Tag Archives: Pedro

A Frustrating Sunday Afternoon at the Bridge

Foster about to take a free kick

This is one of the easiest of away trips for me and, for once, the bizarre weekend schedules of South Western Railway did not cause me any problems.  They had even cleared the tree that had meant a trip from Clapham Junction to Windsor on Saturday evening required a detour via Paddington.  So, after a pleasant train journey to Putney and a walk through some dodgy looking areas of Fulham, I found myself in Parsons Green to meet friends for Sunday lunch.  Lots of talk of what we had been up to since we last met.  Mike and I had seen Maggie Smith in “A German Life”, which was superb.  Graham had been to the Don McCullin exhibition and was still a bit shell shocked from it.  I had missed City Orns to see The Unthanks, so was updated on the gathering that I had missed while enjoying an evening of Northumbrian folk music.  Our peace was briefly shattered when the Norfolk/East Anglian Horns turned up to say “Hello”.  Glenn told us that, as it was the last away game of the season, he had started his trip with champagne and strawberries.  Our friends from Norfolk know how to travel in style.  A Chelsea fan appeared and wished us luck in the Cup Final.  The Sunday roasts were absolutely delicious, and we were enjoying our lunch so much that we almost forgot that there was a match to go to.  Almost …

The welcome return of Deeney

We left plenty of time for our walk to Stamford Bridge and to negotiate our way past the multiple phalanxes of security guards.  There was a surprise in store as we were greeted by a voice announcing, “FA Cup Finalists to the left.”  I was still smiling when I heard another directing us on “The road to Wembley.”  A rather lovely and unexpected welcome which meant that my opinion of Chelsea went up massively.

Team news was that Gracia had made two changes with the welcome return of Deeney in place of Gray and a rare start for Chalobah deputising for the injured Capoue.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Mariappa, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Chalobah, Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu, Deeney.  The choice of Chalobah over Cleverley, who was on the bench, was an interesting one.  Our hope was that Nate’s return to Chelsea would give him an extra incentive to impress.  It was pleasing to see that he was given a warm welcome back by the Chelsea fans.

As we took our seats, Alice produced her flag.  Designed by the 1881, in an homage to our previous cup final, it bore the legend “Hot cross Barnes Holebas.”  Just wonderful.

Mariappa on the ball

The game kicked off and there was a great early chance for the Hornets as Deulofeu turned and hit a shot that was just wide of the target.  Watford should have taken the lead on 8 minutes when, from a short corner, Holebas crossed for Deeney whose header was heading for the top corner until Kepa somehow got a hand to it and kept it out, the ball dropped to Hughes whose shot was well over the bar.  Sarri was forced into an early change as Kanté picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Loftus-Cheek.  Chelsea had their first shot in the 14th minute, a chip from Jorginho that was blocked by Foster.  The home side threatened again as Higuaín broke into the box but was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Mariappa.  Watford created another decent chance as Hughes laid the ball off to Deulofeu, but the shot was wide of the target.  The next chance for the Hornets came as a lovely passing move finished with Holebas shooting over the bar.  Chelsea had a half chance as the ball was dinked to Hazard in the box, Foster appeared to hesitate, but recovered and was able to gather the ball.  Then Pereyra and Deeney combined to get the ball to Doucouré in shooting position, but his shot flew wide of the target.  There was a shout for a penalty as Femenía tussled with Luiz in the box.  From our angle, it looked as though the Chelsea man was playing for the foul, the referee was equally unimpressed and waved play on.  Another chance for the home side came as Hazard took the ball off Doucouré before playing in Pedro, whose shot curled over the target.  There was some frustration in the away end as the ball was passed from Doucouré to Deeney to Pereyra, all of whom could have taken a shot, but none did, and the chance was gone.    At the other end, Pedro played a one-two with Higuaín before taking a shot that was just wide of the target.  Another opportunity went begging after some good work from Pereyra who slipped in the build-up, but recovered to put in a decent cross, sadly there was no Watford player on hand to take advantage.  The half time whistle went to boos from the Chelsea fans and cheers from the travelling Hornets who had seen their team completely dominate the half, playing some exquisite football, but failing to make the most of their chances.  When have we heard that before this season?

