Tag Archives: Matej Vydra

The Gills Triumph in the League Cup

Guedioura makes amends

Guedioura makes amends

I suspect that I was one of very few people who bought tickets for this game as soon as they went on sale.  My season ticket seat is a couple of seats away from my niece’s.  Since I knew that the guys who sit between us don’t usually attend early League Cup games, I decided to buy their seats instead of mine.  When my sister found out on Monday that she would be able to get leave from work to attend and was able to buy my seat (prime in the middle of the Rookery), it was clear that the attendance at this game would be rather low.  That suspicion was confirmed when the West Herts was relatively empty pre-match and, after Don and Trond left early to go to the ground, I was Franny-no-mates at our usual table.  For this reason, it was a surprise to arrive at the ground twenty minutes before kick-off to see a huge queue at the ticket office.  Sadly, it seems that many fans were not aware that their tickets would not be uploaded to their Season Cards and so faced an irritating and unexpected queue to collect tickets that they thought they already had.

With a new head coach, there is always the question of whether he will make wholesale changes for the early cup games or use them to help the team to gel.  We were given our answer when Mazzarri made nine changes from the Chelsea game with only Guedioura and Deeney keeping their places.  The starting line-up was Pantilimon; Nyom, Hoban, Kabasele; Paredes, Guedioura, Watson, Doucouré, Anya; Deeney and Vydra.  So a chance to see Troy and Matěj teaming up again and it was rather lovely to see Hoban back after so long out injured.

Guedioura on a run

Guedioura on a run

As we waited for kick-off, a lot of balls were flying in to the Rookery, one of which hit a little lad a couple of rows behind me.  I heard applause and then saw Guedioura running up the aisle past us to make sure that the child was OK and give him a ball to take home.  That may well have been the highlight of the evening.

The game started promisingly enough as Anya cut the ball back to Deeney whose snap shot was saved.  At the other end our new defender, Kabasele, made a good start to his debut with a great tackle on Osadebe.  My notes relating to the next twenty minutes tell me that we were making a lot of deep crosses while none of our players were anywhere near the far post.  Watford had a decent chance on the half hour as a shot from Anya was parried and Doucouré hit the rebound from the edge of the area just wide.  Guedioura was the next to threaten the Gillingham goal but, again, shot wide from distance.   Gillingham’s first notable chance came just before half-time but Emmanuel-Thomas fired well wide of the target, so we reached half time goalless.  Watford had been the better side with the majority of the possession, but had rarely tested Nelson in the Gillingham goal.

Celebrating Ighalo's goal

Celebrating Ighalo’s goal

As we started the second half, I had high hopes that we would finally convert our dominance to goals and we started promisingly.  Watson had the first goal attempt of the second period with a shot that flew just over the bar.  Then Hoban met a Paredes cross with a header that was well over the target.  The first substitution came ten minutes into the half as Ighalo replaced Guedioura.  It was an attacking substitution that paid off almost immediately as Deeney chipped a ball over the defence and Ighalo turned it in from close range.  The Hornets should have been two up as Deeney and Vydra combined to find Ighalo in space but his shot was blocked.  That was the Czech’s last action of the game as he was replaced by Capoue.  I felt sorry for Matěj, he had worked hard and was obviously keen to impress.  It had been interesting to see Deeney and Vydra together again.  There were lots of little flicks between them, but they didn’t come to anything and you couldn’t help thinking that Troy was doing his best to help his strike partner to get the goal that he so desperately wanted.  There was very warm applause for Matěj as he left the field which he reciprocated.  Watford should have had a second goal as a header from Hoban was blocked on the line before an attempt at a clearance by a Gillingham defender hit the bar.

Hoban and Kabasele line up for a corner

Hoban and Kabasele line up for a corner

At the other end, a stupid tackle by Nyom on a player who was going nowhere led to a penalty award.  The Rookery started chanting Pantilimon’s name, but he didn’t need to get involved as Dack put the ball into Row Z.  Deeney could have turned the knife with a header from a Paredes cross, but Nelson was equal to it.  Watford were to rue not making the most of their chances as, with eight minutes to go, Byrne hit a shot from distance into the far corner of Pantilimon’s goal.  Watford had a couple of late chances to win the game but Doucouré skyed his shot and then Hoban fired just wide, although the flag was already up for offside.  So Watford had been punished again for dropping deep to preserve a narrow lead and we were to be treated to extra time.

