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.
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.
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.
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.
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.