Tag Archives: Marc Albrighton

Silva’s Last Stand

Karnezis making his full debut

When I checked the time of the train I had booked for Saturday, I realised that I was arriving in Leicester ridiculously early and feared that the designated pub may not be open.  Thankfully, given what a miserable day it was, the doors were open and I managed to get a booth.  When the next train arrived from London,

the pub suddenly filled up, so my early arrival didn’t look so foolish after all.  However my long wait meant that I became irrationally concerned when my friends didn’t arrive.  I only relaxed when the last of our depleted party was at our table.

On arrival at the ground, the search teams were operating a queuing system, using metal detectors (yes that is a phone and some coins in my pocket) and a sniffer dog.  Thankfully we had left ourselves plenty of time to get to the ground so did not miss kick-off on this occasion.

As there had been no discussion of the team prior to arrival at the ground, it was only when the ball was played back to the Watford keeper early in the game that I realised that Karnezis was in goal for the Hornets.  After his performance at Everton, this was a cause of some concern.  Silva’s other changes were Pereyra and Deeney in for the injured Cleverley and Gray.  So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Wagué, Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Doucouré, Watson; Carrillo, Pereyra, Richarlison; Deeney.

Richarlison on the ball

In line with other Premier League clubs, there was a minute’s applause for the wonderful Cyrille Regis, who passed away earlier this week.  Those of us of a certain age were deeply saddened at his early death.  He was a wonderful player to watch and one who was a trailblazer for the young players of colour that have followed him.  It is just heartbreaking that many of them are still suffering abuse related to their colour.  But, thankfully, racist abuse is not something that is evident at every game as it was in the 70s and 80s.

Watford started brightly enough with a couple of corners in the first minutes of the game, from the second Carrillo shot over the bar.  Leicester looked to hit the visitors on the counter attack as Vardy broke forward but his shot was saved by Karnezis, who I was pleased to see was looking assured in the Watford goal.  The Watford keeper was called into action again soon after as a free kick was nodded back to Ndidi, but the shot was blocked.  At the other end, there was a good spell for Watford as a Richarlison shot was blocked, a follow-up header from Pereyra was cleared off the line, the ball rebounded to Doucouré on the edge of the area, but his shot was easily gathered by Schmeichel.  Watford threatened again as Pereyra took a short free kick to Watson, whose shot was blocked, Pereyra hit the follow-up which flew high and wide.

Janmaat takes a throw-in

Deeney was the next to try his luck with a low shot from distance, but Schmeichel was down to save.  The lino in front of the away fans incurred their wrath when Vardy appeared to be in an offside position when he received a ball from Mahrez and was allowed to continue, when he then lost out to Kabasele, the defender was adjudged to have committed a foul.  Justice was done when Mahrez curled a dreadful free kick straight to Karnezis.  Watford appeared to have opened the scoring on 34 minutes when Carrillo headed the ball on to Deeney who volleyed home, but the flag was up for offside.  As happens so often these days, the opposition then took the lead.  From our vantage point, Wagué took the ball off Vardy in the box fairly, but the Leicester player went down and the referee pointed to the spot.  Vardy stepped up and buried the penalty.  The comment in my notebook at this point is not fit for a family blog.

So the Hornets went in at half-time a goal down, which was harsh as it had been a very even half.

Pereyra and Watson prepare for a free kick

Watford had a chance to strike back in the first minute of the second half as Carrillo crossed for Deeney, but the shot was blocked.  At the other end Vardy was allowed to nip in behind the defender, he crossed for Okazaki whose shot was straight at Karnezis.  Silva made his first substitution bringing Gray on for Pereyra.  He was immediately forced into his second as Wagué had pulled up with what appeared to be a hamstring strain and was replaced by Prödl.  Watford continued to push for the equalizer as Richarlison found Deeney but the captain’s shot flew just wide.  Leicester made their first change, which also involved a player called Gray who replaced Okazaki.  There was a lovely move as Deeney combined with (our) Gray, but the shot was saved by Schmeichel.  Leicester were shouting for another penalty when Mahrez went down in the box, but the appeals were waved away.  A decent chance for the visitors went begging after Richarlison released Doucouré whose cross seemed to get stuck under Gray’s feet so he was unable to take a shot.  The Watford man should have grabbed the equalizer soon after when he received a lovely ball from Deeney, he was one on one with Schmeichel but hesitated long enough for Maguire to get into position to block his shot.  So frustrating.  The Watford pressure continued as Richarlison broke into the box, his shot appeared to be blocked for a corner, but a goal kick was given.  Then a corner from Watson was headed just over by Deeney.  Silva’s final change was to bring Okaka on for Janmaat.  So, after starting with one up front, Watford now had all three strikers on the pitch at the same time.  Ironically, it was at this point that the visitors stopped creating chances.  Instead Leicester had a great chance to increase their lead as Mahrez played the ball back to Ndidi whose shot required a decent save from Karnezis to keep it out.  But the home side scored their second in time added on as Okaka dwelled on the ball too long before being dispossessed, Mahrez broke and shot across Karnezis into the far corner.

