Tag Archives: Nathaniel Chalobah

A Frustrating Sunday Afternoon at the Bridge

Foster about to take a free kick

This is one of the easiest of away trips for me and, for once, the bizarre weekend schedules of South Western Railway did not cause me any problems.  They had even cleared the tree that had meant a trip from Clapham Junction to Windsor on Saturday evening required a detour via Paddington.  So, after a pleasant train journey to Putney and a walk through some dodgy looking areas of Fulham, I found myself in Parsons Green to meet friends for Sunday lunch.  Lots of talk of what we had been up to since we last met.  Mike and I had seen Maggie Smith in “A German Life”, which was superb.  Graham had been to the Don McCullin exhibition and was still a bit shell shocked from it.  I had missed City Orns to see The Unthanks, so was updated on the gathering that I had missed while enjoying an evening of Northumbrian folk music.  Our peace was briefly shattered when the Norfolk/East Anglian Horns turned up to say “Hello”.  Glenn told us that, as it was the last away game of the season, he had started his trip with champagne and strawberries.  Our friends from Norfolk know how to travel in style.  A Chelsea fan appeared and wished us luck in the Cup Final.  The Sunday roasts were absolutely delicious, and we were enjoying our lunch so much that we almost forgot that there was a match to go to.  Almost …

The welcome return of Deeney

We left plenty of time for our walk to Stamford Bridge and to negotiate our way past the multiple phalanxes of security guards.  There was a surprise in store as we were greeted by a voice announcing, “FA Cup Finalists to the left.”  I was still smiling when I heard another directing us on “The road to Wembley.”  A rather lovely and unexpected welcome which meant that my opinion of Chelsea went up massively.

Team news was that Gracia had made two changes with the welcome return of Deeney in place of Gray and a rare start for Chalobah deputising for the injured Capoue.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Mariappa, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Chalobah, Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu, Deeney.  The choice of Chalobah over Cleverley, who was on the bench, was an interesting one.  Our hope was that Nate’s return to Chelsea would give him an extra incentive to impress.  It was pleasing to see that he was given a warm welcome back by the Chelsea fans.

As we took our seats, Alice produced her flag.  Designed by the 1881, in an homage to our previous cup final, it bore the legend “Hot cross Barnes Holebas.”  Just wonderful.

Mariappa on the ball

The game kicked off and there was a great early chance for the Hornets as Deulofeu turned and hit a shot that was just wide of the target.  Watford should have taken the lead on 8 minutes when, from a short corner, Holebas crossed for Deeney whose header was heading for the top corner until Kepa somehow got a hand to it and kept it out, the ball dropped to Hughes whose shot was well over the bar.  Sarri was forced into an early change as Kanté picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Loftus-Cheek.  Chelsea had their first shot in the 14th minute, a chip from Jorginho that was blocked by Foster.  The home side threatened again as Higuaín broke into the box but was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Mariappa.  Watford created another decent chance as Hughes laid the ball off to Deulofeu, but the shot was wide of the target.  The next chance for the Hornets came as a lovely passing move finished with Holebas shooting over the bar.  Chelsea had a half chance as the ball was dinked to Hazard in the box, Foster appeared to hesitate, but recovered and was able to gather the ball.  Then Pereyra and Deeney combined to get the ball to Doucouré in shooting position, but his shot flew wide of the target.  There was a shout for a penalty as Femenía tussled with Luiz in the box.  From our angle, it looked as though the Chelsea man was playing for the foul, the referee was equally unimpressed and waved play on.  Another chance for the home side came as Hazard took the ball off Doucouré before playing in Pedro, whose shot curled over the target.  There was some frustration in the away end as the ball was passed from Doucouré to Deeney to Pereyra, all of whom could have taken a shot, but none did, and the chance was gone.    At the other end, Pedro played a one-two with Higuaín before taking a shot that was just wide of the target.  Another opportunity went begging after some good work from Pereyra who slipped in the build-up, but recovered to put in a decent cross, sadly there was no Watford player on hand to take advantage.  The half time whistle went to boos from the Chelsea fans and cheers from the travelling Hornets who had seen their team completely dominate the half, playing some exquisite football, but failing to make the most of their chances.  When have we heard that before this season?

Great to see Chalobah back in the team

All our good work was undone in the first five minutes of the second half.  Hazard tried a shot from an acute angle that Foster pushed around the post for a corner.  From the corner Hazard crossed and Loftus-Cheek beat Chalobah to open the scoring.  Two minutes later, the home side were two up as, from another corner, Luiz came around the blind side of Mariappa and headed home.  It was the Manchester City away game all over again.  The Hornets tried to hit back as Deeney found Deulofeu just outside the box, he took his time to pick his shot before firing just wide of the far post.  Pereyra played a lovely through ball to Deulofeu whose shot was weak and easily dealt with by Kepa.  We then had the interesting sight of a fired-up Holebas (what other kind is there), tackling Pereyra before snapping into a set of challenges.  Even when we are losing, angry José can make me smile.  Chelsea had a decent chance to score a third as Hazard found Pedro in the box, thankfully the shot was saved by Foster and Loftus-Cheek put the follow-up wide.  The Hornets had a chance to pull one back as Mariappa crossed for Doucouré, who couldn’t get above the ball, so it came off the top of his head and flew over the bar.  At the other end, the home side had a great chance to increase their lead as a shot from Higuaín was kept out by a brilliant save from Foster.  Then Chalobah played a lovely ball for Deulofeu who hit a decent cross towards Deeney, but Alonso put the ball out for a corner.

Holebas and Pereyra prepare for a free kick

Gracia made his first substitution replacing Chalobah with Cleverley.  It had been an interesting choice before the game, but Nate had justified his selection putting in the best performance that I have seen from him since he came back from injury.  Watford had another chance to reduce the deficit when Deulofeu found Hughes in prime position, but the shot was appalling.  A number around us were berating him for passing instead of shooting.  It looked like a shot to me, but it was that poor that it was mistaken for a pass.  Any hopes the Hornets had of a comeback were dashed when Pedro played the ball to Higuaín, Foster came out to meet him, but the Argentine chipped the keeper and found the net.  But Watford were still fighting and Deeney should have done better when the ball fell to him, but he belted his shot over the bar.  There was a much better chance soon after when Holebas nicked the ball and rounded Luiz, but his shot rebounded agonisingly off the crossbar.  Each side made late substitutions.  Giroud replaced Higuaín for the home side, while Deeney and Deulofeu made way for Gray and Success.  Troy looked furious when he saw the board go up indicating that his afternoon was over.  Watford finally had the ball in the net, and it was typical of our day.  A free kick from Pereyra appeared to have been cleared off the line by Holebas, Success got his head on it, but it bounced off Gray on the way in and was flagged offside due to Gray’s inadvertent touch.  Chelsea should have scored a fourth as Hazard crossed for Giroud who scuffed his shot and cleared the bar.

