Tag Archives: Marc Navarro

Winning in the Yorkshire Sunshine

Pat Jennings, Adam Leventhal, Gerry Armstrong, John McClelland and Pat Rice on the Palace Theatre Stage

Thursday evening was another Tales from the Vicarage event.  Coming hot on the heels of the last one, as well as being on Maundy Thursday meant that the tickets were slow in selling.  I have to say that did me a favour as it meant that when I logged on as soon as they went on sale, I was able to bag front row seats.  The line-up was Pat Jennings, Pat Rice, Gerry Armstrong and John McClelland.  I am too young to have seen Pat Jennings in a Watford shirt, but he was a player that I admired.  The other three were all favourites but I have a particularly soft spot for McClelland, an intelligent defender who was blessed with deceptive pace that meant he was rarely beaten.  I have been to all of these evenings and this was certainly one of the best.  Four intelligent, articulate men with interesting stories to tell.  They spoke with great affection of their time at Watford and, for the guys who played in the 80s, their interactions with GT.  Even though Jennings was such a small part of our history, his contributions were fascinating.  He was so softly spoken, but had such stories to tell.  The boy who left Ireland for the first time to play in a tournament including facing a formidable England team at Wembley.  At 17 years old, he moved to Watford and was so grateful to Bill McGarry who made sure that he could go home regularly.  This is something that Pat has ensured happens for a new generation of youngsters who are far away from home.  He also roomed with George Best for years when playing for Northern Ireland, which probably gives him a whole evening of stories, which was encapsulated in “it gave a whole new meaning to room service”.  At the end of the evening, we were slow leaving the auditorium and the lads reappeared on the stage for their group photo.  Pat Jennings smiled at us and asked if we had enjoyed the evening and I came over all star-struck at the fact that Pat Jennings had spoken to me.  Then Johnny Mac appeared and was asked if we could have a photo with his biggest fan.  He came down off the stage for a cuddle and a photo and I am still ever so slightly weak at the knees.

Ben Foster

I was hoping that the evening had been recorded, so that I could relive it.  In answer to my prayers, the “From the Rookery End” podcast appeared on Friday evening which was an hour of the lads telling their stories.  I listened to this on the train up to Huddersfield and it was so good that, when it finished, I immediately listened to it again.  When I got to Huddersfield, I told everyone that I met to do the same.  The link is below.  You won’t regret it.

http://fromtherookeryend.com/2019/04/21/tftv-northern-ireland-9-48/

When I arrived, Huddersfield was bathed in gorgeous sunshine and I was in the pub very early doors so nabbed a table, only to find out that there had been an advance party who were sitting in the garden enjoying the lovely weather with the East Anglian and Norfolk Hornets.  As it was Toddy’s birthday, it was especially lovely to see his friends out in force and Jerry Ladell proposed a toast that was echoed by all Toddy’s friends in the garden.  We were also joined by Rich Walker, Watford FC’s Communications Director, who put money behind the bar for the Hornets fans to have a drink, which was a lovely thing to do.

Andre Gray on the ball

At the appointed time, we wandered to the ground, where there was much less of a queue for security than there had been last year, so we were soon inside where we met up with Becky and Lynn.  Becky had arrived early to find somewhere to display her flag, and was rather surprised to find that there would be no spare seats over which to drape the flag.  Like me, she had thought that the away crowd would be small on Easter Saturday.  In the event, she was able to hang the flag in front of the wheelchair enclosure, once Don had confirmed that it wouldn’t obstruct his view.

Team news was three changes from Monday with Mariappa, Sema and Deulofeu in for Janmaat, Kabasele and Deeney who failed to win his appeal against the red card.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Mariappa, Masina; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Sema; Deulofeu, Gray.  Lovely Jonathan Hogg started for Huddersfield.

After the teams came out, I was pleased to note that as Ben Foster appeared in the goal in front of the travelling Hornets, his name was sung with gusto, so there were no hard feelings after his mistake on Monday.

Returning from celebrating the first goal

The Huddersfield stadium is really gorgeous.  Unlike most of the new soulless bowls, it is just lovely with open concourses and seats near to the action while the ground, even though it is only a short walk from the town is surrounded by trees.  After admiring my surroundings, it was time to concentrate on the match and hopefully winning a crucial three points.

