Tag Archives: Moussa Sissoko

VAR Is Not Our Friend

Seeing the new stadium for the first time

Unfortunately, on Friday evening, I turned my ankle walking home from the station.  It was very painful, and I struggled to get home.  On Saturday morning my ankle was swollen and I was finding it difficult to walk, so I had to decide on my plan for the day.  The pub that we were meeting at was a 15 minute walk from the stadium, so I decided that it would be better to go straight to the ground.  I briefly considered missing the match completely, as my hopes were not high.  But the last time I missed a match due to ill health, we beat Chelsea in a terrific game, and this was our first visit to a new stadium, so I decided that I had to go.

I drove to the station for the first time in years and got the train, tube and bus that I needed to get to the stadium.  My journey plan indicated that I would have only a minute’s walk from the bus stop but there were matchday diversions which meant a slow hobble up Tottenham High Road.  The stadium could be seen from a distance and looked very impressive.  Needless to say, I had to walk around the stadium to the away end and climb a flight of steps to the entrance, so was feeling very sorry for myself by the time that I reached the turnstiles.  I had listened to the advice regarding the bag policy and only brought a small drawstring bag.  Thankfully, this passed their inspection and I went through the airport screeners to get in.  I was stopped as my camera was in my pocket and had triggered the alarm, but I was soon allowed to the turnstiles and finally inside the ground.

The rather lovely view of the roof from our seats

Inside, I met up with a lot of familiar faces.  The story of my injury had got around and was met with exactly the level of sympathy that I was expecting (none).  I soon headed for my seat to catch up with the family.  The new stadium is very impressive inside and we had terrific seats.  They have the rail seats that are suitable for safe standing, which was quite a relief as it meant that I had a barrier to lean on during the game.  I did think that the seats were very narrow for a new stadium, but I guess they have to pack the punters in.

Team news was that Quique had made 2 changes from the draw against Sheffield United with Dawson and Chalobah replacing Prödl and Gray.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Kabasele, Dawson, Cathcart; Holebas, Chalobah, Cleverley, Doucouré, Janmaat; Welbeck, Pereyra.  I had checked the kit that we would be wearing before leaving the house and was a little surprised to find that we were in the navy, which meant that we would be wearing the same colour shorts as Spurs.  It seems that the rules regarding colour clash only apply to shirts and socks, so matching shorts are not considered to be a problem.

Talking of odd colour choices, Alice turned up wearing an orange jumper.  I swear she only does it to upset me!

I failed to get a picture of the goal celebrations due to the arms aloft in front of me, so here are Doucoure and Chalobah

The game started with a setback for the Hornets as Danny Welbeck went down with a hamstring injury.  He was treated for a short time but was unable to continue.  He left the field, to boos from the home fans due to his Arsenal history, and was replaced by Deulofeu.  Rather unbelievably, Watford took the lead after 6 minutes.  Cathcart played a gorgeous cross-field ball to Janmaat, who put in a great cross that Doucouré turned home (although the stadium announcer gave it to Cleverley).  My celebration had to be a little muted as I was incapable of jumping up and down.  I made up for it with extra fist pumping and hugging!  The home side had a chance to hit back almost immediately as Sissoko hit a powerful shot from just outside the area, but it cleared the bar.  The first caution of the game went to Sanchez for a nasty tackle on Pereyra.  There was a shout for a penalty from the home side as Danny Rose tumbled in the box under a challenge from Pereyra.  It was right in front of us and was unconvincing.  The referee and VAR both agreed with my assessment and we played on.  The best chance of the first half for the home side came with a low shot from distance from Dele, but Foster made the save.  At the other end, Doucouré broke into the box and put in a lovely cross, but there was no Watford player there to get on the end of it.  My nerves were tested when a ball came into the Watford box and Dawson dived towards it.  I was fearful of another own goal but, thankfully, Foster made the catch.  I had barely caught my breath when Foster was caught with the ball at his feet, Dele came in to make a challenge, but Ben made a slick turn away from the forward and made the clearance.  Watford had a penalty call as Deulofeu went down in the area under a challenge from Vertonghen.  The referee waved play on and, while Deulofeu protested, the VAR check was performed and confirmed the referee’s decision.  Having seen this on television after the game, Vertonghen slid in and had a couple of chops at Geri before he took him down.  I am baffled that this was considered to be a fair challenge by multiple officials.  At the other end, Spurs had a chance to grab an equaliser before half time as Alderweireld crossed for Moura, but the header flew over the bar.