Great to see Chalobah back in the team

All our good work was undone in the first five minutes of the second half.  Hazard tried a shot from an acute angle that Foster pushed around the post for a corner.  From the corner Hazard crossed and Loftus-Cheek beat Chalobah to open the scoring.  Two minutes later, the home side were two up as, from another corner, Luiz came around the blind side of Mariappa and headed home.  It was the Manchester City away game all over again.  The Hornets tried to hit back as Deeney found Deulofeu just outside the box, he took his time to pick his shot before firing just wide of the far post.  Pereyra played a lovely through ball to Deulofeu whose shot was weak and easily dealt with by Kepa.  We then had the interesting sight of a fired-up Holebas (what other kind is there), tackling Pereyra before snapping into a set of challenges.  Even when we are losing, angry José can make me smile.  Chelsea had a decent chance to score a third as Hazard found Pedro in the box, thankfully the shot was saved by Foster and Loftus-Cheek put the follow-up wide.  The Hornets had a chance to pull one back as Mariappa crossed for Doucouré, who couldn’t get above the ball, so it came off the top of his head and flew over the bar.  At the other end, the home side had a great chance to increase their lead as a shot from Higuaín was kept out by a brilliant save from Foster.  Then Chalobah played a lovely ball for Deulofeu who hit a decent cross towards Deeney, but Alonso put the ball out for a corner.

Holebas and Pereyra prepare for a free kick

Gracia made his first substitution replacing Chalobah with Cleverley.  It had been an interesting choice before the game, but Nate had justified his selection putting in the best performance that I have seen from him since he came back from injury.  Watford had another chance to reduce the deficit when Deulofeu found Hughes in prime position, but the shot was appalling.  A number around us were berating him for passing instead of shooting.  It looked like a shot to me, but it was that poor that it was mistaken for a pass.  Any hopes the Hornets had of a comeback were dashed when Pedro played the ball to Higuaín, Foster came out to meet him, but the Argentine chipped the keeper and found the net.  But Watford were still fighting and Deeney should have done better when the ball fell to him, but he belted his shot over the bar.  There was a much better chance soon after when Holebas nicked the ball and rounded Luiz, but his shot rebounded agonisingly off the crossbar.  Each side made late substitutions.  Giroud replaced Higuaín for the home side, while Deeney and Deulofeu made way for Gray and Success.  Troy looked furious when he saw the board go up indicating that his afternoon was over.  Watford finally had the ball in the net, and it was typical of our day.  A free kick from Pereyra appeared to have been cleared off the line by Holebas, Success got his head on it, but it bounced off Gray on the way in and was flagged offside due to Gray’s inadvertent touch.  Chelsea should have scored a fourth as Hazard crossed for Giroud who scuffed his shot and cleared the bar.

Pereyra takes a free kick

Watford had a half chance as Hughes crossed for Success, but the header was an easy catch for Kepa.  The last substitution for Chelsea saw Cahill come on for Luiz, he was handed the captain’s armband and got the biggest cheer of the afternoon.  Femenía went on a decent run, but his cross was turned around for a corner.  The first card of the game came in time added on as Doucouré was cautioned for a pull on Hazard.  Foster was in action twice in added time, first to divert a shot from Hazard into the side netting, then to gather a low shot from Giroud.  The last chance of the game fell to the Hornets, but the shot from Success was poor and easily saved by Kepa.

We headed back to Parsons Green to drown our sorrows.  As we arrived at the pub, we saw the Chelsea fan who had wished us luck at Wembley before the game.  His verdict, “We robbed you.”  He wasn’t wrong.  The scoreline indicated that we had been well beaten, the pattern of the game nothing of the kind.  But this has been the case in a number of our games against the top six this season.  Similar to the matches against Arsenal and Manchester United, we dominated large parts of the game, but could not turn that domination into goals and were let down by defensive mistakes.  In the first half in particular, the passing was incredibly slick, and we played some gorgeous football but our finishing let us down.  It was great to see Troy back.  He looked hungry and desperate to make up for lost time and we saw the leadership that we had been missing.  As frustrating as the afternoon had been, the conversation soon took a positive turn as we reflected how far this team has come.  In contrast to when we were first promoted, I now travel to most games feeling that we have a team good enough to get something from the game.  It is very rare that we leave a ground with that humiliating feeling of having been taught a lesson by a much better team.  That is something to be relished and when we look back on this season, it will be with pride and happiness and a sense that we have progressed.

 

A Tale of Two Penalties

Ben Foster about to launch the ball upfield

I always look forward to the Boxing Day game, so the news that it had been moved to an evening kick-off for the television cameras was met with some irritation.  A lovely afternoon walk through the Hertfordshire countryside proved a pleasant distraction from the action at the other grounds, but I was soon back to following our changing position in the table and worrying about what time to arrive for a 7:30 kick-off on a bank holiday.  Thankfully the roads were quiet and there were still seats in the West Herts when we arrived.  It was lovely to have Amelia back with us as her university studies and Saturday job have limited her attendance this season.

