Tag Archives: Mousa Dembele

Beating Spurs after 30 Years

Capoue hits a shot

After our terrific start to the season, the game against Spurs had to be considered as a free hit and I have to confess that I travelled without either hope or expectation of anything from the game.  The travelling part had challenges with a strike on South West Railways, the closure of Euston and a partial closure of the Metropolitan line.  But, despite my concerns, it turned out to be an easy enough journey and, in contrast to last week, the walk to the West Herts was in blazing sunshine.  When I arrived, the food service had not yet begun, but I put in my order for the jerk chicken.  It took about an hour and a half to arrive, but was well worth the wait.  Last week had been more of a barbecue version, this week it came fresh from the grill with proper jerk seasonings and a good helping of rice and peas.  Just gorgeous.  We noticed that the clock in the club was an hour slow, which helped us with the 4pm kick-off as we just kept to our usual matchday schedule.

Team news was that Gracia had stuck with the same team for the fourth league game in a row, so the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Janmaat; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deeney, Gray.

Cathcart, Deeney and Hughes

Tottenham launched an early attack as Kane found Lucas in the box, but Kabasele continued his great performance from last week with a lovely saving tackle.  With little in the way of action on the field early in the game, the 1881 amused themselves with a chant of “Milton Keynes, you’re having a laugh” in reference to the fact that Spurs have applied to stage our League Cup game at the stadium that must not be mentioned (booooo).  The next chance for the visitors came as Alli got on to the end of a long pass from Alderweireld which he headed over both Foster and the bar.  Then Janmaat crossed for Deeney but, again, the header was over the bar.  Tottenham threatened again as a through ball released Lucas but Kabasele was on hand to disrupt and Foster was able to gather the ball.  There was another chance for the visitors as Foster failed to control a cross from Eriksen, Kabasele’s attempted clearance fell to Lucas but the shot was well wide of the target.  Then a free kick was played back to Eriksen whose through ball was turned just wide by Alli, who was offside anyway.  A corner from Eriksen was headed clear to Davies whose shot flew wide.  Tottenham’s final chance of the half came from a Vertonghen cross that was headed over by Sánchez.  In time added on, Watford finally launched another attack, but Deeney’s shot from distance was weak and easily gathered by Vorm.  So we reached half time with the game goalless due to a decent defensive performance by the Hornets who had restricted the opposition’s chances without posing much of a threat themselves.

Celebrating Deeney’s goal with the camera in the way

The half time interview was with Ben Wilmot, still basking in the glory of his magnificent performance against Reading in midweek.  I look forward to seeing him develop as, at 18, he already appears to have Cathcart levels of assurance, which is a great thing.

The first chance of the second half fell to Eriksen, whose shot just missed the target.  The Dane had another chance soon after, but his shot from distance was easy for Foster.  The first booking of the game went to Capoue for pulling back Vertonghen.  The visitors took the lead in the 53rd minute. It was a scrappy goal that took a deflection off Doucouré and flew past Foster.  There was a certain inevitability to the goal and we settled back to witness the defeat that was sure to come.  But the players were of a completely different mindset and the goal seemed to galvanise them into action.  First Gray hit a powerful shot that was just over the bar.  Then Deeney hit a shot across goal that took a deflection off Vertonghen before coming back off the inside of the post.  So close!  Spurs were rattled and Dembélé went into the referee’s book for pulling down Hughes.  Holebas took the resulting free kick which was met by Deeney who powered the header home to level the game and send the Rookery wild.

Celebrating Cathcart’s goal (with no sign of Cathcart)

Gracia made an immediate substitution bringing Success on for Gray, I have to say that I wasn’t convinced that this was the correct move.  What do I know?  Watford continued to threaten as Janmaat crossed for Pereyra who headed the ball just wide.  Watford’s second goal came from another assist by Holebas, this time from corner and it was Cathcart who rose to head home.  I love Cathcart.  He calmly gets on with his job in defence, never drawing attention to himself until he pops up in the opposition box to put the Hornets into the lead against one of the best teams in the country.  Spurs made their first substitution replacing Alderweireld with Llorente.  They had a decent chance to strike back through Eriksen who tried a shot from distance, but Foster was equal to it.  Into the last five minutes of the game and there was a substitute for each side as Hughes made way for Chalobah, a change that was greeted with loud cheers for both players, and Winks replaced Dembélé for the visitors.  From the Rookery, I was convinced that Spurs had scored from their next attempt, but Kane’s header had flown over the bar and hit the outside of the net.  Each side made a final change with Rose coming on for Davies and Mariappa replacing Pereyra.  In the last minute of time added on, Spurs won a free kick in a dangerous position.  My heart was pounding as it was taken and there were loud cheers as it deflected for a corner.  The cheers were even louder when the corner dropped to Rose and he belted the shot well over the bar.

