Tag Archives: Michy Batshuayi

Ben Foster Almost a Hero in Both Boxes

Daryl Janmaat

Our games this season have been mostly Saturday 3pm kick-offs, which has been a bit of a relief, but the visit of Chelsea meant an evening game and the stress that change to the matchday routine causes.  Having a commitment in Hertfordshire on Sunday meant that I decided to drive to Watford and stay over after the game.  This meant that I was leaving home horribly late for a matchday and arriving in Watford around normal kick-off time.  Thankfully, I arrived to very light traffic so knew that I hadn’t made a mistake.  I arrived at the West Herts just as Don was leaving for the ground so got to say Hello and congratulate him on his appearance in the club’s anti hate crime video which I had only caught up with this week.  Our usual crowd were depleted, but Elaine was there having been forced to take a detour for some Christmas shopping when she was alerted to the late kick-off, the news of which had passed her by.

We left the West Herts a bit later than was comfortable so, despite my recurring thought that I should really stay in the pub, I was rushing so that I wouldn’t miss kick-off.  We arrived in Vicarage Road to be greeted with a number of touts and one merchandise stand that had exclusively Chelsea scarves and tat, which irritated me immensely.

Our complaints about the leak in the Rookery roof had led to us being relocated for this game, so we headed for the SEJ stand where our seats were in the area where the players’ families are usually located.  My sister’s opinion when I arrived was, “The view is great, but it is a bit touristy.”

Ben Foster takes a goal kick

Team news was that Quique had made only the one enforced change from the Bournemouth game with Gray replacing the injured Cleverley.  Masina retained his place with Holebas left on the bench.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Kabasele, Dawson, Cathcart; Masina, Chalobah, Doucouré, Janmaat; Pereyra, Deulofeu; Gray.  There appeared to be a change in shape with Pereyra and Deulofeu playing behind Gray who was in the lone striker role.

Prior to kick-off, there was a minute’s silence to remember the fallen as this was the nearest home game to Remembrance Day.

The game did not start well for the Hornets as, in the fifth minute, Jorginho played a lovely defence-splitting pass to Abraham who ran on and finished past Foster.  There was a cheer from a lad sitting behind us, which irritated me immensely, and then Abraham slid to celebrate in front of us and I was moved to suggest to him that he celebrated somewhere else (I’m paraphrasing here).  It was not the start that we wanted or needed.  Chelsea had another chance soon after with a free kick from Mount that flew over the bar.  Ten minutes into the game, after it had been clear for a while that Cathcart was struggling, he went down needing treatment.  It was a concerning sight.

Mariappa takes a throw-in

Watford’s first goal attempt came on 14 minutes when a ball rebounded to Pereyra, he unleashed a shot but Kepa, in the Chelsea goal, was equal to it.  Abraham had a chance to increase Chelsea’s lead after a shot from Mount was deflected into his path, but this time Foster made a great save from close range.  From a corner Pulisic was left alone and Foster made a brilliant save to tip the header wide.  Twenty minutes into the game, Cathcart was unable to continue and was replaced with Mariappa.  This is the fourth game in a row that we have been forced into an early change.  There was a rare Watford attack as Janmaat released Gray, but Tomori made a tackle to stop the shot.  Then Chalobah tried a shot from distance, but, again, Tomori was on hand this time making a headed clearance.  On 38 minutes, the Hornets had a great chance to grab an equaliser as, from a corner, the ball was played out to Deulofeu who hit a lovely shot that curled just wide of the far post.  The Hornets had another late chance in the half with a shot from Doucouré which was blocked.  At the other end, Foster prevented the visitors extending their lead before half time as he tipped a shot from Mount onto the crossbar.

Steve Sherwood, the half time guest

So, despite going behind so early, we reached half time only a goal down thanks to some heroics from Foster.  It was also encouraging to note that the attacking play had been a little more promising late in the half.  The first half time interview was with a Kenyan Maasai warrior.  I missed the start, so I am not sure what the context was and why he was a Watford fan, but it was lovely to see him wearing our colours.  Then we were promised a Watford legend.  I saw this guy being escorted round and tried to work out when he had played for us.  I couldn’t put a name to the face and realised why when he was introduced as being from American Airlines, who are a new partner for the club.  He was there to meet a fan who had won two free tickets to any destination in the US.  It turned out that she and her husband were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary, so it was a timely treat.  Finally, I spotted Steve Sherwood coming past us, and all was right with my world.  He is a proper legend.

