Tag Archives: Reece Brown

Goalless at the Stones

The teams enter the field

The teams enter the field

We’ve had a good relationship with Wealdstone in recent years, although I still feel guilty about the way they were treated during the ground share.  But that was in the Petchey years and he also screwed us, so the behaviour was not out of character.  This pre-season game had been billed as a Watford development squad, but Dave Hughes’ squad was to be augmented with a couple of first team players.

Don, Trond and I were in the disabled area, so well placed to see who arrived to occupy the VIP stand (if there is such a thing at Wealdstone) as they had to walk past us.  I was impressed to see Gino Pozzo arrive with Gianluca Nani.  Marco Cesarini was the next to walk past us, so I said hello and he shook my hand and introduced me to his wife and children.  I had failed to notice that he was followed by Beppe and the first team coaches, all of whom shook our hands.  We had become an unofficial welcoming party.

Pre-match handshakes

Pre-match handshakes

The starting line-up was Bond, Young, Doherty, O’Nien, Johnson (c), Brown, Tapoko (trialist), Smith, Jakubiak, Rosenthal and Fabbrini.  Former Watford youngsters Jonathan North and Elliott Godfrey started for Wealdstone.  There was a nice gesture from the excellent tannoy announcer who welcomed Smith and O’Nien back, both having been there on loan in recent seasons.

There was an early scare for the visitors as McGleish came in on the blind side of Johnson but, fortunately for us, his shot was wild and flew over the bar.  The same player threatened again soon after, cutting the ball back to Pigden, but Young was on hand to snuff out the danger.  Fabbrini had already been knocked over a couple of times, with no sympathy from the ref, when, in the 11th minute, he went down with a squeal of pain, holding his head.  He disappeared into the dressing rooms with the physio and we were playing with 10 men for 8 minutes.  Wright had a great chance to put the home side ahead, but his air shot gave the Watford defence time to clear the ball.

Smith and O'Nien

Smith and O’Nien

Watford’s first chance came as Smith got on the end of a low cross from Rosenthal, but his shot was wide of the far post.  Rosenthal was the next with a chance for Watford but his low shot from distance was easy for North to gather.  A forward run by Fabbrini was stopped rather brutally on the edge of the box, but the referee waved play on.  Rosenthal tried another shot from distance, but this time it flew over the bar.  On the half-hour, Mills took a free-kick for the Stones that was heading for the top corner until Bond leapt and turned it over the bar.  Then Collins broke into the box but Johnson was on hand to block the shot.  At the other end, O’Nien took a free-kick that flew just wide of the target.  With 5 minutes of the half remaining, Bond was blocked as he attempted to reach a free-kick, which fell to McGleish who shot over the bar.  Wealdstone continued to look for the opening goal as an excellent long pass reached Wright who cut it back to Okimo whose shot was repelled by a diving header from O’Nien, McGleish’s follow-up needed a smart save from Bond to keep the game goalless.  The last chance of the half fell to Rosenthal who, again, saw a shot from distance fly over the bar.  As the teams left the field Johnson and Bond were arguing with the referee.  The lino had missed some calls and the ref had been a little harsh on Fabbrini (yes, really), but I hadn’t seen anything that justified the apparent level of their complaint.  Certainly, Wealdstone had been the better of the teams in the first half.

Bond ready for anything

Bond ready for anything

The first chance of the second half went Watford’s way, but Fabbrini’s shot from distance was soft and didn’t trouble North in the Wealdstone goal.  We held our breath as Collins was tripped in the box, but the referee had been reluctant to blow up for fouls, which was to our advantage on this occasion as he waved play on.  On the hour, a Wealdstone corner was met with a header that flew over the bar.  Then Fabbrini broke through and was tripped, the ball broke to Jakubiak in the box but he couldn’t quite control it so his first shot rebounded off North, his second attempt beat the keeper but was cleared before it reached the goal.  Soon after, a free-kick from Doherty just cleared the crossbar.  That was his last action of the game as he was replaced by Mahlondo Martin.  Jakubiak found space in the box but could only shoot wide of the near post.

