Tag Archives: Odion Ighalo

You Don’t Get Cramp at this Club

img_8679After the emotion of last week as we tried to come to terms with the loss of Graham Taylor, it felt a little odd to be attending a game of football where all that mattered was the result.  I must admit that I had downloaded last week’s Football Focus to my tablet for the train journey, so that I could watch the montage of his interviews that started the programme for one last time before it disappeared from iplayer.

On my arrival in Bournemouth, it was a short walk to the lovely pub that has become our local.  Most in there had Bournemouth shirts on, so it was gratifying when one of the locals came over and wished us luck.  He said that he was happy to see opposition fans there as it is a friendly pub.  As we chatted, it was clear that none of us was particularly confident about our prospects for the afternoon.  The reasons for that were fairly clear.  They had conceded three goals in their last three matches, and we have struggled horribly in front of goal.  On this afternoon, something had to give.

We thought that we had left plenty of time to get to the ground, but when we arrived we found a massive queue to get through the turnstiles, mostly because of the strict security.  As we discussed the possibility of missing kick-off, we consoled ourselves that we were unlikely to miss a Watford goal, although we could miss a sending off!  When I reached the stewards, my bag was searched a lot less thoroughly than I was.  I don’t know why, but Bournemouth always seems to attract the most unpleasant away crowd of the season and the rest of us suffer as a consequence.  So, having arrived at the ground with more than a quarter of an hour to kick-off, we finally entered through the turnstiles at 14:58.  My irritation was tempered by the sign outside the turnstiles welcoming us that showed a photo of Graham Taylor alongside their condolences.  This was replicated on the television screens inside, which was a really lovely touch.

Deeney and Okaka waiting for the ball

Deeney and Okaka waiting for the ball

Team news was just one change from the Middlesbrough game with Cleverley replacing the injured Behrami.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Kabasele, Cleverley, Doucouré, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney and Okaka.

The home side started very brightly and fashioned an early chance as Wilshere chipped a ball into the box which was met with a looping header from Fraser that had to be tipped over the bar by Gomes.  Callum Wilson has gained a reputation among Watford fans for simulation, so there were jeers from the away support when he went down in the box in the 16th minute.  Since he appeared to be in an offside position and there was minimal contact, the referee was having none of it.  Wilshere, who had made a superb start to the game, was the next to threaten the Watford goal as he unleashed a shot from distance, but Gomes was behind it and did well to parry.  Against the run of play, it was the visitors who took the lead.  A corner from Holebas was headed back across goal by Britos to Kabasele, who nodded it past Boruc in the Bournemouth goal.  After the excessively thorough search that I had undergone, it was extremely irritating to see three smoke bombs thrown on to the pitch.  This led to a gathering of stewards in front of our stand, one of whom was filming the crowd, although you couldn’t help thinking that he was a bit late to the show.

Deeney in a discussion with the ref which wasn't quite as confrontational as it appears

Deeney in a discussion with the ref which wasn’t quite as confrontational as it appears

The home side had been dominant before the goal, but Watford took the initiative at this point and had a great chance to increase the lead when Cleverley tried a shot from distance that flew just wide of the far post.  The Hornets very nearly gifted their hosts an equalizer as Prödl gave the ball away to Stanislas who advanced and struck a shot that bounced off Britos and was looping into the net until Gomes pulled off a decent save to keep it out.

So the Hornets reached half time a goal to the good and we were all feeling positive as it had been a much better performance than we have seen of late.

Sadly, the hosts drew level early in the second half as Smith beat a couple of defenders before hitting a cross through a crowd of defenders in the box where it was met with a tap in from King.  As has often been the case of late, it was a poor goal to give away.  Holebas tried to make amends at the other end as he cut inside before hitting a lovely shot that was turned around the post by Boruc.  Bournemouth threatened again as Wilshere found Fraser on the left of the box from where he hit a curling shot that was tipped around the post by Gomes.

Celebrating Deeney's header

Celebrating Deeney’s header

The first substitution came just after the hour mark, when Okaka made way for Janmaat.  At this point, Deeney took the forward position and Janmaat replaced him on the wing.  The change immediately paid dividends as, from a Cleverley corner, Deeney rose above the Bournemouth defence to head home.  As with the first Watford goal, it was totally against the run of play, but none of the Watford fans were complaining.  Despite having scored both goals from corners, Watford next tried a short corner routine as Holebas passed to Cleverley, which would have been fine had the loan man whipped a cross into the box, but he passed it back to Holebas who was soon dispossessed and had to foul the escaping Wilshere, so earning his tenth yellow card of the season, meaning he will be suspended for the next two games.  In the 72nd minute the travelling Hornets burst into applause and chants of “One Graham Taylor”.  Eddie Howe’s first substitutions came with 15 minutes to go as he replaced King and Stanislas with Ibe and Afobe.  There was a delay in play as the ball was hit into the away stand and some idiots there indulged in a bit of time wasting, first refusing to return the ball and then, when it was finally thrown towards the pitch, it was caught by another fan who threw it back into the crowd.

Waiting for a corner to be delivered

Waiting for a corner to be delivered

Bournemouth’s final substitution saw Pugh replace Fraser.  Just when it looked as though Watford would hold on for a rare away win, Kabasele went down with what appeared to be cramp, Surman played a through ball into the area that Kabasele should have been covering and Afobe ran on to it and finished past Gomes into the far corner.  GT would have been livid.  I certainly was.  After a spell of treatment, Kabasele was replaced by Cathcart and, a couple of minutes later, Ighalo came on for Doucouré.  The home side appeared to have snatched a last minute winner as a punched ball was headed in off the crossbar.  I thought that Gomes had punched the ball but, much to my relief, it had been Bournemouth’s Cook, so the goal was disallowed and the game finished with honours even.  A draw was probably a fair result and I would certainly have taken a point before the game, but, having lost the lead twice during the match, it felt like 2 points dropped.

