Tag Archives: Matt Ritchie

Gorgeous Goals Brighten a Poor Game

The impeccable Ben Wilmot

When the draw for the fourth round was made and we were paired with either Blackburn or Newcastle, the waiting game started.  Train tickets could not be bought until we knew where we would be playing.  Also, as the match tickets were going on sale the morning after the replay, I had the task of drawing up two lists of attendees dependent on the outcome.  There were more takers for Blackburn, even though the consensus was that they would be a tougher opponent than Newcastle.  But Newcastle it was (again).

I left London bright and early and found myself on the same train as a fellow member of WML who I had notified of the pre-match pub, so I met up with him to ensure that he found it with no difficulties.  When we arrived, a couple of our party were already at the bar and had grabbed a table in the little enclosed area.  A well-dressed older couple then arrived and sat down to do their crossword.  This was shortly before a large contingent of Happy Valley and North West Horns descended and ruined their peace.  To be fair to them they took being surrounded by football fans in their stride and the crossword was duly completed.

Masina preparing for a corner

Team news was that Gracia had made wholesale changes, although this was hardly a second string as it did include the return of Cathcart and Hughes from injury as well as a number of others who have featured in the league this season.  So, the starting XI was Gomes; Janmaat, Cathcart, Britos, Masina; Quina, Wilmot, Chalobah; Success, Gray, Hughes.  We had been aware of the inclusion of Wilmot before the team was announced as his grandparents had bumped into Mike outside the pub.  Criticism by both pundits and fans of Watford’s changes ignored the fact that Newcastle, who have both a weaker team and squad than us, had made 7 changes of their own.  While I fully agree that we should be making every effort to advance in the cup, my feeling was that this was a team that had enough quality to beat Newcastle and I was very much looking forward to seeing more from Quina and Wilmot.

When we arrived at the away end turnstiles, the woman performing the search asked if I would be using the lift.  I wasn’t sure whether it was my heavy rucksack or my advancing age and girth that prompted the question, but assured her that I would take the stairs.  She then commented that she always takes the lift, so I decided not to take offence.  As we scaled the 14 flights, I was chatting to a friend, so lost track of our progress and was just wondering whether to stop for a much needed breather when I saw the top floor appear so soldiered on.  It always feels like an accomplishment to arrive at the top without the use of supplemental oxygen.  As we took our place in the stand, it was clear that there were plenty of empty seats in both the home and away ends.  Our allocation of 6000 was never going to be filled, but the temptation of £10 tickets had not attracted a huge home following either.

Quina on the ball

Watford made a very bright start with a brilliant shot from distance from Quina which needed a decent save from Woodman in the Newcastle goal to keep it out.  The next chance of note came from a free kick just outside the area which Chalobah hit just over the bar.  From that point, there was nothing worth retrieving my notebook for until the 23rd minute when Janmaat hit a terrible shot that was way off target.  Pete reckoned that his playing badly was a deliberate ploy to stop the home fans booing him.  Watford had a great chance to open the scoring when Quina played a lovely pass to Hughes, who slipped a through ball into the path of Gray but the shot was wide of the target, although it wouldn’t have counted as the offside flag was up.  Newcastle had offered little going forward and an attempt at a break by Murphy was stopped by a very good tackle from Britos.  And that was it for the first half.  The announcer on the pitch introducing the half-time competition summed it up when he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, if any of you are still awake …..”

Gray being congratulated on his goal

There was also a bright start to the second half as Hughes played a ball over the top for Gray to run on to, he broke clear of the defence but shot high and wide when he should at least have tested Woodman.  Success, who was having a frustrating afternoon, then lost out to a defender and clearly felt as though he had been manhandled (he hadn’t) so collapsed dramatically in the box and then had to get up and get on with it when it was clear that nobody cared.  It was as well that I was in the top stand half a mile from the pitch at that point as I was tempted to give him a slap.  Another chance went begging after some nice play around the edge of the Newcastle box finished with the ball with Gray who ran into a couple of defenders and lost the ball.  The first booking of the game went to Wilmot for a foul on Joselu.  The breakthrough for the Hornets came just after the hour mark as Hughes played a gorgeous through ball to Gray who finished past Woodman and continued his run to celebrate in front of the Watford fans up in the gods.  Peñaranda had been readied to come on, presumably for Gray, just before the goal.  He immediately put his bib back on.  Watford’s second booking went to Chalobah for a foul on Kenedy.  The home side should have equalized when Manquillo went on a decent run, Gomes came out to meet him but failed to stop the shot, however the impeccable Wilmot was on hand to head the ball off the line.

Success celebrating his goal in the distance

Gracia made his first change on 68 minutes finally bringing Peñaranda on for Gray.  Soon after, Chalobah broke forward but, with options to either side, played a through ball to where Gray would have been had he not been substituted a couple of minutes earlier.  Benitez made a double substitution bringing Pérez and Atsu on for Murphy and Ritchie.  The decision to replace Ritchie was greeted with loud boos from the home fans.  Britos was then booked for a foul on Pérez.  Each side made a final substitution with Schär replacing Fernandez for the home side and Chalobah making way for Capoue for the Hornets.  Newcastle had a chance to grab an equaliser in the final minutes of normal time when a defensive header fell to Pérez on the edge of the box from where he shot over the target.  The home side attacked again but a cross from Atsu was easily gathered by Gomes.  Watford made certain of their place in the fifth round with a lovely goal that started with Peñaranda playing the ball out to Quina, his cross found Success in space in the box to finish from close range and make me feel ever so slightly guilty for moaning about him all afternoon.  The home side had a chance to grab a consolation as Joselu crossed for Pérez, but his shot missed the target and the final whistle went on a comfortable win for the Hornets.

Chalobah getting back to his best

The heavens had opened towards the end of the second half, so we were absolutely drenched by the time that we reached the pub at the station.  As we sat down with our drinks for the post-match analysis, the most astute observation was that it appeared that two moments of quality from a different match had been inserted into a dreadful game.  The best cup ties are blood and thunder games where all of the players appear desperate to win.  This was certainly not one of those, but Watford had done enough to deserve the win and there had certainly been some bright points.  As he has been in every performance so far, Quina was a joy to watch.  He plays with a confidence that belies his years, has a wonderful touch and a brilliant eye for a pass.  I found myself almost purring with delight every time he got the ball.  Wilmot again showed what a great prospect he is.  He started the game playing in a defensive midfield position but later moved into the centre of defence allowing Masina to play further forward.  In both roles, he was composed and appeared totally in control of his surroundings.  He really does look like a young Cathcart and having two of them in the squad is something to treasure.  Of the players returning to first team action, Britos put in a decent shift in the defence and Chalobah put in the best performance that we have seen since his return.  He looked far more comfortable and performed the midfield fulcrum role with some assurance.  That was very pleasing to see.

