Tag Archives: Martin Dubravka

A Slog on the Tyne

The statue of Bobby Robson that caused my fall

After a promising performance in midweek, I was feeling a bit more positive on the long journey up to Newcastle.  My mood was improved immensely by the gorgeous dog who was accompanying the woman sitting the other side of the aisle from me.

I arrived at the pub a little later than is my habit, by this I mean that it was already open, and was surprised to find that it was not as busy as it usually is, so our party plus the Happy Valley and North West Horns were able to gather in the lovely alcove.  As usual, the beer and the ambience were wonderful, setting us up nicely for the trek uphill to the ground.  As we arrived at St James’ Park, my companions were extolling the virtues of the stadium and I was admiring the statue of Bobby Robson, so I completely missed the fact that there was a kerb in front of me and went flying.  It was mostly my pride that was hurt, but my bruised knees made me start to consider taking the lift up the 14 flights to our seats.  The woman who searched my bag at the turnstiles told me I was gorgeous, which was Geordie for, “You are old and safe looking, so I won’t search your person.”  We entered through the turnstiles and I looked for the lift, quickly realising that it was actually behind the turnstiles in the next block.  So we started up the stairs.  Alice was counting the steps, calling out milestones, as I just counted the flights.  I would have yelled, “Yay, 14!!” at the top if I had any breath left.  As we took our seats, I was thankful that I had recently taken delivery of new prescription distance glasses as it meant that I had a remote possibility of recognising some of the Watford players.

The view from the away end with no zoom employed

The team news had come through in the pub and was …. Interesting.  Gracia had made three changes from the West Ham game, with Kabasele, Janmaat and Pereyra in for Holebas, Capoue and Deulofeu.  I was surprised that Capoue had been dropped, but this was apparently due to illness.  What was more surprising was that Femenía was still in the team, although the formation had been changed to three at the back.  Playing as a wing-back rather than in a back four would likely be a better use of his skills.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Dawson, Kabasele; Femenía, Janmaat; Cleverley, Doucouré, Hughes; Pereyra, Gray.

Due to a clash of colours, the lads were resplendent in our green away shirt from last season.  Thankfully this news had been communicated before I left home, so I was able to bring the correct shirt with me (sad, I know).

 

Celebrating the opener from Hughes

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets as Pereyra went on a great run before picking out Cleverley, his shot was blocked, but rebounded to Hughes who finished past Dúbravka to send the travelling Hornets wild with joy.  The home side had a chance to break back almost immediately, Kabasele missed the chance to clear a cross from Atsu leaving Almirón with only the keeper to beat, but Foster came out and made the clearance.  Femenía had a great chance to increase Watford’s lead after the ball fell to him on the edge of the area, but his effort was just over the bar.  Then Pereyra found Gray, who really should have grabbed a second for the Hornets, but his shot was wide of the far post.  Newcastle won a free kick some distance from goal, Longstaff lofted the ball into the box and Foster punched for a corner.  Doucouré was the first into the referee’s book for what looked to be a clumsy challenge on Atsu.  He was soon joined by Hayden who was booked for taking down Pereyra.  Hayden’s afternoon didn’t get any better as he raced into the Watford box to latch on to a pass but was frustrated by a brilliant tackle from Kabasele.  From the corner, Cathcart made a double block on shots from Joelinton and Hayden.  Almirón had the ball in the Watford net after rounding Foster, but he had been flagged offside as he started his run.  It was clear that he had seen the flag before putting the ball in the net, so I don’t know why he wasn’t booked.  Watford had another chance to increase their lead when a corner from Femenía was knocked on to Dawson whose attempted bicycle kick was blocked.  Newcastle equalised on 41 minutes after a counterattack finished with Krafth’s cross being knocked down by Hayden to Schär who scored past Foster.  It was a scrappy goal and so frustrating to concede.  Late in the half, there was a booking for each side as both Dawson and Dummett were cautioned for rash tackles.