While the defensive mistakes are still a cause for concern, this was a decent performance.  I was particularly pleased to see what Tom Cleverley added to the team.  When his return was mooted, I had seen some comments from Watford fans suggesting that if he couldn’t get into the Everton team, then we shouldn’t consider him.  I am glad that we did.  He was a joy to watch, acting as a midfield fulcrum with an assured touch, playing passes that allowed us to build momentum.  If you add to that his deliveries from set pieces, I think he will prove to be a great addition to the squad.  With his arrival and the likes of Janmaat returning from injury, I feel pretty confident for the rest of the season.

Beating Burton in the Cup

Cathcart, Capoue and Britos

Cathcart, Capoue and Britos

When the draw was made for the third round of the cup, there was a twinge of regret that we hadn’t been drawn away to Burton, as it would have been a new ground.  But a Saturday 3pm kick-off at Vicarage Road made a very pleasant change.  I arrived at the West Herts just before it opened, in time for the guvnor to open the interior door for Don, offer him his usual (tea with milk and two sugars) and have it delivered to the table before I’d ordered my pint.  These celebrities, don’t know they are born.

Team news for this game promised to be interesting.  Would Walter opt to put out an inexperienced team and rest the remaining first team players or would a better performance and (hopefully) a win be worth risking further injuries?  In the event, the only change that wasn’t enforced by injury or illness was the inclusion of Cathcart in place of Prödl (although it is likely that Pantilimon would have made an appearance even if Gomes had been well).  It was very pleasing to see Brandon Mason given a start after his substitute appearance against Spurs.  The starting line-up was Pantilimon; Kaboul, Cathcart, Britos; Kabasele, Capoue, Doucouré, Mason; Sinclair, Ighalo; Deeney.  Former Watford men, Lloyd Dyer and Lee Williamson started for visitors.  It was also great to see Ben Watson back on the Watford bench.

Celebrating Kabasele's goal (and Mason's assist)

Celebrating Kabasele’s goal (and Mason’s assist)

We had opted for a change of scene for this game, swapping our seats in the Rookery for a place in the SEJ stand.  Our seats were low down and right next to the Watford dugout, which was a little distracting while having the extra attraction of a good view of Nigel Clough (for whom I have had a very soft spot for many years).

Watford’s first attack of the game came through Mason who beat a defender on the wing to go on a run and put in a cross which was caught by the Burton keeper, McLaughlin.  Watford’s injury curse continued as, following a clash of heads with Britos, Cathcart was unable to continue and, with only a quarter of an hour on the clock, was replaced by Prödl.  Being close to the dugout, so we got to see first-hand the time taken to prepare the top knot (which isn’t meant as criticism, I find it rather fetching and it was done while he was receiving instructions).  Burton threatened with a cross from Dyer, but it was an easy catch for Pantilimon.  Watford took the lead through a lovely move as Mason played a one-two with Deeney before putting in a terrific cross that Kabasele stabbed home.  I think that the goal calmed a lot of nerves both on and off the pitch.

Deeney waiting for Brayford's throw

Deeney waiting for Brayford’s throw

Watford had a decent chance to increase the lead as Capoue played a through ball to Ighalo who played a quick one-two with Deeney before executing a trademark scoop and shooting just over the bar.  Burton had to make a substitution just after the half hour mark as Ward replaced the injured Miller.  The visitors had a great chance to equalize just before half time as a cross was punched to Ward on the edge of the box but Capoue was on hand to block the shot.  The Frenchman then went on a counter attack ending with a low shot that was saved by McLaughlin.  The first card came at the end of the half with Naylor booked for pulling Ighalo back as he tried to escape.

There was an atmosphere of satisfaction in the home stands at half time.  It was pleasing to have the lead and there had been some good signs, especially going forward.

 

Celebrating Sinclair's solo effort

Celebrating Sinclair’s solo effort

The visitors started the second half well and had the first chance as a Flanagan cross was headed just wide of the target by Varney.  Sinclair had a chance with a shot from inside the area, but it was straight at McLaughlin.  Another Flanagan cross flew across the face of the goal just missing the outstretched boot of Harness.  At the other end, Capoue’s shot from distance flew just wide of the target.  Watford’s second substitution came on the hour as Kaboul was replaced by Brice Dja Djédjé making his first appearance for the Hornets, having been injured since his transfer from Marseille.  There was a long stoppage after Varney went down following a clash with Pantilimon.  It looked nasty as the Burton man was stretchered off wearing an oxygen mask.  I hate to see players carried off, I hope he makes a rapid recovery.  He was replaced by Akins.  Watford were two goals to the good on 77 minutes as Sinclair went on a run at the Burton defence before unleashing a shot that beat the keeper.  The goal was doubly gratifying as it seemed to make the game safe for the Hornets as well as giving an example to some of his team mates just to shoot if you get a sight of goal.  There was a great chance for a third as Capoue played a through ball to Sinclair who found Ighalo running in to the box, he scooped the ball on to his right foot and shot, but it was blocked by the keeper’s legs.

