Tag Archives: Nemanja Matic

United we Fell

Masina preparing to take a throw-in

It was an early start for this game, and I couldn’t believe how many people were on the Central Line at 7:30 on a Sunday morning.  The journey to Manchester was uneventful.  Our usual group were going to be split between two pre-match pubs, one nearer the city centre, the other near the ground.  I met up with Pete at Piccadilly and, since the bar in Salford Quays wasn’t opening until midday and we were somewhat earlier than that, we headed to Deansgate to meet Graham and the Happy Valley Hornets.  Graham had arrived early and gone for breakfast.  While wandering in the area, he encountered a group of young men in hoodies and quickly realised that it was the lads out for a constitutional after their breakfast.

Our usual haunt didn’t open until midday, so an alternative had been chosen.  A quick look at TripAdvisor had shown a large number of one star reviews.  When we arrived it seemed OK, apart from the Man United memorabilia, but it went quickly downhill.  For what appeared to be a local pub, it was a bit surprising that the beer was at London prices.  But the clincher was when the barman, while clearing plates, knocked a pint of beer over the daughter of one of our group, claimed that she had done it and refused to provide a replacement.  It was a relief to take refuge in our usual haunt, I don’t think that we will be going back to the White Lion.

The decision to go to the more central pub looked even more misguided when I couldn’t fight my way on to a tram.  When I finally found a space to get on to one, it was the least crowded that had passed through so at least it was a relatively comfortable journey.

Doucoure on the ball

Knowing how restrictive the bag policy is at Old Trafford, I had packed carefully, only bringing things that I needed, but I still had a couple of things in a small bag.  As I passed through the first phalanx of stewards, I asked one of them if I could take my bag in.  He said that I could, and I passed through the next layer of security until I reached the one just before the turnstiles.  At that point I was told I couldn’t take the bag in.  I asked if it was OK to empty the bag into my pockets.  They were fine with that but said that I couldn’t take the actual bag in even though it was a nylon drawstring bag that could be tucked into a pocket.  At that point I gave up trying to reason and went back through the security cordons to the bag drop in the car park opposite.  There I found a young lad with an even smaller drawstring bag telling the attendants that he didn’t have the £5 they were demanding to leave his bag there.  I said that I would pay for him.  The woman behind the counter kindly said that we could put our bags together so that I would only have to pay once, and I had to point out that I didn’t know this boy so we wouldn’t be returning together.

I was livid when I got into the ground.  My mood wasn’t helped when I told my story only to find that two of our party had played the elderly card and brought in two bags that were considerably larger than mine and Mike had a Swiss army knife in his pocket!!  So much for their stringent security.

Doucoure and Masina

Team news was that Pearson had made just the one change with Hughes in for Chalobah.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Hughes, Capoue; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney.

Prior to kick-off, there was a minute’s silence for Harry Gregg, survivor and hero of the Munich air disaster, who had passed away during the week.  The silence was impeccably observed.

Watford had an early chance to take the lead as a defensive mistake allowed Deeney to escape, he broke into the box, but delayed taking a shot giving Shaw time to get back and make the clearance.  It was a golden chance that went to waste.  Troy had another chance to break, but Fred, while lying on the ground, managed to make a tackle allowing United to break and Greenwood to take a shot that was straight at Foster.  The Hornets created another decent chance as Deulofeu crossed for Doucouré, but the Frenchman could only find the side-netting.  Watford had a decent spell without testing the keeper, the next effort came from the home side and was a cross-cum-shot from James that Foster punched clear, it fell to Wan-Bissaka who shot into the side-netting.

Dawson on the ball as Capoue looks on

Watford threatened again as Doucouré went on a good run, his cross was knocked down to Deeney whose shot flew wide of the far post.  At the other end, a low shot by Shaw from the edge of the area was straight at Foster.  It has to be said that, at this stage of the game, the United fans were uncharacteristically noisy.  Martial went on a tremendous break but it came to nothing as his shot was well over the target.  In the away end, a new song got an airing as the travelling Hornets appropriated “Tequila” from Tranmere, but the climax of the song became a shout of “Masina”.  It was rather catchy.  Doucouré then went on a run and tried his luck, but de Gea got a hand to the shot and pushed it out for a corner.  Then Pereyra played in Masina, but he was slipping as he crossed and it was easily gathered by de Gea.  At the other end, James cut inside and shot well wide of the target.  The home side threatened again, this time James played the ball back to Fred just inside the area, but his shot was well over the bar.  Capoue then provided some light relief winning a free kick with what could only be described as a swallow dive.  It was elegant and effective, and the travelling faithful sang his name with some gusto.  Just as we thought we would make it to half time with no score, James played in Fernandes, Foster came out to meet him and took him down.  The United man made the most of it, but it was an obvious penalty.  Fernandes took the spot kick himself, taking a stuttering run up before sending Foster the wrong way and putting the home side ahead.  It could have been two after a mistake from Pereyra gave Fernandes another chance to score, but his shot was just wide of the target.

We were a little unlucky to be behind at half time, United had been poor but, as so often this season, Watford had not taken their chances.

Doucoure and Deeney celebrate the goal that never was

The Hornets created the first half-chance of the second period as Doucouré crossed for Deeney, but Shaw intervened to put the ball out for a corner.  From the corner, Deeney turned the ball in for what we thought was the equaliser.  We had celebrated, the players had celebrated, but then I saw Martin Atkinson in discussion with Harry Maguire who was indicating that he thought there had been a handball.  After consulting the VAR, Atkinson indicated upfield and I was momentarily hopeful until I realised that he was indicating a goal kick.  Apparently, the ball had come off Dawson’s arm in the build-up, so the goal didn’t stand.  The Hornets then won another corner but, on this occasion, the delivery from Hughes was easily caught by de Gea.  The home side threatened again as James played a through ball to Greenwood, whose shot across goal was put out for a corner.  Martial scored United’s second just before the hour mark.  Foster blocked the initial shot, but the Frenchman picked up the rebound and cleverly lofted the ball over Foster and in from a tight angle.  They had a decent chance for a third as Greenwood broke into the box and tried a shot that Foster saved with his feet.  The first booking of the game went to Cathcart for a foul on Martial.  United threatened again as Fernandes crossed for Maguire who headed wide.