 

Nathaniel Chalobah

The second half started with a caution for Kabasele for a foul on Emerson.  The Hornets also had the first chance of the half as Deulofeu sped into the Chelsea area and squared for Gray whose shot was blocked.  I was then more than a little distracted as Seb Prödl had appeared and taken a seat behind us for the second half.  How on earth was I supposed to concentrate on the game?  The visitors threatened again as Willian broke forward and squared for Mount whose powerful shot drew a decent save from Foster.  Chelsea scored their second goal ten minutes into the half, a through ball released Abraham who cut the ball back to Pulisic who finished from six yards out.  It was a simple goal and a frustrating one.  The visitors had a chance to increase their lead further as Pulisic had a shot across goal, but Foster was able to get a foot to it to keep it out.  Then a cross from Azpilicueta was cleared to Kovacic whose shot was straight at Foster.  Chelsea should have had a third when a cross-cum-shot from Kovacic reached Abraham, but he was unable to turn it in.  Watford made their second substitution half-way through the second half bringing Hughes on in place of Chalobah.  Nate tried to head straight for the dugout, but the referee indicated that he should leave the field on the GT side of the ground.  This had the benefit (for him) of sending him past the Chelsea fans who greeted him with warm applause.

Deulofeu waits to take the penalty

Janmaat was booked for a foul on Pulisic before putting a cross over for Hughes whose header had no power and was easily dealt with by Kepa.  Chelsea had another decent chance with a shot from Mount, but Foster dropped to make the save.  When the board went up for Watford’s final substitution indicating that Janmaat was to make way for Femenía, boos rang out through Vicarage Road.  The boos stopped long enough for Janmaat to be cheered as he left the field, but started again as Femenía was introduced, and Quique was serenaded with “You don’t know what you’re doing.”  The boos were clearly born of frustration at Quique swapping full backs when we were two goals down and Success was sitting on the bench.  Even so, it seemed unfair on Femenía as he took the brunt of the boos.  There was then an extraordinary occurrence.  Deulofeu broke into the box, was challenged and the ball went just the wrong side of the post.  The referee indicated a goal kick, while we were shouting for a corner.  Then it became apparent that the referee was checking with the VAR.  Surely VAR don’t make decisions regarding corners.  Then it came up on the big screen “VAR checking penalty”.  I took this with a pinch of salt as there was no way that it would be awarded to us.  The decision took an age to come through and finally, the big screen announced the penalty and the referee pointed to the spot.  It turned out that Jorginho was adjudged to have tripped Geri as he tried to take the shot.  Having seen footage of it, there was contact, but it was nowhere near as clear cut as the challenge at Spurs which wasn’t given.  There was disbelief around us.  “We only wanted a corner.”  Deulofeu stepped up but had to wait an age to take it as Azpilicueta continued to argue with the ref.  When Geri finally got the chance to take the shot, he sent the keeper the wrong way and, suddenly and unexpectedly, Watford were back in the game.

No time to celebrate, Deulofeu returns the ball for the restart

The next booking for the Hornets went to Dawson for a robust challenge on Emerson.  It looked like a decent tackle to win the ball, but the man went down due to the challenge and those tackles are sadly no longer permitted.  Lampard made his first change bringing Hudson-Odoi on for Pulisic.  Watford were looking to draw level when Masina tried a shot from distance, but it was nowhere near the target.  With two minutes left on the clock, Batshuayi replaced Abraham.  He has scored every time he has faced the Hornets, so Mariappa was taking no chances and was booked for pulling him back.  The visitors won a late free kick, which Jorginho delayed until the referee cautioned him for time wasting.  Batshuayi was determined to maintain his goal scoring record against the Hornets so went on a dangerous run but his shot was blocked by Masina.  Pleasingly, Watford were continuing to attack, the next chance came from Doucouré who went on a run and took an early shot, but it was blocked.  Doucouré had another chance when he met a cross from Deulofeu, but his header was blocked.  Chelsea made their last substitution in time added on as James came on for Willian who dawdled off the field.  Watford had a couple of late chances to snatch a point.  First, Masina met a cross from Femenía with a header that flew wide of the near post.  Then, in the last minute of the game, Doucouré was fouled by Mount, who was booked for his trouble.  Foster came up for the free kick.  Deulofeu’s delivery was flicked on by Doucouré and we were all on our feet as Foster’s diving header looked to have won us a point, but Kepa managed to keep it out and the final whistle went on another defeat for the Hornets.