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets as Hogg lost the ball in midfield, Doucouré advanced and was tackled, but the ball fell to Deulofeu who dwelled on it, picking his spot and, in a very similar manner to his first at Wembley, guided it in with a low shot that went in off the post.  It was a great way to settle the nerves.  Watford threatened again as an attack by Gray was stopped with a tackle, the ball broke to Doucouré who found Sema in space, but the shot was straight at Lössl in the Huddersfield goal.  Then Deulofeu played a one-two with Hughes, but the shot was blocked.  The first chance of the game for the home side came following a sloppy pass from Femenía that was picked up by Bacuna, but his shot was well over the target.  The first caution of the game went to Capoue for a foul on Bacuna on the edge of the area.  Mooy stepped up to take the free kick but hit it wide of the near post.  Huddersfield threatened again as a great ball released Durm whose cross was cut out by a timely interception from Mariappa.  Hogg was then booked for a foul on Deulofeu.  It should have been two for the Hornets as Gray played a cross field ball to Sema who advanced and crossed back for Andre, but the shot was well over the target.  Huddersfield had their best chance of the game so far as Smith cut the ball back to Mbenza on the edge of the box, he unleashed a powerful shot that Foster did very well to get behind and push to safety.  Deulofeu was causing all sorts of problems for the home side and Bacuna was the next to be booked for fouling him.  The free kick was from a dangerous position, but Lössl was able to punch it to safety.

Captain Mariappa directing proceedings

Huddersfield threatened again as a cross from Smith reached Kachunga, but a great block from Mariappa averted the danger.  The last action of the half was an early substitution for Huddersfield as Hogg made way for Daly.  So we reached half time a goal to the good, but I couldn’t help feeling that we really needed another goal as Huddersfield were creating chances of their own.

The first action of note in the second half came as Gray was penalised for a very soft foul on Kongolo.  He was clearly furious so, when the Huddersfield man got back to his feet, he pushed him over.  Now that’s a foul!  There was a great chance for the Hornets to increase their lead as Deulofeu nipped into the box and tried a shot that was just off target, Gray stretched but couldn’t apply the crucial touch that would have turned it in to the net.  Another great chance for the home side came from a corner, the initial shot was blocked, the follow up was an acrobatic kick from Mounié that cleared the target.  At this stage it has to be said that, despite already being relegated, the Huddersfield fans were making a great noise in support of their team.

Celebrating Deulofeu’s second goal

Another shot from Deulofeu was claimed by a low save from Lössl, but Gray challenged and his attempts to turn it into the goal as the Huddersfield keeper scrambled to keep hold of the ball did not go down well with Schindler, the Terriers’ captain.  But no action was taken beyond the award of a free kick.  Another chance came for the Hornets when Sema played the ball back to Deulofeu who tried a curling shot from distance that was an easy catch for Lössl.  Huddersfield threatened as Smith played a ball across the face of the goal where it went begging, but eventually reached Mooy whose shot was straight at Foster.  Each side made a substitution with Grant replacing Mounié for the home side and Gray making way for Success for the visitors.  Sadly, despite working hard, it really hadn’t been Andre’s day.  Deulofeu had another chance to increase Watford’s lead as a free kick from Foster reached him just outside the area, but his shot was over the target.  The second goal came with 10 minutes to go as Sema went on a run on the left wing, cut the ball back to Doucouré, whose shot was blocked, but the ball fell to Deulofeu who didn’t bother with anything fancy this time, he just buried it.  That was his work done as, a couple of minutes later he was replaced by Chalobah.  There was a feeling in our party that it is a bit mean to replace a player who is on a hat trick and Geri never likes being substituted, so it was nice to see him come out of the dug out to acknowledge the chants of his name from the away end.  Just before this change, the home side had also made a substitution replacing Mbenza with Lowe.

Capoue discusses a free kick with Sema and Chalobah

There was a half shout for a penalty for the Hornets as Capoue appeared to be fouled just inside the box but he had a looked off-balance just before going down, so I wasn’t too surprised when the appeal was waved away.  The visitors were still trying to increase their goal difference and won a free kick in a dangerous position that Capoue took and hit just over the target.  Doucouré was then through on goal, but the flag went up for offside, he went for the shot anyway and was booked for his trouble (and the ball rebounded off the post).  Gracia made his final substitution bringing Navarro on for Hughes.  Almost immediately the home side pulled a goal back from a header from Grant.  I looked at the clock and saw that it was showing 90 minutes.  I hadn’t seen the board go up with the added time, so was unaware that the goal had actually come two minutes into the three that had been added, so I was mightily relieved when the whistle went for full time.

 

Success taking on the Huddersfield defence

At the end of the game, a number of the players came over to give their shirts to fans.  Ben Foster was one of them.  He had hit a youngster with a ball in the warm up and was clearly concerned that he had hurt the child, so made a point of coming over the hoardings to give him his shirt.  A lovely gesture that was clearly much appreciated by the boy and his father.

