Tag Archives: Mark Hughes

Controversy in the Rain

Pereyra versus Hojbjerg

Another Saturday, another away game.  This week the somewhat shorter trip to Southampton.  Due to engineering work, there was no easy train route to the station nearest to the pub.  My last experience of trying to get a taxi at Southampton Central had been hideous so, when I arrived and left the station by the rear entrance, I decided to walk the mile and a half to the pub.  I had a brief moment of regret as the rain started, but it soon cleared and I arrived feeling very deserving of my pint and lunch.  As it did last year, the heavens opened in time for us to leave for the walk to the ground and, despite Alice kindly sharing her umbrella, I was properly soaked by the time we reached the ground.  Pete’s comment to the local Police officer that it always rained in Southampton was met with the response that we must have brought it with us as it had been lovely the previous week.

Team news was that Gracia had made only the one enforced change with Chalobah coming in for the suspended Capoue.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Mariappa, Femenía; Pereyra, Doucouré, Chalobah, Hughes; Success, Deulofeu.  It was good to see Chalobah back and I couldn’t help wondering whether Capoue, who has been excellent so far this season, would live to regret giving his place away.

Deeney waiting for a ball into the box

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s silence to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War which was accompanied by a rendition of The Last Post.  The only other sound that could be heard was the rain on the roof of the stand.

Watford started well and had an excellent early chance when Femenía released Deulofeu who broke into the box, but his shot was blocked.  Deulofeu had another chance soon after, this time with Success as provider, but the shot flew over the target.  Then Success burst forward and tried his luck himself, but his shot was deflected over the bar.  The home side had their first chance after 15 minutes with a shot from distance by Gabbiadini that flew over the bar.  Then, from a corner, Hoedt headed goalwards, Foster parried and Cathcart headed out conceding another corner.  From the delivery, the danger appeared to have passed when Pereyra claimed the ball, but instead of putting a boot through it, he dwelled too long, Ings dispossessed him and found Gabbiadini who finished past Foster.  Very frustrating after the bright start that the Hornets had made to the game.  The novelty of the lead for the home fans was reflected in the chant of “We scored a goal.”

Ben Foster launches a ball upfield

Watford should have struck back almost immediately as Deulofeu picked up a misplaced pass and broke forward but, instead of shooting, he tried to play Success in and the pass was intercepted.  A lovely passing move by the Hornets finished disappointingly as Pereyra’s cut back was just behind Deulofeu.  At this point, the Saints fans regaled us with a chorus of “You only came for the weather.”  Oh yes!  Success released Deulofeu again but, when he found a position from which to shoot, the angle was narrow and the shot was blocked.  At the other end, a Yoshida header from the edge of the area flew wide of the target.   I thought we had the equaliser as a lovely curling shot from Pereyra headed for the bottom corner, but McCarthy was down to parry.  Almost immediately there was a similarly good chance for the Saints with a shot from Armstrong that was saved by the legs of Foster.  The first booking of the game went to Bertrand for a foul on Doucouré.  With 6 minutes to go until half time, each side made a substitution, presumably due to injuries, as Deeney replaced Hughes for the Hornets and Austin came on for Ings for the home side.

Doucoure on the ball

The half time whistle went with the home side leading by a goal and, yet again, Watford fans were feeling frustrated at the wasteful finishing as, like last week, Deulofeu could have had a hat trick before the break.  There was a similar problem with finishing for one of the teams taking part in the half time relay around the pitch.  The lad who was well in the lead shot wide of the far post allowing his opponent to catch up, dribble the ball to just in front of the goal and drop to the ground to head the ball over the line.  Cheeky so and so, but his opponent gave him the opportunity.

The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as Gabbiadini tried a shot from distance that just cleared the crossbar.  At the other end, Success did well to battle his way down the right wing before crossing for Deeney whose close range shot at the near post was smothered by McCarthy.  The first booking for the visitors went to Chalobah who was cautioned for pulling Redmond back as he tried to escape.  The same two players then tussled again in the Southampton box, on this occasion the travelling Hornets were shouting for a penalty as Chalobah went down under a strong challenge from Redmond, the ball broke for Pereyra whose shot was blocked and the referee pointed for a corner instead of to the penalty spot.  The Watford fans were baffled and Deulofeu was incandescent with rage and was shouting at the linesman, which seemed to be a pointless exercise.

