Tag Archives: Lewis Dunk

The Ballad of Jose’s Gloves

Captain Troy Deeney

On Saturday, Watford played their third away game in 8 days.  Thankfully, this was the second with an easy journey, this time to the south coast.  I changed trains at Clapham Junction where I bumped into Jacque.  As we sat on the train, Pete appeared looking for Richard, who was also supposed to have been on that train, but had left an hour earlier so was already in Lewes.  As we disembarked on arrival, there were a lot of familiar faces who had also chosen this as their pre-match meeting place.  On the walk to the pub, I admired the pretty town of Lewes that I only ever visit fleetingly on the way to Falmer or Glyndebourne, and determined to make a proper visit to take in their football ground, the wonderfully named Dripping Pan.

We have very happy memories of the pub in Lewes as we were there the day that Watford won promotion to the Premier League, attracting quizzical looks from the others in the beer garden as we cheered and hugged following the confirmation of the final scores from around the country. The pub had recently undergone a refurbishment, and it has to be said that the food and the beer were both excellent.

After lunch we took the short journey to Falmer and, on arrival at the ground contemplated the best way to head to the away end (which is about half way around the ground).  A helpful local pointed to the left and I had to agree that the gentle slope is definitely preferable to the flights of steps at the other side (we had enough of those at Newcastle).

Sema, Cathcart and Capoue looking quizzical

Team news was that Gracia had made just the one change from the Spurs game in mid-week with Sema in for Pereyra, who had picked up a knock in training.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Hughes, Cleverley, Capoue, Sema; Deulofeu and Deeney.

The concourse at the ground has the appearance of being huge, so it always baffles me that it is always so packed and you have to fight through the crowd to get to your seat.  The game kicked off on an icy afternoon and took a while to get going, so I wasn’t moved to retrieve the notebook from my bag until the 17th minute when Janmaat crossed for Deeney whose header was just wide of the target.  Brighton’s first chance of note was a shot from distance from Bissouma that flew high and wide.  The next chance fell to Groß who shot wide of the near post.  Locadia was the next to try his luck, but his shot was high and wide.  Brighton threatened again from a free kick, but the header from Dunk was wide of the target.

Holebas preparing for a free kick without his gloves

The most entertaining moment of the first half came on the half hour as Holebas battled with March on the wing and ended up giving away the first corner of the game.  In typical Jose manner he then walked towards the goal to defend the set piece, looking furious as only he can.  He was looking for someone or something to blame, and suddenly focussed on his gloves which were ripped from his hands and thrown behind the goal line.  I realise that this loses a lot in translation, but it caused great amusement to the Holebas fans in our party.  Thankfully, for Jose’s blood pressure as much as anything else, the corner came to nothing.  Brighton had another chance to take the lead as a free kick reached Pröpper at the far post but he fired wide.  Foster, who had been a spectator to this point, was then called into action to claim a cross from Locadia while under challenge from Murray.  The first shot on target came in the 41st minute as a lovely cross from Groß was met by the head of Locadia, Foster did brilliantly to push the ball clear.  And that was it for a very dull first half.

Janmaat launching a throw-in

Brighton started the second half with a dangerous looking corner from March that Foster tipped over the bar, but he was being fouled at the time so won a free kick.  Watford had a rare goal attempt as a long ball was headed down by Deeney to Hughes, whose shot was poor and going wide when Ryan dropped to make the save.  The Hornets created a better chance as Janmaat crossed for Sema but his header was just over the target.  It had been the brightest spell of the game for the Hornets but Ryan didn’t have to make a save worthy of the name and it was very short lived.  Normal service resumed as Brighton attacked with a Groß free kick that was headed wide by Murray.  With 20 minutes to go, each side made a substitution as Gray replaced Deulofeu, who had another disappointing game, for the Hornets, and Murray made way for Andone for the Seagulls.  The next goal attempt was a good reflection of the quality of the game as Locadia’s effort went out for a throw in.  His next effort was considerably better, the header appeared to be goalbound until Foster pulled off another brilliant save to keep it out.  The resulting corner was flicked on by Dunk to Duffy who tried an overhead kick that was blocked on the line by Foster.  Gracia made another change as Sema was replaced by Quina, presumably to inject a bit of pace into Watford’s game.

