Tag Archives: Nordin Amrabat

Watford Earn a Point as Britos Sees Red

Femenia takes a throw in

Pre-match in the West Herts was unusually quiet, the bank holiday weekend clearly meaning that many regulars had made alternative plans.  Before arriving, I had received a text from Don to tell me that there was hot food available and that the menu included jerk chicken.  In fact, they were offering jerk chicken in a roll at a bargain price and it was absolutely gorgeous.  My new favourite pre-match lunch.  As we enjoyed our pints, the televisions were showing Bournemouth vs. Manchester City.  The animosity that has developed between the Hornets and the Cherries was clearly shown when City scored a 96th minute winner and the West Herts erupted into a massive celebration.

As we walked down Vicarage Road, I was a little surprised to encounter touts.  I have come to expect that when the top six clubs are in town, but touts for Watford vs Brighton is a new one on me.  As I came through the turnstiles, “September” was playing over the tannoy, clearly getting us ready for Doucoure’s chant.

Chalobah on the run

Team news was that Silva had made just the one change from the Bournemouth game with Kabasele in for the suspended Holebas, so the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Prödl, Kabasele, Britos; Chalobah, Doucouré; Amrabat, Cleverley, Richarlison; Gray.  Our old friend, Anthony Knockaert, started for the visitors, his name was announced to a loud chorus of boos.  Also of note was the fact that Silva was back in a suit, having donned a tracksuit for the Bristol City game in midweek.

There was an early chance for the Hornets as Amrabat played a through ball to Gray, but his shot was well wide of the target.  Our first chance to boo the pantomime villain came as Cleverley lined up to take a free kick and Knockaert took his place in a one man wall in front of the Rookery.  The wall was ineffective and the delivery was met by Chalobah whose header was blocked.  Amrabat beat a defender on the right before delivering a cross into the box, Richarlison and Gray both went for the ball but neither was able to make contact.  The first decent goal attempt came from the visitors after quarter of an hour with a curling shot from Knockaert which rebounded off the inside of the far post.  The first booking went to Brighton’s Bruno who was cautioned after clattering Richarlison.

Gerry Armstrong

The Brighton fans were yelling for a penalty after the ball appeared to hit Prödl, but it was clearly ball to arm and a corner was given.  The game changed on a moment of madness.  Knockaert was advancing down the wing and Britos just flew into a tackle with both feet off the ground.  It was a straight red card, with no complaints from any of us.  Thankfully Knockaert wasn’t injured.  The sending off prompted Silva to make a tactical substitution sacrificing Amrabat for Cathcart, which was a bit of a shame as Nordin was having his best game for a while.  The visitors had another chance to open the scoring as a corner from Groβ was headed wide by Dunk.  The post came to the Hornets’ rescue again as Hemed’s effort rebounded to safety.  At the other end, Chalobah tried a shot from distance that was just wide of the near post.  In time added on, Gomes was alert to punch a cross from Knockaert out for a corner, which came to nothing.

The half time player chat was with Gerry Armstrong.  As with all of the interviewee’s this season, he was asked about GT’s influence.  He credited the gaffer with getting him fit and allowing him to shine for Northern Ireland at the 1982 World Cup.   None of us who were around at the time will forget his goal scoring exploits at that tournament.  A Watford player at a World Cup was a new experience in 1982.

Carrillo makes his debut

Cathcart’s return from injury turned out to be short-lived, as he ran for a ball early in the second half and had to pull up.  He looked as though he wanted to continue but was convinced to seek treatment, after which he left the pitch to be replaced by new signing, Carrillo. At this point, Cleverley dropped into the right back position.  Brighton threatened with a dangerous cross towards Groβ in the Watford boss, but he was stopped by an excellent tackle from Femenía.  From a corner, the ball was headed back to Hemed who volleyed just wide of the target.  There was much discussion in the stands regarding the laws of the game when Knockaert went down in the box and, after a long consultation with the lino, the referee awarded an indirect free kick that was blasted off the wall.  Brighton threatened again as a cross was headed back across goal by Knockaert, on this occasion Prödl put it out for a corner.  A very promising break by Richarlison finished with a shot that was high and wide.  At the other end, a dangerous looking cross was saved by Gomes with Knockaert closing in.  Knockaert had yet another chance with 15 minutes to go, but his shot was saved by Gomes.  Brighton’s next attempt came from a corner, but Duffy headed just wide.  Richarlison lifted Watford hearts again after another break downfield, this time he fed Gray, but the outcome was the same with a shot that was well over the bar.

Prodl rises to meet the ball

With 10 minutes to go, Knockaert was replaced by Izquierdo, which was a relief as he had run us ragged.  Silva also made a late change, replacing Gray, who had worked very hard but never looked like scoring, with Deeney, a substitution that was very popular with the Watford crowd.  Both teams had a late chance to snatch the victory. The Brighton substitute, Izquierdo, tried a shot from distance that flew high and wide at the near post.  Then Watford’s new signing, Carrillo, had an opportunity to crown his debut when he met a cross from Femenía, but his header flew over the bar.  With the last kick of the game, Femenía sent a shot high and wide and the game finished goalless.

The post match consensus was that the ten men had put in a sterling performance to win a very well deserved point.  There was no sympathy for Britos whose tackle had been as reckless as it was unnecessary.  But there was much admiration for many of the others.  I don’t think he has been mentioned in the report at all, but Kabasele was absolutely immense.  He battled hard and consistently snuffed out attacks.  Femenía, who had replaced Britos on the left, had also done really well in the makeshift position.


The midfield players were excellent again.  Doucouré and Chalobah continue to impress.  Cleverley worked his socks off again and our first glimpse of Carrillo was a positive one.  Even Amrabat had his best game for a while, finding some end product to match the surging runs.  Then there was Richarlison, who has quickly become a favourite of mine.  What chances we created mostly came through him and he also gave a rather lovely interview to the programme, presumably through an interpreter.  It is clear that his attempts to settle in have been greatly helped by the presence of Gomes as well as a manager who speaks his language.  By all accounts, he is a lovely lad and his future looks very bright indeed.

