Having seen my first pre-season game on 5th July, it feels like I’ve already seen a lot of football, so the dawning of the first day of the season seemed less exciting than it should have been. Works on the line around Watford Junction meant that the journey took longer than usual but, on boarding the slow train to Watford at Queens Park, I met the lovely John of Ossett who accompanied me on the rest of my trip. As the West Herts starting filling up with familiar faces, it was lovely to see Curtis from Denver. He’d not managed to see a game last season so as far as he was concerned Vydra had never left. I did warn him that, if we won, he would be our lucky charm and wouldn’t be allowed to go home.
I must admit that I wasn’t convinced when I heard the starting line-up. I was surprised that Dyer wasn’t starting and it seemed risky to start Paredes when he hadn’t participated in pre-season. The starting line-up was Gomes, Angella, Ekstrand, Tamas, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Adbi, Parades, Deeney and Vydra. Usually, the first game of the season sees a lot of people still on holiday so the crowd can be a bit sparse. This was certainly not the case on Saturday as there wasn’t a spare seat to be found in our section. There was a change in the pre-match personnel as Richard Short and Tim Coombs made way for Luther Blissett and Lee Partridge. I’ve seen Luther working in the lounge in the past and it certainly adds an interesting element having a legend interviewing returning players. On Saturday we were treated to Luther wandering up the pitch chatting to Gifton Noel-Williams, a real joy.
The fans in the Rookery were on their feet in the first minute as Deeney unleashed a shot, but we soon sat down again when we realised that it had hit the net from behind. Deeney then found Pudil on the left, but his shot was wide of the far post. After the dreadful performances at the end of last season, it was good to see a bit of fight and team work and I noted an early incident in which Vydra was back in defence fighting for the ball, which made me very happy. Bolton threatened a break but Tamas was on hand to stop them. Parades then tried to escape, but was sent flying. “Welcome to England,” said my neighbour. On 17th minutes, we were a goal up as a Bolton attack was snuffed out and we played a succession of short passes to bring the ball out of defence before Angella went on a run then lofted a pass to Deeney who buried the ball past Lonergan. The Rookery went mental. I was too busy watching the goalscorer but my sister turned with a beaming smile and informed me that Gomes’s celebration was pretty mental too.
Bolton tried to hit back immediately but Gomes came for the ball, gathered it comfortably and, as Medo was in his way, flattened the Bolton player for good measure. No messing. I loved it. A cross from Paredes fell to Pudil whose chip was wide of the target. A chant of “sexy football” started up. That always worries me as it is often a precursor to a fall, so my heart sank when Neil Danns broke into the box but Tamas took the ball off him and was then pushed over for his trouble, so won a free kick and the danger passed. We were two goals to the good soon after as Vydra received a lovely ball over the top from Tözsér, cut back from the bye-line, he nearly went down as he skipped past the defender, but recovered and fired the ball past Lonergan. I am told when asked why he hadn’t gone down under the challenge he replied that if he’d done that Troy would have taken the penalty so he decided to take the chance himself.
We were on fire at this point. Paredes played a ball over the top to Vydra, he passed back to Abdi who fired over the bar. On the half hour, Medo had a shot for Bolton that flew over the bar. That was their first goal attempt of the game. With 10 minutes of the half remaining, Bolton had a free kick in a dangerous position, but the header from Mills bounced into Gomes’s arms. There was a bit of handbags just before half time when Medo wouldn’t give the ball back after being rather harshly penalized for a foul. We had one more chance in the half as Abdi tried a low shot that was straight at Lonergan.
So, the home crowd were very happy indeed at half time. We’d seen two excellent goals, some lovely football and we’d barely given Bolton a sniff of the ball. I am also pleased to report that my concerns at the inclusion of Paredes had been groundless as he had put in a thrilling first half performance. Drawing the 50-50 tickets at half-time were Gifton and Dejon Noel-Williams. With junior currently in our academy, we can only hope that he has his father’s talent and becomes a star of the future.
At the start of the second half, Feeney replaced Pratley for the visitors. Within 30 seconds, Parades had a terrific chance to get a third and I was already jumping for joy when the ball cannoned back off the crossbar. Bolton then won their first corner to loud, ironic cheers from their fans. Spearing had a shot deflected wide and the resulting corner was easily gathered by Gomes.
For the home side, Paredes found Vydra who was tackled, but fought back and regained possession before playing the ball back to Abdi whose shot was deflected for a corner. Abdi threatened again, playing a one-two with McGugan before taking a shot that Lonergan saved. Gomes was really tested for the first time just before the hour as he pushed Feeney’s shot from distance around the post when it was heading for the top corner. Bolton’s second substitution saw Moxey replaced by Dervite. Bolton had had a decent spell, so it was good to see Deeney in shooting position again but he fired the ball straight at Lonergan. At the other end, Lee tried to lob Gomes, but the keeper got his fingertips to it and tipped it over the bar. With 20 minutes to go, Beckford replaced Danns for Bolton and Sannino’s first substitution saw Munari make his debut in place of McGugan. Vydra went on a run and tried to play Deeney in, but his pass was just behind his team mate and the chance was gone. Substitute Beckford was the next to threaten, but he shot in to the side netting.
At this point Vydra left the field to ecstatic applause and was replaced by Forestieri. Fernando was barely on the pitch before he latched on to a ball over the top from Angella and slotted it past Lonergan. I’d been a little nervous that Bolton would get back into the game, so that goal settled my nerves. Bolton again tried an immediate response with a point-blank header from Lee that was pushed out by Gomes. From the corner, Dervite’s header flew over the bar. Sannino’s final substitution saw Dyer coming on for Pudil. Forestieri had another great chance but his enthusiasm got the better of him. He looked like a little puppy as he went scampering after the ball and then tripped over his own feet.
Dyer and Deeney exchanged passes then Troy shot well over the bar when he probably should have passed to Dyer. The last two chances of the game fell to Bolton, but neither troubled Gomes, as first a misplaced header fell to Lee who shot over the crossbar. Then a soft shot from Davies drifted wide of the near post.
The final whistle went to great applause from the home fans. We had been masterful in the first half and, even if Bolton got back into it a bit in the second, it was a convincing win. Even better than that, we had quality all over the pitch. It was a joy to witness. The horror show that was the end of last season is now a distant memory. I’m really trying not to be over-optimistic, but I can’t help feeling that this could be a very exciting season indeed.