Tag Archives: Miguel Layun

No Goal Attempts but Impressive Defence

A gorgeous pre-match pub

A gorgeous pre-match pub

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.

The pre-match huddle

The pre-match huddle

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.

Abdi on the ball

Abdi on the ball

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.

Deeney attacks

Deeney on the attack

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.

Anya down the wing

Anya down the wing

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.

 

No Boing from the Baggies

Applause for Chris Dyer

Applause for Chris Dyer

After the good start at Everton, it was lovely to be home again. The usual suspects gathered at the West Herts to reflect on last week’s performance and what had been a very enjoyable visit to Liverpool.

As we approached the ground, the improvements to the outside were apparent and very pleasing to the eye but, as we turned into Occupation Road, there were long queues at the SEJ turnstiles, which made me fear that we’d see the same thing at the Rookery. The other obvious change was that the Bill Mainwood hut had been demolished so Doreen and her friend were at a table out on the street. That’s no way to treat a former Supporter of the Season. The Rookery turnstiles were pleasingly empty so we were quickly in to see the improvements to the concourse which included a series of pictures commemorating great moments in Watford history such as Lloyd Doyley’s debut. I realised that my reaction to these pictures was a little OTT when my niece asked if I was going to cry. It was touch and go!

Team news was that there was one change from the Everton game with Ighalo in for Holebas whose position was taken by Anya. So the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Prodl, Cathcart, Nyom, Capoue, Behrami, Layun, Jurado, Ighalo and Deeney.

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s applause for Chris Dyer, a Watford fan who was a victim of the terrorist attack in Tunisia.

Anya breaks into the box

Anya breaks into the box

Watford had an early chance with a shot from distance by Ighalo that was saved by Myhill. It was an encouraging sign. Soon after, a lovely cross from Layun was headed wide by Deeney. Jurado went on a great run down the left, which continued along the byline before he crossed for Deeney whose header was blocked. West Brom’s first attack of note finished with a shot from distance by Lambert which was blocked by Prodl. Deeney received a cross from Capoue and shot goalwards but Myhill was equal to it. Nyom looked beaten on the right but caught his man, picked up the ball and played it up to Capoue who crossed for Jurado whose bicycle kick was high and wide. Another cross into the West Brom box was gathered by Myhill with Ighalo challenging.  Then Anya played a cross-field ball to Deeney who headed down to Ighalo but the ball was cleared. Just before the half-hour mark, there was a rare foray forward by the visitors. Fletcher’s cross was put out by Nyom. The resulting corner was headed over by Berahino.

Cathcart leaps for a cross

Cathcart leaps for a cross

Another West Brom corner was headed clear by Deeney to launch a counter attack as Anya found Nyom who advanced and unleashed a shot which must have stung the palms of Myhill as he blocked. Ighalo robbed a West Brom player but his break was stopped by a foul from Olsson who was booked for his trouble. Jurado’s free-kick was just wide of the near post. Watford had another great chance to take the lead just before half time as Behrami crossed for Deeney who headed down to Ighalo whose shot cleared the crossbar.

Even though we reached the interval scoreless, the half-time analyses in the Rookery were universally positive. It had been an exhilarating half of football with some lovely play. It was just lacking a goal.

Watford started the second half as they had finished the first. Jurado received the ball on the left, beat two players but shot over. Then Deeney found Ighalo who switched feet before shooting straight at Myhill. Watford’s first substitution came 10 minutes into the half and there were roars of approval as Abdi made his first appearance of the season to replace Layun. A gorgeous pass found Anya on the left, he crossed for Ighalo whose shot was blocked.

Deeney organizing the attack

Deeney organizing the attack

Just after the hour mark, the Baggies made their first substitution with record signing Salomon Rondon coming on in place of Gardner. He was quickly in action as he advanced up the field before hitting a horrible shot well over the bar much to the amusement of the Vicarage Road faithful who serenaded him with “What a waste of money!” Normal service resumed with another Watford attack as Nyom, who is fast becoming a favourite of mine, made a great break upfield before whipping in a cross which went begging due to lack of bodies in the box. West Brom’s second yellow card went to Lambert for a foul on Behrami (more sinned against than sinner!) Then Abdi played the ball out to Nyom who put in a lovely cross which both Ighalo and Deeney leapt for but neither could connect. Ighalo tried a shot from distance which was caught by Myhill but was going wide anyway. Deeney was the next to try to break the deadlock but his shot was just over the target. With ten minutes to go, West Brom had a great chance to take an undeserved lead as Berahino had a free header following a corner but he directed it wide, much to the relief of the home crowd.

Anya taking a throw-in

Anya taking a throw-in

Berghuis made his debut with seven minutes remaining coming on for Jurado. Capoue gave away a free kick on the edge of the box which Brunt wellied over. Watford’s last chance of the game came and went as Anya played the ball back to Abdi who shot straight at Myhill. In time added on, Nyom took McClean down and was booked. A foul borne of fatigue. The final whistle went on a goalless draw that was certainly not lacking in entertainment.

I felt a bit deflated at the end of the game. We could have won by 3 or 4 goals while West Brom were the epitome of a Pulis side, dour, negative and time-wasting from early in the game. Their large contingent of travelling fans deserved more from them than a performance in which they didn’t have a single shot on target. As I applauded the team off, my disappointment was tempered somewhat when I heard the bloke behind me say “undefeated”. On reflection, it had been another terrific performance from a team that will only get better. It was rather nice, for the second week running, to want to see us on Match of the Day and to hear positive comments from the pundits. Let us hope that is a feature of this season.

A Pleasing Start

Pre-match formalities with a silly arch

Pre-match formalities with a silly arch

There was a certain element of groundhog day as the fixture computer gave us Everton away for the first game of the season, just as they did on our last visit to the Premier League. On that occasion, I left Watford at the crack of dawn on match day in order to visit Anthony Gormley’s Another Place on Crosby Beach, a place that I have come to love. The decision to add a distraction from the football was justified when we were robbed of a point due to a referee penalizing Chris Powell for a handball which actually struck his head. On arrival back at Watford Junction that evening, I bumped into Graham Simpson whose reaction to my concerns about that sort of luck plaguing our season was typically stroppy. I was saddened to be proved correct come the following May.