The return of Chalobah to Vicarage Road

The final whistle was greeted with a roar from all the stands.  Elton and his boys were celebrating in the Upper GT and we were all joining Capoue in a celebratory dance.  Deeney won a well-deserved man of the match award.  It is only a couple of months since a number of Watford fans were saying that he was past his sell-by date.  How wrong they were, we wouldn’t be without him now.  It was a terrific team effort and, based on the second half performance, we thoroughly deserved the win.

As one who was lucky enough to live through the first GT era, I can be a bit blasé about these results, after all I have seen us beat Spurs 5-1 at White Hart Lane.  But reading the reactions of my Watford friends to this result shows how much this means.  Watford are currently joint top of the table with 100% record and looking like a team who will be a tough prospect for anyone this season.

Taylor, Rostron and Cox – the three Captains

It was all smiles as we met up after the game.  But there was only time for a quick drink and then it was to the Palace Theatre for the first Tales from the Vicarage Captains evening.  It was much more low-key than some previous events, but an absolute joy to hear Wilf Rostron speak.  I had heard that he had fallen out of love with football, so it was lovely to hear him speak so warmly of his time at Watford and the way that he, and particularly his wife, Jill, had been welcomed to the club.  Obviously, the sending off that meant he missed the Cup Final came up, but he is philosophical about that now (I am not, angry tears were still pricking my eyes as he spoke).  He looks incredibly fit and said that (at 61) he plays in an over-40s league.  Similarly, Les Taylor says that he achieved all of his footballing dreams at Watford, including leading the team out at Wembley in place of Rostron.  His talk of hitting the Watford Observer clock made me smile as I remembered his shooting exploits.  Neil Cox had a more challenging time, not seeing eye to eye with either GT or Vialli, but he will always be remembered as being the captain that convinced his players to agree to a wage deferral when the club were in trouble.  Graham Simpson did not come out of that one well as he tried to avoid paying the players back the money they were owed.  A reminder of less pleasant times at the club.  As always, it was a wonderful evening that evoked many happy memories.

Jose Holebas, my new hero

Since the Pozzo take-over and the influx of players from all over the World we have often been told by those outside the club that these “foreigners” don’t care about the club or the fans and this is not the Watford that we all grew up with.  On social media on Sunday night, there were two examples that showed that this is far from the truth.  First was a video of Roberto Pereyra meeting a young fan with Down syndrome.  To see Roberto interacting with this youngster brought tears to my eyes.  He may not speak a lot of English, but his actions spoke volumes and the boy was beaming.  Then I saw that young Lexe Allaway had received Jose Holebas’s shirt after the game.  When her Mum was asked how this had come about, it seems that they had met a day before the Palace game and Jose had said he would meet her after that game to give her his shirt. True to his word he met her, but as he had scored from that ‘cross’ he asked Lexe if she minded if he kept the shirt.  Of course, she was more than happy for him to have it after his wonderful goal, and he promised that she could have his shirt the following week.  Her Mum warned her that he may well have forgotten a week later. Instead, true to his word, he waited for her after the match, handed her the shirt and made time to chat to her about her football.  Jose has a (well-deserved) reputation for being a miserable so-and-so, but to show such kindness to a young fan is a measure of the man and he has gone way up in my estimation.

I grew up supporting a wonderful club that gave us many happy memories on the pitch, but was a club where the fans were treated well and appreciated by the players.  I am so delighted that, even though football has changed massively over the past 30 years, the current generation of youngsters are having the same experiences that we did.  Watford truly is a special club.


A Decent Point Against Ten Man Spurs

Zeegelaar and Richarlison on the wing

Due to damage to overhead cables on Friday, the West Coast line was disrupted on Saturday.  When I arrived at Euston, the train that I had been aiming to catch had already been cancelled.  At that point I decided to take the Met line to Watford.  As it happened, that meant that I arrived in Watford later than I would have done otherwise, but I did bump into Johnno at Euston Square and gave him the benefit of my travel advice (don’t take the same route as me).