Gathering to defend a set piece

We headed back to the West Herts for a post-match drink where we were joined by a colleague of Jacque’s who is a Chelsea fan and was quite complimentary about the Hornets.  I have to say that it was a much better performance than midweek, but we are still far too weak up front.  I have my doubts about whether Success is the answer, but at least it would have shown some attacking intent to have brought him on late in the game.  Instead, Gray struggled again.  However, I have to say that Foster’s late header meant I left Vicarage Road with a huge smile on my face.

While we didn’t expect anything from this game, as the current Chelsea team are playing rather well, the wait for a win is becoming increasingly concerning.  We are not cut adrift yet, but we desperately need a win to kick start our season before it is too late.  We now have a run of games from which we should be expected to pick up some points, starting with the trip to Carrow Road on Friday.  It is the birthday of Amy, one of the Norfolk ‘Orns, next weekend, so they will be out in force.  It promises to get very messy off the pitch, we can only hope that the lads on the pitch give her a birthday to remember (in a good way).

Heurelho Helps Us to Wembley

The GT Stand before the game

I had to travel to the US for work again this week.  Leaving after the City game and returning on Thursday morning, meant I didn’t have too much time to prepare for this match.  The crucial thing was not forgetting the paper ticket that had been sent out.  This was taken with me to the US as I was scared that jet-leg would lead to me leaving it in a drawer.

Due to the early kick-off, I decided to stay in London overnight on Friday.  On waking, and before I had really had time to think about my plans for the day, the nerves had already kicked in.  I caught the 9:24 from Euston to Watford and settled down with a coffee while noting that others on the train had already started on the beer.  Contemplating which podcast should accompany me, I decided to have another listen to the previous week’s From the Rookery End.  If I needed any more inspiration for the day, the rallying cry from the Parkin men, Mike and Arlo, certainly did the job.  As I passed Wembley on the train, I stared at the arch.  The new stadium hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for us, but that has to change one of these days and I wanted the chance to return (although I wish it wasn’t for a semi-final, those should be at Villa Park).  When the train emptied at the Junction, as it often does, it made a nice change to see that those disembarking were fans of football rather than Harry Potter.

Heurelho Gomes

I reached the West Herts a few minutes before the doors were due to open at 10 and there was already quite a crowd waiting.  When the doors opened, we took up position at ‘our’ table and were soon enjoying a pint and a bacon roll.  Breakfast of Champions.

Just to spite us, the clock there was running 30 minutes slow, but we noticed early enough to ensure that we left in plenty of time.  As we walked along Vicarage Road among the crowds, the anticipation built.  I noted that Wolfie had already sold out of programmes and hoped that my usual lady still had some left when I entered the ground (she did).  As we turned the corner into Occupation Road, I glanced over at the statue and knew that I had to greet GT.  I went over and took his hand, knowing that today would be a day he would have savoured.

The 1881 had put incredible efforts into making sure that there would be a tremendous atmosphere.  When we took our seats, the ground was already full of people waving flags.  The big screen was showing footage of earlier quarter-finals.  I enjoyed watching John Barnes lobbing Tony Coton in 1984, but it is the Arsenal game in 1987 that always comes to mind.  I loved that day out at Highbury.

Jose Holebas on the ball

The Palace fans had been given their required allocation, no more, no less.  Due to problems with segregation in the Vicarage Road end, this meant that the Palace fans were housed in two blocks in the stand with a netting area between them and a banner wishing the Hindu community Happy Holi India for their festival on Thursday this week.  It was an odd sight and one that had infuriated the visiting fans.

Team news was that Gracia had chosen what most would consider to be his strongest team with the exception of Gomes coming in for Foster for what would probably be his last game at Vicarage Road.  What a game to go out on.  It was interesting that Femenía had been chosen in place of Janmaat, who had done well recently.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.  The major news for Palace was that Zaha would miss the game through injury.  While he is undoubtedly a very talented player, he often seems to go missing.  So I wasn’t sure that his absence would have a major effect on the game, although it may have changed Harry Hornet’s game plan.  Of course, the lovely Ray Lew was back at Vicarage Road in the opposition dug out.  He managed us through times of penury, but still took us to an FA Cup semi-final.  He will always be a legend to me for that.

