Tag Archives: Patrick van Aanholt

Honouring GT at Selhurst Park

Meeting GT

Saturday marked the second anniversary of GT’s passing, so my early morning perusal of social media was full of my Watford friends paying tribute to our hero.  All the happy memories and lovely photos brought both a tear to my eye and a smile to my face.

On the train travelling to the game I usually have noise-cancelling headphones on and listen to a podcast, the choice on the way to Selhurst Park being the previous week’s Danny Baker show.  On arrival at Twickenham, I was distracted as a familiar looking woman boarded the train and sat in the row in front of me.  I took my headphones off in order to hear her speak and, as I had thought, it was Jane Horrocks.  I am going to see her in the Pinter plays at the theatre of the same name on Monday, so was curious to hear any backstage gossip.  Sadly the conversation seemed to revolve around cold sores and tight boots.  The glamour of the actor’s life.

Deeney, Mariappa, Cathcart and Capoue

I arrived at the designated pre-match meeting place rather early, so I had it all to myself.  It was a café rather than a pub and, as my late arrival at the station on the way to game meant that I hadn’t had a coffee yet, I was immediately drawn to the coffee with cinnamon and chili that was on the menu.  My first instinct that this may be a little brutal on an empty stomach went out of the window when I asked for a whisky to be added.  The lovely woman serving me said that she had already had someone in who had whisky in their hot chocolate, so I didn’t feel like a complete lush.  Anyway, when my innocent-looking cafetiere arrived, my choice was vindicated.  It was warming and gorgeous.  As the others in my party arrived, all started with a tea or coffee, but we soon moved on to a bottle of Georgian red wine (really), which was rather sweet so had to be washed down with some merlot.  This was accompanied some rather delicious Polish food (the others went for the beef stew, I had the mixed pierogies).  All rather lovely.  From the café it was a short walk to Selhurst Park, a ground that I rather like, while being very aware that opinion is shared by a very small minority of away fans.

Team news was that Gracia had made one change from the Bournemouth game with Hughes in for Sema.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Capoue, Pereyra, Doucouré; Deulofeu and Deeney.  Crystal Palace had the unloved ex-Watford loanee, Townsend, in their starting line-up and the much-loved Ray Lew in their dugout.

Ben Foster launching the ball upfield

As we were taking our seats, which were at the front of the stand, I was a bit surprised to see that there was a group of young lads standing on the steps at either side of the gangway, blocking the way.  This looked like a recipe for trouble, but I assumed that the stewards would notice and clear the access.

Watford fans had been encouraged to bring scarves to the game in honour of GT, and these were raised in tribute as the teams came out.

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets who should have taken the lead in the third minute when Deulofeu broke into the box and unleashed a shot which hit the post, Pereyra looked sure to score the rebound, but his shot also hit the post.  The first chance for the home side fell to our old friend, Zaha, who cut inside before shooting straight at Foster.  At this point, I was distracted by the sight of Javi having a very animated conversation with the fourth official.  He appeared really unhappy about something, which seemed to be out of character.  This may or may not have been related to the subsequent appearance of two Watford physios on the pitch when there did not appear to be an injury.  They were there to take off a very reluctant Hughes.  We speculated that he must have a cut that needed attention, but it seems that he had taken a blow to the head and was showing signs of concussion.  So, 20 minutes into the game, he was replaced by Sema.

Troy Deeney

Palace then had a couple of chances to take the lead.  First Milivojević crossed for Ayew but the header was over the bar.  The next to try his luck was Kouyaté with a shot from distance that also missed the target.  Watford’s next chance to open the scoring came on 34 minutes as Deeney met a cross from Holebas with a header that flew just over the bar.  At the other end, Palace had a decent chance from a corner, it appeared that the header from Tomkins had missed the target, but Foster had got a touch to it, so the home side were awarded another corner.  From the set piece, there was an almighty scramble which ended with Doucouré blasting the ball off Cathcart into the net.  Foster got a hand to the ball to push it away, but it had clearly already crossed the line.  Not a good way to concede.  The Palace fans started goading us with “It’s just like Wembley.”  The only similarity being the poorness of the game.  When Palace score there is a call and response with the tannoy announcer naming the goal scorer and then repeating the first name so that the crowd can yell the surname.  They did something on this occasion but I must have been mistaken in thinking that they shouted ‘Own’ with the crowd shouting ‘Goal’!  Watford tried to break back immediately as Deulofeu went on a run before shooting wide of the near post.  In the last minute of the half, Palace were forced to substitute their goalkeeper, replacing Guaita with Hennessey.  The home side had a chance to increase their lead before the break as a shot from outside the area by Milivojević took a couple of deflections, but Foster was equal to it.  Watford then had a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery was dreadful and we went into the break a goal down.