Holebas cherishing the ball before a throw-in

The half time whistle went to boos from the Spurs fans.  The mood among the travelling Hornets was much better than it has been in recent weeks as it had been a spirited performance with some lovely football being played.

After the half-time break, the Spurs players took to the pitch considerably earlier than the Watford men and had made a substitution bringing Son on for Sanchez.  Given how much trouble we have had from the South Korean in recent seasons, this looked to be bad news for the Hornets.  This feeling was intensified when Son blasted a shot that, thankfully, rebounded off the crossbar and out for a throw-in.  The Hornets had a great chance to increase their lead as Deulofeu was in on goal, but the one time I wanted him to be selfish he decided instead to square for Pereyra, who was being shadowed by Aurier who managed to block the shot conceding a corner that came to nothing.  A terrible attempt at a clearance by Gazzaniga let to the ball looping into the air, but Pereyra was unable to capitalise.  Watford threatened again as Doucouré played in Janmaat who went for goal when maybe he should have passed, his attempt was blocked.  Son had another attempt to equalise, this time a shot from a narrow angle, but Foster was able to make the save.

Cathcart waiting to take a free kick

Another great chance for the Hornets as Pereyra went on a brilliant run before crossing for Deulofeu whose shot was wide of the far post when he really should have hit the target.  Just after the hour mark, Spurs made their second change bringing Lamela on for Moura.  The Hornets had another opportunity to increase their lead when Doucouré picked up a loose ball and shot from the edge of the area, but his effort was just wide of the target.  From the opposite end of the ground, a Spurs equaliser looked imminent as Kane got behind the Watford defence, but Dawson was on hand to make the crucial tackle.  Janmaat had another chance to extend Watford’s lead after he received a pass from Pereyra, but he tried to switch feet before taking the shot and the chance was gone.  That was his last contribution to the game as he was also forced to leave the field with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Femenía.  Spurs also made a change as Winks made way for Ndombele.  Spurs threatened with a cross into the Watford box, but Kabasele was imperious, rising to head it away.  Then a lovely cross from Lamela was met with a shot from Dele, but it was an easy save for Foster.  Watford’s next chance came from a poor clearance by Gazzaniga which was picked up by Doucouré who found Deulofeu, but his run into the box was stopped by a foul from Sissoko, who was booked for the challenge.  Our SLO was less than impressed with the intervention by the Spurs man and let all around him know it.  Geri look the free kick himself.  His delivery was on target but an easy catch for Gazzaniga.

Foster prepares to take a free kick

Rose had another shout for a penalty when he went down under a challenge from Kabasele but, again, the challenge was soft, and the penalty was not given.  Into the last 10 minutes and Pereyra had been struggling for a while and clearly needed to be replaced.  As Quique was not getting the message, he went down with cramp and lay in the box for a while with his leg in the air, as the referee insisted that he left the field.  Eventually, he was replaced by Hughes and left the pitch, but not before he had been booked for time-wasting.  The Spurs equaliser was just heartbreaking.  With four minutes left on the clock, Foster came for a cross, failed to deal with it, it dropped to Dele, who controlled it and turned it into the empty net.  There was a VAR check to see whether there had been an offence committed in the build-up.  The referee signalled that the goal stood, and the players went to prepare for the restart.  Then the big screen indicated that the decision was ‘No Goal’.  There were lots of celebrations around me, but the players were still lined up to kick-off again and, sure enough, a new ‘decision’ appeared on the screen indicating that the goal had been given.  It was an utterly ludicrous situation.  It all got a bit heated after that.  First Rose was booked for a foul on Hughes.  Then Dele was taken down and handbags ensued, which finished with Holebas and Dele both receiving yellow cards.  The resulting free kick was hit straight into the wall.  A number around me were voicing my fear that Spurs would go on to win it, but the closest that they came to a winner was a dangerous cross from Aurier that was cleared by Dawson.  My nerves were in shreds at this point and, when a number of the players collapsed on to the pitch, it took me a while to realise that the final whistle had gone.