A corner from Femenia

The Watford fans were not happy at half time.  Despite a promising start, it had been a dreadful half of football with each team scoring with their only on target shot.  Watford spent far too much time trying to find Gray with long balls that he was never going to win, and the passing was generally poor.  A friend commented that it was the sort of game in which both teams were likely to be booed off at half time.  We could only hope for an improvement in the second half.

We were to be disappointed.  The home side had an early chance to take the lead as Dawson gave the ball away allowing Almirón to release Atsu, but the shot was terrible and straight at Foster.  Cathcart was the next to be booked for a foul on Almirón.  Newcastle should have done better from the resulting free kick as Schär got on the end of Longstaff’s delivery, but the header was awful and didn’t trouble Foster.  The home side created a much better chance soon after as Atsu ran the length of the field before cutting the ball back to Almirón, but Kabasele put in an excellent block to stop the shot.  Newcastle had a great chance to take the lead as Hayden unleashed a powerful shot from distance which Foster did well to turn over the bar.

Goalscorer, Hughes, leaves Janmaat to take the throw

At this point, an hour into the game, the travelling Hornets started chanting “We want subs,” but Gracia was unmoved by our plea.  Newcastle threatened again, this time with a shot through a crowd of legs that Foster was down to save.  The Hornets had their first half chance of the second period when the ball bobbled through to Cleverley who had time to control and pick his shot but snatched at a volley which flew wide of the near post.  At the other end, Joelinton went down in the box after a challenge, but the referee deemed the tackle to be fair.  There was a rare decent move from the Hornets as Doucouré broke forward, but his cross was deflected to Dúbravka.  Gracia finally made a double substitution with 20 minutes to go, and it was not the change that the crowd had been calling for as Doucouré made way for Chalobah and Success replaced Hughes.  I have to admit that even I booed the removal of Hughes who had been the best player on the pitch.  Will left the field on the side opposite the dugout, so walked in front of the away fans and his name was sung with some gusto.  Success showed his worth to us naysayers as he received a ball over the top and put in a low cross for Gray, but it was intercepted.  Not satisfied with the changes so far, the away fans were chanting for Deulofeu to make an appearance.  Bruce made his first change at this point bringing Manquillo on for Krafth.

Roberto Pereyra

Watford created a decent chance as Cleverley put in a lovely cross for Success who headed goalwards, but Dúbravka pushed the ball out for a corner.  Dawson met the delivery with a header that was blocked, the ball rebounded to Chalobah whose shot was closed down.  Each side made a substitution with 10 minutes to go as Muto came on for Atsu and the travelling fans finally got their wish as Deulofeu came on in place of Gray.  The home side looked as though they were going to take the lead as a low cross from a corner led to a scramble in the Watford box, it seemed inevitable that the ball would be turned into the net, so I was massively relieved when Foster claimed the ball.  The next chance fell to the Hornets as a shot from Cleverley took a wicked deflection off one of his teammates and flew just wide.  It has to be said that, had the ball flown into the net, a flukey winner would have been in keeping with the poor quality of the game.  Newcastle made a final change as Fernández replaced Schär.  The Hornets had a late chance to grab a winner as Success played a lovely ball to Pereyra whose shot was decent, but Dúbravka was able to make the save.  The last chance of the game fell to the home side, Chalobah had appeared to be fouled and was waiting for a free kick as Muto escaped downfield, but the Newcastle man was tracked all the way by Cathcart and could only find the side netting with his shot.  Despite 5 minutes of added time, there were no further chances and the game finished in a draw.

Nathaniel Chalobah

Our first point of the season should have been cause for celebration, but the performance was so disappointing that it was hard to muster any enthusiasm.  It was a pretty terrible game of football between two teams who struggled to string more than a couple of passes together.  So many Watford attacks broke down after a long ball to Gray, or rather, the defender marking Gray, which is no criticism of Andre at all as he is not tall enough to outjump the defenders.  Either that or a pass was hit straight at a defender.  It was a much poorer performance than against either West Ham or Everton, although not as abject as the Brighton showing.  But, at the end of a challenging week, this did not improve my mood at all and left me wondering where our next points would come from.  Particularly as our next two games are home to Arsenal and away to Manchester City.  While I will, of course, be in attendance at both, I am also planning to do other things on those weekends so that I have something to distract me from the football as I am not expecting any enjoyment from either game.  I just hope that the lads prove me wrong.