Djédjé takes a throw-in

Djédjé takes a throw-in

Watford had another decent chance as a corner was cleared to Mason, he played a square ball to Djédjé who shot over the target.  Due to the long stoppage for Varney’s injury, there were 8 minutes of time added on, which gave Sinclair a chance to go on another run towards goal but this time McLaughlin was equal to his strike.  There was just time to give youngster Carl Stewart a debut as he replaced Sinclair after what seemed like an age waiting for a break in the game.  He is the 60th player from the Watford Academy to make an appearance for the first team (the third in the past week).

The final whistle went on a very pleasing win for the Hornets as, while Burton had their moments, it had been a comfortable afternoon.  Mason certainly took his chance, with some great runs down the wing and was clearly delighted with his assist.  I hope that we see a lot more of him.  Doucouré had another good game in the midfield and Capoue had his best game for some time.  Sinclair played well and was clearly buoyed by his goal and our first sight of Djédjé was very promising indeed.  After weeks of doom and gloom, it was lovely to have a post-match discussion with so many positives to reflect on.  Next week’s visit by Middlesbrough will be very interesting indeed.

A Spirited Performance Spoiled by Defensive Lapses

The teams emerge from the tunnel in Stoke

The teams emerge from the tunnel in Stoke

Memories of the recent dreadful performance at Vicarage Road against the Potters and the capitulation to Spurs on Sunday meant that I set off on my journey to Stoke with no hope of any pleasure to be gained from the evening’s entertainment.  But the afternoon started rather well, as I unexpectedly encountered a friend at Euston so we spent a very pleasant journey chatting about our various activities over the Christmas period.

The designated pre-match pub (for the two of us) had signs on the doors indicating that it was home fans only.  However, a previous visit had shown that they did not enforce this terribly strictly.  This was very pleasing as the real ale, the food and the atmosphere were all first class and it was no surprise that it was soon populated with familiar faces from our travels.  We decided to take the bus to the ground which, due to traffic, seemed to be within touching distance of the stadium lights for quite some time before we were dropped off.  Once in the ground, I donned my Watford regalia (scarf, shirt and socks) and was wrapped up warm at a stadium notorious for being cold at the best of times.  The pre-match flag wavers around the ground were not kitted out in Stoke uniforms, but appeared to be a random selection of local children in colourful coats and bobble hats which was rather nice.

Kabasele and Kaboul

Kabasele and Kaboul

Team news was that Mazzarri had made three changes from Sunday with Cathcart and Ighalo replaced by Britos and Kabasele, and Behrami, who was rumoured still to be carrying an injury, taking the place of the (presumably more severely) injured Amrabat.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Kabasele, Britos; Doucouré, Guedioura, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney.  The chants in the concourse prior to the game were all about parking the bus.  Whatever the tactics, we needed to see a far more committed performance than on Sunday.

The news that Behrami was starting, injured or not, had me punching the air and that reaction was justified as soon as he took the pitch as he was immediately organizing and harrying the players.  We really miss him when he is not there.  But the first chance of the game fell to Stoke as Crouch headed wide after a corner.  Watford’s first shot came from a Guedioura free kick that was repelled to Holebas who, unfortunately, launched his effort over the bar.  The home side were almost gifted a goal due to a misunderstanding between Behrami and Prödl, who went for the same ball then left it for each other allowing Allen to sneak in and feed Arnautovic who went on a dangerous run into the area where he was stopped by a great tackle from Britos.

Capoue and Guedioura line up a free kick

Capoue and Guedioura line up a free kick

The first card of the game went to Diouf who stopped a break from Holebas by pulling him to the ground.  A great header from Kabasele reached Prödl who battled his way into the box, but his shot flew harmlessly across the front of the goal.  There were loud appeals from the away stand for a penalty as a cross from Kabasele appeared to be handled in the box, but the referee waved play on.  There was a scary moment for the Hornets as a header from Crouch was parried by Gomes and ricocheted off Behrami back in the direction of the goal before it was finally cleared.  At the other end, there was a gilt-edged opportunity for the visitors as a lovely through ball from Holebas reached Doucouré in space but, instead of going for goal, he hesitated before cutting the ball back to Guedioura and the chance was lost.  I was becoming increasingly frustrated at this point as the lads seemed to be determined to score the perfect goal when taking a shot would at least give us a chance of scoring.  With four minutes to go to half time Behrami, who had been limping for a while, went down in need of treatment.  On a number of occasions this season, it has taken far too long for the substitute to get ready to replace an injured player.  In this instance, Ighalo was stripped and ready on the touchline before Behrami had left the field, only for Valon to turn around and come back on leaving Odion to return to the bench.  Just as it appeared that the game would reach half-time goalless, the Watford defence fell asleep at a corner and Shawcross was given the freedom of the area to finish past Gomes.  It was almost the last kick of the half as the whistle went straight after the restart.  I braced myself for the crowd’s reaction to this setback and was very pleased that as the players walked towards the tunnel, which was in the corner in front of us, they were greeted by loud, encouraging applause and chants of “Watford FC.”

Guedioura 'assisting' Holebas at a corner

Guedioura ‘assisting’ Holebas at a corner

The goal felt like a real kick in the teeth after a very even half in which my major criticism of the team was that they were reluctant to shoot when getting a sight of the goal.  With all the injury woes, the players didn’t deserve that.