While the game won’t last long in the memory, it does mean that we are in the fifth round of the cup and, with many of the top teams already out of the competition, this seems like a great opportunity to advance.  I would love a trip to Newport or Barnet/Brentford in the next round.  I just hope that we don’t draw another Premier League team.

While on the way home, I received a message from Pete F that just said “Lucky sea shells.”  I confess that having bought a new coat last weekend, I was superstitious enough to ensure that my shell was transferred and was gratified when Pete B showed that he had also brought his.  Those shells deserve a cup run, I hope that those making the draw agree.

Held at Home by the Magpies

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

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

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

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

Challenging in the Newcastle box

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

Capoue patiently waits to take a free kick

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

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

Goalscorer Doucoure

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

Masina and Pereyra eyeing the Newcastle wall

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

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

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

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

Wasteful Finishing Leads to a Loss on the Tyne

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

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

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

My view of the minute’s silence

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

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

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

The minute’s silence at pitch level

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

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

Holebas lining up a corner with Pereyra in attendance

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

Breaking at a corner

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

Pereyra, Holebas and Capoue gather for a free kick

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

Holebas delivers a corner

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

Gathering for a Watford corner

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

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

Securing Safety on a Sunny Afternoon

All smiles after the Soccer Dice match

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

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

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

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal

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

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

Gray receives the congratulations of his team mates

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

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

Capoue takes a free kick

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

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

Deeney and Pereyra

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

Challenging at a corner

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

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

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

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

Great Performances on and off the Pitch

With Mapps and Will Hughes at the Quiz Night

Thursday evening was the annual quiz night at the club.  My team’s chance of winning was always remote and made even more so when we found that, in addition to the “professional” team who have no connection to the club who turn up every year to be booed as they receive their trophy from a couple of footballers they have never heard of, another team featured Shaun Wallace from the Chase.  I consoled myself by congratulating Will Hughes on his wonderful performance against West Ham and having a long chat with Adrian Mariappa, who told us that Marco Silva reminds him of …. Sean Dyche.

When I booked the train to Newcastle, I was rather surprised to see that the journey time was four hours.  This meant an early start, so I found myself leaving King’s Cross just before 8am.  The train was slightly delayed, so the pub was already open and surprisingly busy, when I arrived but, thankfully, the advance party had secured seats and we were soon joined by the Happy Valley Horns.  There was also a special guest appearance from the lovely Katy, someone that I have “known” for years due to social media connections but have never met before.  It was lovely finally to meet her in person.  As it was her first live game of the season, I hoped that the lads would turn it on for her.

The view from the gods

For the walk to the ground, we took a slightly different route than usual, which took us around the city walls, just gorgeous. Every time that I visit Newcastle I am reminded what a beautiful city it is.  The walk to St James’s Park is all uphill, but that is just the appetiser before the trek up to Level 7.  As we climbed, there were posters warning about the dangers and penalties for pyrotechnics.  One dire warning suggested that you could end up in A&E.  I was concerned that the walk to the gods was more likely to send me there.

Team news was that Femenía had recovered from his injury, so Silva named an unchanged side from the West Ham game.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Kabasele, Britos; Femenía, Cleverley, Doucouré, Zeegelaar; Hughes, Richarlison; Gray.

The home side had the first chance of the game as Murphy put a dangerous cross into the box, but the terrible miss-hit by Joselu was a sign of how their day would go.  Watford’s first chance came from a corner, Hughes played it back across goal to Mariappa, whose overhead kick was blocked.  At the other end, Ritchie finished a run with a shot that was wide of the near post and into the side netting.

Zeegelaar and Hughes congratulated after the first goal

Some lovely interplay from the visitors finished with a shot from distance from Hughes that cleared the bar.  The youngster was in action in our box soon after, putting in a crucial tackle to prevent a shot, this allowed the Hornets to launch a counter attack that resulted in a through ball to Richarlison whose shot was tipped wide by Elliot.  The first booking of the afternoon went to Shelvey for a tackle from behind on Britos.  The Hornets took the lead on 19 minutes.  Kabasele played a gorgeous cross-field ball to Zeegelaar, who crossed back for Hughes to fire past Elliot for his second goal in as many games.  Watford should have scored a second soon after as Zeegelaar crossed again, this time for Doucouré, who turned the ball just wide.  A dangerous looking break from Newcastle was stopped when Kabasele made a superb block to stop the shot from Joselu.  The first caution for Watford came as Zeegelaar was cautioned for taking Ritchie down.  The Hornets had a great chance to increase their lead on the half hour as a series of shots were blocked in the box, but nobody was able to test Elliot.  Gomes was called into action just after the half hour as he came to punch a cross into the box.  Then Joselu tried a shot from an angle that Gomes saved.  The home side had a strong finish to the half, but Watford went in at the break two goals ahead as Zeegelaar broke and hit a cross that was turned into his own net by Yedlin.

Richarlison congratulates Zeegelaar on the second goal

The travelling Hornets were all smiles at half-time.  It had been an entertaining half of football and, after Newcastle had a decent late spell in the half, the second goal had calmed a lot of nerves and we felt confident of getting a result.

Watford should have scored a third at the beginning of the second half as Gray went on a wonderful run into the box but, with the goal at his mercy, he managed to fire wide.  He had a chance to redeem himself soon after, exchanging passes with Hughes before taking his chance, but the shot was blocked.  The ball found its way to Richarlison on the edge of the area, but his shot flew wide.  Watford’s first substitution saw Prödl coming on for Britos, who was limping.  Another great chance went begging as Richarlison broke into the box and should have buried it, but hesitated before shooting, allowing the defender to get into position to make the block, the follow-up from Hughes was also blocked.  There was a decent chance at the other end as Murphy met a cross from Yedlin, but the header was poor and flew wide of the target.  Watford attacked yet again through Zeegelaar, who had the freedom of the left wing, he crossed for Gray but the header was over the bar.