The international break comes at a good time.  By the time we meet Southampton, we will know the final shape of our squad and hopefully will have some players back from injury.  We are unbeaten so far this season and there is a lot to like in this new squad.  If our next trip to the South coast is half as much fun as the last one, we have a lot to look forward to.


Another Early Exit from the League Cup

Will Hughes on his debut

After the cracking performances in the first two games of the season, it was a happy band who met at the West Herts prior to this match.  Those who had been at Bournemouth were assuring those who hadn’t that the game had been as much fun as it sounded on the radio and in reports.  We also took time to teach them the new chant for Doucouré.

Team news was that Silva had made six changes from the Bournemouth game, giving Deeney and Hughes their first starts of the season.  Despite the changes, it was a very strong team with a starting XI of Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Kabasele, Holebas; Watson, Capoue; Amrabat, Hughes, Richarlison; Deeney.

As we approached the ground, there were long queues for the ticket office and many of the seats around us were empty at kick-off, although they soon filled up with unfamiliar, but eager, faces.

The game kicked off and the style of football transported us back to last season.  The first time that I felt inspired to make a note of the action was in the 26th minute when Deeney directed a header just wide of the target.  Deeney also had the next chance as he latched onto a ball into the box, but Flint made a saving tackle to prevent the shot.  The first goal chance for the visitors came following a corner but O’Dowda’s shot was straight at Gomes.  The Hornets had a half chance to open the scoring just before the break as Richarlison turned and shot from outside the area, but his effort was well over the bar.

Capoue celebrates his goal

The half time guest was Keith Millen who revealed that, even though he worked at Palace at the time, he thought that Harry Hornet’s dive in front of Zaha was very funny.

Silva made a substitution at the start of the second half bringing Success on for Amrabat.  The home side took the lead in the second minute of the half, before a large proportion of the crowd had returned from their visits to the concession stands.  Hughes played a one-two with Success before finding Capoue on the left from where he fired past Fielding in the City goal.  I relaxed at this point thinking that we would go on and win the game.  Honestly, what was I thinking?  I have been to enough of these games not to be so complacent.  The next action of note was Holebas receiving his first yellow card of the season for a foul on Eliasson.  On a more positive note, Capoue whipped in a lovely cross, but Deeney was unable to connect and the ball found its way to Success whose shot was straight at the keeper.  At the other end, a corner from Eliasson was met by the head of Flint, but the effort was blocked for a corner.

Richarlison in the box

Watford looked to increase the lead with a low cross from Success into the box, but Deeney was unable to connect.  On the hour mark, City equalized, as Hinds went on a run and hit a lovely shot from distance that found the bottom corner at the near post.  It was a chance out of nothing, but it was very well taken.  Watford’s first attempt to strike back came from Capoue who tried a shot from just outside the centre circle that was just wide of the target.  But, somehow, Watford managed to turn attack into defence again, as City launched another counter-attack, the cross from Kelly flew past a number of Watford defenders before reaching Reid who tucked it past Gomes to put the visitors into the lead.  Watford attempted to strike back as Richarlison met a cross from Success, but his header back came off the outside of the post.  Silva increased his striking options, bringing Gray on for Hughes.  City had a chance to increase their lead, but the shot from O’Dowda was straight at Gomes.  There was then a lovely passage of play from the Hornets as Gray exchanged passes with Deeney before trying a shot that was tipped wide by Fielding.  Silva made another change bringing Cleverley on for Capoue.  Watford continued to go for the equalizer as Richarlison met a cross from Success with a header that flew high and wide.  But things went from bad to worse for the Hornets in the final minutes as Holebas was shown a second yellow for a foul to stop a breakaway after an air kick caused him to lose possession.

Holebas and Watson line up a free kick

The visitors had a decent chance of a third in the final minute of normal time, but Gomes pulled off a lovely save to stop O’Dowda.  Sadly, the visitors weren’t to be denied as Eliasson received the ball in space and beat Gomes to put the tie out of Watford’s reach.   There was time to pull a goal back in the last minute of time added on as Mariappa headed home, but it was City who went into the early morning draw in Beijing on Thursday.

The players trudged off the pitch at the end, with only Deeney and Gomes making much of an effort to acknowledge the crowd.  Tim Coombs went for the ironic approach as we left the ground to “That’s Entertainment” playing over the tannoy.  On the way back up Occupation Road, I spotted Olly Wicken being interviewed for From The Rookery End.  Tonight’s was a game that definitely won’t be featured in Hornet Heaven.

Nobody had the stomach for a post-match review, so I was alone with my thoughts.  It was a strangely lack lustre performance which lacked the energy demonstrated in our league games this season.  Maybe worse than the result was losing Holebas for the next game after two silly tackles, a real blow as we lack cover in that position.  These terrible League Cup defeats have been a regular occurrence in recent seasons, which is a great shame as it is an opportunity to entertain and impress some fans (like the young boy in the row in front of us) who do not attend games regularly.  Still, if we beat Brighton on Saturday it will be forgotten until next August when, no doubt, we will all subject ourselves to the punishment again.

A Brilliant Brazilian beats Bournemouth

On Friday this week I took the day off work and spent the afternoon/evening at Glyndebourne for La Traviata, which was absolutely delightful.  As I was staying overnight in Brighton before the game on Saturday, I had to make sure that I packed my posh frock and high heels alongside my Watford shirt and that I didn’t pack anything that would cause problems at the security check at the turnstiles.

I left Brighton early on Saturday to take the train to Bournemouth via Southampton.  I had a naïve expectation of a picturesque journey along the South coast, but the view out of the window was sadly free of sea views instead dominated by housing estates.  On arrival into Bournemouth, I bumped into Richard and we made our way to the pre-match pub, which is one of our favourites.  As we settled down to enjoy our pints, we were puzzled to see a number of St Albans City fans in the pub until they explained that they were playing Poole Town and there were no decent pubs in that area.

