Tag Archives: Marco Cassetti

Nat Lofthouse Saved my Day

The spirit of sport statue

The spirit of sport statue

I felt like Franny-no-mates at Euston on Saturday morning as there was not another Watford scarf or shirt anywhere to be seen.  I hate that when I’m travelling to an away game as I find myself wondering if I’ve got the wrong day/time/venue.  Thankfully, when the train stopped at Milton Keynes, my usual travelling companions appeared and the journey passed with discussions of games recent and in distant memory.  Every stop on the way to Manchester elicited different recollections.  As we changed trains, they were discussing going for pre-match beers in Manchester, but I’d arranged to meet friends in a pub near the stadium and convinced them that there was somewhere to get a drink in that wasteland.  When we arrived at Horwich Parkway and they found themselves walking through a deserted industrial area, I sensed that they were doubting my word.  But we turned a corner and there was the promised pub just a short walk to the ground and everyone was happy.  On reaching the Reebok, we found Section H which was marked on our tickets, but all the turnstiles in that section were closed.  Thankfully we soon found the ‘proper’ entrance for the away fans.  There were no female stewards outside the ground, so I escaped the frisking, and the friendly male steward who searched my bag was only interested in whether I had any chocolate.  The inevitable question about flares seemed to be an afterthought.

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

Team news was that we would see Park’s debut.  The starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Anya, Merkel, Tözsér, Murray, Faraoni, Park and Deeney.  As the teams emerged from the tunnel, I was puzzled that I could only see Bolton players then noticed that there were two tunnels.  It was one of those days.

Jutkiewicz gave Watford an early scare as he broke into the box but Almunia was quickly down to save at his feet.  Tözsér delivered a lovely free kick for Watford but Baptiste put it out for a corner which came to nothing.  At this stage, Cassetti spent some time off the pitch receiving treatment and came back with his leg strapped up.  Bolton threatened again as Davies played a through ball to Mason who was one-on-one with Almunia but the Spaniard got down to thwart him.  From the corner, Mason headed over the bar.  At the other end, Angella met a free-kick from Tözsér with a header

Deeney waiting for the ball to drop

Deeney waiting for the ball to drop

that was straight at Bogdan.  Then Anya broke down the left and put in a cross from the bye-line, Deeney headed goalwards and Bogdan pulled off a smart save to keep it out.  From the corner, the ball broke to Mason who ran the length of the pitch before Ekstrand tackled him in our box to prevent a shot.  Mason threatened again as he latched on to a ball over the top into the area but this time Faraoni was on hand to make a saving tackle.  From the corner Mason’s header was straight at Almunia.  Then a backheader fell to Deeney on the edge of the box, but his shot was horrible, flying well wide of the near post.  It was all rather frantic, but had been quite entertaining.  On 23 minutes, Bolton made a substitution replacing the injured Pratley with Danns.  Soon after, Faraoni intercepted a clearance and went for goal, but Bogdan was on hand to save again.  Murray then played a lovely ball to Faraoni whose progress was stopped on the edge of the box by a foul from Medo, who earned a yellow card.  Tözsér’s free-kick cannoned off the wall, his follow-up was

Ream on the ball

Ream on the ball

narrowly wide, rippling the side-netting from the outside.  The masked man, Ream, then took a free-kick which was met with a header from Jutkiewicz straight at Almunia.  Just before the half hour, Danns tried a looping shot but, again, it was straight at Almunia.  Watford’s next attack finished with a shot from Murray that was well wide of the target.  On 33 minutes, Medo beat Merkel on the right and fed Jutkiewicz, who looked well offside as he hit a shot off the crossbar and then the follow-up past Almunia.  I thought he would be booked for time wasting, but the referee brought play back for a free-kick, presumably for a foul by Merkel in the build-up. From the free kick, Spearing crossed for Jutkiewicz who turned and shot past Almunia to put the home side a goal up.  The anger in

Park in action

Park in action

the away area at this turn of events was mainly aimed at the ‘cheating’ referee.  Five minutes before half time, Ream took a free-kick which Wheater headed over the bar.  Soon after Faraoni was penalized for hand ball and stupidly protested.  The referee let him know in no uncertain terms why he had blown up and pointed out the fouls that he had committed up to that point. We were two goals down just before half time as Mason outran the defence and placed his shot under Almunia and into the net.  At this point, Graham was texting to update one of our friends.  He said he only needed two words … ‘Dreadful defending.’  The other female in our party articulated the two words that had come immediately to her mind. They were the same as mine and a lot less polite than Graham’s.

Anya taking a throw-in

Anya taking a throw-in

Straight from kick-off in the second half, Jutkiewicz broke forward but Faraoni was on hand to clear.  Soon after, Cassetti’s injury got the better of him and he was replaced by Pudil with Ekstrand taking up position in the middle of the back three.  On 55 minutes, Ekstrand pulled Danns over then yelled at the ref when he penalised him and received his tenth booking of the season.  Medo took the free kick putting it just over the bar. Just before the hour, Jutkiewicz crossed for Danns whose volley was caught by Almunia.  On the hour, Sannino made a double substitution replacing Merkel and Park, both of whom had been disappointing, with Battocchio and Ranegie.  The chances were still coming for the home side as Mason played a low ball across the box, but Faraoni was on hand to clear.  At the other end Ranegie headed a ball towards Deeney, it came back to him off a defender

Defending a free kick

Defending a free kick

and he shot tamely wide. From another Bolton corner, a weak header from Wheater was easy for Almunia.  For the visitors, a long ball from Angella reached Deeney, but he couldn’t control it and was tackled so the ball went out for a corner.  From the set piece, Battocchio received the ball on the edge of the area and, to the exasperation of the travelling Hornets, just launched it way over the bar.  At the other end, the ball fell to Danns on the edge of the Watford area, but his shot was also well over.  Pudil then played the ball into the box, it was cleared as far as Murray who unleashed a decent shot but it was blocked by Bogdan.  Battocchio tried another shot from distance but it just looped into Bogdan’s arms.  Bolton’s next attack started when Ranegie lost the ball to Danns, he released Mason who was one-on-one with Almunia but the Spaniard dropped to block at his feet. A cross from Anya was met with a header from Ranegie that was cleared. With 12 minutes remaining, Davies was replaced by Chung-Yong Lee.  Into the last ten minutes, Anya

Bogdan launches a free-kick

Bogdan launches a free-kick

went on a run and crossed for Ranegie, but Bogdan was first to the ball.  Then Bolton seemed to play the ball about in our box for an age before it was finally cleared. With four minutes left on the clock, Trotter replaced the excellent Mason.  Watford pushed again as Ranegie passed to Deeney in the box, but there were two defenders on him and the ball was cut out.  Then Ranegie and Deeney both battled challenges to keep possession but when the ball was played to Pudil, he just gave it away.  Then Battocchio found Deeney whose shot was blocked, Anya’s follow-up cross was cleared.  The board went up indicating 6 minutes of time added on at which point Faraoni passed the ball into Bogdan’s arms and I just wished that we could do what the curlers did and put an end to the misery.  In time added on, Angella was booked for taking Trotter down on the edge of the area.  The free kick came straight back off the wall. Frustration got the best of Faraoni as he jostled with Ream who was trying to waste some time by the corner flag and the Italian was booked for his actions.   The final action of the game was Ekstrand lumping the ball into the box where it was caught by Bogdan.

Nat Lofthouse

Nat Lofthouse

The final whistle went to boos from the travelling fans. I didn’t boo but neither did I applaud at the end.  That display was not worth taking my hands out of my pockets.  To be fair, I’d enjoyed the first half hour of the game.  But once Bolton scored the rest had been just dreadful.  A number of people commented after the game that if Deeney’s early header had gone in, it would have hit Bolton’s confidence and the game would have been totally different.  But it didn’t and we were left with a long trip home wondering why this talented team is putting in such abject performances.

Still, to end on a positive note, the Nat Lofthouse statue is lovely.

 

Our First Visit to Huish Park

Jostling in the box

Jostling in the box

As I sat at work on Tuesday morning listening to the rain, I feared another abortive tip to Yeovil.  In the event, I had a decent journey and arrived to sunshine and blue sky.  Our party gathered in the pub which was soon home to a host of other Watford fans, a number of whom I had also seen in there on New Year’s Day.  We’d been told that the ground was only a couple of hundred metres from the pub, so it was odd to set off and not see any evidence of a stadium.  But as we cut through an industrial estate, I finally caught sight of some floodlights.  The security procedure prior to the game was completely over the top with every man, woman and child being frisked before they were permitted entry to the ground.  I questioned the necessity of this and was told that a grandmother had smuggled a flare in for her grandson and so we were all to be treated as suspects.  On taking my first look inside Huish Park, it has to be said that it’s a lovely neat little ground and it was absolutely wonderful to be on an open terrace right on top of the action.