Gray celebrating his goal

The former Burnley man got his goal just after the hour mark as Richarlison broke forward and crossed for Gray to poke it past Elliot from close range.  Newcastle hadn’t given up and should have pulled one back as Joselu slid in to shoot, but Gomes got a hand to the ball to keep it out.  Benitez made his first substitutions bringing Merino and Mitrovic on for Diame and Joselu.  Mitrovic tried to make an early impression as he broke into the box but the shot was poor and Gomes was down to make an easy save.  There was a change for each side with just over 10 minutes to go as Pérez replaced Murphy for the home side and Pereyra came on for Richarlison for the visitors.   Pérez had a chance to pull one back for the Magpies, but his shot from just inside the box was over the bar.  Gray could have made it four for the Hornets after he was released by Prödl, he had only the keeper to beat, but passed it into Elliot’s arms.  Silva made a final change bringing Carrillo on for Hughes, who went off to a huge ovation from the fans up in the gods, which he acknowledged, so we knew the players could hear us.  Newcastle had another attempt to spare their blushes, but Kabasele did brilliantly to block the shot from Mitrovic.  Watford had one last chance to score a fourth, but their swift counter attack finished with Cleverley shooting over from distance.  There was only time for Prödl to be booked for a robust (and unnecessary) tackle on Mitrovic and the final whistle went on a convincing win for the Hornets.  To add insult to injury, the big screen was displaying the winning ticket in the Match day draw with a code that started with WFC.

We were all smiles in the away stand.  It had been a convincing win against a team that we have to consider to be rivals.  There were some outstanding performances.  Will Hughes impressed again, as did Zeegelaar and Kabasele.

Ricarlison on the ball

As I waited at the station for the train home, Miles Jacobson appeared and kindly kept me company for the journey home.  Our first encounter was with a disappointed Newcastle fan who observed, “You had a good day, bonny lass.”  I have always loved Geordies.  Then our neighbours on the train were a father and son, who I recognised from away trips, who were having a joint birthday celebration.  My comment that we had been fantastic was met with some scepticism and a discussion of the negatives from the performance, which gave me pause for thought.  It is true that Gray looks like he lacks a bit of confidence, he was terribly wasteful in front of goal and really should have had a hat-trick, but he still managed to get on the scoresheet.  Richarlison didn’t have the best of games, but he provided an assist and the attention that the Newcastle defence paid to him certainly contributed to Zeegelaar having a tremendous amount of space to play in to provide the assists for the other goals.  Despite the concerns, we all agreed that being able to win convincingly when not at our best has to be a good thing.

The icing on the cake was the news (first heard from Don Fraser) that one of the supporters’ coaches had broken down in the Derby area on the way to the game and the fans had been transported to Newcastle in taxis at the club’s expense.  Well done to Watford for that.   It is good to see that for our club, the fans matter after all.  These really are the good old days.

Yet Another Draw with the Cherries

Two Taylors

Two Taylors

After the cup win, we were back at Vicarage Road for a match against Bournemouth who, since our 6-1 win at the Vic in 2013, we have failed to beat in the league.  Not only that, there have been a number of incidents of gamesmanship in recent games that mean that the plucky underdogs are not well liked in our corner of Hertfordshire.  During our pre-match preparations in the West Herts, it was noted that one of the guest beers was “Win Win”.  We could only hope that was an omen.

During the week, there was a lot of upset amongst residents of the Upper GT at the news that they are all to be moved to provide extra seats for corporate hospitality.  It is an interesting decision to move (upset) all 1400 ST holders in that stand instead of only those in the blocks affected and does seem to be an unnecessary disruption.  As someone who is not a fan of the corporate seats at football (it is very telling that they don’t bother to announce the arrival of the teams for the second half in the lounge), my sympathies are with those who are being forcibly moved to accommodate the prawn sandwich brigade.  It would remain to be seen whether the anger expressed on social media would manifest itself in the form of some protest during the game.

Challenging at a corner

Challenging at a corner

Team news was that there were four changes from the cup game with Gomes, Aké, Behrami and Ighalo in for Pantilimon, Holebas, Suárez and Abdi.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Paredes, Behrami, Watson, Capoue, Deeney, Amrabat and Ighalo.  As the teams emerged prior to kick-off, Bournemouth’s shocking pink away kit was quite an assault on the senses.

There was a pleasing start to the game for the Hornets as Ighalo went on a run and beat a couple of players before unleashing a shot that was pushed over by Boruc.  Soon after, Paredes ran down the wing and crossed for Ighalo who volleyed wide.  At the other end, a clearance only got as far as Arter on the edge of the box who shot well wide.  Deeney played a one-two with Capoue before finding Amrabat, whose shot was deflected for the corner.  As previously mentioned, Bournemouth have not endeared themselves to Watford in recent games with their gamesmanship so there were angry shouts from the Rookery when Stanislaus pulled up with a hamstring strain, appeared to limp off before collapsing on the pitch a couple of feet from the dug-out, apparently on Howe’s instructions.  He was soon replaced by Gradel.  On the half hour, there was a promising break from Aké who crossed for Deeney whose shot flew over the bar.  In the last action of any note, in a half mostly devoid of incident, Capoue found Amrabat who won a corner from which Watson’s delivery was easily caught by Boruc.

Luther shows his trophy to the Rookery

Luther shows his trophy to the Rookery

After a lively start, it had been a half of very little action, the one shot on target coming from the Hornets.  Thankfully there was something to cheer us up during the interval.  Towards the end of the half, a chant of “One Graham Taylor” had gone up from the 1881.  The reason for this became apparent when GT and Luther were introduced so that “the Gaffer” could present Luther with an award as “Watford’s Favourite Son”.  The Bournemouth game was likely chosen for this as he is also very fondly remembered on the South Coast.  Tim had a few words with Luther during which he picked out the League Cup match at Old Trafford as his favourite, but couldn’t be drawn to choose a winner of today’s game.  After the presentation, Luther did a circuit of the pitch with his name ringing out throughout the stadium.  A heart-warming moment.