Zeegelaar strikes the ball

The scoreline definitely flattered the home side, as it had been a pretty even game.  Many around me spoke of a better performance by the Hornets, but I thought they were being rather charitable.  It certainly wasn’t as poor as the first half against Southampton, but Leicester did not play particularly well and still beat us fairly easily.  You could argue that it would have been a different game if Deeney’s goal had stood or Gray had scored the sitter, but Leicester had used their pace to their advantage and Watford had no reply.

It was a disgruntled group who reconvened for post-match drinks.  We harked back to how impressed we had been at the start of the season when the football had been entertaining, the work rate impressive, the players played for each other and we truly believed that we could beat any other team (apart from Man City).  That magnificent team had been replaced by a shambles that often looked as though they had only met on the bus to the ground that lunchtime.  The downturn had started when Everton made the approach for Silva.  I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for some time, particularly in view of the injuries, but the team which was comfortably mid-table when the first approach was made had finished the day in 10th place but only 5 points off the relegation zone.  With no prospect of any improvement, I think all of us had lost patience with Marco Silva.

On Sunday morning it became apparent that Gino Pozzo had also had enough and by the end of the day Silva had been replaced by Javi Gracia.  As with the majority of the Pozzo appointments, I know nothing about the new man.  I just hope that he can get the team back to their early season form.  We have games against Southampton (in the cup) and Stoke coming up and need to see considerable improvement from these players if we are not to be dragged into a relegation battle that I would have no confidence that we could win.

Success in the Boxing Day Fox Hunt

Wague making his first start

After a lovely Christmas day with the family, it was off to Vicarage Road to see if we could arrest the recent slump.   The Boxing Day game is one of the first that I look for when the fixtures come out.  I always look forward to them, even if they rarely give us anything to cheer (I am still smarting from the injury time goal by Kirk Stephens in 1979).  I had anticipated traffic and trouble parking but, once I had negotiated the classic car rally in Sarratt, it was plain sailing and I was surprised to be waved into the car park at the West Herts and find it almost empty.  Happily, our table was pleasantly populated although, as he likes to make sure he doesn’t miss anything, Don had already made his way to the ground.

Team news was that Wagué was to make his first start for the Hornets in place of Prödl.  Holebas and Gray also made way for Zeegelaar and Doucouré on their return from suspension.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Wagué, Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Doucouré, Watson; Carrillo, Cleverley, Pereyra; Richarlison.  The team selection was described as ‘random’ by one of our party.  It was noticeable that there was no striker in the starting XI but, given the lack of end product from the current incumbents, that was an option that had been discussed after the game on Saturday.  As we walked along Vicarage Road to the ground, Glenn predicted a 3-1 win.  He was feeling a lot more positive than I was.

Heurelho Gomes

Following the coin toss, the teams swapped ends, an event that is seen by many as a bad omen.  But my brother-in-law pointed out that having a female lino usually leads to good fortune, so the omens cancelled each other out.

The first fifteen minutes of the game was notable for the three yellow cards that were shown.  The first to Leicester’s Maguire, before Watson and Kabasele followed him into the referee’s book.  The first goal chance went to the visitors after a slack defensive header by Janmaat was intercepted, Chilwell’s cross was headed goalwards by Okazaki, but Gomes pulled off a flying save, tipping it over the bar.  A lovely move by the Hornets saw Carrillo beat a player to get into the box and pull the ball back to Pereyra who tried a back-heel towards the goal which was blocked.  Carrillo gave the ball away in midfield allowing Albrighton to release Vardy, who broke forward but, with only Gomes to beat, managed to find the side netting at the near post, much to the relief of the home fans.  Watford had a decent chance from a free kick which dropped to Doucouré, but his shot was blocked.  The next caution was earned by Dragović, who pulled Pereyra to the ground to stop him escaping.

Celebrating Wague’s goal

The visitors threatened with a shot from Mahrez which probably looked more dangerous than it was as it flew through a crowd of players who may have unsighted Gomes, so I was relieved to see it nestle in the keeper’s arms.  Leicester took the lead in the 37th minute as Albrighton crossed for Mahrez to head past Gomes.  It was a sickener as it followed a decent spell of play by the Hornets.  After recent set-backs, you could only see one result following, but the Hornets reacted well and should have equalised almost immediately as Carrillo played a lovely through-ball to Richarlison. With only Schmeichel to beat, an instinctive shot would probably have done the job, but the young Brazilian overthought it, delayed the shot and found the side-netting.  There was some light relief as a coming together between Pereyra and Ndidi resulted in the Leicester man tumbling over the hoardings.  I know that it could have ended in injury, but it always make me laugh and, thankfully, he returned to the field with no harm done.  That proved to be the Argentine’s last involvement in the game as he was withdrawn due to a knock and replaced by Okaka.  A change that was greeted with approval by the home fans.  The Hornets equalised as the clock reached 45 minutes when a corner from Cleverley was met with an overhead kick from Richarlison that was blocked, but it fell to Wagué who finished past Schmeichel.  The home side could have taken the lead in time added on at the end of the half as a lovely move finished with Cleverley finding Richarlison on the left of the box, his shot was powerful and cannoned off the post, but it sent the Vicarage Road faithful into the break with smiles on their faces.

