Tag Archives: Martin Kelly

Rainbows on a Happier Day at the Vic

Hayden Mullins

My journey to Watford took slightly longer than usual as I hadn’t factored in the strike timetable on the final leg of the journey.  As we arrived at the Junction, a Palace fan tried to engage a fella in front of me regarding our prospects for the game.  I responded that I wasn’t expecting anything, he countered that we always beat them.  We concluded that we would both be happy with a point and went our separate ways wishing each other well.

After that surprisingly pleasant encounter I headed for the West Herts and arrived just before Don left for the ground.  It being the 10th anniversary of that amazing goal, glasses were raised with the toast “Happy Doyley Day.”  Needless to say, there was also a lot of discussion about our new head coach.  I have to say that I am happy with the appointment and the consensus of our group was that Pearson is just what we need at the moment.  He did great things at Leicester and was credited with building the team that won the Premier League.  He will also take no nonsense and we certainly need that attitude.  As we watched Duncan Ferguson’s Everton beat Chelsea and recoiled in terror every time the camera gave a close up of big Dunc, I could only hope that Nigel would have the same effect at Watford.

Kiko Femenia leaving Zaha for a moment to take a throw-in

As it was Watford’s “Rainbow Laces” match, there was a rainbow carpet welcoming all to the Hornet shop and there were Premier League representatives handing out laces to passing fans.  I took some and just need to find a pair of boots with which to wear them.

Due to the late appointment of Pearson, Hayden Mullins was in charge again, facing his former club.  Team news was that he had made two changes from the Leicester game with Kabasele and Pereyra coming in for Mariappa and Hughes.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Femenía; Capoue, Doucouré; Pereyra, Deulofeu, Sarr; Deeney.  In the opposition dug out was our old friend and hero Ray Lewington.  I love to see him back at Vicarage Road.

I was not in the ground in time to see Pearson introduced to the crowd, but I was there when Emma asked us to thank Hayden Mullins for his stewardship while we were between managers.  He was rewarded with very warm applause from the crowd and responded in kind.

Capoue on the ball

There was a great early chance for the Hornets as Sarr turned and broke forward before playing in Femenía who crossed for Deeney who was unable to make a decent contact.  At the other end, the visitors threatened but Ayew’s cross was hit straight to Foster.  The Hornets gifted the visitors with a great chance to take the lead when a mishit clearance reached McArthur who should have done better but, thankfully, shot wide of the far post.  The home side then had a great chance of their own as Femenía put a lovely cross in for Sarr, who tried to turn the ball in at the near post, but it was blocked for a corner.  Sarr again executed a lovely turn and run but, on this occasion, his cross was headed to safety.  The Hornets won a free kick in a dangerous position on the edge of the Palace box, but Pereyra’s delivery was straight at the wall.  The first booking of the game went to Doucouré, who stuck a leg out to bring Ayew down.  Off the field, there were complaints of bullying in the Rookery as Trevor, who sits in front of us and is a QPR fan (his wife is Watford), objected to the number of people wishing him “Happy Doyley Day”!  Kabasele and Zaha tangled, there was some afters and the Palace man was penalised and booked, much to the amusement of the Watford faithful.  There was then the ridiculous sight of Cathcart being shown a yellow card for a pass because Milivojevic had challenged him as he kicked the ball and had fallen over Cathcart’s feet.  The first half ended with a lovely move from the Hornets that finished with Deulofeu playing a square ball to Sarr who shot well over the target.

So, we reached the break with the game goalless and without a shot on target, but it had been a very positive half of football from the Hornets.

Deulofeu takes a corner

At half time, representatives from the Proud Hornets and Proud and Palace were interviewed about their groups’ efforts to ensure that LGBT+ supporters feel welcome at football matches.  The Hornets representative was particularly enthusiastic about the rainbow display in the Rookery at this time last year that they worked on with the 1881.  It was very impressive and a really positive gesture towards inclusivity.

The visitors made a change at the break bringing Riedewald on for Schlupp.  The Hornets had two goal chances in the first couple of minutes of the second half.  First a free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Doucouré, but the header was an easy save for Guaita in the Palace goal.  Then Pereyra played in Deulofeu but, again, the shot was straight at the Palace keeper.  The next chance fell to Capoue, but his shot from outside the area was high and wide.  Deulofeu looked as though he would open the scoring as he escaped from the Palace defence, but his shot was just wide of the near post.  My heart was in my mouth when Masina and Zaha tangled in the box, but it was the Palace man that was adjudged to have been the aggressor.  At this point the Palace fans were expressing their ire regarding the referee, the Watford faithful responded with “This referee’s all right!”.