As the teams came out, the flags waved in the home stands, there were streamers and the Legends banner was unfurled from the Upper GT stand, meaning that Nigel Gibbs found himself sitting under his picture.  That had to be a good omen.

Doucoure and Pereyra

My niece, Maddie, had enjoyed the Leicester game so much that she made a late decision to come to this one.  Her seat was in a part of the Rookery away from the rest of us, but she hung around just in case one of the seats in our section remained unoccupied.  That didn’t happen, but the crowd in the Rookery forgot to sit down, so the extra person in our row was not apparent and we were able to enjoy the match together.

The game kicked off and the Rookery were in good voice singing “Is that all you take away” to the Palace fans, before launching into “Heurelho Gomes baby” for our veteran keeper.  He was in action early in the game as the first goal chance fell to the visitors as Townsend played the ball back to Milivojevic whose shot was saved by Gomes, although it was off target anyway.  Watford’s first action of note came from a free kick, Holebas floated it into the box where McArthur took Hughes down, but the referee. Kevin Friend, waved away our appeals for a penalty.  After a quarter of an hour, there was a break in play as the players burst a number of red and blue balloons that were invading the pitch in the corner in front of the Family Stand.  Having found a pitchfork somewhere, Harry joined in with some enthusiasm.

Capoue giving thanks for his goal

Watford’s first chance of the game came as Deulofeu burst into the box and shot from a narrow angle, but the Palace keeper, Guaita, stood tall and blocked the shot.  Palace won a free kick in a dangerous position, but Gomes rose to make a comfortable catch.  Watford then had a spell when they were in and around the Palace box, but couldn’t fashion a shot on target.  Instead we won a series of corners and, as each one was repelled, I hoped that we wouldn’t regret missing those chances.  Then, from yet another corner, the ball fell to Capoue and he knocked it into the net to send us all crazy.  Just what we needed to settle the nerves a bit.  The Hornets could have had a second as Deulofeu advanced into the box and hit a gorgeous shot but Guaita did brilliantly to get a hand to it and keep it out.  The first booking of the game went to Milivojevic for a foul on Hughes.  Watford had another great chance to increase their lead as Deulofeu hit a free kick over the wall, but Guaita was down to make the save.  Palace made a rare foray into the Watford half as Townsend broke forward, but was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Holebas who was injured in the process.  Thankfully, he was able to continue after treatment.  Palace had a chance to equalise just before half time as Wan-Bissaka chipped the ball to Meyer but the shot was weak and easily gathered by Gomes.  The visitors had one last attack in time added on but Deulofeu was back to make a superb tackle on McArthur and avert the danger.  An unexpected and very welcome showing in defence from young Gerry.

Holebas and Pereyra line up a free kick

So we went into half time in a deserved lead.  It had been a dominant performance from the Hornets, who were not giving their opponents any space to play.  We should really have been further ahead, but I was happy with what I had seen.

Half time and the first talking point was a hornet onesie that was being worn by a woman in the Rookery.  It was an interesting fashion choice.  Back to the official entertainment and the special guest was Tommy Smith who was asked about his appearances in previous cup quarter finals.   His goal from the game against Burnley was shown, I couldn’t help remembering that Ray Lew then left him out for the semi-final after Chopra’s heroics in another game against Burnley.  Tommy had also played in the game against Plymouth in 2007 (as had Mariappa).  I had forgotten that game, until he mentioned it.  It was truly dire.

 

A tremendous showing by Femenia

Watford had to make a substitution at the break as Holebas was unable to continue, so was replaced by Masina.  The Hornets had the first attack of the second half as a poor goal kick from Gomes was rescued and flicked on to Deulofeu who put in a decent cross, but nobody was on hand to connect with it.  Then a Palace corner was flicked goalwards by Meyer, but Gomes pulled off an excellent save to deny him.  Masina was booked after taking Meyer down soon after executing another robust challenge.  Townsend took the free kick and it was on target, but Gomes tipped it over the bar.  Batshuayi should have done better when he received a ball from Schlupp, but he knocked it wide of the near post.  He did much better soon after as Mariappa dwelled on the ball instead of clearing it, the Palace man nipped in to dispossess him and shoot across Gomes into the opposite corner to draw the game level.  It was a howler from Mariappa, who would have been devastated given his history at Palace.  At this point, the nerves set in with a vengeance again.  Surely Palace wouldn’t snatch this from us.  Watford had a chance to regain their lead as Deeney played the ball back to Deulofeu but his shot was straight at the keeper.  The Hornets had another great chance as Guaita punched a cross from Masina only as far as Pereyra, his shot was saved but Doucouré could only put the follow-up over the bar.

