Tag Archives: Mario Suarez

Lorient visit the Vic

Mazzarri in the Watford dugout for the first time

Mazzarri in the Watford dugout for the first time

When I saw my niece on Friday night, I found that she had completely forgotten that we had a game on Saturday (she was thrilled when she was told) and, when she asked who we were playing, her Dad (a Hammer) told her it was Leyton Orient.  I pointed out that our friends from East London had an appointment in the league, so we were actually playing a French side.

The walk to the West Herts for our first game in August always puts a spring in my step.  When I arrived, it was lovely to see a gathering of familiar faces plus a special guest appearance of “Tim from Norway” who had secured his seat due to the kindness of someone on WML.  There is always that comforting feeling of being home again.

On arrival at the ground, I headed for the Hornet Shop, which was crowded, but I managed to buy the new shirt (it is growing on me).  The frontage for the new shop on the corner looks impressive and should ease congestion such that I may even, on occasion, go in there on the day of a first team league game.

Cathcart on the ball

Cathcart on the ball

It was rather strange to be entering the turnstiles of the SEJ stand.  In contrast to the £3 that was being charged for programmes at Loftus Road last week, we entered the ground to find people handing out free programmes.  There wasn’t much in the way of content, but it was a nice touch and included an introduction to the new signings.  When the starting line-up was announced, I was a bit surprised to see that, again, it was the old faces included.  The starting XI was Gomes, Cathcart, Prödl, Britos, Anya, Watson, Guedioura, Capoue, Holebas, Deeney and Ighalo.  Again we started with a 3-5-2 formation.  The lads emerged from the tunnel into bright sunlight and, as he took his place in the dugout, our new head coach, Mazzarri, waved to the fans and was warmly applauded.

The game started brightly enough for the Hornets who had a couple of early chances without testing the Lorient goalkeeper.  First Deeney headed the ball down for Capoue who unleashed a shot that flew over the bar.  Then Capoue played in Ighalo whose shot was blocked by Touré.  Off the pitch, Harry Hornet was spotted trying to get the empty Rookery and GT stands singing.  It loses a lot in translation, but it was very funny.

Celebration after Deeney's penalty

Celebration after Deeney’s penalty

Just before the half hour mark, there was a drinks break for the players.  I must admit that, with the sun beating down on us in the stand, I was rather envious as we could have done with one ourselves.  As play resumed, Cathcart was replaced by Success and the formation changed to 4-3-3 with Anya and Holebas dropping into the defence and Success joining Deeney and Ighalo up front.  After the restart, the visitors had their best chance of the game so far, as Moukandjo latched on to a through ball and hit a shot that required a good save from Gomes.  Success had his first sight of goal as he cut in from the left but shot straight at Lecomte.  The French side should have broken the deadlock with a cracking shot from Cafú but he directed it straight at Gomes who blocked with his hands.  By this point, the danger from the sun had led to neighbours in the stand sharing sun cream.  Factor 50 was liberally applied.  On the pitch, Capoue had another shot from outside the area, this one was on target, but was easily saved.  Watford’s breakthrough came in time added on at the end of the half as Holebas tried to break into the box and ran into a defender.  I thought he played for the penalty, but the referee pointed to the spot.  Deeney stepped up and blasted the shot into the top corner and we went into the break with the Hornets a goal up.

At half time much of the crowd headed for the concourse to get out of the sun.  Those of us who stayed in the stand were treated to a lovely and very welcome cooling breeze.

Ighalo delighted at scoring

Ighalo delighted at scoring

Watford had a decent chance to increase the lead early in the second half as Success went on a run down the left and put in a lovely cross which, sadly, evaded all of the players in the box.  But the Hornets were two up soon after as Capoue played a gorgeous through ball to Ighalo who only had the keeper to beat.  I was a bit concerned that Odion had a bit too much time to think about his shot, but he finished brilliantly with a chip over the keeper.  The visitors pulled one back soon after from a free kick.  As they lined up to take it, there was a comment from behind me that “if this goes in, it’ll be a good goal.” He wasn’t wrong, the apparent taker ran over the ball allowing Touré to arrow a shot past Gomes.  It was an excellent strike that was applauded by everyone in the ground.  Lorient equalized on 69 minutes as Mesloud played a ball over the Watford defence for Philippoteaux to run on to and prod past Gomes.  Late in the game, Vydra was introduced to replace Deeney to rapturous applause from the Watford fans.  The Hornets had a late chance to win the game with a cracking shot from Doucouré that was saved by Lecomte, but pre-season was to finish with honours even.

Success strikes

Success strikes

It had been an enjoyable game, without setting the World alight.  Success had the best game that I had seen from him, probably due to the fact that he was playing upfront rather than in the midfield.  The guys sitting next to me were impressed and commented that he should start, but they were shouted down by a youngster in front who angrily told them that Success should be brought on to change the game.  An interesting perspective, but I agree with the first opinion.  It was also good to see Ighalo score.  He is a player that feeds off confidence, so that lovely goal can’t have done him any harm.  Special mention must also go to Emma Saunders who did a tremendous job with names of the Lorient team and substitutes.

The season starts next week at Southampton.  It will be very interesting to see whether Mazzarri starts with a 3-5-2 or the 4-3-3 that looked more promising in this game.  We have a very hard start, so I can only hope that Watford fans will be patient and get behind the team.  If they don’t, the next few weeks will be very trying indeed.