There was a good crowd in the West Herts and the company was made all the more delightful by a good contingent of Norfolk ‘Orns.  A couple of our number had already paid a visit to the Hornet Shop to buy their copies of GT’s autobiography.  I suspect that Kleenex profits will go through the roof as Watford fans read the great man’s words (as interpreted by lovely Lionel Birnie).

On the way down Occupation Road, I bumped into Miles Jacobson, who was taking a break from the Directors’ Box to take his season ticket seat in the SEJ stand.  While we were chatting, I was a little distracted as first Britos and then Chalobah walked past us.  Once inside the ground I had a diversion on the way to my seat as Don had left the West Herts before our resident sweetie man arrived so I was sent to deliver his bag of half-time sweets.  I was hoping, but not expecting, that he would not need something to cheer him up after the first half.

Congratulating Kabasele

Team news was that Silva had made two changes from midweek.  One enforced as Pereyra came in for the injured Hughes, the other was Deeney in for Gray.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Kabasele; Femenía, Cleverley, Doucouré, Zeegelaar; Pereyra, Richarlison; Deeney.

Spurs had the first chance of the game as Trippier delivered a dangerous cross into the Watford box, but a tackle on Kane stopped the shot and caused the Spurs man some pain.  He was off the pitch, but the referee was clearly very worried about his welfare and waited with him until he was fit to continue.  I must admit that I have never seen such concern shown for an injured Watford player.  A cross-field ball from Cleverley looked as though it was going out, but Richarlison did brilliantly to keep it in play.  He advanced towards goal and I was disappointed that he didn’t try a shot, instead playing for the corner.  What do I know?  His decision payed dividends as the delivery from Cleverley was headed home by Kabasele.  Watford had a chance to increase their lead as a ball came in to Richarlison who tried an overhead kick that was blocked.

Femenia launches a long throw

Another chance for the Hornets but, from the other end of the stadium, all I could see was a number of Watford bodies in front of Lloris trying to bundle the ball in, so missed Richarlison being knocked over and the shouts for a penalty from the Family Stand, which were ignored by the referee.  Spurs broke down the other end and Eriksen crossed for Son who had an easy tap in for the equaliser.  The first caution went to Cleverley for a foul on Alli.  There were then chances for both sides, first a free kick from Eriksen that was easily gathered by Gomes, then a much better chance for Watford with a fierce shot from distance from Doucouré that flew just wide of the far post.  The visitors had another chance as a clearance from Deeney fell to Davies on the edge of the box, from where he fired wide of the target.  My heart was in my mouth when Spurs won a free kick in time added on after Prödl fouled Alli.  A voice behind me suggested that it would be directed over the wall.  Thankfully, he was correct as Kane’s delivery flew well over both the wall and the crossbar, so we went into half time with the scores level.

It had been a decent first half.  Spurs had dominated the possession, but a draw was probably about right at this stage.  There was also a decent half-time penalty shoot-out with St Bernadette’s thrashing St Theresa’s with some gorgeous spot kicks.

Zeegelaar prepares for a free kick

The first notable incidents of the second half both involved the referee’s cards.  First Kabasele was booked for a tactical foul on Kane.  Then Davinson Sánchez threw his elbow into Richarlison’s throat just in front of the fourth official.  It was a nasty foul and there was no surprise when a red card was shown, although some of the Spurs players thought that it was worth protesting.  With almost 40 minutes left to play, this was looking very positive for Watford and they should have regained the lead when Zeegelaar put in a lovely cross which was met by the head of Richarlison, but he couldn’t direct the header towards the goal.  A poor corner from Cleverley found its way to Doucouré who unleashed a brilliant shot that hit the inside of the post and rebounded across the goal but, sadly, away from the target.  Each side made a change on 64 minutes with Capoue coming on for Kabasele for the Hornets (to ensure the Belgian didn’t get a second card) and Sissoko on for Eriksen for the visitors.  The second Watford substitution came soon after as Pereyra made way for Carrillo.  There was some concern with 20 minutes to go as Gomes was injured making a save.  He looked in considerable pain but, thankfully, was fit to continue after treatment.