Pereyra takes a free kick

Watford had a half chance as Hughes crossed for Success, but the header was an easy catch for Kepa.  The last substitution for Chelsea saw Cahill come on for Luiz, he was handed the captain’s armband and got the biggest cheer of the afternoon.  Femenía went on a decent run, but his cross was turned around for a corner.  The first card of the game came in time added on as Doucouré was cautioned for a pull on Hazard.  Foster was in action twice in added time, first to divert a shot from Hazard into the side netting, then to gather a low shot from Giroud.  The last chance of the game fell to the Hornets, but the shot from Success was poor and easily saved by Kepa.

We headed back to Parsons Green to drown our sorrows.  As we arrived at the pub, we saw the Chelsea fan who had wished us luck at Wembley before the game.  His verdict, “We robbed you.”  He wasn’t wrong.  The scoreline indicated that we had been well beaten, the pattern of the game nothing of the kind.  But this has been the case in a number of our games against the top six this season.  Similar to the matches against Arsenal and Manchester United, we dominated large parts of the game, but could not turn that domination into goals and were let down by defensive mistakes.  In the first half in particular, the passing was incredibly slick, and we played some gorgeous football but our finishing let us down.  It was great to see Troy back.  He looked hungry and desperate to make up for lost time and we saw the leadership that we had been missing.  As frustrating as the afternoon had been, the conversation soon took a positive turn as we reflected how far this team has come.  In contrast to when we were first promoted, I now travel to most games feeling that we have a team good enough to get something from the game.  It is very rare that we leave a ground with that humiliating feeling of having been taught a lesson by a much better team.  That is something to be relished and when we look back on this season, it will be with pride and happiness and a sense that we have progressed.

 

Winning in the Yorkshire Sunshine

Pat Jennings, Adam Leventhal, Gerry Armstrong, John McClelland and Pat Rice on the Palace Theatre Stage

Thursday evening was another Tales from the Vicarage event.  Coming hot on the heels of the last one, as well as being on Maundy Thursday meant that the tickets were slow in selling.  I have to say that did me a favour as it meant that when I logged on as soon as they went on sale, I was able to bag front row seats.  The line-up was Pat Jennings, Pat Rice, Gerry Armstrong and John McClelland.  I am too young to have seen Pat Jennings in a Watford shirt, but he was a player that I admired.  The other three were all favourites but I have a particularly soft spot for McClelland, an intelligent defender who was blessed with deceptive pace that meant he was rarely beaten.  I have been to all of these evenings and this was certainly one of the best.  Four intelligent, articulate men with interesting stories to tell.  They spoke with great affection of their time at Watford and, for the guys who played in the 80s, their interactions with GT.  Even though Jennings was such a small part of our history, his contributions were fascinating.  He was so softly spoken, but had such stories to tell.  The boy who left Ireland for the first time to play in a tournament including facing a formidable England team at Wembley.  At 17 years old, he moved to Watford and was so grateful to Bill McGarry who made sure that he could go home regularly.  This is something that Pat has ensured happens for a new generation of youngsters who are far away from home.  He also roomed with George Best for years when playing for Northern Ireland, which probably gives him a whole evening of stories, which was encapsulated in “it gave a whole new meaning to room service”.  At the end of the evening, we were slow leaving the auditorium and the lads reappeared on the stage for their group photo.  Pat Jennings smiled at us and asked if we had enjoyed the evening and I came over all star-struck at the fact that Pat Jennings had spoken to me.  Then Johnny Mac appeared and was asked if we could have a photo with his biggest fan.  He came down off the stage for a cuddle and a photo and I am still ever so slightly weak at the knees.

Ben Foster

I was hoping that the evening had been recorded, so that I could relive it.  In answer to my prayers, the “From the Rookery End” podcast appeared on Friday evening which was an hour of the lads telling their stories.  I listened to this on the train up to Huddersfield and it was so good that, when it finished, I immediately listened to it again.  When I got to Huddersfield, I told everyone that I met to do the same.  The link is below.  You won’t regret it.

http://fromtherookeryend.com/2019/04/21/tftv-northern-ireland-9-48/

When I arrived, Huddersfield was bathed in gorgeous sunshine and I was in the pub very early doors so nabbed a table, only to find out that there had been an advance party who were sitting in the garden enjoying the lovely weather with the East Anglian and Norfolk Hornets.  As it was Toddy’s birthday, it was especially lovely to see his friends out in force and Jerry Ladell proposed a toast that was echoed by all Toddy’s friends in the garden.  We were also joined by Rich Walker, Watford FC’s Communications Director, who put money behind the bar for the Hornets fans to have a drink, which was a lovely thing to do.

Andre Gray on the ball

At the appointed time, we wandered to the ground, where there was much less of a queue for security than there had been last year, so we were soon inside where we met up with Becky and Lynn.  Becky had arrived early to find somewhere to display her flag, and was rather surprised to find that there would be no spare seats over which to drape the flag.  Like me, she had thought that the away crowd would be small on Easter Saturday.  In the event, she was able to hang the flag in front of the wheelchair enclosure, once Don had confirmed that it wouldn’t obstruct his view.

Team news was three changes from Monday with Mariappa, Sema and Deulofeu in for Janmaat, Kabasele and Deeney who failed to win his appeal against the red card.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Mariappa, Masina; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Sema; Deulofeu, Gray.  Lovely Jonathan Hogg started for Huddersfield.

After the teams came out, I was pleased to note that as Ben Foster appeared in the goal in front of the travelling Hornets, his name was sung with gusto, so there were no hard feelings after his mistake on Monday.

Returning from celebrating the first goal

The Huddersfield stadium is really gorgeous.  Unlike most of the new soulless bowls, it is just lovely with open concourses and seats near to the action while the ground, even though it is only a short walk from the town is surrounded by trees.  After admiring my surroundings, it was time to concentrate on the match and hopefully winning a crucial three points.

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets as Hogg lost the ball in midfield, Doucouré advanced and was tackled, but the ball fell to Deulofeu who dwelled on it, picking his spot and, in a very similar manner to his first at Wembley, guided it in with a low shot that went in off the post.  It was a great way to settle the nerves.  Watford threatened again as an attack by Gray was stopped with a tackle, the ball broke to Doucouré who found Sema in space, but the shot was straight at Lössl in the Huddersfield goal.  Then Deulofeu played a one-two with Hughes, but the shot was blocked.  The first chance of the game for the home side came following a sloppy pass from Femenía that was picked up by Bacuna, but his shot was well over the target.  The first caution of the game went to Capoue for a foul on Bacuna on the edge of the area.  Mooy stepped up to take the free kick but hit it wide of the near post.  Huddersfield threatened again as a great ball released Durm whose cross was cut out by a timely interception from Mariappa.  Hogg was then booked for a foul on Deulofeu.  It should have been two for the Hornets as Gray played a cross field ball to Sema who advanced and crossed back for Andre, but the shot was well over the target.  Huddersfield had their best chance of the game so far as Smith cut the ball back to Mbenza on the edge of the box, he unleashed a powerful shot that Foster did very well to get behind and push to safety.  Deulofeu was causing all sorts of problems for the home side and Bacuna was the next to be booked for fouling him.  The free kick was from a dangerous position, but Lössl was able to punch it to safety.