Challenging at a corner

Southampton appeared to have scored a second as Austin shot past Foster.  The celebrations continued for some time before any of us noticed that the linesman’s flag was raised and the goal had been disallowed.  What a relief.  Gracia then made a second substitution bringing Gray on for Pereyra, who had a disappointing afternoon.  The Hornets had a decent chance to draw level as Deulofeu chipped a cross for Deeney, whose back header was caught by McCarthy, although the flag was up for this one as well.  Deeney then found Gray in a good position, but he kicked the ball into the ground so it lost momentum allowing McCarthy an easy save.  Mark Hughes made his second substitution bringing Ward-Prowse on for Armstrong.  Southampton threatened as Yoshida appeared to connect with a cross, but Holebas made enough contact to put it out for a corner. Femenía then had a chance from a decent position but volleyed over.  I didn’t see what prompted the altercation, but Femenía and Redmond squared up to each other.  Seeing this, Deulofeu belted over and angrily pulled Redmond away.  Others have described this as breaking up the confrontation, but Deulofeu had seemed to be spoiling for a fight all afternoon.  He had rowed with the referee after he felt he’d been fouled early in the game, then with the lino when the penalty wasn’t given and his aggressive pull on Redmond was well deserving of a yellow card.

Doucoure congratulating Holebas on his goal

Watford grabbed an equaliser with 9 minutes to go as Deeney found Gray in the box, he passed back towards Doucouré and, just when the chance appeared to have gone, the ball bounced off Deulofeu and fell to Holebas whose shot took a deflection and beat McCarthy to send the travelling Hornets into raptures.  Southampton had a chance to break back immediately but Gabbiadini’s shot from outside the box was stopped by Foster.  The Hornets could have had a winner as a Holebas corner was headed goalwards by Gray, but it came back off the bar.  The home side made a final substitution bringing Obafemi on for Redmond.  The Hornets were pushing for the winner in added time, so it was very frustrating to see a powerful shot from Success rebound back off Deeney.  The captain tried to make amends by crossing for Gray, but the shot flew wide and the final whistle went with the points shared.

It was probably a fair result, although Charlie Austin didn’t agree.  His interview on Match of the Day berating the referee for disallowing his goal was brilliant for its passion.  Someone set it perfectly to Blur’s Parklife and it was great to see Austin himself tweet #Parklife in acknowledgement.  However, he had overlooked the fact that Watford should have had a penalty and that Redmond may have seen red for the challenge, which would have set up a completely different game.  It was another odd performance from the Hornets.  Deulofeu made some brilliant chances, failed to take any of them and then almost got himself sent off with a series of displays of petulance.  Capoue was greatly missed in the midfield.  Chalobah is not match fit and did nothing to indicate that he should continue in that role.  The passing was sloppy and the team seemed to lack leadership until Deeney came on.  Troy does not always earn his place on footballing grounds, but his leadership is greatly missed when things are not going well and there was a clear improvement when he was on the pitch.

But, for all our disappointment at the outcome of the last two games, there were a series of odd results over the weekend, so this result still sees us sitting in 7th place in the table equidistant from the top and the relegation zone which is fine with me.

Stymied by Stoke

The piper plays Flowers of the Forest

Back to Vicarage Road again and, after a busy week, it was lovely to sit down with the crowd for the pre-match pint.  I bumped into someone that I hadn’t seen for a while, a regular who had almost given up in the dark days at the end of Mazzarri’s reign.  He was all smiles again, thoroughly enjoying the football as we all are.  I must admit that, going into this game I was less confident than last week against Chelsea.  There is something about Stoke and their negative style of play that made me think that we could struggle.

Since it was the last game before Remembrance Day, there was a piper on the pitch to play Flowers of the Forest.  This was followed by a minute’s silence.  Both were observed impeccably by the crowd.

Team news was two changes for the Hornets with Capoue and Carrillo coming in for Mariappa and Pereyra.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Holebas, Britos, Kabasele, Femenía; Capoue, Cleverley, Doucouré; Richarlison, Deeney, Carrillo.

Rare first half action in the Stoke box

There was a slow start to the game, with Watford having most of the possession but being given little space by the visitors.  So it was a bit of a shock when Stoke took the lead on 16 minutes after a corner from Shaqiri reached Fletcher on the edge of the box from where he powered a shot through the bodies in the box and past Gomes.  You couldn’t help thinking that, having taken the lead, Stoke would make it difficult for us.  There was certainly little in the way of goal attempts in the half.  The first half chance came as Holebas played a ball into the box for Deeney, who was unable to reach it.   A Cleverley corner was headed on by Britos, to Capoue who tried and failed to finish, but was in an offside position anyway.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came in the 38th minute as Cleverley played a lovely ball to Deeney who tried to place his shot, which drifted wide.

That was it for the first half.  The whistle was greeted with a few boos from the Rookery.  Who are these people?  It hadn’t been pretty, but any football had been played by the home side.

