Tag Archives: Luke Shaw

United we Fell

Masina preparing to take a throw-in

It was an early start for this game, and I couldn’t believe how many people were on the Central Line at 7:30 on a Sunday morning.  The journey to Manchester was uneventful.  Our usual group were going to be split between two pre-match pubs, one nearer the city centre, the other near the ground.  I met up with Pete at Piccadilly and, since the bar in Salford Quays wasn’t opening until midday and we were somewhat earlier than that, we headed to Deansgate to meet Graham and the Happy Valley Hornets.  Graham had arrived early and gone for breakfast.  While wandering in the area, he encountered a group of young men in hoodies and quickly realised that it was the lads out for a constitutional after their breakfast.

Our usual haunt didn’t open until midday, so an alternative had been chosen.  A quick look at TripAdvisor had shown a large number of one star reviews.  When we arrived it seemed OK, apart from the Man United memorabilia, but it went quickly downhill.  For what appeared to be a local pub, it was a bit surprising that the beer was at London prices.  But the clincher was when the barman, while clearing plates, knocked a pint of beer over the daughter of one of our group, claimed that she had done it and refused to provide a replacement.  It was a relief to take refuge in our usual haunt, I don’t think that we will be going back to the White Lion.

The decision to go to the more central pub looked even more misguided when I couldn’t fight my way on to a tram.  When I finally found a space to get on to one, it was the least crowded that had passed through so at least it was a relatively comfortable journey.

Doucoure on the ball

Knowing how restrictive the bag policy is at Old Trafford, I had packed carefully, only bringing things that I needed, but I still had a couple of things in a small bag.  As I passed through the first phalanx of stewards, I asked one of them if I could take my bag in.  He said that I could, and I passed through the next layer of security until I reached the one just before the turnstiles.  At that point I was told I couldn’t take the bag in.  I asked if it was OK to empty the bag into my pockets.  They were fine with that but said that I couldn’t take the actual bag in even though it was a nylon drawstring bag that could be tucked into a pocket.  At that point I gave up trying to reason and went back through the security cordons to the bag drop in the car park opposite.  There I found a young lad with an even smaller drawstring bag telling the attendants that he didn’t have the £5 they were demanding to leave his bag there.  I said that I would pay for him.  The woman behind the counter kindly said that we could put our bags together so that I would only have to pay once, and I had to point out that I didn’t know this boy so we wouldn’t be returning together.

I was livid when I got into the ground.  My mood wasn’t helped when I told my story only to find that two of our party had played the elderly card and brought in two bags that were considerably larger than mine and Mike had a Swiss army knife in his pocket!!  So much for their stringent security.

Doucoure and Masina

Team news was that Pearson had made just the one change with Hughes in for Chalobah.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Hughes, Capoue; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney.

Prior to kick-off, there was a minute’s silence for Harry Gregg, survivor and hero of the Munich air disaster, who had passed away during the week.  The silence was impeccably observed.

Watford had an early chance to take the lead as a defensive mistake allowed Deeney to escape, he broke into the box, but delayed taking a shot giving Shaw time to get back and make the clearance.  It was a golden chance that went to waste.  Troy had another chance to break, but Fred, while lying on the ground, managed to make a tackle allowing United to break and Greenwood to take a shot that was straight at Foster.  The Hornets created another decent chance as Deulofeu crossed for Doucouré, but the Frenchman could only find the side-netting.  Watford had a decent spell without testing the keeper, the next effort came from the home side and was a cross-cum-shot from James that Foster punched clear, it fell to Wan-Bissaka who shot into the side-netting.

Dawson on the ball as Capoue looks on

Watford threatened again as Doucouré went on a good run, his cross was knocked down to Deeney whose shot flew wide of the far post.  At the other end, a low shot by Shaw from the edge of the area was straight at Foster.  It has to be said that, at this stage of the game, the United fans were uncharacteristically noisy.  Martial went on a tremendous break but it came to nothing as his shot was well over the target.  In the away end, a new song got an airing as the travelling Hornets appropriated “Tequila” from Tranmere, but the climax of the song became a shout of “Masina”.  It was rather catchy.  Doucouré then went on a run and tried his luck, but de Gea got a hand to the shot and pushed it out for a corner.  Then Pereyra played in Masina, but he was slipping as he crossed and it was easily gathered by de Gea.  At the other end, James cut inside and shot well wide of the target.  The home side threatened again, this time James played the ball back to Fred just inside the area, but his shot was well over the bar.  Capoue then provided some light relief winning a free kick with what could only be described as a swallow dive.  It was elegant and effective, and the travelling faithful sang his name with some gusto.  Just as we thought we would make it to half time with no score, James played in Fernandes, Foster came out to meet him and took him down.  The United man made the most of it, but it was an obvious penalty.  Fernandes took the spot kick himself, taking a stuttering run up before sending Foster the wrong way and putting the home side ahead.  It could have been two after a mistake from Pereyra gave Fernandes another chance to score, but his shot was just wide of the target.

We were a little unlucky to be behind at half time, United had been poor but, as so often this season, Watford had not taken their chances.

Doucoure and Deeney celebrate the goal that never was

The Hornets created the first half-chance of the second period as Doucouré crossed for Deeney, but Shaw intervened to put the ball out for a corner.  From the corner, Deeney turned the ball in for what we thought was the equaliser.  We had celebrated, the players had celebrated, but then I saw Martin Atkinson in discussion with Harry Maguire who was indicating that he thought there had been a handball.  After consulting the VAR, Atkinson indicated upfield and I was momentarily hopeful until I realised that he was indicating a goal kick.  Apparently, the ball had come off Dawson’s arm in the build-up, so the goal didn’t stand.  The Hornets then won another corner but, on this occasion, the delivery from Hughes was easily caught by de Gea.  The home side threatened again as James played a through ball to Greenwood, whose shot across goal was put out for a corner.  Martial scored United’s second just before the hour mark.  Foster blocked the initial shot, but the Frenchman picked up the rebound and cleverly lofted the ball over Foster and in from a tight angle.  They had a decent chance for a third as Greenwood broke into the box and tried a shot that Foster saved with his feet.  The first booking of the game went to Cathcart for a foul on Martial.  United threatened again as Fernandes crossed for Maguire who headed wide.