The Watford players must have been gutted, but they left the field to warm applause from the travelling fans.

Tom Cleverley just brilliant again

Having heard horror stories about the wait to get into Seven Sisters station after the game, and seen the barriers already in place up the street when I arrived, I decided to join the others for a post-match drink, even if, having driven to the station, I was not able to sample the beer.  It was definitely the right decision as the company was great and we caught up with some other friends that we hadn’t seen in the stadium.  The general consensus was that this had been our best performance of the season.  While Spurs had the lion’s share of the possession, the Watford defence were very well organised and Foster barely had a save to make.  All of the dangerous chances had fallen to the Hornets but, as too often this season, we had been wasteful.  A team with more confidence may have taken a couple of those shots earlier and the result would have been different.  But, in contrast to the games earlier this season, this was a gutsy performance with the players working with and for each other and it was a joy to watch.  While all the players played their part, I have to pick out Cleverley, who was absolutely magnificent yet again.  But the highlight for me was the performance of Doucouré.  He has been a shadow of his former self in most of the games this season, but on Saturday he was working hard, snapping into tackles and then starting moves, the misplaced passes that have been all too frequent this season were not in evidence.  While Spurs are on a terrible run, it is still very pleasing to come away from their ground feeling aggrieved that we only took a point.

Dawson looking unimpressed with the referee after the final whistle

I was home in time for Match of the Day and, for possibly the first time this season, I decided to watch it live.  Now I will start by saying that I was very much against the introduction of VAR.  I didn’t see the need for it and using it in a game that flows made no sense to me. Those who argued for the implementation told me that it would rule out errors.  My argument has always been that many of the decisions in football are subjective and will still be subjective when viewed at Stockley Park.  From the footage on Match of the Day it seemed clear that the challenge on Deulofeu should have resulted in a penalty.  But even worse was the equalising goal.  There appeared to be a push on Kabasele in the build-up and it was clear that Dele controlled the ball using his upper arm.  Spurs fans have argued that the ball hit his shoulder, but the footage also shows the player’s face after he scored the goal and he looked haunted.  He knew that he had controlled it with his arm and was waiting for it to be ruled out.  Those reviewing at Stockley Park would have seen all of this and the conclusion should have been that the goal would not stand.  The decision that was broadcast in the ground was that it was not a goal.  What is still not clear to me is whether they sent through an erroneous decision or whether the referee overruled the VAR official and they kow-towed.  Whichever is the case, the involvement of VAR provoked a lot more anger than would have come following a mistake by a referee.  VAR is supposed to level the playing field, but the current feeling is that it is just enforcing the ‘big club bias.’  The decisions today along with the Newcastle goal that should not have stood, but was not reviewed, are leading Watford fans to conclude that VAR is not our friend.

But I don’t want to finish on that note as, for the first time this season, I am feeling really positive.  If we continue to play as well as we did on Saturday, we won’t be in the relegation zone for long.  This was the first time that we have seen a convincing performance from the whole team.  I hope that we bring that into the Bournemouth game and have Vicarage Road bouncing again.  I will certainly ensure that I rest this week so that my ankle is up to bouncing.

Bemoaning the Return of Son

Take your seats!

This game against Spurs was originally scheduled as a Watford home game, but it was decided to change the September fixture to be played at Vicarage Road in order to give the hosts time to get their ground ready.  So it was with some irritation that this fixture was confirmed as being played at Wembley, which is a terrible venue for a league game.

Our recent pre-match pub of choice was deemed to have gone too up-market, so we met at an alternative venue which was actually equally expensive and didn’t have reindeer on the menu, although it did have a venison vindaloo pie, which went down very well with some in our party.  After a very pleasant meal, we headed for Marylebone to get the train to Wembley and were rather surprised to find that it was far from packed and we were able to secure seats for the short journey with no problems.