The beautiful game did make an appearance during the half time penalty shoot-out when a young girl from Holy Rood floated a perfect chip over the keeper.  Sign her up!

Capoue and Holebas prepare for a short corner

The second half started at a cracking pace.  The first chance came as Doucouré played a gorgeous ball to Femenía who went on a run and crossed for Deeney, but Shawcross got a block in to prevent the shot.  The next chance followed the same pattern starting with a beautiful ball from Doucouré and finishing with Shawcross clearing before Deeney could shoot.  Next a cross from Holebas was flicked on by Deeney to Capoue, who couldn’t quite reach it to apply the finish.  Watford came closer still as Holebas played a cross-field pass to Carrillo who cut the ball back to Richarlison, but the angle was too acute for the Brazilian and his shot hit the side netting.  The first substitution came just before the hour mark as Gray replaced Capoue.  Stoke could have increased their lead when, completely against the run of play, there was a forward break from Sobhi, he cut the ball back to Allen who shot just wide of the target when he should have done better.  Watford continued to threaten as Cleverley advanced and put in a decent cross, but Butland’s fist reached the ball just before Richarlison’s head.  Another chance for the young Brazilian went begging as a cross from Britos reached him, but he couldn’t get a proper connection for the header and it flew wide.  Watford also should have done better with the next chance as a cross from Carrillo reached Gray, but he mishit the shot and it went wide of the near post.

Fisticuffs by the dugouts

Stoke’s first change came as Berahino replaced Sobhi in a substitution that seemed to take an age (they had been wasting time from soon after they scored).  Watford’s next chance came from a corner, but Doucouré’s shot was blocked and the ball was deflected over the target.  The second substitution for the Hornets came as Carrillo was replaced by Hughes, making his debut for the Hornets.  A rare attack by the visitors finished as Choupo-Moting shot straight at Gomes.  Watford had another decent chance as a lovely ball into the box from Doucouré was flicked on by the head of Gray, but Deeney couldn’t reach it to turn it in.  There was danger at the other end as a cross from Shaqiri wasn’t cut out but, even as Gomes hesitated, he did enough to cause Berahino to shoot wide.  Watford threatened again as Gray met a cross from Cleverley with a header that flew on to the roof of the net.  Soon after, it all kicked off on the sideline.  I don’t know what provoked it, but it seemed to start with Doucoure and Diouf who, in photographic evidence obtained from a friend in the SEJ stand, squared up to each other before everyone else got involved, including some members of the Stoke coaching staff, but it was only the initial perpetrators who were cautioned.  After the dust settled, Stoke made another substitution replacing Shaqiri with Adam.  There was another scuffle after Stoke had put the ball out when one of their players went down with cramp in their box.  It had appeared to be an attempt to waste time and the ball was, quite rightly in my opinion, not returned to them.  This incensed Allen who went for Deeney and it all got rather unpleasant.  The two men were booked, but the television pictures of the altercation suggest that Deeney may incur further punishment for his reaction, which would be unfortunate.  Watford had one last chance to win a point as Hughes found Gray, but the shot was deflected for a corner.  As it was late into time added on, Gomes came up to join the attack and was nearly caught out as Stoke broke upfield, Gomes was unable to tackle Adam, who advanced with an open goal to aim at but found the far post instead, much to the amusement of the Rookery faithful.

Doucoure on the ball

There were boos again at the final whistle, although most of these appeared to be aimed at the opposition.  Richarlison, Britos and Holebas had collapsed to the turf on full time with the latter staying prone with his shirt over his head for some considerable time.

It was a disappointing afternoon.  The football was horrible but, credit to Stoke, they played their game very well and we didn’t play ours.  The second half was much better as Watford attacked at pace, but the Stoke defence were very well organized and Butland didn’t have a save to make.  Special credit must go to Zouma, who had a great game keeping Richarlison very quiet.

As we walked up Occupation Road, a familiar face passed us, and I couldn’t help wondering if Pereyra would have made a difference, but it was one of those afternoons.

Back in the West Herts and the post-match analysis focussed on how horrible Stoke were to watch.  All very true, but you have to find a way past these teams and we failed to do that.  The positive is that this is one of very few games that have not been entertaining so far this season.  So let us put this one behind us and look forward to Goodison Park next Sunday.

 

A Spirited Performance Spoiled by Defensive Lapses

The teams emerge from the tunnel in Stoke

The teams emerge from the tunnel in Stoke

Memories of the recent dreadful performance at Vicarage Road against the Potters and the capitulation to Spurs on Sunday meant that I set off on my journey to Stoke with no hope of any pleasure to be gained from the evening’s entertainment.  But the afternoon started rather well, as I unexpectedly encountered a friend at Euston so we spent a very pleasant journey chatting about our various activities over the Christmas period.