Held at Home by the Magpies

Pereyra and Masina line up a free kick with Harry Hornet watching on

With Christmas all done and dusted, it was back to the West Herts for the last pre-game drinks of 2018.  I had arrived pretty early, but there were already a couple of friends at our usual table, including Don who is always there waiting for the doors to open.  One of my jobs of the day was to pass on the tickets for Woking to my group.  Being something of a control freak, I usually make the bookings for away games for my group of friends.  This does tend to make me a little anxious in case I forget someone.  The small number of tickets available for the cup tie increased the anxiety levels considerably.  There had been a sigh of relief when all the tickets arrived, and a weight lifted from my shoulders when I was able to pass them on.

Mike had spent Christmas in Lisbon and I had thoroughly enjoyed reading his blog posts about his trip, which had convinced me that I must make a proper visit, having only ever been there for work.  One of the features of his trip had been his daily consumption of pastel de nata, and he had kindly brought back a box to share.  They were absolutely delicious.  It was also a day to raise a glass to his lovely wife, Dee, on her anniversary.  She is greatly missed by us all.

When the team was announced, we were all rather surprised to hear that Gracia had made six changes from Boxing Day with Janmaat, Masina, Mariappa, Quina, Hughes and Success coming in for Femenía, Holebas, Kabasele, Doucouré, Sema and Deeney.  So the new look starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Masina; Hughes, Quina, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Success.  I must say that I was somewhat concerned at the number of changes.

Challenging in the Newcastle box

The first chance of the game fell to the home side as a corner from Pereyra reached Quina whose volley from distance cleared the bar.  It wasn’t long before the visiting Newcastle fans were in full voice, although I am sure Daryl Janmaat could have done without the chants that were being aimed at him.  Back on the pitch, a gorgeous ball from Hughes found Deulofeu, but Dummett was on hand to put him off and he poked wide of the near post.  Newcastle’s first attack of note came as Ritchie tried to release Rondón, but he was stopped by the linesman’s flag.  Deulofeu threatened again as he latched on to a through ball from Pereyra but his shot was blocked by the keeper, Dúbravka.  The visitors took the lead just before the half hour mark as Atsu broke forward and found Ritchie who crossed for Rondón to head past Foster.  Although the home side had been dominant up to that point, they had gone behind to the first on-target shot of the game.  The Watford players looked a bit shaken at going behind and a rare mistake from Cathcart looked as though it would cause more trouble, but Foster came out to make the tackle.  With 5 minutes to go until half time, Rondón had the ball in the net for the second time, but this time the flag was up and the goal was disallowed, which came as a great relief.  Watford tried to hit back as Hughes found Success but his shot from distance was saved by Dúbravka.  The first booking of the game went to Masina for a foul on Yedlin.  The last chance of the half came as Hughes found Success but, again the shot was blocked and we reached half time a goal down.

Capoue patiently waits to take a free kick

It was another frustrating half of football.  Watford had been rather lacklustre, but had still dominated the first half hour without creating any meaningful chances.  They fell apart a little after the goal and there were some nervous moments late in the half.  The performance would have to be much better in the second half if we were to get anything out of this game.

The visitors made a substitution at half time replacing Fernández, who had picked up an injury, with Schär.  Watford won a free kick on the edge of the area at the beginning of the second half, Pereyra stepped up to take it, but blasted it in to the wall.  Newcastle had a chance to increase their lead from a corner, but Rondón’s header flew just over the bar.  Gracia made two changes on 54 minutes replacing Hughes and Quina with Deeney and Doucouré.  The guy behind me summed up my feelings with his comment “We can play football, why aren’t we?”  There was a glimpse of what we can do as a good move ended with the ball with Deeney in the box, but he was crowded out before he could shoot.  Yedlin received a silly booking for throwing the ball away.  Then Ritchie tried a shot from distance, but it was straight at Foster.

