Tag Archives: Leighton Baines

Cruel Defeat in the Z-Cars Derby

Poppy display at the box office

One of my oldest and dearest friends lives on Merseyside, so I took the opportunity of the game away at Everton to spend a weekend by the seaside.  Saturday afternoon we had a lovely walk along the beach to Southport finishing in the Arts Centre there.  As we enjoyed some refreshments, it was approaching 3pm and I had my usual panic that I was supposed to be somewhere else.  My phone took an age to connect and confirm that ours was not one of the games that had kicked off and I could happily spend the rest of my afternoon wandering around the exhibitions.

Having heard of the travel chaos on the West Coast line on Sunday, it was a relief to have a short trip on local rail to meet up with friends.  The pre-match pub appeared surprisingly empty until I made my way to the back room and found it packed with Hornets.  At the appointed time, we piled out of the pub on to the bus to the ground, where we found ourselves sitting with some young Everton fans who bemoaned their season so far and, a little surprisingly for me, the loss of Tom Cleverley.

On arrival at Goodison Park, the steward outside the turnstiles was lovely, although I suspect that her decision not to perform a thorough search of my bag was influenced by my pointing out that my huge rucksack was full of dirty clothes.  After taking our seats, I was rather perturbed to see a man in a Sparta Prague hat a couple of rows behind me.  Talk about a bad omen.  I fixed him with a very cross stare, but he remained oblivious.

Will Hughes making his first league start for the Hornets

Team news was two changes from the Stoke game with Hughes making his first league start for the Hornets in place of Capoue and Gray in for the suspended Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Kabasele, Britos, Holebas; Cleverley, Doucouré; Carrillo, Hughes, Richarlison; Gray.  As the Watford team was announced, Cleverley’s name was cheered by the home fans, which was rather lovely, as was seeing the team run out to Z-cars at an away ground.  I know that piece of music has more significance in Liverpool than Watford, but it still makes me feel at home.

Just before kick-off, they held a minute’s silence for Remembrance Day, but the accompanying rendition of the last post caused some confusion meaning the crowd erupted when the music finished while the players and officials were still standing with bowed heads.

Once the game kicked off, there was an early chance for the visitors as Femenía crossed for Richarlison who was unable to connect.  There was very little action then until the 21st minute when Everton broke and Gomes reacted well to stop the shot from Baines.  The home side had another chance after Carrillo lost out in midfield allowing Davies to advance on goal, but he decided to shoot from distance and his effort was high and wide.  It was Watford’s turn to attack then as Hughes played the ball out to Femenía whose low cross went begging.  The Spaniard then went for goal himself but his shot from distance flew well over the bar.

Celebrating Richarlison’s goal with an over- attentive steward

Watford’s best chance of the half came from a lovely move as Gray held off a defender, turned and advanced before feeding Richarlison who beat the goalkeeper, but his shot, from an acute angle, hit the side netting.  Doucouré was the next to threaten but, in the process, he lost his 100% record of scoring from shots on target as Pickford made the save.

As has been the case a number of times this season, it had been a rather dull first half.  The Hornets had a good spell late on, but didn’t test Pickford in the Everton goal.

Watford started the second half brilliantly as Gray fed Carrillo who passed to Richarlison, the young Brazilian rounded the keeper and found the net to send the away fans crazy, with the possible exception of those who had not returned from getting their half time refreshments.  The visitors threatened again as Holebas crossed from a deep position, but Gray was unable to connect.  Jose then tried a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  Everton really should have equalized after Niasse beat Britos and crossed for Sigurdsson, but Gomes pulled off a great save to frustrate the Icelander, Rooney hit a follow-up shot, but Gomes was equal to that as well.  Sadly the Watford keeper was injured while performing his heroics.  He was down receiving treatment for a considerable time before emerging with a bandage around his head.  Brief hopes that he would carry on were dashed when he was escorted to the dugout and replaced by Karnezis, making his Watford debut.  Everton also made their first substitution at this time, replacing Baningime with Lookman.

