Tag Archives: LLoyd Dyer

Beating Burton in the Cup

Cathcart, Capoue and Britos

Cathcart, Capoue and Britos

When the draw was made for the third round of the cup, there was a twinge of regret that we hadn’t been drawn away to Burton, as it would have been a new ground.  But a Saturday 3pm kick-off at Vicarage Road made a very pleasant change.  I arrived at the West Herts just before it opened, in time for the guvnor to open the interior door for Don, offer him his usual (tea with milk and two sugars) and have it delivered to the table before I’d ordered my pint.  These celebrities, don’t know they are born.

Team news for this game promised to be interesting.  Would Walter opt to put out an inexperienced team and rest the remaining first team players or would a better performance and (hopefully) a win be worth risking further injuries?  In the event, the only change that wasn’t enforced by injury or illness was the inclusion of Cathcart in place of Prödl (although it is likely that Pantilimon would have made an appearance even if Gomes had been well).  It was very pleasing to see Brandon Mason given a start after his substitute appearance against Spurs.  The starting line-up was Pantilimon; Kaboul, Cathcart, Britos; Kabasele, Capoue, Doucouré, Mason; Sinclair, Ighalo; Deeney.  Former Watford men, Lloyd Dyer and Lee Williamson started for visitors.  It was also great to see Ben Watson back on the Watford bench.

Celebrating Kabasele's goal (and Mason's assist)

Celebrating Kabasele’s goal (and Mason’s assist)

We had opted for a change of scene for this game, swapping our seats in the Rookery for a place in the SEJ stand.  Our seats were low down and right next to the Watford dugout, which was a little distracting while having the extra attraction of a good view of Nigel Clough (for whom I have had a very soft spot for many years).

Watford’s first attack of the game came through Mason who beat a defender on the wing to go on a run and put in a cross which was caught by the Burton keeper, McLaughlin.  Watford’s injury curse continued as, following a clash of heads with Britos, Cathcart was unable to continue and, with only a quarter of an hour on the clock, was replaced by Prödl.  Being close to the dugout, so we got to see first-hand the time taken to prepare the top knot (which isn’t meant as criticism, I find it rather fetching and it was done while he was receiving instructions).  Burton threatened with a cross from Dyer, but it was an easy catch for Pantilimon.  Watford took the lead through a lovely move as Mason played a one-two with Deeney before putting in a terrific cross that Kabasele stabbed home.  I think that the goal calmed a lot of nerves both on and off the pitch.

Deeney waiting for Brayford's throw

Deeney waiting for Brayford’s throw

Watford had a decent chance to increase the lead as Capoue played a through ball to Ighalo who played a quick one-two with Deeney before executing a trademark scoop and shooting just over the bar.  Burton had to make a substitution just after the half hour mark as Ward replaced the injured Miller.  The visitors had a great chance to equalize just before half time as a cross was punched to Ward on the edge of the box but Capoue was on hand to block the shot.  The Frenchman then went on a counter attack ending with a low shot that was saved by McLaughlin.  The first card came at the end of the half with Naylor booked for pulling Ighalo back as he tried to escape.

There was an atmosphere of satisfaction in the home stands at half time.  It was pleasing to have the lead and there had been some good signs, especially going forward.

 

Celebrating Sinclair's solo effort

Celebrating Sinclair’s solo effort

The visitors started the second half well and had the first chance as a Flanagan cross was headed just wide of the target by Varney.  Sinclair had a chance with a shot from inside the area, but it was straight at McLaughlin.  Another Flanagan cross flew across the face of the goal just missing the outstretched boot of Harness.  At the other end, Capoue’s shot from distance flew just wide of the target.  Watford’s second substitution came on the hour as Kaboul was replaced by Brice Dja Djédjé making his first appearance for the Hornets, having been injured since his transfer from Marseille.  There was a long stoppage after Varney went down following a clash with Pantilimon.  It looked nasty as the Burton man was stretchered off wearing an oxygen mask.  I hate to see players carried off, I hope he makes a rapid recovery.  He was replaced by Akins.  Watford were two goals to the good on 77 minutes as Sinclair went on a run at the Burton defence before unleashing a shot that beat the keeper.  The goal was doubly gratifying as it seemed to make the game safe for the Hornets as well as giving an example to some of his team mates just to shoot if you get a sight of goal.  There was a great chance for a third as Capoue played a through ball to Sinclair who found Ighalo running in to the box, he scooped the ball on to his right foot and shot, but it was blocked by the keeper’s legs.

Djédjé takes a throw-in

Djédjé takes a throw-in

Watford had another decent chance as a corner was cleared to Mason, he played a square ball to Djédjé who shot over the target.  Due to the long stoppage for Varney’s injury, there were 8 minutes of time added on, which gave Sinclair a chance to go on another run towards goal but this time McLaughlin was equal to his strike.  There was just time to give youngster Carl Stewart a debut as he replaced Sinclair after what seemed like an age waiting for a break in the game.  He is the 60th player from the Watford Academy to make an appearance for the first team (the third in the past week).

The final whistle went on a very pleasing win for the Hornets as, while Burton had their moments, it had been a comfortable afternoon.  Mason certainly took his chance, with some great runs down the wing and was clearly delighted with his assist.  I hope that we see a lot more of him.  Doucouré had another good game in the midfield and Capoue had his best game for some time.  Sinclair played well and was clearly buoyed by his goal and our first sight of Djédjé was very promising indeed.  After weeks of doom and gloom, it was lovely to have a post-match discussion with so many positives to reflect on.  Next week’s visit by Middlesbrough will be very interesting indeed.

Ultras and Bouncy Castles

The cycle rack outside the  Eintracht Stadion

The cycle rack outside the Eintracht Stadion

Having had plenty of notice of the pre-season tour this year, flights were booked some time ago for the trip to Braunschweig and Paderborn.  The evening before I left, I was on the way home from a performance of La Boheme at the Royal Opera House when I was greeted with the news that Friday’s game had been cancelled.  So, after very little sleep, I was not best pleased to be on an early flight to Germany with little idea of what to do with the next two days.  Still, I was sure that I could keep myself amused.

When I changed trains at Hannover, I saw some familiar faces on the platform.  Ian is one of the regular away travellers that I often meet on trains to games, but it was still a little incongruous to encounter him and his brother at a station in Germany.  I must say that, having travelled out on my own, I was rather pleased to have companions for the remainder of the journey.  During the trip to Braunschweig it was decided that, since Rayo Vallecano were to take Watford’s place in that evening’s game, we would take in the match at the Eintracht Stadion anyway.

On arrival at the ground, the first thing that I noticed was the huge number of bicycles that were chained up outside.  You would never see that at an English ground.  The next thing of note was the beer stand where I met my travelling companions and quenched my thirst after the long walk in the heat.