In the light of my previous experience, it was, perhaps, tempting fate to add a cultural element to Saturday’s visit to Liverpool. But, as my train arrived very early, I arranged to meet a friend at the Walker Gallery and thoroughly enjoyed my visit. Normal matchday protocol was soon resumed as the usual suspects gathered in a lovely old pub for beer and delicious pies. There was a lot of discussion pre-match about the propensity for pundits to predict our immediate relegation without having a clue about our manager or players. A bit of pragmatism was introduced as we acknowledged that most of us were equally ignorant of how our new recruits would perform and whether the team would gel in time.

Jurado ready to take a corner

Jurado ready to take a corner

The taxi driver who took us to the ground was clearly a red as he wished us luck while commenting that the Everton fans were expecting to thrash us. I can’t say that I doubted their confidence. Despite the feeling that we had made some quality signings during the Summer, I was feeling rather flat at the prospect of the new season.

Flores’s first competitive line-up included six new signings. The team was Gomes, Holebas, Prodl, Cathcart, Nyom, Behrami, Capoue, Layun, Jurado, Anya and Deeney. Former Watford loanee and Player of the Season, Tom Cleverley started for Everton.

As the formalities started before the game, there was a silly arch on the pitch that seemed to have no purpose beyond decoration. Also, I must admit that I didn’t hear Z-cars, which saddened me a bit. But, finally, the build-up was over and the game kicked off.

Celebrating Layun's strike

Celebrating Layun’s strike

The first goal action came in the 12th minute from the visitors as a Capoue cross was touched back by Layun to Deeney who tried a bicycle kick that flew wide. A minute later, Watford took the lead as a Deeney shot was blocked, it fell to Layun who hit it beautifully into the corner. The away end erupted with joy and, apologies for the blurred photo, but it was all I could do to point the camera, I couldn’t stop my hands shaking. Everton nearly equalized five minutes later as a corner from Mirallis was headed goalwards by Barry but Gomes was on hand to tip the ball over the bar. Capoue and Jurado exchanged passes, but the return was taken off the Frenchman’s feet. A through ball to Anya came to nothing as Howard was first to it. On 25 minutes, I saw a couple of fans that I know taking their seats. I had heard that the coaches were delayed and could only sympathise that they had missed our (opening) goal. It wasn’t until I got home that I discovered that the traffic queues on the M6 were caused by a friend of mine breaking down in the outside lane. She missed the game completely and insult was added to injury when she found out that her seat would have been very close to that occupied by her beloved professor Almen Abdi.

Prodl lines up a free kick

Prodl lines up a free kick

Back to the game and Everton had a lot of possession, but the Watford lads were doing a great job of frustrating them, constantly snapping at their feet and giving them no space at all such that it took nearly half an hour for the home side’s first goal attempt from open play which was a Barkley shot from distance that flew well over the bar. Barkley’s next attempt came soon after and was considerably more dangerous, a shot from the left of the area that required a touch from Gomes to keep it out. Cleverley was the next to threaten the Watford goal, but his cross-cum-shot was weak and easily gathered by the Watford keeper. A Barkley cross was headed clear by Holebas. Then Nyom appeared to be beaten on the wing, but caught his player, dispossessed him and went haring away with the ball, it was a real shame that this piece of joyous skill came to nothing as, when the ball eventually reached Capoue, he shot straight at Howard. Anya crossed for Deeney in the Everton box, but Stones fell on the ball which then broke to Galloway and Troy’s attempt to retrieve the ball left the Everton player on the floor and earned the Watford man a yellow card. Gomes came out to deal with a long ball and, as he was close to the edge of his area, pushed it clear of the attacking player. The home fans behind the goal appealed that he’d handled outside the box, but we were in line with it and it looked a legitimate move. There were smiles on Hornet faces again as Jurado nutmegged his man, the ball eventually reached Layun who shot just wide of the far post.

Gomes takes a free kick

Gomes takes a free kick

So we reached half time a goal to the good. But the smiles in the away end were as much to do with the performance, which had been disciplined to the extent of restricting the home team mostly to desperate shots from distance. Our defence, which came in for some criticism last season, looked solid. As a fan of Angella, it hurts me to admit this, but Prodl and Cathcart look like a formidable partnership. The quality of our other new recruits was clear to see and the concerns about the team gelling had been quelled. These were clearly lads who had met before.

It was unsurprising that Everton changed their shape in the second half and became more of a challenge. The first chance fell to Lukaku whose shot from a narrow angle was straight at Gomes. A long clearance from the Watford keeper reached Deeney whose downward header was gathered by Howard. Mirallas made a run down the wing and crossed, but Gomes punched for a corner that he comfortably gathered. A cross from Barkley gave Lukaku a great chance to equalize, but he headed wide. Lukaku then turned Cathcart but the Watford defender was soon back to snuff out the threat. An attempt to break by Capoue was stopped by Coleman who was booked for the foul. Watford’s first substitution saw Paredes replacing the goalscorer, Layun. Anya went on a great run down the wing, but his cross was blocked by Stones. Holebas was booked for taking too long over the resulting throw. When he finally released the ball, it was returned to him and he dribbled into the box but his shot was blocked. The Greek then tried a shot from distance that was punched by Howard as far as Jurado who shot over the bar.

IMG_6459

The bundle after Ighalo’s goal

A cross from Cleverley was met by the head of Kone who directed it just wide. Another Everton cross flew over the heads of the Watford defenders and reached Mirallas who clearly wasn’t expecting the ball, so it bounced off him. Watford’s second substitution saw the tiring Jurado replaced by Ighalo. Watford had had the lead for an hour, but the home side equalized with a lovely strike from Barkley which came after Behrami had tried to play the ball out instead of wellying it. I worried at this point that the home side would take control but the next chance was a Deeney header from a Holebas cross that Howard gathered, although I believe the lino on the opposite side had his flag raised. The final change for the Hornets saw Watson replace Behrami. The Hornets regained the lead on 83 minutes as Ighalo received the ball on the edge of the box and dummied England internationals Stones and Jagielka before coolly finishing past Howard. At this point, Deeney was standing in the box with his fists raised in celebration and the home fans were streaming for the exit. More fool them, as Everton equalized soon after as their substitute, Kone, shot across Gomes into the far corner. Both teams tried to push for the win. First Anya cut inside, but his shot was a bit weak and flew wide. Then Lukaku broke into the Watford box, Nyom got a touch to put him off and his subsequent shot was caught by Gomes. The five minutes of injury time passed without incident and the Hornets left Goodison Park with their first ever point at that venue.