Team news was that Almunia and Ekstrand were back from injury and Ranegie was to make his debut.  In fact there were six changes from Saturday, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Pudil, Tözsér, Merkel, Ranegie, Battocchio, Anya, and Deeney.

 

Ranegie tries to break into the box

Ranegie tries to break into the box

There was an early scare for the Hornets as Miller poked the ball past Almunia in the second minute, but the goal was ruled out for offside.  Miller threatened again as he broke forward and cut the ball back for Hayter but the shot was blocked.  It was Miller again, but this time he went for goal himself and shot over the bar.  Watford’s first chance fell to Merkel who latched on to a header down from Deeney and lashed it over the bar.  Then Yeovil’s Lawrence tried a shot from distance which went just wide.  On 13 minutes, it was the turn of the visitors to have a goal disallowed as Anya found Merkel in an offside position in the box, he turned and shot past Stech but everyone in the ground knew the flag would be raised.  At the other end Lawrence broke into the box and cut the ball back

Yeovil line up a free kick

Yeovil line up a free kick

to Edwards who shot just wide.  The visitors tested the Yeovil keeper for the first (and last) time as Merkel got on the end of a cross from Anya and Stech had to pull off a flying save to keep it out.  Watford were having a decent spell as Angella had a shot that was just wide of the target, and then Merkel tried a shot from distance that was well over the bar.  Then there was some great defending by Yeovil as Deeney received a pass from Battocchio but Duffy just took the ball from his feet.  At the other end, a free kick from Lundstram curled dangerously goalwards and Almunia had to leap to get a hand to it.  Then Deeney had a shot that was deflected for a corner.  Lawrence tested Almunia with a shot from close to the bye-line which the Spaniard got a hand to and kept out.  The first half passed quickly but there hadn’t been a lot in the way of goalmouth action.

 

Ranegie and Duffy

Ranegie and Duffy

In the second half, Watford were shooting towards the goal in front of the terrace accommodating the travelling Hornets.  There was a decent move early on as Anya received the ball on the right and crossed for Pudil whose shot was blocked.  We barely saw anyone down our end after that.  Yeovil threatened as a shot from Hayter was parried by Almunia before being hacked clear by Ekstrand.  The ball broke to Deeney in a dangerous position, but he was closed down and couldn’t find room for a shot.  Then Watford lost the ball from a short corner, Yeovil broke on the counter and Lawrence shot over the bar.  Next Edwards fed Miller who advanced goalwards, but his shot was deflected just over and into the netting on top of the goal.  The defender, Duffy, had a header on target but it was straight at Almunia.  Soon after Lawrence, who had been a constant threat,

Lining up to defend

Lining up to defend

shot wide of the far post.  On 70 minutes, Anya found Battocchio who put in a cross that was caught by Stech.  Then came the first booking of the game as Ranegie had his legs taken from under him by Webster.  Watford’s first substitution saw Murray replacing Merkel.  There was a rare glimpse of action down our end as Anya broke forward, his cross was deflected before being punched clear by Stech.  Then Yeovil had a decent chance after Murray gave the ball away, Ralls crossed for Miller who headed wide of the target.  A double substitution was announced for the home side although at this time only Hayter made way for Moore.  From a Yeovil corner, Almunia got to a glancing back-header to punch clear.  Then Almunia had to dive low to save a free-kick from Ralls.  Yeovil then made their second substitution with Lundstram making way for Morgan.  Cassetti picked up a booking for a foul on Lawrence.  Boredom had set in at this point, so my attention was drawn to the delightful sound of a Dorset cow bell.  This coincided with a chant starting in the away end: “If we score, we’re on the pitch,” which was greeted with a comment that the pitch was safe.  With four minutes remaining, Cassetti took Lawrence

Almunia lines up to take a kick

Almunia lines up to take a kick

down again and was very lucky to escape with just a final warning.  With a couple of minutes left on the clock, Faraoni replaced Pudil.  Miller then went flying into Tözsér and was booked for his trouble.  In time added on, we finally saw some action in the Yeovil box as a Faraoni cross was clearly handled by McAllister.  The linesman was in a perfect position to see it, but didn’t flag and the referee just gave a corner.  If truth be told, a Watford win would have been a travesty since I could only remember Stech having to make a single save and it had been all Yeovil in the second half.

While I haven’t particularly enjoyed the past two home games, our performance against the team bottom of the division was like watching paint dry.  Ranegie showed some good touches on his debut, but he didn’t seem to want to get involved.  The highlight of the evening was definitely the experience of being in the ground.  There is something about standing on an open terrace right on top of the action that makes you feel less of a spectator and more a part of the game.  The other plus point was that I was staying over and only 10 minutes’ walk from the pub.  The pints of post-match cider were very welcome as we tried to banish the memory of the game.

Two Home Wins in a Week

Challenging for a cross

Challenging for a cross

When planning my journey to Saturday’s game, I had spent some time on railway websites working out which of my possible routes was the least disrupted by flooding.  The storms on Friday evening meant that I also had to give some last minute thought to trees on the line in Hertfordshire.  I set off more in hope than in expectation but, apart from spending rather longer than desirable standing on stations waiting for delayed departures, the journey was quite painless and I was in the West Herts at a respectable time.  Pre-match, more than one person asked incredulously whether my colleagues had really enjoyed the Birmingham game.  The response that they knew nothing about football seemed a satisfactory explanation.  The main team news was that Bond was in for Almunia who had picked up a calf strain, and Diakite was to make his full debut.  The starting line-up was Bond, Angella, Cassetti, Doyley, Pudil, Diakite, Tözsér, Murray, Faraoni, Forestieri and Deeney.  The Middlesbrough line-up included former Watford player of the season, Danny Graham, as well as Nathaniel Chalobah who impressed for us on loan last season.

In common with all matches this weekend, Vicarage Road was to have a pre-match appreciation of the life of the great Tom Finney who died this week.  No sooner had Richard Short started his introduction than the fans throughout the ground broke into spontaneous, affectionate applause, which was rather lovely.

Doyley executes an arabesque

Doyley executes an arabesque

It was the sixteenth minute before anything happened on the pitch that seemed worthy of jotting down.  To be honest, Adomah’s shot wasn’t that thrilling and Bond was down to save easily, but I was fearing at that stage that I would get to half time with a blank page in my notebook.  Watford’s first goal attempt came as Pudil passed to Forestieri whose shot was deflected for a corner.  Next a defensive header fell to Murray on the edge of the box, but his shot flew over the bar.  For the visitors, Adomah played a through ball to Graham in the box, but the former Watford man shot wide of the far post.  Forestieri picked the ball up from Faraoni and passed across the field to Pudil whose shot was well off target.  Then a free-kick from Tözsér was gathered at the far post by Shay

Tozser takes a free kick

Tozser takes a free kick

Given.  At the other end, a Ledesma shot from distance was nowhere near the target.  There followed a yellow card for each side.  First, Gibson was penalized for a trip on Deeney.  Then Leadbitter tried to escape from Cassetti and was taken down for his audacity.  The wronged man took the free kick himself, it was met with a header from Woodgate that beat Bond but, to the relief of the home supporters, was ruled out for offside.  A Murray shot was gathered by Given with Deeney closing in on him.  Finally, a moment of skill as a break from Graham was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Cassetti, but the Italian followed this up with a horrible shanked pass which was much more in keeping with the game so far.  Then Deeney jumped to meet a Faraoni cross that was a bit too high so he couldn’t get much power in his header which looped into Given’s hands.  The last ‘goal attempt’ of the half, came from a Tözsér free-kick which was headed wide of the far post by Forestieri.  The half-time whistle was a blessed relief after a truly dire half of football summed up by a comment from the guy who sits next to me that he’d never get that 45 minutes of his life back.

