Tag Archives: Matthew Connolly

Gutted, but Proud

The GT Stand greeting the team

The GT Stand greeting the team

After the post-match excitement of last week, it had been another long wait for the Championship decider.  It was all in our own hands.  Win today and we were champions.

It was an earlier than usual start due to the lunchtime kick-off and, when I arrived in Watford, there were only a smattering of Watford shirts around, but the red and yellow bunting outside The Flag was a nice touch.  On arrival at the West Herts, there was already a decent crowd in there calming their nerves with a liquid breakfast.  When we left for the ground, you could already hear the roars from Vicarage Road.

There was a depressing sign of things to come with hawkers selling Premier League tat in Vicarage Road, although I didn’t actually see any ticket touts.  We have that treat awaiting us.  There was a tremendous atmosphere inside the ground.  A message from Elton John was shown on the big screen.  Then, as the players came out, the Rookery held up a foil display organized by the 1881.  The other stands had flags, streamers, ticker tape and balloons.  It was a tremendous spectacle and lovely to see four stands swathed in yellow.

The promoted Hornets come on to the pitch

The promoted Hornets come on to the pitch

Team news was three changes with Motta in for Paredes, Layun replacing Guedioura, whose loan period expired last week and Vydra preferred to Ighalo up front.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Connolly, Cathcart, Angella, Anya, Abdi, Watson, Layun, Motta, Vydra and Deeney.

Watford made a bright start as Abdi played a lovely ball out to Motta on the right wing, he crossed for Layun whose shot was blocked.  At the other end, Lavery headed the ball in the direction of Lee but Gomes leapt salmon-like to pluck the ball from the air.  Watford had a very good shout for a penalty as Watson won the ball and played in Deeney, who broke into the box and tried to dribble around Kirkland who took his legs from under him.  From the other end of the ground, it was hard to see how it could be anything other than a penalty, but Lee Probert thought otherwise.  In the 12th minute, as planned, there was a chant of “We’ve got Lloydinho.”  Sad to think that, with his contract expiring this Summer, we may never see Lloyd in a Watford shirt again.  Deeney was the next to win the ball back, he passed to Vydra whose shot was blocked by Kirkland.

Celebrating Vydra's goal

Celebrating Vydra’s goal

Watford took the lead after 25 minutes as Deeney broke through, his shot was saved but the ball rebounded to Vydra, who headed home.  We could have had a second soon after as Watson, again, won a ball in midfield, he passed to Deeney who played the ball out to Anya on the left but Ikechi’s shot was into the side netting.  A corner from Abdi was headed over by Angella.  Then Vydra played a short pass to Deeney who crossed for Abdi who just touched the ball wide.  Deeney battled into the box and tried a chip which drifted wide of the goal.  A rare chance for the visitors as a free-kick found Lees in the box, but his header was well wide.  Watford should have increased their lead from a lovely move as Deeney played the ball out to Motta who crossed for Abdi who really should have scored, but put it wide.  Abdi then released Motta who advanced down the wing and into the box where he should have squared for Deeney or Vydra but instead hit a weak shot that was easy for Kirkland.  The 44th minute was marked with applause for Nic Cruwys from every stand in the ground including the away end.  In the last minutes of the half, a crossfield ball found Anya, but there was no Watford player in the box to meet his cross.  The ball eventually found its way to Layun who shot just wide.  So the half-time whistle went with Watford a goal to the good.  It had been a tremendous performance from the Hornets who fought for every ball and restricted the opposition to the odd breakaway.  But the finishing had been wasteful.  We should have been 3 or 4 goals ahead and I just hoped that we wouldn’t live to rue those misses.

Lining up a free kick

Lining up a free kick

At half time, it was lovely to see Guedioura on the pitch presenting the Club Hero award to Mary Thompson, a very worthy recipient.  Cate and I also visited Casey Evans to buy some of the wristbands that she was selling in aid of the Nic Cruwys fund.  A lovely effort, which raised £200.

The players had to wait a long time on the pitch before the second half kicked off, presumably to keep time with the TV games.  Watford had an early attack as Connolly played a gorgeous dink to Deeney whose shot was blocked by Buxton, who needed treatment afterwards.  From the eventual corner, the ball came out to Layun whose shot from outside the box was well wide of the target.   At the other end Maguire attempted a shot that flew well over the bar.  Anya crossed for Motta who delayed his shot so was closed down when a welly may well have been a better option.  A Vydra cross was met with a powerful header from Deeney that was wide of the far post.  Then Abdi played a ball over the top for Vydra to run on to, but Kirkland got there first.  Another ball was played over the top, this time for Deeney but Kirkland was out of his area to clear.  Vydra gave the ball away in midfield, but the Wednesday player could not get the better of the Watford defence and the ball was shepherded out for a goal kick.  Watford’s first substitution saw Motta replaced by Paredes.  Abdi crossed into the box for Deeney, who chested the ball down, but the flag was up for offside.  Jokanovic made a second substitution with 20 minutes to go replacing Anya with Tözsér.  Deeney fed Abdi who was bearing down on goal, but Kirkland was down to block the shot.  Watford’s final substitution saw Ighalo replacing Vydra who left the field to a standing ovation.

Slavisa Jokanovic post match

Slavisa Jokanovic post match

With five minutes to go, people started streaming down the steps of the Rookery to gather pitchside for an invasion.  It all seemed a bit premature as there was still only one goal in it.  Then a flare was thrown on the pitch.  A steward went to retrieve it and another was thrown at him.  The rest of the Rookery let the idiot who threw the flares know exactly what they thought of him.  In the final minutes of the game, Abdi played a ball into the box for Ighalo, but he couldn’t reach it.  In time added on, we gave away a stupid free kick in a dangerous position.  There was a delay before the kick could be taken as a moron had wandered on to the pitch.  The free-kick was met with a defensive header, but we couldn’t get the ball clear and my heart broke when I saw the ball hit the net.  Watford tried to regain the lead with a tremendous shot from Tözsér that required a good save from Kirkland to keep it out.  Watford won a succession of corners which were hampered by the fans on the goalline.  The final whistle went with a Wednesday player breaking forward and Gomes still upfield after the corners.

