Tag Archives: Lewis McGugan

Beer, Wurstl and an Oompah Band

Welcome to Kingsmeadow

Welcome to Kingsmeadow

It was a gorgeous day for a football match, even better that the Football Manager Cup between Wimbledon and Watford had been scheduled to coincide with the beer festival.  It seemed appropriate to start the afternoon with a pint of Plough Lane Ale and rather lovely it was too.  To add to the pre-match treats, there was a German würstl stand and, later, an oompah band appeared which started their repertoire with “Staying Alive.”  I must say that I love a man in lederhosen.

When we finally dragged ourselves away and entered the ground, it was packed, but we managed to find space in the shade where the vertically challenged among us could see the game.

Ighalo and Deeney wait for a cross

Ighalo and Deeney wait for a cross

Team news was that Flores had made two changes from the line-up at St Albans with Vydra and Prödl in for Watson and Angella.  So the starting 11 was Gomes, Pudil, Cathcart, Prödl, Anya, Capoue, Abdi, Ighalo, Forestieri, Vydra and Deeney.  So, four forwards in the starting line-up.  What could possibly go wrong?

There was a promising start to the game from the Hornets as Pudil played a ball into the box but Vydra and Ighalo got in each other’s way.  The first action of note came in the 11th minute as Elliott appeared to be tripped by Anya.  Kennedy made no mistake with the penalty as Gomes went the wrong way.  Watford’s first goal attempt fell to Deeney as  Anya played a one-two with Vydra before cutting the ball back for Troy whose shot took a deflection and flew over the target.  Then Vydra cut the ball back to Deeney who moved it on to Ighalo, who was in a better shooting position but was not expecting the pass, so the chance went begging.

Odion hiding his embarrassment with a big smile after scoring

Odion hiding his embarrassment with a big smile after scoring

After 25 minutes, the game stopped for a drinks break as it was a scorching afternoon.  The next chance fell to the home side as Akinfenwa rose to meet a cross from Kennedy but headed over the bar.  Watford’s equalizer was ridiculous.  A clearance from Dons keeper, McDonnell, hit Ighalo and looped into the net.  Odion looked rather embarrassed as he retrieved the ball, but they all count.  Watford had a decent chance to take the lead after a quick free kick reached Forestieri whose shot was saved by the legs of McDonnell.  At the other end Elliott cut inside Prödl and shot, but Gomes pushed the ball over the bar.  Then Vydra found Ighalo whose shot was parried before being cleared.  Forestieri had a couple of great chances to send the Hornets in ahead at the break.  First a Vydra header reached him in the box but he shot wide of the target.  Then Fernando tried a shot across the keeper that appeared to be scuffed and was stopped by the feet of McDonnell.   Then he hit a shot into the turf which was deflected behind for a corner.  You had to feel sorry for him as he was trying so hard and nothing was coming off.

Forestieri after scoring

Forestieri after scoring

At the start of the second half, the home side made 10 changes, while the visitors brought Arlauskis and Watson on for Gomes and Vydra.  Watford’s first chance of the second half came from an Abdi free-kick which hit the crossbar and came down but, sadly, bounced away from the goal.  A minute later, the visitors took the lead as Deeney headed an Abdi cross goalwards, McDonnell blocked the header but Forestieri followed up to, at last, get his name on the scoresheet.  The Dons nearly equalized immediately as Arlauskis failed to gather a cross which reached Barcham whose header was cleared off the line by Prödl.  Anya went on a run down the wing and crossed, but it was a bit too far in front of Ighalo who could only direct it wide of the target.  The Dons thought they had equalized through Azeez, but Pudil had been fouled in the build-up, so the goal was disallowed.  A promising run and cross from Barcham came to nothing as Watson appeared in the box, pulled the ball out of the air and cleared.  Watford’s third substitution saw Paredes on for Anya. 

Paredes on a run down the wing

Paredes on a run down the wing

Watson then had a chance at the other end, but his shot from distance was easily gathered by McDonnell.  Forestieri was the next to threaten the Wimbledon goal, but McDonnell dropped to save his shot.  Despite rumours that Sheffield Wednesday had had a bid accepted for him, McGugan made an appearance in place of Ighalo and new boy, Holebas, came on for Pudil.  Forestieri hit a free-kick that was on target but was saved by McDonnell.  At the other end Oakley tried a turn and shot, but the attempt was weak and straight at Arlauskis.  With 10 minutes remaining, there was a further Watford substitution as Prödl made way for Hoban.  There was a dangerous scramble in the Watford box as a shot was blocked and the follow-up from Reeves flew over the bar.  The last minutes of the game saw two further substitutions for the Hornets as Fabbrini and Lewis replaced Forestieri and Abdi.  Just as Watford thought that the game was won, Barcham attacked down the left wing, Paredes appeared to have the measure of him but slipped and, when he recovered, made a silly challenge and conceded a penalty which Francomb scored to ensure that the Football Manager cup was shared, which was probably the ideal result for Miles Jacobson.

Deeney in discussion with Flores

Deeney in discussion with Flores

There were mutterings from Watford fans both during and after the game about the performance, which always seems a bit pointless at a friendly, which is very far from a competitive game at this stage of pre-season.  I’m sure that Flores learned something from the game (particularly that playing our four frontmen is not a guarantee of goals).

Post-match, it was back to the beer festival where the polite early applause for the oompah band had been replaced with a passionate crowd singing along.  The football apart, it was a lovely afternoon and I hope that this becomes a regular fixture in our pre-season calendar.

Quique Flores Takes a Walk in Clarence Park

Arlauskis warming up

Arlauskis warming up

I was supposed to be going to the theatre on Wednesday evening, but the announcement of a pre-season friendly at Clarence Park put paid to that.  I know that there are varying schools of thought about pre-season games, with many regarding attendance as pointless, but I love them.  It is a chance to ease yourself gently back in with games whose results don’t matter, to get an early look at new signings and to catch up with your football friends.

We stationed ourselves outside the Sponsors’ Lounge and there was a different vibe from previous games at the same venue with the visit of Premier League opposition attracting a different class of visitor.  I don’t think I have ever seen glasses of white wine being drunk on the perimeter of a non-league pitch before.

Deeney doesn't look sure about the bloke with the bling next to him

Deeney doesn’t look sure about the bloke with the bling next to him

Our position turned to our advantage as I looked up to see our new manager approaching.  I took the opportunity to welcome him, for which he thanked me.  He was followed by the coaching staff and then the players.  I was impressed that Vydra didn’t look the least bit scared when I greeted him with “At last you are ours.”  Inside, he smiled and said, “At last.”  As the last of the players passed us, I wondered where Deeney was and then saw that he was having photos taken with fans.  He was running late behind his teammates, but still took time when he saw us ask how we were and to shake Don’s hand and give me a kiss.