Capoue, Masina and Deeney race upfield

With 20 minutes to go, Pearson made his first substitution, bringing Sarr on for Pereyra.  The youngster went on a run almost immediately, but his cross was put out for a corner that came to nothing.  With 15 minutes to go United were three up after Deulofeu lost the ball, Greenwood broke forward and played a one-two with Fernandes before finishing off the underside of the crossbar.  It was a quality goal and you couldn’t see any way back for the Hornets.  Pearson made a second substitution bringing Welbeck on for Deeney, who had had a disappointing game.  The Hornets had a great chance to pull a goal back as Hughes fed Deulofeu but the shot rebounded off the crossbar.  With ten minutes remaining, United made a triple substitution replacing Fred, Greenwood and Martial with McTominay, Chong and Watford old boy, Ighalo.  Pearson also made a final substitution bringing Cleverley on for Doucouré.  Ighalo immediately created a chance after picking up a poor header from Masina, that was meant for Foster, he rounded the Watford keeper but took the ball too wide and could only hit the outside of the post.  I was glad that he had missed as a goal against us from Ighalo would have been very hard to take.  Watford had one last chance to reduce the deficit when Deulofeu took a free kick that flew over the wall but was an easy catch for de Gea.  United could have scored a fourth when Matic released Chong who cut inside but he curled his shot just wide of the target.

Hughes prepares to take a free kick

The final whistle went on a comprehensive defeat for the Hornets.  Unlike the Brighton game, I did applaud the players off and there was a surprisingly good atmosphere among the travelling Hornets.  The Masina-Tequila song was getting a late airing, but the volume increased considerably with a rendition of “Ighalo-oh” for old times’ sake.  Odion seemed to appreciate the gesture as he turned and applauded the Watford fans.

On leaving the ground, I went to pick up my bag, which looked pitiful sitting on the shelf.   We then headed for the bar in Salford Quays to drown our sorrows.  On the way, Richard (wearing Watford gear) was called upon to give directions to some people wearing United scarves.  Bl**dy tourists!  The bar was much more hospitable than our pre-match venue and, after a nice glass of wine, something to eat and a good moan about the football, I felt a lot better.

It had been a disappointing afternoon, especially as United didn’t play particularly well.  The Watford performance had been better than the previous week, particularly in the first half, but once the goal was disallowed, all the fight seemed to go out of the lads and the result was never in doubt.  There were a lot of subpar performances and the wisdom of playing both Deulofeu and Pereyra was questioned.  They can both be luxury players and, in a scrap, as we are at the moment, we can’t afford that.  Pereyra, in particular, had an odd afternoon seeming to wander all over the place leaving Dawson exposed.  One of the topics of conversation was the Winter break.  Given the staggered nature of it, it doesn’t affect all teams equally.  Oddly, the Watford players looked rather rusty after their week off, while the United players, who should have been fatigued after a game in midweek, seemed a lot fresher.

With the visit of Liverpool next week, it is hard to see when the upturn will come and I am beginning to believe that the season will finish with the team being relegated.  At least if Leeds do get promoted it will mean we won’t have to go there. Every cloud and all that!

Defeat Despite Domination at Old Trafford

Deeney and Smalling challenge for the ball

I took an early train to Manchester on which I was delighted to meet up with Dave Messenger, Watford’s Supporter Liaison Officer, who then accompanied me to our designated pre-match pub (which had also been his intended meeting point).  On arrival at the pub, I realised that the small bag containing my purse that I had when I left London was no longer on my person.  Having had no joy from the customer service hotline, which gave me the number for a closed lost property office, I headed back to Piccadilly.  I explained my problem to a lovely guy called Sean in the ticket office, who identified the train manager (Anthony) on the train which had just left to return to London.  He gave him a call and Anthony went to my seat, found the bag and, as he wouldn’t be back in Manchester until late, promised to leave it at Lost Property in London for me to pick up on my return.

Mightily relieved, I headed back to the pub just in time to see the team, who were at the hotel opposite, starting to board the coach for the journey to Old Trafford.  I entered the pub to find all the usual suspects in place, which was very convenient as I had semi-final tickets to hand out (thankfully these were in the bag that I had retained).  I have to say that it was a relief to pass them on, so that the responsibility was no longer mine.

Ben Foster takes a free kick

We gave ourselves plenty of time to get to the ground and negotiate the multiple layers of security that they have at Old Trafford.  As they now only allow you to take a very small bag into the stadium, I filled my pockets with the stuff I needed for the game (match ticket, glasses, phone, camera, notebook) and left the rest at the bag drop where they charged me £5 for the privilege.  I know that they want to encourage people not to take bags to the game, but nobody is going to travel for a couple of hours without provisions for the journey and I find it impossible to travel light anyway.  On arrival at the turnstiles, there was another search before we finally entered.  Once inside the ground, I could hear the tannoy announcer welcoming us to the “Theatre of Dreams”.  My description was much less polite.  Old Trafford really is the most unpleasant ground to visit in the Premier League.

Prior to the match, there had been speculation that Gracia would rest players in preparation for the semi-final next week.  There was another train of thought that said that the players had been training for two weeks, so needed game time.  As it turned out, there were five changes from the Palace game with wholesale changes in defence as Foster, Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos and Masina replaced Gomes, Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart and Holebas.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos, Masina; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.  United’s starting line-up featured Watford Academy graduate Ashley Young who, following some over-exuberant goal celebrations in front of Watford fans, is no longer greeted as an erstwhile hero.  The referee for the afternoon was Stuart Attwell.  A choice that was rather ironic as discussions with John Eustace regarding the “ghost goal” had been a notable feature at the Tales from the Vicarage event the previous Sunday.

Doucoure on the ball

The game started brightly for the Hornets with a decent chance in the sixth minute as Pereyra cut the ball back to Doucouré whose shot was just wide of the near post.  Deeney had the next chance with a shot from distance that was high and wide of the target.  The first attack of note by the home side came on the counter as Pogba released Rashford who was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Kabasele.  The resulting corner was delivered deep to Smalling who headed wide.  Watford had a great chance to open the scoring as a cross from Janmaat was headed goalwards by Deeney, de Gea managed to make the save but injured himself in the process.  At this point the first chant of “Attwell, give us a goal” was heard.  The first booking of the game went to Will Hughes for a foul on Pogba.  Watford had another great chance and Pereyra really should have done better when he received a headed pass from Deulofeu, but his shot was soft and straight at the keeper.  Deulofeu was the next to test de Gea with a shot through legs but, again, it was a fairly simple save for the keeper.  On a rare foray into the Watford box, Martial took a tumble looking for a penalty, but the referee was having none of it and waved play on.  United took the lead against the run of play as Shaw released Rashford, Foster came out to try to stop the shot, but the United youngster found the net.  At this point, if there had been any leg room and I hadn’t been in the second to back row of a stand in which everyone was on their feet, I would have slumped into my seat.  It was so frustrating to be a goal down following United’s first real chance of the game.  Ironically, the home side had a great chance to increase their lead almost immediately as a corner was cleared only as far as Martial but his shot was stopped by a brilliant reaction save by Foster.  The last chance of the half fell to the Hornets as Deulofeu took a dangerous-looking free kick, but Smalling was able to get a head to it and avert the danger.

