Tag Archives: Nathan Redmond

Quique’s Last Stand (Again)

Sarr and Doucoure waiting for a ball into the box

A 5:30pm kick-off in Southampton meant a later than usual departure from home.  The train journey, while easy enough, did require four changes in order to get to the pre-match pub.  The penultimate leg was subject to delays due to problems at Clapham Junction, so I spent more time than was desirable sitting in the cold on Basingstoke station and, on boarding the train to Southampton, it was clear from the animated conversations and the cans of Fosters that I was now on  a “football special”.  I met up with the rest of our travelling party at Southampton Airport Parkway and, having missed the hourly connection to St Denys, we piled into a taxi.

As we entered the pub of choice, there was a large group of Watford regulars gathered at the bar.  After greeting them, we headed for a table at the back.  The pub had a decent menu, so I was rather disappointed that, on a matchday, they only offered hot dogs, burgers, chips and peas.  I have to say that my disappointment was misplaced as the hot dog was excellent and it was served with proper chips, so we left for the game replete and ready for whatever the evening would bring.

Our route to the ground took us on a path alongside the River Itchen.  We have definitely been to evening games here in the past, but clearly not in the Winter as the path was incredibly dark.  Still, we soon emerged and saw the lights of the stadium.

Deulofeu looking animated at a corner, Holebas taking it in his stride

Our seats were at the back of the stand where we met up with Amelia, who had turned down the opportunity for a pre-match pint with her aunt.  As I got my breath back, I was a little concerned when the floodlights dimmed.  When it happened again, I realised that it was in time to the music and we were caught up in a stadium disco light show.  I found it rather off-putting and can only hope that there were no epileptics in the crowd.

Team news was that Quique had made two changes from the defeat to Burnley with Masina and Sarr coming in for Dawson and Gray.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Mariappa; Holebas, Doucouré, Capoue, Femenía; Hughes; Sarr, Deulofeu.  There were some concerns about Quique persisting with a back three, given our paucity of fit central defenders.  In a similar vein it was noted that we had only Foulquier on the bench, should one of the starting defenders succumb to injury.

 

A blurred but happy celebration of Sarr’s goal

The Hornets had a great chance to take an early lead as Højbjerg gave away possession to Sarr, but the youngster took his chance too early and shot straight at McCarthy in the Southampton goal.  The Saints’ Captain had an immediate chance to make up for his mistake when the ball dropped to him outside the Watford box, but his shot flew over the bar.  The home side threatened again as Redmond played a one-two with Ings before shooting from distance, but it was an easy catch for Foster.  At this point, very early in the game, the chants ringing out from the away end were, “You’re going down with the Watford”, “We’ll see you in the Championship” and “We only lost 8-0.”  Quite how that was supposed to spur the Watford players on to victory is beyond me.  On the pitch, a short corner was played to Holebas who put in a cross that was met with a defensive header that dropped to Capoue, he crossed back for Doucouré whose header was weak and easily saved by McCarthy.  The Hornets took the lead in the 24th minute, a lovely ball from Capoue released Sarr who advanced and shot across McCarthy into the net.  It was a terrific goal and prompted wild celebrations and lots of hugs in the away end.  I felt massively relieved, hoping that the goal would calm the nerves and set us up nicely.  Sarr was soon in action at the other end of the field repelling a ball into the box with a strong defensive header.  That’s what I like to see.  He had a chance to double Watford’s lead on the half hour as a deep free kick from Holebas found him in space, he volleyed goalwards, but McCarthy made the block and the ball went out for a corner.  The Hornets had another chance soon after, as Deulofeu broke forward and unleashed a shot that was pushed wide by McCarthy.  At the other end a low cross from Bertrand was blocked by Mariappa.  The home side threatened again as Redmond tried a shot from just inside the area, but his effort was over the target.  The Saints had a great chance to grab an equaliser just before half time when a low cross from Soares was flicked towards goal by Ward-Prowse, but the ball drifted just wide of the target.  The half time whistle was greeted with boos from the home fans, while the travelling Hornets were pretty happy with the state of play.

Doucoure, Cathcart and Masina getting ready to defend a cross into the box

The first action of the second half was a foul by Redmond on Femenía that earned the Southampton man a booking.  Ten minutes into the half Sarr beat a couple of defenders and unleashed a shot from distance which was just over the bar.  Just before the hour mark Southampton made a double substitution with Redmond and Obefami making way for Boufal and Long.  I was glad to see the back of Redmond, who always does well against us, not so glad to see Long coming on.  There was some concern among the away fans when Capoue was knocked to the ground after blocking a shot from Ward-Prowse with his face.  He was initially flat out with his arms outstretched but, once he got his breath back, he was able to continue the game.  Southampton threatened as Djenepo broke forward and crossed for Long who was unable to connect, so the chance went begging.  The Hornets nearly engineered their own downfall as Foster held on to the ball for too long in the box, tried to beat Ings with a Cruyff turn, then both men fell to the ground, I was sure that the referee would point to the spot, so was massively relieved when the outcome was a free-kick.  Needless to say, the relief didn’t kick in immediately as I waited for an intervention from VAR that, thankfully, never came.  With 25 minutes to go, Flores made his first substitution replacing Deulofeu, who had been ineffective, with Gray.  Southampton had their best chance of the game when Boufal cut the ball back to Long (of course) whose shot was stopped by a wonderful save from Foster who tipped the ball onto the bar.  It looked as though Ben’s efforts would be in vain as the big screen indicated that VAR was checking for a penalty for an earlier incident, but the decision was that there was no penalty.  Watford should have scored a second with twenty minutes to go when Gray played a lovely ball back for Sarr who missed the connection and the ball was put out for a corner by Bertrand.  With 15 minutes remaining Quique made a second substitution bringing Chalobah on to replace Hughes who, again, had to leave the field on the opposite side to the dug-out and was given a huge ovation as he walked past the travelling Hornets.

