Tag Archives: Lukasz Fabianski

Year Ends with Disappointment against the Swans

Ben Watson waiting to take a free kick

After our return to winning ways on Boxing Day, I entered the West Herts on Saturday with a more positive attitude than of late.  The Boxing Day absentees were mostly back in attendance and I was delighted to arrive in plenty of time to see Don before he left for the ground.  Mike was back from his Christmas trip and, it being a year since we lost lovely Dee, there was a heartfelt toast to absent friends.

Team news was that Silva had made one change from Boxing Day with Okaka coming in for Pereyra, who was fit enough to make the bench.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Wagué, Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Doucouré, Watson; Carrillo, Cleverley, Richarlison; Okaka.  Swansea were facing their first game under new manager, Carlos Carvalhal, so fingers were crossed in the home end that this wouldn’t result in a new lease of life for the struggling team.

The first action of the game was a yellow card for Fernández after he stopped a break by Richarlison.  That poor lad must be black and blue by the end of each game.  The first chance fell to the visitors as a shot from distance from Ayew rattled the crossbar with Gomes rooted to the spot.  But Watford soon had a chance of their own as Okaka headed the ball down to Cleverley who turned and curled a shot just wide of the target. 

Celebrating Carrillo’s goal

The home side had another decent chance when Doucouré released Richarlison who advanced before shooting just wide of the far post.  Watford took the lead on 11 minutes as Okaka found Richarlison whose shot was parried by Fabianski but the ball rebounded to Carrillo who headed home from close range.  I was hopeful that this would calm the Watford nerves and set up a comfortable win for the Hornets, but it all went a bit quiet and the next shot came from a Swansea boot, although the shot from Mesa didn’t trouble Gomes, however it did trouble my sister in Row QQ of the Rookery, who had to duck out of the way to avoid injury.  There were a couple of bookings around the half hour mark as Carrillo was cautioned, rather harshly, for tripping Ayew as they battled for the ball.  Then Carroll was booked for a pull on Doucouré’s shirt.  Kabasele did a sterling job in defence stopping a dangerous looking run by Ayew by getting in front of the Swansea man and shepherding the ball back to Gomes.  The effort was well worthy of the applause that it received.  Watford threatened again as a deep cross from Janmaat was met by the head of Richarlison, but the Brazilian’s effort was straight at Fabianski.  Watford had another chance to increase their lead late in the half as Doucouré shot just wide from the edge of the box.  So the Watford team went into the break a goal to the good and looking in control although without really testing Fabianski.  Swansea really had been poor and it was apparent why they are in the relegation zone.

Crowding for a corner

The visitors made a change after the break replacing Mesa with Narsingh.  The second half started brightly for the Hornets as a dangerous cross almost reached Carrillo, but Fabianski was first to the ball.  The Hornets had a great chance to increase their lead as Cleverley released Richarlison whose cross was just inches in front of Okaka’s boot as he slid in.  The home side had the ball in the net when a Cleverley corner was headed home by Wagué, but the whistle had already gone for an infringement and the goal was disallowed.  Swansea’s second substitution saw McBurnie coming on for Abraham, who appeared to have an injury.  Swansea fashioned a rare chance as Mawson met a corner from Carroll and headed just over the bar.   Gomes was called on to make his first save of the game on the hour mark, after a shot from Ayew was cleared only as far as Narsingh, but the shot was straight at the Watford keeper.  Watford’s first substitution came as Prödl replaced Wagué.  The second change saw Okaka making way for Gray.  This change came 13 minutes after the first, sadly nothing of interest had happened in that period.  The visitors also made a change as Dyer replaced Clucas.  Into the last 10 minutes and there was finally something to quicken the pulse as a cross from Richarlison was deflected to Doucouré whose shot was blocked.

Doucoure in action

Silva’s final change saw Carrillo make way for Pereyra.  The Argentine made an immediate impact playing a gorgeous ball to Gray who only had the keeper to beat, I nervously glanced at the lino, but Gray beat himself shooting straight at the keeper with the goal at his mercy, prompting howls from the Rookery.  A voice behind me had been expressing his concern at the narrow lead for some time and there was a certain inevitability when the visitors launched a counter attack and a header from McBurnie found Ayew who poked the ball past Gomes.  I was hoping that there would be a repeat of the end of the game at the Liberty Stadium when the Hornets snatched a last minute goal to secure the win.  Instead, this was Palace all over again as a shot from Dyer was parried by Gomes and Narsingh grabbed the winner.  Watford had a chance to reclaim a point in time added on, but Doucouré’s shot was wild and flew well wide of the target.

The reaction of the Watford fans at the final whistle ranged from stunned silence to vociferous anger as a large volley of abuse was directed at the players, who made a quick exit from the pitch, with the admirable exception of Heurelho Gomes who did his usual lap applauding each of the stands.  He was given a hero’s ovation by most, apart from one individual at the front of the Rookery who decided to have a go at him.  He listened to the concerns and responded, but neither he nor the fan appeared happy with the conclusion.

Attacking at a corner

It is difficult to put into words how I felt after the game.  It had been incredibly frustrating as Watford were so much better than their opponents who showed little in the way of threat.  But the longer the game stayed at 1-0, the more likely it appeared that Swansea would leave Vicarage Road with at least a point.  It had been incredibly dull for most of the ninety minutes and Pete’s observation that the second half appeared as if it was being played at London Colney summed it up perfectly.  There was no sense of urgency or pressing to get a second goal and it cost us dearly.

