Tag Archives: Peter Clarke

A Rock and Roll Night Out on Merseyside

A proper old school paper ticket

It felt like groundhog day when I arrived in Liverpool.  It was just over a week since the futile trip for the postponed game and, after the two away games at the Liverpool clubs and the cup game against Everton, this was my fifth trip to Merseyside for a football match this season.

I dropped my things off at the hotel and picked up a message from Mike suggesting that we meet in the Excelsior, where we had spent a couple of happy hours on a previous trip.  After a quiet pint there, we headed for a pub in the city centre where we had an interesting encounter with some locals.  There was a well-dressed eccentric complaining about the long trip that he had taken to Widnes for a funeral.  I may well have misunderstood what he was saying but he seemed to be unconvinced that he had attended the correct funeral.  Also at the bar, were an elderly mother and son.  The son was very friendly and welcoming, the mother not so much, seeming to resent her quiet whisky being interrupted by Watford fans as she pointedly told us that she supported Liverpool.  Pete had taken the supporters coach and they had arrived very early.  So, after some negotiation with the steward, who didn’t want to let him get off, he made the trip across the Mersey and joined us for dinner.

Mike, Pete and I with Nasher and Prowsey

Mike is friends with Ian Prowse, a brilliant musician who we had seen in concert after the Liverpool game (https://amsterdam-music.com/).  Prowsey is a Tranmere fan so Mike had arranged to meet up with him before the game.  He had told Mike that he was going to the game with his mate, Nasher.  Nasher being Brian Nash from Frankie goes to Hollywood, so we found ourselves in the presence of two Liverpool music legends.  We met for dinner and then caught the Merseyrail for the journey across (under) the river and then caught a cab to the ground.  As there was still some time before kick-off, we went into the Prenton Park pub by the ground.  As we had wine with dinner, Pete and I decided we would continue.  The barmaid looked a little confused but found a couple of long glasses in which to serve our drinks.

We said our goodbyes and headed for the ground and I was rather delighted to see that the turnstiles actually had operators to whom I could hand the huge paper ticket.  Having just said goodbye to Nasher outside Prenton Park, it was a little surreal to hear “Two Tribes” playing in the stadium.  The pre-game playlist also included the theme from “The Rockford Files”, a real flashback to my youth.

The Prenton Park pitch

Team news was that Pearson was putting out a very young team with first starts for Barrett, Whelan, Hungbo and João Pedro.  So, the starting XI was Bachmann; Holebas, Kabasele, Spencer-Adams, Barrett; Hungbo, Quina, Dele-Bashiru, Whelan; João Pedro, Gray.  During the week João Pedro had been complaining about the cold on social media, so I can only imagine what he thought when he emerged from the tunnel to find a very muddy pitch and the ground enveloped in an icy fog.  Although, regarding the pitch, kudos must be given to the grounds staff who had worked very hard to ensure that it was playable, even if a police officer outside had commented that anyone who attempted a sliding tackle was likely to end up in the stands.

Watford started the game brightly and created an early chance when Hungbo escaped upfield and tried a shot from outside the area, but his effort was blocked.  Then João Pedro went on an excellent run before cutting inside and hitting a curling shot that was blocked by Monthe.  The Hornets threatened again as Whelan crossed for João Pedro who could only turn the ball over the bar.

Spencer-Adams and Whelan

Tranmere’s first goal attempt came as a cross-field ball was played to Blackett-Taylor who shot high and wide of the near post.  Then Danns tried his luck but his shot flew wide of the far post.  Nearly half an hour had passed before the first shot on target which came as a deep ball was played to Morris whose effort was blocked by Bachmann, but the ball dropped to Blackett-Taylor, who should have done better with his shot which cleared the bar.  The home side were dominating at this point and a free kick was cleared only as far as Danns who shot high and wide of the far post.  Tranmere took the lead on 35 minutes after the Hornets failed to clear from a corner, there was a scramble in the box before the ball fell to Monthe who fired past Bachmann.  The Hornets had a half chance to restore parity before the break, but the shot from Hungbo was poor and didn’t trouble Davies in the Tranmere goal.