In the first minute of extra time Ighalo should have regained the lead for the Hornets, but his shot was just wide of the near post.  Mazzarri’s second substitution saw Zúñiga replacing Anya and the Colombian could have broken the deadlock but shot just wide.  Against the run of play, it was the visitors who took the lead as the Watford defence failed to deal with a cross, allowing Dack to sneak in to shoot.  Pantilimon appeared to grab the ball but only succeeded in taking it over the line.  This was missed by the linesman but the referee was notified due to the goal line technology and indicated a goal.

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

Watford tried to strike back in the second period of extra time but it wasn’t to be our night as Hoban had another effort cleared off the line and goal machine, Capoue, hit a decent chance high and wide, much to the disappointment of my niece who is a big fan but has yet to see him score.  The final whistle went to a loud chorus of boos.

What is it with Watford and the early rounds of the League Cup?  This is the latest in a long line of dreadful performances.  These games should be an opportunity for fringe players to make a claim for a place but only Kabasele and Hoban really impressed.  Certainly, those who have expressed concern regarding some recent mistakes from Gomes will have derived no comfort from Pantilimon’s showing.  Deeney hasn’t looked himself in the early games this season, although he rarely does when things aren’t going his way.  You can’t help but think that this would have been a good game in which to rest him and give Sinclair a chance to impress.

So we are out of the cup to a League One side and anticipating a visit from Arsenal.  The international break can’t come quickly enough.

 

 

Disappointing Defeat to the Blues

 

The new Hornet Shop

The new Hornet Shop

On Friday night I had a date with Chekhov at the National Theatre.  After taking my seat, I turned around to see Watford director Stuart Timperley sitting in the row behind me.  Two of my passions collided as we had a chat about the play that we were seeing as well as the Southampton game and our prospects for Saturday.

I arrived early at the West Herts to find Don waiting in the foyer as doors were not opening until midday.  By the time we reached opening time there was quite a crowd waiting outside.  When finally we entered, we took up our usual spots at ‘our’ table and, as the usual suspects gathered, I felt as though I was home again.  There is something very special about the first home game of the season and a guest appearance by Kevin le Belge was the icing on the cake.

On arrival at the ground, I had my first view of the new Hornet shop on the corner, which looks fabulous.  Inside the stadium, it was very pleasing to see that the South West corner, which seems to have been under construction forever, was finally finished.  It looked lovely.  At last we have a ground that does not look like a building site and is fit for purpose.  Thank you, Gino.

The completed South West corner

The completed South West corner

Team news was that there were no changes from the Southampton game, so the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos; Amrabat, Behrami, Capoue, Guedioura, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.  As the Chelsea team was announced and I was thinking that there were not too many likeable names on the list they got to the substitutes and the inclusion of Chalobah, whose name was greeted with a huge round of applause from the Watford faithful.

The game started very well for the Hornets who created their first chance in the seventh minute when Britos played a lovely ball down the left to Holebas whose shot was saved by Courtois.  The Hornets had an even better chance in the 24th minute as Amrabat went on a run down the right where he appeared to have been stopped by Azpilicueta, but escaped and put in a cross for Ighalo who, under challenge, turned the ball over the bar.  A Holebas cross was headed clear just before it reached Ighalo, it fell to Guedioura and I can’t have been the only one who was willing him to repeat his strike at Arsenal but, sadly, his shot was well wide of the target.  Chelsea’s best chance of the half came in time added on when Hazard won a free kick on the edge of the area.  He took it himself, but it was a poor effort struck low and straight at Gomes.

Goal Machine Capoue after scoring

Goal Machine Capoue after scoring

It had been an impressive first half for the Hornets who had most of the goal chances while keeping Chelsea at bay with some good defending.  Amrabat, in particular, had been superb both going forward and when tracking back.  Also, for the traditionalists among us, there was a certain pleasure in watching a game featuring goalkeepers wearing red and green shirts and a referee in black.