Richarlison and Wague challenging at a corner

The guest for the half-time draw was Nigel Gibbs, who commented that he had been home for Christmas earlier than expected after the managerial change at Swansea.  It is always lovely to see Gibbsy back at Vicarage Road and, as he approached the Rookery on his way back into the stand, he was given a tremendous reception, which he clearly appreciated.

Early in the second half, a lovely ball over the top from Watson reached Richarlison who looked as though he’d escape, but his first touch was too heavy and the chance was gone.  The first goal attempt of the second half fell to the home side as Carrillo found Doucouré on the edge of the box, he had time to swap feet and pick his spot, but his shot sailed well over the bar.  Leicester had a great chance to regain the lead as a dangerous cross looked as though it would drop nicely for Vardy, but Gomes was first to the ball.  At the other end Richarlison found Okaka, who tried an overhead kick which flew wide of the post.  A dangerous counter attack by the visitors was foiled as Watson did well to get back and cut out Albrighton’s cross before it reached Vardy.

Congratulating Doucoure after the winner

The Hornets took the lead on 65 minutes following a Cleverley free-kick.  From our vantage point at the opposite end of the ground, Doucouré’s shot appeared to have been cleared off the line.  There was a pause as the Watford players claimed the goal, the referee looked at his ‘watch’ and, as I held my breath, pointed to the centre circle, sending the Rookery into wild celebrations.  Leicester made two substitutions replacing Okazaki and Dragović with Slimani and Gray.  It appeared that Glenn’s score prediction would be spot on as Cleverley robbed Chilwell and advanced on goal, but his shot was just wide of the far post.  Puel’s last change saw Ulloa coming on for King.  The visitors had a great chance to draw level from a corner as the ball dropped to Morgan, but Gomes did brilliantly to block the shot.  The keeper was called into action again from the resultant corner, dropping to save Ulloa’s header, and the danger was averted.  Silva made a couple of late substitutions, bringing Prödl on for Watson, followed by Carrillo, who had another great game, making way for Sinclair.  I must admit that it was a relief to see only three minutes of added time.  There was time for a lovely passing move up the wing which finished with a cross to Okaka, who won a corner and used up some of the remaining seconds.  The last action of the game was a cross from Albrighton that was gathered by Gomes under a challenge from Maguire that he did not appreciate, he was raging at both the player and the referee.  But he was to end the game with a smile on his face as Watford grabbed a win that was probably deserved based on the quality of the play, if not the tally of shots on target.

This game wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a pleasing return to some kind of form.  Following a couple of lack lustre performances, the work rate that had been such a pleasing aspect of the play in the early part of the season was back, with players pressuring their opponents, giving them no space to play and causing them to make mistakes.  Wagué played well on his full debut, topping it off with a goal.  What had appeared to be a bit of a makeshift team had given us the best ninety minutes for some time and provided a rather lovely finish to this Christmas.  We just need to continue in the same vein against Swansea.

Undone by Defensive Errors

Pre-match huddle

I should have known that this was not going to be our day when, even before we’d left London, there was a message to say that the designated pre-match pub was closed.  Pete, who used to live in Leicester, was given the responsibility of nominating an alternative.  When we arrived, the outside was rather unprepossessing, but the interior was surprisingly gorgeous.  Having spotted our party towards the back of the pub, I made my way past the large group of blokes in my path.  I had assumed that they were all locals, but when I looked up, I realised that I knew most of them.  The beer choice was interesting, I went for a glass of mild, probably for the first time in my life.  I certainly wasn’t going to try the Vardy Volley!

Team news was that Mazzarri had decided to drop Deeney, with Okaka taking his place.  Needless to say, this led to speculation about Troy’s future at Watford with most thinking that, should Mazzarri stay on as manager (which looks likely), Deeney will be on his way.  The other change for the Hornets was Kabasele for Britos.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Kabasele; Amrabat, Doucouré, Cleverley, Capoue, Janmaat; Niang and Okaka.