Adrian Mariappa (still wearing his shirt)

The Hornets really should have taken the lead during a scramble in the Brighton box.  It was right in front of us and there seemed to be a number of opportunities to get a shot in, but each time another pass was made.  Hughes and Gray were both in the box and you felt that one of them had to score but, bizarrely, the ball then spent some time motionless between the legs of a defender before it was finally cleared without the keeper having to get involved.  Brighton threatened again as Andone advanced into the Watford box, but Foster was out to clear.  It was end to end at this point and the Hornets had a decent chance when Capoue found Hughes but the shot was from an acute angle and hit the side netting.  Andone had another chance to snatch a winner as he turned and unleashed a shot that cleared the bar.  The home side had one last opportunity to take all three points but Bissouma’s shot from distance flew just wide of the target and the game ended goalless.

After the final whistle, as is their habit, Deeney and Mariappa came over to give their shirts to fans.  On seeing that Mapps was not wearing an undershirt, I couldn’t help but exclaim, “You’ll catch your death!!”  However, the shirts were a distraction from the real prize which was Jose’s gloves that were still lying by the goal where they had been discarded.  Unfortunately we were too far back to claim them and some lucky fan alerted an official who retrieved them and handed them over.  I was green with envy.

Magnificent Ben Foster

On the way out of the ground, we walked past the celebratory banners.  When the ground was first opened, these were of heroes from Brighton’s history, but they have been replaced with a series celebrating last season’s Premier League campaign, which was rather interesting but not a patch on Norman Wisdom.

We headed back to Lewes, although nearly missed our stop as nobody on the station had bothered to mention the fact that the doors in the rear carriages of the train would not open, this meant that there was a rather extended stop at Lewes station as the majority of the passengers in the rear four coaches left the train through the same door.

We headed back to the pub for the post game analysis, although there was little to discuss.  It had been a very dull game in which Watford failed to manage a shot on target.  The defence had again been impressive and restricted the opportunities for the home side who, any time they did manage to break through, were faced with the barrier that is Ben Foster, who put in yet another man of the match performance.  But, despite the lack of entertainment on the pitch, results mostly went our way, so we remain eighth in the table with a decent cup tie to come.  When these dull games have been forgotten (they almost have already), this will be remembered as a good season to have followed the Hornets.


No Respite on the South Coast

Norman Wisdom welcomes us to the Amex

Our last visit to Brighton was memorable for all the right reasons.  After taking the lead in the first half, the game had been a bit of a slog, before Vydra’s injury time goal sent us all away happy.  It having been the lunchtime game, we retired to a lovely pub and, after spending the preceding couple of hours in the garden anxiously checking phones, we interrupted a quiet afternoon by erupting in joy as last minute goals confirmed our promotion.

It seemed appropriate to return to the scene of the celebrations, although there was no way we could sit in the pub garden on a cold December afternoon.  The beer and food was excellent and the company delightful as we were joined by Kevin Le Belge.  The locals were friendly and helpful, warning us to leave in plenty of time due to the queuing system at the station (which turned out not to be required on this occasion).

After the short train journey to the ground, the walk to the turnstiles was enhanced by the banners recalling memorable Brighton moments.  One which really appealed to me was Norman Wisdom stopping at a bus stop to give a young lad a lift to the game.  The Brighton stewards are among the nicest I have encountered on my travels, so the usual search was done with smiles and the sign inside the ground welcoming us after our journey always engenders goodwill.

Team news was that Silva had made four changes, two enforced by suspension, with Watson, Cleverley, Pereyra and Gray coming in for Mariappa, Capoue, Doucouré and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Prödl, Kabasele, Holebas; Watson, Cleverley; Carrillo, Pereyra, Richarlison; Gray.  It would be interesting to see Watson back in the team, but you had to feel sorry for Mariappa, who has been a stalwart this season.