However, thanks to Huddersfield only claiming a point on Saturday, we finish the year in the top half of the table, although we are now nervously looking down rather than up.  It is sad to end the year this way after such a terrific start to the season.  My niece, who had ended the game slumped forward with her head in her hands followed it up by tweeting “I hate football.”  I sympathise with that sentiment and only hope that the return in the new year of some of the missing players will mean an upturn in form and we can enjoy the second half of the season as much as we did the early months.

I wish you and your families a very happy new year and much joy in following the Hornets.

That Was For You, Toddy

Toddy and I in happier times

This week, the Watford family lost someone very special. Stephen Todd, known to his football friends as Toddy, was a lifelong Watford fan. He regularly travelled to away games and was a stalwart at club events. He was an enthusiastic member of the Norfolk Hornets and a regular contributor to various fanzines over the years, where his quirky sense of humour shone through. More than that, he was one of my closest friends, someone who always added laughter to a social occasion. Sadly, he has had a number of health issues over the past year, but has bravely soldiered on and travelled to see the tremendous game at Southampton before his final appearance at last week’s defeat to Manchester City. As the news of his passing reached the club, I was very moved to see a tweet from Troy on how much he would be missed. Similar sentiments were expressed on social media by Luther, Gibbsy, Nick Cox, Ross Wilson, Dave Messenger and Jon Marks. The kind words from the great and the good were echoed by many fellow fans and this outpouring of love has bought great comfort to his family and friends. I will miss him terribly.

Doucoure on the ball

As is my usual practice, I booked the train to Swansea some time before the match tickets went on sale. So, when my usual e-mail to ask who wanted tickets was met with a chorus of ‘no thanks’, I began to regret booking the early train as this meant that I would be spending rather a long time sitting alone in a pub with my thoughts. I have to say that the pre-match pub was pleasant and welcoming and I quite enjoyed my solitary pints before the walk to the ground. I was feeling a little empty as I entered the stadium, but it wasn’t long before I encountered familiar faces and was able to share happy memories of Toddy and his exploits.

Team news was that Silva had made two changes from the heavy defeat to City with Femenía and Capoue replacing Janmaat and Chalobah, who had picked up an injury in training. So the starting line-up was Gomes, Femenía, Mariappa, Kabasele, Holebas; Doucouré, Cleverley; Carrillo, Capoue, Richarlison; Gray. Swansea’s Watford connection was in the dug out in the form of Hornet legend Nigel Gibbs.

Celebrating Gray’s first goal for the club

After the heavy defeat last week, there was a fear that the early season spirit may have been crushed, but the concerns were eased as Watford started brilliantly and had an early chance to open the scoring as Doucouré played a through ball to Femenía, he crossed for Gray whose shot was deflected just wide. The visitors took the lead in the 13th minute as the ball broke to Gray, he played it out to Carrillo whose cross evaded the Swansea defence and found its way back to the former Burnley man who blasted home for the first goal of his Watford career. It was great to see Andre get off the mark at last. Not so great was the fact that the goal was celebrated with a flare. There is an irony in the fact that it is always at the grounds at which the searches are most stringent (the steward who searched me could feel what I had for breakfast) that flares are smuggled in. Swansea nearly equalized almost immediately from their first chance of the game as a corner was almost poked home by Fernandez, but Gomes made the block to preserve the lead. Watford threatened again, as Holebas played a brilliant pass down the touchline to Richarlison who crossed for Capoue who belted a shot from distance just wide of the near post. At the other end, Bony met a free kick from Carroll with a header that flew just wide of the target.

Carrillo picking a pass

Carrillo then went on a fantastic run before putting in a cross that was half cleared to Femenía, his volley was parried by Fabianski, the ball dropped to Richarlison, who crossed back for Carrillo to tap the ball home. Sadly, and correctly, the celebrations in the away end were curtailed by the linesman’s flag. The first booking of the game came as Capoue slid into a tackle, he was hurt in the process and, to add insult to injury, the referee showed him the yellow card. Swansea’s next half chance came as a looping cross from Naughton was pulled out of the air by Gomes. Then Olsson broke into the box, Mariappa tripped as he went to make the tackle, so the cross reached Bony who could only direct a soft shot straight at Gomes. Watford had a great chance to increase their lead as a poor back pass was intercepted by Gray, who advanced into the box, but the keeper, Fabianski, narrowed the angle and the shot drifted across the face of the goal. Swansea had another chance to draw level from a free kick that was headed wide by Bony. The last action of the half was a caution for Doucouré for pulling Fer back as he tried to escape. So Watford went into the break a goal to the good. The visitors had been brilliant for the first half hour, playing the ball around and showing some sublime moments of skill, Swansea couldn’t get near us. But I was concerned that we hadn’t made more of our chances and the flurry of activity from the home side towards the end of the half clearly demonstrated that the game was far from over.

New boy, Wague, and Mariappa

Both sides made substitutions at the break with Abraham and Mesa replacing van der Hoorn and Clucas for Swansea. For the visitors, Marco Silva gave Wagué his first appearance in place of Capoue, a defender for a midfielder.

