Tag Archives: Neil Etheridge

Magic Deulofeu

Lining up a free kick

Due to the Six Nations game between Wales and England being played in Cardiff on the Saturday, our match was changed to Friday night.  This meant an afternoon off work and a journey to Wales on an early afternoon train from London that was already full of rugby fans.  It has to be said that the train was definitely the right decision as the M4 was at a standstill and the supporters coach from Watford took over five hours to get there.

Having checked into the hotel, we headed for a real ale and cider bar.  It was in a basement under student accommodation, which didn’t sound promising, but it turned out to be a lovely comfortable place with a tremendous selection.  We had a drink there and then headed for our designated pre-match venue to meet up with Alice and have something to eat.  As I collected the cutlery, I was gratified to see that the napkins were yellow.  That had to be a good omen.  After a beer and a veggie chilli we headed for the ground.  It is a while since we have been there, and I still look wistfully at the flats that took the place of Ninian Park.  That was a tatty old place, but what an atmosphere.

Team news was that Gracia had made two changes with the suspended Holebas replaced by Masina and fit again Pereyra in for Sema.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Masina; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.

Hughes, Deeney and Doucoure challenging

As I pulled my green shirt out of my bag, Graham helpfully pointed out that it was the wrong colour.  My Girl Guide training came in handy as I went back to my bag and retrieved the yellow shirt instead.  I was all set for the game.

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s applause for former players Matthew Brazier and Brian Edgley, both of whom had recently passed away.

The first chance for the Hornets came from a decent cross from Janmaat which bounced off Pereyra who didn’t seem to have seen it coming.  Janmaat was also involved in the next goal attempt, playing a one-two with Deeney before firing over the target.  Cardiff’s first chance of note came as Paterson flicked a ball through to Niasse who only had Foster to beat, but the Watford keeper stood tall and blocked the shot. Watford took the lead in the 18th minute, Deeney did brilliantly to keep hold of the ball before finding Deulofeu who slotted the ball into the near corner.  The home side tried to strike back immediately, but the shot from distance from Murphy was easily gathered by Foster.

Ben Foster

Watford should have had a second just before the half hour mark as Deeney unleashed a powerful shot that was well saved by Etheridge.  The first booking of the game went to Capoue for a foul on Niasse which looked pretty innocuous from our vantage point.  The resulting free kick was taken low and touched on by Arter straight to Foster.  There was a very nervous moment just before half time as Janmaat tangled with Murphy just inside the box.  It was right in front of us and looked like a definite penalty, but the referee waved play on, much to the relief of the travelling Hornets.  The home fans made their displeasure known with a chorus of “You’re not fit to referee.”  So we reached half time with the Hornets a goal to the good.  While we were very fortunate with the penalty decision, we were so obviously the better team that an equaliser would have been a travesty.

Before the start of the second half, Foster’s warm-up was accompanied by howls of derision from the Cardiff fans behind the goal.  He good naturedly kicked the ball into the crowd, which backfired when the game had to be stopped as the ball was thrown back on the pitch during play.  The first chance of the half fell to the home side, but Bacuna’s shot from distance was well over the target.  Watford’s first chance of the half came after some lovely passing between Hughes and Deeney, the shot from the captain was deflected just wide.  Pereyra then found his way into the referee’s book after a silly pull on Niasse.

Celebrating Deeney’s first (celebrations do tend to be blurred)

Cardiff made the first substitution replacing Murphy with Hoilett.  Cardiff had another chance to grab an equaliser but Bennett’s shot from distance was easy for Foster.  Watford threatened again as Doucouré played a lovely through ball for Deulofeu, but Etheridge was first to the ball.  At the other end, Mariappa came to the rescue diverting a dangerous cross from Paterson wide of the target.  On the hour mark, Deulofeu got the ball in midfield and started running.  As he was bearing down on Etheridge, I held my breath as he has had a number of similar opportunities in the past and has made the wrong decision, losing his nerve and running into a defender or the keeper, but this time he rounded the keeper and finished into the empty net to send the away fans wild.  While I was delighted that we had scored a second, there was a nagging feeling in the back of my mind as I remembered being in a similar position in the home game.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry for long as three minutes later Capoue latched on to a poor pass from Arter before playing a lovely ball to Deulofeu who chipped the keeper to grab his hat trick.  At this point, many of the home fans had seen enough so started heading home.  Warnock made a second substitution bringing Mendez-Laing on for Ralls.  The home side won a free kick in a decent position, but Hoilett blasted it into the wall.  Gracia’s first change was to bring Quina on for Pereyra, while Cardiff made their last substitution replacing Niasse with Zohore.