Man of the match Richarlison

Due to the time it took us to get through the security line at the stadium last season, we left in good time, just as Mike arrived, having taken 4 hours to drive from South London.  When we arrived at the ground, the line was long and I did wonder how I would get through with the luggage from my overnight stay.  My first offering for inspection was a tote bag that contained my opera handbag.  This caused confusion and required a number of labels to be attached before it was considered safe.  Then I presented my rucksack which I opened up to reveal toiletries.  There was a look of horror. “Do you have any cans?  Any sprays.” “No.”  That was the search over, so she didn’t get to admire my posh frock and kitten heels.

Team news was that Silva had made four changes with Femenía, Prödl and Richarlison replacing the injured trio of Janmaat, Kaboul and Pereyra.  Gray was preferred to Okaka up front, which seemed a bit harsh after his tremendous performance against Liverpool.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Doucouré, Chalobah; Amrabat, Cleverley, Richarlison; Gray.

Richarlison, Holebas and Britos waiting for the ball to drop

For a few seasons now, the travelling fans at Bournemouth have been uncharacteristically unpleasant and there was an early attempt to enforce that reputation as a bloke along the row from me started screaming at the female lino to get back in the kitchen.  She was the other end of the pitch from us so wouldn’t have heard anyway, but it wound me up.  I’m afraid that my response to this abuse was neither reasoned nor nuanced, but it was to the point.  On the pitch the first chance fell to the visitors as Cleverley turned and shot but it was blocked.   Bournemouth had an excellent chance to open the scoring as King advanced and found Fraser in the box, his shot was parried by Gomes, the ball fell to Afobe, but Britos was on hand to block the shot and send it over the bar.  It went quiet for a while after that, until Amrabat crossed for Chalobah who directed his header just wide of the near post.  The first booking was earned by Britos for a rather desperate tackle on Arter.  On the half hour, Afobe latched on to a long ball from Cook and advanced to shoot but Gomes pushed the ball to safety.  At the other end Gray cut the ball back to Chalobah who turned to shoot, but the strike was weak and easily gathered by Begović.  Richarlison impressed with a lovely move to beat a defender before cutting back to Doucouré whose shot was deflected over.  Holebas swung the corner in and Richarlison met it but nodded over the bar.  Bournemouth’s reputation for diving wasn’t done any favours as Afobe collapsed in the box with his hands to his face and no Watford player anywhere near.  Play continued.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead at the end of the half as a cross-field ball from Cleverley found its way to Richarlison, he beat a defender on the byline before playing the ball back to Gray who blazed over when he should have done better.

Richarlison at the bottom of a pile of celebrating players

So we reached half time goalless after an end to end half which, judging by the reactions of my friends, I judged rather harshly as it wasn’t as good as the first half against Liverpool.  The Watford fans were very loud throughout the half, although the repertoire was dominated by a chant that was new to me “Oo-oo-oo Abdoulaye Doucouré <repeat> never gives the ball away” to the tune of Earth Wind and Fire’s “September”.  It is very catchy indeed.

The home side started the second half brightly as Cook met a corner from Ibe with a header that was on target, but Gomes was down to save.  At the other end, a Holebas cross was headed on by a Bournemouth player to Amrabat whose shot was terrible, flying across the box and out for a throw.  There was a baffling moment as Amrabat pulled the ball back to Chalobah who, while in a great position to shoot, opted to leave it for the man behind him, Harry Arter.  Television pictures showed that the Bournemouth man had called for the ball.  All the Watford fans who have been complaining on social media about this unsportsmanlike behaviour have clearly forgotten how funny it was when the loathsome Dai Thomas did the same thing at Kenilworth Road.  Chalobah had a golden chance to put his team in the lead soon after as he robbed a player in midfield and found himself one on one with Begović, but he had too long think about the shot and his strike was blocked by the keeper.  He had a second bite as the ball found its way back to him, but this time he curled the shot just wide of the target.

Andre Gray

The referee was in action then, booking Grey for dissent after he was fouled by Cook.  There was time for Pugh and Defoe to come on in place of Afobe and Ibe before the Bournemouth man was finally booked for the foul.  There was a lovely move for the Hornets as Cleverley and Amrabat exchanged passes on the overlap before crossing for Richarlison on the other flank, he played the ball back to Chalobah who blasted his shot over the bar.  The youngster’s day went from bad to worse as he was then booked for a foul on King.  Watford were severely testing the Bournemouth defence and came close from a Cleverley corner which Richarlison met with a shot that was blocked on the line.  The Brazilian was a constant threat and had two decent chances after receiving a long ball from Holebas, his first shot was blocked, the second saved.  But he wasn’t to be denied and the GT chant had to be delayed as Gray crossed and Richarlison slid in to attempt to make contact. as he was on the ground with a defender and Begović in close proximity, it seemed that the chance had gone, but he stuck out his foot and prodded the ball past the prone keeper to give Watford a well deserved lead.  The celebrations were passionate and a large number of fans decided to pile down to the front to celebrate at pitch side.  The problem with that is that the disabled fans are located in the first row and, in the ensuing melee, were either trampled or found themselves no longer able to see the pitch due to the fans who remained standing in front of them.  As in previous years, it got ugly at this point with fans arguing among themselves and with stewards, and the police got involved.  It was all so unnecessary.

Celebrating Capoue’s goal

Back to the action on the pitch and Richarlison had a chance to increase the lead as he met a cross from Holebas with a header that flew just over the bar.  The visitors created another opportunity as Amrabat played the ball over the top for Gray but, as on so many other occasions this afternoon, Aké was on hand to stop the attack.  Silva made his first substitution with 10 minutes to go, as Capoue replaced the goal scorer, who had been suffering from cramp.  Richarlison was given a well-deserved ovation as he left the field.  The home side had a chance to draw level as Defoe flicked the ball on to King who headed just over the bar, much to the relief of the travelling Hornets.  Silva made a second change, bringing Kabasele on for Amrabat, whose place on the wing was taken by Femenía.  Watford made the points safe with four minutes to go, a shot from Gray was saved, but the clearance was only as far as Capoue, who chested it down before hitting a powerful shot past Begović.  One of those belters that causes an explosion of a celebration in the crowd.  Watford had one final chance to increase their lead as Holebas tried a shot from outside the area, but Begović was equal to it.  Silva made one last change, bringing Watson on for Chalobah for the six minutes of stoppage time, but there was no further goal action and, after the misfortune of recent visits to Boscombe, it was great to see the Hornets leave with a deserved win.