The change of formation benefitted the home side, who started the second half as they had finished the first. They had an early chance to draw level as Fer headed over from a Carroll corner. The equaliser came in the next move as Watford failed to clear a ball into the box allowing Bony to shoot, the strike was stopped by Gomes, who appeared to have it under control, but it spilled to Abraham who finished from close range, much to the frustration of the Watford keeper. The home side threatened again as a cross reached Abraham, who was about to shoot from close range when Mariappa made a brilliant saving tackle. Watford’s first real attack of the second half came as Richarlison made a brilliant run into the box which deserved a better finish than him slipping before he could shoot. Silva made a second substitution with 15 minutes to go, bringing Pereyra on for Carrillo. Watford’s improved showing continued as a cross from Cleverley was met by a lovely header from Gray that was deflected wide.

Gray and Carrillo congratulate Richarlison

Nerves were jangling in the away end as Mariappa was penalised for what looked like a good tackle on the edge of the box. Our vantage point at the opposite end of the ground was such that we could visualize the perfect shot for the home side to take the lead. Instead, Carroll directed the free kick into the wall and we breathed again. The first caution for the home side came as Bony was booked for a foul on Holebas. That was the Swansea man’s last action of the game as he was replaced by Sanches. Watford’s last change came at the same time, as Deeney came on for Gray. The Watford captain made an immediate impact as Pereyra crossed for Doucouré, who played the ball back to Deeney, but Fabianski was equal to the shot. Watford were to snatch all three points in the last minute of the game as a misplaced Swansea pass was picked up by Richarlison, who bore down on Fabianski. With only the keeper to beat, you worried that the Brazilian had too much time to think, but his shot went in off the crossbar sending the travelling Hornets into raptures and the home fans towards the exits. The scorer ripped his shirt off to celebrate and was booked for his trouble, but it was worth the card to see the passion. The fourth official indicated five minutes of added time, but there was no further excitement and the Hornets secured all three points.

Femenia

There were loud celebrations at the final whistle. Watford had started the game superbly, but once Swansea started closing us down and denying us space, we started to struggle. During that period, we also seemed to stand back and let Swansea play. In the last 15 minutes, we started reasserting ourselves. The tenacious tackling was back and it unnerved the opposition players causing them to make mistakes. Going forward, we were taking more time to pick passes, and stopped playing the aimless balls that had been getting us into trouble. If I’m honest, a draw would have been a fair result, and winning a point away at a rival has got to be a positive thing. But it was a measure of the spirit of this team that they kept battling for the three points. I have to pay tribute to Deeney here as his cameo showed the strength and battling spirit that he brings to the team. As is usual, Troy was the last to come and applaud the fans and, after his kindness in paying tribute to Toddy this week, I sang his name even louder and prouder than I usually do.

As I waited for my train, I picked up a voicemail from a friend who’d been listening to Three Counties and had heard Jon Marks mention that we were one short today and how much Toddy would be missed. That epitomised what I will take from this week. The Premier League and the clubs that make it up have become so corporate that it is apparent that the fans who go to matches week-in, week-out don’t matter any more. But the actions of the people in and around Watford Football Club this week have shown that, in our little corner of Hertfordshire, they still have time to show that they care. That is why I am especially proud to be a Watford fan this week.

That win was for you, Toddy.  Sleep well, dear friend, you will be greatly missed.

 

Forty Points Achieved against the Swans

The legends flag greets the players

Due to the lack of an Easter programme in the Premier League, we only had one game this weekend, so I felt oddly cheated but determined to make the most of the one that we had.  The sun was shining when I reached the West Herts and joined the usual suspects at ‘our’ table.  Mike and Toddy were slumming with us before taking their place in the posh seats as a result of winning the Supporters Trust draw.  The rest of us enjoyed our more modest surroundings as much as we always do.

Discussion pre-match was about whether the next two games were must wins.  I must admit that, looking at the table with only 7 games to go, Watford’s 37 points and 10th place was starting to convince me that safety had already been achieved and so maybe we wouldn’t need any further points.  But it would be very reassuring to reach the holy grail of 40 points and this game had to be our best chance to do so.

Challenging for a ball into the box

The visit of Swansea also meant a return to Vicarage Road for legend and all round good egg Nigel Gibbs, who is on their coaching staff.  So it was a nice touch when Tim Coombs prefaced his reading of the away team with a welcome back for Gibbsy and the crowd gave him a very warm welcome indeed.

Team news was that Deeney was restored to the starting line-up alongside Prödl and Capoue replacing Okaka, Cathcart and Success.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Prödl, Mariappa, Holebas; Cleverley, Doucouré, Capoue; Amrabat, Deeney and Niang.

The first goalmouth action of the game was a cross from Amrabat that was headed clear by Mawson.  The first actual goal attempt fell to the visitors as Sigurdsson broke into the box, his first shot was blocked, his second required a decent save from Gomes at the near post.  Swansea fashioned another dangerous chance as Sigurdsson launched a free kick into the box, the punch from Gomes flew into the air and fell for Fernández whose header, thankfully, landed on the roof of the net.  Watford’s first attempt on target came as Niang went on a run and tried a low shot from distance, but it was easy for Fabianski in the Swansea goal.