Pearson made a change at the break replacing Dele-Bashiru with Hinds.  The home side won a corner early in the second half, Ridehalgh got on the end of it but his header was easily gathered by Bachman.  Then Watford created a decent chance as João Pedro found himself one-on-one with the keeper, but Davies made the save, the rebound fell to Hinds whose shot was over the target.

Celebrating the equaliser

The first booking of the game went to Jennings for a foul on Hungbo.  The Hornets had another good chance to draw level as a free kick was punched clear and dropped to Holebas who met it with a decent volley that hit the post.  Tranmere made their first change on 64 minutes replacing Ferrier with Mullin.  Watford were almost architects of their own downfall when Bachmann dropped a corner and was a little lucky that the referee adjudged him to have been fouled.  The home side looked to increase their lead when Mullin tried a run into the box, but Bachmann was out to gather.  The equaliser came from Watford’s first corner of the game, the ball fell to Hinds, his first attempt was blocked, but the ball rebounded to him and he finished past Davies.  Tranmere had a great chance to regain the lead almost immediately as Mullin got on the end of a long pass, took the ball around Bachmann but his shot hit the outside of the post.  The Hornets then threatened as Hinds crossed for João Pedro, but Davies intervened to put the ball out for a corner.  Kabasele had a chance to grab a winner when he got on the end of a cross from Holebas but could not find the target.  With 10 minutes to go, Pearson was forced to make a substitution as João Pedro had picked up an injury, Dalby was the man who took his place, another youngster making his debut.  Tranmere were pushing for a winner as Danns tried to break into the box, but he was stopped by a great tackle from Spencer-Adams.  The home side could have won it in time added on after some terrible defending by the Hornets, Holebas knocked the ball into the path of Danns who really should have done better but shot wide of the target.

Dalby and Barrett

So, the game went into extra time.  Gray messed up the kick-off, touching the ball twice and so conceding a free kick on the centre circle.  Very odd indeed.  Andre, who was captain for the night, looked to make amends as he picked up a decent ball, advanced and crossed for Hinds whose header back across goal was cleared.  Whelan then had a chance to put the visitors ahead with a lovely curling shot that was stopped by a great save from Davies.  Holebas, who really did not appear to be enjoying his evening, went on a gorgeous mazy run through the Tranmere defence.  It came to nothing, but it was great fun to watch.  With five minutes to go in the first period of extra time, each side made a substitution with Bennetts replacing Hungbo for the Hornets and Danns making way for Gilmour for the home side.  There was danger for the visitors as the ball was bobbling around the Watford box, Riedhalgh crossed for Morris but the header was wide of the target.  The winner resulted from more poor defending from the Hornets as Hinds had the chance to clear the ball but instead kept it in on the right touchline, the ball fell for Gilmour who put in a cross, Blackett-Taylor flicked it on for Mullin to head past Bachmann to regain the lead for Tranmere.  The home side could have extended their lead just before half time in the added period as a corner was cleared to Morris whose shot flew just wide of the near post.

Bachmann takes a goal kick

Each side made a change at the start of the second period of extra time with Quina making way for Wise (son of Dennis) for the Hornets and Woods replacing Blackett-Taylor for the home side.  Watford never looked like getting back in the game and the home fans were enjoying themselves immensely, with “Tequila” ringing out from the stand behind the goal.  As the final whistle approached, there was an announcement asking the fans not to run on the pitch at the end of the game as they would damage it!  Needless to say, the request was in vain and, as the final whistle went, there was a mini pitch invasion.

The reaction of the Watford fans at the final whistle was mostly resignation, although one lad was walking down the stand shouting angrily at Gray.  The majority politely applauded the players, who responded in kind, and then headed out.  The coaches were waiting outside the away end, so Pete left us there and Mike and I headed back to the Prenton Park where a very happy Prowsey was already at the bar and planning to get tickets for himself and his daughter for the visit of Manchester United.  Mike and I commented that we already had tickets for that tie that we now couldn’t use.  We headed back to the City and the lads bumped into a woman that they knew in the lift at the station.  When she left Prowsey said, “That was Janice Long.”  I hadn’t recognised her.  We had one last drink in a pub that was playing a video of Liverpool icons from the 80s.  So, I found myself in the very odd position of watching the bloke I was chatting with on the telly.