As we walked to the ground, it still seemed very quiet until we reached Vicarage Road and encountered a group of noisy Chelsea fans.  I was rather surprised only to see one tout on the way, they obviously take Christmas off too.  We didn’t arrive long before kick-off, but it was clear from the number of empty seats that a good number of people had decided to stay at home and watch this one on television.

Team news was that there were no changes from the win at West Ham.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Sema, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deeney and Deulofeu.  But the hottest news as the team arrived was that Pereyra disembarked from the bus wearing a santa hat.  He is a little bonkers.

Holebas in deep conversation with the referee

The travelling Chelsea fans immediately endeared themselves to me with a first minute chant of “We’ve won it all.”  At times like this my mind goes back to the mid-eighties when they used to stop the clock at Stamford Bridge 10 minutes before the end of the game so that the fans didn’t get on the backs of their struggling team.  The visitors had the first chance of the game as Pedro exchanged passes with Willian before curling a shot wide of the far post.  Watford’s first chance came from a howler by the Chelsea keeper, Arrizabalaga, who gave the ball away to Deulofeu, but the Spaniard tried a back heel that went to no one and the chance was gone.  There was a nasty incident 10 minutes into the game, as Willian rounded Foster and hit the post, Kabasele slid in to try to cut out the shot and collided heavily with the post.  He needed lengthy treatment and the stretcher was brought around, but he was able to get to his feet and return to the field.  Unfortunately, that didn’t last long and he was soon replaced by Mariappa.  Watford had a half chance as a cross from Femenía was headed down by Doucouré but the ball rolled through to the keeper.  Then Doucouré and Deulofeu combined before the Frenchman hit an angled shot that was blocked.

A very blurred celebration of Pereyra’s strike

There was an even better chance after Deeney did well to win the ball and release Pereyra who crossed for Doucouré who was in a great position, but his shot was disappointingly high and wide.  The action was straight down the other end where Azpilicueta hit a low cross which flew across the front of the goal with no Chelsea player there to apply the finishing touch.  Watford attacked again as Deulofeu intercepted a pass and broke forward before squaring for Deeney, whose shot was blocked.  The visitors were being frustrated by some great defending as first Cathcart and then Capoue (twice) snuffed out chances with brilliant tackles.  Towards the end of the half, Chelsea were forced to make a substitution replacing Pedro with Hudson-Odoi.   We were then distracted by the sight of Kabasele being wheeled out on a stretcher wearing an oxygen mask.  The Rookery rose to applaud him.  I suspect that his team mates were as perturbed as we were as, almost immediately, Capoue played a poor pass to Doucouré, Kovačič intercepted and fed Hazard who advanced and rounded Foster to open the scoring.  We were already in time added on at the end of the half, but there was still time for Watford to equalize.  Doucouré broke into the box, but the keeper dived at his feet to concede a corner.  The corner was taken short by Deulofeu, Holebas crossed and Pereyra volleyed brilliantly past Arrizabalaga.  Hopefully the cheers for the goal would have brightened Kabasele up as he made his way next door to the hospital.

So we reached half time with honours even after a decent enough half of football, even if all the shots on target had come in injury time.  My sister had kindly packed turkey sandwiches for us, which certainly hit the spot.

Deulofeu running on to a ball

Watford were shouting for a penalty after 54 minutes as Luiz flattened Deulofeu in the box.  Television pictures suggested that there was some wrestling between them, but you can’t help thinking that, had the same incident occurred in the Watford box, a penalty would have been awarded.  Needless to say, the next passage of play saw Hazard breaking into the box, Foster had no need to come out as Cathcart had it covered, but he did and pushed Hazard over.  There was no arguing with that one, it was an obvious penalty even from the opposite end of the ground, and Hazard made no mistake from the spot allowing Chelsea to regain the lead.  Foster was also booked for the foul.  It was very frustrating to be behind at this stage as the Hornets had dominated the start of the second half.  Watford fought back and Doucouré tried to find Deulofeu in the box, but the keeper just got there first.  Gracia made a second change half way through the half replacing Sema, who had a great game, with Quina.  The visitors had a decent chance to increase their lead as Willian had the ball on the edge of the box but whipped his shot wide.  Deulofeu then tried a shot from distance, but it was weak and easy for the keeper.   A mistake from Holebas allowed Hazard to break and find Kanté who shot wide of the far post.  There was a great chance for the Hornets to equalize as Doucouré played the ball in to Deeney at the near post, but Troy flicked his shot just over.  With 10 minutes to go, each side made changes as Kovačič and Hudson-Odoi (who had been the first Chelsea substitute) made way for Barkley and Emerson, and Success replaced Deulofeu for the Hornets.  Chelsea had a couple of late chances to increase their lead as, first, a corner came out to Jorginho who shot over the target.  Then Willian hit a low shot that Foster pushed around the post.  In time added on, Watford won a corner and Foster came up for it.  As the ball bounced around the box, Foster tried an overhead kick, such a shame that didn’t go in, but it certainly made me smile.  So the final whistle went on a narrow defeat for the Hornets.