Holebas debating a corner with the lino as Pereyra looks on

We were hoping for an improvement on last week’s dire performance, but the early signs were not good as a shot across goal from Hemed went begging, but Knockaert picked up the loose ball and his shot had to be saved by Gomes.  Pröpper then tried a shot from the edge of the box, but it was well over the bar.  Brighton threatened again as a cross from March flew across the goal but, on this occasion, Hemed just missed making the connection.  Watford’s first chance came after a quarter of an hour when a corner from Cleverley reached Pereyra on the edge of the box, he volleyed goalwards, but it was well wide of the target.  We waited another 15 minutes for the next action worthy of note when Carrillo tried a shot that appeared to take a deflection and was easily gathered by Ryan in the Brighton goal.  The home side had a decent chance to take the lead from a corner that was delivered to the far post where Goldson had a free header, but Gomes made a great save at close range.  It had been a dull half, but there was a moment of rare quality as Pereyra and Janmaat exchanged some slick passes to make their way out of defence and up the right wing, sadly the resultant cross was caught by the keeper, but the move was just wonderful.  At the other end, Knockaert had a chance to open the scoring, but his shot was straight at Gomes.  The Frenchman threatened again, but this time was thwarted by a great tackle from Richarlison who emerged with the ball.  The Brazilian had a half chance at the other end after a counter-attack, but his shot was weak and easy for the keeper.

Andre Gray up against Suttner

It had been a dull first half, the most positive thing anyone could find to say about it was that the score remained at 0-0 and there were still eleven Watford players on the pitch.

The first chance of the second half fell to the visitors but the shot from Hemed flew well over the bar.  Goldson then had a chance from a corner, but directed his header wide of the target.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came as Richarlison played a one-two with Pereyra before unleashing a great shot that stung the palms of Ryan as he kept it out.  At the other end, Groß went close with a shot from the right that flashed across goal and flew just wide of the far post.  The home side should have taken the lead with a great shot that was met by a terrific flying save from Gomes.  The blokes in the row in front arrived back from their half time refreshments just in time to see Groß receive the ball on the edge of the area and unleash a shot that Gomes really should have stopped, but it bounced off him and in to give the home side the lead.  Brighton almost had a second soon after as a corner was met by the head of Dunk whose effort was just wide of the target.

Watson back in the team

Silva made his first substitution with 20 minutes remaining bringing Sinclair back from the wilderness to replace Pereyra.  The home side had a terrific chance to increase their lead as March broke upfield before crossing for Hemed whose close-range shot missed the target.  Silva’s second change saw Capoue come on for Watson, who had had a disappointing return to the team.  Watford had a decent chance for an equalizer from a Cleverley free kick which Kabasele met, but headed just over the target.  Silva’s last substitution saw Okaka come on for Gray.  The rapturous reception given to the Italian told you all that you needed to know about the afternoon’s performance.  The substitute almost made an immediate impact, breaking through on goal, but his shot was blocked.  There was an even better chance for the Hornets as Holebas crossed for Richarlison whose header was just wide of the target.  Hughton made his first change bringing Kayal on for the goalscorer, Groß.  The home side threatened to kill the game off with a quick break from Hemed whose shot was blocked, the ball fell to Knockaert but he could only hit the side netting.  Brighton made a couple of late substitutions as Hemed and March made way for Murray and Izquierdo.  Okaka had a couple of late chances to snatch a point for the Hornets, first he met a cross with a header, but it was weak and drifted wide.  Then, with the last action of the match, Ryan fumbled a cross from Carrillo, the ball dropped to Okaka at the far post, hit his knee and bounced wide.  He was looking straight at us as we clutched our heads in despair and, it has to be said, looked pretty devastated himself.

Jerome Sinclair

Since the last action was at the end of the ground that was housing the Watford fans, we were treated to the unpalatable spectacle of Knockaert celebrating with glee right in front of us.  Even more distasteful was the chorus of boos from the travelling fans as Silva applauded us at the end of the game.  I despair of football fans, while not being surprised, as some had started their complaints in the first minute.

It is a funny old game football.  We finish the first half of the season with 22 points siting pretty in tenth place in the table.  If you had told me that at the start of the season, I would have been delighted.  But, following the highs of the early games when I thought we could beat anybody (except Man City), the recent run of 4 defeats, means that the cushion that we had has all but disappeared and there are fears of an upcoming battle against relegation.  Our team selections have been disrupted by injuries and ill-discipline and I still believe that, with a full squad to pick from, we could establish ourselves in mid-table, although that faith is being sorely tested at the moment.  Still, the friendship of the group that I travel with and the regular encounters with so many other lovely Watford fans mean that every match day has its pleasures, even if the game isn’t up to much.