Watford took the lead ten minutes into the second half as a throw-in from Amrabat reached Guedioura who crossed for (goal machine) Capoue who controlled the ball before blasting it into the roof of the net.  Chelsea tried to hit back almost straight away with a shot from Hazard that was caught by Gomes.  The visitors threatened again as Costa broke into the box but Gomes saved at his feet.  Watford had been sitting very deep and letting Chelsea attack so there was a certain inevitability when they got the equalizer with 10 minutes to go, although it took a mistake from the Watford keeper as a Hazard shot from distance was spilled by Gomes and the substitute, Batshuayi, turned it in.  Suddenly the Chelsea fans in the Vicarage Road end started making some noise.

Behrami lining up a free kick

Behrami lining up a free kick

Another Chelsea attack was stopped by a brave tackle from Capoue who was injured in the process and, after a period of treatment, limped off to be replaced by Doucouré.  Hearts were in mouths in the Rookery as we watched a scramble in the box at the other end but, thankfully, the ball ended up with Gomes.  It was a brief respite as a promising Watford move broke down when Guedioura played a poor pass to Doucouré that was intercepted by Fabregas who played a sublime ball to Costa who advanced before beating Gomes.  This was followed by the very odd sight of fighting in the Family Stand as a number of away fans who had secured seats there were ejected.  Mazzarri made a couple of late substitutions replacing Guedioura and Holebas with Vydra and Zúñiga, but it was the visitors who had the final chance of the game when Batshuayi rattled the crossbar.  The final whistle went signalling a frustrating defeat for the Hornets.  A number of the Watford players walked straight off at the end, but it was interesting to see Vydra joining Deeney and Gomes on their usual comprehensive lap of appreciation.

The post-game analysis took one of two themes.  Either we were robbed or we gave Chelsea the victory.  Some argued that Costa who, television pictures confirmed, was guilty of ‘simulation’ having already been booked should not have been on the pitch to score the winning goal.  But it was mistakes by a tiring Watford team and the tendency to sit back and defend the lead that led to the goals.  Also, given that the Chelsea substitutions changed the game, you have to wonder why we didn’t introduce some fresh legs to challenge them.  But, taking a positive view, it says a lot for the progress of the team that we are bemoaning a narrow loss to Chelsea, having been the better side for the first 70 minutes.  I was expecting nothing from this game so, having seen an entertaining match with no little quality from the Watford players, while I was disappointed I left the stadium with no complaints.

Next up we have Arsenal visiting Vicarage Road.  While I will go to that game with low expectations, I am no longer expecting us to be turned over by the ‘big’ clubs and that is progress.

 

Lorient visit the Vic

Mazzarri in the Watford dugout for the first time

Mazzarri in the Watford dugout for the first time

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

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

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

Cathcart on the ball

Cathcart on the ball

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

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

Celebration after Deeney's penalty

Celebration after Deeney’s penalty

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

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

Ighalo delighted at scoring

Ighalo delighted at scoring

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

Success strikes

Success strikes

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

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

Capoue Breaks His Duck

A welcome to Stevenage in the Ladies

A welcome to Stevenage in the Ladies

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

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

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

Capoue congratulated on his first goal for the Hornets

Capoue congratulated on his first goal for the Hornets

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

Mazzarri expressing his frustration

Mazzarri expressing his frustration

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

Mazzarri Braves the Wilds of Woking

Troy and Don discussing pre-season

Troy and Don discussing pre-season

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

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

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

Poke saving from Britos

Poke saving from Britos

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

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

Congratulating Berghuis on his goal

Congratulating Berghuis on his goal

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

Suarez, Hoban and Britos

Suarez, Hoban and Britos

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

Oulare and Doucoure

Oulare and Doucoure

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

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

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

Ultras and Bouncy Castles

The cycle rack outside the  Eintracht Stadion

The cycle rack outside the Eintracht Stadion

Having had plenty of notice of the pre-season tour this year, flights were booked some time ago for the trip to Braunschweig and Paderborn.  The evening before I left, I was on the way home from a performance of La Boheme at the Royal Opera House when I was greeted with the news that Friday’s game had been cancelled.  So, after very little sleep, I was not best pleased to be on an early flight to Germany with little idea of what to do with the next two days.  Still, I was sure that I could keep myself amused.