During the afternoon before the match, the message had gone out that it was no longer permissible to take rucksacks or laptop bags into the ground and we had been warned to arrive an hour before kick-off in order to give us time to get through security.  Arriving just before 7:30, we had the freedom of Wembley Way and there was no queue to get into the ground, although the warning regarding bags had to be taken seriously as there was a measuring device that was in use to catch out those trying to flout the bag size rules.

Deeney wants the ball

Team news was that Javi had made three changes from the Burnley game with Janmaat, Cathcart and Hughes in for Femenía, Kabasele and Sema.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Hughes, Cleverley, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu and Deeney.  With the team announcement comes the shirt colour and I was disappointed to see that the team would be playing in yellow as I only had my green shirt with me.

About 10 minutes before kick-off, there were exhortations over the tannoy and on the screens for fans to “Take your Seat.”  When we entered the arena, we could see why, as the home areas were very sparsely populated indeed.

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s reflection for the missing Cardiff striker Emiliano Sala and the pilot of the missing aircraft, David Ibbotson.  So very sad.

Holebas and Pereyra line up a free kick

Like most Watford fans, I had been gutted when South Korea were knocked out of the Asian Cup meaning that Son would be available for this fixture.  He certainly showed no sign of jet lag as he made an early run into the Watford box but, with Cathcart in close attendance, the ball ended up in Foster’s hands.  Watford also launched an early attack as Janmaat put in a decent cross and Deeney was just short of providing the finishing touch.  Son again caused concern for the Watford defence with a turn and shot that flew just wide of the far post.  The first on-target effort came as a shot from Eriksen took a nasty double deflection which sent it goalwards, but Foster was alert to the danger and made the save.  Then Eriksen found Son in the box but, as he tried to round the keeper, Foster was able to save at his feet. Watford had a half chance as a shot from Deeney was blocked and fell to Janmaat whose shot was high and wide.  Vertonghen then tried his luck but Foster was quickly out to clear.  At the other end, Deulofeu did really well to make space for himself on the edge of the box but his shot was just wide of the target.  Son threatened again with a curling shot, but Foster was right behind it.  Holebas was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that was deflected over the bar.

Celebrating Cathcart’s goal

Watford took an unexpected lead as, from a corner, Cathcart rose to head past Lloris.  It all looked a bit scrappy from the other end of the ground, but a goal is a goal and the celebrations were joyous.  Almost immediately, the home side had a chance to break back as Son crossed the ball in front of the Watford goal, but there was no Spurs player on hand to turn it in.  So we reached half time a goal to the good in what had been a pretty poor half of football.

Spurs made a change at the break bringing on Moura for Aurier.  Llorente should have equalised early in the second half as he met a cross from Sissoko with a close range shot, Foster made the block but it rebounded to the Spaniard who should have buried it, but somehow managed to divert the ball over the bar when it would have been easier to hit the target.  At the other end, Deulofeu had a great chance to increase the lead but his shot flew just wide of the far post.  The first substitution came on the hour mark as Success came on for Deulofeu who looked very unhappy at being replaced.  The home side threatened again as a free kick from Eriksen was deflected goalwards and had to be blocked on the line by Foster, Alderweireld played the ball back into the box but Llorente headed wide of the near post.

Success, Mariappa and Cathcart jockeying for position

Gracia made his second substitution replacing Cleverley with Wilmot who was in action almost immediately clearing a shot from Rose off the line.  The second Spurs substitution saw Trippier coming on for Sissoko.  Watford’s first chance of the half came on 70 minutes, with a shot from Deeney that found the side netting.  A dangerous looking break by Moura was stopped by Capoue who was booked for the foul.  Watford had another chance to increase their lead as Deeney headed the ball down to Success but the shot was just wide.  Pochettino made his final change bringing Lamela on for Vertonghen.   With 10 minutes to go, Spurs finally scored an equaliser as Son, who had been a menace all evening, broke into the box and finished past Foster.  Our hopes of holding on for a point were dashed with three minutes to go as Llorente, who had been wasteful all evening headed a cross from Rose back across goal and past Foster into the net.  It was a poor goal to concede, Rose was given far too much space and Foster possibly could have done better, but it would be churlish to criticise him as he had been magnificent all evening.  There were four minutes of added time, but neither side looked likely to score again.