Captain Mariappa directing proceedings

Huddersfield threatened again as a cross from Smith reached Kachunga, but a great block from Mariappa averted the danger.  The last action of the half was an early substitution for Huddersfield as Hogg made way for Daly.  So we reached half time a goal to the good, but I couldn’t help feeling that we really needed another goal as Huddersfield were creating chances of their own.

The first action of note in the second half came as Gray was penalised for a very soft foul on Kongolo.  He was clearly furious so, when the Huddersfield man got back to his feet, he pushed him over.  Now that’s a foul!  There was a great chance for the Hornets to increase their lead as Deulofeu nipped into the box and tried a shot that was just off target, Gray stretched but couldn’t apply the crucial touch that would have turned it in to the net.  Another great chance for the home side came from a corner, the initial shot was blocked, the follow up was an acrobatic kick from Mounié that cleared the target.  At this stage it has to be said that, despite already being relegated, the Huddersfield fans were making a great noise in support of their team.

Celebrating Deulofeu’s second goal

Another shot from Deulofeu was claimed by a low save from Lössl, but Gray challenged and his attempts to turn it into the goal as the Huddersfield keeper scrambled to keep hold of the ball did not go down well with Schindler, the Terriers’ captain.  But no action was taken beyond the award of a free kick.  Another chance came for the Hornets when Sema played the ball back to Deulofeu who tried a curling shot from distance that was an easy catch for Lössl.  Huddersfield threatened as Smith played a ball across the face of the goal where it went begging, but eventually reached Mooy whose shot was straight at Foster.  Each side made a substitution with Grant replacing Mounié for the home side and Gray making way for Success for the visitors.  Sadly, despite working hard, it really hadn’t been Andre’s day.  Deulofeu had another chance to increase Watford’s lead as a free kick from Foster reached him just outside the area, but his shot was over the target.  The second goal came with 10 minutes to go as Sema went on a run on the left wing, cut the ball back to Doucouré, whose shot was blocked, but the ball fell to Deulofeu who didn’t bother with anything fancy this time, he just buried it.  That was his work done as, a couple of minutes later he was replaced by Chalobah.  There was a feeling in our party that it is a bit mean to replace a player who is on a hat trick and Geri never likes being substituted, so it was nice to see him come out of the dug out to acknowledge the chants of his name from the away end.  Just before this change, the home side had also made a substitution replacing Mbenza with Lowe.

Capoue discusses a free kick with Sema and Chalobah

There was a half shout for a penalty for the Hornets as Capoue appeared to be fouled just inside the box but he had a looked off-balance just before going down, so I wasn’t too surprised when the appeal was waved away.  The visitors were still trying to increase their goal difference and won a free kick in a dangerous position that Capoue took and hit just over the target.  Doucouré was then through on goal, but the flag went up for offside, he went for the shot anyway and was booked for his trouble (and the ball rebounded off the post).  Gracia made his final substitution bringing Navarro on for Hughes.  Almost immediately the home side pulled a goal back from a header from Grant.  I looked at the clock and saw that it was showing 90 minutes.  I hadn’t seen the board go up with the added time, so was unaware that the goal had actually come two minutes into the three that had been added, so I was mightily relieved when the whistle went for full time.

 

Success taking on the Huddersfield defence

At the end of the game, a number of the players came over to give their shirts to fans.  Ben Foster was one of them.  He had hit a youngster with a ball in the warm up and was clearly concerned that he had hurt the child, so made a point of coming over the hoardings to give him his shirt.  A lovely gesture that was clearly much appreciated by the boy and his father.

We headed back to the pub for a swift drink before catching the train home.  It had been a frustrating game, we really should have had a more convincing win, but Deulofeu is a joy to watch at the moment.  Capoue is also putting in great performances that must make him one of the favourites for Player of the Season.  In previous seasons, he has been a player with a great deal of talent that wasn’t always on show.  Gracia has got the best out of him and it has been a pleasure to witness.  While it wasn’t the best team performance of the season, it saw Watford back in seventh position in the table (at least until Everton’s win on Sunday) and with their position at the end of the season in their own hands.  We have three home games remaining, which are all must wins.

I will really miss going to Huddersfield.  It is a lovely ground and the pre-match pub is excellent, with good beer, good food and plenty of friendly, efficient bar staff.  I hope that they return to the Premier League very soon.

 

The Return of Silva

Deeney versus Keane

The return of Marco Silva to Vicarage Road had been hotly anticipated, although his recent on-field problems had led to many Watford fans being concerned that he may be sacked before they played us.  There had been some negative reports in the press relating to a fans forum that had taken place in a London pub during the week.  These related to some very innocuous comments that Deeney had made when asked whether the players knew what the Everton game meant to the fans.  He basically said that the fans shouldn’t have a go at Everton as it would motivate them, but that the players would do the job (I’m paraphrasing here).  He was also very positive in talking about Richarlison, saying he had done nothing wrong.  Sadly the language that he had used was a little ripe, so the reports built his comments into an attack that provided a rallying cry for Everton, which was a shame as it was nothing of the kind.  On the subject of that forum, Scott Duxbury, Fillippo Giraldi and Troy Deeney came along to a London pub on a Wednesday night to answer questions fired at them from a crowd of fans.  This took place in a crowded bar and I have to give credit to them all for coming along and answering all of the questions openly and honestly.  It was a tremendous evening.

Saturday and we were back to the West Herts for our only home game in February.  While we may be only occasional visitors at the moment, it is always lovely to gather at ‘our’ table and the beer and jerk chicken were both excellent.

Holebas takes a throw in

Team news was that Gracia had made just the one change from the Brighton game with the welcome return of Doucouré in place of Cleverley.  I must admit that I was a bit disappointed to hear that Femenía hadn’t even made the bench.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Sema; Deulofeu and Deeney.  This would be Holebas’s 100th appearance for the club.  Everton’s starting XI included Richarlison, the announcement of whose name was met with a mixture of boos and applause.  Emma Saunders then welcomed Marco Silva back, which elicited only boos.  On the way into the ground I couldn’t help noticing how many fans had turned up with plastic snakes.

As the teams came out, the “Audentior” banner was raised over the middle of the Rookery.  We were under this when the announcement was made of a minute’s appreciation for Emiliano Sala, which was honoured with applause from those of us under the flag.