To all of you who read this blog, thank you for your support.  I wish you all a very happy Christmas and three very welcome points on Boxing Day.

Watford Earn a Point as Britos Sees Red

Femenia takes a throw in

Pre-match in the West Herts was unusually quiet, the bank holiday weekend clearly meaning that many regulars had made alternative plans.  Before arriving, I had received a text from Don to tell me that there was hot food available and that the menu included jerk chicken.  In fact, they were offering jerk chicken in a roll at a bargain price and it was absolutely gorgeous.  My new favourite pre-match lunch.  As we enjoyed our pints, the televisions were showing Bournemouth vs. Manchester City.  The animosity that has developed between the Hornets and the Cherries was clearly shown when City scored a 96th minute winner and the West Herts erupted into a massive celebration.

As we walked down Vicarage Road, I was a little surprised to encounter touts.  I have come to expect that when the top six clubs are in town, but touts for Watford vs Brighton is a new one on me.  As I came through the turnstiles, “September” was playing over the tannoy, clearly getting us ready for Doucoure’s chant.

Chalobah on the run

Team news was that Silva had made just the one change from the Bournemouth game with Kabasele in for the suspended Holebas, so the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Prödl, Kabasele, Britos; Chalobah, Doucouré; Amrabat, Cleverley, Richarlison; Gray.  Our old friend, Anthony Knockaert, started for the visitors, his name was announced to a loud chorus of boos.  Also of note was the fact that Silva was back in a suit, having donned a tracksuit for the Bristol City game in midweek.

There was an early chance for the Hornets as Amrabat played a through ball to Gray, but his shot was well wide of the target.  Our first chance to boo the pantomime villain came as Cleverley lined up to take a free kick and Knockaert took his place in a one man wall in front of the Rookery.  The wall was ineffective and the delivery was met by Chalobah whose header was blocked.  Amrabat beat a defender on the right before delivering a cross into the box, Richarlison and Gray both went for the ball but neither was able to make contact.  The first decent goal attempt came from the visitors after quarter of an hour with a curling shot from Knockaert which rebounded off the inside of the far post.  The first booking went to Brighton’s Bruno who was cautioned after clattering Richarlison.

Gerry Armstrong

The Brighton fans were yelling for a penalty after the ball appeared to hit Prödl, but it was clearly ball to arm and a corner was given.  The game changed on a moment of madness.  Knockaert was advancing down the wing and Britos just flew into a tackle with both feet off the ground.  It was a straight red card, with no complaints from any of us.  Thankfully Knockaert wasn’t injured.  The sending off prompted Silva to make a tactical substitution sacrificing Amrabat for Cathcart, which was a bit of a shame as Nordin was having his best game for a while.  The visitors had another chance to open the scoring as a corner from Groβ was headed wide by Dunk.  The post came to the Hornets’ rescue again as Hemed’s effort rebounded to safety.  At the other end, Chalobah tried a shot from distance that was just wide of the near post.  In time added on, Gomes was alert to punch a cross from Knockaert out for a corner, which came to nothing.

The half time player chat was with Gerry Armstrong.  As with all of the interviewee’s this season, he was asked about GT’s influence.  He credited the gaffer with getting him fit and allowing him to shine for Northern Ireland at the 1982 World Cup.   None of us who were around at the time will forget his goal scoring exploits at that tournament.  A Watford player at a World Cup was a new experience in 1982.

Carrillo makes his debut

Cathcart’s return from injury turned out to be short-lived, as he ran for a ball early in the second half and had to pull up.  He looked as though he wanted to continue but was convinced to seek treatment, after which he left the pitch to be replaced by new signing, Carrillo. At this point, Cleverley dropped into the right back position.  Brighton threatened with a dangerous cross towards Groβ in the Watford boss, but he was stopped by an excellent tackle from Femenía.  From a corner, the ball was headed back to Hemed who volleyed just wide of the target.  There was much discussion in the stands regarding the laws of the game when Knockaert went down in the box and, after a long consultation with the lino, the referee awarded an indirect free kick that was blasted off the wall.  Brighton threatened again as a cross was headed back across goal by Knockaert, on this occasion Prödl put it out for a corner.  A very promising break by Richarlison finished with a shot that was high and wide.  At the other end, a dangerous looking cross was saved by Gomes with Knockaert closing in.  Knockaert had yet another chance with 15 minutes to go, but his shot was saved by Gomes.  Brighton’s next attempt came from a corner, but Duffy headed just wide.  Richarlison lifted Watford hearts again after another break downfield, this time he fed Gray, but the outcome was the same with a shot that was well over the bar.