Gathering in the box for a corner

Yellow cards for each side followed with Vertonghen penalised for a foul on Capoue and Zeegelaar for pulling down Alli.  Watford should have taken the lead as a cross from Carrillo was met by the head of Richarlison, but the ball nicked off a Spurs head and flew out for a corner that came to nothing.  The second substitution for Spurs saw Lamela on for Son.  Capoue then tried a shot from distance, but it was straight at Lloris.  There was a final substitution for each side with Winks replacing Alli for the visitors and Gray on for Cleverley for the home side.  The latter change had caused some confusion as Deeney had spotted Gray ready to come on and had handed the captain’s armband to Cleverley before he started walking to the touchline.  He was sent back and Tom returned the armband as he went off.  Carrillo had a moment that summed up his afternoon as he brilliantly won a tackle to advance and then put in a dreadful cross that was easy for Lloris when there were three Watford men in the box to aim at.  In the last minute of time added on, a cross from Richarlison was clearly handled by Dier, but the claims for a penalty by the players and those in the Rookery, who had a perfect view, were waved away.

Cleverley taking a corner

At the final whistle there were boos, but they were directed towards the referee rather than the team.  The post-match interactions between the opposition players, though, were very cordial.  Trippier was being hugged by every Watford player and I don’t think I have ever seen so many warm hugs exchanged between opponents, but maybe I have not been paying attention.

While we really should have had a last minute penalty, a draw was a fair result and I would certainly have taken a point before the game.  To be disappointed with a draw against Tottenham shows how far we have come and it was a very entertaining game.  We have played all of the top six now and have only been outplayed by Manchester City.  It will be a tough trip to Burnley next week, but the Premier League is finally a fun place for Watford fans and that is something to relish.

No Shame in a Harsh Defeat

Cleverley and Holebas line up a free kick

The lunchtime kick-off meant an earlier than usual departure for a London game.  I had arranged to meet my niece at Euston and decided to get an earlier train to give me time for a leisurely breakfast at Café Rouge (and very good it was too).  When Amelia arrived, we got the tube to Seven Sisters before taking a walk in the sunshine up Tottenham High Road to the stadium.  As we arrived at the security cordon outside the ground, there was a woman in front of us with a couple of children who had “Daddy 6” on the back of their shirts.  How lovely to see Mariappa’s young family back in Watford kit.

Team news was that Mazzarri had made four changes (two forced, two tactical) with Mariappa, Janmaat, Success and Okaka in for Britos, Prödl, Capoue and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Janmaat, Cleverley, Doucouré, Amrabat; Niang, Okaka and Success.  An interesting formation and a little surprising to see Deeney dropped to the bench.

Gathering for a ball into the Spurs box

The game started very well for the Hornets as Holebas won an early free kick.  He took it himself and curled a lovely shot towards the far corner, but it ended up in the arms of Lloris.  Soon after, Holebas played a corner short to Doucouré before running into the box to receive a return ball, but it ran through and was gathered by the Spurs keeper.  For the home side, Son had a decent chance from a tight angle, but the ball was deflected onto the post and out for a corner.  Watford challenged again as a cross from Doucouré was punched clear by Lloris as Okaka challenged.  The hosts should have taken the lead as Janssen turned in the box and shot, but Gomes saved with his feet.  At the other end, Holebas played a free kick to the far post where Cathcart prodded it into the side netting.  Hoping to repeat his goal from midweek, Niang tried a shot from distance, but this time it was straight at Lloris.  Spurs had a great chance to take the lead in the 18th minute as a cross from Trippier reached Janssen in front of an open goal, but he could only divert the ball onto the crossbar.  Another cross from Trippier soon after went begging as Janssen was unable to connect.  At the other end, a smart exchange of passes ended with the ball reaching Success who snatched at his shot which flew the width of the field and out for a throw-in!  The home side took the lead in the 32nd minute and it was a brilliant goal, a lovely curling shot from Dele that nestled in the top corner of the Watford net.

Niang on the ball

The visitors were appealing for a penalty soon after when Success went down in the box, but the appeals were waved away.  The Hornets were two goals down after 39 minutes when a shot from Son deflected off Doucouré and fell to Dier who smashed it past Gomes.  After the terrific start from the Hornets, they really didn’t deserve to be two goals down at this stage.  But it got worse before half time as Son hit a lovely shot from distance for the third goal.  That was just nasty.

If you were only to look at the half time score, this looked like a pasting, but Watford had played some really lovely football in the first half.  However, Spurs are easily the best team that I have seen this season and their moments of quality in front of goal were the difference between the teams.

It could have been much worse early in the second half as, from a Watford corner, Eriksen intercepted the ball and went haring the length of the pitch and was only stopped by a terrific tackle from Janmaat in the box.  Watford’s Dutchman then had a chance himself at the other end, dribbling along the top of the box before shooting just wide of the target.