Shay Given

Shay Given

The start of the second half saw the return of Tommie Hoban after a more than a year out following Achilles surgery.  Lloyd Doyley made way, which was a bit surprising as Cassetti was on a card and Angella had taken some knocks but, unbeknownst to me, Lloyd had picked up an injury.  The visitors also made a substitution with Carayol replacing Ledesma.  Given the lack of entertainment in the first half, it was some consolation that the second half would feature the lovely Shay Given in the goal at the Rookery end.  There was no sense of finding his feet for young Hoban after his long layoff, as his first action was a robust tackle on the other substitute, Carayol.  A minute later, Forestieri was tripped in the

Troy's penalty

Troy’s penalty

box by Gibson.  The referee immediately pointed to the spot.  Troy Deeney stepped up and placed the penalty straight down the middle as Given dived to his right and the Hornets were unexpectedly a goal up.  Five minutes into the half, Watford were down to ten men as Diakite inexplicably launched into a two-footed tackle on Whitehead.  This was greeted with “I told you,” by Trevor who sits in front of me and is also a season ticket holder at QPR.  He’d commented when Diakite came on as a sub against Brighton that he doesn’t usually spend long on the pitch.  Middlesbrough almost took advantage immediately but Graham’s shot was deflected just wide.  Luckily for Watford, a moment of madness by Gibson

Stopping Carayol

Stopping Carayol

ensured that both teams played most of the second half with 10 men.  Bond had gathered the ball from a corner and was about to launch it upfield, when Gibson tried to kick the ball out of his hands and was, deservedly, given a second yellow for his stupidity.  Soon after, there was a bit of handbags between Chalobah and Forestieri that earned both men a yellow card and ensured that Nathaniel was jeered every time he touched the ball for the rest of the game.  As the second period reached the halfway stage, Anya replaced Faraoni.  Ikechi was involved immediately crossing for Deeney who, under challenge, headed straight at Given.  An injury then necessitated another substitution as Forestieri was replaced by Battocchio.  Middlesbrough threatened as an innocuous looking shot from Carayol took two attempts from Bond to control.  The visitors then replaced Varga with Main.  The introduction of Anya had injected a bit of pace into the game and a quick break had Given back pedalling, but he was able to narrow the angle so Anya’s shot was just wide of the far post.  Graham then got on the end of a cross from Whitehead but it was

Anya versus Friend

Anya versus Friend

easily caught by Bond.  It was end to end stuff as Anya played a lovely through ball to Deeney, but Given was out to dive at his feet and save.  He launched the ball upfield where it reached Friend whose shot was blocked.  Danny Graham had another chance from the edge of the box but again it was well wide.  Into the last 10 minutes, Kamara replaced Woodgate.  With four minutes remaining Deeney advanced down the left and pulled the ball back to Tözsér on the edge of the box but his shot was weak and did not test Given.  This move summed up the game for me.  It appeared to be in slow motion and seemed that neither Deeney nor Tözsér really wanted to bother the Boro keeper

Bond takes a free-kick

Bond takes a free-kick

with a shot.  A cross into the Watford box was punched by Bond as far as Adomah whose shot was blocked.  Deeney then found Murray on the left, who pushed the challenging Chalobah out of the way before shooting straight at Given, but the whistle had already gone for the foul.  There were five minutes of added time in which all the chances fell to the visitors.  First a cross from Carayol flew well wide.  The same player put in another cross that was headed back across goal to Graham whose header was caught by Bond.  Finally, Carayol went for goal himself but his shot was just wide and Watford had another 1-0 win.

So two home games in a week have yielded six points, but very little entertainment.  I’m all for winning ugly on occasion, but when it becomes a habit it is not a lot of fun to watch.  Next up is a trip to the West Country to stand on a terrace at a new ground, always something to look forward to.  Here’s hoping that the weather doesn’t intervene this time.

Beating the Blues

Ekstrand on the ball

Ekstrand on the ball

When this game was rescheduled due to our meeting with Man City, I realised that it would coincide with a visit by colleagues from the US.  It goes without saying that everyone who works with me is aware of my passion for Watford FC and I try to share the joy by dragging inviting them along.  An e-mail went out to each of them and I had four affirmative answers, so I left work yesterday with a full car hoping that my team would put on a good show.   First stop was the West Herts where the strangers received a very warm welcome from the locals who helped with advice on how to get served at the bar.  We had also ordered food, which took an age to be served, so we had a rapid walk to the stadium, but timed our entrance perfectly as we took our seats in the Upper Rous just before kick-off.  Although a regular in that row lived up to the UR stereotype by tapping his watch and asking what time we called this.

Team news was Murray making way for Merkel, and Pudil replacing the injured Anya.  So the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Pudil, Merkel, Battocchio, Tözsér, Faraoni, Forestieri and Deeney.  Captaining the opposition was one of Watford’s favourite sons, Paul Robinson.

Forestieri defending

Forestieri defending

The first chance of the game fell to the visitors as Ekstrand lost out to Macheda, the ball reached Burke who tried a cross that Almunia had to stretch to keep out.  From the resulting corner, Martin shot wide.  In Watford’s first attack, Battocchio found Deeney who tried a through ball to Forestieri, but Birmingham keeper, Randolph, was first to the ball.  Soon after, Deeney headed down to Merkel whose shot was wide of the target.  Birmingham had a great chance to take the lead on 11 minutes as a powerful shot from Caddis careered back off the crossbar.  As Rusnák tried the follow-up he appeared to be felled in the box by Faraoni, but the referee waved the penalty appeals away.  Then Forestieri won the ball in the middle and played a through ball to Deeney who was tackled by Packwood, but the offside flag was already up.  Birmingham won a free kick in a

Battocchio lining up a free kick

Battocchio lining up a free kick

dangerous position, which Huws delivered but it was an easy catch for Almunia.  There was an early substitution for Watford as Ekstrand left the field, presumably due to injury, to be replaced by the wonderful Lloyd Doyley.  Watford threatened as Merkel passed to Battocchio who headed down to Deeney but his pass was too far in front of Forestieri.  Then a good corner from Tözsér was headed wide by Angella.  On the half hour, Battocchio flicked the ball to Forestieri who appeared to be fouled by Robbo in the box, but the referee was having none of it.  Watford went ahead on 32 minutes as Forestieri found Deeney on the edge of the box.  His first attempt to connect missed the ball

Goal!!

Goal!!

completely, but he recovered and buried it at the second attempt.  Not the most elegant of goals, but they all count.  It went a bit quiet after that until, on the stroke of half time, Deeney found Forestieri on the edge of the box, but his shot was disappointing flying well wide of the near post.  At half time, one of my colleagues, looking to enhance her knowledge of the rules of ‘soccer’, asked whether you were only allowed to keep possession for a certain amount of time before giving the ball to the other team.  I had to laugh, but I thought that summed up the quality of the passing in the first half quite beautifully.

Lloydy moving so fast he is blurred

Lloydy moving so fast he is blurred

At the start of the second half, Birmingham made a substitution bringing on Reece Brown for Rusnák.  This caused me some confusion as I thought one of our players had defected without any publicity but, apparently, this Reece Brown is a 17 year-old from Dudley.  Early in the half, a free-kick from Huws was headed out by Angella who gave the resulting corner the same treatment.  The next corner was punched clear by Almunia.  Then Deeney found Forestieri close to the bye-line and, with a defender in attendance, he did really well to flick the ball up the line to Merkel whose shot from distance was poor and well wide.  For the visitors, Huws took another free-kick that was gathered by Almunia.  Then a shot from Macheda was straight into Almunia’s arms.  From a corner, the ball broke to Burke whose pass found Howard whose shot was weak and straight

Huws lining up a free kick

Huws lining up a free kick

at Almunia.  Ten minutes into the half, Watford launched their first attack of the second period.  A shot from Forestieri was blocked, Doyley did well to win back possession and return the ball to Forestieri who shot straight at Randolph.  Just before the hour, Forestieri fed Battocchio who went on a great run but, instead of shooting, he passed to Deeney who was, sadly, in an offside position.  Sannino made a further substitution as Battocchio was withdrawn and replaced by Murray.  On 67 minutes, there was a most bizarre incident.  Forestieri was off the field for what seemed to be an age as he waited to come back on after receiving treatment for an injury.  The referee finally indicated that he could come on, but there was a Birmingham player just in front of him and he immediately launched in to a tackle.  This seemed to infuriate the referee who stopped play and was reaching for a card before he realised that the error was his and the game restarted with a drop ball.  Faraoni should have done better soon after as he headed wide

Robbo unimpressed with the ref

Robbo unimpressed with the ref

from a Tözsér free kick.  With quarter of an hour remaining, Lee Clark made his remaining substitutions as Løvenkrands and Novak replaced Howard and Adeyemi.  Watford should have scored a second as a corner from Tözsér was met by a Forestieri header that was cleared off the line.  With 8 minutes remaining, Sannino made his final substitution replacing Merkel with Bellerin.  The young Spaniard’s first act was to control a clearance from Almunia with his hand and earn a yellow card for his trouble.  In the last minute of normal time, a ball in to the box from Bellerin was being shepherded out by the defender, but Deeney fought to keep it in and crossed back in the general direction of Forestieri, but it was too far away for him to connect.  In time added on, Forestieri ran into trouble allowing the visitors to counter, Løvenkrands broke into the box but the ever reliable Doyley was back to clear.  Forestieri received a silly yellow card after a blatant hand ball in the centre circle which he followed up with a run and a lob over Randolph.  As Birmingham were lining up the free kick, Caddis clearly felt that Forestieri was too close so walked up and pushed him back.  When Randolph finally took the kick, Packwood met it with a header that, thankfully, flew into the side netting so we preserved the clean sheet and put another three points on the board.