We headed back to the pub for a swift drink before catching the train home.  It had been a frustrating game, we really should have had a more convincing win, but Deulofeu is a joy to watch at the moment.  Capoue is also putting in great performances that must make him one of the favourites for Player of the Season.  In previous seasons, he has been a player with a great deal of talent that wasn’t always on show.  Gracia has got the best out of him and it has been a pleasure to witness.  While it wasn’t the best team performance of the season, it saw Watford back in seventh position in the table (at least until Everton’s win on Sunday) and with their position at the end of the season in their own hands.  We have three home games remaining, which are all must wins.

I will really miss going to Huddersfield.  It is a lovely ground and the pre-match pub is excellent, with good beer, good food and plenty of friendly, efficient bar staff.  I hope that they return to the Premier League very soon.

 

Avoiding a Banana Skin

Breaking at a corner

FA Cup 3rd round day is always one that I look forward to.  While the magic of the cup has been somewhat tarnished over recent years, the prospect of teams from different divisions meeting is always thrilling.  When the draw was made, I was just hoping for a new ground to visit, so was a little disappointed when Woking came out of the hat as I have been there twice for pre-season games (including having the memorable experience of seeing Mazzarri escorted back to the team coach by a phalanx of stewards so that he didn’t have to mix with the fans).  I soon got over this disappointment and my appetite for the game was only increased when I heard the interview that the “From the Rookery End” guys did with (Woking assistant manager) Martin Tyler at the FSF awards.  Martin spoke about Watford in such glowing terms that I was genuinely moved and felt incredibly proud of the club that I support.  I only hoped that he (and I) would be feeling equally positive about our club after the game.

As I usually do when Watford are playing on Sunday, I checked the fixtures a ridiculous number of times on Saturday in order to ensure that I hadn’t got the wrong day.  Sunday morning I was up early (for me) and off to Woking.  Having not seen any football related clothing on the train, my first indication that there was a game going on was when I emerged from the station to see a chap selling half and half scarves (the horror!).  We had arranged to meet at a local pub for Sunday lunch, which was a great way to prepare for the game.  The place was soon packed with a mix of fans and it has to be said that the locals were a lot more convinced of a comprehensive Watford win than I was.

Cleverley and Masina line up a free kick

Since we would be on the terraces, we made sure that we arrived at the ground earlier than is usual for us and we met up with Pete and Freddie at the front of the terrace near the half way line.  A perfect spot for watching the game.  Pete had been on a beach clean the day before and had come away with a pocket full of shells.  He shared them around, starting a new tradition of the lucky shell that was to be carried all the way to Wembley (we can dream).

Team news was that Gracia had made wholesale changes, with Peñaranda finally making his Watford debut.  The starting XI was Gomes; Janmaat, Britos, Wilmot, Masina; Cleverley, Chalobah, Quina; Hughes, Success, Peñaranda.  It was pleasing to note that the Woking team were wearing numbers 1-11.

Watford started brilliantly with their first chance coming in the first minute of the game as Success tried an overhead kick that sailed over the bar.  Quina was the next to trouble the Woking defence with a dangerous run that finished with a shot that was blocked.  At this point, with less than 10 minutes gone, the Woking fans behind the goal started a chant of “0-0 to the Cardinals,” fair play to them for that.  Peñaranda’s first goal attempt came after he cut inside and hit a shot that was just wide of the target.

The happy walk back after Hughes opened the scoring

Watford continued to threaten as a corner from Hughes was headed down by Britos to Masina whose shot was blocked at the near post to give the visitors another corner.  This time the set piece appeared to have come straight from the training ground as Masina played a low ball to Hughes who was running into space in the box and he belted it home to give Watford an early lead.  It was a very well taken goal and certainly calmed my nerves.  The first caution of the game went to Success, who was adjudged to have dived.  The card seemed a little harsh.  The Woking fans were at it again soon after as their keeper, Ross, gathered a cross, they started a chant of “We’ve got the ball.”   Watford had a decent chance to increase their lead as a cross from Janmaat was headed goalwards by Success, but Ross made the save.  Quina was the next to threaten but his shot flew over the bar.  The first goal attempt for the home side came on 23 minutes as Casey crossed for Gerring who met it with a decent header, but Gomes dropped to make the save.  Then Success found Cleverley whose shot was blocked.  On the half hour Gerring, who had been on 5Live telling Troy Deeney that he would have to let him know he was there, turned his attentions to Success in the absence of the Watford captain.  It was quite a nasty challenge and well worth the booking that he received.  Watford had another chance to grab a second from a fantastic free kick by Cleverley, but the shot rebounded off the bar.   The last chance of the half came as Quina played the ball back to Hughes who tried to place the shot, which rolled to the keeper, when a welly would have gone in.