The first chance of the second half went to the visitors as a cross from Ritchie was volleyed over by King.  Then Aké found Amrabat whose cross was headed clear by Francis.  Paredes then showed a lovely piece of skill to beat his man on the wing before crossing for Amrabat, who looked odds on to score, but swung his leg and missed the ball completely.  At the other end, there was a decent chance for the visitors as Surman found Gradel who directed his shot over the bar.  Watford’s first substitution came just before the hour mark as Suárez replaced Capoue, who had a very poor game by his standards despite the loud chants of “We’ve got Capoue ….”  Perhaps the repeated claim that he’s better than Zidane is putting undue pressure on him.  The visitors had a great chance to take the lead as a shot from Arter appeared to be heading for the top corner but, as so often this season, Gomes came to the rescue with a superb one-handed save to keep it out.

Paredes takes a throw

Paredes takes a throw

Suárez played a lovely through ball to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  Then Aké exchanged passes with Amrabat before his cross was cut out.  Suárez tried a long pass to Ighalo, but Boruc was first to the ball.  Troy appeared to be fouled as he tried to reach a ball into the box but the referee penalized Deeney instead of the defender.  Watford really should have taken the lead on 67 minutes as Amrabat did well to skip past a defender on the by-line before delivering the perfect cross to Ighalo who was unmarked.  From where I sit, behind the goal in the Rookery, I could see Odion through the net and, when the ball was delivered, there seemed only one destination for the header but, unbelievably, it was directed over the bar.  Watford had another chance after Deeney was fouled on the edge of the box.  The free-kick was taken square by Watson to Deeney whose low shot flew wide of the target.  The same move was tried in the last game, with the same outcome, so I can only assume that this has been working in training.  Bournemouth had a decent chance with a cross from Daniels that Ritchie directed over the bar.  At the other end, a long distance volley from Aké cleared the target.  Bournemouth’s next substitution saw Gosling replaced Afobe.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead with quarter of an hour remaining as a Watson free kick reached Britos who shot just wide.   Soon after, a quick free kick found Ighalo who manoeuvred into position for a shot but hit it over the bar.

Cathcart and Cook challenge for a header

Cathcart and Cook challenge for a header

The first booking of the game came on 77 minutes for a foul by Watson on Gradel.  The referee had been blowing up for fouls every time a player went to the ground and was pretty consistent in that, but this did seem like a fairly run of the mill challenge and hardly worthy of a card.  From the free kick, the clearance went back to a Bournemouth player, so it was a relief to see Gomes finally gather.  A lovely ball towards Amrabat went begging as he lost sight of the ball, which was a shame as he was in a great position.  Gomes kept the Hornets in the game again as he pushed a header from Gradel clear.  Watford’s second change saw Abdi replacing Amrabat.  Almen’s first involvement was to be hacked down by Surman, who was, rightly, booked for the challenge.  There was anger in the home stands as a push on Paredes was ignored before a similar challenge on Gradel earned Cathcart a yellow card.  Gradel then did well to beat Paredes before unleashing a shot that Gomes turned over the bar.  The corner was delivered into the box, but Gomes rose to catch it and the game finished goalless.

The final whistle went to shrugs around Vicarage Road.  Watford shaded the first half and Bournemouth the second, but a draw was probably fair.  During the second half it felt like Gomes had saved the game for us, but both Ighalo and Amrabat had chances that they should have finished which would have guaranteed the three points.  Bournemouth had put in a good performance and, on this showing, both of the teams that gained automatic promotion last season should stay up, something that no pundit would have predicted in August.

So, while there was disappointment that we didn’t take all three points from this game, we remain 13 points clear of the relegation zone with 11 games left to play.  This season has delivered beyond our wildest dreams.  The annoyance at the relocation of the fans in the Upper GT did not lead to any obvious protests on Saturday and was tempered somewhat by the news that we can renew our season tickets for the same price as we paid last season.  Premier League football at Championship prices for the second year running was a very pleasant surprise, as was the retention of the 75 mile season tickets for current holders.  Well done to the Pozzos (and Scott Duxbury) for that decision.

A Tale of Two Goalkeepers

Luther Blissett, a hero to Hornets and Cherries alike

Luther Blissett, a hero to Hornets and Cherries alike

It has been a gorgeous week weather wise and, for once, I was only carrying a small bag, so I decided to leave my scarf at home.  Then I stepped out of my front door and felt the Autumn nip in the air, so went straight back indoors to collect it.  While on the train, I received a text from Toddy informing me that there was a beer festival at the pre-match pub of choice, so this rather lovely venue was enhanced with some great ciders.  My only disappointment was that I was not able to get a view of the antique urinals that were the talk of the males in the bar!  It was only a short walk to the ground and, on arrival, we mistakenly took the long way around to get to the away end.  Luckily this had the benefit of allowing us to walk past the wall of fame outside the ground and spot the picture of Luther.  A thing of beauty.

Team news was that Jurado was injured, so Anya slotted into his position and Aké started as full back.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Anya, Deeney, Abdi, Ighalo.  Pre-match the thoughts were of a couple of recent frustrating encounters memorable for two incorrect dismissals of Angella and some gamesmanship from the Cherries which left a sour taste in the mouth.

Bournemouth started the better of the two teams and were soon threatening the Watford goal.  Gomes comfortably caught an early cross from King, but then Murray was allowed a free header that he directed over the bar when he really should have got it on target.  A free kick from the right was easily gathered by Gomes before Cathcart got his body in the way to block a shot from King.

Anya holds off Daniels

Anya holds off Daniels

For the first 20 minutes, it was all Bournemouth, who were attacking at will while we were penned back in our own half.  In Watford’s first foray forward, a Nyom cross found Ighalo with his back to goal, he juggled the ball around until he was facing the right way, but was closed down before he could shoot.  A blocked shot from Capoue rebounded to King who sprinted upfield where he was stopped by a superb tackle by Cathcart.  Pugh was the next to threaten the Watford goal, but Gomes dropped to make an easy save.  The Bournemouth goal had been coming, but the manner of it was irritating in the extreme.  A cross came in from Ritchie, Murray rose to meet it and head past Gomes while Prödl, who appeared to be in a position to at least attempt to cut it out, stood and watched.  In contrast to last week when the Palace goal was met with a wall of encouraging noise from the Watford fans, there was an icy silence in the away stand.  However, the next attack of note did come from the visitors as Deeney played a one-two with Ighalo but, instead of shooting, he appeared to just pass the ball to a Bournemouth defender.