Pereyra, Deulofeu and Masina line up a free kick

Watford threatened again as Deulofeu played a short corner to Pereyra who played a return pass, but the curling effort from Geri was easy for Guaita.  At the other end, Zaha found McArthur whose shot was well over the target.  A promising run by Deulofeu was stopped by a foul from Tomkins that earned a yellow card.  Palace then made their second substitution bringing Benteke on for Townsend.  A lovely ball into the Palace box from Deulofeu appeared to be heading for the near post but Guaita was lurking and Sarr just failed to turn it in at close range.  Into the final 15 minutes of the game and Mullins made two substitutions in quick succession with Gray and Chalobah replacing Pereyra and Doucouré.  Between the substitutions, McArthur made a foray into the Watford box but was stopped by a great tackle from Kabasele.  The visitors then had their best chance of the game with a powerful shot from Ayew that just cleared the bar.  Watford were still fighting to make the breakthrough and Sarr played a cross to Deulofeu which was a little too deep so narrowed the angle for Geri who crossed back for Ismaïla, who could only head wide under a challenge from Cahill.  The final substitution for Palace saw Kouyaté replaced by McCarthy.

Femenia, Doucoure and Sarr

Sarr had yet another chance to open the scoring, but his shot was turned wide by Cahill.  A corner was then played back in by Cathcart to Sarr but the shot was high and wide.  The game was getting rather tetchy and Femenía was the next to go into the referee’s book after hauling Zaha down.  From the free kick, Watford cleared and launched a counter-attack as Sarr powered downfield before crossing for Gray who was coming into the box at speed and could only shoot straight at Guaita.  There were shouts for a penalty when Deeney was pulled over by Cahill as he tried to reach a cross into the box by Masina.  The referee waved play on but, soon after, Deeney was awarded a free kick for a much more innocuous foul on the wing and was clearly asking the referee why that was an infringement when the one in the box wasn’t.  He appeared dissatisfied with the explanation.  There had been an ongoing niggle between Capoue and Zaha and the Watford man was finally cautioned for a push on his opponent to stop him escaping.  It was a very “Capoue” foul.  Watford had a final chance to grab the winner as a shot from Deeney was caught by Guaita while Sarr challenged.  The youngster went down in the incident and was lying on the goalline.  Gray and Deeney told him in no uncertain terms to get on with the game and Troy dragged him to his feet with a force that could have dislocated his shoulder!!  That was the last chance of the game which remained goalless despite the efforts of the Hornets.

Graham Stack congratulating Ben Foster at the end of the game

The game finished with some unresolved handbags.  Zaha was still arguing about how hard done by he had been as Chalobah put an arm around him and accompanied him off.

Back to the West Herts and the smiles were back on our faces.  That had been a much better performance from the Hornets who looked like a cohesive team and worked very hard.  The defence had been well-organised and the much maligned Femenía had put in an excellent performance keeping Zaha very quiet and contributing to his frustration.  Sarr had again put in a great performance and is finally showing us what he can do.  It was also pleasing to see Deulofeu put in a considerably better showing than he had in midweek.  It is great to see Deeney back, his leadership makes such a difference to the team even if he isn’t scoring.  All in all, it had been an enjoyable afternoon at the Vic and we haven’t had many of those this season.

So, while we are still at the foot of the table, I find myself feeling much more positive about our prospects for the rest of the season, even if the next two games are unlikely to be a lot of fun.

Heurelho Helps Us to Wembley

The GT Stand before the game

I had to travel to the US for work again this week.  Leaving after the City game and returning on Thursday morning, meant I didn’t have too much time to prepare for this match.  The crucial thing was not forgetting the paper ticket that had been sent out.  This was taken with me to the US as I was scared that jet-leg would lead to me leaving it in a drawer.

Due to the early kick-off, I decided to stay in London overnight on Friday.  On waking, and before I had really had time to think about my plans for the day, the nerves had already kicked in.  I caught the 9:24 from Euston to Watford and settled down with a coffee while noting that others on the train had already started on the beer.  Contemplating which podcast should accompany me, I decided to have another listen to the previous week’s From the Rookery End.  If I needed any more inspiration for the day, the rallying cry from the Parkin men, Mike and Arlo, certainly did the job.  As I passed Wembley on the train, I stared at the arch.  The new stadium hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for us, but that has to change one of these days and I wanted the chance to return (although I wish it wasn’t for a semi-final, those should be at Villa Park).  When the train emptied at the Junction, as it often does, it made a nice change to see that those disembarking were fans of football rather than Harry Potter.

Heurelho Gomes

I reached the West Herts a few minutes before the doors were due to open at 10 and there was already quite a crowd waiting.  When the doors opened, we took up position at ‘our’ table and were soon enjoying a pint and a bacon roll.  Breakfast of Champions.

Just to spite us, the clock there was running 30 minutes slow, but we noticed early enough to ensure that we left in plenty of time.  As we walked along Vicarage Road among the crowds, the anticipation built.  I noted that Wolfie had already sold out of programmes and hoped that my usual lady still had some left when I entered the ground (she did).  As we turned the corner into Occupation Road, I glanced over at the statue and knew that I had to greet GT.  I went over and took his hand, knowing that today would be a day he would have savoured.