The players came over to celebrate with the travelling fans, who were loud and proud, as they had been for most of the game, and shirts were tossed into the crowd.  There was a lovely moment as the players were heading towards the tunnel.  Chalobah was one of the last to leave the field.  He had a very frustrating afternoon and was trudging away when the away end burst into a rousing chorus of “Chalobah, my lord.”  The youngster turned to face the fans with a beaming smile on his face.  It was good to know that we sent him home happy (and that was before he met Alice!).

It took a while for the away crowd to vacate the stand, the stewards were pleading with us to leave so that they could go home.  We headed back to the pub where we were joined by the victorious St Albans fans celebrating their position at the top of the National League South after a 100% start to their season.  We congratulated them and then returned to the reflections on our deserved win and impressive performance.  It had been another entertaining game.  Richarlison’s first start had built on his impressive debut as substitute the previous week.  He was certainly the man of the match.  The goal was typical of his hard work for the whole game, during which he never gave up.  At times last season the players appeared only to want to score perfect goals so to see a young Brazilian happy to score the scrappiest of strikes was a lovely contrast.  Andre Gray had an assist for the goal and had worked really hard, but was up against Aké who was tremendous and gave him very little space.  But the most pleasing aspect was the teamwork.  This looks like a group of lads who are playing for each other and their manager.  After the misery of the end of last season, that is just wonderful to see and bodes well for a terrific season.  The future certainly looks golden.


Football is Fun Again

A young GT and his coaching badges

The first day of the season and, on arriving in Watford, it was grey and drizzly.  I was at the Hornet Shop before 9:30, so it was rather bizarre to see the programme sellers and burger stands already setting up.  Having bought the new home and away shirts, a woolly hat (just in case) and a Watford coffee cup, I headed to the museum to get in line for the Graham Taylor exhibition.

We were there as the doors were opened so had plenty of time to enjoy the display.  It was very much a celebration of the man, with memories from other clubs, although his time at Watford was paramount.  It was lovely to see everything from his coaching badges and certificates to the robes from his investiture as Freeman of the Borough.  There were other lovely treats, a family photo of GT crossing the line at the London Marathon in a time of 3:21:11, plus his sponsorship form, as he was raising money for the family terrace, and his medal.  The Norfolk Horns flag, signed by the stalwarts of that group, was tucked away.

GT and Rita at the Palace and the OBE

My niece had come along, so was ‘treated’ to the old people reminiscing.  To this end, I was delighted to spot the Terry Challis cartoon from the weekend after we beat both Spurs and Man Utd 5-1 in May 1985.  Her reasonable question was if those teams were good then.  Oh yes, and the cartoon still makes me smile. But the highlight was the photo of GT and Rita at Buckingham Palace when he received his OBE, which was displayed alongside the award itself.  It was a lovely exhibition and so kind of Rita, Joanne and Karen to share their memories with the fans.  The comment book that was available will be shared with the family, so gave us a chance to say thank you.  There was an additional treat with the presence of some old Watford friends who I hadn’t seen in a while.  So lovely to catch up.

So to Vicarage Road for the early kick-off.  The new season ticket worked, which is always a good thing.  As I entered the gangway to our seats, our usual steward wasn’t there.  The new incumbent asked whether I knew where I was going and, when I said that I did, demanded to see my ticket.  In the 15 years that I have had that seat, I have never been asked to show evidence.  Silly, but it really irritated me.

One of the delights of the first game of the season is to catch up with our Rookery neighbours after a Summer apart.  It was good to see them all present and correct.

Team news was that only one of our new signings was in the starting line-up and, given that it was our old friend Chalobah, it didn’t seem like a new face at all.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Kaboul, Britos, Holebas; Chalobah, Doucouré; Amrabat, Cleverley, Pereyra; Okaka

Somewhere in the distance, Okaka is opening the scoring

Watford started the game brightly and created the first chance in the 5th minute when a cross from Janmaat was headed clear before Okaka could reach it.  Okaka then played a through ball to Pereyra whose shot was deflected wide.  Having discovered in the museum that my camera battery was dead, I decided to try out the camera on my phone as the players gathered for the corner.  I was faffing trying to focus, so missed seeing Okaka connect with the delivery from Holebas to head home and open the scoring.  I wasn’t too late in joining in the celebrations though.  Janmaat went down injured after a quarter of an hour, nothing new there, so had to be replaced by Femenía.  I had been impressed with what I had seen from the Spaniard in pre-season, so was not too concerned at this early change.  The substitute’s first action was a great tackle to stop Mané advancing down the wing, he was rewarded with a foul by the Liverpool man.  Watford threatened again with a cross from Amrabat, but Mignolet gathered with Okaka lurking.

Femenia takes a throw in

Just before the half hour mark, there was some activity among the stewards who had their eye on some miscreant in the rows in front.  I wondered whether they had been alerted to two blokes sitting in front who were clearly Liverpool fans.  It was the ideal time to watch them, as Liverpool scored from their first chance of the game, Mané beating Gomes after a lovely passing move.  The Liverpool guys didn’t react and a man and child who were sitting in the wrong seats were moved.  Having been distracted for the first two goals, I am pleased to say that I was fully engaged when we regained the lead a couple of minutes after the equalizer.  Doucouré, who was impressing, found Cleverley in the box, the return pass led to a bit of a scramble, but eventually fell to the Frenchman who beat Mignolet.  The first booking of the game went to the visitors as Mané was cautioned for a crunching tackle on Doucouré.  Liverpool had a couple of chances to draw level before half time.  First as Salah broke forward and fired over the bar.  Then, in time added on, when Mané met a Firmino corner with a header that flew just wide.

So we reached half time with a deserved lead.  We were playing some superb football and there were smiles all around in the Rookery.