The designated pre-match pub (for the two of us) had signs on the doors indicating that it was home fans only.  However, a previous visit had shown that they did not enforce this terribly strictly.  This was very pleasing as the real ale, the food and the atmosphere were all first class and it was no surprise that it was soon populated with familiar faces from our travels.  We decided to take the bus to the ground which, due to traffic, seemed to be within touching distance of the stadium lights for quite some time before we were dropped off.  Once in the ground, I donned my Watford regalia (scarf, shirt and socks) and was wrapped up warm at a stadium notorious for being cold at the best of times.  The pre-match flag wavers around the ground were not kitted out in Stoke uniforms, but appeared to be a random selection of local children in colourful coats and bobble hats which was rather nice.

Kabasele and Kaboul

Kabasele and Kaboul

Team news was that Mazzarri had made three changes from Sunday with Cathcart and Ighalo replaced by Britos and Kabasele, and Behrami, who was rumoured still to be carrying an injury, taking the place of the (presumably more severely) injured Amrabat.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Kabasele, Britos; Doucouré, Guedioura, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney.  The chants in the concourse prior to the game were all about parking the bus.  Whatever the tactics, we needed to see a far more committed performance than on Sunday.

The news that Behrami was starting, injured or not, had me punching the air and that reaction was justified as soon as he took the pitch as he was immediately organizing and harrying the players.  We really miss him when he is not there.  But the first chance of the game fell to Stoke as Crouch headed wide after a corner.  Watford’s first shot came from a Guedioura free kick that was repelled to Holebas who, unfortunately, launched his effort over the bar.  The home side were almost gifted a goal due to a misunderstanding between Behrami and Prödl, who went for the same ball then left it for each other allowing Allen to sneak in and feed Arnautovic who went on a dangerous run into the area where he was stopped by a great tackle from Britos.

Capoue and Guedioura line up a free kick

Capoue and Guedioura line up a free kick

The first card of the game went to Diouf who stopped a break from Holebas by pulling him to the ground.  A great header from Kabasele reached Prödl who battled his way into the box, but his shot flew harmlessly across the front of the goal.  There were loud appeals from the away stand for a penalty as a cross from Kabasele appeared to be handled in the box, but the referee waved play on.  There was a scary moment for the Hornets as a header from Crouch was parried by Gomes and ricocheted off Behrami back in the direction of the goal before it was finally cleared.  At the other end, there was a gilt-edged opportunity for the visitors as a lovely through ball from Holebas reached Doucouré in space but, instead of going for goal, he hesitated before cutting the ball back to Guedioura and the chance was lost.  I was becoming increasingly frustrated at this point as the lads seemed to be determined to score the perfect goal when taking a shot would at least give us a chance of scoring.  With four minutes to go to half time Behrami, who had been limping for a while, went down in need of treatment.  On a number of occasions this season, it has taken far too long for the substitute to get ready to replace an injured player.  In this instance, Ighalo was stripped and ready on the touchline before Behrami had left the field, only for Valon to turn around and come back on leaving Odion to return to the bench.  Just as it appeared that the game would reach half-time goalless, the Watford defence fell asleep at a corner and Shawcross was given the freedom of the area to finish past Gomes.  It was almost the last kick of the half as the whistle went straight after the restart.  I braced myself for the crowd’s reaction to this setback and was very pleased that as the players walked towards the tunnel, which was in the corner in front of us, they were greeted by loud, encouraging applause and chants of “Watford FC.”

Guedioura 'assisting' Holebas at a corner

Guedioura ‘assisting’ Holebas at a corner

The goal felt like a real kick in the teeth after a very even half in which my major criticism of the team was that they were reluctant to shoot when getting a sight of the goal.  With all the injury woes, the players didn’t deserve that.

As expected, Ighalo replaced Behrami at the start of the second half which began brilliantly for the visitors as Doucouré unleashed a terrific curling shot that Grant did really well to keep out of the net.  Sadly, Watford were two goals down a couple of minutes later as a routine cross into the box was inexplicably missed by Prödl and Crouch, lurking behind him, had an easy finish.  The crowd’s frustration started to build in the away end.  Their ire was particularly provoked by the corner routine that consisted of a second player standing just in from the touchline, but playing no role in the delivery which was launched straight into the box.  I can only assume that the tactic was designed to draw defenders out of the box, but the single defender standing just outside the box didn’t seem to create any advantage that would outweigh the presence of another Watford head to meet the corner.