As expected, Ighalo replaced Behrami at the start of the second half which began brilliantly for the visitors as Doucouré unleashed a terrific curling shot that Grant did really well to keep out of the net.  Sadly, Watford were two goals down a couple of minutes later as a routine cross into the box was inexplicably missed by Prödl and Crouch, lurking behind him, had an easy finish.  The crowd’s frustration started to build in the away end.  Their ire was particularly provoked by the corner routine that consisted of a second player standing just in from the touchline, but playing no role in the delivery which was launched straight into the box.  I can only assume that the tactic was designed to draw defenders out of the box, but the single defender standing just outside the box didn’t seem to create any advantage that would outweigh the presence of another Watford head to meet the corner.

Folivi joins his team mates waiting for a corner

Folivi joins his team mates waiting for a corner

In contrast to the reaction on Sunday after conceding, Watford heads did not go down and they were making every effort to pull a goal back.  From a free kick, Capoue played a short ball to Guedioura whose powerful shot was blocked.  Then Kaboul played a through ball to Deeney who crossed for Ighalo, but the Nigerian’s shot was into a group of Stoke defenders.  Each side made a substitution at the half way mark in the second period with Afellay replacing Diouf for the home side and Sinclair coming on for Guedioura for the visitors.  With 20 minutes to go, there were chances at both ends as a decent free-kick from Holebas had to be punched clear by Grant and then a lovely shot from Stoke substitute, Afellay, curled just wide of the near post.  Stoke had a great chance of a third as a cross was headed down by Crouch to Walters, but Gomes smothered the shot.  Watford then had a couple of great chances of their own as Capoue’s corner was met with a header from Sinclair that was cleared off the line, Capoue sent the ball back in to the box and this time it was headed just wide by Prödl.  Then a punched clearance from Grant was headed down by Deeney to Igahlo whose shot was disappointingly weak and easily saved.  Mazzarri’s final change saw Folivi come on in place of Prödl.  In the times that I have seen Folivi play for the U18s and development teams, I have enjoyed watching him, so was delighted to see him make his debut for the first team, although it was under very difficult circumstances.  From pre-match songs about parking the bus, the travelling faithful were now extolling the benefits of having four strikers on the pitch.  Sadly it wasn’t to lead to a change in fortunes in front of goal.  The final chances of the game fell to the home side as Walters got the wrong side of Holebas and bore down on goal before Gomes made an excellent save to deny him.  From the resulting corner, Shawcroft fired wide.

Folivi leaves the pitch after his debut

Folivi leaves the pitch after his debut

There was disappointment at the final whistle.  Unusually Mazzarri applauded and waved to the crowd as he left the pitch, although the position of the tunnel right in front of us was likely the prime reason for this.  The players looked despondent but many of them showed their appreciation by giving their shirts to some of the travelling fans.  The post-match reaction among those that travelled was generally positive.  The team had picked itself due to the dearth of fully fit players.  Mazzarri also admitted that he had played Behrami knowing that he wasn’t fully fit but, assuming that it doesn’t mean a lengthier lay-off for the player, it was a gamble worth taking as he brings leadership and organization to the midfield that has been lacking in recent weeks and he ran his socks off.  Doucouré was also a different player when in the position that he was expecting to play, and he fashioned Watford’s best chances of the game.  The disappointing thing was that, yet again, we were punished for a couple of defensive mistakes.  No tactical game plan can overcome a lapse in concentration.  Still, we asked for a reaction after the Tottenham game and we certainly got what we asked for as there was no lack of effort among the players on show.

We now have a couple of weeks to regroup as it is likely that the Burton game will see more of the youngsters given a chance.  We have some tricky fixtures coming up, so both players and supporters need to band together to get through this sticky patch.  With the transfer window open, hopefully we can bring some players in to make up for some of the longer term injuries.  But I truly believe that a positive support from the stands is an essential element and it is the only thing that the fans can do to help the team so let us all make this our new year’s resolution.

A Miserable Start to 2017

Amrabat launches a throw-in

Amrabat launches a throw-in

My Watford family suffered a very sad loss this week, so the pre-match gathering was rather subdued.  But as we reminisced about happier times spent with someone who was always the life and soul of a party, there was laughter and glasses were raised to toast a life well lived.

With all the injuries that Watford have suffered recently, there were questions as to who would start and it was no surprise to hear that Doucouré would make his first league start of the season in place of Behrami and that three youngsters had been named on the bench.  There were three other changes to the team with Cathcart in for the suspended Britos, Deeney returning in place of Janmaat and Zúñiga preferred to Ighalo.  By the time the warm up had finished, an injury to Zúñiga meant that Ighalo was restored to the team and Folivi had been added to the substitutes.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Cathcart; Amrabat, Doucouré, Capoue, Guedioura, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.

Guedioura lines up a free kick

Guedioura lines up a free kick

The first chance of the game fell to Son whose shot from outside the box was saved by Gomes.  There were claims for a penalty as a shot from Erikson hit Capoue’s arm in the Watford box, but it had been a close range strike and was definitely ball to hand.  The first twenty minutes were pretty even and we looked to be in for a quiet afternoon, then the visitors began to get the upper hand.  The first chance fell to former Watford loanee, Rose, who shot well over the bar.  Eriksen was the next to threaten with a shot from wide on the right that flew over the bar.  The visitors came closer to scoring as Guedioura gave the ball away to Son who fed Dele whose shot rebounded off the crossbar.  But it was only a brief stay of execution as Spurs took the lead with the next move as Trippier fed Kane who finished from a tight angle.  The visitors were two up soon after with the same two players combining, this time Kane volleyed home from close range.  Spurs had another great chance from a free kick, but Son’s shot was just wide.  The third goal came just before half time as Kaboul gave the ball away to Dele who finished past Gomes.  The half time whistle was greeted with boos from the home fans.  I didn’t join in, but couldn’t help sharing the sentiment.  The first 20 minutes had been fairly even, but once Spurs had scored, Watford had been dreadful.