Femenia, Sema and Doucoure keep an eye on Willian

Yet again, we were ruing missing our chances as we could easily have won a point in that game.  But, on the positive side, we were reflecting on a game in which we had matched one of the best teams in the country.  Watford no longer look like plucky underdogs in these games, but are playing with a similar quality to these household names.  There were regrets regarding the two penalties.  Watford’s would have been given on another day.  Chelsea’s was an unnecessary challenge by Foster but, given how well he has done for us this season, it is hard to criticise.

So we reach the half way stage of the season in the top half of the table with over twice as many points as the team in 18th place, so allowing us to continue to look up rather than down.

But the best news came this morning with a tweet from Kabasele that announced that he didn’t think that there was anything broken and “Great gesture of the goal post who visited me at hospital.”  I do love his sense of humour and it was wonderful that he let the fans know that he is better than might have been expected when we saw him taken out of the ground.  I wish him a full and speedy recovery.

Robbery at the Bridge

Toddy’s bunting

Toddy’s funeral took place on Wednesday.  It has to be said that his family and many friends gave him a magnificent send off and it was fitting that the wake was held in the Captain’s bar at Vicarage Road.  The help given to Toddy’s family by his friends at the club, especially Dave Messenger, has been outstanding and a testament to what he meant to the people there.

Due to some friends travelling in to London from distance and arriving early, I made a late choice to find a pre-match establishment in which to meet up.  So I found myself at 9:50 with a group of other Hornets waiting for the pub to open.  When we were finally admitted, it was only to find that they were not serving beer until 11.  However, the breakfast menu looked good, so I decided to have a coffee and something to eat.  I must say that smoked salmon, avocado and scrambled eggs is not my usual pre-match meal, but it was very nice indeed.  I then headed to another pub (for beer) and met some of our party at the bar.  It was a good crowd that gathered before kick-off, and rather lovely to be joined by Watford’s matchday announcers, Tim Coombs and Emma Saunders, travelling as fans for the day along with Emma’s Watford supporting family.

Gathering for a corner

Despite the weather warnings that had come due to Storm Brian (what sort of name is Brian for a storm?) it was a pleasant walk to the ground.  We saw signs for the Upper Shed so passed through security (a cursory look in my bag) only to find that we were at the entrance to the home section of the ground.  When we reached the away entrance, the security was considerably stiffer.  We had to negotiate repeating phalanxes of stewards before the final search.  I pointed out to the woman searching me that a physical search had not been deemed necessary at the home end, but she was having none of it.  I wonder if they ever find anything (apart from Mike’s Swiss Army knife).

To the seats and Dave M had secured a cracking view for the City Orns and was kindly sitting at the end of our row to keep an eye on us. Team news was just one change from the Arsenal game with Deeney, who had done so well after coming on as substitute, replacing Gray.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Kabasele, Britos; Femenía, Cleverley, Doucouré, Holebas; Pereyra, Deeney, Richarlison.

Holebas takes a free kick

After the recent runs of form for both Watford and Chelsea, we travelled to Stamford Bridge in an uncharacteristically positive mood.  But disaster struck after 12 minutes.  The ball clearly went out for a goal kick to the visitors, but the lino wasn’t paying attention.  He hesitated before making the decision, decided to take the advice of the Chelsea fans sitting behind him and awarded a corner. The delivery was taken short and found its way to Pedro who powered in off the far post, much to the anger of the travelling Hornets who let the linesman know exactly what they thought of him.  As did Jose Holebas, who was booked for his trouble.  The home side should have been two goals ahead side soon after as Fàbregas found himself in space with only Gomes to beat, but he tried to chip the keeper who reached up a hand and snuffed out the danger.  There was then a booking for either side, Mariappa for a foul on Hazard and Rüdiger for tripping Richarlison.  Both fouls looked rather soft.  Chelsea then had a couple of half chances.  Pedro tried a shot from distance that flew just wide of the far post.  Then David Luiz tried another shot from distance, but it was straight at Gomes.