Pereyra and Deeney preparing for a free kick

So the football had been pretty awful, but the behaviour among the away fans was even worse.  We were sitting near the front, just behind the area that I assumed had been designated for those less able to stand.  A couple of men, one right at the front, were standing at the start of the game and were politely asked if they would sit so as not to block the view of those who did not wish to/were not able to stand.  The reaction of both of them was aggressive and abusive.  One eventually moved, but the other, who was mostly seated, still spent the whole game arguing with the elderly couple sitting behind him.  It was a very unpleasant distraction and made it difficult to concentrate on the game.  At half time, I noticed another row going on in the block next to us and friends who had braved the concourse at half time said that there were arguments going on throughout the stand.

Palace had the first chance of the second half as Zaha broke clear, but he couldn’t beat Foster.  Watford then had a decent chance as Capoue fired through a crowd, but his shot was deflected for a corner.  A cross from Doucouré only needed a touch from Mariappa to draw the Hornets level, but he couldn’t connect.

Cool Craig Cathcart doesn’t want congratulations after scoring. We have a game to win.

Just before the hour mark there was a flypast of parakeets from behind our stand.  As we were wearing our green away kit, I was hoping that this might be a good omen.  The first booking of the game went to Femenía who ran into Zaha to stop a break.  It was a stupid foul.  Palace should have increased their lead as Milivojević hit a volley from distance that took a superb save to keep it out, although it looked as though Foster’s good work would be in vain as the ball broke to Ayew who found Zaha with an open goal in front of him, but young Wilf managed to miss, much to the amusement of the travelling Hornets.  He must have been mightily relieved that the flag was already up for offside.  The second caution for the Hornets came after Townsend robbed Sema and tried to escape but was knocked over for his trouble.  On 67 minutes, the Hornets drew level as a deep corner from Holebas found Cathcart rising to head past Hennessey and cancel out his unfortunate own goal earlier on.  Needless to say, the lads who had been gathering in the gangway took the opportunity to bundle down to the front.  This would surely be an indication to the stewards that some action was needed and a group of stewards gathered and walked up the steps of the gangway, but made no effort to move anyone who was standing blocking the way, which seemed ridiculous.  Gracia made a second substitution at this point with Sema (who was a substitute himself) making way for Cleverley.

Cleverley getting a well deserved smacker from Capoue

The home side should have regained the lead almost immediately as a low cross from Zaha only needed a touch from McArthur to beat Foster, but the Palace man managed to miss.  At the other end, Deulofeu went on a great run before cutting the ball back to Deeney whose shot was cleared off the line.  Watford took the lead on 74 minutes when Cleverley hit a half volley into the net.  It was a fantastic strike and I couldn’t quite believe that we were in the lead.  But the joy of our goal celebration was cut short as the bundle for this one was worse than the first as others got in on the act and people located on the end of rows were being knocked flying.  It was dangerous and unpleasant.  Palace made two late changes bringing Benteke and Schlupp on for McArthur and Ayew.  Watford looked to increase their lead as Deulofeu went on a great run that was stopped by Milivojević, conceding a free kick on the edge of the area and earning himself a yellow card.  Palace had a great chance to equalise in the last minute of normal time as a cross from Townsend led to a scramble in the Watford box but, on this occasion, the ball ended up in Foster’s arms.  Another chance for Palace was thwarted as a dangerous looking break by Zaha was stopped by a gorgeous tackle from Femenía.  Gorgeous and brave as he was on a yellow card at the time.  Into the four minutes of time added on and Pereyra was booked for time wasting and, soon after, replaced by Masina (to waste some time!)   Cleverley was booked for a clumsy foul on Wan-Bassaka and we held our breath as Palace took the free kick and exhaled when it came to nothing.  The last action of the game could have seen the Hornets increase their lead as Deulofeu found Doucouré whose shot hit the stanchion.  The final whistle went and there were great celebrations in the Watford end, although the over-exuberance among some of the youngsters made this quite unpleasant for a number of the older fans.  As the players came over to celebrate with the fans, we greeted them with “One Graham Taylor” as the scarves were held aloft.

Deulofeu studying the ball

After the game we headed back to our café where we found that they were almost out of red wine (oops), all that was left was an open bottle.  So we had that to fuel our post-match deliberations.  It had been a dreadful game of football, but a win over Palace brought a smile to all of our faces.  After we went behind it had been a gutsy performance and one that GT would have enjoyed.  Given how wonderful Craig Cathcart has been this season, it seemed unfair that he had been unwittingly responsible for the Palace goal, so I was delighted that he got the equaliser.  I was also thrilled that Cleverley grabbed the winner.  He has had a hard time with injuries, so it is great to see him back playing and contributing.  I hope that he is soon a regular starter.

So we are now seventh in the table with 32 points.  Before the game Pete had commented that 32 points might be enough this season and, if you assume that Newcastle will not improve their current points per game tally over the rest of the season, it will be.  But, given how disappointing we have been after new year in recent seasons, I really hope that we continue to impress and maybe we can achieve our highest points tally and position since the 80s.