Chalobah translating for Penaranda (possibly)

So Watford reached half time a goal to the good, after a half that they had completely dominated.  It was a shame that we hadn’t scored more of our chances, but we were looking in control of the game.

At half time, I spotted Lionel Birnie standing behind me and took the opportunity to tell him how much I had enjoyed the GT autobiography.  I loved the style of the book, with GT telling his own story in a way in which you could hear his voice.  The book is a real gift to those of us who loved and admired GT and I wanted to thank Lionel for his work in ensuring that GT’s story was told.

The first action of the second half was the rather thrilling sight of the lino on the opposite side falling backwards over the hoardings.  It is dreadfully childish, but you can’t help but laugh when the officials come a cropper.  The first real chance of the half fell to the visitors as Peñaranda cut inside and curled a lovely shot just wide of the target.  Woking then created their first chance of the half, but Hyde’s header was easily stopped by Gomes.

Ben Wilmot

The home side made their first substitution on the hour as Little replaced Taylor.  The substitute made an immediate impact firing a low shot through a crowd of players, but Gomes made the save.  With 20 minutes remaining, each side made a double substitution.  Bradbury and Hodges replaced Luer and Edser for the home side, while Success and Peñaranda made way for Deeney and Sema for the visitors.  Javi’s substitutions proved to be inspired as a couple of minutes later Sema pulled the ball back for Deeney to score Watford’s second goal.  The niggling worry in the back of my mind that Woking could grab an equaliser was quelled at this point.  The Woking substitute, Bradbury, had briefly been on Watford’s books and Pete was not a fan having known of him from Havant & Waterlooville, where his father had been manager.  Pete decided to engage with the player.  “Not even your Dad would play you.”  A comment which, to be fair to Bradbury, drew a smile.  Watford made their final substitution with 10 minutes to go as Hughes made way for Navarro.  The Hornets had a good chance to grab a third as Deeney got on the end of a cross from Sema, but his header was blocked.  At the other end Bradbury should have reduced the deficit with a header from close range that flew just over the bar.  I swear there was fear in his eyes as he looked over to see Pete’s reaction.  That was the last action of the game and the whistle went on what had been a comfortable victory for the Hornets.

Quina, Penaranda and Success

As we were leaving the ground, someone mentioned that Lloyd Doyley had been in the away end and, perfectly on cue, he appeared from one of the portaloos.  We said hello and he shook hands with the guys and greeted me with a kiss.  He was then surrounded by Watford fans asking for photos.  Never have so many selfies have been taken in front of a toilet.  He chatted to us on the way out, talking about his recent move to Billericay.  He was accompanied by his son, resplendent in a Watford shirt, and told us that his lad is a regular at Watford but goes with his friends now.  That made me very happy.

As we emerged onto the street outside, it was evident that all was not well and I was shocked to witness a couple of punch-ups as if to emphasise the retro feeling of the day and remind me that it wasn’t all good in the olden days.

I bade my farewells to the others and headed for a visit to my Dad’s cousin who lives in the town centre.  When I had called to invite myself over, they had told me how the town was thrilled about the visit of Watford and it was nice to hear how much this had meant, although they had been hoping for a replay.

Penaranda and Masina waiting to take a free kick

On the journey home, I reflected on the game.  While the finishing had been a bit disappointing, the win had been convincing with the Hornets never really looking in any danger.  The debut of Peñaranda was decent enough for a lad who has not played for a while and for whom a non-league ground must have been an eye-opener (decent as the ground is).  Quina and Wilmot continue to impress when given their opportunities and it was great to see another strong performance from Cleverley.  The disappointments were Success, who continues to frustrate more than delight, and Chalobah, who is a shadow of his former self at present.

When I got home, I must say that it gladdened my heart to see Woking’s kind words about our visit on their Twitter feed as well as the photo of the two managers having exchanged bottles of their traditional beverages (sangria and Newcy brown).  I had thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon on the terrace, although my aching back didn’t agree with me.  I am just hoping that the fourth round draw is kind to us.  A trip to Accrington, Newport or Oldham would go down very nicely indeed, although I suspect we will end up at the Etihad.

Lucky, Lucky Arsenal

Watford fans invading Highbury

During the week, I received an email from a Watford friend who lives in one of the apartments at the old Highbury stadium inviting our party for a pre-match tour.  As arranged, we met outside the main entrance which is part of the old East Stand facade and were taken into the marble hall to see the bust of Herbert Chapman and the Arsenal insignia that adorn the floors.  Then out to “the pitch”, which is now a communal garden.  We stood on the centre circle, noted the spot at which GT had his altercation with Steve Williams in 1987 and admired the memorial bench that has been added in memory of all the Arsenal fans who had had their ashes scattered at Highbury.  It was all rather lovely, and pleasing that so much of the façade has been retained.  Apparently, you don’t have to be an Arsenal fan to live there, but a couple of residents who turned up after a game wearing their West Ham shirts found that they could not get past security, so they do have some standards.

