Another departure at the crack of dawn. A rail strike and bank holiday engineering work threatened to disrupt the journey but, fortunately, everything ran to schedule. On our last visit to Manchester, we had been turned away from our designated pre-match pub and ended up in a Wetherspoons. So this time we had chosen a meeting place that was slightly out of town. As I approached the pub and saw that the doors were closed, I was a little concerned that we would end up finding that the walk out of the city had been in vain. However, just before John and I reached the doors, they opened to welcome us and we were soon sitting in a comfy corner of a beautiful pub with a couple of lovely pints in front of us and all was right with the world.
On arrival at the Etihad, I instantly regretted buying one of the seats in the top tier as it was a hell of a trek up there, although good practice for our trip to Newcastle. When the teams were announced on the big screen, there was a duplication of Christian names so we had Heurelho Nyom and Sebastian Jurado. I was a little disappointed not to see Valon Deeney in the team. The starting line-up showed one change as Abdi replaced Anya so was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Capoue, Behrami, Abdi, Ighalo, Jurado and Deeney. When the team lined up, the apparent 4-2-3-1 formation became 4-2-4-0 as Deeney was playing out wide on the right. The tannoy guy repeatedly welcomed us to the ‘newly expanded’ stadium. It has to be said that the new upper tier was pretty deserted and so far from the pitch that I needed to find the distance glasses that I rarely use.
Prior to the match we also found out that Daniel Pudil had moved (on loan) to Sheffield Wednesday. I will miss muttering “Who killed Danny?” as he collapsed under an innocuous challenge. But, I will particularly miss seeing the photos of his family in and around Watford. To see a player who has moved from overseas proudly posting photos of his wife and son in Cassiobury Park made me ridiculously happy. Sadly Dan never looked likely to be part of the Premier League plans, but he will be remembered fondly for his contributions on the pitch and his proudly embracing Watford as his home.
As may have been expected, Agüero was an immediate threat on the Watford goal. His first foray forward was closed down by the Watford defence, the next resulted in a shot that was blocked by Cathcart. Watford’s first attack saw Layun play the ball out to Holebas whose cross was headed clear by Kompany. The resulting corner led to a bit of a goalmouth scramble with a couple of shots blocked before the ball was cleared. At the other end, a cross in the direction of Agüero was cut out by Prödl. The corner by Silva was also headed clear by the Austrian.
The Watford goal was threatened further as, first, Navas played a cross into the box which flew off target, then a free kick from Kolarov curled wide of the far post. Watford caused themselves problems as Jurado gave the ball away, Sterling broke into the box but was tackled by Cathcart for a corner. Then Gomes was called into action, dropping to save a shot from Sagna. The best chance of a goal so far came as Sterling broke into the box with only Gomes to beat, the keeper stopped the shot, but the ball squirmed out of his hands and, thankfully, rolled out for a corner. A rare Watford attack ended when a Nyom cross from distance was easily gathered by Hart. The home side threatened again as the ball was taken off Abdi’s feet and Agüero hit a shot that flew just wide of the target. The first booking of the game went to the home side as Kompany was punished for a foul on Jurado. The cards were evened up soon after Nyom was booked for flying through the back of Sterling. The Frenchman’s reaction was priceless as he expressed his outrage by mimicking Sterling’s dramatic collapse. I have a certain sympathy with his annoyance at the player’s dramatic reaction, but he probably shouldn’t have knocked him flying in the first place. The Hornets had their longest spell of possession in the half in time added on, but, typically of their defensive approach to the game, it finished with a pass back to Gomes.
Half-time conversations expressed pleasure at the strong defensive performance of the Hornets, but concern that we had no player up front so never looked likely to score.
At the start of the second half Pellegrini made a change, bringing Nasri on for Navas and changing the formation to put two up front. This immediately paid dividends as Sagna crossed to the far post and Sterling ghosted in to tap the ball past Gomes. The home side were soon two goals ahead as a Touré free-kick hit the wall, Watford failed to clear so the ball reached Fernandinho who hit a powerful shot across Gomes and into the far corner. At this point it looked like City may score a hat full, especially when Agüero attacked again but on this occasion he mishit his shot which spun before being caught easily by Gomes. A rare forward passing move by the Hornets finished when a cross from Layun was cut out by Kompany, the City break was stopped (not for the first time) by a tackle from Cathcart. On the hour mark Flores made his first substitution replacing Abdi with Anya. This appeared to be an uncharacteristically attacking substitution. City’s next break by Agüero was stopped by Prödl who was booked for the infringement. Silva took the resulting free kick, which flew just wide. Watford’s best move of the game came as Jurado broke into the box, his low cross was dummied by Deeney and reached Anya whose cross was blocked for a corner. Watford’s second substitution saw Layun on for Ighalo, much to the disappointment of many in the away end who would have liked to have seen Vydra given a chance. City brought Delph on for Silva.
City had a great chance to increase their lead as Nasri released Kolorov, his cross was met by Touré whose shot flew just wide. The final substitution for the Hornets saw Watson come on for Capoue to loud boos from the home fans who haven’t forgiven him for winning the FA Cup for Wigan. Some of the Watford fans were equally unhappy at this substitution as Vydra’s name rang out again in the away end. Another Watford attack came to nothing as Jurado played the ball out to Layun whose low cross was straight at Joe Hart. As City seemed to settle for a two goal win, there were a couple of late attacks by the Hornets. First Anya broke forward but his cross was behind Deeney and cut out before it reached Layun. Nasri tried a shot from outside the box that was saved by Gomes. The last action of the game was a shot from distance by Layun that was weak and flew well wide of the target. At the end of the game, a frustrated-looking Deeney tried to cheer up a couple of people in the away end by throwing his boots into the crowd.
It was hard to know how to feel after this game. The defensive set-up had worked in so far as we only conceded two goals against the best team in the division. However, for someone who came to football watching Graham Taylor’s attacking teams, it is really difficult to watch a team that not only don’t have a shot on goal but don’t look as though they want one. We have now gone two games without a shot on target, although in the Southampton game that wasn’t for lack of trying. Between now and the next game are the end of the transfer window and an international break so predictions of what we will see in the Swansea match are futile at this point.
On the way home I heard that Forestieri had joined Pudil at Wednesday, with Fernando’s being a permanent move. This was another sad piece of news if only because Forestieri never reached his potential. Fernando was a player who was loved for his enthusiasm while he irritated for his poor judgement. But he is probably the only player in history to have tweeted a photo of himself buying a toaster in the pound shop and he also had a crucial part in *that goal*. For those reasons he will always have a place in Hornet history.