Goalscorer Doucoure

Watford were playing more positively now and a ball into the Newcastle box was punched by Dúbravka but fell to Janmaat whose cross was met by the head of Deeney, but his effort was easily gathered by the Newcastle keeper.  With 12 minutes to go, there was a substitution for each side as Shelvey replaced Hayden for the visitors and Masina made way for Holebas for the Hornets.  With only 8 minutes of normal time remaining, Watford finally got the equaliser as Deulofeu put in a lovely cross and Doucouré rose to head home.  Game on!  Watford were pushing for a winner and had a decent chance when a Holebas free kick dropped for Success, but his shot was over the bar.  Then Pereyra ran on to a ball into the box and went down under a challenge, he appealed for the penalty, but his appeals were rightly waved away, it would have been a very soft penalty if given.  Pereyra tried his luck again after receiving a ball from Success, but he ran into traffic in the box.  Schär was then booked for a nasty foul on Success, who had been going down far too easily when challenged, but actually had my sympathy on this occasion.  Holebas took the free kick, but Doucouré was unable to connect on this occasion.  The Frenchman had another chance to put the home side in front as he met a ball from Deulofeu, it rolled agonisingly just wide of the near post, but wouldn’t have counted anyway as the flag was up.  The Hornets had one last chance to grab a winner as a ball upfield was headed on by Deeney to Success but his low shot was saved by Dúbravka and the game ended with honours even.

Masina and Pereyra eyeing the Newcastle wall

That is the second time that we have played Newcastle this season and the second time that we have come away frustrated.  The visitors were certainly more impressive than they had been at St James’ Park, but we should have challenged them more.  They had come to put 10 men behind the ball and Watford just couldn’t find a way to break them down.  While there had been a lot of changes, the starting XI should have been good enough to create more than they did in the first half.  The performance was considerably better when Deeney and Doucouré came on.  They battled more when the opposition had the ball and we generally looked more dangerous.  We also missed Holebas’s attacking prowess.

There were some very odd results this weekend, with Cardiff beating Leicester and Wolves getting a surprising win at Spurs on Saturday and then West Ham losing to Burnley on Sunday, which all made me feel a bit better about our draw.  That was also helped by the fact that the result didn’t see us losing any ground, so we finish the year in the top half of the Premier League.

After the game, it was back to the West Herts for a couple of post-match pints accompanied by Liverpool’s frankly terrifying performance against Arsenal.  As I eventually made my way home, I reflected on the day as a whole.  I love football and the Hornets have given me many happy memories with their performances on the field over the years. But, even if the game is poor or frustrating, my match days are spent in the company of some lovely people and that is what makes them so very special.  So, as the year comes to an end, I will raise a glass to my football family and thank them for making even the worst football match a good day out.

I extend those good wishes to all who read this blog.  I hope that you have a very happy new year and that the Hornets continue to give us much to celebrate in 2019.

Wasteful Finishing Leads to a Loss on the Tyne

The view of the Tyne Bridge and the Sage, Gateshead from the back of the stand at St James Park

As has become our custom when playing in the North-East, we arranged to meet in Durham on Friday evening.  This plan appeared to be threatened when I received an invitation to travel to New York for a work event on Thursday morning.  But, despite a hiccup due to a slight delay on my return flight, my travel planning turned out to be spot on.  I arrived at Heathrow soon after 9:30am on Friday giving me time to get home for a shower and change of clothes before arriving at Kings Cross in plenty of time for my train at 1:30pm.

The Friday evening meal and drinks were lovely, although the wine flowed a little too freely, for which I have nobody to blame but myself.  The walk from the city centre to the railway station in Durham is up a series of flights of steps.  I saw it as training for the climb to the away stand in St James’s Park later in the day.  On arrival in Newcastle, we had a lovely breakfast followed by a walk along the Tyne which was enlivened by a troupe of teenage girl acrobats, wearing even less than your average Geordie, putting on a display that included some precariously standing on their friends’ shoulders and appearing in distinct danger of being blown into the river.  As if that wasn’t enough, there was a bonkers busker who decided to serenade the couples out for a ‘romantic’ walk with a rendition of Minnie Ripperton’s “Lovin’ You” which was unexpected and impressive as he (sort of) hit the high notes.