Deep in conversation after Gray’s goal

Gracia then made his first unforced substitution bringing Gray on for Hughes.  I dare not say it out loud, but my mind was screaming “super sub!”  A lovely exchange of passes deserved a better finish than a cross from Doucouré that was too heavy and went out for a goal kick.  The second goal for the Hornets was a thing of beauty as Pereyra dinked a ball over to Gray who finished past Guaita sending the Watford fans crazy again and also giving us the opportunity to see a Gomes celebration in front of the Rookery for what may well be the last time.  With 10 minutes remaining, I was hoping that we would hold on, but the visitors then won a free kick in a dangerous position.  I held my breath as Milivojevic stepped up to take it, my joyous shout of “into the wall” may have been stating the obvious but it indicated my profound relief.  Hodgson made a substitution at this point, replacing McArthur with Benteke.  Watford could have grabbed a third, but Deeney’s powerful shot was parried by Guaita and Wan-Bissaka managed to clear as Deulofeu closed in on the rebound.  The Hornets had another great chance as Cathcart met a corner with a header that was cleared off the line by Milivojevic.  Gracia made his final change bringing Cleverly on for Deulofeu who left the field to an ovation and some laughter as, when the referee went over to tell him to speed up his departure from the pitch, he innocently turned and shook his hand.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, the visitors had a chance to take the game into extra time when a corner reached Tomkins, who seemed to be taken by surprise and turned it wide of the near post.  Late into time added on and the visitors really should have been level as the ball fell to Wan-Bissaka and we watched despairingly as his shot appeared to be heading for the opposite corner before rolling wide.  I noted something in my notebook at this point, but my hand was shaking so much that it is totally illegible.  When the whistle went to confirm our place in the semi-final, Vicarage Road erupted with joy.

Harry Hornet in his Superman cape

I was distracted at the sight of Harry Hornet running on wearing a Superman style cape, so missed the moment when Gracia warmly embraced Gomes.  The keeper was then hugged by Deeney and it was apparent that he was in tears.  The crowd were cheering him on and he was very emotional in his response.  It was lovely to see the mutual respect between the player and the crowd.  Finally, as he always used to, he brought his sons on to the pitch to enjoy the applause with him.  While this was going on, the tannoy had Que Sera Sera playing and the Watford crowd were singing along with gusto.  It was all fabulous.

Normally we stay to applaud the last player off the pitch, so the stands are empty by the time we leave (everyone is in Occupation Road).  It is a mark of how much this win meant that when the pitch emptied the stand was still full and, for the first time in years, we had to wait to leave our row.

As we reached the Hornet shop we noticed that they already had t-shirts commemorating the semi-final in the window.  Being a sucker for that sort of thing, we all went in and bought the shirts.  Then came out and had a family photo with GT.

A family photo with GT

When I finally got back to the West Herts, my group were happily sitting outside celebrating the victory.  It is hard to analyse a game when the result is all that counts, but it had been a great performance from the Hornets and the win was well deserved.  Deeney may not have scored, but he had put in a great Captain’s performance which was noted by us all.  I have to say that I had almost forgotten how good Femenía is, he had a tremendous game and certainly justified his inclusion.  While enjoying our celebratory beers, I had a quick read of the BBC online match report and was a little taken aback to see a comment to the effect that the win mean that we had reached “only” our sixth semi-final.  Actually it is our seventh, but we are a small town club and to have reached seven semi-finals is actually a tremendous achievement.  I am still pinching myself.

When I finally decided to head for home, the walk through the town centre to the station was to the sound of Watford fans singing Que Sera Sera.  It was a lovely feeling.

The draw for the semi-final took place when I was in the car driving home this afternoon.  When Alan Green announced that Watford were playing Wolves, I screamed with relief.  They will not be easy opponents, they are a very good side.  But at least we go into the game knowing that it is winnable and that is all that you can ask at this stage.  Troy has been on the losing side in a previous semi-final at Wembley and he will certainly not want to repeat that experience.  It should be a great day out.