The 1881 had put incredible efforts into making sure that there would be a tremendous atmosphere.  When we took our seats, the ground was already full of people waving flags.  The big screen was showing footage of earlier quarter-finals.  I enjoyed watching John Barnes lobbing Tony Coton in 1984, but it is the Arsenal game in 1987 that always comes to mind.  I loved that day out at Highbury.

Jose Holebas on the ball

The Palace fans had been given their required allocation, no more, no less.  Due to problems with segregation in the Vicarage Road end, this meant that the Palace fans were housed in two blocks in the stand with a netting area between them and a banner wishing the Hindu community Happy Holi India for their festival on Thursday this week.  It was an odd sight and one that had infuriated the visiting fans.

Team news was that Gracia had chosen what most would consider to be his strongest team with the exception of Gomes coming in for Foster for what would probably be his last game at Vicarage Road.  What a game to go out on.  It was interesting that Femenía had been chosen in place of Janmaat, who had done well recently.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.  The major news for Palace was that Zaha would miss the game through injury.  While he is undoubtedly a very talented player, he often seems to go missing.  So I wasn’t sure that his absence would have a major effect on the game, although it may have changed Harry Hornet’s game plan.  Of course, the lovely Ray Lew was back at Vicarage Road in the opposition dug out.  He managed us through times of penury, but still took us to an FA Cup semi-final.  He will always be a legend to me for that.

As the teams came out, the flags waved in the home stands, there were streamers and the Legends banner was unfurled from the Upper GT stand, meaning that Nigel Gibbs found himself sitting under his picture.  That had to be a good omen.

Doucoure and Pereyra

My niece, Maddie, had enjoyed the Leicester game so much that she made a late decision to come to this one.  Her seat was in a part of the Rookery away from the rest of us, but she hung around just in case one of the seats in our section remained unoccupied.  That didn’t happen, but the crowd in the Rookery forgot to sit down, so the extra person in our row was not apparent and we were able to enjoy the match together.

The game kicked off and the Rookery were in good voice singing “Is that all you take away” to the Palace fans, before launching into “Heurelho Gomes baby” for our veteran keeper.  He was in action early in the game as the first goal chance fell to the visitors as Townsend played the ball back to Milivojevic whose shot was saved by Gomes, although it was off target anyway.  Watford’s first action of note came from a free kick, Holebas floated it into the box where McArthur took Hughes down, but the referee. Kevin Friend, waved away our appeals for a penalty.  After a quarter of an hour, there was a break in play as the players burst a number of red and blue balloons that were invading the pitch in the corner in front of the Family Stand.  Having found a pitchfork somewhere, Harry joined in with some enthusiasm.

Capoue giving thanks for his goal

Watford’s first chance of the game came as Deulofeu burst into the box and shot from a narrow angle, but the Palace keeper, Guaita, stood tall and blocked the shot.  Palace won a free kick in a dangerous position, but Gomes rose to make a comfortable catch.  Watford then had a spell when they were in and around the Palace box, but couldn’t fashion a shot on target.  Instead we won a series of corners and, as each one was repelled, I hoped that we wouldn’t regret missing those chances.  Then, from yet another corner, the ball fell to Capoue and he knocked it into the net to send us all crazy.  Just what we needed to settle the nerves a bit.  The Hornets could have had a second as Deulofeu advanced into the box and hit a gorgeous shot but Guaita did brilliantly to get a hand to it and keep it out.  The first booking of the game went to Milivojevic for a foul on Hughes.  Watford had another great chance to increase their lead as Deulofeu hit a free kick over the wall, but Guaita was down to make the save.  Palace made a rare foray into the Watford half as Townsend broke forward, but was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Holebas who was injured in the process.  Thankfully, he was able to continue after treatment.  Palace had a chance to equalise just before half time as Wan-Bissaka chipped the ball to Meyer but the shot was weak and easily gathered by Gomes.  The visitors had one last attack in time added on but Deulofeu was back to make a superb tackle on McArthur and avert the danger.  An unexpected and very welcome showing in defence from young Gerry.

Holebas and Pereyra line up a free kick

So we went into half time in a deserved lead.  It had been a dominant performance from the Hornets, who were not giving their opponents any space to play.  We should really have been further ahead, but I was happy with what I had seen.

Half time and the first talking point was a hornet onesie that was being worn by a woman in the Rookery.  It was an interesting fashion choice.  Back to the official entertainment and the special guest was Tommy Smith who was asked about his appearances in previous cup quarter finals.   His goal from the game against Burnley was shown, I couldn’t help remembering that Ray Lew then left him out for the semi-final after Chopra’s heroics in another game against Burnley.  Tommy had also played in the game against Plymouth in 2007 (as had Mariappa).  I had forgotten that game, until he mentioned it.  It was truly dire.