Capoue, Masina and Deeney race upfield

With 20 minutes to go, Pearson made his first substitution, bringing Sarr on for Pereyra.  The youngster went on a run almost immediately, but his cross was put out for a corner that came to nothing.  With 15 minutes to go United were three up after Deulofeu lost the ball, Greenwood broke forward and played a one-two with Fernandes before finishing off the underside of the crossbar.  It was a quality goal and you couldn’t see any way back for the Hornets.  Pearson made a second substitution bringing Welbeck on for Deeney, who had had a disappointing game.  The Hornets had a great chance to pull a goal back as Hughes fed Deulofeu but the shot rebounded off the crossbar.  With ten minutes remaining, United made a triple substitution replacing Fred, Greenwood and Martial with McTominay, Chong and Watford old boy, Ighalo.  Pearson also made a final substitution bringing Cleverley on for Doucouré.  Ighalo immediately created a chance after picking up a poor header from Masina, that was meant for Foster, he rounded the Watford keeper but took the ball too wide and could only hit the outside of the post.  I was glad that he had missed as a goal against us from Ighalo would have been very hard to take.  Watford had one last chance to reduce the deficit when Deulofeu took a free kick that flew over the wall but was an easy catch for de Gea.  United could have scored a fourth when Matic released Chong who cut inside but he curled his shot just wide of the target.

Hughes prepares to take a free kick

The final whistle went on a comprehensive defeat for the Hornets.  Unlike the Brighton game, I did applaud the players off and there was a surprisingly good atmosphere among the travelling Hornets.  The Masina-Tequila song was getting a late airing, but the volume increased considerably with a rendition of “Ighalo-oh” for old times’ sake.  Odion seemed to appreciate the gesture as he turned and applauded the Watford fans.

On leaving the ground, I went to pick up my bag, which looked pitiful sitting on the shelf.   We then headed for the bar in Salford Quays to drown our sorrows.  On the way, Richard (wearing Watford gear) was called upon to give directions to some people wearing United scarves.  Bl**dy tourists!  The bar was much more hospitable than our pre-match venue and, after a nice glass of wine, something to eat and a good moan about the football, I felt a lot better.

It had been a disappointing afternoon, especially as United didn’t play particularly well.  The Watford performance had been better than the previous week, particularly in the first half, but once the goal was disallowed, all the fight seemed to go out of the lads and the result was never in doubt.  There were a lot of subpar performances and the wisdom of playing both Deulofeu and Pereyra was questioned.  They can both be luxury players and, in a scrap, as we are at the moment, we can’t afford that.  Pereyra, in particular, had an odd afternoon seeming to wander all over the place leaving Dawson exposed.  One of the topics of conversation was the Winter break.  Given the staggered nature of it, it doesn’t affect all teams equally.  Oddly, the Watford players looked rather rusty after their week off, while the United players, who should have been fatigued after a game in midweek, seemed a lot fresher.

With the visit of Liverpool next week, it is hard to see when the upturn will come and I am beginning to believe that the season will finish with the team being relegated.  At least if Leeds do get promoted it will mean we won’t have to go there. Every cloud and all that!

The First Home Win of the Season Comes in Style

Deeney and Capoue waiting for the ball to drop

Sunday games are always odd, but my hopes that the journey would be quieter than usual was soon dispelled when the fast train to London pulled in to Slough and was so packed that some were left on the platform.  I managed to get on, but it was not a comfortable journey.  For some reason, when I reached Euston I had forgotten who our opposition were so, when a friend boarded the train with a group of youngsters who were clearly not Watford fans, it was a while before I realised who they “supported” and then regarded them with the contempt that I have for those who choose a team based on their results rather than any connection to the community.

The West Herts had opened early so was busy when I arrived.  Our party was somewhat depleted by Christmas invitations, but those who were there were strangely optimistic after last week’s showing against Liverpool.  I left for the ground earlier than usual and headed for the 1881 bunker, which was packed.  I was only there to drop off some tins for their foodbank appeal and was very pleased to see the table stacked with bags of food donated by fans.  I entered the stadium by the Rookery entrance at the GT end of the ground, so was able to buy my programme from Doreen Pym.  Just like the old days.  I still miss the Bill Mainwood Programme Hut.

Team news was that the Hornet line-up was unchanged from the Liverpool game.  So, the starting XI was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Capoue, Hughes; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Sarr; Deeney.

Joao Pedro introduced at Vicarage Road

Prior to kick-off, João Pedro, who had arrived from Fluminense to a great fanfare during the week, was presented to the fans.  He held up the no 17 shirt that he will wear.  I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the boy, as he arrives to an incredible weight of expectation.  I am very glad that Heurelho Gomes is still on our books as this will be another adoptive son for him to take under his wing.

New manager Pearson was also welcomed but, having had his day in the sun before the Palace game, he made do with a wave from the dug-out.

The visitors created an early chance as James broke down the wing before finding Martial in the box, but he shot wide of the target.  Watford’s first half-chance came as Deeney picked up a misplaced pass and found Sarr whose cross into the box was blocked and cleared.  At the other end, a curling shot was easily gathered by Foster.  Then Femenía played a lovely through ball to Deulofeu whose cross was blocked for a corner.