Crowds had flocked to the game but, as the scheduled kick-off time drew near, many were still outside the gates so kick-off was delayed for 15 minutes.  That must be a first for a Watford pre-season game.

Quique Sanchez Flores named a very strong starting line-up:  Gomes, Pudil, Cathcart, Angella, Anya, Capoue, Watson, Ighalo, Abdi, Forestieri and Deeney.  I must admit that, since I always struggle to identify players in pre-season while writing my match reports (new hair-cuts usually do for me), I was happy that only one unfamiliar face was on show.

An early sight of Capoue on the ball

An early sight of Capoue on the ball

Prior to kick-off, as the players formed the line for the ‘respect’ handshake, they were joined by the Mayor of St Albans.  I don’t remember that happening when we played in the Football League.

Watford had an early chance as Deeney headed the ball down to Ighalo but the ball ran away from the Nigerian and the chance was gone.  Then Capoue released Pudil on the wing, he crossed for Deeney who couldn’t connect.  Forestieri played a low cross to Deeney who cut it back to Abdi, but the Professor’s shot was straight at the Saints keeper.  The first goal attempt from the home side was put out for a corner which Gomes punched in the direction of a Saints player but Forestieri was on hand to block the follow-up.  Watford resumed their attacks as Deeney passed to Forestieri, who found space for a shot but it was a bit soft, so easily saved.  An attempt by Deeney to reach an Abdi ball over the top to him in the box was stopped by a push, but there was no penalty appeal.  Deeney then shaped for a scissor kick, but a defender blocked the ball before he could connect.

Waiting for a corner

Waiting for a corner

A lovely Abdi corner should have been converted but Capoue’s header was mistimed and the ball went sailing past him.  Pudil found Forestieri who cut inside and shot into the side netting.  It had been mostly one way traffic in the first 25 minutes, but St Albans threatened as Cathcart was pushed off the ball and the cross reached Hilliard whose shot cleared the bar.  It was then Angella who lost out to Hilliard but the striker again shot over the target.  At the other end, an Abdi free kick was easily gathered by Jones.  The home side threatened again as a cross from Bishop was headed clear by Angella while Hilliard’s follow-up shot flew wide of the far post.  Watford took the lead in the 32rd minute as a cross from Anya was turned back by Pudil to Ighalo who powered the ball into the net.  We were two up very soon afterwards as Capoue played a one-two with Anya before very generously feeding Ighalo who finished.  It could have been three goals within five minutes as Deeney hit a lovely half volley that just cleared the bar.  So we went into the break two goals up after a half that was thoroughly entertaining.  The new boy certainly impressed and there was a lot of lovely passing and not tiki-taka stuff, but Bolton-esque crossfield balls.

Abdi whips in a free kick

Abdi whips in a free kick

I expected wholesale changes for the Hornets at half-time, but there were only five substitutions with Arlauskis, Prödl, Hoban, McGugan and Vydra replacing Gomes, Angella, Pudil, Watson and Ighalo.  The home side also made a number of changes.  Connor Smith soon joined the fray replacing Capoue, who had a very good first game in a Watford shirt.  Almost immediately, Deeney was bearing down on the St Albans goal but Jones came off his line and put him off so he shot over the bar.  The next change was Lloyd Dyer (no, I didn’t think I’d see him in a Watford shirt again either) replacing Forestieri.  For the home side, Ngoyi shot wide of the far post, although the whistle had already gone for a rather harsh offside decision.  On the hour Abdi shot just wide.  Another unexpected face returned as Belkalem came on for Cathcart.  Dyer played a one-two with Vydra before putting in a cross that was turned out for a corner from which Prödl’s header over the target.  Dyer was instrumental in the third Watford goal as he rounded the keeper and hit a shot which was cleared back to him so he squared for Deeney to blast home.  Watford’s next substitution saw young professional Dennon Lewis replacing Abdi.  The first time Arlauskis was called into action he impressed, blocking a close range shot and then saving the follow-up.

Prodl in Action

Prodl in Action

Watford’s next chance was a McGugan free-kick which flew over the bar.  There was a further substitution as Anya was replaced by Paredes.  The home side hadn’t given up and a shot from Medlock was saved by the legs of Arlauskis.  At the other end a chance for Deeney was slightly scuffed and went straight to the keeper.  Dennon Lewis broke into the box, but his shot was saved.  The final substitution saw the last of the starters, Deeney, replaced by Byers.  Watford’s fourth came in the 87th minute as a cut back from Paredes was met with a shot from Smith that took a wicked deflection to fly over Jones in the St Albans goal.  There was one last chance for the Hornets but McGugan’s shot was saved so the visitors ran out 4 goal winners.

Those who shun pre-season games missed a treat.  It was a very good performance on a gorgeous Summer’s evening.  The new boys all looked impressive, the old boys played their part, there were four goals and I got a kiss from the Watford captain.  All in all, a very good evening.

 

A Miserable Night in Birmingham

The scoreboard prior to kick-off

The scoreboard prior to kick-off

As the train made its way to the midlands I received an e-mail from a colleague telling me to enjoy my holiday.  Looking at the rain streaking the window I replied that my enjoyment of the time off was completely in the hands of the Watford players.  Since my message to my usual travelling companions to see who wanted tickets for this fixture had elicited only negative responses, the football was the only thing I had to look forward to that evening.

Jokanovic had two changes forced on him due to injuries to Bassong and Munari and added three more for good measure so the starting line-up was Gomes, Doyley, Ekstrand, Hoban, Paredes, Anya, Tözsér, McGugan, Ighalo, Forestieri and Deeney.  This provoked much wailing among fans and doom-laden references to the game at Bristol City when Zola made wholesale changes.  On the positive side, it meant that Lloyd Doyley made his 400th start for Watford, what a tremendous servant he has been.  Birmingham’s captain was former Watford favourite Paul Robinson.  It still hurts to remember giving him away for peanuts.

The pre-match huddle

The pre-match huddle

As soon as I heard that Birmingham had won only once in their last 25 home games, my heart sank.  They had a new manager in Gary Rowett, who was introduced to great fanfare.  With the Watford fans chanting “We are top of the league,” and goading the home fans about their recent 8-0 defeat this was one of those nights where I feared that pride would come before a fall.