My view of the minute’s silence

We were outside the door of our chosen pre-match establishment before they opened and managed to secure a secluded area for our party.  As we enjoyed our refreshments, we were visited by a Newcastle fan dropping off flyers detailing the upcoming protests against Mike Ashley.  Today’s was an 11th minute brandishing of the leaflet reading “Get out of our Club” and a protest outside the lounge at the end of the game.  I was also delighted to be joined by my sister and brother-in-law who had come up on the supporters coach which had arrived in Newcastle uncharacteristically early.

We left in plenty of time to take the stroll uphill to the ground, before scaling the 14 flights to the stand.  On arrival, we were less than delighted to discover that our seats were almost at the back requiring us to negotiate another steep flight of steps and ensuring that I had worked off my breakfast prior to kick-off.

Team news was that Gracia had made the one change with Holebas returning in place of Masina.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Mariappa, Femenía; Pereyra, Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes; Success, Deulofeu.

The minute’s silence at pitch level

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s silence for Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the Leicester owner, and the others who lost their lives in the helicopter crash last weekend.  The silence spontaneously erupted into applause, which seemed appropriate for a man who had given so much to his community.  The contrast with the feelings of the locals for the Newcastle owner was not lost on me.

The first attack of note was made by the home side with a cross that was met by a wayward header from Mariappa that went out for a corner, the delivery of which by Shelvey was cleared by Hughes.  At the other end Capoue broke and fed Pereyra who was tackled, the ball fell to Deulofeu whose shot was deflected for a corner.  Former Watford loanee, Kenedy, was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that was well wide of the target.  Then, as Muto broke forward, a shout of “handball” went up from the travelling Hornets, who took full credit when the referee blew up even though we knew that he couldn’t possibly have heard us.

Holebas lining up a corner with Pereyra in attendance

Pereyra and Holebas then combined brilliantly to get the ball to Hughes in the box, but the ball stuck under his feet and a tackle came in before he could shoot.  Watford should have taken the lead after 15 minutes when Mariappa met a Holebas corner with a header that was blocked on the line, the rebound fell to Hughes whose shot was also blocked, Mariappa had a second chance to score but shot just wide of the near post.  Newcastle were still causing the Hornets problems and a terrific shot from Diamé needed a good save from Foster to keep it out.  A lovely Watford move deserved more as Success found Deulofeu who broke into the box but was tackled before he could shoot.  This was followed by another gorgeous passage of play from the Hornets as Pereyra played the ball out to Holebas who put in a low cross for Deulofeu, but the Spaniard snatched at his shot and the ball flew wide of the near post.   At the other end, a misplaced pass allowed Kenedy to break, but he was stopped by a brilliant saving tackle by Mariappa.  Watford had another great chance to open the scoring as Success broke forward and passed to Deulofeu who was in an acre of space and should have done better with only the keeper to beat, but his shot was wide of the far post.

Breaking at a corner

A decent break from the home side was stopped by some clever defending from Holebas who managed to get in front of the Newcastle man and draw a foul.  Holebas was the centre of attention again soon after as he changed his shorts on the sideline.  Unfortunately my camera was in my pocket at the time.  Watford then won a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery from Capoue flew just over the bar.  The Frenchman was then booked for a tackle from behind on Muto.  Shelvey took the free kick, which was in an equally dangerous position, but his effort was well over the bar.  Deulofeu threatened again as he broke down the left, but his shot hit the side netting.  Watford had yet another decent chance as Pereyra played Success in, but the shot was blocked.  There was a final chance for the Hornets to take the lead before the break when Deulofeu slid the ball through to Success, but Dubravka was equal to the shot.  Despite Watford’s numerous chances during the half, that was the first save that the Newcastle keeper had had to make.  In the minute added on at the end of the half, Benitez made a substitution bringing Pérez on for Muto, who had taken a knock.  A decision that provoked a furious rant from Pete about the sheer pointlessness of the move when he could have had 20 minutes to recover.  Needless to say, the half time whistle went with the substitute not having had a touch and the game goalless.  It had been a frustrating half for the travelling Hornets.  Watford had much the better of the play and had created plenty of chances, Deulofeu could have had a hat trick on his own, but the finishing had been wasteful.