Doucoure haring down the pitch to celebrate with the Watford fans

Watford came into the game on the half hour when Cleverley curled a free-kick over the wall and Courtois had to be smart to push the shot wide of the target.  Richarlison then threatened for the first time, firing over from outside the area.  The Brazilian then exchanged passes with Doucouré before shooting straight at Courtois.  At the other end, Luiz tried a shot from outside the area, but Gomes pushed the ball clear.  In time added on at the end of the half, Watford won a thrown-in in line with the penalty box.  I couldn’t believe that the players were taking so much time to take it.  First Femenía left the ball for Holebas, who took his time finding his space, he even had an aborted run-up.  I was sure that he had delayed too long and the ref would blow for half time as soon as he released the ball.  But he didn’t, it dropped for Doucouré, who fired past Courtois and the Hornets were level on the stroke of half time.  Gomes did his usual goal celebration in front of the Watford fans and Doucouré ran the length of the pitch to celebrate with us.

So it was honours even at half time, which was certainly no more than Watford deserved.

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal

Chelsea had a great chance to strike back at the start of the second half, but Mariappa was on hand to turn Azpilicueta’s cross over the bar from close range.  Then Femenía crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked allowing Chelsea to break and Pedro to send a shot from distance wide of the target.  Richarlison had a great chance to put Watford into the lead as he received a cross from Femenía, but he was a bit off balance and hit it with his left foot so it flew wide.  Had he been able to get it on to his other foot, it would have been in the net.  But the Hornets weren’t to be denied for long as a fantastic move finished with Richarlison finding Pereyra in space and he didn’t miss.  This time, the players were able to celebrate right in front of us before running to the dug-out and celebrating with the manager and the subs (and Pereyra with the medical staff).  It should have been 3-1 soon afterwards as Britos crossed for Richarlison, but the Brazilian headed just wide.  There was another booking for the home side as Morata was cautioned for a foul on Kabasele before being replaced with Batshuayi.  Sadly, Pereyra’s day was over soon after, as he took a knock winning a corner and had to be replaced by Carrillo.  The referee, who had done us no favours all afternoon allowed the corner to be taken before Carrillo came on.  The substitute made an early impression as he received a pass from Deeney before cutting back to Richarlison whose shot was deflected wide.  The home side made another substitution replacing Alonso with Willian.

A corner at the Shed end

With 20 minutes to go, and completely against the run of play, the home side levelled as Pedro crossed for Batshuayi to head past Gomes.  Watford looked to strike back as a Cleverley free-kick was met by the head of Kabasele who, sadly, directed the ball straight at the keeper.  The visitors then had another chance, this time from a corner but, again, Richarlison headed wide.  With 10 minutes to go Silva made rather an odd substitution replacing Deeney with Watson.  Chelsea had a great chance with a low free kick that reached Batshuayi who tuned it over the bar.  At the other end, Femenía’s cross was headed wide by Kabasele.  But it was the home side who took the lead as a cross from Willian reached Azpilicueta who headed home.  My reaction at the time was that this was a travesty.  The Chelsea fans started singing “That’s why we’re Champions’ which did make me laugh.  The arrogance, when they should have been somewhat shame-faced.  Silva made one last roll of the dice replacing Mariappa with Gray.  But it was Chelsea that made the further breakthrough.  There was time wasting both on and off the pitch as the ball was caught by an idiot in the crowd who decided to hold on to it, while Gomes waited for it to be returned.  There were two stewards within feet of the fool, but neither of them moved to allow the game to continue.  But more important for the outcome of the game was a moment of madness on the pitch as Britos dallied with the ball on the edge of the Watford area, then gave it away allowing Batshuayi to advance and score Chelsea’s fourth.  A scoreline that was extremely flattering to the home side.

Cleverley lines up a free kick

I was furious at the end of the game.  But we had been our own worst enemies.  In this division you cannot expect to win games if you don’t take your chances.  Watford missed some sitters, while Chelsea were clinical.

But, what the hell, there have been enough occasions in recent years when I have left Stamford Bridge fuming because we had been humiliated.  On this occasion, we were easily the equal of the home side and deserved at least a point.

When we were promoted, I really didn’t believe that we would find ourselves in such a position.  We are sixth in the table on merit, having already played 4 of the “top 6” and only been second best to Manchester City.  So I will continue to enjoy the football whether we win or lose and marvel at what a great team we are currently watching.

Disappointing Defeat to the Blues

 

The new Hornet Shop

The new Hornet Shop

On Friday night I had a date with Chekhov at the National Theatre.  After taking my seat, I turned around to see Watford director Stuart Timperley sitting in the row behind me.  Two of my passions collided as we had a chat about the play that we were seeing as well as the Southampton game and our prospects for Saturday.

