Tag Archives: N’Golo Kante

A Frustrating Sunday Afternoon at the Bridge

Foster about to take a free kick

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

The welcome return of Deeney

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

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

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

Mariappa on the ball

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

Great to see Chalobah back in the team

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

Holebas and Pereyra prepare for a free kick

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

Pereyra takes a free kick

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

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

 

A Tale of Two Penalties

Ben Foster about to launch the ball upfield

I always look forward to the Boxing Day game, so the news that it had been moved to an evening kick-off for the television cameras was met with some irritation.  A lovely afternoon walk through the Hertfordshire countryside proved a pleasant distraction from the action at the other grounds, but I was soon back to following our changing position in the table and worrying about what time to arrive for a 7:30 kick-off on a bank holiday.  Thankfully the roads were quiet and there were still seats in the West Herts when we arrived.  It was lovely to have Amelia back with us as her university studies and Saturday job have limited her attendance this season.

As we walked to the ground, it still seemed very quiet until we reached Vicarage Road and encountered a group of noisy Chelsea fans.  I was rather surprised only to see one tout on the way, they obviously take Christmas off too.  We didn’t arrive long before kick-off, but it was clear from the number of empty seats that a good number of people had decided to stay at home and watch this one on television.

Team news was that there were no changes from the win at West Ham.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Sema, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deeney and Deulofeu.  But the hottest news as the team arrived was that Pereyra disembarked from the bus wearing a santa hat.  He is a little bonkers.

Holebas in deep conversation with the referee

The travelling Chelsea fans immediately endeared themselves to me with a first minute chant of “We’ve won it all.”  At times like this my mind goes back to the mid-eighties when they used to stop the clock at Stamford Bridge 10 minutes before the end of the game so that the fans didn’t get on the backs of their struggling team.  The visitors had the first chance of the game as Pedro exchanged passes with Willian before curling a shot wide of the far post.  Watford’s first chance came from a howler by the Chelsea keeper, Arrizabalaga, who gave the ball away to Deulofeu, but the Spaniard tried a back heel that went to no one and the chance was gone.  There was a nasty incident 10 minutes into the game, as Willian rounded Foster and hit the post, Kabasele slid in to try to cut out the shot and collided heavily with the post.  He needed lengthy treatment and the stretcher was brought around, but he was able to get to his feet and return to the field.  Unfortunately, that didn’t last long and he was soon replaced by Mariappa.  Watford had a half chance as a cross from Femenía was headed down by Doucouré but the ball rolled through to the keeper.  Then Doucouré and Deulofeu combined before the Frenchman hit an angled shot that was blocked.

A very blurred celebration of Pereyra’s strike

There was an even better chance after Deeney did well to win the ball and release Pereyra who crossed for Doucouré who was in a great position, but his shot was disappointingly high and wide.  The action was straight down the other end where Azpilicueta hit a low cross which flew across the front of the goal with no Chelsea player there to apply the finishing touch.  Watford attacked again as Deulofeu intercepted a pass and broke forward before squaring for Deeney, whose shot was blocked.  The visitors were being frustrated by some great defending as first Cathcart and then Capoue (twice) snuffed out chances with brilliant tackles.  Towards the end of the half, Chelsea were forced to make a substitution replacing Pedro with Hudson-Odoi.   We were then distracted by the sight of Kabasele being wheeled out on a stretcher wearing an oxygen mask.  The Rookery rose to applaud him.  I suspect that his team mates were as perturbed as we were as, almost immediately, Capoue played a poor pass to Doucouré, Kovačič intercepted and fed Hazard who advanced and rounded Foster to open the scoring.  We were already in time added on at the end of the half, but there was still time for Watford to equalize.  Doucouré broke into the box, but the keeper dived at his feet to concede a corner.  The corner was taken short by Deulofeu, Holebas crossed and Pereyra volleyed brilliantly past Arrizabalaga.  Hopefully the cheers for the goal would have brightened Kabasele up as he made his way next door to the hospital.

So we reached half time with honours even after a decent enough half of football, even if all the shots on target had come in injury time.  My sister had kindly packed turkey sandwiches for us, which certainly hit the spot.