Mariappa launches a throw-in

Watford had the ball in the net when Deulofeu’s delivery was dropped by de Gea and Doucouré turned the ball home, but the celebrations among the Hornet faithful were cut short as the keeper was adjudged to have been fouled.  The home side continued to threaten as Deulofeu went on a great run before finding Deeney, but the shot was blocked by Shaw.  United had a great chance to take the lead when a lucky ball fell for Martial who played in Lingard, but the shot cleared the crossbar.  I was briefly distracted by the sight of a red kite flying above the stadium.  There are a lot of kites where I live, but it still gives me joy every time I see one.  The first caution of the game went to Capoue for a rather benign foul on Lingard.  Almost immediately Shaw was booked for holding back Sarr.  The Hornets had a great chance to take the lead after a lovely passing move led to a great cross from Femenía which was met by Doucouré whose header was just wide of the target.  The Hornets had one last chance to take the lead in the first half with a cross from Sarr towards Deeney, but Troy was crowded out and the chance went begging.

So we reached half time with the game goalless and no shots on target, but some very promising play from the Hornets.

Sarr celebrating his goal

The half time guest was Neil Cox, who was asked about his experiences during a similarly trying time  and was very positive about our prospects.  I hadn’t realised that he and Neil Ardley are now the management team at Notts County.  Neil was also on hand to perform the on-pitch presentation of the award from the FSA to our wonderful Supporter Liaison Officer, Dave Messenger.  Dave is a tremendous advocate for the fans and will do anything to help, so this award was very well deserved indeed.

Six minutes into the second half and, suddenly, all was right with the world again.  A free kick from Hughes was met by Sarr who tried to hit the top corner, de Gea looked to have it covered, but the ball went through his hands and hit the net, sending the Rookery into raptures, apart from two rather gloomy blokes sitting just behind me.  The visitors had an immediate chance to break back, but the header from McTominay was straight at Ben Foster.  Instead, a foray by Sarr into the United box was stopped by Wan-Bissaka and the referee pointed to the spot.  It appeared to be a nailed-on penalty, but I was still holding my breath while the VAR check went on.  “Decision Penalty” had to be the best news of the afternoon.

Celebrating Troy scoring the penalty

It was a while before Troy was able to take the spot kick, so he amused himself by supping some of de Gea’s energy drink and ignoring any gamesmanship that was going on behind him.  When the whistle finally went to indicate that the penalty could be taken, he paused before taking his run up and blasting the ball down the middle as de Gea dived the wrong way.  It was a brilliantly composed penalty from Troy and I suddenly believed that we could win this game, despite there being 30 minutes left on the clock.  McTominay again tried to reduce the deficit but, again, Foster blocked the shot.  The first substitution of the game came just before the hour mark as Greenwood replaced James for the visitors.  At this point we were rather distracted by the sight of a cushion covered in a knitted Watford cover that was being used by a woman two rows in front.  It was a thing of great beauty and we were all very envious.  The Hornets had a chance to increase their lead when a corner from Capoue was cleared only as far as Hughes, but his shot was well over the bar.  The visitors made another change bringing Pogba on for Lingard, nothing for the Hornets to worry about there (gulp!!)  The visitors had a chance to break back following a corner, Rashford put the ball back into the Watford box, but the header from Greenwood was dreadful and well wide of the target.

This cushion inspired envy in our section of the Rookery

Watford had a chance to increase their lead further as Deulofeu found Sarr in the box, but he waited too long to take his shot and it was blocked, the ball came back in for Deeney, but he mishit his shot and the chance was gone.  Nigel Pearson made his first substitution with 20 minutes to go when he brought Chalobah on for Doucouré.  United won a free kick at an acute angle to the right of the Watford goal, Rashford went for goal but Foster punched clear.  Solskjær made his final substitution replacing McTominay with Mata.  The Hornets threatened again as Deulofeu battled his way into the United box, his shot was blocked, a follow-up effort from Deeney effort was also blocked.  At the other end, Pogba tried a shot from distance, but it was an easy catch for Foster.  Watford made a second substitution as Capoue was replaced by Pereyra, presumably as he was on a yellow card.  Another chance for the Hornets as a free kick was cleared to Femenía, whose shot was on target, but de Gea was able to make the save.  The visitors had a half chance from a corner as Mata’s delivery was met by the head of Maguire but his effort was straight at Foster.  United should have pulled one back with 8 minutes to go, but Pogba’s curling shot was saved by Foster.  There was another dangerous looking attempt from the visitors as Greenwood tried to lob Foster, but the ball flew over the bar.  With the clock running down, Pearson made a final change replacing Sarr, who had been magnificent, with Success.  With a minute left on the clock, Rashford tried a shot from close range which Foster blocked with his legs.  As the fourth official lifted the board to indicate the added time, I found myself celebrating the fact that it was only 3 minutes.  Into time added on and Martial cut inside and shot goalwards, but Foster was able to make the block.  United had a final chance to spoil our clean sheet when Cathcart took Rashford down on the edge of the box.  Mata stepped up to take the free kick, but it was a dreadful effort that flew well wide of the near post.

Man of the match, Deeney, after scoring the penalty

The Watford fans had been noisy all afternoon, but the cheers at the final whistle were rapturous. As the game was being televised, there was a big announcement of the man of the match that was given to Troy Deeney who then had to be interviewed for the television.  As the players did a lap of the ground to thank the fans, Kabasele came over and gave his shirt to a young child at the front of the Rookery.  While all this was going on, I had kept my eye on Pearson who had enthusiastically congratulated every player and stood and waited for Troy to finish his TV commitment before hugging him and then retreating to the dressing room.