Chalobah back in action

Watford threatened again as Gray ran around the back of the defence and tried to sneak the ball into the net but, instead, hit it straight to the keeper.  Southampton then made their final substitution bringing Valery on in place of Soares.  Southampton should have drawn level when a shot from Ings, that appeared to be going wide, so Foster left it, reached Long who flicked it goalwards but, thankfully, Cathcart was on the line to make the block.  Sadly, Watford’s lead didn’t last much longer as Djenepo advanced and nipped around the back of the defence, as Gray had earlier, but his shot went under Foster and reached Ings who turned it in at close range.  Television pictures showed that Djenepo had used his hand in the build-up (quite an outrageous scoop, if truth be told), but I am not going to complain about VAR in this situation as the goal was a result of poor defending from the Hornets and it felt like it had been coming.  Sadly, at this stage, the confidence drained from both the team and the crowd and none of us believed that we would get anything out of the game.  With less than 10 minutes to go, Flores was lining up his final substitute and my heart sank when I realised that Foulquier was the answer.  To be fair, he was the only defender on the bench and Femenía had picked up an injury, but this was the last straw for a lot of the travelling Watford fans who greeted the decision with loud boos and chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing”.  Prior to the substitution, Capoue had fouled Højbjerg on the edge of the box.  There seemed to be some confusion in the setting up of the wall, or at least the bloke behind me was unhappy with the way that the defenders were lining up.  His concerns proved justified when Ward-Prowse stepped up and curled the free kick over the wall, Foster managed to get his hands to the ball, but could only help it into the net.  At this point, while the home fans celebrated, the travelling Hornets were telling Quique that he would be sacked in the morning.  When the fourth official held up the board indicating that there would be 6 minutes of added time, my only thought was that it was plenty of time for Southampton to get a third.  The Hornets did create a couple of chances in time added on.  First, from a corner, Sarr played the ball back to Gray but he shot wide of the target.  Then one final chance when Foulquier played the ball out to Sarr who took a shot that was pushed over the bar by McCarthy.

Foster up for a late corner

The final whistle went to celebrations among the home fans and total deflation in the away end.  I did have to admire the decency of those among our fans who applauded the players.  My applause was sporadic and half-hearted until Troy came over to thank the crowd.

There was no time for a post-match analysis as I made a swift departure in order to catch the train that would allow me to arrive back in Windsor before 10pm.  Travelling back home on my own, I had plenty of time to think about the game.  Yet again, following a decent first half, the second period had been disappointing, and we had lost to a very poor team.  Once we took the lead, we should have been in control of the game but we didn’t get a second goal and, such is the fragility of the squad’s confidence, once Southampton drew level, we never looked like getting anything from the game.  I always thought that the reappointment of Quique had been an odd move.  While he had a reputation for making us hard to beat early in his first tenure, the final third of the season was a dreadful trudge and that is what we are seeing now.  Despite the injuries, we have enough quality in this squad to be winning more games than we lose.  The fact that we are not has to be down to the coach.  By Sunday morning Quique was gone and I cannot imagine that there were any Watford fans who were saddened by that news.

Gino Pozzo slumming it

Sunday afternoon, at my Dad’s house, it was clear that someone needed to get hold of me.  When I finally answered the call from the private number that I was trying to ignore, I discovered it was someone from FiveLive who wanted to talk about the sacking of Flores.  I told him that I thought it had been an odd appointment in the first place.  He then asked what I thought of the owners.  I had mentioned that I was previously the Press Officer for the Watford Supporters Trust (hence why they had my number) and I assume that he was expecting me to criticise the Pozzos.  But, having been rather too close to the club when we went through those troubled times under the previous owners, I am still incredibly thankful for what the Pozzos have done for our club.  We have a stadium to be proud of with stands named for legends from another era, a team of players of a quality that we have no right to expect and a club that, with ventures like the sensory room and the work of Dave Messenger in connecting with the fans, still feels like a community club off the pitch and not a “foreign-owned Premier League business”.  For that I would still fall on my knees in worship in front of Gino Pozzo.

 

A Game Book-ended by Goals

Pereyra on the attack

Tuesday night was the next instalment in the fight for seventh place and the opportunity for Watford fans to go on a European tour for the first time since 1983.  This was a crucial game and my pre-match nerves were certainly out in force.  I arrived at the West Herts in time for a couple of calming pre-match pints and, while there was no jerk chicken on offer, they did have a rather lovely curry instead, which set me up for the game rather nicely.

Team news was that Gracia had made three changes from Saturday with Janmaat, Kabasele and Pereyra in for Femenía, Mariappa and Sema.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Kabasele, Cathcart, Janmaat; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu, Gray.

Glenn, our West Herts sweetie man, had sent me with a bag of sweets for Don so, having had to take a detour to the lower GT to drop them off, the players were already on the pitch by the time I reached my seat.  Having finished my pre-match ritual of putting on my replica shirt and retrieving my notebook, pen and camera from my bag, I noticed a big white envelope by my seat.  I opened it to find a sheet with the words of “Rocket Man”, as if I don’t already know them.  Irritation at this distraction was compounded when I looked up to see Shane Long bearing down on goal and shooting past Foster.  Only 7 seconds of the game had elapsed.  I had missed Cathcart hitting a pass at Long to lead to this chance.  I was devastated and, again, I blamed the decision to dispense with Z-cars.  You don’t mess with something so important at such a crucial point in the season.

Andre Gray

The Hornets tried to hit back immediately as Hughes crossed for Gray, his first shot was blocked, his headed follow-up flew over the bar.  Deulofeu then had a decent chance after a one-two with Doucouré, but he curled his shot just wide.  Southampton then had a chance to increase their lead as a cross from Ward-Prowse was headed just wide of the near post by Long.   The first booking of the game went to Romeu for a foul on Capoue.  The normally reliable Cathcart was in trouble again, as Redmond beat him before hitting a shot that Foster touched around the far post.  Tables were then turned as Capoue was booked for a foul on Romeu, the resultant free-kick was straight at Foster.  Bertrand then dived on the edge of the box, thankfully the referee treated the theatrics with the contempt that they deserved, the ball was played out to Redmond whose cross was headed over by Long.  The next chance for the Hornets fell to Pereyra whose shot through a sea of legs was easily dealt with by Gunn in the Southampton goal.  There was danger for the Hornets as Kabasele slipped when trying to deal with a cross from Long, it ran through to Bertrand whose shot was turned onto the outside of the post.   From the corner, the ball fell to Stephens in front of goal, Foster did well to smother his effort.  The next booking went to Doucouré, who took one for the team, earning a yellow card after stopping a break by Armstrong.  Southampton continued to threaten the Watford goal as Redmond crossed for Bertrand who saw another shot rebound off the outside of the post.  Watford had a great chance to grab an undeserved equaliser just before half time as Deulofeu received a ball from Doucouré but his shot was just wide of the far post.  Bednarek was the next to go into the referee’s book after a foul on Capoue.  Just before the whistle went for half time, Deeney walked along the front of the Rookery, presumably to go to the dressing room and give the players a rocket.