I am still buzzing after that win.  Over the past 40 years, I have many wonderful days following the Hornets, but also some very miserable ones.  We go week in, week out, sometimes travelling a long distance to see our team badly beaten, but days like this make it all worthwhile.  There is a tremendous spirit around the club at the moment, so I hope that we can sell out our allocation and roar the boys on to a cup final.  That would be a fitting end to what has been a wonderful season.

Robbery at the Bridge

Toddy’s bunting

Toddy’s funeral took place on Wednesday.  It has to be said that his family and many friends gave him a magnificent send off and it was fitting that the wake was held in the Captain’s bar at Vicarage Road.  The help given to Toddy’s family by his friends at the club, especially Dave Messenger, has been outstanding and a testament to what he meant to the people there.

Due to some friends travelling in to London from distance and arriving early, I made a late choice to find a pre-match establishment in which to meet up.  So I found myself at 9:50 with a group of other Hornets waiting for the pub to open.  When we were finally admitted, it was only to find that they were not serving beer until 11.  However, the breakfast menu looked good, so I decided to have a coffee and something to eat.  I must say that smoked salmon, avocado and scrambled eggs is not my usual pre-match meal, but it was very nice indeed.  I then headed to another pub (for beer) and met some of our party at the bar.  It was a good crowd that gathered before kick-off, and rather lovely to be joined by Watford’s matchday announcers, Tim Coombs and Emma Saunders, travelling as fans for the day along with Emma’s Watford supporting family.

Gathering for a corner

Despite the weather warnings that had come due to Storm Brian (what sort of name is Brian for a storm?) it was a pleasant walk to the ground.  We saw signs for the Upper Shed so passed through security (a cursory look in my bag) only to find that we were at the entrance to the home section of the ground.  When we reached the away entrance, the security was considerably stiffer.  We had to negotiate repeating phalanxes of stewards before the final search.  I pointed out to the woman searching me that a physical search had not been deemed necessary at the home end, but she was having none of it.  I wonder if they ever find anything (apart from Mike’s Swiss Army knife).

To the seats and Dave M had secured a cracking view for the City Orns and was kindly sitting at the end of our row to keep an eye on us. Team news was just one change from the Arsenal game with Deeney, who had done so well after coming on as substitute, replacing Gray.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Kabasele, Britos; Femenía, Cleverley, Doucouré, Holebas; Pereyra, Deeney, Richarlison.

Holebas takes a free kick

After the recent runs of form for both Watford and Chelsea, we travelled to Stamford Bridge in an uncharacteristically positive mood.  But disaster struck after 12 minutes.  The ball clearly went out for a goal kick to the visitors, but the lino wasn’t paying attention.  He hesitated before making the decision, decided to take the advice of the Chelsea fans sitting behind him and awarded a corner. The delivery was taken short and found its way to Pedro who powered in off the far post, much to the anger of the travelling Hornets who let the linesman know exactly what they thought of him.  As did Jose Holebas, who was booked for his trouble.  The home side should have been two goals ahead side soon after as Fàbregas found himself in space with only Gomes to beat, but he tried to chip the keeper who reached up a hand and snuffed out the danger.  There was then a booking for either side, Mariappa for a foul on Hazard and Rüdiger for tripping Richarlison.  Both fouls looked rather soft.  Chelsea then had a couple of half chances.  Pedro tried a shot from distance that flew just wide of the far post.  Then David Luiz tried another shot from distance, but it was straight at Gomes.

Doucoure haring down the pitch to celebrate with the Watford fans

Watford came into the game on the half hour when Cleverley curled a free-kick over the wall and Courtois had to be smart to push the shot wide of the target.  Richarlison then threatened for the first time, firing over from outside the area.  The Brazilian then exchanged passes with Doucouré before shooting straight at Courtois.  At the other end, Luiz tried a shot from outside the area, but Gomes pushed the ball clear.  In time added on at the end of the half, Watford won a thrown-in in line with the penalty box.  I couldn’t believe that the players were taking so much time to take it.  First Femenía left the ball for Holebas, who took his time finding his space, he even had an aborted run-up.  I was sure that he had delayed too long and the ref would blow for half time as soon as he released the ball.  But he didn’t, it dropped for Doucouré, who fired past Courtois and the Hornets were level on the stroke of half time.  Gomes did his usual goal celebration in front of the Watford fans and Doucouré ran the length of the pitch to celebrate with us.