Thanking the fans

Thanking the fans

There was some disappointment among some Watford fans that we had twice surrendered the lead. Others, me included, felt that we would have bitten hands off if offered a draw at the start of the game. We met a number of Toffees fans on our journey back to the city centre who were very complimentary about our performance and scathing of theirs. Most Watford fans were impressed with our strong showing and the quality of our new signings. Quique has promised us a surprise in each game. I am not sure that will be good for my blood pressure or my sanity, but I am intrigued to see how he will set up at home. So far, so good and I am really looking forward to the rest of the season.

Gutted, but Proud

The GT Stand greeting the team

The GT Stand greeting the team

After the post-match excitement of last week, it had been another long wait for the Championship decider.  It was all in our own hands.  Win today and we were champions.

It was an earlier than usual start due to the lunchtime kick-off and, when I arrived in Watford, there were only a smattering of Watford shirts around, but the red and yellow bunting outside The Flag was a nice touch.  On arrival at the West Herts, there was already a decent crowd in there calming their nerves with a liquid breakfast.  When we left for the ground, you could already hear the roars from Vicarage Road.

There was a depressing sign of things to come with hawkers selling Premier League tat in Vicarage Road, although I didn’t actually see any ticket touts.  We have that treat awaiting us.  There was a tremendous atmosphere inside the ground.  A message from Elton John was shown on the big screen.  Then, as the players came out, the Rookery held up a foil display organized by the 1881.  The other stands had flags, streamers, ticker tape and balloons.  It was a tremendous spectacle and lovely to see four stands swathed in yellow.

The promoted Hornets come on to the pitch

The promoted Hornets come on to the pitch

Team news was three changes with Motta in for Paredes, Layun replacing Guedioura, whose loan period expired last week and Vydra preferred to Ighalo up front.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Connolly, Cathcart, Angella, Anya, Abdi, Watson, Layun, Motta, Vydra and Deeney.

Watford made a bright start as Abdi played a lovely ball out to Motta on the right wing, he crossed for Layun whose shot was blocked.  At the other end, Lavery headed the ball in the direction of Lee but Gomes leapt salmon-like to pluck the ball from the air.  Watford had a very good shout for a penalty as Watson won the ball and played in Deeney, who broke into the box and tried to dribble around Kirkland who took his legs from under him.  From the other end of the ground, it was hard to see how it could be anything other than a penalty, but Lee Probert thought otherwise.  In the 12th minute, as planned, there was a chant of “We’ve got Lloydinho.”  Sad to think that, with his contract expiring this Summer, we may never see Lloyd in a Watford shirt again.  Deeney was the next to win the ball back, he passed to Vydra whose shot was blocked by Kirkland.

Celebrating Vydra's goal

Celebrating Vydra’s goal

Watford took the lead after 25 minutes as Deeney broke through, his shot was saved but the ball rebounded to Vydra, who headed home.  We could have had a second soon after as Watson, again, won a ball in midfield, he passed to Deeney who played the ball out to Anya on the left but Ikechi’s shot was into the side netting.  A corner from Abdi was headed over by Angella.  Then Vydra played a short pass to Deeney who crossed for Abdi who just touched the ball wide.  Deeney battled into the box and tried a chip which drifted wide of the goal.  A rare chance for the visitors as a free-kick found Lees in the box, but his header was well wide.  Watford should have increased their lead from a lovely move as Deeney played the ball out to Motta who crossed for Abdi who really should have scored, but put it wide.  Abdi then released Motta who advanced down the wing and into the box where he should have squared for Deeney or Vydra but instead hit a weak shot that was easy for Kirkland.  The 44th minute was marked with applause for Nic Cruwys from every stand in the ground including the away end.  In the last minutes of the half, a crossfield ball found Anya, but there was no Watford player in the box to meet his cross.  The ball eventually found its way to Layun who shot just wide.  So the half-time whistle went with Watford a goal to the good.  It had been a tremendous performance from the Hornets who fought for every ball and restricted the opposition to the odd breakaway.  But the finishing had been wasteful.  We should have been 3 or 4 goals ahead and I just hoped that we wouldn’t live to rue those misses.

Lining up a free kick

Lining up a free kick

At half time, it was lovely to see Guedioura on the pitch presenting the Club Hero award to Mary Thompson, a very worthy recipient.  Cate and I also visited Casey Evans to buy some of the wristbands that she was selling in aid of the Nic Cruwys fund.  A lovely effort, which raised £200.

The players had to wait a long time on the pitch before the second half kicked off, presumably to keep time with the TV games.  Watford had an early attack as Connolly played a gorgeous dink to Deeney whose shot was blocked by Buxton, who needed treatment afterwards.  From the eventual corner, the ball came out to Layun whose shot from outside the box was well wide of the target.   At the other end Maguire attempted a shot that flew well over the bar.  Anya crossed for Motta who delayed his shot so was closed down when a welly may well have been a better option.  A Vydra cross was met with a powerful header from Deeney that was wide of the far post.  Then Abdi played a ball over the top for Vydra to run on to, but Kirkland got there first.  Another ball was played over the top, this time for Deeney but Kirkland was out of his area to clear.  Vydra gave the ball away in midfield, but the Wednesday player could not get the better of the Watford defence and the ball was shepherded out for a goal kick.  Watford’s first substitution saw Motta replaced by Paredes.  Abdi crossed into the box for Deeney, who chested the ball down, but the flag was up for offside.  Jokanovic made a second substitution with 20 minutes to go replacing Anya with Tözsér.  Deeney fed Abdi who was bearing down on goal, but Kirkland was down to block the shot.  Watford’s final substitution saw Ighalo replacing Vydra who left the field to a standing ovation.

Slavisa Jokanovic post match

Slavisa Jokanovic post match

With five minutes to go, people started streaming down the steps of the Rookery to gather pitchside for an invasion.  It all seemed a bit premature as there was still only one goal in it.  Then a flare was thrown on the pitch.  A steward went to retrieve it and another was thrown at him.  The rest of the Rookery let the idiot who threw the flares know exactly what they thought of him.  In the final minutes of the game, Abdi played a ball into the box for Ighalo, but he couldn’t reach it.  In time added on, we gave away a stupid free kick in a dangerous position.  There was a delay before the kick could be taken as a moron had wandered on to the pitch.  The free-kick was met with a defensive header, but we couldn’t get the ball clear and my heart broke when I saw the ball hit the net.  Watford tried to regain the lead with a tremendous shot from Tözsér that required a good save from Kirkland to keep it out.  Watford won a succession of corners which were hampered by the fans on the goalline.  The final whistle went with a Wednesday player breaking forward and Gomes still upfield after the corners.

