Tag Archives: M’Baye Niang

A Miserable End to the Season

GT’s bench

When I embarked on the train to Watford, the carriage was packed with people in costume on their way to the Harry Potter experience.  All I could see of the person a couple of rows in front of me was a crooked hat.  On arrival at Watford Junction, I had somewhere more important to go.  My usual walk to the West Herts took a slight detour as I entered Cassiobury Park on a mission to find GT’s bench.  It wasn’t long before I spotted a brand new bench in a little oasis and I headed over.  I was disappointed to find someone already there, but gratified when I noticed the Watford top and we soon fell into conversation.  As we sat there, a number of people came past and commented on what a lovely gesture the bench was, the Watford fans among them taking the chance to have their photos taken and to remember the great man.

After paying my respects, I headed to the West Herts for the last pre-game drinks of the season.  Top of the agenda was Mazzarri’s sacking.  Most in attendance were happy at the news.  While I can’t say that I was a big fan of the football we’ve been watching for most of this season, I can’t help feeling that Mazzarri was a little hard done by.  By all accounts Flores was dispensed with as he was too soft on the players.  Mazzarri had come in to instil some discipline but, very much like Sannino, his methods did not find favour with the players, which seemed to lead to performances well below the standard that should have been expected from a squad of that quality.  The other discussion surrounded Holebas who was on track to achieve a premier league record of 15 bookings in a season.  Of course, this would lead to him missing three games at the start of next season although, due to a bizarre loophole, I was assured that, if he was booked twice, he would only serve a one match suspension.  I found that difficult to believe.

Gomes takes a free kick

Team news came through and our problems in central defence were highlighted by the fact that Mariappa was the only recognised central defender in the team.  There was worse news soon after when a correction was made removing Mariappa from the line-up with Behrami filling his position in the back line.  As if that wasn’t enough to provoke discussion, Deeney had been left on the bench where he was to be joined by both Pantilimon and Gilmartin.  Mazzarri was going out in style!  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Behrami, Holebas; Amrabat, Cleverley, Doucouré, Capoue, Mason; Niang and Okaka.

There was almost a disaster in the first minute as Gomes delayed a clearance, he lost out to Agüero who crossed for Jesus whose header was cleared off the line by Holebas before the danger was cleared.  But the respite was brief and the Hornets were a goal down on 4 minutes as a corner from De Bruyne was met by Kompany who was allowed a free header to finish past Gomes.  After witnessing constant pressure from the visitors in the first 10 minutes, it was a relief to see a Watford attack, although it finished with Niang cutting inside and shooting just over the target.

Mason, Cleverley and Holebas being watched by Harry

It appeared that a second City goal was inevitable when Jesus broke down the left and squared the ball for Agüero who had an open goal to aim at, but Behrami put in a terrific tackle to avert the danger.  Gomes then pulled off a terrific save to deny Agüero from point blank range.  But the Argentine wasn’t to be denied for long as he latched on to a through ball from De Bruyne and finished clinically past Gomes.  Soon after there was a rousing chant for Troy Deeney who, at the time, was sitting somewhere towards the back of the bench.  Gomes was in action again claiming a ball over the top from Otamendi as Silva challenged.  Mason incurred the wrath of the referee, although escaped a booking, after sending Jesus into the hoardings.  The first sight of Deeney warming up was greeted with a standing ovation, which was as much anti Mazzarri as it was pro Deeney.  The visitors claimed their third on 36 minutes as Sané broke down the wing before squaring the ball for Agüero to score his second.  Watford’s defensive woes continued as Janmaat went down with an injury and had to be replaced by Eleftheriou, who was making his Watford debut in the worst possible circumstances.  The fourth goal came as Fernandinho exchanged passes with Agüero before holding off the challenge of Mason and finishing past Gomes.  The goal was greeted with boos and streams of people heading for their half-time refreshments or, possibly, the exit.  The first caution was earned by Doucouré for pulling Agüero back.  The resultant free-kick was blocked for a corner from which the ball was cleared to Agüero who, thankfully, shot wide of the near post.

Eleftheriou making his debut

The half time whistle went to loud boos.  It was noticeable that Deeney spent the break warming up, he appeared to be doing it off his own bat rather than training with a coach.  The half time distractions included a brief interview with Bill Shipwright, a defender from the 50s, who did the half time draw.  Also the introduction to the crowd of Chris Williams, a steward retiring after many years of service.  Sacred Heart beat Bushey Heath in the penalty shoot-out which gave us some excitement as it went to a sudden death finish involving the goalkeepers.  It was all a pleasant diversion from what had been an abysmal half of football.

The seats behind me were occupied by a father and two young children, who were friends of the season ticket holders who have those seats.  There had been a number of incredulous questions to the father about why he was still supporting Watford in the game and why the players weren’t trying (slightly unfair given the opposition).  So I was disappointed that they were still in the concourse when Watford had their best chance of the game as Okaka went on a run and blasted the ball at Caballero who pushed it out for a corner.  There was another chance for the home side as Fernandinho lost out to Niang whose shot was deflected into the side netting.

Cleverley on the ball

There was a bizarre incident 10 minutes into the half as the referee strode over to the Watford bench to have words with Mazzarri, whose English must be better than we all thought unless the fourth official is fluent in Italian.  This was greeted with loud chants of “Off, off, off” from the Rookery that made me cringe.  When the referee returned without sending Mazzarri to the stands, it was to a chorus of “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

City’s fifth goal came just before the hour mark as Cleverley failed to clear a cross from Agüero, Jesus lifted the ball over Gomes and it hit the net despite Eleftheriou’s best efforts to head it off the line.  Before the restart Deeney replaced Amrabat.  Agüero’s chance for a hat trick was stopped with a tackle from Behrami.  The crowd’s chants against the head coach continued with “Walter Mazzarri get out of our club.”  City made a double substitution bringing Navas and Sagna on for Touré and Sané, leading one of my neighbours to quip, “They’ve gone all defensive, they ‘re scared of us.”  Agüero threatened again with a shot that was tipped over by Gomes.  At this point, there were chants for Rene Gilmartin, which were certainly not a judgement on the performance of the incumbent in goal.

Deeney can’t get the decisive touch

Gomes denied Agüero again dropping to block and getting injured in the process.  What a relief that there were two goalkeepers on the bench.  Despite the chants for Gilmartin, it was Pantilimon who readied to come on but, after treatment, Gomes was fit to continue.  With 20 minutes to go, Agüero left the field to applause from all corners of the ground after a tremendous showing, he was replaced by Iheanacho who was wearing 72, so was greeted with a chant of “One Graham Taylor.”  As we reached the 72nd minute, the influence of GT was felt as the Watford players suddenly sprung into life.  Doucouré came close with a shot that was cleared off the line.  Then a Capoue shot was blocked, the ball fell to Okaka who had a chance to score from close range, but he was being challenged so couldn’t get a clean contact and the ball bounced off him into the arms of Caballero.  Watford’s final substitution saw Pereira come on for Niang.  The youngster gave the Watford crowd a brief moment of joy as he combined with Eleftheriou on the overlap, but the cross was cleared.  As the clock wound down, there was little on the pitch to amuse the 1881 so their attention turned to Thierry Henry who was in the corner next to them waiting to do the post-match summary for the TV, and was serenaded with chants of “Sign him up” and “Henry for Watford”.

Mason lines up a free kick

It was a relief when the final whistle went and, as a soppy old woman, I was pleased that enough people stayed for the “lap of appreciation” to make it worthwhile.  Troy’s daughter, dressed in her tutu, was performing for the cameras and I was happy to see that the person who wanted a word with Troy at the end appeared to be congratulating him.  Both Heurelho and Troy said a few words, but they were understandably downbeat and I think we were all happy to see the season come to an end.

Back to the West Herts and there were some heated exchanges between those who had left promptly on (or before) the final whistle and those who stayed to applaud the team.  With Watford having nothing to play for and City needing the points, this was always going to be a difficult game, but for many it was the final straw after the six successive defeats that followed our achievement of 40 points.  Added to that, the fall from mid-table to just above the relegation zone in a season when we were never really in a relegation battle had angered a lot of people.

It is such a shame that this season will be looked back on with such disappointment.  There were certainly highlights.  Those who travelled to Arsenal and West Ham or saw the home game against Man United will cherish those memories.  But, ultimately, despite retaining our place in the top division, it was not a season to remember.  It remains to be seen who will take charge of the team next season, since neither the iron fist nor the velvet glove seems to have worked, let’s hope that Gino can find a coach who can strike the right balance between the two approaches.

Despite how thoroughly fed up I felt after the game, it won’t be long until I am counting the days to the release of the fixture list and the start of pre-season.  Head coaches come and go, but the fans who go week in, week out will still be there cheering the team on.  Let us hope that there is a lot more to cheer next season.

Belgians and Brides

Walter Mazzarri, he bought me a drink!