Donaldson threatened the Watford goal in the first minute but Tommie Hoban was on hand to make a saving tackle.  The respite was brief as the home side took the lead in the second minute as McGugan lost the ball on the sideline while trying to play out of defence, Gleeson crossed for Donaldson whose shot was deflected past Gomes by Ekstrand.  Forestieri tried to hit back immediately with an ambitious shot that was well over the bar.  But Watford drew level on seven minutes.

Celebrations following Forestieri's equalizer

Celebrations following Forestieri’s equalizer

Doyley got the ball in an advanced position where he was greeted with shouts of “shoooot”, he exchanged passed with McGugan then cut the ball back for Forestieri whose initial shot was blocked by Randolph, but he made no mistake with the follow-up.  Ighalo passed across to Deeney who played it back to McGugan but his shot was put out for a corner.  At the other end, Caddis crossed for Cotterill who wellied the ball well over the target.  Just before the half hour, Caddis put in another dangerous cross but Shinnie’s header was horrible as he directed the ball straight in front of him when the goal was some distance to his right.  Anya made a forward run and cut the ball back for Forestieri who had to stretch for the shot which was blocked.  Robbo was the next to threaten the Watford goal, but his header was cleared by Ekstrand.  Birmingham should have taken the lead with a great free-kick from Cotterill which required a flying save from Gomes to keep it out.  At the other end Randolph had to pull off a similar save to repel a belting shot from Deeney.  A shot from Cotterill was cleared and Watford launched a counter attack that finished with a cross from Ighalo which flew past the onrushing Forestieri.  Then a cross from Paredes was deflected to Randolph by one of his defenders.  In the final minute of the half, Gomes was on hand to push a shot from Gleeson clear.

Lining up to defend a corner

Lining up to defend a corner

At the start of the second half, Ighalo did well to keep the ball when tackled and eventually found space to shoot but his shot was over the target.  The first yellow card of the game went to Davis who hacked Anya down rather needlessly as the whistle had already gone.  Forestieri found McGugan who played a ball over the top into the box but it was too far in front of Deeney.  Ighalo played a square ball to McGugan whose curling shot was easily caught by Randolph.  A dangerous shot by Donaldson was cleared by Hoban, there followed a sustained Birmingham attack where the Watford defence could not clear but the home side eventually did us a favour by putting the ball out for a goal kick.  At this point the home fans found their voice and it has to be said that they make an impressive sound when they get going.  The first substitution came in the 58th minute as Ighalo made way for Andrews who was tasked with shoring up the midfield.

Tozser readies himself for a disappointing free-kick

Tozser readies himself for a disappointing free-kick

A ball into the Watford box was headed back to Gleeson who wellied it wide.  Hopes rose in the away end as Tözsér stepped up to take a free-kick on the edge of the box, but it was woeful, clearing the bar by some distance.  My nerves were on edge as a deflected shot appeared to be drifting towards our goal, Doyley cleared but the flag was up anyway.  At last a moment of quality with a lovely passing move along the length of the pitch, a defender slipped allowing Andrews to get a cross in but it was put out for a corner.  Then Deeney broke free and played Anya in but he couldn’t muster a shot.  McGugan and Deeney exchanged passes before Lewis tried an early shot that was well wide of the near post.  Then Deeney chested the ball down to Andrews but he lifted his shot over the bar.  The home side made their first substitution replacing Arthur with Gray.  There were cheers from the travelling Horns as Vydra was spotted getting ready to come on.  His name had been chanted in the away end for about 10 minutes before the change.  He replaced Forestieri with 15 minutes remaining.  Anya looked as though he’d run the ball out of play on the sideline, but was allowed to continue, broke into the box executed some ridiculous step-overs and then ran the ball out of play behind the goal line.  Just awful.

Anya and McGugan checking the position of their wall

Anya and McGugan checking the position of their wall

The home side’s second substitution saw Thomas replace Shinnie.  Andrews was booked for a robust tackle on Caddis.  Cotterill took the resulting free-kick, hitting another dreadful shot that was well off target.  In the 84th minute, the home side took the lead as a cross from Cotterill was met with a powerful header from Donaldson that flew past Gomes.  Watford could have no complaints.  Watford tried to strike back as Deeney played a through ball to Anya but the Scot was offside.  Anya exchanged passes with Vydra whose shot was blocked, the ball rebounded to Andrews but got stuck under his feet as he was challenged and the ball was cleared.  Watford’s second booking went to Deeney who was penalized for a foul on Morrison.  Robbo rose to head a cross from Anya clear, the follow-up shot from the Scot was saved by Randolph and the home side took all three points.

At the final whistle, the players started to trudge off but Gomes could be seen calling Paredes back to applaud the travelling fans.  I couldn’t bring myself to applaud them back.  But when Robbo ran up the field as one of the last to leave, I and others around me couldn’t help but acknowledge his efforts and he responded in kind to the Watford fans who had been so sporting.

It had been a miserable performance on a cold evening.  Birmingham hadn’t been great, although I was relieved that Cotterill had been so wasteful with the chances that fell to him as it could have been much worse.  So the unbeaten run is at an end, but I’m still looking forward to the trip to Ipswich on Saturday where I’m hoping for better things.  The phrase “glutton for punishment” comes to mind.

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.

Robbed at the Valley

Oscar Garcia's first appearance on the touchline as Watford manager

Oscar Garcia’s first appearance on the touchline as Watford manager

As I headed for South London on Saturday, the heroics of the Huddersfield game where our 10 men won out against the odds with the help of the crowd seemed a lifetime ago.  In the meantime, we had an international break and a change of manager, so it felt like we were starting the season over again.  As I’ve said previously, I liked Beppe as a man.  But it had been obvious at the end of last season that there was something seriously wrong on the playing side of the club.  Despite the early results this season, that impression had continued, so the replacement of the manager was an obvious move and it was now Oscar Garcia’s chance to work with our talented squad.  A lack of decent watering holes in the vicinity of Charlton’s ground meant pre-match drinks were had in Borough Market which, in turn, meant a lovely walk along the South Bank of the Thames to build up a thirst.

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

Given the injuries and suspensions, there were no real surprises in Garcia’s first team selection.  He had to do some early tweaking, though, as Andrews picked up a knock in the warm up so was replaced at the last minute by McGugan.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Angella, Ekstrand, Hoban, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Abdi, Anya, Deeney and Vydra in a 3-5-2 formation.  After the sartorial elegance of Sannino on the sidelines, Garcia took his place in the dugout wearing a tracksuit.