So it was honours even at half time, which was certainly no more than Watford deserved.

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal

Chelsea had a great chance to strike back at the start of the second half, but Mariappa was on hand to turn Azpilicueta’s cross over the bar from close range.  Then Femenía crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked allowing Chelsea to break and Pedro to send a shot from distance wide of the target.  Richarlison had a great chance to put Watford into the lead as he received a cross from Femenía, but he was a bit off balance and hit it with his left foot so it flew wide.  Had he been able to get it on to his other foot, it would have been in the net.  But the Hornets weren’t to be denied for long as a fantastic move finished with Richarlison finding Pereyra in space and he didn’t miss.  This time, the players were able to celebrate right in front of us before running to the dug-out and celebrating with the manager and the subs (and Pereyra with the medical staff).  It should have been 3-1 soon afterwards as Britos crossed for Richarlison, but the Brazilian headed just wide.  There was another booking for the home side as Morata was cautioned for a foul on Kabasele before being replaced with Batshuayi.  Sadly, Pereyra’s day was over soon after, as he took a knock winning a corner and had to be replaced by Carrillo.  The referee, who had done us no favours all afternoon allowed the corner to be taken before Carrillo came on.  The substitute made an early impression as he received a pass from Deeney before cutting back to Richarlison whose shot was deflected wide.  The home side made another substitution replacing Alonso with Willian.

A corner at the Shed end

With 20 minutes to go, and completely against the run of play, the home side levelled as Pedro crossed for Batshuayi to head past Gomes.  Watford looked to strike back as a Cleverley free-kick was met by the head of Kabasele who, sadly, directed the ball straight at the keeper.  The visitors then had another chance, this time from a corner but, again, Richarlison headed wide.  With 10 minutes to go Silva made rather an odd substitution replacing Deeney with Watson.  Chelsea had a great chance with a low free kick that reached Batshuayi who tuned it over the bar.  At the other end, Femenía’s cross was headed wide by Kabasele.  But it was the home side who took the lead as a cross from Willian reached Azpilicueta who headed home.  My reaction at the time was that this was a travesty.  The Chelsea fans started singing “That’s why we’re Champions’ which did make me laugh.  The arrogance, when they should have been somewhat shame-faced.  Silva made one last roll of the dice replacing Mariappa with Gray.  But it was Chelsea that made the further breakthrough.  There was time wasting both on and off the pitch as the ball was caught by an idiot in the crowd who decided to hold on to it, while Gomes waited for it to be returned.  There were two stewards within feet of the fool, but neither of them moved to allow the game to continue.  But more important for the outcome of the game was a moment of madness on the pitch as Britos dallied with the ball on the edge of the Watford area, then gave it away allowing Batshuayi to advance and score Chelsea’s fourth.  A scoreline that was extremely flattering to the home side.

Cleverley lines up a free kick

I was furious at the end of the game.  But we had been our own worst enemies.  In this division you cannot expect to win games if you don’t take your chances.  Watford missed some sitters, while Chelsea were clinical.

But, what the hell, there have been enough occasions in recent years when I have left Stamford Bridge fuming because we had been humiliated.  On this occasion, we were easily the equal of the home side and deserved at least a point.

When we were promoted, I really didn’t believe that we would find ourselves in such a position.  We are sixth in the table on merit, having already played 4 of the “top 6” and only been second best to Manchester City.  So I will continue to enjoy the football whether we win or lose and marvel at what a great team we are currently watching.

Disappointing Defeat to the Blues

 

The new Hornet Shop

The new Hornet Shop

On Friday night I had a date with Chekhov at the National Theatre.  After taking my seat, I turned around to see Watford director Stuart Timperley sitting in the row behind me.  Two of my passions collided as we had a chat about the play that we were seeing as well as the Southampton game and our prospects for Saturday.

I arrived early at the West Herts to find Don waiting in the foyer as doors were not opening until midday.  By the time we reached opening time there was quite a crowd waiting outside.  When finally we entered, we took up our usual spots at ‘our’ table and, as the usual suspects gathered, I felt as though I was home again.  There is something very special about the first home game of the season and a guest appearance by Kevin le Belge was the icing on the cake.