So the whistle went on a defeat that was probably deserved and only really galling as we had held the lead for so long.  It was a poor game, one that won’t live long in the memory.  It has to be said that Spurs are a shadow of the team that they were a couple of seasons ago, they looked very ordinary, with the exception of Son who put in an excellent showing as he always does.  Their stay at Wembley has done them no favours at all and the fact that the crowd was below 30K shows what the fans think of the venue.  I am just happy that I won’t have to go there for another league game.  Watford were not great going forward, thankfully we had goal machine, Cathcart, to save our blushes.  But, there was another decent defensive performance and Ben Foster continues to be magnificent in goal.  At the end of the day, I can only hope that a narrow defeat to Spurs will be considered a disappointing result for some time to come as that will mean that we are a team looking up the table rather than down.

 

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 Cup win Against the Magpies

Oulare versus Collochini

Oulare versus Collochini

After a run of two defeats, we really needed a win in this game. The draw against Newcastle couldn’t have been less inspiring and, despite the claims in the Newcastle Chronicle earlier in the season that we were pygmys to their giants, I couldn’t help feeling that this was a game that we really ought to win. There was a lot of speculation during the week about how many players would be rested but, when the team news came through, we found that Flores had made only four changes. Oularé was given his debut in place of Ighalo; Guedioura and Berghuis made their first starts of the season in place of Capoue and Abdi, and Prödl was drafted in for Britos. So the starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Prödl, Cathcart, Nyom, Guedioura, Watson, Jurado, Deeney, Berghuis and Oularé.

Taking our usual seats in the Rookery, it was a little strange to see a number of unfamiliar faces around us. At the other end of the ground it was rather sad to see a large number of empty seats in the Vicarage Road end, a result of Newcastle demanding a £35 membership fee from anyone who wanted to buy a ticket. A real shame as the ticket prices were so reasonable and fair play to Watford for offering a discount to our season ticket holders.

Cathcart lines up a free kick

Cathcart lines up a free kick

The first chance of the game fell to the home side as a clearance only went as far as Berghuis, whose shot from distance was well over the target. At the other end, Janmaat went charging into the Watford box but Gomes blocked the shot. Oularé did well to battle past the Newcastle defence but had no way to goal so played a square ball to Deeney who found Guedioura to his right but the Algerian’s shot was blocked. There was then some good work from Guedioura beating a couple of players before finding Jurado whose shot curled into the arms of Elliot. There was danger in the Watford box as a cross from Janmaat reached Wijnaldum at the near post, but Gomes was down to block. Guedioura threatened again with a cross to Oularé, who tried to touch it on to Deeney, but the pass was cut out. Sissoko went on a powerful run and crossed for Pérez whose shot was wide of the far post. Sissoko then tried a cross that was met with a strong header from Prödl for a corner. The visitors had a decent chance from a corner but the header was glanced over by Mitrovic. Another Newcastle corner came to nothing as Janmaat wellied well over. The first booking of the game went to Tioté for a clumsy trip on Guedioura. It was then Watford’s turn to create a couple of decent chances. First Watson’s free kick was headed goalwards by Cathcart, but Elliot tipped the ball around the post. The resultant corner was punched as far as Jurado whose shot was blocked.

Jurado congratulates Deeney on his goal

Jurado congratulates Deeney on his goal

The visitors could have opened the scoring as Mbabu went on a long run before hitting a shot that was punched clear by Gomes. But it was Watford who took the lead rather unexpectedly just before half time. A mistake from Wijnaldum led to the ball running through to Deeney who only had Elliot to beat, which he did by rounding the keeper and coolly slotting home. It was notable that, due to the influx of occasional supporters, the four of us seemed to be the only ones indulging in the post goal bouncing in our section of the Rookery. The game had been pretty dire until that point so that sent us in to the break with smiles on our faces.