Deeney having a well deserved celebration

Deeney having a well deserved celebration

There was a huge pitch invasion.  I have to say that, while I am all for pitch invasions when the game is over, it was disappointing to see how many people were more concerned with getting selfies on the pitch than with the result of the game.  I felt totally deflated and, talking to many people afterwards, that was a common feeling.  Eventually the pitch was cleared and the players came out.  Jon Marks interviewed a number of them on the pitch and eventually reached Troy Deeney who said how p*ssed off he was but then launched into a chant of “Watford FC” which brought a smile back to my face.

It was a sombre post match gathering, as it had all been a bit of an anti-climax.  We had made enough chances to have won several games and ended up losing the title to Wednesday’s only on-target shot.  But there was time to reflect on the tremendous job that the team and the staff have done this season.  The team is talented, hard-working and they play for each other with a great team spirit.  In years to come this will be a squad that is regarded with much affection.  It will be a hard job next season, but I believe that we already have a number of players who will shine in the Premier League.  It will be an exciting new adventure.  We now have the Summer to recover and get ourselves ready.  When are the fixtures out???

 

We are Going Up!

A kind greeting from our hosts

A kind greeting from our hosts

Where do you start with this game?  I guess the best place is the preceding week and how much time was spent staring at the table that had Watford top by a single point with two games to go and then working through all the possible permutations of results and their implications.  Whichever way you looked at it, we needed the three points from our trip to Brighton.

Normally I hate early kick-offs, but it was quite a relief to get this game out of the way early doors.  I arrived on the platform at Clapham Junction to find it packed with Watford fans who piled onto the Brighton train while I waited for the Lewes connection, which proved to be a smart move as it was relatively quiet.  I met up with Pete & Richard at East Croydon.  When asked how I was, the answer that I didn’t feel too good was met with concerned looks until I explained that it was just nerves.  We were delighted to be joined by Becky and Simon at Haywards Heath as we made our way to Falmer.

By 11:30, the away concourse at the Amex was packed with noisy fans.  There is a tradition of wearing fancy dress to the last game of the season but somehow, with the importance of this game, dressing up seemed inappropriate, as if we were celebrating before we’d achieved anything.  This was a day for serious concentration on and off the pitch.  Brighton had their usual welcoming poster thanking us for travelling 163 miles to the game.  It was a little early, but the offer of Harvey’s bitter was one that I had to take up.  The guest pie was a breakfast one which contained baked beans and appeared to be a treat too far, so I opted for safe (and incredibly bland) chicken and ham.

The teams emerge to streamers

The teams emerge to streamers

Team news was that Jokanovic had made three changes with Connolly, Anya and Ighalo in for Hoban, Layun and Vydra.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Connolly, Cathcart, Angella, Anya, Guedioura, Watson, Abdi, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney.  I could only hope that the players were not feeling as nervous as I was.

The teams emerged to ticker tape, streamers, balloons and various inflatables being thrown around the away end.  Before kick-off there was a minute’s silence to mark 30 years since the Bradford fire.  On this occasion, the sadness was mingled with anger following the recent stories about the Chairman at the time.

So, how were Brighton going to approach this game, given that they had nothing to play for?  I was hoping that they would already be on the beach but an attacking move in the first minute indicated that this was not the case as O’Grady’s shot was blocked and eventually cleared.  Soon after, Bruno lofted a ball into the box, but Gomes was there to make a comfortable catch.  Watford’s first goal attempt came in the sixth minute as Abdi found Ighalo who juggled the ball which found its way to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  At the other end Carayol crossed for Bennett who shot well wide from the edge of the box.

Celebrating Deeney's goal

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

There was a very nervous moment in the away end as Bennett went past Paredes into the box and was knocked down.  He went down very easily, but it looked like a foul from where I was standing, so I was mightily relieved when the referee waved play on.  Deeney almost latched on to a dodgy pass back to the Brighton keeper, he certainly made Stockdale play the ball.  At this point, chants for Sean Murray went up in the block next to us, as the youngster was watching the game from towards the back of that stand.  Although I’m not sure that standing for 90 minutes will have been ideal therapy for his knee.  Brighton had another chance from a corner, but Halford headed well over the bar.  Jokanovic decided to make an early change at this point sacrificing Anya for Tözsér and changing to four at the back and a diamond in midfield.  The change had an immediate effect as Watson moved to the left and got a cross in, the ball found its way to Deeney who fired across Stockdale and into the net sparking massive celebrations in the away end.  Only an hour to go!!  Watford had another chance soon after as Guedioura found Abdi, but Stockdale was behind his shot.  We almost shot ourselves in the foot as an attempt by Guedioura to cut the ball out only succeeded in giving the ball away and O’Grady’s shot needed a brilliant save from Gomes to keep it out.  With five minutes to the end of the half, Cathcart made a wonderful tackle that allowed Abdi to break but he was taken down by Kayal, who was booked for the foul.  As usual, the 44th minute was filled with applause and chants for Nic Cruwys.  In time added on, Gomes came to punch a corner clear.  There was then a scary moment as Deeney and Gomes got in each other’s way as they went to deal with a ball in the box, thankfully it rolled harmlessly out for a goal kick.

So we reached half time a goal up, but Brighton were making things uncomfortable for us.  We all agreed that another couple of goals were needed to settle the nerves on and off the pitch.

Gomes in action

Gomes in action

Watford started the second half really well as Watson found Abdi in scoring position, but his shot hit Deeney and was deflected wide.  Deeney then found Guedioura who should have passed to Abdi, but tried a cross to Ighalo, which was cut out.  A free kick in a dangerous position was hit well over by Tözsér.  Watford should have had a second in the 53rd minute as a Guedioura shot was blocked, Ighalo was in a great position to turn the loose ball in, but Guedioura got in his way and Stockdale was able to put the ball out for a corner.  Odion looked furious with his team mate.  From Abdi’s corner, Ighalo headed wide.  Brighton’s first substitution saw Watford boy Mackail-Smith come on for Carayol.  Watford’s first booking of the afternoon went to Cathcart for a clumsy tackle on O’Grady.  Brighton threatened again as a corner was headed wide by Greer.  Jokanovic’s second substitution saw Vydra come on for Ighalo.  Another Brighton attack was stopped by a reckless tackle from Angella, who saw yellow.