Brandon Mason's performance was a lot better than this photo

Brandon Mason’s performance was a lot better than this photo

The second half started disastrously as Kane crossed for Dele who finished with no defence in sight.  At this point two of the guys in front of us left, I doubt they were the only ones.  They actually missed a decent Watford move as Doucouré played a lovely square ball to Deeney, but he was tackled before he could shoot.  Kane found Dele again, but this time the shot was wide of the target.  There was another decent chance for the Hornets to pull one back as Deeney played the ball back to Ighalo, but the Nigerian shot wide of the target.  Just after the hour, Dele was replaced by Winks to a sigh of relief from me at least.  Soon after, Ighalo was tripped in the box, but the referee waved play on.  Watford’s first substitution saw Brandon Mason come on to make his debut in place of Holebas.  At the same time Davies replaced Rose for Tottenham.  The Watford youngster got a great reception and his first action in the game was to put in a nice challenge on Son in the box, coming away with the ball (a rarity on this afternoon).  The next Watford substitution came as Amrabat limped off to be replaced by Sinclair.  Gomes was called into action as he stopped a shot from Son.  There were two final substitutions as Kabasele came on for Capoue and Janssen replaced Kane for the visitors.

The goal celebration tells you all you need to know about the game

The goal celebration tells you all you need to know about the game

Late on, Watford had two decent chances to reduce the deficit.  First a Guedioura free kick was headed back by Kaboul but Lloris claimed the ball.  There had been so little to applaud from the Hornets that this effort was cheered as if it had gone in.  A cross from Deeney was dropped by Lloris under a challenge from Sinclair, the ball was cleared before it trickled into the net, but the whistle had gone for a foul anyway.  Finally there was a great break from Deeney which finished with a decent cross but, sadly, Ighalo wasn’t close enough to connect in the box.  In between these decent moves there was a goalmouth scramble in the Spurs box, I couldn’t tell whether the ball crossed the line, but the referee’s device indicated that it had and the goal was credited to Kaboul.  It was a horrible scrappy effort that summed up the performance of the home side.

When the final whistle went the home stands were virtually empty.  I stayed to the end, but can’t blame anyone who left.  It was a cold, wet afternoon and that has to be the most abject performance I have seen in a long time.  None of our party hung around in the West Herts for a post mortem, so I set off on the journey home alone with my thoughts.  I usually try to find something good to say about the game, and I had plenty of time to come up with something, but I am really struggling with this one.  I have no problem with being beaten by a good team, but Spurs didn’t have to play well to beat us on this afternoon.  They were gifted goals by a team that looked totally uninterested.  The one bright spot was the appearance of Mason, who put in a decent shift when he came on.  The rest were utterly dreadful and, due to this game being moved for television, I have the joyful prospect of a day off work for a trip to Stoke to come this week.  I am not relishing that at all.

Ton Up Troy

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

Christmas was spent with family, so we travelled en masse to the early kick-off on Boxing Day.  The roads were surprisingly empty but as we got nearer to the ground, the crowds were gathering and the pulses quickened.

Despite Palace’s poor performances this season, the news that Pardew had been replaced by Allardyce was not what we needed going in to this game and I approached it with low expectations.

The main team news was that Deeney had been named on the bench, with Janmaat taking his place in a front three.  Mazzarri’s other change was to bring Guedioura in for Zúñiga.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Capoue, Behrami, Guedioura; Amrabat, Ighalo and Janmaat.

Challenging for the ball

Challenging for the ball

Mazzarri’s game plan was scuppered in the first couple of minutes as Janmaat picked up an injury while tackling Zaha and was stretchered off to be replaced by Zúñiga.  I was gratified to see that a good number of the Palace fans joined us in applauding Janmaat off the pitch.  There was an early scare for the Hornets when Zaha, who was booed from the start by the Watford fans, was tripped by Guedioura in a dangerous position.  I held my breath as Clattenburg pointed to where the offence was committed but could breathe again when he confirmed that it was outside the box.   Thankfully, the free kick did not trouble Gomes.  There were more injury woes for the Hornets on 13 minutes as Behrami went down holding his hamstring.  He was replaced by Deeney, whose first touch was a lovely ball to Ighalo, but the Nigerian’s cross was blocked.  There was nothing in the way of notable chances before the 24th minute when Prödl tackled Benteke on the edge of the box, the ball broke to Cabaye whose shot was just wide of the near post.  The Palace man was more successful in the next move, Townsend broke forward and played a lovely through ball to Cabaye, who looked a mile offside when he slotted home, but our hopes were dashed as the linesman kept his flag down and the visitors took the lead.  Cabaye also had the next chance with a shot that was well wide of the near post.