Back home watching Match of the Day I notice, during the interview with Javi Gracia, that he is wearing a Graham Taylor matchday badge on his jacket.  I must admit that made me cry.  Javi has been a joy since he arrived at Vicarage Road.  His football is enjoyable and his conduct is exemplary.  I think that GT would have loved him and, from me, there can be no higher praise.

 

When Harry met Wilf

Lovely Ray Lew

The build-up to this game was all about Harry Hornet who, in answer to a question from a journalist, had been branded a ‘disgrace’ by Roy Hodgson for an incident two years ago that I doubt Hodgson had actually ever seen, when Harry collapsed behind Zaha while the post-match handshakes were happening.  Sticking up for your player is all well and good but Roy lost all credibility when he claimed, with a straight face, that Zaha didn’t dive.  Sorry, Roy he gets booked for it, which was what provoked Harry’s action.  You couldn’t help but feel that Roy’s words would come back to haunt him.

For the second weekend running, travel plans had to be adjusted due to the closure of Euston, although the switch to the Met line wasn’t too much of a hardship.  When I boarded at Finchley Road, I was happy to spot Swansea Steve, so was treated to delightful company all the way to the West Herts.  Like many others, I arrived before the doors opened, so joined Don in his car to shelter from the rain which was chucking it down by this point.  When we got in the warm, the jerk chicken and rice certainly hit the spot.

Holebas on the attack

Unsurprisingly, the team news was that Gracia was sticking with the team who started both previous games: Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Janmaat; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucoure, Hughes; Deeney, Gray.  The Palace line-up included unlovely former loanee, Townsend, and the very lovely Ray Lewington was in their dugout.  When the teams were announced, Ray was welcomed back by Emma and given a warm ovation by the crowd.

The game started well for the visitors, although the first action of note was a booking for Capoue for a foul on Zaha.  It has to be said that this looked like a soft challenge from the stands, so was greeted with “Same old Zaha, always cheating,” and “One Harry Hornet.”  The television pictures showed it to be a nastier tackle than had been apparent at the time and one atypical for Capoue.  The first chance fell to the Hornets as a Janmaat cross was met by a looping header from Deeney that was easily caught by Hennessy.  The next into the referee’s book was Zaha for a foul on the saintly Holebas.

Foster launches a kick upfield

Palace should have taken the lead in the 12th minute when a cross from Townsend was met by a fantastic header by Benteke, which looked to be flying in until Foster pulled off a magnificent one handed save to keep the game goalless.  Foster saved the Hornets again soon after as McArthur broke into the box and was one-on-one with the keeper who spread himself and blocked the shot, another excellent save.  Watford then had a half chance as Hughes tried a shot that flew wide of the far post.  There was a much better attempt soon after as Janmaat’s cross was volleyed goalwards by Pereyra, the shot deflected over the target.  Another Janmaat cross ran through a couple of dummies to Pereyra, this time Hennessey pulled off a low save.  McArthur broke into the Watford box again, this time he was stopped from shooting by a great tackle from Holebas and Foster was able to gather the ball.  Some niggle between Zaha and Janmaat while waiting for a throw-in lead to the Watford man being booked while his equally culpable counterpart was allowed to walk, presumably as the referee did not want to show a red card.  Watford were having more of an impact late in the half as a shot from the edge of the area by Doucouré was blocked.  Then Gray played in Janmaat whose shot was just wide of the far post.  At the other end Benteke was released and looked sure to break the deadlock when Kabasele made a wonderful saving tackle to avert the danger.  So we reached half time goalless after an even 45 minutes of football.

Congratulating Pereyra on the first goal

During the break, they announced that there would be a reunion of the boys of 1999 at Shendish in December.  Micah Hyde was on hand to talk about those days and to see him walking around the pitch with Richard Johnson afterwards made my heart sing.

Watford started the second half on the front foot as the Palace defence failed to clear a cross from Janmaat and the ball fell to Hughes whose shot was blocked.  Doucouré then did well to win the ball and play a one-two with Deeney, but his final shot was disappointingly wayward.  Doucouré then turned provider laying the ball back to Pereyra whose shot was over the bar.  Watford took the lead in the 53rd minute with a superb goal as Capoue picked the ball up in the Watford half, ran half the length of the field beating a couple of men on the way before finding Pereyra who curled the ball past Hennessey into the bottom corner.  It all went a bit quiet for a while until Benteke tried a curler but his was wide of the far post.