Deeney having a well deserved celebration

Deeney having a well deserved celebration

There was a huge pitch invasion.  I have to say that, while I am all for pitch invasions when the game is over, it was disappointing to see how many people were more concerned with getting selfies on the pitch than with the result of the game.  I felt totally deflated and, talking to many people afterwards, that was a common feeling.  Eventually the pitch was cleared and the players came out.  Jon Marks interviewed a number of them on the pitch and eventually reached Troy Deeney who said how p*ssed off he was but then launched into a chant of “Watford FC” which brought a smile back to my face.

It was a sombre post match gathering, as it had all been a bit of an anti-climax.  We had made enough chances to have won several games and ended up losing the title to Wednesday’s only on-target shot.  But there was time to reflect on the tremendous job that the team and the staff have done this season.  The team is talented, hard-working and they play for each other with a great team spirit.  In years to come this will be a squad that is regarded with much affection.  It will be a hard job next season, but I believe that we already have a number of players who will shine in the Premier League.  It will be an exciting new adventure.  We now have the Summer to recover and get ourselves ready.  When are the fixtures out???

 

Top of the Table

Flag in the Lower GT

Flag in the Lower GT

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.

The spectacle in the Rookery

The spectacle in the Rookery

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.

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

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.

Inspired substitution

Inspired substitution

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.

Celebrating Cathcart's wonder goal

Celebrating Cathcart’s wonder goal

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.

Attacking a corner

Attacking a corner

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.

A Very Happy Easter for the Hornets

Nigel does his part in raising a flag for the Hornets

Nigel does his part in raising a flag for the Hornets

Monday afternoon saw part 2 of the Easter promotion challenge.  After the drama of the game at Pride Park, the nerves were kicking in again for the visit of Middlesbrough.  Due to the lunchtime kick-off, the West Herts was not open before the game so, for the first time in many years, I was at the ground before the gates opened.  When I gained access to the stadium, I saw that Roy and the 1881 lads were placing large flags throughout the Rookery.

Team news was that there were three changes with Anya, Tözsér and Paredes replacing Vydra, Layun and the suspended Motta.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Guedioura, Watson, Tözsér, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney.  It was good to see both Vydra and Adbi on the bench in case they were needed.

The crowd was swelled by a group from Genk who were supporting their former players, Pudil, Tozser and Vossen.  The were cheers when each of the players’ names was announced and enthusiastic applause for Daniel Pudil’s warm up runs down the touchline during the game.

Deeney chasing his quarry down

Deeney chasing his quarry down

The tension ratcheted up before kick-off.  The “We are Watford” video was shown and then the players emerged to a wall of noise and a great spectacle from the flags.  The Middlesbrough fans had one small banner about “Belief” which looked pitiful in comparison.  Round one to the Hornets then.

There was a tentative start to the game from both sides.  The first goal attempt came after 9 minutes and fell to the home side as Deeney headed a cross from Anya over the bar.  For the visitors, Leadbitter tried to catch Gomes out with an audacious free kick from distance, but the Watford keeper was equal to it.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead as Anya played a one-two with Ighalo and unleashed a shot that was saved by the feet of the Boro keeper.  Angella was the next to threaten the Boro goal, but his header from a Tözsér corner went wide.  The first card of the afternoon was shown to Boro’s Reach for a hack on Tözsér.  Deeney exchanged passes with Ighalo and fired a shot from distance that was wide of the target.

Congratulating Deeney on his 20th goal of the season

Congratulating Deeney on his 20th goal of the season

Watford almost pushed the self-destruct button in taking a quick free kick that was cut out and allowed the visitors to launch a counter attack that finished with a shot from Bamford which, thankfully, was blocked.  Soon after, a cross from Friend was volleyed goalwards by Tomlin but Gomes was behind the shot.  On 36 minutes, Watford took the lead in some style as Guedioura played a gorgeous long pass to Deeney in the box who hit the ball past Konstantopoulos into the far corner.  Cue mayhem in the home stands.  That goal gave Deeney the distinction of being the first Watford player to score 20 or more goals in three consecutive seasons.  Quite a remarkable record.  On 44 minutes, the Watford fans rose to their feet for the tremendous ovation of support for Nic Cruwys who remains in the thoughts of all of us.

If truth be told, there had been very little action of note in the first half.  But we had scored a terrific goal and, given the levels of fatigue after Friday’s game, I had been very impressed at the work rate of the Watford players.  They were giving the visitors no space, nor any time on the ball.  To distract us from our worries about the second half, there was a half-time egg and spoon race between Harry Hornet and a Nando’s chicken.  Needless to say, our Harry won by a country mile.  Hopefully that was to be a good omen.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

Watford had the better of the opening exchanges in the second half.  Ighalo released Guedioura who found Anya, but his cross went begging due to the lack of any Watford player in the box.  Boro then threatened the Watford goal as a cross from Friend was turned just wide by Adomah.  At the other end, Guedioura played a through ball to Ighalo whose shot was easily caught by Konstantopoulos.  Watford’s first substitution came on the hour mark when Cathcart was replaced by Connolly.  Watford had another chance to increase their lead as the ball fell to Watson outside the area but his shot was deflected wide.  From the corner, Angella headed over the bar.  My notes about the next incident read, “Watson to Ighalo, wallop!” which does a great disservice to the Nigerian who did brilliantly to beat Woodgate and hit the target.  In mitigation, I would say that my goal celebration probably left my brain starved of oxygen.  I had been counting down the minutes in the second half until that point.  The second goal gave us some breathing room.

Ighalo's goal celebration obscured by that in the stands

Ighalo’s goal celebration obscured by that in the stands

The goal was Ighalo’s last contribution to the game as he was replaced by Vydra.  We now have strikers on 20 and 19 goals for the season, so why not give Matej a chance to improve his tally.  Middlesbrough tried to strike back as Friend broke into the Watford box but there was Tommie Hoban to make a quite brilliant tackle.  Reach tried a hopeful shot from distance that was well wide of the far post.  Then Kike got under a header that flew well over the bar.  Deeney was the next to try a shot from distance that was deflected wide.  From the corner, Troy headed the ball out to Guedioura whose dipping shot was goalbound until it was tipped over by Konstantopoulos.  Into the last 10 minutes, Friend shot well wide of the far post.  Middlesbrough’s best chance of pulling a goal back came with a ball over the top to Kike who unleashed a shot that Gomes pushed out for a corner.  The final Watford substitution saw Layun come on for Guedioura who was given a rapturous ovation as he left the pitch.  The final whistle went to loud cheers and waving flags.