Gray jostling for position in the Everton box

The Hornets had a great chance to increase their lead as Gray went on a run and put in a decent cross for Hughes, but Will met it at an angle and couldn’t direct his header towards the goal.  But Watford were not to be denied for long and the second goal came on 63 minutes when Kabasele rose to meet a corner from Holebas and headed home.  At this point, the Everton fans started streaming out and it all looked very positive for the Hornets.  However, there was a note of caution from a young boy behind us who nervously commented that there were 26 minutes left.  I thought that he was rather young to be so fatalistic, but there turned out to be a wise head on those young shoulders as Everton pulled a goal back within minutes.   Niasse advanced towards the Watford box and, for some inexplicable reason, Karnezis decided to come out of his box to meet him, the Everton man skipped around him and was facing an open goal, Kabasele slid in to make a tackle but the ball drifted in to the net.  It has to be said that, had Niasse missed, the ref would have had to give a penalty and Kabasele would probably have been sent off.  It went from bad to worse on 73 minutes as a shot from Kenny was blocked by Holebas for a corner which Baines delivered and Calvert-Lewin (on for Rooney) headed home for the equaliser.

Femenia takes a throw in

Watford’s injury woes continued as Kabasele went down in the Everton box and stayed down as the game continued for some time.  After he finally received treatment, he left the field on a stretcher and Mariappa came on in his place.  Watford pushed to regain the lead and Richarlison should have done better from a Holebas corner, but he headed over the target.  Then Hughes put in a low cross that was blocked when maybe a shot would have been the better option.  Watford had another chance from a corner but this time it was Mariappa who headed wide.  Then disaster struck as Holebas chased Lennon and appeared to slip and take him down just inside the box and the referee pointed to the spot.  Had Gomes still been in goal, I would have hoped for a penalty save, but Baines made no mistake and Watford, from being two goals ahead found themselves going in to time added on a goal down.  When the fourth official indicated that there would be 12 minutes added time, there was no predicting the final score.  Three minutes into injury time, Okaka emerged from the wilderness to replace Hughes, even though Holebas was still limping after the challenge on Lennon (thankfully, he soon ran it off).  The Italian substitute had an opportunity to show Silva what he had been missing as he went for a cross into the box, but Pickford made the save before he could connect.  Watford were given a lifeline as Pickford took Richarlison down in the box.  I was a little surprised when Cleverley stepped up to take the spot kick and totally devastated when he hit it well wide of the target.

Carrillo and Kabasele challenging

The final whistle was met with jubilation from the Everton fans and disbelief from the travelling Hornets.  I am assured that it was a great game for the neutral, for those of us who bleed yellow, it was incredibly painful.  Watford looked to be cruising and would probably have won had Gomes not been injured.  The two penalties pretty much summed up our day.  Conceding an unnecessary penalty due to a player slipping, then being awarded one that was nailed on and failing to covert.

The day didn’t get any better when we arrived back at Lime Street to find that both the train that I was booked on and the previous train (the 18:47, which should have left already) were delayed and there was a massive queue already in place.  By the time that we left Liverpool, the train was transporting those booked on three different services, so was a little cosy.  I found myself surrounded by a Liverpool fan and two Everton fans who, to be fair, couldn’t have been more pleasant.  We were soon joined by Jim White of Sky Sports/Talksport, who was fresh from the Everton boardroom and was pressed by a number of people for his opinions on the managerial rumours that were going around.  He was happy to chat and pose for selfies and it ended up being a very pleasant journey.  I even found myself sharing photos with the lad next to me as he showed one of him (as a small boy) with the last trophy that Everton had won and I dug out an even older one of me before the cup final.

It is very hard to take any conclusions from that game.  The defence didn’t cover themselves in glory, but it was the departure of Gomes that precipitated the collapse.  Had Cleverley not hit such a terrible penalty, we would have left Liverpool with another point (one that I would have been happy with before the game).  So we go into the international break on the back of three defeats and knowing that we will face a West Ham team trying to impress their new manager.  After the wonderful start to the season, the last few games have been a cruel reality check.  It will be very interesting to see if the players have the character to turn it around.  Now what shall I do at 3pm next Saturday?