At half time, there was a race between Harry the Hornet and a mascot representing a new club in town. It is common knowledge that Harry takes his fitness seriously, so he was an easy winner and celebrated by ‘doing an Ighalo’ at the corner flag.

 

Berghuis preparing for a throw in

Berghuis preparing for a throw in

There was a half-time substitution as Anya came on for Oularé which resulted in a switch to 4-5-1 with Jurado going into the hole behind Deeney. The second half was only five minutes old when the visiting fans started singing “How sh*t must you be, it’s only 1-0.’ Which seemed a tad harsh as Newcastle had made a decent fist of the first half. Newcastle then had the first goal attempt of the half which was a terrible shot by Pérez from the edge of the box that flew past the near post. After seeing that, I had a bit more sympathy for the sentiments of the Newcastle fans. Watford then attacked as Anya broke down the left before making his way along the by-line to cut the ball back to Deeney who was unable to get a shot in. It was then Newcastle’s turn to break through Pérez who found Thauvin in space but his cross was caught by Gomes. The visitors really should have equalized as Sissoko slid a ball into the box, Gomes was in trouble as Mitrovic ran in but the Newcastle man couldn’t connect, much to the relief of the home fans. Watford’s second substitution saw Abdi coming on for Berghuis who really hadn’t made a claim for his place. Anya went on a run and launched a cross that was headed out for a corner. Then a quick throw from Deeney found Anya who cut the ball back to Jurado but his shot was blocked. Sissoko broke again and crossed for Thauvin who was in space and Gomes did very well to block his shot, but the flag had been raised anyway.

Watson lines up a free kick

Watson lines up a free kick

I noticed Troy jumping over the hoardings into the Lower GT and assumed that his momentum had taken him there until he returned with a Newcastle player who, presumably, he had bundled over. Watford’s final substitution came with 20 minutes remaining as Ighalo replaced Jurado, who was given a standing ovation. The Nigerian had been well wrapped up as he warmed up, so must have been given a good amount of time to remove all the layers before coming on. Watford looked to increase their lead as Guedioura played a through ball into the box but it was just too far in front of Holebas. At this stage the Newcastle fans were demanding their money back and I had a bit more sympathy than I’d had for the earlier chant. Abdi put a decent cross into the Newcastle box but Anya couldn’t get on the end of it. Watford’s only booking came as Guedioura was cautioned for a kick on Thauvin as the Newcastle player tried to break. The next contribution from the Newcastle fans was “You’re getting sacked in the morning,” which was gleefully taken up by the Rookery. As if to prove the point, Newcastle had won a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery was absolutely dreadful and straight into the arms of Gomes. Newcastle had one last chance to equalize in the final minute of time added on but Thauvin could only shoot into the side netting.

Berghuis after taking a corner

Berghuis after taking a corner

It had been a pretty awful game. Watford had been poor but, once they took the lead, the visitors never really looked like getting back into the game. You really have to feel for the Newcastle fans as their players made some good attacking moves, particularly through Sissoko, but their finishing was abysmal. The four Watford players given their chance had mixed afternoons. Oularé showed some good touches, but certainly suffered in comparison to Ighalo as, despite his size, his strength and workrate were not in the same league. But he is young and has potential. Berghuis didn’t do a lot, so Abdi must have felt pretty comfortable as he sat on the bench. Guedioura was lively and did nothing wrong, but did not have the influence that Capoue does. Prödl was excellent. I felt he was unlucky to lose his place earlier in the season, and even more so that Britos then played superbly. He was deservedly given the Man of the Match award. He was also responsible for one of the highlights of the afternoon as he went to the Lower GT and handed a young boy his shirt, stopping for a long chat. From reading a friend’s facebook page it seems it was a lad called Ossie who is being treated for neuroblastoma and had been allowed a day out from hospital to go to the game as a guest of the club. The beaming smile on the boy’s face as Prödl spoke to him just lit up the ground.