The first action of the game saw the home side take the lead, Cousins went on a run and passed to Vetokele in the box, Gomes came out and took him down.  The referee had no choice but to point to the penalty spot and show Gomes a yellow card.  Buyens made no mistake with the spot kick sending the keeper the wrong way.

Ekstrand and Vetokele both eyeing the ball

Ekstrand and Vetokele both eyeing the ball

Watford tried to strike back immediately as Pudil played a long pass down the left to Deeney who turned and curled a shot just wide of the far post.  We had another chance with a free kick but McGugan hit it wide of the near post.  In the 10th minute, the Charlton fans started a minute’s applause for former player David Whyte who died at a tragically young age this week, in this they were joined by many of the Watford fans.  Watford launched a great break that started with Anya playing a cross field ball to Pudil, the ball came back to him and he crossed for McGugan whose header flew wide.  At this point, Garcia instructed Pudil to drop back and changed the shape to 4-4-2.  There was an announcement over the tannoy asking the Watford fans to sit down which was drowned out as Abdi played a cross that was dummied by Vydra and ran through to Deeney whose shot was heading for the bottom corner until Henderson got down to save it.

Waiting for a corner

Waiting for a corner

Deeney then brought the ball down and played it out to Pudil who found McGugan who really should have done better with his shot which flew high and wide.  The first substitution was for the home side as Gudmundsson, who had been a doubt for the game, was replaced by Wilson.  On the half hour, Watford had a really good shout for a penalty as Tözsér played Deeney in, he got goal side of Ben Haim who tripped him in the box, but the referee waved play on.  Abdi played in Anya who went on a run before whipping in a cross that was tipped over by Henderson.  From the corner, the ball came out to Anya whose shot from distance was pushed around the post.  An attempted break by Vetokele was stopped by Abdi who was booked for his trouble.  Then Anya did very well to keep the ball under a challenge, advanced and, after some lovely passing, the ball reached Vydra who thrashed it wide.  Hoban was the next Watford player to see yellow for a foul on Tucudean.  He was followed soon after by Ekstrand as Vetokele was again stopped from breaking forward.  We reached half-time a goal down despite having had the lion’s share of the possession, playing some lovely football and having had a good shout for a penalty.  That has been a familiar position this season.

Tozser taking a corner

Tozser taking a corner

At the start of the half-time break, the only Watford substitute warming up was Paredes, so it was no surprise when he replaced Hoban at the beginning of the second period.  Charlton had the first chance of the second half as Vetokele had a shot deflected over.  Anya was fouled by Wiggins who was booked for the offence.  Anya then found Deeney who played a lovely ball through to Vydra who was running into the box, unfortunately the ball bounced off the Czech’s foot and ran through to Henderson.  A cross from Pudil reached Deeney, he chested the ball down to Vydra who returned it to Deeney but his shot was wide of the near post.  Abdi played a lovely ball to Anya who ran along the byline and put in a cross that was knocked out for a corner.  Then Tözsér took a low free-kick in a dangerous position that deflected off the wall for a corner.  McGugan put in a cross that was too high for the leap of Deeney.  Just before the hour, Charlton had only their second attack of the half as a couple of crossfield passes brought the ball to Vetokele who headed wide when he should have done better.  Garcia made another change as Lloyd Dyer replaced Vydra, who had got into some great positions but seemed reluctant to shoot.

McGugan and Tozser line up a free kick

McGugan and Tozser line up a free kick

McGugan should have done better as Deeney nodded the ball down to him and he skyed his shot.  Gomes was called into action for the first time since the penalty, pushing out a cross from Moussa and knocking both Angella and Vetokele flying at the same time.  Fortunately they were both fit to continue after a visit from the physios.  Anya found McGugan whose shot from distance was well over.  There was a silly spell of handbags as Ben Haim objected to a robust, but fair looking, tackle from Deeney with Bikey also getting involved.  This was immediately followed by Buyens stopping a run from Anya by elbowing the Scot to the floor and making his way into the referee’s book.  I thought we were finally going to get the equalizer that we deserved as Tözsér crossed to Dyer at the far post, but his shot hit the side netting.  There was then a goalmouth scramble, Dyer’s shot was greeted by cheers and then groans from the away end as it bounced out, Deeney’s follow-up was celebrated before we saw the linesman’s flag.  I have to admit that the details of that spell are a mystery to me as I couldn’t see over the heads in front of me so I was reacting to the mood in the crowd.

Paredes in action

Paredes in action

With 15 minutes remaining, there was a change for each team as Ighalo replaced McGugan and Harriott replaced former Watford loanee, Jackson.  A Watford corner was floated into Henderson’s hands.  Then Deeney and Ighalo combined to feed Dyer whose shot was pushed wide by the keeper.  Angella headed a Tözsér cross wide of the target.  Dyer had another great chance, but his shot was blocked by Henderson.  Harriott broke forward for the home side, but Gomes was equal to his shot.  Charlton broke again and it was looking worrying for the visitors until Paredes strolled over and swept up rather delightfully.  Ighalo had a shot from inside the box but it flew over the bar.  At this point, the Charlton fans could be heard singing The Great Escape.  In time added on it all got a bit frantic.  Abdi had a shot blocked, then Tözsér played Anya in, but his shot was over the bar.  It just wasn’t our day and Garcia’s first game finished in a defeat that the performance didn’t deserve.

There were a lot of complaints from Watford fans on the way out that I really didn’t understand.  While we’d wasted some possession and our set pieces were very poor, we had completely dominated the game, had the majority of the shots on goal and really should have won the game.  This was a far better footballing performance than we had against Huddersfield and streets ahead of what we saw on our last away trip, but most Watford fans in the queue for the train were complaining while the Charlton fans were commenting on what a good team Watford were and that they’d got away with that one.  I fear that the expectations among the Watford fans are sky high and it is making them impatient.  It is a long season and we’ve made a terrific start so let’s just enjoy that.

 

Little Strength Shown by the Depth

Jonathan Bond

Jonathan Bond

Discussion before the match centred on memories of dire games at this stage of the competition, the Accrington Stanley tedium taking centre stage.  When there is little expectation of great entertainment, I tend to turn up “just in case”.  As expected, there were nine changes from Saturday, but the strength of our squad meant that it was still a pretty formidable team.  There had been speculation as to whether, following his indiscretion last week, Dyer would be picked.  He was.  The starting line-up was Bond, Doyley (c), Tamas, Hoban, Anya, McGugan, Andrews, Murray, Dyer, Ighalo and Vydra.

The walk from the West Herts to the ground in the half hour before kick-off was through eerily empty streets.  But, inside the ground, the seats around us were well populated with a high proportion of kids and neutrals.