You'll Never Walk Alone Braunschweig Style

You’ll Never Walk Alone Braunschweig Style

When we entered the stadium, we found that the standing area that we had chosen was the home of the local Ultras.  They were gathered at the front of the terrace, so we were in a good position to observe.  As the teams emerged, we were a little surprised when scarves were raised and a rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” rang out.  The home fans were great entertainment.  The level of noise generated for a pre-season game was incredible, with quite a variety of songs ringing out.  There was also rather a lot of liquid being thrown about.  At first I thought they were throwing beer around, then it became apparent that there was a barrel of water at the front that was being liberally distributed into the crowd to cool them down on a warm evening.  With the score at one apiece going in to the final few minutes, there was a conga through the stand.  I’m not sure that any of the participants were aware that they conceded a late goal and lost the game.  After the match, we headed on the tram back to town and had dinner and beers at a traditional German restaurant.

Behrami before I saw him put in a tackle

Behrami before I saw him put in a tackle

My plan for Saturday had been to do a bit of sightseeing.  But, having been deprived of a chance to see Watford play, those travelling had been invited to send their contact details to the club and so I had received a call from Jon Marks informing me that we were invited to a training session at the team’s hotel.  The slight drawback was that this was in the middle of nowhere in a small town some distance from Braunschweig.  But we are seasoned travellers, so soon found details of the trains we needed to take and, after a late night out in Braunschweig, it was a slightly delicate bunch that met to catch the train to Gütersloh followed by a cab to Marienfeld.  On arrival at the team’s hotel, we found the Sportsplätze and there was a group of people in yellow shirts watching the Watford team going through some fitness routines that appeared to include trying to wreck the fence around the field.  The team had been split up into a number of different groups for these sessions and, as each group finished their routines, they emerged to sign autographs and have photographs taken with the supporters gathered there.

IMG_6359

Welcome to Arminia Bielefeld

While watching the training, we saw some Hamburg players and found out that they were scheduled to play Bielefeld that afternoon.  Since this was only one stop from Gütersloh on the train, we decided to take in the game.  On arrival at Bielefeld railway station, we followed the crowds to the stadium.  Again we opted to join the fans on the terraces.  The home end was packed.  As the team emerged, we were treated to a rendition of their club song, which had several verses.  They had a number of songs including a very effective call and answer of Arminia … Bielefeld.  To our surprise, a group that we thought were Hamburg fans in the opposite corner also participated in this chant (it was very difficult to distinguish between them as both sets of fans were wearing blue shirts).  Athough, judging by the flag that was waving in that section, there seemed to be a good number of home fans in that section.  The game resulted in a 2-0 win for the home side against a very poor Hamburg team.

Bouncy castle with footballs being fired at the 'goalie'

Bouncy castle with footballs being fired at the ‘goalie’

Sunday morning, I woke up to a storm of biblical proportions.  But, thankfully, the long train journey to Paderborn meant we left the rain behind.  After freshening up in the hotel, we headed into town for a beer and then got a cab to take us to the ground.  The last stage of the short journey took us up a narrow street that required a barricade to be moved for us to get through.  We then emerged into a country road bordered with a cornfield which happened to have a football stadium at the end of it.  There was a party atmosphere at the ground, with a bouncy castle goal and another bouncy full size fussball game, a carousel and the obligatory beer and würst.  Something for everyone.

After good experiences on the previous two days, I was looking forward to the performance of the Paderborn fans, so was disappointed when their club song was played over the tannoy rather than being sung by the spectators.  However, from a Watford perspective, it was just lovely to see our players warming up for the game.

At last I see a Watford team in Germany

At last I see a Watford team in Germany

The starting line-up was Arlauskis, Holebas, Prödl, Cathcart, Nyom, Behrami, Capoue, Watson, Abdi, Vydra and Deeney.

We’d had a conversation at a previous game about the drinking, smoking, water throwing and flares that are in evidence in German stadia and speculated on what would not be allowed.  We found out when a steward appeared to tell some fans that they couldn’t have their flag hanging from a crush barrier.  When they tried to protest, his gambit was “Look, they sent the fat bloke up to tell you, so do me a favour.”  It worked.

Troy congratulating the invisible Vydra

Troy congratulating Vydra

The first notable action of the game was Behrami knocking one of the Paderborn players flying.  It was a statement of intent.  Watford took the lead in the 11th minute as Deeney played a lovely through ball for Vydra who hit his shot sweetly past Kruse in the Paderborn goal.  The home side could have equalized soon afterwards as a cross reached Ouali in the box, but he blasted the ball way over the target.  In the 23rd minute, Abdi exchanged passes with Nyom, but the return pass was poor allowing the home side to launch a counter attack which finished with Ndjeng shooting straight at Arlauskis.  Behrami was then penalized for a tackle on Koc, who went down with a dramatic scream which was something of an over-reaction, but ensured that the Swiss international received a yellow card for the offence.  Koc took the resulting free-kick himself and blasted it way over the bar.  We had a great chance to increase the lead as, from an Abdi cross, Watson nodded the ball down to Deeney, whose shot appeared to be going in, but the keeper pulled off a good save to deny him.  From the corner, Deeney’s header was straight at the keeper.  The battle between Behrami and Koc continued, but on this occasion the Watford man was sinned against and won the free kick.

Abdi lines up a free kick

Abdi lines up a free kick

Paderborn had the ball in the net as a cross was headed home by Proschwitz, but he had been a mile offside.  Abdi came in for a tackle, won the ball and was booked, very harshly I thought.  In the 32nd minute the travelling Hornets started a minute’s applause and chants of “Only one Chris Dyer” for the Watford supporting victim of the terrorist attack in Tunisia.  Deeney challenged the keeper for a long ball, leaving the stopper on the floor, but his shot from a narrow angle went wide.  A Paderborn corner, for which the ball wasn’t even in the vicinity of the corner arc, was met with a header that was caught by Arlauskis, who stepped behind the goal line, but kept the ball out.  Paderborn challenged again with a free kick from Ndjeng that flew wide of the far post.  Deeney exchanged passes with Vydra but his shot took a deflection and went wide.  Vydra then hit a cross-cum-shot that a defender, under no pressure at all, put out for a corner.  The corner was met by a header from Deeney, but he was adjudged to have fouled the keeper so the referee blew up.  At the other end, Ndjeng broke into the box, but Prödl was on hand to challenge as he tried to shoot, so the ball was easily gathered by Arlauskis.

So the Hornets went into half time with the lead.  When we went looking for beers, we found that the stall was in the home section, which was rather interesting.  Some who had bought seats also took this opportunity to swap to the terrace.