Applauding the crowd

Applauding the crowd

As welcome as the win was, that had been a horrible game to watch and I was a bit embarrassed that I had subjected my poor colleagues to it, so I was delighted when they told me how much they had enjoyed the experience.  During the game, they had admired the effort and enjoyed the chanting.  You don’t really get the latter at US sports.  But what made my evening was to hear my visitors talk about the wonderful welcome that they’d had from all the Watford fans that they had met and how they couldn’t imagine experiencing something similar in the US.  So the football may have been disappointing, but the lovely Watford community made me very proud indeed.

An Unexpected Point

Taking the field

Taking the field

The success against Brighton last week gladdened the heart, but we could have done without following it up with a trip to Leicester.  Based on their performance at Vicarage Road earlier this season, they are the best team in this division by a considerable margin and the Championship table certainly backs that view.  Leaving the station on arrival, I was confronted by high winds that made walking difficult and didn’t bode well for the game, but I was soon tucked up in a warm pub with a pint of real ale wondering whether I should stay there all afternoon.

On arrival at the ground, I was told that the official supporter coach hadn’t made it.  Terrible traffic had meant that it arrived for the pick-up in Watford ridiculously late and that the driver was out of time by the time they got to Toddington, so they turned around after he’d had his break.  I really feel for those who use the coach, a number of whom are friends, as they missed a cracking game.

Tozser lines up a free kick

Tozser lines up a free kick

When the team was announced, I was disappointed to hear that Hall, who had been immense on Sunday, had been dropped to the bench with Cassetti moving back to take his place in the centre of the back three.  Merkel was the other to make way with Faraoni and Murray the replacements, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Anya, Tözsér, Murray, Battocchio, Faraoni, Forestieri and Deeney.

Leicester fans started their taunting early with “Did you cry at Wembley?” which was a bit foolish as it was immediately answered with “Did you cry when Deeney scored?”  Well, one of their players did.  Pre-match predictions were confounded as we went a goal up within 10 minutes, Deeney and Forestieri exchanged

Forestieri receives congratulations after scoring

Forestieri receives congratulations after scoring

passes before Troy crossed and Forestieri headed past Schmeichel.  Yes, really, a header from Forestieri!  Leicester had a great chance to equalize soon after as a corner reached Wasilewski in the middle of the box, but he headed wide when it looked easier to score.  Then Murray played a lovely long ball to Deeney who squared to Forestieri, but the Argentine was quickly closed down before he could shoot.  At the other end, a cross from Drinkwater was met with a back flick from Vardy which went wide.  Vardy threatened again soon after, this time meeting a cross from Konchesky with a header which flew over the bar.  Konchesky then made his way into the referee’s book after hacking down Faraoni.  On 24 minutes, Watford won their first corner of the game.  Tözsér’s delivery reached Deeney who headed down to Faraoni but he shot into the side netting.  The jeers from the home crowd that greeted this seemed to be down to relief on their part as there had not

Attacking a corner

Attacking a corner

been great celebrations in the away end.  On the half hour, a pass from Angella that Ian Bolton would have been proud of reached Forestieri on the edge of the area, he cut the ball back to Deeney whose powerful shot flew well over the bar.  The wind then threatened an equalizer as an innocuous looking corner from James changed direction and Almunia had to get a hand to it to divert it for a corner.  Then Dyer ran in to the box and cut the ball back for Nugent (he always scores against us) who wellied over (phew!).  Knockaert put a dangerous ball into the box and Angella did well to intercept and avert the danger.  Watford had a great chance for a second as a Tözsér corner reached Angella who took the ball down and hit an overhead kick that required a good save from Schmeichel to

Murray celebrating his goal

Murray celebrating his goal

keep it out.  We were not to be denied for long, though, as on 40 minutes, Forestieri battled to win the ball in the corner cut back to Anya who found Murray whose low shot from distance beat Schmeichel to nestle in the bottom corner.  At this point there was a mass exodus from the home stand to join the queue for a half-time cuppa.  More fool them as a couple of minutes later James got on the end of a cross from De Laet to cut the deficit.  It was disappointing to concede so soon after our second, but the build up for the goal was excellent.

Ekstrand in control

Ekstrand in control

Early in the second half, Almunia came to gather a cross from Konchesky, but Nugent was challenging with Ekstrand in attendance, the Swede clattered into the keeper so there was a delay as both Watford players received treatment.  Almunia needed a clear head almost immediately as Forestieri played a long ball in the direction of Deeney, which Morgan reached first and launched back for Vardy to break, he was one-on-one with the keeper but Almunia came out and made the clearance.  Then a flick from Faraoni found Forestieri in the box, he tried a shot that landed on the top of the net but had been flagged offside anyway.  Then Konchesky launched a speculative shot from distance that was well over the bar.  Konchesky threatened again with a deep cross that Almunia punched clear.  On 65 minutes, there was a brilliant break for Watford as Ekstrand released Forestieri but, instead of shooting, he opted to pass and put too much weight on it so Deeney received the ball at a tight angle and the chance was gone.  The Watford defending remained resolute as a shot from James was blocked by Murray and looped safely into Almunia’s arms.  Leicester

Watford on the attack

Watford on the attack

really should have equalised in the 70th minute as Dyer cut a cross back to Nugent but his point-blank header was wide of the target.  At this point, Pudil replaced Faraoni.  Nugent had another chance but his header was straight at Almunia.  Then Cassetti was booked for barging Vardy out of the way.  Vardy soon made way for Kevin Philips and my heart sank.  Dyer was also withdrawn for Mahrez.  Watford’s next counter attack came through the substitute, Pudil, who went on a run down the left but his shot was straight at Schmeichel.  With five minutes to go, Sannino opted to shore up the defence as Hall replaced Forestieri, who left the field to boos from the home crowd.  We changed to a 4-4-2 formation with Anya moving further forward.  Leicester’s next substitution was an attacking one bringing Woos on for Wasilewski.  Leicester’s quest for a second goal continued as

Almunia takes a free kick surrounded by litter

Almunia takes a free kick surrounded by litter

Almunia pulled off a brilliant save from a close range shot from Phillips after good work from Nugent, but he needn’t have bothered as the flag was up for offside.  In time added on, Cassetti pulled the ball back to Murray but his short was poor and well wide of the target.  Leicester were pushing hard for the equaliser as first a shot from Phillips and then the follow-up from James were blocked.  Philips then crossed for Mahrez whose header was blocked by Ekstrand.  Alas, we could not survive the onslaught.  Leicester’s equalizer came in the fourth minute of added time as the ball fell to Drinkwater outside the box and his shot flew past Almunia.  It has to be said that this was not the former Watford player that we were expecting to get the winner.  Knockaert came over to goad the travelling Hornets and the home fans suddenly woke up.  Last roll of the dice for Watford was the introduction of Merkel for Battocchio.  In the last couple of minutes, Leicester could have won the game as Nugent found James in the box but a lovely sliding tackle from Pudil saved the day.  From the corner Nugent shot wide and it ended honours even.

A fair challenge?

A fair challenge?