Barrett, Spencer-Adams and Hinds challenging at a set piece

In the cold light of day, while it had been a disappointing performance from the youngsters, it was not unexpected.  They had started brightly enough and there had been a few decent moments, but the Tranmere team were too strong for them and, ultimately, appeared to want it more.  Of the youngsters, Hinds did well when he came on and deserved his goal.  Spencer-Adams has looked promising in both games and Whelan had a decent second half.  Of the first-team players, Kabasele put in a decent shift, Holebas had a couple of very decent chances but looked unhappy to be there and Gray was mostly anonymous, which was very sad to see.

I have to say that, after three games in a week, I was not heartbroken at the thought of a weekend off.  The prospect of playing Man United in the next round had not excited me at all.  Given our precarious position in the Premier League, this extended break will likely be beneficial as it gives the team longer to work together on the training pitch.  The Tranmere fans will love the visit of United and I wish them a lot of luck as they were tremendous at both of the games.

Travelling to two midweek games in one week, both ending in defeat, may not appear to be the most enjoyable way to use my precious holiday from work.  But I have been going to football for long enough not to rely on the game to provide enjoyment and my Thursday night on Merseyside with the rock stars was actually a lot of fun.

From Coasting to Capitulation

Daniel Bachmann

Before the game, I was a little surprised to discover that the last time that we had played Tranmere Rovers had been GT’s final home game as manager in April 2001.  I was living in the US at the time and had flown home to be at the match.  From memory, it was an uninspiring draw and fans were unhappy.  I was also at the previous home game against them, the Easter Saturday tie which had looked to be heading for a dull defeat until two goals and two dismissals for the Hornets resulted in a comeback win that sparked our run to the play-offs in 1999.  Very happy memories of that one

It was nice to be back to the usual routine of a 3pm Saturday kick-off and I was in the West Herts just after midday.  They were clearly not expecting a big crowd as the car park stewards were nowhere to be seen.  But Don was in his usual spot and all was right with the world.  Jacque was getting food, so I went to join her and was rather gratified when the woman behind the counter identified our location as “the TV table”.  It is either that or “Are you sitting with Don?”  We are creatures of habit.  There were fond reminiscences about our visit to hospitality for the Wolves game.  Trond asked if we had been sitting in the new overhang which is in front of where they sit and commented that it had moved a lot more than in previous games.

The mysterious Spencer-Adams

Unsurprisingly, the team news was that there were nine changes from the Wolves game with only Dawson and Chalobah keeping their places.  I am ashamed to say that there was one name in the starting line-up that I didn’t recognise (Spencer-Adams).  As the U23s generally play their matches in the afternoon these days, I don’t get to see them anymore.  The starting XI was Bachmann; Masina, Spencer-Adams, Dawson, Mariappa; Dele-Bashiru, Chalobah, Quina; Pereyra, Gray, Success.

The walk down Vicarage Road was rather refreshing as there were no touts or half-and-half scarves.  But I was rather disappointed to find that the programmes had sold out, my search of the Rookery concourse failing to find any of the programme stalls still open.  That’ll teach me for leaving the pub so late.

The game kicked off at 15:01 in support of the “Heads Up” campaign and was designed to encourage everyone to take a minute to think about their mental health.