Etienne Capoue on the ball

Etienne Capoue on the ball

Watford’s first meaningful chance of the game came on the half hour as Holebas played the ball out to Guedioura who shot wide of the far post.  Another chance came Watford’s way when Ighalo was tripped on the edge of the box, the ball fell to Amrabat but his cross-cum-shot hit Zúñiga and ran through to Hennessey.  The home side looked to be the architects of their own downfall on 36 minutes as Prödl played a terrible back pass to Gomes, Benteke ran on to it and was tripped by the Watford keeper.  The referee had no choice but to point to the spot.  Benteke stepped up to take the penalty himself and, with the Rookery doing their best to put him off, hit a terrible shot that was easily saved by Gomes on his 100th appearance for the club.  Boos greeted the half time whistle.  It had been a very poor half from the Hornets who had created next to nothing.  Salt was rubbed into the wound by the half time entertainment, which was a montage of goals on the big screen.  As I watched it, I despaired that the same players were now incapable of hitting a barn door.

Celebrating Troy's 100th Goal

Celebrating Troy’s 100th Goal

The Hornets made a much better start to the second half but the lively play didn’t translate into many chances.  The first was a shot from distance from Guedioura that flew wide of the far post.  Then Prödl played a ball the length of the pitch, Ighalo latched onto it in the box, but could only shoot wide of the near post.  The next chance fell to Zúñiga, as a Prödl free kick was headed down to him by Deeney, but he shot into Row ZZ, so I didn’t have to duck.  Amrabat went on a lovely run and crossed to the opposite wing where Zúñiga picked the ball up, but his cross was blocked.  Then Watford got the break that they needed as, at a corner, Prödl was dragged to the ground by Delaney and Mark Clattenburg pointed to the spot.  The significance of the penalty award was not lost on anyone in the Rookery as Deeney picked up the ball and the tension grew.  Trevor in the row in front said he didn’t have a good feeling about this.  “Shut up, Cassandra!”  Our Cate wasn’t sure she could look.  I was just concentrating on the man with the ball muttering a mantra, “Come on Troy. Come on Troy.”  Deeney kissed the ball and placed it on the spot, sent Hennessey the wrong way and the Rookery into raptures as he finally scored his hundredth goal for the Hornets.  It had been a long time coming, but it was richly deserved as he had worked incredibly hard since he came on.

Congratulations to Troy on his milestone

Congratulations to Troy on his milestone

The visitors tried to hit back as Puncheon took a free kick, but it was headed over the target by Dann.  A Palace substitution saw former Watford loanee Jordon Mutch replace a less fondly remembered loanee, Andros Townsend.  There was a rare moment of quality as Zúñiga played a clever back heel to Guedioura whose cross was met with a flick header from Ighalo that was easily gathered by Hennessey.  Mazzarri’s final substitution saw Sinclair come on for Zúñiga.  The next action of note was Zaha going down in the Watford box, my heart sank and then swelled when I saw the referee indicate a Watford free kick and brandish a yellow card at the Palace man.  The final chance of the game came with a lovely bit of ball juggling from Guedioura, but his volley was saved by Hennessey and the game finished with honours even.

A draw was probably a fair result.  The visitors had the best of the first half, but the Hornets had been the better team in the second.  The game would probably have been very different had Watford’s starting XI lasted a bit longer, but there was a great deal of frustration at the lack of service to the forwards.  Amrabat and Holebas have been two of our better performers this season but they managed one decent cross into the box between them.  One positive for me was that there were some indications of a revival of the understanding between Deeney and Ighalo.  But when I start fretting about recent results, I look at the table and marvel at the fact that we will finish the year in 10th place in the Premier League so, despite some awful performances, we are doing something right.

Lucky Black Cats

Shark!

Shark!

I have missed the last three games due to an appointment in the Pacific diving on WW II wrecks.  The holiday was an experience of a lifetime with incredible wrecks, coral, tropical fish and sharks.  But there was still time to check up on what was happening with Watford and there was a twinge of regret when I saw the result of the Everton game.  Although I must admit that, in my jet-lagged state, I would have appreciated an easier trip than Sunderland for the first game on my return.

It was an early start for the journey to Sunderland and when I arrived at Kings Cross it was still dark and quite foggy.  The fog continued for most of the journey, but the weather in Sunderland was clear and also rather mild, which was in stark contrast to our last visit on which we were greeted with snow.  Our party were meeting in Newcastle for pre-match drinks which has the advantage of being a beautiful city and allowing us to get a seat in a cracking pub.  When we arrived at the Stadium of Light, there was some confusion regarding the location of our turnstile as we searched for 73-74 and found that when we reached 62, the next turnstile was number 1.  A question to a steward alerted us to the fact that there were other turnstile entrances on the opposite side.  After entering the ground, we had the trek up the steps with the amusing facts on the landings which give you a chance to catch your breath as you ascend to the gods.  The only positive thing that can be said about the away vantage point is that it isn’t as far from the pitch as it is in Newcastle.

There's only one Bradley Lowery

There’s only one Bradley Lowery

Team news was that Mazzarri had made four changes from the midweek trip to Manchester with Kaboul, Behrami, Zúñiga and Deeney coming in for Janmaat, Guedioura, Pereyra and Sinclair.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Amrabat, Behrami, Capoue, Zúñiga; Deeney and Ighalo.  When Pantilimon’s name was announced on the substitutes’ bench, the guy on the tannoy welcomed him back and there was applause from the home fans, which was a nice touch.

The Hornets had a wonderful chance in the second minute as a Capoue corner reached Amrabat on the edge of the area, his tremendous volley required a smart save from Pickford to keep it out.  If that had gone in, it would have been a very different afternoon.  In the fifth minute, there was applause and chants of “There’s only one Bradley Lowery” as a flag was unfurled in the home end in support of the young Sunderland fan who is terminally ill with neuroblastoma.  The support given to this little boy by the football community has been very moving and it was lovely to see a message of support from the Watford players pre-match as well as the Watford fans enthusiastically joining in with the applause and the chants.