It had been a terrific performance from the Hornets who, once we went ahead, had never really looked like anything other than winners.  It had been an equally superb performance in the stands where the fans got behind the team throughout the game.

So, before the rest of the division kicked off, Watford topped the table.  Later results did not go our way, but we will have taken a lot of confidence from our performances this weekend, which will set us in good stead for the run-in.  There is a lot of football still to be played, and will be plenty more twists in the tale before May 2nd.  Let’s just enjoy the football and continue the terrific support.

 

A Happy Homecoming

The Clough and Taylor statue is a gorgeous thing

The Clough and Taylor statue is a gorgeous thing

I have been away for a month travelling through Australia and New Zealand, so have followed the recent drama from afar.  I cheered when we topped the table.  Was horrified to hear of the dreadful attack on Nic Cruwys, my thoughts remain with him and his family.  I was also greatly saddened to hear of the loss of Guy Judge, a passionate Watford fan and friend to many.  He will be greatly missed by his Watford friends and family.

After so long away, it was a little odd to be setting off for a game again.  I left far too early and managed to forget my replica shirt.  When I arrived in the pre-match pub in rainy Derby, there was no sign of my companions, so I went to look upstairs but was told it was closed until 6.  I then heard my name being called …. from upstairs.  The security man looked shamefaced, “There have been infiltrators,” so I ducked under the guard rope to join my party.  When a couple more infiltrators arrived soon after, Mr Security gave up and opened the upstairs bar.

When we reached the ground, there was a terrific atmosphere in the concourse.  And, when the players came out, they were greeted with ticker tape, balloons and streamers.  There was no mistaking how important this game was to the travelling fans.

The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Motta, Guedioura, Watson, Layun, Ighalo, Deeney and Vydra.  Watford old boy, Forsyth started for Derby with former loanee Thorne back from his long-term injury.

Celebrating Vydra's goal

Celebrating Vydra’s goal

The first notable incident was an early card for Ben Watson who lost out to Bryson and hit back with a late tackle.  Watford’s first goal attempt came on 11 minutes when Deeney got on the end of a Layun corner but directed the ball wide of the goal.  At the other end, a Bent shot was deflected for a corner.  From the set piece, the ball was cut back to Bent but Gomes was alert, stuck a foot out and turned the shot around the post.  At the other end, Ighalo tried a shot from distance that was deflected wide.  Then Deeney won the ball on the right and advanced but there was no Watford player in the box to meet his cross.  Deeney had another chance to put the visitors ahead with a header from a Motta cross, but he directed it straight at Grant in the Derby goal.  Watford took the lead on 23 minutes as Vydra won the ball, played it to Ighalo then advanced into the box to receive the return and blast it past Grant to send the travelling Hornets into delirium.  There were chants of “We are top of the league,” but it was far too early for that.

Cathcart lines up a free kick

Cathcart lines up a free kick

Hughes had a chance to equalize almost immediately as his shot from distance was just narrowly wide of the target.  Thorne’s return to action didn’t last very long as he had to be replaced by Hendrick.  Bent broke into the Watford box, but he didn’t have the ball under control so Gomes was able to come and gather the ball.  Ince tumbled dramatically on the edge of the box and, with the crowd shouting for a penalty, Watford launched a counter attack where a ball over the top to Deeney led to a collision between the striker and the keeper.  At the other end, Bent had another chance with a header but he’d mistimed his jump so it was well wide of the target.  Another Derby attack was thwarted as Angella tackled with a back heel, total class.  The Derby forwards were then frustrated by some diligent harrying from Vydra putting in a shift in the defence.  Watford threatened again as Guedioura picked up a loose ball and broke into the box, his shot was saved by Grant and Deeney was unable to connect for the follow-up.

Motta takes a throw

Motta takes a throw

Another good Derby cross was missed by Bent, who then got the ball stuck under his feet when he found himself on the edge of the Watford area, so did not threaten the goal.  Ince then broke into the box but his shot was deflected for a corner.  Derby equalized just before half-time.  I must admit that my first impression of Motta’s challenge on Russell was that it had been a brilliant tackle, so I was gutted when Kevin Friend first pointed to the spot and then showed Motta a red card.  Not again!!  Bent, whose goal attempts so far had been somewhat wanting, stepped up and beat Gomes from the spot.

Needless to say, the conversation at half time was about the penalty incident.  Texts from friends watching the game on TV shared the pundits’ opinion that it was a penalty but the card was harsh.  Whatever the truth of the matter, we felt hard done by and were not relishing the prospect of the second period.

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

At the start of the second half, it was no surprise when Jokanovic sacrificed one of the strikers for Tözsér.  The only surprise was that it was Vydra who went off rather than Ighalo, who had had a rather frustrating first period.  The visitors started the half well and there was a taste of things to come as Guedioura played a lovely through ball for Deeney who, unfortunately, couldn’t reach it.  Deeney then had a couple of chances to regain the lead with, first, a header from a Tözsér free-kick that needed a good save from Grant to keep it out.  Then the ball found its way back to Troy but his shot from distance was wide of the target.  But it was the home side who took the lead as Ince skipped into the box and shot into the far corner past Gomes.  My heart sank.  Jokanovic decided to change things bringing Anya on for Layun.  The next notable action was another booking, this time for Deeney, for what could only be described as a coming together that ended with Shotton rolling dramatically on the ground.  What was particularly galling about this card was that Deeney was trying to get the ball near the Derby penalty area.  If you can’t challenge for a ball in that area of the field, you might as well give up.  An attempted forward break by Ince was stopped by a lovely tackle.

Heroes all

Heroes all

The Watford equalizer was a thing of beauty and played out right in front of us, so we got a wonderful view as Guedioura played a peach of a pass into the path of Ighalo who coolly tucked it past Grant sparking mayhem in the away end.  It was no more than we deserved at that point as we’d had a great spell.  McLaren reacted to the goal by bringing Chris Martin on.  A moment of carelessness soon after nearly undid all our good work as Ighalo gave the ball away to Bent who advanced and shot but was foiled by the legs of Gomes.  Jokanovic made a defensive substitution sacrificing Ighalo, who left the field to loud chants of his name, for Connolly.  It was backs against the wall stuff for the last 10 minutes.  Ince had a great chance to regain the lead for Derby as he turned and shot but directed his effort over the bar.  Hearts were in mouths as Angella tried to shepherd the ball out but had the ball nicked off his feet by a Derby player whose cross was cleared by Cathcart.  The fourth official held up the board to show six added minutes.  “Where did he get 6 minutes from,” asked the bloke next to me.  “McLaren” was my churlish reply.  My abiding memory of those interminable minutes was of 10 Watford players lining up across the field deep in their own half, which seemed a bit risky but the only real goal chance that the home side had was the last action of the game as a header from Keogh was brilliantly tipped over by Gomes.