Deulofeu running on to a ball

Watford were shouting for a penalty after 54 minutes as Luiz flattened Deulofeu in the box.  Television pictures suggested that there was some wrestling between them, but you can’t help thinking that, had the same incident occurred in the Watford box, a penalty would have been awarded.  Needless to say, the next passage of play saw Hazard breaking into the box, Foster had no need to come out as Cathcart had it covered, but he did and pushed Hazard over.  There was no arguing with that one, it was an obvious penalty even from the opposite end of the ground, and Hazard made no mistake from the spot allowing Chelsea to regain the lead.  Foster was also booked for the foul.  It was very frustrating to be behind at this stage as the Hornets had dominated the start of the second half.  Watford fought back and Doucouré tried to find Deulofeu in the box, but the keeper just got there first.  Gracia made a second change half way through the half replacing Sema, who had a great game, with Quina.  The visitors had a decent chance to increase their lead as Willian had the ball on the edge of the box but whipped his shot wide.  Deulofeu then tried a shot from distance, but it was weak and easy for the keeper.   A mistake from Holebas allowed Hazard to break and find Kanté who shot wide of the far post.  There was a great chance for the Hornets to equalize as Doucouré played the ball in to Deeney at the near post, but Troy flicked his shot just over.  With 10 minutes to go, each side made changes as Kovačič and Hudson-Odoi (who had been the first Chelsea substitute) made way for Barkley and Emerson, and Success replaced Deulofeu for the Hornets.  Chelsea had a couple of late chances to increase their lead as, first, a corner came out to Jorginho who shot over the target.  Then Willian hit a low shot that Foster pushed around the post.  In time added on, Watford won a corner and Foster came up for it.  As the ball bounced around the box, Foster tried an overhead kick, such a shame that didn’t go in, but it certainly made me smile.  So the final whistle went on a narrow defeat for the Hornets.

Femenia, Sema and Doucoure keep an eye on Willian

Yet again, we were ruing missing our chances as we could easily have won a point in that game.  But, on the positive side, we were reflecting on a game in which we had matched one of the best teams in the country.  Watford no longer look like plucky underdogs in these games, but are playing with a similar quality to these household names.  There were regrets regarding the two penalties.  Watford’s would have been given on another day.  Chelsea’s was an unnecessary challenge by Foster but, given how well he has done for us this season, it is hard to criticise.

So we reach the half way stage of the season in the top half of the table with over twice as many points as the team in 18th place, so allowing us to continue to look up rather than down.

But the best news came this morning with a tweet from Kabasele that announced that he didn’t think that there was anything broken and “Great gesture of the goal post who visited me at hospital.”  I do love his sense of humour and it was wonderful that he let the fans know that he is better than might have been expected when we saw him taken out of the ground.  I wish him a full and speedy recovery.

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 Narrow Loss to the League Leaders

Amrabat and Ighalo line up to kick off

Amrabat and Ighalo line up to kick off

After the narrow (and frustrating) defeat midweek, we were back at Vicarage Road for the visit of the team that were currently top of the table.  I thought that I had arrived at the West Herts ridiculously early, but there was already a good crowd inside, including a bloke in a Leicester shirt sitting on his own watching the Spurs vs Arsenal game, hoping for a draw.  Needless to say he was very happy as he left for the ground.

When the team was first announced, there were three changes from midweek as Aké, Suárez and Amrabat came in for Holebas, Behrami and Abdi.  However, Britos was injured during the warm-up, meaning that Holebas was reinstated in the starting line-up and Aké was moved to central defence.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Aké, Prödl, Nyom, Suárez, Watson, Capoue, Deeney, Amrabat and Ighalo.  Former loanee, Danny Drinkwater, started for the visitors.

I had been told before the game that there was to be a foil display in the Rookery, but there was nothing in evidence when I arrived until a banner appeared over my head as the teams came out.  It is always a bit of an anti-climax when you find yourself under the banner, but my sister quickly found the image on social media and it was another triumph for the 1881.