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

Fabbrini was fouled yet again with nothing given by the officials.  I thought it was my yellow-tinted spectacles that provoked my sympathy until the Wealdstone fan behind us commented on the unfairness of the decisions.  At this stage Fabbrini was replaced by Folivi and, as he immediately walked to the dressing room, was followed by Sannino walking through the stand the two of them having a lively conversation.  On 72 minutes, Carl Stewart replaced Smith.  Jakubiak went on a great run and unleashed a shot, but North was equal to it.  The final Watford substitution saw Dennon Lewis replacing Tapoko, the trialist, who had a decent game in the midfield.  Martin had a good shot saved by Carter, who had replaced North in the Wealdstone goal.

Young defending

Young defending

With 10 minutes remaining, Lewis latched onto a ball over the top and passed back to Jakubiak who had a great chance to win the game, but shot just wide.  The final action of the game was a free-kick from O’Nien which was just over the bar, so the game ended goalless.  It had been a lively contest and Watford definitely had the best of the second half with Jakubiak a constant menace to the Wealdstone defence.

Despite the lack of goals, it had been a lovely evening to watch football and I was impressed to see Gino Pozzo in attendance, as well as Nani, Sannino and all the coaches, supporting the Development Squad.

Meeting the Russians in Bad Bleiburg

Drei Laerchen

Drei Laerchen

For the second weekend in a row, I was on an early morning flight to Austria.  This time we were heading for Salzburg where we picked up a hire car for the drive to Bad Bleiburg.  Once we worked out how to change the sat nav from what appeared to be a Scandinavian language to English, the drive was relatively straight forward.  As we headed through the mountain tunnels, the place names on the signs indicated that we were travelling through the towns that had constituted my favourite ski area when I lived in Austria.  It brought back very happy memories, but I don’t think I had ever visited that region when the slopes were green.  As we came off the motorway following the sat nav directions to Bad Bleiburg, we were a little concerned to find ourselves on a steep, narrow road through the forest that was difficult enough to negotiate in Summer.  Sure enough, barriers at both ends indicated that it can be closed in Winter.  On arriving in the village, we decided to have a look at the facilities.

The game is on

The game is on

Unlike the 30,000-seater stadium that we visited last week, this was a proper pre-season ground.  The standing area was mostly on one side with a small stand along half of that side of the ground and we were looking down onto the playing area with the mountains providing a picturesque backdrop.  What looked like a media box turned out to be the VIP section consisting of a couple of high seats with cup holders.  There were posters advertising our games over the weekend, which also indicated that there was a double-header planned for that afternoon with the local team playing Weiβenstein at 3pm.

After a detour for lunch and to check-in at our hotel, we arrived just before half-time in the warm up game to find the score was 2-2, which was a decent score against a team that we were told were from the division above our hosts.  The game was being played in blazing sunshine, so a beer was in order and then we were all set for the second half in which the visitors scored two additional goals thanks to some spectacularly bad goalkeeping.  The first being a free-kick which rather drifted in with the keeper berating his wall when it appeared that a step to his left would have allowed him to catch the ball which was hardly moving at pace.  The final goal was a speculative shot from the half way line.

Coming through the hedge

Coming through the hedge

The car park, such as it was, had filled up so I wondered where they would find space for two coaches. The Rubin Kazan team arrived and parked up and, soon after, our lads appeared through a gap in the hedge at the opposite side of the ground, having walked across the road from their hotel.  They crossed the pitch and then came up a covered stairway to the dressing rooms.  There had only been a couple of other Watford fans at the warm-up game but, as kick-off time approached, a few familiar faces appeared to supplement the local crowd.  Evidently there were some tricky pre-match negotiations between the officials of the two clubs, as I heard the conclusion that the game would be played with the Rubin Kazan ball in the first half and the Watford ball in the second.

Pre-match handshakes

Pre-match handshakes

The starting line-up for Watford was Gomes, Doyley, Tamas, Angella, Pudil, Tözsér, Battocchio, McGugan, Forestieri, Vydra and Deeney, who was captain for the afternoon.  The Rubin Kazan team lined up wearing the highest numbers that I have ever seen in a football match.  As the captains met for the pre-match formalities, which included swapping pennants, the referee was heard to ask if there was a spare pennant for him.  Deeney dutifully went back to the Watford staff to relay the referee’s request.

