Our games this season have been mostly Saturday 3pm kick-offs, which has been a bit of a relief, but the visit of Chelsea meant an evening game and the stress that change to the matchday routine causes. Having a commitment in Hertfordshire on Sunday meant that I decided to drive to Watford and stay over after the game. This meant that I was leaving home horribly late for a matchday and arriving in Watford around normal kick-off time. Thankfully, I arrived to very light traffic so knew that I hadn’t made a mistake. I arrived at the West Herts just as Don was leaving for the ground so got to say Hello and congratulate him on his appearance in the club’s anti hate crime video which I had only caught up with this week. Our usual crowd were depleted, but Elaine was there having been forced to take a detour for some Christmas shopping when she was alerted to the late kick-off, the news of which had passed her by.
We left the West Herts a bit later than was comfortable so, despite my recurring thought that I should really stay in the pub, I was rushing so that I wouldn’t miss kick-off. We arrived in Vicarage Road to be greeted with a number of touts and one merchandise stand that had exclusively Chelsea scarves and tat, which irritated me immensely.
Our complaints about the leak in the Rookery roof had led to us being relocated for this game, so we headed for the SEJ stand where our seats were in the area where the players’ families are usually located. My sister’s opinion when I arrived was, “The view is great, but it is a bit touristy.”
Team news was that Quique had made only the one enforced change from the Bournemouth game with Gray replacing the injured Cleverley. Masina retained his place with Holebas left on the bench. So, the starting line-up was Foster; Kabasele, Dawson, Cathcart; Masina, Chalobah, Doucouré, Janmaat; Pereyra, Deulofeu; Gray. There appeared to be a change in shape with Pereyra and Deulofeu playing behind Gray who was in the lone striker role.
Prior to kick-off, there was a minute’s silence to remember the fallen as this was the nearest home game to Remembrance Day.
The game did not start well for the Hornets as, in the fifth minute, Jorginho played a lovely defence-splitting pass to Abraham who ran on and finished past Foster. There was a cheer from a lad sitting behind us, which irritated me immensely, and then Abraham slid to celebrate in front of us and I was moved to suggest to him that he celebrated somewhere else (I’m paraphrasing here). It was not the start that we wanted or needed. Chelsea had another chance soon after with a free kick from Mount that flew over the bar. Ten minutes into the game, after it had been clear for a while that Cathcart was struggling, he went down needing treatment. It was a concerning sight.
Watford’s first goal attempt came on 14 minutes when a ball rebounded to Pereyra, he unleashed a shot but Kepa, in the Chelsea goal, was equal to it. Abraham had a chance to increase Chelsea’s lead after a shot from Mount was deflected into his path, but this time Foster made a great save from close range. From a corner Pulisic was left alone and Foster made a brilliant save to tip the header wide. Twenty minutes into the game, Cathcart was unable to continue and was replaced with Mariappa. This is the fourth game in a row that we have been forced into an early change. There was a rare Watford attack as Janmaat released Gray, but Tomori made a tackle to stop the shot. Then Chalobah tried a shot from distance, but, again, Tomori was on hand this time making a headed clearance. On 38 minutes, the Hornets had a great chance to grab an equaliser as, from a corner, the ball was played out to Deulofeu who hit a lovely shot that curled just wide of the far post. The Hornets had another late chance in the half with a shot from Doucouré which was blocked. At the other end, Foster prevented the visitors extending their lead before half time as he tipped a shot from Mount onto the crossbar.
So, despite going behind so early, we reached half time only a goal down thanks to some heroics from Foster. It was also encouraging to note that the attacking play had been a little more promising late in the half. The first half time interview was with a Kenyan Maasai warrior. I missed the start, so I am not sure what the context was and why he was a Watford fan, but it was lovely to see him wearing our colours. Then we were promised a Watford legend. I saw this guy being escorted round and tried to work out when he had played for us. I couldn’t put a name to the face and realised why when he was introduced as being from American Airlines, who are a new partner for the club. He was there to meet a fan who had won two free tickets to any destination in the US. It turned out that she and her husband were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary, so it was a timely treat. Finally, I spotted Steve Sherwood coming past us, and all was right with my world. He is a proper legend.