Back in the West Herts, the smiles were wide and we all seem to have fallen in love with football again.  While discussing all that was good in the game, every player came in for some praise.  I have to say that, while Deeney was given the plaudits from the broadcaster, my award would have gone to Hughes who was everywhere and gave the United players no time on the ball.  Sarr was excellent again and Deulofeu was a menace even though his decision-making has me screaming with frustration (while knowing that if it was better he wouldn’t be playing for us).  My sister had observed during the game that she was looking at these famous names on the United shirts while not seeing performances that matched those reputations.  A lot of that was down to the way that our team played.  There was great quality in our play, but it was the hard work that made the difference.  The United players were given no time or space to play and that made the difference.  Pearson has only been with Watford for a short time, but he has instilled a discipline in the team that seems to be making a difference and the future appears to be much more positive,

Happy Christmas to all of my readers.  I hope you have a wonderful time and an extra belated Christmas present on Boxing Day.

 

Defeat Despite Domination at Old Trafford

Deeney and Smalling challenge for the ball

I took an early train to Manchester on which I was delighted to meet up with Dave Messenger, Watford’s Supporter Liaison Officer, who then accompanied me to our designated pre-match pub (which had also been his intended meeting point).  On arrival at the pub, I realised that the small bag containing my purse that I had when I left London was no longer on my person.  Having had no joy from the customer service hotline, which gave me the number for a closed lost property office, I headed back to Piccadilly.  I explained my problem to a lovely guy called Sean in the ticket office, who identified the train manager (Anthony) on the train which had just left to return to London.  He gave him a call and Anthony went to my seat, found the bag and, as he wouldn’t be back in Manchester until late, promised to leave it at Lost Property in London for me to pick up on my return.

Mightily relieved, I headed back to the pub just in time to see the team, who were at the hotel opposite, starting to board the coach for the journey to Old Trafford.  I entered the pub to find all the usual suspects in place, which was very convenient as I had semi-final tickets to hand out (thankfully these were in the bag that I had retained).  I have to say that it was a relief to pass them on, so that the responsibility was no longer mine.

Ben Foster takes a free kick

We gave ourselves plenty of time to get to the ground and negotiate the multiple layers of security that they have at Old Trafford.  As they now only allow you to take a very small bag into the stadium, I filled my pockets with the stuff I needed for the game (match ticket, glasses, phone, camera, notebook) and left the rest at the bag drop where they charged me £5 for the privilege.  I know that they want to encourage people not to take bags to the game, but nobody is going to travel for a couple of hours without provisions for the journey and I find it impossible to travel light anyway.  On arrival at the turnstiles, there was another search before we finally entered.  Once inside the ground, I could hear the tannoy announcer welcoming us to the “Theatre of Dreams”.  My description was much less polite.  Old Trafford really is the most unpleasant ground to visit in the Premier League.

Prior to the match, there had been speculation that Gracia would rest players in preparation for the semi-final next week.  There was another train of thought that said that the players had been training for two weeks, so needed game time.  As it turned out, there were five changes from the Palace game with wholesale changes in defence as Foster, Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos and Masina replaced Gomes, Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart and Holebas.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos, Masina; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.  United’s starting line-up featured Watford Academy graduate Ashley Young who, following some over-exuberant goal celebrations in front of Watford fans, is no longer greeted as an erstwhile hero.  The referee for the afternoon was Stuart Attwell.  A choice that was rather ironic as discussions with John Eustace regarding the “ghost goal” had been a notable feature at the Tales from the Vicarage event the previous Sunday.

Doucoure on the ball

The game started brightly for the Hornets with a decent chance in the sixth minute as Pereyra cut the ball back to Doucouré whose shot was just wide of the near post.  Deeney had the next chance with a shot from distance that was high and wide of the target.  The first attack of note by the home side came on the counter as Pogba released Rashford who was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Kabasele.  The resulting corner was delivered deep to Smalling who headed wide.  Watford had a great chance to open the scoring as a cross from Janmaat was headed goalwards by Deeney, de Gea managed to make the save but injured himself in the process.  At this point the first chant of “Attwell, give us a goal” was heard.  The first booking of the game went to Will Hughes for a foul on Pogba.  Watford had another great chance and Pereyra really should have done better when he received a headed pass from Deulofeu, but his shot was soft and straight at the keeper.  Deulofeu was the next to test de Gea with a shot through legs but, again, it was a fairly simple save for the keeper.  On a rare foray into the Watford box, Martial took a tumble looking for a penalty, but the referee was having none of it and waved play on.  United took the lead against the run of play as Shaw released Rashford, Foster came out to try to stop the shot, but the United youngster found the net.  At this point, if there had been any leg room and I hadn’t been in the second to back row of a stand in which everyone was on their feet, I would have slumped into my seat.  It was so frustrating to be a goal down following United’s first real chance of the game.  Ironically, the home side had a great chance to increase their lead almost immediately as a corner was cleared only as far as Martial but his shot was stopped by a brilliant reaction save by Foster.  The last chance of the half fell to the Hornets as Deulofeu took a dangerous-looking free kick, but Smalling was able to get a head to it and avert the danger.

Deulofeu prepares for a corner

So we reached half time a goal down in a half that had been completely dominated by the Hornets.  We were trailing to a goal scored by the home side on a counter attack.  But, if you don’t take your chances ….

The home side came out for the second half some time before the visitors, but it was the Hornets who had the first shot of the half, a curler from Deulofeu that was saved fairly comfortably by de Gea.  Janmaat was the next to try his luck, but his shot from the edge of the box was over the target.  Watford had a great chance to grab an equaliser when Deulofeu cut the ball back to Pereyra whose shot needed an excellent save from de Gea to push it around the post.  Gracia made his first change after 57 minutes replacing Janmaat with Femenía.  Watford had another decent chance as Hughes hit a lovely curling shot, but it was just wide of the target.  The Hornets threatened again as a corner cleared to Femenía who was well outside the box when he took the shot, but de Gea managed to get in the way to make the block.  There was a double substitution for the home side as Herrera and Mata made way for Lingard and Pereira.