Watson lines up a free kick

Watson lines up a free kick

Watford had another great chance to extend the lead as Abdi exchanged long passes with Vydra before shooting over when you would have put money on him burying the ball.  Abdi had another chance with a shot from the edge of the area that flew wide.  Then Vydra had the ball on the edge of the Brighton box but was crowded out before he could shoot.  A long Brighton throw was headed goalwards by Greer, but Gomes caught the header.  Another great Watford chance came as a cross from Guedioura was dummied by Vydra and reached Deeney whose shot was deflected for a corner.  At the other end, Mackail-Smith tried to break into the box but Gomes gathered the ball with the Brighton man claiming, to no avail, that his run had been impeded.  Brighton made a couple of substitutions as LuaLua replaced Forster-Caskey and then Calderon came on for Bruno.  Jokanovic’s last substitution was to replace Abdi with Forestieri.  Not a move to calm the nerves.  Brighton looked to level as a Calderon cross was headed just wide.  Then Deeney found Vydra in a great position, but the shot was dreadful and didn’t test Stockdale.  Deeney took one for the team as he was booked for taking Bennett down in order to stop a break.

Vydra runs back from celebrating his goal

Vydra runs back from celebrating his goal

The last few minutes of normal time were torture as, first, a Brighton free-kick was headed over by O’Grady.  Then a Calderon cross was met by a shot from Stephens which Gomes dropped to save.  Guedioura and Dunk appeared to collide, although the Brighton fans thought that an arm was raised and were calling for a red card, but only yellow was shown.  Dunk was down for a while, but was eventually fit to continue for the five minutes of time added on.  What happened next had to be seen to be believed.  Some brave goalkeeping from Gomes kept Brighton out, the eventual clearance reached Deeney who was breaking down the right wing with Vydra in an acre of space to his left, he played a great pass, but Vydra’s touch to control the ball appeared to allow a defender to catch him.  No matter, he belted the ball into the opposite corner of the goal to spark pandemonium in the away end.  I am not ashamed to admit that I was screaming like a banshee as I leapt up and down.  The bench were equally raucous in their celebrations.  It was lovely to see Ighalo run onto the pitch to join in.  The final whistle went to rapturous scenes on and off the pitch.  We were even treated to the unusual sight of Jokanovic coming over to applaud the crowd.  This was a special day indeed.

On the way out of the ground a Brighton fan asked if the ref was from Watford, we were very happy to be able to tell him that he was actually a Luton fan from Bournemouth!

Celebrating the win and a step nearer to promotion

Celebrating the win and a step nearer to promotion

After the game, we decided against indulging in the bright lights of Brighton, instead heading for Lewes where we found a rather lovely pub with good beer and a nice garden.  We then spent the next two hours obsessively refreshing the football scores on our phones.  It was all going rather well until Norwich scored, then Middlesbrough got a late equalizer against Fulham and we were resigned to another tense week.  One more refresh and I couldn’t believe my eyes as Rotherham scored a late equalizer.  Another one showed that Fulham had got a winner.  It took several more before we saw FT next to those scores to confirm that Watford had been promoted.  We were hugging each other while some nice women at a neighbouring table asked what had provoked this outburst of emotion.  Football!!  When we calmed down (a little) it was time to reflect and remember absent friends.  Guy Judge and Steve Brister would have loved the end of this season and we raised a glass to them.

When I got home, it was lovely to see friends posting photos from Watford of them with the players.  It is a measure of this team that they hadn’t found some exclusive place to celebrate, they had headed into central Watford to have dinner at their favourite Italian.  Who knows what will happen to us in the Premier League.  With the support of the Pozzos, we must be better placed to compete than we were on our last two visits.  But this is a team that thoroughly deserves their chance in the top flight and I look forward to cheering them on home and away on our next adventure.

Forest Felled

Going to a football match on April 15th has a special significance.  On that day in 1989 I was on a sparsely populated terrace at Swindon when I was told that “a wall had fallen down” at the semi-final at Hillsborough.  The reality of what had actually happened unfolded on the way home and it beggars belief that it is only now that the truth about the events of that day is coming into the open.  In common with most football fans, particularly those who regularly attended games in the 80s, I look forward to the day when the 96 and their families finally receive justice.

Cloughie

Cloughie

It was a lovely day when I arrived in Nottingham and the first pre-match pint was taken sitting outside.  We discussed the upcoming game and the previous evening’s results as the sun went down, and it was hard to determine which contributed most to the shivering.  The real shame when so much is at stake is that the fun gets taken out of watching the game as you just want to get it over and know the result.

Team news was four changes for the Hornets with Cathcart, Motta, Abdi and Ighalo in for Hoban, Paredes, Tözsér and Vydra.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Connolly, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Abdi, Watson, Guedioura, Motta, Deeney and Ighalo.

My position in the City Ground was in the back row under the overhang, so I expected plenty of noise to be generated.  I was also delighted to find that I was in exalted company as the Rowson men were sitting next to me.

Returning to the centre circle after Ighalo's goal

Returning to the centre circle after Ighalo’s goal

There was a fright for the visitors in the first minute as a mis-hit shot from Antonio reached Burke whose shot was repelled by the feet of Gomes.  In the fourth minute, a group of lads were walking along our row trying to find their seats.  I stopped the fella who was about to stand in front of me as Abdi took a corner.  That proved to be a smart move as it meant I had a clear view of Ighalo’s header which gave us the lead.  Before the game I had expressed the hope that goals would come early and often.  The first criterion was met, I was fervently hoping that the second would be too.  I was to be disappointed.  Watford won another corner soon after, but this one was headed over by Cathcart.  At the other end, Connolly made a great tackle in the box, which he followed with a block on a shot but the danger wasn’t cleared and Gomes had to pull off two saves in quick succession to shots from distance, first from Antonio and then Osborn.