Deulofeu orchestrates proceedings

Watford had a great chance to take the lead in the 10th minute as Janmaat crossed for Deeney who chested the ball down to Capoue but the shot from close range was turned over the bar by Pickford.  At the other end a dangerous cross from Richarlison was headed clear by Mariappa before it could reach Tosun.  Richarlison went down rather too easily (nothing new there) to win a free kick.  Digne’s effort reached Keane who headed goalwards, but it was an easy save for Foster.  The visitors had another chance as Zouma latched on to a cross from Digne, it was a much better header but Foster was equal to it.  At the other end a cross from Hughes went straight to the keeper.  Watford then made problems for themselves as a misplaced pass, while trying to clear the ball, led to Tosun gaining possession, thankfully his powerful shot was stopped by Foster.  Watford then had a chance as Deulofeu crossed towards Hughes, but Zouma intervened and headed over the bar.  Deulofeu threatened again, this time his shot was blocked.  Watford could have taken the lead in the last minute of the half as Pickford dropped a free kick, but they couldn’t capitalise on the mistake so the half ended goalless.

Steve Sherwood was the guest for the half time draw.  He will still have nightmares over a certain game against Everton, so it was very gratifying to see the incredible reception that he was given as he walked along the front of the Rookery.  He looked very happy as he applauded the fans back.

Goal celebration with Chalobah very happy for Gray

At the start of the second half, Gracia replaced Sema with Gray, a positive move.  Everton had the first chance of the second half with a shot from Sigurdsson that hit the top of the crossbar.  Holebas then tried his luck with a shot from outside the area that flew wide of the far post.  A deep corner from Holebas caused Pickford some concern, but the ball bounced off an Everton player for a corner which wasn’t given as the referee believed there had been a push on the keeper.  Just after the hour mark, the visitors made their first change bringing Walcott on for Gomes.  Watford had another decent chance with an angled shot from Holebas that flew just wide of the target as Deeney was bearing down on goal but couldn’t quite reach it.  The goal came on 65 minutes and started with a gorgeous pass by Cathcart to Hughes who put in a low cross for Gray to power past Pickford from close range and send the Hornets fans wild.  Marco Silva was then serenaded with a chorus of “Sacked in the morning.”  Before the restart, Richarlison was replaced by Bernard and left the field to a chorus of “50 million, you’re having a laugh.”  I must say that I felt sorry for young Ricky.  He had started brightly enough, but soon found himself in Holebas’s pocket and was reduced to falling over looking for sympathy which quickly elicited the opposite reaction.  Deeney received the first booking of the game for a challenge on Zouma.

Doucoure and Janmaat taking a breather

Watford had a chance to grab a second when a Holebas corner was cleared to Mariappa whose shot cleared the bar.  Silva made another change with 15 minutes remaining, bringing Calvert-Lewin on for Sigurdsson.  Everton attempted to hit back as a cross from Walcott found Tosun, but his shot flew wide of the target.  Gracia made his second substitution bringing Cleverley on for Deulofeu, who had had another frustrating afternoon.  Holebas received his 10th booking of the season for a push on Walcott.  It was needless and means that we will lose him for two games, just when he is in such tremendous form.  The resultant free kick rebounded off the top of the crossbar, but it had never looked likely to trouble Foster.   Zouma wrestled Hughes off the ball in midfield, which was completely within the laws of the game according to Lee Probert, so he was allowed to break upfield and cross for Calvert-Lewin who, thankfully, headed wide of the target.  Gracia made his final change in the last minute of normal time, bringing Chalobah on for Hughes.  There were four minutes of added time during which Everton had a couple of chances to gain a point.  First a free kick from Digne was headed goalwards by Calvert-Lewin, but Foster was behind it.  In the last minute of added time, Bernard crossed for Tosun whose header looked as though it was flying in, so there were a lot of very relieved Hornets when the ball cleared the bar, although Tosun was in an offside position so any goal would have been disallowed, but we didn’t know that as our hearts raced.

Deeney, Cathcart and Capoue gather for a corner

The final whistle went to tremendous celebrations among the Watford fans, who belted out “Javi Gracia, he’s better than you,” with a renewed vigour.  Mariappa came over, as he usually does, and gave his shirt to a young fan, before a tremendous fist pumping celebration that showed exactly what this win meant.  As icing on the cake, Zouma, who had been a niggly and unpleasant presence during the game, had words with the referee after the final whistle and earned himself two yellow cards and a sending off.

As we walked along Vicarage Road away from the ground, we could see something going on by the Everton coaches.  There was a crowd by the cemetery wall looking in and first reports were that there had been a stabbing, although that was proved wrong after the game.  But two Watford fans were hospitalised, one with a nasty head injury.  As someone who started to go to football matches in 1979, these scenes were seen on a weekly basis in those days but had become a rarity in recent times.  I really hope that it remains that way.

That was a sad end to what had been a good day.  It hadn’t been a classic game by any stretch of the imagination, but the Marco Silva factor meant that there was an edge to the game that spurred on both the crowd and the players.  The second half had been much better for the Hornets.  The introduction of Andre Gray made a difference, he was linking up well with Deeney and took his goal very well.  The defence had been superb.  Both Cathcart and Mariappa were assured and solid.  Holebas was magnificent, giving Richarlison no room to play.  And Janmaat was excellent, making my pre-game disappointment at the absence of Femenía look rather foolish.  The return of Doucouré was very welcome, he makes such a difference especially as he allows Capoue to shine.  So, not a brilliant performance, but still very pleasing and a deserved win against a team that were thought to be a step up for Marco Silva last season.

We go into the FA Cup weekend comfortably in 8th place.  It will be very interesting to see what the team is next week, but we have to give of our best as, for a team in our position, a cup run can only be a positive thing.

Gorgeous Goals Brighten a Poor Game

The impeccable Ben Wilmot

When the draw for the fourth round was made and we were paired with either Blackburn or Newcastle, the waiting game started.  Train tickets could not be bought until we knew where we would be playing.  Also, as the match tickets were going on sale the morning after the replay, I had the task of drawing up two lists of attendees dependent on the outcome.  There were more takers for Blackburn, even though the consensus was that they would be a tougher opponent than Newcastle.  But Newcastle it was (again).

I left London bright and early and found myself on the same train as a fellow member of WML who I had notified of the pre-match pub, so I met up with him to ensure that he found it with no difficulties.  When we arrived, a couple of our party were already at the bar and had grabbed a table in the little enclosed area.  A well-dressed older couple then arrived and sat down to do their crossword.  This was shortly before a large contingent of Happy Valley and North West Horns descended and ruined their peace.  To be fair to them they took being surrounded by football fans in their stride and the crossword was duly completed.

Masina preparing for a corner

Team news was that Gracia had made wholesale changes, although this was hardly a second string as it did include the return of Cathcart and Hughes from injury as well as a number of others who have featured in the league this season.  So, the starting XI was Gomes; Janmaat, Cathcart, Britos, Masina; Quina, Wilmot, Chalobah; Success, Gray, Hughes.  We had been aware of the inclusion of Wilmot before the team was announced as his grandparents had bumped into Mike outside the pub.  Criticism by both pundits and fans of Watford’s changes ignored the fact that Newcastle, who have both a weaker team and squad than us, had made 7 changes of their own.  While I fully agree that we should be making every effort to advance in the cup, my feeling was that this was a team that had enough quality to beat Newcastle and I was very much looking forward to seeing more from Quina and Wilmot.