From there we made our way to one of the few pubs around the ground that allows away fans in.  It wasn’t the most salubrious of venues and the selection of beer was limited and not particularly appealing, it certainly reminded me why we usually have our pre-match pint further afield.

As expected, team news was that Gracia would make his first change to the starting XI this season, with the enforced omission of the injured Janmaat who was replaced by Navarro.  Thankfully, the red card shown to Kabasele during the week had been rescinded, so he was available for selection.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Navarro; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deeney, Gray.

Pereyra and Holebas preparing for a free kick

Watford started the game brightly, but had an early scare as Lacazette burst into the area, he was tripped by Kabasele but stayed on his feet and shot wide.  I suspect that if the Arsenal man had gone to ground, the referee would have awarded a penalty, so we were grateful to him for his honesty.  Watford then had a terrific chance to take the lead as Deeney headed a cross from Holebas back to Hughes but the shot was just wide of the target.  The hosts then had a great chance as Lacazette robbed Cathcart in midfield and advanced towards Foster, he lifted the ball over the keeper, but it drifted just wide of the target, much to the relief of the travelling Hornets.  At the other end, Deeney found Hughes whose shot was deflected over, but the flag was up for an infringement anyway.   The first caution of the game went to Deeney for a foul on Monreal.  A free kick from Holebas caused some concern in the Arsenal defence, but Cech was able to make the block as Kabasele challenged, before also blocking the follow-up from Deeney.  At the other end, Xhaka tried a shot from the edge of the area, but Foster was down to gather.  The first card for the home side went to Torreira, who was booked for a foul on Deeney.  Arsenal were forced to make a substitution in time added on at the end of the first half, when Cech pulled a hamstring while taking a free kick and had to be replaced by Leno making his debut in the Arsenal goal.

I must admit that at the end of the half, I felt that Arsenal had more of the play, which may have been due to my position low down in the stand at the end which Arsenal were attacking. Although, I seemed to have been unduly intimidated by their attacking prowess as others around me were bemoaning us not taking our chances and feeling that we should have had the lead.

Deeney and Success ready for a ball into the box

The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as a corner from Özil was headed over the bar by Holding.  There was a much better chance for the Hornets as Deeney met a Holebas free kick with a shot that was heading for the bottom corner until Leno made a great save to put it out for a corner.  At the other end, an Arsenal breakaway finished with Lacazette heading wide of the target.   Mustafi was booked for a protest and then Emery made his first unforced substitution bringing Iwobi on for Ramsey.  Watford threatened as Gray latched on to a through ball from Deeney, but Leno was out to block the shot.  Leno was called into action again soon after, gathering a cross from Holebas.  Then Pereyra had a terrific chance to open the scoring, cutting inside Torreira before shooting just wide of the far post.  Gracia made his first change with 20 minutes to go, bringing Success on for Gray.  The substitute made an immediate impact as he received a pass from Deeney and took a shot that was blocked by Holding.  Watford threatened again as a Holebas free kick broke to Cathcart who poked the ball goalwards, it was blocked and his follow-up was caught by Leno.  Success should have given Watford the lead when he broke into the box, but he aimed for the far corner and the shot bounced agonizingly off the post.

Deeney passing instructions to Pereyra

At this point the voice of Cassandra could be heard behind me, “We know what will happen now.”  Arsenal’s final substitution came with quarter of an hour remaining as Aubameyang made way for Welbeck.  Then the normally mild mannered Doucouré went into the book for a protest.  With nine minutes to go, Cassandra’s prophesy came true as Iwobi crossed for Lacazette and Cathcart’s intervention only served to deflect the ball into the net.  So irritating.  Watford had had their best spell of the game and looked totally in control, but the home side were ahead.  Watford had a chance to break back as Pereyra played the ball out to Doucouré who shot well over the bar.  But it wasn’t to be and insult was added to injury as Arsenal scored a second two minutes later after another quick break as Lacazette exchanged passes with Iwobi before sliding the ball to Özil who side-footed home. Watford made a second change with Femenía coming on for Navarro.  At this point, the Arsenal fans could be heard for pretty much the first time all afternoon with a chant of “Deeney, what’s the score?”  The visitors had a couple of late chances to reduce the deficit.  First, Pereyra went on a run before firing over the bar.  Then Doucouré met a cross from Holebas with a header that flew over the bar.  Into time added on and the final chance of the game fell to the home side, but the shot from

Herbert Chapman in the Marble Halls

Lacazette was just wide of the far post.

