Tag Archives: Quique Sanchez Flores

VAR Is Not Our Friend

Seeing the new stadium for the first time

Unfortunately, on Friday evening, I turned my ankle walking home from the station.  It was very painful, and I struggled to get home.  On Saturday morning my ankle was swollen and I was finding it difficult to walk, so I had to decide on my plan for the day.  The pub that we were meeting at was a 15 minute walk from the stadium, so I decided that it would be better to go straight to the ground.  I briefly considered missing the match completely, as my hopes were not high.  But the last time I missed a match due to ill health, we beat Chelsea in a terrific game, and this was our first visit to a new stadium, so I decided that I had to go.

I drove to the station for the first time in years and got the train, tube and bus that I needed to get to the stadium.  My journey plan indicated that I would have only a minute’s walk from the bus stop but there were matchday diversions which meant a slow hobble up Tottenham High Road.  The stadium could be seen from a distance and looked very impressive.  Needless to say, I had to walk around the stadium to the away end and climb a flight of steps to the entrance, so was feeling very sorry for myself by the time that I reached the turnstiles.  I had listened to the advice regarding the bag policy and only brought a small drawstring bag.  Thankfully, this passed their inspection and I went through the airport screeners to get in.  I was stopped as my camera was in my pocket and had triggered the alarm, but I was soon allowed to the turnstiles and finally inside the ground.

The rather lovely view of the roof from our seats

Inside, I met up with a lot of familiar faces.  The story of my injury had got around and was met with exactly the level of sympathy that I was expecting (none).  I soon headed for my seat to catch up with the family.  The new stadium is very impressive inside and we had terrific seats.  They have the rail seats that are suitable for safe standing, which was quite a relief as it meant that I had a barrier to lean on during the game.  I did think that the seats were very narrow for a new stadium, but I guess they have to pack the punters in.

Team news was that Quique had made 2 changes from the draw against Sheffield United with Dawson and Chalobah replacing Prödl and Gray.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Kabasele, Dawson, Cathcart; Holebas, Chalobah, Cleverley, Doucouré, Janmaat; Welbeck, Pereyra.  I had checked the kit that we would be wearing before leaving the house and was a little surprised to find that we were in the navy, which meant that we would be wearing the same colour shorts as Spurs.  It seems that the rules regarding colour clash only apply to shirts and socks, so matching shorts are not considered to be a problem.

Talking of odd colour choices, Alice turned up wearing an orange jumper.  I swear she only does it to upset me!

I failed to get a picture of the goal celebrations due to the arms aloft in front of me, so here are Doucoure and Chalobah

The game started with a setback for the Hornets as Danny Welbeck went down with a hamstring injury.  He was treated for a short time but was unable to continue.  He left the field, to boos from the home fans due to his Arsenal history, and was replaced by Deulofeu.  Rather unbelievably, Watford took the lead after 6 minutes.  Cathcart played a gorgeous cross-field ball to Janmaat, who put in a great cross that Doucouré turned home (although the stadium announcer gave it to Cleverley).  My celebration had to be a little muted as I was incapable of jumping up and down.  I made up for it with extra fist pumping and hugging!  The home side had a chance to hit back almost immediately as Sissoko hit a powerful shot from just outside the area, but it cleared the bar.  The first caution of the game went to Sanchez for a nasty tackle on Pereyra.  There was a shout for a penalty from the home side as Danny Rose tumbled in the box under a challenge from Pereyra.  It was right in front of us and was unconvincing.  The referee and VAR both agreed with my assessment and we played on.  The best chance of the first half for the home side came with a low shot from distance from Dele, but Foster made the save.  At the other end, Doucouré broke into the box and put in a lovely cross, but there was no Watford player there to get on the end of it.  My nerves were tested when a ball came into the Watford box and Dawson dived towards it.  I was fearful of another own goal but, thankfully, Foster made the catch.  I had barely caught my breath when Foster was caught with the ball at his feet, Dele came in to make a challenge, but Ben made a slick turn away from the forward and made the clearance.  Watford had a penalty call as Deulofeu went down in the area under a challenge from Vertonghen.  The referee waved play on and, while Deulofeu protested, the VAR check was performed and confirmed the referee’s decision.  Having seen this on television after the game, Vertonghen slid in and had a couple of chops at Geri before he took him down.  I am baffled that this was considered to be a fair challenge by multiple officials.  At the other end, Spurs had a chance to grab an equaliser before half time as Alderweireld crossed for Moura, but the header flew over the bar.

Holebas cherishing the ball before a throw-in

The half time whistle went to boos from the Spurs fans.  The mood among the travelling Hornets was much better than it has been in recent weeks as it had been a spirited performance with some lovely football being played.

After the half-time break, the Spurs players took to the pitch considerably earlier than the Watford men and had made a substitution bringing Son on for Sanchez.  Given how much trouble we have had from the South Korean in recent seasons, this looked to be bad news for the Hornets.  This feeling was intensified when Son blasted a shot that, thankfully, rebounded off the crossbar and out for a throw-in.  The Hornets had a great chance to increase their lead as Deulofeu was in on goal, but the one time I wanted him to be selfish he decided instead to square for Pereyra, who was being shadowed by Aurier who managed to block the shot conceding a corner that came to nothing.  A terrible attempt at a clearance by Gazzaniga let to the ball looping into the air, but Pereyra was unable to capitalise.  Watford threatened again as Doucouré played in Janmaat who went for goal when maybe he should have passed, his attempt was blocked.  Son had another attempt to equalise, this time a shot from a narrow angle, but Foster was able to make the save.

Cathcart waiting to take a free kick

Another great chance for the Hornets as Pereyra went on a brilliant run before crossing for Deulofeu whose shot was wide of the far post when he really should have hit the target.  Just after the hour mark, Spurs made their second change bringing Lamela on for Moura.  The Hornets had another opportunity to increase their lead when Doucouré picked up a loose ball and shot from the edge of the area, but his effort was just wide of the target.  From the opposite end of the ground, a Spurs equaliser looked imminent as Kane got behind the Watford defence, but Dawson was on hand to make the crucial tackle.  Janmaat had another chance to extend Watford’s lead after he received a pass from Pereyra, but he tried to switch feet before taking the shot and the chance was gone.  That was his last contribution to the game as he was also forced to leave the field with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Femenía.  Spurs also made a change as Winks made way for Ndombele.  Spurs threatened with a cross into the Watford box, but Kabasele was imperious, rising to head it away.  Then a lovely cross from Lamela was met with a shot from Dele, but it was an easy save for Foster.  Watford’s next chance came from a poor clearance by Gazzaniga which was picked up by Doucouré who found Deulofeu, but his run into the box was stopped by a foul from Sissoko, who was booked for the challenge.  Our SLO was less than impressed with the intervention by the Spurs man and let all around him know it.  Geri look the free kick himself.  His delivery was on target but an easy catch for Gazzaniga.