Celebrations of the fifth in time added on

Watford scored a fourth on 73 minutes after a period of sublime passing, Capoue played a wonderful through ball to Deulofeu who accelerated into the box and cut the ball back to Deeney to finish past Etheridge.  The players celebrated right in front of us and Deeney was rightfully (but decently) deflecting the plaudits to Gerry.  Deulofeu had a decent chance to score his fourth as he received a pass from Hughes but shot wide of the far post.  Watford then made their second substitution bringing Cleverley on for Capoue.  Irritatingly, the Hornets failed to keep a clean sheet as a corner led to a goalmouth scramble, the Watford defence failed to clear and Bamba was able to prod the ball past Foster.  The first booking for the home side went to Paterson who was penalised for pulling Quina to the ground.  The final Watford substitution came with five minutes to go and it was the hat trick hero, Deulofeu, who left the field to a standing ovation as he made way for Gray.  Cleverley almost scored the fifth from a free kick which looked to be curling in but hit the near post.  Cardiff had a chance to reduce the deficit further but Paterson’s shot from distance was so far over the bar that it sparked the observation that he was supposed to score a try first.  Into time added on and Watford finally scored a fifth goal as Hughes played the ball back to Deeney who scored to finish off a cracking game.  The scoreboard operator was clearly exhausted as the goal wasn’t acknowledged until the players were back in the centre circle ready for the restart.  The final whistle went sparking wild celebrations in the away end.  The players all came over to celebrate with the crowd and the songs and cheers went on for some time.  Deulofeu secured the match ball, despite an attempt by Doucouré to steal it.  As the others left him to it, he stood alone in front of the away fans while we told him he was magic.  It was a lovely moment.

Deulofeu taking the plaudits while ensuring the match ball is in sight

We walked back into town and headed for the real ale bar expecting it to be heaving with rugby fans, so were delighted to find that there were seats available and we could have our post-match analysis in comfort.  That was easily our best performance this year so far.  We played some lovely football and finally turned dominance in possession into a convincing win.  It was an excellent team performance and at various points during the game I declared my love for Cathcart and Doucouré.  I also thought Hughes had a decent game, he seems to be getting back to his best.  But the plaudits have to go to Deulofeu.  Troy was spot on in his post-match comments.  Gerard can be incredibly frustrating, holding on to the ball too long, making poor decisions and not making the most of the chances that he creates.  However, he never stops working and he continues to create those chances.  This was a reward for all of that hard work and both the players and the fans were delighted for him.  I hope that he treasures that match ball.

It was a tremendous performance.  Our first top flight hat trick since 1986.  What pleased me most was that, despite having a comfortable lead, we didn’t sit back, we carried on attacking, playing with flair and going for goal.  To score five at any level is impressive.  In the Premier League it is very special.

I am still pinching myself as I look at the table and realise that we have reached the magic 40 point mark (which is unlikely to be needed this season) and it is still February.  This is a season that will go down in history and I am loving it.

Three Worldies in the Rain

Rita and Pagey with the play-off trophy

On Wednesday evening was the 20 year (almost) reunion for the squad that won the play-off final in 1999.  I have been to a number of wonderful evenings following the club, but this one was exceptional.  All of the players had come back for the evening, including some (Bazeley, Hazan, Gudmundsson) that had come from overseas.  The overwhelming impression from the players was a deep affection among the whole group and they seemed genuinely happy to be with each other again.  The way that all of them spoke about Watford as a club was heart-warming, even those who were only here for a short time had left with very happy memories.  There were also some heartfelt tributes to Graham Taylor, which must have been lovely for Rita, Karen and the other family members who were present.  There were also entertaining interviews with Andrew French (who was the media officer at the time) and Ciaran Cosgrove (pink shirt man) who is totally bonkers.  The culmination of the interviews and reminiscences was Robert Page and Rita Taylor on the stage lifting the play-off trophy.  At that point I am not sure there was a dry eye in the house.

In Javi and Gino we trust

On to the weekend and my pre-match routine on Saturday differed from the usual as, after meeting in the West Herts, we headed for the ground and the Elton John Suite as Mike had been offered hospitality courtesy of the Community Trust.  It was a chilly day with driving rain for most of the afternoon, so the comfort of an executive box was very welcome indeed.  We shared the table with Derrick Williams who is employed by the Trust as well as being the brains and driving force behind Kit Aid, so it was lovely to meet him and learn about his various roles and their contributions to the local (and not so local) community.