Pereyra and Hughes

Watford were playing some gorgeous football and deserved more from a lovely passing move that finished with a chip from Deeney that de Gea saved.  Watford won a free kick, which was cleared to Capoue whose volley was way over the target.  Watford had been dominant again in the second half, so it was cruel that the first meaningful attack of the second half from the home side resulted in their second goal as Lingard crossed for Martial, his first shot was blocked by Foster but he bundled the rebound in.  To add insult to injury, we were in front of an executive box so were able to watch a reply which clearly showed Martial in an offside position.  Each side made a further substitution with Gray replacing Deulofeu for the Hornets and Rojo on for Martial for the home side.  United had a chance to further increase their lead but Lingard’s shot was straight at Foster.  Pereyra then had a great chance to pull one back when he received a cross in an acre of space, but he waited too long to take the shot so was closed down and could only win a corner.  Gracia made his last substitution bringing Success on for Hughes, who had had a superb game.  There was a second booking for the Hornets as Masina was cautioned for bundling Rashford over as he attempted a break.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, Watford pulled a goal back as Doucouré played a one-two with Success before coolly finishing past de Gea.  The travelling Hornets celebrated mightily, the players just ran back to the centre circle to get on with the game.  Oddly, given the goal, substitutions and various stoppages for injuries/cramp, there was only 3 minutes of time added on.  Watford had a great chance to grab an equaliser when Capoue won a free kick just outside the box.  Pereyra took the free kick and I was just waiting for a shot when a United player collapsed in the box and the whistle went to award a free kick to the home side.  That was the last action of the game, so the Hornets ended up on the losing side.

Capoue takes a free kick

Despite their disappointment at the defeat, the travelling Hornets roared their appreciation of the team’s performance with the songs reaching a crescendo as Gracia came over to applaud the crowd.  It had been a tremendous performance by the Watford lads.  It isn’t often that you play away against one of the top six and find the home team playing a defensive game hoping to score on the break.  The Watford midfield ran the game and, in a season in which Capoue and Doucouré have excelled on a weekly basis, it was great to see Hughes put in a superb performance.

On the tram back to the station, we got talking to some locals who acknowledged that we had been the better team.  Unsurprisingly, the train back to London was packed, but I arrived early enough to bump into some fellow regulars, so I had delightful company on the journey home.  We were joined by a Norwegian Manchester United fan, who was lovely and chatted away about his team.  He had taken his significant other to her first game and said that she’d enjoyed it.  My suggestion that, given the performances of the two teams, she would likely opt for Watford fell on deaf ears.

Gathering for a corner

On return to Euston I went in search of my mislaid purse.  The guy at Lost Property claimed no knowledge of the item, so I went to the ticket office where I met Petro and Sana, who went above and beyond the call of duty, finding the name and contact details for the train manager who had promised to drop off my bag.  They called him and were told that it was in lost property so Petro accompanied me to convey what he had been told to the guardian of the missing loot, who produced a book containing details of all items that had been left with them and I spotted the entry that corresponded to my purse.  He retrieved it and I was able to return home with my purse intact and a great respect for the customer service delivered by the Virgin Trains ticket office staff.

Back to the football and this had been a wonderful performance by the Watford boys.  We now face a week with a game against Fulham that could allow us to achieve our highest points total in the Premier League since it was created and a game on Sunday in which we could advance to only our second FA Cup final.  If we play as we did on Saturday, I believe we should be able to achieve both of those aims.  I just need to work out how to keep myself functioning in the day job for the next week.

 

 

Handbags and Glad Rags at the End of the Season

Don and I with the Player of the Season

On Thursday, Watford held the End of Season dinner.  I must say that I don’t enjoy Wembley as a venue, it feels as though you are having dinner in an aircraft hangar and the event has lost its friendly feel.  On the plus side, for the first time in three years the head coach was in attendance.  I managed to have a brief chat with Javi, who said what a lovely family we were at Watford.  On the family theme, it was really lovely to see Rita Taylor there with her daughter and grandchildren.  The youngsters were on the stage to help present the Player of the Season award which is named in honour of GT.  There was no surprise when Doucouré won the award and I can confirm that he is a lovely chap.  As, indeed, is Christian Kabasele, who was the Community Ambassador of the year.  The Hall of Fame inductee was Tom Walley, not before time.  He was joined on the evening by a number of his ‘graduates’.  Robert Page and Kenny Jackett both paid warm tribute to him and his part in making them into the players/managers/men that they are.  Tom’s acceptance speech was brief but heartfelt.

The winning team

On Saturday was the Legends game in aid of the 25th anniversary of the Community Sports and Education Trust.  It was a foul day with the rain lashing down but, as I entered the ground, I was cheered to see Tom Walley waiting for the lift to the concourse.  I went up to him to say how happy I was that he had received the Hall of Fame accolade.  I was rewarded with a smile, a kiss and “Football has been good to me.”  I pointed out that he had been very good to football.  The game ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.  But it was lovely to see Lloyd Doyley, Nicky Wright, Allan Smart, Steve Palmer, Gavin Mahon, Marcus Gayle and Derek Payne gracing the Vicarage Road pitch again.  The teams were managed by Luther Blissett and Kenny Jackett.  Luther played a cameo at the end and ended up as the manager of the winning team.

After the Legends game, I headed up to Manchester for Sunday’s match.  When I arrived at the pre-match pub there was already a couple of Northern based Hornets at ‘our’ table.  The team usually travel to the ground from the hotel opposite the pub, so we waved them off from the comfort of our seats.  Not that they saw us, but it is the thought that counts.  Our pre-match group was honoured to be joined by Emma Saunders, Watford’s matchday announcer, who was being a fan for the day.