Celebrating Dele_Bashiru’s opener

There was a fairly quiet start to the game, although the Tranmere crowd, which was just under 2700, were already making a noise.  With 12 minutes on the clock, the Hornets won a corner.  This was played short, Chalobah found Dele-Bashiru at the edge of the box and he hit a lovely shot from distance past Chapman in the Tranmere goal to put the Hornets in the lead.  The home side were two up soon after as Tranmere struggled to clear, a shot from Success was blocked and the ball was cleared to Chalobah who also beat Chapman with a shot from outside the area.  Nate ran straight to Pearson to celebrate, so clearly there were no hard feelings after his quick substitution in the Villa game.  There was a decent chance of a third for the Hornets after 20 minutes when Quina made space for himself and unleashed a shot that was deflected over the bar.  Chalobah had a decent chance to score a second following a corner, but this time his shot was well over the bar.  Watford threatened again as Pereyra played a through ball for Gray but Andre was unable to reach it and it ran through to the keeper.  Just before the half hour mark Rovers won a corner, the delivery flew harmlessly across the goal.  Watford scored a third on 34 minutes when Success beat a defender before passing to Gray who helped it on to Pereyra who blasted past Chapman.  Tranmere had a chance to pull one back when a corner found Clarke at the far post, but his header was wide of the target.  They threatened again as a shot from Monthé deflected off the head of Dawson for a corner that came to nothing.  Bachmann was finally called into action with 5 minutes to go to half time, but the low curling shot by Jennings was easily gathered.   Jennings created another chance in time added on at the end of the half but his shot from distance was also comfortably stopped by Bachmann.

Mapps congratulates Chalobah (missed the hug with Pearson)

The half time whistle went with the Watford faithful feeling very comfortable.  It had been a convincing performance in the first half and the lads appeared to be coasting.

There was a change for the Hornets at half time which meant the much anticipated debut of João Pedro who came on in place of Chalobah, who had picked up an injury.  Tranmere made a double substitution with Blackett-Taylor and Woods replacing Payne and Nelson.  The first action from the Brazilian wonder boy was to jump into a tackle on Caprice giving away a free kick.  But he was soon showing his attacking skills as he received a pass from Pereyra and took a shot that was blocked.  He created a better chance soon after as Success went on a run before finding him in space, the shot was excellent and flew just wide of the near post.  Watford threatened again as a corner was played out to Quina who mishit his effort, the ball finished with Dawson whose shot was high and wide.  The visitors won a corner of their own, but the cross was easily caught by Bachmann.  Watford made a second substitution on the hour mark with Whelan coming on to make his debut in place of Quina who had picked up an injury.  Out of nowhere, the visitors then had the ball in the Watford net as Blackett-Taylor crossed for Jennings who headed in at the near post.  The flag was up indicating offside, but the shouts from the Watford end of “sit down, shut up” soon looked rather foolish as the VAR overruled the lino and allowed the goal.  This prompted joyful chants of “VAR, VAR” from the visiting supporters.

Masina and Success congratulating Pereyra on his goal (honestly!)

Tranmere had another decent chance as Jennings tried a flick at the near post, but Bachmann pushed it over the bar.  Jennings was then booked for a foul on João Pedro.  It was a poor foul, but disappointing to see the youngster roll over three times after the contact.  No harm done as, soon after, he went on a lovely run which deserved better, but nobody could get on the end of his cross.  Pearson made his final change and it was another player making his debut as Mason Barrett replaced Spencer-Adams.    Disaster befell the Hornets on 77 minutes as Bachmann failed to catch a cross from Blackett-Taylor, the ball dropped and was played to Monthé who turned the ball in past a couple of defenders on the line.  Tranmere made a final change bringing Mullin on for Ferrier.  There had been an indication that some of the Watford players were struggling for fitness and it was rather concerning to see Masina giving Success a leg massage, presumably to ward off cramp (GT would have been livid).  As I shouted encouragement, the thought crossed my mind that I had never been to Prenton Park, so what happened next is all my fault.  Blackett-Taylor was tackled by Barrett on the corner of the box.  He went down under the challenge and the initial decision from the referee was that it was a corner.  The Tranmere fans were shouting for VAR with good reason.  The decision was that it should have been a penalty and the footage shown on the big screen afterwards confirmed that as the correct decision.  Tranmere substitute, Mullin, stepped up and sent Bachmann the wrong way to draw the visitors level with three minutes left on the clock.  To add insult to injury, a couple of minutes later Pereyra was shown a straight red for a rather innocuous foul on Blackett-Taylor.  VAR was definitely not our friend on this afternoon as the decision stood and we played the six minutes of added time with ten men.  Watford had a chance to regain the lead when Success was taken down of the edge of the box by Monthé, who earned a yellow card for his trouble.  The free kick was awful as Masina played it short to Dele-Bashiru who played a return pass, but the Moroccan got under the ball and shot high and wide.