It was a cruel finish to the game.  Watford had been the better side for most of the second half and had considerably more shots on goal, but the hosts made the most of those that they had and it was the finishing that proved the difference between the teams.

Still, it was difficult to be too upset.  It had been another terrific performance with the Hornets yet again showing themselves to be easily the match of one of the top six.  On the evidence of the performances so far this season, we have little to fear when facing the majority of the teams in this division and I never thought that I would be saying that when we were first promoted.

 

The Youngsters Shine Against the Royals

So good to see Chalobah back from injury

I was rather pleased when the draw for the second round of the League Cup gave us a trip to Reading as it is almost a home game for me.  Even more so when the game was scheduled for Wednesday evening as I was already planning to work from home due to a dental check-up in Maidenhead in the afternoon.  I always have a chat about football with my dentist, who is really an Arsenal fan but used to be a Reading Season Ticket holder who gave up going because the team were hopeless.  We chatted about the game and he warned that they may cause us problems.  I assured him that, given our recent history in this cup, I was taking nothing for granted.  Once he gave me the all clear, I was on my way to Reading where I was in the pre-match pub far too early, although not as early as the chap in the Watford shirt who was already sitting in the corner.  I bought myself a lovely real cider and then found a little booth to hide away in and wait for the rest of my party who arrived in due course.

On arrival at the ground, the bag search was being undertaken by a woman whose main concern seemed to be to find some goodies that could be shared with her.  It always makes the day a bit nicer when the stewards have a sense of humour.  As our pre-match pub is excellent for beer but doesn’t serve food, I had a chicken balti pie inside the ground that I have to say was very good indeed.  While waiting for kick-off, Sweet Caroline was played which apparently is a Reading favourite but made me a little homesick for Fenway Park.

Prodl lines up a free kick

Team news was that Gracia had made 11 changes with debuts for Navarro, Masina, Wilmot and Quina and the return of Chalobah, so the starting line-up was Gomes; Navarro, Mariappa, Prödl, Masina; Femenía, Chalobah, Wilmot, Quina, Sema; Success.  I have to say that looked like a pretty decent team.  Reading had also made 8 changes, but the main Watford connection with the opposition was in the dug out in the person of Sir Nigel Gibbs.

The first chance of the game came from a Navarro free kick from distance that was an easy save for Walker in the Reading goal.  Early in the game there was a switch in formation to three at the back with Wilmot in the middle and Navarro and Masina playing as wing backs.  Watford’s next chance also came from a free kick from Chalobah that just cleared the bar.  From a corner, Femenía played the ball back into the box where it was parried and fell to Mariappa whose shot was blocked before Wilmot tried a cheeky back heel that was cleared.  Young Wilmot was having an impressive start and he was soon in action at the other end of the pitch cutting out a dangerous ball into the box.  The first chance for the home side came in the 23rd minute as Watford failed to clear a cross into their box allowing McNulty to volley over the bar.  Then Watford launched a great break, Success got to the byline and put in a low cross, but nobody was there to take advantage.  Soon after, a corner from Sema reached Femenía who played it in to Success whose shot missed the target.  He wasn’t to make the same mistake a minute later as Masina played the ball back to him, he took one touch and then finished past Walker.  Reading had a chance to break back from a free kick which was launched over the wall, but Gomes dropped to make an easy catch.  So Watford reached half time a goal to the good and looking uncharacteristically comfortable.

Celebrating Quina’s magnificent strike

Reading made a change at the break bringing Sims on for Swift.  The second half started with a decent chance for the Hornets.  After a fast break, Navarro crossed for Success who headed just over the bar.  Soon after, the Watford striker had another chance to increase the lead, this time from a Masina cross, but he nodded wide.  The travelling Hornets were in good voice and a lovely bit of skill from Quina was greeted with an appreciative chorus of “sexy football”.  There was a decent chance to get a second as Chalobah played a lovely ball for Femenía to run on to, but the shot was blocked by the Reading keeper.  The second Watford goal was a thing of beauty, the ball was cleared to Quina outside the box, he advanced a couple of steps and then took the advice of the bloke standing behind me who was yelling ‘hit it’ and powered a rocket into the top corner.  It was quite a strike. There were changes for both sides soon after as Baldock and former Watford youngster Yiadom came on for O’Shea and Richards for the home side.  For the Hornets, Sema made way for Okaka.  The Watford substitute had an immediate chance to get on the score sheet as he got on the end of a looping cross from Femenía, but his glancing header was wide of the target.  There was a rare chance for the home side as a ball dropped to Kelly inside the box, but he hit it over the bar.  Quina’s enjoyable debut came to an end as he was replaced by Doucouré.  He looked shattered as he left to field to an ovation from the travelling Hornets.  Watford were still pushing to extend their lead as a shot from Navarro was pushed over the bar.  At the other end McNulty lobbed Gomes, but Mariappa was back to clear the ball.  Reading threatened again with a decent shot from distance from Méïté, but Gomes was down to make the save.  Watford’s final change saw Hughes come on for Chalobah, it was so great to see him back in action and managing almost 90 minutes.  Reading had one last chance to reduce the deficit from a free kick, but the shot was easily caught by Gomes.