Ighalo congratulated on his 6th goal of this pre-season

Ighalo congratulated on his 6th goal of this pre-season

Flores made no changes to the Hornets’ line up at half time.  The home side made a decent start with an early shot that was straight at the Watford keeper.  Then a cross-cum shot from Koc was saved by the feet of Arlauskis.  Capoue lost out to Ndjeng, who went down on the edge of the box, a bit of a soft free kick to give away.  Saglik hit the set piece low and Arlauskis dropped to save.  Watford’s first substitutions came 10 minutes into the second half as Ighalo, Anya and Pudil came on for Vydra, Behrami and Holebas.  The Swiss left the field to boos from the home fans.  On the hour Saglik chested the ball down and shot wide.  We were two goals up soon after as Anya ran down the left and crossed for Deeney, who appeared to mishit the shot but the ball reached Ighalo who found the net for his 6th goal of this pre-season.  Watford should have had a penalty soon after as a cross from Anya appeared to be handled by Hünemeier, but the referee gave nothing.  Deeney was the next to be substituted, being replaced by Fabbrini.  Then Stoppelkamp went on a run into the box and took a tumble, thankfully no Watford player was anywhere near him so we didn’t concede the penalty that he seemed to be playing for.

Nyom, Abdi and Proedl

Nyom, Abdi and Proedl

Ndjeng tried to beat Arlauskis with a curling shot, but the Lithuanian was behind the ball and gathered comfortably.  That was his last action of the game as he was replaced by Gilmartin.  The Irishman was called into action immediately, although his dive proved to be unnecessary, as Proschwitz’s shot was just wide of the target.  That was the striker’s last contribution as he was substituted immediately.  At the same time, Dyer came on to replace Abdi.  Gilmartin was tested with a cross-cum-shot that he parried before gathering.  Then Stoppelkamp shot across goal and wide.  Eyes were then drawn to the Watford bench where Deeney could be seen getting up and limping to the dressing room.  Hopefully, he was just a bit stiff rather than something more concerning.  Watford’s final substitution saw Murray replacing Watson for the last couple of minutes, but there was no further score so Watford ran out comfortable 2-0 winners after a decent performance.

After the final whistle some of the fans around me starting muttering about a ‘disgrace’ and there were a few boos.  I was a bit baffled until it became apparent that they were angry that some of the Watford players had not come over to applaud them at the end.  As a result they cheered the Paderborn players off.  It seemed an overly sensitive reaction, but applause from the players is expected by English (and German) fans in a way that it isn’t in some other European countries.

Cathcart and Gilmartin

Cathcart and Gilmartin

We took the shuttle bus back into town and, while searching for somewhere to have dinner, met some Paderborn fans who had enjoyed the game and were very happy to direct us to a traditional restaurant, which turned out to be an excellent recommendation.

There is always a risk in attending pre-season friendlies.  Early matches are, effectively, training games to build up fitness, so nothing can be read into them.  I quite like the relaxation of watching games in which the score doesn’t matter so you can just watch the players perform.  The most appealing part of these tours, though, is the opportunity to experience a game in an unfamiliar city with the opportunities that gives for exploration.  I love Germany, the landscape, the food and the people so, despite the difficulties on this tour, it turned out to be a cracking long weekend away.

I will miss the rest of our pre-season campaign as I gather my strength for a trip to Everton.  Hope springs eternal at this stage.  We can only hope that this season heralds our best showing in the top division since the 80s.

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.

 

Oh What Fun It is to See Watford Win Away

A welcome from our hosts

A kind welcome from our hosts

My Friday night entertainment this week was Kristin Scott-Thomas in a Greek tragedy at the Old Vic, I was hoping for somewhat jollier fare at Reading, but it couldn’t be guaranteed.  Certainly the pre-match meeting place was top notch, lovely real ale in a pub with lots of nooks and crannies that has been described by a friend as a Harry Potter house.

Jokanovic made two changes from the win over Wigan.  One was forced, as Munari had a slight hamstring injury that necessitated the inclusion of Guedioura.  For the other, Pudil was preferred to Paredes, allowing him to make his 100th appearance.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Bassong, Angella, Cathcart, Pudil, Tözsér, Guedioura, Abdi, Anya, Deeney and Vydra.

There was a very lively start as a first minute cross found Murray on the right of the box, but his volley was well over the target.  Watford’s first goal attempt came soon after as Pudil headed a Guedioura cross goalwards, Federici pushed it out for a corner from which Guedioura’s shot was blocked.  Abdi was the next to threaten the Reading goal with a powerful curling shot that Federici pushed clear.  The half then became incredibly dull, the next action of note being a nothing foul on the half hour that earned Abdi a yellow card.

Angella begs for (and is shown) forgiveness as Murray falls to the ground

On this occasion Angella begs for (and is shown) forgiveness as Murray falls to the ground

There was a worrying scramble in the Watford box as Gomes parried a header from Murray, the ball came back in but was eventually cleared.  Then Gunter beat Pudil to get into the box and crossed for Blackman who headed over under a challenge from Cathcart.  On 37 minutes, Angella got into a tussle with Murray who was backing into him.  It was six of one and half a dozen of the other, so there were roars of derision from the travelling Hornets as the referee showed Angella a yellow card.  Guedioura had the first Watford chance for some considerable time when he shot over the bar.  Pudil played a lovely ball to Abdi whose cross was headed down to Deeney who tried an overhead kick that flew wide.  Reading should have taken the lead just before half time as Murray received the ball in the box but managed to fire wide of the far post.  In time added on at the end of the half, Angella was tripped on the edge of the box and his arm hit the ball as he fell.  The referee, with the help of the lino, decided that this constituted deliberate handball and was worthy of a second yellow, so Angella was given his marching orders.  It had been a dire half of football, but that decision ensured that the half time boos were directed towards the officials rather than the players.

Tozser lines up a free kick

Tozser lines up a free kick

At the start of the second half, Vydra was sacrificed for Paredes.  Watford, facing a second half playing with ten men, had to decide their approach.  They started the half by pressing the home side and in the 53rd minute, a Tözsér corner was curling in when Federici got a hand to it and pushed it clear.  At the other end, Murray got behind the Watford defence where he directed his shot wide of the far post.  A break by the home side finished with a cross from Blackman which was caught by Gomes.  Reading threatened again as a shot from McCleary was parried by Gomes, the follow-up from Gunter was turned around the post.  A low cross from McCleary went just wide of the far post as Blackman was sliding in and just failed to connect.  Watford fashioned a good move that appeared to give several chances for a strike on goal, but finished with the ball being taken off Abdi’s foot as he shaped to shoot.  For Reading, Blackman shot well over the bar.