Pereyra, Holebas and Capoue gather for a free kick

The home side made another injury-enforced change at the break with Lascelles making way for Schär.  Watford had a superb chance to take the lead early in the second half when Success fought his way past Yedlin before passing to Pereyra whose shot looked all the way in until the crossbar got in the way.  Benitez was forced to make his final substitution only five minutes into the half when Shelvey was replaced by Ki, again due to an injury. Watford had another chance to take the lead from a corner, but Cathcart’s header was just over the bar.  Newcastle threatened as Rondón ran on to a through ball, Foster made a brave save, although he needn’t have bothered as the flag had gone up for offside anyway.  Foster came to the rescue again, punching a Ritchie corner clear, the ball came back in from Ki, but Foster gathered.  Hughes was then booked for a foul on Ki, conceding a free kick in a dangerous position.  Ki delivered the free-kick himself and it was headed home by Pérez to give the home side an unexpected lead.  Gracia made an immediate change bringing Gray on for Deulofeu.

Holebas delivers a corner

From the restart Newcastle broke forward, but Foster came out to make the tackle and avert the danger.  The home side had a great chance for a second goal soon after as a Kenedy cross was met by a header from Rondón that flew just wide of the target.  At the other end, a ball was launched for Success to run on to, but he let it run out of play much to the frustration of the travelling Hornets.  Kenedy did well to beat Mariappa and cross for Rondón, but Cathcart was on hand to make a saving header.  Success then did really well to break forward and cross for Gray who was stopped by a tackle from Kenedy.  Watford’s second substitution saw Hughes make way for Okaka.  Watford’s attempts to draw level continued as Pereyra crossed for Gray, but Dubravka was able to gather the ball.  A lovely passing move by the Hornets finished with a poor cross and the chance was lost.  Gracia made his final substitution replacing Success with Chalobah. I was shocked to hear cheers greeting this change.  I tried to be charitable and reason that the cheers must have been for the return of Chalobah, but it was so clear that they weren’t.  Now I am not Isaac’s biggest fan, he frustrates me greatly with some of his decision making.  A bit more thought allied with his skill and he would be a world beater.  He was also getting knocked off the ball a little too easily.  But he had worked hard and created some brilliant chances and certainly did not deserve that treatment from his own fans.  Watford had a late chance as Doucouré fired across the goal, but there was nobody on hand to turn the ball in.

Gathering for a Watford corner

There had been some theatrical feigning of injury by the Newcastle players (interspersed with bouts of cramp) which culminated in Yedlin going down dramatically after a collision with Pereyra.  The Newcastle man was claiming that his opponent had stamped on him.  As the Argentine protested, Holebas got involved and it all kicked off on the sideline with Holebas and Schär both being shown a yellow card after the handbags had been put down.  The Hornets had one last chance to snatch a point and it was a decent one as Doucouré played the ball back to Okaka who should have scored, but fired over the bar instead and Newcastle gained their first win of the season.

There were a lot of angry Watford fans after the game.  There was some justification for this as Newcastle had been very poor and were there for the taking.  But the first half performance had been impressive and the Hornets should have been 3 or 4 up at half time.  If the Pereyra shot that hit the crossbar early in the second half had gone in, we would have won the game.  But Newcastle worked hard, managed to get a goal from a set piece and it seemed to be game over from that point.  Still it is very dispiriting to hear so much anger directed at the players who have entertained us wonderfully so far this season.  We are half way to safety with less than 30% of the games played, so are already on the way to having a great season.  There will be the odd blip, but that shouldn’t derail the support as we are all in this together.  It would be great if some of our more volatile supporters could remember that.