Gomes launches a ball upfield

The first chance of the game fell to the Hornets as Niang released Janmaat whose curling shot was well wide of the target.  The Hornets nearly benefitted from a mistake by Schmeichel who threw the ball to Amrabat, it reached Cleverley in a great shooting position, but his shot was wide of the target.  Leicester then had two chances both of which could have resulted in own goals.  First, from a Mahrez free-kick, Vardy crossed and Mariappa diverted the ball onto the post, with Gomes beaten.  Soon after, a cross from Fuchs was met with a diving header from Kabasele that required a smart save from Gomes to keep it out of the net.  At the other end, a lovely through ball from Capoue set Niang free, but his shot hit the side netting.  After a long period of patient build-up play, Okaka turned and unleashed a shot that was blocked by the legs of Schmeichel.  Watford threatened again as Capoue met a cross from Janmaat with a looping header that was easily gathered by the Leicester keeper.  Then it was Leicester’s turn to break as Albrighton fed Drinkwater who could only find the side netting.  Cleverley had a decent chance to grab the first goal with a shot that required a great save from Schmeichel.  But it was the home side who took the lead in the 38th minute.  The events leading to the goal started when Okazaki broke forward and Prödl pulled him over to stop his progress.  The resulting free-kick hit the wall for a corner, from which Drinkwater crossed, the ball bounced off Capoue, who was unable to clear, and fell to Ndidi who finished past Gomes.  The Watford players looked rattled after conceding the goal and nearly let in another within minutes as a shot from Mahrez took a deflection off Cleverley and hit the top of the crossbar.  There was a half chance for an equalizer in time added on as Okaka received a Amrabat header with his back to goal, but his overhead kick cleared the bar.

Capoue and Cleverley prepare for a free kick

At half time, we felt rather unfortunate to be behind as, for once, Watford had more shots on and off target as well as dominating possession.  Unfortunately, we had been punished for a defensive mistake.

The home side had a great chance to increase their lead early in the second half as the defence stood off allowing Vardy to shoot but, thankfully, Gomes was equal to it.  Watford had a great chance to draw level as Amrabat crossed for Okaka at the far post, but his header was over the bar.  At this point, a section of the away support starting chanting for Deeney, who wasn’t even warming up.  This was followed by chants for Flores and Boothroyd!  The home side were two up on 58 minutes as a mistake from Mariappa allowed Mahrez to escape and finish past Gomes.  It was getting a bit fraught in the away end and there appeared to be some scuffles in the next block.  The stewards were certainly involved in some heated discussions with some of the fans.  Each manager rang the changes just after the hour mark as Slimani and King replaced Okazaki and Drinkwater for the home side, and Deeney came on for Capoue for the visitors, much to the approval of the bloke behind me who had been complaining about Etienne for the entire game.

Okaka

Leicester had a great chance to increase their lead as Vardy received a lovely through ball from Slimani, cut inside and shot from short range, but Gomes made a smart save at the near post.  The home side had another chance to increase the lead as a free kick from Fuchs just cleared the bar.  Mazzarri made a second, and rather odd, change bringing Zúñiga on for Kabasele.  The travelling Hornets stopped moaning long enough to give a rousing chorus of “One Graham Taylor” on the 72nd minute.  The noise from the away fans had a positive effect as the visitors had a series of goal attempts.  First, a lovely curling shot from Niang had to be pushed clear by Schmeichel.  Next Cleverley tried a shot from the edge of the area, but that was also saved.  Then an Amrabat cross was cleared to Cleverley but his shot was tipped over by Schmeichel.  There was a final substitution apiece as Mahrez made way for Gray for the home side while Mazzarri gave Dion Pereira his debut in place of Niang.  The youngster made a good start with a lovely cross that was headed down by Okaka and prodded just wide by Deeney.  Leicester’s third goal came in time added on, as a Watford attack broke down after Doucouré had the ball in the Leicester box, but decided not to shoot.  Leicester launched a quick break, Vardy found Albrighton who scored with a shot in off the post.  The scoreline was rather harsh and didn’t reflect the balance of play, but Watford had failed to make the most of their chances and were undone by a couple of defensive errors.

Dion Pereira

There was an interesting reaction from the travelling Hornets at the final whistle as the booing from those who are so inclined was almost drowned out by the warm applause from the majority in the crowd.  Debutant, Pereira, who had contributed a very pleasing cameo, approached the away end alongside Deeney.  Troy realised that the youngster would assume that any applause was being directed at his captain, so he stood back and allowed him to continue to receive an ovation from the crowd that he clearly appreciated.

As we queued in the ladies after the game, a little girl waiting for her Mum and little sister complained, “We are going to be relegated.”  When I pointed out that Hull had lost to Sunderland, she wasn’t placated.  “We lost to Hull, how embarrassing is that?  My friends at school take the mickey out of me.”  “At least you go to support your team.”  She smiled, “Yes.  I call them plastic fans.”

So, with three games remaining, we are still not mathematically safe, although it will take an extreme set of results for Watford to be relegated.  But it is still very frustrating that the season is fizzling out in such a manner.  There was a sad irony in hearing chants for Flores who, this time last season, was overseeing performances every bit as dull as those we are seeing under Mazzarri.  I spoke to a couple of fans after the game who can’t wait for the season to be over, which is a great shame.  But, come the end of May, I know we will all be counting the days until the fixtures are released.