More Joy from Rattigan than the Hornets

Gomes in a kit reminiscent of Steve Sherwood

Gomes in a kit reminiscent of Steve Sherwood

As much as I love both pre-season games and Austria, the late announcement of the fixtures, the fact that they were in the middle of nowhere and a date with the Galway Arts Festival meant that I decided against travelling, so it has been a couple of weeks since I last saw Watford play at Stevenage, a game that was very enjoyable indeed.

On our last visit to Loftus Road, it took a huge diplomatic initiative to get our party into a pub near the ground.  Apart from Pete and Julie who, when asked to produce a QPR season ticket, looked baffled and said they just wanted to have lunch and were escorted to the bar.  So, for this visit, we decided on a venue further back along the Hammersmith and City line.  It was a lovely pub with a pleasant beer garden, decent beer and food.  But I doubt that we will return due to the terrible service at the bar and the meals attracting a 12.5% service charge for someone to deliver the plates to the table.  It was a good thing that the company was so delightful.

I have stopped buying programmes at away games, but usually make an exception for non-league or lower league clubs who could do with the cash.  QPR don’t fall into that category but, had I been tempted, the fact that they were charging £3 for a few pages would have confirmed my decision.

Suarez on the ball

Suarez on the ball

Given the number of new players that have been drafted in over the Summer, I was a little surprised that only Doucouré was included in the starting line-up which was Gomes; Nyom, Cathcart, Britos; Anya, Doucouré, Suárez, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.  This was my first opportunity to see the players wearing the new home shirt.  I can’t say that it appealed to me on first viewing.  It is very yellow, which is no bad thing, but rather shapeless, so making some of our more stocky players look as if they have been over indulging during their break.  I saw a couple of fans wearing the shirt and it just didn’t look new or original.  But the most interesting talking point of the day regarding kit was the fact that the QPR goalie, Smithies, was in all black, as were the referees.  I was rather confused when I first saw the referee pick up the ball.  Since when has that been allowed?

The game did not start well for the Hornets who could have been two goals down in the first five minutes.  First, Britos lost the ball to Gladwin, who blazed over the bar, provoking chants of “That’s why you’re Championship” from some among the Watford crowd who may have had some pause when, a minute later, Polter headed against the bar.

Juan Camilo Zuniga

Juan Camilo Zuniga

A shot from Chery that flew wide of the near post provoked more derision from the Watford fans, but they were silenced on 20 minutes as Polter hit a lovely shot from just inside the box that beat Gomes.  The goal spurred the Hornets to their first decent goal attempt as Holebas cut the ball back to Deeney, but a QPR defender put him off enough to ensure that he shot past the near post.  On the half hour, there was a rare moment of quality from the Hornets as Doucouré found Capoue who curled a shot wide of the far post.  In the dying minutes of the half, Ighalo met a cross from Anya with a header that flew over the bar and, almost immediately, the Nigerian had another chance with a shot that was cleared off the line.

Despite the late burst of action from the Hornets, the half time verdict was that it had been a shocking display.  Thankfully my mood was improved by bumping into Olly Wicken and having a chat about his new Hornet Heaven podcast.  A request by this Luddite for download instructions was granted and followed up with a link in a tweet, so I now have all four episodes lined up for my commute to work this week (https://audioboom.com/boos/4865618-s1-e1-the-turnaround).

Christian Kabasele

Christian Kabasele

At the start of the second half, we had the opportunity to see a couple of the new recruits as Kabasele and Zuniga joined Amrabat in replacing Nyom, Doucouré and Anya.  There was a lovely move between Amrabat and Zuniga at the start of the half that finished with a cross that was cleared just before Deeney could connect.  But it was a false dawn as we never really looked like getting an equaliser.  The introduction of Pantilimon, Prödl, Watson, Success and Guedioura during the second half had little impact on the proceedings.  The home side increased their lead on 82 minutes as the Watford defence went missing allowing a corner to fly across the box before it was headed home by Washington.  The Hornets finally got the pulses racing in the last minute of the game as Guedioura jinked into the box and unleashed a shot that took a decent save from Smithies to keep out of the net.  Deeney connected with the rebound, but Smithies caught his header.  The final whistle went to some boos in the away end that were as half-hearted as the Watford performance.

At the end of the game, more than one person wished me luck in finding anything to include in a report.  While the results of pre-season games are irrelevant, you do hope to see a team and plan for the upcoming season start to emerge, but this game was totally uninformative.  In fact, we seemed to have gone backwards from the performance against Stevenage, even taking the better quality of the opposition into account.

So back to the pub to meet up with a couple from our party who had left early and so missed the best Watford move of the game.  After the post-mortem I went on to the National Theatre to see The Deep Blue Sea.  The fact that a tale of heartbreak and betrayal lifted my spirits after the match tells you all you need to know about both performances.

Capoue Breaks His Duck

A welcome to Stevenage in the Ladies

A welcome to Stevenage in the Ladies

Pre-season continued on Thursday night in Stevenage.  I was delighted when my final meeting of the day finished early, so I was able to make a quick getaway.  Not so pleased to find that my card wouldn’t work in the ticket machines and the trains were delayed.  Thankfully, a late running train left at the time that I had intended to leave and I was in the pub in Stevenage in plenty of time to meet my companions and have a swift pint or two.  After a dissection of last season and the Euros, we left for the ground.  Having thought that we had left plenty of time before kick-off, we were a bit shocked to arrive at the turnstiles to see huge queues and realize that having pre purchased our tickets was not going to speed our entry to the stadium.  I hate being outside the ground and hearing the whistle go for kick-off, but we were soon inside and took our place in a packed away stand.