I realise that my notes of the chances make it sound as if the second half had been even, when in fact it felt like a 45 minute onslaught from Leicester with Watford restricted to counter attacks.  But our defence deserves great credit for the fact that the Leicester possession did not translate into clear cut chances.  Special mention must go to the travelling fans who made a tremendous noise throughout the ninety minutes.  Also to the Leicester fans whose chant of “We’ll never play you again” betrayed a quite staggering level of delusion and prompted a conversation about whether they are the smallest club to believe they are a big club.  At the end of the game, despite the fact that we’d thrown away a two goal lead for the third game in four, most Watford fans left the ground happy with a point away at the league leaders, particularly as it had taken them until the 94th minute to win the point.  This had been another well-organized effort from the Hornets which augurs well for the remainder of the season.

A New Dawn?

Tozser lining up a free kick

Tozser lining up a free kick

After the horrible collapse at Forest on Thursday, I can’t say that I was looking forward to this game. Deadline day had seen some action with Iriney and Fabbrini departing on loan and Diakite and Park arriving.  However, having been crying out for a defensive midfielder, the arrival causing most interest was Tözsér who had come in on loan from Genoa, hopefully to shore up our midfield.  When the teams were announced, we found we were to get an early idea of whether he was “the answer”.  The starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Hall, Angella, Anya, Merkel, Tözsér, Battocchio, Cassetti, Forestieri and Deeney.  In goal for the visitors was former loanee, Kuszczak, although I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t recognize him.  I knew he looked familiar, but couldn’t quite place the face.

Anya being congratulated for his goal

Anya being congratulated for his goal

The first action of note came in the 11th minute.  Almunia came out of his area to clear as Ulloa threw himself to the ground in the box, the clearance fell to Forestieri who tried a shot which didn’t trouble Kuszczak.  We were a goal up soon after as Forestieri won the ball in the middle of the park, turned and fed Merkel, he found Anya on the left who made no mistake shooting across Kuszczak into the far corner.  Anya was involved again soon after, going on a long run up the left wing, crossing the touchline just in front of the linesman at one point, but in the absence of a flag the run continued and culminated in a shot from distance, but Kuszczak was equal to it.  On 25 minutes, Brighton threatened for the first time as a López cross flew across our area but Battocchio was back to make a crucial tackle.  We should have been two goals up a minute later as Cassetti won the ball on the right and crossed to Forestieri who, with only the keeper to beat, opted to place

Battocchio on the attack

Battocchio on the attack

the shot instead of going for power and did so right into Kuszczak’s arms.  Irritation at the miss was tempered with relief that we hadn’t built a two goal lead to throw away.  Brighton’s next goal attempt came from a corner, the ball fell to Andrews but his shot from distance was well over the bar.  On the half hour, Almunia had to come out to get a hand to a dangerous cross from Ward before Ulloa could get his head on it.  López’s follow up shot was wide of the far post.  Then another Brighton corner was met by Upson who headed well over the bar.  On 39 minutes, an injury forced the first substitution as Forster-Caskey was replaced by LuaLua.  In the closing minutes of the half, Forestieri played a square ball to Battocchio on the edge of the box, but his speculative shot was straight at Kuszczak.  Brighton could have equalized as the substitute, LuaLua, went on a run down the left and unleashed a fierce shot that hit the corner of the bar and post, the ball reached Lopez, who shot into the side netting.

Ready to attack a corner

Ready to attack a corner

As the players came out for the second half, Kuszczak’s appearance in the goal at the Rookery end was greeted with very warm applause.  Brighton threatened early on, as a ball into our box was met with a firm header by Hall, it fell to López whose shot was caught by Almunia.  On 52 minutes, Brighton were wasteful again as the ball fell to Andrews on the edge of the box, but his shock was reckless and well wide of the target.  Then Forestieri must have won the ball three or four times as he fought off the attentions of Brighton defenders before releasing Anya but, sadly, all that resulted from their hard work was a corner.  Another Brighton attack failed to muster a shot on target as Ulloa’s shot was blocked, the ball fell to López whose shot was well wide.  Deeney then closed down a clearance by Greer, but the ball looped over the bar.  Watford had another decent chance to increase their lead as a ball came in to Forestieri who held off two defenders to head the

Forestieri celebrates

Forestieri celebrates

ball down to Deeney, but his shot was over the bar.  At the other end LuaLua found Stephens but he shot well wide.  Just before the hour mark, Forestieri won the ball on the left, dribbled around Kuszcazk and shot into the open goal.  The goal was a just reward for Fernando’s tremendous performance.  However, there were a few muttering about us being two up given what that heralded in the last two games.  I was heartened at the fact that on the hour it was us scoring rather than the opposition.  Soon after, new boy Tözsér lined up a free-kick which looped just over the bar.  Brighton made their second substitution as Rodríguez replaced Orlandi.  There was a let off for the Hornets on 67 minutes as a free-kick was headed past Almunia by Ulloa but it was ruled out for off-side.  Harry Hornet was highly amused at this turn of events.  Another Brighton free-kick was hit

New boy, Merkel, takes a throw

New boy, Merkel, takes a throw

straight at the wall, but they regained possession and a cross to the far post was met with a header that Almunia caught.  Then a sliced shot by LuaLua was blocked by Angella.  The resulting corner was met with a header from Ulloa that was going wide, but Almunia was taking no chances and claimed it.  With 15 minutes remaining, Murray replaced Merkel after spending some considerable time standing on the touchline waiting for a suitable break in the game.  Watford’s next attack was thwarted as Deeney received the ball in an advanced position but was hacked down by Greer, who was booked for the offence.  Murray took the resulting free-kick which flew through the wall but was gathered by Kuszczak.  With 10 minutes remaining March replaced López.  Deeney had a half chance as he ran into the box to a ball that had bounced off Murray, but Kuszczak got there first.  In the last minutes of normal time, Battocchio made way for Diakite, and Forestieri was withdrawn to a standing ovation and replaced by Park.  There was five minutes of time added on, but the only action of note was a reckless challenge by Park on the edge of our area which led to another silly yellow card for Ekstrand for kicking the ball away.  The resulting free kick curled over the bar and our clean sheet was preserved.

Ekstrand takes a free-kick

Ekstrand takes a free-kick

What a difference a couple of days make.  Three points are always welcome, but it was the performance that really pleased.  Tözsér impressed immediately, putting his foot in when needed and acting as that midfield fulcrum that we’ve missed.  Hall was immense in the centre of defence.  They formed the spine that was so obviously missing on Thursday and the overall performance improved immeasurably.  I sometimes feel that Forestieri wins man of the match awards for being eye-catching rather than effective, but today it was thoroughly deserved.  He was tireless, playing like a terrier whose favourite ball you were trying to take.  But he wasn’t the only one in that regard.  Where, on Thursday, we were nowhere to be seen as Forest took their chances, today we refused to allow the Brighton players any space.  If a ball was lost, there was a player instantly fighting to get it back.  While I’m not convinced that we’ll get anything at Leicester next week, I’m very encouraged that we are going in the right direction.

Surrender by the Trent

Murray intercepts

Murray intercepts

So, a trip to Nottingham for football on a Thursday evening.  I’d been in Stratford overnight on Wednesday (for Bring Up the Bodies at the RSC – utterly wonderful) and it was snowing when I left, so I feared the game may be threatened.  Nottingham was soggy but, thankfully, the pitch was in decent condition.  The biggest threat to the travelling Hornets appeared to be problems on the M1 and gridlock around the city.  Fortunately for me, I’d taken the train so arrived nice and early.  The pre-match pub for Forest is one of my favourites.  It’s the brewery tap, so the beer is lovely and, as so often in these establishments, so are the staff.  It is one of those pubs that almost tempt you to forego the game.  If only, we had.

The only change in personnel from Saturday’s match at City was the reinstatement of Almunia in goal, so we lined up with Almunia, Ekstrand, Angella, Doyley, Pudil, Battocchio, Murray, Faraoni, Anya, Forestieri and Deeney.  Given the timing of the game and the fact that it was on television, there were more changes in the crowd as the 3500 who had travelled to City at the weekend dwindled to about 500.  Still, those in attendance made plenty of noise, as is the way with small crowds of fanatics.  Well, they did for the first hour.