With the game moved to Friday evening so that Sky could show our match with Chelsea on Monday, Friday morning was spent trying to get everything at work in order so that I could enjoy my afternoon off.  A text from Pete brought my planned departure forward to give me time to meet him for a lunchtime pint in the Doric Arch.  As we queued to board the train we spotted Paolo de Toffol, prompting speculation as to why he hadn’t travelled with the rest of the team on the previous day’s flight.

On checking in to the hotel in Liverpool, I was told that I had been upgraded to a superior room, which meant there was a little gift basket in my room containing chocolate, jelly beans and crisps.  I also had a great view of the Liver Building and the Mersey which was rather lovely.  But we weren’t there for the view so, having dumped our overnight things, we headed for the pre-match pub.  We were not the first to arrive as some of the North-West ‘Orns were already in situ and, as is always the case, our group quickly grew and the beer and conversation flowed.  There has been a lot of discussion about our poor away form lately, but it was still a shock when Andy, who is a regular at our Northern excursions, said that he hadn’t seen us win all season.

Banner in support of Aaron Lennon

When we got off the bus at Goodison Park, the rain was starting so we made a rapid beeline for the turnstiles, an extra motivation being the announcement on social media before the game that “the first drink” would be on Walter this evening.  I have to say that having enjoyed a pint at Euston, red wine in first class on the train and more beer at the pre-match gathering, this was most certainly not my first of the day, but I am not one to pass up a free drink so I picked up my voucher from the steward inside the turnstiles and exchanged it for a (small) bottle of red wine.  The atmosphere in the concourse was particularly jovial with chants of “Beers up, if you love Walter” and “Walter Mazzarri, he bought me a beer.”

On reaching our seats, there was an appreciation of what a great (proper) ground Goodison Park is.  So much nicer than the soulless bowls that so many teams are moving to.  It was also lovely to see a banner in the home stands supporting Aaron Lennon who has been hospitalized due to mental health issues.  I wish him a speedy recovery.

Capoue over to take a corner

Team news was that Mazzarri had made three changes with Holebas, Behrami and Deeney replacing Amrabat, Cleverley (who was ineligible to play against his parent club) and Niang.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kabasele, Prödl, Mariappa; Janmaat, Doucouré, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Okaka and Deeney.

Everton had the first chance of the game with a shot from Barkley but Gomes was down quickly to make the save.  Watford’s first goal attempt came from a corner as Holebas crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked.  The next chance for the home side also came from a corner which Jagielka flicked goalwards needing Gomes to pull off a decent save to keep it out.  Okaka was the next to threaten, going on a run before unleashing a shot that flew wide of near post.  The Hornets nearly got themselves into trouble with a short back pass that Mirallas chased but, thankfully, Gomes was first to the ball.  The rather impressive youngster, Tom Davies (to whom I took an instant dislike, possibly due to his resemblance to Robbie Savage), then hit a cracking shot from distance that Gomes met with a flying save.  A lovely passing move featuring Okaka and Deeney finished with Doucouré shooting straight at Robles.  The Hornets came closer to opening the scoring as a Holebas cross was headed just over by Mariappa.

Waiting for the corner to be taken

Watford’s ridiculous run of injuries to defenders continued when Kabasele went down with an apparent hamstring pull.  Given that we had no central defender on the bench, there was some speculation in the away end about who would replace him, the answer was Zúñiga, who took Kabasele’s place in the back three until Holebas told him not to be ridiculous and swapped places.  Towards the end of the half, a Behrami tackle led to some handbags as Janmaat stupidly got involved until Prödl stepped in and pushed him away.  Both Behrami and Janmaat were booked for their trouble.  Towards the end of the half, Watford won a free kick in a decent position but, instead of directing it goalwards, Capoue chose to pass to Holebas on the wing and any possibility of a goal attempt disappeared.  So we reached the break goalless after an enjoyable half in which the visitors had put on a decent performance.

At half time, there were celebrations on the pitch as the Everton U23s received their trophy for winning Premier League 2.  The stewards then took to the pitch to celebrate being voted best stewards in the Premier League for the eighth year in succession.  An impressive record and, it has to be said, they are rather lovely so I was happy to join the applause.

Zuniga pretends to line up a free kick that Holebas will take

The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as a cross was punched by Gomes to Schneiderlin who belted the ball over the bar.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came as Janmaat exchanged passes with Okaka before feeding Deeney who, under challenge from Jagielka, could only direct his shot just wide of the near post.  But it was the home side who took the lead just before the hour mark, as Barkley picked up the ball and was allowed a free run at goal, Prödl failed to put in a tackle and actually moved away from the shot before it flew past the diving Gomes.  Another frustrating goal to give away.  Everton then had a decent shout for a penalty as Gomes spilled a long-range shot from Mirallas, Lukaku looked ready to pounce but was brought down by Janmaat.  The referee waved play on, but I couldn’t help thinking that Watford got away with that one.  Everton had another chance to increase their lead as Schneiderlin met a corner from Baines, but he headed it over the bar.  Okaka, who was being given no protection by the referee, broke into the box, he was tackled but did very well to win the ball back at which point he was adjudged to have committed a foul, a ridiculous decision.   Holebas picked up his 13th yellow card of the season for complaining about something (nothing new there).  During the game we had been regaled by chants for José from Colin and Flo who were sitting behind us.  “Hole, Hole, Hole, bas bas bas” was good, but “He always wins the ball, he never smiles at all” won my vote.

Deeney and Davies

With 20 minutes to go Mazzarri made another substitution with Amrabat coming on in place of Behrami.  Nordin was in action almost immediately crossing for Okaka, whose goalbound header was blocked.  At the other end, a shot from Lukaku was cleared off the line by Mariappa.  As the travelling Hornets started the 72nd minute chorus of “One Graham Taylor”, it was lovely to see the Everton fans in the block to our left getting to their feet to join in with the applause.  There was then a rather bizarre pitch invasion as a couple of 10 year olds went belting across the pitch towards Robles, they were hugged by the smiling keeper before one ran off behind the goal while the other headed back to his seat in the block next to us to chants of “Sign him up” from the away fans.  They were both escorted from the ground and the stewards doubled up around the perimeter of the pitch.  Watford had a decent chance to equalize as Mariappa met a corner from Capoue with a header that flew just wide.  Into the last 10 minutes of the game and each side made substitutions.  Goalscorer, Barkley, and Mirallas made way for Barry and Koné for the home side while Niang replaced Capoue for the visitors.  Okaka had a great chance to level the score as he received the ball in the box with his back to goal, turned and shot but Robles was equal to it.  Watford continued to push for the equalizer as Niang curled a shot towards the far corner, but Barry got his head in the way to block it.  At the other end Gomes stopped a shot from Valencia.  There was one last attack from the visitors in time added on, but a cross from Amrabat flew over Okaka’s head and the Hornets fell to their fourth defeat in a row.

Challenging in the box

Despite the result, most of the 680 Watford fans who had travelled to Everton appreciated the efforts of the players.  It had been a lively performance which was only let down by the finishing.  Mariappa, who had kept Lukaku pretty quiet after the departure of Kabasele, looked really disappointed as he applauded the fans, and he certainly cheered me up no end by taking his shirt off and giving it to a fan.  Deeney followed suit and gestured to the other players around him to do the same.  Sadly there was one among the travelling fans who thought it appropriate to abuse the players.  There was a look of horror on the faces of the Everton stewards as Deeney crossed the hoardings into the away stand.  He listened to what the fella had to say and then headed over to talk to Flora, one of our young disabled fans, and hand her his boots.  Sadly, Mr Angry couldn’t leave it and carried on abusing the Watford captain at which point he was grabbed by the police and stewards and escorted out of the ground.  On a more pleasant note, as the Everton fans applauded their team on their end of season lap of honour, they also took time to applaud the Watford crowd and we replied in kind.

Behrami versus Barkley

We headed back to the city for a post-match pint.  The highlights of the game were showing in the pub and backed up my impression that Watford had made some decent chances.  We were also engaged in conversation with some Everton fans, all of whom were delightful.  Liverpool really is a fantastic city.

Then it was back to the hotel for the late night shenanigans in the bar.  Notable sights were a woman draped in a Belgian flag, no idea if she was supporting Lukaku and Mirallas or Kabasele.  Then a bride in full white dress appeared to get a round in, leaving the bar with a tray of drinks.  We were then joined by another group of Watford fans, so our attention went back to the post-match analysis which went on until we closed the bar at 3am.

Considering the Everton game in isolation, it would be seen as a decent performance against a good team.  But, at this stage of the season and with the poor run of late, it was just another in a series of disappointing results.  Mazzarri comes in for a lot of criticism, but so many of our defeats have been down to individual mistakes and he cannot be held responsible for that.  With Chelsea having won the league title on Friday evening, we can only hope that they are on the beach by Monday and that Hull don’t beat Palace.  Having to face Manchester City next Sunday needing points just doesn’t bear thinking about.

