After 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.