Foster prepares to take a free kick

Rose had another shout for a penalty when he went down under a challenge from Kabasele but, again, the challenge was soft, and the penalty was not given.  Into the last 10 minutes and Pereyra had been struggling for a while and clearly needed to be replaced.  As Quique was not getting the message, he went down with cramp and lay in the box for a while with his leg in the air, as the referee insisted that he left the field.  Eventually, he was replaced by Hughes and left the pitch, but not before he had been booked for time-wasting.  The Spurs equaliser was just heartbreaking.  With four minutes left on the clock, Foster came for a cross, failed to deal with it, it dropped to Dele, who controlled it and turned it into the empty net.  There was a VAR check to see whether there had been an offence committed in the build-up.  The referee signalled that the goal stood, and the players went to prepare for the restart.  Then the big screen indicated that the decision was ‘No Goal’.  There were lots of celebrations around me, but the players were still lined up to kick-off again and, sure enough, a new ‘decision’ appeared on the screen indicating that the goal had been given.  It was an utterly ludicrous situation.  It all got a bit heated after that.  First Rose was booked for a foul on Hughes.  Then Dele was taken down and handbags ensued, which finished with Holebas and Dele both receiving yellow cards.  The resulting free kick was hit straight into the wall.  A number around me were voicing my fear that Spurs would go on to win it, but the closest that they came to a winner was a dangerous cross from Aurier that was cleared by Dawson.  My nerves were in shreds at this point and, when a number of the players collapsed on to the pitch, it took me a while to realise that the final whistle had gone.

The Watford players must have been gutted, but they left the field to warm applause from the travelling fans.

Tom Cleverley just brilliant again

Having heard horror stories about the wait to get into Seven Sisters station after the game, and seen the barriers already in place up the street when I arrived, I decided to join the others for a post-match drink, even if, having driven to the station, I was not able to sample the beer.  It was definitely the right decision as the company was great and we caught up with some other friends that we hadn’t seen in the stadium.  The general consensus was that this had been our best performance of the season.  While Spurs had the lion’s share of the possession, the Watford defence were very well organised and Foster barely had a save to make.  All of the dangerous chances had fallen to the Hornets but, as too often this season, we had been wasteful.  A team with more confidence may have taken a couple of those shots earlier and the result would have been different.  But, in contrast to the games earlier this season, this was a gutsy performance with the players working with and for each other and it was a joy to watch.  While all the players played their part, I have to pick out Cleverley, who was absolutely magnificent yet again.  But the highlight for me was the performance of Doucouré.  He has been a shadow of his former self in most of the games this season, but on Saturday he was working hard, snapping into tackles and then starting moves, the misplaced passes that have been all too frequent this season were not in evidence.  While Spurs are on a terrible run, it is still very pleasing to come away from their ground feeling aggrieved that we only took a point.

Dawson looking unimpressed with the referee after the final whistle

I was home in time for Match of the Day and, for possibly the first time this season, I decided to watch it live.  Now I will start by saying that I was very much against the introduction of VAR.  I didn’t see the need for it and using it in a game that flows made no sense to me. Those who argued for the implementation told me that it would rule out errors.  My argument has always been that many of the decisions in football are subjective and will still be subjective when viewed at Stockley Park.  From the footage on Match of the Day it seemed clear that the challenge on Deulofeu should have resulted in a penalty.  But even worse was the equalising goal.  There appeared to be a push on Kabasele in the build-up and it was clear that Dele controlled the ball using his upper arm.  Spurs fans have argued that the ball hit his shoulder, but the footage also shows the player’s face after he scored the goal and he looked haunted.  He knew that he had controlled it with his arm and was waiting for it to be ruled out.  Those reviewing at Stockley Park would have seen all of this and the conclusion should have been that the goal would not stand.  The decision that was broadcast in the ground was that it was not a goal.  What is still not clear to me is whether they sent through an erroneous decision or whether the referee overruled the VAR official and they kow-towed.  Whichever is the case, the involvement of VAR provoked a lot more anger than would have come following a mistake by a referee.  VAR is supposed to level the playing field, but the current feeling is that it is just enforcing the ‘big club bias.’  The decisions today along with the Newcastle goal that should not have stood, but was not reviewed, are leading Watford fans to conclude that VAR is not our friend.

But I don’t want to finish on that note as, for the first time this season, I am feeling really positive.  If we continue to play as well as we did on Saturday, we won’t be in the relegation zone for long.  This was the first time that we have seen a convincing performance from the whole team.  I hope that we bring that into the Bournemouth game and have Vicarage Road bouncing again.  I will certainly ensure that I rest this week so that my ankle is up to bouncing.

A Soggy Stalemate

Welbeck and Gray waltzing with the opposition defenders

Due to evening commitments in London last week, my commuting time was at a minimum, this meant that I hadn’t listened to the “From the Rookery End” podcast.  So, I made it my accompaniment for the train journey to Watford and wished that I hadn’t.  When even the ultra-positive Colin sounds exasperated, and that game at Wolves was enough to try the patience of a saint, you know that we are in trouble.

I arrived at the West Herts later than usual to find my sister at the bar.  She had arrived early for a chat and was somewhat put out to find that I wasn’t there yet.  We joined the usual suspects at our table before the Norfolk ‘Orns made an appearance.  They were on one of their days out, which generally means an early start on the beer and shots in the West Herts.  It has to be said that they were already very jolly when they arrived, but their early start meant that there were no pork scratchings in Glenn’s goodie bag to the consternation of all.

Pereyra preparing for a corner

On arrival at the Rookery turnstiles, I was patted down by a steward, I don’t believe that has happened before.  It was noticeable that, as there was only a female steward at that end of the turnstiles, while I was being searched, the men were streaming past unmolested, which was a source of some irritation.  On arrival in the Rookery, we found, as we had for the Swansea game, a pool of water under our seats.  We asked a steward for assistance in clearing it, his solution was to tell us we could find another seat if any were available.  We had seen one of the cleaning staff with a mop and a bucket further down the stand, so I went and asked him to assist us.  This meant that we missed joining in the “Forza” display prior to kick-off.  Even after the man with the mop had done his (much appreciated) thing, the floor was too wet to place my bag down, so I was relieved when the guy that sits next to me did not appear and I was able to use his seat for my bag.  To add insult to injury, when I tried to take a photograph for the blog, I found that my camera battery was drained.  Thankfully I had a charger with me so was able to remedy the situation and just hoped that there would be something worth photographing.

Team news was that Quique had made 4 changes with Prödl, Kabasele, Pereyra and Gray replacing Dawson, Capoue, Sarr and Deulofeu.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Prödl, Kabasele; Holebas, Cleverley, Doucouré, Janmaat; Pereyra; Welbeck, Gray.

Challenging at a corner

Watford had a great chance to open the scoring in the 8th minute after a terrific run from Pereyra, he put in a low cross for Gray who managed to blast the ball into the Vicarage Road stand when it looked much easier to score.  Soon after, Pereyra won a corner that was taken short but eventually led to a cross by Janmaat that was headed over by Prödl.  There was almost a disaster of our own making at the other end as Cathcart turned a cross from Baldock towards his own goal, but Foster pulled off a smart save to stop it.  The visitors had another chance to open the scoring with a low shot from Fleck, but it was an easy save for Foster.  The Blades threatened again as McBurnie slid in trying to convert a low cross from Basham, but Foster was able to gather.  Doucouré got himself into a great position for a shot, but there was a body in the way of his effort from the edge of the box.  The Hornets had one last chance to take a lead into the break as Prödl met a cross from Cleverley with a header that dropped to Kabasele who tried to turn it in, but Henderson was able to make the save.