 

Belgians and Brides

Walter Mazzarri, he bought me a drink!

With the game moved to Friday evening so that Sky could show our match with Chelsea on Monday, Friday morning was spent trying to get everything at work in order so that I could enjoy my afternoon off.  A text from Pete brought my planned departure forward to give me time to meet him for a lunchtime pint in the Doric Arch.  As we queued to board the train we spotted Paolo de Toffol, prompting speculation as to why he hadn’t travelled with the rest of the team on the previous day’s flight.

On checking in to the hotel in Liverpool, I was told that I had been upgraded to a superior room, which meant there was a little gift basket in my room containing chocolate, jelly beans and crisps.  I also had a great view of the Liver Building and the Mersey which was rather lovely.  But we weren’t there for the view so, having dumped our overnight things, we headed for the pre-match pub.  We were not the first to arrive as some of the North-West ‘Orns were already in situ and, as is always the case, our group quickly grew and the beer and conversation flowed.  There has been a lot of discussion about our poor away form lately, but it was still a shock when Andy, who is a regular at our Northern excursions, said that he hadn’t seen us win all season.

Banner in support of Aaron Lennon

When we got off the bus at Goodison Park, the rain was starting so we made a rapid beeline for the turnstiles, an extra motivation being the announcement on social media before the game that “the first drink” would be on Walter this evening.  I have to say that having enjoyed a pint at Euston, red wine in first class on the train and more beer at the pre-match gathering, this was most certainly not my first of the day, but I am not one to pass up a free drink so I picked up my voucher from the steward inside the turnstiles and exchanged it for a (small) bottle of red wine.  The atmosphere in the concourse was particularly jovial with chants of “Beers up, if you love Walter” and “Walter Mazzarri, he bought me a beer.”

On reaching our seats, there was an appreciation of what a great (proper) ground Goodison Park is.  So much nicer than the soulless bowls that so many teams are moving to.  It was also lovely to see a banner in the home stands supporting Aaron Lennon who has been hospitalized due to mental health issues.  I wish him a speedy recovery.

Capoue over to take a corner

Team news was that Mazzarri had made three changes with Holebas, Behrami and Deeney replacing Amrabat, Cleverley (who was ineligible to play against his parent club) and Niang.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kabasele, Prödl, Mariappa; Janmaat, Doucouré, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Okaka and Deeney.

Everton had the first chance of the game with a shot from Barkley but Gomes was down quickly to make the save.  Watford’s first goal attempt came from a corner as Holebas crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked.  The next chance for the home side also came from a corner which Jagielka flicked goalwards needing Gomes to pull off a decent save to keep it out.  Okaka was the next to threaten, going on a run before unleashing a shot that flew wide of near post.  The Hornets nearly got themselves into trouble with a short back pass that Mirallas chased but, thankfully, Gomes was first to the ball.  The rather impressive youngster, Tom Davies (to whom I took an instant dislike, possibly due to his resemblance to Robbie Savage), then hit a cracking shot from distance that Gomes met with a flying save.  A lovely passing move featuring Okaka and Deeney finished with Doucouré shooting straight at Robles.  The Hornets came closer to opening the scoring as a Holebas cross was headed just over by Mariappa.

Waiting for the corner to be taken

Watford’s ridiculous run of injuries to defenders continued when Kabasele went down with an apparent hamstring pull.  Given that we had no central defender on the bench, there was some speculation in the away end about who would replace him, the answer was Zúñiga, who took Kabasele’s place in the back three until Holebas told him not to be ridiculous and swapped places.  Towards the end of the half, a Behrami tackle led to some handbags as Janmaat stupidly got involved until Prödl stepped in and pushed him away.  Both Behrami and Janmaat were booked for their trouble.  Towards the end of the half, Watford won a free kick in a decent position but, instead of directing it goalwards, Capoue chose to pass to Holebas on the wing and any possibility of a goal attempt disappeared.  So we reached the break goalless after an enjoyable half in which the visitors had put on a decent performance.