Celebrations of Abdi's goal

Celebrations of Abdi’s goal

Watford had mounted a decent rearguard action to this point.  Then, all of a sudden, we took the lead.  Unlike the 70 minutes that had preceded it, Watford’s goal was a thing of beauty as Guedioura won a tackle in midfield and played it out to Anya on the left, he crossed back to Abdi who blasted it past Federici right in front of the Watford fans who reacted with total delirium.  The goal changed the momentum of the game.  Reading’s first yellow card was shown to Williams who was penalized for taking Paredes down as he attempted to break.  Guedioura played a ball over the top for Deeney, but it was a bit too far in front of him so Federici gathered the ball just as Deeney arrived and the players collided resulting in treatment for the Watford man.  At the other end, Gunter went down as he was challenged on the edge of the box, thankfully the referee waved penalty appeals away.  The board went up for a Watford substitution and we expected Deeney to leave the field, but instead Anya made way for Dyer.  Deeney only lasted another couple of minutes, clearly he couldn’t run the injury off, so he was replaced by Ighalo.

Red sky at night

Red sky at night

A ball into the Watford box appeared to be headed on by Paredes but, thankfully, Blackman volleyed over.   The referee added four minutes which were then extended as an off-the ball altercation between Murray and Paredes ended with the Ecuadorean poleaxed and the Reading player being shown a yellow card.  Reading’s last attempt at an equalizer was a soft header from Cooper that was comfortably caught by Gomes.  The final whistle went to loud cheers from the Watford fans.  Jokanovic was his usual, calm self, but Martinez was going mental on the sidelines.  The players came over and applauded the appreciative fans who had certainly done their part in cheering the ten men on in the second half.  In gratitude, Abdi and Pudil kindly donated their shirts to a couple of lucky fans.

Since the away stand is the opposite end of the ground from the shuttle buses back to town, it was no surprise that the bus we took was packed with Watford fans.  The youngsters on the top deck were making a lot of joyful noise and the old folk (including me) on the lower deck were just grinning like fools.  As Jingle Bells (Oh what fun it is to see Watford win away) rang out, my friend commented that he was surprised that it had not had an earlier airing, but I don’t think anyone dared tempt fate like that until the final whistle.

I wish all my readers a very happy Christmas.  See you all on Boxing Day.

Elton’s Homecoming

Elton, David, Zachary and Elijah on the pitch as the SEJ stand is opened

Elton, David, Zachary and Elijah on the pitch as the SEJ stand is opened

Pre-match, all the attention was on Elton’s return to Vicarage Road for the naming of his stand.  As requested, we entered the ground early and were treated to Elton John songs over the tannoy.  The new stand now has words from “Your Song” along the back and there was a request that we welcome Elton by singing along.  I joined in with some gusto, although it is a song that always chokes me up.  When Elton was announced, the crowd were already singing “Elton John’s Taylor-made Army”, which sent shivers down the spine.  When Elton took centre stage, he said that it was one of the greatest days of his life.  He recalled coming as a six year old to stand on the cinder bank.  At that time he never imagined having a stand named after him, in fact he never imagined sitting in a stand.  He paid tribute to the people of Watford and turned to address each stand as he spoke.  He also paid tribute to Dave Whelan and the Wigan fans.  He thanked the Pozzos and said the club was in good hands.  “Watford Football Club is forever in my heart.”  He was clearly moved by the occasion and there wasn’t a dry eye in the Rookery.  The fans sang his name loud and proud.  It was so lovely seeing him there with his two sons in Watford scarves and hats.  They must have loved hearing the crowd singing their Dad’s name.  Well done to the Pozzos for such a lovely gesture, and thank-you, Elton, for decades of wonderful memories.

Back to the game against Wigan.  Jokanovic had named an unchanged side from the Fulham game, so we started with Gomes, Bassong, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Munari, Tözsér, Abdi, Paredes, Deeney and Vydra.  Wigan featured former players Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor as well as Malky Mackay and David Kerslake in the dugout.

Celebrations after Deeney's first goal

Celebrations after Deeney’s first goal

Watford had an early goal chance as Anya played the ball back to Abdi who curled a cross wide of the target.  At the other end, Espinoza tried a shot from distance that hit the side netting.  Carson had to drop to keep a shot from Munari out.  Vydra played a lovely ball to Paredes whose shot was cleared.  Wigan threatened as a high cross from Taylor was gathered by Gomes with McClean challenging.  Watford won a free kick in a dangerous position, but Tözsér’s low delivery was stopped by Carson. Watford took the lead on 20 minutes, a lovely headed pass from Anya reached Deeney in the box, where he beat Carson from a tight angle.  Another cross from Anya was knocked wide of the near post by Munari.  Wigan had a decent chance to equalize from a Watson free-kick which was headed goalwards by Barnett but Gomes caught it.  McClean hit a decent shot that was blocked by the legs of Gomes.  With a couple of minutes remaining in the half, Watford had their first chance for a while as Abdi found Deeney on the right, but Troy’s shot was wide of the far post.  Wigan equalized just before half time as McCann was allowed a free header as he connected with a corner from McClean and beat Gomes.  It felt like that goal had been coming.  In the aftermath, Anya and Tözsér squared up to each other and had to be held apart.  I have mixed feelings about that.  It is not good to see team mates arguing, but it is good to see them care so much.  When the half time whistle went, it had been a half with little goalmouth action and the draw seemed a fair reflection of the play.

Tozser's free-kick through the wall

Tozser’s free-kick through the wall

At the start of the second half, Paredes made way for Dyer.  The substitute was involved immediately with a ball to Abdi who found Deeney whose cross was blocked.  Deeney then had a shot which hit the side netting.  For the visitors, a free kick from Watson was headed wide by Barnett.  Watson then headed over from a McClean free-kick.  McClean threatened again with a cross to the near post which Gomes got down to block.  On the hour, Abdi played a ball into the box for Vydra, but it was too far in front of him so he had to stretch and knocked it out.  Vydra then played the ball out to Dyer who hit a low cross but there was no one in the box to turn it in.  A cross from Anya was cleared to Tözsér whose shot flew just wide of the target.  Then a long ball forward saw Deeney running to connect while Carson came out to clear and the two collided, the ball broke to Vydra who was tackled before he could shoot.  Deeney was down injured for a while but, thankfully, was fit to continue.  There was a period then when the Watford players played some lovely passes, but it was all show with no end product.  With 15 minutes remaining Vydra was replaced by Ighalo.  A Tözsér free-kick was cleared to Bassong whose shot was weak and easily cleared.

