Having left work a little later than was good for my blood pressure as I sat in traffic, I was very surprised on my arrival at the West Herts to find that none of my usual pre-match companions was present. I went directly to the ground and took my usual seat in the Rookery to find that I was sitting in an acre of space. I tried not to take these events to heart. The Rookery did fill up as kick-off approached, but most of those who took the seats around me were unfamiliar faces. The uninspiring performance in the game at Ashton Gate as well as the prospect of a win potentially treating us to another trip to Eastlands had meant that I was not relishing the prospect of this game. Clearly this sentiment was widespread among my fellow season ticket holders.
Team news was that Sannino had made seven changes from Saturday. However, none of the changes was radical and the bench was very experienced, unlike in the original fixture. The news that gladdened the hearts of every Hornet was that Almen Abdi was named among the substitutes. After the toss, we changed ends which provoked some disquiet among the superstitious around me.
The visitors launched an attack in the first minute, Emmanuel-Thomas finding Baldock with a through ball but the shot was straight at Bond. McGugan had Watford’s first chance, dribbling along the top of the box to get a sight of goal but his shot was also straight at the keeper. Then a through ball to Deeney was cut out and rebounded to Forestieri who was tackled and took a tumble but the referee waved play on. At the other end, Moloney broke into the Watford box, but the attentions of a defender put him off and he shot wide of the far post. Watford broke forward again as McGugan’s back heel reached Deeney, but he was closed down and his shot was blocked. Baldock should have done better with a Flint header into the box, but his header looped over the bar. Bond had to be smart
soon after as he came to punch a cross from Bryan. Watford then threatened as Forestieri went on a rampaging run and crossed for McGugan who hit it first time and the ball flew high and wide. Anya was the next to launch an attack, but his cross was blocked and ricocheted off him for a goal kick while he finished up on the grass behind the goal line. It didn’t look good, especially when the St John’s Ambulance guys started wheeling the stretcher in his direction, but they were soon doing an impression of the vultures in Bedknobs and Broomsticks as they trudged back disappointed and Anya rejoined the fray. On 20 minutes, Battocchio dinked a ball over to Forestieri who put a low cross into the box, McGugan dummied, fooling everyone including his own team mates, so the chance went begging. Soon after, Anya skipped into the box but his shot was blocked. Then Deeney
headed a McGugan corner past the far post. It was another McGugan corner that led to the opening goal as the ball was headed out to Faraoni whose shot appeared to bounce off two or three City players before going in to the net. It wasn’t pretty, but they all count. Forestieri’s attempt to double the lead soon after resulted in a disappointing shot from the edge of the box that was well over the crossbar. Into the last five minutes of the half, Emmanuel-Thomas shot from the edge of the area, but his shot was well held by Bond. Then Anya found Forestieri whose shot was deflected wide. In the final attack before the break, a lovely City move saw Reid feed Elliott and then get on the end of his cross but shoot agonizingly over. We were slightly fortunate to be ahead at half-time.
City started the second half brightly as Pack hit a dangerous shot that Bond tipped around the post. Angella then took advantage of his position on the right of the back three to go on a tremendous forward run and hit a shot that curled just wide of the near post. Then Faraoni got on the end of a cross from Anya but sent it over the bar. There were loud calls for a penalty for Bristol City as Osborne played a through ball to Baldock whose low cross bounced off Hall as he went to ground. The City man turned and appealed passionately that it had hit the defender’s hand, but the officials were about as convinced as those in the Rookery who had a clear view of the incident. There was a more convincing penalty appeal down the other end as Forestieri appeared to have been thrown to the ground by Flint, but the referee waved appeals away. Watford doubled their lead soon after as Deeney tried to battle through the City defence, but lost the ball which fell to
McGugan who made no mistake in shooting past Parish. There was a good break by McGugan soon after but he maybe should have played Anya in a bit earlier as the Scot had a narrower angle to shoot from and his shot was deflected into the side netting. From the corner, Faraoni’s cross was punched clear by Parish. As Watford continued to threaten the City goal, Deeney got the ball in space, but his shot was deflected wide. Battocchio then received the ball on the edge of the area, the shouts of ‘shooot’ from the Rookery must have gone to his head as he hit the ball straight at Parish. Then Faraoni found McGugan whose shot was just wide of the target. With 15 minutes remaining, all attention was focused on the sidelines as the Hornet faithful were treated to the sight of Almen Abdi stripped and ready to come on. It was a while before the ball went out of play and I have
never heard such loud cheers for a throw-in. McGugan was the man who made way. There was something delightful about seeing Abdi on the field again. He was immediately in the middle of everything, barking orders and organizing his team mates. How we have missed him. His first few touches were greeted with enthusiastic cheers from the crowd and then an ironic boo as he horribly misplaced a pass. But it wasn’t all about Abdi as Deeney went on a run and shot straight at Parish. City had been quiet in this period of the game but, when Bryan tried to break, he was stopped by a sliding tackle from Angella that earned the Italian a yellow card. With 10 minutes to go, Abdi latched on to a ball and passed to Battocchio who found Forestieri in the box but his shot was dreadful and
well wide of the near post. The frustration began to show in the visitors as Wagstaff was booked for kicking the ball away. With five minutes remaining Pudil replaced Anya. The last action of note was a bit of a scramble in the Watford box, but Bond was able to poke the ball clear and maintain the clean sheet.
The final whistle went to cheers from the home crowd. The performance was considerably better than that at Ashton Gate and, while the Robins had their chances, Bond was never really tested and Watford looked increasingly in control as the game went on. After going ahead, we never really looked like losing. Hall had a great game in the centre of defence, with the change in formation allowing the always impressive Angella a chance to break forward. It was wonderful to see Abdi back, his mere presence on the pitch seems to induce a calm. Let’s hope that he is a fixture in the team again very soon. Despite my lack of appetite for another trip to either the Etihad or Ewood Park, that win cheered me up no end and should give us some momentum for the upcoming games.