With two minutes on the clock, Kverkvelia flattened Pudil.  McGugan took the free-kick which was pushed just wide by the Russian keeper, Filtsolv.  Rubin Kazan launched an attack, which we were struggling to clear.  Thankfully it finished with a shot from Kislyak that Gomes claimed.  The Russian team then had a really good spell.  First, a cross from Kverkvelia was played back to Getigezhev who blazed over.  Then a snap shot from the left required a good reaction save from Gomes.

A chance goes begging

A chance goes begging

On 18 minutes, Livaja curled a shot wide of the near post.  There was some respite as Watford won a free kick which was well taken by Tözsér but Filtsolv leapt and tipped it over the bar.  From the corner, Deeney headed past the keeper, but our celebrations were cut short as the referee indicated a foul that none of our party saw.  A clever dummy by Battocchio allowed the ball to reach Doyley in the box, but his shot was blocked.  At the other end, Mullin tried a shot from distance that flew wide of the near post.  There was a bit of handbags then as Forestieri fouled Mullin, who screamed in agony as he went down.  Fernando was having none of it and tried to pull him to his feet.  The Russian angrily leapt up and Deeney rushed over to get between them.  The Russian then collapsed in agony again to derision from the travelling Hornets, but he got his way when Forestieri was booked for the challenge.  Nabiullin tried a weak shot that was easily gathered by Gomes.  In the 38th minute, Tözsér took a free kick from the right that went over the bar.

A miss for Rubin Kazan

A miss for Rubin Kazan

Revenge is a dish best served cold and, just before half time, Fernando fell theatrically under a challenge from Mullin and his rival’s name joined his in the referee’s book.  The resulting free kick from McGugan was disappointing and easily gathered by Filtsolv.  Rubin Kazan threatened as the ball was given away on the wing, but Pudil stopped the danger with a great challenge in the box and eventually a corner was conceded.  From the set piece, the ball broke dangerously in the box but Pudil was on hand again to clear.  The half finished with a couple of chances for the Russians, but they continued to be wasteful as, first, Burlak launched a shot from a mile out that flew well over the bar.  Then a header from Livaja was well wide of the target.

It had been an enjoyable half of football with the Russian side providing a much sterner test than the two previous games in Austria.  They’d had a number of chances early on that they really should have done better with, but we were happy enough going into the break on level terms.  During the interval the heavens opened, but that wasn’t to deter those of us standing at the side of the pitch.  A bit of rain never hurt anyone.

Waiting for a corner

Waiting for a corner

At half time, Ekstrand, Anya, Dyer and Abdi replaced Angella, Vydra, Forestieri and McGugan.  Five minutes into the half, there was a fantastic move as Anya fed Deeney, who played a through ball to Dyer in the box, but a defender was on hand to take the ball from his feet.  In another cracking move, Battocchio fed Abdi who found Dyer who unleashed a vicious shot that cannoned back off the crossbar.  It fell to Deeney whose shot was blocked and cleared.  After what had been a really good spell for Watford, a chance fell to Devic but his shot was easy for Gomes.  Just before the hour, Abdi tried a speculative shot that was put out for a corner.  At this point Burlak, who was wearing 4 for Rubin Kazan, was replaced by Diakhite, who was wearing 99.  I can only think that Burlak’s shirt number was deemed too low.  There was danger for Watford as a free-kick from Karadeniz flew just over the bar.

Ready for a clearance

Ready for a clearance

Then there was a slight delay to the game as Pudil left the ground and appeared to go into a neighbouring garden to retrieve the ball.  Abdi and Battocchio combined before passing back to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  The opposition were struggling to cope with our pace upfront and Anya was the next to break into the box but shot wide of the target.  At the half-way point in the second half Murray replaced Tözsér.  The Russians threatened with a back header from Asmoun which Gomes caught.  On a side note, Asmoun was wearing no 69 provoking sniggers from the less mature among our support (most of us).  Then Pudil tried a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  There was a spate of substitutions as Ranegie replaced Deeney, Hoban came on for Tamas and Fabbrini for Forestieri.  By this stage, the incessant rain meant that my notebook was a sopping mess, and any notes that I managed to make are barely legible.