It had been an incredibly dull half of football, which had done nothing to improve my mood.  The half time celebrity guest was Alan Smart.  Being reminded of the awful season that he was involved in at this level didn’t help.  The high point for him was scoring the winner against Chelsea.  Unfortunately, the prospect of any similar results this season are currently looking very remote.

Janmaat takes a free kick

The second half started promisingly for the Hornets as a misplaced header dropped to Welbeck who powered downfield with Gray running alongside.  As Henderson came out to meet him, he decided to take the shot himself and it was blocked by the keeper.  From our perspective in the Rookery, passing to Gray looked like a better option but, given his earlier miss, the outcome may well have been the same.  The Hornets had a really good spell, which galvanised the crowd, but they couldn’t fashion a goal attempt worthy of note.  The visitors had the next chance as Robinson volleyed goalwards, but Foster was able to make the save.  Watford made two substitutions in quick succession.  Prödl limped off due to a hamstring injury to be replaced by Dawson, a great shame as the presence of Seb in the back three had been a positive.  Then Gray made way for Deulofeu.  In between the substitutions McBurnie was booked for a foul on Kabasele.  Soon after being cautioned he was replaced by Mousset.  Next there was a break in play due to an injury to Holebas.  José was down for a while being treated but, once back on his feet, he walked off the pitch while giving the evil eye to his assailant, who had my sympathy.

Foster prepares to take a free kick

The visitors made a second substitution, replacing Robinson with Billy Sharp, who was once heralded as “the answer” by a section of Hornet fans.  Flores also made a change bringing Sarr on for Welbeck.  Deulofeu impressed as he ran to keep an impossible ball in play, advanced and crossed, but it was just too high for Doucouré and Henderson was able to make the catch.  Deulofeu created a half chance as he cut in from the left and tried a shot, but it was easy for the keeper.  As the clock struck 90 minutes, a break by Deulofeu was stopped by a foul by Lundstram, who was shown a yellow card for his trouble.  The Hornets had a great chance to snatch the three points when the free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Dawson, but Henderson managed to make the save.  There was one final chance for the Hornets as Doucouré was urged to shoot by the crowd, but the shot from distance was woeful and nearly hit the corner flag.  So, the game ended goalless.

As I walked back to the West Herts, I bumped into another regular.  He was very philosophical, reasoning that we’ve both been watching Watford for a long time and have seen a lot worse than this.  He was right, but the current winless streak is still a great cause for concern.

Man of the Match Kabasele calling the shots

The main positive from the afternoon was that this was the first clean sheet since February.  Our defence has been dreadfully leaky and we looked much stronger with three at the back, although this improvement at the back may have been helped by the opposition being Sheffield United.  Still, Prödl had a great game, he is much more of a commanding presence at the back than either Cathcart or Dawson.  Kabasele was immense and was named man of the match by the sponsors and thoroughly deserved it.  The strikers are still struggling, but at least they are making chances and we really should have won this game.  Sadly, I have felt that after most of the games this season, Brighton and Man City notwithstanding.  Most of the teams that we have played this season have been poor to mediocre and yet we find ourselves with only 3 points from 8 games.  The big problem with this team, as many have been saying for weeks is a lack of confidence and leadership.  Troy is badly missed and you can’t help thinking that a scrambled goal or one bouncing off someone would make a huge difference.

So we go into an international break for a much needed breather and the hope that we will soon see an upturn.  My dear friend, Don, always urges us to “Keep the Faith”.  It is becoming increasingly hard.

 

Another Defeat Despite Domination

Statue of Jack Hayward outside Molineux

Having been utterly miserable after the City game, the midweek win against Swansea cheered me up somewhat, so I was in a better mood for the journey to Wolverhampton.  I left London early and met Jacque on the train.  As has been usual for recent trips to Wolves, we were to have our pre-match refreshments in Birmingham.  Our ridiculously early arrival time confirmed that, due to a late decision about where to meet, both of us had booked a train based on its scheduled arrival in Wolverhampton rather than Birmingham.  Still, by the time we got to the pub it was a respectable hour to have a drink.  The pub was actually packed due, in part, to the presence of passengers of a Midland Red bus, that was parked outside.  I assume that they were on a tour of the city and the opportunity to mix with Villa fans having a pre-match pint was too much of a temptation.  Mike met us for lunch, and then we headed back to New Street to get the train to Wolverhampton and take the short walk to the ground.  We met the rest of our party inside where we were regaled with stories of traffic delays for those who had driven.  Luckily (?) they all made it in time for kick-off.

Team news was that Quique had made four changes from the side who were humiliated by Manchester City, with Janmaat, Cathcart, Welbeck and Sarr replacing Femenía, Mariappa, Foulquier and Hughes.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Dawson, Cathcart, Janmaat; Capoue, Doucouré; Deulofeu, Cleverley, Sarr; Welbeck.  The initial reaction was that this was the team that people wanted to see.  But I was rather surprised that Welbeck was included, having played 90 minutes in midweek.  In other news, today would see the first outing of our new away kit.  I hoped that it would be lucky for us.

Holebas takes a throw-in

Watford started well and, in the first minute, Sarr found Welbeck, but the shot was wide of the target.  Wolves also had an early chance as Boly released Jiménez who shot into the side netting.  The Hornets put themselves in trouble when a short corner routine broke down allowing Neto to break at pace and play a low cross for Jiménez who shot wide of the far post.  The home side opened the scoring in the 18th minute when a low cross from Neto was turned in by Doherty.  It was yet another poor goal to give away as the defence were nowhere to be seen.  It feels as though we have seen the same goal scored against us repeatedly this season and still have no idea how to stop it.  Deulofeu tried to hit back as he cut into the box but could only shoot into the side netting.  Deulofeu threatened again from a free kick, but his delivery was headed clear.  Wolves had a chance to increase their lead as Traoré beat Holebas to put in a cross, but no Wolves player could get on the end of it.  Sarr really should have done better after receiving a ball from Deulofeu in the box, but he turned and shot well wide of the target.  The Wolves fans were shouting for a penalty as a cross from Traoré was blocked by Holebas, but the referee was unmoved by their pleas.  Welbeck got into a decent position in the box, but his shot was blocked for a corner that came to nothing.  The end of the half was dominated by a couple of lengthy stoppages for injuries to Wolves players, but there was one final chance for the Hornets to draw level as Cleverley flicked a pass to Sarr in a dangerous position but, yet again, the shot was blocked.

Pereyra takes a corner

The half time whistle went to sighs of resignation in the away end.  It hadn’t been pretty.  Watford had had more of the possession but were ponderous and reluctant to shoot.  In contrast, Wolves were quick on the break and the Watford defence always looked vulnerable. The home side had scored with the only on-target shot of the half.

Looking at things off the field, I couldn’t help but notice that the stand behind the goal at one end and half of the other have been converted for safe standing.  It looked great and it will be interesting to see whether this becomes commonplace.

At the break Deulofeu was replaced by Pereyra.  The Hornets started the second half quite brightly.  Pereyra put in a lovely cross that Holebas met with a header that was blocked by the Wolves keeper, the first time he had been called into action.  The ball dropped to Cleverley, who tried to turn it in, but Rui Patricio was able to get a foot to it and put it out for a corner.  The corner summed up our afternoon as Pereyra’s delivery didn’t even make it onto the pitch before it flew behind the goal line.  Wolves had their first chance of the half as Neto broke forward but shot straight at Foster and was immediately replaced by Gibbs-White.