Masina and Kabasele

I was furious at half time, so in no mood for a sing-along.  Now, I will start by saying that I love Elton.  I first saw him in concert in 1984, playing at Wembley a month after we had both been there for the Cup Final.  Over the years, I have seen him live on numerous occasions and even spent a ridiculous amount of money to buy a shirt that he had signed in an auction.  However, all efforts on this evening should have been concentrated on getting three points against Southampton.  This promotional effort for Paramount Pictures was totally inappropriate and, combined with the replacement of Z-cars, made me vow not to see the film.  It is probably just as well that I had missed the flag that was draped over the Rookery before the game.  Shifting the focus of the evening from a fight for seventh place to a promotional push for a film, even one about our beloved Elton, was not sitting well with me.  John Barnes was on the pitch leading the singing and when he started the “World in Motion” rap, I decided it was time to go to the loo.

Gracia made a substitution at the break replacing Cathcart with Femenía.  You had to feel sorry for Craig.  His mistake for the goal was terrible and he had looked shaky for the rest of the game, which had been really hard to watch as he is normally so reliable and unflappable.

Capoue watching the flight of the ball

My mood worsened further when Deulofeu went down in the box, an injury to him would have felt like the final straw.  Thankfully, he was able to continue.  Geri created the first chance of the second half crossing for Doucouré to head goalwards, but Gunn was able to make the catch.  Deulofeu was then penalised for a push on Stephens and earned a booking for screaming at the linesman.  He was as frustrated as I was, but he is a liability when he gets into this sort of mood and I was afraid that he was heading for a red card.  A Southampton attack was stopped by a great interception from Masina, who was having a terrific game.  Then a good passing move from the Hornets finished with a shot from Janmaat that was blocked for a corner.  There was a shout for a penalty as Kabasele was pulled over in the box as he attempted to reach a cross from Pereyra, but the referee waved appeals away.  From a short corner, a cross from Deulofeu was headed clear by Yoshida.  The visitors made their first substitution bringing Sims on for Armstrong, this was soon followed by Romeu making way for Lemina.  A challenge from Kabasele on Long resulted in the Southampton man falling in the box, but the offence was adjudged to have taken place outside.  Before the free kick was taken, each side made a change with Success coming on for Hughes for the Hornets and Valery replacing Long, who had been injured in the challenge, for the visitors.  When the free kick was finally taken, it was a good effort from Ward-Prowse that was heading for the bottom corner until Foster dived to make the save.  The next card went to Masina who was cautioned after pulling Sims back to stop him escaping.

The goal celebration was brief

The Hornets were pushing for an equaliser in the last minutes of the game as Gray found Deulofeu whose return pass was intercepted by Yoshida and cleared.  Deulofeu created another chance, this time for Pereyra who had a shot from the centre of the area that was blocked.  But the Hornets finally grabbed an equaliser when the ball fell for Gray to lash past Gunn and send the Watford fans into wild celebration.  In contrast, there was little celebration from the players who knew it was too little too late.

The final whistle went to a mixture of relief and disappointment.  The players were warmly applauded by the fans and it was good to see Cathcart come back onto the pitch to join in.

I went back to the West Herts in an absolutely foul mood that was only slightly helped by a large quantity of red wine.  It had been a difficult game.  Conceding so early allowed Southampton to play a defensive game aiming to catch Watford on the break, which they did on more than one occasion.  Watford had most of the possession and had more shots on goal, but didn’t test Gunn enough and the draw was probably fair.  There were decent passages of play from the Hornets, but they didn’t appear to be playing as a team and we were desperately missing Troy’s leadership.  Still, prior to Wolves playing Arsenal the following day, this moved us back into seventh place with the focus now shifting to Saturday and the need to beat Wolves for the third time this season.  That thought set the nerves off again, but our fate was in our own hands, which is all you can ask for.

 

Controversy in the Rain

Pereyra versus Hojbjerg

Another Saturday, another away game.  This week the somewhat shorter trip to Southampton.  Due to engineering work, there was no easy train route to the station nearest to the pub.  My last experience of trying to get a taxi at Southampton Central had been hideous so, when I arrived and left the station by the rear entrance, I decided to walk the mile and a half to the pub.  I had a brief moment of regret as the rain started, but it soon cleared and I arrived feeling very deserving of my pint and lunch.  As it did last year, the heavens opened in time for us to leave for the walk to the ground and, despite Alice kindly sharing her umbrella, I was properly soaked by the time we reached the ground.  Pete’s comment to the local Police officer that it always rained in Southampton was met with the response that we must have brought it with us as it had been lovely the previous week.

Team news was that Gracia had made only the one enforced change with Chalobah coming in for the suspended Capoue.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Mariappa, Femenía; Pereyra, Doucouré, Chalobah, Hughes; Success, Deulofeu.  It was good to see Chalobah back and I couldn’t help wondering whether Capoue, who has been excellent so far this season, would live to regret giving his place away.

Deeney waiting for a ball into the box

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s silence to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War which was accompanied by a rendition of The Last Post.  The only other sound that could be heard was the rain on the roof of the stand.

Watford started well and had an excellent early chance when Femenía released Deulofeu who broke into the box, but his shot was blocked.  Deulofeu had another chance soon after, this time with Success as provider, but the shot flew over the target.  Then Success burst forward and tried his luck himself, but his shot was deflected over the bar.  The home side had their first chance after 15 minutes with a shot from distance by Gabbiadini that flew over the bar.  Then, from a corner, Hoedt headed goalwards, Foster parried and Cathcart headed out conceding another corner.  From the delivery, the danger appeared to have passed when Pereyra claimed the ball, but instead of putting a boot through it, he dwelled too long, Ings dispossessed him and found Gabbiadini who finished past Foster.  Very frustrating after the bright start that the Hornets had made to the game.  The novelty of the lead for the home fans was reflected in the chant of “We scored a goal.”