Catching up on the team news, I noted that the conspiracy theorists would have been pleased (disappointed?) to see Deeney in the starting line-up replacing Vydra.  The starting XI was Gomes, Nyom, Britos, Hoban, Amrabat, Capoue, Suarez, Berghuis, Holebas, Deeney and Ighalo.

The first half was standard pre-season fare, although Watford did create the best of the chances.  Ighalo had a couple of shots cleared off the line, one of which had he and Deeney in a long discussion with the referee trying to convince him that a hand had kept the ball out of the net.  Capoue also had a couple of decent chances but, in usual fashion, the shots didn’t trouble the goalkeeper.  The referee was allowing the players to get away with some rather robust tackles, which had the consequence that the challenges were getting worse and worse as the half went on, culminating in a nasty looking scissor challenge from Berghuis on Fox that resulted in a spot of handbags.  It was the home side that had the last chance of the half with a shot from Godden that flew just over the bar.

Capoue congratulated on his first goal for the Hornets

Capoue congratulated on his first goal for the Hornets

Watford made four changes at the start of the second half, bringing Arlauskis, Anya, Doucouré and Guedioura on for Gomes, Amrabat, Suárez and Berghuis.  The visitors opened the scoring early in the second half.  I was quite glad that I wasn’t sitting behind the goal at this point as seeing Capoue shape to shoot would likely have meant that I would have ducked and missed the goal.  Instead I was in prime position to see him curl a gorgeous shot past Jones in the Stevenage goal.  The hearty rendition of his song stumbled a bit when it got to “Quique’s man”, but we recovered.  The second half was terrific entertainment.  Watford had chances to increase the lead as Ighalo hit the bar and Deeney was left smiling ruefully as his shot came back off the far post.  Sinclair went on a lovely run before crossing for Deeney, who was frustrated again as Chris Day, who had come on as a substitute, blocked the shot with his feet.  Finding out that Chris is now a veteran of 40 makes me feel very old indeed.  I remember a very young Chris presenting me with a cheque on the pitch when I won the Hornets lottery.  It is very hard to believe that was nearly 20 years ago.  It wasn’t all Watford and Pett had a decent chance to level the score with a shot from the edge of the area, but Arlauskis was equal to it.  The Hornets made certain of the victory in the last minute of the game when Sinclair headed home a lovely cross from Abdi.

Mazzarri expressing his frustration

Mazzarri expressing his frustration

So a perfect pre-season game.  A very entertaining performance on a lovely Summer evening with a couple of goals to savour and a chance to become more familiar with some of the new boys.  The more I see of Doucouré, the more I like him.  He has described himself as a box to box midfielder, which was every apparent in this game and he has a lovely touch.  Sinclair again looked lively and, this time, found the net.  But man of the match was Capoue who put in a typically assured performance topped off with a lovely goal.  Now that he has broken that duck, I hope he is a regular on the scoresheet.  It is early days but this team is shaping up to be quite formidable, which bodes well for the new season.

Mazzarri Braves the Wilds of Woking

Troy and Don discussing pre-season

Troy and Don discussing pre-season

I know that a lot of people have no interest in pre-season friendlies, but I love them.  It is a chance to catch up with old friends, get familiar with current players’ new hair styles and have a first look at any new players.  It is also a chance to watch your team in a game when the result doesn’t really matter, so you can just enjoy yourself.

When I checked Woking FC’s website for directions to the ground, I was a little perturbed to see a statement in bold text stating that, for personal safety reasons, they recommended that ‘unaccompanied women and children’ did not attempt the 15 minute walk from the railway station to the ground but took a taxi instead.  I pondered the danger while remembering walks back to hotels in Burnley and Doncaster after evening games and decided that I would take my chances in Woking.

I am pleased to say that my walk through leafy Surrey passed without incident and, on arrival at the ground, I heard my name called and turned to see Dee and Mike who had just arrived.  When we passed through the turnstiles we spotted Don, Trond and Gavin and all was right with the World.  Prior to kick-off, Don and co. were joined by Troy Deeney who Don quizzed about the pre-season tour.  Troy was not playing because of a knock but said he’d done three training sessions that day.  As always, he was very willing to chat and pose for photos.  One guy asked if he was going to stay.  “I’ve just signed a new contract, what more can I do?”

Poke saving from Britos

Poke saving from Britos

Before the teams were announced, I wondered how many players I would recognize, but the starting line-up contained no newcomers and no new hair styles as Gomes, Nyom, Britos, Hoban, Anya, Capoue, Suarez, Berghuis, Amrabat, Ighalo and Vydra, lined up in a 3-5-2 formation.

We were stationed in the large stand behind the goal that Watford attacked in the first half and, after a quiet start to the game, there was suddenly a flurry of activity in front of us as Britos twice met Berghuis corners with headers, the first of which was cleared off the line, the second saved by the Woking keeper, Poke.  Suarez then tested the keeper with a volley from distance which required a decent save to deny the Spaniard.  Ighalo was the next to threaten from a corner, but I watch goalbound headers from Ighalo more in hope than expectation, so was not surprised to see Poke make the save.