 

A tremendous showing by Femenia

Watford had to make a substitution at the break as Holebas was unable to continue, so was replaced by Masina.  The Hornets had the first attack of the second half as a poor goal kick from Gomes was rescued and flicked on to Deulofeu who put in a decent cross, but nobody was on hand to connect with it.  Then a Palace corner was flicked goalwards by Meyer, but Gomes pulled off an excellent save to deny him.  Masina was booked after taking Meyer down soon after executing another robust challenge.  Townsend took the free kick and it was on target, but Gomes tipped it over the bar.  Batshuayi should have done better when he received a ball from Schlupp, but he knocked it wide of the near post.  He did much better soon after as Mariappa dwelled on the ball instead of clearing it, the Palace man nipped in to dispossess him and shoot across Gomes into the opposite corner to draw the game level.  It was a howler from Mariappa, who would have been devastated given his history at Palace.  At this point, the nerves set in with a vengeance again.  Surely Palace wouldn’t snatch this from us.  Watford had a chance to regain their lead as Deeney played the ball back to Deulofeu but his shot was straight at the keeper.  The Hornets had another great chance as Guaita punched a cross from Masina only as far as Pereyra, his shot was saved but Doucouré could only put the follow-up over the bar.

Deep in conversation after Gray’s goal

Gracia then made his first unforced substitution bringing Gray on for Hughes.  I dare not say it out loud, but my mind was screaming “super sub!”  A lovely exchange of passes deserved a better finish than a cross from Doucouré that was too heavy and went out for a goal kick.  The second goal for the Hornets was a thing of beauty as Pereyra dinked a ball over to Gray who finished past Guaita sending the Watford fans crazy again and also giving us the opportunity to see a Gomes celebration in front of the Rookery for what may well be the last time.  With 10 minutes remaining, I was hoping that we would hold on, but the visitors then won a free kick in a dangerous position.  I held my breath as Milivojevic stepped up to take it, my joyous shout of “into the wall” may have been stating the obvious but it indicated my profound relief.  Hodgson made a substitution at this point, replacing McArthur with Benteke.  Watford could have grabbed a third, but Deeney’s powerful shot was parried by Guaita and Wan-Bissaka managed to clear as Deulofeu closed in on the rebound.  The Hornets had another great chance as Cathcart met a corner with a header that was cleared off the line by Milivojevic.  Gracia made his final change bringing Cleverly on for Deulofeu who left the field to an ovation and some laughter as, when the referee went over to tell him to speed up his departure from the pitch, he innocently turned and shook his hand.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, the visitors had a chance to take the game into extra time when a corner reached Tomkins, who seemed to be taken by surprise and turned it wide of the near post.  Late into time added on and the visitors really should have been level as the ball fell to Wan-Bissaka and we watched despairingly as his shot appeared to be heading for the opposite corner before rolling wide.  I noted something in my notebook at this point, but my hand was shaking so much that it is totally illegible.  When the whistle went to confirm our place in the semi-final, Vicarage Road erupted with joy.

Harry Hornet in his Superman cape

I was distracted at the sight of Harry Hornet running on wearing a Superman style cape, so missed the moment when Gracia warmly embraced Gomes.  The keeper was then hugged by Deeney and it was apparent that he was in tears.  The crowd were cheering him on and he was very emotional in his response.  It was lovely to see the mutual respect between the player and the crowd.  Finally, as he always used to, he brought his sons on to the pitch to enjoy the applause with him.  While this was going on, the tannoy had Que Sera Sera playing and the Watford crowd were singing along with gusto.  It was all fabulous.

Normally we stay to applaud the last player off the pitch, so the stands are empty by the time we leave (everyone is in Occupation Road).  It is a mark of how much this win meant that when the pitch emptied the stand was still full and, for the first time in years, we had to wait to leave our row.

As we reached the Hornet shop we noticed that they already had t-shirts commemorating the semi-final in the window.  Being a sucker for that sort of thing, we all went in and bought the shirts.  Then came out and had a family photo with GT.

A family photo with GT

When I finally got back to the West Herts, my group were happily sitting outside celebrating the victory.  It is hard to analyse a game when the result is all that counts, but it had been a great performance from the Hornets and the win was well deserved.  Deeney may not have scored, but he had put in a great Captain’s performance which was noted by us all.  I have to say that I had almost forgotten how good Femenía is, he had a tremendous game and certainly justified his inclusion.  While enjoying our celebratory beers, I had a quick read of the BBC online match report and was a little taken aback to see a comment to the effect that the win mean that we had reached “only” our sixth semi-final.  Actually it is our seventh, but we are a small town club and to have reached seven semi-finals is actually a tremendous achievement.  I am still pinching myself.

When I finally decided to head for home, the walk through the town centre to the station was to the sound of Watford fans singing Que Sera Sera.  It was a lovely feeling.

The draw for the semi-final took place when I was in the car driving home this afternoon.  When Alan Green announced that Watford were playing Wolves, I screamed with relief.  They will not be easy opponents, they are a very good side.  But at least we go into the game knowing that it is winnable and that is all that you can ask at this stage.  Troy has been on the losing side in a previous semi-final at Wembley and he will certainly not want to repeat that experience.  It should be a great day out.