Cuddling lovely Christian Kabasele

We left the pub in plenty of time to deal with the extensive security measures that are always in place at Old Trafford.  Being aware of the restrictions, I had left my rucksack and laptop in the hotel and arrived at the ground with only my essentials.  We passed through the first cordon and had our bags checked with no issues.  Then we arrived at the next phalanx of stewards to be told that no bags were allowed in the ground “because of what happened in Paris last night.”  So, a madman with a knife on the streets of Paris meant that middle-aged women could no longer be trusted to bring handbags into a football stadium.  Mick Smithers, our Police liaison officer, was in the vicinity, so we asked whether he would mind our bags, but we were given no choice but to walk to a car park across the road to dispose of the offending items.  The bag drop that had been designated for away fans was already full.  We asked what we were supposed to do now and were directed to another portacabin that was barely visible in the distance.  On arrival, I emptied my bag of most of its contents and transferred them to my pockets and basically left my make-up bag behind.  When we arrived back at the turnstiles, there was a quick check with a wand and we were in.  It would have been a lot simpler and more secure to have examined the contents of my small bag as they had no idea what was in my rather large pockets.

Pereyra on the ball

Due to our diversion, I arrived at my seat just as the pre-match handshakes were taking place.  I then did my usual thing of getting my notebook, pen and camera ready for the game.  As I retrieved things from my coat pocket, I realised that I had completely forgotten to transfer a pen from my bag and nobody else in our party had one, so I was unable to make any notes on the game, which is probably as well as it was not a game packed with incident.

Team news was that Gracia had made three changes from the Newcastle game with Gomes, Deulofeu and Richarlison coming in for Karnezis, Capoue and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu, Pereyra, Richarlison; Gray.  The return of Gomes to the team meant that he would make his 100th Premier League appearance for the Hornets and would be wearing the captain’s armband as he did so.  There was also much joy among the travelling fans when it was confirmed that Chalobah would be on the bench after so long out due to injury.

Heurelho Gomes making his 100th Premier League appearance for the Hornets

The first chance of the game fell to the Hornets as Romero dropped a cross from Janmaat which, for a moment, looked as though it may drift in to the goal, but there was no Watford player on hand to take advantage and the United goalie was able to recover.  The first caution was earned by Rojo for a foul on Richarlison.  The young Brazilian took the resultant free kick himself but sent it well over the bar.  The home side had their first chance of note in the 16th minute when Sanchez received a pass from Blind, but volleyed well wide of the target.  Gracia was forced into an early substitution when Kabasele ushered a ball out of play and, as he followed it, the momentum took him down the slope behind the goal and he collided with the hoardings.  Christian tried to continue after receiving treatment, but soon had to be replaced by Mariappa.  I was just hoping that this didn’t end his chance of being involved in the World Cup.  United took the lead in the 34th minute with a goal that came out of nothing as Carrick played a ball over the top to Mata, who appeared to be in an offside position, he squared for Rashford who had a simple finish past Gomes.  The Hornets should have grabbed an equaliser just before half time as Richarlison met a cross from Janmaat and headed back across goal, but Romero pulled off a terrific save to frustrate the Watford youngster.  The resulting corner reached Deulofeu who tried a shot, but Romero was also equal to that effort.  So we reached half time with the Hornets slightly unfortunate to be a goal down.

Deeney and Pereyra challenging in the United box

The first incident of note in the second half was a caution for Ashley Young after a foul on Janmaat.  Sadly, following his unpleasant celebration after scoring against the Hornets at Vicarage Road, the former Watford youngster was being booed every time he touched the ball.  Pereyra took the free-kick, which bounced off Mariappa and the home defence were able to clear.  Soon after, Young was replaced by Luke Shaw.  Gracia also made a change bringing Deeney on for Deulofeu and switching to two up front.  United had a chance to increase their lead as Sanchez crossed to the back post, but the ball was too high for Mata. There was another card for the home side as McTominay was penalised for a shirt pull on Richarlison.  There appeared to be a terrific chance for the Hornets as a poor clearance bounced off Hughes who found Gray, who had a great chance to finish but took one touch too many and ended up putting the ball wide.  His blushes were spared as the flag was up for offside, but it was a terrible miss.  There were loud cheers from the travelling Hornets as Chalobah appeared on the touchline ready to take the field, which he did in place of Gray.  United then made their second substitution bringing Herrera on for Blind.  With 10 minutes remaining, Watford had a terrific chance to score an equaliser as Richarlison ran into the box but, again, waited too long to take a shot and was tackled.  The last half chance for the visitors came as a deep corner from Holebas was met by a header by Doucouré, but it was weak and easily gathered by Romero.  With five minutes remaining, Michael Carrick, who was making his last appearance before retiring, was substituted (for Paul Pogba) to allow him to enjoy an ovation from the United fans.  The Watford faithful joined in with the applause.  And that was it, there were no further goals and the game finished with a narrow win for United.

So happy to see Chalobah back on the pitch

At the final whistle, the Watford players applauded the crowd and Adrian Mariappa came over to give his shirt to one of the fans in the disabled area.  The stewards on the pitch stepped in to stop him and it took all of his charm to persuade them that this action was not a security issue.  The joy on the face of the woman who received the shirt as she held it aloft in triumph made the stewards’ action look as mean spirited as it was.  It was also noticeable how few home fans were left in the ground to applaud their team’s efforts this season.  I guess that finishing second in the league getting to the Cup Final isn’t worthy of celebration in this part of Manchester, nor is saying goodbye to a long serving player.  So very sad, but Old Trafford seems primarily to be a tourist destination these days.