The whistle went to huge cheers from the travelling Hornets.  The Derby players slumped to the ground, they needed 3 points from this game.  Our lads were completely exhausted and I was trembling due to the stress of the previous 20 minutes.  The players were given such a rapturous reception that you would have thought they’d won the game.  Nobody seemed to want to leave the away stand, it was reminiscent of games in the 80s when we were kept in for 15 minutes after the final whistle.  So we were all still there when Guedioura came over after receiving his man of the match award and was given a hero’s ovation and responded in kind.

Post match drinks went on long into the night with reflections on how much fun we’ve had following Watford this season.  We need a win on Monday, but the brave second half performance has set us up rather nicely.  It’s good to be home.

A Rather Dull Three Goal Win

 

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

After Saturday’s disaster against Norwich, it was good to have a midweek game to, hopefully, get back to winning ways.  Team news was that we were starting with four central defenders and without a recognized winger.  The starting XI was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Ekstrand, Cathcart, Tözsér, Watson, Layun, Abdi, Ighalo and Deeney lining up in a 4-3-1-2 formation.

The first chance of the game fell to the home side as Ighalo beat a defender on the byline, crossed for Deeney, who couldn’t get a touch, the ball was cleared to Tözsér whose shot was blocked.  The next incident of interest was an Angella pass that was annoyingly intercepted by the referee who then redeemed himself by falling over.  Honestly, I have no idea why a referee falling over is the height of comedy, but it is.  Abdi won the ball, turned and played a lovely pass to Tözsér who fired over the bar.

 

Congratulating Ighalo

Congratulating Ighalo

Watford took the lead on 17 minutes.  If you are going to misplace a pass in midfield, then the last player that you want to pick it up is Ighalo with the form he is in at the moment.  The unfortunate Rotherham player was Arnason, Ighalo took advantage advancing on the goal before rounding the keeper and slotting the ball home.  The visitors tried to break back as Derbyshire crossed in the direction of Milsom, but Cathcart made sure he didn’t get to the ball and it drifted wide.  Watford should have increased their lead in the 24th minute as Abdi received a pass from Layun, advanced and shot but Collin managed to parry the ball, it came out to Deeney whose shot was also saved.  From the resulting corner, Ekstrand flicked the ball goalwards, but Collin pulled off another save.  Watford had had most of the possession in the first half hour, but gradually Rotherham got back into the game.  Ekstrand lost the ball to Derbyshire who advanced but shot straight at Gomes.  From a Pringle corner, Arnason had a free header but he directed it straight at the Watford keeper.  Just before half time, there was a half chance for Ighalo who was played in by Deeney but snatched at his shot and it flew over the bar.  So we reached half time a goal to the good, but it hadn’t been terribly entertaining.  We’d started the half with some quick passing moves which looked nice but hadn’t amounted to much and, as the half went on, we’d let the visitors get a foothold in the game.

Celebrating  Deeney's strike

Celebrating Deeney’s strike

Watford increased their lead early in the second half after Arnason stuck a leg out to trip Tözsér, who was on his way into the box.  The Icelander was booked and Tözsér stepped up to hit a ferocious free-kick which stung Collins’ palms, the ball fell to Ekstrand who squared for Deeney to tap it into the net.  The third Watford goal came almost immediately as a shot from Layun was parried to Ighalo who tucked it away.  Rotherham never looked like getting back into the game after this.  We could have been further ahead soon after from an unlikely source as Tommie Hoban broke into the box and shot over the bar.  I am reliably informed that this was a source of great amusement for Troy Deeney.  A rare attack from the visitors resulted in a corner which was punched clear by Gomes.  Abdi was the next to threaten the Rotherham goal but his shot from the edge of the area was caught by Collin.  On 67 minutes, Jokanovic made his first substitution replacing Layun with Munari.  Green found himself in the Watford box, but his shot was cleared into the stand by Cathcart.

Preparing for a free kick

Preparing for a free kick

Ighalo was not to get the chance of a hat trick as he was replaced by Vydra with 15 minutes remaining.  Rotherham’s best chance of a goal so far came with a shot from distance by Hammill that flew just wide of the far post.  At the other end, a trip on Abdi earned Smallwood a yellow card and Watford a free kick from which Tözsér went close to increasing the lead but the ball went just wide of the near post.  Abdi really should have scored Watford’s fourth but he volleyed Deeney’s cross over the bar.  Watford’s final substitution saw Deeney make way for Forestieri.  The visitors had a decent chance to pull a goal back as the ball was given away to Hammill who broke forward, his shot was turned around the post for a corner from which Derbyshire shot wide of the target.  Rotherham’s final goal attempt in normal time came from Clarke-Harris, but Gomes dropped to make the save.  There were 6 minutes of time added on, which suited nobody, but it did contain two more goal attempts from the Hornets.  First a shot from Vydra which was blocked by Collin.  In the dying moments Abdi really should have got on the scoresheet as he broke into the box but his shot rebounded off the post.

There was much complaining after the game because, convincing as the win had been, it was the dullest 3-0 imaginable.  The way the team had been set up meant there was no width and little free-flowing football.  Still a win is a win, the goal difference is improved and it is very tight at the top of the table.  Sometimes dull is good.

Canaries do the Double

Ben Watson has his eye on the ball

Ben Watson has his eye on the ball

This fixture was always going to struggle to live up to the excitement of the last few games.  Norwich certainly promised to be tricky opponents having been in decent form since Alex Neil took over.  Team news was that Deeney was restored to the starting line-up which was Gomes, Angella, Ekstrand, Cathcart, Anya, Abdi, Watson, Layun, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney.  Former loanee, Sebastien Bassong, started for the visitors.

It all started rather brightly as Watford fashioned a chance in the second minute but Deeney headed Layun’s cross over the bar.  The first goal attempt for Norwich came from a controversial free kick that was taken short to Whittaker whose shot was high and wide.  Ighalo did really well to retain the ball under pressure from the defenders, played it out to Paredes whose cross was disappointingly hit straight to the Norwich keeper, Ruddy.