When I changed trains at Hannover, I saw some familiar faces on the platform.  Ian is one of the regular away travellers that I often meet on trains to games, but it was still a little incongruous to encounter him and his brother at a station in Germany.  I must say that, having travelled out on my own, I was rather pleased to have companions for the remainder of the journey.  During the trip to Braunschweig it was decided that, since Rayo Vallecano were to take Watford’s place in that evening’s game, we would take in the match at the Eintracht Stadion anyway.

On arrival at the ground, the first thing that I noticed was the huge number of bicycles that were chained up outside.  You would never see that at an English ground.  The next thing of note was the beer stand where I met my travelling companions and quenched my thirst after the long walk in the heat.

You'll Never Walk Alone Braunschweig Style

You’ll Never Walk Alone Braunschweig Style

When we entered the stadium, we found that the standing area that we had chosen was the home of the local Ultras.  They were gathered at the front of the terrace, so we were in a good position to observe.  As the teams emerged, we were a little surprised when scarves were raised and a rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” rang out.  The home fans were great entertainment.  The level of noise generated for a pre-season game was incredible, with quite a variety of songs ringing out.  There was also rather a lot of liquid being thrown about.  At first I thought they were throwing beer around, then it became apparent that there was a barrel of water at the front that was being liberally distributed into the crowd to cool them down on a warm evening.  With the score at one apiece going in to the final few minutes, there was a conga through the stand.  I’m not sure that any of the participants were aware that they conceded a late goal and lost the game.  After the match, we headed on the tram back to town and had dinner and beers at a traditional German restaurant.

Behrami before I saw him put in a tackle

Behrami before I saw him put in a tackle

My plan for Saturday had been to do a bit of sightseeing.  But, having been deprived of a chance to see Watford play, those travelling had been invited to send their contact details to the club and so I had received a call from Jon Marks informing me that we were invited to a training session at the team’s hotel.  The slight drawback was that this was in the middle of nowhere in a small town some distance from Braunschweig.  But we are seasoned travellers, so soon found details of the trains we needed to take and, after a late night out in Braunschweig, it was a slightly delicate bunch that met to catch the train to Gütersloh followed by a cab to Marienfeld.  On arrival at the team’s hotel, we found the Sportsplätze and there was a group of people in yellow shirts watching the Watford team going through some fitness routines that appeared to include trying to wreck the fence around the field.  The team had been split up into a number of different groups for these sessions and, as each group finished their routines, they emerged to sign autographs and have photographs taken with the supporters gathered there.

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Welcome to Arminia Bielefeld

While watching the training, we saw some Hamburg players and found out that they were scheduled to play Bielefeld that afternoon.  Since this was only one stop from Gütersloh on the train, we decided to take in the game.  On arrival at Bielefeld railway station, we followed the crowds to the stadium.  Again we opted to join the fans on the terraces.  The home end was packed.  As the team emerged, we were treated to a rendition of their club song, which had several verses.  They had a number of songs including a very effective call and answer of Arminia … Bielefeld.  To our surprise, a group that we thought were Hamburg fans in the opposite corner also participated in this chant (it was very difficult to distinguish between them as both sets of fans were wearing blue shirts).  Athough, judging by the flag that was waving in that section, there seemed to be a good number of home fans in that section.  The game resulted in a 2-0 win for the home side against a very poor Hamburg team.

Bouncy castle with footballs being fired at the 'goalie'

Bouncy castle with footballs being fired at the ‘goalie’

Sunday morning, I woke up to a storm of biblical proportions.  But, thankfully, the long train journey to Paderborn meant we left the rain behind.  After freshening up in the hotel, we headed into town for a beer and then got a cab to take us to the ground.  The last stage of the short journey took us up a narrow street that required a barricade to be moved for us to get through.  We then emerged into a country road bordered with a cornfield which happened to have a football stadium at the end of it.  There was a party atmosphere at the ground, with a bouncy castle goal and another bouncy full size fussball game, a carousel and the obligatory beer and würst.  Something for everyone.