At half time, there were celebrations on the pitch as the Everton U23s received their trophy for winning Premier League 2.  The stewards then took to the pitch to celebrate being voted best stewards in the Premier League for the eighth year in succession.  An impressive record and, it has to be said, they are rather lovely so I was happy to join the applause.

Zuniga pretends to line up a free kick that Holebas will take

The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as a cross was punched by Gomes to Schneiderlin who belted the ball over the bar.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came as Janmaat exchanged passes with Okaka before feeding Deeney who, under challenge from Jagielka, could only direct his shot just wide of the near post.  But it was the home side who took the lead just before the hour mark, as Barkley picked up the ball and was allowed a free run at goal, Prödl failed to put in a tackle and actually moved away from the shot before it flew past the diving Gomes.  Another frustrating goal to give away.  Everton then had a decent shout for a penalty as Gomes spilled a long-range shot from Mirallas, Lukaku looked ready to pounce but was brought down by Janmaat.  The referee waved play on, but I couldn’t help thinking that Watford got away with that one.  Everton had another chance to increase their lead as Schneiderlin met a corner from Baines, but he headed it over the bar.  Okaka, who was being given no protection by the referee, broke into the box, he was tackled but did very well to win the ball back at which point he was adjudged to have committed a foul, a ridiculous decision.   Holebas picked up his 13th yellow card of the season for complaining about something (nothing new there).  During the game we had been regaled by chants for José from Colin and Flo who were sitting behind us.  “Hole, Hole, Hole, bas bas bas” was good, but “He always wins the ball, he never smiles at all” won my vote.

Deeney and Davies

With 20 minutes to go Mazzarri made another substitution with Amrabat coming on in place of Behrami.  Nordin was in action almost immediately crossing for Okaka, whose goalbound header was blocked.  At the other end, a shot from Lukaku was cleared off the line by Mariappa.  As the travelling Hornets started the 72nd minute chorus of “One Graham Taylor”, it was lovely to see the Everton fans in the block to our left getting to their feet to join in with the applause.  There was then a rather bizarre pitch invasion as a couple of 10 year olds went belting across the pitch towards Robles, they were hugged by the smiling keeper before one ran off behind the goal while the other headed back to his seat in the block next to us to chants of “Sign him up” from the away fans.  They were both escorted from the ground and the stewards doubled up around the perimeter of the pitch.  Watford had a decent chance to equalize as Mariappa met a corner from Capoue with a header that flew just wide.  Into the last 10 minutes of the game and each side made substitutions.  Goalscorer, Barkley, and Mirallas made way for Barry and Koné for the home side while Niang replaced Capoue for the visitors.  Okaka had a great chance to level the score as he received the ball in the box with his back to goal, turned and shot but Robles was equal to it.  Watford continued to push for the equalizer as Niang curled a shot towards the far corner, but Barry got his head in the way to block it.  At the other end Gomes stopped a shot from Valencia.  There was one last attack from the visitors in time added on, but a cross from Amrabat flew over Okaka’s head and the Hornets fell to their fourth defeat in a row.

Challenging in the box

Despite the result, most of the 680 Watford fans who had travelled to Everton appreciated the efforts of the players.  It had been a lively performance which was only let down by the finishing.  Mariappa, who had kept Lukaku pretty quiet after the departure of Kabasele, looked really disappointed as he applauded the fans, and he certainly cheered me up no end by taking his shirt off and giving it to a fan.  Deeney followed suit and gestured to the other players around him to do the same.  Sadly there was one among the travelling fans who thought it appropriate to abuse the players.  There was a look of horror on the faces of the Everton stewards as Deeney crossed the hoardings into the away stand.  He listened to what the fella had to say and then headed over to talk to Flora, one of our young disabled fans, and hand her his boots.  Sadly, Mr Angry couldn’t leave it and carried on abusing the Watford captain at which point he was grabbed by the police and stewards and escorted out of the ground.  On a more pleasant note, as the Everton fans applauded their team on their end of season lap of honour, they also took time to applaud the Watford crowd and we replied in kind.