Layun lines up a free kick

Layun lines up a free kick

Ighalo won the ball from Bassong in the midfield and played it to Deeney whose shot from an acute angle went wide of the far post.  On 35 minutes, Abdi was hacked down by Tettey on the edge of the box.  The Norwich players surrounded the referee protesting ridiculously at a cynical foul ensuring that Johnson joined Tettey in the referee’s book.  The free-kick was in perfect position for Abdi, but his shot was deflected off a Norwich head and clear.  The half-time whistle went after a total non-event of a half.  Watford had had the better of the possession but Norwich, using fair means and foul, had done a very good job of disrupting our play so there had been little in the way of goalmouth action.  The fact that I had managed barely half a page of notes during the half tells its own story.

Paredes baffled and Jokanovic questioning the fourth official following another odd decision

Paredes baffled and Jokanovic questioning the fourth official following another odd decision

Watford also had the first goal attempt of the second half as a cross from Anya was headed clear.  The corner was disappointing with Layun’s set piece going straight to Ruddy.  Deeney did really well to keep the ball under pressure, he played it in to Ighalo in the box, but the ball was taken off his feet by a Norwich defender before he could shoot.  A break by Johnson was stopped by Cathcart who was booked for the foul.  Tettey shrugged off a challenge from Ighalo, knocking the Nigerian to the ground as he ran into the box, before wellying his shot over the bar.  On the hour, a cross from Anya was blocked, the ball fell to Abdi but he was off balance as he shot and it was an easy catch for Ruddy.  The game changed in the 64th minute as Hoolahan broke into the Watford box and executed a dramatic dive.  It was clear from our vantage point that he was play-acting, but the referee was behind him and pointed to the spot.  Grabban stepped up and hit the penalty to Gomes’s left.  The keeper went the right way but couldn’t reach the ball which nestled in the bottom corner.

Gomes takes a free kick

Gomes takes a free kick

The referee continued to endear himself to the Watford fans as, following a nasty foul by Howson on Abdi, the yellow card was shown to Ben Watson.  I have no idea what he had done, but most likely he had critiqued the referee’s performance.  Jokanovic made his first substitution at this point bringing Munari on for Layun.  The visitors were two goals to the good soon after as Johnson played the ball to Jerome who chipped over Gomes and into the net.  Watford’s second substitution saw Vydra on for Ekstrand.  Watford’s goal was threatened again as Cathcart passed a clearance straight to Grabban whose shot had to be turned around the post by Gomes.  Watford’s final substitution came on 77 minutes as Tözsér replaced Watson.  Watford had a chance to hit back as Vydra received a pass from Ighalo in a decent position to try a shot but he elected to pass to Deeney instead and the ball was cut out.  Norwich had a great opportunity to further increase their lead as a Redmond free kick was met with a smart header from Johnson, but Gomes pulled off a great save as he dived and got a hand to the ball to keep it out.  Norwich scored their third with the next move as Cathcart failed to cut out a cross from Whittaker which reached Grabban, who turned it past Gomes.  Grabban could have had his hat trick soon after as he broke forward but his shot from an angle flew just over the bar.  The last chance of the game fell to Watford, a cross from Anya was headed away from goal by Deeney, it fell to Tözsér who shot wide of the target.

Deeney breaks forward

Deeney breaks forward

There were no boos at the final whistle, mainly because those who indulge in such behaviour had set off for home some time beforehand.  After some terrific performances in the last few weeks, it is difficult to be critical.  The penalty that shouldn’t have been was definitely a turning point, but it was disappointing that we capitulated rather than fighting back as we did at Bolton and Brentford.  Norwich came to disrupt our play and we allowed them to do so a little too easily.  The scoreline flattered the visitors, but we barely had a shot on goal so didn’t deserve anything from the game.  Thankfully, we have another home match on Tuesday in which to get this out of our system.

As there was so little to say about the game, there is time and space to mention a couple of off pitch incidents.  I am reliably informed that there was a fight between Watford fans in the SEJ stand.  Stewards involved and everything.  What is the World coming to?  I was also surprised to hear that Beppe Sannino was at the game.  He told Don afterwards that he was “Sorry Watford lost,” but that we would soon be a Premier League team.  At least Don thought he meant us, not Norwich!  It is good to see that there are no hard feelings there anyway.

The Beautiful Game

Layun takes the kick-off

Layun takes the kick-off

Since it was FA Cup 5th round day, I waited to book my train to this game until we were knocked out of the cup.  Needless to say, I’d completely ignored the fact that our opponents were still in the competition so was sweating during their 4th round replay.  An added complication was that, at the time that I booked my tickets, there was signalling work planned for the West Coast line so I had booked a slow cross-country train which would get me in later than I would usually plan for.  In the interim there had been a landslip that meant that my already long train journey was interrupted with a bus between Banbury and Leamington adding another hour with the consequence that there would be no time for a pre-match pint.  Bulletins picked up on the way indicated that there were also problems on the roads so the away contingent could be severely depleted.  The final leg of the journey was another rail replacement bus and, as we reached the stadium with less than half an hour to kick off, I could see that the official supporters’ coach was just parking.  Relief all round.

When we arrived outside the turnstiles, one of the stewards asked what we thought the score would be.  “Depends which Watford turns up,” “Yes, we’re a bit like that too.”  An interesting game in prospect.

The main item of team news was that Troy had been dropped to the bench with Vydra taking his place.  He was joined by Hoban and Tözsér who were replaced by Ekstrand and Abdi, both returning after spells on the sidelines.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Angella, Ekstrand, Cathcart, Anya, Watson, Layun, Abdi, Paredes, Vydra and Ighalo.

Paredes passes

Paredes passes

The first goal attempt of the game went to the home side as Clough played the ball back to Le Fondre in the box, he always scores against us, but this time his shot was high and wide.  There was an early yellow card for Cathcart who was penalized for pulling Feeney back as he tried to escape down the wing.  For the visitors, Abdi played the ball out to Anya whose cross was blocked, the ball found its way to Vydra whose shot went out for a goal kick.  Janko broke into the box with Angella in close attendance ensuring that the ball ran through to Gomes.  Anya broke forward and crossed, but there was no Watford player in the box to take advantage.  We waited 18 minutes for Watford’s first goal attempt and then two came at once.  Anya broke forward again, played the ball back to Vydra who found Abdi in the box whose shot was blocked by Lonergan.  The clearance fell to Anya who played it back in, it finally reached Vydra on the edge of the box but his shot was gathered by the Bolton keeper.  Watford put themselves in danger as a mix up between Angella and Gomes resulted in a corner and Gomes needing treatment.  From Feeney’s set piece, Wheater had a free header that flew just wide.  Then Vydra gave the ball away to Wheater who released Le Fondre, he found Janko who fired a shot wide of the target when he really should have done better.