Undone by Defensive Errors

Pre-match huddle

I should have known that this was not going to be our day when, even before we’d left London, there was a message to say that the designated pre-match pub was closed.  Pete, who used to live in Leicester, was given the responsibility of nominating an alternative.  When we arrived, the outside was rather unprepossessing, but the interior was surprisingly gorgeous.  Having spotted our party towards the back of the pub, I made my way past the large group of blokes in my path.  I had assumed that they were all locals, but when I looked up, I realised that I knew most of them.  The beer choice was interesting, I went for a glass of mild, probably for the first time in my life.  I certainly wasn’t going to try the Vardy Volley!

Team news was that Mazzarri had decided to drop Deeney, with Okaka taking his place.  Needless to say, this led to speculation about Troy’s future at Watford with most thinking that, should Mazzarri stay on as manager (which looks likely), Deeney will be on his way.  The other change for the Hornets was Kabasele for Britos.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Kabasele; Amrabat, Doucouré, Cleverley, Capoue, Janmaat; Niang and Okaka.

Gomes launches a ball upfield

The first chance of the game fell to the Hornets as Niang released Janmaat whose curling shot was well wide of the target.  The Hornets nearly benefitted from a mistake by Schmeichel who threw the ball to Amrabat, it reached Cleverley in a great shooting position, but his shot was wide of the target.  Leicester then had two chances both of which could have resulted in own goals.  First, from a Mahrez free-kick, Vardy crossed and Mariappa diverted the ball onto the post, with Gomes beaten.  Soon after, a cross from Fuchs was met with a diving header from Kabasele that required a smart save from Gomes to keep it out of the net.  At the other end, a lovely through ball from Capoue set Niang free, but his shot hit the side netting.  After a long period of patient build-up play, Okaka turned and unleashed a shot that was blocked by the legs of Schmeichel.  Watford threatened again as Capoue met a cross from Janmaat with a looping header that was easily gathered by the Leicester keeper.  Then it was Leicester’s turn to break as Albrighton fed Drinkwater who could only find the side netting.  Cleverley had a decent chance to grab the first goal with a shot that required a great save from Schmeichel.  But it was the home side who took the lead in the 38th minute.  The events leading to the goal started when Okazaki broke forward and Prödl pulled him over to stop his progress.  The resulting free-kick hit the wall for a corner, from which Drinkwater crossed, the ball bounced off Capoue, who was unable to clear, and fell to Ndidi who finished past Gomes.  The Watford players looked rattled after conceding the goal and nearly let in another within minutes as a shot from Mahrez took a deflection off Cleverley and hit the top of the crossbar.  There was a half chance for an equalizer in time added on as Okaka received a Amrabat header with his back to goal, but his overhead kick cleared the bar.

Capoue and Cleverley prepare for a free kick

At half time, we felt rather unfortunate to be behind as, for once, Watford had more shots on and off target as well as dominating possession.  Unfortunately, we had been punished for a defensive mistake.

The home side had a great chance to increase their lead early in the second half as the defence stood off allowing Vardy to shoot but, thankfully, Gomes was equal to it.  Watford had a great chance to draw level as Amrabat crossed for Okaka at the far post, but his header was over the bar.  At this point, a section of the away support starting chanting for Deeney, who wasn’t even warming up.  This was followed by chants for Flores and Boothroyd!  The home side were two up on 58 minutes as a mistake from Mariappa allowed Mahrez to escape and finish past Gomes.  It was getting a bit fraught in the away end and there appeared to be some scuffles in the next block.  The stewards were certainly involved in some heated discussions with some of the fans.  Each manager rang the changes just after the hour mark as Slimani and King replaced Okazaki and Drinkwater for the home side, and Deeney came on for Capoue for the visitors, much to the approval of the bloke behind me who had been complaining about Etienne for the entire game.

Okaka

Leicester had a great chance to increase their lead as Vardy received a lovely through ball from Slimani, cut inside and shot from short range, but Gomes made a smart save at the near post.  The home side had another chance to increase the lead as a free kick from Fuchs just cleared the bar.  Mazzarri made a second, and rather odd, change bringing Zúñiga on for Kabasele.  The travelling Hornets stopped moaning long enough to give a rousing chorus of “One Graham Taylor” on the 72nd minute.  The noise from the away fans had a positive effect as the visitors had a series of goal attempts.  First, a lovely curling shot from Niang had to be pushed clear by Schmeichel.  Next Cleverley tried a shot from the edge of the area, but that was also saved.  Then an Amrabat cross was cleared to Cleverley but his shot was tipped over by Schmeichel.  There was a final substitution apiece as Mahrez made way for Gray for the home side while Mazzarri gave Dion Pereira his debut in place of Niang.  The youngster made a good start with a lovely cross that was headed down by Okaka and prodded just wide by Deeney.  Leicester’s third goal came in time added on, as a Watford attack broke down after Doucouré had the ball in the Leicester box, but decided not to shoot.  Leicester launched a quick break, Vardy found Albrighton who scored with a shot in off the post.  The scoreline was rather harsh and didn’t reflect the balance of play, but Watford had failed to make the most of their chances and were undone by a couple of defensive errors.

Dion Pereira

There was an interesting reaction from the travelling Hornets at the final whistle as the booing from those who are so inclined was almost drowned out by the warm applause from the majority in the crowd.  Debutant, Pereira, who had contributed a very pleasing cameo, approached the away end alongside Deeney.  Troy realised that the youngster would assume that any applause was being directed at his captain, so he stood back and allowed him to continue to receive an ovation from the crowd that he clearly appreciated.

As we queued in the ladies after the game, a little girl waiting for her Mum and little sister complained, “We are going to be relegated.”  When I pointed out that Hull had lost to Sunderland, she wasn’t placated.  “We lost to Hull, how embarrassing is that?  My friends at school take the mickey out of me.”  “At least you go to support your team.”  She smiled, “Yes.  I call them plastic fans.”

So, with three games remaining, we are still not mathematically safe, although it will take an extreme set of results for Watford to be relegated.  But it is still very frustrating that the season is fizzling out in such a manner.  There was a sad irony in hearing chants for Flores who, this time last season, was overseeing performances every bit as dull as those we are seeing under Mazzarri.  I spoke to a couple of fans after the game who can’t wait for the season to be over, which is a great shame.  But, come the end of May, I know we will all be counting the days until the fixtures are released.

Beaten by a Worldy

Capoue and Cleverley line up a free kick

At the end of a busy bank holiday weekend, it felt rather odd to be going to a game on the Monday evening.  You certainly had to feel sorry for the Liverpool fans who would get home in the early hours with work beckoning in the morning.  I don’t live far from Watford, but even I booked a hotel room for the convenience.  Imagine my surprise when the receptionist asked whether I was here for the football and who I was supporting.  I thought I would be fine when I assured her that I was a Watford fan.  Instead I was told, in no uncertain terms, that if I was a proper Watford fan I would live locally rather than being ‘posh in Windsor’.  I found myself begging forgiveness on the basis that I had moved west for work.

As always when the schedule is messed with, I had no clue what time to arrive at the West Herts.  For once I judged it right.  The food menu for the evening had a Caribbean influence.  I briefly considered the goat curry, but couldn’t resist the jerk chicken.  Although I should have asked for the rice and peas instead of the chips that accompanied the chicken.  It certainly made a welcome change from the usual bacon/sausage in a roll.

Deeney and Niang tracking the flight of the ball

After the results at the weekend, the only team currently in the relegation zone who can still catch us are Swansea.  They would have to win all of their remaining games, which sounds like a tall order but, before the match, I heard more than one person predict that they would overtake us in the table.  I am starting to think that I am becoming very complacent.

Team news was just the one change from Hull with Mariappa replacing the injured Holebas.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Britos; Janmaat, Cleverley, Doucouré, Capoue, Amrabat; Deeney and Niang.

The first chance of the game came in the fifth minute as, following a rapid passing move, Niang found space for a shot but fired it straight at Mignolet.  Klopp was forced into making an early substitution as Coutinho, who had been injured in an earlier challenge with Mariappa, was replaced by Lallana.  Watford threatened again as a lovely move finished with a shot from Deeney that was blocked.  Mazzarri was also forced into an early change as Britos went down injured before limping off to be replaced by Kabasele.

Cleverley taking a corner

The first chance for the visitors came after 20 minutes as a shot from distance by Can was met with a one-handed save from Gomes.  The next Liverpool attack came to nothing as Origi reached the by-line before cutting the ball back into the arms of Gomes.  There were hopeful shouts for a penalty from the Vicarage Road faithful when Deeney was knocked over in the box but he quickly got up and nothing was given.  The referee had been rather flaky, with many decisions appearing to be given according to the volume of protest in the crowd rather than any severity of the offence, so he incurred the wrath of the Rookery when a corner, that appeared to be awarded as an afterthought, nearly led to the visitors taking the lead as Gomes punched the clearance only as far as Lallana whose shot hit the crossbar.  There was hilarity mixed with anger as Lucas went down on the edge of the box with the most obvious of dives and was booked for his trouble.  In time added on at the end of what had been a very dull half, Lucas chipped the ball to Can who hit a superb overhead kick to open the scoring.  Apparently it is the best goal he has ever scored, with pundits declaring it one of the goals of the season.  It was totally out of place in this game.