Deeney imparts instructions

Deeney imparts instructions

Gomes then showed his bravery as he dropped to push a shot from Gardner clear at the post as a Forest player closed in.  Gardner was the next to threaten the Watford goal with a shot from distance, but Gomes was behind the ball and caught it comfortably.  We were allowing the home side far too much possession at this stage and it wasn’t doing my nerves any good at all.  On 22 minutes, Watford had a great chance to increase their lead as Ighalo found Abdi one-on-one with the keeper, but Almen shot wide of the target when it looked easier to score.  A lovely passing move finished with a shot from Guedioura which cleared the bar.  Just after the half hour Forest had another shot at goal from Antonio, but again Gomes was behind the ball.  Abdi won a free-kick in a dangerous position.  He stepped up to take it himself and struck it well, but Darlow was across the goal to gather.  Gomes then pulled off a brilliant save as he dropped to the near post to keep out a shot from Lichaj.  Ighalo received the ball in a dangerous position, but his shot was straight at the Forest keeper.  Watford nerves were settled somewhat as Watford scored a second just before half time.  Connolly won the ball on the edge of the Watford box and went haring upfield before playing the ball out to Ighalo whose shot was saved but Connolly had continued his run so was on hand to turn in the rebound.  Gomes was called into action again as Antonio cut the ball back to Gardner whose shot from the edge of the area was saved.  On the 44 minute mark, the travelling Hornets were in full voice with applause and a chant of “One of our own” in support of Nic Cruwys.

At the break we felt a little fortunate to be two goals ahead.  Gomes had been the star of the show, but credit should be given for the fact that we had scored the goals that we needed.

Abdi anticipating a pass

Abdi anticipating a pass

Watford had an early chance in the second period as Anya met a Motta cross with a lovely volley but Darlow was able to turn it around the post.  From the corner Watson’s shot was blocked.  Forest’s first chance of the half came from an Antonio cut back but Burke’s shot was way over the bar.  The first booking of the game went to Deeney for a foul on Antonio that was borne out of frustration.  Gomes was in action soon after, saving a shot from the edge of the area by Burke.  Abdi’s was the next name in the referee’s book as he took one for the team in stopping a break by Burke.  Just before the hour mark, Forest received their first caution as Wilson was dismissed for lashing out at Ighalo, who was a little fortunate not to see a card for his retaliation.  Two goals up and with ten men in opposition, we really should have capitalized, but this is Watford and we insist on making things difficult for ourselves.  The first chance of this period did fall to the visitors as Watson found Abdi, whose shot was blocked for a corner.  Watford’s first substitution saw goalscorer Connolly make way for Hoban.  Motta was then booked for what looked like a nothing foul on Antonio and was replaced soon after by Paredes.

Tozser lines up a free kick

Tozser lines up a free kick

With 20 minutes to go Deeney gave the ball away to Lichaj, who was brought down by Cathcart on the edge of the Watford area.  Gardner’s free kick flew over the wall and in off the crossbar to halve the deficit.  Watford’s final substitution saw Anya make way for Tözsér.  Watford had a chance to regain their two goal lead with a cross from Ighalo that Angella headed wide.  Then Abdi broke into the Forest box and hit a shot that was blocked when a pass to a player in space may have been the better decision.  Heart rates were raised in the away end as a cross was allowed to drift across the Watford box but Gardner met it with a poor shot that was well off target.  Ighalo had a decent chance, but Darlow was able to keep it out.  Then Deeney played a one-two with Ighalo in the box but, again, Darlow was able to block the shot.  At the other end, a shot from Gardner was parried by Gomes and Antonio’s follow-up was poor and flew wide, much to the relief of the Watford faithful at the other end of the ground.

A blurred goal celebration

A blurred goal celebration

Former Watford loanee, Henri Lansbury made a late substitute appearance for Forest.  Abdi went on a run into the Forest box, he appeared to be fouled all the way but stayed on his feet and was frustrated to see Darlow gather the ball.  Almen wasn’t to be frustrated for long as a great shot from Guedioura was blocked and rebounded back to him, so he buried it much to the relief of the travelling Hornets whose nervous mutterings were suddenly replaced with encouraging roars.  Forest tried to strike back with an ambitious shot from distance from Gardner that flew well over the target.  “We want four,” rang out from the away end and Abdi tried to make it so but his shot from distance was over the bar.  The final whistle went to relieved cheers from the Hornets faithful.  It hadn’t been a particularly good performance, but Gomes had played a blinder, we’d scored three goals and we had the three points.  We are now guaranteed a place in the play-offs, but the battle for automatic promotion places looks as though it will continue to the final game.

It was back to a lovely local pub for a couple of post-match pints to settle our nerves.  We need to rest ourselves up for Saturday while hoping for a favourable result at Carrow Road on Friday night.  It is all to play for in the next three games.

Job Done at the Den

Me and mine at the Den

Me and mine at the Den

After a gorgeous week weather-wise, we awoke to rain on Saturday morning.  But, thankfully, by the time I arrived in London, it had cleared up so I walked along the Thames from Waterloo to London Bridge.  There I met family and friends for lunch at a lovely pub before making the short trip to South Bermondsey.  The train was packed with Watford fans making a lot of noise.  The travelling faithful were full of confidence but, while Millwall were unlikely to provide the sort of challenge that Derby and Middlesbrough did, they were fighting relegation so this was not going to be an easy game.

Jokanovic had made two changes from the Middlesbrough match.  Connolly came in for the injured Cathcart and Vydra was preferred to Ighalo.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Connolly, Anya, Guedioura, Tözsér, Watson, Paredes, Vydra and Deeney.  As they took the field, the Watford players were greeted with ticker tape, streamers and yellow balloons from the travelling Hornets.