Anya can't quite reach the ball before Filtsolv

Anya can’t quite reach the ball before Filtsolv

But I believe there was some lovely interplay between Fabbrini and Anya whose shot was blocked.  Then Fabbrini, Ranegie and Dyer combined, this time it was Fabbrini’s turn to shoot, but his effort was also blocked.  Doyley was replaced by Brown.  At this point, the conditions meant that note-making was almost impossible but I did note a decent Watford chance as a double shot from Ranegie was blocked followed by a great shot from Pudil that was deflected wide.  Doherty came on to replace Pudil for the final couple of minutes.  When the final whistle went, those of us who had stuck it out watching from the side of the pitch were soaked through.  The Watford squad waved goodbye and then disappeared through the hedge again to walk back to their hotel.

Doyley takes a throw in

Doyley takes a throw in

Despite the goalless scoreline, it had been an enjoyable game with Watford excellent in the second half.  It may seem sacrilege to suggest playing without Vydra and Forestieri in the starting line-up, but the thought of a front three of Dyer, Deeney and Anya terrorising Championship defences makes me very excited indeed.  As for the return of Tözsér, my shout of “welcome home” to him when he arrived at the ground was heartfelt and he didn’t disappoint in the game.

We went in search of some warmth and somewhere to eat.  The only place in wheelchair pushing distance was the hotel where the team were staying.  We tried to keep a respectful distance although I did beckon Doyley over for a kiss.  Beppe kindly came over and shook all of our hands and bought a round of drinks.  Since eating at the hotel didn’t seem to be an option, and we wanted to leave the players in peace, we made our way back towards town for dinner where we were joined by Gary and Dan, who we’d met in the ground so spent a lovely evening chatting about all things Watford.  Saturday was my birthday.  I had a lovely day watching Watford play in a gorgeous part of the world and even had a kiss from Lloyd Doyley.  I can’t imagine any better way to have spent the day.

My Holiday on Woerthersee

Woerthersee Stadium

Woerthersee Stadium

When the pre-season game in Klagenfurt was announced for 5th July, I knew that a long anticipated trip to Garsington Opera on the Friday and tickets for the theatre on Saturday meant that my attendance was not possible.  Then, on Thursday, the venue and kick-off time were announced and the temptation was too much to bear.  After all, I’d be home from the opera before midnight and the play will be on until the end of August and there were plenty of tickets left.  When I found there were still seats available on the weekend flights to Klagenfurt, my decision was made.  So Saturday morning, at the crack of dawn, I was at Heathrow waiting for Don Fraser to appear for the trip to Klagenfurt.  Don was somewhat elusive due to a couple of dramas with the assistance at Heathrow, but he eventually appeared and we arrived in Klagenfurt on schedule.

We are in the right place

We are in the right place

There were no taxis available outside the airport so, when one finally turned up, the driver asked the others in the queue where they were going.  One young man was also heading to our hotel, so he shared the cab and told us that he was travelling with AS Monaco who were coming to the area for a training camp.  Needless to say, these were not the footballers that interested us.

After a lovely lunch and a relaxing afternoon, Don and I headed for the Wörthersee Stadium.  The stadium was very impressive indeed but, on arrival, the only footballers in evidence were the Monaco team having a practice game on the training pitch.  A few minutes later we saw a couple of familiar faces.  I must say that I am always greatly relieved to see someone with a Watford crest on his shirt when arriving at a pre-season venue just in case I have turned up at the wrong place.  In proper football saddo style, we positioned ourselves outside the players’ entrance and, very soon after, the coach appeared and the players piled off.  There were smiles and greetings from those who recognized us.  When Lloydy appeared, he just shook his head when he saw us, then came over and gave me a kiss.  He’d enjoyed his Summer, but wanted to forget the France game.  Then GianLuca Nani appeared and greeted us like old friends.