Ross Jenkins and his grandson

The half time interviews on the pitch couldn’t have been more different.  First lovely Rene Gilmartin appeared with his wife, Emma, talking about the Ross Nugent foundation http://rossnugentfoundation.ie/ which was set up in memory of Emma’s brother, who died at the tragically young age of 18, with the aim of helping cancer sufferers and their families at the hospital where he was treated.

The next to make an appearance was Ross Jenkins.  When asked what it was like to step on to the grass of the Vicarage Road pitch again his response was, “I don’t remember the grass being this good.”  He also said how poor he had been when he first broke into the Watford team but hoped that he had done all right in the end.  I think the reaction of the crowd assured him that he had.  He was accompanied by his grandson who had come over from Spain to watch some Premier League football.  Sadly the first half was enough to give the poor child nightmares.

Isaac Success

Buoyed by the goal, Liverpool started the second half really well.  The first chance came from a Milner free kick from the edge of the area which was saved by Gomes.  The Watford keeper was in action again soon after as Origi tried a shot from distance, but Gomes was able to push it round the post for a corner.  The Belgian threatened again, breaking into the box to shoot, but Gomes again made the save.  Watford had been on the back foot for the first 20 minutes of the second half, so it was a relief to see them on the attack.  When Janmaat beat Clyne on the wing, he appeared in two minds about what to do next.  In the end he hit a decent cross, but it was easily gathered by Mignolet.  Watford came close to an equaliser as an Amrabat shot was blocked, the ball fell to Capoue outside the area who hit a lovely dipping shot that Mignolet did well to tip over the bar.  Sadly the referee appreciated neither the shot nor the save as he awarded a goal kick instead of a corner.  This infuriated Capoue, who was booked for his protests.  Amrabat threatened again, this time with a cross that was gathered by Mignolet.  Mazzarri’s second substitution came on 72 minutes with Success replacing Capoue.  Janmaat had a great chance to equalize as he surprised Mignolet with a shot that the Liverpool keeper was just able to keep it out.  There was a rash of late substitutions as Origi and Lallana (who was a sub himself) made way for Sturridge and Klaven for the visitors and Okaka replaced Amrabat for the home side.  In the 90th minute, Liverpool had a great chance to seal the victory when Sturridge shot from the edge of the box but, yet again, Gomes kept it out.  Watford could have won a point in time added on as Prödl volleyed goalwards but his shot cannoned off the crossbar and the visitors left with all three points.

Prodl looking predatory

The post-game reaction was very mixed.  Some had enjoyed the game and were happy enough with a narrow defeat, particularly as the goal was an unstoppable strike. Others, as has often been the case of late, were frustrated with Mazzarri’s defensive tactics arguing that, given Liverpool’s inconsistency, this may well have been our last chance to gain points this season so we should have been trying to win the game.  I think that is doing Liverpool something of a disservice given their lofty position in the table.  My position fell somewhere between the two, certainly an attacking end to the game goes a long way to sending me home happy, but it also makes me wonder why we can’t take that approach earlier in the game.  Having been brought up on GT’s brand of football where the aim was to score more than the opposition, I hate to see teams set up to stifle play.  So, as the season winds down, I can’t help feeling rather sad that, despite having spent most of the season comfortably clear of the relegation zone, a large proportion of our fans are both bored and frustrated.  I wonder whether this would still be the case if Mazzarri’s approach to games was more attacking or is this what mid-table obscurity in the Premier League feels like?

 

A Disappointing Trip to the City of Culture

Phillip Larkin in the City of Culture

I had a very cultural week all in all, with plays by Tom Stoppard, Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare followed by a cracking evening spent with the Saw Doctors.  I just had to hope that my visit to the city of culture finished the week in style.

It all started rather well.  Being an unsociable type, I usually try to find an empty carriage for the journey, but the Hull Trains service was absolutely packed, so I took my assigned seat and found myself opposite a pleasantly chatty guy who kept me entertained.

On arrival in Hull, I headed for the designated pub, which was in the opposite direction from the ground and meant that I walked through some of the older areas of the city centre that I hadn’t visited in the past and, I must say, that it is a lot more attractive than I remember.  The pub was a cracker, a good selection of beers and lovely fresh fish (“skin on or off?”) for lunch.  The company (Happy Valley and West Yorks Horns) was delightful as always.  So we were in very good spirits as we set off for the walk to the ground.

Despite Hull’s precarious league position, the arrival of Marco Silva had heralded an upturn in form and Watford found themselves facing a manager who hadn’t lost a home game in more than 3 years.  Given Watford’s variable performances in recent weeks, it would have been a brave fan who predicted a positive result from this game.

Challenging in the Hull box

Team news was just the one change with Britos returning from suspension in place of Mariappa, who had been terrific since he was drafted into the starting line-up and was rather unlucky to have lost his place.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Janmaat, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Cleverley, Doucouré, Capoue; Amrabat, Deeney and Niang.

There had been speculation in the pub prior to the game about whether there would be a minute’s silence/applause following the tragic death of Ugo Ehiogu.  As he had no direct connection with either Watford or Hull, there was not, but the players were all wearing black armbands.

There was a very nervy start from the home side as a terrible back pass from Maguire looked to be sneaking in to the Hull net when Jakupovich managed to slide in and put the ball out for a corner which, sadly, came to nothing.  Watford’s next corner was marginally more effective as the delivery from Holebas was met by the head of Britos but the ball flew over the bar.  The next half chance went the way of the home side as Clucas tried a shot from distance that cleared the crossbar.

Prodl on the ball

During the next ten minutes of the game, the only things even remotely worthy of note were the chants from the away end.  I rather enjoyed “We’re only here for the culture.”  A later chant of “It’s just like watching Brazil” was countered by a more realistic and downcast “more like Italy” from the bloke behind me.  On 25 minutes, there was a potentially game-changing incident as a challenge by Niasse on Niang, that hadn’t looked particularly nasty from the stands, was greeted with an immediate red card from the referee.  Watford’s approach to the game up to this point had been rather cagey, so my hope was that the reduction in opposition numbers would lead to a more attacking approach.  The first few minutes following the sending off were not promising as the Watford men continued to play the ball around at the back.  But things brightened up as a corner was met by a header from Prödl that required a smart save from Jakupovich tip it over the bar.  Niang, who was getting abuse from the home crowd every time he got a touch, didn’t let it faze him as he played a through ball to Deeney who finished, but I think I was the only Watford fan who hopefully punched the air as the flag was up for a clear offside.  Niang then found Amrabat whose shot was blocked for a corner.

Waiting at the back post

Watford won another corner and, as Cleverley lined up to take it, he was greeted with the latest in a series of loud complaints from the home fans about the positioning of the ball so, on this occasion, the referee decided to check that there was no infringement.  Much to the amusement of the away fans at the other end of the ground, he nodded approval and indicated that the kick should be taken.  Britos managed to get a head to it but the ball flew just wide of the target.  A promising move started with Troy coming away with the ball after a tackle, he found Amrabat in a good position in the box, but Nordin decided to pass instead of trying a shot and the chance was gone.  In time added on at the end of the half, Grosicki went down in the box following a challenge from Amrabat, but the referee waved appeals away.   As if the Hull fans weren’t already angry enough, Niang then went flying in the air after a challenge, so the half time whistle went to loud boos from the home fans and the stewards coming on to escort the referee off the pitch.

It had been a disappointing half of football.  Watford had most of the possession, but were being rather cagey, which made for a very dull spectacle.  There was some increase in attacking threat after the sending off, but not the high tempo that we were hoping for.

Capoue and Niang

Silva made a substitution at the start of the second half bringing Hernández on for Evandro.  The first meaningful action of the half came with a lovely ball from Capoue to Amrabat but the cross was blocked.  The first goal attempt came from the Hull substitute, but he chipped the ball into the arms of Gomes.  Watford should have taken the lead just before the hour mark as a throw from Holebas reached Capoue in the box, the Frenchman looked sure to score but he was being tackled and so just swung at the ball and Jakupovich was able to block with his feet.  The Hornets were to rue that miss as, against the run of play, the home side took the lead after Watford lost the ball following a free kick allowing Hull to launch a counter attack, Grosicki crossed for Marcovic whose header rebounded off the crossbar and he made no mistake at the second attempt.  The Hornets attempted to get back into the game as Amrabat crossed for Deeney, but a well-timed nudge from a defender ensured that Troy failed to make contact, the ball came back into the area but, again, there was nobody to apply the final touch.

Cleverley lines up a free kick

The travelling Hornets had been crying out for a substitution and were rewarded when Success replaced Amrabat.  But it was Hull who had a great chance to increase their lead with a free kick from a dangerous position which Clucas directed over the wall and just wide.  The relief was short-lived as, soon after, a clearing header following a free kick reached Clucas who curled a beautiful shot past Gomes.  It was a moment of quality in a game that had been sadly devoid of it.  In an effort to save the game, Mazzarri replaced Doucouré with Okaka, but Watford goal attempts remained at a premium.  Capoue tried a shot from distance that was well over the bar.  Then a Capoue free kick reached Prödl whose shot was easy for the keeper.  Mazzarri’s final throw of the dice was to bring Zúñiga on to replace Holebas.  The Hornets had one last chance to reduce the deficit as Deeney volleyed just over.