Flores and Ranieri in the dug outs

Flores and Ranieri in the dug outs

Watford had the first chance of the game as Holebas exchanged passes with Deeney before his shot was deflected into the arms of Schmeichel.  At the other end, Vardy latched on to a long ball and beat Prödl, but his shot was blocked by Aké.  Following a Leicester corner, Watford failed to clear and the ball fell to Fuchs whose shot was saved by Gomes.  From a Watson free kick, Aké rose above the defence and headed on to the back of the crossbar.  Leicester’s next attack came as Vardy advanced to the left of the box but, with Prödl in attendance, he took a quick shot which flew wide of the far post.  Watson gave the ball away in midfield but redeemed himself by tracking back and winning the ball on the by line before coolly playing it out of defence.  Drinkwater received a ball in the box, but his shot was blocked by Watson.  Then Prödl failed to stop a Leicester break when he lost sight of the ball which reached Mahrez, who passed to Vardy who shot wide of the near post.  Ighalo rode a nasty tackle before breaking down the right wing and crossing for Deeney who shot into the arms of Schmeichel.  The first booking of the game came when Amrabat appeared to be pulled over on the edge of the box, but was booked for a dive.  Leicester failed to test Gomes when Morgan met a Simpson cross with a weak header that was straight at the Watford keeper.  At the other end, Ighalo touched the ball into the path of Deeney who was bearing down on goal, but his shot was high and wide.

Gomes takes a goal kick

Gomes takes a goal kick

So we reached half time goalless after an even half of few chances, but some lovely football.  On the pitch at half time were Nic Cruwys and Ollie Floyd.  Nic thanked the club and the fans for the support that they had given him during his recovery and alerted us to a fundraiser for Headway Hertfordshire that will be held at Hemel Town at the end of July.

Ranieri made two changes at the start of the second half, replacing Okazaki and Albrighton with King and Schlupp.  There was an early chance for the Hornets as Suárez went on a dangerous looking run, but his shot was deflected and saved by Schmeichel.  The visitors took the lead on 56 minutes as a poor clearance dropped to Mahrez who hit a lovely curling shot that beat Gomes.  While the clearance that reached Mahrez could have been better, sometimes you just have to admire the strike that led to the goal and it was a beauty.  Watford had a chance to break back almost immediately as Deeney received a knock down from Ighalo, but his shot was blocked.  Watford then had a period when they looked vulnerable.  First a cross from Kanté was headed goalwards by Huth and it took a good save from Gomes to keep it out.  Then a low cross from Vardy that was cleared by Aké.  But the home side continued to challenge with a ball over the top which hit Ighalo, so the chance was gone, when it may have been better for him to duck out of the way to allow it to reach Amrabat who was lurking behind him.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

A Leicester break came to nothing as the cross was stopped by Aké.  Then Amrabat crossed towards Ighalo but the ball was cleared back to the Dutchman who fell over before recovering to hit a shot that was easy for Schmeichel.  Watford’s first substitution came on 65 minutes when Abdi replaced Suárez.  Mahrez had a chance to increase the lead, but this time his shot was caught by Gomes.  Leicester threatened again as a free kick from Fuchs was headed well wide by Huth.  Fuchs was then booked for a cynical foul on Amrabat.  Watford had a great chance to equalize as a Nyom cross was helped on by Deeney to Ighalo who headed straight at Schmeichel when he should have done better.  Watford’s second substitution saw Nyom replaced by Anya.  Another chance for an equalizer went begging as a cross from Amrabat was cleared to Abdi who put a poor shot wide of the near post.  With five minutes remaining, Mahrez, who had pulled up with an injury, was replaced by Amartey.  Leicester had another chance, but failed to test Gomes with a poor shot from Schlupp that flew in to the side-netting.  Watford’s final substitution saw Oularé replace Capoue.  He was immediately involved, heading the ball down to Amrabat who passed to Ighalo, who was crowded out before he could shoot.  Watford had another late chance to equalize as Ighalo played the ball out to Aké, but the youngster shot over the target.  In time added on, Watford won a free kick which Watson hit wide of the far post.  It has to be said that his set pieces had been poor on the day, but that didn’t justify the level of abuse that was coming from the rows behind me in the Rookery.