Deeney celebrates his second goal with the Rookery

Deeney celebrates his second goal with the Rookery

With 10 minutes remaining, Watford regained the lead as Anya crossed from the bye-line and Deeney powered the header home.  Troy followed the ball into the net where his powerful reaction showed how much the goal meant.  It was all Watford after that.  Ighalo chested the ball down to Abdi, who should have hit the target, but blasted the ball over.  That was the Kosovan’s last involvement in the game as he was replaced by Guedioura.  Wigan had their first chance for some time with a deep free kick, but Gomes was equal to it.  At the other end, Dyer played a deep cross towards Ighalo who stretched but could not connect with it.  Ighalo then showed some skills in the box before cutting back to Deeney whose shot was way over the bar.  Ighalo then played a lovely ball for Deeney who was flagged offside.  The last action of the game was a shot from Guedioura from the edge of the box that went over the bar.

Elton points to the cinder track where he stood 61 years ago

Elton points to the cinder track where he stood 61 years ago

The final whistle went to cheers from the home fans.  It was not the greatest of performances from Watford, but those were two thrilling goals.  We’ve played better and lost, so there was a certain pride in winning ugly.  Special mention must go to the referee whose playing of the advantage rule was very impressive.

After the game, there were lots of hugs and kisses as we wished our friends and neighbours a happy Christmas as we won’t see them again until Boxing Day.  The game may ultimately be forgettable, but seeing Elton John opening the stand will stay long in the memory and the post-match tweets from players proudly sharing their photos with Elton was just lovely

County’s Cracking Strikes

The new Community Stand

The new Community Stand

Having suffered two defeats just before the international break, there was little confidence going into this game against a Derby side that started the day at the top of the table.  Any hopes that had been sparked by the news that Abdi and Angella were available for selection were dashed when neither of them was in the starting line-up which was Bond, Doyley, Ekstrand, Bassong, Paredes, Dyer, Andrews, Tözsér, Forestieri, Ighalo and Deeney.  The Derby team included Watford old boy, Craig Forsyth.  One positive on arrival at the ground was to see fans entering the new stand from Occupation Road.  The structure and the fact that we finally have a four sided ground again is certainly cause for celebration.

Derby had an early chance to take the lead as Andrews failed to clear and the ball fell to Hendrick whose shot was turned onto the post by Bond.  At the other end, Deeney released Dyer but his cross was terrible.

Keogh holds off Ighalo as Harry Hornet looks on

Keogh holds off Ighalo as Harry Hornet looks on

There was an early yellow card for Keogh who was penalized for dragging Deeney back as he attempted to break.  A cross from Andrews was dummied by Ighalo and ran through to Dyer whose shot was easily gathered by Butland.  A cross reached Ibe in Watford the box, but his shot was blocked by Ekstrand.  The resulting corner flew along in front of the goal but, fortunately, there was no Derby player on hand to turn it in.  Ibe had another shot on goal, this time it was Deeney on hand to block.  Forestieri played a through ball for Ighalo but Shotton was in close attendance and stopped the Nigerian with a great tackle.  Watford threatened with a shot from Deeney that Butland parried, it went out for a throw from which Forestieri unleashed a shot that Butland gathered.  Dyer did well to win the ball in the midfield, he passed to Deeney who found Forestieri in the box, sadly Fernando hesitated before shooting so was tackled and fell over.  He pleaded for a penalty but the referee gave the corner.  Tözsér took the set piece which Butland punched clear.

Deeney breaks into the box

Deeney breaks into the box

On the half hour, Paredes nearly put the home side in trouble as he tried to dribble out of defence, was dispossessed but the shot to the near post was easy for Bond.  The young keeper was in action again getting a hand to a shot from Martin and pushing it around the far post.  The visitors took the lead in the 38th minute as Russell found Ibe on the left of the Watford box from where he hit a great shot into the top right corner.  Watford tried to hit back immediately as Doyley played a lovely through pass to Dyer who was tripped as he shaped to shoot so he ended up belting the ball over the bar.  At the other end, Martin connected with a Mascarell free-kick but Bond pulled off another excellent reflex save to tip the ball over the bar.  There were boos at the half-time whistle, which was harsh.  We had been a bit careless in our passing, hesitant before shooting and indulged in some suicidal defending, but were only a goal down to a cracking strike.

Vydra knocked flying

Vydra knocked flying

At the start of the second half, Vydra replaced Ighalo.  There was an early scare for the home side as Hendrick went for a run along the bye-line, but his cross went begging.  Tözsér found Forestieri in another great position, but again, Fernando hesitated and the shot was blocked.  Then a low cross from Paredes was dummied by Vydra and reached Deeney whose shot was saved.  Derby immediately launched a counter-attack through Hughes whose cross was met by Russell but the shot was high and wide.  Vydra went on a storming run down the wing, his cross was cleared but reached Forestieri whose shot flew fractionally wide of the far post.  Martin beat Ekstrand to get through on goal, Bond bravely came and saved at his feet and was down for a while receiving treatment but, thankfully, was soon fit to continue.  In the 60th minute, there was a minute’s applause that started in the Rookery in memory of Colin Roe, a Watford fan who died on the way to the Millwall game.  A nice touch, it was well observed, although the players must have been baffled.  Thankfully, we were attacking at the time and they seemed to derive encouragement although it didn’t result in a shot on goal.

Munari running to celebrate his goal with the bench

Munari running to celebrate his goal with the bench

Soon after, Andrews was replaced by Munari.  Forestieri had another chance but, again, shot just wide.  Derby then made their first substitution with Bryson replacing Hughes.  Watford had a great chance to equalize as Doyley met a cross from Paredes with a header that Butland saved, the ball rebounded to Deeney, but he had his back to goal so could only pass to Dyer whose shot was blocked.  Watford drew level soon after as a lovely move finished with Munari running on to a ball into the box from Dyer and burying it past Butland.  We could have taken the lead soon after as Forestieri exchanged passes with Deeney before finding Vydra whose shot was just wide of the target.  Forestieri then found Deeney whose shot was blocked.  With a quarter of an hour remaining, both sides made a substitution with Anya replacing Dyer for the Hornets and the goal scorer, Ibe, making way for Dawkins for the visitors.  Munari and Vydra then exchanged passes, the ball rolled through to Deeney but his shot, on the run, was well over the target.  Derby had a rare second half chance as a cross from Forsyth was met with a glancing header from Russell that flew wide.  Bassong went on a run and found Vydra in the box but two defenders converged to stop the Czech from shooting.  Russell launched a counter attack and found Forsyth whose shot was saved by Bond.

Bond fit to continue

Bond fit to continue

Derby took the lead soon after with a gorgeous shot from distance by Bryson.  That was really harsh on the Hornets who had dominated the half.  Watford had a chance to hit back as a Vydra corner was met by a header from Munari that fell to Keogh who kindly played it back to Munari but the Italian’s shot was cleared by Butland.  The resulting corner reached Tözsér but his shot landed on the top of the Derby net.  The final chance for an equalizer fell to Anya who was thwarted as Butland stuck a foot out to deflect his shot wide.