Ben Foster launches a ball upfield

Watford should have struck back almost immediately as Deulofeu picked up a misplaced pass and broke forward but, instead of shooting, he tried to play Success in and the pass was intercepted.  A lovely passing move by the Hornets finished disappointingly as Pereyra’s cut back was just behind Deulofeu.  At this point, the Saints fans regaled us with a chorus of “You only came for the weather.”  Oh yes!  Success released Deulofeu again but, when he found a position from which to shoot, the angle was narrow and the shot was blocked.  At the other end, a Yoshida header from the edge of the area flew wide of the target.   I thought we had the equaliser as a lovely curling shot from Pereyra headed for the bottom corner, but McCarthy was down to parry.  Almost immediately there was a similarly good chance for the Saints with a shot from Armstrong that was saved by the legs of Foster.  The first booking of the game went to Bertrand for a foul on Doucouré.  With 6 minutes to go until half time, each side made a substitution, presumably due to injuries, as Deeney replaced Hughes for the Hornets and Austin came on for Ings for the home side.

Doucoure on the ball

The half time whistle went with the home side leading by a goal and, yet again, Watford fans were feeling frustrated at the wasteful finishing as, like last week, Deulofeu could have had a hat trick before the break.  There was a similar problem with finishing for one of the teams taking part in the half time relay around the pitch.  The lad who was well in the lead shot wide of the far post allowing his opponent to catch up, dribble the ball to just in front of the goal and drop to the ground to head the ball over the line.  Cheeky so and so, but his opponent gave him the opportunity.

The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as Gabbiadini tried a shot from distance that just cleared the crossbar.  At the other end, Success did well to battle his way down the right wing before crossing for Deeney whose close range shot at the near post was smothered by McCarthy.  The first booking for the visitors went to Chalobah who was cautioned for pulling Redmond back as he tried to escape.  The same two players then tussled again in the Southampton box, on this occasion the travelling Hornets were shouting for a penalty as Chalobah went down under a strong challenge from Redmond, the ball broke for Pereyra whose shot was blocked and the referee pointed for a corner instead of to the penalty spot.  The Watford fans were baffled and Deulofeu was incandescent with rage and was shouting at the linesman, which seemed to be a pointless exercise.

Challenging at a corner

Southampton appeared to have scored a second as Austin shot past Foster.  The celebrations continued for some time before any of us noticed that the linesman’s flag was raised and the goal had been disallowed.  What a relief.  Gracia then made a second substitution bringing Gray on for Pereyra, who had a disappointing afternoon.  The Hornets had a decent chance to draw level as Deulofeu chipped a cross for Deeney, whose back header was caught by McCarthy, although the flag was up for this one as well.  Deeney then found Gray in a good position, but he kicked the ball into the ground so it lost momentum allowing McCarthy an easy save.  Mark Hughes made his second substitution bringing Ward-Prowse on for Armstrong.  Southampton threatened as Yoshida appeared to connect with a cross, but Holebas made enough contact to put it out for a corner. Femenía then had a chance from a decent position but volleyed over.  I didn’t see what prompted the altercation, but Femenía and Redmond squared up to each other.  Seeing this, Deulofeu belted over and angrily pulled Redmond away.  Others have described this as breaking up the confrontation, but Deulofeu had seemed to be spoiling for a fight all afternoon.  He had rowed with the referee after he felt he’d been fouled early in the game, then with the lino when the penalty wasn’t given and his aggressive pull on Redmond was well deserving of a yellow card.

Doucoure congratulating Holebas on his goal

Watford grabbed an equaliser with 9 minutes to go as Deeney found Gray in the box, he passed back towards Doucouré and, just when the chance appeared to have gone, the ball bounced off Deulofeu and fell to Holebas whose shot took a deflection and beat McCarthy to send the travelling Hornets into raptures.  Southampton had a chance to break back immediately but Gabbiadini’s shot from outside the box was stopped by Foster.  The Hornets could have had a winner as a Holebas corner was headed goalwards by Gray, but it came back off the bar.  The home side made a final substitution bringing Obafemi on for Redmond.  The Hornets were pushing for the winner in added time, so it was very frustrating to see a powerful shot from Success rebound back off Deeney.  The captain tried to make amends by crossing for Gray, but the shot flew wide and the final whistle went with the points shared.

It was probably a fair result, although Charlie Austin didn’t agree.  His interview on Match of the Day berating the referee for disallowing his goal was brilliant for its passion.  Someone set it perfectly to Blur’s Parklife and it was great to see Austin himself tweet #Parklife in acknowledgement.  However, he had overlooked the fact that Watford should have had a penalty and that Redmond may have seen red for the challenge, which would have set up a completely different game.  It was another odd performance from the Hornets.  Deulofeu made some brilliant chances, failed to take any of them and then almost got himself sent off with a series of displays of petulance.  Capoue was greatly missed in the midfield.  Chalobah is not match fit and did nothing to indicate that he should continue in that role.  The passing was sloppy and the team seemed to lack leadership until Deeney came on.  Troy does not always earn his place on footballing grounds, but his leadership is greatly missed when things are not going well and there was a clear improvement when he was on the pitch.

But, for all our disappointment at the outcome of the last two games, there were a series of odd results over the weekend, so this result still sees us sitting in 7th place in the table equidistant from the top and the relegation zone which is fine with me.

Quality and Resilience Lead to Three Points on the South Coast

Chalobah on the ball

The Friday night before this game there was a Tales from the Vicarage event featuring John Barnes.  While Watford fans have nothing but admiration for Barnesy as a player, it has been a source of irritation to some that he rarely acknowledges his time at Watford in interviews.  Also, previous events have featured a number of players, so this would be a completely different animal and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  It turned out to be a lovely evening.  John spoke with a great deal of affection about his time at Watford.  Particularly striking was his huge admiration for Graham Taylor who, it appeared, he would have trusted with his life.  I was very surprised to hear about nights out with Tony Coton, Mick Harford and Noel Blake as they seemed unlikely drinking buddies.  There was a Hornet Heaven episode that referred to a banner than I distinctly remember from Cup Final day (and I now know the person behind the banner).  The evening ended with a recreation of some old photos with fans, which was hilarious, and a performance of the rap from World in Motion that brought the house down.