Defending a set piece

Defending a set piece

There was a rather worrying incident early in the game as Angella made a clearance and was yelled at by Almunia for not leaving the ball for him.  Not good when your defence are arguing that early in the game.  The visitors had the first goal attempt in the third minute as Pudil advanced down the left and passed to Anya who found Deeney but his shot was just over the bar.  Forest’s first chance came from a corner, Reid and Paterson exchanged passes and the former tried a looping shot that was easily caught by Almunia.  Then, from a free-kick, Moussi headed the ball back across goal and Collins met it with a header that came back off the crossbar.  At the other end, Angella volleyed wide from an Anya free-kick.  On 16 minutes, Angella was in the Forest box again heading wide from an Anya corner.  Forest were nearly embarrassed as a back pass came dangerously close to drifting in, but Darlow managed to get across to clear.  Murray then tried a shot from distance that flew wide.  This had been a good spell of possession from the Hornets, but we hadn’t really created any decent chances.  Just before the half hour, there was a scare as Almunia came for a free-kick from Reid, Halford got there first and headed over, but the flag

Angella being congratulated after his first goal

Angella being congratulated after his first goal

was already up for offside.  Then Reid passed to Paterson, who found space for a shot, but Almunia dropped to gather the ball.  Reid threatened again, getting on the end of a cross from Abdoun but his shot flew over the bar.  On 31 minutes, Faraoni got himself into a great position, but unleashed an awful shot that, luckily for us, was deflected for a corner.  Anya took the set piece and Angella was on hand to put the ball in off the crossbar.  One of the Forest stewards told a friend that it was one of the best goals he had ever seen.  I will have to wait to see the highlights to confirm that, but it was pleasing to be one up, especially as this was during a period of Forest domination.  Soon after, a ball from Faraoni released Forestieri on the wing, but he ran into a crowd and his shot was blocked.  Ekstrand was then booked for taking Paterson down.  From the free-kick, Halford headed over.  Then Battocchio flicked a pass to Anya whose cross was met by a volley from Deeney which flew into the side-netting.  Battocchio then found Forestieri whose shot into the crowd was deflected wide.  Just before half time, Angella earned himself a stupid booking as he stopped Forest taking a free-kick.  The home side had a couple of attempts to equalize before half time.  First a cross-cum-shot by Harding, that needed a hand from Almunia to keep it out.  Then a break by Abdoun, whose cross was straight at Almunia.  It had been an even, if uneventful, first half, and we were happy to go in a goal to the good.

Goal celebration for our second

Goal celebration for our second

At the start of the second period, Cox replaced Halford.  Forest attacked straight from kick-off, with Almunia having to be alert to block a dangerous shot from Reid.  But it was Watford who were on the scoresheet again as Angella met a free-kick from Murray with a strong header past Darlow and then ran to the corner where the Watford fans were located to celebrate with us.  It was all looking so good at this point.  Doyley was the next to threaten with a through ball to Deeney who was flagged offside.  Then a free-kick from Reid was tipped over the bar by Almunia.  Forest pulled a goal back just before the hour mark as the substitute, Cox, got on the end of a header across the box by Moussi and turned it past Almunia.  Prior to the restart, Abdi replaced Forestieri.  Murray went on a great run soon after, but was taken down by Lichaj.  On 62 minutes, Cox tried a back header, but Almunia was equal to it.  The next action was off the field as a Forest player

Angella being congratulated after his second goal

Angella being congratulated after his second goal

was challenged and went flying off the pitch straight into Sannino, who hit the deck.  Clearly his coat was soaked after this challenge, so he ripped it from his back and threw it to the bench.  That was possibly the most assertive Watford action of the second half.  Watford old boy Henderson then entered the fray, replacing Abdoun.  Darius made his mark almost immediately with a free header for the equalizer.  This was followed by the substitution of Abdi, who had been struggling since very soon after he came on.  Very sad to see, and I can’t help but worry how long he will be out for.  Cassetti was the replacement.  Deeney lost the ball to Paterson and with Forest players closing in, Almunia came out to clear.  Then Pudil received the ball in the box, juggled it to his other foot and shot over the bar.  Battocchio exchanged passes with Anya, his shot was turned around the post by Darlow, but the ref gave a goal kick.  Cassetti informed the official of his mistake and was booked for his trouble.  With 10 minutes remaining, Fabbrini replaced Anya and Mackie came on for Paterson.  Mackie was immediately involved, trying a shot from the edge of the area that was blocked.  He wasn’t to be denied for long, though, as in the next

Attacking a corner

Attacking a corner

move he got on the end of a cross from Reid and headed Forest into the lead.  Doyley then tried a shot that Fabbrini turned wide.  This time the ref gave a corner!  With two minutes remaining, Fabbrini was fouled to win Watford a free kick in a dangerous position.  Murray stepped up to take the kick and launched the ball way over everyone in the box and wide of the far post.  Adding insult to injury, Fabbrini intercepted a Watford clearance and immediately gave it away, it reached Cox on the left who was given plenty of space to score Forest’s fourth.  In time added on, Deeney tried a shot that was tipped over by Darlow.  Then Doyley broke forward again and found Faraoni whose shot was straight at the keeper.  In the final minute, Cox attempted a shot for his hat trick which Almunia pushed over the bar.  The last action of the game came as Henderson turned a cross from Harding back across the area but nobody was able to apply the finishing touch and it flew wide of the far post.

Applauding the crowd

Applauding the crowd

The final whistle saw the optimism that had been engendered by Saturday’s performance completely dissipate.  Forest were well organized, but they didn’t have to play particularly well to beat us as we were completely spineless for the last half hour of the match.  That lack of a spine has been a problem with our formation for most of the season.  That, and the fact that our talented players frequently play as if they have never met.  It is all incredibly frustrating.  Even the eternal optimists who have recently been talking of winning games in hand and making a run to the play-offs must be given pause by the fact that we are now in the same position that Wolves were last season.  This could become a battle for survival.  We can only hope that this team is up for the fight.

Testing Ourselves Against the Best

 

The Maine Road Chippie

The Maine Road Chippie

When I heard the draw for the fourth round of the cup, my heart sank.  Such is the gulf between teams like City and those battling a division below that an upset seemed impossible.  I’ve heard the argument that if you want to progress you need to test yourself against the best.  That is fine if you are ready for the test.  But nothing that I have seen from my team this season suggests that we are and there is nothing worse than seeing your side given a footballing lesson.  Our tie against the same opposition last season saw an arguably stronger side play well and still lose 3-0 to a City team that didn’t get out of second gear.   Listening to the pundits before the game didn’t help my mood.  On Radio 5Live, there was talk of Kidderminster getting a result at Sunderland, while we were given no chance.  Equally, on breakfast television on Saturday morning the suggestion from a presenter that Watford may get a result was countered with the comment that this was the game which was least likely to see an upset.

The Pre-match Handshakes

The Pre-match Handshakes

Our time in Manchester didn’t start well as our pre-match pub of choice refused entry to Southerners so we decamped to a less interesting hostelry to numb ourselves.  The texts from Toddy informing me that the U18s were 3-0 up in their cup game helped to enforce the notion that I had chosen the wrong match to attend.  Given that City had scored 106 goals and an average of 4 a game so far this season, more than one Hornet mentioned their hope that we would keep the score down to single figures.  When we reached the Etihad, which is an impressive stadium, I enjoyed the sight of the Maine Road chippie and hair salon opposite.  It seemed to be positioned to remind the Etihad where they had come from and bring it down a peg or two.  Before we were permitted entry to the ground, there was an impressive search procedure.  Bags were searched, we were all patted down to ensure we had nothing illegal concealed about our person and, a first for me, a friendly sniffer dog was set on me, presumably to see whether I was concealing any flares. When the team was announced, we had made 5 changes.  To be honest, it was difficult to work out what the formation was, but at least the much discussed midfield included some midfielders.  Our starting line-up was Bond, Ekstrand, Angella, Doyley, Pudil, Anya, Murray, Battocchio, Faraoni, Forestieri and Deeney.

