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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.