Deulofeu prepares for a corner

So we reached half time a goal down in a half that had been completely dominated by the Hornets.  We were trailing to a goal scored by the home side on a counter attack.  But, if you don’t take your chances ….

The home side came out for the second half some time before the visitors, but it was the Hornets who had the first shot of the half, a curler from Deulofeu that was saved fairly comfortably by de Gea.  Janmaat was the next to try his luck, but his shot from the edge of the box was over the target.  Watford had a great chance to grab an equaliser when Deulofeu cut the ball back to Pereyra whose shot needed an excellent save from de Gea to push it around the post.  Gracia made his first change after 57 minutes replacing Janmaat with Femenía.  Watford had another decent chance as Hughes hit a lovely curling shot, but it was just wide of the target.  The Hornets threatened again as a corner cleared to Femenía who was well outside the box when he took the shot, but de Gea managed to get in the way to make the block.  There was a double substitution for the home side as Herrera and Mata made way for Lingard and Pereira.

Pereyra and Hughes

Watford were playing some gorgeous football and deserved more from a lovely passing move that finished with a chip from Deeney that de Gea saved.  Watford won a free kick, which was cleared to Capoue whose volley was way over the target.  Watford had been dominant again in the second half, so it was cruel that the first meaningful attack of the second half from the home side resulted in their second goal as Lingard crossed for Martial, his first shot was blocked by Foster but he bundled the rebound in.  To add insult to injury, we were in front of an executive box so were able to watch a reply which clearly showed Martial in an offside position.  Each side made a further substitution with Gray replacing Deulofeu for the Hornets and Rojo on for Martial for the home side.  United had a chance to further increase their lead but Lingard’s shot was straight at Foster.  Pereyra then had a great chance to pull one back when he received a cross in an acre of space, but he waited too long to take the shot so was closed down and could only win a corner.  Gracia made his last substitution bringing Success on for Hughes, who had had a superb game.  There was a second booking for the Hornets as Masina was cautioned for bundling Rashford over as he attempted a break.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, Watford pulled a goal back as Doucouré played a one-two with Success before coolly finishing past de Gea.  The travelling Hornets celebrated mightily, the players just ran back to the centre circle to get on with the game.  Oddly, given the goal, substitutions and various stoppages for injuries/cramp, there was only 3 minutes of time added on.  Watford had a great chance to grab an equaliser when Capoue won a free kick just outside the box.  Pereyra took the free kick and I was just waiting for a shot when a United player collapsed in the box and the whistle went to award a free kick to the home side.  That was the last action of the game, so the Hornets ended up on the losing side.

Capoue takes a free kick

Despite their disappointment at the defeat, the travelling Hornets roared their appreciation of the team’s performance with the songs reaching a crescendo as Gracia came over to applaud the crowd.  It had been a tremendous performance by the Watford lads.  It isn’t often that you play away against one of the top six and find the home team playing a defensive game hoping to score on the break.  The Watford midfield ran the game and, in a season in which Capoue and Doucouré have excelled on a weekly basis, it was great to see Hughes put in a superb performance.

On the tram back to the station, we got talking to some locals who acknowledged that we had been the better team.  Unsurprisingly, the train back to London was packed, but I arrived early enough to bump into some fellow regulars, so I had delightful company on the journey home.  We were joined by a Norwegian Manchester United fan, who was lovely and chatted away about his team.  He had taken his significant other to her first game and said that she’d enjoyed it.  My suggestion that, given the performances of the two teams, she would likely opt for Watford fell on deaf ears.

Gathering for a corner

On return to Euston I went in search of my mislaid purse.  The guy at Lost Property claimed no knowledge of the item, so I went to the ticket office where I met Petro and Sana, who went above and beyond the call of duty, finding the name and contact details for the train manager who had promised to drop off my bag.  They called him and were told that it was in lost property so Petro accompanied me to convey what he had been told to the guardian of the missing loot, who produced a book containing details of all items that had been left with them and I spotted the entry that corresponded to my purse.  He retrieved it and I was able to return home with my purse intact and a great respect for the customer service delivered by the Virgin Trains ticket office staff.

Back to the football and this had been a wonderful performance by the Watford boys.  We now face a week with a game against Fulham that could allow us to achieve our highest points total in the Premier League since it was created and a game on Sunday in which we could advance to only our second FA Cup final.  If we play as we did on Saturday, I believe we should be able to achieve both of those aims.  I just need to work out how to keep myself functioning in the day job for the next week.

 

 

Disappointment and Pride after First Defeat of the Season

Harry Hornet in happier times

After a trio of Sunday afternoon games, we returned to a Saturday kick-off, although it was not until 5:30pm, so still a disruption to the routine.  When kick-offs are moved, I always have a fear in the back of my mind that I have the time wrong and will miss the game. This wasn’t helped when I watched the rather sweet NBC advertisement for the game which featured a little girl answering questions from her friend about why she is a Watford fan.  At the end, they announce that kick-off is at 12:30 and I had a brief moment of panic before I realised that this was the time on the East coast of the US.  This piece heavily featured Harry Hornet, which was rather sad following the announcement this week that he was hanging up his oversized boots.

He has provided the fans with a lot of entertainment over the years and will be greatly missed.

Due to the late kick-off and an appointment in Hemel the next day, I decided to stay in Watford overnight and, as I checked in, the American couple in front of me were asking about where to go for the pre-match atmosphere.  It turned out that this Man United fan had turned up in Watford without a ticket.  A risky ploy given the relatively small capacity at Vicarage Road.

Our Stars in Stripes in front of the display in the family stand

I was in the West Herts bright and early to join Don who, needless to say, had been there since before the doors opened.  He does like to make sure that he is in place in plenty of time for kick-off.  We suspect that, between games, he sits quietly in a corner where they keep him going with regular cups of tea.  It was a day to remember absent friends as it would have been GT’s 74th birthday and Toddy’s anniversary is this week.  While there was little expectation that our 100% record would continue, we had to hope that the lads would still do them both proud.

As we approached the ground, the touts were out in force on Vicarage Road, a very distasteful sight, but one that would have been welcomed by the young American that I met at the hotel.  When I went to buy a programme from my usual seller, I was a little concerned to see a young lad in place of the usual woman, so asked after her to find that she was absent due to a hen night.  I was mightily relieved.

As we took our seats we were greeted with impressive stripes of yellow and black in the family stand and the SEJ, as the club had put yellow and black t-shirts on seats to further encourage the fans to join in with the ‘Stars in Stripes’ that we have come to love this season.  I was actually amazed at how many people had donned the t-shirts.  It looked great.  Prior to kick-off, Emma congratulated Javi Gracia on both the Manager of the Month award and the League Managers Association Performance of the Week for the Tottenham game.  As he took the applause of the crowd, there was that niggling worry that the curse of the MoM award would kick in.