A blurred celebration, excuse my shaking hands

A blurred celebration, please excuse my shaking hands

The frustration was building in the away stand and there were boos as Capoue played the ball back to Prödl in our half.  There was some handbags as Murray went down dramatically after a coming together with Capoue which prompted a chorus of “Same old Bournemouth, always cheating.”  The home fans countered with “Championes” although, to be fair to them, it had taken them 40 minutes to crow.  Soon after, the same two players met again and, on this occasion, Capoue went flying and Murray was booked.  Watford scored a totally undeserved equalizer on the stroke of half time as Boruc received a back pass and, for some unfathomable reason, passed it to Ighalo who rounded him and slotted home.  It was a truly ridiculous goal which meant that, despite the dreadful performance of the Hornets in the first half, they left the pitch to cheers at the break.

The home side were first out of the dressing room at the start of the second half and there were loud cheers from the travelling Hornets for Boruc as he took his place in goal.  The Hornets retook the field having made no changes in personnel and my heart sank.

Challenging for an incoming ball at a corner

Challenging for an incoming ball at a corner

The first incident of the half was a lovely tackle from Aké which, because Ritchie went down hard, earned him a talking to from the referee.  As Michael Oliver lectured the youngster, Troy Deeney was standing by his side shaking his head.  Five minutes into the half Murray was allowed another free header, but this time Gomes gathered.  Ighalo received the ball on the left of the Bournemouth box, feinted a couple of times before dribbling past the defender, but his shot was turned behind for a corner.  From the set piece the ball dropped to Watson whose shot rebounded off the crossbar and came out to Abdi on the left who shot well wide of the far post.  I don’t know what Flores did at half time, because there were no changes in personnel, but whether it was a rocket or an arm around the collective shoulders it worked as, suddenly, Watford were playing with confidence, snapping into tackles, closing the Bournemouth players down and generally competing in a way that they hadn’t earlier on.  During the first half, the fans around us had moaned incessantly (for good reason), but nine minutes into the second period the travelling Hornets were so encouraged that they started bouncing.

Anya with a throw in

Anya with a throw in

On 55 minutes, the Bournemouth fans had planned a minute’s applause for Mick Cunningham, a former club photographer and programme editor who recently passed away.  As his photo was displayed on the big screen, those in the home stands rose to applaud and were joined by enthusiastic applause from the Watford fans.  While this was happening, Anya went storming through the middle, played the ball out to Ighalo who crossed back for Anya but he could only head wide.  Deeney and Ighalo exchanged passes, but the ball was taken off Troy’s feet before he could shoot.  An Abdi free kick was headed out only as far as Ben Watson whose shot was blocked.  Then Abdi released Anya, who was one on one with the keeper, but Boruc managed to block the shot and put it out for a corner.  Murray then broke forward but, seeing the Watford defence marshalled in front of him, could only attempt a shot from distance that was straight at Gomes.  Watford’s first substitution saw Ibarbo replacing Nyom.  Abdi found Ighalo who tumbled on the edge of the box, but nothing was given.  The Nigerian was then in action at the other end as he charged down Ritchie’s shot following a short free kick.  Back on duty in attack, his next shot was poor and wide of the target.

Gomes looking unbelievably calm after his heroics

Gomes looking unbelievably calm after his heroics

An injury meant that Anya had to be substituted, he was replaced by Paredes.  The hosts threatened as Francis was allowed to break forward and cross for Murray whose header was just wide of the target.  They had an even better chance soon after as the ball fell to Cook on the edge of the box where he launched an audacious overhead kick that was heading for the top corner until Gomes pulled off a superb save.  It appeared that Heurelho’s heroics were to be for nothing as the inevitable Bournemouth penalty was awarded.  The first player to tumble in the box had his appeal waved away by Michael Oliver and, when Capoue and Smith came together I was confident that the free kick would go our way, but the referee pointed to the spot.  Murray stepped up to take it but there were to be more heroics from Gomes as he saved the penalty before Cathcart cleared the rebound.  The resulting corner was punched clear by Gomes, Gosling’s follow-up flew wide and the travelling Hornets could breathe again.  As Watford also pushed for a winner, Ighalo played the ball back to Abdi, but his shot was blocked.

Ake about to go in for a challenge

Ake about to go in for a challenge

In the last minute of normal time, O’Kane cut inside and shot goalwards but it was an easy stop for Gomes.  Watford’s last chance for a winner was a free-kick from distance from which Abdi decided to go for goal but hit it wide of the target.  Guedioura came on in the last minute of time added on to replace Abdi.  The game finished with honours even and the name of Heurelho Gomes ringing out in the away stand.

It was a classic game of two halves.  We had been completely woeful in the first period, Bournemouth having most of the possession and any time that Watford did pass the ball forward, it was swept up by the Bournemouth defence.  In the second half, we were snapping in to tackles and not allowing the opposition to have any time on the ball while our balls upfield were finding their men with Ighalo and Deeney finally having some success in holding the ball up.  Bournemouth won’t have won any more friends among the Watford faithful as they lived up to their reputation for theatrics.  But a draw was a fair result and I was more than happy to leave with a point.

All the way home I found myself suddenly bursting into song, alternating “Heurelho Gomes baby” with “Lo, lo, lo,lo Quique Sanchez Flores.”  Great stuff.

Frustration on the South Coast

Jon and Rene in the media area

Jon and Rene in the media area

A Friday night game in Bournemouth meant that I had to take the morning off work to travel and then spend the afternoon in my hotel room calling into work teleconferences.  All of that ensured that there was no time for a walk on the beach, which was rather sad.  But the pub of choice in Bournemouth was delightful even if the cider was a little strong.

Team news was that there were two changes from the magnificent win over Blackpool with Munari and Watson replacing Paredes and Vydra.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Tözsér, Watson, Munari, Layun, Deeney and Ighalo.  As we took our place in the stand, I was surprised to see that we were adjacent to the press area and that Jon and Rene were required to commentate on the game while sitting between the banks of home and away fans.

