Yesterday was a very sad day for me as I handed the Supporter of the Season shield back to the club ready to be engraved with the name of this year’s winner. I have to admit that I had it sitting on my desk at work all day, just to eke out the final moments with it in my possession.
Team news was that Beppe had made four changes from Saturday’s team, the most significant of which was Abdi’s first start since August. The announcement of Almen’s involvement was greeted with loud cheers from the Vicarage Road crowd. The starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Riera, Tözsér, Abdi, Murray, Faraoni, Anya and Deeney. The Leeds line-up included the evil Poleon, whose actions last season in causing Bond’s injury cast a pall over the last game of the season. But, as always, it was lovely to see Watford legend Nigel Gibbs back at Vicarage Road, even if it pains me to see him with that crest on his chest.
Watford started brightly and, in the third minute, Anya released Abdi on the left, he crossed for Faraoni whose shot was blocked. Anya then received a pass from Deeney on the edge of the box, but was taken out by a sliding tackle. We were a goal up after 8 minutes as Abdi played a lovely ball to Anya on the left wing, he advanced and crossed and there was Abdi to head the ball past Butland. It was a lovely goal, made all the more enjoyable by the identity of the goalscorer. It is great to have Almen back. For the next twenty minutes, Leeds had a lot of possession but were not allowed to do anything with it. Then Marco Cassetti executed a high tackle on Tonge and found his way into the referee’s book just in time to earn himself a suspension for his tenth caution of the season. Just before the half hour, Deeney played a lovely through ball to Anya, but the Scot got the ball caught under his feet and the defence got back to thwart him. Then McCormack saw Almunia off his line and launched an audacious shot from the halfway line that had the Watford keeper back-pedalling to get
behind it. We went two goals up as Anya played a short pass to the overlapping Riera, his low cross reached Murray who played it short to Faraoni whose cross back to the far post was met with a header from Anya that flew past Butland. Watford attacked again as Deeney released Murray who advanced before playing a through ball to Faraoni but his shot was put out for a corner. At half time, there was satisfaction that we were comfortably two goals ahead. Leeds had had a lot of possession, but our defence had restricted their shooting opportunities so that the only shot that Almunia had to deal with was a punt from the half-way line.
Leeds were immediately on the attack at the start of the second half as Riera lost out to Poleon who played a through ball to Hunt whose shot was wide of the near post and bounced behind the goal. Deeney played a ball over to Anya but he was tripped by Wootton, who was booked. Then Murray played a lovely ball to Deeney in the box, but Butland came out to block. The clearance eventually reached Tözsér who, with shouts of “shoooot” ringing in his ears, curled a shot just wide of the target. Then Riera intercepted the ball, it reached Deeney who tried to release Anya, but the pass was too far in front of him. At the other end, a low shot from the substitute, Stewart, was straight at Almunia. On the hour mark, Faraoni put the ball out to allow McCormack to receive treatment and was rewarded with a kick from Hunt, who was lucky to escape with a yellow card. Hunt was involved in the next attack but his header from a free kick was straight at
Almunia. Watford’s third goal was a testament to the persistence of two men. First Abdi intercepted and then battled a defender to keep the ball, he passed to Deeney who went past a couple of defenders in the box, while never appearing to have control of the ball, before hitting a shot from an acute angle that hit the roof of the net. By way of celebration, he leapt into the Rookery and was engulfed in the celebrating crowd. When he emerged he was given a yellow card. Then Anya beat a defender and cut the ball back to Deeney who tried to find his strike partner with a through ball, but Butland was first to it. Poleon tried a shot at Almunia, which was parried, and, when he lined up to shoot from the rebound, he was tackled and Watford launched a counter attack which finished with Anya playing a square ball to Deeney who looked certain to score but Butland stood tall
and blocked his shot. At the other end, Warnock tried a shot that was well over the bar. In the last ten minutes, both sides made substitutions as White replaced McCormack for Leeds and McGugan and Pudil came on for Abdi and Riera. McGugan’s first action was to latch on to a throw-in and hit a cross that was blocked by Pearce with no little pain for the defender. Leeds then put themselves into trouble as a corner bounced off the back of Tonge’s thigh and needed an intervention from Butland to prevent them from going further behind. Merkel replaced Murray for the last couple of minutes of the game, but there was no subsequent action of note.
At the final whistle, there was a feeling of job done by the home team against an opposition that had had a lot of possession but were very poor. But, sometimes, you have to give credit to a team in that situation. I was impressed with the performance as, despite their possession, the Leeds players were allowed no time on the ball to create anything and never really threatened Almunia. A feature after the final whistle of recent games has been the rage that Angella demonstrates when we underachieve, so it was nice to see him celebrating with his team mates rather than them running from his fury.
After the players had been applauded off the pitch, Cristian Battocchio made his way on crutches along the front of the Rookery and was greeted with warm applause and the faithful chanting his name. Despite his injury, he was smiling broadly as he acknowledged the crowd.
On the way out of the ground, I went to meet Don Fraser in the Lower Rous. During the game, he had been joined by Richard Johnson, a corporate guest for the game, who chose to watch from the disabled platform rather than the posh seats in the Upper Rous. As we left through the lounge, I greeted Johnno, although I wasn’t sure that he could hear me after 90 minutes of listening to Don barracking the referee. As we left through the hospitality entrance, there was a bloke surrounded by a crowd of people having photographs taken with him. I assumed he was a retired footballer and that I would kick myself when I found out who he was. Then I read the report of the game on the BBC website and saw a photograph of Massimo Cellino and the penny dropped. Although why on earth anyone would want to have their picture taken with him completely baffles me.