Securing Safety on a Sunny Afternoon

All smiles after the Soccer Dice match

Monday’s game against Spurs was a very odd experience.  Going to Wembley for a normal league game just didn’t seem right.  The crowd looked very sparse despite there being over 52,000 there.  Unlike normal away games, the concourse pre-match was very quiet indeed.  As for the match, the Hornets put in a very decent performance but, as so often this season, made a couple of mistakes at the back and failed to make the most of their attacking chances, so ended the game on the end of a 2-0 defeat.  One that wasn’t unexpected, so didn’t leave me too dispirited.

It was lovely to be back at Vicarage Road for the last home game of the season.  Unusually for a bank holiday weekend, the sun was shining brightly.  There was a great turn out in the West Herts.  The call had gone out that there would be a game of Soccer Dice.  Boys versus Girls in the ToddDee challenge.  Fittingly, Toddy’s son, Chris was in attendance and enthusiastically joined in.  Soccer Dice is a simple game as you throw a set of dice, one at a time, following the instructions until a goal or a miss is thrown.  This may sound like quite a sedate pastime but, as it always does, it quickly descended into rowdiness and accusations of cheating.  The boys won 9-6, but I suspect there were some nefarious activities involved in that victory.  Dee and Toddy would have both loved it.

The crowd on the way down Occupation Road seemed larger than usual and there was a tremendous atmosphere.  As usual, I bought my programme from the woman just inside the Rookery concourse and wished her a happy close season.  Then to my usual seat for the last time until August.  There was a flag just along from me that wasn’t being used, so I took possession and waved it.  I then realised why I don’t usually try as I am so cack-handed that the guys in the row in front appeared to be under attack.  Thankfully, they were uninjured in the process.

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal

Team news was three changes from Monday with Janmaat, Pereyra and Deeney coming in for Mariappa, Femenía and Richarlison.  So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deeney and Gray, lining up in a 4-4-2 formation, much to the joy of many Watford fans.  After our recent run of results, and knowing that we could do with the points to make absolutely sure of safety, I went into this game feeling rather tense.

The game kicked off and, thankfully, the team were not as nervous as I was and started quite brilliantly with Deeney and Gray combining before finding Doucouré who played a lovely square ball to Pereyra, who finished from close range.  1-0 up after two minutes in glorious sunshine and all felt right with the world.  Watford continued to attack as Gray played a through ball to Pereyra, his shot was blocked but rebounded to Deeney, whose shot was also blocked, then Capoue tried his luck and the shot was deflected for a corner, but it was all very positive.  Watford continued to dominate, but didn’t test the keeper again until the 26th minute when Capoue won the ball in midfield.  He stopped, apparently thinking that there had been a foul, when he finally played on he found Deeney who passed the ball out to Gray on the right, from where he unleashed a terrific shot that Dúbravka did well to save.

Gray receives the congratulations of his team mates

But Gray wasn’t to be denied for long as he received a lovely cross from Pereyra and headed home to put the Hornets two goals up.  Newcastle then had their first chance of note as Gayle played the ball back to Shelvey whose shot was stopped by a terrific block by Doucouré.  When Gray broke into the Newcastle box, he appeared to have won a corner, but the lino was flagging frantically and the referee pointed to the spot.  Deeney stepped up to take the penalty but hit a low shot that was easily saved by Dúbravka, Troy reached the rebound but, again, the Newcastle keeper denied him.  I hoped that we wouldn’t end up rueing that miss, as a third goal would surely have finished the game off.  The first booking of the game went to Pérez for kicking the ball away after the home side had won a free kick.  So the Hornets reached half time two goals up after a very impressive performance indeed.

At half time, the award for the Academy player of the season was presented to Lewis Gordon.  Let us hope that he goes on to become a first team regular.  The presentation was made by Tommy Hoban, who has had yet another season out due to injury.  So sad for such a great prospect and a lovely lad.

Capoue takes a free kick

The final of the half time penalty shoot-out was between Holy Rood and St Pauls.  It has to be said that there were some excellent penalties and Holy Rood ran out deserved 4-2 winners.