Pereyra on the ball

Team news was, unsurprisingly, that the starting XI remained unchanged for a fifth match in a row so the line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Janmaat; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deeney, Gray.  Manchester United featured former Watford favourite, Ashley Young, who has sadly become a villain for the crowd after his “in your face” goal celebrations in front of the Rookery on his last visit.  The visitors were sporting pale salmon pink shirts that appeared to be the result of the kit man leaving a red sock in the machine when washing a white away kit.

The visitors started the game strongly with Foster being called into action in the second minute when Sánchez found Lukaku in the box, but the Watford keeper dived at his feet to avert the danger.  Watford’s first chance came soon after as a clearance fell to Doucouré whose shot was wild and wide of the target.  United’s next chance came through a shot from Pogba, but Foster was down low to save.  At the other end Hughes turned and shot, but it was an easy catch for de Gea.  At this point, there was a very loud chorus of one Harry Hornet.  Watford had a terrific chance to take the lead after some interplay between Pereyra and Deeney, the Watford captain’s shot required a smart save from de Gea to tip it over the bar.

Doucoure, Capoue and Hughes looking unsure about Deeney’s instruction

United had the ball in the net in the 24th minute as Sánchez finished from close range, but the flag was up for offside.   Sánchez threatened again on the half hour, running into the box and hitting a shot that was pushed over by Foster.  The first booking went to Capoue for a rather innocuous trip on Lingard, which seemed harsh given some of the challenges that had gone before.  The visitors took the lead after 35 minutes when Lukaku chested Young’s cross home.  From the Rookery, there were (erroneous) shouts of offside.  Holebas was also unhappy at something about the goal and was booked for his protest.  Watford had a wobble after the goal and United could have had a second from a Pogba shot, but Foster pulled off a terrific save.  But the visitors scored a second within 3 minutes as a corner was flicked on by Fellaini to Smalling who controlled on his chest before volleying past Foster.  The visitors had a chance to increase their lead further in time added on at the end of the half as Lingard crossed for Pogba whose snapshot was kept out by a brilliant save from Foster.  So we reached half time two goals down, which seemed slightly harsh but was the result of an uncharacteristically shaky spell after the first goal was scored.

The half time guest was Peter Kennedy who, it has to be said, was totally unrecognizable.  He works as an accountant in local government in Northern Ireland now, not a typical career path for a former Premier League footballer.

Both teams emerged promptly for the second half but were kept waiting by the officials.  Having toured the ground recently, I can assure you that it wasn’t the comfort of the referee’s room that detained them.

The wall jumps as Pereyra takes a free kick

The first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets when Pereyra won a free kick and took it himself, but his shot was over the bar.  The Hornets almost made the breakthrough as Holebas delivered a corner into the box, but Smalling beat Kabasele to the header and it went out for a corner.  The Hornets pulled one back after 65 minutes as Doucouré beat a defender and pulled the ball back for Gray who finished brilliantly past de Gea.  There was minimal celebration before the Watford lads ran back to the centre circle for the restart.  Game on!!  A couple of minutes later, there were shouts for a free kick as Pereyra was fouled on the edge of the area, but Mike Dean waved play on.  With 20 minutes remaining, each side made a change with Lingard making way for Martial for the visitors and Femenía replacing Janmaat for the Hornets.  Femenía’s first act was to play a lovely cross for Pereyra, but Valencia took the ball off the foot of the Argentine.  Pereyra then laid the ball off for Doucouré, but the shot was well over the bar.  Matić was booked for a foul in the build-up.  The central defenders came into their own as Craig Cathcart made a brilliant sliding tackle as Sánchez appeared to be through on goal.  Then Martial was prevented from shooting by an equally wonderful tackle from Kabasele.

Holebas crosses

There was a rash of late substitutions as McTominay replaced Sánchez for United and Gracia brought Masina and Success on for Holebas and Cathcart, both of whom left the field to appreciative applause.  Doucouré had impressed in the second half, although his shooting had been suspect, but he did brilliantly with a curling shot that de Gea just managed to hold.  There was a paltry 3 minutes added at the end of the game, most of which seemed to be taken up by Valencia taking an age to leave the pitch when being replaced by Bailly and then Matić leaving the field equally slowly after being shown a second yellow card for a foul on Hughes.  Foster came up for the free-kick, and it looked as through Watford would save a point as the delivery from Hughes was met by the head of Kabasele, but de Gea appeared from nowhere to make the save.  There was one final chance for the Hornets as Masina’s corner curled across goal and just past the far post, so the Hornets went down to their first defeat this season.

 

Cathcart ignoring Deeney

Fair play to the Watford fans who chanted passionately for their team after the final whistle.  Given that the Hornets had been behind for the whole of the second half, it was a testament to their performance that Occupation Road was totally packed at the end of the game as the Watford fans had stayed to the end.  It was a terrific second half performance which deserved a point.  As has been the case in every game so far this season, it was a terrific team effort but Cathcart and Kabasele continue to impress.  It seems time to resurrect the “Cool as Craig” t-shirts for our unfussy, unflappable defender.  Deeney and Gray also continue to link up well and Andre’s goal was terrific.

Back to the West Herts and Glenn had picked up some unwanted yellow shirts, so this Rookery resident was able to take one home.  The consensus of the post-match discussion was that, while we were all disappointed at the result, it had been a very impressive performance and we matched Manchester United all over the pitch.  We were a very content group of Hornets.  Our recent performances have shown that we have nothing to fear in this division this season, and that is certainly not what Watford fans were expecting when the season started.  Long may it continue.

Watford Missing the X-factor

Spot the ball

Midweek games are something of a rarity these days, so it seemed odd to be slipping out of work to head for Vicarage Road.  As I approached the West Herts, I bumped into Don and Trond, who were already on their way to the ground.  I know that they usually leave pretty early, but there were a number of other people also heading in the opposite direction to me, so I became a little concerned that I had made a mistake regarding the kick-off time.  Thankfully the bar was still busy and our usual table was populated with friendly faces.  There was a surprise appearance by Chris and Carl Todd.  So lovely to see them and even better that there was a spare ticket available among our group allowing Chris to see the game live rather than watching the television in the bar.

Team news was that Silva had made one change from the team that started at Newcastle, with Prödl replacing the injured Britos in defence.  So, the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Kabasele; Femenía, Cleverley, Doucouré, Zeegelaar; Hughes, Richarlison; Gray.  Former Watford youngster, Ashley Young, started for the visitors and his name was cheered as it was announced.