Layun's extensive pre-match prayer

Layun’s extensive pre-match prayer

We’d been looking forward to this game all week, but it went horribly wrong in the first minute when Kermorgant dispossessed Tözsér, played Miller in and Angella took the escaping player down.  The whistle went and the Bournemouth players surrounded the referee who emerged brandishing a red card.  It seemed very harsh, especially as Cathcart was covering.  You have to wonder what the sea air does to referees facing Angella.  Although, at least on this occasion, he wasn’t dismissed for his remarkable resemblance to Fitz Hall!!!  With such an early dismissal, it felt like the game was over already.  Kermorgant took the free-kick himself which deflected off the wall for a corner from which Pugh headed over.  Watford rejigged the defence with Layun and Anya dropping into a back four.  Bournemouth threatened immediately with a curling cross from Ritchie that was palmed away by Gomes.  Then Deeney broke down the other end and played the ball out to Anya who shot wide of the far post.  The lovely Ighalo then indulged in a spell of showboating to cheer up the travelling Hornets.  Bournemouth threatened again as Ritchie cut inside and shot wide.

06 - Ighalo tries to beat FrancisBut Watford also had chances as Ighalo fed Munari who tried a shot from distance which was blocked.  Then Anya floated a high cross into the box that was caught by Boruc.  The home side had a great chance to take the lead in the 24th minute, but Kermorgant’s shot rebounded off the crossbar.  A great run from Deeney was stopped by Cook who only received a yellow card for the offence, which was greeted with anger from the Watford fans.  From Tözsér’s free-kick, the ball broke to Watson who shot just wide.  Soon after, the ball flew into the Watford crowd signalling a Bournemouth throw.  The away fans decided to indulge in a spot of volleyball and showed no sign of giving the ball back, so Ighalo came over and requested that it be returned in such an endearing manner that the ball was immediately thrown back onto the pitch.  With 10 minutes remaining in the half, Wilson was tripped by Cathcart in the box and the referee pointed to the spot.  With the team down to 10 men and working their socks off, a penalty against us seemed just cruel.  Kermorgant made no mistake from the spot to give the home side the lead.  Arter was very lucky not to follow Angella to the dressing rooms as a two-footed tackle on Munari was deemed worthy of only a yellow card.  Bournemouth had another goal chance but Wilson’s header flew wide of the far post.  Watford could have been in further trouble as Gomes parried a cross, but Cathcart was on hand to put it out for a corner that was easily gathered by the keeper.

When the half time whistle went, there were loud boos from the Watford fans targeting the referee for his appalling decision in sending Angella off.

Deeney and Ighalo waiting for a corner

Deeney and Ighalo waiting for a corner

At the start of the second half, Munari made way for Pudil, allowing Anya to move to the right and Layun to move up to the midfield.  Bournemouth had a good chance to increase their lead on 50 minutes as a Cathcart clearance fell to Ritchie who shot wide of the target.  At the other end a shot from distance by Tözsér was caught by Boruc.  Bournemouth increased their lead in the 56th minute as Ritchie received the ball on the right of the box and buried it in the far corner.  As much as it pains me to say it, it was a quality goal.  Watford tried to hit back as Ighalo played a through ball for Deeney, but he was tackled before he could shoot.  A lovely Bournemouth move finished with a shot from Francis that Gomes dropped to smother.  It looked as if Bournemouth would increase their lead with a powerful header from Kermorgant that Gomes did brilliantly to push wide.

Tozser and Layun line up a free kick

Tozser and Layun line up a free kick

Jokanovic made his second substitution bringing Vydra on for Ighalo.  I must say that I didn’t see that coming.  Bournemouth threatened again with a low shot from Francis that was gathered by Gomes.  Ritchie tested the Watford keeper again, but Gomes was equal to his shot.  Watford had a rare attack as Vydra played a square ball to Deeney who shot wide of the far post.  Bournemouth’s final attack started with a push on Anya that should have been penalised, but they broke forward resulting in a shot that needed another excellent save from Gomes.  In injury time, Mensah replaced Deeney, presumably for some first team experience.  After the final whistle, the Watford players all came over to thank the Watford fans who had continued to sing in support of their team for the entire 90 minutes.

We went into this game anticipating an exciting top of the table clash.  The sending off in the first minute meant that we will never know whether we could have overcome Bournemouth with eleven men.  With the game being changed to Friday evening for television, it also meant that most fans attending had to take time off work and possibly find accommodation for the night due to the lack of public transport home after the game.  In these circumstances, when a refereeing  decision has such an impact on the outcome of the game, you feel doubly cheated.  Let’s hope that we can take this anger into next week’s game.

A Lunchtime Stalemate

The teams (and mascots) emerge from the tunnel

The teams (and mascots) emerge from the tunnel

I hate lunchtime kick-offs.  I missed the Blackpool game due to work commitments on the other side of the Atlantic, but drew the line at taking the red-eye on Friday night and travelling straight to Vicarage Road.  However, even after a night’s sleep in my own bed, I was not impressed at having to leave home earlier than I do for most away games.  There is then the confusion about whether coffee, tea or beer should accompany your pre-match brunch.  I’d had a coffee on the train, so the beer won that argument.

In the absence of our hospitalized manager (get well soon, Òscar), Ruben Martinez was in charge for the day.  There were three changes from the Blackpool game with injuries to Angella and Deeney meaning that Tamas and Dyer deputized and Murray was preferred to McGugan.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Pudil, Tamas, Ekstrand, Paredes, Murray, Tözsér, Abdi, Dyer, Vydra, Anya.  Rather surprisingly, Gomes was given the captain’s armband.

Wilson shielding the ball from Ekstrand

Wilson shielding the ball from Ekstrand

The game did not start well for the home side.  Bournemouth had chance in the first minute as the ball fell to Ritchie in the box but he shot wide of the target.  In the second minute Wilson, with the help of a hefty shove, beat Tamas to get into the box where Tamas returned the shove and conceded a penalty.  Fortunately Harte hit the spot kick wide of the target.  I can only speculate on how much those in the Rookery who were waving, trying to put him off, contributed to the miss.  Watford’s first foray forward was a ball over the top from Murray which Vydra could not control and the chance was lost.  A free-kick from Tözsér found Murray at the far post but his header was over the bar.  Watford looked in trouble as the ball bounced around our box, but Ekstrand finally cleared.  Pudil played a lovely through ball to release Dyer, he crossed for Vydra but the Czech could not connect.  Stanislas cut in from the left and hit a low shot but Gomes was down to gather easily.