Congratulating Berghuis on his goal

Congratulating Berghuis on his goal

The Hornets took the lead on 20 minutes as Anya cut the ball back to Berghuis whose shot took a deflection and ended up in the back of the net off the gloves of Poke.  It had been all Watford to this point so it was slightly irritating when the home side equalized soon after.  They won a free kick in a dangerous position, Gomes got his hand to the initial shot, but the loose ball was turned in.  I must admit that, at the time, I was rather distracted by the beautiful Red Kite that was soaring over the field, I hope that the same was not the case with the Watford defence.  The visitors had an excellent chance to regain the lead as Ighalo played a one-two with Capoue but his shot was well over the target.  The pitch had been cutting up rather badly so we were then treated to the sight of Capoue on groundsman duty, replacing the divots.  Les Simmons would have been impressed.  Ighalo tried to meet a Berghuis cross with a spectacular shot and missed completely.  In the last minute of the half, Woking had another free kick in a dangerous position but, with no Kite to help, it missed the target.

Suarez, Hoban and Britos

Suarez, Hoban and Britos

The start of the second half saw six substitutions with Arlauskis, Guedioura, Watson and Oularé coming on and a first chance to see Doucouré and Sinclair in Watford shirts.  Sinclair made a lively start as he turned in the box and forced a save before heading a cross from Anya over the bar.  Then Doucouré had a chance with a shot from distance.  Mazzarri made further substitutions during the half with Holebas coming on for Amrabat and Hoban replaced by Success.  The enthusiasm to see the young Nigerian play was slightly tempered by the fact that he was wearing Lloydy’s no 12 shirt (sob!)  Arlauskis was called into action to deal with a cracking shot from Kretzschmar that he parried with both hands.  An assured save that was in contrast to much of his performance.  His tendency to come charging out of goal to intercept balls that the defence is already dealing with was not doing my delicate nerves a lot of good.  Late in the game Britos made a great saving tackle that prevented a goal opportunity for the home side.  Soon after, the final substitution saw the Uruguayan replaced by Charlie Rowan.  The last action of the game was a weak shot from Thorburn that was easily saved by Arlauskis and the game ended in a draw.

Oulare and Doucoure

Oulare and Doucoure

It had been a game of two halves.  The first had been very enjoyable with Watford peppering the Woking goal and being frustrated by a combination of a decent performance from Poke and the 11 men lined up to stop them.  It was a shame that we didn’t make more of the chances, but it was a good run out.  In contrast, the second half was scrappy featuring a number of players who had only met the previous Monday and it showed.  Of the new players, Sinclair looked lively and fashioned a couple of chances.  Doucouré also showed up well, although a few times when he appeared to have an opportunity to shoot, he passed to Success instead.  The Nigerian was given less time to impress and, given that the overall performance was somewhat chaotic when he came on, it was difficult to form an impression.  It was lovely to see Tommy Hoban back in action.  Ighalo and Vydra were both in frustrating mode, although Ighalo had the better of the chances that were created.

As we left the ground, the players who had played in the first half were milling around the car park.  It was a chance for photos with a group who were all on good form.  Ighalo was in a particularly good mood, although his footwear was decidedly dodgy particularly as it was in Luton colours.  After a while, the second half team emerged to get on the team bus.  Last to emerge was Mazzarri, who I was surprised to see surrounded by stewards although a “Welcome to Watford” was greeted with a smile and “Thank-you,” which was repeated by the man that was identified as his translator, just in case I hadn’t understood the first time.

And so the build up to the new season starts.  Who knows what joys and sorrows we have to come, but I am really looking forward to finding out.

Goodbye Señor Flores and Thank-you

Deeney apologises to girl in the Rookery

Deeney apologises to girl in the Rookery

At the start of the season, I doubt that any Watford fan would have believed that if we came into the last game of the season with nothing to play for, it would be because we had already secured safety.  This should have been a reason for celebration.  But the excitement of the first half of the season has been contrasted with a rather dull second half.  It seemed that, once we hit 37 points, the players switched off.  Despite that, Flores made few changes and often played players out of position, although I would argue that he chose his best team as, when alternatives were drafted in, they rarely added anything (apart from the odd Berghuis cameo).  It has to be said that when the transfer window came and went with no competition brought in for Ighalo and Deeney, and an embarrassment of riches in central midfield, the second half of the season was rather inevitable.  But the sad consequence of this was that, after stories emerged before the semi-final casting the future of Flores into question, it was finally announced on Friday that he would be leaving the club at the end of the season.  Despite the fact that this announcement was expected and that I was still annoyed after the non-performance at Norwich, this news upset me greatly.  Pre match discussions indicated a split in opinion among the fans regarding the departure of our head coach.  However everyone wished Flores well and wanted to give him a good send off.

There was some idle speculation that Flores would go for broke in the last game, but I found it rather reassuring that he stuck with his usual suspects.  He had made three changes from Norwich with Prödl, Aké and Guedioura in for Nyom, Anya and Suárez and was playing Cathcart at right back.  So, the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Prödl, Britos, Cathcart, Jurado, Watson, Guedioura, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo.