On arrival at the ground, I had my first view of the new Hornet shop on the corner, which looks fabulous.  Inside the stadium, it was very pleasing to see that the South West corner, which seems to have been under construction forever, was finally finished.  It looked lovely.  At last we have a ground that does not look like a building site and is fit for purpose.  Thank you, Gino.

The completed South West corner

The completed South West corner

Team news was that there were no changes from the Southampton game, so the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos; Amrabat, Behrami, Capoue, Guedioura, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.  As the Chelsea team was announced and I was thinking that there were not too many likeable names on the list they got to the substitutes and the inclusion of Chalobah, whose name was greeted with a huge round of applause from the Watford faithful.

The game started very well for the Hornets who created their first chance in the seventh minute when Britos played a lovely ball down the left to Holebas whose shot was saved by Courtois.  The Hornets had an even better chance in the 24th minute as Amrabat went on a run down the right where he appeared to have been stopped by Azpilicueta, but escaped and put in a cross for Ighalo who, under challenge, turned the ball over the bar.  A Holebas cross was headed clear just before it reached Ighalo, it fell to Guedioura and I can’t have been the only one who was willing him to repeat his strike at Arsenal but, sadly, his shot was well wide of the target.  Chelsea’s best chance of the half came in time added on when Hazard won a free kick on the edge of the area.  He took it himself, but it was a poor effort struck low and straight at Gomes.

Goal Machine Capoue after scoring

Goal Machine Capoue after scoring

It had been an impressive first half for the Hornets who had most of the goal chances while keeping Chelsea at bay with some good defending.  Amrabat, in particular, had been superb both going forward and when tracking back.  Also, for the traditionalists among us, there was a certain pleasure in watching a game featuring goalkeepers wearing red and green shirts and a referee in black.

Watford took the lead ten minutes into the second half as a throw-in from Amrabat reached Guedioura who crossed for (goal machine) Capoue who controlled the ball before blasting it into the roof of the net.  Chelsea tried to hit back almost straight away with a shot from Hazard that was caught by Gomes.  The visitors threatened again as Costa broke into the box but Gomes saved at his feet.  Watford had been sitting very deep and letting Chelsea attack so there was a certain inevitability when they got the equalizer with 10 minutes to go, although it took a mistake from the Watford keeper as a Hazard shot from distance was spilled by Gomes and the substitute, Batshuayi, turned it in.  Suddenly the Chelsea fans in the Vicarage Road end started making some noise.

Behrami lining up a free kick

Behrami lining up a free kick

Another Chelsea attack was stopped by a brave tackle from Capoue who was injured in the process and, after a period of treatment, limped off to be replaced by Doucouré.  Hearts were in mouths in the Rookery as we watched a scramble in the box at the other end but, thankfully, the ball ended up with Gomes.  It was a brief respite as a promising Watford move broke down when Guedioura played a poor pass to Doucouré that was intercepted by Fabregas who played a sublime ball to Costa who advanced before beating Gomes.  This was followed by the very odd sight of fighting in the Family Stand as a number of away fans who had secured seats there were ejected.  Mazzarri made a couple of late substitutions replacing Guedioura and Holebas with Vydra and Zúñiga, but it was the visitors who had the final chance of the game when Batshuayi rattled the crossbar.  The final whistle went signalling a frustrating defeat for the Hornets.  A number of the Watford players walked straight off at the end, but it was interesting to see Vydra joining Deeney and Gomes on their usual comprehensive lap of appreciation.

The post-game analysis took one of two themes.  Either we were robbed or we gave Chelsea the victory.  Some argued that Costa who, television pictures confirmed, was guilty of ‘simulation’ having already been booked should not have been on the pitch to score the winning goal.  But it was mistakes by a tiring Watford team and the tendency to sit back and defend the lead that led to the goals.  Also, given that the Chelsea substitutions changed the game, you have to wonder why we didn’t introduce some fresh legs to challenge them.  But, taking a positive view, it says a lot for the progress of the team that we are bemoaning a narrow loss to Chelsea, having been the better side for the first 70 minutes.  I was expecting nothing from this game so, having seen an entertaining match with no little quality from the Watford players, while I was disappointed I left the stadium with no complaints.

Next up we have Arsenal visiting Vicarage Road.  While I will go to that game with low expectations, I am no longer expecting us to be turned over by the ‘big’ clubs and that is progress.