The teams take to the pitch

The teams take to the pitch

Watford almost made the perfect start as Tözsér played a ball over to Deeney but Forde was quickly out of his goal to block the shot.  Millwall threatened as Gregory broke forward and appeared to be held back by Hoban which gave Gomes time to gather the ball at his feet.  Gregory had another chance when the ball dropped to him in the box, but his shot was poor and flew well wide.  At the other end, Deeney got on the end of a Guedioura cross but he headed over the bar.  At this point the chanting in the away end turned to the subject of the bizarre pigeon that was suspended from the roof in front of us.  There were loud appeals for a Millwall penalty as Upson went down in the box.  It didn’t look like a penalty from our vantage point, although I would say that.  Thankfully the referee agreed and waved play on.  The visitors had a good chance on the counter attack as Tözsér released Vydra who found Anya on the overlap but the Scot’s cross was disappointingly straight at Forde.

Celebrating Vydra's strike

Celebrating Vydra’s strike

Watford took the lead on 25 minutes as a lovely long pass from Tözsér found Anya on the left, he cut it back to Vydra who hit a clever volley into the corner.  It was a gorgeous goal well worthy of a manic celebration.  We could have been two up soon afterwards as Paredes found Vydra who couldn’t get a shot in so moved the ball on to Watson whose shot was well wide of the target.  Another Watford chance went begging as Deeney found Anya on the left but his low cross was just too far in front of Vydra.  Millwall had a chance to hit back with a free kick in a dangerous area, but Upson directed the ball well over the bar.  Watford almost pushed the self-destruct button as Angella failed to shepherd the ball out, thankfully it was eventually cleared.  In the next move, the ball reached Woolford in the box but Gomes dropped to save his shot.  Needless to say, the 44th minute was greeted with applause and chants of “One of our own” for Nic Cruwys, about whom it was good to hear some positive news this week.  Millwall had a great chance of an equalizer just before half time as a shot from Abdou came through a crowd of players and Gomes seemed to see it late, but managed the save.

So we reached half-time a goal to the good.  It hadn’t been a classic performance from Watford, but Vydra had scored with a lovely strike and Millwall, despite having a lot of possession, had not really threatened the Watford goal.  There was encouraging news from the other grounds as the half-time scores meant that we would overtake Norwich to take second place in the table.  But there was much more important stuff going on at half-time as the tannoy announcer congratulated Gladys Protheroe on the occasion of her 75th birthday.

Tozser places the ball for a free kick

Tozser places the ball for a free kick

Millwall threatened in the first minute of the second half as a header from O’Brien appeared to be blocked on the line.  Deeney then had a chance to increase the lead as the ball rebounded to him in the box, but Forde was out to save at his feet.  At this point the Watford crowd started a chant for our head coach to the tune of Amarillo, which seemed most incongruous.  On 50 minutes Millwall’s Williams hit a free kick just wide of the target.  Watford nerves were settled just before the hour mark as Vydra played the ball to Deeney who advanced before passing to Anya who cut the ball back to Guedioura who fired past Forde in front of the travelling fans who erupted for yet another mental celebration.  The first Watford substitution saw Anya make way for Abdi.  Millwall looked sure to pull a goal back as O’Brien powered into the box, but Gomes made himself huge and blocked the shot.  Watford had a good chance of a third goal as Vydra was one-on-one with Forde but the keeper managed to gather the ball.

Gomes takes a goal kick

Gomes takes a goal kick

Gomes did brilliantly to keep his clean sheet as he punched a header clear with Maierhofer closing in.  Both players ended up on the turf, but there was no harm done.  A run down the wing by Abdi was stopped by a hack from Nelson.  The Millwall man received a yellow card for the foul and, thankfully, Almen was fit to continue after treatment.  The home side wasted another chance as Gueye met a cross from Martin with a poor volley that cleared the target.  The home fans appealed in vain for another penalty as a shot was blocked by the chest (arm?) of Angella.  Into the final 10 minutes there was another shot from Gueye which was easily gathered by Gomes.  Jokanovic made his second substitution replacing Vydra, who was given an ovation from the Watford fans, with Ighalo, who was greeted in a similar manner.  The Nigerian almost made an immediate impact as Guedioura found him in the box but Forde was there to block his shot and then reached up to push the rebound away from the head of Abdi.  A quite brilliant double stop from the Galwegian.

Ighalo replaces Vydra

Ighalo replaces Vydra

Deeney had a great chance to increase the lead with a powerful shot from an Abdi cross, but Forde pulled off another fantastic save to deny him.  When Guedioura found Abdi in space, you would have put your house on Almen scoring from that position, but he hit it well wide, much to the bemusement of the travelling Hornets.  Watford made a final substitution in time added on as Motta replaced Paredes, who left the field with the jeers of the home fans ringing in his ears as he had just fallen rather theatrically under a challenge.  The final whistle went on a convincing win by the Hornets which was slightly marred as news of Norwich’s injury time winner filtered through.  Abdi’s miss and Forde’s brilliant saves suddenly took on a greater significance.

But it was job done for the Hornets who remain third in the table and have cut the gap in goal difference to a single goal.  So, we have four games remaining, which will all feel like cup finals.  Both players and fans have to approach them with the belief that we can win every game and score enough goals to gain automatic promotion.  See you all at the City Ground on Wednesday.

A Very Happy Easter for the Hornets

Nigel does his part in raising a flag for the Hornets

Nigel does his part in raising a flag for the Hornets

Monday afternoon saw part 2 of the Easter promotion challenge.  After the drama of the game at Pride Park, the nerves were kicking in again for the visit of Middlesbrough.  Due to the lunchtime kick-off, the West Herts was not open before the game so, for the first time in many years, I was at the ground before the gates opened.  When I gained access to the stadium, I saw that Roy and the 1881 lads were placing large flags throughout the Rookery.

Team news was that there were three changes with Anya, Tözsér and Paredes replacing Vydra, Layun and the suspended Motta.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Guedioura, Watson, Tözsér, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney.  It was good to see both Vydra and Adbi on the bench in case they were needed.

The crowd was swelled by a group from Genk who were supporting their former players, Pudil, Tozser and Vossen.  The were cheers when each of the players’ names was announced and enthusiastic applause for Daniel Pudil’s warm up runs down the touchline during the game.