Beating the Champions

The pathetic haul for the adults in the game

The pathetic haul for the adults in the game

After the international break, it was lovely to be back home for the game against Leicester.  The week off had provided some precious time to recover from the horror of the defeat to Liverpool, we could only hope that the players had also recovered.  There was a lot made pre-game of the fact that we were facing the current champions, but their form so far this season meant that we went into the match hopeful of getting a result.

As we gathered in the West Herts, we made this another sort of game day.  Our party occasionally play a game for which everyone brings in a number of wrapped ‘gifts’ with a certain theme.  They are placed in the centre of the table then a pack of cards is dealt to the participants.  As the cards from a second pack are revealed, if you match that card you take a gift.  When all the gifts are gone, you start stealing from other participants.  Everyone has their strategy in this game.  Some like the gifts in very shiny paper, another, who will remain nameless, targets the girls to steal their gifts.  It can get rather rowdy at times.  But this game (with the theme being ‘J’) took on a very different tone to usual when five-year-old Holly decided to take part.  She was an early winner (never a good thing), but it was a hard-hearted soul who was going to steal from her stash (the look of horror when someone tried was a picture), so she continued to amass gifts while the rest of us swapped the pitiful remainder between ourselves.  It has to be said that the unwrapped gifts are not a patch on the shiny packages and she was less than impressed when she opened a set of men’s underwear (jockey shorts) but a stash of jelly babies and jaffa cakes meant that she went home happy.

The opening scorer lines up for the restart

The opening scorer lines up for the restart

Mazzarri made two changes from the Liverpool game with Ighalo and the suspended Holebas making way for Zúñiga and Prödl.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Janmaat, Pereyra, Behrami, Capoue, Zúñiga; Amrabat and Deeney.

No sooner had we taken our seats after kick-off but we were out of them again as Capoue opened the scoring after Pereyra had broken forward and delivered a cross that was knocked down by Deeney for the Frenchman to hit home.  All of a sudden the cobwebs were swept away, the horror of Liverpool was forgotten and football was fun again.  I had a slight panic as the ball went in and I realized that my camera and notebook were still in my bag.  I am usually able to retrieve them at leisure during the first few minutes of the game.  Pereyra impressed again with some lovely skill to beat a defender on the wing.  It isn’t often that the big screen shows a replay of a player beating an opponent, but this was well worth repeated viewings.  He produced something even better soon afterwards as he cut into the box and curled an exquisite shot into the top corner.  Just when it was looking like it would be our day, Vardy broke into the box.  He was going nowhere but Britos couldn’t resist putting in a tackle, the Leicester striker went down and the referee pointed to the spot.  Despite encouraging chants from the Rookery for Gomes, Mahrez sent him the wrong way and reduced the deficit.

Celebrating Pereyra's fantastic goal

Celebrating Pereyra’s fantastic goal

There followed chances from corners at both ends of the field in quick succession.  First Kaboul met a delivery from Capoue with a header that flew wide of the near post.  Then Albrighton’s corner was headed over the bar by Huth.  It had been a breathless first 20 minutes and one of my neighbours commented on the notes that I had made so far hoping that I had the energy to keep up.  But it calmed down after that and I was able to notice other aspects of the day such as the fact that there was a huge number of blue and white beanie hats on show in the away end.  It was confirmed after the game by some Leicester fans, that these had been left on the seats, a gift from the owner (who regularly plies them with pints and doughnuts).  They commented that most of them were on the ground by the end of the game, but one of them had kept his as it was proudly on display on the table in the West Herts.  The home side received a couple of bookings, first Zúñiga for a foul on Vardy that looked fairly innocuous (but don’t they always due to his propensity for falling), then a puzzling caution for Britos which could only have been for complaining about the Leicester wall at a free kick.  Watford had a great chance to increase the lead in the 37th minute as Deeney went on a run before playing a square ball to Amrabat in the box.  Sadly, with the goal at his mercy, the Dutchman failed to connect and the chance went begging.  There were boos at half time but, on this occasion, they were aimed at the referee as the performance of the Hornets had been very pleasing indeed.

Lining up in the box waiting for a corner

Lining up in the box waiting for a corner

The start of the second half was considerably calmer and it was the 64th minute before there was a real goal chance as Amrabat battled past a defender to get into the box, cut the ball back for Janmaat whose cross was headed goalwards by Pereyra, but Zieler was able to make the save.  Watford had another chance to increase the lead as Pereyra delivered a corner that Kaboul headed just wide.  The visitors made the first substitutions bringing Schlupp and Gray on for Fuchs and Okazaki.  Another great chance went begging for the Hornets as Capoue delivered a perfect corner, but Prödl failed to connect.  Amrabat should have done better as he burst in to the box and hit a quick shot that flew wide when Deeney was in space.  Troy could not hide his frustration with his team mate.  Leicester’s final substitution saw Albrighton make way for Musa.  Leicester had a flurry of chances to grab a late equalizer, but the Hornet defence stood strong blocking all attempts to play the ball into the box.  Mazzarri’s first change came in the 87th minute as Amrabat made way for Guedioura.  Nordin looked annoyed at being replaced, even though he had been limping after a tackle a little earlier.  The final change saw Okaka on for Deeney, again the player leaving the field did not look happy with his manager’s decision.  As the fourth official indicated five additional minutes, there were some nerves in the away end, but the only Leicester attempt in time added on was a shot from Vardy that flew high and wide, not troubling Gomes in the Watford goal.