Congratulations for Holebas. I swear he is smiling

Then a ball was played out to Holebas who crossed the ball over Hennessey and into the top corner.  It came out of nowhere.  I’m sure that made him smile, it certainly did us as we were roaring with laughter.  Each side then made a substitution with Watford bringing Sema on for Gray and the visitors replacing Schlupp with Meyer.  Palace pulled a goal back with 12 minutes to go as Zaha snuck along the byline and shot from a tight angle through Foster’s legs to give the Hornets a very nervous end to the game.  Watford could have sealed the points as a Holebas corner was met by the head of Kabasele, but the header was wide of the target.  Palace made a further change bringing Sørloth on for Benteke.  Pereyra then picked up a silly booking for pulling Ward back.  Watford’s final substitution saw Success come on for Deeney who handed the captain’s armband to Sema.  The substitute had a chance to finish the game off in the last minute of time added on, but his shot was weak and easily saved by Hennessey.  Unfortunately this allowed Palace a great chance to level the game as a corner from Milivojevic reached Ward who looked sure to head it past Foster, but instead it flew the wrong side of the post (for them) and Watford secured the three points and kept their 100% record.

Challenging at a corner

It was no classic, but it had been a decent battling performance by the Hornets who deserved the win.  This is really looking like a great team and it was pleasing to see Kabasele given the man of the match award after a very solid performance at the back.  Foster deserves plaudits for the two early saves that kept Watford in the game.  But it was a team performance and the celebrations at the final whistle were mighty, indicating a very happy and cohesive group of players.

But what about the main man?  Harry was on his best behaviour.  Chants of “he’s gonna dive in a minute” from the 1881 were met with a shake of the head and a slapped wrist gesture.  That is, until the final whistle had gone and the players had left the pitch when he went full Klinsmann along the ground to cheers from the crowd.

For a brief moment after the game, Watford were second in the table to Liverpool which was a flashback to our most successful season.  I don’t think we will finish anywhere near as high as that, and we have a couple of difficult games coming up against Spurs and Man Utd, but those are free hits.  All we want from this team is to carry on putting in solid performances and winning points off the teams that will be around us at the end of the season.  So far so good on that front and long may that continue.

 

An Entertaining Goal-less Draw

Dee and Toddy in typical pose

As I approached Watford on the train, I could see a huge queue of cars on Waterfields Way.  I didn’t take much notice until I saw the traffic at a standstill on both the ring road and Ricky Road.  When I arrived at the West Herts, it was very quiet indeed and John, the manager, mentioned that some of his staff were still stuck in the traffic, apparently the result of a fire in the Lower High Street and a domestic incident near Upton Road.  Needless to say, Don was in his usual position at ‘our’ table, so we had a good catch up.  When the rest of our party gathered, it was time to toast our absent friends, Dee and Toddy, who both had birthdays this weekend.  They are greatly missed.

Team news was three changes from last week with Kabasele, Holebas and Okaka in for Prödl, Janmaat and Femenía.  So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Mariappa, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Hughes, Capoue, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney, Okaka.  So Gracia was finally granting many wishes by starting with two up-front and all I could think was that Okaka may breathe on Zaha and all would be lost.  As the teams were announced, young Wilf was given a less than cordial welcome from the Watford fans.  In contrast, when Emma welcomed back Ray Lew, our former manager was given a tremendous reception.

After the terrible game at Huddersfield, I was hoping that there would be more entertainment on show this afternoon and it all started very promisingly with an early chance for Hughes whose shot across goal flew wide.  There was an even better chance a minute later as Okaka met a cross from Deeney with a header that rebounded off the crossbar.

Mariappa takes a throw-in

The next goal attempt didn’t come until the 19th minute when a cross from Deeney was turned towards his own goal by Ward and Hennessey just managed to get down to keep it out.  Ward’s afternoon didn’t get any better as he was booked for a foul on Pereyra.  Then, from a corner, Cathcart had two chances to break the deadlock, the first a header that was blocked, the second a shot that Hennessey saved.  Watford threatened again as Okaka played the ball back to Pereyra, whose shot was well over the bar.  The first booking of the game went to the Hornets as Doucouré was penalised for a foul on Loftus-Cheek.  Palace’s first shot on goal came after 34 minutes as a free-kick was met by Tomkins, but his downwards header gave Karnezis an easy save.  This incident was missed by a couple of guys who had taken seats in the row behind us and were clearly not Watford fans.  When challenged, they claimed to be scouts who had been given seats at the front of the Rookery and had moved back so they could get a decent view.  It sounded improbable and, soon after, they were invited for a chat by a couple of stewards and we didn’t see them again.  Back to matters on the pitch and a corner from Holebas was met by a Palace head, the clearance fell to Hughes who shot over the bar.  Late in the half, Zaha made his first run into the Watford box with Kabasele challenging, so the Palace man, inevitably, went down.  The referee waved his appeals away, but Doucouré reacted with fury, pushing Zaha, and was very lucky not to get a second yellow for his trouble.  As the clock reached 45 minutes, Deeney played a one-two with Okaka, before trying a shot through legs that ended up being an easy catch for Hennessey.  The final chance of the half came from a long throw that found its way to Mariappa whose shot was deflected wide.

Pereyra leaves the free kick to Holebas

It had been a thoroughly entertaining half of football.  Watford were a completely different team from last week, playing positively and battling for everything.  We had managed 11 shots on goal, but without really testing Hennessey.  The Watford fans were also putting in a good performance, loud and proud in support of their team, which was essential as Palace usually bring a very noisy crowd with them.