Waiting for the delivery at a corner

The Hornets had dominated the start of the second half, so it felt cruel when, on the hour mark, a cross from Doherty was flicked on by Gibbs-White, and Janmaat turned it past Foster.  There appeared no way back at that point.  Holebas tried to hit back with a shot through the area that flew just wide of the near post.  It was unsurprising to see José pick up the first booking of the game for a foul on Traoré.  Flores made his second substitution with twenty minutes to go as Sarr made way for Gray.  Andre made an immediate impact and the Hornets had a great chance to pull one back when Welbeck received a ball from Gray and unleashed a shot that required a decent save from Rui Patricio to keep it out.  Wolves had a chance to score a third as Traoré put a deep cross over to Jonny but he could only find the side netting.  Wolves made a second substitution bringing Cutrone on for Jiménez.  The substitute had a chance to make an immediate impact as he charged toward the Watford goal, but was stopped by a wonderful sliding tackle from Foster.  At the other end, Gray made a break into the Wolves box but his shot was poor and straight at the keeper.  Doucouré then tried his luck with a low shot from the edge of the area, but it was an easy catch for Rui Patricio.  There was one last chance for the Hornets as a corner from Holebas reached Welbeck but he could only head over the bar.  Santo made his final change bringing Neves on for Traoré.  There were three minutes of added time, which were rather soul destroying as, despite Hornets having plenty of possession, they just played it around on the halfway line with the Wolves defence happily lined up in front of them.  The final whistle went to half-hearted boos from a few among the Watford following, but most of us just felt as defeated as the team.

Holebas and Pereyra lining up a free kick

As there is nothing to stay in Wolves for, we made a rapid retreat to the station to get the train home and we bumped into a couple of fellow Hornets.  There was a lot of head shaking and failure to understand what is going wrong this season.  Our team still looks great on paper, but we continue to fail to attack with enough intent or defend convincingly.  On the evidence of the games so far, most of the teams in the Premier League are pretty poor (the obvious exception notwithstanding), but we have been unable to beat any of them.  The consensus was that we are desperately missing Deeney as there is no leadership on the pitch, which is a very sorry state of affairs.  It is difficult to see how we will turn this around, but football is a confidence game and maybe we just need a few balls to drop kindly and a couple of shots to creep inside the post for the belief to resurface.

As I left work on Friday, I had a chat with one of my colleagues about our chances for the weekend.  He reminded me that going to football was supposed to be fun.  He is so right and, sadly, the games really aren’t fun at the moment.  I hope that changes very soon.

Capitulation at the Etihad

Captain Mariappa

When I sent out the e-mail to our group asking who wanted tickets for this game, I couldn’t help noticing that there were more apologies for absence than usual.  I can’t say that I blamed them as the memory of the cup final is still rather raw and, given our start to the season, this was not a game that I was looking forward to.

I left London at a reasonable time and was joined on the train by Jacque when we reached Milton Keynes.  One topic of discussion was the no bag policy that we had heard about the previous day.  I don’t know how they expect people travelling for over two hours each way not to bring any possessions with them.  Luckily, I was staying overnight in Manchester, so was able to drop my bag (and Jacque’s) off at the hotel.  Despite it being a warm sunny day, I left the hotel carrying a waterproof coat which had pockets filled with the essentials for the game (notebook, pen, camera, purse, lipstick).  We then headed to meet up with the rest of our party for lunch.  On arrival, I was surprised to see Pete there.  I was sure that he had declined the invitation.  Sure enough, he had made a late decision to travel following the tremendous second half against Arsenal last week.

While enjoying lunch, I realised that I had left my distance glasses in my rucksack at the hotel, so I headed back to retrieve them.  Not the smartest thing that I have ever done.  Once they were in another of my pockets, I joined the others at the pub.  We left plenty of time to get to the ground.  The first tram leaving was packed and there was a father with a young boy on his shoulders standing near me.  I heard the father comment, “Maybe you’ll see six goals.”  I couldn’t help but exclaim, “Oh, I do hope not.”  We then had a chat and, as is usually my experience in Manchester, he was lovely.

Dawson, Capoue and Deulofeu preparing for kick-off

On arrival at the ground, we saw Mick, our Police liaison, and I asked how many bags he was looking after.  It seemed that there had been no issues by that point, which was a relief.  It seemed that the stewards were being pragmatic regarding the policy, so some bags did make it into the away end.

Team news was that Quique had made two changes from the Newcastle game with Foulquier and Mariappa in for Gray and Kabasele.  Clearly the selection of Foulqier, for his debut, in place of Gray was not a direct swap, Femenía was pushed forward and Deulofeu was to play alone up front.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Foulquier, Mariappa, Dawson, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Femenía, Cleverley, Hughes; Deulofeu.  Again. there were some puzzled reactions to the team selection, but the Arsenal game meant that Quique had a lot of brownie points.

When we took our seats in the away end, I noticed that we were very close to the home fans on our left.  I then turned and realised that they were almost as close on the right.  I don’t know how many Watford fans travelled, but it appeared to be a very small group.

Gathering for a rare Watford corner

A couple of seasons ago, a late departure from the pub and a delay on the tram meant that we missed Sterling scoring in the first minute.  On this occasion, we were comfortably in our seats when De Bruyne crossed for David Silva to finish past Foster to open the scoring.  Watford had a chance for an immediate equaliser as Deulofeu ran into the City box, but Ederson saved at his feet.  Deulofeu threatened again, beating Otamendi before dinking a shot that deflected wide off the City keeper.  We weren’t to know it at the time, but that would be pretty much it for our chances.  The second City goal came after 7 minutes.  Mahrez had the ball in the box, he was running out of space and the ball was rolling out for a goal kick, but Foster had committed himself and took him down, so the referee pointed to the spot.  Agüero stepped up to take the spot kick and powered the ball down the middle while Foster dived.  It got even worse on 12 minutes after Doucouré fouled Mahrez on the edge of the box.  The Algerian took the free kick himself, the Watford wall parted, but the ball took a deflection off one of the defenders and beat Foster for City’s third.  At this point I bemoaned the fact that we are not allowed to take hip flasks into football stadia, as I definitely needed a shot of something strong.  The fourth City goal came from a corner which was flicked on to Bernardo Silva who stooped to head home.

Femenia takes a throw-in

We were 5 down after 18 minutes when Agüero put a low cross in for Otamendi to finish at the back post.  It could have been 6 after 25 minutes as Agüero broke forward, but Foster narrowed the angle and the shot was wide of the far post.  When Watford won a free kick after a foul on Cleverley, the travelling Hornets sang “We’ve got the ball.”  Sadly, we didn’t have it for long as Deulofeu’s delivery was straight into the arms of Ederson.  There was an immediate break from the home side, and I feared the worst, but Agüero’s shot took a ricochet off Foster for a corner.  Flores made his first substitution on 33 minutes cutting Foulquier’s debut short as he was replaced by Pereyra.  Fair play to Don Fraser who was still shouting encouragement to the team at this point.  On 38 minutes the Hornets had a rare foray into the City half, Deulofeu’s shot was blocked, the ball fell to Pereyra who could only win a corner that came to nothing.  The home side impressed again as a perfect cross field pass from Fernandinho reached De Bruyne who crossed for Agüero whose header was saved by Foster, Mahrez picked up the loose ball and crossed for Bernardo Silva who headed just wide.  There were three minutes of added time at the end of the half.  Every second was agony, but at least there was no further score.