I am still buzzing after that win.  Over the past 40 years, I have many wonderful days following the Hornets, but also some very miserable ones.  We go week in, week out, sometimes travelling a long distance to see our team badly beaten, but days like this make it all worthwhile.  There is a tremendous spirit around the club at the moment, so I hope that we can sell out our allocation and roar the boys on to a cup final.  That would be a fitting end to what has been a wonderful season.

When Harry met Wilf

Lovely Ray Lew

The build-up to this game was all about Harry Hornet who, in answer to a question from a journalist, had been branded a ‘disgrace’ by Roy Hodgson for an incident two years ago that I doubt Hodgson had actually ever seen, when Harry collapsed behind Zaha while the post-match handshakes were happening.  Sticking up for your player is all well and good but Roy lost all credibility when he claimed, with a straight face, that Zaha didn’t dive.  Sorry, Roy he gets booked for it, which was what provoked Harry’s action.  You couldn’t help but feel that Roy’s words would come back to haunt him.

For the second weekend running, travel plans had to be adjusted due to the closure of Euston, although the switch to the Met line wasn’t too much of a hardship.  When I boarded at Finchley Road, I was happy to spot Swansea Steve, so was treated to delightful company all the way to the West Herts.  Like many others, I arrived before the doors opened, so joined Don in his car to shelter from the rain which was chucking it down by this point.  When we got in the warm, the jerk chicken and rice certainly hit the spot.

Holebas on the attack

Unsurprisingly, the team news was that Gracia was sticking with the team who started both previous games: Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Janmaat; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucoure, Hughes; Deeney, Gray.  The Palace line-up included unlovely former loanee, Townsend, and the very lovely Ray Lewington was in their dugout.  When the teams were announced, Ray was welcomed back by Emma and given a warm ovation by the crowd.

The game started well for the visitors, although the first action of note was a booking for Capoue for a foul on Zaha.  It has to be said that this looked like a soft challenge from the stands, so was greeted with “Same old Zaha, always cheating,” and “One Harry Hornet.”  The television pictures showed it to be a nastier tackle than had been apparent at the time and one atypical for Capoue.  The first chance fell to the Hornets as a Janmaat cross was met by a looping header from Deeney that was easily caught by Hennessy.  The next into the referee’s book was Zaha for a foul on the saintly Holebas.

Foster launches a kick upfield

Palace should have taken the lead in the 12th minute when a cross from Townsend was met by a fantastic header by Benteke, which looked to be flying in until Foster pulled off a magnificent one handed save to keep the game goalless.  Foster saved the Hornets again soon after as McArthur broke into the box and was one-on-one with the keeper who spread himself and blocked the shot, another excellent save.  Watford then had a half chance as Hughes tried a shot that flew wide of the far post.  There was a much better attempt soon after as Janmaat’s cross was volleyed goalwards by Pereyra, the shot deflected over the target.  Another Janmaat cross ran through a couple of dummies to Pereyra, this time Hennessey pulled off a low save.  McArthur broke into the Watford box again, this time he was stopped from shooting by a great tackle from Holebas and Foster was able to gather the ball.  Some niggle between Zaha and Janmaat while waiting for a throw-in lead to the Watford man being booked while his equally culpable counterpart was allowed to walk, presumably as the referee did not want to show a red card.  Watford were having more of an impact late in the half as a shot from the edge of the area by Doucouré was blocked.  Then Gray played in Janmaat whose shot was just wide of the far post.  At the other end Benteke was released and looked sure to break the deadlock when Kabasele made a wonderful saving tackle to avert the danger.  So we reached half time goalless after an even 45 minutes of football.

Congratulating Pereyra on the first goal

During the break, they announced that there would be a reunion of the boys of 1999 at Shendish in December.  Micah Hyde was on hand to talk about those days and to see him walking around the pitch with Richard Johnson afterwards made my heart sing.

Watford started the second half on the front foot as the Palace defence failed to clear a cross from Janmaat and the ball fell to Hughes whose shot was blocked.  Doucouré then did well to win the ball and play a one-two with Deeney, but his final shot was disappointingly wayward.  Doucouré then turned provider laying the ball back to Pereyra whose shot was over the bar.  Watford took the lead in the 53rd minute with a superb goal as Capoue picked the ball up in the Watford half, ran half the length of the field beating a couple of men on the way before finding Pereyra who curled the ball past Hennessey into the bottom corner.  It all went a bit quiet for a while until Benteke tried a curler but his was wide of the far post.