Boruc gathers with Cathcart challenging

Boruc gathers with Cathcart challenging

At the other end, Tözsér played a ball over the top to Vydra who spun and knocked it goalwards, but Boruc was equal to it.  Ritchie was the next to threaten for the visitors, but his shot was well over the bar.  Just before the half hour, Tamas went down injured.  As soon as Kevin the physio reached him, he signalled for a substitute at which point some morons in the Watford crowd actually cheered.  Tamas had been having a bad day, but to cheer a nasty injury to a player beggars belief.  After a long delay for treatment, he was stretchered off and replaced by Cathcart, making his second debut for Watford.  With 10 minutes to go to half time, the ball dropped to Pudil on the edge of the area from where he shot just wide of the near post.  Dyer went on a great run before playing the ball in to Vydra, but Cook made a great saving tackle to thwart him.  Bournemouth really should have taken the lead as Francis broke into the box and chipped the ball over to Wilson whose header was flying into the net until Gomes appeared out of nowhere to make a terrific save.  As the half time whistle went, a suited and booted Troy Deeney got up from the dugout to give his opinion on the first period to Sky Sports.  We’d missed him desperately on the pitch.

Troy on TV duty when we needed him on the pitch

Troy on TV duty when we needed him on the pitch

Early in the second half, the visitors had the ball in the net as a clearance from Ekstrand reached Surman whose shot was parried by Gomes to Wilson who knocked it past the keeper, but the flag was up for offside.  Gomes had to stretch to keep out a free-kick from Harte, Ritchie’s follow-up was blocked.  Watford’s second substitution saw Forestieri replacing Dyer, who did not look happy to be leaving the field so Martinez went to the dugout to put a consoling arm around him.  Anya whipped in a cross that was headed goalwards by Vydra, Boruc caught the ball but Anya had been flagged offside anyway.  We’d just had a decent spell in the game when we went behind as Arter unleashed a brilliant shot from 25 yards into the top corner.  A Tözsér free-kick was blocked and bounced to Forestieri whose shot was also blocked.

Paredes covering Pugh

Paredes covering Pugh

Forestieri then went on a run down the right that was stopped when Cook flew into him.  For some baffling reason, Arter decided to remonstrate with Fernando and there was a spell of handbags after which Cook received a yellow card for the nasty tackle, while Tözsér and Surman were similarly punished for the follow-on.  Tözsér took a free-kick that was headed out for a corner.  The follow-up was bouncing around in the box, but no Watford player could get a decent touch to send the ball goalwards.  It was clearly open season on Forestieri as Arter took his turn to knock him flying and make his way into the referee’s book.  With 20 minutes remaining, Ighalo replaced Abdi.  Anya found Murray whose shot was blocked by Ighalo who was unable to turn and finish.  Forestieri tried a shot from distance that was well over.  Anya did well to beat two players on the left wing, his first cross was blocked, his second attempt went begging due to a lack of Watford players in the box.  We had a strong shout for a penalty as Tözsér played a ball to Anya in the box where he was felled but the referee waved play on.

Cathcart congratulated on his goal

Cathcart congratulated on his goal

Our equalizer came from an unexpected source as a headed clearance fell to Cathcart who volleyed past Boruc.  It was an excellent strike from Cathcart whose debut had been very impressive indeed.  Anya crossed for Vydra whose shot was more of a cross which was met by Forestieri flying through the air with his arm outstretched.  If you weren’t there, it is really hard to describe this move except to say that Fernando reminded me of Christopher Reeve as Superman.  He really should have avoided the yellow card due to the shear comedy value.  Anya found Pudil on the overlap but his cross was straight into the arms of Boruc.  We had a great chance to win the game as Forestieri passed to Ighalo in the box, but his shot was weak and straight at the keeper and he turned to find Fernando indicating that he should have passed it back to him.  As the clock struck 90 minutes, Elphick hauled Vydra to the ground and was booked.  The last action of the game came when the ball fell to Ekstrand who wellied it over from distance.  It had been a very disappointing afternoon with the highlight being a tremendous performance from the returning Cathcart topped off with a terrific goal.

On the way out of the ground, I bumped into a lovely family that I know whose children had been mascots for the day.  The children were beaming as their Mum told me how well they’d been looked after, particularly by Ikechi Anya who had gone above and beyond in looking after his charge.  After a disappointing afternoon, that put a huge smile on my face.

A Battle on the South Coast

The decoration inside the ground

The decoration inside the ground

After a few days of scare stories about bad weather that could lead to another postponement, it was a relief to have a pleasant drive down to the South Coast and lovely weather for my walk across town from the hotel to the pre-match pub.  The pub itself was another little gem.  The back room used to be a boxing gym, and was rather lovely.  The bar staff were friendly and welcoming.  The clincher for me, though, was the Rosie’s Pig.  Delicious. Bournemouth was a new stadium for me, so I was looking forward to the visit.  It is quite a neat little ground.  They have decorated the inside of the ends of each stand with pictures of players, which is a nice touch, although it has to be said that they didn’t appear to be from particularly classic games.  The away fans were located at one end of a stand down one side of the ground and were very close to the pitch which, despite the rain, appeared to be in excellent condition.

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

Sannino made three changes from Tuesday’s cup replay, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Hall, Angella, Pudil, McGugan, Iriney, Battocchio, Faraoni, Fabbrini and Deeney.  Main team news for Bournemouth was that their top scorer, Grabban, was recalled having signed a new contract after a brief flirtation with Brighton.  Other pre-match news was that, due to colour clashes involving both our home and away kit, we were playing in all yellow.  The only time I can remember seeing that colour combination before was due to some Boothroyd bloody-mindedness at Charlton.  From memory, the game that day was awful.