When we arrived at the away end turnstiles, the woman performing the search asked if I would be using the lift.  I wasn’t sure whether it was my heavy rucksack or my advancing age and girth that prompted the question, but assured her that I would take the stairs.  She then commented that she always takes the lift, so I decided not to take offence.  As we scaled the 14 flights, I was chatting to a friend, so lost track of our progress and was just wondering whether to stop for a much needed breather when I saw the top floor appear so soldiered on.  It always feels like an accomplishment to arrive at the top without the use of supplemental oxygen.  As we took our place in the stand, it was clear that there were plenty of empty seats in both the home and away ends.  Our allocation of 6000 was never going to be filled, but the temptation of £10 tickets had not attracted a huge home following either.

Quina on the ball

Watford made a very bright start with a brilliant shot from distance from Quina which needed a decent save from Woodman in the Newcastle goal to keep it out.  The next chance of note came from a free kick just outside the area which Chalobah hit just over the bar.  From that point, there was nothing worth retrieving my notebook for until the 23rd minute when Janmaat hit a terrible shot that was way off target.  Pete reckoned that his playing badly was a deliberate ploy to stop the home fans booing him.  Watford had a great chance to open the scoring when Quina played a lovely pass to Hughes, who slipped a through ball into the path of Gray but the shot was wide of the target, although it wouldn’t have counted as the offside flag was up.  Newcastle had offered little going forward and an attempt at a break by Murphy was stopped by a very good tackle from Britos.  And that was it for the first half.  The announcer on the pitch introducing the half-time competition summed it up when he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, if any of you are still awake …..”

Gray being congratulated on his goal

There was also a bright start to the second half as Hughes played a ball over the top for Gray to run on to, he broke clear of the defence but shot high and wide when he should at least have tested Woodman.  Success, who was having a frustrating afternoon, then lost out to a defender and clearly felt as though he had been manhandled (he hadn’t) so collapsed dramatically in the box and then had to get up and get on with it when it was clear that nobody cared.  It was as well that I was in the top stand half a mile from the pitch at that point as I was tempted to give him a slap.  Another chance went begging after some nice play around the edge of the Newcastle box finished with the ball with Gray who ran into a couple of defenders and lost the ball.  The first booking of the game went to Wilmot for a foul on Joselu.  The breakthrough for the Hornets came just after the hour mark as Hughes played a gorgeous through ball to Gray who finished past Woodman and continued his run to celebrate in front of the Watford fans up in the gods.  Peñaranda had been readied to come on, presumably for Gray, just before the goal.  He immediately put his bib back on.  Watford’s second booking went to Chalobah for a foul on Kenedy.  The home side should have equalized when Manquillo went on a decent run, Gomes came out to meet him but failed to stop the shot, however the impeccable Wilmot was on hand to head the ball off the line.

Success celebrating his goal in the distance

Gracia made his first change on 68 minutes finally bringing Peñaranda on for Gray.  Soon after, Chalobah broke forward but, with options to either side, played a through ball to where Gray would have been had he not been substituted a couple of minutes earlier.  Benitez made a double substitution bringing Pérez and Atsu on for Murphy and Ritchie.  The decision to replace Ritchie was greeted with loud boos from the home fans.  Britos was then booked for a foul on Pérez.  Each side made a final substitution with Schär replacing Fernandez for the home side and Chalobah making way for Capoue for the Hornets.  Newcastle had a chance to grab an equaliser in the final minutes of normal time when a defensive header fell to Pérez on the edge of the box from where he shot over the target.  The home side attacked again but a cross from Atsu was easily gathered by Gomes.  Watford made certain of their place in the fifth round with a lovely goal that started with Peñaranda playing the ball out to Quina, his cross found Success in space in the box to finish from close range and make me feel ever so slightly guilty for moaning about him all afternoon.  The home side had a chance to grab a consolation as Joselu crossed for Pérez, but his shot missed the target and the final whistle went on a comfortable win for the Hornets.

Chalobah getting back to his best

The heavens had opened towards the end of the second half, so we were absolutely drenched by the time that we reached the pub at the station.  As we sat down with our drinks for the post-match analysis, the most astute observation was that it appeared that two moments of quality from a different match had been inserted into a dreadful game.  The best cup ties are blood and thunder games where all of the players appear desperate to win.  This was certainly not one of those, but Watford had done enough to deserve the win and there had certainly been some bright points.  As he has been in every performance so far, Quina was a joy to watch.  He plays with a confidence that belies his years, has a wonderful touch and a brilliant eye for a pass.  I found myself almost purring with delight every time he got the ball.  Wilmot again showed what a great prospect he is.  He started the game playing in a defensive midfield position but later moved into the centre of defence allowing Masina to play further forward.  In both roles, he was composed and appeared totally in control of his surroundings.  He really does look like a young Cathcart and having two of them in the squad is something to treasure.  Of the players returning to first team action, Britos put in a decent shift in the defence and Chalobah put in the best performance that we have seen since his return.  He looked far more comfortable and performed the midfield fulcrum role with some assurance.  That was very pleasing to see.

While the game won’t last long in the memory, it does mean that we are in the fifth round of the cup and, with many of the top teams already out of the competition, this seems like a great opportunity to advance.  I would love a trip to Newport or Barnet/Brentford in the next round.  I just hope that we don’t draw another Premier League team.

While on the way home, I received a message from Pete F that just said “Lucky sea shells.”  I confess that having bought a new coat last weekend, I was superstitious enough to ensure that my shell was transferred and was gratified when Pete B showed that he had also brought his.  Those shells deserve a cup run, I hope that those making the draw agree.

Avoiding a Banana Skin

Breaking at a corner

FA Cup 3rd round day is always one that I look forward to.  While the magic of the cup has been somewhat tarnished over recent years, the prospect of teams from different divisions meeting is always thrilling.  When the draw was made, I was just hoping for a new ground to visit, so was a little disappointed when Woking came out of the hat as I have been there twice for pre-season games (including having the memorable experience of seeing Mazzarri escorted back to the team coach by a phalanx of stewards so that he didn’t have to mix with the fans).  I soon got over this disappointment and my appetite for the game was only increased when I heard the interview that the “From the Rookery End” guys did with (Woking assistant manager) Martin Tyler at the FSF awards.  Martin spoke about Watford in such glowing terms that I was genuinely moved and felt incredibly proud of the club that I support.  I only hoped that he (and I) would be feeling equally positive about our club after the game.