Capoue lines up a free kick

Capoue lines up a free kick

As attention returned to events on the pitch, Holebas played a lovely through ball to Deeney who beat a couple of defenders before trying to cut the ball back to Ighalo, but his pass was poor and was cleared.  Ighalo had a better chance soon after as he received a cross from Holebas, he tried to flick it into the goal, but it flew past the far post.  Ighalo then did well to beat a defender on the byline, before he was fouled.  The free kick from Holebas was excellent but, unfortunately, the header from Britos header was poor and flew wide.  From another free kick, Prodl’s header was straight at Pickford.  That was the Austrian’s last involvement in the game as he could not continue due to an injury picked up earlier in the game.  He was replaced by Kabasele.  There were two bookings in quick succession, first Januzaj for pulling Behrami to the ground.  Then the same two players clashed again, on this occasion, the Watford man bundled his opponent over and was also cautioned.  Sunderland’s best chance of the half came in time added on as van Aanholt went on a run into the box and took a shot from a narrow angle that Gomes put out for a corner.

The wonderful Wilf Rostron

The wonderful Wilf Rostron

It was disappointing to reach half time with the score still goalless as Sunderland had been terrible and Watford had had enough decent chances to have been two or more goals ahead at the break.  To cheer me up, the half time draw was made by Watford legend Wilf Rostron.  It was lovely to be in his vicinity, but I can’t say that I could have picked him out from our vantage point.

There was a disastrous start to the second half for the Hornets as the home side took the lead when Januzaj broke forward, found Defoe who crossed for van Aanholt who was initially tackled by Kabasele, but the ball broke back to him and he finished past Gomes.  Watford fell apart for a period after the goal.  Walter made a change before the hour as he replaced Zúñiga with Success much to the disappointment of the youngster behind me who spent most of the second half bemoaning how utterly useless Ighalo was (‘What has he ever done for us …. apart from last season.”)  Soon after the substitution, Amrabat had another decent chance from a Capoue corner but again sent his volley over the bar.  At the other end Anichebe had a shot from the edge of the area that was just wide of the far post.

Deeney and Holebas discuss a free kick

Deeney and Holebas discuss a free kick

Deeney should have done better when he met a cross from Amrabat but his header flew wide.  Mazzarri’s final substitution was to replace Kaboul with Janmaat.  This was greeted with loud boos from the home fans which could have been for Kaboul who had left Sunderland in the Summer, but appeared to be for Janmaat for his time at Newcastle.  As Watford pushed for an equalizer, Success played the ball back to Holebas whose shot was blocked, leading to a corner which was headed goalwards by Denayer, Ighalo got a touch but it was straight at Pickford.  A great run by Success came to nothing as his cross was blocked.  The resultant corner was punched clear but fell to Janmaat who powered a shot from the edge of the box which was saved by Pickford.  Soon after Ighalo had a similar shot but, again, Pickford made the stop.  The Hornets had one final chance to rescue a point as Holebas curled a free kick just past the top corner, but it wasn’t to be and the visitors left the Stadium of Light with a defeat.

At the end of the game, I have to say that it was a performance that I was reluctant to applaud.  On reflection, that was a bit churlish.  We had played well in the first half and, if we had finished one of the chances that we’d had I doubt that Sunderland would have come back.  The second half had been disappointing, but we had still had the majority of the chances and a bit of luck or a lack of concentration from Pickford would have meant at least a point from the game.  Still we remain in the middle of the Premier League table so there is no need for the panic that seems to be breaking out among a certain section of the fan base.

To all of you who read my reports, I wish you a very happy Christmas.

Petulant Loss to the Potters

Kaboul and Capoue line up a free kick

Kaboul and Capoue line up a free kick

Midday on a Sunday is a ridiculous time for a football match.  I was up at the crack of dawn (for me) in order to get to the game but a slight delay on my first train meant that I had to wait a while for the connection at Euston so that, when I arrived in the West Herts after a long journey, the pleasant greeting from my friends was “Where have you been?”  Still, my tardy arrival did mean that a round was already in progress and the traditional cider went down very well with the bacon roll (apple juice is a breakfast drink, isn’t it?) setting me up for the afternoon.

Team news was that Mazzarri made one change from last week with Holebas returning from suspension to replace Zúñiga.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Janmaat, Capoue, Behrami, Holebas; Amrabat, Deeney and Pereyra.  It was good to see each of the captains wearing a rainbow armband in support of the Rainbow Laces campaign which supports fans and players from the LGBT community.  It was also pleasing to see Mazzarri with the rainbow lace displayed on his jacket.

Amrabat on the ball

Amrabat on the ball

Any hope that we would start the game in a similar way to the previous week was soon extinguished and Stoke had the first chance, capitalizing on a Watford mistake, as a failure to clear the ball allowed Martins Indi to shoot, but his point blank effort was blocked by Gomes, who was also on hand to gather the follow-up cross.  The home side’s first goal attempt came as Janmaat intercepted a pass and went on a run before unleashing a shot that was saved by (Hemel boy) Lee Grant.  Stoke should have done better when a cross from Diouf flew across the goal but, luckily for the Hornets, there was no Stoke player anywhere near to apply the final touch.  The visitors threatened again with a shot from distance from Imbula that flew just past the far post.  A lovely passing move from the Watford team finished with Amrabat finding Capoue in space, but his shot was straight at Grant in the Stoke goal.  Mazzarri was forced to make his first substitution after 20 minutes as an injury to Kaboul meant that he was unable to continue, so was replaced by Kabasele.  Pereyra created a chance for himself as he picked the ball up on the edge of the area, turned and shot.  It was a similar strike to the one against Leicester, but this time the ball flew just wide.  Stoke were back in the Watford box as Arnautović headed the ball on to Walters who seemed a little surprised to see it come his way and Gomes was on hand to snuff out the danger.