Congratulations for Holebas. I swear he is smiling

Then a ball was played out to Holebas who crossed the ball over Hennessey and into the top corner.  It came out of nowhere.  I’m sure that made him smile, it certainly did us as we were roaring with laughter.  Each side then made a substitution with Watford bringing Sema on for Gray and the visitors replacing Schlupp with Meyer.  Palace pulled a goal back with 12 minutes to go as Zaha snuck along the byline and shot from a tight angle through Foster’s legs to give the Hornets a very nervous end to the game.  Watford could have sealed the points as a Holebas corner was met by the head of Kabasele, but the header was wide of the target.  Palace made a further change bringing Sørloth on for Benteke.  Pereyra then picked up a silly booking for pulling Ward back.  Watford’s final substitution saw Success come on for Deeney who handed the captain’s armband to Sema.  The substitute had a chance to finish the game off in the last minute of time added on, but his shot was weak and easily saved by Hennessey.  Unfortunately this allowed Palace a great chance to level the game as a corner from Milivojevic reached Ward who looked sure to head it past Foster, but instead it flew the wrong side of the post (for them) and Watford secured the three points and kept their 100% record.

Challenging at a corner

It was no classic, but it had been a decent battling performance by the Hornets who deserved the win.  This is really looking like a great team and it was pleasing to see Kabasele given the man of the match award after a very solid performance at the back.  Foster deserves plaudits for the two early saves that kept Watford in the game.  But it was a team performance and the celebrations at the final whistle were mighty, indicating a very happy and cohesive group of players.

But what about the main man?  Harry was on his best behaviour.  Chants of “he’s gonna dive in a minute” from the 1881 were met with a shake of the head and a slapped wrist gesture.  That is, until the final whistle had gone and the players had left the pitch when he went full Klinsmann along the ground to cheers from the crowd.

For a brief moment after the game, Watford were second in the table to Liverpool which was a flashback to our most successful season.  I don’t think we will finish anywhere near as high as that, and we have a couple of difficult games coming up against Spurs and Man Utd, but those are free hits.  All we want from this team is to carry on putting in solid performances and winning points off the teams that will be around us at the end of the season.  So far so good on that front and long may that continue.

 

Ton Up Troy

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

Christmas was spent with family, so we travelled en masse to the early kick-off on Boxing Day.  The roads were surprisingly empty but as we got nearer to the ground, the crowds were gathering and the pulses quickened.

Despite Palace’s poor performances this season, the news that Pardew had been replaced by Allardyce was not what we needed going in to this game and I approached it with low expectations.

The main team news was that Deeney had been named on the bench, with Janmaat taking his place in a front three.  Mazzarri’s other change was to bring Guedioura in for Zúñiga.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Capoue, Behrami, Guedioura; Amrabat, Ighalo and Janmaat.

Challenging for the ball

Challenging for the ball

Mazzarri’s game plan was scuppered in the first couple of minutes as Janmaat picked up an injury while tackling Zaha and was stretchered off to be replaced by Zúñiga.  I was gratified to see that a good number of the Palace fans joined us in applauding Janmaat off the pitch.  There was an early scare for the Hornets when Zaha, who was booed from the start by the Watford fans, was tripped by Guedioura in a dangerous position.  I held my breath as Clattenburg pointed to where the offence was committed but could breathe again when he confirmed that it was outside the box.   Thankfully, the free kick did not trouble Gomes.  There were more injury woes for the Hornets on 13 minutes as Behrami went down holding his hamstring.  He was replaced by Deeney, whose first touch was a lovely ball to Ighalo, but the Nigerian’s cross was blocked.  There was nothing in the way of notable chances before the 24th minute when Prödl tackled Benteke on the edge of the box, the ball broke to Cabaye whose shot was just wide of the near post.  The Palace man was more successful in the next move, Townsend broke forward and played a lovely through ball to Cabaye, who looked a mile offside when he slotted home, but our hopes were dashed as the linesman kept his flag down and the visitors took the lead.  Cabaye also had the next chance with a shot that was well wide of the near post.

Etienne Capoue on the ball

Etienne Capoue on the ball

Watford’s first meaningful chance of the game came on the half hour as Holebas played the ball out to Guedioura who shot wide of the far post.  Another chance came Watford’s way when Ighalo was tripped on the edge of the box, the ball fell to Amrabat but his cross-cum-shot hit Zúñiga and ran through to Hennessey.  The home side looked to be the architects of their own downfall on 36 minutes as Prödl played a terrible back pass to Gomes, Benteke ran on to it and was tripped by the Watford keeper.  The referee had no choice but to point to the spot.  Benteke stepped up to take the penalty himself and, with the Rookery doing their best to put him off, hit a terrible shot that was easily saved by Gomes on his 100th appearance for the club.  Boos greeted the half time whistle.  It had been a very poor half from the Hornets who had created next to nothing.  Salt was rubbed into the wound by the half time entertainment, which was a montage of goals on the big screen.  As I watched it, I despaired that the same players were now incapable of hitting a barn door.