A first look at Joao Pedro

The final whistle went to boos and the sight of a lot of people storming out.  There was one bright spot in the gloom, though, as Masina came over and gave a child his shirt.  He was then looking in the crowd for someone.  When he finally spotted the person he was looking for, he waved and then came into the crowd and gave them his undershirt and a warm hug.  My sisters told me that, during the warm-up, he had kicked a ball into the crowd which had hit a woman.  She was rather shocked and upset at the time and his apologies had seemed to fall on deaf ears, although the offer of his gloves had been taken up by her husband.  Thankfully she was recovered by the end of the game and the apology, the shirt and the hug were gratefully received.

Back to the West Herts and there were a lot of very glum faces and a sense of shock.  We had been coasting at half time and Rovers had been poor.  But the loss of Chalobah and then Quina changed the game and the whole of the second half seemed to be played with Watford on the back foot.  I briefly thought that it looked like one of those games that Liverpool used to play in the 80s when they would play for a draw in the first leg of a league cup game before battering the opposition in the second leg.  But those games were controlled 0-0 draws.  This game was quite baffling.  It has to be said that it was an opportunity for those who were on the fringes to show Pearson what they can do.  Sadly, I don’t think that Success or Gray did anything that would convince him to include them against Bournemouth.  However, Chalobah had another good outing, Dele-Bashiru looked excellent and João Pedro put in a decent showing.  The fitness problems of the fringe players was a cause for concern and they may find themselves with some extra routines in training.

Spencer-Adams, Gray and Dele-Bashiru

I have to say that I did not share the concerns of some who thought this may derail our recovery in the Premier League as most of the players are not regular starters.  I did worry about it derailing the U23s who have had a decent season so far.  But they played on Monday and won 6-1, so no worries there.

We really could do without another game at the moment, but I am very much looking forward to a trip to Birkenhead.  If the Tranmere fans are half as impressive at their place as they were at Vicarage Road, we are in for a fun evening.

 

Seventh Heaven

Paying tribute to Ken Furphy

Paying tribute to Ken Furphy

After last week’s wonderful display, we should have gone into this game with a lot of confidence.  But anyone who has watched Watford this season knows that you cannot predict which team will turn up.  I must admit that when I heard that Blackpool hadn’t won away all season, my heart sank.

We were joined in the West Herts by Jacob, a Danish Watford fan who was making his first visit to Vicarage Road.  Having met Jacob at a pre-season game in Horsens in 2006, it was lovely to see him again and I really hoped that he was in for a treat.

Jokanovic made a single change bringing in Vydra for Munari who had a hamstring problem.  The starting eleven was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Tözsér, Layun, Paredes, Vydra, Ighalo and Deeney lining up in a 3-4-1-2 formation.  Blackpool featured Watford old boy Nyron Nosworthy who was given a great reception by the Watford fans.

Before kick-off, there was a minute’s applause for Ken Furphy who passed away last week.  As the manager who first took us to the old second division and the FA Cup semi-final, he is rightly revered among Watford fans and the applause was warm and loud.

Defending a free kick

Defending a free kick

Blackpool made a good start to the game.  An early cross was caught by Gomes with Davies challenging.  Miller got into a good position, but shot just wide of the far post.  Watford also had an early goal attempt from a Tözsér free-kick which Angella headed over the bar.  The visitors took the lead in the 7th minute as Paredes tackled Ferguson in the box, the ball bounced off Gomes to Orlandi who buried the ball with the Watford keeper out of position.  The home side tried to hit back immediately as Ighalo found Vydra who played a one-two with Deeney before shooting wide of the far post.  Hoban played a ball over the top to Deeney, who appeared to have outpaced the Blackpool defence, but the defender recovered to make a tackle.  A lovely passing move ended with Anya behind the Blackpool defence but his low cross was gathered by Parish before Ighalo could reach it.