As I usually do when Watford are playing on Sunday, I checked the fixtures a ridiculous number of times on Saturday in order to ensure that I hadn’t got the wrong day.  Sunday morning I was up early (for me) and off to Woking.  Having not seen any football related clothing on the train, my first indication that there was a game going on was when I emerged from the station to see a chap selling half and half scarves (the horror!).  We had arranged to meet at a local pub for Sunday lunch, which was a great way to prepare for the game.  The place was soon packed with a mix of fans and it has to be said that the locals were a lot more convinced of a comprehensive Watford win than I was.

Cleverley and Masina line up a free kick

Since we would be on the terraces, we made sure that we arrived at the ground earlier than is usual for us and we met up with Pete and Freddie at the front of the terrace near the half way line.  A perfect spot for watching the game.  Pete had been on a beach clean the day before and had come away with a pocket full of shells.  He shared them around, starting a new tradition of the lucky shell that was to be carried all the way to Wembley (we can dream).

Team news was that Gracia had made wholesale changes, with Peñaranda finally making his Watford debut.  The starting XI was Gomes; Janmaat, Britos, Wilmot, Masina; Cleverley, Chalobah, Quina; Hughes, Success, Peñaranda.  It was pleasing to note that the Woking team were wearing numbers 1-11.

Watford started brilliantly with their first chance coming in the first minute of the game as Success tried an overhead kick that sailed over the bar.  Quina was the next to trouble the Woking defence with a dangerous run that finished with a shot that was blocked.  At this point, with less than 10 minutes gone, the Woking fans behind the goal started a chant of “0-0 to the Cardinals,” fair play to them for that.  Peñaranda’s first goal attempt came after he cut inside and hit a shot that was just wide of the target.

The happy walk back after Hughes opened the scoring

Watford continued to threaten as a corner from Hughes was headed down by Britos to Masina whose shot was blocked at the near post to give the visitors another corner.  This time the set piece appeared to have come straight from the training ground as Masina played a low ball to Hughes who was running into space in the box and he belted it home to give Watford an early lead.  It was a very well taken goal and certainly calmed my nerves.  The first caution of the game went to Success, who was adjudged to have dived.  The card seemed a little harsh.  The Woking fans were at it again soon after as their keeper, Ross, gathered a cross, they started a chant of “We’ve got the ball.”   Watford had a decent chance to increase their lead as a cross from Janmaat was headed goalwards by Success, but Ross made the save.  Quina was the next to threaten but his shot flew over the bar.  The first goal attempt for the home side came on 23 minutes as Casey crossed for Gerring who met it with a decent header, but Gomes dropped to make the save.  Then Success found Cleverley whose shot was blocked.  On the half hour Gerring, who had been on 5Live telling Troy Deeney that he would have to let him know he was there, turned his attentions to Success in the absence of the Watford captain.  It was quite a nasty challenge and well worth the booking that he received.  Watford had another chance to grab a second from a fantastic free kick by Cleverley, but the shot rebounded off the bar.   The last chance of the half came as Quina played the ball back to Hughes who tried to place the shot, which rolled to the keeper, when a welly would have gone in.

Chalobah translating for Penaranda (possibly)

So Watford reached half time a goal to the good, after a half that they had completely dominated.  It was a shame that we hadn’t scored more of our chances, but we were looking in control of the game.

At half time, I spotted Lionel Birnie standing behind me and took the opportunity to tell him how much I had enjoyed the GT autobiography.  I loved the style of the book, with GT telling his own story in a way in which you could hear his voice.  The book is a real gift to those of us who loved and admired GT and I wanted to thank Lionel for his work in ensuring that GT’s story was told.

The first action of the second half was the rather thrilling sight of the lino on the opposite side falling backwards over the hoardings.  It is dreadfully childish, but you can’t help but laugh when the officials come a cropper.  The first real chance of the half fell to the visitors as Peñaranda cut inside and curled a lovely shot just wide of the target.  Woking then created their first chance of the half, but Hyde’s header was easily stopped by Gomes.

Ben Wilmot

The home side made their first substitution on the hour as Little replaced Taylor.  The substitute made an immediate impact firing a low shot through a crowd of players, but Gomes made the save.  With 20 minutes remaining, each side made a double substitution.  Bradbury and Hodges replaced Luer and Edser for the home side, while Success and Peñaranda made way for Deeney and Sema for the visitors.  Javi’s substitutions proved to be inspired as a couple of minutes later Sema pulled the ball back for Deeney to score Watford’s second goal.  The niggling worry in the back of my mind that Woking could grab an equaliser was quelled at this point.  The Woking substitute, Bradbury, had briefly been on Watford’s books and Pete was not a fan having known of him from Havant & Waterlooville, where his father had been manager.  Pete decided to engage with the player.  “Not even your Dad would play you.”  A comment which, to be fair to Bradbury, drew a smile.  Watford made their final substitution with 10 minutes to go as Hughes made way for Navarro.  The Hornets had a good chance to grab a third as Deeney got on the end of a cross from Sema, but his header was blocked.  At the other end Bradbury should have reduced the deficit with a header from close range that flew just over the bar.  I swear there was fear in his eyes as he looked over to see Pete’s reaction.  That was the last action of the game and the whistle went on what had been a comfortable victory for the Hornets.

Quina, Penaranda and Success

As we were leaving the ground, someone mentioned that Lloyd Doyley had been in the away end and, perfectly on cue, he appeared from one of the portaloos.  We said hello and he shook hands with the guys and greeted me with a kiss.  He was then surrounded by Watford fans asking for photos.  Never have so many selfies have been taken in front of a toilet.  He chatted to us on the way out, talking about his recent move to Billericay.  He was accompanied by his son, resplendent in a Watford shirt, and told us that his lad is a regular at Watford but goes with his friends now.  That made me very happy.

As we emerged onto the street outside, it was evident that all was not well and I was shocked to witness a couple of punch-ups as if to emphasise the retro feeling of the day and remind me that it wasn’t all good in the olden days.

I bade my farewells to the others and headed for a visit to my Dad’s cousin who lives in the town centre.  When I had called to invite myself over, they had told me how the town was thrilled about the visit of Watford and it was nice to hear how much this had meant, although they had been hoping for a replay.

Penaranda and Masina waiting to take a free kick

On the journey home, I reflected on the game.  While the finishing had been a bit disappointing, the win had been convincing with the Hornets never really looking in any danger.  The debut of Peñaranda was decent enough for a lad who has not played for a while and for whom a non-league ground must have been an eye-opener (decent as the ground is).  Quina and Wilmot continue to impress when given their opportunities and it was great to see another strong performance from Cleverley.  The disappointments were Success, who continues to frustrate more than delight, and Chalobah, who is a shadow of his former self at present.

When I got home, I must say that it gladdened my heart to see Woking’s kind words about our visit on their Twitter feed as well as the photo of the two managers having exchanged bottles of their traditional beverages (sangria and Newcy brown).  I had thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon on the terrace, although my aching back didn’t agree with me.  I am just hoping that the fourth round draw is kind to us.  A trip to Accrington, Newport or Oldham would go down very nicely indeed, although I suspect we will end up at the Etihad.