When I arrived at the ground, my sister told me that Deeney had been in the crowd near them.  A ball that he had kicked in the warm-up had hit a young girl so immediately he came into the stand to make sure she was OK and give her a shirt.  A really lovely thing to do.

Cathcart challenged

Cathcart challenged

Pre-match there were 1881 banners for Quique, Gino Pozzo and Troy Deeney, but I still don’t know which one was over my head.  The crowd were enthusiastically chanting for Flores, which was very pleasing.

There was a wonderful move early in the game involving Deeney, Ighalo and Abdi which finished with Almen shooting just wide of the far post.  Soon after Jurado found Ighalo who just missed the target.  Abdi threatened again, evading defenders while dribbling along the top of the box before curling a shot wide.  From a corner, Prödl’s header was blocked, the ball broke to Abdi but, again, the shot was blocked.  Jurado then tried his luck with a shot from distance that was caught by Pickford in the Sunderland goal.  Sunderland’s first venture into the Watford box came on the half hour and was nearly a disaster for the Hornets as a cross from Watmore was met by Britos who turned it over the bar when it looked as though he may have threatened Gomes in goal.  Ighalo received a ball from Abdi before executing a trademark scoop but, sadly, he shot wide of the far post.  Abdi had a shot blocked before Ake’s follow-up was saved by Pickford.  There were shouts for a penalty as Ighalo was wrestled in the box, but nothing was given.

Deeney on the ball

Deeney on the ball

As we reached the last 10 minutes of the first half, Sunderland had their first real chance of the game as Rodwell shot just wide of the far post.  The visitors took the lead a couple of minutes later as Prödl slipped allowing Lens to shoot, Gomes pulled off a decent save, but the ball wasn’t cleared and Lens was able to cross for Rodwell to tap in at the far post.  It seemed unfair for the Hornets to go behind following Sunderland’s first real shot of the game and it nearly got worse a couple of minutes later as Watmore latched on to a through ball from N’Doye and finished under Gomes but, thankfully the linesman had raised the flag for offside.  At this point the Sunderland fans were chanting “Leicester City, we’re coming for you.”  We seemed to want to put ourselves in trouble as Jurado gave the ball away and N’Doye went on a run but he was stopped by a great tackle from Prödl.  There were boos at half time, which was harsh as Watford had dominated all but the last 10 minutes of the half.

At half time, there was a very emotional presentation as Gina Van Dort, who survived the Tunisia terrorist attack in which her husband, Chris Dyer, was killed, made an appearance on the pitch.  Her words were read out by Tim.  She said that this was her first game of the season and she was determined to make it as she had attended a game every season since she and Chris became season ticket holders.  This was their wedding anniversary and they have a brick in the lower GT stand that commemorates the date.  She appreciated all the support that had been given to her since the attack.  She then said a few words of thanks herself and was greeted with a tremendous ovation for her bravery.

Congratulating Proedl

Congratulating Proedl

Flores made a trademark substitution at half time bringing Paredes on for Cathcart.  The Hornets equalized three minutes into the half as a corner from Guedioura was headed home by Prödl.  A cracking strike just in front of us, which cheered us up no end.  Sadly the good mood in the home stands was short lived as Deeney was flattened following a corner, play was waved on and the counter attack finished with Watmore finding Lens who finished past Gomes to restore the lead for the visitors.  Watford came close to getting an equaliser soon after as Aké unleashed a shot that had to be tipped to safety by Pickford.  From the corner Britos headed just over the bar.  Then Jurado found himself in space but his shot was awful.  The Spaniard turned provider as he cut the ball back to Guedioura who shot over.  There was another scare for the Hornets as a free-kick was headed home by N’Doye but, again, it was disallowed for offside.  Watford’s fortunes improved when Paredes crossed for Deeney, he headed the ball back to Jurado who was sandwiched between two defenders and the referee pointed to the spot.  Having learned my lesson at West Ham, I put my camera away as Deeney stepped up and was delighted to see him send Pickford the wrong way as he buried the ball to the keeper’s left.

Ighalo congratulates Deeney after the penalty

Ighalo congratulates Deeney after the penalty

Watford’s second substitution saw Abdi make way for Suárez.  There was a very promising move by the Hornets as Jurado intercepted and played a lovely through ball for Deeney who was tripped on the edge of the box.  Kevin Friend consulted his linesman and waved play on.  A terrible decision.  While there was a break in play due to an injury to Yedlin, Troy went to pick up a water bottle from the side of the pitch and seemed to be having a discussion with the lino about recent decisions.  The Rookery helpfully sang ‘Knock him out.’  Troy laughed and shook his head.  After play restarted, Jurado released Aké whose cross was too close to the keeper.  The only booking of the game went to Guedioura for a clumsy challenge on Honeyman.  With 10 minutes to go, Flores brought Amrabat on for Jurado, who left the field to cheers after putting in a good performance.  Suárez had a chance to take the lead for the Hornets, but his shot was well over.  Ighalo battled well on one flank to keep the ball before crossing for Guedioura who also beat a couple of players before putting in a really disappointing shot.  Sunderland had a good chance to regain the lead, but Gomes came off his line to stop Watmore.  Watford looked the most likely to steal the three points in the final minutes but were unable to test the keeper.  The best chance came when Suárez found Ighalo in the middle of the box, but his first touch was poor, and when he turned and shot there was a Sunderland defender in the way.  There was a final chance when Watson found Guedioura, but his volley was wild and way off target.