Behrami versus Barkley

We headed back to the city for a post-match pint.  The highlights of the game were showing in the pub and backed up my impression that Watford had made some decent chances.  We were also engaged in conversation with some Everton fans, all of whom were delightful.  Liverpool really is a fantastic city.

Then it was back to the hotel for the late night shenanigans in the bar.  Notable sights were a woman draped in a Belgian flag, no idea if she was supporting Lukaku and Mirallas or Kabasele.  Then a bride in full white dress appeared to get a round in, leaving the bar with a tray of drinks.  We were then joined by another group of Watford fans, so our attention went back to the post-match analysis which went on until we closed the bar at 3am.

Considering the Everton game in isolation, it would be seen as a decent performance against a good team.  But, at this stage of the season and with the poor run of late, it was just another in a series of disappointing results.  Mazzarri comes in for a lot of criticism, but so many of our defeats have been down to individual mistakes and he cannot be held responsible for that.  With Chelsea having won the league title on Friday evening, we can only hope that they are on the beach by Monday and that Hull don’t beat Palace.  Having to face Manchester City next Sunday needing points just doesn’t bear thinking about.

Much Improved Performance Against the Toffees

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

It seems like a very long time since our trip to Goodison Park for the first game of the season.  At that time, the memory of our last visit (and the Chris Powell ‘handball’) loomed large, but the spirited draw was the first sign that this would be a much more enjoyable season.  Even though we have been on a poor run of late, it is worth remembering that we are guaranteed to finish higher than in our last two seasons at this level and, while we are not mathematically safe from relegation, it looks highly unlikely that we will get dragged into a fight against the drop.  There was some great news prior to the game as we heard that the U18s had won their league.

While we had been bemoaning our own recent poor form, it was easy to forget that Everton have also been on a bad run.  So it was a bit shocking to see a ‘Martinez Out’ banner unfurled in the away stand before kick-off.

For those of a nervous disposition, the team news did nothing to quell their jitters as Flores had made five changes bringing Paredes, Britos, Holebas, Behrami and Jurado in for Nyom, Prödl, Aké, Suárez and Abdi.  While we had been awful last week, the almost complete overhaul of the defence caused some concern.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart, Britos, Paredes, Behrami, Watson, Capoue, Deeney, Jurado and Ighalo.

Jurado on the ball

Jurado on the ball

The first action of the game was indicative of what was to follow as Deeney tackled Barkley who collapsed like a spoilt child and won a free kick.  On the positive side, any concerns about the return of Holebas were quelled when he stopped an Everton break with a great saving tackle.  Kevin Friend had set his stall out early by penalising every Watford challenge, so it was no surprise when the first booking went to Capoue for a foul on Barkley, although it was the Watford man who required the longest period of treatment following the challenge.  Watford’s first goal attempt came after quarter of an hour when Paredes intercepted the ball and went on a run before passing to Behrami, he found Jurado who unleashed a fantastic shot that required a decent save from Robles.  When Watson was fouled on the edge of the box, Mr Friend was forced to wave play on as it was he who had taken the Watford man down.  The resultant Everton break was made to a chorus of boos particularly when Gomes had to make a sharp save to deny Deulofeu.  Watford attacked again after Holebas intercepted the ball before feeding Jurado who made a lovely turn, but his pass towards Deeney was too heavy.  Then Paredes found Ighalo whose shot was cleared.  Lukaku tried a shot from distance but, under challenge, he hit it well over the bar.

Celebrating the goal

Celebrating the goal

A move that was started by Ighalo finished with Jurado playing the ball back to Watson who shot straight at the keeper.  In the Watford box, Barry went down looking for a penalty which, fortunately, wasn’t given, the ball broke to Barkley whose shot was caught by Gomes.  Jurado exchanged passes with Holebas on the wing but his cross was straight at the keeper.  Then a cross from Holebas was met by a misdirected header from Ighalo which flew wide.  Just before half time, Watford had a good chance to take the lead as a Jurado free kick rebounded off the wall and Capoue’s follow-up was deflected just wide of the far post.  From Watson’s corner, Holebas headed just wide.  But it was the visitors who took the lead in time added on at the end of the half, as Britos lost out to McCarthy on the edge of the box and he finished past Gomes.  I felt so sorry for Britos, who was clearly devastated at his mistake.  But, at a time when the team needed the crowd to get behind them, one of my neighbours in the Rookery decided that the appropriate response was to boo very loudly.  Not for the first time, I told him exactly what I thought of him.  It made me feel a bit better, but what happened on the pitch next lightened my mood considerably.  Ighalo’s harrying forced Robles to concede a corner.  Ben Watson’s delivery to the far post was met by Holebas, whose header took a deflection before hitting the net and sending the home crowd into raptures.