I arrived early at the West Herts to find Don waiting in the foyer as doors were not opening until midday.  By the time we reached opening time there was quite a crowd waiting outside.  When finally we entered, we took up our usual spots at ‘our’ table and, as the usual suspects gathered, I felt as though I was home again.  There is something very special about the first home game of the season and a guest appearance by Kevin le Belge was the icing on the cake.

On arrival at the ground, I had my first view of the new Hornet shop on the corner, which looks fabulous.  Inside the stadium, it was very pleasing to see that the South West corner, which seems to have been under construction forever, was finally finished.  It looked lovely.  At last we have a ground that does not look like a building site and is fit for purpose.  Thank you, Gino.

The completed South West corner

The completed South West corner

Team news was that there were no changes from the Southampton game, so the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos; Amrabat, Behrami, Capoue, Guedioura, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.  As the Chelsea team was announced and I was thinking that there were not too many likeable names on the list they got to the substitutes and the inclusion of Chalobah, whose name was greeted with a huge round of applause from the Watford faithful.

The game started very well for the Hornets who created their first chance in the seventh minute when Britos played a lovely ball down the left to Holebas whose shot was saved by Courtois.  The Hornets had an even better chance in the 24th minute as Amrabat went on a run down the right where he appeared to have been stopped by Azpilicueta, but escaped and put in a cross for Ighalo who, under challenge, turned the ball over the bar.  A Holebas cross was headed clear just before it reached Ighalo, it fell to Guedioura and I can’t have been the only one who was willing him to repeat his strike at Arsenal but, sadly, his shot was well wide of the target.  Chelsea’s best chance of the half came in time added on when Hazard won a free kick on the edge of the area.  He took it himself, but it was a poor effort struck low and straight at Gomes.

Goal Machine Capoue after scoring

Goal Machine Capoue after scoring

It had been an impressive first half for the Hornets who had most of the goal chances while keeping Chelsea at bay with some good defending.  Amrabat, in particular, had been superb both going forward and when tracking back.  Also, for the traditionalists among us, there was a certain pleasure in watching a game featuring goalkeepers wearing red and green shirts and a referee in black.

Watford took the lead ten minutes into the second half as a throw-in from Amrabat reached Guedioura who crossed for (goal machine) Capoue who controlled the ball before blasting it into the roof of the net.  Chelsea tried to hit back almost straight away with a shot from Hazard that was caught by Gomes.  The visitors threatened again as Costa broke into the box but Gomes saved at his feet.  Watford had been sitting very deep and letting Chelsea attack so there was a certain inevitability when they got the equalizer with 10 minutes to go, although it took a mistake from the Watford keeper as a Hazard shot from distance was spilled by Gomes and the substitute, Batshuayi, turned it in.  Suddenly the Chelsea fans in the Vicarage Road end started making some noise.

Behrami lining up a free kick

Behrami lining up a free kick

Another Chelsea attack was stopped by a brave tackle from Capoue who was injured in the process and, after a period of treatment, limped off to be replaced by Doucouré.  Hearts were in mouths in the Rookery as we watched a scramble in the box at the other end but, thankfully, the ball ended up with Gomes.  It was a brief respite as a promising Watford move broke down when Guedioura played a poor pass to Doucouré that was intercepted by Fabregas who played a sublime ball to Costa who advanced before beating Gomes.  This was followed by the very odd sight of fighting in the Family Stand as a number of away fans who had secured seats there were ejected.  Mazzarri made a couple of late substitutions replacing Guedioura and Holebas with Vydra and Zúñiga, but it was the visitors who had the final chance of the game when Batshuayi rattled the crossbar.  The final whistle went signalling a frustrating defeat for the Hornets.  A number of the Watford players walked straight off at the end, but it was interesting to see Vydra joining Deeney and Gomes on their usual comprehensive lap of appreciation.

The post-game analysis took one of two themes.  Either we were robbed or we gave Chelsea the victory.  Some argued that Costa who, television pictures confirmed, was guilty of ‘simulation’ having already been booked should not have been on the pitch to score the winning goal.  But it was mistakes by a tiring Watford team and the tendency to sit back and defend the lead that led to the goals.  Also, given that the Chelsea substitutions changed the game, you have to wonder why we didn’t introduce some fresh legs to challenge them.  But, taking a positive view, it says a lot for the progress of the team that we are bemoaning a narrow loss to Chelsea, having been the better side for the first 70 minutes.  I was expecting nothing from this game so, having seen an entertaining match with no little quality from the Watford players, while I was disappointed I left the stadium with no complaints.