Cathcart, Deeney, Mariappa, Okaka and Success gathering for a set piece

Spurs scored their fourth ten minutes into the second half, the Watford defence should have done better with this one as Trippier crossed for Son who was in an acre of space as he finished for his second goal of the game.  Mazzarri’s first change was to bring Zuñiga on in place of Doucouré.  This substitution wasn’t as protracted as usual, probably because, I am reliably informed, Zuñiga waved Frustalupi away as he produced his tactic book.  Despite the scoreline, Watford were not giving up and Okaka broke into the box and cut the ball back for Niang who was muscled off the ball.  On the hour, Spurs brought Kane on for Janssen, which seemed rather cruel from my perspective.  Watford should have done better when Okaka played a lovely through ball to Success, but the Nigerian hit his shot into the ground and it flew wide.  Watford’s second substitution was an attacking change as Deeney came on for Amrabat, who had played through the middle all afternoon.  As the Watford crowd were singing for GT, the Hornets won a corner, which came out to Deeney who had a great chance to reduce the deficit, but shot well over the bar.  On 80 minutes, the away fans were indulging in shouts of Olé as the players passed the ball around beautifully, but one misplaced pass and Dele escaped towards the Watford box, the ball found its way to Son, who looked nailed on for his hat trick, but managed to shoot wide of the near post.  The South Korean had another great chance to go home with the match ball, but this time whipped his shot onto the crossbar and over.

Zuniga challenged by Dembele

Mazzari’s final substitution was a case of shutting the stable door some considerable time after the horse had bolted, as he replaced Okaka with Kabasele.  Spurs had one final chance of a fifth goal as they won a free kick in the final minute of added time, but Kane wasted the last kick of the game directing the ball on to the crossbar.

4-0 was a rather cruel scoreline for the Hornets, but Spurs had been excellent.  Having scored three in the first half, the home side appeared to relax a bit in the second period, which was nothing like as entertaining as the first 45 minutes.  But fair play to the Watford players for still giving it a go.  Fair play also to the travelling fans, as they were singing all afternoon and then applauded the players off the pitch.  That support was rewarded with a nice little gesture as Success reappeared after the cameras had departed to hand out a couple of shirts, one of which was held aloft by Don Fraser as he left the ground.  That made me very happy.

As we left the ground in search of the brewery tap who had sent a message to Dave M suggesting that Watford fans would be welcomed after the game, we found the locals very pleasant (quite understandably) but also the stewards on the way, a number of whom helpfully gave us directions for the supporters coach which was parked quite a distance from the ground and very close to the bar.  The location for the brewery wasn’t the most attractive that I have ever seen, being a unit on an industrial estate, but the welcome was warm, the beer was very pleasant, the sun was shining and the company was second to none.  As we eventually left to make our way to our evening commitments, we were all in a very good mood.  This wasn’t a game that we expected to win and, despite the scoreline, the Watford performance had certainly not been as cowed as in the game at Liverpool.  The patched together defence had done a decent job in the first half hour and most of the Spurs goals had been down to individual brilliance from the players in question.  We ended the afternoon with our team in the top half of the table, amongst good friends with the sun shining.  So, despite the defeat, all felt right with the world.

A Battering at White Hart Lane

The teams line up for the handshake

The teams line up for the handshake

After an encouraging performance at home to Chelsea, we made the trip to White Hart Lane.  The feeling of injustice after the last minute offside winner at Vicarage Road still rankled, but I really wasn’t expecting anything from this game.

Team news was that Flores had made five changes which included a full debut for Suárez and resting Deeney, a player that I can never imagine needing a rest, although it was reported that he had failed a fitness test before the game.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Capoue, Watson, Suárez, Abdi, Jurado and Ighalo.  It looked like a fairly defensive line-up and there were questions about how Ighalo would fare without his pal.

Prior to the match, we’d been warned to get there by 2pm because of the “enhanced security”.  As it was, the searching process was no worse than at Swansea, although I do object to being treated like a criminal when going to a place of entertainment, and we were soon in our seats.

As the teams emerged from the tunnel, I struggled to spot the Watford players as we were wearing our black away kit, while the Spurs team came out in black track suit tops, so the teams appeared to merge into one.  Prior to kick off there was a minute’s applause for Peter Baker who was part of the double winning side in 60/61.  It was beautifully observed by both sets of fans.