Team news was that Gracia had made one change bringing Deulofeu in for Success.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Sema, Doucouré, Quina, Pereyra; Deeney and Deulofeu.  There was also the very welcome return of Tom Cleverley to the bench.  A lovely early Christmas present for the Watford faithful.

Before kick-off, it was lovely to see banners unfurling in the Rookery celebrating Gino and Javi.  I am normally under these, so it was lovely to actually see them for once.

Celebrating Deulofeu’s goal

Despite our relative league positions, this was going to be a tricky game as Cardiff had had a recent upturn in form and Watford, despite some terrific performances, had not won since October.  But the Hornets started the game well and had a very early chance as Deulofeu played a one-two with Doucouré before curling a shot just wide of the target.  Watford took the lead in the 16th minute as Deulofeu got the ball just outside the box, then went on a mazy dribble, it looked as though he would run into trouble but, instead, he breezed past a couple of defenders before slotting the ball past Etheridge in the Cardiff goal.  It was a terrific goal and served to calm the nerves among the home fans.  The Hornets had a chance to increase their lead soon after as Pereyra exchanged passes with Deeney, but his final touch was too heavy and Etheridge was out to gather.  Cardiff threatened for the first time as Arter played a low ball across the goal, but the chance went begging.  The visitors had a better chance to draw level when Gunnarsson’s long throw reached Paterson in the box, but his header was wide of the target.  The Hornets continued to attack and some lovely passing between Deulofeu and Pereyra culminated in a shot from the Argentine that was deflected for a corner.  After a period in which Watford had been passing the ball around for fun, Cardiff finally won a goal kick and, as Etheridge readied to take it, there was an ironic chant of “We’ve got the ball” from the away end.

Domingos Quina

When an injury to a Cardiff player led to a break in the game, I was amused to see Ben Foster take the opportunity to towel himself down, although with the rain lashing down it would only have been a momentary respite.  Deulofeu and Pereyra combined again but this time the shot was saved by Etheridge.  Then Quina, who had been lively in midfield, had his first sight of goal but his shot from distance was wide of the target.  Late in the half, Pereyra won a rather soft free kick.  He took it himself and it was a wonderful strike that appeared to be heading for the top corner, but Etheridge made another excellent save to keep it out.  So we reached half time with a narrow lead for the Hornets, which was a bit frustrating given the amount of possession that we had had.  But credit must go to Etheridge in the Cardiff goal as, without his efforts, the game would already have been out of sight for the visitors.

Our seats at the back of the Upper GT meant that we were protected from the torrential rain, but there had been a cold wind blowing during the first half, so I was very happy to be able to escape into the box for half time refreshments.  The hot drinks and cheese and biscuits went down very well indeed, but I kept an eye on the pitch to ensure that I was back in the stand for start of the second half (I almost made it).

Celebrating the strike from Holebas

The visitors made a substitution at the break bringing Mendez-Laing on for Murphy.  The Hornets started the second half as they had finished the first with a shot from Pereyra that was stopped by another excellent save by Etheridge.  But the Hornets were not to be denied for long as Deulofeu laid the ball off to Holebas who curled a gorgeous shot into the top corner.  It was a magnificent strike and it is always nice to see a happy Holebas.  Watford had a chance for a third as Sema dribbled along the edge of the box but he shot wide of the target.  Just before the hour mark, Cardiff made a second substitution bringing Peltier on for Bennett, who had picked up an injury.  Cardiff had a rare shot on goal with an effort from the edge of the area by Camarasa that flew just wide.  The Hornets’ third goal was another cracker, Sema played the ball back to Quina who curled a beauty past Etheridge, leading to a joyous celebration as he ran over and hugged the substitutes on the touchline.  The chances continued as Deulofeu found Holebas who stuck his foot out and diverted the ball towards the top corner, but yet again Etheridge made a save.  Hoilett had a great chance to pull one back for the visitors, but his header cleared the bar.  Watford made their first substitution of the day with 15 minutes to go, bringing Success on for Sema.  The substitute was immediately involved in a one-two with Deulofeu whose shot was disappointing, especially as he really should have passed to Doucouré who was in an acre of space in the box.