Cleverley lines up a free kick

It all started so well.  The Hornets had an early chance as Femenía hit a cross that Richarlison was just unable to reach.  The Brazilian was the next to try a cross, but it was caught by De Gea.  A corner from Cleverley was met by the head of Zeegelaar, but the effort was blocked.  Somewhat against the run of play, the visitors took the lead in the 19th minute with a gorgeous shot from Young that curled in at the near post.  He celebrated in front of the Watford fans, which incurred the wrath of many in the Rookery meaning that his every touch was booed from that moment on.  The first booking of the evening went to Doucouré after a tackle on Pogba.  Young scored a second after 25 minutes with a stunning free kick which flew over the wall and under the crossbar before Gomes saw it.  This time he celebrated by sliding on his knees towards the Rookery.  Now I am not one of those who believes that returning players should not celebrate, but I thought this celebration was a bit rude.  There is no need to goad the opposition fans and it would have been more enjoyable for both sets of fans if he had celebrated facing the away end.  The visitors scored their third after both Kabasele and Prödl failed to clear when given the opportunity, allowing Lukaku to feed Martial who had an easy finish.  Gomes saved Watford’s blushes, preventing a fourth goal, as he parried Lukaku’s shot from the edge of the area, Lingard looked sure to score from the follow-up and Gomes did well to tip the shot over the bar.  In time added on at the end of the half, there was finally something to make the Watford fans smile as Femenía went on a run across the pitch and into the box where he crossed for Richarlison whose header hit the bar and flew over the target.

Rak-Su entertaining the crowd

The half-time entertainment was a visit by X-factor finalists, Rak-Su, a band of Watford lads.  It probably wasn’t the best evening for them to be appearing as the Watford crowd were not in the best of moods by this point.  They did their best to lift spirits, but were fighting a losing battle.

I was not looking forward to the teams returning after the break, but the Hornets started brightly as Cleverley tried a cross which was too close to De Gea.  At the other end, Martial found Lukaku who shot wide of the far post.  Each side was forced to make a substitution early in the half with Herrera coming on for the injured Matic for the visitors, while Pereyra and Carrillo replaced Prödl and Hughes, who appeared to have a strain, for the home side.  Watford threatened with a shot from distance from Doucouré that flew over the bar.  The Hornets came even closer to pulling one back when a lovely cross from Femenía was met by Richarlison whose header was just wide of the near post.  United’s second change saw Rashford come on for Martial.  The visitors had a chance to increase their lead as Pogba met a corner from Lingard, but Gomes dropped to make the save.  Carrillo did really well to turn and lose his marker on the edge of the box, he put in a decent cross, but no Watford player could apply the finishing touch.  Then a Zeegelaar cross flew over the head of Richarlison, the clearance fell to Mariappa who tried a shot from distance that flew wide of the near post.

Deeney heading back to the centre circle after scoring the penalty

Silva’s final change was to bring Deeney on for Gray.  The captain took the field to a massive roar from the Vicarage Road faithful.  He had an early chance to make an impression as a cross from Doucouré came his way, but the defender stopped him making a clean connection.  The visitors had a further chance to increase their lead as a free-kick from Lingard was met by Pogba, but his header was just over the bar.  A couple of chances then fell to Lukaku, the first was blocked by Mariappa, the second flew wide of the far post.  Watford got a goal back on 77 minutes after Rojo tripped Pereyra in the box.  The United players surrounded the referee, but he had already pointed to the spot.  Deeney stepped up with a smile on his face.  The guy next to me couldn’t look, so missed seeing Troy kiss the ball before placing it on the spot and burying it in the left-hand corner after sending De Gea the wrong way.  At last, something to cheer for the fans of the Hornets.  The Watford captain had a chance to score a second as Femenía delivered a lovely cross that Troy headed goalwards, but it was caught by De Gea.  The second Watford goal was a thing of beauty as Carrillo crossed for Doucouré to hit a terrific shot past De Gea.  Suddenly it was game on and the Watford crowd were roaring their encouragement.  Richarlison had a chance for an equalizer, but his close range shot was blocked at the near post.  Then United broke down field and Lingard dribbled half the length of the pitch.  With the Watford defence arrayed in front of him, I was willing one of them to stop him, but no tackle came and he beat Gomes to give the visitors a two goal cushion.  Despite the set-back, Watford were still battling to get something from the game as Richarlison crossed from the byline but De Gea put the ball out for a corner, from which Cleverley’s delivery was headed clear by Pogba.  There was a roar from the home crowd as the fourth official indicated that there were 4 additional minutes, but it was in vain and the game finished in defeat, but with the Watford team applauded off the pitch.

Doucoure after scoring the second

It was an odd game.  The first half had been brutal.  Watford had not been overrun as far as possession was concerned, but each misplaced pass seemed to be punished.  It has to be said that Young’s goals were both excellent, but I was pretty miserable at the end of the half.  But the Watford team showed great resilience with a considerably better performance in the second half.  The introduction of Carrillo made a difference, he was excellent.  Deeney also contributed to the upturn, his strength is always an asset and he certainly added a new dimension to the game.  When Doucouré’s goal went in, there was a definite feeling that we could get something from the game, something that would have seemed impossible at half time.

The defeat was disappointing but, before the game, we had this one down as a free hit and I enjoyed the comment of one of the lads behind me that, having already won 4 points from games against Liverpool and Arsenal, that would do for him.  We host Tottenham on Saturday, which won’t be any easier, but can also be considered a free hit before we have a series of games against those around us in the table.  Our points total in December will give a very good signal of whether this team is as good as we think it is.  With 21 points already on the board, a relegation battle is looking unlikely, so I hope that we can continue to look up the table and enjoy the football.  That would make me very happy indeed.

Disappointing Defeat to the Blues

 

The new Hornet Shop

The new Hornet Shop

On Friday night I had a date with Chekhov at the National Theatre.  After taking my seat, I turned around to see Watford director Stuart Timperley sitting in the row behind me.  Two of my passions collided as we had a chat about the play that we were seeing as well as the Southampton game and our prospects for Saturday.

I arrived early at the West Herts to find Don waiting in the foyer as doors were not opening until midday.  By the time we reached opening time there was quite a crowd waiting outside.  When finally we entered, we took up our usual spots at ‘our’ table and, as the usual suspects gathered, I felt as though I was home again.  There is something very special about the first home game of the season and a guest appearance by Kevin le Belge was the icing on the cake.

On arrival at the ground, I had my first view of the new Hornet shop on the corner, which looks fabulous.  Inside the stadium, it was very pleasing to see that the South West corner, which seems to have been under construction forever, was finally finished.  It looked lovely.  At last we have a ground that does not look like a building site and is fit for purpose.  Thank you, Gino.

The completed South West corner

The completed South West corner

Team news was that there were no changes from the Southampton game, so the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos; Amrabat, Behrami, Capoue, Guedioura, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.  As the Chelsea team was announced and I was thinking that there were not too many likeable names on the list they got to the substitutes and the inclusion of Chalobah, whose name was greeted with a huge round of applause from the Watford faithful.