At half time, there was an interview with Jóhann Gudmundsson , whose time in a Watford shirt had been completely forgotten by all around me (my excuse was that I was living in the US at the time).  There was also a parade of young players from the various Watford Ladies age groups, who were given a tremendous reception.

The first action of the second half involved Zaha who, while going for a ball in the box, kicked Karnezis in the stomach.  It was a nasty tackle and, needless to say, the Rookery were shouting for him to be sent off.  The referee decided that a talking-to was sufficient, which seemed very lenient.

Hughes on the ball

The first substitution was enforced as Pereyra picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Richarlison.  It was a great shame to see the Argentine leave the field as he was having another great game.  There was then a booking for Mariappa for a slight pull on Zaha’s shirt, which seemed rather harsh after Wilf’s assault on Karnezis went unpunished.  Palace then had their best chance so far after Zaha was tripped on the edge of the box.  Milivojević stepped up to take the free kick and it rebounded off the crossbar then bounced around the Watford box until Karnezis was finally able to clear.  Zaha went on another run into the Watford box, before falling … again.  When the referee blew his whistle, my heart sank, until he pointed back up the pitch and booked Zaha for simulation.  At this point, I celebrated as if we had scored.  Ironically, Wilf had a good shout for a penalty on that occasion, but he goes down so easily and so often, always looking for the foul, that he tries the patience of referees as much as of opposition fans.  Palace looked sure to take the lead from a corner, as a Tomkins header hit the post, the rebound dropped for Sakho in the six yard box, but Deeney was on hand to clear before the Palace man could make contact.

Capoue takes a free kick

With 20 minutes to go, Gracia made his second substitution, replacing Okaka, who had a decent game, with Femenía.  Watford continued to threaten as Hughes played Richarlison in, the young Brazilian’s first shot was blocked, his follow-up curled wide of the far post.  Watford’s final change saw Gray come on in place of Hughes.  The home side had another good chance as Deeney played the ball out to Richarlison whose shot needed a decent save from Hennessey to keep it out.  Deeney then tried a shot from a good position, but didn’t quite catch the ball right and it went over.  Palace made their first substitution with 10 minutes to go, bringing Benteke on for McArthur.  But Watford had the next goal attempt as Richarlison tried a looping shot that was easy for Hennessey.  The youngster then intercepted the ball in midfield and tried to release Gray, but the pass was just too long.  There were two late bookings as Tomkins was cautioned for a foul on Richarlison and Cathcart for stopping Zaha.  Palace’s last chance to grab the points came when Zaha crossed for Townsend whose header was wide of the target, but the flag was up for offside anyway.  Watford had one final chance in time added on when they won a free-kick on the edge of area, but the delivery from Holebas rebounded off the wall and the game finished goal-less.

Karnezis takes a free kick

As 0-0 draws go, that was actually an entertaining game.  Both teams were up for it and Watford completely dominated the first half before a fairly even second period.  Palace are always tricky opposition and have a good record against the teams in the bottom half, so I was happy with a point, especially as that deprived them of a further two as they tried to catch us.

There were some good performances.  Pereyra continues to impress and gave Ward a torrid time on the wing.  As with Cathcart last week, Kabasele impressed on his return, so I look forward to him entertaining on the pitch as much as he does on Twitter.  The two up front led to us creating more chances and Okaka had one of his good games, but he blows so hot and cold that you never quite know what you will get from him.  As for the pantomime villain of the day.  I was interested to hear Roy Hodgson on MotD saying that rumours that Zaha is a cheat lead to the crowd’s reaction, completely missing the point that we have witnessed his gamesmanship over many years.  I can’t bear him.  Players do not gain a reputation like that without reason.

Well, with 3 games to go Watford are still mid-table and, if they continue putting in battling performances like that, I will finish the season with a smile on my face.

Shooting Ourselves in the Foot at Selhurst Park

Dann warily eyeing Mariappa and Prodl

On Tuesday evening my office Christmas party was taking place.  I work for a very small company, so all day there was a subtle build-up with people coming in wearing party clothes and the box of presents for Secret Santa filling up.  Late afternoon, we had a company meeting to reflect on the achievements of the year and everyone was in party mood as they contemplated an evening of celebration.  Meanwhile, I was heading to Selhurst Park.

There had been a late decision by our pre-match party to forego a trip to the pub we usually frequent for an establishment closer to the ground.  This meant that, despite a meeting that finished just before 6pm, I was able to join them in plenty of time for a couple of pints and a plate of mixed pierogies, which were absolutely delicious.  From there it was a short walk to the ground to take our “seats”.  I do love Selhurst Park but, due to the people standing in front of me, spend a lot of the game with no view of the play, particularly at the far end on our side of the pitch.  I comfort myself with the fact that the lack of view is compensated by an increase in atmosphere.  But it doesn’t do my nerves any good when something crucial is happening and I am relying on the reactions of the crowd to tell me whether it is good or bad from a Watford perspective.