Celebrating Capoue’s goal

A lovely passing move from the Hornets finished with Amrabat shooting wide of the far post.  The Hornets had a great chance to open the scoring as Capoue played a lovely through ball towards Deeney in the box, but Fabianski was first to the ball.  There was good work from Doucouré to nick the ball before releasing Niang who was fouled on the edge of the area.  The Frenchman took the set piece himself, shooting through the wall but Fabianski dropped to make the save.  Then Janmaat won the ball and went on a tremendous run before crossing for Deeney whose shot was tipped over by Fabianski.  Despite the dominance of the Hornets, the visitors should have taken the lead on the half hour as Narsingh found Ki Sung-Yueng who only had Gomes to beat from close range, but he hesitated and then, as a defender appeared, shot straight at Gomes.  Sigurdsson was the next to try his luck, but his shot from distance was easy for Gomes.  Just when it looked as though the game would reach half time goalless, Capoue nicked the ball from Mawson and broke into the box, his first shot was blocked, but he buried the rebound to send the Rookery and particularly my niece, his biggest fan, into raptures.

Capoue and Cleverley line up a free kick

So the Hornets were leading at the break.  They had dominated possession without threatening Fabianski’s goal on too many occasions.  Swansea had a few decent chances, but they were clearly bereft of confidence and looked very unlikely to get back into the game.

The half time draw was made by Kenny Jackett.  As always it was lovely to see him back at Vicarage Road and he said all the right things when asked what he wanted from the meeting of two of his former clubs.

As the players came out for the start of the second half, instead of taking his place in goal in front of the Rookery, Fabianski remained on the half-way line.  I thought we were in for a very unusual kick-off but it turned out that he was just waiting for the referee to reappear with the matchball, so that he could have a cuddle of the ball before continuing.

Doucoure and Amrabat chase the ball

There was an early second half chance for the visitors as Sigurdsson tried a shot from just outside the area that flew wide.  At the other end Doucouré had a sight of goal so hit a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  Then Janmaat went on a great run into the box and unleashed a powerful shot that Fabianski did very well to divert from its intended path to the top corner.  Watford’s first substitution came just after the hour mark when Amrabat, who was waiting to take a throw-in on the opposite side from the dugouts, was replaced by Kabasele.  Nordin looked furious as he walked the width of the pitch and the message from Mazzarri was that his aim was to preserve the lead, a tactic that hasn’t always worked for us.

The 72nd minute was greeted with the customary chant of “One Graham Taylor” and the picture on the big screen showed Rita with her granddaughter in the Directors’ box.  So lovely to see her at Vicarage Road and I hope that the continued expressions of love for Graham bring her some comfort.

Gomes with a goal kick

Mazzarri’s second substitution saw Okaka replacing Niang.  The Italian looked to have sealed the game for the Hornets soon after when he received a lovely cross from Janmaat, controlled the ball on his chest and volleyed past Fabianski.  Sadly the goal was ruled out for offside.  Okaka turned provider soon after, crossing for Capoue whose shot cleared the bar.  There was danger for the home side as Sigurdsson swung a free kick towards goal, but Gomes was able to punch clear.  Then Ayew broke forward and crossed for Carroll whose shot found the side netting.  Mazzarri’s final change was to bring Behrami on in place of Cleverley.  Watford had one last chance to ensure the win as Doucouré tried a shot from outside the area, but Fabianski was equal to it.  The visitors had two chances to retrieve a point in time added on.  First a mistake from Prödl allowed them to advance, Borja crossed for Sigurdsson whose header was poor and flew wide of the near post.  The Icelander had one last chance, going on a dangerous run that was stopped by a crucial tackle from Doucouré.  So the final whistle went on the third home win in a row with the Hornets sitting pretty in 10th place having amassed 40 points.

The second half had been a poor spectacle and, with only the one goal lead, they seemed to make heavy weather of the game, but the three points has all but guaranteed that Watford will be a Premier League club for the third season in a row so the crowds leaving Vicarage Road did so with a spring in their step and those of us who had secured our season tickets for next season were feeling very happy indeed.

Home from Wales with a Decent Point

Troy returns up the pitch

Troy returns up the pitch

Swansea away is one of very few games for which I don’t need to travel through London, but it was still an early start to get to Reading to pick up the train.  As I boarded, I spotted a couple of our regular away travelers, so was treated to some unexpected but very welcome company for the trip to Wales.  As we left Reading, the sun was in my eyes but the fog soon descended and, added to the fact that it had been bitterly cold on Reading station, it looked like we were to be in for a very unpleasant day weather-wise.  Due to engineering work on the railways there were no trains running to Swansea, so we were turfed off the train at Port Talbot.  While the term ‘rail replacement’ is usually met with dread, the arrangements on this occasion went rather well with a bus waiting for us that ran straight to Swansea meaning that we arrived 20 minutes ahead of schedule.  Even better, the weather had improved considerably and we arrived to bright sunshine.

I parted company with my travelling companions on Wind Street to make my way to my party’s chosen pre match venue.  On arrival I was delighted to discover that it was an old-fashioned pub populated with locals which served decent beer and properly home cooked food and, bizarrely, had the cricket on teletext on the TV in the bar.  After a very pleasant lunch, we set off along the Tawe for a lovely walk to the stadium.