There was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth from Watford fans after this game, which I found a little hard to understand.  We had been wasteful at times but had dominated the second half and had been beaten by two wonder strikes.  Still, I’m always happier when the expectation levels fall as high expectation breeds tiresome impatience in the crowd.

 

A Fitting Tribute

The poppy display

The poppy display viewed from the family stand

With this being the closest home game to Armistice Day in the 100th year since the start of World War I, the usual commemorations were being supplemented with a foil display organized by the 1881 group and financed by Watford’s players.  A crowd turned up at the ground first thing to put the foils out, a job that was completed in double quick time.  According to the instructions from the club, we arrived at our seats earlier than usual to find all the usual stragglers were already there and that programmes had sold out.  When instructed, we raised our foils and, from our position under the display, could only wonder whether it had been a success.  I must admit that the photos were breath-taking and must thank a friend who sits in the Family Stand for providing the wonderful picture shown here.  Huge congratulations to Roy Moore and the other lads from 1881 who designed and executed the display.  It was a tremendous achievement.

On the pitch, the players were to wear the black and white kit from 1914, so Millwall wore their yellow change strip.  It was very bizarre to see the opposition in yellow at Vicarage Road.  Team news was that there were three changes with Gomes and Deeney returning from injury and Andrews in for Anya in midfield, so the starting line-up was Gomes, Pudil, Ekstrand, Bassong, Paredes, Tözsér, Munari, Andrews, Ighalo, Vydra and Deeney.  Undistinguished former loanee Matthew Briggs started for the visitors.  It should also be mentioned that, now the final seats have been installed in the Community stand, we have a four-sided ground for the first time in many years.  It is a wonderful sight to see.

Ighalo trying to hold off a defender

Ighalo trying to hold off a defender

The home side dominated the early exchanges, the first goal attempt coming as Deeney and Vydra exchanged passes in the box and Troy hit a shot that Forde dropped to save.  At the other end a low cross by Woolford was gathered by Gomes.  On 11 minutes, Millwall took the lead as McDonald crossed to Woolford inside the box, he shrugged off Bassong and slotted the ball into the bottom corner.  That certainly depressed the mood in the home stands.  Watford tried to strike back immediately as Vydra played a through ball to Paredes but his shot rebounded off the post.  Millwall’s Dunne went down dramatically after a challenge from Deeney.  Watford played on and Dunne leapt to his feet and sprinted back to defend.  At the next break in play Forde bafflingly went to remonstrate with the referee and was booked.  The next time that the ball went anywhere near the goal was on the half hour when a free-kick from Tözsér flew over the bar.  The next action of note was a bizarre challenge by Vydra, who was clearly frustrated as he jumped into Williams.  He was fortunate not to be carded.

Forde trying to organize his wall

Forde trying to organize his wall

Injury forced an early Watford substitution as Bassong made way for Hoban.  An attempted break by Ighalo was stopped by a push from Briggs who was shown a yellow card for his trouble.  From the free-kick, Ighalo unleashed a shot that was turned around the post by Forde.  The resultant corner was straight off the training ground as it was played out to Andrews, who dinked it in to Vydra, running into the box, who got the slightest touch and the ball trickled over the line.  The goal invigorated Matej who next hit a shot from a cut back by Ighalo which was turned just wide.  Then, from the corner, he headed just over.  For the visitors, Fuller broke into the box and went down under a challenge but the referee was having none of it and the forward was booked for his protests.  In time added on at the end of the first half, Dunne bundled Deeney over on the edge of the box and was booked for the offence.  Tözsér’s free-kick was a bullet that flew past the wall and into the net.  The Millwall keeper, Forde, didn’t move.  It had been a strange first half, with a long period when nothing much happened, but it had burst into life at the end and it was great to go into half time a goal to the good.

Tozser congraulated on his bullet

Tozser congraulated on his bullet

Millwall had the first chance of the second half as Woolford got his head to a corner from Williams but he directed it wide of the target.  At the other end, a header from Hoban was saved, but the flag was already up for offside.  Deeney and Munari exchanged passes then played a through ball for Vydra but Forde was first to the ball.  On the hour, Holloway made his first substitution as Briggs was replaced by Malone.  Martin tried to break forward but was taken down by Hoban who was booked for the foul.  On 63 minutes, Watford increased the lead as, from a free-kick, Vydra cut the ball back to Munari who lashed it past Forde for Watford’s third goal.  A frustrated Fuller kicked out at Ekstrand and was lucky not to see a second yellow card so Holloway did the sensible thing and replaced him with Gueye before he got himself sent off.

Harry joins in the celebrations for the third goal

Harry congratulates Munari on the third goal

Jokanovic also made a change replacing Vydra with Dyer.  Hearts were in mouths in the Rookery as Woolford beat Hoban and shot goalwards, but Pudil was on hand to clear the shot off the line.  Gueye’s first contribution was a shot through a crowd of players that was easily caught by Gomes.  A terrible back pass from Williams almost increased Watford’s lead as it appeared to beat Forde, but it drifted just wide.  With 10 minutes remaining, Pudil needed a team mate’s help with a touch of cramp, was told to leave the pitch having ‘received treatment’ and soon after was replaced by Doyley.  The Millwall players seemed determined to score an own goal, this time Forde had to reach to prevent a back header sneaking in.  Holloway’s final substitution saw Martin make way for O’Brien.  There was another bizarre occurrence as a Millwall player went behind the advertising hoardings to retrieve the ball and took the throw-in from there leading the referee to blow up for a foul throw.  Gueye broke into the box and cut the ball back but Gomes dropped to gather.  Gomes then had to be smart to tip over a header from Dunne.  Dyer released Paredes who ran the length of the pitch but his shot was deflected wide.  That was the last action of the game as the whistle went to cheers and chants of “We are top of the league.”

Yet again, it hadn’t been a brilliant performance but we had broken down a well-organized Holloway side and, once we’d got the third goal had never been in any danger.  We all agreed that sometimes you have to win ugly.  It is far too early in the season and far too tight at the top of the Championship to get too excited, but we are now none games unbeaten and the signs are all good for an exciting season.

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.