Doncaster gave a warning of what was to come in the second minute as Bennett found Tyson on the right whose shot flew just past the far post.  At the other end, Vydra cut inside but his shot was blocked.  Doncaster had another decent chance as Coppinger fired just wide.

Dyer all smiles after scoring

Dyer all smiles after scoring

The visitors should have been ahead when Tyson connected with a free-kick, but he headed the ball down and it flew just wide.  Doncaster took the lead in the 12th minute as Tamas needlessly fouled Bennett in the box.  Tyson stepped up to take the penalty firing it straight down the middle with Bond diving to his right.  Watford fans in the Rookery thought we had equalized almost immediately as a shot from Lewis McGugan cannoned off the crossbar at the Vicarage Road end before bouncing down and out.  Sean Murray’s follow-up was blocked.  This was better from the home side as Ighalo robbed Coppinger of the ball and went on a run before passing to McGugan whose shot flew wide.  Watford drew level after half an hour when Dyer broke forward and buried the ball past Steer.  His celebration this week involved running away from the bench with his hand over his mouth.  Tyson had an opportunity to regain the lead, but his shot was straight at Bond.  Vydra and Dyer exchanged passes but the return ball was too heavy and the chance was gone.  Just before half-time, Coppinger tried a shot that was well wide of the far post.  It had been a half of few chances.

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

Five minutes into the second period, Bennett shot over the bar from outside the area.  A minute later Doncaster retook the lead as a lovely passing move was finished with Wakefield turning a cut-back from Furman past Bond.  Wabara nearly provided Watford with an unlikely equalizer as he mis-hit the ball goalwards and had to recover to clear off the line.  Bennett threatened again with a shot from distance that was just wide of the far post.  Bennett’s next shot was from a free-kick which Bond parried before gathering.  Vydra won a free-kick on the edge of the box, but McGugan hit it straight into the wall and then skyed the follow-up.  With 20 minutes remaining, Pudil replaced Doyley, who handed the captain’s armband to Tamas, and McGugan made way for Munari.  The ever dangerous Bennett should have put the game beyond Watford’s reach with a shot from distance that was tipped over the bar by Bond.  At the other end, Vydra did well to retain the ball, riding a couple of tackles, but his final shot was way off target and into the Rookery.  Sannino made his last change at this point replacing Murray with Fabbrini.

Andrews and McGugan lining up a free-kick

Andrews and McGugan lining up a free-kick

On 75 minutes, Doncaster appeared to have scored a third as Keegan’s shot beat Bond, but the linesman flagged for an offside.  De Val was booked for persistent fouling after taking Vydra down.  Munari failed to connect with Fabbrini’s free-kick, the follow-up was blocked, the ball was played back into the area and Dyer shot over.  With 5 minutes remaining, Pudil took a free-kick into the box which flew over the head of the leaping Hoban.  In time added on, Tyson was booked for time-wasting after blocking Bond’s attempts to take a free kick.  You have to wonder why he bothered as Watford really hadn’t looked like scoring for some time.

The final whistle went to boos from the Rookery.  The home side were very poor on the night, although that should not detract from a very decent performance by the visitors.  Sannino had picked a strong side, but there was little sign of those players fighting to be first choice, which was unforgivable.  The game can be summed up by the fact that I could only find a pocket notebook in which to record the incidents in the game and I failed to cover more than a page and a half.  I think I will put a link to this report on my calendar for next August to remind me to find something else to do during the early rounds of the cup.

 

Off to a Winning Start

Luther and Gifton

Luther and Gifton

Having seen my first pre-season game on 5th July, it feels like I’ve already seen a lot of football, so the dawning of the first day of the season seemed less exciting than it should have been.  Works on the line around Watford Junction meant that the journey took longer than usual but, on boarding the slow train to Watford at Queens Park, I met the lovely John of Ossett who accompanied me on the rest of my trip.  As the West Herts starting filling up with familiar faces, it was lovely to see Curtis from Denver.  He’d not managed to see a game last season so as far as he was concerned Vydra had never left.  I did warn him that, if we won, he would be our lucky charm and wouldn’t be allowed to go home.

First huddle of the new season

First huddle of the new season

I must admit that I wasn’t convinced when I heard the starting line-up.  I was surprised that Dyer wasn’t starting and it seemed risky to start Paredes when he hadn’t participated in pre-season.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Angella, Ekstrand, Tamas, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Adbi, Parades, Deeney and Vydra.  Usually, the first game of the season sees a lot of people still on holiday so the crowd can be a bit sparse.  This was certainly not the case on Saturday as there wasn’t a spare seat to be found in our section.  There was a change in the pre-match personnel as Richard Short and Tim Coombs made way for Luther Blissett and Lee Partridge.  I’ve seen Luther working in the lounge in the past and it certainly adds an interesting element having a legend interviewing returning players.  On Saturday we were treated to Luther wandering up the pitch chatting to Gifton Noel-Williams, a real joy.

Deeney receives his team mates' congratulations

Deeney receives his team mates’ congratulations

The fans in the Rookery were on their feet in the first minute as Deeney unleashed a shot, but we soon sat down again when we realised that it had hit the net from behind.  Deeney then found Pudil on the left, but his shot was wide of the far post.  After the dreadful performances at the end of last season, it was good to see a bit of fight and team work and I noted an early incident in which Vydra was back in defence fighting for the ball, which made me very happy.  Bolton threatened a break but Tamas was on hand to stop them.  Parades then tried to escape, but was sent flying.  “Welcome to England,” said my neighbour.  On 17th minutes, we were a goal up as a Bolton attack was snuffed out and we played a succession of short passes to bring the ball out of defence before Angella went on a run then lofted a pass to Deeney who buried the ball past Lonergan.  The Rookery went mental.  I was too busy watching the goalscorer but my sister turned with a beaming smile and informed me that Gomes’s celebration was pretty mental too.

Heurelho Gomes

Heurelho Gomes

Bolton tried to hit back immediately but Gomes came for the ball, gathered it comfortably and, as Medo was in his way, flattened the Bolton player for good measure.  No messing.  I loved it.  A cross from Paredes fell to Pudil whose chip was wide of the target.  A chant of “sexy football” started up.  That always worries me as it is often a precursor to a fall, so my heart sank when Neil Danns broke into the box but Tamas took the ball off him and was then pushed over for his trouble, so won a free kick and the danger passed.  We were two goals to the good soon after as Vydra received a lovely ball over the top from Tözsér, cut back from the bye-line, he nearly went down as he skipped past the defender, but recovered and fired the ball past Lonergan.  I am told when asked why he hadn’t gone down under the challenge he replied that if he’d done that Troy would have taken the penalty so he decided to take the chance himself.