Abdoulaye Doucoure

At half time, I noted that City had had 6 shots on target and scored 5 of them.  This looked like it could be a record score, although the scoreboard looked as though it couldn’t display double figures, so we could end up back at 0-0.

City made a change at the break bringing Angeliño on for Mendy.  It appeared that the second half would also see a goal in the first minute, but Walker’s shot was high and wide.  Sadly, the sixth goal wasn’t long in coming as, three minutes into the half, the Watford defence went missing yet again and the ball bounced around the Watford box before Bernardo Silva scored his second.  At the break, Pete had come to stand in the row behind us.  I expected the guys who had been there to return, they didn’t and a good few more departed after this goal.  Guardiola made a second substitution as Cancelo replaced Walker.  City should have scored a seventh when they won a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery from De Bruyne flew just over the bar.  Flores made his second substitution bringing Sarr on for Hughes.  The Hornets were then shown two yellow cards in quick succession, first Deulofeu was booked after a foul on Rodrigo, then Femenía was cautioned for a foul on Bernardo Silva.

Proof that we had a corner in the second half

The seventh goal came on the hour mark as De Bruyne crossed to the far post and Bernardo Silva finished from close range to seal his hat trick and claim the match ball.  At this point the City fans very reasonably asked, “Why are you still here?”  Pete’s comment was, “For the same reason that you would be.”  City’s final substitution saw Garcia come on for Otamendi.  Mahrez should have scored the 8th with a header that rebounded off the bar.  As City claimed the rebound an exasperated shout of “Get the second ball” came from behind me.  I think that was the least of our problems at this point.  The City fans were having fun with the group to our right taunting the group to our left with, “Where were you when we were sh*t?”  I have to admit that made me smile.  There was a brief moment of quality possession from the Hornets as Sarr found Cleverley who played in Deulofeu but he could only win a corner off the keeper.   Soon after, Gerry was replaced by Gray and you have to ask what Andre had done to deserve being put into the fray.  Just before the substitution the ball had flown into the Watford crowd.  There were shouts of “keep it” and it was a while before it was returned, eliciting boos from the away end.  A chant from the travelling Hornets of “7 nil and you still don’t sing” was countered with “We only sing at 6 nil.”  Ouch!!  De Bruyne, who had been a menace all afternoon, finally got his goal with five minutes left on the clock as his shot from the edge of the area hit the top corner.  He should have had a second soon after as he ran through the Watford defence before shooting just wide.  There was a half chance for a consolation as a Holebas throw was headed goalwards by Gray, but it was an easy catch for Ederson and a goal would have been more than the Hornets deserved.

Etienne Capoue

The final whistle finally went to put us out of our misery.  There were a surprising number of Watford fans still in the ground as the players came over to thank us and the majority of fans applauded them back.  Not for anything impressive in their performance, but more in empathy as that cannot have been any more fun for them than it was for us.  Pete was asked whether he regretted his late decision to attend the game but reasoned that he was much happier to have been there than he would have been if he had listened to it on the radio.

On the way back to the City centre, Ashley was checking the scores in the other games and a City fan asked if he knew the Stevenage score.  It turned out that this lad had managed Stevenage in Football Manager and taken a shine to them.  In a couple of weeks, when City are playing Wolves, he is giving his season ticket to a friend so that he can see Stevenage play in Colchester.  He also consoled us with, “We only scored two more than we put past United.”

As we sat in the pub after the game, it felt more like a support group than anything else.  Between us we could not find any positives to take from the game.  While City had been very good, Watford had been utterly dreadful.  This is a team that has long struggled with confidence and it was clear that it had completely drained from them as soon as the second goal went in.  I still think that we are a much better side than our results indicate, but we need to start showing that against Swansea in midweek and then at Wolves.  Otherwise, I may finally find myself deciding to stay in the pub instead of heading to the ground.

 

Fun in the Sun with Flores

Quique back in the Watford dug-out

I hate it when matches are moved to a Sunday.  It completely changes the pattern of the weekend and is very disconcerting.  However, the change of time for this game did have the benefit that I was able to take up the offer of hospitality for the Ashes game on Saturday.  Although I must admit to checking the fixture list while on the train to the Oval, just to make sure that Watford were not playing.  I was further reassured when I spotted Johnno in the queue for the coffee.  I was desperate to ask him his opinion on the changes at the club but resisted as I didn’t want to spoil his day.

As usual when there is a change in routine, I wasn’t sure what time to arrive in the West Herts.  I aimed for soon after 1pm and was pleased (and unsurprised) to see Don and Jacque already at our usual table.  Needless to say the primary topic of conversation was the change in head coach.  The departure of Javi had seemed inevitable after the Newcastle game, but it was very sad.  He has left us with some very happy memories, not just of the football but of what a lovely man he was.  He will always have a place in my heart.  The return of Flores was a total shock.  He was another lovely chap and his season was a lot of fun, but it had run out of steam in much the same way that Javi’s did, so I wondered what extra he had to offer and had been feeling a bit numb about it all last week.  One benefit of his return was that we wouldn’t have to learn a new song for the head coach.

Rita and GT

There was an added poignancy to the occasion as the game was taking place on what would have been GT’s 75th birthday, so I made the effort to say hello to his statue before the game.

Team news was that Quique had made three changes from the Newcastle game with Holebas, Capoue and Deulofeu in for Cathcart (who was injured), Janmaat and Pereyra.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Kabasele, Dawson, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Hughes, Cleverley, Deulofeu; Gray.  The selection caused some puzzlement among the inhabitants of the West Herts.  The decision not to put Welbeck on the bench elicited a lot of comment.

But, as we took our seats in a packed Rookery to see the teams take the field to Z-cars (hoorah!), the atmosphere was very positive and the crowd was soon chanting the name of Quique Sanchez Flores.

Gathering for a corner

The game started brightly enough for the Hornets who created an early chance as Deulofeu curled a shot from the edge of the box, but it was straight at Leno in the Arsenal goal.  The visitors created their first chance soon after, but Özil’s free-kick was headed clear by Dawson.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead in the 11th minute as Cleverley hit a powerful shot that required a flying save from Leno to keep it out.  From the corner, the ball reached Cleverley again, but his curling shot was easily caught by Leno.  Watford had another chance as a gorgeous cross-field pass found Deulofeu on the wing, he played in Holebas, but the shot was poor.  At the other end, Guendouzi released Pépé who advanced and shot wide of the far post.  The visitors took the lead in the 21st minute.  Hughes appeared to be fouled in the midfield and the Watford players stopped, anticipating the whistle, while Kolašinac broke forward before finding Aubameyang who fired past Foster.  While the Watford players protested, the goal was (presumably) checked via VAR and was confirmed, to loud boos from the Watford faithful.  It was a devastating blow as the goal had been totally against the run of play.  Sadly, as has happened far too often, this seemed to drain confidence from the Watford players and a terrible pass from Kabasele allowed the visitors to attack again, this time the shot from Aubameyang was deflected for a corner.