Celebrating Troy's 100th Goal

Celebrating Troy’s 100th Goal

The Hornets made a much better start to the second half but the lively play didn’t translate into many chances.  The first was a shot from distance from Guedioura that flew wide of the far post.  Then Prödl played a ball the length of the pitch, Ighalo latched onto it in the box, but could only shoot wide of the near post.  The next chance fell to Zúñiga, as a Prödl free kick was headed down to him by Deeney, but he shot into Row ZZ, so I didn’t have to duck.  Amrabat went on a lovely run and crossed to the opposite wing where Zúñiga picked the ball up, but his cross was blocked.  Then Watford got the break that they needed as, at a corner, Prödl was dragged to the ground by Delaney and Mark Clattenburg pointed to the spot.  The significance of the penalty award was not lost on anyone in the Rookery as Deeney picked up the ball and the tension grew.  Trevor in the row in front said he didn’t have a good feeling about this.  “Shut up, Cassandra!”  Our Cate wasn’t sure she could look.  I was just concentrating on the man with the ball muttering a mantra, “Come on Troy. Come on Troy.”  Deeney kissed the ball and placed it on the spot, sent Hennessey the wrong way and the Rookery into raptures as he finally scored his hundredth goal for the Hornets.  It had been a long time coming, but it was richly deserved as he had worked incredibly hard since he came on.

Congratulations to Troy on his milestone

Congratulations to Troy on his milestone

The visitors tried to hit back as Puncheon took a free kick, but it was headed over the target by Dann.  A Palace substitution saw former Watford loanee Jordon Mutch replace a less fondly remembered loanee, Andros Townsend.  There was a rare moment of quality as Zúñiga played a clever back heel to Guedioura whose cross was met with a flick header from Ighalo that was easily gathered by Hennessey.  Mazzarri’s final substitution saw Sinclair come on for Zúñiga.  The next action of note was Zaha going down in the Watford box, my heart sank and then swelled when I saw the referee indicate a Watford free kick and brandish a yellow card at the Palace man.  The final chance of the game came with a lovely bit of ball juggling from Guedioura, but his volley was saved by Hennessey and the game finished with honours even.

A draw was probably a fair result.  The visitors had the best of the first half, but the Hornets had been the better team in the second.  The game would probably have been very different had Watford’s starting XI lasted a bit longer, but there was a great deal of frustration at the lack of service to the forwards.  Amrabat and Holebas have been two of our better performers this season but they managed one decent cross into the box between them.  One positive for me was that there were some indications of a revival of the understanding between Deeney and Ighalo.  But when I start fretting about recent results, I look at the table and marvel at the fact that we will finish the year in 10th place in the Premier League so, despite some awful performances, we are doing something right.

Palace Victors on The Box

Abdi in action

Abdi in action

We haven’t faced Palace since the play-off final two years ago and there is a lingering resentment that we were mugged that day.  While Palace’s spoiling tactics made for an unpleasant game, too many of our players didn’t turn up and we didn’t really deserve anything out of the match.  In all honesty, I am delighted that we had a couple more seasons in the Championship and were promoted at a time when we were better prepared for survival in the top division.

The late kick off on Sunday ensured that I had time for lunch with my Dad before the game.  Neither roast pork nor a glass of Malbec play any part in my usual pre-match ritual, so maybe what ensued is all my fault.

The usual suspects were gathered in the West Herts when I arrived and there was time for a pint of ale and a resumption of proper pre-match stuff.  While there we were entertained by the sight of Diego Fabbrini scoring for Middlesbrough (he fell over while doing so).  I must admit to having a soft spot for Diego following a sterling performance in a Herts Senior Cup game on a freezing cold night in Royston a couple of years ago, so I was glad to see that he is doing well at the Riverside.

Cathcart and Nyom

Cathcart and Nyom

It was a gorgeous afternoon and as we walked down Occupation Road, it was lovely to see Lloyd Doyley with his son, even if he was wearing a Jeter shirt.  I was (pleasantly) surprised then to see a smiling Matej Vydra, although it is a shame that he is not available for selection.

Team news was that there were no changes from Newcastle so the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Prödl, Cathcart, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi, Ighalo.  The Palace substitutes included the lovely Adrian Mariappa, whose name was greeted with warm applause from the Hornet faithful.

In his programme notes, Troy Deeney made mention of the sterling efforts of the 1881 and they were on top form pre-match putting on a show for the cameras.  As the teams emerged from the tunnel, the Legends flag was unfurled in the Rookery (or should that be upfurled as it went up the stand and over our heads).  I’m sure it looked amazing from the other stands and on TV.