After good experiences on the previous two days, I was looking forward to the performance of the Paderborn fans, so was disappointed when their club song was played over the tannoy rather than being sung by the spectators.  However, from a Watford perspective, it was just lovely to see our players warming up for the game.

At last I see a Watford team in Germany

At last I see a Watford team in Germany

The starting line-up was Arlauskis, Holebas, Prödl, Cathcart, Nyom, Behrami, Capoue, Watson, Abdi, Vydra and Deeney.

We’d had a conversation at a previous game about the drinking, smoking, water throwing and flares that are in evidence in German stadia and speculated on what would not be allowed.  We found out when a steward appeared to tell some fans that they couldn’t have their flag hanging from a crush barrier.  When they tried to protest, his gambit was “Look, they sent the fat bloke up to tell you, so do me a favour.”  It worked.

Troy congratulating the invisible Vydra

Troy congratulating Vydra

The first notable action of the game was Behrami knocking one of the Paderborn players flying.  It was a statement of intent.  Watford took the lead in the 11th minute as Deeney played a lovely through ball for Vydra who hit his shot sweetly past Kruse in the Paderborn goal.  The home side could have equalized soon afterwards as a cross reached Ouali in the box, but he blasted the ball way over the target.  In the 23rd minute, Abdi exchanged passes with Nyom, but the return pass was poor allowing the home side to launch a counter attack which finished with Ndjeng shooting straight at Arlauskis.  Behrami was then penalized for a tackle on Koc, who went down with a dramatic scream which was something of an over-reaction, but ensured that the Swiss international received a yellow card for the offence.  Koc took the resulting free-kick himself and blasted it way over the bar.  We had a great chance to increase the lead as, from an Abdi cross, Watson nodded the ball down to Deeney, whose shot appeared to be going in, but the keeper pulled off a good save to deny him.  From the corner, Deeney’s header was straight at the keeper.  The battle between Behrami and Koc continued, but on this occasion the Watford man was sinned against and won the free kick.

Abdi lines up a free kick

Abdi lines up a free kick

Paderborn had the ball in the net as a cross was headed home by Proschwitz, but he had been a mile offside.  Abdi came in for a tackle, won the ball and was booked, very harshly I thought.  In the 32nd minute the travelling Hornets started a minute’s applause and chants of “Only one Chris Dyer” for the Watford supporting victim of the terrorist attack in Tunisia.  Deeney challenged the keeper for a long ball, leaving the stopper on the floor, but his shot from a narrow angle went wide.  A Paderborn corner, for which the ball wasn’t even in the vicinity of the corner arc, was met with a header that was caught by Arlauskis, who stepped behind the goal line, but kept the ball out.  Paderborn challenged again with a free kick from Ndjeng that flew wide of the far post.  Deeney exchanged passes with Vydra but his shot took a deflection and went wide.  Vydra then hit a cross-cum-shot that a defender, under no pressure at all, put out for a corner.  The corner was met by a header from Deeney, but he was adjudged to have fouled the keeper so the referee blew up.  At the other end, Ndjeng broke into the box, but Prödl was on hand to challenge as he tried to shoot, so the ball was easily gathered by Arlauskis.

So the Hornets went into half time with the lead.  When we went looking for beers, we found that the stall was in the home section, which was rather interesting.  Some who had bought seats also took this opportunity to swap to the terrace.

Ighalo congratulated on his 6th goal of this pre-season

Ighalo congratulated on his 6th goal of this pre-season

Flores made no changes to the Hornets’ line up at half time.  The home side made a decent start with an early shot that was straight at the Watford keeper.  Then a cross-cum shot from Koc was saved by the feet of Arlauskis.  Capoue lost out to Ndjeng, who went down on the edge of the box, a bit of a soft free kick to give away.  Saglik hit the set piece low and Arlauskis dropped to save.  Watford’s first substitutions came 10 minutes into the second half as Ighalo, Anya and Pudil came on for Vydra, Behrami and Holebas.  The Swiss left the field to boos from the home fans.  On the hour Saglik chested the ball down and shot wide.  We were two goals up soon after as Anya ran down the left and crossed for Deeney, who appeared to mishit the shot but the ball reached Ighalo who found the net for his 6th goal of this pre-season.  Watford should have had a penalty soon after as a cross from Anya appeared to be handled by Hünemeier, but the referee gave nothing.  Deeney was the next to be substituted, being replaced by Fabbrini.  Then Stoppelkamp went on a run into the box and took a tumble, thankfully no Watford player was anywhere near him so we didn’t concede the penalty that he seemed to be playing for.