Deeney chasing his quarry down

Deeney chasing his quarry down

The tension ratcheted up before kick-off.  The “We are Watford” video was shown and then the players emerged to a wall of noise and a great spectacle from the flags.  The Middlesbrough fans had one small banner about “Belief” which looked pitiful in comparison.  Round one to the Hornets then.

There was a tentative start to the game from both sides.  The first goal attempt came after 9 minutes and fell to the home side as Deeney headed a cross from Anya over the bar.  For the visitors, Leadbitter tried to catch Gomes out with an audacious free kick from distance, but the Watford keeper was equal to it.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead as Anya played a one-two with Ighalo and unleashed a shot that was saved by the feet of the Boro keeper.  Angella was the next to threaten the Boro goal, but his header from a Tözsér corner went wide.  The first card of the afternoon was shown to Boro’s Reach for a hack on Tözsér.  Deeney exchanged passes with Ighalo and fired a shot from distance that was wide of the target.

Congratulating Deeney on his 20th goal of the season

Congratulating Deeney on his 20th goal of the season

Watford almost pushed the self-destruct button in taking a quick free kick that was cut out and allowed the visitors to launch a counter attack that finished with a shot from Bamford which, thankfully, was blocked.  Soon after, a cross from Friend was volleyed goalwards by Tomlin but Gomes was behind the shot.  On 36 minutes, Watford took the lead in some style as Guedioura played a gorgeous long pass to Deeney in the box who hit the ball past Konstantopoulos into the far corner.  Cue mayhem in the home stands.  That goal gave Deeney the distinction of being the first Watford player to score 20 or more goals in three consecutive seasons.  Quite a remarkable record.  On 44 minutes, the Watford fans rose to their feet for the tremendous ovation of support for Nic Cruwys who remains in the thoughts of all of us.

If truth be told, there had been very little action of note in the first half.  But we had scored a terrific goal and, given the levels of fatigue after Friday’s game, I had been very impressed at the work rate of the Watford players.  They were giving the visitors no space, nor any time on the ball.  To distract us from our worries about the second half, there was a half-time egg and spoon race between Harry Hornet and a Nando’s chicken.  Needless to say, our Harry won by a country mile.  Hopefully that was to be a good omen.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

Watford had the better of the opening exchanges in the second half.  Ighalo released Guedioura who found Anya, but his cross went begging due to the lack of any Watford player in the box.  Boro then threatened the Watford goal as a cross from Friend was turned just wide by Adomah.  At the other end, Guedioura played a through ball to Ighalo whose shot was easily caught by Konstantopoulos.  Watford’s first substitution came on the hour mark when Cathcart was replaced by Connolly.  Watford had another chance to increase their lead as the ball fell to Watson outside the area but his shot was deflected wide.  From the corner, Angella headed over the bar.  My notes about the next incident read, “Watson to Ighalo, wallop!” which does a great disservice to the Nigerian who did brilliantly to beat Woodgate and hit the target.  In mitigation, I would say that my goal celebration probably left my brain starved of oxygen.  I had been counting down the minutes in the second half until that point.  The second goal gave us some breathing room.

Ighalo's goal celebration obscured by that in the stands

Ighalo’s goal celebration obscured by that in the stands

The goal was Ighalo’s last contribution to the game as he was replaced by Vydra.  We now have strikers on 20 and 19 goals for the season, so why not give Matej a chance to improve his tally.  Middlesbrough tried to strike back as Friend broke into the Watford box but there was Tommie Hoban to make a quite brilliant tackle.  Reach tried a hopeful shot from distance that was well wide of the far post.  Then Kike got under a header that flew well over the bar.  Deeney was the next to try a shot from distance that was deflected wide.  From the corner, Troy headed the ball out to Guedioura whose dipping shot was goalbound until it was tipped over by Konstantopoulos.  Into the last 10 minutes, Friend shot well wide of the far post.  Middlesbrough’s best chance of pulling a goal back came with a ball over the top to Kike who unleashed a shot that Gomes pushed out for a corner.  The final Watford substitution saw Layun come on for Guedioura who was given a rapturous ovation as he left the pitch.  The final whistle went to loud cheers and waving flags.

It had been a terrific performance from the Hornets who, once we went ahead, had never really looked like anything other than winners.  It had been an equally superb performance in the stands where the fans got behind the team throughout the game.

So, before the rest of the division kicked off, Watford topped the table.  Later results did not go our way, but we will have taken a lot of confidence from our performances this weekend, which will set us in good stead for the run-in.  There is a lot of football still to be played, and will be plenty more twists in the tale before May 2nd.  Let’s just enjoy the football and continue the terrific support.

 

A Happy Homecoming

The Clough and Taylor statue is a gorgeous thing

The Clough and Taylor statue is a gorgeous thing

I have been away for a month travelling through Australia and New Zealand, so have followed the recent drama from afar.  I cheered when we topped the table.  Was horrified to hear of the dreadful attack on Nic Cruwys, my thoughts remain with him and his family.  I was also greatly saddened to hear of the loss of Guy Judge, a passionate Watford fan and friend to many.  He will be greatly missed by his Watford friends and family.

After so long away, it was a little odd to be setting off for a game again.  I left far too early and managed to forget my replica shirt.  When I arrived in the pre-match pub in rainy Derby, there was no sign of my companions, so I went to look upstairs but was told it was closed until 6.  I then heard my name being called …. from upstairs.  The security man looked shamefaced, “There have been infiltrators,” so I ducked under the guard rope to join my party.  When a couple more infiltrators arrived soon after, Mr Security gave up and opened the upstairs bar.

When we reached the ground, there was a terrific atmosphere in the concourse.  And, when the players came out, they were greeted with ticker tape, balloons and streamers.  There was no mistaking how important this game was to the travelling fans.

The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Motta, Guedioura, Watson, Layun, Ighalo, Deeney and Vydra.  Watford old boy, Forsyth started for Derby with former loanee Thorne back from his long-term injury.