Goalscorer Janmaat

Team news was that Silva had made two changes bringing Prödl and Holebas in for the suspended Zeegelaar and Pereyra.  So, the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Kabasele, Janmaat, Cleverley, Doucouré, Holebas; Carrillo, Richarlison; Deeney.  Palace’s starting XI included former (very short-term) loanee, Townsend.  But, as on Saturday, the most significant ex-Watford connection was in the dug-out in the person of the utterly wonderful Ray Lewington.

There was applause before the game for Julian Speroni, who was making his 400th appearance for Palace.  I was gratified that I wasn’t the only Watford fan to applaud him as I have always liked Speroni.

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets as Richarlison crossed for Janmaat to head home to give the visitors the lead in the third minute.  The Dutchman threatened the Palace goal again soon after, but his cross was too close to Speroni.  Watford looked sure to score their second on 10 minutes after Carrillo found Richarlison, but the shot was headed off the line by Tomkins.

Gomes ready to launch the ball

There was some concern for the young Brazilian soon after following a clash of heads with Deeney, but nobody had pointed a gun at him, so he was fine to continue.  Palace’s first shot of the game came from Fosu-Mensah whose effort was wide of the near post.  Watford had another decent chance to increase their lead, but Janmaat’s shot was deflected for a corner that was delivered straight to Speroni.  Richarlison impressed again, nipping in to the box before shooting just wide.  Palace then launched a counter-attack that finished with a shot from distance from Townsend that was well over the bar.  Janmaat was impressing in both boxes after meeting a cross from Cabaye with a good defensive header.  The resulting corner was headed wide by Dann.  I was just complaining about Doucouré, who never gives the ball away, giving a lie to that statement when a Palace player did the same, Deeney picked up the loose ball and played it out to Richarlison who played a return pass to Troy who somehow fashioned a miss from a yard out, leaving the Watford fans holding their heads in disbelief. 

Challenging at a corner

The travelling Hornets had been baiting Zaha for most of the game and, as he was challenged while running into the box, a voice near me said that he would go down.  He did, the referee waved play on and, when he finally got back to his feet, he was giving Gomes a mouthful, presumably as the Watford keeper had called him out for his theatrics.  Palace had a half chance as a free kick was headed goalwards by Dann, but Gomes was able to gather.  The home side were presented with a great chance to equalise just before half time as the referee penalised what looked like a great tackle from Kabasele on the edge of the box.  Thankfully, the free-kick rebounded straight back off the wall, allowing Richarlison to break upfield, but Speroni gathered his cross.

So, the Hornets went into the break with the lead, which should have been considerably more comfortable.  We had a few very good chances that should have been converted and, while Palace had a decent share of the play, they had yet to test Gomes.

Holebas prepares to take a throw

The first chance of the second half went to the home side, but Mariappa did well to block the shot from Loftus-Cheek.  From a Watford throw-in, there was a bit of a scramble before the ball was cleared to Janmaat on the edge of the box from where he shot over the bar.  The first card of the game went to Milivojevic for what looked like a fairly innocuous tackle on Doucouré.  It seemed an odd decision, as there had been some pretty robust challenges that had escaped punishment.  Watford had a superb chance to finish the game off when Janmaat crossed for Richarlison but, with the goal at his mercy, he shot straight at Speroni.  Hodgson made a couple of changes at this point as Townsend and Fosu-Mensah made way for van Aanholt and Sako.  Silva’s first substitution saw Pereyra come on for Carrillo.  Sako’s first contribution was impressive with a dangerous cross from the left that Gomes did brilliantly to palm away from danger.  Palace made their final substitution bringing McArthur on for Cabaye.  Watford’s first card of the evening came when Cleverley took McArthur down to prevent a break.  Silva made a second change with 10 minutes to go, bringing Gray on for Deeney, who hadn’t had the best of evenings.  Zaha had a decent chance to grab an equaliser but his shot was just over the target.  Silva then made his final substitution bringing Femenía on for Richarlison.

Waiting for the ball to drop

A minute later, it appeared that we would live to regret using our final substitute as Pereyra went down after a nasty tackle from van Aanholt, who was booked for the offense.  Just when it appeared that Watford would leave South London with a comfortable three points, Cleverley had a moment of madness.  The ball fell to him just outside the area, he swung at it, missed and lost possession.  In his desperation to win the ball back, he made a clumsy challenge on Schlupp and was shown a second yellow card, so the Hornets were down to 10 men (again), or 9 as Pereyra was still struggling.  Cleverley was barely down the tunnel when Zaha tried a shot, which was saved by Gomes, the ball fell to Sako whose first shot was blocked, but he buried the follow-up sending the home fans, who had been very quiet up to that point, into ecstasy.  The fourth official indicated six minutes of added time and it went from bad to worse as Zaha crossed for McArthur to grab the winner.

