When I sent out the e-mail to our group asking who wanted tickets for this game, I couldn’t help noticing that there were more apologies for absence than usual. I can’t say that I blamed them as the memory of the cup final is still rather raw and, given our start to the season, this was not a game that I was looking forward to.
I left London at a reasonable time and was joined on the train by Jacque when we reached Milton Keynes. One topic of discussion was the no bag policy that we had heard about the previous day. I don’t know how they expect people travelling for over two hours each way not to bring any possessions with them. Luckily, I was staying overnight in Manchester, so was able to drop my bag (and Jacque’s) off at the hotel. Despite it being a warm sunny day, I left the hotel carrying a waterproof coat which had pockets filled with the essentials for the game (notebook, pen, camera, purse, lipstick). We then headed to meet up with the rest of our party for lunch. On arrival, I was surprised to see Pete there. I was sure that he had declined the invitation. Sure enough, he had made a late decision to travel following the tremendous second half against Arsenal last week.
While enjoying lunch, I realised that I had left my distance glasses in my rucksack at the hotel, so I headed back to retrieve them. Not the smartest thing that I have ever done. Once they were in another of my pockets, I joined the others at the pub. We left plenty of time to get to the ground. The first tram leaving was packed and there was a father with a young boy on his shoulders standing near me. I heard the father comment, “Maybe you’ll see six goals.” I couldn’t help but exclaim, “Oh, I do hope not.” We then had a chat and, as is usually my experience in Manchester, he was lovely.
On arrival at the ground, we saw Mick, our Police liaison, and I asked how many bags he was looking after. It seemed that there had been no issues by that point, which was a relief. It seemed that the stewards were being pragmatic regarding the policy, so some bags did make it into the away end.
Team news was that Quique had made two changes from the Newcastle game with Foulquier and Mariappa in for Gray and Kabasele. Clearly the selection of Foulqier, for his debut, in place of Gray was not a direct swap, Femenía was pushed forward and Deulofeu was to play alone up front. So, the starting line-up was Foster; Foulquier, Mariappa, Dawson, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Femenía, Cleverley, Hughes; Deulofeu. Again. there were some puzzled reactions to the team selection, but the Arsenal game meant that Quique had a lot of brownie points.
When we took our seats in the away end, I noticed that we were very close to the home fans on our left. I then turned and realised that they were almost as close on the right. I don’t know how many Watford fans travelled, but it appeared to be a very small group.
A couple of seasons ago, a late departure from the pub and a delay on the tram meant that we missed Sterling scoring in the first minute. On this occasion, we were comfortably in our seats when De Bruyne crossed for David Silva to finish past Foster to open the scoring. Watford had a chance for an immediate equaliser as Deulofeu ran into the City box, but Ederson saved at his feet. Deulofeu threatened again, beating Otamendi before dinking a shot that deflected wide off the City keeper. We weren’t to know it at the time, but that would be pretty much it for our chances. The second City goal came after 7 minutes. Mahrez had the ball in the box, he was running out of space and the ball was rolling out for a goal kick, but Foster had committed himself and took him down, so the referee pointed to the spot. Agüero stepped up to take the spot kick and powered the ball down the middle while Foster dived. It got even worse on 12 minutes after Doucouré fouled Mahrez on the edge of the box. The Algerian took the free kick himself, the Watford wall parted, but the ball took a deflection off one of the defenders and beat Foster for City’s third. At this point I bemoaned the fact that we are not allowed to take hip flasks into football stadia, as I definitely needed a shot of something strong. The fourth City goal came from a corner which was flicked on to Bernardo Silva who stooped to head home.
We were 5 down after 18 minutes when Agüero put a low cross in for Otamendi to finish at the back post. It could have been 6 after 25 minutes as Agüero broke forward, but Foster narrowed the angle and the shot was wide of the far post. When Watford won a free kick after a foul on Cleverley, the travelling Hornets sang “We’ve got the ball.” Sadly, we didn’t have it for long as Deulofeu’s delivery was straight into the arms of Ederson. There was an immediate break from the home side, and I feared the worst, but Agüero’s shot took a ricochet off Foster for a corner. Flores made his first substitution on 33 minutes cutting Foulquier’s debut short as he was replaced by Pereyra. Fair play to Don Fraser who was still shouting encouragement to the team at this point. On 38 minutes the Hornets had a rare foray into the City half, Deulofeu’s shot was blocked, the ball fell to Pereyra who could only win a corner that came to nothing. The home side impressed again as a perfect cross field pass from Fernandinho reached De Bruyne who crossed for Agüero whose header was saved by Foster, Mahrez picked up the loose ball and crossed for Bernardo Silva who headed just wide. There were three minutes of added time at the end of the half. Every second was agony, but at least there was no further score.