As we headed back to pick up our bags, I encountered Don Fraser, so pushed his wheelchair back to Coach 1.  We proceeded in the direction of the bag drop only to find that there was a barrier in the way and a steward directing us back the way we had come.  Our expressions of indignation persuaded him to let us through and, thankfully, we were soon on our way.

Gathering in the box for a corner

So it was back to the pub for the last post-match analysis of the season.  It has to be said that it wasn’t a great game.  The home side appeared to be playing in second gear while they looked forward to the Cup Final next week.  Watford, as so often this season, put in a decent performance but, as a friend commented, were “pathologically opposed to shooting.”  United did defend well, but if an early shot had been taken on a couple of occasions, Romero may have had a more difficult afternoon.  It has been a very odd season.  It started with some superb performances, but started petering out once Silva received the approach from Everton and, despite moments of brilliance, never regained any momentum.  While 14th in the division is something that most of us would have been happy with at the start of the season, it does feel like the team has massively underachieved given the talent in the squad.  Certainly the absence of Cleverley and Chalobah through injury for much of the season has had an effect on performances, but the main problem has been the lack of an effective striker and they are not easy to come by.

But, frustrating as this season has been, I will be counting the days until the fixtures come out so that I can plan next year’s adventures.

Thank you to all of you who have read my reports this season.  I wish you all a wonderful Summer.

 

Beating the Reds After a 30 Year Wait

The pre match huddle

The pre match huddle

With the early kick-off, I was torn on whether to drive or take the train to the game.  I decided on the latter option meaning that I left home rather early to give myself plenty of time to get to Watford.  Contrary to what we had heard on our last visit, they made a late decision to open the West Herts before the game, but I was glad I had left the car at home as I arrived to see that the football matches going on at the sports club meant that the car park was already full soon after 10:30.  It also allowed me to have the breakfast of kings, a pint and a hot dog, to set me up for the day.  As we walked to the ground, there were touts galore in Vicarage Road most of whom appeared to be trying to buy tickets to sell on.  There were also the eponymous half and half scarves on sale, one hawker was actually standing outside the Hornet Shop, which was ridiculous.  I can’t believe that they weren’t cleared out of there.

Team news was just the one change from the West Ham game as a slight injury to Kaboul meant that Prödl was drafted in to take his place.  So, the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos; Janmaat, Pereyra, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.  For the visitors, Watford Academy graduate, Ashley Young, was on the bench.  I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that little Ashley is in his thirties.  Where did all those years go?

Capoue and Fellaini

Capoue and Fellaini

When I took my seat I was a little perturbed to see a stranger in the seat next to me.  I am always wary at a game against a ‘big club’ when I see a new face, especially if they are not wearing colours, but he had the season ticket of the guy who usually sits there and it was quickly apparent that he was a fellow Hornet.  As the teams came out, our view was obscured as the 1881 flag with the angry moose made its way up the stand over our heads, a wonderful sight for the television cameras.  Prior to kick-off the guy who sits behind me said that he thought it would be 2-1 today … to us.  As always, I didn’t share his confidence, but he wasn’t the first Watford fan who had predicted a victory and United’s recent form did not bode well for them.

The home side started the game very brightly and had a great chance to take the lead in the ninth minute when a free-kick from Holebas was headed on by Prödl, Deeney slid in to try to meet the ball and only just missed connecting.  There was an even better chance a couple of minutes later, as De Gea collided with a team mate and the ball dropped to Ighalo who appeared to have the goal at his mercy but hit it wide leaving the Watford fans with heads in hands.  To be fair to him, the replay showed De Gea was in a much better position than was originally apparent, but you get so few chances in games like this that any miss from a decent position causes concern.

Cathcart takes a throw in

Cathcart takes a throw in

The attacking threat continued for the Hornets as a deep cross from Janmaat was met with a header from Deeney that was kept out by a wonderful flying save from De Gea.  Soon after, a cross from Cathcart was met with a header from Ighalo that flew over the bar.  The first real chance for the visitors came in the 20th minute when a Rashford cross was met by Ibrahimovic who directed his shot into the side netting.  There was an extended break in play following a collision between Martial and Janmaat.  First impressions were that Martial could have been badly hurt as he was flat on his back and didn’t move for some time.  There was less concern for Janmaat who had walked to the edge of the pitch with his hand clutched to his head.  It looked worrying for a while but, thankfully, both players were soon fit to restart the game.  Just before the half hour there was action in the row in front as the bloke who usually goes for coffee in the 41st minute made an early move.  There were meaningful glances all around as the inhabitants of the centre of the Rookery came to terms with this drastic change to usual practice.  Early kick-offs have a lot to answer for.  On the half hour, neither Gomes nor those behind the goal in the Rookery were particularly concerned when Pogba hit a shot from distance as it appeared to be flying well over the bar, so I nearly had a seizure when the ball smacked back off the crossbar.

A bundled celebration for Capoue's goal.

A bundled celebration for Capoue’s goal.

Watford took the lead in the 34th minute.  Martial was dispossessed by a robust tackle by Britos, United appeals for a foul were waved away, the ball fell to Janmaat who played it back to Capoue who powered his shot in off De Gea.  Martial had remained on the ground as the goal was scored and, after finally receiving treatment, was unable to continue so was replaced by Ashley Young whose appearance was applauded by fans on all sides of the ground.  A rare mistake from Behrami allowed Ibrahimovic to break forward but the danger was snuffed out by a brilliant challenge by Prödl.  Just before half time, Capoue was fouled on the edge of the box.   Holebas stepped up to take the free kick, his shot went through the wall but was saved by De Gea.  In time added on, a bit of pinball following a tackle led to a lucky break for the visitors but Rashford’s run was stopped by another great tackle from Prödl.

So Watford went into the break a goal to the good.  It was a thoroughly deserved lead which should have been larger.