Ake preparing for a throw

Ake preparing for a throw

The first attack of the match came from Harry Kane, who broke into the box with Aké in attendance who couldn’t stop the shot, but helped to ensure that it was weak and easy for Gomes to gather.  A Britos miskick put the Hornets in danger, but Gomes came charging out of the area to clear.  Then Chadli met a Trippier cross with a header that bounced off Nyom’s head and out for a corner.  Spurs continued to dominate as a corner was met with a defensive header that dropped to Dembélé who shot wide of the near post.  On the half hour, Davies hit a dangerous shot that took a deflection off Nyom which, thankfully, took it into the side netting.  Davies played a lovely one-two with Chadli before unleashing a shot that Gomes got a hand to before it was eventually cleared after a scramble.  A free kick from Lamela was met by a header from Chadli that was terribly weak and flew wide of the target.  Watford’s first chance came in the 35th minute as Lloris came out for a clearance prompting Abdi to try to chip him, but the shot ended up on the roof of the net.  The Spurs onslaught continued as a Nyom tackle broke to Davies who advanced and shot, but Gomes saved.  The resulting corner reached Lamela but, again, Gomes was equal to the shot.  Harry Kane was the next to threaten the Watford goal but, with Britos challenging, he shot over the bar.  Towards the end of the half, there was a glimmer of hope for Watford fans with a lovely period of passing but, sadly, it finished with a through ball from Jurado to Ighalo being intercepted by the defence.

Capoue challenging

Capoue challenging

The first half had been very disappointing.  Playing Ighalo alone upfront had left him isolated and ineffectual.  But he wasn’t the only one struggling as, every time Watford tried to break, there seemed to be a Spurs player available to intercept the pass.  Spurs were playing very well, not giving us any time on the ball and forcing misplaced passes.  The much anticipated debut from Suárez had been very disappointing, he has a great touch but made no impact on the game.  After the break he made way for Behrami and Deeney replaced Abdi.

Early in the second half, there was a penalty appeal for the home side as Kane went down after a challenge with Gomes.  Thankfully the referee waved the appeals away.  There followed another worrying period for the Hornets as every attempted clearance came back, so it was a relief finally to see the ball in the arms of Gomes.  There was another chance for Spurs as Lamela played the ball out to Kane whose shot was parried by Gomes.  Less than 10 minutes into the half Britos, who had earlier had treatment for an injury, could no longer continue and was replaced by Prödl.  Soon after, there was a rare attack from the Hornets as Capoue battled past a couple of challenges before releasing Ighalo who, sadly, was flagged offside.  At the other end Cathcart did very well to turn a Trippier cross out for a corner.  The first booking of the game came as Capoue lost the ball to Trippier and then fouled him trying to win it back.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

Spurs made their first substitution on the hour replacing Chadli with Alli.  The youngster’s first act was to pass to Lamela who was falling as he attempted his shot which was easy for Gomes to gather.  Spurs took the lead on 64 minutes as Trippier converted a cross from Alli.  It appeared to be a poor goal to give away but it felt like a miracle that we had held out that long.  Watford tried to strike back immediately as a ball over the top into the box was met with a defensive header that dropped to Deeney who shot over the bar.  At the other end, Lamela latched on to a through ball but shot past the near post.  Almost immediately he was replaced by Son.  Spurs had a good chance to increase the lead as a cross from Erikson reached Wimmer who played the ball back across the box instead of towards the goal and Nyom was able to clear.  A ball over the top to Deeney was cleared before it reached him, then Jurado played in Ighalo whose shot was blocked.  At the other end Son tried his luck but his shot was saved by Gomes.  Then a ball into the Spurs box was headed clear by Wimmer before Deeney could convert.  Gomes was in action again soon after saving a shot from Erikson.  Then Capoue played a ball over the top to Deeney, but there were two defenders on him before he could shoot so he passed to Ighalo whose shot was deflected for a corner.  The set piece from Watson was too deep and came to nothing.  Watford threatened again as Capoue found Ighalo who tried an overhead kick that flew well wide.  On 90 minutes, Jurado tried a shot but Lloris was equal to it.  Then a cross from Nyom was headed down by Deeney to Ighalo whose shot was saved but the flag was up anyway.  The final action of the game was a throw from Aké which was headed on by Deeney, but Lloris gathered.