Holebas prepares to take a corner

The visitors made their final change of the afternoon replacing Gunnarsson with Reid.  Just when we thought this would be a comfortable afternoon for the Hornets, Hoilett hit a beautiful curling shot from outside the area to the top corner.  So no clean sheet, but it was to get worse almost immediately as another ball into the Watford box led to a goalmouth scramble.  There appeared to be two players in an offside position when Foster blocked a shot from Bamba, so we were waiting for the whistle to go, but the ball rebounded to Reid who scored to put the visitors back in the game and to reboot the nerves.  Between the goals, Deeney had made way for Okaka and the Watford fans cheered up somewhat at the sight of the return of Cleverley who came on for Deulofeu.  Tom was in action immediately with a shot that was blocked before Quina put the follow-up wide.  Then Doucouré could have calmed Watford nerves with a terrific shot but, yet again, it was met with a terrific save from Etheridge.  There were groans as the fourth official held up the board indicating that there were 5 minutes of added time and the visitors had a chance to grab an equaliser that would have been a travesty, as Camarasa put a free kick into the box, but Foster was out to make the stop although it took him two attempts to gather it.  There was much relief when the final whistle went.

Elton entertaining at his spiritual home

At the end of the match there was complete bafflement.  Watford had been coasting until the first Cardiff goal, which seemed to give the visitors confidence and the home side jitters.  While we weren’t exactly hanging on at the end, the memory of the last minute at Goodison Park on Monday was too fresh for me to feel comfortable until the final whistle had gone.  It has to be said that the players (with the notable exceptions of Kabasele and Cathcart) made a rapid exit from the pitch, but that was probably just to dry off after the soaking.  But, with time to reflect, apart from that dodgy 3 minutes this was a superb performance by the Hornets.  They were playing some lovely football, but there were also plenty of shots and three goals so gorgeous that there was a comment on Match of the Day that there could have been a goal of the day competition that only included goals from this game (Hoilett’s wasn’t too shabby either).  It was a great team effort, but praise must still go to Deulofeu who was absolutely excellent, Doucouré who is back to his best and the wonderful Quina who is not just very skilful, but also plays with an assurance that belies his tender years.

At the end of the day, there was massive relief that the winless streak is over and the performances in the past week have been excellent and deservedly lifted us back into the top half of the table.  Let us hope that we continue in this vein as football is suddenly fun again.

Mexican Waves and Nigerian Goals

Tozser, Layun and the vanishing spray

Tozser, Layun and the vanishing spray

Despite the weather warnings, I was still surprised to see snow on the ground when I reached Watford, having seen none on leaving London.   I’m told there had been quite the snow storm in the morning but, thankfully, by lunchtime, the sun was out and the little snow that had settled was already melting.  In fact, having wrapped myself up for icy conditions, it felt positively mild and I was shedding layers as I walked to the West Herts.

There was much pre-match talk of the horror show at Huddersfield and annoyance that a team with such a wealth of talent could put in such an abject performance.  Team news was that there were three changes from that game with Anya, Paredes and Ighalo coming in for Abdi, Pudil and Vydra.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Angella, Cathcart, Hoban, Anya, Munari, Tözsér, Layún, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney.  I must say that only the inclusion of Ighalo was welcomed.  Certainly, the absence of Abdi was much lamented and there was some discussion of the formation until Layún lined up for kick-off in the midfield three.

Cathcart congratulated on the opening goal

Cathcart congratulated on the opening goal

Watford started brightly and had an early shot on goal as Ighalo connected with a cross from Tözsér but headed wide.  Deeney played a through ball for Anya, but the Scot was pulled back by Solly who picked up a very early card for the offence.  In the next move, Anya broke down the left and found Ighalo, who did well to wriggle past the defender on the byline and get in a cross for Deeney whose shot was blocked by the keeper.  From Tözsér’s corner, Angella’s header was blocked by Etheridge and Munari’s follow-up was headed off the line.  Charlton had a moment’s respite when Vetokele broke forward and passed to Gudmundsson whose shot was blocked by Gomes.  When you have a number of early chances and fail to score there is that horrible feeling in the back of your mind that it is not going to be your day.  Thankfully, that feeling was quickly dispelled as Watford made the breakthrough in the 14th minute.  From a corner, the ball came out to Layún whose cross was knocked on by Ighalo to Cathcart who fired past Etheridge.  Layún was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that was blocked by the keeper.