The game started very well for the Hornets who created their first chance in the seventh minute when Britos played a lovely ball down the left to Holebas whose shot was saved by Courtois.  The Hornets had an even better chance in the 24th minute as Amrabat went on a run down the right where he appeared to have been stopped by Azpilicueta, but escaped and put in a cross for Ighalo who, under challenge, turned the ball over the bar.  A Holebas cross was headed clear just before it reached Ighalo, it fell to Guedioura and I can’t have been the only one who was willing him to repeat his strike at Arsenal but, sadly, his shot was well wide of the target.  Chelsea’s best chance of the half came in time added on when Hazard won a free kick on the edge of the area.  He took it himself, but it was a poor effort struck low and straight at Gomes.

Goal Machine Capoue after scoring

Goal Machine Capoue after scoring

It had been an impressive first half for the Hornets who had most of the goal chances while keeping Chelsea at bay with some good defending.  Amrabat, in particular, had been superb both going forward and when tracking back.  Also, for the traditionalists among us, there was a certain pleasure in watching a game featuring goalkeepers wearing red and green shirts and a referee in black.

Watford took the lead ten minutes into the second half as a throw-in from Amrabat reached Guedioura who crossed for (goal machine) Capoue who controlled the ball before blasting it into the roof of the net.  Chelsea tried to hit back almost straight away with a shot from Hazard that was caught by Gomes.  The visitors threatened again as Costa broke into the box but Gomes saved at his feet.  Watford had been sitting very deep and letting Chelsea attack so there was a certain inevitability when they got the equalizer with 10 minutes to go, although it took a mistake from the Watford keeper as a Hazard shot from distance was spilled by Gomes and the substitute, Batshuayi, turned it in.  Suddenly the Chelsea fans in the Vicarage Road end started making some noise.

Behrami lining up a free kick

Behrami lining up a free kick

Another Chelsea attack was stopped by a brave tackle from Capoue who was injured in the process and, after a period of treatment, limped off to be replaced by Doucouré.  Hearts were in mouths in the Rookery as we watched a scramble in the box at the other end but, thankfully, the ball ended up with Gomes.  It was a brief respite as a promising Watford move broke down when Guedioura played a poor pass to Doucouré that was intercepted by Fabregas who played a sublime ball to Costa who advanced before beating Gomes.  This was followed by the very odd sight of fighting in the Family Stand as a number of away fans who had secured seats there were ejected.  Mazzarri made a couple of late substitutions replacing Guedioura and Holebas with Vydra and Zúñiga, but it was the visitors who had the final chance of the game when Batshuayi rattled the crossbar.  The final whistle went signalling a frustrating defeat for the Hornets.  A number of the Watford players walked straight off at the end, but it was interesting to see Vydra joining Deeney and Gomes on their usual comprehensive lap of appreciation.

The post-game analysis took one of two themes.  Either we were robbed or we gave Chelsea the victory.  Some argued that Costa who, television pictures confirmed, was guilty of ‘simulation’ having already been booked should not have been on the pitch to score the winning goal.  But it was mistakes by a tiring Watford team and the tendency to sit back and defend the lead that led to the goals.  Also, given that the Chelsea substitutions changed the game, you have to wonder why we didn’t introduce some fresh legs to challenge them.  But, taking a positive view, it says a lot for the progress of the team that we are bemoaning a narrow loss to Chelsea, having been the better side for the first 70 minutes.  I was expecting nothing from this game so, having seen an entertaining match with no little quality from the Watford players, while I was disappointed I left the stadium with no complaints.

Next up we have Arsenal visiting Vicarage Road.  While I will go to that game with low expectations, I am no longer expecting us to be turned over by the ‘big’ clubs and that is progress.

 

A Thrilling Goalless Draw

 

Ben Watson lining up a free kick

Ben Watson lining up a free kick

When Guus Hiddink took over at Chelsea, just before our game on Boxing Day, I certainly didn’t expect that when our home game came around they would still be unable to catch us in the table regardless of the result.  Since this was a televised game, we were able to watch the build-up on TV in the West Herts, but unable to hear what Flores had to say in the pre-match interview although the pictures were rather evocative showing his flamenco dancing aunt and plenty of Flores hugs.

Team news was that Flores had made just the two forced changes, with Britos unwell and Aké ineligible, Holebas and Prödl were in to replace them.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart Prödl, Paredes, Capoue, Watson, Behrami, Jurado, Deeney and Ighalo.

Watford started well as a promising attack from Costa was stopped by Prödl, his forward pass to Deeney was headed down to Ighalo whose shot was deflected for a corner.  Costa’s reputation goes before him, so it was pleasing from a Watford perspective to see an early dramatic fall ignored by Mike Dean, leaving him sitting on the turf while Watford broke back upfield.  He stayed on his feet in his next move and broke into the box, but Cathcart was on hand to block.

Capoue hits a free kick

Capoue hits a free kick

At the other end, Jurado released Capoue who won a corner from which there was a bit of a goalmouth scramble with three attempted shots, but the ball ended up in the arms of Courtois.  The first booking of the game went to Prödl who was penalized for a late challenge on Oscar.  A dangerous free kick from Holebas was deflected in the direction of Capoue but Courtois gathered.  The first sight of Watford substitutes warming up is usually greeted with polite applause, but the reaction this evening was more enthusiastic than usual due to the presence of our new signing Mario Suárez.  There were some hopeful shouts for a penalty from the home fans as Jurado appeared to be tripped in the box by Matic, but all appeals were waved away.  The Watford forwards combined as Deeney found Ighalo in the box, but his shot was blocked.  There followed a lovely sequence of passes around the midfield from the Hornets which drew cheers from the fans before Holebas broke forward and crossed towards Ighalo who was unable to connect.  Ighalo then battled into the box but his shot was blocked for a corner which was taken by Watson and met by the head of Prödl, but Courtois leapt to catch.  There was another chance for the Hornets as Deeney flicked the ball on to Ighalo but the Nigerian didn’t connect properly so it was easy for the keeper to gather.  Jurado, who had been impressive, beat a couple of players before feeding Capoue who unleashed a fierce shot that drew an instinctive save from Courtois.