Another Week, Another Manager

New gaffer McKinlay in the dugout

New gaffer McKinlay in the dugout

Another week, another manager.  I’d hardly had time to learn which way the accent went on Garcia’s first name when he was gone to be replaced by Billy McKinlay.  The circumstances of his departure were rather sad so I can only wish him a happy and healthy future.  I must admit that a Scottish Head Coach was not what I expected from the Pozzos.  This feels like another era.  Billy’s first line-up was eagerly anticipated and, having styled him as a no-nonsense Scot, Fabbrini’s was not a name I expected to appear.  But he was in for Murray with Dyer and Ekstrand replacing Anya and the injured Angella.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Pudil, Cathcart, Ekstrand, Paredes, Munari, Tözsér, Dyer, Vydra, Fabbrini and Ighalo in a 4-2-3-1 formation.  Okayyyy!  Toumani Diagouraga (affectionately known as Dave) started for the visitors and Mark Warburton, ex-Academy coach, was in the opposition dugout.

Positioning themselves for a corner

Positioning themselves for a corner

It was a lively start for the home side with Fabbrini skipping over a couple of tackles and playing a one-two with Vydra before being closed down.  The Italian had also earned warm applause from the crowd for tracking back early doors.  Vydra did well to retain the ball following a challenge and get a cross in but Douglas got between Munari and the ball so Button was able to gather safely.  Vydra exchanged passes with Dyer before evading a tackle and hitting a shot that was deflected into the side netting.  From the corner, Munari headed the ball on to Ighalo whose shot was also deflected wide.  Another corner was cleared to Paredes who played it back in to Tözsér whose cross-shot was saved.  Then Dyer found Ighalo who saw yet another shot deflected wide.  After a quick counterattack, former Watford youngster, Diagouraga, had Brentford’s first goal attempt of the game but his shot was wide of the target.  Watford should have made the breakthrough as Dyer played a short corner to Tözsér who returned the pass for Dyer to cross towards Ighalo whose header rebounded off the crossbar.

Ighalo steps up to take the penalty

Ighalo steps up to take the penalty

Paredes controlled the ball on the right then nutmegged a defender, a move that deserved a better outcome than his cross flying into an empty box.  Pudil was booked for running into McCormack.  It looked a harsh yellow, especially as the Brentford players were going down very easily as a tactic to disrupt our play.  Off the field, Harry Hornet was hoovering just in front of the Lower GT stand.  I kid you not.  Our habit of falling asleep at set pieces continued as Judge lofted a free-kick to the far post where Douglas connected but Gomes saved comfortably.  Vydra and Paredes exchanged passes, the Ecuadorian hit a cross, but Button claimed the ball.  Jota broke and unleashed a shot which Gomes had to stretch to tip over.  Then Judge tried his luck with a shot from distance that flew well wide of the far post.

Vydra congratulating Ighalo

Vydra congratulating Ighalo

Vydra played a great ball to Ighalo in the box, but it was on his wrong foot so he took a couple of touches and was then knocked over by Tarkowski.  It looked a bit soft and the referee paused but eventually pointed to the spot.  To the surprise of everyone in the Rookery, Ighalo stepped up to take the penalty himself, hitting it straight down the middle where it was saved by Button but Ighalo was alert and knocked the follow-up over the keeper much to the relief of the Watford faithful.  As the players returned to the centre circle for the restart, Tarkowski and others expressed their displeasure at what they must have perceived to be a dive, which was a bit rich given their collective inability to stay on their feet when any Watford player was in the vicinity.  The referee came to calm the situation and showed both Ighalo and Tarkowski the yellow card.  In time added on at the end of the first half, Gray slashed a shot well wide of the target.  His blushes were spared by the offside flag.  So we reached half time happy to be a goal to the good, if a bit disappointed that the complete dominance of the first twenty minutes had not yielded more.

Paredes attacking the ball

Paredes attacking the ball

Brentford had the first chance of the second half as a cross from Bidwell flashed across the Watford goal but Gray couldn’t connect and it was he, rather than the ball, that ended up in the net.  Vydra found Fabbrini who hesitated before playing the ball so lost out to Judge who he then fouled and so found himself in the referee’s book.  Jota got himself into a great position, but hit his shot into the ground and it bounced wide of the far post.  Then Gray beat the defence, but his shot was straight at Gomes.  The visitors were level on 57 minutes as Judge played the ball out to Douglas who slotted it past Gomes.  It was too easy and very disappointing, but no more than Brentford deserved for their dominance in this period.  McKinlay made a change immediately, replacing Fabbrini with Anya.  Gray broke forward again, but his cross went begging.  Then Judge tried another shot which flashed wide.  The first 20 minutes of the second half had been all Brentford so it was encouraging to see Vydra break forward, he found Anya who advanced, but Bidwell intervened and the ball went out for a corner.

Vydra receives congratulations for a stunning strike

Vydra receives congratulations for a stunning strike

On 70 minutes, Watford took the lead again with another beauty from Vydra.  The ball was bouncing in and around the Brentford box when it came out to the Czech who hit a pile-driver past Button into the net.  It was one of those rare occasions when I am glad that the goal was at the opposite end of the pitch as I fear I would have ducked if I’d seen that ball flying at me with power that looked fit to burst the net.  The home side brightened up at this point and could have increased the lead further as a poor clearance reached Anya who crossed for Ighalo, his shot was blocked and rolled to Vydra whose first touch was poor so he just helped the ball on to Button.  Brentford tried to strike back as Odubajo broke into the box but he shot over the bar.  With a quarter of an hour remaining, Abdi replaced Ighalo.  Gomes threw the ball out to Dyer who ran the length of the pitch, but his cross was behind Anya.  Brentford made another substitution as Diagouraga made way for Proschwitz.  Abdi played a through ball aimed for Vydra but it was a little too heavy and rolled through to Button.  Anya played a one-two with Vydra before his shot was deflected wide.  After more great work from Vydra, Dyer found Anya but his cross was straight at the keeper.

Tozser organizing

Tozser organizing

The fourth official indicated four minutes of added time with the Rookery roaring their team on.  Early in the added period, Paredes was booked for time wasting as he strolled over to take a throw-in.  Then Gray beat Pudil on the wing and was dragged down by the Czech who accepted his second yellow and was applauded off by the Rookery for taking one for the team.  Vydra then made way for Hoban, to shore up the defence, while Pritchard waited to take the set piece.  The free kick was met with a header from Bidwell that was just pushed over by Gomes.  The Brentford keeper, Button, had come up for the free-kick so could then be seen dribbling the ball around our box before he had to belt back upfield as Anya was breaking  and crossed for Dyer whose shot from distance was blocked.  Brentford cleared but Anya picked the ball up and advanced again, this time crossing for Munari who couldn’t control his header which went across the goal.  The final whistle went to cheers from the home fans who had been thoroughly entertained.  I’m not sure that we learned too much from that game, given the injuries, but the highlight for me was seeing Vydra back doing what he does well, scoring cracking goals, but also getting involved making chances for others.  That bodes very well for the rest of the season.