I stayed overnight in Watford after the evening at the Palace.  As I was leaving on Saturday morning, I followed a man into the lift.  When he turned to face me, I realised that it was Adam Leventhal, so we had a chat about what a good evening it had been and I was able to thank him (again) for the events.

Carrillo and Femenia

Having caught an early train from Watford, I met Jacque at Waterloo only to find that a points failure meant that the train we were aiming for was cancelled.  This had the knock-on effect that the following train was heaving.  There were then added delays due to someone trespassing on the track.  It felt as though we would never arrive, so it was a relief when we finally reached the pre-match pub and enjoyed a beer (or two) with our party.  As we left to walk to the ground, the sky darkened and the heavens opened.  We found ourselves sheltering from the worst of the shower under a tree, but were already soaked to the skin.  Thankfully, it eased off and we arrived at St Mary’s, soggy, but in plenty of time for kick-off.

Team news was that there were three (enforced) changes from the draw with Brighton as Kaboul, Holebas and Carrillo came in for Prödl (injured), Britos (suspended) and Amrabat (departed).  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Kaboul, Kabasele, Holebas; Chalobah, Doucouré; Carrillo, Cleverley, Richarlison; Gray

Doucoure beaming after scoring against Southampton

There was a really lively start to the game.  The Hornets were dominating and playing some really good football, but without creating any real chances.  The first goal attempt came from a free kick from Holebas that flew just wide of the near post.  Prior to the game, we had been told that a young Saints fan called Jamie Isherwood had passed away in the previous week after a heart attack and the home fans were planning to have a minute’s applause in the 22nd minute.  As the applause started among the home fans, it was good to see that the message had reached the travelling Hornets who joined in in numbers, although we may have become a little distracted from the tribute when Richarlison beat a couple of defenders before having a shot blocked by Stephens.  As the half progressed, there was some concern that our lovely forward play was not translating into shots so, when the ball fell to Doucouré outside the box, Mike’s instruction was, “Just whack it.”  He did and it flew past Forster into the net to send the Watford fans into delirium and the Saints fans to the bars for their half time refreshments.  Having been shot shy for most of the half, the Hornets had a couple of decent chances to increase their lead before half time.  First a terrific shot from the edge of the area by Richarlison was deflected into the side netting.  Then a lovely passing move finished with Doucouré on the edge of the area, any hopes of a repeat of his goal were dashed when he blasted the ball over the bar.  In the final action of the half, some dogged persistence from Gray won a corner, the delivery found its way to Cleverley whose shot was blocked.

Gray and Chalobah congratulate Janmaat on his superb strike

We reached half time very satisfied with the afternoon’s entertainment so far.  It had been a terrific first half and the Hornets thoroughly deserved their lead.

Watford had an early chance to increase the lead in the second half as Richarlison played the ball back to Chalobah, but his shot was straight at Forster in the Southampton goal.  The home side then threatened with a shot from Bertrand that was blocked at close range by Kaboul.  A promising ball over the top reached Gray, but he was unable to escape the attentions of the defence and was tackled before he could shoot.  Carrillo did really well to win a corner, the delivery from Holebas was deep and reached Chalobah whose shot was blocked.  Southampton’s best chance of the game so far came as Boufal got himself into a great position, but his shot was well over the bar.  Then Stephens received a ball in the box and looked sure to score when Kabasele appeared out of nowhere to make a wonderful saving tackle.  On the hour Silva was forced to make two substitutions as both Kaboul and Femenía had to leave the game due to injuries, they were replaced by Mariappa and Janmaat.  The Dutchman made his mark on the game almost immediately.  I am ashamed to say that, when the ball fell to him outside the area, my reaction was “What’s he shooting from there for?”  I felt like a complete fool when his terrific strike hit the net.  The second goal certainly settled nerves in the away end as the home side were having their best spell of the game.  There were still 24 minutes of the match remaining at this point, but the home fans started heading for the exits.

Carrillo and Doucoure

Watford’s final substitution came with 6 minutes remaining as Deeney replaced Gray, who had looked more comfortable than in previous games but had not troubled the Southampton keeper.  Watford continued to push for another goal.  First Richarlison ran into the box, but waited too long to shoot and was stopped by a tackle.  Then Carrillo tried a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  At the other end a shot from Davis was stopped by a flying header from Mariappa.  Southampton had their first shot on target in time added on at the end of the game, the shot from Cedric appeared to be heading for the top corner when Gomes came flying across to pluck the ball out of the air.  The Hornets should have had a third, and it would have been a contender for goal of the season, as Carrillo turned to beat a player on the wing, as he advanced towards the goal he beat two more players before shooting just wide of the target.  It was one of those chances that should be awarded a goal just for the magnificent build-up.  The final whistle went on a convincing win and I was grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

Silva looks concerned as Janmaat takes a throw-in

After the game each encounter with a fellow Horn started with “How good was that?”  Watford had completely dominated the game against a team that I would consider to be one of our main competitors.  The midfield had been magnificent, yet again, but the defence had done a sterling job and deserve special praise for the fact that they continued to hold Southampton at bay after two enforced changes with 30 minutes to go.  Carrillo’s first start was very impressive, from battling for the ball to win a corner to a sublime move that really should have been awarded a goal.  If he continues in this manner, he will become a firm favourite.  But the most impressive aspect of the game was that we saw wonderful skill accompanied by immense work rate throughout the team.  Not one of the players was going to allow the opposition time on the ball, and that time was limited as the passing between the Watford players was so accurate.  This was a truly impressive showing, worthy of the 82-83 team that starred John Barnes and there can be no higher praise from me than that.

 

Seven Goals, but Not a Thriller

Celebrating Deeney's 105th Goal

Celebrating Deeney’s 105th Goal

After the frustrating draw against West Ham last Saturday evening, we were back to Vicarage Road for a three o’clock kick-off.  The pre-match gathering of City Orns and Norfolk Horns was as convivial and entertaining as would be expected.

As we walked down Vicarage Road, a group of Southampton fans behind us started chanting.  With some visiting teams, this would have felt quite aggressive and intimidating, but from Southampton it was quite endearing.

Team news was that Mazzarri had made two changes from the West Ham game replacing the injured Janmaat and Zárate with Prödl and Okaka.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Cleverley, Behrami, Capoue; Niang; Deeney and Okaka.