Next up we have Arsenal visiting Vicarage Road.  While I will go to that game with low expectations, I am no longer expecting us to be turned over by the ‘big’ clubs and that is progress.

 

Boxing Day at the Bridge

The pre-match huddle

The pre-match huddle

When the ticket prices for this game were announced, I sent the usual message to my regular travelling companions to see who wanted tickets only to receive a raft of refusals due to the excessively high price.  Luckily for me, I have a lovely niece who has never been to Stamford Bridge and was very excited at the prospect.  I thought long and hard before inviting her, as recent trips to Chelsea have meant pretty brutal defeats and I didn’t want to give her the worst Christmas present ever.  As it was Boxing Day and there were no trains, I decided to go on the club coach for the first time in a number of years.  It was nice to catch up with some old friends and, as luck would have it, we ended up sitting close to a couple of friends for the short journey to West London.  As we approached the turnstiles, Amelia asked if they didn’t want us to go in as there were lines of stewards blocking our path.  Thankfully, our turkey sandwiches passed the inspection and we were allowed entry.

Team news was that the only change was the replacement of the ineligible Aké with Holebas.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.  Prior to kick-off there was a nice tribute to Don Howe who, sadly, died this week.

Challenging at a corner

Challenging at a corner

Most Watford fans I know were pretty unhappy when Mourinho left, as Chelsea’s current position in the table seems to have more to do with the players’ dislike of Jose than any lack of talent.  The consensus was that, following their win against Sunderland and the appointment of Hiddink, we could be in for a very difficult game.  The home side certainly started very well and had an early chance as Costa met a corner from Pedro but diverted it over the bar.  Soon after Willian had a shot from the edge of the area that was blocked by Britos for a corner.  The home side completely dominated the first 10 minutes, but Watford then gained a foothold in the game and the first chance for the visitors was a shot from Jurado that was put out for a corner.  Then Deeney fed Ighalo who was tripped on the edge of the box, but the foul was given the other way.  Some good build-up play finished with a cross from Holebas that was put out for a corner.  Jurado then found Ighalo in a great position in front of goal, but he completely mishit his shot and it flew well wide.  There was danger at the other end as Costa broke forward, but Gomes was out to save at his feet.  Deeney, again, found Ighalo in the box but, in the words of the bloke behind me, he took one scoop too many and the ball went out for a goal kick.  A dangerous cross from Holebas was calmly chested back to Courtois in the Chelsea goal.

Holebas lines up a free kick

Holebas lines up a free kick

Holebas then exchanged passes with Deeney on the wing and whipped in another cross that was put out for a corner.  From Watson’s delivery, Ighalo had a free header but directed it wide of the target.  There was another decent chance for Watford as Jurado went on a great run and crossed for Ighalo whose shot unfortunately bounced off Deeney to safety.  Then Watson intercepted a pass in the midfield and fed Abdi whose shot from distance was high and wide.  Just after the half hour mark, Chelsea took the lead against the run of play.  Costa broke forward and tried a cross that was put out for a corner from which Terry headed the ball down, it bounced off Cahill’s back and dropped for Costa to rifle home.  It was a cruel blow at a time in the game when Watford had been on top.  The Watford heads dropped a bit after the goal and I feared that Chelsea would increase their lead.  Willian, who had been a menace down the Chelsea right, broke forward, but his cross was deflected wide by Britos.  Then Oscar received a cross from Ivanovich that he hit wide.

Holebas and Ighalo congratulate Deeney on his penalty

Holebas and Ighalo congratulate Deeney on his penalty

Watford hit back just before half time after Ighalo was brought down just outside the box.  Jurado took the free-kick which deflected off the wall for a corner.  Watson’s delivery looked like it would come to nothing until it was handled by Matic.  It was a nonsensical thing to do as no Watford player was anywhere near the ball, but the referee had no choice but to point to the spot.  Deeney stepped up and coolly sent Courtois the wrong way to draw the Hornets level.  It was no more than we deserved and there was a spot of joyful bouncing in the away end.  The home side had a couple of chances to regain the lead in the dying minutes of the half.  First when Britos fouled Costa just outside the box and received a card for his trouble.  Willian took the free kick which flew a mile over the bar.  Then a heart-stopping moment as Pedro broke forward and put in a cross that evaded all the Watford defenders in the box but, thankfully, no Chelsea player could get near it either and it flew wide of the far post.

So honours even at half time after an exciting and pretty even half.