Challenging in the Leicester box

Challenging in the Leicester box

Unlike the end of the game at Liverpool when, understandably, almost all of the players disappeared straight down the tunnel, there was a lap of the stands by the whole team, even those who usually make do with a perfunctory clap towards the crowd.  It was appreciated as it gave us a chance to congratulate them all as we celebrated a terrific win.

This was the best performance that Watford have put in for some time.  The fast start and the early goals set us up well, but the game could not continue at that pace.  However Watford had the best of the later chances and, when challenged, the defence resisted everything that was thrown at them meaning that Gomes didn’t have to make a save worthy of the name.  Deeney was more involved than he has been for a few weeks and, had he been a little more selfish, may well have scored his 100th goal.  Behrami was back on form in the midfield, which always helps both the attack and the defence.  Then there was Pereyra who gave us a couple of moments that were worth the price of admission on their own.  Watford now have 18 points from the first 12 games, which is a 10 point improvement on their haul in the same games last season, and are sitting pretty in eighth place in the table and are there on merit.  This season is just getting better and better.

A Narrow Loss to the League Leaders

Amrabat and Ighalo line up to kick off

Amrabat and Ighalo line up to kick off

After the narrow (and frustrating) defeat midweek, we were back at Vicarage Road for the visit of the team that were currently top of the table.  I thought that I had arrived at the West Herts ridiculously early, but there was already a good crowd inside, including a bloke in a Leicester shirt sitting on his own watching the Spurs vs Arsenal game, hoping for a draw.  Needless to say he was very happy as he left for the ground.

When the team was first announced, there were three changes from midweek as Aké, Suárez and Amrabat came in for Holebas, Behrami and Abdi.  However, Britos was injured during the warm-up, meaning that Holebas was reinstated in the starting line-up and Aké was moved to central defence.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Aké, Prödl, Nyom, Suárez, Watson, Capoue, Deeney, Amrabat and Ighalo.  Former loanee, Danny Drinkwater, started for the visitors.

I had been told before the game that there was to be a foil display in the Rookery, but there was nothing in evidence when I arrived until a banner appeared over my head as the teams came out.  It is always a bit of an anti-climax when you find yourself under the banner, but my sister quickly found the image on social media and it was another triumph for the 1881.

Flores and Ranieri in the dug outs

Flores and Ranieri in the dug outs

Watford had the first chance of the game as Holebas exchanged passes with Deeney before his shot was deflected into the arms of Schmeichel.  At the other end, Vardy latched on to a long ball and beat Prödl, but his shot was blocked by Aké.  Following a Leicester corner, Watford failed to clear and the ball fell to Fuchs whose shot was saved by Gomes.  From a Watson free kick, Aké rose above the defence and headed on to the back of the crossbar.  Leicester’s next attack came as Vardy advanced to the left of the box but, with Prödl in attendance, he took a quick shot which flew wide of the far post.  Watson gave the ball away in midfield but redeemed himself by tracking back and winning the ball on the by line before coolly playing it out of defence.  Drinkwater received a ball in the box, but his shot was blocked by Watson.  Then Prödl failed to stop a Leicester break when he lost sight of the ball which reached Mahrez, who passed to Vardy who shot wide of the near post.  Ighalo rode a nasty tackle before breaking down the right wing and crossing for Deeney who shot into the arms of Schmeichel.  The first booking of the game came when Amrabat appeared to be pulled over on the edge of the box, but was booked for a dive.  Leicester failed to test Gomes when Morgan met a Simpson cross with a weak header that was straight at the Watford keeper.  At the other end, Ighalo touched the ball into the path of Deeney who was bearing down on goal, but his shot was high and wide.

Gomes takes a goal kick

Gomes takes a goal kick

So we reached half time goalless after an even half of few chances, but some lovely football.  On the pitch at half time were Nic Cruwys and Ollie Floyd.  Nic thanked the club and the fans for the support that they had given him during his recovery and alerted us to a fundraiser for Headway Hertfordshire that will be held at Hemel Town at the end of July.