Gomes and Prodl

Gomes and Prodl

Team news was that Mazzarri had made two changes with Zúñiga and Ighalo in for Amrabat and the injured Success.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Zúñiga, Pereyra, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.  It was Bob Bradley’s first home game in charge at Swansea, so there were concerns that we may fall victim to the boost that a new manager often gives a team.  He was certainly making his mark with five changes from the Arsenal game.

Before kick-off, there was a minute’s silence to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster.  I was very young indeed when it happened, but it still made a strong impression on me and, as an adult, the thought of a town losing a whole generation of children is beyond heartbreaking.  The silence was observed impeccably and it was good to see both teams wearing black armbands.

Britos lines up a free kick

Britos lines up a free kick

The first half was pretty dull.  The home side had the first chance with a shot from Barrow that, from our viewpoint, appeared to have flown wide, but the referee believed that Gomes had made a save, so awarded a corner.  The next chance of note came on 22 minutes as a terrible ball from Behrami allowed the home side to gain possession and Sigurdsson unleashed a shot that was stopped by a flying save from Gomes.  Watford’s first shot came just before the half hour when Capoue won a free kick, which he took himself just clearing the bar.  Capoue also had the next shot with an off-balance volley that was nearer to the target than it had any right to be.  Late in the half, a terrible clearance by Fabianski hit Deeney, but Troy was taken by surprise and wasn’t able to take advantage.  Just before half time, Capoue played a short free-kick to Kaboul who hit a shot that rebounded off the wall.  The first card of the game went to Capoue for a foul on Routledge which consisted of him lifting the player off the ground.  The offence was almost as hilarious as Capoue’s outrage at being penalized.  So we reached half time goalless.  Swansea had started the half the better team, but the Hornets certainly had the upper hand later in the half, although they didn’t test Fabianski in the Swansea goal.

Capoue beats the Swansea wall

Capoue beats the Swansea wall

At half time, I noticed that the banner display around the pitch was showing positive facts about Swansea in head to head matches against Watford.  The one that particularly caught my eye was that the last time they had failed to score in a home game against Watford was in March 1923.

Early in the second half Sigurdsson was shown a card for pulling Pereyra back.  Ten minutes into the half Capoue played for a free kick, as he appealed in vain, Swansea went on a break which finished with an acrobatic kick from Borja that flew wide of the target.  Deeney and Ighalo combined to find Capoue in space, but the Frenchman hesitated as he looked to the lino for an offside flag and the chance was lost.  Just before the hour, Ighalo went on a run into the box and executed a trademark Iggy Scoop but, instead of shooting, tried a second scoop and his shot was blocked, the ball dropped to Pereyra in the middle of the box but he got it caught under his feet and couldn’t get a shot off.  Mazzarri made the first substitution of the game bringing Amrabat on for Zúñiga.  This was a brave move in an away game as he was sacrificing defence for a more attacking player.

Kaboul readies to take a throw

Kaboul readies to take a throw

On 64 minutes there were cheers from the home fans as they thought that van der Hoorn had turned a Sigurdsson free kick home, but a terrific save from Gomes kept the score goalless.  Bradley’s first change saw Llorente come on for Routledge.  Holebas gave away a needless corner which led to a scramble in the Watford box, but the clearance allowed Amrabat to break before he was stopped by a pull from Britton who was booked for the foul.  Amrabat went on another break before playing the ball to Ighalo, there were appeals for a penalty as Naughton appeared to handle the ball, but nothing was given.  At the other end, Swansea threatened and Gomes had to drop to save a snap shot from Sigurdsson.  Watford had a second appeal for a penalty soon after as Behrami appeared to be tripped in the area but, again, the referee wasn’t interested.  Mazzarri’s second substitution was to replace Capoue with Guedioura.  Kingsley should have done better for the Swans when the ball found him in space in the box, but he swung his foot at the ball and missed.  Not for the first time that afternoon the claims for this division being the “Best League in the World” looked ridiculous.

Chasing a ball in the air

Chasing a ball in the air

The hosts should have taken the lead as a promising break finished with a shot from Sigurdsson that rebounded off the post with Gomes beaten.  There was frustration for the Hornets as a cross from Amrabat was chested down by Ighalo in the box and the whistle went for hand ball from a referee who had a considerably worse view than we did.  Watford had a terrific chance for a late winner as Ighalo played in Amrabat whose shot was just over the bar.  On the stroke of 90 minutes Naughton tried a weak shot that was straight at Gomes.  In time added on, Guedioura hit a cracking shot but it was straight at Fabianski who made an easy save.  So the game finished goalless and Swansea failed to score against Watford at home for the first time since 1923 (talk about tempting fate!).

All in all, it had been a lively match which was sadly devoid of goal chances.  Swansea’s Barrow was the pick of the players, a constant menace on the wing but there was no outlet for him.  For the Hornets, I thought that Holebas was the pick of the outfield players, and Gomes has to be credited with preserving the point.  Whatever Swansea’s current position in the table, a point there is a decent result and is an improvement on our performance and result last season (I distinctly remember leaving the ground and meeting someone who told me we’d definitely be relegated now).

I am happy to report that the return journey went without a hitch and, again, I was fortunate to bump into some lovely Watford people who considerably enhanced my trip home.