For the second week running Watford took the lead within the first five minutes, this time through open play as, from a Kaboul throw-in, Deeney headed the ball down to Okaka who returned it for the Watford captain to volley home.  This was Troy’s 105th goal in a Watford shirt which brought him level with Cliff Holton at 4th in the all-time goal scoring charts.  A great achievement.

Cleverley Takes a corner

Cleverley takes a corner

I am sure that I wasn’t the only person in the stadium who hoped that we wouldn’t repeat our mistake of the previous week when we sat back and defended our lead for most of the game.  The next chance fell Southampton’s way as Ward-Prowse tried a shot that was pushed clear by Gomes.  Southampton’s new star, Gabbiadini, had his first chance of the game as he latched on to a through ball and hit a shot that was easy for Gomes.  The visitors came closer to drawing level with a shot from distance by Redmond that flew just wide of the target.  At the other end Watford had a chance to increase the lead as a corner from Holebas was headed just wide by Okaka.  The next to threaten was Capoue who went on a run before cutting inside and trying a shot from distance that was just wide of the near post.  Southampton’s equalizer came in the 27th minute and resulted from a defensive mistake as a clearance from Britos went straight to Tadić who shot into the far corner.  Watford tried to hit back from a throw as Prödl headed the ball on to Kaboul whose shot was blocked.  Watford’s first booking came in very bizarre circumstances as Okaka was blatantly pulled back by Stephens.  No action was taken for the foul, but the Italian was booked for his complaints.  Southampton took the lead in time added on at the end of the first half.  The goal came out of nothing as a good passing move finished with Tadić playing the ball back to Redmond who found the far corner.  The half time whistle went to boos from some in the Rookery.

Deeney challenges Romeu for a header

Deeney challenges Romeu for a header

At half time there was a brief interview with Marcus Gayle who will always be Wonder Woman to me.  Also, as it was Disabled Access Day at Vicarage Road, there was an interview with a young man called George who was a passionate advocate of increasing disabled access everywhere.  His speech asking for support in ensuring that disabled fans are given equal access to facilities was met with unusually enthusiastic applause from a half time crowd that is usually otherwise occupied.  There was also a contribution from David Butler, the chair of the WFC Enables supporters group, who encouraged any interested fans to get involved (http://www.wfcenables.co.uk/home).

The first chance of the second half came as Niang played a long ball to Deeney who headed it down to Okaka, but Yoshida made a decisive tackle, taking the ball off his feet and putting it out for a throw.  Southampton had a couple of decent chances to increase their lead.  First, from a corner, the ball was cleared to Tadić whose terrific shot was tipped over by Gomes.  Then a Tadić free kick was prodded goalwards by Yoshida but Gomes again made a decent save to keep it out.  At the other end, a looping ball fell to Niang who didn’t have time to control it, so his volley flew a mile over the bar.

Holebas preparing for a free kick

Holebas preparing for a free kick

Mazzarri’s first substitution was to replace Capoue with Success, who was down needing treatment almost immediately but, thankfully, was able to continue.  In the 72nd minute, the applause for GT rang out and, if I am not mistaken, the Southampton goalkeeper, Forster, joined in, which was rather lovely.  The Hornets launched a promising move as Cleverley won the ball in midfield before passing it out to Okaka whose shot was blocked.  Then a dangerous cross into the Southampton box flew over a couple of heads before dropping to Deeney at the back post.  My scream of “Come on, Troy” must have put him off as he shot into the side netting.  The equalizer came with 11 minutes remaining as Success put in a low cross for Okaka who powered home.  Watford should have taken the lead a couple of minutes later as Okaka broke forward with Behrami alongside him, from our vantage point behind the goal he appeared to have space to shoot but delayed and was tackled by Stephens, the Saints immediately broke down the other end where Boufal’s shot should have been easy for Gomes, but he dropped the ball to the feet of Gabbiadini who poked the ball past Gomes.  So frustrating!  That was the last action of the game for the Italian talisman as he was replaced by Shane Long.

Britos, Holebas, Behrami and Okaka waiting for the ball to drop

Britos, Holebas, Behrami and Okaka waiting for the ball to drop

To add insult to injury for the home side, the visitors scored a fourth goal two minutes later as Redmond broke forward and belted a lovely shot past Gomes.  At this point, many in the Rookery had seen enough and there was a mass exodus.  Needless to say, I stayed.  The referee had been irritatingly fussy about blowing up for even the most innocuous challenges so, when Britos sent an opponent flying into the advertising hoardings, I feared that he would see red, but Mr Moss did not see any offence and waved play on.  Baffling!  Watford’s second substitution saw Doucouré coming on for Okaka.  Southampton looked certain to complete Watford’s humiliation with a fifth goal, but Boufal wasted his chance putting the shot into the side netting.  Surprisingly it was Watford who scored the last goal of the game in the final minute as a Niang cross was hit home by Doucouré to rather muted celebrations from the home fans who had stayed to the end of the game.

The scoreline could fool you into thinking that this was a seven goal thriller.  Sadly, it was nothing of the sort as the entertainment had come in bursts.  It was another frustrating game from the Hornets who are a good side that are only playing in fits and starts.  Southampton are a decent team, they were very well organized and capable of attacking at pace, which was where all of their goals came from.  Watford started and finished brightly, but there was a long period in the middle of the game when they seemed to disappear, which seems to be becoming a pattern.  As was the case last week, we were revitalized when Success came on.  I can’t help but hope that he regains full fitness very soon as I would very much like to see what he can do when given a whole 90 minutes.  So we go in to another enforced break with a trip to Selhurst Park to look forward to.  Oh the glamour of the Premier League!

Starting the Season with a Well Won Point

IMG_7922

Last Thursday, I was invited to an evening at the club at which we were charged with tasting the catering offerings for the new season (who ate all the pies?).  We were told that there will be a number of freshly cooked options available including pies, chicken curry and fish and chips.  The only vegetarian option is a cheese and potato pie (veggie food doesn’t sell, apparently) and my question about the continuing availability of chicken wraps and ham baps indicated how often I buy food inside the ground as they haven’t been available for at least a season.  The tasting only included pies and hot dogs and I must say that the boeuf bourguignon pie was excellent, lots of chunks of beef and a very nice pastry crust.  I am also told that the Hornets Ale (a Carlsberg product) was rather good.