Celebrating Vydra's goal

Celebrating Vydra’s goal

The first notable incident was an early card for Ben Watson who lost out to Bryson and hit back with a late tackle.  Watford’s first goal attempt came on 11 minutes when Deeney got on the end of a Layun corner but directed the ball wide of the goal.  At the other end, a Bent shot was deflected for a corner.  From the set piece, the ball was cut back to Bent but Gomes was alert, stuck a foot out and turned the shot around the post.  At the other end, Ighalo tried a shot from distance that was deflected wide.  Then Deeney won the ball on the right and advanced but there was no Watford player in the box to meet his cross.  Deeney had another chance to put the visitors ahead with a header from a Motta cross, but he directed it straight at Grant in the Derby goal.  Watford took the lead on 23 minutes as Vydra won the ball, played it to Ighalo then advanced into the box to receive the return and blast it past Grant to send the travelling Hornets into delirium.  There were chants of “We are top of the league,” but it was far too early for that.

Cathcart lines up a free kick

Cathcart lines up a free kick

Hughes had a chance to equalize almost immediately as his shot from distance was just narrowly wide of the target.  Thorne’s return to action didn’t last very long as he had to be replaced by Hendrick.  Bent broke into the Watford box, but he didn’t have the ball under control so Gomes was able to come and gather the ball.  Ince tumbled dramatically on the edge of the box and, with the crowd shouting for a penalty, Watford launched a counter attack where a ball over the top to Deeney led to a collision between the striker and the keeper.  At the other end, Bent had another chance with a header but he’d mistimed his jump so it was well wide of the target.  Another Derby attack was thwarted as Angella tackled with a back heel, total class.  The Derby forwards were then frustrated by some diligent harrying from Vydra putting in a shift in the defence.  Watford threatened again as Guedioura picked up a loose ball and broke into the box, his shot was saved by Grant and Deeney was unable to connect for the follow-up.

Motta takes a throw

Motta takes a throw

Another good Derby cross was missed by Bent, who then got the ball stuck under his feet when he found himself on the edge of the Watford area, so did not threaten the goal.  Ince then broke into the box but his shot was deflected for a corner.  Derby equalized just before half-time.  I must admit that my first impression of Motta’s challenge on Russell was that it had been a brilliant tackle, so I was gutted when Kevin Friend first pointed to the spot and then showed Motta a red card.  Not again!!  Bent, whose goal attempts so far had been somewhat wanting, stepped up and beat Gomes from the spot.

Needless to say, the conversation at half time was about the penalty incident.  Texts from friends watching the game on TV shared the pundits’ opinion that it was a penalty but the card was harsh.  Whatever the truth of the matter, we felt hard done by and were not relishing the prospect of the second period.

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

At the start of the second half, it was no surprise when Jokanovic sacrificed one of the strikers for Tözsér.  The only surprise was that it was Vydra who went off rather than Ighalo, who had had a rather frustrating first period.  The visitors started the half well and there was a taste of things to come as Guedioura played a lovely through ball for Deeney who, unfortunately, couldn’t reach it.  Deeney then had a couple of chances to regain the lead with, first, a header from a Tözsér free-kick that needed a good save from Grant to keep it out.  Then the ball found its way back to Troy but his shot from distance was wide of the target.  But it was the home side who took the lead as Ince skipped into the box and shot into the far corner past Gomes.  My heart sank.  Jokanovic decided to change things bringing Anya on for Layun.  The next notable action was another booking, this time for Deeney, for what could only be described as a coming together that ended with Shotton rolling dramatically on the ground.  What was particularly galling about this card was that Deeney was trying to get the ball near the Derby penalty area.  If you can’t challenge for a ball in that area of the field, you might as well give up.  An attempted forward break by Ince was stopped by a lovely tackle.

Heroes all

Heroes all

The Watford equalizer was a thing of beauty and played out right in front of us, so we got a wonderful view as Guedioura played a peach of a pass into the path of Ighalo who coolly tucked it past Grant sparking mayhem in the away end.  It was no more than we deserved at that point as we’d had a great spell.  McLaren reacted to the goal by bringing Chris Martin on.  A moment of carelessness soon after nearly undid all our good work as Ighalo gave the ball away to Bent who advanced and shot but was foiled by the legs of Gomes.  Jokanovic made a defensive substitution sacrificing Ighalo, who left the field to loud chants of his name, for Connolly.  It was backs against the wall stuff for the last 10 minutes.  Ince had a great chance to regain the lead for Derby as he turned and shot but directed his effort over the bar.  Hearts were in mouths as Angella tried to shepherd the ball out but had the ball nicked off his feet by a Derby player whose cross was cleared by Cathcart.  The fourth official held up the board to show six added minutes.  “Where did he get 6 minutes from,” asked the bloke next to me.  “McLaren” was my churlish reply.  My abiding memory of those interminable minutes was of 10 Watford players lining up across the field deep in their own half, which seemed a bit risky but the only real goal chance that the home side had was the last action of the game as a header from Keogh was brilliantly tipped over by Gomes.

The whistle went to huge cheers from the travelling Hornets.  The Derby players slumped to the ground, they needed 3 points from this game.  Our lads were completely exhausted and I was trembling due to the stress of the previous 20 minutes.  The players were given such a rapturous reception that you would have thought they’d won the game.  Nobody seemed to want to leave the away stand, it was reminiscent of games in the 80s when we were kept in for 15 minutes after the final whistle.  So we were all still there when Guedioura came over after receiving his man of the match award and was given a hero’s ovation and responded in kind.

Post match drinks went on long into the night with reflections on how much fun we’ve had following Watford this season.  We need a win on Monday, but the brave second half performance has set us up rather nicely.  It’s good to be home.

Honouring a Legend

GT receiving his salver from Stuart Timperley

GT receiving his salver from Stuart Timperley

Before the game was the official renaming of the Graham Taylor stand so we made sure that we were in our seats in plenty of time.  Players and coaching staff from both of GT’s spells at the club had been invited to join in the celebrations and they were introduced one by one.  Tom Walley, Steve Harrison, Dennis Booth, Ian Bolton, Steve Terry, Steve Sherwood, Neil Price, Iwan Roberts, Tony Coton, Richard Johnson, Alec Chamberlain, Tommy Mooney, Nigel Gibbs and Luther Blissett.  So many happy memories meant that each of them was cheered on to the pitch.  Needless to say Steve Harrison was greeted with roars of laughter as he came on doing his Norman Wisdom walk.  The legends formed a guard of honour for GT to walk through which he did to a chorus of “There’s only one Graham Taylor.”