So we were level at half-time, which was probably fair in an even game of few goal attempts.

The half time shoot out had reached the semi-final phase and was a cracking contest between Sacred Heart and St Paul’s with the latter prevailing during sudden death.  Both teams were applauded off the pitch with an enthusiasm that these contests rarely inspire.

Guedioura lines up a corner

Guedioura lines up a corner

Guedioura had spent the break on the pitch warming up, so it was no surprise when he replaced Behrami at the start of the second half.  Early in the half, irritation with the ref went up a notch as Ighalo was pushed over by Jagielka and nothing was given when Barkley appeared to get the benefit of the doubt every time he went to ground.  The first goal attempt of the half came 10 minutes in and took some remarkable work from Gomes to keep the scores level as he parried a shot from Lennon and then, somehow, prevented Lukaku reaching the loose ball.  At the other end, Watford had a free kick in a dangerous position, Watson played it short to Holebas whose shot went through the wall, but the pace was taken off and it was easy for Robles to gather.  Guedioura went on a great run, played the ball out to Deeney who crossed for Ighalo who couldn’t quite turn it in.  Watford’s second substitution saw Amrabat on for Jurado who had played very well.  Gomes was the hero again as Deulofeu broke into the box, he managed to shoot, despite a challenge from Paredes, and the Brazilian was down to make the save.  Martinez made his first substitution on 65 minutes replacing Barkley (who was booed off by the Watford faithful due to his tedious theatrics) with Tom Cleverley who was applauded on to the field for his Player of the Season turn as a loanee.  Everton threatened again as Coleman ran the length of the field, but his cross was safely caught by Gomes.

Ighalo, Deeney and Capoue challenge in the box

Ighalo, Deeney and Capoue challenge in the box

The visitors had a great chance to take the lead as Lukaku played a neat back heel to Lennon whose shot was kept out by yet another superb save from Gomes.  As we reached the last 10 minutes, each side made a substitution with Mirallas coming on for Deulofeu and Suárez replacing Capoue.  Everton could have won the game in the last couple of minutes of normal time as Mirallas won a free kick on the edge of the box.  His delivery was parried by Gomes and hearts were in mouths as Lukaku’s follow-up rebounded off the crossbar.  Lukaku had another chance to snatch a winner as he met a cross from Coleman with a header but he directed it downwards and it was easy for Gomes.  In time added on, it was Watford who had a chance to get the winner as Amrabat played the ball back to Watson whose long range shot took a deflection and appeared to be heading for the top corner when Robles pulled off a great save to keep it out.  Guedioura was the next with a sight of goal, but he shot well over the bar.  Each side had one final half chance to snatch a winner.  First the visitors as Barry met a free kick with a header that was saved comfortably by Gomes.  Then Suárez found Ighalo whose shot was disappointingly soft and easy for Robles.

So, the final whistle went on what had been a very entertaining game of football and a pleasing point for both teams after their recent run of defeats.  Watford had been much brighter than of late and the return of Capoue to a central position did both him and us a favour.

Post-game, I had a quick chat with Mick Smithers, Watford’s Football Liaison Officer, who mentioned that the Everton fans had been delightful.  This was backed up by Karoline the Roadie who said they had been the nicest group of fans to visit Vicarage Road this season.

It is hard to believe that there are only two more home games left in this season but, before the next we have a trip to West Bromwich, a final hurrah at the Boleyn and a semi-final at Wembley.  A lot to look forward to and let’s hope that the team go into them with the positive approach that they took today.