A Very Blue Monday for the Hornets

The Liberty Stadium

The Liberty Stadium

After a run of three league defeats, the trip to Swansea seemed to be a decent opportunity to get our season back on track.  The journey west was rather pleasant and, having bumped into a fellow regular away traveler as I boarded the train to Swansea, I was treated to delightful company as we crossed the border.

Team news was that there were three changes from the Southampton game with Britos and Aké coming back in place of Prödl and Holebas, while Behrami was a surprising inclusion in place of Abdi.  Flores had opted for a 4-4-2 formation with Behrami in the centre of the midfield and Capoue on the right.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Jurado, Behrami, Watson, Capoue, Deeney and Ighalo.  Former loanee, Jack Cork, started for Swansea.  The game was given an interesting twist as the Swans confirmed the appointment of Francesco Guidolin, formerly Head Coach of Udinese, a role which he left to take up a position that was supposed to involve oversight all three Pozzo teams, although it was never clear how this impacted the Hornets.

Abseiling marines

Abseiling marines

On taking our seats in the Liberty Stadium, I have to say that I was very impressed with the Swansea support.  The ground was packed and they were noisy from the start.  I was not quite so impressed with the mortifying spectacle of ‘kiss-cam’ on the big screen before the game as they focused on random pairs of men and women and trained a camera on them until they kissed or the cameraman got bored.  In some cases there were empty seats between the ’couple’ so a kiss could have led to an ejection as the actual partner witnessed an infidelity.  There was no warning about ‘kiss-cam’ but there was a warning to the disabled seating area that the ropes hanging down from the top of the stand would soon be occupied by some marines abseiling down, one of whom would bring the match ball to the referee.  It wasn’t the most coordinated of manoeuvres, but that could be said of a lot that we have seen on the pitch of late.  The lack of coordination extended to my pre-match equipment check as I left my camera at the hotel, so the quality of my photos is even worse than usual.

The pre-match huddle

The pre-match huddle

The home side had much the better start to the game.  Although there was a very early chance for the visitors as Deeney headed the ball down to Ighalo whose shot was blocked.  From then it was all Swansea for a while.  First Sigurdsson played a back heel to Routledge, but Gomes saved, not knowing that the flag was already up for offside.   A cross from Ayew was headed clear by Cathcart.  Then Cork hit a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  Sigurdsson tried a through ball to Ki, who was also flagged offside.  A cross into the box from Routledge was headed for a corner by Britos.  Over a quarter of an hour had passed before Watford looked like creating another chance, this time Deeney released Ighalo, but Odion couldn’t control the ball and the chance was lost.  Swansea threatened again as Britton played a one-two with Ayew before breaking into the box, but Aké was in close attendance and ensured that Gomes could save at his feet.  At the other end, a free kick from Watson was cleared only as far as Deeney whose shot was blocked.  Deeney then did really well to battle past Taylor and cross for Ighalo but his header was off target.  The first booking of the game was picked up by Jurado for a silly tackle on Routledge.  Swansea threatened again as Ayew exchanged passes with Sigurdsson before unleashing a shot that Gomes was down to save.

Watson preparing for a free kick

Watson preparing for a free kick

On 27 minutes, the home side took the lead as Williams headed a cross from Ki past Gomes.  I was hoping for an immediate reaction from the Hornets, but the nearest we came was a booking for Nyom who was penalised for sticking out a foot to stop Taylor.  The resulting free kick was punched clear by Gomes.  Nyom didn’t redeem himself as a soft clearance went straight to Ki who, thankfully, shot well over the bar.  Hornet hearts beat a little faster as Ighalo picked up a misplaced pass from Ki and looked to be bearing down on goal, but Williams was soon back to make a tackle.  There were a couple of chances for an equalizer just before half time.  First a Watson free kick reached Deeney who hit a hopeful shot over the bar.  Then, Watford’s best chance of the half, as Jurado exchanged passes with Capoue before shooting but the Swans’ keeper, Fabianski, was behind the ball.

So we reached half time a goal behind.  It had been another frustrating half of football.  Our successful start to the season had been built upon being difficult to break down through hard work and constantly pressing the opposition.  That aspect of the game seems to have disappeared from recent performances although more due to a lack of confidence than desire.  We could only hope for an improvement in the second period, although Flores made no changes at the break.

Watson preparing for a free kick

Watson preparing for a free kick

The first chance of the second half fell to Jurado who cut in from the left and then hit a silly shot high and wide when a little more composure was needed.  The Spaniard also had the next chance, after a decent run he passed to Deeney who back-heeled the return but Jurado curled his shot over the bar.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came as a free-kick from Watson was met by a header from Britos that landed on the roof of the net although, for a split second, many of the travelling Hornets thought that it was in.  Swansea’s first attack of the half came after Capoue lost the ball to Routledge who advanced and crossed, but Nyom was on hand to clear.  The visitors continued to attack as Deeney played the ball out to Jurado, but his cross was blocked.  At the other end, the ball fell to Cork on the edge of the box but he volleyed over the bar.  On the hour, a Watford attack was stopped when Britton put out a hand to block a pass from Behrami and was booked for his trouble.  The resulting free kick was dreadful from Watson flying high and wide of the goal.  Another chance went begging for the visitors as Ighalo played the ball back to Jurado whose shot was just wide of the far post.  Deeney threatened to break with Ighalo alongside him, but his pass was snuffed out by a defender.  Flores made his first substitution with 15 minutes remaining bringing Paredes on for Nyom, who had had a poor game.  Capoue played two decent crosses into the box in quick succession but, on each occasion, the Swansea captain, Williams, headed clear.  Ighalo then won a free kick in a dangerous position but Watson opted to hit the ball low and straight at the wall, much to the frustration of the away fans.