Holebas lining up a free kick

Watford were forced to make another substitution early in the second half as Pereyra pulled up and left the field to be replaced by Richarlison.  I do hope that this will not lead to another long lay-off for Pereyra, but I was very interested in seeing the young Brazilian in action.  While the substitute was being given the tactical talk, Liverpool attacked against the 10 men with Wijnaldum finding Salah who fired wide.  The Egyptian was involved in the next key moment in the game as he broke into the Watford box, Gomes appeared to save at his feet before he took a tumble.  The referee pointed to the spot.  It appeared to be a very harsh penalty from our vantage point in the away end, but replays showed that the referee made the correct decision.  Firmino stepped up and sent Gomes the wrong way to level the game.  It went from bad to worse a couple of minutes later as Firmino ran on to a ball over the top from the Liverpool half, He lofted it over Gomes and Salah turned it in to give the visitors the lead.  There was some confusion on the sidelines at this point.  The board had gone up indicating that Okaka was to be replaced by Gray and Emma Saunders had announced the change, but Silva changed his mind, opting to delay the substitution while they took stock after the goal.  A few minutes later the change was made and the former Burnley man became the third substitute to make his Watford debut.

Andre Gray takes to the field

At this point in the game, Liverpool were in the ascendancy and had a chance to increase their lead as Moreno tried a shot from the edge of the area that was tipped over by Gomes.  From the corner, Matip struck the crossbar.  Liverpool threated again from a corner, on this occasion Lovren’s shot was blocked by Gomes.  Salah had a further chance to increase the lead, but shot over the bar.  On the 72nd minute, the Watford faithful got to their feet to chant Graham Taylor’s name, the minute of chanting being interrupted by some oohing and aahing as Watford attacked the Liverpool box, but the ball ended up with Mignolet.  With a couple of minutes to go, the Liverpool keeper was shown the yellow card for time wasting.  He was to live to regret the 5 minutes that were added on.  Three minutes in, Britos unleashed a shot that took a smart save from Mignolet to push it clear.  He wasn’t so fortunate from the corner, as he pushed Richarlison’s shot onto the bar but Britos was on hand to turn the ball in from point blank range and send the Rookery into ecstasy.  Richarlison had a chance to snatch a winner but his header, following a cross from Amrabat, was wide of the target.  He was injured in the process and spent some time receiving treatment.  This meant some additional added time and one last chance for the visitors but Wijnaldum’s shot was blocked and the game ended in a draw.

Gathering for a corner

Well I certainly didn’t see that coming.  It was a tremendous team performance from a group of players who were working their socks off.  They fought for every ball and, when they were in possession, showed no little skill.  Given that a number of these players have barely met, the teamwork was very pleasing indeed and bodes well for the rest of the season.  Doucouré was given the Watford man of the match award for the sort of assured performance that we have come to expect of him, but a special mention has to go to Richarlison for a very impressive debut.  He fought for absolutely everything and took all that was thrown at him, while displaying skill and power.  He did not look like a player new to English football.  It is early days but if Silva’s men can continue marrying hard work with skilful attacking play, this will be a very enjoyable season indeed.  The game was summed up by comments from more than one of the fans around me, before the equalizer, that they would take a defeat as it had been thoroughly entertaining.

During the week, a friend, who is a Liverpool fan in Madrid, had asked me to answer some questions for their match preview on their website.  My prediction for the day was that the trip to the museum would be the only highlight.  I am very happy to have been proved so wrong.


Thank-you, GT

Banner for the great man

I have to admit that I was furious when this game was changed from Vicarage Road to Villa Park.  I had booked my holiday after the announcement of the Graham Taylor tribute game, so to find that I would now be unable to attend was a bitter pill to swallow.  But an opportunity to go to Villa Park, a ground that I love, was not to be missed.  On the train to Birmingham, my podcast of choice was Colin Murray at home with Luther Blissett.  It is a great listen.  My annoyance at Murray’s lack of research when asking Luther about the first time he played at Old Trafford was tempered by his gleeful reaction when Luther told the story of what happened on that occasion.  Needless to say, they finished up talking about GT and both with great fondness. Since GT’s passing, Luther takes every opportunity to pay tribute to his friend.  Marking anniversaries of triumphs and just saying thank-you for the memories.  It has been lovely to see and is a mark of the great characters of both GT and Luther.

Our pre-match pub is lovely and it was great to have my sister, brother-in-law and niece joining a very reduced travelling party.  A gin festival was taking place which, added to the real ale and lovely food usually on offer, meant that everyone was happy after lunch.  As we waited at the bus stop to go to Villa Park, we struck up a conversation with a lovely couple.  It was a mixed marriage, she was a Villa fan, he was a blue-nose.  We talked about our mutual admiration for GT.  She told us about the tribute they had at Villa Park.  A wreath was laid on the pitch and Rita, Joanne and Karen were there.  As we parted company she wistfully commented, “I wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t taken the England job.”  That gave me pause for thought.  I wonder if he would have stayed at Villa and maybe moved on to a bigger club.  In that case, we wouldn’t have had that wonderful second spell.  But he didn’t and we were all there to celebrate the wonderful memories that he left us with.

Chalobah on the ball

The crucial piece of team news was that Pereyra would be making his first public appearance this pre-season after featuring against Rangers at London Colney earlier in the week.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kabasele, Kaboul, Mason; Cleverley, Doucouré, Chalobah; Amrabat, Sinclair, Pereyra.  Villa included former Watford loanees, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Henry Lansbury in their starting XI.

As soon as the teams emerged from the tunnel, they lined up and there was a minute’s applause for GT with both sets of fans singing “There’s only one Graham Taylor” at the tops of their voices.  It was very moving.

Villa had a very early chance as Agbonlahor broke free to challenge Gomes, but it was the Watford keeper who came out on top.  Watford had to make an early substitution.  I must admit that I was rather disappointed to hear Pereyra’s name announced as the player leaving the pitch.  He looked baffled himself and, to my shame, I was relieved when it turned out that it was Kabasele going off.  In my defence, he was being replaced by Prödl!