Behrami being challenged

Behrami being challenged

At this stage of the game, the home fans were becoming increasingly impatient with the referee who seemed to be blowing up after every tackle by a man in a yellow shirt.  Half an hour into the game, he had booked both Amrabat and Britos for reasons that were not apparent from the stand and seemed to baffle the players but were put down to dissent.  The visitors took the lead with a scrappy goal as, following a corner, a header from Adam bounced back off the post before rebounding into the net off Gomes.  The Watford faithful greeted this with a chant of 1-0 to the referee which, at the time, seemed to be stretching the truth somewhat as Stoke had been the better team to that point, but I hadn’t seen the foul by Adam before he reached the ball.  The referee certainly didn’t placate the crowd when he blew up immediately after the restart, insisting that the kick-off be retaken.  Watford had a decent chance for an equalizer as a Capoue free kick was met by Britos, but his header cleared the bar.  Holebas was the next to receive a caution, again for dissent as he kicked the ball away having been angered at being penalized when he conceded a corner while being fouled.  In time added on at the end of the half it appeared that Holebas was tripped in the box, but the referee gave the decision the other way.  The whistle for the end of the first half was greeted by loud boos directed at the referee, but it was difficult to put Watford’s woes at his door.  Stoke were playing a very disciplined, organized game and were ensuring that the Watford players had no space to play in.  Instead of finding a way to counteract this tactic, the home side were just getting increasingly frustrated, it was not good to watch.

Wonder Woman (Marcus Gayle), Ian Richardson, Ian Bolton and Keith Mercer and Gavin Mahon

Wonder Woman (Marcus Gayle), Ian Richardson, Ian Bolton and Keith Mercer and Gavin Mahon

There was a pleasant distraction at half time as the club celebrated Former Players’ Day by reminiscing with Marcus Gayle, Gavin Mahon, Wayne Andrews and Ian Richardson, all of whom evoked happy memories, although I am probably the only person who sees Marcus Gayle and thinks “Wonder Woman”.  They were followed by Keith Mercer, Ian Bolton and Neil Price who were advertising the upcoming dinner at the club and talking about the work of the Former Players Association.  I must say that seeing those old heroes cheered me up considerably.

The visitors started the second half brightly with a run from Arnautović that finished with a cross-cum-shot that was too far in front of the oncoming Walters for him to provide the finishing touch, so flew past the far post.  The Austrian threatened again, but his next shot was stopped by a good block from Kabasele.  Ten minutes into the half, Mazzarri was forced into a second substitution as Holebas, who had received some treatment on the sidelines, was replaced by Ighalo.  The Nigerian’s first half chance came as Amrabat delivered a decent cross into the box, but a defender was on hand to shepherd the ball out and ensure that Ighalo didn’t get a touch.  He had a better chance soon after as he headed a Britos cross goalwards, but the header had no power and was easy for Grant to deal with.

Waiting for a free kick

Waiting for a free kick

The home side were having much more of the play in the second half and another ball into the box looked promising as Janmaat’s cross was headed on by Ighalo but it didn’t reach Deeney and the chance was lost.  Mazzarri’s final change saw Okaka brought on to replace Amrabat.  There was a great chance for an equalizer as a cross from Pereyra was cleared to Janmaat on the edge of the box, but his volley was well over the bar when he should have hit the target.  The presence of Okaka did seem to unsettle the Stoke defence and he had a chance to bring the Hornets level as an overhead kick from Ighalo fell to him, but he was at an acute angle to the goal and could only hit the side netting.  Deeney had a great chance to get his 100th goal when he met a ball from Janmaat with a header but it flew over the target.  Watford’s miserable afternoon continued when Britos stupidly fouled Shaqiri and was shown a second yellow card, so we finished the game with ten men.  Stoke then had a chance to increase their lead as Pieters tried a shot from distance which, thankfully, just missed the target.  But there was still time for another booking for Watford as Behrami received his fifth yellow card of the season.

Pereyra takes a free kick

Pereyra takes a free kick

The final whistle was greeted with yet more boos for the referee.  The Watford players, with the exception of Deeney and Gomes, disappeared in an instant providing no distraction for the home crowd as they directed their anger at the official.  Despite the feeling that the goal should have been disallowed for the foul by Adam, I didn’t feel that the defeat was down to the referee’s decisions.  It had been a poor day at the office for many of the Watford players.  There had been an improvement in the second half with the Hornets finding a bit more space, but the win was a result of Stoke effectively stopping their opponents from keeping the ball or creating any chances.  But the most disappointing aspect of the game was the petulance and ill-discipline of many of the Watford players, which resulted in yellow cards and a sending off that will mean that both Britos and Behrami are unavailable for the game against West Brom.  Sunday’s game was as bad as the previous week’s was good, but that is what we should be expecting this season and, to put a positive spin on it, this is becoming a season in which (ouside the top six) any team can beat any other and, while that will lead to games like Saturday’s, it also means that we can approach most games with an expectation that we can get something out of it and that has not been the case for us at this level since the 80s.