Battling Snakes on a Monday Night

Holebas launches a throw-in

A Monday night game at Everton was a good excuse for a weekend in Liverpool.  Things didn’t go quite to plan, but I had a fun weekend of comedy, music, art, film and hoped to finish it with a decent game of football.  After a lovely morning at the Tate and visiting the studio of an artist friend of a friend on the waterfront, I returned to the hotel to meet up with our much depleted party.  We were in the pub bright and early and found a table in our usual area where we were soon joined by a number of North-West and Happy Valley Horns, travelling fans who so rarely see us win in their neck of the woods.

Team news was that Gracia had made two changes with Sema and Quina (both making their Premier League debuts) replacing Hughes (who had picked up an injury against Man City) and Chalobah.  I must say that the inclusion of Sema was a surprise to everyone.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Doucouré, Quina, Sema; Deeney, Success.  Needless to say, the Everton line-up included former Watford starlet, Richarlison, and our former manager, Marco Silva, was in the home dugout.  It was clear that neither of them was going to get a good reception from the travelling Hornets, which was more understandable for Silva than for Richarlison who made the club a tidy sum when he was sold.

The meal voucher from the club

As we entered through the turnstiles, we were greeted by Dave Messenger who was handing out vouchers for £10 for food and drink.  A really lovely gesture from the club to reward those who had made the journey to Liverpool on a Monday night.  The smallish crowd meant that it was like the old days in the away stand, with us able to take any seat we wanted.  So we headed to an empty section further back where we could stretch out and move about in comfort.  Bliss!

On arrival at the ground, I had discovered that I did not have my purse with me.  The inconvenience of having to cancel and replace cards was overwhelmed by the fact that I now had no cash and no train ticket home.  My first thought was that I had left it on the bus to the ground, but a few minutes into the game I remembered exactly where I had left it.  A quick call to the pub to tell them that a wallet bearing a Watford crest had been left on an armchair by the fire and they confirmed that they had it and it would be behind the bar on my return.

Panic over, I was able to concentrate on the match, the start of which had been dominated by chants against Silva and Richarlison.  A number in the crowd had brought snakes with them to wave at Silva, which led to my first experience of seeing an inflatable snake being confiscated in a football ground.

Doucoure, Cathcart and Deeney in the box

There was an early chance for each side as, first, Pereyra had a shot from the edge of the box that was held by the Everton keeper, Pickford.  Then Walcott met a cross from Digne with a header that was easily saved by Foster.  The home side took the lead in the 15th minute when Gomes cut the ball back to Richarlison who blasted the ball past Foster.  The young Brazilian celebrated by patting the badge over his heart.  Oh Ricky, what a short memory you have.  Watford should have equalized within a couple of minutes as Quina crossed for Deeney who, with an open goal in front of him, somehow managed to clear the bar with his shot.  Richarlison could have had a second soon after, but a tremendous block by Holebas averted the danger.  The first caution of the game went to Everton’s Mina who had handled a cross from Sigurdsson.  Watford had a decent chance to draw level as a cross from Sema was met by Pereyra but his header was just wide of the target.  Watford threatened again as a cross from Femenía fell to Deeney whose shot was blocked by Mina for a corner.  Deeney was then in action at the other end of the pitch, snuffing out an Everton attack with a great tackle.  Richarlison then tangled with Kabasele and, as is his wont, executed an outrageous dive (not his first of the evening).  Kabasele’s expression as they made their way back upfield in conversation indicated that he was letting his former team mate know exactly what he thought of his actions.  Watford had a great chance to grab an equaliser just before half time as Deeney received a long ball from Quina but he volleyed just wide.  In the minute added on at the end of the half, Deeney found Success on the edge of the box where he was fouled by Mina.  If the referee had given the free kick, he would have had to show Mina a second yellow and Everton would have been down to ten men, but he waved play on and the half-time whistle went with the Hornets a goal down and feeling rather aggrieved.

Sema lines up a free kick

It had been a decent half of football.  The home side had dominated the early exchanges, but the Hornets had grown into the game and were the better side at the end of the half.  The half time discussion was around two crucial decisions and benefited from reports from those watching at home.  By all accounts, Everton’s goal should have been disallowed as Walcott, who had been involved in the build-up, had been in an off-side position.  So, that and the fact that Mina had got away with an obvious foul on Success that should have earned us a free kick and him a second yellow card, meant we were feeling very hard done by.

At half time, the shoot-out involved a lad in a wheelchair, which was rather lovely.

The first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets as Pereyra hit a free-kick that went into the side-netting, although a good number in the away end were celebrating as they thought it had gone in.  Watford continued to threaten as a long throw reached Doucouré in the box, but his shot was blocked.  Then Deeney played a one-two with Doucouré before taking a shot, but Pickford was down to make the save.  Gracia made his first change just before the hour mark with Sema making way for Deulofeu.

Celebrating the first Watford goal

I won’t say that the substitution was inspired, but the Hornets equalised on 63 minutes as Femenía crossed for Pereyra, whose shot hit the post but rebounded out to Coleman and bounced off the Everton man into the net.  For once it felt like luck was on our side and it has to be said that the equaliser was well deserved.  But that wasn’t the end of it, as the Hornets took the lead a couple of minutes later as Pereyra crossed for Doucouré who rose above the defence and headed past Pickford.  Needless to say, the celebrations in the away end were brilliant.  When the travelling Hornets started chants of “Silva, what’s the score?”  I couldn’t help feeling uneasy.  It is never a good idea to crow over the opposition that early in the game.  Sure enough, while I was distracted noting that Calvert-Lewin had come on for Bernard, I heard a cheer from the home fans.  At first I thought that they had scored, but it then became clear that the referee had awarded a penalty for a foul by Kabasele on Mina.  I had everything crossed as Sigurdsson stepped up to take the spot kick and was joy was unconfined when the shot was saved by Foster’s trailing leg.  In the confusion, I had missed that Silva had made a double substitution, as Walcott had made way for Lookman.  Quina, who had impressed on the ball, also showed what he can contribute to the defence as he tackled Richarlison in the box.

Holebas congratulates Doucoure on his goal

Each side made another substitution as Everton brought Tosun on for Gueye and Success made way for Chalobah for the Hornets.  The Watford man’s first action of note was to get booked for time wasting.  Richarlison looked to bring the home side level as he ran on to a ball into the box, but Foster was out to save at his feet.  As the clock ran down, Everton won a series of corners, but only one (a Sigurdsson header from a Coleman cross) required a save from Foster.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, the board for extra time was held up indicating 6 minutes.  Oh, for goodness sake, my nerves were already in tatters.  Gracia made a final substitution replacing Quina with Mariappa.  Just when we thought we would finally see a win at Goodison Park, Kabasele needlessly handled a long forward ball and the referee awarded a free kick on the edge of the area.  Again, I had everything crossed, but when Digne stepped up I knew that there was only one outcome and, sure enough, his free kick cleared the wall and found the top corner to level the game.  There was just time for one last attack from the visitors as Deulofeu surged forward and found Pereyra, but he could only direct his shot across the front of the goal and the game ended in a draw.