Celebrating Deeney's goal

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

Deeney dispossessed Perkins and played the ball out to Ighalo whose shot was disappointingly weak and easy for the keeper.  Paredes crossed for Anya whose shot was blocked by Parish, the ball came out to Deeney who tried an overhead kick that flew well over the bar.  Watford’s next chance was a weak shot from Vydra that was blocked.  Layun was the next to try his luck, but his shot from distance was well off target.  Watford should have equalized on 32 minutes as Ighalo picked the ball up and unleashed a shot that Parish did really well to push over the bar.  The pressure on the visitors’ goal continued as Deeney played a low cross to Vydra but the Czech’s shot was blocked.  The only yellow card of the game went to Blackpool’s Davies who was booked for kicking the ball away to delay a Watford free-kick.  It was not his first effort at wasting time.  Given that the pressure had all been from Watford since the early goal it was something of a shock when Blackpool went two goals ahead.  A shot from Miller was going wide, but Gomes got a hand to it.  From the corner, McMahon found Davies on the goal line where he needed two attempts before he put the ball in the net.  In time added on, Miller had a chance to increase the lead but Gomes dropped to gather.

Congratulating Vydra

Congratulating Vydra

I must be becoming immune to boos from the home fans at the half time whistle as they didn’t register and I was only alerted to them when the bloke in front of me shouted “fickle fans” at those venting their displeasure.  It had been an odd half.  Watford had most of the possession, but had misplaced too many passes and the finishing had been woeful.  We needed a bit more aggression.  At this point I was feeling really sorry for Jacob.

At half-time, the Wealdstone Raider was on the pitch raising awareness of Autism Concern.  He finished his piece by mentioning that Watford season ticket holders can get into Wealdstone games for half price.  He exhorted us to “Come and see a decent team.”

Angella returns from celebrating his goal with the Watford bench

Angella returns from celebrating his goal with the Watford bench

I have no idea what Jokanovic said in his half-time team talk, or what was put in the tea, but whatever it was it worked.  He made a tactical change replacing Hoban with Ben Watson, who was making his debut after signing on Friday.  Anya and Paredes dropped into a back four, so the formation was now 4-3-3.  Within a minute of the restart, Watson won a ball in midfield, he released Ighalo who played it out to Layun who returned the pass for the Nigerian to beat Parish.  Ighalo didn’t wait around to celebrate.  He grabbed the ball from the back of the net and ran back to the centre circle.  Watford were suddenly on fire.  Vydra fed Layun whose cross flew wide of the far post with Deeney unable to connect.  Then Ighalo passed to Deeney who took time to control the ball before shooting just wide.  In a brief foray to the other end, the ball broke to Davies who shot straight at Gomes with the offside flag already raised.  A Tözsér free-kick was headed clear by O’Dea, although I’m not sure how much he knew about it as the impact knocked him over and the ball flew in to the Rookery.  My brother-in-law threw the ball back onto the pitch so is claiming an assist for the second goal which came as Deeney headed Tözsér’s corner home to level the score.

Ighalo thanks Deeney for his unselfish pass for the seventh goal

Ighalo thanks Deeney for his unselfish pass for the seventh goal

Unbelievably, we were ahead on 53 minutes as a long pass from Layun was headed down by Deeney to Ighalo who swept it under Parish and into the net.  The Nigerian did feel able to celebrate on this occasion.  Watford’s fourth came soon after as Anya broke down the left, his cross was cleared, but only as far as Vydra who buried it.  If the fans were happy to see Vydra score, it seemed that the players were even more so, they looked delighted for him as they celebrated.  Blackpool had a chance to pull one back as Gomes had to be smart to turn an O’Hara free-kick wide.  But that was a brief respite for the visitors as Deeney hit a cross which they were relieved to see headed out for a corner before it reached Angella.  Nosworthy almost got on the scoresheet for his former team but he turned the ball just wide of the goal.  From the corner, Angella headed the ball against the post, looked annoyed with himself and made no mistake with the follow-up to put the Hornets 5-2 ahead.  Anya went on another storming run down the left and passed to Vydra whose shot was saved by the feet of Parish.