The returning Vydra and new boy Paredes

The returning Vydra and new boy Paredes

We were on fire at this point.  Paredes played a ball over the top to Vydra, he passed back to Abdi who fired over the bar.  On the half hour, Medo had a shot for Bolton that flew over the bar.  That was their first goal attempt of the game.  With 10 minutes of the half remaining, Bolton had a free kick in a dangerous position, but the header from Mills bounced into Gomes’s arms.  There was a bit of handbags just before half time when Medo wouldn’t give the ball back after being rather harshly penalized for a foul.  We had one more chance in the half as Abdi tried a low shot that was straight at Lonergan.

Noel-Williams senior and junior

Noel-Williams senior and junior

So, the home crowd were very happy indeed at half time.  We’d seen two excellent goals, some lovely football and we’d barely given Bolton a sniff of the ball.  I am also pleased to report that my concerns at the inclusion of Paredes had been groundless as he had put in a thrilling first half performance.  Drawing the 50-50 tickets at half-time were Gifton and Dejon Noel-Williams.  With junior currently in our academy, we can only hope that he has his father’s talent and becomes a star of the future.

At the start of the second half, Feeney replaced Pratley for the visitors.  Within 30 seconds, Parades had a terrific chance to get a third and I was already jumping for joy when the ball cannoned back off the crossbar.  Bolton then won their first corner to loud, ironic cheers from their fans.  Spearing had a shot deflected wide and the resulting corner was easily gathered by Gomes.

Angella wants the ball

Angella wants the ball

For the home side, Paredes found Vydra who was tackled, but fought back and regained possession before playing the ball back to Abdi whose shot was deflected for a corner.  Abdi threatened again, playing a one-two with McGugan before taking a shot that Lonergan saved.  Gomes was really tested for the first time just before the hour as he pushed Feeney’s shot from distance around the post when it was heading for the top corner.  Bolton’s second substitution saw Moxey replaced by Dervite.  Bolton had had a decent spell, so it was good to see Deeney in shooting position again but he fired the ball straight at Lonergan.  At the other end, Lee tried to lob Gomes, but the keeper got his fingertips to it and tipped it over the bar.  With 20 minutes to go, Beckford replaced Danns for Bolton and Sannino’s first substitution saw Munari make his debut in place of McGugan.  Vydra went on a run and tried to play Deeney in, but his pass was just behind his team mate and the chance was gone.  Substitute Beckford was the next to threaten, but he shot in to the side netting.

Forestieri congratulated for a goal within seconds of coming on

Forestieri congratulated for a goal within seconds of coming on

At this point Vydra left the field to ecstatic applause and was replaced by Forestieri.  Fernando was barely on the pitch before he latched on to a ball over the top from Angella and slotted it past Lonergan.  I’d been a little nervous that Bolton would get back into the game, so that goal settled my nerves.  Bolton again tried an immediate response with a point-blank header from Lee that was pushed out by Gomes.  From the corner, Dervite’s header flew over the bar.  Sannino’s final substitution saw Dyer coming on for Pudil.  Forestieri had another great chance but his enthusiasm got the better of him.  He looked like a little puppy as he went scampering after the ball and then tripped over his own feet.

Deeney and Vydra in striking position

Deeney and Vydra in striking position

Dyer and Deeney exchanged passes then Troy shot well over the bar when he probably should have passed to Dyer.  The last two chances of the game fell to Bolton, but neither troubled Gomes, as first a misplaced header fell to Lee who shot over the crossbar.  Then a soft shot from Davies drifted wide of the near post.

The final whistle went to great applause from the home fans.  We had been masterful in the first half and, even if Bolton got back into it a bit in the second, it was a convincing win.  Even better than that, we had quality all over the pitch.  It was a joy to witness.  The horror show that was the end of last season is now a distant memory.  I’m really trying not to be over-optimistic, but I can’t help feeling that this could be a very exciting season indeed.

 

Honours Even Against our Italian Brothers

First pre-match huddle of the season at Vicarage Road

First pre-match huddle of the season at Vicarage Road

Saturday saw the long-awaited visit of Udinese to Vicarage Road.  But, before that, was the joy of our first pre-match gathering of the new season.  Time to catch up on what people had been doing during the Summer and to speculate on the season to come.  Then it was off to Vicarage Road to see what changes had occurred since our last visit (most of which were additions to the new stand and the squad).

When the starting line-up came through, it appeared a bit odd, mainly because Beppe had abandoned the 4-3-3 that we’ve seen for most of the pre-season to revert to 3-5-2.  But also because some of the standout players in pre-season so far were left on the bench.  We started with Gomes, Angella, Tamas, Ekstrand, Pudil, McGugan, Andrews, Abdi, Anya, Deeney and Vydra.  Udinese’s team featured Watford old boy, Albert Riera, as well as Di Natale, much to the excitement of the Vicarage Road crowd.  It has to be said that, given the popularity of the new away shirt, it was very difficult to distinguish the Watford fans in the crowd from those from Udinese.

Gomes gathers the ball

Gomes gathers the ball

The first attempt on goal from either side was a weak shot from Fernandes that drifted over the bar.  A free-kick soon after was easily gathered by Gomes.  We had to wait until the 18th minute for Watford’s first attack of note as McGugan fed Vydra who played a through ball to Anya but the Scot’s first touch was too heavy and Brkic gathered safely.  The visitors threatened as a shot from Fernandes rebounded off the crossbar and Di Natale’s follow-up was gathered by Gomes.  On 23 minutes, Udinese went ahead as Widmer nodded a cross past Gomes.  I was a little surprised by the warmth of the applause that this elicited from the Watford fans.  The ironic chants of “sign him up” were less surprising.

Udinese on the attack

Udinese on the attack

We had a chance to hit back almost immediately as Vydra won a free-kick, but McGugan floated it into the arms of Brkic.  On the half hour, Adbi found Deeney who turned and shot but the ball looped into the keeper’s arms.  Di Natale looked to break into the box but Ekstrand was on hand to stop him.  At the other end, the ball was taken off Vydra’s feet on the edge of the box.  A defensive header from Deeney in our box reached McGugan who played a through ball to Anya to set up a counter attack, but the ball was too far in front of him and the chance lost.  In the dying minutes of the half, McGugan played a ball across the box to Pudil who cut back to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  On the stroke of half-time, Tamas gave the ball away to Fernandes but, thankfully, his shot was caught by Gomes so we went into the break just one goal down.  It has to be said that the first half had been rather lack lustre.