Folivi joins his team mates waiting for a corner

Folivi joins his team mates waiting for a corner

In contrast to the reaction on Sunday after conceding, Watford heads did not go down and they were making every effort to pull a goal back.  From a free kick, Capoue played a short ball to Guedioura whose powerful shot was blocked.  Then Kaboul played a through ball to Deeney who crossed for Ighalo, but the Nigerian’s shot was into a group of Stoke defenders.  Each side made a substitution at the half way mark in the second period with Afellay replacing Diouf for the home side and Sinclair coming on for Guedioura for the visitors.  With 20 minutes to go, there were chances at both ends as a decent free-kick from Holebas had to be punched clear by Grant and then a lovely shot from Stoke substitute, Afellay, curled just wide of the near post.  Stoke had a great chance of a third as a cross was headed down by Crouch to Walters, but Gomes smothered the shot.  Watford then had a couple of great chances of their own as Capoue’s corner was met with a header from Sinclair that was cleared off the line, Capoue sent the ball back in to the box and this time it was headed just wide by Prödl.  Then a punched clearance from Grant was headed down by Deeney to Igahlo whose shot was disappointingly weak and easily saved.  Mazzarri’s final change saw Folivi come on in place of Prödl.  In the times that I have seen Folivi play for the U18s and development teams, I have enjoyed watching him, so was delighted to see him make his debut for the first team, although it was under very difficult circumstances.  From pre-match songs about parking the bus, the travelling faithful were now extolling the benefits of having four strikers on the pitch.  Sadly it wasn’t to lead to a change in fortunes in front of goal.  The final chances of the game fell to the home side as Walters got the wrong side of Holebas and bore down on goal before Gomes made an excellent save to deny him.  From the resulting corner, Shawcroft fired wide.

Folivi leaves the pitch after his debut

Folivi leaves the pitch after his debut

There was disappointment at the final whistle.  Unusually Mazzarri applauded and waved to the crowd as he left the pitch, although the position of the tunnel right in front of us was likely the prime reason for this.  The players looked despondent but many of them showed their appreciation by giving their shirts to some of the travelling fans.  The post-match reaction among those that travelled was generally positive.  The team had picked itself due to the dearth of fully fit players.  Mazzarri also admitted that he had played Behrami knowing that he wasn’t fully fit but, assuming that it doesn’t mean a lengthier lay-off for the player, it was a gamble worth taking as he brings leadership and organization to the midfield that has been lacking in recent weeks and he ran his socks off.  Doucouré was also a different player when in the position that he was expecting to play, and he fashioned Watford’s best chances of the game.  The disappointing thing was that, yet again, we were punished for a couple of defensive mistakes.  No tactical game plan can overcome a lapse in concentration.  Still, we asked for a reaction after the Tottenham game and we certainly got what we asked for as there was no lack of effort among the players on show.

We now have a couple of weeks to regroup as it is likely that the Burton game will see more of the youngsters given a chance.  We have some tricky fixtures coming up, so both players and supporters need to band together to get through this sticky patch.  With the transfer window open, hopefully we can bring some players in to make up for some of the longer term injuries.  But I truly believe that a positive support from the stands is an essential element and it is the only thing that the fans can do to help the team so let us all make this our new year’s resolution.

Petulant Loss to the Potters

Kaboul and Capoue line up a free kick

Kaboul and Capoue line up a free kick

Midday on a Sunday is a ridiculous time for a football match.  I was up at the crack of dawn (for me) in order to get to the game but a slight delay on my first train meant that I had to wait a while for the connection at Euston so that, when I arrived in the West Herts after a long journey, the pleasant greeting from my friends was “Where have you been?”  Still, my tardy arrival did mean that a round was already in progress and the traditional cider went down very well with the bacon roll (apple juice is a breakfast drink, isn’t it?) setting me up for the afternoon.

Team news was that Mazzarri made one change from last week with Holebas returning from suspension to replace Zúñiga.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Janmaat, Capoue, Behrami, Holebas; Amrabat, Deeney and Pereyra.  It was good to see each of the captains wearing a rainbow armband in support of the Rainbow Laces campaign which supports fans and players from the LGBT community.  It was also pleasing to see Mazzarri with the rainbow lace displayed on his jacket.