Deeney on the ball

Deeney on the ball

A Watford free-kick was cleared only as far as Jurado who tried an overhead kick that was easily caught.  At the other end a long pass from Fabregas released Costa whose shot was deflected wide.  Chelsea had another chance with a shot from Oscar that was blocked by Prödl.  Then a moment of brilliance from Ighalo, who looked to be in a hopeless situation with two Chelsea players on him, but somehow managed to escape upfield before letting himself down by playing a terrible ball that was intercepted.  “That’s why he doesn’t pass” was the conclusion of a wit behind me.  With 5 minutes remaining of the half the Chelsea fans could finally be heard, but they were belting out a lengthy song about Frankie Lampard, which seemed rather odd under the circumstances.  Another break into the box by Holebas ended when he was tripped, but nothing given.  Then there was danger for the Hornets as Paredes played a poor pass to Capoue who failed to control which allowed Oscar to escape with the ball before finding Azpilicueta who, much to the relief of the home fans, shot wide of the far post.  The fourth official indicated a minute of added time at the end of the half, but that was extended considerably following an off the ball incident between Costa and Paredes.  I didn’t see what happened, but the Ecuadorian had collapsed holding his face and many around me were calling for a red card.  Costa had to be calmed down by a number of people, including Flores, and, eventually, both players ended in the referee’s book.  The post match consensus seemed to be that Paredes had over dramatized the contact.  Much as I dislike that aspect of the game, it was hard to sympathize with Costa, a definite case of the biter bit.

Ighalo preparing for a corner

Ighalo preparing for a corner

When the half time whistle finally sounded, Watford had been the better team.  We were playing some lovely football, but I was particularly pleased to see that our defence was organized and joining with the midfield to harry the Chelsea players and not allow them to get comfortable on the ball.  Also, Jurado, who is a marmite player for the Watford fans, was combining really well with Ighalo and Deeney.  It had all been very pleasing apart from our inability to score.

The half time draw was carried out by Nathan Aké.  The usual interview was rather engaging, so I think he was a little taken aback when Tim finished by asking whether if Chelsea got relegated there was a clause in his contract that allowed us to sign him permanently.  He laughed that off, but we can only hope.

Gomes had nothing to do in the first half, but was called into action early in the second period as a shot from Mikel took a nasty deflection and appeared to be looping in when the Brazilian leaped to tip it over the bar.  At the other end, Behrami’s pass towards Ighalo was met by Zouma who could only head clear as far as Deeney whose volley was just wide of the target.

Cathcart and Behrami ready for a free kick

Cathcart and Behrami ready for a free kick

Holebas made a menacing run into the box, exchanged passes with Capoue but his run gave him too narrow an angle and he shot into the side netting.  Watford looked to be in trouble as Gomes left his goal to try to stop Costa on the byline, but the striker succeeded in cutting the ball back to Oscar who, thankfully, put his shot wide.  There was a lovely break from Jurado, but his cross was too deep, flying over Ighalo’s head, and there was no other Watford player in the box to meet it.  At the other end, a clearance dropped to Matic whose shot was easily gathered by Gomes.  For Watford, Holebas found Ighalo who was prevented from doing any damage by a challenge from Terry.  At the other end, Costa was equally frustrated by Prödl, who was having an excellent game.  Just after the hour mark, Flores made two substitutions in quick succession.  First Abdi replaced Jurado, who had been superb so went off to loud cheers.  Then Nyom replaced Paredes.  Oscar tried to threaten the Watford goal as he cut inside and shot, but Gomes made the save.  Chelsea’s first change came with 20 minutes to go and saw Matic replaced by Hazard.  The Belgian was immediately involved, playing a ball to Ivanovic whose shot was tipped around the post by Gomes.  The Watford keeper was having a much busier second half and had to be alert again as Willian found Hazard, but Gomes was out to save at his feet.  My nerves were becoming a little frayed at this point at the possibility of Chelsea nicking the game, and were severely tested when Hazard crossed to the far post but, thankfully, Costa shot into the side netting.  Flores gave new signing Suárez a brief run out as he came on to replace Capoue to great cheers.  Chelsea nearly won it at the death as a cross from Willian was headed goalwards by Costa.  From the opposite end of the ground it looked in all the way until a purple blur appeared and there was Gomes flying through the air to make a superb save and ensure that the Man of the Match award went his way.

Man of the Match Gomes

Man of the Match Gomes

So a second point won from the defending Champions this season in the most entertaining 0-0 you will ever see.  While the visitors had the better of the second half, as the Hornets tired, a draw was probably a fair result.  It had been a tremendous performance from the Watford lads who never looked out of place against their supposedly more illustrious opponents.  The memory of watching Costa charging into the box to be met by Cathcart who then calmly took the ball off his feet still makes me smile.  The point took us to 9th in the table and we are 12 points clear of the drop zone with 14 games remaining, which is a position that would have been beyond my wildest dreams at the start of the season.

When I got back from the game, I was finally able to watch the pre-match interview with Flores and fill in the blanks.  It didn’t disappoint as he spoke of the pride in his family and the emotion when his lovely aunt was commemorated with a Google doodle in Spain.  He spoke of the fact that, with many nationalities and mentalities in the squad, you have to touch the players’ hearts to make them most effective.  His last comment of the piece was in relation to his time at Watford and he said, “This is the right place to be happy.”  And so say all of us, Quique.

Boxing Day at the Bridge

The pre-match huddle

The pre-match huddle

When the ticket prices for this game were announced, I sent the usual message to my regular travelling companions to see who wanted tickets only to receive a raft of refusals due to the excessively high price.  Luckily for me, I have a lovely niece who has never been to Stamford Bridge and was very excited at the prospect.  I thought long and hard before inviting her, as recent trips to Chelsea have meant pretty brutal defeats and I didn’t want to give her the worst Christmas present ever.  As it was Boxing Day and there were no trains, I decided to go on the club coach for the first time in a number of years.  It was nice to catch up with some old friends and, as luck would have it, we ended up sitting close to a couple of friends for the short journey to West London.  As we approached the turnstiles, Amelia asked if they didn’t want us to go in as there were lines of stewards blocking our path.  Thankfully, our turkey sandwiches passed the inspection and we were allowed entry.

Team news was that the only change was the replacement of the ineligible Aké with Holebas.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.  Prior to kick-off there was a nice tribute to Don Howe who, sadly, died this week.

Challenging at a corner

Challenging at a corner

Most Watford fans I know were pretty unhappy when Mourinho left, as Chelsea’s current position in the table seems to have more to do with the players’ dislike of Jose than any lack of talent.  The consensus was that, following their win against Sunderland and the appointment of Hiddink, we could be in for a very difficult game.  The home side certainly started very well and had an early chance as Costa met a corner from Pedro but diverted it over the bar.  Soon after Willian had a shot from the edge of the area that was blocked by Britos for a corner.  The home side completely dominated the first 10 minutes, but Watford then gained a foothold in the game and the first chance for the visitors was a shot from Jurado that was put out for a corner.  Then Deeney fed Ighalo who was tripped on the edge of the box, but the foul was given the other way.  Some good build-up play finished with a cross from Holebas that was put out for a corner.  Jurado then found Ighalo in a great position in front of goal, but he completely mishit his shot and it flew well wide.  There was danger at the other end as Costa broke forward, but Gomes was out to save at his feet.  Deeney, again, found Ighalo in the box but, in the words of the bloke behind me, he took one scoop too many and the ball went out for a goal kick.  A dangerous cross from Holebas was calmly chested back to Courtois in the Chelsea goal.