Goodbye and Thank you, Senor Flores

Goodbye and Thank you, Senor Flores

The final whistle went signalling a draw in an entertaining game.  It would have been nice to send Flores off with a win, but the draw meant that we retained 13th position.  When we had our prediction competition at the start of the season, my entry was 15th, but that was me being ultra-positive.  We waited behind to cheer the players on their lap of honour.  For a few weeks now, people have been asking whether Flores was waving goodbye at the end of the game.  He does that every week but, on this occasion, he was waving goodbye, which saddened me greatly.  But you couldn’t help wondering who else had been seen for the last time in a Watford shirt.  Certainly, as Deeney videoed the crowd singing his name, I couldn’t help but wonder if he would be on his way.  The final word at Vicarage Road this season went to Troy who said, “This is all about these guys <the fans> and the gaffer.”  That sums it up for me.  This has been an incredible season of ups and downs.  There are moments I will never forget with the home games against Liverpool and West Ham and the FA Cup tie at Arsenal being high on that list.  It is very sad that the season has ended on such a low note, but I am still eagerly writing the pre-season games into my calendar.  When are the fixtures out??!!

 

Norwich Down but No Thanks to Watford

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

In contrast to the blazing sunshine of Sunday, I arrived in Norwich on a very muggy afternoon.  I had a quick wander around the town and then headed for the pre-match pub to meet up with our much depleted party and the Norfolk ‘Orns.  The pre-match beers in the sunshine, were very enjoyable and we had the added pleasure of cheering the team bus as it passed on its way to the ground.  I must admit that, of the three teams still under threat, Norwich were my first choice for the drop, but I did have to feel sorry for the bloke in the pub who was begging Watford fans for mercy.

When we reached the turnstiles, we encountered a sniffer dog.  I know that it is a no-no, but the hound was so adorable that I asked the handler whether I could pet it.  She asked me, in return, if I would do her a favour and give the dog something to find.  She explained that, when the dogs don’t find anything for a while, they get a bit bored and she wanted to make sure that her charge was still paying attention.  So I was given a scent to put in my pocket and asked to come back in again.  Once I was assured that this plant would not lead to my arrest, I did as she asked and, sure enough, the hound leapt up at me, identified the scent and was suitably rewarded and I got a doggy cuddle.

Team news was only the one change with Nyom coming in at right back and Prödl making way for Cathcart in the centre of defence.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Jurado, Watson, Suarez, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo.  It was not a selection to quell the doubts of those calling for Quique’s head.

Celebrating the first goal

Celebrating the first goal

The travelling Watford fans started goading their counterparts early on with chants of “We are staying up.”  And the game started rather well for the visitors as Troy had an early shot from distance that the Norwich keeper, Ruddy, just kept out.  We took the lead on 11 minutes as a long ball from Britos was headed down by Deeney to Ighalo, Ruddy smothered his shot, but the ball broke to Deeney who finished into the empty net.  At this stage, it looked as though Norwich could be in for a comprehensive defeat to send them down.  That couldn’t have been further from the truth as, a couple of minutes later, an innocuous looking Norwich attack finished with Redmond exchanging passes with Naismith before scoring through the legs of Gomes.  The home fans started singing “The Great Escape” at this point.  Unbelievably, the home side were 2-1 up soon afterwards as Watford failed to clear the ball allowing Redmond to hit the post and the rebound was buried by Mbokani.  Watford tried to hit back with a ball into the box that was gathered by Ruddy with Deeney challenging.  There was an immediate counter attack which finished with a shot from Redmond that flew just wide.  More lax defending from Watford allowed Redmond to hit the post again, on this occasion the follow-up from Olsson was kept out by a smart save from Gomes.  At this point, there were boos ringing out in the away end.

Watson on the ball

Watson on the ball

Watford gifted Norwich a third in the 37th minute as Watson gave the ball away, Jurado failed to tackle when given the chance and Nyom slipped allowing the ball to run through to Hoolahan, whose cross looked unlikely to trouble the defence until Cathcart intervened to power it past Gomes.  You’d have thought that the Watford team had a bet on Norwich to stay up.  But, soon after the goal, it became apparent that that was out of their hands as a chant of “1-0 to the Sunderland” went up in the away end indicating Sunderland’s breakthrough against Everton.  This was followed by “We are Premier League”.  Hmm, not on the evidence of tonight’s showing.  Watford attacked again as Watson crossed for Deeney but his shot was saved by Ruddy, and the flag was up anyway.  The travelling Hornets continued to console themselves by goading the opposition.  This time with “Burton Albion on a Tuesday night,” which sounded rather appealing to me.  Norwich had a couple more chances before half time.  First Hoolahan played a through ball to Naismith whose shot was saved by Gomes.  Then the Watford keeper was called into action again to stop a long range shot from Hoolahan.  The half time whistle went to boos from the away end.  I never boo my team, but this was one occasion when I had sympathy with those who did.

At half time, I went to chat with Don.  You know that things are not going well when even Don can’t find anything positive to say.  Although he did manage a complaint about the ref, so I knew he was OK.  Our summary of the first half was that the majority of the Watford players were on the beach.