Gomes lines up a free kick

Gomes lines up a free kick

It was a relief when the final whistle went.  Watford had put in a better performance in the second half and could have nicked an equalizer, but we had been battered by Spurs over the 90 minutes.  It was testament to the defence and, particularly, Gomes, that we had only conceded the one goal.  Flores had set us up to contain Spurs in the first half and, while I didn’t enjoy that any more than I enjoyed the game at Man City when he employed the same  tactics, the result was as expected and our goal difference didn’t suffer which is a positive that I took from the result.

Being second best to this Spurs team is no disgrace and, now that the dust has settled, I reflect that 25 games into the season we are still in 10th place, 10 points clear of the relegation zone and with a better goal difference than anyone below us (and Liverpool).  We have some very winnable games coming up and probably only need two more wins to guarantee survival.  If you’d told me at the start of the season that that would be the case at this point in the season, I would have bitten your hand off.

A Valiant Effort Against the Spurs

Capoue passes under a challenge from Alli

Capoue passes under a challenge from Alli

There’s no rest for the wicked so, two days after the trip to Stamford Bridge, we were back at Vicarage Road for the game against Spurs.  I arrived at the West Herts early doors to see Don and a number of others milling around outside as the doors were not yet open.  My reason for getting there early was that I had completely forgotten to get a calendar this year.  I always have a Watford calendar on my office wall at work, so it was essential that was rectified.  I am not a shopper, I only ever venture into town when I have something particular to buy, so it is a while since I’ve been in the Hornet shop and my calendar ended up costing me over £150 as other Watford related delights caught my eye.  I walked to the ground with Karoline and other members of the Vicarage Roadies and we reflected on the Boxing Day game and the season so far, both topics bringing smiles to our faces.  On reaching Vicarage Road, a smartly dressed man caught my eye and then asked if I had any spare tickets.  Don’t you love the Premier League?

Today was going to be a very tough test and it was amusing to reflect that three matches into the run of Christmas games that we had all been dreading at the start of the season, this was the first one in which we would face a club above us in the table.

Ighalo leaps for a corner

Ighalo leaps for a corner

Team news was that Aké regained his place in the side and Nyom was rested in favour of Anya.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Britos, Cathcart, Anya, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.  The Tottenham team included former loanee, Danny Rose.  When I got to my seat, I found one of the 1881 flags that hadn’t been claimed by anyone else so I joined in the pre-match flag waving.

There was a lively start from the visitors as Kane came running into the box but was stopped by a great tackle from Aké.  The next tackle of note was less impressive as Alli slid through Capoue to earn himself a yellow card.  Watford’s first goal attempt came as Ighalo connected with a cross from Anya, but he was poorly positioned and directed his header wide, although the flag was up for offside anyway.  The next threat from the visitors came from a cross from Trippier that was headed clear by Watson.  Watford then had a couple of decent chances both of which fell to Capoue.  The first came from a corner that was cleared to the Frenchman, who shot high and wide.  Then Watson found Deeney whose shot was blocked, again it dropped to Capoue who shot well wide of the target prompting chants of “that’s why we sold you” from the Tottenham fans.  The visitors took the lead on 16 minutes as Cathcart lingered too long on a ball in the midfield, Lamela stole it and advanced upfield, Britos stood off and allowed him to shoot past Gomes.  It was a gift of a goal, but it is hard to criticise Cathcart who has been a rock this season.

Returning from the goal celebration

Returning from the goal celebration

Spurs threatened again as Kane broke forward, fighting off the attentions of Cathcart, he cut the ball back to Lamela who mishit his shot which flew well wide of the target.  At the other end, Deeney flicked the ball to Ighalo in the box, but Dier was on hand to clear.  Then Deeney connected with a cross from Capoue and headed it down for Ighalo, but the defenders closed him down and prevented the shot.  The Nigerian had another chance soon after as Jurado played the ball out to Aké on the left wing, he crossed for Ighalo who volleyed wide.  For the visitors, Alli tried a shot from distance that was well wide.  Rose tackled Abdi and fed Kane who advanced on goal but his shot was well over the target.  Jurado tried a low shot from distance but Lloris was down to save.  Gomes was called into action to deal with a cross-cum-shot from Trippier that he pushed clear.  At the other end Lloris had to deal with a cross from Aké that was also tipped clear.  It was almost half time when Jurado found Abdi on the edge of the box, his shot was blocked, but the ball wasn’t cleared and suddenly Ighalo had the ball and was beyond the defence and shooting past Lloris.  Just remarkable.  Tottenham had a chance just before half time as a defensive header by Deeney reached Trippier, but he could only shoot wide.