Handbags

The Gunners were two up after 31 minutes as Özil played in Maitland-Niles, who squared for Aubameyang who had an easy tap in for his second.  It was a decently worked goal, but the Watford defence had gone completely missing and the game looked lost.  Watford had a chance to pull one back as Femenía crossed for Hughes, but the shot was poor and flew wide of the near post.  A mistake from the visitors almost gifted the Hornets a goal, but the shot from Deulofeu was blocked and the follow-up from Gray hit the side netting.  The first booking of the game went to Kolašinac for a poor foul on Hughes.  Sadly, the free kick from Holebas was straight at Leno.  It all looked very promising when Deulofeu went on a dangerous run, but he was pushed wide and ran out of space.  Just before half time, there was a bit of handbags which led to Holebas and Guendouzi being booked.  We could see that José was complaining about an elbow. TV pictures showed that this had come from Pépé, which started the melee, but the instigator escaped without punishment.  The half time whistle went to a chorus of boos aimed at the officials.

At half time, I was feeling utterly miserable.  A friend came for a chat.  She is normally very measured and level-headed, so I was a little surprised to hear her say that we were being cheated out of the game but, judging by the half time boos, there were many that agreed with her.

Doucoure congratulates Cleverley on his goal

I cheered up a little when Jay DeMerit appeared as the half time guest.  He spoke about how the “Rise and Shine” film (on which I am credited as an Executive Producer) had led to a number of ventures including camps for youngsters that combine sporting pursuits with leadership training.  It was lovely to see him back at Vicarage Road.

The second half started with a run from Femenía that finished with a cross that was an easy catch for Leno.  Then Deulofeu found Hughes who, under challenge, put his shot over the bar.  A promising move by the Hornets finished with a dreadful shot from Doucouré, which drifted out for a throw.  The Hornets pulled a goal back on 53 minutes after a dreadful mistake from the visitors.  Leno tried a short goal kick to Sokratis, he was challenged by Deulofeu, the ball broke to Cleverley who finished past Leno to raise the temperature at the (already rather warm) Vic.  Suddenly all was right with the world and there was a new confidence both on the pitch and in the stands.  Immediately after the goal, Flores made his first change bringing Sarr on for Gray.  This would be interesting (we hoped).  There was another caution for the Hornets as Femenía was booked for a foul on Özil.

Pereyra enjoys the cheers from the Rookery

Deulofeu had a great chance to level the game after cutting in from the left, but his shot was just wide of the far post.  Femenía then tried his luck with a shot from the right, but it cleared the bar.  Emery made his first substitution bringing Willock on for Ceballos.  The visitors had a rare second half chance as Aubameyang tried a shot from distance, but it was easily dealt with by Foster.  Just after the hour mark, Flores made his second change replacing Hughes with Pereyra.  There was an absolutely gorgeous chance for an equaliser as Deulofeu played the ball through the legs of Guendouzi to Sarr who turned and shot just wide.  He may have missed the target, but that brought a huge smile to my face.  Femenía then went on a threatening run and put in a great cross, Pereyra met it with a back heel that rolled wide of the target.  Arsenal made a second substitution bringing Torreira on for Guendouzi.  Deulofeu had another chance to level the score, but his shot was deflected wide.  The corner was deep and just too high for Kabasele whose header was wide of the target.  Emery made his final substitution replacing Özil with Nelson.  The substitute almost made the perfect start, but his shot from outside the area was easily gathered by Foster.  There was danger for the Hornets as Doucouré lost out allowing an Arsenal break, but he redeemed himself by regaining the ball with a great tackle in the box.  This allowed the Hornets to mount a break of their own which finished with a shot from Deulofeu but, again, it was straight at the keeper.

Sarr in the Arsenal box

Flores made his final substitution replacing Holebas with Janmaat.  Arsenal had a chance to increase their lead through a powerful shot from Torreira, but Foster was equal to it.  Instead, at the other end, Pereyra was tripped by Luiz and the referee pointed to the spot.  From the middle of the Rookery it appeared that the foul had taken place outside the box, so we held our breath as the referee checked with his mate at VAR headquarters, when he received the verdict and pointed to the spot we cheered, then remembered that Deeney was injured.  Pereyra stepped up and placed the ball on the spot, sent Leno the wrong way and hit the back of the net sending the Watford fans wild with joy.  There were nine minutes remaining at this point and the Hornets were going for the victory as Janmaat played a lovely cross to Cleverley whose shot was blocked before Deulofeu hit the rebound just wide.  Cleverley then received a pass from Doucouré and hit a shot that was deflected over the bar via the head of Luiz.  The corner was played out to Janmaat whose shot was high and wide.  Arsenal had a rare chance as the ball was played to Xhaka at the back post but he couldn’t control.  Cleverley had a shot blocked allowing Willock to break but Capoue pulled him over and was booked for his trouble.  From the free kick, Willock made his way into the Watford box and I had a horrible feeling that all our heroics would be for nothing, but Kabasele was on hand to stop him shooting.  There was one final chance for the Hornets to snatch the victory as Doucouré went on a tremendous run before exchanging passes with Sarr but his shot was low and easily caught by Leno.

Holebas takes a corner

The final whistle went to rapturous cheers.  As the players applauded the crowd, Quique’s name was being sung and he responded with a broad smile and an enthusiastic wave.

There were broad smiles among the crowd who gathered at the West Herts.  It seems that I wasn’t the only one who had been miserable at half time, as Jacque mentioned that she had seriously thought about going home at that point.  Of course, she didn’t and was rewarded with a thoroughly enjoyable game.

The second half had been a sustained onslaught on the Arsenal goal, but I was still surprised to hear that we had 31 shots on goal, something that would have made GT very happy. It was a tremendous performance all round.  Deulofeu, who I often find incredibly frustrating, had a wonderful afternoon and was a constant threat to the Arsenal defence.  Pereyra was another who was on his game and was a joy to watch.  Cleverley was absolutely magnificent, running the show and he deserved more than the one goal.  But it was probably the introduction of Sarr that ultimately changed the game.  He is clearly an incredible talent and his presence meant that there was finally an outlet for the excellent build-up play that has been a feature of most of our games this season.  A couple of his moves were just a joy to watch and I am really looking forward to seeing more from him.

What a difference a couple of weeks makes.  My report from Newcastle was among the most miserable that I have written, but Sunday’s game reminded me why I go to football.  It was a joyous afternoon of football and showed what this team can do.  Despite the slow start, I am now much more confident for the rest of the season.  Well, maybe after we get the Man City game out of the way.

Goodbye Señor Flores and Thank-you

Deeney apologises to girl in the Rookery

Deeney apologises to girl in the Rookery

At the start of the season, I doubt that any Watford fan would have believed that if we came into the last game of the season with nothing to play for, it would be because we had already secured safety.  This should have been a reason for celebration.  But the excitement of the first half of the season has been contrasted with a rather dull second half.  It seemed that, once we hit 37 points, the players switched off.  Despite that, Flores made few changes and often played players out of position, although I would argue that he chose his best team as, when alternatives were drafted in, they rarely added anything (apart from the odd Berghuis cameo).  It has to be said that when the transfer window came and went with no competition brought in for Ighalo and Deeney, and an embarrassment of riches in central midfield, the second half of the season was rather inevitable.  But the sad consequence of this was that, after stories emerged before the semi-final casting the future of Flores into question, it was finally announced on Friday that he would be leaving the club at the end of the season.  Despite the fact that this announcement was expected and that I was still annoyed after the non-performance at Norwich, this news upset me greatly.  Pre match discussions indicated a split in opinion among the fans regarding the departure of our head coach.  However everyone wished Flores well and wanted to give him a good send off.