Honours Even at Ewood Park

The teams take to the pitch at Ewood Park

The teams take to the pitch at Ewood Park

We don’t have a good record at Blackburn in the few games that we have played there in recent years, the most recent win being the 4-3 during the petrol crisis in 2000.  So I have never seen us win at Ewood Park, although it is still an away day that I enjoy.  Despite seemingly constant traffic on the way up, we made good time and were soon holed up in the pre-match pub waiting for the rest of the North-West Horns to arrive.  The first pint was rather lovely, but the pub ran out of beer from the hand-pump very early much to the annoyance of some of our party.  But the beer still flowed as our number swelled and the pre-match gathering was fun as always.

With Garcia now out of hospital but in the director’s box, it was Ruben Martinez in the dugout again.  There were four changes from the Bournemouth game with Angella, Cathcart, Munari and Ighalo coming in for Tamaz Ekstrand, Abdi and Dyer.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Pudil, Cathcart, Angella, Paredes, Murray, Munari, Tözsér, Anya, Vydra and Ighalo.  Watford old boy Lee Williamson lined up for the opposition.

Preparing for a corner

Preparing for a corner

We had a great chance to take the lead in the first minute of the game as Anya cut the ball back to Ighalo, but he shot well wide when he should have hit the target.  Rhodes was the first to threaten for the home side as he chipped the ball goalwards, but Gomes gathered easily.  Baptiste tried a low shot from the right which Gomes dropped to save.  A lovely through ball reached Rhodes who was advancing into the box, but Paredes got in his way and the ball found its way back to Gomes.  Tözsér found Murray who advanced down the left before passing to Ighalo who took a couple of touches before finding the space to shoot, Steele was down quickly to block the shot.  A short corner was dummied by Vydra and ran through to Tözsér whose shot was blocked.  At the other end, Cairney cut in and shot goalwards but Gomes was behind it.  Cairney threatened again as he received a pass from Gestede but shot over the bar.

Vydra congratulated by his team mates

Vydra congratulated by his team mates

Watford made the breakthrough after half an hour as Cathcart released Vydra, who seemed to pause expecting an offside flag, which gave the defender time to get back, but he recovered and shot past Steele to put the Hornets ahead against the run of play.  Munari broke down the wing and exchanged passes with Anya whose shot was blocked.  In the 39th minute, Rovers came close to equalizing but the shot from Gestede was fractionally wide.  Instead it was Watford who increased the lead as Tözsér curled a free kick which bounced in off the post.  Rhodes and Gomes both tried to reach a cross from Baptiste, but the Spaniard was first to the ball punching it to safety.  The last chance of the half was an overhead kick from Rhodes that cleared the bar.  The half-time whistle went with Watford two goals to the good, although it has to be said that the scoreline flattered us a bit.

The celebrations for Tozser's free kick

The celebrations for Tozser’s free kick

At the start of the second half, Rovers made a change replacing Baptiste with erstwhile Watford target Craig Conway.  A number of fans had yet to return to their seats after the interval when Blackburn pulled one back as Gestede got his head to a deep cross into the box to propel a powerful header past Gomes.  Rovers threatened again soon after, Paredes could only knock a ball into the box sideways to Gestede but, fortunately for the visitors, he shot wide.  Rhodes received the ball in the box turned and shot but he also missed the target.  At the other end, Ighalo fed Murray who curled a shot into Steele’s arms.  Then Vydra played the ball out to Murray who passed it back when he was probably in a better position to shoot, albeit from distance.  There were loud protests from the Blackburn faithful as Pudil put the ball out for a corner, I couldn’t see from the opposite end but they clearly felt that a hand had been used.  From the subsequent corner, Marshall headed wide.

Jostling for the ball at a corner

Jostling for the ball at a corner

The crowd in the Ronnie Clayton stand were getting increasingly angry at the time that Gomes was taking for his goal kicks, the referee agreed with them and showed the keeper a yellow card.  Murray played the ball out to Anya on the wing, but his cross was over the heads of all in the box.  Munari released Vydra who played it out to Ighalo who was pushed off the ball far too easily.  At the other end, Rhodes got the ball on the edge of the box but Paredes made a great tackle to avert the danger.  Vydra was booked for knocking Duffy flying after the Blackburn player had already played the ball.  It was an odd challenge that can only have been born of frustration.  Rovers then made their second substitution replacing Williamson with Tunnicliffe.  Pudil played a low cross towards Ighalo who failed to connect although he was offside anyway.  A shot from Gestede was knocked out for a corner by Gomes with a Blackburn player challenging for the header.  A cross from Paredes was slightly too high for Ighalo to get a decent contact.  On 68 minutes, Dyer replaced Ighalo who had had an awful game being shrugged off the ball far too easily.  Dyer’s first act was to play a through ball to Vydra just before being taken down.  The referee blew up for the free-kick when it looked sensible to play advantage, Vydra lashed the ball into the net in frustration.

Gestede holding Cathcart at bay

Gestede holding Cathcart at bay

Cairney was the next player to see yellow as he handled the ball when he was on the ground.  Vydra had a great chance to increase the lead as he latched on to a header from Hanley but he passed instead of shooting and the chance was gone.  An overhead kick from Gestede was blocked by Angella and went out for a corner with the home fans howling that he’d handled.  Gestede threatened again with a shot from the corner of the box that was well wide.  Rovers equalized on 77 minutes as Tunnicliffe headed a cross from Marshall into an empty net.  It was no more than they deserved.  Soon after, Murray made way for Forestieri.  Tözsér played a dangerous ball into the box but Munari couldn’t get a touch to it.  Watford nerves were jangling as Duffy unleashed a shot from distance that was just wide of the target.  At the other end, a corner from Tözsér was met with a glancing header from Munari which flew just wide.

Angella on the ball

Angella on the ball

Rhodes went down very easily on the edge of the Watford box following a challenge from Angella.  Cairney’s free-kick rebounded off the corner of the post and crossbar, the follow-up from Gestede was saved by Gomes who was then fouled by Rhodes who knocked the ball into the net but the referee blew up for the foul.  With a couple of minutes remaining, Ekstrand replaced Anya for the Hornets.  The Swede was tested immediately being beaten by Rhodes whose close range shot was saved by Gomes.  In injury time Forestieri went down dramatically clutching his face after what looked like a nothing challenge.  I was yelling for him to get up, so felt a bit guilty when I saw a photo of his swollen eye on Twitter.  Angella then spent some time off the pitch with an injury and was booked when he came back on, presumably because he hadn’t received the referee’s blessing.  The final whistle was greeted with anger in the Watford crowd that we’d thrown away a two goal lead.  But, on the balance of play, that lead had flattered us and, after hanging on in the second half, a draw felt like a decent result.