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

There were no personnel changes at half-time and we started the second half brightly as Anya went on a run down the right and pulled the ball back for the strikers but it rolled behind both Deeney and Vydra, so was left to Pudil to run in and unleash a shot that was deflected over.  The subsequent corner was punched clear by Brkic.  At the other end, Di Natale tried a shot but it was well off target.  A corner from McGugan was cleared with Angella challenging, it reached Ekstrand who wellied his shot over.  We should have equalized on 50 minutes as Deeney knocked the ball down to McGugan whose shot flew just wide.  A stinging shot from distance from Muriel was parried by Gomes.

McGugan congratulated on his goal

McGugan congratulated on his goal

On 58 minutes, Watford equalized.  Vydra was taken down and McGugan stepped up to take the free kick and curled it perfectly into the top corner.  That was his last involvement, as he was replaced by Battocchio, while Dyer and Ighalo came on for Anya and Vydra.  The subs were involved almost immediately as Battocchio found Deeney who passed across to Ighalo whose shot sadly hit the side netting.  At this point, Riera was replaced by Silva and left the field to very warm applause from the Watford faithful.  Deeney also left the field to be replaced by Ranegie.  Muriel went down injured and was replaced by Thereau.  At the same time Udinese swapped keepers with Scuffet coming on for Brkic.  At this point there was a delay in proceedings as Muriel was still down injured, but the ref finally stepped in and dragged him from the pitch by his arm to the sidelines where he was “looked after” by Harry Hornet.  I almost felt sorry for the guy.

Ighalo on the ball

Ighalo on the ball

Fernandes curled a shot from distance just wide of the near post.  Watford went behind again as Ranegie lost out to Allan who played a through ball to the substitute, Thereau, who fired a shot across Gomes into the far corner.  With 15 minutes remaining, Hoban and Fabbrini replaced Tamas and Abdi.  The next piece of skill was in the home dugout as a ball flew in and was controlled and returned to the field by Forestieri, who gloried in the cheers from the crowd.  Watford drew level again as Fabbrini went on a run down the left and crossed for Pudil whose header looked as though it was on target but Ranegie nodded it on, just in case, with Scuffet appealing for offside.

The architects of the second equalizer

The architects of the second equalizer

That was Pudil’s last contribution as he was replaced by Doyley.  We had a great chance to win the game as Scuffet came out to meet Ranegie who dinked the ball past the keeper and crossed back for Ighalo, but the Nigerian was unable to reach the ball and, with the goal begging, the chance was lost.

It had been a more enjoyable second half and a draw was a decent result against our Italian brothers.  But I left Vicarage Road with little idea of what our starting line-up or formation will be next week.  However, on a positive note, well done to the club for the pricing of this game, my ticket was £3 in contrast to the £14 asked for the Coventry game at Boreham Wood.  This encouraged a crowd of 11,085 into Vicarage Road, a very impressive attendance at a pre-season friendly.  Now bring on the Bolton.

 

Our First Pre-season Defeat

The new stand at Meadow Park

The new stand at Meadow Park

Six days after our last visit, we were back at Meadow Park for a game against Coventry.  Ticketing arrangements for this had been a bit of a shambles, with the original plans being for segregation and allocated seating with no concession prices offered for children or OAPs in seated areas, the groups most likely to want to sit.  This had been revised in the week before the game, although the claimed reduction in prices was a bit cheeky given that they had actually increased the price for adults who wanted to stand.  The message about unreserved seating had not been relayed to the stewards inside the ground, one of whom was directing people to their allocated area despite them insisting that the website told them that they could go where they wanted (as had the woman on the turnstile I went through).

Dyer on the ball

Dyer on the ball

Watford’s starting line-up was Gomes, Doyley, Angella, Tamas, Pudil, Tözsér, Abdi, Battocchio, Dyer, Vydra and Anya.  Deeney and new signing Ighalo were both on the bench.  Our vantage point for the first half was the South Terrace, which was mostly populated with Coventry fans, despite the fact that their team were attacking the other end.  There was an early chance for the Hornets, but Dyer poked the ball wide under a challenge.  At the other end, Gomes had to drop to gather a shot.  On 8 minutes, Coventry went a goal up as Tudgay nipped between the two central defenders and poked the ball past Gomes, the first goal that he has conceded in a Watford shirt.

Angella up for a corner

Angella up for a corner

Watford tried to hit back.  First Anya attempted a shot that went over the bar.  Then an Abdi shot from distance which also cleared the target.  Coventry had a great chance for a second goal, but Tudgay could only head Miller’s cross on to Pugh and his shot was closer to the corner flag than the goal.  On the half hour, Tudgay curled a shot towards the top corner, but Gomes pulled off an excellent save to deny him.  The only action that made its way into my notebook in the last 15 minutes of the half was a shot from Miller that flew wide of the far post.  After a lively start, it had been a poor half from Watford with Coventry having the best of the play and, but for wasteful finishing, they could have been three goals up.

We joined the players in swapping ends at half-time.  There were wholesale changes at the start of the second half as Hoban, Ekstrand, Murray, McGugan, Deeney, Ranegie and Fabbrini replaced Pudil, Tamas, Abdi, Battocchio, Dyer, Vydra and Anya.  Andrews had come on for Tözsér sometime during the first half, but I had completely missed that happening.  Watford started the second period strongly, as Fabbrini went on a run into the area and shot just wide.  Ranegie also went close.

Deeney on the ball

Deeney on the ball

On the hour Deeney tried a shot, but it was weak and didn’t trouble the keeper.  Bond replaced Gomes for the final half hour and was given little to do.  Fabbrini played a one-two with Ranegie then put in a lovely low cross, but Ranegie was falling and couldn’t make a decent contact.  McGugan was next to threaten as he went on a run and but his shot was easily caught.  Chances had been at a premium for Coventry in the second half, so it was concerning when they won a free-kick in a decent position.  Fortunately for us it was launched into the trees outside the ground.  Sean Murray was the next to try a shot from distance, but it was easily gathered by the keeper.  Soon after, he was replaced by Ighalo.  McGugan deserved better as he controlled the ball and shot goalwards, but the keeper caught it under his foot.

Oghalo warming up

Ighalo warming up

Ighalo also had a chance to equalize, but his shot was blocked.  The last notable action of the game was a foul on Fabbrini that so incensed the Italian, he ran after the culprit and pushed him over.  As silly as this action was, it was nice to see a bit of fight from Fabbrini, who had been excellent since he came on.  Last season, he tended to disappear after a defender clattered him.  If he can add a bit of steel to his game, it will be like a new signing as he is certainly an exciting talent.