There was some idle speculation that Flores would go for broke in the last game, but I found it rather reassuring that he stuck with his usual suspects.  He had made three changes from Norwich with Prödl, Aké and Guedioura in for Nyom, Anya and Suárez and was playing Cathcart at right back.  So, the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Prödl, Britos, Cathcart, Jurado, Watson, Guedioura, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo.

When I arrived at the ground, my sister told me that Deeney had been in the crowd near them.  A ball that he had kicked in the warm-up had hit a young girl so immediately he came into the stand to make sure she was OK and give her a shirt.  A really lovely thing to do.

Cathcart challenged

Cathcart challenged

Pre-match there were 1881 banners for Quique, Gino Pozzo and Troy Deeney, but I still don’t know which one was over my head.  The crowd were enthusiastically chanting for Flores, which was very pleasing.

There was a wonderful move early in the game involving Deeney, Ighalo and Abdi which finished with Almen shooting just wide of the far post.  Soon after Jurado found Ighalo who just missed the target.  Abdi threatened again, evading defenders while dribbling along the top of the box before curling a shot wide.  From a corner, Prödl’s header was blocked, the ball broke to Abdi but, again, the shot was blocked.  Jurado then tried his luck with a shot from distance that was caught by Pickford in the Sunderland goal.  Sunderland’s first venture into the Watford box came on the half hour and was nearly a disaster for the Hornets as a cross from Watmore was met by Britos who turned it over the bar when it looked as though he may have threatened Gomes in goal.  Ighalo received a ball from Abdi before executing a trademark scoop but, sadly, he shot wide of the far post.  Abdi had a shot blocked before Ake’s follow-up was saved by Pickford.  There were shouts for a penalty as Ighalo was wrestled in the box, but nothing was given.

Deeney on the ball

Deeney on the ball

As we reached the last 10 minutes of the first half, Sunderland had their first real chance of the game as Rodwell shot just wide of the far post.  The visitors took the lead a couple of minutes later as Prödl slipped allowing Lens to shoot, Gomes pulled off a decent save, but the ball wasn’t cleared and Lens was able to cross for Rodwell to tap in at the far post.  It seemed unfair for the Hornets to go behind following Sunderland’s first real shot of the game and it nearly got worse a couple of minutes later as Watmore latched on to a through ball from N’Doye and finished under Gomes but, thankfully the linesman had raised the flag for offside.  At this point the Sunderland fans were chanting “Leicester City, we’re coming for you.”  We seemed to want to put ourselves in trouble as Jurado gave the ball away and N’Doye went on a run but he was stopped by a great tackle from Prödl.  There were boos at half time, which was harsh as Watford had dominated all but the last 10 minutes of the half.

At half time, there was a very emotional presentation as Gina Van Dort, who survived the Tunisia terrorist attack in which her husband, Chris Dyer, was killed, made an appearance on the pitch.  Her words were read out by Tim.  She said that this was her first game of the season and she was determined to make it as she had attended a game every season since she and Chris became season ticket holders.  This was their wedding anniversary and they have a brick in the lower GT stand that commemorates the date.  She appreciated all the support that had been given to her since the attack.  She then said a few words of thanks herself and was greeted with a tremendous ovation for her bravery.

Congratulating Proedl

Congratulating Proedl

Flores made a trademark substitution at half time bringing Paredes on for Cathcart.  The Hornets equalized three minutes into the half as a corner from Guedioura was headed home by Prödl.  A cracking strike just in front of us, which cheered us up no end.  Sadly the good mood in the home stands was short lived as Deeney was flattened following a corner, play was waved on and the counter attack finished with Watmore finding Lens who finished past Gomes to restore the lead for the visitors.  Watford came close to getting an equaliser soon after as Aké unleashed a shot that had to be tipped to safety by Pickford.  From the corner Britos headed just over the bar.  Then Jurado found himself in space but his shot was awful.  The Spaniard turned provider as he cut the ball back to Guedioura who shot over.  There was another scare for the Hornets as a free-kick was headed home by N’Doye but, again, it was disallowed for offside.  Watford’s fortunes improved when Paredes crossed for Deeney, he headed the ball back to Jurado who was sandwiched between two defenders and the referee pointed to the spot.  Having learned my lesson at West Ham, I put my camera away as Deeney stepped up and was delighted to see him send Pickford the wrong way as he buried the ball to the keeper’s left.

Ighalo congratulates Deeney after the penalty

Ighalo congratulates Deeney after the penalty

Watford’s second substitution saw Abdi make way for Suárez.  There was a very promising move by the Hornets as Jurado intercepted and played a lovely through ball for Deeney who was tripped on the edge of the box.  Kevin Friend consulted his linesman and waved play on.  A terrible decision.  While there was a break in play due to an injury to Yedlin, Troy went to pick up a water bottle from the side of the pitch and seemed to be having a discussion with the lino about recent decisions.  The Rookery helpfully sang ‘Knock him out.’  Troy laughed and shook his head.  After play restarted, Jurado released Aké whose cross was too close to the keeper.  The only booking of the game went to Guedioura for a clumsy challenge on Honeyman.  With 10 minutes to go, Flores brought Amrabat on for Jurado, who left the field to cheers after putting in a good performance.  Suárez had a chance to take the lead for the Hornets, but his shot was well over.  Ighalo battled well on one flank to keep the ball before crossing for Guedioura who also beat a couple of players before putting in a really disappointing shot.  Sunderland had a good chance to regain the lead, but Gomes came off his line to stop Watmore.  Watford looked the most likely to steal the three points in the final minutes but were unable to test the keeper.  The best chance came when Suárez found Ighalo in the middle of the box, but his first touch was poor, and when he turned and shot there was a Sunderland defender in the way.  There was a final chance when Watson found Guedioura, but his volley was wild and way off target.

Goodbye and Thank you, Senor Flores

Goodbye and Thank you, Senor Flores

The final whistle went signalling a draw in an entertaining game.  It would have been nice to send Flores off with a win, but the draw meant that we retained 13th position.  When we had our prediction competition at the start of the season, my entry was 15th, but that was me being ultra-positive.  We waited behind to cheer the players on their lap of honour.  For a few weeks now, people have been asking whether Flores was waving goodbye at the end of the game.  He does that every week but, on this occasion, he was waving goodbye, which saddened me greatly.  But you couldn’t help wondering who else had been seen for the last time in a Watford shirt.  Certainly, as Deeney videoed the crowd singing his name, I couldn’t help but wonder if he would be on his way.  The final word at Vicarage Road this season went to Troy who said, “This is all about these guys <the fans> and the gaffer.”  That sums it up for me.  This has been an incredible season of ups and downs.  There are moments I will never forget with the home games against Liverpool and West Ham and the FA Cup tie at Arsenal being high on that list.  It is very sad that the season has ended on such a low note, but I am still eagerly writing the pre-season games into my calendar.  When are the fixtures out??!!