I had my own close encounter with a hero as I was walking through the GT on the way out. I saw Luke Dowling and then noticed the man walking behind him was Gino Pozzo. I just said, “Thank-you, Sir” and was rewarded with a smile. It seemed fitting to see the architect of our current success under the banners of our past and that sent me home smiling.

The Pygmies Slay the Giants

The statue of Bobby Robson

The statue of Bobby Robson

I was up at the crack of dawn again for the trip to Newcastle.  In my desire not to miss the train I had booked, tickets for which had cost a small fortune despite booking as soon as the fixture date was confirmed, I was at Kings Cross an hour before it was due to leave.  The upside of this is that it meant I bumped into Jon Marks and had time for a chat about our season so far.  The main theme was the fact that, unlike our last season in the Premier League, this time we are not travelling to every away game with a sense of impending doom.  Given the form of Newcastle this season, this game was definitely winnable.  It was only when he left that I realized that I hadn’t congratulated him on his tremendous celebration at the end of the Swansea game.

Newcastle really is a beautiful city.  The (circuitous) route to the designated pre-match pub took me down the steps at the side of the castle allowing a bit of sightseeing.  I arrived at the pub just after the doors had opened, so was able to grab a little section for our party to fill and I was soon joined by the usual suspects.  Among those in the same hostelry was Dave, our Supporter Liaison Officer, who took time to talk with a number of the North West Horns who were present.

 

A distant view of the handshakes

A distant view of the handshakes

The journey from the pub to the ground is not long, but it is all uphill, which was more painful due to the knowledge that on arrival we would have to climb 14 flights of stairs to reach level 7.  My memory of our last visit was that we were so high up that I could barely recognize the players.  In fact, I recall reading somewhere that it is a quarter of a mile from the back of the away end to the centre circle, so I had brought my binoculars.  Outside the ground, I was drawn to a statue (I do love statues) that purported to be of Bobby Robson but, to my mind, was not a great likeness.

Team news was that the only change was the replacement of the suspended Behrami with Ben Watson.  So the starting 11 was Gomes, Anya, Prödl, Cathcart, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.

 

In the run up to the game, the Newcastle Chronicle had an article which included the paragraph, “Let’s face it, Watford are pygmies living in a land of giants.  They deserve huge credit for achieving what they have, but clubs like Newcastle, with 50,000 fans bellowing them on, ought to sweep them contemptuously aside.”  The words made my blood boil, but meant that Flores didn’t need to dig too deep to get inspiration for the pre-match team talk.

Congratulating Ighalo on goal number one

Congratulating Ighalo on goal number one

As the team prepared for kick off I was both surprised and encouraged to see the players acknowledging our chants.  It was a relief that they could hear us from such a distance.

Watford had the best of the early exchanges with Ighalo getting an early sight of goal as he beat his man on the edge of the box, turned and shot wide of the near post.  He went even closer soon after, shooting just wide after Abdi headed the ball down to him.  There was danger at the other end as a Newcastle cross was only helped on by Cathcart and Cisse prodded the ball past Gomes who, thankfully, scrambled back to smother it before it reached the goal.  The visitors were ahead after 10 minutes as Abdi won the ball on the wing, it found its way to Ighalo via Capoue and Deeney and the Nigerian hit it into the bottom corner to a send the travelling Hornets on level 7 into ecstasy.  Goal celebrations at that elevation were a bit dodgy and the chap in the row in front nearly went tumbling, but managed to regain his balance before any damage was done.  There then followed a period of bouncing from the happy Hornets up in the gods.