Watford legends Jackett and Page

Watford legends Jackett and Page

At half time it was lovely to see Kenny Jackett and Robert Page having a chat with Emma Saunders and making the 50-50 draw.  Both players are much loved by the Watford faithful and it was good to hear how impressed they were with the changes at Vicarage Road, both on and off the pitch.  The draw was followed by the schools’ penalty competition.  The perception that they had started rather late was confirmed when Troy and the lads appeared for the second half as the shoot-out reached sudden death.  Thankfully one of the kids hit a winner before the TV directors had to intervene.

In the first minute of the second half, a defensive header fell to Ibrahimovic who shot well wide of the target.  Mazzarri made his first substitution in the 50th minute bringing Amrabat on to replace the injured Janmaat.  There had been little in the way of chances in the first quarter hour of the second half but suddenly, out of nothing, the Watford defence failed to clear a cross from Ibrahimovic and Rashford finished past Gomes.  I’d spotted a bloke in the Lower GT wearing a Man Utd shirt and scarf, he was looking very smug at this point.  Watford tried to hit back immediately as a free kick from Capoue was cleared to Holebas whose shot was just wide of the target.

Amrabat and Pereyra celebrate setting up Zuniga's goal

Amrabat and Pereyra celebrate setting up Zuniga’s goal

For the next ten minutes, there was constant pressure from the visitors, but they didn’t manage a shot to test Gomes and the next chance fell to the home side as a Holebas free kick was met with a clever flick from Pereyra, but the United defence was able to clear.  Up until the 75th minute, Michael Oliver had been pretty good in letting the play flow but, suddenly he seemed to be giving soft free kicks and, with this period of the game being played primarily in the Watford half, they mostly went to United.  With ten minutes to go, it looked as though the visitors had taken the lead as a brilliant header from Ibrahimovic was flying in until Gomes appeared out of nowhere to make an equally brilliant save.  It looked as though we would be hanging on until Deeney put in a great tackle on the wing which sparked a change in the momentum of the game.  While the tackle was trivial in the context of the game, something about his energy seemed to inject new life into his team mates.  Mazzarri’s second change saw Zúñiga on for Capoue who went off to rapturous applause.  The Colombian’s first touch proved to be decisive.  Amrabat played a lovely through ball to Pereyra, he cut the ball back to Zúñiga who powered into the net and went on a run with a celebration as passionate as any in the Rookery.

Pereyra congratulates Deeney on his penalty

Pereyra congratulates Deeney on his penalty

Watford’s final substitution came as the clock reached 90 minutes and saw Success come on for Ighalo who, as is his wont, politely shook the referee’s hand before leaving the field.  The Hornets indulged in some time wasting at this point, winning a couple of corners and taking them short to keep the ball by the corner flag.  Rooney was getting increasingly irate at this tactic, so the second time we did it, he just kicked Pereyra conceding a free kick and earning himself a yellow card.  Highly amusing.  The ball didn’t stay in that corner, though, and there was time for some icing on the cake as Success went on a run down the left before playing the ball to Zúñiga in the box, who was taken down by Fellaini.  The appointment of Michael Oliver as referee had attracted some comment before the game including a poll by From the Rookery End on when he would award Man Utd’s first penalty in which ‘pre-match warm up’ attracted 57% of the vote.  To be fair to him, I thought his performance was excellent on the day and not just because he went against tradition in awarding an injury time penalty against United.  Deeney had to wait to take the spot kick as Zúñiga was down injured, his team mates, having come up to congratulate him on winning the penalty, had offered the poor lad very little in the way of sympathy for his pain.  When the Colombian was back on his feet, Deeney kissed the match ball, placed it on the penalty spot and powered it down the middle beating De Gea and sending the Watford fans into delirium.  Soon after the final whistle went prompting further great celebrations.

Britos, Pereyra, Pogba and Behrami anticipate a ball forward

Britos, Pereyra, Pogba and Behrami anticipate a ball forward

As we left the ground, we passed Gino Pozzo.  Our Cate shook his hand and thanked him for all that he has done for the club and was rewarded with a warm smile.  She then spotted Glyn Evans, who is a former colleague of hers, so gave him a kiss.  I asked whether she had noticed the bloke behind Glyn, but she had been so busy greeting her old friend that she didn’t spot Bobby Charlton.

My friend, Toddy, had been unable to get to the game being held captive at Watford General after a routine op.  So I popped in to share the post-match celebrations with him to be told that the commentary that he’d been listening to had been lagging behind the noise from the ground so he and his pal in the bed opposite would hear a cheer and then have to wait to hear the details.  The tension hadn’t done either of them any good in aiding recovery.

 

The players celebrate the win

The players celebrate the win

It was then back to the West Herts to join the rest of our crew for the analysis of the game.  There were broad smiles on the faces of all the Watford fans we encountered.  All agreed that this had been a consummate performance and a well deserved win.  While it seems unfair to single out any one player, I have to say that Prödl was absolutely magnificent keeping Ibrahimovic quiet for most of the game.  Pogba was almost invisible and, apart from a spell in the second half after United scored, Watford had been on top.  My only concern had been that we missed Janmaat when he went off, as Amrabat does not have his defensive abilities, but he more than made up for it with the magnificent pass for the second goal.

It is beginning to feel as though we have entered a new era.  At the end of the Liverpool game last season, I was in tears as I never thought my niece would see a performance like that.  Now she is getting rather used to it.  When the fixture list came out I thought that it was quite possible that we would have no points on the board after the first five games.  To reach this stage with seven points and a team that is looking better each week is just wonderful.  Apart from the first half against Arsenal we have looked at least the equals of all our opponents this season and even a pessimist like me is starting to think that we now have a team that can compete with anyone in this division.  It feels like the 80s all over again and I never thought I would be able to say that.  Now let’s just see if they can do it on a wet Monday night in Burnley.