 

Norwich Down but No Thanks to Watford

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

In contrast to the blazing sunshine of Sunday, I arrived in Norwich on a very muggy afternoon.  I had a quick wander around the town and then headed for the pre-match pub to meet up with our much depleted party and the Norfolk ‘Orns.  The pre-match beers in the sunshine, were very enjoyable and we had the added pleasure of cheering the team bus as it passed on its way to the ground.  I must admit that, of the three teams still under threat, Norwich were my first choice for the drop, but I did have to feel sorry for the bloke in the pub who was begging Watford fans for mercy.

When we reached the turnstiles, we encountered a sniffer dog.  I know that it is a no-no, but the hound was so adorable that I asked the handler whether I could pet it.  She asked me, in return, if I would do her a favour and give the dog something to find.  She explained that, when the dogs don’t find anything for a while, they get a bit bored and she wanted to make sure that her charge was still paying attention.  So I was given a scent to put in my pocket and asked to come back in again.  Once I was assured that this plant would not lead to my arrest, I did as she asked and, sure enough, the hound leapt up at me, identified the scent and was suitably rewarded and I got a doggy cuddle.

Team news was only the one change with Nyom coming in at right back and Prödl making way for Cathcart in the centre of defence.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Jurado, Watson, Suarez, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo.  It was not a selection to quell the doubts of those calling for Quique’s head.

Celebrating the first goal

Celebrating the first goal

The travelling Watford fans started goading their counterparts early on with chants of “We are staying up.”  And the game started rather well for the visitors as Troy had an early shot from distance that the Norwich keeper, Ruddy, just kept out.  We took the lead on 11 minutes as a long ball from Britos was headed down by Deeney to Ighalo, Ruddy smothered his shot, but the ball broke to Deeney who finished into the empty net.  At this stage, it looked as though Norwich could be in for a comprehensive defeat to send them down.  That couldn’t have been further from the truth as, a couple of minutes later, an innocuous looking Norwich attack finished with Redmond exchanging passes with Naismith before scoring through the legs of Gomes.  The home fans started singing “The Great Escape” at this point.  Unbelievably, the home side were 2-1 up soon afterwards as Watford failed to clear the ball allowing Redmond to hit the post and the rebound was buried by Mbokani.  Watford tried to hit back with a ball into the box that was gathered by Ruddy with Deeney challenging.  There was an immediate counter attack which finished with a shot from Redmond that flew just wide.  More lax defending from Watford allowed Redmond to hit the post again, on this occasion the follow-up from Olsson was kept out by a smart save from Gomes.  At this point, there were boos ringing out in the away end.

Watson on the ball

Watson on the ball

Watford gifted Norwich a third in the 37th minute as Watson gave the ball away, Jurado failed to tackle when given the chance and Nyom slipped allowing the ball to run through to Hoolahan, whose cross looked unlikely to trouble the defence until Cathcart intervened to power it past Gomes.  You’d have thought that the Watford team had a bet on Norwich to stay up.  But, soon after the goal, it became apparent that that was out of their hands as a chant of “1-0 to the Sunderland” went up in the away end indicating Sunderland’s breakthrough against Everton.  This was followed by “We are Premier League”.  Hmm, not on the evidence of tonight’s showing.  Watford attacked again as Watson crossed for Deeney but his shot was saved by Ruddy, and the flag was up anyway.  The travelling Hornets continued to console themselves by goading the opposition.  This time with “Burton Albion on a Tuesday night,” which sounded rather appealing to me.  Norwich had a couple more chances before half time.  First Hoolahan played a through ball to Naismith whose shot was saved by Gomes.  Then the Watford keeper was called into action again to stop a long range shot from Hoolahan.  The half time whistle went to boos from the away end.  I never boo my team, but this was one occasion when I had sympathy with those who did.

At half time, I went to chat with Don.  You know that things are not going well when even Don can’t find anything positive to say.  Although he did manage a complaint about the ref, so I knew he was OK.  Our summary of the first half was that the majority of the Watford players were on the beach.

Deeney crosses for the second Watford goal

Deeney crosses for the second Watford goal

Flores made a change at half time bringing Aké on for Nyom.  There was a bright start to the second period as Anya played a ball down the wing to Deeney who cut back for Igahlo to score his fifteenth league goal of the season, which was also his first in the league since January.  The Watford fans greeted the strike with, “We’re gonna win 4-3.”  Flores made his second substitution to loud cheers as Jurado made way for Berghuis.  Norwich nearly did us a favour as a long ball from Abdi was headed back towards Ighalo by Deeney and Bennett’s attempt to clear flew just over the bar.  As it happened, it wouldn’t have counted as he was deemed to have been fouled by the Nigerian.  Norwich scored their fourth just before the hour mark as Redmond played a through ball to Mbokani, who dinked it over Gomes.  The Norwich fans were doing an impressive job of supporting their team despite knowing that Sunderland were three goals up against Everton, so their fate was sealed.  Watford attempted to hit back as Berghuis found Abdi but the shot was just wide of the far post.  Watson was booked for a frustrated tackle on Naismith and, soon after, made way for Guedioura.  While Norwich’s first change saw Brady coming on for Hoolahan.  The home fans continued their impressive support with a chant of “One Alex Neil”.

Berghuis, Guedioura and Abdi discuss a free kick

Berghuis, Guedioura and Abdi discuss a free kick

An extended period of possession for the Hornets finished with Abdi exchanging passes with Berghuis before hitting a volley straight at Ruddy.  I thought that Norwich should have been awarded a penalty as Naismith was tripped in the box, but the referee waved play on.  Soon after, the Scotsman was replaced by Odjidja-Ofoe and Jarvis came on for the excellent Redmond.  Late in the game, Aké was booked for a stupid tackle on Mbokani.  There was a great chance for Watford to strike back after Abdi was fouled on the edge of the box.  But the ball was placed considerably further back for the free kick and Guedioura hit it into Row Z, summing up the evening.  A cross into the Norwich box was met by the head of Anya but he could only direct it back to Ruddy.  Then Deeney had one last chance to cut the deficit with a shot from outside the area that Ruddy spilled towards the goal, but managed to recover.  In the last minute I, again, thought that we had conceded a penalty, but the trip was outside the area and the free kick was straight into the Watford wall.  It was a relief when the final whistle went.

Ighalo

Ighalo

I usually take defeats in my stride and try to take positives from any game.  But my patience ran out last night.  The dedicated souls who travelled to Norwich took time off work, spent a lot of money on travel, tickets and, in many cases, hotels and were rewarded with an abject performance from a bunch of lads who looked like they were on holiday.  I can take being beaten by a better team, but not such a sub-par performance from players who are so much better than that.   I was so irate that, as Britos came over to offer his shirt to a fan I found myself shouting “It’s your pay packet you should be giving us, not your shirt”.  To be fair, the young girl who went home with the shirt was very happy indeed.  The most shocking aspect of the evening was the performance of the defence, which has been excellent for most of the season, but played like clowns on the evening.  Even Gomes had a very rare off day.  Deeney was the only player to come out of the game with any credit.  I’m sure I will calm down by Sunday and, of course, I will be at Vicarage Road to support the lads in the last game of what has been a very successful season.  I just hope they end on a high.