Gomes back in goal

So, in the end, it was a convincing and comfortable win for the Hornets.  The second string put in a very good performance which gives a pleasing indication of the strength of the squad.  Of the new guys, Wilmot was the most impressive, looking very assured in the middle of the back three.  The other youngster, Quina, made some lovely touches and his goal was a worldie.  These two look to have very promising futures.  It was also a delight to see Chalobah back on the pitch and putting in a great shift for almost the entire 90 minutes.  He was beaming as he responded to the chants of “Chalobah, my lord” after the final whistle.

Also, fair play to the 2514 fans who travelled to the game.  It is not a long journey but, given our recent record in this competition, they would have travelled more in hope than expectation, so thoroughly deserved that win.

We have Spurs next in both the league and the cup.  I don’t expect anything from either game, but if this team continues to perform as they have so far this season, we are in for a rather enjoyable season.

A Pre-season Double-header

A lovely present from the club

Although I tend to make the most of my Summer break from football, it is always good when pre-season comes around.  Unusually, the first games for the first team were on the pre-season tour, which I didn’t make this year due to work commitments that also prevented me from making the trips to Welling and Hemel to see the U23s.  So my first chance to see the lads was to be the trip to Stevenage.

Oddly, Watford had arranged two games in two days that both appeared on the first team page, so a lot of fans stayed away on Friday night thinking that it would be a run out for the U23s.  My attendance was also looking a little in doubt as technical difficulties meant that the 4pm meeting at work started 15 minutes late.  That and disruption on the East Coast line had me a little nervous about making it, but I arrived at King’s Cross in time for the planned train which was running on time, so I was in the pub not long after 6 enjoying my first pre-match pint of the season.

After the heatwave, most of which I have spent stuck indoors (partly through choice), there was an irony in the fact that my return to football watching coincided with a thunderstorm.  It started rather gently, so we decided to stay outside in the beer garden but were persuaded to take shelter when the forked lightning appeared.  The walk to the ground was in a downpour, but after the oppressive heat that we have had, the soaking was rather lovely.

Masina and Sema join the fray

Team news was that Gracia had picked a very strong first XI which would give us a chance to see some new faces as the starting line-up was Gomes; Navarro, Prödl, Mariappa, Masina; Hughes, Rodwell, Wilmot, Sema; Jakubiak, Deeney.  Pete and I had turned up wearing the lovely new green away kit.  Mine had arrived by special delivery the week before in a presentation box with a letter from Troy thanking me for attending all 19 away games last season.  A really lovely gesture from the club that made me feel appreciated after turning up on a Wednesday night in Stoke.  We had assumed that it would get a run out, especially when we saw the officials warming up in yellow kits, but the lads emerged from the tunnel wearing the home stripes to confound us.

 

 

Ben Wilmot

Watford started the game very brightly with Wilmot almost opening the scoring against his old club after some good work from Sema on the wing, but his shot was just wide of the target.  The Stevenage goalkeeper, Farman, then pulled off an excellent flying save to keep out a shot from Hughes.  From the resulting corner, Farman again did very well to save a header from Prödl.  Watford continued to dominate without creating much in front of goal until near the half hour mark when Jakubiak found the side netting.  Hughes was the next to threaten the Stevenage goal, but Farman pulled off another decent save and was then out to frustrate Jakubiak as he bore down on goal.  The home side didn’t test Gomes until just before half time when Nugent rose to meet a free kick with a powerful header that the Brazilian stopper did well to keep out.

So we reached half time goalless, but it had been a decent showing from the Hornets who had been unlucky to find the Stevenage keeper in top form.  At the other end of the pitch, it was pleasing to see that Gomes was being shown a lot of love by the Watford fans who had made the journey.

Congratulating Gray after scoring the winner

At half time, Gracia must have been alone in the dressing room as all the substitutes appeared to be warming up and the first half team warming down, but there were actually no changes for the Hornets at the break.