Deeney crosses for the second Watford goal

Deeney crosses for the second Watford goal

Flores made a change at half time bringing Aké on for Nyom.  There was a bright start to the second period as Anya played a ball down the wing to Deeney who cut back for Igahlo to score his fifteenth league goal of the season, which was also his first in the league since January.  The Watford fans greeted the strike with, “We’re gonna win 4-3.”  Flores made his second substitution to loud cheers as Jurado made way for Berghuis.  Norwich nearly did us a favour as a long ball from Abdi was headed back towards Ighalo by Deeney and Bennett’s attempt to clear flew just over the bar.  As it happened, it wouldn’t have counted as he was deemed to have been fouled by the Nigerian.  Norwich scored their fourth just before the hour mark as Redmond played a through ball to Mbokani, who dinked it over Gomes.  The Norwich fans were doing an impressive job of supporting their team despite knowing that Sunderland were three goals up against Everton, so their fate was sealed.  Watford attempted to hit back as Berghuis found Abdi but the shot was just wide of the far post.  Watson was booked for a frustrated tackle on Naismith and, soon after, made way for Guedioura.  While Norwich’s first change saw Brady coming on for Hoolahan.  The home fans continued their impressive support with a chant of “One Alex Neil”.

Berghuis, Guedioura and Abdi discuss a free kick

Berghuis, Guedioura and Abdi discuss a free kick

An extended period of possession for the Hornets finished with Abdi exchanging passes with Berghuis before hitting a volley straight at Ruddy.  I thought that Norwich should have been awarded a penalty as Naismith was tripped in the box, but the referee waved play on.  Soon after, the Scotsman was replaced by Odjidja-Ofoe and Jarvis came on for the excellent Redmond.  Late in the game, Aké was booked for a stupid tackle on Mbokani.  There was a great chance for Watford to strike back after Abdi was fouled on the edge of the box.  But the ball was placed considerably further back for the free kick and Guedioura hit it into Row Z, summing up the evening.  A cross into the Norwich box was met by the head of Anya but he could only direct it back to Ruddy.  Then Deeney had one last chance to cut the deficit with a shot from outside the area that Ruddy spilled towards the goal, but managed to recover.  In the last minute I, again, thought that we had conceded a penalty, but the trip was outside the area and the free kick was straight into the Watford wall.  It was a relief when the final whistle went.

Ighalo

Ighalo

I usually take defeats in my stride and try to take positives from any game.  But my patience ran out last night.  The dedicated souls who travelled to Norwich took time off work, spent a lot of money on travel, tickets and, in many cases, hotels and were rewarded with an abject performance from a bunch of lads who looked like they were on holiday.  I can take being beaten by a better team, but not such a sub-par performance from players who are so much better than that.   I was so irate that, as Britos came over to offer his shirt to a fan I found myself shouting “It’s your pay packet you should be giving us, not your shirt”.  To be fair, the young girl who went home with the shirt was very happy indeed.  The most shocking aspect of the evening was the performance of the defence, which has been excellent for most of the season, but played like clowns on the evening.  Even Gomes had a very rare off day.  Deeney was the only player to come out of the game with any credit.  I’m sure I will calm down by Sunday and, of course, I will be at Vicarage Road to support the lads in the last game of what has been a very successful season.  I just hope they end on a high.

A Better Performance at Anfield

Justice for the 96

Justice for the 96

Liverpool’s progression to the semi-final of the Europa League meant that our trip to Anfield was delayed to Sunday.  Thankfully, I had bought refundable train tickets, so was able to reschedule with no hassle.  It also meant that I had a Saturday afternoon free to see The Caretaker at the Old Vic which I had missed (slept through) after watching the U18s lose in their play-off a couple of weeks before.  The play was marvellous, Timothy Spall absolutely brilliant, and it made a lovely start to the weekend.

The train journey north seemed overly leisurely with a number of stops at intermediate stations to remain on schedule, so I was happy finally to arrive in Liverpool.  Even better to find that the pre-match pub was pleasantly empty, so I joined the advance party and was soon happily sat with good beer, a nice lunch and wonderful company.

The build-up to this match was oddly devoid of discussions of the home game against Liverpool, which seemed like a distant memory.  That was an amazing game and, sadly, our league form since has been rather poor, meaning that the achievements of this season have been overshadowed by the recent disappointments.

Team news was that Flores had made one change from the Villa game, bringing Prödl in for Paredes, meaning that Cathcart moved to the right back position.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Prödl, Britos, Cathcart, Jurado, Watson, Suarez, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo.  The inclusion of three centre backs did not go down well with many in the pre-match pub, but I’d trust Cathcart anywhere across the back.

The Kop pre-game

The Kop pre-game

We got on the bus to the ground with some friendly Liverpool fans and were dropped off to meet the rest of our party who had driven directly to the ground and visited the Fan Zone to pass the time.  As we waited at the away turnstiles, we saw the East Anglian Horns with a banner celebrating the final achievement of justice for the Hillsborough 96.  Well done to all involved in the banner for paying tribute to their fellow fans.

Prior to kick off, the rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” made the hairs on the back of the neck stand up.

Watford had the first shot on goal as Ighalo made an audacious attempt to lob Mignolet that was only just over the bar.  The visitors had another chance to take the lead as Ighalo played the ball out to Anya who crossed for Abdi whose shot was disappointingly over the bar.  I noticed, at this point, that the entire Kop was sitting down.  It puzzled me for a minute as it was such an unusual sight but, of course, Liverpool fans are passionately anti standing following the Hillsborough disaster.

