Pudil was released and crossed for Ighalo who disappointingly scuffed his shot wide of the near post.

So we reached half time having matched Chelsea, actually having the majority of the three on-target shots.  Mourinho was clearly not impressed with his side’s first half showing as he replaced Schürrle and Oscar with Willian and Diego Costa.

Troy wants the ball

Troy wants the ball

Ten minutes into the half, there was a brilliant reaction save from Cech who stuck out a foot to prevent a Deeney shot deflecting into the far corner.  Chelsea took the lead a couple of minutes later as Willian got the ball on the edge of the box and looped it into the top corner.  Watford tried to strike back immediately as Deeney exchanged passes with Ighalo and unleashed a shot, but Cech was behind it.  Jokanovic made his first substitution replacing Ighalo with Vydra.  Watford’s second booking came as Tözsér knocked Ramires over in an innocuous looking coming together.  A free-kick from distance looped into Bond’s arms.  Chelsea increased their lead on 69 minutes as a shot from Costa was charged down, the ball dropped to Remy who hit it past Bond.  Forestieri, who had been guilty of some poor decision making throughout the game, hit a shot from the edge of the box when a pass to Vydra may have been the better option.  Chelsea’s third came on 73 minutes as Zouma got on the end of a cross to the back post and headed it past Bond.  Jokanovic immediately made his second substitution replacing Tözsér with Abdi.

Abdi lines up a free-kick

Abdi lines up a free-kick

There were loud shouts for a penalty both on the pitch and in the away end as a cross from Forestieri appeared to be handled by Zouma, but the referee waved the appeals away.  Watford pushed for a goal as a shot from Vydra was pushed over by Cech who punched the resulting corner clear while Angella challenged.  Watford’s final change saw Murray come on for Munari.  Chelsea had a great chance for a fourth as Costa hit a free kick over the wall but Bond got a hand to it to push the ball clear.  In the final minute Cathcart exchanged passes with Vydra but his shot was over the target.

While the result may have been expected, the performance had been excellent and the score flattered our hosts.  The Watford fans had been on their feet singing for 90 minutes so deserved the gratitude of the players who came over to thank us.  I looked beyond them to see no Chelsea player on the pitch and the home stands deserted.  What a shame to be so complacent that a 3-0 win is not worthy of celebration.  I’m glad we have that over and done with.  We can now concentrate on the league and look forward to a trip to Huddersfield on Saturday.