As the final whistle went on a humiliating defeat for the visitors, it was greeted with loud boos from the travelling fans.  A young lad who was sitting behind me had been complaining loudly throughout the game and, on the final whistle, he went charging down to get himself into prime position to lambast any players who came over to greet the crowd.  Prödl was the first to approach us, making a gesture of regret but, despite having little to apologise for, was given the full force of the crowd’s invective.  This happened to each of the players in turn.  Troy quickly turned to leave the field, but had second thoughts and came back with Gomes holding something that he was clearly intending to gift to a young fan.  When he reached the perimeter, he hurdled it and walked up to the youngster, but was soon facing a number of very angry fans who were yelling at him.  It had the potential for a very nasty outcome but Troy just listened to what they had to say before returning over the wall at which point he was given an ovation by those still in the crowd.

Amrabat and Proedl challenging

As someone who is very much in the “happy-clapper” camp, I don’t boo the players but I am also not inclined to applaud them after a dreadful performance like that.  After the sending off, we should have been attacking at pace in order to tire the ten men and gain an advantage.  Instead we used our dominance of the possession to play the ball around at the back allowing Hull to sit back and wait for an opportunity to break and, when they did, it was at pace and decisive.  There have been accusations that the players were already on the beach, but the performance looked very much as if they were following instructions from the head coach.  Deeney was isolated up front with very little service and there was a distinct reluctance to break forward.  So, to my mind, blame for the defeat sits very firmly with the head coach.  The fact that this abject performance was delivered by the team in 10th position in “the best league in the world” is an indication of the dreadful lack of quality in the Premier League this season.

The post-match discussion in the queue for the Ladies came back to a theme that has been visited a number of times in recent weeks.  We miss the Championship.  Another theme in the post-match discussion was the behaviour of the travelling Watford fans.  Many of the people that I see week in, week out at games have been going for many years and have witnessed dreadful seasons of football, so tend to be rather circumspect.  But, since promotion, we seem to have attracted a large number of people whose lofty expectations leave them open to regular disappointment which leads to outbursts of (often irrational) anger.  Of course it may be that these people were always there, it was just that in times past we rarely sold out our away allocation so you tended to choose your position in the stand to sit with likeminded people.

Anyway, back to on pitch affairs.  Last season, when survival was the aim, we finished the season in 13th position with 45 points.  We have five games remaining this season to better that record but, given the opposition that we will be facing, it is hard to see us gaining any more points.  Maybe, for the next month, we should trust our instincts and just stay in the pub!

Forty Points Achieved against the Swans

The legends flag greets the players

Due to the lack of an Easter programme in the Premier League, we only had one game this weekend, so I felt oddly cheated but determined to make the most of the one that we had.  The sun was shining when I reached the West Herts and joined the usual suspects at ‘our’ table.  Mike and Toddy were slumming with us before taking their place in the posh seats as a result of winning the Supporters Trust draw.  The rest of us enjoyed our more modest surroundings as much as we always do.

Discussion pre-match was about whether the next two games were must wins.  I must admit that, looking at the table with only 7 games to go, Watford’s 37 points and 10th place was starting to convince me that safety had already been achieved and so maybe we wouldn’t need any further points.  But it would be very reassuring to reach the holy grail of 40 points and this game had to be our best chance to do so.

Challenging for a ball into the box

The visit of Swansea also meant a return to Vicarage Road for legend and all round good egg Nigel Gibbs, who is on their coaching staff.  So it was a nice touch when Tim Coombs prefaced his reading of the away team with a welcome back for Gibbsy and the crowd gave him a very warm welcome indeed.

Team news was that Deeney was restored to the starting line-up alongside Prödl and Capoue replacing Okaka, Cathcart and Success.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Prödl, Mariappa, Holebas; Cleverley, Doucouré, Capoue; Amrabat, Deeney and Niang.

The first goalmouth action of the game was a cross from Amrabat that was headed clear by Mawson.  The first actual goal attempt fell to the visitors as Sigurdsson broke into the box, his first shot was blocked, his second required a decent save from Gomes at the near post.  Swansea fashioned another dangerous chance as Sigurdsson launched a free kick into the box, the punch from Gomes flew into the air and fell for Fernández whose header, thankfully, landed on the roof of the net.  Watford’s first attempt on target came as Niang went on a run and tried a low shot from distance, but it was easy for Fabianski in the Swansea goal.

Celebrating Capoue’s goal

A lovely passing move from the Hornets finished with Amrabat shooting wide of the far post.  The Hornets had a great chance to open the scoring as Capoue played a lovely through ball towards Deeney in the box, but Fabianski was first to the ball.  There was good work from Doucouré to nick the ball before releasing Niang who was fouled on the edge of the area.  The Frenchman took the set piece himself, shooting through the wall but Fabianski dropped to make the save.  Then Janmaat won the ball and went on a tremendous run before crossing for Deeney whose shot was tipped over by Fabianski.  Despite the dominance of the Hornets, the visitors should have taken the lead on the half hour as Narsingh found Ki Sung-Yueng who only had Gomes to beat from close range, but he hesitated and then, as a defender appeared, shot straight at Gomes.  Sigurdsson was the next to try his luck, but his shot from distance was easy for Gomes.  Just when it looked as though the game would reach half time goalless, Capoue nicked the ball from Mawson and broke into the box, his first shot was blocked, but he buried the rebound to send the Rookery and particularly my niece, his biggest fan, into raptures.

Capoue and Cleverley line up a free kick

So the Hornets were leading at the break.  They had dominated possession without threatening Fabianski’s goal on too many occasions.  Swansea had a few decent chances, but they were clearly bereft of confidence and looked very unlikely to get back into the game.

The half time draw was made by Kenny Jackett.  As always it was lovely to see him back at Vicarage Road and he said all the right things when asked what he wanted from the meeting of two of his former clubs.

As the players came out for the start of the second half, instead of taking his place in goal in front of the Rookery, Fabianski remained on the half-way line.  I thought we were in for a very unusual kick-off but it turned out that he was just waiting for the referee to reappear with the matchball, so that he could have a cuddle of the ball before continuing.

Doucoure and Amrabat chase the ball

There was an early second half chance for the visitors as Sigurdsson tried a shot from just outside the area that flew wide.  At the other end Doucouré had a sight of goal so hit a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  Then Janmaat went on a great run into the box and unleashed a powerful shot that Fabianski did very well to divert from its intended path to the top corner.  Watford’s first substitution came just after the hour mark when Amrabat, who was waiting to take a throw-in on the opposite side from the dugouts, was replaced by Kabasele.  Nordin looked furious as he walked the width of the pitch and the message from Mazzarri was that his aim was to preserve the lead, a tactic that hasn’t always worked for us.

The 72nd minute was greeted with the customary chant of “One Graham Taylor” and the picture on the big screen showed Rita with her granddaughter in the Directors’ box.  So lovely to see her at Vicarage Road and I hope that the continued expressions of love for Graham bring her some comfort.

Gomes with a goal kick

Mazzarri’s second substitution saw Okaka replacing Niang.  The Italian looked to have sealed the game for the Hornets soon after when he received a lovely cross from Janmaat, controlled the ball on his chest and volleyed past Fabianski.  Sadly the goal was ruled out for offside.  Okaka turned provider soon after, crossing for Capoue whose shot cleared the bar.  There was danger for the home side as Sigurdsson swung a free kick towards goal, but Gomes was able to punch clear.  Then Ayew broke forward and crossed for Carroll whose shot found the side netting.  Mazzarri’s final change was to bring Behrami on in place of Cleverley.  Watford had one last chance to ensure the win as Doucouré tried a shot from outside the area, but Fabianski was equal to it.  The visitors had two chances to retrieve a point in time added on.  First a mistake from Prödl allowed them to advance, Borja crossed for Sigurdsson whose header was poor and flew wide of the near post.  The Icelander had one last chance, going on a dangerous run that was stopped by a crucial tackle from Doucouré.  So the final whistle went on the third home win in a row with the Hornets sitting pretty in 10th place having amassed 40 points.

The second half had been a poor spectacle and, with only the one goal lead, they seemed to make heavy weather of the game, but the three points has all but guaranteed that Watford will be a Premier League club for the third season in a row so the crowds leaving Vicarage Road did so with a spring in their step and those of us who had secured our season tickets for next season were feeling very happy indeed.

No Shame in a Harsh Defeat

Cleverley and Holebas line up a free kick

The lunchtime kick-off meant an earlier than usual departure for a London game.  I had arranged to meet my niece at Euston and decided to get an earlier train to give me time for a leisurely breakfast at Café Rouge (and very good it was too).  When Amelia arrived, we got the tube to Seven Sisters before taking a walk in the sunshine up Tottenham High Road to the stadium.  As we arrived at the security cordon outside the ground, there was a woman in front of us with a couple of children who had “Daddy 6” on the back of their shirts.  How lovely to see Mariappa’s young family back in Watford kit.