Waiting for a ball into the box

Sinclair should have opened the scoring after quarter of an hour.  Doucouré found Pereyra who played a through ball for Sinclair who only had the keeper to beat, but fired wide.  On the half hour, here was a stir in the away end as Deeney appeared pitch-side and, after some negotiation with the stewards, made his way into the stand to sit with the Watford fans.  Needless to say, it took him some time to get to his seat.  Watford had another chance as Chalobah got into a great shooting position, but he fired over.  We reached half time goalless.  It had been a pretty dull half of football.  The home side had the majority of the possession, but neither keeper had been tested.

At the restart, Pereyra made way for Success.  The Nigerian made an immediate contribution, crossing to Cleverley, who played the ball back to Chalobah who, again, fired over the bar.  Then Cleverley took a free kick from a dangerous position, but it was directed straight at the Villa keeper, Steer.  Disaster struck as Kaboul tripped Hutton in the box and the referee pointed to the penalty spot.  In the away end, we were singing the name of Heurelho Gomes with all our might and our man celebrated his new contract by guessing correctly and diving to his left to save Henry Lansbury’s spot kick.  We were located in the away section closest to the home stand.  When the penalty was awarded, they took the opportunity to taunt us.  So, when the penalty was saved, I was a little taken aback (and rather proud) when my usually mild-mannered niece, after celebrating the save, gave them some grief back.

My first look at Femenia

On the hour mark, Silva made five changes with Gomes, Kaboul, Cleverley, Doucouré and Amrabat making way for Pantilimon, Femenía, Watson, Hughes and Okaka.  There was a lovely move as Success released Femenía who advanced down the right wing before delivering the return ball for Success to try a shot from distance that flew wide of the near post.  The game had livened up since the substitutions and there was another nice move as Femenía crossed for Success, whose side footed shot was blocked and rebounded to Hughes who, unfortunately, was unable to follow-up.  Another chance fell to Success but, on this occasion, the shot was weak.  Just before the 72nd minute struck, the Villa fans started the applause, the travelling Hornets joined in and the chorus of “One Graham Taylor” rang out again in earnest.  The next decent chance fell to Villa as a cross reached Amavi in front of goal, but he slashed the ball wide of the near post.  Sinclair had a golden chance to open the scoring as he ran on to a ball over the defence from Success, but the keeper arrived first.  The final chance fell to the home side as Hourihane hit a shot from the edge of the area, but Pantilimon was equal to it and the game ended with honours even.

The shame of buying a half and half scarf

It had been a typical pre-season game with nobody taking any chances.  From a Watford perspective, the second half had been livelier than the first.  It was good to see Pereyra back.  The first impression of Femenía was very positive and there was some nice interplay between him and Hughes.  If Sinclair had been sharper in front of goal, we would all have gone home happy.  But this game was not about the result, it was about 10,900 people gathering to pay tribute to Graham Taylor.  The legacy that the man has left will never leave Watford and Villa also have reason to thank him hugely for rescuing them from the doldrums.  On the way out of the ground, I spotted some people with half and half scarves.  I usually sneer at these, but this scarf had a picture of GT sewn into it, so I had to have one.

On the train home, I opened the match programme.  I had to close it again pretty quickly as the sight of a middle-aged woman sobbing on the train would not have been a pretty one.  Typical of the man, among the tributes from former players were those from the kit man, the club secretary and the programme writer.  There was one word that featured in the majority of tributes, it was ‘gentleman’.  There was also a lovely piece written by his daughter, Joanne.  A fitting tribute to a wonderful man.

It was Graham Taylor who introduced me to Watford.  In the years that have passed, I have laughed and cried over football.  I have made many wonderful friends and spent time bonding with family over a shared passion.  But, behind it all, there was the man with the big smile, who always had time for you whoever you were.  The huge amount of love that his many fans feel for Graham is a mark of the warmth and kindness of the man.  He will be greatly missed for a long time to come.  The only thing I can say is “Thank-you, GT.”


Wimbledon Prevail at Kingsmeadow

Neal Ardley and Marco Silva make their way to the dugouts

In contrast to the warmth and bright sunshine that we enjoyed during the Woking game, I arrived in Kingston to cool temperatures and drizzle for the short walk to Kingsmeadow.  A number of the City ‘Orns had been put off meeting at the ground due to the advertised beer festival for which the tickets were advertised at £17.  In fact, all of the bars at the ground were open and, if you wanted the odd drink at the beer festival, there were tokens available, so I was able to avail myself of a lovely pint (or two) of Rosie’s Pig.  I had forgotten about the German theme of our last visit and, in particular, the oompah band, until the men (and one woman) in lederhosen appeared and struck up.  To be fair, there wasn’t a lot of oompah going on and I enjoyed the entertainment.  The German theme continued with the offerings at the burger van.  Miles Jacobson (fresh from a trip to Japan, the sole purpose of which seemed to be to import sake kit-kats) recommended the krakuer, a wurst infused with cheese, which is as good and as bad as it sounds.

Preliminary team news had focussed on the players who were out through injury and the fact that we were unlikely to see many of the new signings.  Sure enough, the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Watson, Doucouré; Success, Capoue, Berghuis; Okaka.

We took up a position on the terraces quite close to the dugouts.  When Marco Silva appeared, he was given a very enthusiastic reception from the Watford fans.  It was gratifying to see that Neal Ardley was greeted in an equally warm manner.

Proedl on the ball

Watford had an early chance as Doucouré went on a run before finding Capoue whose chip cleared the crossbar.  Then there was an early display of petulance from Holebas as he failed to keep a ball in play.  It was oddly endearing and indicated that we were back.  Jose was then serenaded with Colin and Flo’s song “He always wins the ball, he never smiles at all.”  I’m sure he loved that.  Especially when it was followed by “Jose, give us a smile.”  Back to the football, Wimbledon were on the attack, but Barcham’s shot cleared the crossbar.  The home side very nearly made the breakthrough as, from a Francomb corner, a glancing header from Taylor rebounded off the post.  Down the other end a cross reached Doucouré at an awkward angle so he could only head it away from goal.  There was a better opportunity as a Holebas free kick was cleared to Capoue who lashed it wide. Then Britos met a Watson corner with a decent header that was blocked by the Dons keeper, Long.  Watford should have opened the scoring from a lovely free kick by Holebas, but Long pushed it clear, so we reached half time goalless.