Deeney and Ighalo waiting for a goal into the box

Deeney and Ighalo waiting for a goal into the box

It was another disappointing loss but we had matched the league leaders in all areas of the field except the strikeforce.  Ighalo and Deeney had struggled again and, while Vardy had been fairly quiet, Mahrez won the game with a beautiful strike.  There was a lot of negative comment after the game, but I came home with a number of positives.  The combination of Capoue and Holebas on the left wing had been a joy at times.  Aké had been excellent in his stand-in role in the centre of defence.  Amrabat’s contribution grows with every game.  His booking notwithstanding, he appears to have learned that referees in the Premier League are less likely to give a free kick if you fall down so he has become a stronger battler and is impressing.  Suárez also continues to impress with his lovely touch.  We just need a goal for one of our forwards and the floodgates could open.  Still, despite those around us winning points, that was not the case for those in the relegation places so we look safe this season.  It would just be nice to pick up a few more points to consolidate our mid table position.  In August, I never thought I would be saying that.

 

Punished by Our Mistakes

One small step for the Hornets ...

One small step for the Hornets …

I left home ridiculously early to get into London for the train to Leicester.  After experiencing over-running engineering works and a closed tube line, I was glad that I did as my plan of a leisurely coffee did not come to fruition.  The delays did, however, give me plenty of time to read the chapter about *that goal* in Tales from the Vicarage 4, and a cracking chapter it is too.  After a short train journey north and a walk in the drizzle, we found our pre-match meeting place locked up.  Since there were a couple of others hanging around we waited and five minutes later the doors were opened and we bagged a prime spot in a large corner with a number of tables to accommodate what was likely to be a large group.  The décor was very interesting, the walls being decorated with framed sets of stamps with a space theme, including Star Wars, Star Trek and proper space travel.  There was even a space suit in the opposite corner.

A number of us had been to the At Our Place event in the week, so happily updated the others on the sterling performances from delightful Quique, from whom I demanded and received the promised hug, hilarious and straight-forward Troy Deeney, reassuring Scott Duxbury and Luke Dowling, who is having a ball.

One of the blackboards in the pub welcomed the Bochum 1848 Blue Army alongside a list of their Oktoberfest beers and, sure enough, we were soon joined by a group of blue shirted fans speaking German.  When the time was right, they went into the ‘square’ outside the pub for their photo opportunity that, following German tradition, included pyrotechnics.

The Last Post sounds

The Last Post sounds

As we left to walk to the ground, the rain had stopped and the sun had come out.  This appeared to be a welcome development until we got inside the ground and realized that we would have to spend the first half shielding our eyes if we were to see anything.  Photography was almost impossible.  There were the usual ceremonies for Remembrance Day, with the added oddity of the match ball being delivered by a helicopter.  The home fans held up cards which created a poppy, which was displayed as the Last Post sounded and there was a Watford FC Remembers banner on the side of the pitch in front of the travelling fans.  Sadly neither were positioned such that I could get a decent photo.

Team news was that Flores had kept faith with the team that defeated Stoke and West Ham, so the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Anya, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.  The Leicester starting line-up included former Watford loanee, Danny Drinkwater, and Jamie Vardy, who was aiming to score in the ninth game in a row.