Prodl rises to meet the ball

With 10 minutes to go, Knockaert was replaced by Izquierdo, which was a relief as he had run us ragged.  Silva also made a late change, replacing Gray, who had worked very hard but never looked like scoring, with Deeney, a substitution that was very popular with the Watford crowd.  Both teams had a late chance to snatch the victory. The Brighton substitute, Izquierdo, tried a shot from distance that flew high and wide at the near post.  Then Watford’s new signing, Carrillo, had an opportunity to crown his debut when he met a cross from Femenía, but his header flew over the bar.  With the last kick of the game, Femenía sent a shot high and wide and the game finished goalless.

The post match consensus was that the ten men had put in a sterling performance to win a very well deserved point.  There was no sympathy for Britos whose tackle had been as reckless as it was unnecessary.  But there was much admiration for many of the others.  I don’t think he has been mentioned in the report at all, but Kabasele was absolutely immense.  He battled hard and consistently snuffed out attacks.  Femenía, who had replaced Britos on the left, had also done really well in the makeshift position.


The midfield players were excellent again.  Doucouré and Chalobah continue to impress.  Cleverley worked his socks off again and our first glimpse of Carrillo was a positive one.  Even Amrabat had his best game for a while, finding some end product to match the surging runs.  Then there was Richarlison, who has quickly become a favourite of mine.  What chances we created mostly came through him and he also gave a rather lovely interview to the programme, presumably through an interpreter.  It is clear that his attempts to settle in have been greatly helped by the presence of Gomes as well as a manager who speaks his language.  By all accounts, he is a lovely lad and his future looks very bright indeed.

The international break comes at a good time.  By the time we meet Southampton, we will know the final shape of our squad and hopefully will have some players back from injury.  We are unbeaten so far this season and there is a lot to like in this new squad.  If our next trip to the South coast is half as much fun as the last one, we have a lot to look forward to.


We are Going Up!

A kind greeting from our hosts

A kind greeting from our hosts

Where do you start with this game?  I guess the best place is the preceding week and how much time was spent staring at the table that had Watford top by a single point with two games to go and then working through all the possible permutations of results and their implications.  Whichever way you looked at it, we needed the three points from our trip to Brighton.

Normally I hate early kick-offs, but it was quite a relief to get this game out of the way early doors.  I arrived on the platform at Clapham Junction to find it packed with Watford fans who piled onto the Brighton train while I waited for the Lewes connection, which proved to be a smart move as it was relatively quiet.  I met up with Pete & Richard at East Croydon.  When asked how I was, the answer that I didn’t feel too good was met with concerned looks until I explained that it was just nerves.  We were delighted to be joined by Becky and Simon at Haywards Heath as we made our way to Falmer.

By 11:30, the away concourse at the Amex was packed with noisy fans.  There is a tradition of wearing fancy dress to the last game of the season but somehow, with the importance of this game, dressing up seemed inappropriate, as if we were celebrating before we’d achieved anything.  This was a day for serious concentration on and off the pitch.  Brighton had their usual welcoming poster thanking us for travelling 163 miles to the game.  It was a little early, but the offer of Harvey’s bitter was one that I had to take up.  The guest pie was a breakfast one which contained baked beans and appeared to be a treat too far, so I opted for safe (and incredibly bland) chicken and ham.

The teams emerge to streamers

The teams emerge to streamers

Team news was that Jokanovic had made three changes with Connolly, Anya and Ighalo in for Hoban, Layun and Vydra.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Connolly, Cathcart, Angella, Anya, Guedioura, Watson, Abdi, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney.  I could only hope that the players were not feeling as nervous as I was.