Hoping to convert a corner

Hoping to convert a corner

The Hornets continued to push for an equalizer as a downward header from Deeney was cleared for a corner.  At the same time Ighalo went down in the box under a challenge and there were some half-hearted shouts for a penalty, which would have been very harsh.  The corner was cleared to Jurado but Fabianski was equal to his shot.  Flores made his second substitution with 3 minutes remaining, replacing Behrami with Oularé.  The Belgian almost made an immediate impact as Deeney headed the ball towards him on the edge of the box, but he couldn’t quite connect and it fell to Jurado who shot just wide.  Soon after, a corner from Watson was punched clear.  Despite Watford’s dominance of the second half, it appeared that the home side had increased their lead as substitute Gomis broke into the box and thumped a shot that looked to have beaten Gomes before it rebounded off the inside of the post and was cleared.  The last chance of the game fell to the visitors in time added on as the ball dropped to Deeney on the edge of the box but his shot was wide of the near post and the Hornets fell to their fourth consecutive defeat in the league.

Watson takes a free kick

Watson takes a free kick

There was a lot of frustration among the travelling fans at the end of the game and one young man went to the front of the stand to berate Deeney.  I then bumped into someone who told me that we are going to be relegated.  All rather dramatic and, on reflection, it certainly doesn’t feel as bad as that.  The Hornets had made a much better fist of the second half.  Jurado was coming in for a lot of stick from some near me for disappearing after his booking and, while he seemed reluctant to commit to a tackle, most of the shots on goal came from him and a couple were only fractionally wide.  Without his contribution, it would have been a far more miserable evening.  There has been a lot of talk of teams working out how to play against us, but a lot of what the opposition is doing now, they have been trying to do all season with little success.  The extra defenders on Deeney and Ighalo are stifling their contribution but Odion seems to have lost a bit of his previous confidence as he is not muscling his way out of trouble as he did earlier in the season and there were a couple of occasions when he passed to a teammate when you would have put money on him trying a shot.  What has been the biggest concern for me is that we have stopped harrying the opposition meaning that they have far too much space.  So I was pleased to see much more ‘gegenpressing’ in the second half which, consequently, meant we had more of the ball and more shots on the Swansea goal.

While the recent record is worrying, I am not going to get too despondent yet.  The players and manager have not become poor overnight so we need to continue supporting them.  Whatever happens at the end of this season, this will still have been the best season that we have seen at this level since the 80s.

Our First Home Win of the Season

The Lower GT prior to kick-off

The Lower GT prior to kick-off

In the run up to this game, having had two weeks to stew after the visit to City, we’d had lots of time to agonize about our lack of goals. At the Tales from the Vicarage event, Troy Deeney had been rather dismissive of his “goal drought” and said that they would come. However, having not had a shot on target in the last two games and having seen Deeney’s frustration, you couldn’t help but worry about the visit of Swansea who had had a decent start to the season and came into this game in 4th place and unbeaten.

Team news was just the one change with Anya in for Holebas. The starting XI was Gomes, Anya, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Capoue, Behrami, Abdi, Ighalo, Jurado, Deeney. Former loanee jack Cork started for the visitors.

 

Kick-off

Kick-off

Watford’s first attack came after a spell of patient build-up play that was beginning to frustrate when the ball reached Anya and he went on a run before playing the ball out to Jurado whose cross was blocked. The first goal attempt came when a cross from Anya was headed clear but only as far as Prödl who blasted just over the bar. Then a cross from Nyom was deflected to Deeney on the edge of the box, but his shot was blocked. Abdi looked certain to score until his shot took a wicked deflection that sent it wide of the target. Jurado took the corner, but it was a poor effort that didn’t beat the first man. Troy stole the ball from a Swansea player’s feet before advancing and whipping in a cross that Fabianski gathered before it reached the head of Ighalo. Swansea’s first threat on the Watford goal came on 20 minutes as a shot from Gomis was met by a flying save from Gomes who pushed the ball clear of the goal before gathering it safely. Watford continued to threaten as a free kick from Prödl was headed out to Abdi who unleashed a volley that flew high and wide.

Abdi takes a free kick

Abdi takes a free kick

On 23 minutes, I was convinced that we would open the scoring as Deeney got the ball on the edge of the box and, from our vantage point behind the goal, the path to the bottom corner opened up, so there were heads in hands in the Rookery when the shot curled wide. Capoue played a lovely ball to Jurado in the box, but the Spaniard took one touch too many and was dispossessed. Swansea could have taken the lead as Anya was dispossessed by the corner flag, Ayew cut in and crossed for Gomis, who was tumbling so his shot from close range shot was easily caught by Gomes. At the other end, Ighalo battled into the Swansea box and, much to the frustration of the Rookery faithful and his captain, tried a shot from a narrow angle that was saved by the feet of Fabianski when a cut back to Deeney would have been a better option. Soon after, a cross from Anya was just missed by Deeney as he came flying at the ball. Watford put themselves in trouble just before half time as the ball was lost on the right and a cross reached Gomis whose shot drew a great save from Gomes who wasn’t to know that the offside flag was up.