Ranieri made two changes at the start of the second half, replacing Okazaki and Albrighton with King and Schlupp.  There was an early chance for the Hornets as Suárez went on a dangerous looking run, but his shot was deflected and saved by Schmeichel.  The visitors took the lead on 56 minutes as a poor clearance dropped to Mahrez who hit a lovely curling shot that beat Gomes.  While the clearance that reached Mahrez could have been better, sometimes you just have to admire the strike that led to the goal and it was a beauty.  Watford had a chance to break back almost immediately as Deeney received a knock down from Ighalo, but his shot was blocked.  Watford then had a period when they looked vulnerable.  First a cross from Kanté was headed goalwards by Huth and it took a good save from Gomes to keep it out.  Then a low cross from Vardy that was cleared by Aké.  But the home side continued to challenge with a ball over the top which hit Ighalo, so the chance was gone, when it may have been better for him to duck out of the way to allow it to reach Amrabat who was lurking behind him.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

A Leicester break came to nothing as the cross was stopped by Aké.  Then Amrabat crossed towards Ighalo but the ball was cleared back to the Dutchman who fell over before recovering to hit a shot that was easy for Schmeichel.  Watford’s first substitution came on 65 minutes when Abdi replaced Suárez.  Mahrez had a chance to increase the lead, but this time his shot was caught by Gomes.  Leicester threatened again as a free kick from Fuchs was headed well wide by Huth.  Fuchs was then booked for a cynical foul on Amrabat.  Watford had a great chance to equalize as a Nyom cross was helped on by Deeney to Ighalo who headed straight at Schmeichel when he should have done better.  Watford’s second substitution saw Nyom replaced by Anya.  Another chance for an equalizer went begging as a cross from Amrabat was cleared to Abdi who put a poor shot wide of the near post.  With five minutes remaining, Mahrez, who had pulled up with an injury, was replaced by Amartey.  Leicester had another chance, but failed to test Gomes with a poor shot from Schlupp that flew in to the side-netting.  Watford’s final substitution saw Oularé replace Capoue.  He was immediately involved, heading the ball down to Amrabat who passed to Ighalo, who was crowded out before he could shoot.  Watford had another late chance to equalize as Ighalo played the ball out to Aké, but the youngster shot over the target.  In time added on, Watford won a free kick which Watson hit wide of the far post.  It has to be said that his set pieces had been poor on the day, but that didn’t justify the level of abuse that was coming from the rows behind me in the Rookery.

Deeney and Ighalo waiting for a goal into the box

Deeney and Ighalo waiting for a goal into the box

It was another disappointing loss but we had matched the league leaders in all areas of the field except the strikeforce.  Ighalo and Deeney had struggled again and, while Vardy had been fairly quiet, Mahrez won the game with a beautiful strike.  There was a lot of negative comment after the game, but I came home with a number of positives.  The combination of Capoue and Holebas on the left wing had been a joy at times.  Aké had been excellent in his stand-in role in the centre of defence.  Amrabat’s contribution grows with every game.  His booking notwithstanding, he appears to have learned that referees in the Premier League are less likely to give a free kick if you fall down so he has become a stronger battler and is impressing.  Suárez also continues to impress with his lovely touch.  We just need a goal for one of our forwards and the floodgates could open.  Still, despite those around us winning points, that was not the case for those in the relegation places so we look safe this season.  It would just be nice to pick up a few more points to consolidate our mid table position.  In August, I never thought I would be saying that.

 

Punished by Our Mistakes

One small step for the Hornets ...

One small step for the Hornets …

I left home ridiculously early to get into London for the train to Leicester.  After experiencing over-running engineering works and a closed tube line, I was glad that I did as my plan of a leisurely coffee did not come to fruition.  The delays did, however, give me plenty of time to read the chapter about *that goal* in Tales from the Vicarage 4, and a cracking chapter it is too.  After a short train journey north and a walk in the drizzle, we found our pre-match meeting place locked up.  Since there were a couple of others hanging around we waited and five minutes later the doors were opened and we bagged a prime spot in a large corner with a number of tables to accommodate what was likely to be a large group.  The décor was very interesting, the walls being decorated with framed sets of stamps with a space theme, including Star Wars, Star Trek and proper space travel.  There was even a space suit in the opposite corner.

A number of us had been to the At Our Place event in the week, so happily updated the others on the sterling performances from delightful Quique, from whom I demanded and received the promised hug, hilarious and straight-forward Troy Deeney, reassuring Scott Duxbury and Luke Dowling, who is having a ball.

One of the blackboards in the pub welcomed the Bochum 1848 Blue Army alongside a list of their Oktoberfest beers and, sure enough, we were soon joined by a group of blue shirted fans speaking German.  When the time was right, they went into the ‘square’ outside the pub for their photo opportunity that, following German tradition, included pyrotechnics.

The Last Post sounds

The Last Post sounds

As we left to walk to the ground, the rain had stopped and the sun had come out.  This appeared to be a welcome development until we got inside the ground and realized that we would have to spend the first half shielding our eyes if we were to see anything.  Photography was almost impossible.  There were the usual ceremonies for Remembrance Day, with the added oddity of the match ball being delivered by a helicopter.  The home fans held up cards which created a poppy, which was displayed as the Last Post sounded and there was a Watford FC Remembers banner on the side of the pitch in front of the travelling fans.  Sadly neither were positioned such that I could get a decent photo.