McGugan delivers a corner

McGugan delivers a corner

The home team threatened first, but Pugh failed to get on the end of a dangerous cross from Ritchie.  Watford’s first chance came through a counter-attack.  Fabbrini broke forward, he was tackled but the ball fell to Battocchio who advanced down the right and crossed to McGugan in the box, but Lewis swung his boot and didn’t get a decent connection so the shot flew wide.  The referee went back and booked Ritchie for felling Fabbrini.  On 16 minutes, Battocchio found Fabbrini on the right, his low cross was put out for a corner from which the ball fell to Battocchio, who squared to Faraoni whose cross was easily caught by Camp in the Bournemouth goal.  Soon after, repeated attempts to break down a Bournemouth attack failed and Surman was able to fashion a shot from the edge of the box but it was wide of the target.  On 24 minutes, Iriney went down injured.  I

Angella launching the ball forward

Angella launching the ball forward

have criticised his contributions in the past, but he had been immense in this game so far and his substitution was very bad news, even if his replacement was Abdi.  Bournemouth threatened again through Ritchie who advanced into the box, but the attentions of Pudil ensured that his shot was well over the bar.  Angella then joined the attack but, when his cross was cut out, it left our defence weakened allowing Grabban to break and cut the ball back for Ritchie whose shot was deflected over.  Camp was called into action for the first time as a Battocchio shot was deflected and the keeper had to dive to push it around the post.  The corner was headed out to Pudil, but his shot was horribly reminiscent of McGugan’s mishit earlier in the game.  A back header from Abdi reached Surman who broke forward and found Pugh in space but he shot well over when he really should have

Angella celebrating his goal

Angella celebrating his goal

tested Almunia.  Five minutes before the break, Angella found Fabbrini who turned and shot over.  On 44 minutes, Grabban was through but could not quite connect with a cross from Ritchie.  Then, on the stroke of half time, McGugan was taken down on the left.  He took the free-kick himself and Angella rose highest to nod it past Camp.  We were somewhat fortunate to be ahead, but it was a great time to score. At the start of second half, McGugan pulled up requiring treatment although he was able to continue.  Then Abdi passed to Fabbrini whose through ball deflected to Deeney, but Troy’s shot was blocked and went out for a

Lining up to defend

Lining up to defend

corner.  On 50 minutes, the injury got the better of McGugan and he was replaced by Murray.  The youngster was in action almost immediately putting in a low cross that was met with a shot from Hall which was blocked.  At the other end, a good sliding tackle from Ekstrand prevented Grabban from getting on the end of a cross from Pugh.  On the hour, Grabban broke into the Watford box, where he was jostled and eventually pulled to the ground.  The referee didn’t give the penalty immediately but, after consulting with the linesman, he pointed to the spot and sent Angella off.  There was some confusion from the stands as to who the recipient of the red card was, and some argument on the pitch about the decision, but eventually the Italian walked.  It was Grabban himself

Almunia the hero

Almunia the hero

who stepped up to take the penalty, and he made no mistake, shooting straight down the middle with Almunia diving to his left.  Straight from the restart, Bournemouth were on the attack again but Faraoni was alert and headed the cross clear.  Then Surman latched onto a pass from O’Kane but shot well over the bar.  Bournemouth had a great chance to take the lead as Pugh cut the ball back to Daniels in the box, but his shot curled just wide.  On 70 minutes, another penalty was awarded.  Pugh broke into the box and should have shot but, instead went to ground in a dramatic fashion.  Protests from the travelling fans and the Watford players fell on deaf ears and only led to a yellow card for Almunia.  At this point a group of Watford fans who had gathered in front of the seats surged forward and started tussling with the stewards who were standing behind the advertising hoardings and some idiot threw a smoke bomb onto the pitch that was removed by Almunia.  When everything had calmed down, Grabban stepped up again, but justice was done as Almunia dived to his right to save.  The Spaniard then did brilliantly, standing tall to block the follow-up from Ritchie and then dropping to save an O’Kane shot from the edge of the box.  On 77 minutes, Pugh was replaced by Pitman and left the field to loud boos from the travelling Hornets.  At the same time, Rantie replaced Surman and Anya came on for

Bournemouth threaten

Bournemouth threaten

Fabbrini.  With 10 minutes remaining, Almunia parried a long-range shot from Ritchie then dropped to gather the ball with Grabban and Pitman challenging.  The latter was adjudged to have come in too hard on the keeper and was shown a yellow card.  Bournemouth continued to threaten as O’Kane fed Daniels on the left, but his cross was cut out by Hall.  From the corner, Arter handled in his own box, was penalized and another argument broke out on the field in what was becoming a bad tempered game both on and off the field.  Then Watford launched an attack as Deeney broke and hit a ball over to Anya who cut in from the bye-line but couldn’t find a pass and the ball went out for a goal kick.  In the last minute of normal time, the Cherries should have won the game as Rantie cut the ball back to Ritchie who unleashed a powerful shot, but Pudil threw himself in front of the ball and saved the day.  From the corner, the ball fell to Pitman whose shot just cleared Almunia’s bar.  There was 7 minutes of time added on, so plenty of time for a winner.  For Bournemouth, Pitman tried a chip, but it was straight at Almunia.  Then the ball fell to Deeney in the box, but his shot was deflected into the side netting.  At this point, it became clear that defending the point was the priority for the visitors as the corner was taken with 4 Watford players on the half way line.  In the last minute, Daniels got his head to a corner but it drifted over the bar. 

Thanking the travelling fans

Thanking the travelling fans

At the final whistle, 8 stewards escorted the referee as he left the pitch, which seemed excessive since he was walking towards the home stand.  For all the complaints about the penalties and the performance of the referee, we were quite fortunate to come away with a point from that game.  But what will live longer in the memory was the unpleasant atmosphere in the away end.  There were scuffles both with stewards and among some Watford fans who got into an argument about one bloke who insisted on standing about half way up when all around him were seated.  Another Watford fan threw a bottle that hit one of our disabled supporters.  Due to the disorder, the fans in wheelchairs were moved to sit with the home fans.  One fan also threw the ball hard at one of the Bournemouth players who was about to take a throw-in.  Unnecessary and unpleasant, and I have to give credit to the player in question who didn’t react.  I also thought the stewards did a tremendous job.  As they investigated the scuffle in the crowd near us, they did so in a reasonable manner and were very pleasant to those in the area.  The Leicester stewards should take a lesson from these guys.  Coming up, we have the prospect of another away trip, this time to Man City.  The post-match realization that we are now on a run of seven away draws was soon nullified by the news that City had scored another 4 goals.  I have to admit that my head is telling me to go to Vicarage Road to see the Youth Cup game next Saturday, but there is that niggling “what if?” that will ensure I travel to Manchester.  I hope they are gentle with us.