Watford made three substitutions at the break with Janmaat, Britos and Success making way for Dja Djédjé, Kabasele and Amrabat.

Challenging at a corner

Those who were late leaving the bar after half time (no names mentioned) returned completely oblivious to the fact that Wimbledon had scored two goals in the first five minutes of the half.  The first came as a cross from Taylor was turned in by McDonald.  The second came after a mistake in midfield allowed Barcham to escape and cross for McDonald to score his second.  Watford hit back as Holebas crossed for the ever reliable Watson, who beat the Dons keeper.  Watford then had a great chance for an equalizer as Berghuis played the ball back to Capoue who shot just wide of the target.  On the hour, Silva substituted the goalkeeper as Gomes made way for Bachmann.  The goal action continued at the Wimbledon end as a close range shot from Amrabat was blocked, it fell to Okaka who, under a challenge, was unable to bundle it in.  Then Amrabat played a through ball to Dja Djédjé who crossed for Watson whose shot was blocked, as was the follow-up from Capoue who immediately appealed for handball, but the referee was having none of it.  There was a great chance for an equalizer as a throw from Holebas was headed on by Okaka to Berghuis but the header was just wide of the target.  The Dutchman was not to be denied, though and, with 13 minutes remaining, he met a cross from Dja Djédjé with a pin-point header to level the score.

Daniel Bachmann

Capoue should have put the visitors in the lead as Amrabat found Dja Djédjé on the overlap again, he crossed for Capoue who appeared to kick the ground so failed to test the keeper.  Wimbledon then tried a shot from an angle, but Bachmann was able to push it over the bar.  Watford had a golden chance as Doucouré found Capoue with a lovely pass but, with the goal at his mercy, the Frenchman hit his shot straight at the keeper.  Soon after, Etienne made way for Folivi.  The home side had a great chance to snatch the winner as Appiah found himself one on one with Bachmann, but the keeper prevailed  Sadly, the home side were not to be denied, Watford failed to clear a cross, Antwi’s shot was blocked only for the ball to fall to Egan who hit a low shot past Bachmann to secure the victory.  There was only time for 16 year-old Lewis Gordon to replace Berghuis for the Hornets before the final whistle went.  I heard some boos in the away stand …. at the end of our first pre-season game.  As so often, I ask myself, who are these people?

Okaka and Doucoure after the goal from Berghuis

The post match conclusion was that it had been an entertaining game that had raised a number of questions.  Ben Watson didn’t put a foot wrong but, with the influx of midfielders, would he be on his way or is there still a place for his presence as a defensive midfielder.  The hope from our party was that there is.  Capoue was his usual mixture of brilliance and frustration, if only the former can outweigh the latter, we will all be happy.  But the main topics of discussion were the full backs and the strikers.  We have made a number of impressive signings in this transfer window, but we still need bolstering in those departments.  The discussion of possible strikers to bring in seemed rather hopeful and I dreamed of a young Blissett lurking in the wings.  No doubt the Pozzos will bring in somebody that I have never heard of and let us hope that it is someone who can make a sustained contribution.

I’m unable to make the trip to Austria for the games there, so my next opportunity to see the Hornets will be the trip to Villa.  It will be very interesting to see what changes have been made to the line-up by then.

A Miserable End to the Season

GT’s bench

When I embarked on the train to Watford, the carriage was packed with people in costume on their way to the Harry Potter experience.  All I could see of the person a couple of rows in front of me was a crooked hat.  On arrival at Watford Junction, I had somewhere more important to go.  My usual walk to the West Herts took a slight detour as I entered Cassiobury Park on a mission to find GT’s bench.  It wasn’t long before I spotted a brand new bench in a little oasis and I headed over.  I was disappointed to find someone already there, but gratified when I noticed the Watford top and we soon fell into conversation.  As we sat there, a number of people came past and commented on what a lovely gesture the bench was, the Watford fans among them taking the chance to have their photos taken and to remember the great man.

After paying my respects, I headed to the West Herts for the last pre-game drinks of the season.  Top of the agenda was Mazzarri’s sacking.  Most in attendance were happy at the news.  While I can’t say that I was a big fan of the football we’ve been watching for most of this season, I can’t help feeling that Mazzarri was a little hard done by.  By all accounts Flores was dispensed with as he was too soft on the players.  Mazzarri had come in to instil some discipline but, very much like Sannino, his methods did not find favour with the players, which seemed to lead to performances well below the standard that should have been expected from a squad of that quality.  The other discussion surrounded Holebas who was on track to achieve a premier league record of 15 bookings in a season.  Of course, this would lead to him missing three games at the start of next season although, due to a bizarre loophole, I was assured that, if he was booked twice, he would only serve a one match suspension.  I found that difficult to believe.

Gomes takes a free kick

Team news came through and our problems in central defence were highlighted by the fact that Mariappa was the only recognised central defender in the team.  There was worse news soon after when a correction was made removing Mariappa from the line-up with Behrami filling his position in the back line.  As if that wasn’t enough to provoke discussion, Deeney had been left on the bench where he was to be joined by both Pantilimon and Gilmartin.  Mazzarri was going out in style!  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Behrami, Holebas; Amrabat, Cleverley, Doucouré, Capoue, Mason; Niang and Okaka.

There was almost a disaster in the first minute as Gomes delayed a clearance, he lost out to Agüero who crossed for Jesus whose header was cleared off the line by Holebas before the danger was cleared.  But the respite was brief and the Hornets were a goal down on 4 minutes as a corner from De Bruyne was met by Kompany who was allowed a free header to finish past Gomes.  After witnessing constant pressure from the visitors in the first 10 minutes, it was a relief to see a Watford attack, although it finished with Niang cutting inside and shooting just over the target.