Holebas lines up a free kick

Holebas lines up a free kick

Holebas then exchanged passes with Deeney on the wing and whipped in another cross that was put out for a corner.  From Watson’s delivery, Ighalo had a free header but directed it wide of the target.  There was another decent chance for Watford as Jurado went on a great run and crossed for Ighalo whose shot unfortunately bounced off Deeney to safety.  Then Watson intercepted a pass in the midfield and fed Abdi whose shot from distance was high and wide.  Just after the half hour mark, Chelsea took the lead against the run of play.  Costa broke forward and tried a cross that was put out for a corner from which Terry headed the ball down, it bounced off Cahill’s back and dropped for Costa to rifle home.  It was a cruel blow at a time in the game when Watford had been on top.  The Watford heads dropped a bit after the goal and I feared that Chelsea would increase their lead.  Willian, who had been a menace down the Chelsea right, broke forward, but his cross was deflected wide by Britos.  Then Oscar received a cross from Ivanovich that he hit wide.

Holebas and Ighalo congratulate Deeney on his penalty

Holebas and Ighalo congratulate Deeney on his penalty

Watford hit back just before half time after Ighalo was brought down just outside the box.  Jurado took the free-kick which deflected off the wall for a corner.  Watson’s delivery looked like it would come to nothing until it was handled by Matic.  It was a nonsensical thing to do as no Watford player was anywhere near the ball, but the referee had no choice but to point to the spot.  Deeney stepped up and coolly sent Courtois the wrong way to draw the Hornets level.  It was no more than we deserved and there was a spot of joyful bouncing in the away end.  The home side had a couple of chances to regain the lead in the dying minutes of the half.  First when Britos fouled Costa just outside the box and received a card for his trouble.  Willian took the free kick which flew a mile over the bar.  Then a heart-stopping moment as Pedro broke forward and put in a cross that evaded all the Watford defenders in the box but, thankfully, no Chelsea player could get near it either and it flew wide of the far post.

So honours even at half time after an exciting and pretty even half.

Anya and Behrami run to join the goal celebrations

Anya and Behrami run to join the goal celebrations

Hiddink made a change at half time bringing Mikel on for Fabregas.  There was an early scare for the Hornets as Azpilicueta was allowed to get into the Watford box, but his cross was cleared.  At the other end, Jurado played a ball out to Holebas whose cross was put out for a corner.  Nothing came of the set piece as Deeney was floored in the box, but the referee saw no infringement.  A break by Chelsea was stopped by Cathcart, who earned a yellow card for the foul.  From a Chelsea corner, there were shouts of hand ball from the home fans as a shot was blocked, but it had been a hopeful shout and nothing was given.  Capoue had a great chance to take the lead for the visitors with two stunning shots in quick succession, the first saved by Courtois, the second blocked by Terry.  The disappointment didn’t last too long, however, as a minute later Ighalo dribbled into the box and hit a shot past Courtois from an angle.  Cue mayhem in the away end and the trademark Ighalo celebration by the corner flag right in front of us.  The celebration again continued with a spot of bouncing and chants of “We’re all going on a European tour”.  The Chelsea fans had another go at winning a penalty for their side after Oscar took a tumble as the ball was rolling harmlessly through to Gomes.  Thankfully the referee was unmoved by the shouts.  Back on his feet, Oscar played the ball back to Pedro whose shot was blocked brilliantly by Watson.  Another cross from Willian was claimed by Gomes.  Willian threatened again as he ran on to a lovely cross-field ball but Gomes saved the resulting shot.

Cathcart, Capoue and Britos

Cathcart, Capoue and Britos

The home side were level on 64 minutes after Jurado lost the ball in midfield, Willian played a through ball to Costa who finished past Gomes to claim his and Chelsea’s second.  This prompted chants of “We are staying up” from some of the Chelsea fans near us.  Good on them!  Chelsea had a decent chance to take the lead with a dangerous cross from Oscar that Costa nearly finished, but the attentions of Gomes and two defenders were enough to make him put the ball wide.  There were a series of substitutions as Behrami and Anya replaced Abdi and Jurado for the visitors and Hazard came on for Pedro for the home side.  With 15 minutes remaining, Willian went down rather easily on the edge of the box, but justice was done as he fired the ball well over the bar.  Watford nearly handed Chelsea the three points as Behrami made a rash challenge on Hazard and the referee pointed to the spot.  There were chants of “Heurelho Gomes Baby” ringing out in the away end, but he didn’t need to get involved as Oscar slipped just as he was about to hit the penalty and put the ball into orbit sparking yet more celebrations in the Watford end.  More Chelsea gamesmanship as a decision to award a throw-in to the Hornets was revised after Ivanovich rolled about a bit, the referee over-ruled his linesman and gave a free kick and a yellow card to Holebas.  Soon after, Behrami also found his way into the referee’s book, this time deservedly, after a poor challenge on Azpilicueta.

Deeney and Ighalo in the Chelsea box

Deeney and Ighalo in the Chelsea box

A lovely break by Anya was stopped by the linesman’s flag.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead as Ighalo and Deeney both broke into the box, Odion was the first take a shot that was blocked and rebounded to Troy, whose follow-up was also blocked.  A nasty tackle on Cathcart earned Costa a yellow card with the Hornet faithful screaming for a red.  As we reached injury time, the home fans were streaming out while the visitors were on their feet chanting “Watford FC” encouraging the lads to go for a winner.  There was a final substitution in time added on as Deeney made way for Guedioura, handing the captain’s armband to Ben Watson on his way off.  There was one last chance to win the game and it fell to the home side, so it was a relief to see Mikel hit a shot just wide.

The final whistle went to the customary celebrations.  I don’t think I will ever get tired of seeing Flores with a huge smile on his face hugging his players (and the odd member of the opposition) and then waving and blowing a kiss to the fans in the away stand.  As we got back on the coach for the journey home, there were big smiles.  Although it is a measure of the season that we’ve had that there was disappointment that we hadn’t taken all three points and concern that we’d shown the opposition a bit too much respect at the start.  Certainly we had misplaced more passes than usual.  To reflect on the positives, we are in 7th position, 3 points off the Champions League places and 12 points from the relegation zone (Don asked me to check that one).  Already we have taken 4 points from the first two of our ‘difficult Christmas fixtures’ and even I am moving from my usually super cautious viewpoint and acknowledging that we could get something from the next two games.  But, even if we don’t, it will still have been a remarkable start to the season.  Best of all, I didn’t spoil Amelia’s Christmas and the memory of bouncing with her at Stamford Bridge is one to be treasured.