Team news was that Mazzarri had made four changes (two forced, two tactical) with Mariappa, Janmaat, Success and Okaka in for Britos, Prödl, Capoue and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Janmaat, Cleverley, Doucouré, Amrabat; Niang, Okaka and Success.  An interesting formation and a little surprising to see Deeney dropped to the bench.

Gathering for a ball into the Spurs box

The game started very well for the Hornets as Holebas won an early free kick.  He took it himself and curled a lovely shot towards the far corner, but it ended up in the arms of Lloris.  Soon after, Holebas played a corner short to Doucouré before running into the box to receive a return ball, but it ran through and was gathered by the Spurs keeper.  For the home side, Son had a decent chance from a tight angle, but the ball was deflected onto the post and out for a corner.  Watford challenged again as a cross from Doucouré was punched clear by Lloris as Okaka challenged.  The hosts should have taken the lead as Janssen turned in the box and shot, but Gomes saved with his feet.  At the other end, Holebas played a free kick to the far post where Cathcart prodded it into the side netting.  Hoping to repeat his goal from midweek, Niang tried a shot from distance, but this time it was straight at Lloris.  Spurs had a great chance to take the lead in the 18th minute as a cross from Trippier reached Janssen in front of an open goal, but he could only divert the ball onto the crossbar.  Another cross from Trippier soon after went begging as Janssen was unable to connect.  At the other end, a smart exchange of passes ended with the ball reaching Success who snatched at his shot which flew the width of the field and out for a throw-in!  The home side took the lead in the 32nd minute and it was a brilliant goal, a lovely curling shot from Dele that nestled in the top corner of the Watford net.

Niang on the ball

The visitors were appealing for a penalty soon after when Success went down in the box, but the appeals were waved away.  The Hornets were two goals down after 39 minutes when a shot from Son deflected off Doucouré and fell to Dier who smashed it past Gomes.  After the terrific start from the Hornets, they really didn’t deserve to be two goals down at this stage.  But it got worse before half time as Son hit a lovely shot from distance for the third goal.  That was just nasty.

If you were only to look at the half time score, this looked like a pasting, but Watford had played some really lovely football in the first half.  However, Spurs are easily the best team that I have seen this season and their moments of quality in front of goal were the difference between the teams.

It could have been much worse early in the second half as, from a Watford corner, Eriksen intercepted the ball and went haring the length of the pitch and was only stopped by a terrific tackle from Janmaat in the box.  Watford’s Dutchman then had a chance himself at the other end, dribbling along the top of the box before shooting just wide of the target.

Cathcart, Deeney, Mariappa, Okaka and Success gathering for a set piece

Spurs scored their fourth ten minutes into the second half, the Watford defence should have done better with this one as Trippier crossed for Son who was in an acre of space as he finished for his second goal of the game.  Mazzarri’s first change was to bring Zuñiga on in place of Doucouré.  This substitution wasn’t as protracted as usual, probably because, I am reliably informed, Zuñiga waved Frustalupi away as he produced his tactic book.  Despite the scoreline, Watford were not giving up and Okaka broke into the box and cut the ball back for Niang who was muscled off the ball.  On the hour, Spurs brought Kane on for Janssen, which seemed rather cruel from my perspective.  Watford should have done better when Okaka played a lovely through ball to Success, but the Nigerian hit his shot into the ground and it flew wide.  Watford’s second substitution was an attacking change as Deeney came on for Amrabat, who had played through the middle all afternoon.  As the Watford crowd were singing for GT, the Hornets won a corner, which came out to Deeney who had a great chance to reduce the deficit, but shot well over the bar.  On 80 minutes, the away fans were indulging in shouts of Olé as the players passed the ball around beautifully, but one misplaced pass and Dele escaped towards the Watford box, the ball found its way to Son, who looked nailed on for his hat trick, but managed to shoot wide of the near post.  The South Korean had another great chance to go home with the match ball, but this time whipped his shot onto the crossbar and over.

Zuniga challenged by Dembele

Mazzari’s final substitution was a case of shutting the stable door some considerable time after the horse had bolted, as he replaced Okaka with Kabasele.  Spurs had one final chance of a fifth goal as they won a free kick in the final minute of added time, but Kane wasted the last kick of the game directing the ball on to the crossbar.

4-0 was a rather cruel scoreline for the Hornets, but Spurs had been excellent.  Having scored three in the first half, the home side appeared to relax a bit in the second period, which was nothing like as entertaining as the first 45 minutes.  But fair play to the Watford players for still giving it a go.  Fair play also to the travelling fans, as they were singing all afternoon and then applauded the players off the pitch.  That support was rewarded with a nice little gesture as Success reappeared after the cameras had departed to hand out a couple of shirts, one of which was held aloft by Don Fraser as he left the ground.  That made me very happy.

As we left the ground in search of the brewery tap who had sent a message to Dave M suggesting that Watford fans would be welcomed after the game, we found the locals very pleasant (quite understandably) but also the stewards on the way, a number of whom helpfully gave us directions for the supporters coach which was parked quite a distance from the ground and very close to the bar.  The location for the brewery wasn’t the most attractive that I have ever seen, being a unit on an industrial estate, but the welcome was warm, the beer was very pleasant, the sun was shining and the company was second to none.  As we eventually left to make our way to our evening commitments, we were all in a very good mood.  This wasn’t a game that we expected to win and, despite the scoreline, the Watford performance had certainly not been as cowed as in the game at Liverpool.  The patched together defence had done a decent job in the first half hour and most of the Spurs goals had been down to individual brilliance from the players in question.  We ended the afternoon with our team in the top half of the table, amongst good friends with the sun shining.  So, despite the defeat, all felt right with the world.

Quality and Steel under the Lights

Britos on the ball

A month into a new job, I don’t have many regular meetings but one that I do have is on Tuesday from 5 to 6pm.  As the meeting came to a close, I was itching to get away.  When the request was made for any questions, the response of one of my colleagues that she had one immediately took her off my Christmas card list.  As soon as I was able, I made a rapid exit and was at Euston in time for the 18:30.  With a brief stop to check in to my hotel, I made a beeline for the ground.  As I reached the Rookery, it was lovely to see Gifton Noel-Williams outside chatting to someone.  After entering through the turnstiles, I found that the concourse was deserted.  In the stand, my family were in their seats but there were not many others there.  Then I heard Tim on the tannoy announce that it was 25 minutes to kick-off.  No wonder the place was so empty, I was ridiculously early … and I was going to have to watch this game sober, not a prospect I was relishing.  My early arrival did mean that I got to see the warm-up.  The notice on the big screen warning spectators to look out for balls flying into the crowd didn’t prevent a guy in the front of the stand being hit by an errant shot from Capoue.  The Frenchman leaped into the stand in order to apologise.  This had quite an effect on my niece, who is a big fan and came over all unnecessary, “I wish he’d hit me.”  Another off-pitch distraction came by way of my sister’s niece, who is studying for a degree in football broadcasting.  She had enquired about opportunities to gain experience at Watford and had been invited to shadow the media team for this game.  She was thrilled, but I think her aunt(s) were even more excited than she was.

Tom Cleverley

Team news was that Mazzarri had made two changes restoring Deeney and Prödl, both of whom had fitness problems on Saturday, to the starting line-up in place of Okaka and Janmaat.  So the starting XI was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Doucouré, Cleverley, Capoue; Niang, Amrabat; Deeney.  A surprise name on the bench was 18 year-old midfielder, Dion Pereira.  As the opposition team was read out, the loud cheers for Ben Foster were followed by equally loud boos for Allan Nyom.  I missed the visit to West Brom this season, so hadn’t witnessed the incidents that so incensed the travelling fans on that day.  Even so, the reception seemed rather harsh for a player of whom I have fond memories.

The visitors had a great chance to open the scoring in the sixth minute as Chadli ran on to a through ball and broke into the box, Gomes blocked his initial shot but the West Brom man recovered the ball and looked to have an open goal to aim at, but the angle was too narrow and his shot drifted harmlessly across the goal.  It was the home side who took the lead on 13 minutes with a shot from distance from Niang that he curled past Foster into the far corner.  Words cannot do the strike justice, it truly was a thing of beauty and there were no complaints that the replays on the big screen continued until after the restart.