Cathcart on the ball

Cathcart on the ball

The first on-target shot of the game came from the visitors as Anya cut the ball back to Capoue whose shot was smothered by Schmeichel.  The Watford fans soon started baiting their counterparts with “Did you cry when Deeney scored?” to which the response was “Did you cry at Wembley?”  Oddly I think my answers to those questions would be yes and no.  Does that make me a Leicester fan?  In Watford’s next attack Cathcart played a ball forward for Anya but Schmeichel was first to it.  At the other end, Gomes had his first involvement getting down to stop a shot from Albrighton which, from behind the goal, appeared to be going wide.  Gomes was soon in action again, pulling off a terrific save to keep out Huth’s glancing header from an Albrighton free-kick, he wasn’t to know that the flag was already up for offside.  Most of those in the away stand believed that we had taken the lead in the 20th minute as Deeney played the ball to Ighalo whose shot appeared to hit the net, but actually rebounded out off the inside of the post.  I am reliably informed that Schmeichel did well to save a follow-up volley from Abdi, but I didn’t see it as I was jumping up and down celebrating the ‘goal’.  Capoue was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that flew well wide.  The home side threatened as Gomes got a hand to a cross from Fuchs, the ball eventually reached Albrighton but Gomes was equal to his shot.  A decent passing move from the Hornets finished with a cross from Abdi that went begging.  Goal machine Jamie Vardy had his first chance in the 37th minute, but his shot was weak and easy for Gomes.  In Watford’s next attack a cross from Ighalo was headed clear by Morgan before it reached Deeney.  So we reached half-time goalless, it had been a pretty even half with Ighalo’s shot the closest to breaking the deadlock.

The Italian faces a Spaniard he would like to kill

The Italian faces a Spaniard he would like to kill

There was an early second half scare for the Hornets as Mahrez robbed Abdi and played the ball through to Albrighton who advanced to shoot, but it was an easy catch for Gomes.  Leicester took the lead on 51 minutes and it was a dreadful mistake from Gomes, who should have dealt with Kanté’s shot easily, but it squirmed away from him and into the net.  I hate it when goals like that are scored, it just seems unfair.  It was made worse as I had to listen to the lad behind me going on and on about how unacceptable such a mistake was, so I was glad when an older head in his group reminded him how brilliant Gomes has been for us this season.  Watford tried to strike back as Ighalo exchanged passes with Abdi before putting in a cross that was gathered by Schmeichel.  Just before the hour, Capoue played a back heel to Nyom whose shot was high and wide.  Watford nearly shot themselves in the foot again as Capoue played a hospital ball that Vardy latched on to but he was stopped from threatening the goal by a great tackle from Britos.  On 64 minutes, Ighalo lost the ball deep in the Leicester half and, instead of fighting back as he usually does, played for a free-kick.  It wasn’t given and the Leicester break finished with Vardy being taken down by Gomes just inside the area.  The referee pointed to the spot and showed Gomes a yellow card.  Vardy hit the penalty down the middle and scored for his ninth successive game, which really hadn’t looked on the cards given his ineffectual performance on the day.

Troy steps up to take the penalty

Troy steps up to take the penalty

With 20 minutes to go, Flores made his first substitution replacing Capoue with Paredes.  The Ecuadorian made an impact soon after as he was sent tumbling in the box.  Deeney stepped up and, despite the prediction of Cassandra standing behind me, buried the penalty.  Troy didn’t waste time celebrating, instead he picked up the ball and ran back to the centre circle.  Flores immediately made a second substitution bringing Diamanti on for Nyom and dropping Anya into the full back position.  Leicester tried to regain their two goal margin as Mahrez dribbled into the box, but Gomes saved his shot.  At this point, the Watford crowd woke up and the whining behind me was drowned out by singing.  There was even a spot of bouncing which only served to demonstrate that the crisp bowl (or whatever it is called now) is a bit rickety.  The Rookery doesn’t move under my feet when we bounce.  The last chance of the game came 10 minutes from the end as Paredes appeared to be tripped, but he’d managed to pass to Deeney whose shot from outside the area was caught by Schmeichel.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

So, we were defeated, which was disappointing as we deserved a point from the game.  Leicester have had a great start to the season, but the only difference between the teams was that their misplaced passes rebounded to their own players more often than ours did.  Gomes earned massive respect from the travelling fans by coming straight over to us, pointing to himself and mouthing “It was me.”  As he turned to leave the pitch, he was serenaded with “Heurelho Gomes Baby” which pleased me greatly and hopefully gave him some comfort.  Everyone there knew what he has contributed so far this season and that, despite his mistakes in this game, his account is still very much in the black.

Some consolation for the result came with the knowledge that we would go into the next international break in 11th position with a points total that is equidistant between the Champions League places and the relegation zone.  When you look at it that way there can be no complaints.