Nyom, Abdi and Proedl

Nyom, Abdi and Proedl

Ndjeng tried to beat Arlauskis with a curling shot, but the Lithuanian was behind the ball and gathered comfortably.  That was his last action of the game as he was replaced by Gilmartin.  The Irishman was called into action immediately, although his dive proved to be unnecessary, as Proschwitz’s shot was just wide of the target.  That was the striker’s last contribution as he was substituted immediately.  At the same time, Dyer came on to replace Abdi.  Gilmartin was tested with a cross-cum-shot that he parried before gathering.  Then Stoppelkamp shot across goal and wide.  Eyes were then drawn to the Watford bench where Deeney could be seen getting up and limping to the dressing room.  Hopefully, he was just a bit stiff rather than something more concerning.  Watford’s final substitution saw Murray replacing Watson for the last couple of minutes, but there was no further score so Watford ran out comfortable 2-0 winners after a decent performance.

After the final whistle some of the fans around me starting muttering about a ‘disgrace’ and there were a few boos.  I was a bit baffled until it became apparent that they were angry that some of the Watford players had not come over to applaud them at the end.  As a result they cheered the Paderborn players off.  It seemed an overly sensitive reaction, but applause from the players is expected by English (and German) fans in a way that it isn’t in some other European countries.

Cathcart and Gilmartin

Cathcart and Gilmartin

We took the shuttle bus back into town and, while searching for somewhere to have dinner, met some Paderborn fans who had enjoyed the game and were very happy to direct us to a traditional restaurant, which turned out to be an excellent recommendation.

There is always a risk in attending pre-season friendlies.  Early matches are, effectively, training games to build up fitness, so nothing can be read into them.  I quite like the relaxation of watching games in which the score doesn’t matter so you can just watch the players perform.  The most appealing part of these tours, though, is the opportunity to experience a game in an unfamiliar city with the opportunities that gives for exploration.  I love Germany, the landscape, the food and the people so, despite the difficulties on this tour, it turned out to be a cracking long weekend away.

I will miss the rest of our pre-season campaign as I gather my strength for a trip to Everton.  Hope springs eternal at this stage.  We can only hope that this season heralds our best showing in the top division since the 80s.

Beer, Wurstl and an Oompah Band

Welcome to Kingsmeadow

Welcome to Kingsmeadow

It was a gorgeous day for a football match, even better that the Football Manager Cup between Wimbledon and Watford had been scheduled to coincide with the beer festival.  It seemed appropriate to start the afternoon with a pint of Plough Lane Ale and rather lovely it was too.  To add to the pre-match treats, there was a German würstl stand and, later, an oompah band appeared which started their repertoire with “Staying Alive.”  I must say that I love a man in lederhosen.

When we finally dragged ourselves away and entered the ground, it was packed, but we managed to find space in the shade where the vertically challenged among us could see the game.

Ighalo and Deeney wait for a cross

Ighalo and Deeney wait for a cross

Team news was that Flores had made two changes from the line-up at St Albans with Vydra and Prödl in for Watson and Angella.  So the starting 11 was Gomes, Pudil, Cathcart, Prödl, Anya, Capoue, Abdi, Ighalo, Forestieri, Vydra and Deeney.  So, four forwards in the starting line-up.  What could possibly go wrong?

There was a promising start to the game from the Hornets as Pudil played a ball into the box but Vydra and Ighalo got in each other’s way.  The first action of note came in the 11th minute as Elliott appeared to be tripped by Anya.  Kennedy made no mistake with the penalty as Gomes went the wrong way.  Watford’s first goal attempt fell to Deeney as  Anya played a one-two with Vydra before cutting the ball back for Troy whose shot took a deflection and flew over the target.  Then Vydra cut the ball back to Deeney who moved it on to Ighalo, who was in a better shooting position but was not expecting the pass, so the chance went begging.