Don ready to report on the game

Don ready to report on the game

Once our guard of honour duties were complete, we enquired about the location of the supporters’ entrance to the stadium.  A steward, who clearly spoke no English and was taking no chances with my terrible German, directed us through the maze of corridors by means of smiles and pointing and, after taking a lift up, we emerged onto the concourse inside the beautiful arena and, as there was no obvious wheelchair area, took a place at one of the tables in the press area.  As Beppe came out onto the pitch for the warm-up, GianLuca pointed us out in the stand and we were treated to a wave and a greeting.  We’d positioned ourselves by the half-way line, so were soon joined by the players who were not taking part and the coaching staff.  Troy, Ikechi, Bernard Mensah and George Byers were the first to come up and they sat just in front of us, so we were treated to Troy’s opinions throughout the game which added greatly to the entertainment.

Gomes and Gartside warming up

Gomes and Gartside warming up

The Klagenfurt announcer, who was wearing a shirt with no 12 on the back (as were all the fans in replica shirts), went through a detailed description of the Klagenfurt players but did not deign to inform us of the Watford line-up, so it was the usual pre-season practice of trying to recognise these young footballers who all look the same to me.  I did pretty well as there have been no new hair cuts this Summer to fool me but, by the end of the first half, I had still not identified the no. 4.  I was embarrassed to have to ask who he was and was quite pleased to be told it was Tamas, so I had an excuse for not recognising him.

The starting line-up was Gomes, Brown, Cathcart, Tamas,  Pudil, Battocchio, Murray, McGugan, Dyer, Ranegie and Vydra.  I was a little surprised, but also gratified, to see that Murray was captain for the day. The first real attack of the game came from the home side and was thwarted by a wonderful saving tackle from Brown.  From the throw-in, the ball

So that's Gabriel Tamas

So that’s Gabriel Tamas

reached Prawda who shot high and wide.  The home side had another attempt on goal but the shot flew wide of the near post.  Watford’s first corner was taken by Dyer and a number among our support will be unhappy to hear that he took it short.  However, when the cross came in, it was met with a decent header from Vydra, but a Klagenfurt defender’s head was there to clear.  On 20 minutes, Vydra fed Dyer, whose shot was blocked by the keeper, Vydra picked up the loose ball and passed to Pudil whose attempt was also blocked.  Deeney was giving McGugan some grief as he lined up a shot and his judgement was proved right as Lewis’s attempt flew high and wide.  At the other end, a cross from the right was straight into Gomes’s arms.  Battocchio, who had made a great start, played a lovely ball over the top to Vydra, but the attentions of a defender prevented him getting a decent shot in.  Another pin point long ball, this time from Pudil, reached

Battocchio on the attack

Battocchio on the attack

Battocchio but his cross was cut out before it reached Vydra.  On 26 minutes, we were a goal up as a lovely through ball from Murray found Dyer on the edge of the box.  He advanced and coolly slotted the ball past the Klagenfurt keeper.  A nice goal and the reaction of the players in the stands showed that Dyer is already a popular member of the playing staff.  The home side had a chance to strike back as a through ball found Zakany in the box, he tried a shot that was turned around the post by Gomes.  With 10 minutes to half time, the home side won a free kick in a dangerous position, it reached Prawda in the box but he headed wide of the near post.  Dyer nipped into the box, he was closed down so passed back to Ranegie, who decided to control the ball rather than just shooting and found himself with his back to goal so the chance was gone.  The home side tried to hit back just before half time with a free kick that was met with a strong headed clearance by Pudil.  On the stroke of half-time Klagenfurt won a corner, but it was coolly caught by Gomes.

Vydra on the attack

Vydra on the attack

At half-time, a Klagenfurt supporter stopped to talk with us.  He asked what we thought of the stadium.  I said it was beautiful, he looked sad and said, “But we have no fans.”  I wondered how they had the money to build such a stadium.  He told me that it had been built for Euro 2008.  He said that they have a good young team, but there is no TV money, no sponsorship and small crowds so they struggle.

At the start of the second half, Ekstrand, Hoban and Doyley replaced Cathcart, Tamas and Brown in defence with Fabbrini coming on for Ranegie upfront.  There was a scare for the visitors early on as we failed to clear a corner and the ball bounced goalwards, but Gomes saved with his feet.  From the corner Gomes came and caught the ball.  On 53 minutes, Pudil was booked for a late tackle on Zakany.  It was just in front of us and we could hear the victim’s rather dramatic scream.