Waiting for a Free-kick

Waiting for a Free-kick

We started brightly and, some gallows humour from my companions encouraged me to make a note at 1 minute and 40 seconds that City hadn’t got out of their own half.  In the second minute, Forestieri was felled on the edge of the box.  He took the free kick himself, hitting it straight at the wall but the ball fell to Battocchio whose shot was high and wide.  In the sixth minute, we had a shout for a penalty as Forestieri found Anya in the box where Pantilimon brought him down, but Kevin Friend waved the appeals away.  At the other end Richards went down after being tackled on the edge of the box.  While waiting for the free kick, there was a bit of pushing between Dzeko and Angella in the box that earned the City player a yellow card.  On 10 minutes, Bond was called into action for the first time as a shot came in following a free-kick, which he blocked and then dropped to

Forestieri congratulated on his goal

Forestieri congratulated on his goal

claim the ball.  Soon after, a corner from Navas was met with a header by Kolarov which flew across the box, but nobody was able to get a touch.  Then Murray and Deeney combined to feed Anya whose cross was caught with Forestieri challenging Pantilimon.  At this point the City fans started up a chant of “You’re just a stop off at Wembley.”  Good one!  On 15 minutes, City finally showed a glimpse of their quality with a lovely move that finished with a shot from Toure that was blocked.  Watford continued to threaten as Forestieri broke downfield and fed Faraoni whose shot was straight at Pantilimon.  In City’s next attack Angella was on hand to intercept a cut back from Navas.  On 20 minutes, Watford went one up as Forestieri ran on to a through ball from Deeney and

It's official

It’s official

shot into the far corner.  The celebrations in the away end were a mixture of joy and disbelief, but there was no doubt that the goal was well deserved.  Soon after, Rodwell tried a shot that was deflected into Bond’s arms.  Then Aguero received a pass from Toure and, despite the attentions of Angella, managed to shoot but Bond turned it around the post.  Watford were then on the attack again.  Forestieri picked up the ball from a throw-in and shot just wide of the near post.  Then Sean Murray played a cross-field ball to Anya who found Deeney who slipped the ball between Pantilimon and the post.  If the first goal celebration had been joyous, this one was properly mental.  Thirty minutes in to the game and Watford are 2-0 up at the Etihad.  The disbelief was palpable throughout the stadium.  Watford continued to attack as Murray again found Anya who passed to Forestieri,

Celebrating Deeney's goal

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

but his cross was cut out.  A chant of “What the f*ck is going on” started.  For the life of me I can’t remember which stand it came from, but both sets of fans would have been equally justified in singing it.  Towards the end of the half, Kolarov tried a shot that Bond bravely came to gather.  Then a shot from Anya was blocked, the rebound fell to Faraoni who shot wide of the far post.  Next it was City’s turn with a Lopes shot that went wide of the near post.  In the last minute of the half we could have been three up as a lovely Watford move ended with a Pudil shot that hit the side netting.  I almost passed out at this point.  Just before half time Kolarov had another attempt that was wide of the far post.  Then a Lopes break was stopped by a tackle from Murray, who had been totally fearless all afternoon.  Very impressive for such a young player. 

The half-time score

The half-time score

At half time, the concourse was full of song.  Although most people that I spoke to either wanted to know when they’d wake up or to go home, because surely we couldn’t keep this up. As the players came out for the second half, Kompany and Zabaleta had replaced Rodwell and Richards.  The tannoy announcer originally stated that Zabaleta was on for someone “as yet unknown”.  Given the size of Richards, I would have thought he was pretty hard to miss.  The substitutions indicated that our first half performance had rattled Pellegrini.

A second half corner

A second half corner

Early in the second half, Pudil was booked for a tackle on Navas that had looked decent from our vantage point.  On 53 minutes, a Murray corner was cleared and fell to Anya, but his shot was weak and easy for Pantilimon to deal with.  Then Deeney found Anya, whose cross was cut out by Lescott.  On 55 minutes, Aguero passed to Navas who found Dzeko whose shot was pounced on by Bond.  At this point young Lopes was replaced by Jovetic.  From a City corner, we twice cleared but the ball came back and finally fell to Jovetic who hit the shot wide of the target.  On 58 minutes, City pulled a goal back.  Kolarov crossed into the box, Bond did well to save Dzeko’s shot, but Aguero pounced on the loose ball to score.  It had taken City an hour to breach the Watford defence and suddenly the home crowd could be heard.  Soon after, Watford made their first

Sannino wanting to join the action

Sannino wanting to join the action

substitution as Cassetti replaced Forestieri.  Aguero threated again almost immediately, getting on the end of a cross from Kompany but Doyley was on hand to block the shot.  Doyley also foiled the next attempt as Dzeko got on to the end of a cross from Toure, but Lloyd’s attentions ensured that he headed wide of the target.  A great rear-guard action by the Hornets couldn’t stop Kompany getting in a cross, but Dzeko’s shot was straight at Bond.  On 75 minutes, Abdi replaced Murray, who had been excellent.  Soon after, City were level as Navas advanced and passed to Aguero who struck an exquisite shot into the top left-hand corner.  I have to say that we’d done brilliantly in matching them to this point but, gutting as that goal was, you couldn’t help admire it.  Into the last 10 minutes and Cassetti got his customary booking, sticking out a foot as Kolarov attempted to run past him and then doing that look of horror at the injustice that we love so well.  On 84 minutes, Fabbrini

Battocchio on the ball

Battocchio on the ball

replaced Faraoni.  With five minutes to go until we’d earned a replay, disaster struck.  Kolarov hit a speculative shot from outside the box.  Bond dropped and appeared to have caught it, but the ball squirmed through his legs and into the net.  That was a cruel way to go behind and Bond didn’t deserve that based on his performance.  Neither did the travelling fans, but we were not downhearted and launched into loud chants in support of our team.  On the pitch we battled on, as Deeney played a through ball to Anya but his shot on the run was high and wide.  Anya broke again and played a through ball to Fabbrini, but the Italian was offside.  Then Toure fed Navas whose initial shot rebounded back to him and Bond caught the follow-up.  In time added on, City added a fourth as Aguero claimed his hat-trick with a header from a Navas cross.  Straight from kick-off, Angella tried his luck with a shot from distance that was well wide of the target.  The final whistle went and there was no upset, but every Watford fan in attendance left the stadium with their head held high as our lads had given City a game and, despite their second half dominance, the Premier League high-fliers were flattered by the score.

Applauding the travelling fans

Applauding the travelling fans

At full time, Deeney went to swap shirts.  Since the first player he approached didn’t take his, he ended up with two City shirts.  Pudil and Doyley came over and handed their shirts to kids in the crowd.  I then saw Deeney reach down the front of his shorts and my imagination went in to over drive about quite what he was going to throw into the crowd, so I was relieved when he extracted the two City shirts that he had placed there for safe-keeping as he applauded the fans. When I arrived home, I turned on the news and heard the newsreader talking about “an amazing comeback by Manchester City.”  That was certainly not what anyone had expected on Saturday morning, but that is what keeps us going to games like this.  Despite the final score, we were magnificent.  Hell, we even won the first half and that made me very happy indeed.

Yet Another Trip to Bristol in the Cup

The teams come on to the pitch

The teams come on to the pitch

For the second time in four days I set off in the rain to drive westwards wondering if there was to be a game at the end of it.  The postponement on New Year’s Day was very frustrating.  Particularly because the flooded roads on the way in to Yeovil had made the decision inevitable and there was a sneaking feeling that, without the promise of Sky money, the game would have been called off earlier and saved us a wasted journey.  On Saturday, I had arranged to visit friends after the game, so a postponement wouldn’t have been as much of a disappointment.  I had been tasked with choosing the pre-match pub and stumbled on one a short walk from where I was staying, which turned out to be a little gem.  Real ale, excellent pies served with delicious minty mushy peas and very friendly bar staff.  In fact, the pub was so delightful that we nearly forgot to leave for the game.  In retrospect that would have been a good decision.

Prior to the match, we had speculated on who would fill in at left wing back in the absence of Anya, Pudil and Bellerin.  The answer was Battocchio, an interesting and slightly worrying choice.  I was disappointed to hear that Doyley had been relegated to the bench, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Angella, Nosworthy, Battocchio, McGugan, Iriney, Murray, Cassetti, Fabbrini and Deeney.