Anya and Behrami run to join the goal celebrations

Anya and Behrami run to join the goal celebrations

Hiddink made a change at half time bringing Mikel on for Fabregas.  There was an early scare for the Hornets as Azpilicueta was allowed to get into the Watford box, but his cross was cleared.  At the other end, Jurado played a ball out to Holebas whose cross was put out for a corner.  Nothing came of the set piece as Deeney was floored in the box, but the referee saw no infringement.  A break by Chelsea was stopped by Cathcart, who earned a yellow card for the foul.  From a Chelsea corner, there were shouts of hand ball from the home fans as a shot was blocked, but it had been a hopeful shout and nothing was given.  Capoue had a great chance to take the lead for the visitors with two stunning shots in quick succession, the first saved by Courtois, the second blocked by Terry.  The disappointment didn’t last too long, however, as a minute later Ighalo dribbled into the box and hit a shot past Courtois from an angle.  Cue mayhem in the away end and the trademark Ighalo celebration by the corner flag right in front of us.  The celebration again continued with a spot of bouncing and chants of “We’re all going on a European tour”.  The Chelsea fans had another go at winning a penalty for their side after Oscar took a tumble as the ball was rolling harmlessly through to Gomes.  Thankfully the referee was unmoved by the shouts.  Back on his feet, Oscar played the ball back to Pedro whose shot was blocked brilliantly by Watson.  Another cross from Willian was claimed by Gomes.  Willian threatened again as he ran on to a lovely cross-field ball but Gomes saved the resulting shot.

Cathcart, Capoue and Britos

Cathcart, Capoue and Britos

The home side were level on 64 minutes after Jurado lost the ball in midfield, Willian played a through ball to Costa who finished past Gomes to claim his and Chelsea’s second.  This prompted chants of “We are staying up” from some of the Chelsea fans near us.  Good on them!  Chelsea had a decent chance to take the lead with a dangerous cross from Oscar that Costa nearly finished, but the attentions of Gomes and two defenders were enough to make him put the ball wide.  There were a series of substitutions as Behrami and Anya replaced Abdi and Jurado for the visitors and Hazard came on for Pedro for the home side.  With 15 minutes remaining, Willian went down rather easily on the edge of the box, but justice was done as he fired the ball well over the bar.  Watford nearly handed Chelsea the three points as Behrami made a rash challenge on Hazard and the referee pointed to the spot.  There were chants of “Heurelho Gomes Baby” ringing out in the away end, but he didn’t need to get involved as Oscar slipped just as he was about to hit the penalty and put the ball into orbit sparking yet more celebrations in the Watford end.  More Chelsea gamesmanship as a decision to award a throw-in to the Hornets was revised after Ivanovich rolled about a bit, the referee over-ruled his linesman and gave a free kick and a yellow card to Holebas.  Soon after, Behrami also found his way into the referee’s book, this time deservedly, after a poor challenge on Azpilicueta.

Deeney and Ighalo in the Chelsea box

Deeney and Ighalo in the Chelsea box

A lovely break by Anya was stopped by the linesman’s flag.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead as Ighalo and Deeney both broke into the box, Odion was the first take a shot that was blocked and rebounded to Troy, whose follow-up was also blocked.  A nasty tackle on Cathcart earned Costa a yellow card with the Hornet faithful screaming for a red.  As we reached injury time, the home fans were streaming out while the visitors were on their feet chanting “Watford FC” encouraging the lads to go for a winner.  There was a final substitution in time added on as Deeney made way for Guedioura, handing the captain’s armband to Ben Watson on his way off.  There was one last chance to win the game and it fell to the home side, so it was a relief to see Mikel hit a shot just wide.

The final whistle went to the customary celebrations.  I don’t think I will ever get tired of seeing Flores with a huge smile on his face hugging his players (and the odd member of the opposition) and then waving and blowing a kiss to the fans in the away stand.  As we got back on the coach for the journey home, there were big smiles.  Although it is a measure of the season that we’ve had that there was disappointment that we hadn’t taken all three points and concern that we’d shown the opposition a bit too much respect at the start.  Certainly we had misplaced more passes than usual.  To reflect on the positives, we are in 7th position, 3 points off the Champions League places and 12 points from the relegation zone (Don asked me to check that one).  Already we have taken 4 points from the first two of our ‘difficult Christmas fixtures’ and even I am moving from my usually super cautious viewpoint and acknowledging that we could get something from the next two games.  But, even if we don’t, it will still have been a remarkable start to the season.  Best of all, I didn’t spoil Amelia’s Christmas and the memory of bouncing with her at Stamford Bridge is one to be treasured.