Anya and Jurado

Anya and Jurado

Watford had a lively start to the game without threatening the Palace goal as a Capoue shot from outside the area and a Prödl header following a corner from Abdi were both wide of the target.  Hennessey’s first involvement came when Anya played the ball out to Deeney but Troy’s shot caused the keeper no problems.  Palace had a great chance to take the lead as Hangeland met a Cabaye free kick with a powerful header that was stopped by a great save from Gomes.  There was then a break in the game while Watson was treated for what appeared to be a dislocated thumb.  While I was concerned because Ben was clearly in a lot of pain, the loud bloke who sits a couple of rows behind me was more interested in speculating on why a penalty hadn’t been awarded, as he’d clearly handled in the box!  Palace threatened again as Cabaye blasted a free kick into the wall, the ball rebounded to Puncheon who shot wide of the target.  At the other end, Jurado played the ball out to Anya who dribbled along the by line before putting in a cross that Ledley headed out for a corner.  A cross from Jurado was then safely headed back to the Palace keeper.  The Hornets had a decent spell of pressure around the Palace box, but the nearest they came to threatening Hennessey was a Nyom shot that was blocked.  On the half hour Jurado found Abdi on the right, his first cross was blocked and came back to him, the second was headed tamely wide by Deeney.  Palace broke again as Sako muscled past Anya on his way towards goal, but his shot was straight at Gomes.  The first booking of the game was earned by Abdi for a late tackle on Bolasie that prompted a chant of “Dirty Northern Bastards” from the away fans.  The resultant free kick from Cabaye flew wide of the far post.  Bolasie, who had caused us problems all half, outpaced the defence to run on to a ball played over the top, Gomes came out to meet him and launched the ball over the SEJ stand to cheers.  Ighalo did really well to battle past a couple of robust challenges before the ball reached Anya by way of Jurado but the cross was cut out by Hangeland before it reached Ighalo who had made a run into the box.  In time added on at the end of the half, Ighalo won a free kick on the edge of the box.  Abdi took the set piece which was deflected for a corner.

Jurado takes a free kick

Jurado takes a free kick

The half ended with both sides having had just a single shot on target.  It had been a disjointed half constantly interrupted by the referee’s whistle as the Palace players tumbled under the slightest challenge.

The best chance of the game so far came at the start of the second half and fell to the home side as Jurado hit the crossbar with a free kick, Deeney met the rebound but headed it over the bar.  Watford put together another good move as Deeney fed Ighalo who chested the ball down to Abdi whose shot was saved.  There was a scare for the Hornets as a free-kick from Sako was deflected just wide of the target.  And another as Gayle bore down on goal, but the attentions of Cathcart ensured that the shot hit the bar and rebounded safely into the arms of Gomes.  Around the hour mark, there was a substitution for each side as Zaha replaced Sako for the visitors and Berghuis came on for Abdi.  The Palace substitution proved to be the decisive one as Zaha fell in the corner of the box under a challenge from Nyom and the referee pointed to the spot.  It was a very soft penalty and one of those that irritates as it was given for an offence that certainly didn’t prevent a goal scoring opportunity.  In the aftermath, Jurado was booked for his protests.  Cabaye stepped up to take the spot kick which went in off the post.  There was a spirited reaction to the goal, both on the pitch and in the stands.  The Rookery were on their feet chanting while Deeney headed the ball down to Ighalo who was tackled before he could shoot.

Gomes with a Watford legend in the background

Gomes with a Watford legend in the background

Watford’s second substitution saw Nyom make way for Aké.  The first booking for the visitors came as Cabaye took down Jurado as he bore down on goal.  Palace threatened to increase their lead as Zaha crossed to the back post where Bolasie headed the ball down to Gayle who shot wide of the target.  A free kick from Puncheon flew over the wall, but was comfortably caught by Gomes.  The Palace midfielder was then booked for sending Watson flying well after the ball had gone.  That was Ben’s last involvement in the game as he was replaced by Ibarbo.  A counter attack from the visitors finished with a shot from Gayle which was well wide and soon after he was replaced by Campbell.  There was a lovely exchange of passes between Ibarbo and Aké on the wing, the ball was crossed for Deeney who headed down to Ighalo but the Nigerian was being wrestled away from the ball which was permitted on this occasion, rather bizarre given the referee’s previous sensitivity to challenges of any kind.  Puncheon threatened with a run along the by line, but Gomes was there to snuff out the danger.  There was a flurry of activity in injury time.  First the ever-threatening Bolasie had a decent chance with another break and a shot that flew just over the bar.  Then Anya crossed for Ibarbo whose shot was turned around for a corner.  Just before the final whistle there was a bit of a scramble in the Palace box, but each of the attempts to shoot was blocked.  There were late shouts for a Watford penalty as Prödl went down in the box, but the referee (correctly) gave the free kick the other way.

Lining up a free kick

Lining up a free kick

It was a disappointing loss, but Pardew had got the tactics right particularly through the Palace wide men who had given Anya and Nyom a torrid time.  One plus point was a considerably improved performance from Jurado who showed what Flores sees in him, although his set pieces still leave something to be desired, but he is not alone in that regard.

As the only game played on Sunday we were, of course, the featured game on Match of the Day.  I wondered whether to bother watching, but was glad that I did as the montage that they showed at the start of the game featuring Blissett, Barnes, Callaghan and co. brought the smile back to my face.  I look back on those glory days with great fondness while being well aware that they must have featured frustrating days like today.  I can’t help wondering which of today’s team will achieve legend status.  Based on performances to date, I feel it will be the majority.