GT with his family and many friends

GT with his family and many friends

He was then presented with a salver by Stuart Timperley.  Unfortunately I missed what happened next as the 1881 chose the moment that GT took centre stage to place a huge flag over the centre of the Rookery so that nobody in that section could see what was going on.  It meant that the climax of the presentation was greeted with a lot of very irritated people asking what the hell was going on.  It put a dampener on the occasion.  When we finally emerged into the light again, it was lovely to see messages on the big screen from some who could not be there including Kenny Jackett, Sean Dyche, Malky Mackay and John Barnes.

Jokanovic made six changes from the Derby game.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Bassong, Ekstrand, Angella, Anya, Munari, Tözsér, Abdi, Paredes, Deeney and Vydra.  It was certainly good to see Abdi and Angella back in the team.

Matej Vydra

Matej Vydra

Watford made a very bright start as Tözsér’s shot through a crowd of players was stopped by Marshall and Deeney’s follow-up was cleared off the line.  At the other end Pilkington headed a Noone cross wide of the target.  Deeney played a through ball to Vydra whose shot was blocked by Marshall.  Cardiff were inexplicably ahead after 12 minutes as a cross from Pilkington flew into the box, Gomes came out to challenge Jones who managed to head the ball goalwards, before both players collapsed to the ground.  The header was drifting wide but Le Fondre saved the ball from going out and was able to tap it in to an empty goal.  Le Fondre took so long to finish that I thought there had been a whistle for a foul, but the striker was just taking the piss out of the fans in the Rookery.  That didn’t help my foul mood at all.  Anya exchanged passes with Vydra but could not latch onto the return which was marshalled out by the defender.

Defending a throw-in

Defending a throw-in

A ball into the Watford box bounced to Le Fondre but he shot over the target.  Vydra really should have done better when Deeney played a gorgeous ball to him but he took several attempts to control and get into scoring position and eventually the chance was lost.  Vydra then did well to keep the ball under a challenge and played a cross field pass to Anya whose shot was well off target.  On the half hour, a lovely move finished with Abdi playing in Vydra but Connolly challenged, blocking the shot which flew over the bar.  Another great passing move finished with Angella shooting wide.  At the other end, Le Fondre left Ekstrand on the ground but shot wide of the near post.  For the home side Deeney cut the ball back to Paredes who was running into the box with a defender in attendance but the ball rolled through to the keeper.  Paredes then played a cross field ball to Angella whose shot was way off target.  On the stroke of half time, Paredes lost the ball to Le Fondre, it was Gomes to the rescue parrying Le Fondre’s shot and saving the follow-up from Jones, but the flag had been raised for offside.

At half-time we were ruing wasted chances against a poor Cardiff side.  It was very similar to the first half of the U21 game in midweek so I was hoping for a similar turnaround.

Tozser and Vydra line up a free kick

Tozser and Vydra line up a free kick

Watford started the second half on the attack as Deeney played a short pass to Munari whose shot was smothered by Marshall.  Deeney played provider again playing a through ball to Vydra but Marshall was first to the ball.  Deeney then headed a ball down to Anya who was running in but shot into the side netting.  Watford had another wonderful chance to take the lead ten minutes into the half when Abdi met a cross from Anya with a terrific header which Marshall parried, Munari’s follow-up was blocked and, finally, Vydra’s shot was caught by Marshall.  Then Anya cut the ball back to Vydra who shot over the bar.  Anya’s next cut back was for Deeney whose shot was deflected wide.  Fans in the Rookery thought that we had equalized as a shot from Vydra hit the inside of the post but it rebounded out and Paredes was unable to follow up.  On the hour, Anya fizzed in a high cross, but it was flying too fast for Deeney to connect with a header.  Jokanovic made a double substitution as Adbi made way for Guedioura and Forestieri replaced Paredes, whose withdrawal was greeted with loud cheers from the home fans.  While I wouldn’t normally approve of such behaviour, he had had a nightmare so I was pleased to see the change.

Gathering for a set piece

Gathering for a set piece

It was the 67th minute before Cardiff mustered their first shot of the second half as Pilkington broke forward and unleashed a shot, Gomes pulled off a good save.  An attempted break by Vydra was stopped by Le Fondre who was booked for the foul.  At this point the guy who sits next to me turned and remarked, “If this was a boxing match the referee would have stopped it.”  An accurate assessment that underlined the frustration that Watford were still losing the game.  A couple of Watford shots were blocked before the ball broke to Angella who shot wide of the near post.  Another rare attack from the visitors as Le Fondre crossed for Jones whose shot was cleared off the line by Guedioura.  At the other end Tözsér had the ball in space, he maybe should have played a pass for Vydra to run on to but opted for a shot from distance that was over the target.  Then a cross to the far post by Anya reached Forestieri whose header was straight at Marshall.

Steve Terry catching up with Tom Walley, plus Iwan Roberts, Ian Bolton, Steve Harrison, Steve Sherwood and Dennis Booth

Steve Terry catching up with Tom Walley, plus Iwan Roberts, Ian Bolton, Steve Harrison, Steve Sherwood (wearing the GT commemorative scarf) and Dennis Booth

Forestieri exchanged passes with Vydra before shooting just wide.  Vydra then turned provider playing a square ball to Tözsér who shot over.  There was another booking for the visitors as Noone was penalized for grabbing Vydra around the neck in order to impede him.  On 90 minutes Deeney knocked the ball down to Angella whose scissor kick was blocked.  There was five minutes of added time but all Watford could muster in that period was a side-foot from Bassong that was easily caught by Marshall.

So, another week, another frustrating defeat.  This one was much harder to take than the loss to Derby as Cardiff did not play well, we completely dominated but could not find the net.  But I remain optimistic about our prospects this season.  We are creating a lot of chances, we just need to start finishing them again.