So, again, we reached half time scoreless, but this had been a really positive performance from the Hornets who had the best of the chances. It was particularly pleasing to see Deeney playing an effective role in the hole behind Ighalo with the two front men linking up in a way that we haven’t seen in the past couple of games. During the interval, Jay DeMerit was interviewed on the pitch talking about his happy memories of his time at Watford. Lovely to see him again.

Cathcart leaping to meet the ball

Cathcart leaping to meet the ball

The second half started with a period of possession for the visitors, but they didn’t create any goal scoring opportunities, the first shot of the half falling to Abdi whose shot rolled towards goal where Fabianski saved easily at the near post. Then Deeney’s shot from a Nyom cross was blocked. Deeney was in action again as he held the ball up before feeding Ighalo whose shot was just wide of the post. Just before the hour mark, Gomes launched a ball upfield that Deeney headed on to Ighalo who shot past Fabianski to send those inside Vicarage Road wild. That goal had been coming, but it was a great relief to finally break the home duck. Spirits were dampened soon after as the Hornets were reduced to 10 men. There was some confusion in the Rookery as it appeared that Behrami had been fouled by Ayew and that the card was being brandished at the Swansea man, but it was the Watford man who left the field and pictures later showed a stamp by Behrami had caused his departure. It was a worrying development as Behrami had been excellent.

Deeney, Behrami and Cathcart awaiting a free kick

Deeney, Behrami and Cathcart awaiting a free kick

This could very well have been a turning point and it is great credit to the lads that it wasn’t. Flores’ immediate response to the sending off was to sacrifice Abdi for Watson. Thankfully Watford continued to attack as a cross from Anya was only cleared as far as Jurado whose shot was blocked, the ball found its way to Capoue whose shot across goal flew wide. Watford’s second substitution saw Berghuis replace Ighalo. The next action was in the Watford box as Éder came flying in to challenge Gomes and left the keeper in a heap on the ground. Thankfully, after a short period of treatment, he was able to continue. Shelvey attempted an exchange of passes with Montero but the return ball was cut out by Watson. Swansea’s next goal attempt was a shot from distance by Fernandez that landed in Row TT of the Rookery almost hitting a child whose Dad was on a final warning from his mother about keeping him out of danger. Capoue continued to impress as he broke into the box but his low shot was saved. There were shouts of ‘handball’ from the Rookery as Ki controlled the ball and passed to Fernandez whose shot was well over the bar.

Anya launches a throw

Anya launches a throw

Capoue was again on the attack as he pirouetted to shrug off the attentions of a defender and went on a run that deserved more than a blocked shot at the end of it. With 7 minutes remaining, Flores replaced Deeney with Diamanti leaving us with no strikers on the pitch and a clear mandate to defend the lead, which is always risky at 1-0. As the minutes ticked down, the nerves increased so it was a relief when a ball from Naughton to Shelvey was intercepted by Anya who took it out of the danger area. Swansea’s best chance of the game came in the last minute of normal time as a powerful shot from Shelvey was blocked by Gomes who spilled the ball before pouncing to gather as Éder closed in. The announcement that the fourth official had indicated seven minutes of injury time prompted an increase in both the heart rates of the Rookery faithful and the volume of the chants, which had already been quite impressive. Jurado broke forward and crossed for Berghuis who had two shots on goal, both of which were blocked by Fabianski. There was a bit of a frantic scramble in the Watford box, with the home defence unable to clear so it was a relief when Fernandez headed over the target to loud cheers from the Rookery. As the Hornets broke down the other end, there was a cry from behind me “We don’t need another goal, just keep it there,” which they duly did.

Gomes and Deeney applaud the crowd

Gomes and Deeney applaud the crowd

As injury time ticked on, Watford fans in all the stands were on their feet loudly encouraging their heroes and as the final whistle went there were rapturous cheers and the feeling that we had all played our part in that victory. My niece declared that it had been the longest 7 minutes of her life and, judging by the exhausted looks of those around us, that was a popular opinion. There was loud applause, singing and flags waving as the players made their way around the ground applauding the fans. Then, as we made a move to leave, “Gold” came blasting over the tannoy meaning one last rendition of “Ighalo-oh” before we went home. On the way out through the concourse there were groups standing around the televisions just waiting to see confirmation of our 12th place in the table which was greeted with cheers.

Outside the ground there was an unpleasant atmosphere as the Swansea fans were as niggly and aggressive as their team had been, but we were soon back to the West Herts and the smiles couldn’t have been wider as we reflected on the game. There had been a far more positive approach and the partnership of Deeney and Ighalo looked back to its best. The only player that drew any criticism was Jurado who is yet to convince, his set pieces were just awful. Still, it is churlish to criticise, as this was one of those games that reminds me why I go to football. A tremendous performance on the pitch and a wonderful supportive atmosphere in the stands. Bring on Newcastle.