Gathering for a corner

Niang impressed again, showing great resolve as, despite being tripped and lying on the ground, he managed to get a touch to direct the ball to Amrabat whose low cross was just too far in front of Deeney for him to apply the finish.  Niang had another great chance soon after, but this time he volleyed the ball over the target, so the guy in charge of the big screen just showed another replay of his goal.  At the other end, Robson-Kanu met a cross from Chadli with a header that flew wide of the target.  Watford’s next chance came as Amrabat put in a lovely cross that was cleared for a corner with Deeney challenging.  For the Baggies, Chris Brunt really should have done better as the ball came to him in the box, but it bounced down off his chest and Gomes gathered before he could get it under control.  Britos earned the first booking of the game after giving the ball away to McClean, he reacted by taking his opponent down.  As the wall was constructed for the free kick, it seemed that every player apart from the goalkeepers and the taker were involved.  Chadli stepped up and fired over the wall, hitting the outside of the post.  The first card for West Brom came soon after as Robson-Kanu fouled Holebas.  Jose took the set piece himself, delivering a lovely ball into the box but, again, no Watford player was able to get the decisive touch.  Just before half time, Prödl appeared to strain his midriff.  After receiving treatment, I was hoping that he would persevere until half time, but he soon indicated to the bench that he couldn’t continue and was replaced with Janmaat.  As the half came to an end, there were a number of niggly fouls from the visitors which culminated in McClean earning a yellow card for standing on Holebas’s heel.  The half time whistle was greeted with boos from the Rookery but, on this occasion, they were directed at the opposition, who can only be described as classic Pulis.  In contrast, the Hornets had been terrific playing some of the best football we have seen this season.  And that goal ….

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

As Foster took his place in front of the Rookery for the second half, he was given a very warm reception, which he acknowledged.  The visitors made a half time substitution with McLean making way for Phillips, presumably as his antics at the end of the first half suggested that he was at high risk of being sent off.  The second period started perfectly for the Hornets as a lovely pass over the top from Niang reached Deeney, who had two defenders on his case but, as Foster came out to meet him, somehow he managed to connect with the ball and send it into the net.  It was a goal as scrappy as Niang’s had been exquisite, but they all count and the celebrations were mighty.  Chadli had a decent chance to reduce the deficit for the visitors, but turned his shot wide of the near post.  At the other end, a misplaced clearance went straight to Niang, who advanced and tried a shot that was blocked.  The Hornets threatened again as Amrabat played the ball out to Janmaat, who put in a lovely cross, but neither Deeney nor Niang was able to connect.  On 65 minutes, there was a tussle between Britos and Rondon just outside the Watford box.  The West Brom man went down very easily sparking fury in the home crowd as the Uruguayan was shown a second yellow and sent off.

Man of the match Doucoure

For the second game running, Amrabat was substituted after a terrific showing.  This time he made way for Mariappa making his first Premier League appearance since his return to Vicarage Road.  Any concerns that young Ady might be rusty due to his lack of game time disappeared with his first involvement as he met a ball into the Watford box with a confident clearing header.  West Brom had a decent chance to get back into the game as the evil Rondon met a cross from Morrison, but his header was just over the bar.  Success was given his customary ten minutes on the pitch as replacement for Niang whose departure gave the guy running the big screen an excuse to show his goal yet again.  Following the sending off, the Hornets had spent most of the time in their own half, but it had been a sterling rearguard effort with the Baggies rarely threatening the goal.  The effort off the pitch had been equally impressive as the fans in each of the stands were on their feet singing their hearts out for the lads.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, there was little chance of the Hornets getting anything other than a win, but the clean sheet became of paramount importance.  So hearts were in mouths in time added on as a cross reached Nyom at the far post, thankfully his shot rebounded off a team mate to safety.  The former Watford man had another chance to reduce the deficit but, despite having two shots, he couldn’t make the breakthrough as the first was blocked and the second saved by Gomes.  The visitors had one final chance and I punched the air when Morrison put his shot into the Family Stand.

Capoue, Doucoure and Amrabat celebrate in front of the Rookery

At the final whistle, there were great celebrations and hugs in the Rookery and it was lovely to see the players gathering to do a proper lap of honour, enjoying the adulation of the fans.  This had been a truly impressive performance against a decent team who are very adept at stopping other teams playing.  Niang put in a performance showcasing what he can really do and was a joy to watch.  Doucouré was man of the match for an impressive turn running the show in midfield.  Special mention also to Adrian Mariappa, who could be forgiven for struggling when drafted in to a ten man team after so long without a game, but he was excellent.

When Britos was sent off, it seemed disastrous.  But it resulted in a resilient performance from the players and a passionate reaction from the fans, which is always better when played under the lights.

Before the game last Saturday, there was a genuine fear that we could be pulled into a relegation battle.  Three days and six points later we are feeling comfortable in 9th position in the table and Walter Mazzarri is a football genius.  It’s a funny old game.

Back to Winning Ways

Kaboul

Despite the poor showings on the pitch in recent games, a week off for the international break meant that I travelled to Watford with renewed enthusiasm for seeing a match.  When I arrived at the West Herts, the external door was open, so the early arrivals had piled into the lobby waiting for the inner door to open, which was baffling as it was an absolutely gorgeous day, so I loitered in the sunshine for a little longer.  This meant that I saw a couple of roadie friends who wished me a very enjoyable pre-match as the pleasure from what would follow could not be guaranteed.

My low confidence regarding the game had not been helped by the news that there were fitness doubts over Deeney and Prödl and, sure enough, Mazzarri made four changes with Holebas, Doucouré, Amrabat and Okaka replacing Prödl, Janmaat, Behrami and Deeney.   So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kaboul, Britos, Holebas; Doucouré, Cleverley, Capoue; Amrabat, Okaka and Niang.

Capoue on the ball

It was certainly good to see Amrabat back in the starting XI and he made an immediate impact with a dangerous cross towards Niang that was headed out for a corner.  As the sun shone at Vicarage Road, I couldn’t help but note that Sunderland’s away kit had a touch of Real Madrid about it, which would have appealed to Kate who, on a visit from Saudi, was back in her seat in the Rookery.  Gomes was forced to make the first save of the game as he pushed a shot from Januzaj around the post for a corner.  Watford had a couple of great chances after Capoue broke forward and found Niang by way of Doucouré, the shot was parried by Pickford, the ball returned to Doucouré and Pickford had to pull off another smart save to keep the game goalless.  Okaka was the next to threaten the Sunderland goal, going on a lovely jinking run beating a couple of defenders before shooting, but Pickford was down to block the shot.  Doucouré had the next chance as a corner was headed out to him, but his shot from distance flew wide.  Okaka should have done better when he met a cross from Capoue, but his header flew over the bar.  Just before the half hour, Niang went on a wonderful forward run but, after doing all the hard work his shot was straight at a defender.  As the play returned to the other end of the pitch, he just ambled around.  I wondered whether he had an injury, but it soon became clear that he just needed a sit down after his exertions.

Holebas and Cleverley prepare for a corner

A lovely passing move from the Hornets ended with Capoue exchanging passes with Okaka before curling a shot just wide of the far post.  Late in the half, there was a break in the game to allow Kaboul to be treated for an injury after he stretched and appeared to pull his hamstring.  The players gathered on the touchline for refreshments and words of encouragement, most of which seemed to be coming from Troy Deeney.  Unfortunately Kaboul was unable to continue so was replaced by Janmaat who came on to a chorus of boos from the Sunderland fans.  Sunderland had a rare chance with a Januzaj shot that took a deflection for a corner which led to a break by Amrabat who played a lovely cross field ball to Niang whose shot was pushed wide by Pickford.  Cleverley’s corner was headed goalwards by Cathcart, but Pickford again made the save.  As the clock reached 45 minutes, there was a half chance for the visitors after Okaka failed to clear allowing the ball to fall to Koné, thankfully his shot was wide of the far post.  The final chance of the half fell to the home side with a shot from Britos that was straight at Pickford.

Holebas takes a corner

The half time whistle went and, for the first time in a while, I felt throroughly entertained.  The Hornets had put in an attacking performance and were unlucky not to be ahead, although a lot of that had to do with the very impressive Jordan Pickford in the Sunderland goal.  During the interval, I caught up with Saudi Kate who expressed surprise at the level of impatience in the crowd around her during what was a decent performance from the Hornets.  It was also gratifying to see a report on the big screen featuring Stacey and Troy Deeney talking about their new charitable foundation’s project at Garston Manor School.  So lovely to see them making a difference in the local community.

At the start of the second half, Success was running down the touchline and the guy next to me commented that he was starting his 20 minute warm-up.  The visitors’ hearts must have sank as Defoe went down needing treatment.  It felt disloyal, but I was actually pleased when he got to his feet and was fit to continue.  The first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets but Niang’s cross flew just wide of the far post.  Success made an appearance rather earlier than usual as he came on after 53 minutes to replace Amrabat, who looked disappointed to be substituted.  You can only think that Mazzarri was saving him for Tuesday.

Celebrating Britos’s goal

Watford’s next chance fell to Holebas who cut inside and shot wide.  His reaction was typical Holebas, he looked furious at someone, but who??  A Cleverley corner was punched only as far as Success, whose shot was deflected wide.  Watford took the lead from the subsequent corner as Okaka’s header was deflected on to the crossbar, Cathcart headed the ball towards the far post where Britos rose above the defence to head home, finally beating Pickford.  My only thought as the game restarted was, please don’t defend for 30 minutes.  Watford should have increased their lead soon after as Okaka played a lovely through ball to Success who looked certain to score, but Pickford saved with his feet.  The ball found its way to Doucouré but his shot was also blocked.  The visitors had a rare chance when Borini tried a shot from the edge of the area, but Gomes was equal to it.  They had a better chance soon after when Ndong cut the ball back to Januzaj but his shock was weak and straight at the Watford keeper.  Holebas had a wonderful chance to increase the lead with a lovely shot that just took a deflection and cleared the crossbar.  Having heard boos from the away end for a former Newcastle player, it was a bit surprising when their own player, Januzaj, left the field to even louder boos when he was replaced by Khazri.