The teams emerged to ticker tape, streamers, balloons and various inflatables being thrown around the away end.  Before kick-off there was a minute’s silence to mark 30 years since the Bradford fire.  On this occasion, the sadness was mingled with anger following the recent stories about the Chairman at the time.

So, how were Brighton going to approach this game, given that they had nothing to play for?  I was hoping that they would already be on the beach but an attacking move in the first minute indicated that this was not the case as O’Grady’s shot was blocked and eventually cleared.  Soon after, Bruno lofted a ball into the box, but Gomes was there to make a comfortable catch.  Watford’s first goal attempt came in the sixth minute as Abdi found Ighalo who juggled the ball which found its way to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  At the other end Carayol crossed for Bennett who shot well wide from the edge of the box.

Celebrating Deeney's goal

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

There was a very nervous moment in the away end as Bennett went past Paredes into the box and was knocked down.  He went down very easily, but it looked like a foul from where I was standing, so I was mightily relieved when the referee waved play on.  Deeney almost latched on to a dodgy pass back to the Brighton keeper, he certainly made Stockdale play the ball.  At this point, chants for Sean Murray went up in the block next to us, as the youngster was watching the game from towards the back of that stand.  Although I’m not sure that standing for 90 minutes will have been ideal therapy for his knee.  Brighton had another chance from a corner, but Halford headed well over the bar.  Jokanovic decided to make an early change at this point sacrificing Anya for Tözsér and changing to four at the back and a diamond in midfield.  The change had an immediate effect as Watson moved to the left and got a cross in, the ball found its way to Deeney who fired across Stockdale and into the net sparking massive celebrations in the away end.  Only an hour to go!!  Watford had another chance soon after as Guedioura found Abdi, but Stockdale was behind his shot.  We almost shot ourselves in the foot as an attempt by Guedioura to cut the ball out only succeeded in giving the ball away and O’Grady’s shot needed a brilliant save from Gomes to keep it out.  With five minutes to the end of the half, Cathcart made a wonderful tackle that allowed Abdi to break but he was taken down by Kayal, who was booked for the foul.  As usual, the 44th minute was filled with applause and chants for Nic Cruwys.  In time added on, Gomes came to punch a corner clear.  There was then a scary moment as Deeney and Gomes got in each other’s way as they went to deal with a ball in the box, thankfully it rolled harmlessly out for a goal kick.

So we reached half time a goal up, but Brighton were making things uncomfortable for us.  We all agreed that another couple of goals were needed to settle the nerves on and off the pitch.

Gomes in action

Gomes in action

Watford started the second half really well as Watson found Abdi in scoring position, but his shot hit Deeney and was deflected wide.  Deeney then found Guedioura who should have passed to Abdi, but tried a cross to Ighalo, which was cut out.  A free kick in a dangerous position was hit well over by Tözsér.  Watford should have had a second in the 53rd minute as a Guedioura shot was blocked, Ighalo was in a great position to turn the loose ball in, but Guedioura got in his way and Stockdale was able to put the ball out for a corner.  Odion looked furious with his team mate.  From Abdi’s corner, Ighalo headed wide.  Brighton’s first substitution saw Watford boy Mackail-Smith come on for Carayol.  Watford’s first booking of the afternoon went to Cathcart for a clumsy tackle on O’Grady.  Brighton threatened again as a corner was headed wide by Greer.  Jokanovic’s second substitution saw Vydra come on for Ighalo.  Another Brighton attack was stopped by a reckless tackle from Angella, who saw yellow.

Watson lines up a free kick

Watson lines up a free kick

Watford had another great chance to extend the lead as Abdi exchanged long passes with Vydra before shooting over when you would have put money on him burying the ball.  Abdi had another chance with a shot from the edge of the area that flew wide.  Then Vydra had the ball on the edge of the Brighton box but was crowded out before he could shoot.  A long Brighton throw was headed goalwards by Greer, but Gomes caught the header.  Another great Watford chance came as a cross from Guedioura was dummied by Vydra and reached Deeney whose shot was deflected for a corner.  At the other end, Mackail-Smith tried to break into the box but Gomes gathered the ball with the Brighton man claiming, to no avail, that his run had been impeded.  Brighton made a couple of substitutions as LuaLua replaced Forster-Caskey and then Calderon came on for Bruno.  Jokanovic’s last substitution was to replace Abdi with Forestieri.  Not a move to calm the nerves.  Brighton looked to level as a Calderon cross was headed just wide.  Then Deeney found Vydra in a great position, but the shot was dreadful and didn’t test Stockdale.  Deeney took one for the team as he was booked for taking Bennett down in order to stop a break.