Amrabat on the ball

Amrabat on the ball

Any hope that we would start the game in a similar way to the previous week was soon extinguished and Stoke had the first chance, capitalizing on a Watford mistake, as a failure to clear the ball allowed Martins Indi to shoot, but his point blank effort was blocked by Gomes, who was also on hand to gather the follow-up cross.  The home side’s first goal attempt came as Janmaat intercepted a pass and went on a run before unleashing a shot that was saved by (Hemel boy) Lee Grant.  Stoke should have done better when a cross from Diouf flew across the goal but, luckily for the Hornets, there was no Stoke player anywhere near to apply the final touch.  The visitors threatened again with a shot from distance from Imbula that flew just past the far post.  A lovely passing move from the Watford team finished with Amrabat finding Capoue in space, but his shot was straight at Grant in the Stoke goal.  Mazzarri was forced to make his first substitution after 20 minutes as an injury to Kaboul meant that he was unable to continue, so was replaced by Kabasele.  Pereyra created a chance for himself as he picked the ball up on the edge of the area, turned and shot.  It was a similar strike to the one against Leicester, but this time the ball flew just wide.  Stoke were back in the Watford box as Arnautović headed the ball on to Walters who seemed a little surprised to see it come his way and Gomes was on hand to snuff out the danger.

Behrami being challenged

Behrami being challenged

At this stage of the game, the home fans were becoming increasingly impatient with the referee who seemed to be blowing up after every tackle by a man in a yellow shirt.  Half an hour into the game, he had booked both Amrabat and Britos for reasons that were not apparent from the stand and seemed to baffle the players but were put down to dissent.  The visitors took the lead with a scrappy goal as, following a corner, a header from Adam bounced back off the post before rebounding into the net off Gomes.  The Watford faithful greeted this with a chant of 1-0 to the referee which, at the time, seemed to be stretching the truth somewhat as Stoke had been the better team to that point, but I hadn’t seen the foul by Adam before he reached the ball.  The referee certainly didn’t placate the crowd when he blew up immediately after the restart, insisting that the kick-off be retaken.  Watford had a decent chance for an equalizer as a Capoue free kick was met by Britos, but his header cleared the bar.  Holebas was the next to receive a caution, again for dissent as he kicked the ball away having been angered at being penalized when he conceded a corner while being fouled.  In time added on at the end of the half it appeared that Holebas was tripped in the box, but the referee gave the decision the other way.  The whistle for the end of the first half was greeted by loud boos directed at the referee, but it was difficult to put Watford’s woes at his door.  Stoke were playing a very disciplined, organized game and were ensuring that the Watford players had no space to play in.  Instead of finding a way to counteract this tactic, the home side were just getting increasingly frustrated, it was not good to watch.

Wonder Woman (Marcus Gayle), Ian Richardson, Ian Bolton and Keith Mercer and Gavin Mahon

Wonder Woman (Marcus Gayle), Ian Richardson, Ian Bolton and Keith Mercer and Gavin Mahon

There was a pleasant distraction at half time as the club celebrated Former Players’ Day by reminiscing with Marcus Gayle, Gavin Mahon, Wayne Andrews and Ian Richardson, all of whom evoked happy memories, although I am probably the only person who sees Marcus Gayle and thinks “Wonder Woman”.  They were followed by Keith Mercer, Ian Bolton and Neil Price who were advertising the upcoming dinner at the club and talking about the work of the Former Players Association.  I must say that seeing those old heroes cheered me up considerably.

The visitors started the second half brightly with a run from Arnautović that finished with a cross-cum-shot that was too far in front of the oncoming Walters for him to provide the finishing touch, so flew past the far post.  The Austrian threatened again, but his next shot was stopped by a good block from Kabasele.  Ten minutes into the half, Mazzarri was forced into a second substitution as Holebas, who had received some treatment on the sidelines, was replaced by Ighalo.  The Nigerian’s first half chance came as Amrabat delivered a decent cross into the box, but a defender was on hand to shepherd the ball out and ensure that Ighalo didn’t get a touch.  He had a better chance soon after as he headed a Britos cross goalwards, but the header had no power and was easy for Grant to deal with.

Waiting for a free kick

Waiting for a free kick

The home side were having much more of the play in the second half and another ball into the box looked promising as Janmaat’s cross was headed on by Ighalo but it didn’t reach Deeney and the chance was lost.  Mazzarri’s final change saw Okaka brought on to replace Amrabat.  There was a great chance for an equalizer as a cross from Pereyra was cleared to Janmaat on the edge of the box, but his volley was well over the bar when he should have hit the target.  The presence of Okaka did seem to unsettle the Stoke defence and he had a chance to bring the Hornets level as an overhead kick from Ighalo fell to him, but he was at an acute angle to the goal and could only hit the side netting.  Deeney had a great chance to get his 100th goal when he met a ball from Janmaat with a header but it flew over the target.  Watford’s miserable afternoon continued when Britos stupidly fouled Shaqiri and was shown a second yellow card, so we finished the game with ten men.  Stoke then had a chance to increase their lead as Pieters tried a shot from distance which, thankfully, just missed the target.  But there was still time for another booking for Watford as Behrami received his fifth yellow card of the season.