 

Deeney kept in check by Schlupp

There was disbelief among the Watford fans at the end of the game.  We had been so clearly the better team and had made some excellent chances, so there was no way we should have been leaving South London with no points.  Cleverley’s sending off was stupid and gave Palace the momentum, but a second goal earlier in the game would have killed off the Palace threat and there was frustration that this Watford team seem unable to do that.  I couldn’t help a wry smile on seeing the message from Watford Police on twitter after the game which reported that “apart from a few disgruntled fans” there was no trouble, which rather nicely summed up the evening.

Adding insult to injury, we had to walk back to the station among jubilant Palace fans, one of whom was overheard saying that we were the best team that he’d seen this season, which only added to the frustration.  As I travelled back from the game I started to wonder whether I would have been better to have opted for the work Christmas party.  One of my colleagues had sent a photo with the message “where are you?” at about 9:45.  On reflection, knowing that was around the time that the game was thrown away and what sort of mood I would have been in on hearing that news while with my colleagues, I made the right decision.

So we go again on Saturday for the visit of Huddersfield and I can only hope that we will see a game in which the result reflects the performance.

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.

A Snowy Day in Sunderland

A distraction on the stairs to the away end

A distraction on the stairs to the away end

This game was the first that I looked for when the fixture list came out as it would be my only opportunity to visit a new ground in the league.  Most of my away travelling was done in the late 80s and in the last 10 years, so I have not previously had an opportunity to go to the Stadium of Light.  My abiding memory of a game away to Sunderland is of sitting in a hotel room in San Diego looking at a stunning view of the Pacific with tears running down my face as I wished I was in Sunderland with my sister for the FA Cup game with the twice taken Tommy Smith penalty.

I had booked a ridiculously early train to Sunderland via Newcastle and thought I would probably be alone, but that was far from the case as I saw a number of yellow clad people at Kings Cross.  I had arranged to meet the Hebden/Bradford massive for pre-match drinks in Newcastle, but arrived too early for the pub of choice to be open so I went for a walk into town until the cold rain drove me into an alternative hostelry for an early lunch.  At opening time, I headed across the road to join the queue (of 3) to get in and grab a comfy berth.  Needless to say, it was considerably quieter than when Newcastle are at home, but all the locals were friendly and wished us a lovely afternoon and to leave Sunderland with 3 points.  The pub had a proper record player on the bar on which they started playing some Christmas tunes, but soon got bored and reverted to some 60s classics, which made me very happy indeed.

The pre-match huddle

The pre-match huddle

The trip up to Newcastle had been in rain but, as we left the pub to get the metro to Sunderland, thick snowflakes were falling and there was some questioning of whether the game could be in jeopardy, the conclusion being that undersoil heating meant that was unlikely.  After entering the Stadium of Light we found several flights of stairs to an away end that is not quite as high as Newcastle’s but not far off.  The trip up was made easier by the entertainment provided by a string of football related quotes.  For Watford interest, there were references to GT, Ronnie Rosenthal and Jason Lee.  It made me smile through the exhaustion.

Team news was that there was one change from the win against Norwich as Abdi came in for Anya.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.

 

Celebrating Ighalo's goal

Celebrating Ighalo’s goal

Watford had the perfect start to the game, taking the lead after 4 minutes.  In real time, I thought that Ighalo had missed Nyom’s cross and the keeper had turned it in, but I was doing Odion a grave disservice as the ball had been poked goalwards and what I saw was it going through the goalie’s legs.  Whoever had provided the final touch, it was Ighalo’s battling presence that led to the goal.  Happily there was some early bouncing in the away end.  Watford continued in this positive manner as a cross from Aké dropped to Abdi, whose shot was blocked for a corner.  I am still shaking my head at why the next passage of play didn’t result in a goal.  Ighalo got into the box and beat O’Shea before hitting a shot that was blocked, his follow-up appeared to be going in but was cleared off the line, then Abdi tried a shot that was blocked, finally Jurado’s shot hit the post.  There were heads in hands in the away end.  We had started the game very well.  Apart from the goal, the lads had been playing the ball around in a very composed manner.  It was looking very impressive, but why weren’t we two up?!  The home side had their first shot on goal in the 14th minute, but it didn’t trouble Gomes as Jones wellied the ball high and wide.  Their next chance came soon after and was much more dangerous.  Deeney lost the ball to M’Vila who played a lovely ball to Borini, but his shot flew wide of the far post.  Sunderland made an early tactical substitution replacing Yedlin with Rodwell.