So we reached half time level.  Spurs had done a good job of snuffing out Watford’s attack but, apart from the goal which was the result of poor defending from Watford, Gomes had not been tested.

Anya takes a throw-in

Anya takes a throw-in

At the start of the second half, Behrami replaced Abdi.  Spurs had also made a change just before the end of the first half replacing the injured Dembélé with Erikson.  The first action of note in the second period was the award of a yellow card to Britos for a foul on Trippier.  The tackle was right in front of Flores who did not look impressed with the decision.  Erikson played a ball over the top to Kane, but the England man shot straight at Gomes.  Watford fans’ impression of the referee was not improved when Jurado was booked for a foul on Alli that could easily have gone the other way.  Just before the hour mark, Kane met a cross from Trippier with a diving header that flew wide of the target.  Flores made his second substitution soon after bringing Prödl on for Britos.  Watford’s first goal attempt of the half came as a Cathcart free kick was met by a header from Deeney that was cleared.  On the hour, the Hornets were reduced to ten men.  From our angle in the Rookery, Aké appeared to make a good tackle on Lamela who went down dramatically, the Spurs players surrounded the referee and the youngster was shown a red card.  Deeney was then shown a yellow for protesting.  Subsequent television pictures indicated that the foot was high, but Lamela’s dramatic fall wasn’t the first time that we had seen theatrics from the Spurs players so, subsequently, every touch by a visitor was booed.

Britos lines up a free kick

Britos lines up a free kick

The mood in the home end was not helped when Ighalo was penalized for trying to shake off the attentions of a Spurs defender as he tried to break down the right.  Odion was also shown a yellow card, I can only think that he had let the lino know exactly what he thought of him.  Thankfully I wasn’t on the pitch as my reaction would have earned me a straight red.  I wasn’t the only one to be angry as the Rookery rang out with “You’ve only got 12 men.”  Each side made a substitution as Nyom replaced Jurado and Son came on for Carroll.  Spurs threatened for the first time since the sending off as Erikson played the ball through to Son, but Gomes was out to save at his feet.  There were cheers from the home fans as the referee finally gave a free kick Watford’s way, although he really couldn’t ignore Alderweireld’s wrestling move on Capoue which finished with the Frenchman being thrown to the ground and the Spurs man’s name in the referee’s book.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead as a corner from Watson was headed goalwards by Deeney, Lloris punched the ball into the air which led to a goalmouth scramble but it was eventually cleared.  Danny Rose was the next to earn the wrath of the Watford faithful as he went down near the Watford box in an attempt to stop an attack by Deeney.  The referee had words.  With 5 minutes of normal time remaining, Watford had a series of corners and thought they had scored when Watson’s delivery was cleared from inside the goal by Lloris, but the ref’s watch didn’t go off so the ball can’t fully have crossed the line.

Watson takes a free kick

Watson takes a free kick

As Watford had looked the most likely winners, it was heartbreaking to see the ball in the net at the other end as a cross from Trippier reached Son who back-heeled the ball past Gomes.  I was looking for a flag that never came and replays showed that my instincts were correct.  The guy standing next to me just shook his head and lamented “after all that wonderful defending.”  My comments were written in my notebook and have had to be omitted from this report on the grounds of decency.  In time added on, Deeney had a chance to grab a point for the Hornets but his shot was blocked and the points went to North London.  There were boos for the referee at the final whistle.  Ighalo collapsed to the ground in disappointment (and exhaustion) and was helped to his feet by Flores who then went to the referee and had a few words.  The officials left the pitch to loud boos that were accompanied by applause for the efforts of the players.  Once he had reached the tunnel, the cheers started for the disappointed players who were still out applauding the crowd.

Gomes ready to launch the ball

Gomes ready to launch the ball

The result felt like a great injustice.  After Ake’s sending off I had feared that Spurs would take control, but the Hornets had defended magnificently and the visitors had never really looked like getting a winner so for them to win it at the death seemed so unfair.  This game felt like a flashback to our last visit to the top division when decisions seemed to go against us and every mistake was punished.  But the fact that it has taken until the 19th game of the season for me to feel like that is a cause for celebration.

The next game will be very interesting.  In the game away at Man City we set up to defend and hardly crossed the half way line.  Facing them at home is likely to be a much different proposition and one I am relishing, even if I’m not expecting anything from the game.  But our season does not depend on our results against teams like City and Spurs and, if the second half of the season is anything like as good as the first half, we are in for a treat.

Happy New Year!