Team news was that Flores had kept faith with the team that defeated Stoke and West Ham, so the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Anya, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.  The Leicester starting line-up included former Watford loanee, Danny Drinkwater, and Jamie Vardy, who was aiming to score in the ninth game in a row.

Cathcart on the ball

Cathcart on the ball

The first on-target shot of the game came from the visitors as Anya cut the ball back to Capoue whose shot was smothered by Schmeichel.  The Watford fans soon started baiting their counterparts with “Did you cry when Deeney scored?” to which the response was “Did you cry at Wembley?”  Oddly I think my answers to those questions would be yes and no.  Does that make me a Leicester fan?  In Watford’s next attack Cathcart played a ball forward for Anya but Schmeichel was first to it.  At the other end, Gomes had his first involvement getting down to stop a shot from Albrighton which, from behind the goal, appeared to be going wide.  Gomes was soon in action again, pulling off a terrific save to keep out Huth’s glancing header from an Albrighton free-kick, he wasn’t to know that the flag was already up for offside.  Most of those in the away stand believed that we had taken the lead in the 20th minute as Deeney played the ball to Ighalo whose shot appeared to hit the net, but actually rebounded out off the inside of the post.  I am reliably informed that Schmeichel did well to save a follow-up volley from Abdi, but I didn’t see it as I was jumping up and down celebrating the ‘goal’.  Capoue was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that flew well wide.  The home side threatened as Gomes got a hand to a cross from Fuchs, the ball eventually reached Albrighton but Gomes was equal to his shot.  A decent passing move from the Hornets finished with a cross from Abdi that went begging.  Goal machine Jamie Vardy had his first chance in the 37th minute, but his shot was weak and easy for Gomes.  In Watford’s next attack a cross from Ighalo was headed clear by Morgan before it reached Deeney.  So we reached half-time goalless, it had been a pretty even half with Ighalo’s shot the closest to breaking the deadlock.

The Italian faces a Spaniard he would like to kill

The Italian faces a Spaniard he would like to kill

There was an early second half scare for the Hornets as Mahrez robbed Abdi and played the ball through to Albrighton who advanced to shoot, but it was an easy catch for Gomes.  Leicester took the lead on 51 minutes and it was a dreadful mistake from Gomes, who should have dealt with Kanté’s shot easily, but it squirmed away from him and into the net.  I hate it when goals like that are scored, it just seems unfair.  It was made worse as I had to listen to the lad behind me going on and on about how unacceptable such a mistake was, so I was glad when an older head in his group reminded him how brilliant Gomes has been for us this season.  Watford tried to strike back as Ighalo exchanged passes with Abdi before putting in a cross that was gathered by Schmeichel.  Just before the hour, Capoue played a back heel to Nyom whose shot was high and wide.  Watford nearly shot themselves in the foot again as Capoue played a hospital ball that Vardy latched on to but he was stopped from threatening the goal by a great tackle from Britos.  On 64 minutes, Ighalo lost the ball deep in the Leicester half and, instead of fighting back as he usually does, played for a free-kick.  It wasn’t given and the Leicester break finished with Vardy being taken down by Gomes just inside the area.  The referee pointed to the spot and showed Gomes a yellow card.  Vardy hit the penalty down the middle and scored for his ninth successive game, which really hadn’t looked on the cards given his ineffectual performance on the day.

Troy steps up to take the penalty

Troy steps up to take the penalty

With 20 minutes to go, Flores made his first substitution replacing Capoue with Paredes.  The Ecuadorian made an impact soon after as he was sent tumbling in the box.  Deeney stepped up and, despite the prediction of Cassandra standing behind me, buried the penalty.  Troy didn’t waste time celebrating, instead he picked up the ball and ran back to the centre circle.  Flores immediately made a second substitution bringing Diamanti on for Nyom and dropping Anya into the full back position.  Leicester tried to regain their two goal margin as Mahrez dribbled into the box, but Gomes saved his shot.  At this point, the Watford crowd woke up and the whining behind me was drowned out by singing.  There was even a spot of bouncing which only served to demonstrate that the crisp bowl (or whatever it is called now) is a bit rickety.  The Rookery doesn’t move under my feet when we bounce.  The last chance of the game came 10 minutes from the end as Paredes appeared to be tripped, but he’d managed to pass to Deeney whose shot from outside the area was caught by Schmeichel.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

So, we were defeated, which was disappointing as we deserved a point from the game.  Leicester have had a great start to the season, but the only difference between the teams was that their misplaced passes rebounded to their own players more often than ours did.  Gomes earned massive respect from the travelling fans by coming straight over to us, pointing to himself and mouthing “It was me.”  As he turned to leave the pitch, he was serenaded with “Heurelho Gomes Baby” which pleased me greatly and hopefully gave him some comfort.  Everyone there knew what he has contributed so far this season and that, despite his mistakes in this game, his account is still very much in the black.

Some consolation for the result came with the knowledge that we would go into the next international break in 11th position with a points total that is equidistant between the Champions League places and the relegation zone.  When you look at it that way there can be no complaints.