Back to the events of Saturday.  On our last visit to Southampton (over which we should draw a veil) our party met at a lovely pub which fell down by taking forever to serve the food on a weekday evening.  We decided to give them another chance and they delivered.  The beer was great, the food was good and was served promptly (and my egg and bacon roll cost less than it would have done from the van outside the ground), the staff were lovely and the company was exceptional.  I was a little concerned when young Matt decided to join us, as his occasional attendance in recent times has inevitably resulted in defeat.  But our late substitute, Adam, told us that he had never seen us lose at Southampton, so that made me feel a lot better about our prospects.

An animated Mazzarri in the dugout

An animated Mazzarri in the dugout

On arrival at the ground, there was a huge queue at the turnstiles, but it moved very quickly and, as we snaked around, we passed friends, so paused for hugs and kisses with some and smiles and greetings with many.  Our catching up was clearly bothering the stewards who told us to move along.  It had been announced during the week that the tickets were being subsidised, so that all would cost £20 (following the FSF Twenty’s Plenty campaign).  Despite the sponsorship already being printed on the tickets, we were charged full price at the time of sale and the rebate was applied by way of envelopes being handed out at the turnstiles.  Call me churlish, but I would have been more impressed if they had just refunded to our credit card accounts as the rebate stunt proved to be an environmental mess as large numbers of envelopes were discarded just inside the turnstiles.  In addition to that, some fans were given the wrong sum, which was fine if you were given a tenner when you had bought a concession ticket, but not so good the other way around.

As we took our place low down in the stand, you couldn’t help but contrast the blazing sun to the torrential rain that we experienced on our last visit.

Celebrating our first goal of the season

Celebrating our first goal of the season

Walter Mazzarri’s first team selection was eagerly awaited and contained a couple of surprises with Amrabat and Behrami, who hadn’t seen a lot of game time in pre-season, being preferred to Anya and Suárez/Watson.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos; Amrabat, Capoue, Behrami, Guedioura, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.

There was a nervous moment for the Hornets early in the game as Gomes did well to keep out a free kick from Tadić, only for Britos to direct a follow-up goalwards.  Thankfully Gomes was able to keep that out as well.  Watford took the lead on 9 minutes through our newly discovered goal machine, Capoue.  It was a lovely goal as well.  A great cross from Amrabat was headed back by Deeney into the path of the onrushing Capoue who buried it past Forster.  The first goal of a new season always feels significant and it was great to see this one go to the Hornets.  Sadly our first goal of the season was greeted with the first smoke bomb, which I didn’t see but the fragrance is unmistakable.  There were few further chances until after the half hour when Long headed a Tadić cross just wide.  Soon after Holebas hit a cross-cum-shot that looked dangerous, but ended up on the roof of the net.  Redmond had a decent chance of an equalizer but he shot just wide.  As the home side threatened late in the half, there was some lovely defending as Prödl put in a great tackle and Cathcart was on hand to clear up.  Southampton had one last chance to equalize in the first half with a shot from Cédric that Gomes did well to push to safety.

Deeney waiting for the ball to drop

Deeney waiting for the ball to drop

At half time the mood among the travelling Hornets was good.  It had been a decent performance with a lovely goal and some solid defending.

There were no changes of personnel at the start of the second half.  Just before the hour mark, a good Watford move broke down allowing Southampton to counter attack finishing with a shot from Redmond that Gomes did very well to keep out.  This was followed by a couple of Southampton corners, the second of which was punched by Gomes but only as far as Redmond who volleyed home.  Watford could have struck back almost immediately as a back pass was played short to Forster, Deeney ran on but the keeper managed to be first to the ball.  The home side also had a chance to increase the lead as Yoshida headed just over.

Mazzarri made a couple of substitutions with Watson coming on for Behrami and Zúñiga making his debut replacing Guedioura.  The Colombian is a wing back but, on this occasion, was used in the midfield.  With 15 minutes to go, an attempted escape by Long was stopped when Watson dragged him to the ground.  There was no surprise when the red card was shown and the Hornets faced a challenging end to the game.  From that point on, it was mostly one way traffic with Watford mounting a rearguard action.  When Watson was dismissed, it was commented that it ended Vydra’s hopes of any game time and, sure enough, Mazzarri’s final substitution saw Ighalo replaced with Anya.  Into the last five minutes and it appeared that Southampton had taken all three points as Redmond again beat Gomes, but the goal was ruled out for what I was reliably informed was the first offside of the game.

Thanking the travelling Hornets

Thanking the travelling Hornets

At the final whistle, a number of the Watford players collapsed to the floor and, I must admit, that I wanted to follow suit as I had been exhausted watching that second half from the stands.  The players came over to thank the travelling fans.  They were not joined by Mazzarri, but that is not meant as criticism as he did give the crowd an appreciative wave before disappearing down the tunnel.  He is rather animated in the dugout and could bring us some entertainment on that score this season.

At the end of the game most Watford fans were happy with the point and impressed that we’d managed to hold out with ten men.  The positives in the game were that we defended well and the goal was a thing of beauty.  The negative for me was the irritation that I felt in the second half every time we played a ball forward in hope rather than expectation that inevitably was cleared causing us to have to defend again.  We have a very difficult few games coming up, so the Watford faithful will have to be patient as any points during this period will be a bonus.  Still, it is always good to start the season with a point and Matt is now welcome to come to future games, so it’s all good.

 

Norwich Down but No Thanks to Watford

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

In contrast to the blazing sunshine of Sunday, I arrived in Norwich on a very muggy afternoon.  I had a quick wander around the town and then headed for the pre-match pub to meet up with our much depleted party and the Norfolk ‘Orns.  The pre-match beers in the sunshine, were very enjoyable and we had the added pleasure of cheering the team bus as it passed on its way to the ground.  I must admit that, of the three teams still under threat, Norwich were my first choice for the drop, but I did have to feel sorry for the bloke in the pub who was begging Watford fans for mercy.

When we reached the turnstiles, we encountered a sniffer dog.  I know that it is a no-no, but the hound was so adorable that I asked the handler whether I could pet it.  She asked me, in return, if I would do her a favour and give the dog something to find.  She explained that, when the dogs don’t find anything for a while, they get a bit bored and she wanted to make sure that her charge was still paying attention.  So I was given a scent to put in my pocket and asked to come back in again.  Once I was assured that this plant would not lead to my arrest, I did as she asked and, sure enough, the hound leapt up at me, identified the scent and was suitably rewarded and I got a doggy cuddle.