Ighalo greets the Rookery

Ighalo greets the Rookery

On 68 minutes, Ken Furphy’s picture appeared on the big screen again prompting a minute’s applause to remember his achievement in leading Watford to promotion to the second division for the first time in our history in the 68-69 season.  The home side continued their siege on the Blackpool goal as Deeney crossed for Vydra who nodded the ball down to Ighalo whose shot was saved.  Ighalo’s hat-trick came on 72 minutes as Vydra played a through ball to Deeney, his shot bounced off the post to Ighalo who headed it in.  Jokanovic made his second substitution bringing Munari on for Tözsér.  With 10 minutes to go, Watford made it 7 as Deeney broke into the box and unselfishly played a square ball for Ighalo to tap into an empty net for his fourth goal of the afternoon.  There was only time for Anya to make way for Pudil.  The last 10 minutes were goalless.  At the final whistle, the ground was jumping and the players were warmly applauded.  Ighalo received the man of the match award for the second week running and looked delighted as he walked around the pitch proudly clutching the match ball.

Jokanovic’s half time changes will have done a lot to win over the more sceptical among the Watford faithful.  The early goals in the second half seemed to instil confidence in the Watford players and inject an energy that had been missing in the first half.  An unexpected joy was the work between the three forward players.  They were all playing for each other, which meant each of them put in a more effective performance.  There was just one niggling concern.  I hope that nobody tests that half-time tea for additives.  Oh, and someone needs to stop Jacob returning to Denmark.

Out with a Whimper

The teams coming on to the pitch

The teams coming on to the pitch

Last game of the season and the kick-off time is stupidly early, so I’m counting my blessings that we are playing at home.  Our pre-match gathering was smaller and quieter than usual and tinged with sadness that this was our last until August.

Team news was four changes from the horror show at Charlton including a debut for Academy graduate, Alex Jakubiak.  The starting line-up was Bond, Angella, Cassetti, Hoban, Pudil, Murray, Tözsér, Battocchio, Anya, Deeney and Jakubiak.  Huddersfield’s team included the sorely missed Jonathan Hogg.

Deeney receives Player of the Season award from Oli Phillips

Deeney receives Player of the Season award from Oli Phillips

As promised, the Player of the Season award was presented on the pitch before the game.  It was no surprise to see Troy Deeney honoured and rather nice to see Oli Phillips on the pitch to present it, but he was kept waiting as Deeney fulfilled his captain’s duties.

It all started so well as Pudil released jakubiak in the first minute, the youngster let fly a shot which flew across the goal and wide.  Jakubiak threatened again as Anya played him in, but a last ditch tackle seemed to put him off and Smithies was equal to his shot.  Huddersfield’s first goal attempt was a shot from Wells that was easily caught by Bond.  Dixon tried a shot from distance that flew high into the Rookery.  Clayton’s shot was heading for the bottom corner, but

Worshipping Huddersfield

Worshipping Huddersfield

Deeney cleared.  Nothing of note happened on the pitch in the next 15 minutes, so we turned to Harry Hornet to provide our entertainment as he gathered a beach ball from the away stand and ran around the pitch to give it to the 1881.  It was also noted that Huddersfield’s away contingent included the Pope and a gaggle of nuns.  On the half hour, Wells, who had been struggling with an injury following a foul by Cassetti, was replaced by Ward.  On 36 minutes, Battocchio broke into the box, but Smithies denied him.  Hammill had two chances to break the deadlock.  First a shot from outside the box that was straight at Bond and didn’t test the keeper, then a shot that flew wide of the far post.  Hammill was then fouled by Hoban who was booked for his offence.  The resulting free kick

Alex Jakubiak makes his debut

Alex Jakubiak makes his debut

was over the wall and easy for Bond.  In time added on at the end of the half, there was a shout for a penalty as Tözsér’s shot appeared to be handled by Hogg, but the referee waved the appeals away.  It had been a pretty dull first half.  As is often the case with lunchtime kick-offs, the players looked only half awake and there was a sense that most of them were already on the beach.