Watford started the second half brightly as a free kick from Holebas was plucked out of the air by Dúbravka.  Then Gray’s attempt to latch on to a ball over the top from Deeney was frustrated by a shoulder barge that was deemed fair.  The first substitution was made by Benitez as Ritchie came on in place of Murphy.  Watford continued to threaten as a free-kick was headed clear to Pereyra whose shot from the edge of the box flew over the bar.  The visitors pulled a goal back 10 minutes into the half as a counter-attack finished with a deep cross from Manquillo that was turned in by Pérez.  At this point, my pre-match nerves returned with a vengeance.  Gracia immediately made a change as Deulofeu replaced Pereyra.  The substitution was a little surprising as the Argentine had a great game.  The Spaniard had a ropey start, his first action being to pass the ball back to Gayle, thankfully the shot was blocked.

Deeney and Pereyra

The first card for the home side was awarded to Kabasele for blocking a run by Pérez.  Deulofeu then played a lovely ball to Gray who cut the ball back from a tight angle, but there was no Watford player there to capitalise.  Gracia’s next substitution was even more baffling than the first and was greeted with boos, as he replaced Deeney with Mariappa, which, much as I adore Mapps, seemed incredibly negative with only a goal in the game and half an hour remaining.  Mariappa was nearly on the scoresheet at the wrong end as he met a cross from Manquillo with a header that needed a decent save from Karnezis to keep it out.  Manquillo was then replaced by Yedlin.   Watford’s next goal attempt came from Capoue who tried a shot from distance that was headed out by Dummett for a corner.  At the other end, there was a worrying scramble in the Watford box before the ball was finally cleared.  Holebas was the next player to be cautioned after taking too long to take a throw-in.  The Newcastle fans thought they had scored an equalizer as, from a corner, Shelvey played a low cross to Pérez but the shot hit the side netting.  Gracia’s final substitution saw Gray replaced by Richarlison.  There was a half chance for the Hornets as a free kick from Holebas was met by the head of Kabasele, but the effort was easily gathered by Dúbravka.  Then Doucouré appeared to play a lovely through ball for Richarlison, but the young Brazilian broke too early and was flagged offside.

Challenging at a corner

The final Newcastle substitution saw Merino come on for Diamé.  The visitors threatened again as Yedlin went on run down the right wing and pulled the ball back for Merino, but Mariappa made the block to avert the danger.  Another decent-looking move from Watford came to nothing as Richarlison broke forward, but his pass was too far in front of Deulofeu and the chance went begging.  Into four minutes of added time and we were counting down the seconds as Pérez whipped in a cross that was gathered confidently by Karnezis.  Fair play to the Hornet fans at this point as we chanted “Watford FC” with all our might, encouraging our team to hold out as all the play was around the Watford box.  Finally the ball was cleared and Richarlison tried to escape and was pulled to the ground.  At this point, the referee blew the final whistle and the Watford fans celebrated a win that finally guaranteed the safety that we felt that we had for months.  The Watford players all collapsed to the ground.  It had been a very hot afternoon and they had given their all.

Doucoure shows his Players’ Player of the Season award to the crowd in the Rookery

We waited around after the final whistle for the players to do their lap of honour.  Knowing that they had guaranteed another season of Premier League football at Vicarage Road, it was all smiles.  They then presented a couple of the end of season awards.  The Community Ambassador award went to Christian Kabasele, whose presentation was slightly delayed as his little ‘un was entertaining the Rookery trying to score a goal.  As he carried the ball over the line I reflected that he may be a rugby player in the making.  Then the Players’ Player was presented to Abdoulaye Doucouré, a very popular choice who, when given the mic and a bit of encouragement from Tim Coombs, joined in with his song, which was fabulous.

So it was back to the West Herts, with a mixture of joy, relief and frustration.  That game was Watford’s season in microcosm.  A first half in which we played some gorgeous football, were clearly the better team, but missed a penalty when we could have finished the game off.  The second half was much more nervy as the players tired and, while they defended decently enough, allowed the visitors too much time in our half so my nerves were in shreds.  Again, the opposition scored with their only shot on target.  Thankfully, on this occasion, it only affected the goal difference.  So I spent the last post-match gathering of the season sitting in the sun with dear friends, reflecting on a win while drinking beer, eating Drummy’s jerk chicken and watching the West Herts cricket team win.  Just perfect.