Team news was only the one change with Nyom coming in at right back and Prödl making way for Cathcart in the centre of defence.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Jurado, Watson, Suarez, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo.  It was not a selection to quell the doubts of those calling for Quique’s head.

Celebrating the first goal

Celebrating the first goal

The travelling Watford fans started goading their counterparts early on with chants of “We are staying up.”  And the game started rather well for the visitors as Troy had an early shot from distance that the Norwich keeper, Ruddy, just kept out.  We took the lead on 11 minutes as a long ball from Britos was headed down by Deeney to Ighalo, Ruddy smothered his shot, but the ball broke to Deeney who finished into the empty net.  At this stage, it looked as though Norwich could be in for a comprehensive defeat to send them down.  That couldn’t have been further from the truth as, a couple of minutes later, an innocuous looking Norwich attack finished with Redmond exchanging passes with Naismith before scoring through the legs of Gomes.  The home fans started singing “The Great Escape” at this point.  Unbelievably, the home side were 2-1 up soon afterwards as Watford failed to clear the ball allowing Redmond to hit the post and the rebound was buried by Mbokani.  Watford tried to hit back with a ball into the box that was gathered by Ruddy with Deeney challenging.  There was an immediate counter attack which finished with a shot from Redmond that flew just wide.  More lax defending from Watford allowed Redmond to hit the post again, on this occasion the follow-up from Olsson was kept out by a smart save from Gomes.  At this point, there were boos ringing out in the away end.

Watson on the ball

Watson on the ball

Watford gifted Norwich a third in the 37th minute as Watson gave the ball away, Jurado failed to tackle when given the chance and Nyom slipped allowing the ball to run through to Hoolahan, whose cross looked unlikely to trouble the defence until Cathcart intervened to power it past Gomes.  You’d have thought that the Watford team had a bet on Norwich to stay up.  But, soon after the goal, it became apparent that that was out of their hands as a chant of “1-0 to the Sunderland” went up in the away end indicating Sunderland’s breakthrough against Everton.  This was followed by “We are Premier League”.  Hmm, not on the evidence of tonight’s showing.  Watford attacked again as Watson crossed for Deeney but his shot was saved by Ruddy, and the flag was up anyway.  The travelling Hornets continued to console themselves by goading the opposition.  This time with “Burton Albion on a Tuesday night,” which sounded rather appealing to me.  Norwich had a couple more chances before half time.  First Hoolahan played a through ball to Naismith whose shot was saved by Gomes.  Then the Watford keeper was called into action again to stop a long range shot from Hoolahan.  The half time whistle went to boos from the away end.  I never boo my team, but this was one occasion when I had sympathy with those who did.

At half time, I went to chat with Don.  You know that things are not going well when even Don can’t find anything positive to say.  Although he did manage a complaint about the ref, so I knew he was OK.  Our summary of the first half was that the majority of the Watford players were on the beach.

Deeney crosses for the second Watford goal

Deeney crosses for the second Watford goal

Flores made a change at half time bringing Aké on for Nyom.  There was a bright start to the second period as Anya played a ball down the wing to Deeney who cut back for Igahlo to score his fifteenth league goal of the season, which was also his first in the league since January.  The Watford fans greeted the strike with, “We’re gonna win 4-3.”  Flores made his second substitution to loud cheers as Jurado made way for Berghuis.  Norwich nearly did us a favour as a long ball from Abdi was headed back towards Ighalo by Deeney and Bennett’s attempt to clear flew just over the bar.  As it happened, it wouldn’t have counted as he was deemed to have been fouled by the Nigerian.  Norwich scored their fourth just before the hour mark as Redmond played a through ball to Mbokani, who dinked it over Gomes.  The Norwich fans were doing an impressive job of supporting their team despite knowing that Sunderland were three goals up against Everton, so their fate was sealed.  Watford attempted to hit back as Berghuis found Abdi but the shot was just wide of the far post.  Watson was booked for a frustrated tackle on Naismith and, soon after, made way for Guedioura.  While Norwich’s first change saw Brady coming on for Hoolahan.  The home fans continued their impressive support with a chant of “One Alex Neil”.

Berghuis, Guedioura and Abdi discuss a free kick

Berghuis, Guedioura and Abdi discuss a free kick

An extended period of possession for the Hornets finished with Abdi exchanging passes with Berghuis before hitting a volley straight at Ruddy.  I thought that Norwich should have been awarded a penalty as Naismith was tripped in the box, but the referee waved play on.  Soon after, the Scotsman was replaced by Odjidja-Ofoe and Jarvis came on for the excellent Redmond.  Late in the game, Aké was booked for a stupid tackle on Mbokani.  There was a great chance for Watford to strike back after Abdi was fouled on the edge of the box.  But the ball was placed considerably further back for the free kick and Guedioura hit it into Row Z, summing up the evening.  A cross into the Norwich box was met by the head of Anya but he could only direct it back to Ruddy.  Then Deeney had one last chance to cut the deficit with a shot from outside the area that Ruddy spilled towards the goal, but managed to recover.  In the last minute I, again, thought that we had conceded a penalty, but the trip was outside the area and the free kick was straight into the Watford wall.  It was a relief when the final whistle went.

Ighalo

Ighalo

I usually take defeats in my stride and try to take positives from any game.  But my patience ran out last night.  The dedicated souls who travelled to Norwich took time off work, spent a lot of money on travel, tickets and, in many cases, hotels and were rewarded with an abject performance from a bunch of lads who looked like they were on holiday.  I can take being beaten by a better team, but not such a sub-par performance from players who are so much better than that.   I was so irate that, as Britos came over to offer his shirt to a fan I found myself shouting “It’s your pay packet you should be giving us, not your shirt”.  To be fair, the young girl who went home with the shirt was very happy indeed.  The most shocking aspect of the evening was the performance of the defence, which has been excellent for most of the season, but played like clowns on the evening.  Even Gomes had a very rare off day.  Deeney was the only player to come out of the game with any credit.  I’m sure I will calm down by Sunday and, of course, I will be at Vicarage Road to support the lads in the last game of what has been a very successful season.  I just hope they end on a high.