Several of the players dropped to the turf in despair at the end of the game.  Most notably Holebas, who didn’t move for ages until Zigor Aranalde went over to commiserate when he reacted angrily.  The players were right to be angry and upset.  They had done more than enough to win the game and had been easily the better team in the second half.  But they were beaten by a mistake from the officials and a moment of madness from Kabasele.

Deeney and Success wait for a ball into the box

We headed back to the pub, where my purse was returned to me, so the least I could do was to buy a round.  We then settled down to analyse the game.  The overwhelming feeling was one of frustration.  It had been a terrific evening’s entertainment and if someone had offered me a point before the game, I would have bitten their hand off.  But, after that performance we deserved to come away with all three points.  Concentrating on the positives, Pereyra and Doucouré both put in their best performances in some time.  Quina continues to impress, for such a young man he plays with great assurance and is a tremendous addition to our squad.  Watford were clearly the better team, but we have to start translating that into victories.  This is a likeable and talented team, probably the best that Watford have ever had.  But the players are also working hard, so surely it must only be a matter of time before the talent translates into positive results.  Please let that start against Cardiff on Saturday.

Rainbows Under the Lights

The rainbow display in the Rookery (with thanks to Alice Arnold)

A rare midweek game, so I left work earlier than usual and made my way out to Watford and to the West Herts to meet the usual suspects.  Trond had kindly brought sweets and I was just commenting that this would be some compensation as Glenn (our usual sweetie man) wasn’t around when the man himself appeared through the door and filled the table with goodies, so we all left for the game with a bag of treats.  I had a feeling that this would be a day when we would need some sugar to sweeten the blow of the result.  City’s last two visits to Vicarage Road had seen them scoring 6 and 5 goals with no reply.  The pre-match consensus was that anything less than a four goal defeat would be an achievement.

As this was Watford’s “rainbow laces” game in support of LGBT+ inclusion in sport, the 1881 and the Proud Hornets had worked together to put on a rainbow banner display in the Rookery, which was absolutely magnificent.

Team news was that Gracia had made three changes with Capoue (whose ridiculous red card at Leicester was not rescinded), Mariappa and Deulofeu replaced by Chalobah, Kabasele and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Chalobah, Doucouré, Hughes; Success, Deeney.

Deeney sporting the rainbow captain’s armband

City had the first chance of the game with a shot from distance from David Silva that comfortably cleared the bar.  Watford had a much better chance soon after as Deeney found Pereyra, who beat a defender before curling a shot wide of the far post.  City should have taken the lead when a terrible ball from Pereyra was intercepted by Sané, who was into the box and looked sure to score, but Foster reached up and pushed the shot away for a corner which was turned wide by Kompany.  Foster was the hero again soon after as he made a double/triple save before the ball was finally cleared by Femenía.  Ederson was then called into action as Chalobah hit a volley from 25 yards, but it was an easy save for the City keeper.  So we’d reached the half hour mark with no score, a distinct improvement on previous seasons.  That looked likely to change as Jesus dinked into the box but, yet again, Foster came to the rescue blocking the shot.  Watford had a chance to grab an unlikely lead as Doucouré found Deeney with an overhead kick, the Watford captain got his shot away and it looked as though it was going in when Ederson got a foot to it to keep it out.  Just when we thought we may make it to half time with the game goalless, Mahrez crossed for Sané, who chested the ball past Foster to give the visitors the lead.  They threatened again before half time as Mahrez advanced on goal from what appeared to be an offside position, but he shot into the side netting.

Man of the match, Ben Foster

So we’d managed to reach half time with only a single goal separating the teams.  City had been very impressive indeed, but Watford’s defensive efforts had been decent and Foster was putting in a magnificent performance in goal.  Even better, the guy who had taken the seat behind me during the first half, who I had been sure was there to support City, turned out to be a Roma fan just taking in a game, so I didn’t have someone celebrating an opposition goal over my left shoulder.

The visitors were two goals up five minutes into the second half as Jesus played a low cross to Mahrez who turned it past Foster.  I feared that this may start a landslide.  I was wrong.  Watford had to make a substitution before the restart as Hughes, who had been limping, made way for Quina to make his Premier League debut.  Watford looked to break back as Success found Doucouré about 20 yards out, but his shot was blocked.  City had a chance for a third as a shot from Mahrez deflected up and over Foster, but the ball drifted wide.  Watford made a second substitution as Chalobah made way for Deulofeu.  Success had a chance to reduce the deficit with a shot from just outside the area, but it was well over the bar.  There was danger for the Hornets when Deulofeu slipped, allowing City to mount an attack, thankfully the effort from Jesus was wide of the near post.

Quina hoping to take a free kick before Holebas intervened

Watford had a decent chance as Success met a free kick from Holebas with a header, but Ederson was down to save.  City made their first change with quarter of an hour to go, bringing Gundogan on for David Silva.  An interception from Deeney started a lovely move in which he exchanged passes with Pereyra before finding Doucouré whose shot was saved by Ederson.  Watford then made their final substitution, bringing Gray on for Success.  Mahrez should have had a second goal but Foster got a hand to the shot to keep it out.  City made another change replacing Kompany with Otamendi.  Then the unexpected happened.  Deulofeu did really well to dispossess Delph before crossing for Gray who touched the ball on to Doucouré who fluffed his first attempt, but put the rebound past Ederson.  It wasn’t the most elegant of finishes, but it sent the Rookery into raptures and, suddenly, it was game on.  As the Watford fans cheered their team on, they nearly got an unlikely equaliser as a Holebas corner was headed goalwards by Deeney, but Ederson made the save.  The visitors made a final change to waste some time as Laporte came on for Jesus, who went off at a snail’s place to boos from the home fans.  Ederson joined in the time wasting, including leaving the ball on the roof of the net for an age before a Watford man returned it to him.  I am glad to say that he was booked for his trouble.  In time added on, Watford won a succession of corners, Foster came up to join the fray, but the equalizer didn’t come.  There was still some considerable satisfaction at witnessing the relief from the City players and fans when the final whistle went.

Pushing for the win

So, despite the defeat, we left Vicarage Road with smiles on our faces.  There was certainly no disgrace in losing so narrowly to City and the fighting spirit shown by the team was something to be savoured.  There was an irony that, having managed only one shot on target in our past two games, the lads managed seven against a City side who are far and away the best team in the country.  Special mention must go to Ben Foster, who was absolutely superb in goal, and Quina who made a tidy appearance as a substitute.  We can look forward to good things from him in the future.

So on to Everton on Monday, a game that will be dominated by the presence of Marco Silva in the home dugout.  But I do hope that the travelling fans can concentrate on encouraging the players, as Goodison Park is not a happy hunting ground for us and it would be lovely to come away with a result.