Almunia keeping warm

Almunia keeping warm

The game was played with a pink ball, which was one of the brighter aspects of the afternoon.  We started well enough and, in the second minute, McGugan broke into the box but shot wide.  City were on the attack on 7 minutes with a dangerous ball into the box, Almunia was nudged out of the way as he came to collect it, the ball went out of play and the free kick was delayed as the Bristol City fans in the Wedlock stand refused to give the ball back.  On 8 minutes, Fabbrini lost the ball in the middle of the pitch, Baldock went on a run and shot from distance but Almunia dropped to gather.  The Watford keeper was in action again soon after, plucking a cross from Bryan out of the air.  On the quarter hour, Fabbrini went on a great run down the wing and broke into the box where he went down under a challenge.  Given that Diego’s tumble was greeted with groans from the travelling ‘Orns, it was no surprise when the referee waved play on.  Battocchio tried a shot from the edge of the area, but Parish was equal to it.  City were soon on the counter-attack, but Reid’s shot was also from distance and was wide of the target.  At the break in play, the ref had words with Fabbrini.  On 20 minutes, Emmanuel-Thomas shot wide of the far post.  Then McGugan got the ball in the area ran across the box to get into a better shooting position but skewed his shot disappointingly over the bar.  Bristol threatened again as a cross was headed on to Bryan whose shot required a decent save from Almunia who pushed it around the post.  The corner fell to Elliott who shot over the bar.  Down the other end

Bryan clearing the ball

Bryan clearing the ball

McGugan hit a lovely shot towards the top corner and Parish had to leap to tip it over.  On 34 minutes McGugan hit a free kick from a long way out which flew wide of the near post.  Then a run and cross from Bryan had both Emmanuel-Thomas and Wagstaff coming to meet it, they got in each other’s way and the header was wide.  With five minutes to half time, Battocchio required a bit of  juggling to control the ball and give it to Fabbrini who advanced into the box and squared to McGugan whose shot was blocked.  From the resultant corner, the ball fell to Battocchio whose cross was met by a header from Angella that hit the top of the crossbar.  In time added on, a free-kick from Reid was headed wide by Osborne.

 

McGugan on the attack

McGugan on the attack

At half-time, our wing-back situation became even stranger as Cassetti was replaced by Smith who is neither a winger nor a back.  I thought moving Murray out may have been a better bet, with Smith playing in the middle, until I had a flashback to the game at Ashton Gate last season when Sean took Cassetti’s place and had a complete nightmare.  Bristol City made the running at the start of the second half as Emmanuel-Thomas played a through ball to Baldock whose shot was easily saved by Almunia.   Soon after, Almunia was in action again as Elliott got on the end of a corner but his header was straight at the Watford keeper.   Then a move started with a ball to Deeney that should have allowed him to break free, but instead we saw a sequence involving several awful misplaced passes by Watford players which finished with Emmanuel-Thomas shooting wide.  The only other notable events in the first 25 minutes of the half were a McGugan free-kick that he put over the bar and a tannoy announcement requesting that Watford’s Italian coach driver make himself known to the stewards.  I am still trying to work out if that was a coded message. 

Fabbrini on the attack

Fabbrini on the attack

Just after 70 minutes, Watford finally made their first attack of the half as Fabbrini played a through ball to McGugan who fell over in the box.  Then Fabbrini broke again and fed Deeney whose shot was saved by Parish.  Next a free-kick for the home team was headed back from the far post by Elliott to Osborne who headed it over the bar.  Fabbrini was on the attack again but this time his cross was headed wide by Burns. Then McGugan broke into the box but his shot was deflected for a corner.  On 83 minutes, we appeared to have won the game as Smith squared the ball to Murray.  I saw the Watford youngster shoot, but my view of the goal was blocked by the crowd in front of me standing up so I was a little late to join in the celebrations as the ball went in to the bottom

Goal celebrations in the Wedlock Stand

Goal celebrations in the Wedlock Stand

corner.  I had just remarked that we didn’t really deserve the lead when we no longer had it, as Emmanuel-Thomas scored at the other end, Burns having beaten Battocchio to set him up.  We tried to regain the lead as Fabbrini broke and played a ball for Deeney, but the defender was quicker to it and the chance was gone.  In the last minute of normal time, a shot from distance came in that was pushed over by Almunia, who was also required to come and punch clear from the corner.  The home side had one final chance to win the game as Osborne met a free-kick with a header, but Almunia was equal to it.  On the final whistle, my first thought was annoyance that I would have to endure that a second time.  It was not an enjoyable game.  I hope that some of the absentees are fit for Saturday or it could be a very difficult afternoon indeed.

A Good Point Against Rangers

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

Despite the tremendous performance and result against Millwall on Boxing Day, the visit of QPR would be a completely different prospect and I approached the game with some trepidation.  The derby nature of this match was indicated by the increased Police presence at the Junction and the huge Met Police van in Shady Lane, which I assume had brought the horses to town.  Pre-match we heard rumours of trouble in the town centre pubs and I was told that there were QPR youngsters chanting in the Rookery concourse but, fortunately, I didn’t witness any trouble either inside or outside the ground.

Team news was of injuries to Anya and Forestieri, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Angella, Doyley, Bellerin, McGugan, Thorne, Murray, Cassetti, Fabbrini and Deeney.

Fabbrini receives a pass

Fabbrini receives a pass

It was the visitors who had the first shot on goal, in the 6th minute, although I use that term loosely as Kranjcar’s attempt almost hit me as it flew into the Rookery.  The Croatian was responsible for the next two shots that I noted: a curler that was easily gathered by Almunia and then another that went wide of the far post.  Watford’s first goal attempt came on 21 minutes as the ball broke to Fabbrini who fed McGugan, but his shot was wayward and didn’t come near to troubling Green.  Then a cross from Cassetti was chested goalwards by Deeney, but was easily caught by Green.  At the other end Hoilett put in a cross which flew over the heads of all gathered in the Watford box.  Soon after, the ball was given away to Kranjcar, but his shot was wide of the target.  Then Fabbrini attempted a

McGugan lines up a free-kick

McGugan lines up a free-kick

run into the QPR box but was met with a robust, but fair, tackle.  Just before the half hour came Watford’s best move of the game so far as Bellerin passed to Deeney who exchanged passes with Murray as they advanced towards the QPR goal.  Murray shot from just outside the box but Green was able to gather the ball safely.  Then there was danger at the other end as Thorne gave the ball away to Hoilett who exchanged passes with Kranjcar who found space to shoot between two Watford defenders, but his shot was just wide.  Next Phillips skipped through the defence but shot wide of the near post.  On 38 minutes, Angella was booked for knocking Kranjcar over in the centre circle.  With five minutes remaining, Carroll delivered a dangerous cross into the box which Almunia parried, the ball bounced about dangerously in the resulting melee and was cleared after which Almunia required treatment.  There was one final goal chance in time added on as Phillips played a low cross in from the right towards Hoilett, but Doyley was on hand to stop the shot, the ball reached Carroll on the left, who crossed it in again, but Hoilett could not connect and we reached half-time goalless.  It hadn’t been pretty, but both teams were defending effectively.

Angella on the ball

Angella on the ball

At the start of the second half, Thorne released McGugan, who was battling the attentions of two defenders as he shot from distance way over the bar.  Almunia was called into action to punch a shot from Phillips clear.  On 51 minutes, Deeney and Fabbrini exchanged passes, the Italian shot goalwards but Green was down to gather the ball.  On 58 minutes, there was a great move down the pitch ending with Deeney putting a through ball to Cassetti who hit a cross off Assou-Ekotto to win a corner.  Angella connected with McGugan’s corner, but his header was over the bar.  On the hour, Phillips was booked for a foul on Fabbrini.  It was good to see the referee take some action at last as he had let a lot go, including some ridiculously blatant pushes.  Barton was then booked as he took Thorne down, although from the other end of the ground it appeared that Thorne

Acuna's appeals fall on deaf ears

Acuna’s appeals fall on deaf ears

fell over him and that booking looked rather harsh, even if it was Barton.  With 20 minutes to go, Johnson replaced Carroll.  On his first foray into the box, he was accompanied by Angella and Doyley who gave him no space to cross or shoot so the ball went out for a goal kick.  Benayoun was then replaced by O’Neil.  Johnson was on the attack again soon after as he ran on to a through ball from Kranjcar, but he was flagged offside.  More substitutions followed as Acuna replaced Fabbrini and Hoilett made way for Traore.  Soon after, McGugan attempted an audacious back heel, but Deeney wasn’t expecting it and stopped his run so the chance was gone.  Then Murray unleashed a long range shot that took a deflection, but Green was behind it.  Acuna was then booked for what appeared to be

Jostling for position at a corner

Jostling for position at a corner

a tame foul.  A spell of attack and counter-attack finished with a back header by Phillips that was well wide of the target.  Then Johnson met a cross from Phillips with a header that flew wide, but the linesman had his flag raised anyway.  With 4 minutes remaining, Battocchio replaced Murray.  In time added on, a free-kick by Barton was deflected into the side netting.  The resultant corner was punched clear by Almunia.  The final action was a cross from Deeney on the run which flew well wide.

It has to be said that this game did not deliver much in the way of entertainment, but it was a very pleasing point and I came away immensely impressed by our defensive efforts against a team that will likely win automatic promotion this season.