Pereyra takes a free kick

Pereyra takes a free kick

The final whistle was greeted with yet more boos for the referee.  The Watford players, with the exception of Deeney and Gomes, disappeared in an instant providing no distraction for the home crowd as they directed their anger at the official.  Despite the feeling that the goal should have been disallowed for the foul by Adam, I didn’t feel that the defeat was down to the referee’s decisions.  It had been a poor day at the office for many of the Watford players.  There had been an improvement in the second half with the Hornets finding a bit more space, but the win was a result of Stoke effectively stopping their opponents from keeping the ball or creating any chances.  But the most disappointing aspect of the game was the petulance and ill-discipline of many of the Watford players, which resulted in yellow cards and a sending off that will mean that both Britos and Behrami are unavailable for the game against West Brom.  Sunday’s game was as bad as the previous week’s was good, but that is what we should be expecting this season and, to put a positive spin on it, this is becoming a season in which (ouside the top six) any team can beat any other and, while that will lead to games like Saturday’s, it also means that we can approach most games with an expectation that we can get something out of it and that has not been the case for us at this level since the 80s.

Stoked in the Potteries

 

The oatcake and beer barges

The oatcake and beer barges

I have just returned from a business trip, the original plans for which would have meant missing this game and, to be honest, if I had to miss a game then a trip to Stoke wasn’t one I would be too upset about.  As it turned out, I missed the Arsenal game instead, or rather I spent the morning sitting in a pub in San Francisco watching it.  I was so proud of our performance for the first hour, especially the fact that we went for it rather than the cautious approach that we took against Man City.  The three goals were a little hard to take, but our season won’t be decided by the results of games against the likes of Arsenal.  The game against Stoke was a different matter completely.  It would be a real test, with the result giving an indication of what we can expect for the rest of the season.

My previous trips to Stoke have been on the supporters’ coach, so I’ve always had the impression that the ground is miles out of town and a pig to get to.  Also, away fans are advised to avoid most of the pubs.  So, as I left home feeling fatigued after my travels, I did not have high hopes for my day out.  However, on arrival at the designated pub, which had a sign in the window indicating that only Stoke fans were welcome, the door was held open for me by the security guy, which is always a good sign.  Our advance party was already in place at a table, the beer was good and the food was hearty.  As the pub filled up, there seemed to be more faces that I recognized than not, so the sign in the window was not acting as any kind of deterrent.  The next adventure was to walk to the ground.  It turned out to be an easy stroll along the canal towpath which was not the most picturesque I have ever encountered, but certainly had lots to remark upon.  There was a group of ropey looking canal boats, one of which had foliage on the rudder suggesting a lack of custom.  They were just outside a ‘shooting range’ that appeared to be someone’s garden shed.  Then, as we arrived at the bridge to the ground, there were a couple of somewhat nicer looking barges which were serving oatcakes and beer and doing a roaring trade from the punters who had made the ‘long’ trek from town.

Gomes takes a free kick

Gomes takes a free kick

Team news was just the one change with Britos making his league debut in place of Prödl, a selection that raised eyebrows, especially from those who had witnessed his truncated performance at Deepdale.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Britos, Cathcart, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Anya, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.  Stoke came into the game in good form having won their previous three league games while only conceding a single goal.  Given Watford’s lack of goalpower, this record was a little worrying.  But we started well as Deeney got goalside of Cameron only for Johnson to appear to take the ball off his feet and redirect it towards Butland.  The home side’s first chance fell to Charlie Adam whose shot from the edge of the area flew wide of the near post.  Then Anya cut the ball back to Watson whose shot was blocked.  Stoke were forced into an early substitution as defender, Cameron, was replaced by Wilson due to an injury sustained in his early challenge with Deeney.  A cross into the Watford box was well blocked by Capoue, it came back in and Aké headed clear but only as far as Adam whose shot was deflected for a corner.  Abdi exchanged passes with Aké before finding Anya whose attempted cross was blocked so looped unthreateningly into the area before it was cleared.  Stoke had a great chance to take the lead just before the half hour as a dangerous cross from Shaqiri was headed wide by Arnautovic when he really should have done better.