A second goal celebration

A second goal celebration

Newcastle looked to strike back almost immediately with a quick counter attack by Sissoko who played the ball out to Cisse but the shot was into the side netting.  The home side had another chance as Haidara cut the ball back to Sissoko but the cross evaded both Thauvin’s head and the goal.  Ighalo was taken down as he tried to break, howls for a foul were quietened when the ball broke to Jurado who found Abdi, he teed up Deeney whose shot curled just wide of the target.  Jurado had the ball on the edge of the box, but failed to test Krul with a shot that was weak and straight at the keeper.  Ighalo received the ball from a throw-in before breaking free of the defence but his shot was also straight at Krul.  Just before the half hour Watford were two goals ahead as a long pass from Prödl was beautifully controlled by Deeney before he played a through ball to Ighalo who rounded the keeper and found the net.  It was a lovely goal and, after chanting in praise of the scorer, the travelling Hornets also acknowledged Deeney’s contribution.  Full back, Nyom, went on a stunning run and, with no better idea of what to do just belted the ball at a defender to win a corner.  Jurado had the ball in the Newcastle box but didn’t seem to want to shoot and the lack of other options meant the chance went begging.    A Newcastle break was stopped by a cynical foul from Abdi who was booked for his trouble.  Newcastle looked to pull one back through Perez but his shot from distance flew over the bar.  Then a shot from Thauvin was parried by Gomes, the ball fell to Anya who went on a run upfield but, with nobody accompanying him, he had no outlet.  Just before half time, a ball into the Watford box bounced off a defender and out for a corner prompting loud cheers from the home fans that summed up how little they had had to applaud in the first half.  In time added on, Nyom released Ighalo but Krul was quickly out of his box to clear the danger.  The half time whistle went to boos from the Newcastle fans.  In contrast, the travelling Hornets were delighted with their two goal lead and the very assured performance of their team.

Gomes launches the ball

Gomes launches the ball

The visitors had the first chance of the second half through Deeney, whose shot was deflected for a corner.  But it was the home side who struck next, pulling a goal back just after the hour mark as Janmaat exchanged passes with Sissoko before shooting past Gomes.  Watford tried to restore the two goal lead as Ighalo found Deeney in the box but he was tackled before he could line up a shot.  Newcastle’s goalscorer, Janmaat, very nearly grabbed an equalizer, but Gomes was equal to the shot and pushed the ball around the post.  The Dutchman then turned provider with a cross that de Jong headed wide.  Flores made his first substitution with 15 minutes to go with Berghuis coming on for Abdi.  The substitute went on a run through the middle and passed to Nyom whose cross was wild.  A counter attack by the home side finished with a shot from de Jong that Gomes got down to save.  Watford’s second substitution saw Ake coming on for Jurado, a change which was welcomed by the fans in the away end as the Spaniard had had another disappointing game.  An attempt to break by Wijnaldum was stopped as he was pulled back by Capoue, who was cautioned.  With three minutes remaining on the clock, Guedioura replaced Watson much to the delight of the travelling Hornets who had been calling for his introduction for some time.

Challenging at a corner

Challenging at a corner

Newcastle’s first caution went to Colback who received a yellow card for a trip on Ighalo as he tried to break.  In all honesty, this did us a favour as Odion appeared to be running out of steam and this ensured that we kept possession and a little more time was used up.  Berghuis cut the ball back to Nyom on the right wing, he charged into the box but his shot was high and wide.  I had been counting down the seconds since Newcastle’s goal, so was relieved that there was only 4 minutes of added time this week.  Thankfully, the only chance of an equalizer in this period came with a shot from Mbemba that went harmlessly across the goal and wide.  The final whistle went to boos from the home fans and loud cheers from Hornets up in the gods.  The joy on the faces of the players and coaching staff as they celebrated reflected that of the fans in level 7.  I swear we floated back down those 14 flights.

 

Nathan Ake

Nathan Ake

So, back to back wins in the Premier League, both of them thoroughly good performances.  Although, as this is Watford, they never make it easy for us and that second half had been a bit painful to watch at times.  Especially occasions when we had a good spell of possession but didn’t seem to want to increase the goal tally.  While Ighalo will receive the plaudits for his goals, it was his great interaction with Deeney that left the biggest smile on my face.  They are back to their best.  We missed Behrami in midfield and I was, again, disappointed with Jurado but, all in all, it was another impressive performance from a team that looks like it belongs at this level.  I am starting to like Premier League football.