Vydra runs back from celebrating his goal

Vydra runs back from celebrating his goal

The last few minutes of normal time were torture as, first, a Brighton free-kick was headed over by O’Grady.  Then a Calderon cross was met by a shot from Stephens which Gomes dropped to save.  Guedioura and Dunk appeared to collide, although the Brighton fans thought that an arm was raised and were calling for a red card, but only yellow was shown.  Dunk was down for a while, but was eventually fit to continue for the five minutes of time added on.  What happened next had to be seen to be believed.  Some brave goalkeeping from Gomes kept Brighton out, the eventual clearance reached Deeney who was breaking down the right wing with Vydra in an acre of space to his left, he played a great pass, but Vydra’s touch to control the ball appeared to allow a defender to catch him.  No matter, he belted the ball into the opposite corner of the goal to spark pandemonium in the away end.  I am not ashamed to admit that I was screaming like a banshee as I leapt up and down.  The bench were equally raucous in their celebrations.  It was lovely to see Ighalo run onto the pitch to join in.  The final whistle went to rapturous scenes on and off the pitch.  We were even treated to the unusual sight of Jokanovic coming over to applaud the crowd.  This was a special day indeed.

On the way out of the ground a Brighton fan asked if the ref was from Watford, we were very happy to be able to tell him that he was actually a Luton fan from Bournemouth!

Celebrating the win and a step nearer to promotion

Celebrating the win and a step nearer to promotion

After the game, we decided against indulging in the bright lights of Brighton, instead heading for Lewes where we found a rather lovely pub with good beer and a nice garden.  We then spent the next two hours obsessively refreshing the football scores on our phones.  It was all going rather well until Norwich scored, then Middlesbrough got a late equalizer against Fulham and we were resigned to another tense week.  One more refresh and I couldn’t believe my eyes as Rotherham scored a late equalizer.  Another one showed that Fulham had got a winner.  It took several more before we saw FT next to those scores to confirm that Watford had been promoted.  We were hugging each other while some nice women at a neighbouring table asked what had provoked this outburst of emotion.  Football!!  When we calmed down (a little) it was time to reflect and remember absent friends.  Guy Judge and Steve Brister would have loved the end of this season and we raised a glass to them.

When I got home, it was lovely to see friends posting photos from Watford of them with the players.  It is a measure of this team that they hadn’t found some exclusive place to celebrate, they had headed into central Watford to have dinner at their favourite Italian.  Who knows what will happen to us in the Premier League.  With the support of the Pozzos, we must be better placed to compete than we were on our last two visits.  But this is a team that thoroughly deserves their chance in the top flight and I look forward to cheering them on home and away on our next adventure.

A Home Draw Against the Seagulls

The teams emerge from the tunnel

The teams emerge from the tunnel

In the first weekend of October there should have been no surprise that there was a bit of a nip in the air, but it was still a little disconcerting to have to wear the layers that I have been carrying around for the past month.  The dawning of 4th October always brings happy memories, even to someone who wasn’t actually at the game as I was living in the US at the time.  But it is very hard to believe that was 17 years ago.

The major team news was that Doyley would make his first appearance for his ninth manager, Garcia having inexplicably overlooked him.  His inclusion was forced by an injury to Cathcart so he was playing out of position in the centre of defence.  The suspension of Pudil meant a start for Hoban.  Abdi was fit again and Anya was preferred to Fabbrini.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Ekstrand, Doyley, Paredes, Tözsér, Munari, Dyer, Abdi, Anya and Vydra.