Ighalo gives thanks for his goal

Ighalo gives thanks for his goal

It was the visitors who took the lead on 25 minutes through who else but Ighalo.  The Nigerian had received a pass from Watson, appeared to get the ball stuck under his feet but recovered to shoot and the ball seemed to enter the net in slow motion.  The home side had a great chance to break back soon after as a Gomes punch fell to Le Fondre whose shot was blocked on the line by Watson.  Bolton’s first yellow card went to Bannan who was booked for pulling Abdi back.  Bolton should have equalized with a curling shot from Bannan that was tipped over the bar by Gomes.  Watford threatened again as Vydra exchanged passes with Ighalo, the ball was played to Paredes who just passed it to the keeper.  Bolton equalized in controversial circumstances.  The lino was flagging for offside against Le Fondre so the Watford players and fans took little notice when Feeney crossed and Clough turned the ball into the net.  I was baffled to see the home fans celebrating as they must have seen the flag.  Then the realization hit that the lino had lowered his flag and the referee had signalled for the goal.  There were heartfelt appeals from the Watford players and strong opinions being expressed by the fans, but the goal stood.  This knocked the stuffing out of the Hornets and the home side took advantage.  From a free kick, Ream shot into the side netting.  Then Bolton took the lead as Feeney broke forward and crossed for Le Fondre (who always scores against us) to shoot past Gomes.  We were all feeling pretty aggrieved at half time, but the players and the fans just needed to forget the injustice and get on with the game.

Abdi takes a free kick

Abdi takes a free kick

Thankfully, the players started the second half on the front foot.  Abdi and Ighalo combined to find Vydra who was fouled on the edge of the box.  Abdi’s free-kick was heading for the top corner until Lonergan got a hand to it to keep it out.  Vydra played the ball to Anya who juggled it to get some space before taking the shot which was saved.  Abdi tried a shot from the edge of the area that flew wide.  On 56 minutes, Jokanovic made an attacking substitution taking Angella off for Deeney.  Troy’s first act was to play a ball to Paredes whose dangerous cross was headed clear.  Soon after, Deeney got the ball in the box, he turned to shoot but the shot was blocked.  There was danger for the visitors as Watson lost out to Clough who passed to Le Fondre who was one on one with Gomes who did very well to block the shot.  Clough broke forward and again fed Le Fondre who looked sure to score but hit a dreadful chip over Gomes and wide.  At the other end, there was a scramble in the Bolton box as first Deeney and then Watson had shots blocked.  Then Deeney and Ighalo exchanged passes but the shot was deflected for a corner.  Jokanovic made two more substitutions bringing Forestieri on for Vydra and Tözsér for Watson.  Another decent shot from Abdi was stopped by Lonergan who also saved Ighalo’s follow-up, although the flag was up anyway.  A ball reached the dangerous Feeney in the box but Gomes came out to gather.

Ighalo congratulates Ekstrand

Ighalo congratulates Ekstrand

Watford’s equalizer was a thing of beauty as, just as he did at Fulham, Abdi curled a ball into the top corner in front of the Watford fans.  Thankfully this time I was not behind a pillar so had a perfect view.  It was no more than we (and Almen) deserved.  Bolton tried to hit back immediately from the restart and it took heroics from Gomes to deny them as he parried a shot from distance by Feeney, blocked the follow-up from Le Fondre and somehow got across the goal to deny Clough.  A remarkable effort.  At the other end a corner was headed straight at Cathcart, the ball dropped to Deeney who tried to turn it in but the effort was blocked.  Watford regained the lead in style as a cross from Abdi was met with a gorgeous header from Ekstrand.  A wonderful way to mark his return from injury.  Abdi tried another shot from distance, but Lonergan was equal to this one.  Bolton’s first substitution saw Gudjohnsen come on for Janko.  We were waiting for Neil Cox to join him.  The home side drew level again on 84 minutes as Feeney, who had been a menace on the right all afternoon, crossed for Clough who fired past Gomes.  Watford continued to attack as Anya advanced to the by-line and tried a cut back that was cleared.  Abdi then tried a shot from distance that just cleared the crossbar.  There was pandemonium in the away end as Ighalo played the ball across to Deeney who fired past Lonergan just as the clock hit 90 minutes.  Obviously the celebrations were mighty and Ighalo was booked for his part.  The fourth official’s board went up during the celebrations so I didn’t see it, but someone nearby reckoned there were 4 additional minutes.  Bolton did have the ball in the net again through Wheater, but the flag had been raised before it reached him and thankfully on this occasion the lino kept the flag up.

The players had given their all by the final whistle

The players had given their all by the final whistle

When the final whistle went, a couple of the Watford players dropped to the ground as did a number of the Bolton players.  They all looked dead on their feet and certainly those of us in the stands were completely drained.  What a terrific game of football.  There were ecstatic grins in the away end and hugs between friends and, most likely, complete strangers.  The players came over and were greeted as the heroes that they were.  Ighalo, Layun, Forestieri and Deeney thanked us by nipping over the advertising hoardings to give their shirts to the crowd.

I have always found the people of Bolton to be lovely and this was shown again as an official walking around the pitch while we retrieved Becky’s flag commented to us that it had been a good match.  We also saw our friendly steward on the way out and he was equally gracious.

Just before 10pm I boarded a rail replacement bus at Leamington Spa with the prospect of three further trains before I was home.  Soon after, a father and son got on and I was greeted with a “You Orns”.  That perked me up and we were soon waxing lyrical about the terrific game we had seen.  I finally arrived home over 16 hours after I had left.  It had been a very long day but one that I will remember for a very long time.

As the match was coming to an end, the thought had gripped me that this must be a terrific game for the neutral and I felt a twinge of regret that I couldn’t see it through their eyes.  In the cold light of day I realise what a ridiculous thought that was.  No neutral would experience the joy and despair that I did yesterday.  The rollercoaster that ranged from anger at the injustice to the sheer lunacy of the goal celebrations that had me leaping up and down punching the air long after the ball had hit the net.

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend about the season so far and the fact that, despite being in the play-off places, it had not been an enjoyable season.  That has been completely turned on its head since.  The character and the passion on show in the past few games have made this team one to love.  We even saw some emotion from our usually impassive manager at the final whistle.  I can’t wait for next week.