Odion hiding his embarrassment with a big smile after scoring

Odion hiding his embarrassment with a big smile after scoring

After 25 minutes, the game stopped for a drinks break as it was a scorching afternoon.  The next chance fell to the home side as Akinfenwa rose to meet a cross from Kennedy but headed over the bar.  Watford’s equalizer was ridiculous.  A clearance from Dons keeper, McDonnell, hit Ighalo and looped into the net.  Odion looked rather embarrassed as he retrieved the ball, but they all count.  Watford had a decent chance to take the lead after a quick free kick reached Forestieri whose shot was saved by the legs of McDonnell.  At the other end Elliott cut inside Prödl and shot, but Gomes pushed the ball over the bar.  Then Vydra found Ighalo whose shot was parried before being cleared.  Forestieri had a couple of great chances to send the Hornets in ahead at the break.  First a Vydra header reached him in the box but he shot wide of the target.  Then Fernando tried a shot across the keeper that appeared to be scuffed and was stopped by the feet of McDonnell.   Then he hit a shot into the turf which was deflected behind for a corner.  You had to feel sorry for him as he was trying so hard and nothing was coming off.

Forestieri after scoring

Forestieri after scoring

At the start of the second half, the home side made 10 changes, while the visitors brought Arlauskis and Watson on for Gomes and Vydra.  Watford’s first chance of the second half came from an Abdi free-kick which hit the crossbar and came down but, sadly, bounced away from the goal.  A minute later, the visitors took the lead as Deeney headed an Abdi cross goalwards, McDonnell blocked the header but Forestieri followed up to, at last, get his name on the scoresheet.  The Dons nearly equalized immediately as Arlauskis failed to gather a cross which reached Barcham whose header was cleared off the line by Prödl.  Anya went on a run down the wing and crossed, but it was a bit too far in front of Ighalo who could only direct it wide of the target.  The Dons thought they had equalized through Azeez, but Pudil had been fouled in the build-up, so the goal was disallowed.  A promising run and cross from Barcham came to nothing as Watson appeared in the box, pulled the ball out of the air and cleared.  Watford’s third substitution saw Paredes on for Anya. 

Paredes on a run down the wing

Paredes on a run down the wing

Watson then had a chance at the other end, but his shot from distance was easily gathered by McDonnell.  Forestieri was the next to threaten the Wimbledon goal, but McDonnell dropped to save his shot.  Despite rumours that Sheffield Wednesday had had a bid accepted for him, McGugan made an appearance in place of Ighalo and new boy, Holebas, came on for Pudil.  Forestieri hit a free-kick that was on target but was saved by McDonnell.  At the other end Oakley tried a turn and shot, but the attempt was weak and straight at Arlauskis.  With 10 minutes remaining, there was a further Watford substitution as Prödl made way for Hoban.  There was a dangerous scramble in the Watford box as a shot was blocked and the follow-up from Reeves flew over the bar.  The last minutes of the game saw two further substitutions for the Hornets as Fabbrini and Lewis replaced Forestieri and Abdi.  Just as Watford thought that the game was won, Barcham attacked down the left wing, Paredes appeared to have the measure of him but slipped and, when he recovered, made a silly challenge and conceded a penalty which Francomb scored to ensure that the Football Manager cup was shared, which was probably the ideal result for Miles Jacobson.

Deeney in discussion with Flores

Deeney in discussion with Flores

There were mutterings from Watford fans both during and after the game about the performance, which always seems a bit pointless at a friendly, which is very far from a competitive game at this stage of pre-season.  I’m sure that Flores learned something from the game (particularly that playing our four frontmen is not a guarantee of goals).

Post-match, it was back to the beer festival where the polite early applause for the oompah band had been replaced with a passionate crowd singing along.  The football apart, it was a lovely afternoon and I hope that this becomes a regular fixture in our pre-season calendar.