Tozser lines up a free kick

Tozser lines up a free kick

The visitors had the better of the early play as O’Grady beat Tözsér on the left but his cross-cum-shot was easy for Gomes.  A free-kick in the centre circle was ambitiously launched goalwards by Gardner and flew well wide of the target.  Dyer found Anya on the wing but his cross was headed clear.  On the quarter hour, a cross from Colunga flew across the Watford box but no Brighton player was anywhere near getting a touch.  Then Teixeira got on the end of a cross from O’Grady but his header had no power and glanced wide.  Paredes dinked the ball to Anya who crossed back for Abdi, he couldn’t get a decent touch so the ball fell to Dyer who shot straight at a defender.  Abdi found Vydra whose shot was easily cleared.  Tözsér played a lovely ball through the middle where Anya and Abdi were converging but put each other off so neither got a touch.

Anya on the attack

Anya on the attack

Munari got on the end of a free-kick from Tözsér but his header was easily gathered by Stockdale.  Then Tözsér found Anya whose dangerous cross was cleared.  Tözsér took a corner that was cleared back to him and his cross was punched clear by the keeper.  Doyley stopped a Brighton attack with his hand and was booked.  Hoban attacked a Tözsér free-kick at the far post but couldn’t quite connect.  Brighton made their first foray forward in a while as Teixeira played the ball out to O’Grady who shot into the side netting.  Vydra had a great chance to open the scoring as he broke forward, played the ball out to Paredes who crossed it back to the Czech who turned and shot over the bar.  Vydra broke into the box again and was tripped, but the referee waved penalty appeals away.  Paredes robbed a Brighton player on the right, played it into the box where Vydra, Abdi and Munari each had shots blocked.  The first half had been a bit disappointing.  The visitors had started well but Watford had the majority of the play although chances had been at a premium.

Tozser's Free-kick through the wall

Tozser’s Free-kick through the wall

Watford took the lead early in the second half.  Vydra was fouled but the referee played advantage and Abdi had the ball in the box when he blew up and brought the play back for a free kick and to show Bruno the yellow card.  The anger of the Rookery crowd disappeared as soon as Tözsér’s free-kick flew through the wall and into the bottom corner.  Vydra broke forward but was tackled by Lua Lua on the wing and kicked out in frustration so was deservedly shown a yellow card.  At this point the Watford crowd started a chant of “We are Top of the League”, which had been the case since Rotherham’s 43rd minute goal at Carrow Road.  Such chants always worry me as they are tempting fate.

Celebrations after Tozser's Free-kick

Celebrations after Tozser’s Free-kick

On the hour Abdi was replaced by McGugan.  He made an early impact, receiving a pass from Vydra and curling his shot just wide.  LuaLua played a dangerous cross into the box, but Ekstrand put it out for a corner.  LuaLua appeared to run in to Munari, who I thought had won a free-kick until the referee pointed the other way and showed Munari a yellow card.  A corner from LuaLua was headed well wide by Dunk.  With 15 minutes remaining, Watford made another change with Murray replacing Dyer who applauded the crowd and left the pitch without incident.  McGugan chipped the ball through to Vydra whose shot was weak and straight at Stockdale.  Brighton then got their equalizer as a deep corner by LuaLua was headed past Gomes by Dunk.  Watford tried to regain the advantage but Munari’s shot flew high and wide.  At the other end, Gardner’s attempt on goal had the same outcome.  A deep corner from Tözsér was headed back by Vydra but nestled on the top of the net.

Waiting to attack a corner

Waiting to attack a corner

Watford had a great chance to regain the lead when McGugan played a through ball to Vydra who unleashed a lovely shot that Stockdale did well to keep out of the net.  Then Anya broke forward but his cross was cut out.  LuaLua went on the counter and hit a cross that flew across the Watford goal.  In time added on, another cross from LuaLua went begging.  Then a cross from Teixeira was headed clear by Paredes.  The last chance of the game fell to McCourt but his shot was over the target.

At the end of the game, we heard that Norwich had also got a draw so we ended the day second in the table.  It was another frustrating afternoon as, despite some promising signs, there was a lack of cohesion.  However, a lot of credit has to go to Brighton for a competitive game which was let down by the lack of chances that fell to either side.  As a fan of his, it was pleasing that Doyley had a good game.  Tözsér was his usual impressive self.  Vydra didn’t have the best of afternoons but deserved credit for working his socks off while he was receiving little service.

On reflection, given the number of injuries and the management turmoil, the fact that we are second in the division without breaking stride is impressive.  However we had a similar start to last season and the upturn never came, let’s hope that this season is different.