Deeney, Paredes and Ighalo following the second goal

Deeney, Paredes and Ighalo following the second goal

Watford had to make an early substitution as an injury forced Munari off to be replaced by Pudil.  The change meant that Anya joined Layún and Tozser in the central midfield three.  This was interesting, if rather scary.  Watford’s second goal came soon after as a lovely ball over the top from Angella reached Deeney who shrugged off the attentions of Bikey before burying the ball.  Soon after, Etheridge did well to tip a shot from Ighalo around the post.  Then Paredes found Ighalo in the box, the Nigerian had both the ball and his feet taken away from him, but appeals for a penalty were waved away.  On the half hour, a Tözsér corner was headed just over the bar by Angella.  Watford continued to attack as Paredes broke down the right and unleashed a shot that flew just wide of the near post.  Charlton briefly threatened as Harriott found Gudmundsson in a dangerous position but, thankfully, he couldn’t control the ball and it went out for a goal kick.  Pudil played the ball in to Ighalo, who was in the clear, but shot straight at the keeper.  Watford got their third goal just before half-time as Layún found Paredes on the right, he advanced to the byline before cutting the ball back to Ighalo who knocked it past Etheridge.  The goal was no more than Ighalo deserved after his great first half showing and he ran to the corner flag in front of the 1881 and celebrated with Harry Hornet.

Ighalo celebrates with Harry Hornet

Ighalo celebrates with Harry Hornet

At half-time, Pete Fincham was on the pitch making an impassioned speech about Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), a group of genetic skin conditions which cause the skin to blister and tear at the slightest touch.  His two gorgeous elder children, Grace and Freddie, are both sufferers, and it was lovely to see Freddie on the pitch with his Dad and enjoying sliding along the sidelines afterwards.  The club dedicated Saturday’s match to help raise awareness of EB and the work that the charity DEBRA undertakes to care for those affected as well as their investment into researching potential treatments.  If you missed the bucket collection at Vicarage Road and would like to donate to this worthy cause, please visit http://www.debra.org.uk/donate/intro

Watford started the second half on the attack as a lovely passing move finished with Anya playing the ball back to Deeney whose shot was pushed wide of the far post.  For the visitors, Gudmundsson tried to find Cousins in the box, but Gomes was first to the ball.

Celebrating Ighalo's second goal

Celebrating Ighalo’s second goal

Just before the hour, Ighalo scored his second and Watford’s fourth heading home a Tözsér corner.  A rare attack from Charlton finished with a looping shot straight at Gomes.  At this point, Harry Hornet started a Mexican wave which made its way around the stadium twice before petering out.  Welcome to Vicarage Road, Miguel Layún.  Another ball into the Watford box was headed wide by Bikey under a challenge from Angella.  At the other end, a shot from Tözsér flew just over the bar.  Deeney then exchanged passes with Ighalo before curling a lovely shot that Etheridge did really well to push clear.  Ighalo wasn’t to get his hat trick as he was replaced by Vydra on 74 minutes.  He left the field to a standing ovation.  Deeney skipped past a couple of defenders, but his final ball was too far in front of Vydra.  Then Watford had a bizarre chance as Anya dinked the ball goalwards, it hit a defender and appeared to be going in with Etheridge stranded, but was spinning and bounced off the line and out.

Lining up a killer free-kick

Lining up a killer free-kick

With 9 minutes remaining, Anya made way for George Byers, who was making his first team debut.  The youngster was soon in the thick of the action and just as my sister smilingly noted his maiden foul in Championship football, the 1881 started a chant of “knocked down by a twelve year old”.  Watford were still looking to increase their lead as a chip from Deeney was gathered by the keeper.  Then Pudil hit a shot from the left which flew wide of the far post.  In time added on, Bikey was booked for a foul on Vydra.  Layún and Tözsér were both on hand to take the free-kick, but it was the Hungarian who stepped up and blasted it into the far corner for Watford’s fifth goal of the afternoon.

What a difference a week makes.  The players did a lap of the pitch taking very well deserved plaudits from all sides of the ground.  Layun’s home debut had been rather good and his inter-passing with Paredes was a big factor in the Ecuadorian’s best performance for some time.  George Byers had a tidy debut that bodes well for his future.  Ighalo thoroughly deserved his man of the match award although a special mention should also go to Tözsér for an assured performance in the centre capped by a goal and an assist.  It has to be said that Charlton were appalling and gave us the space to play, but we took full advantage.  We now need to start standing up to teams that look to nullify our midfield.  If we can only do that, the rest of the season will be a lot of fun.