The nerves started on Friday night when Norwich played Middlesbrough. If truth be told, a draw would have been the best result, but a Boro win was a decent second option. However, the result of that game was irrelevant if we didn’t win on Saturday.
I have a recurring nightmare in which I am desperately trying to get to a match and events conspire to stop me. The most recent variant of this had me on a train with a load of yobs who had caused delays, and it was clear that I wasn’t going to get to the stadium for kick-off. Thankfully I woke up, remembered that I was driving to the game and was at the West Herts by 12:45. Given the pre-match nerves it was hard to enjoy the gathering, although an unexpected appearance by Toddy was a welcome and delightful distraction.
When I reached Occupation Road, Doreen in the Bill Mainwood hut had sold out of programmes, but I was determined not to see this as a bad omen. Positive thinking was the order of the day. That was certainly the ethos of the 1881 who had ensured that the flags were out in force in the Rookery and, throughout the home areas, it was great to see the sea of yellow.
As on Wednesday there were four changes with Hoban, Paredes, Layun and Vydra replacing Connolly, Anya, Motta and Ighalo. So the starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Cathcart, Angella, Paredes, Layun, Watson, Guedioura, Abdi, Vydra and Deeney. Former Watford youngster Rob Kiernan started for the visitors and the legend that is Robbo was on their bench.
My hope for the game was much the same as on Wednesday. Let us score early and often. We started very brightly with an exchange of passes between Vydra and Guedioura finishing in a shot from Matej that was blocked. Watson found Deeney on the right but Troy’s cross was too long and there was nobody to get on the end of it. It had been all Watford until the 10th minute when Shinnie surged into the box, but Paredes was there to nick the ball off his feet before he could shoot. Watford continued to dominate without mustering a shot on goal worthy of the name and in the 18th minute Birmingham had a free kick on the corner of the box which was headed clear by Hoban. Watford broke forward through Guedioura who fed Deeney, his shot was blocked and the ball fell to Vydra whose shot appeared to hit the roof of the net. There were wild celebrations in the Rookery until we realized that the ball had actually rebounded off the crossbar. Vydra was straight back on the attack but this time his shot was wide of the far post. Then Vydra battled into the box and passed to Abdi who moved the ball on to Guedioura whose shot was blocked. The Algerian had the next goal attempt but his shot from distance was easily caught by Randolph. Just before the half hour Watford had a great chance to take the lead as Vydra found Abdi who advanced into the box but his shot was deflected wide of the far post. Deeney was the next to threaten the Birmingham goal as he latched on to a lovely ball from Guedioura but Randolph was down to block his shot. The visitors threatened briefly with a shot from Donaldson that was straight at Gomes. It was then Deeney’s turn to hit a shot that was easily caught. Deeney’s next shot bounced off a defender for a corner. As we approached the 44th minute, a shot from Gray was deflected wide by Angella. Gomes rose to catch the corner as the applause rang out for Nic Cruwys, and it was very gratifying at that point to see the Birmingham fans joining in.
So at half time we were drawing, Bournemouth were a goal down to Sheffield Wednesday and we were reflecting that we had had all the possession, were playing some lovely football, but there was no end product. However, more of the same and we would surely make the breakthrough.
Early in the second half, a forward run by Vydra was stopped when he was pushed over on the edge of the area, but the referee gave nothing. The first goal chance of the second period fell to the visitors as Donaldson beat Angella and unleashed a shot which Gomes parried. Jokanovic decided to make an early double substitution replacing Layun and Vydra with Anya and Ighalo. It turned out to be an inspired move as Deeney passed to Anya on the overlap and his cross was met with a scissor kick volley by Cathcart to put Watford into the lead. The celebrations in the stands were massive. After the goal the Rookery had a bounce and it was lovely to see fellow bouncers in the SEJ stand, but I was amazed to see some in the Upper GT. Unprecedented behaviour that will surely lead to season tickets being rescinded. The first caution of the game went to Birmingham’s Grounds for a foul on Deeney. Watford had a great chance to increase their lead as Angella came running in to connect with an Abdi free kick.
Gabriele ended up in the net but, sadly, his header cleared the bar. Then Anya ran down the left wing and cut into the box but his shot was wide of the near post. Goalscorer Cathcart was the next to see yellow as he hacked Gray down on the wing. Deeney benefited from a ball rebounding off the referee, he found Guedioura who fed Anya whose shot was blocked, although it would have gone wide anyway. Deeney then tried a shot from distance that was deflected wide. Angella had another great goal attempt from an Abdi corner, this time his header was on target and had to be cleared off the line. Guedioura broke into the Birmingham box, but his shot was blocked for a corner. Deeney ran onto a through ball and his shot hit the angle of the crossbar and post but the flag was up for offside. Anya was taken down on the side of the penalty area. The free kick was from an acute angle and pushed clear by Randolph. At the other end, a Birmingham free-kick was headed wide by Kiernan. Jokanovic made a final change late bringing Tözsér on for Abdi. Into time added on, the Watford crowd were singing their hearts out, encouraging their team on to the win.
At the final whistle there were tremendous celebrations, but they were slightly tinged with disappointment at the news filtering through that Bournemouth had come from behind to win. All the same, as the team did their tour of the stands to thank the crowd, the Rookery was still packed with fans waving flags and chanting. Promotion was now in our own hands. When the players had all left the pitch we made our way into the concourse. As we waited for my brother-in-law, the TV was showing the Sky Sports reporter at the Goldsands giving what I assumed was the round-up of the game. Then Nigel appeared and informed us that Sheffield Wednesday had won a penalty and the picture on the screen took on a different significance. There was a group of fans celebrating behind the reporter and I could have sworn that their shirts were red but then the word ‘goal’ appeared on the screen and the celebration in the Rookery concourse was probably more mental than that at the game itself. There was an agonizing wait for the final whistle but, at last, the final score was confirmed sparking another manic celebration in the concourse.
As we made our way up Occupation Road, the sun shining down was nothing like as bright as the huge smiles of the Watford faithful. It is all in our hands now. Two wins and we go up as champions.
In a pre-match interview, Troy Deeney was asked about pressure, “You could be struggling to pay your bills or playing a game of football. To win one game of football. That’s not pressure, that is enjoyment.” Well said that man. Two more wins and he’ll be a title-winning captain. I just hope my nerves can take it.