Mason, Cleverley and Holebas being watched by Harry

It appeared that a second City goal was inevitable when Jesus broke down the left and squared the ball for Agüero who had an open goal to aim at, but Behrami put in a terrific tackle to avert the danger.  Gomes then pulled off a terrific save to deny Agüero from point blank range.  But the Argentine wasn’t to be denied for long as he latched on to a through ball from De Bruyne and finished clinically past Gomes.  Soon after there was a rousing chant for Troy Deeney who, at the time, was sitting somewhere towards the back of the bench.  Gomes was in action again claiming a ball over the top from Otamendi as Silva challenged.  Mason incurred the wrath of the referee, although escaped a booking, after sending Jesus into the hoardings.  The first sight of Deeney warming up was greeted with a standing ovation, which was as much anti Mazzarri as it was pro Deeney.  The visitors claimed their third on 36 minutes as Sané broke down the wing before squaring the ball for Agüero to score his second.  Watford’s defensive woes continued as Janmaat went down with an injury and had to be replaced by Eleftheriou, who was making his Watford debut in the worst possible circumstances.  The fourth goal came as Fernandinho exchanged passes with Agüero before holding off the challenge of Mason and finishing past Gomes.  The goal was greeted with boos and streams of people heading for their half-time refreshments or, possibly, the exit.  The first caution was earned by Doucouré for pulling Agüero back.  The resultant free-kick was blocked for a corner from which the ball was cleared to Agüero who, thankfully, shot wide of the near post.

Eleftheriou making his debut

The half time whistle went to loud boos.  It was noticeable that Deeney spent the break warming up, he appeared to be doing it off his own bat rather than training with a coach.  The half time distractions included a brief interview with Bill Shipwright, a defender from the 50s, who did the half time draw.  Also the introduction to the crowd of Chris Williams, a steward retiring after many years of service.  Sacred Heart beat Bushey Heath in the penalty shoot-out which gave us some excitement as it went to a sudden death finish involving the goalkeepers.  It was all a pleasant diversion from what had been an abysmal half of football.

The seats behind me were occupied by a father and two young children, who were friends of the season ticket holders who have those seats.  There had been a number of incredulous questions to the father about why he was still supporting Watford in the game and why the players weren’t trying (slightly unfair given the opposition).  So I was disappointed that they were still in the concourse when Watford had their best chance of the game as Okaka went on a run and blasted the ball at Caballero who pushed it out for a corner.  There was another chance for the home side as Fernandinho lost out to Niang whose shot was deflected into the side netting.

Cleverley on the ball

There was a bizarre incident 10 minutes into the half as the referee strode over to the Watford bench to have words with Mazzarri, whose English must be better than we all thought unless the fourth official is fluent in Italian.  This was greeted with loud chants of “Off, off, off” from the Rookery that made me cringe.  When the referee returned without sending Mazzarri to the stands, it was to a chorus of “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

City’s fifth goal came just before the hour mark as Cleverley failed to clear a cross from Agüero, Jesus lifted the ball over Gomes and it hit the net despite Eleftheriou’s best efforts to head it off the line.  Before the restart Deeney replaced Amrabat.  Agüero’s chance for a hat trick was stopped with a tackle from Behrami.  The crowd’s chants against the head coach continued with “Walter Mazzarri get out of our club.”  City made a double substitution bringing Navas and Sagna on for Touré and Sané, leading one of my neighbours to quip, “They’ve gone all defensive, they ‘re scared of us.”  Agüero threatened again with a shot that was tipped over by Gomes.  At this point, there were chants for Rene Gilmartin, which were certainly not a judgement on the performance of the incumbent in goal.

Deeney can’t get the decisive touch

Gomes denied Agüero again dropping to block and getting injured in the process.  What a relief that there were two goalkeepers on the bench.  Despite the chants for Gilmartin, it was Pantilimon who readied to come on but, after treatment, Gomes was fit to continue.  With 20 minutes to go, Agüero left the field to applause from all corners of the ground after a tremendous showing, he was replaced by Iheanacho who was wearing 72, so was greeted with a chant of “One Graham Taylor.”  As we reached the 72nd minute, the influence of GT was felt as the Watford players suddenly sprung into life.  Doucouré came close with a shot that was cleared off the line.  Then a Capoue shot was blocked, the ball fell to Okaka who had a chance to score from close range, but he was being challenged so couldn’t get a clean contact and the ball bounced off him into the arms of Caballero.  Watford’s final substitution saw Pereira come on for Niang.  The youngster gave the Watford crowd a brief moment of joy as he combined with Eleftheriou on the overlap, but the cross was cleared.  As the clock wound down, there was little on the pitch to amuse the 1881 so their attention turned to Thierry Henry who was in the corner next to them waiting to do the post-match summary for the TV, and was serenaded with chants of “Sign him up” and “Henry for Watford”.

Mason lines up a free kick

It was a relief when the final whistle went and, as a soppy old woman, I was pleased that enough people stayed for the “lap of appreciation” to make it worthwhile.  Troy’s daughter, dressed in her tutu, was performing for the cameras and I was happy to see that the person who wanted a word with Troy at the end appeared to be congratulating him.  Both Heurelho and Troy said a few words, but they were understandably downbeat and I think we were all happy to see the season come to an end.

Back to the West Herts and there were some heated exchanges between those who had left promptly on (or before) the final whistle and those who stayed to applaud the team.  With Watford having nothing to play for and City needing the points, this was always going to be a difficult game, but for many it was the final straw after the six successive defeats that followed our achievement of 40 points.  Added to that, the fall from mid-table to just above the relegation zone in a season when we were never really in a relegation battle had angered a lot of people.

It is such a shame that this season will be looked back on with such disappointment.  There were certainly highlights.  Those who travelled to Arsenal and West Ham or saw the home game against Man United will cherish those memories.  But, ultimately, despite retaining our place in the top division, it was not a season to remember.  It remains to be seen who will take charge of the team next season, since neither the iron fist nor the velvet glove seems to have worked, let’s hope that Gino can find a coach who can strike the right balance between the two approaches.

Despite how thoroughly fed up I felt after the game, it won’t be long until I am counting the days to the release of the fixture list and the start of pre-season.  Head coaches come and go, but the fans who go week in, week out will still be there cheering the team on.  Let us hope that there is a lot more to cheer next season.