At half time, I noted that City had had 6 shots on target and scored 5 of them. This looked like it could be a record score, although the scoreboard looked as though it couldn’t display double figures, so we could end up back at 0-0.
City made a change at the break bringing Angeliño on for Mendy. It appeared that the second half would also see a goal in the first minute, but Walker’s shot was high and wide. Sadly, the sixth goal wasn’t long in coming as, three minutes into the half, the Watford defence went missing yet again and the ball bounced around the Watford box before Bernardo Silva scored his second. At the break, Pete had come to stand in the row behind us. I expected the guys who had been there to return, they didn’t and a good few more departed after this goal. Guardiola made a second substitution as Cancelo replaced Walker. City should have scored a seventh when they won a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery from De Bruyne flew just over the bar. Flores made his second substitution bringing Sarr on for Hughes. The Hornets were then shown two yellow cards in quick succession, first Deulofeu was booked after a foul on Rodrigo, then Femenía was cautioned for a foul on Bernardo Silva.
The seventh goal came on the hour mark as De Bruyne crossed to the far post and Bernardo Silva finished from close range to seal his hat trick and claim the match ball. At this point the City fans very reasonably asked, “Why are you still here?” Pete’s comment was, “For the same reason that you would be.” City’s final substitution saw Garcia come on for Otamendi. Mahrez should have scored the 8th with a header that rebounded off the bar. As City claimed the rebound an exasperated shout of “Get the second ball” came from behind me. I think that was the least of our problems at this point. The City fans were having fun with the group to our right taunting the group to our left with, “Where were you when we were sh*t?” I have to admit that made me smile. There was a brief moment of quality possession from the Hornets as Sarr found Cleverley who played in Deulofeu but he could only win a corner off the keeper. Soon after, Gerry was replaced by Gray and you have to ask what Andre had done to deserve being put into the fray. Just before the substitution the ball had flown into the Watford crowd. There were shouts of “keep it” and it was a while before it was returned, eliciting boos from the away end. A chant from the travelling Hornets of “7 nil and you still don’t sing” was countered with “We only sing at 6 nil.” Ouch!! De Bruyne, who had been a menace all afternoon, finally got his goal with five minutes left on the clock as his shot from the edge of the area hit the top corner. He should have had a second soon after as he ran through the Watford defence before shooting just wide. There was a half chance for a consolation as a Holebas throw was headed goalwards by Gray, but it was an easy catch for Ederson and a goal would have been more than the Hornets deserved.
The final whistle finally went to put us out of our misery. There were a surprising number of Watford fans still in the ground as the players came over to thank us and the majority of fans applauded them back. Not for anything impressive in their performance, but more in empathy as that cannot have been any more fun for them than it was for us. Pete was asked whether he regretted his late decision to attend the game but reasoned that he was much happier to have been there than he would have been if he had listened to it on the radio.
On the way back to the City centre, Ashley was checking the scores in the other games and a City fan asked if he knew the Stevenage score. It turned out that this lad had managed Stevenage in Football Manager and taken a shine to them. In a couple of weeks, when City are playing Wolves, he is giving his season ticket to a friend so that he can see Stevenage play in Colchester. He also consoled us with, “We only scored two more than we put past United.”
As we sat in the pub after the game, it felt more like a support group than anything else. Between us we could not find any positives to take from the game. While City had been very good, Watford had been utterly dreadful. This is a team that has long struggled with confidence and it was clear that it had completely drained from them as soon as the second goal went in. I still think that we are a much better side than our results indicate, but we need to start showing that against Swansea in midweek and then at Wolves. Otherwise, I may finally find myself deciding to stay in the pub instead of heading to the ground.