Watson and Capoue all smiles as our midfield generals

Watson and Capoue all smiles as our midfield generals

Watford’s impressive play continued with a lovely cross-field passing move which resulted in Nyom having the ball in space on the right, he started to advance upfield but got bored and launched a shot from a mile out that was well over the target.  I love you, Allan, but Why???  Ighalo nicked the ball in the midfield and passed to Abdi who crossed for Capoue whose curling shot required a good save from Pantilimon.  Then Abdi lost the ball in midfield, but he and Watson were soon back to snuff out the danger.  Another dangerous break by Sunderland was briefly interrupted as Aké was back to block the cross for a corner.  Gomes came to meet the corner, but his punch reached Borini who shot well wide.  The home side had a great chance to equalize just before half time as a M’Vila free-kick appeared to be flying in when Gomes made a really good save to keep it out.  I was puzzled at half-time to see that Sunderland had no shots on target, until I found out that the ball had been flicked on by Britos.  The last action of the half was another chance for the Hornets.  Jurado appeared to be in a good position to shoot, but passed to Deeney who needed time to position himself and shot wide.

At half time, Watford were well worth the lead but there was frustration that we hadn’t got a second goal.

Heurelho Gomes kept us in the game

Heurelho Gomes kept us in the game

The first action of the second half was a shot from van Aanholt that flew wide of the target.  Watford also had an early chance as Ighalo got on the end of a cross from Nyom to head goalwards, Pantilimon made the save, but the flag was up anyway.  The positive part of that move was seeing Ighalo beat his man, as he had spent a lot of the first half being frustrated by the attentions of the Sunderland players.  At the other end a Cathcart clearance only went as far as Fletcher, but the Irishman redeemed himself getting into position to block the shot.  Gomes was then on hand to punch a shot from Rodwell.   There was another substitution for Sunderland as former Watford loanee, Adam Johnson, came on to replace Borini.  He was booed by many in the away end and then received sustained abuse relating to his upcoming trial.  The only yellow card of the game went to Rodwell who was booked for a nasty tackle on Watson.  Just after the hour mark, the home side’s decision to take a free kick quickly backfired as the ball was passed straight to Ighalo but the Nigerian was knocked over before he could do any harm and the referee, who I credit with letting the game flow, didn’t see a foul.

Ake on the ball

Ake on the ball

Rodwell got the ball on the edge of the Watford box but his shot was high and wide.  The home side took a very poor corner and the ball broke to Ighalo, who went haring up field but the break came to nothing as he played a poor pass towards Nyom.  Watford’s first substitution saw Guedioura come on to replace Abdi.  The nerves in the away end became even more frayed as Allardyce made his final substitution replacing Fletcher with Defoe.  He almost made an immediate impact as he latched on to a through ball from Johnson and fired it past Gomes.  Thankfully the linesman raised his flag and the goal was disallowed.  Flores made a second substitution replacing Jurado with Anya.  New graduate, Watmore, came close to scoring an equalizer with a shot that curled just wide.  Watford broke forward again as Aké released Ighalo, but a defender was snapping at his heels as he ran into the box, which was enough to put him off his shot so Pantilimon was able to block.  At the other end, Gomes was called in to action pulling off a great diving save to keep out a shot from Defoe.

Jurado on the attack

Jurado on the attack

With 10 minutes remaining, Capoue released Ighalo but Coates got back to block his shot.  Despite the early goal, it was looking like it just wasn’t Odion’s day.  At the other end, a cross from van Aanholt was touched just wide by Defoe to the great relief of those in the upper tier behind the goal.  Gomes then added to the jangling nerves by delaying picking up a ball into the box, he didn’t see the Sunderland player approaching and ended up having to grab it.  Watford nearly killed the game off as Anya played the ball back to Guedioura who hit a lovely curling shot that was pushed clear.  There was another assault on the Watford goal that finished with Johnson shooting wide of the far post.  Then Guedioura advanced down the wing and played the ball back to Capoue who moved it on to Deeney whose shot was deflected for a corner.  As we approached time added on, it baffled me to see so many Sunderland fans leaving.  I was far from confident that we would win the game.  There was a final scramble in the Watford box that finished with a block from Gomes and then Watson making a strong clearance.  The final attack of the game came from the visitors as Deeney released Ighalo, who appeared to be a mile offside, but we were not to have another late goal as the shot was saved.  When the final whistle went, it was clear that the relief on the pitch matched that in the stands.

On the way out of the ground most of the conversation was about how Deeney and Ighalo had both had off days.  There had been plenty of positives about the performance but the two of them seemed to be muscled out of the game.  That was followed by the reflection that successful teams are those who win when they are not at their best.  The third stage was the grins as we reflected that we were seventh in the table and had already exceeded our points total from 99/00 after 15 games.  When my friend showed me the table at the end of the game, my initial reaction was that the table at 5pm on Saturday can be misleading.  I am writing this after the games on Sunday and we are still seventh and go into the Liverpool game above them in the table (and above Everton, West Ham and Chelsea).  Wow, just wow!!  We now go into a difficult run of games, but we can go into them with some hope of points and, if the worst happens, we have a decent cushion to tide us over.  Who knew the Premier League could be fun!