Ighalo challenges for the ball

Ighalo challenges for the ball

Liverpool’s first chance came on 11 minutes with a shot from Coutinho that was deflected just wide.  At the other end, a cross from Abdi flew just over the head of Jurado.  For the home side, Moreno’s shot from just outside the area flew well over the bar.  Then Anya broke forward and tried a shot from a tight angle which flew over.  There was a very odd interlude as Coutinho prepared to take a free kick.  The referee marked the spot the kick should be taken from with his spray.  The player chose his spot and was told to move the ball.  But, as the referee walked away to mark the line for the defence, Coutinho picked the foam spot up and moved it and the ball to where he wanted to take the kick.  Bizarre.  A ball over the top reached Ighalo in the box, but it was taken off his feet by a defender who conceded a corner.  The corner was cleared to Abdi whose shot was blocked on the line.  Suárez conceded a free kick when he tripped Ibe just outside the box.  Benteke hit both the set piece and his follow-up into the wall.  Liverpool opened the scoring soon afterwards and it was a poor goal to give away.  A cross from Coutinho was knocked down by Benteke into the path of Allen and he finished past Gomes.  Watford almost hit back immediately as Anya found Jurado on the wing, his cross was headed just wide by Ighalo.  It was Watson’s turn next as he made up for his initial mis-kick with a better shot that was blocked.  At the other end Coutinho had two chances: first a shot from distance that was saved by Gomes, then a shot that was blocked by Prödl.  There was a shout for a penalty from the Hornets faithful as Skrtel appeared to be on Deeney’s shoulders in the box, but nothing was given so the Hornets went in at the break a goal down.  Despite the moans at the team selection, it had been a much better performance than of late and we were unfortunate to be behind.  In particular, Ighalo had been much livelier and I lived in hope that he would find his shooting boots in the second half.

Abdi lines up a free kick

Abdi lines up a free kick

The home side had the first chance of the second period as Coutinho played the ball out to Benteke before receiving a return ball which he put wide.  The Brazilian had another chance soon after, but this time his shot was easily saved by Gomes.  Ojo made a dangerous break before shooting high and wide.  Flores made his first substitute on 52 minutes bringing Guedioura on for Suárez.  Ighalo had a great chance to equalize as Anya crossed from the left and Deeney dummied leaving the Nigerian to hit a sweet shot that was heading for the top corner when Mignolet got his fingertips to it to push it behind.  Guedioura was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that flew high and wide.  Flores made a second substitution replacing Jurado with Berghuis.  Britos was the first to find his way into the referee’s book, although he was a bit unfortunate as he was swinging his leg at the ball when Benteke came running in and was kicked.  Liverpool’s first change came on the hour as Firmino replaced Coutinho.  The substitute tried his luck immediately but his shot was comfortably saved by Gomes.  A promising Watford move was stopped by a cynical foul by Flanagan on Abdi.  The Kosovan had a decent chance soon after as, with the Watford fans chanting his name, he hit a free kick just over the bar.  That was his last contribution to the game as he was replaced immediately by Amrabat.

Britos lines up a free kick

Britos lines up a free kick

Deeney did brilliantly to keep the ball while being challenged, his cross reached Ighalo, but the Nigerian couldn’t convert.  Deeney played the ball out to Berghuis whose shot was straight at Mignolet.  The Dutchman was then booked for a late tackle on Ibe.  It had been a lovely spell of play for the Hornets, so it was a great disappointment when Anya gave the ball away and it reached Firmino whose shot beat Gomes, who got a hand to it but couldn’t keep it out.  Again the Hornets tried to hit back as a shot from Ighalo was deflected into the side netting.  Britos met the corner from Berghuis with a header that flew over the bar.  Amrabat crossed for Ighalo who didn’t catch the ball properly, so the shot looped into the keeper’s arms.  At the other end a cross from Benteke was gathered by Gomes.  The home side could have increased their lead as Firmino’s cross drifted along in front of goal and Ibe met it with a powerful shot that came back off the post.  At this point, there was an announcement over the tannoy for the Watford supporters thanking them for their support for the 96 and particularly the banner and wishing us a safe journey home.  This was met with warm and lengthy applause from the travelling Hornets.  There was one last chance in time added on and it fell to the home side with a cross that Benteke somehow turned over the bar when it would have been easier to score.

Flores consoling Deeney

Flores consoling Deeney

So the final whistle went to a 2-0 defeat which was met with a chant of ‘3-2 on aggregate.’  It had been a much better performance, let down by a couple of mistakes which led to goals, and poor finishing from a Watford perspective.  Ighalo had the best game he has had for months but, earlier in the season, would have converted at least two of his chances.  After the final whistle we stayed behind to applaud the team.  Troy is normally the last player to come to the away end after he has completed his captain’s duties, but this afternoon was different.  I saw him standing talking to Flores, he had his head down and looked distraught.  Flores spoke to him for a while and then they came towards us together to take the plaudits.

As we left the ground we were wished a safe journey home by some of the nicest stewards that I have encountered all season.  That was also the most positive that I have felt after a defeat for some time.  It is hard to believe that there is only a week left of the season.  It has flown by and, at this stage, our only relegation concerns are regarding where we will be visiting next season.  That makes me very happy.