We kicked off at the start of the second half and, almost immediately, went a goal down.  Angella gave the ball away, it fell to Lolley who broke into the box, Angella got back but the Huddersfield man twisted away from his tackle and shot across Bond to fire the visitors into the lead.  Watford made their first substitution replacing Murray with Diakité.  The loanee’s first contribution was to start a move that ended with Pudil being flagged offside.  Then

Defending in the box

Defending in the box

Huddersfield broke and Ward’s shot to the near post squirmed through Bond’s legs and into the goal to put the visitors two goals to the good 10 minutes into the second half.  Watford’s next substitution saw debutant, Jakubiak, replaced by Faraoni.  A high ball into the box by Diakité appeared to be headed goalwards by Lynch, but was cleared.  Huddersfield went on another quick break, Smith crossed for Ward whose shot was well saved by Bond, making amends for his earlier mistake.  Then Deeney played the ball to Diakité who took a touch to control it before shooting and his shot was blocked.  A tackle by Pudil inadvertently knocked the ball to Ward who fired past Bond for the third.  The

Josh Doherty makes his debut

Josh Doherty makes his debut

visitors made a change as goalscorer, Lolley, was replaced by Scannell.  On 69 minutes, Deeney broke into the box, his path to goal was blocked so he passed back towards Anya, but gave the Scot too much to do to get to the ball.  Hogg was booked for a foul on Diakité.  Then Faraoni went on a run into the box, he skipped past the challenge of a defender before cutting the ball back towards Deeney, but Smithies was there to gather.  Deeney won a free-kick after Lynch leaned on him and Hogg told his team mate in no uncertain terms what he thought of him giving the set piece away.  That passion demonstrated when they were 3-0 up was in stark and upsetting contrast to what we were seeing from our players.  Deeney took the free-kick which bounced harmlessly off the wall.  Another academy

Deeney hits the penalty

Deeney hits the penalty

youngster made his debut as Battocchio was replaced by Josh Doherty.  Angella fouled Clayton and there was a bit of handbags that someone behind me commented was the best bit of action of the afternoon.  When it all calmed down, Angella and Gerrard were booked.  Harry then appeared in a grass skirt, sombrero and Brasil t-shirt ready for his holiday.  On the pitch, Huddersfield won a free kick wide on the left in what looked to be a benign position, but somehow Ward hit it past Bond for his hat trick.  Shocking!  Diakité played a ball over the top to Deeney who couldn’t get hold of it and hit the ball into the ground and it bounced into the keeper’s arms.  There was a bizarre incident in time added on.  Diakité played a high ball over to Cassetti whose header bounced down off the crossbar.  The lino was flagging and the whistle went so everyone stopped.  We all assumed that it was an offside decision, but then the lino indicated a corner.  After some discussion

A muted celebration from Deeney

A muted celebration from Deeney

between the players and the referee, a drop ball was given in the box which resulted in a corner.  Tözsér took the set piece and a rather soft foul on Deeney in  the box resulted in the referee pointing to the spot.  Josh Doherty cheekily approached and offered to take the penalty, but Deeney kept hold of the ball and made no mistake in burying it past Smithies.  His 25th goal of the season gave us something to smile about.

Before the game, Beppe had talked of putting on a good performance for the fans.  In the event, it was a dreadful display.  The team seemed to switch off on Easter Monday after that tremendous first hour against QPR and we’ve seen nothing worth watching since.  It was an awful way to finish a season that we’d started with such high expectations.  But we had failed to replace key players that we lost in the Summer, so the absence of Vydra, Chalobah, Eustace and Hogg as well as the injuries that kept Abdi out for most of the season did for us.  Mutterings after the game indicated that there would be a big clear out this Summer, so next season’s squad could look very different again.

Harry dressed for his holidays

Harry dressed for his holidays

As is usual for the last game of the season, the players came back out for a lap of honour.  After that performance, it was rather subdued, but there was still a decent number of fans left in the Rookery and I just had to stay and applaud the players despite all the downs.  This was a probable farewell to Troy Deeney, who threw his boots into the crowd.  I was looking elsewhere when he launched the first boot towards us so was a bit shocked to see this missile flying through the air.  I always find it hard to leave the ground after the last game of the season, but I finally said goodbye to my neighbours and wished them a good Summer.

It will be another close season of speculation and upheaval, but at least the club is stable off the pitch and there are no fears for the short-term future of the club and, for me, that overrides all the on field disappointments.

I would like to sign off with a word of thanks to all who have read my blog this season, especially those who have given me encouragement.  I hope that you continue to enjoy the reports.  Your kind words are always appreciated.