Britos, Cathcart and Okaka gathering for a corner

The first booking of the game went to Jones for hauling Success back when he was about to escape.  The Nigerian had the next chance of the game, holding off Jones to make space for the shot, but it was a disappointing effort, straight at Pickford.  Watford were almost made to regret not making the most of their chances as Borini hit a shot from the edge of the area but Gomes made a decent save to preserve the lead.  Mazzarri’s final change was to bring Zuñiga on for Niang, who had a decent game although his end product was disappointing.  I must admit that I was disappointed that Deeney wasn’t given a few minutes to extend his uninterrupted run of games.  Okaka had a chance to make the points safe as he met a cross from Janmaat with a header but, yet again, Pickford made the save.  In the last minute of added time, Cleverley fouled Khazri in a dangerous position, and I’m sure every Watford fan was holding their breath as the Sunderland man prepared for the free kick.  I think I celebrated as if we’d scored when the shot hit the wall and the final whistle was blown to confirm a precious, and very well deserved, three points for the Hornets.

Holebas lining up a free kick

As the players did their lap of honour, Cleverley and Cathcart were walking together and the Rookery sang Tom’s name in acknowledgement of his new contract.  I couldn’t help feeling sad that Cathcart, who has been consistently good, does not have a song, so his contribution appears to be unappreciated by the crowd.  It really isn’t.  The last player to pass the Rookery was Gomes, who was in super-animated mode which elicited a positive reaction from the crowd.  You just have to love him.

On the way out of the ground I heard someone say, “I think I’ll watch Match of the Day tonight,” which summed the last few week up perfectly.  It was a much better performance than of late.  Many players who have been substandard in recent games put in a much improved showing.  Of note was Capoue, who has attracted ire from many in my group, who had his best game in ages.  Niang was impressive, if disappointing in front of goal.  Doucouré put in a very good performance, Okaka led the line well and it was great to see Amrabat back, he certainly adds something.

So I will go into Tuesday’s game against West Brom in a much better frame of mind.  Another win or two and we can relax and look forward to taking up our recently renewed season ticket seats for another year of Premier League football.

Pitiful Performance against Palace

On Tuesday, I was lucky enough to spend a cracking evening listening to Luther Blissett, Tony Coton, Sean Dyche and Paul Wilkinson reminiscing with Adam Leventhal in Tales from the Vicarage.  As well as the anecdotes, there were some interesting musings on modern football, especially the penchant for diving.  Coton said that, in his day, cheats would be called out by their team mates as well as the opposition.  An interesting thought going into an afternoon with Wilfried Zaha.

As if to punish me for having such a great time, I woke up the next morning with a nasty case of vertigo, which has plagued me for the rest of the week.  As I left home to walk to the station for the journey to Selhurst Park, I was a little unsteady and wondered whether I should stay at home but, since this was our only game in three weeks, I certainly wasn’t going to miss it.

As it was a London game, the City ‘Orns were allowed a block booking of tickets, so we duly met in Croydon for our pre-match drinks.  Whenever two or three (or twelve) football fans are gathered together, the conversation often turns to superstitions and we soon discovered that a number of our group were wearing their “lucky socks”, although the evidence that these articles of clothing were actually lucky was almost as scanty as the shorts that Paul Wilkinson brought along on Tuesday.

Britos takes a throw

Team news was that Mazzarri had made two changes with Cathcart and Janmaat coming in for Holebas and Okaka.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Behrami; Janmaat, Cleverley, Capoue, Niang; and Deeney.

The first incident of the game involved Cathcart stopping a run by Zaha on the edge of the Watford box, allowing the Palace man to take a tumble in the area.  Needless to say, the home fans were yelling for a penalty, while the away fans were berating him for diving.  The first action resembling a goal attempt came from the home side as Sakho headed a Cabaye corner over the bar.  The Hornets fashioned a much better chance as Niang advanced before taking a shot, but it was straight at Hennessey in the Palace goal.  That was it for the first half hour of the game.  The next thing that I deemed worthy of noting down was a chant of “You wrecked your own bus” from the Watford crowd following the report that the Middlesbrough team bus that was covered in Palace graffiti on their visit to Selhurst Park had been loaned from their hosts.  Palace’s best chance of the game so far came on 36 minutes as Zaha advanced down the left, his cross was headed clear by Kaboul, but only as far as Cabaye whose shot was deflected for a corner.

Niang and Deeney looking for the ball

The first caution of the game went to Cleverley for a late foul on Zaha.  A nice passing move between Zaha and Townsend led to a cross that was headed clear by Britos under challenge by Sakho.  Soon after, the ball fell to Zaha on the edge of the box, but his shot was well over the target.  The visitors had the last chance of the half as a header from Janmaat dropped to Behrami whose volley was high and wide.

The whistle went to end a dreadful half of football.  Watford had dominated the early part of the game, with the hosts coming into it towards half time, but the only shot on target had been the tame effort from Niang and most of the entertainment was coming from the stands.  During the half time entertainment, t-shirts were thrown into the crowd.  A number in the away end chose to throw them back.  A poor move as one young lad who opened his was soon sporting a “Cult Heroes” shirt with Luther’s face on it.  Although, after that first half, to remind us of the team of the early 80s was rubbing salt in the wound.

Capoue, Doucoure and Amrabat waiting for a Britos throw

Mazzarri was forced into a substitution at the start of the second half bringing Doucouré on to replace Behrami, who had been struggling with an injury.  The first chance of the second half fell to the visitors as Capoue launched a shot from distance over the bar.  Just before the hour mark, there was a frission of excitement in the away end as Amrabat appeared to be getting ready to come on.  The tension mounted and dissenting voices were heard as he was sent on a warm up run down the touchline.  But, finally, he donned a white shirt and entered the field of play in place of Janmaat who had had an absolute mare.  Zaha was lucky to escape a caution as his reaction to being dispossessed by Prödl was to knock the Austrian to the ground.  There was a scare for the Hornets as Britos gave the ball away, not for the first time, Townsend crossed for Zaha but, yet again, the shot was over the bar.  Palace took the lead on 68 minutes.  Due to the sightlines at Selhurst Park when the crowd are standing, I didn’t see either the incident that led to the goal or the strike that beat Gomes, but I am reliably informed that Prödl fouled Zaha (a tactical move that earned him a yellow card), Cabaye took the free kick and, as Deeney attempted to head clear, the ball went in off the post.  So Palace had managed to take the lead in a game in which they hadn’t had a shot on target.

Kaboul

Watford had a great chance to equalize as Doucouré hit a shot from distance that Hennessey just managed to tip around the post for a corner.  At this point Jacque leaned over and suggested a ritual burning of our lucky socks, which had let us down very badly on this occasion.  Mazzarri made another popular substitution bringing on Success, although many around me were questioning why Cleverley had been the man to make way.  My feeling was that Tom had been becoming increasingly frustrated and was a foul away from a second yellow.  Others saw it as a tactical move as he changed the formation.  Anyhow, the next attack came from the home team as Benteke ran half the length of the pitch before sending a dreadful shot well wide of the target.  Palace had a much better chance as Britos lost the ball, again, Cathcart came to the rescue blocking a shot from Zaha, but the rebound reached Cabaye who shot wide.  Another decent chance to equalize came to nothing as Niang did really well to get into the box but, instead of playing a square ball to one of his teammates, opted to cut the ball back to an area populated with Palace defenders.  As the clock reached 90 minutes Doucouré fed Success inside the area, I just wanted one of them to try a shot, but it wasn’t to be as they were smothered by the Palace defence and the ball rolled out for a goal kick.  There was one final chance to grab a point in the last minute of time added on as Hennessey came out to deal with a high cross towards Deeney in the box, he collided with the Watford man, the ball fell to Niang, but his shot just cleared the bar and the points stayed in South London.

Doucoure and Britos

The away crowd had been getting increasingly irate throughout the game and a number of fans gathered at the front of the stand to make their feelings known to the players.  Unfortunately the two who were applauding the crowd when the volley of abuse was aimed their way were Cathcart, who had done pretty well against Zaha, and Prödl, who was also pretty blameless and looked far from impressed at the reception.

It had been an appalling game.  Palace were dreadful and were there for the taking, but we didn’t test them at all.  I had high hopes when both Amrabat and Success came on, but each time I was disappointed.  I was just thankful that, even with a diverted train, it was a fairly easy journey home.  This season is becoming increasingly frustrating.  We have a very talented group of players at our disposal who have no excuses for putting in a lacklustre performance against such a poor side.  We can only be grateful that there are some truly awful teams in this division.  One of those is up next at Vicarage Road.  We have to be expect much better from that game or the post-match threats from some in our party only to turn up for the pre-match pints and forego the actual game may well come to pass.