Stevenage were much the brighter team at the start of the second half and had a great chance to take the lead with a header from Revell, but Gomes did brilliantly to keep it out.  On the hour mark, Gracia made nine changes bringing Janmaat, Britos, Cathcart, Holebas, Charles, Capoue, Pereyra, Success and Gray on to join Hughes and Gomes, who would play the entire 90 minutes.  The Hornets got back on top after the substitutions and should have opened the scoring when Pereyra unleashing a lovely curling shot, but Farman was again equal to it.  Just as it seemed that the night would end goalless, Farman made his first mistake of the evening allowing Pereyra to cross for Gray to head home from close range and the Hornets left Stevenage with a slightly fortunate win.

Challenging on the goal line

It was a game of two halves.  The first half had been all Watford with some lively play that should have given us a comfortable lead, if it wasn’t for the performance of the keeper.  The second half was less convincing, but improved after the substitutions.  I liked the look of the new players although I have yet to put a name to most of them.  One bizarre aspect of the evening was the involvement of Kabasele, who took no part in the game but was doing timed sprints on the sidelines.  I swear he ran as far as some of those who actually played.

After a restful night’s sleep, I had a Saturday lunchtime trip to West London to see the Hornets play at Brentford.  In contrast to the previous evening, we found ourselves sitting in a pub garden in blazing sunshine.  Our choice of pre-match establishment wasn’t one of the four on the corners of the ground, but it was rather lovely, if very partisan, with the staff wearing Brentford shirts and flags up all around.  I wondered whether it was a good omen when one of the flags fell off the door.  Oh the straws we clutch on to as fans.

Janmaat and Charles waiting for a throw-in

Pete and I thought we had left in plenty of time to get to the ground for kick-off and there wasn’t much of a queue outside, but it took an age to get through the turnstiles as, instead of just taking your tenner, they then grabbed a ticket which was scanned and the counterfoil torn off before you were permitted into the ground.  With the choice of sitting or standing, we opted for the terraces and took our place at a crush barrier behind the goal.

As was expected most of the starting XI were those that had played the last half hour at Stevenage.  So the line-up was Foster (GK); Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos, Holebas; Pereyra, Charles, Capoue (C), Sema; Success, Gray.  Foster was given a tremendous welcome by the Watford fans with chants of “Foster’s coming home.”  My main concern with the line-up was that Kabasele would be worn out after the workout that he was given on the sideline the night before.

Pete and I had persisted with wearing our green shirts so were happy to see the team were also resplendent in the emerald.  Unfortunately, it had taken so long to get through the turnstiles that we missed kick-off, but arrived on the terrace behind the goal in time to see Foster parry a free-kick from Marcondes, it dropped to Watkins who finished to give the Bees an early lead.  Watford had a chance to break back almost immediately, but Success undid the good work of his run by shooting straight at Bentley in the Brentford goal.

Pereyra takes a free kick

There was a better chance for Pereyra whose cheeky flick bounced off the top of the crossbar.  Gray then had a decent shot that just cleared the bar.  The opening goal came on 25 minutes as Pereyra tried a shot, the keeper was equal to it but Dalsgaard mishit his clearance which found the net to draw the visitors level.  Ten minutes later, the Hornets took the lead as Gray finished from the edge of the area.  I am ashamed to say that I missed the goal as the substitutes were walking in front of the away terrace and I was distracted by how blond Prödl seems to have gone this Summer!  I sensed I wasn’t the only one to miss the goal as there soon followed a chant from the kids to the right of me of “Let’s pretend that we have scored.”  The Hornets had a chance to increase their lead before half time, but this time Gray’s shot was just over the bar.

At half-time Masina replaced Holebas then, on the hour, Gracia made wholesale changes bringing Navarro, Prödl, Rodwell, Wilmot, Mariappa, Deeney and Jakubiak on to replace Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos, Charles, Capoue, Sema and Gray.  Soon after the substitutions, Success had a great chance to increase the lead for the Hornets but, as too often, a tremendous run finished with a terrible shot.  Watkins had a couple of chances to restore parity for the home side, first with a shot across goal and then with a long range shot that was caught by Foster.  The Hornets had the ball in the net on two more occasions, once from a Pereyra header, and then a shot from Deeney who got ahead of the defence before poking home, but both were adjudged to be offside, so the game finished with a narrow win for the visitors.

It had been a typical pre-season game.  A run out that gave few clues to what we can expect for the rest of the season, but it was an enjoyable enough afternoon.  Bizarrely, the atmosphere in the away end was livelier than I am used to at pre-season games, although the chanting was dominated by anti-Luton songs, being delivered by kids who, if I am any judge of ages, are too young ever to have seen Watford play them up the road.

Post-match it was back to one of the pubs on the corner to confirm that none of us was any the wiser, but the beer was good.  Some wonder why we bother with pre-season games.  Personally, I enjoy getting back in the swing of things with the chance to see the new players or the new hair cuts on the old players and to have an afternoon out with friends knowing that the result won’t make much difference to the enjoyment of the day.