So the game finished with a Coventry win, our first defeat of this pre-season.  The second half had been an improvement on the first, mostly because there was a bit of movement upfront that had been missing in the first half, but there hadn’t been much entertainment.

So now it is back to Vicarage Road on Saturday for the visit of Udinese.  Who will the Pozzos be supporting?

A Glorious Afternoon in Clarence Park

Welcome to Clarence Park

Welcome to Clarence Park

While in Austria, there had been speculation that this weekend would see us playing a couple of games in Scotland.  Late last week, the bizarre prospect of playing Osasuna at Meadow Park raised its head.  But the final outcome was a trip to St Albans, which was rather lovely.

The main topic of discussion when the team was announced was the presence of Deeney on the bench.  None of our party really believe that he will be with us come the end of the transfer window so it felt like a treat to see him in a Watford shirt again.  It would also be our first chance to see Keith Andrews as the starting line-up was Gomes; Hoban, Tamas, Ekstrand, Pudil; McGugan, Andrews, Abdi; Anya, Ranegie and Dyer.

Ready for kick-off

Ready for kick-off

There was an early scare for the visitors as Andrews gave the ball away in midfield leading to a shot from McBean that Gomes collected.  A counterattack from the Saints finished with a shot from Kyriacou that flew well over the bar.  Watford then began to assert their authority.  Ranegie did well to beat the defender but, with only the keeper to beat, his shot was wide of the target.  A lovely Watford move finished with a shot from Dyer that beat Coulton in the St Albans goal, but the celebrations were cut short as the linesman’s flag was raised.

Congratulations for Anya

Congratulations for Anya

We were not to be denied for long, though, as the next move  saw Dyer outpace the defence, put a square cross to Ranegie who played it back to Anya whose powerful shot hit the back of the net.  Soon after, a lovely cross from Hoban went begging as McGugan couldn’t reach it.  Then Dyer tried to play Ranegie in, but the keeper was first to the ball.  There was a bit of pinball in the St Albans area as multiple shots from McGugan and Anya were blocked.  Then Andrews played a ball over to Dyer who teed up McGugan but his shot rebounded off the crossbar with the keeper beaten.  Abdi went on a forward run and crossed, but Ranegie could not connect with a header.  At the other end, a spectacular dive from Gomes seemed to be more to give him something to do than to reach a shot from Corcoran that was well wide of the target.

Abdi on the attack

Abdi on the attack

Anya went on another run down the left and beat a defender before crossing for Dyer who generously passed to McGugan, but the shot was weak and easy for Coulton, which left us wishing that Dyer had buried it himself.  Dyer and Anya combined again, but there was another weak finish, this time a poor header from Ranegie.  McGugan and Ranegie then played a one-two but the shot was blocked.  With 5 minutes to go to half time, we finally got a second goal as Tamas played a long ball to Hoban on the right wing, he put in a lovely cross and Ranegie was there to nod it past Coulton.  His celebration indicated his relief at finally capitalizing on one of his chances.  Abdi was the next to threaten, but his shot was blocked.  At the other end, Gomes had a chance to demonstrate his ball skills as, with two players closing in, he played himself out of trouble beating the forwards and clearing.  On the stroke of half-time, the Hornets were 3 up as Ekstrand headed an Abdi corner goalwards.  As the ball hit a defender on the way in, it was given as an own goal, but it looked like Ekstrand’s goal to me.

Very nearly there

Very nearly there

After the paucity of goals in most of the pre-season games, it was great to reach the interval with three to discuss.  St Albans may be playing in the same league as Boreham Wood next season, but the quality of their team was not a patch on their rivals and the Watford team had played very well.

At half time, we decided to swap ends to remain behind the goal that Watford were attacking. It was roasting at that end of the ground, but worth it to see the goals.

Sannino made five substitutions at the start of the second half, with Bond, Doyley, Angella, Tozser and Fabbrini replacing Gomes, Hoban, Ekstrand, Abdi and Dyer.  Early in the half, Anya went on a run and put in a cross that Coulton intercepted before it reached Fabbrini.  McGugan, who had taken the captain’s armband, played a ball over the top for Fabbrini to run on to, he received the return pass and unleashed a shot that Coulton turned around the post.  McGugan took the corner which was headed over by Angella.

Fabbrini on the ball

Fabbrini on the ball

On 55 minutes, Ranegie and Andrews made way for Vydra and Battocchio.  Vydra was involved immediately as he received the ball from Doyley then exchanged passes with Anya before shooting, but Coulton was equal to his effort.  Just after the hour, Deeney made an appearance in place of McGugan while Johnson came on for Pudil.  The next Watford chance came as Fabbrini cut into the box and hit a shot which required a good save to keep it out.  At the other end, St Albans had their first chance for some time as Pires, who had just come on as a substitute, shot just wide of the far post.  Bond was called into action soon after and pulled off a great save to tip Ward’s strike over.  This inspired the St Albans fans into a chant of “We’re the pride of Hertfordshire.”  Sannino’s final substitution saw Smith replacing Anya.

Deeney goes to congratulate Battocchio

Deeney goes to congratulate Battocchio

Battocchio tried a shot from too far out that was caught before it got anywhere near the goal.  He made up for that soon after as he latched on to a ball from Vydra and coolly chipped the keeper.  A lovely goal.  He scored his second, and Watford’s fifth, soon after as he ran onto a ball from Deeney, outpacing the defence, and hit the ball past Coulton.  With 10 minutes remaining, the game was stopped for a drinks break.  I suspect that the Saints players were hoping for something rather strong in theirs.  Bond was in action again with 6 minutes to go, but he dealt comfortably with Frendo’s shot.  Smith tried a shot from distance that was well wide of the target.

Deeney confirms Battocchio's brace

Is this our last view of Deeney in a Watford shirt?

Then Deeney, who had berated the lino for an earlier decision, was flagged offside but he chipped the ball past the keeper for the entertainment of the Watford fans in the crowd.  In the final minutes, Jallow had a chance to get a consolation for the home side, but his shot from wide right flew past the far post.  The last chance went Watford’s way as a shot from Fabbrini was blocked and the ball fell to Deeney whose cross was headed over by Vydra.

With goals having been at a premium in most of the other games, it was a treat to see so many in this one.  It was also rather pleasing to see the strength in depth that we have this season as every change was positive rather than weakening the team as the game went on.  All in all a fun pre-season afternoon.