The second half started with a caution for Kabasele for a foul on Emerson. The Hornets also had the first chance of the half as Deulofeu sped into the Chelsea area and squared for Gray whose shot was blocked. I was then more than a little distracted as Seb Prödl had appeared and taken a seat behind us for the second half. How on earth was I supposed to concentrate on the game? The visitors threatened again as Willian broke forward and squared for Mount whose powerful shot drew a decent save from Foster. Chelsea scored their second goal ten minutes into the half, a through ball released Abraham who cut the ball back to Pulisic who finished from six yards out. It was a simple goal and a frustrating one. The visitors had a chance to increase their lead further as Pulisic had a shot across goal, but Foster was able to get a foot to it to keep it out. Then a cross from Azpilicueta was cleared to Kovacic whose shot was straight at Foster. Chelsea should have had a third when a cross-cum-shot from Kovacic reached Abraham, but he was unable to turn it in. Watford made their second substitution half-way through the second half bringing Hughes on in place of Chalobah. Nate tried to head straight for the dugout, but the referee indicated that he should leave the field on the GT side of the ground. This had the benefit (for him) of sending him past the Chelsea fans who greeted him with warm applause.
Janmaat was booked for a foul on Pulisic before putting a cross over for Hughes whose header had no power and was easily dealt with by Kepa. Chelsea had another decent chance with a shot from Mount, but Foster dropped to make the save. When the board went up for Watford’s final substitution indicating that Janmaat was to make way for Femenía, boos rang out through Vicarage Road. The boos stopped long enough for Janmaat to be cheered as he left the field, but started again as Femenía was introduced, and Quique was serenaded with “You don’t know what you’re doing.” The boos were clearly born of frustration at Quique swapping full backs when we were two goals down and Success was sitting on the bench. Even so, it seemed unfair on Femenía as he took the brunt of the boos. There was then an extraordinary occurrence. Deulofeu broke into the box, was challenged and the ball went just the wrong side of the post. The referee indicated a goal kick, while we were shouting for a corner. Then it became apparent that the referee was checking with the VAR. Surely VAR don’t make decisions regarding corners. Then it came up on the big screen “VAR checking penalty”. I took this with a pinch of salt as there was no way that it would be awarded to us. The decision took an age to come through and finally, the big screen announced the penalty and the referee pointed to the spot. It turned out that Jorginho was adjudged to have tripped Geri as he tried to take the shot. Having seen footage of it, there was contact, but it was nowhere near as clear cut as the challenge at Spurs which wasn’t given. There was disbelief around us. “We only wanted a corner.” Deulofeu stepped up but had to wait an age to take it as Azpilicueta continued to argue with the ref. When Geri finally got the chance to take the shot, he sent the keeper the wrong way and, suddenly and unexpectedly, Watford were back in the game.
The next booking for the Hornets went to Dawson for a robust challenge on Emerson. It looked like a decent tackle to win the ball, but the man went down due to the challenge and those tackles are sadly no longer permitted. Lampard made his first change bringing Hudson-Odoi on for Pulisic. Watford were looking to draw level when Masina tried a shot from distance, but it was nowhere near the target. With two minutes left on the clock, Batshuayi replaced Abraham. He has scored every time he has faced the Hornets, so Mariappa was taking no chances and was booked for pulling him back. The visitors won a late free kick, which Jorginho delayed until the referee cautioned him for time wasting. Batshuayi was determined to maintain his goal scoring record against the Hornets so went on a dangerous run but his shot was blocked by Masina. Pleasingly, Watford were continuing to attack, the next chance came from Doucouré who went on a run and took an early shot, but it was blocked. Doucouré had another chance when he met a cross from Deulofeu, but his header was blocked. Chelsea made their last substitution in time added on as James came on for Willian who dawdled off the field. Watford had a couple of late chances to snatch a point. First, Masina met a cross from Femenía with a header that flew wide of the near post. Then, in the last minute of the game, Doucouré was fouled by Mount, who was booked for his trouble. Foster came up for the free kick. Deulofeu’s delivery was flicked on by Doucouré and we were all on our feet as Foster’s diving header looked to have won us a point, but Kepa managed to keep it out and the final whistle went on another defeat for the Hornets.
We headed back to the West Herts for a post-match drink where we were joined by a colleague of Jacque’s who is a Chelsea fan and was quite complimentary about the Hornets. I have to say that it was a much better performance than midweek, but we are still far too weak up front. I have my doubts about whether Success is the answer, but at least it would have shown some attacking intent to have brought him on late in the game. Instead, Gray struggled again. However, I have to say that Foster’s late header meant I left Vicarage Road with a huge smile on my face.
While we didn’t expect anything from this game, as the current Chelsea team are playing rather well, the wait for a win is becoming increasingly concerning. We are not cut adrift yet, but we desperately need a win to kick start our season before it is too late. We now have a run of games from which we should be expected to pick up some points, starting with the trip to Carrow Road on Friday. It is the birthday of Amy, one of the Norfolk ‘Orns, next weekend, so they will be out in force. It promises to get very messy off the pitch, we can only hope that the lads on the pitch give her a birthday to remember (in a good way).