Celebrating Deeney's goal

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

Watford had been dreadful for most of the half, they looked sluggish and passes were going horribly astray.  But, just as I was thinking I should have stayed at home and slept off the jet-lag, we had a great chance to take the lead.  Anya broke forward and crossed for Ighalo.  I was already celebrating when the Nigerian’s header came back off the crossbar, but the chance had not gone.  Odion’s follow-up shot was blocked and rebounded to Abdi, the ball got stuck under his feet so he moved it on to Deeney who was in space but his shot hit the same spot on the crossbar that Ighalo had found and rebounded to safety.  At the other end a Stoke break was stopped as a cross from Johnson was blocked by the brilliant Watson.  From the corner, Shaqiri’s delivery appeared to be flying in but Gomes punched it clear.  Surprisingly, it was the visitors who took the lead just before half time.  A lovely back heel from Ighalo found Deeney who got into position and curled the ball into the corner past Butland.  The celebrations in the away end had extra impetus due to Deeney finally having scored his first goal of the season.  He has worked his socks off and thoroughly deserved it.  Most of the first half had been dreadful, but the goal ensured that the Hornets left the pitch to applause and with Troy Deeney’s name ringing out in the Britannia.

Deeney congratulating Abdi after he scored the second

Deeney congratulating Abdi after he scored the second

Watford launched the first attack of the second half as a long free kick from Gomes reached Deeney whose header was soft and straight at Butland.  At the other end, Shaqiri hit a shot from outside the area that flew high and wide.  Deeney had a great chance for a second as Ighalo found him in space.  Last season he would have buried the ball, but this time he took one touch too many and the chance was gone.  Watford had a shout for a penalty as Ighalo tumbled in the box, but the referee waved appeals away, which was fine by me as it would have been rather soft.  A corner from Watson reached Ighalo in the centre of the box, he volleyed goalwards, but there was a body in the way to block the shot which was hit with such power that I would suspect that body was hurting for some time.  Watford were on top now and a Cathcart free kick was nodded down by Deeney towards Ighalo who was held off by a defender so couldn’t reach the ball.  Flores made his first substitution on 64 minutes replacing Anya with Paredes.  Watford’s second goal came on 69 minutes as Ighalo battled to dispossess Wilson on the left and played a perfect pass into the path of Abdi who advanced and hit a gorgeous shot past Butland at the near post.  The celebrations in the away end were joy unconfined.

Challenging at a corner

Challenging at a corner

Watford were looking to increase their lead further as Paredes advanced down the right, his cross reached Abdi who balooned his shot wide.  Paredes then had a chance himself as he hit a powerful shot from outside the area that Butland dived to keep out, although the block was such that the ball could have flown anywhere.  A Stoke counter-attack finished with Walters shooting well wide of the far post.  The first booking of the game went to Whelan for taking Capoue down in the centre circle.  Watford’s second substitution saw Behrami replacing goalscorer, Abdi, who went off to warm applause and the sound of his name being chanted.  Another Stoke chance was scuppered as the attentions of Deeney ensured that Adams shot high and wide.  At the other end, Deeney played a ball to Capoue whose shot curled just wide of the target.  Stoke’s late attempts to cut the deficit were poor as, first, a Johnson cross was headed wide by Arnautovic and then a corner flew across goal and straight out for a goal kick.  A late substitution by the visitors saw Guedioura coming on for Igahlo.  The Nigerian took a while to leave the pitch so was pushed by Pieters, there was a bit of handbags and both men received a caution.  Stoke’s frustration manifested again as Adam hacked Capoue down and was carded for the offence.  As the fourth official signalled four minutes of time added on, the home stands were almost empty.  The final chance of the game fell to Capoue whose low free kick was disappointing and flew well wide of the goal.

Just after the post-match hug

Just after the post-match hug

There were great celebrations in the away end after the final whistle and it was lovely to see Flores, Deeney and Gomes return from thanking the referee with their arms around each other.  As the last Watford player left the pitch the travelling Hornets were still bouncing and singing and my earlier jet-lagged state had been replaced with euphoria.  If we had been fortunate in the first half, we had been excellent in the second and thoroughly deserved the win.  While the goals for Deeney and Abdi and Ighalo’s two assists will attract the headlines, the consensus among our party was that the man of the match award should go to Watson, who was quietly magnificent running the midfield, with a special mention for Capoue who had the home side rattled throughout.

So 10 games played, 13 points and 13th in the table.  We’d have taken that in August.  We’ve also broken our Premier League duck for October.  It is always good to see records like that falling.

As I was waiting for the train home, I was joined on the platform by Stuart Timperley and Miles Jacobson, fresh from the Stoke boardroom, so had a very interesting journey home with these two delightful gentlemen.  A wonderful end to an unexpectedly enjoyable day in Stoke.