Challenging in the Klagenfurt box

Challenging in the Klagenfurt box

Soon after, Murray played a one-two with Dyer and shot from a great position, but the ball curled high and wide.  On 57 minutes, Smith replaced McGugan.  The young Irishman was involved in the next move as he cut the ball back to Fabbrini who, if I’m being charitable, was fouled or, if I’m not, ran into the defender and collapsed.  Dyer then went off to be replaced by Jakubiak.  A shout of “Well played, Lloydy,” went up from Deeney and the new man looked up and smilingly acknowledged his teammate.  Then Doherty replaced Murray who gave the captain’s arm band to Pudil.  On 72 minutes a great run from Jakubiak appeared to have been stopped with a tackle that put the ball out for a corner, but it rebounded off the corner flag and stopped on the byeline, so Jakubiak retrieved it and hit a cross that just evaded Fabbrini and flew wide.  Then a decent shot from the home side was

The Klagenfurt keeper gathers

The Klagenfurt keeper gathers

just tipped wide by Gomes.  There followed a sublime move down the pitch by Watford, which finished with Pudil putting Vydra through one-on-one with the keeper.  Deeney’s shout of ‘slot machine’ indicated that he also thought that a second goal was inevitable, but Matej’s shot was too close to the keeper who managed to save, leaving me with my head in my hands.  Soon after, Vydra received the ball again but a bit further up the field.  Don shouted “Give it to Lloydy” so he did, but Lloyd’s cross drifted wide and the chance was lost.  With 10 minutes remaining O’Nien came on for Vydra and Gomes was replaced by a young keeper who, Alec told me, is a 16 year-old scholar called Nathan Gartside.  At this point, Jakubiak went upfront.  With a couple of minutes to go, Hoban lost out on the left but battled back to retrieve the ball, it flew into the air and was gathered by Gartside.  On 90 minutes, there was great work from Pudil who controlled a long high ball to the left and skipped past a defender to unleash a shot that was cleared off the line.  The game finished with a deserved one goal win for the Hornets.

Dyer takes a corner

Dyer takes a corner

As the players left the stand at the end of the game, Angella, who I sponsored this season, spotted me and said hello.  I asked if he was resting.  He lifted the leg of his shorts to show the strapping on his thigh.  Fortunately, Don was on hand with the smelling salts.

We left the ground and took up stalking position at the players’ entrance again.  Don had brought a shirt that he wanted signed and handed it over to Richard Line, the Operations Manager, who promised to get it signed during the week so that Don could pick it up next weekend.  He said he wouldn’t bother the players now.  At that point, Troy came over to talk to us, he signed the shirt and took it onto the bus and then into the dressing room and Don soon had a shirt full of signatures.  We welcomed Vydra ‘home’.  Then Beppe came over and thanked us for our support and told us that they were working hard for the new season.  This was confirmed by Richard Line who said that they had been doing double sessions every day, which would explain the fatigue shown during the game.  To be honest, I hadn’t expected them to go all out in the first pre-season game, but that made me a little more sympathetic to any perceived lack of effort.

Vydra threatens

Vydra threatens

We waved the coach off and went looking for the taxi that we’d booked to take us back to the hotel.  It was nowhere to be seen, so we headed back towards the car park and asked one of the locals if they had a number for a cab.  There was a family there and one of the lads kindly called us a taxi and they waited with us until it arrived, calling to ask where it was when it didn’t arrive on schedule.  While we were waiting, they told us a bit more about the club.  When the stadium was built, the club was in the top division, but they got into financial difficulties and were wound up.  The new club had to start again in the 3rd division.  They attract a very small crowd, c 1500, who rattle around in a stadium with a capacity of 30,000.  When our cab arrived, we said goodbye to our new friends and thanked them for their kindness.

When my alarm went at 4am on Saturday morning after 3.5 hours sleep, I wondered what the hell I was doing travelling to Austria for a football match.  But, as Don and I relaxed with a drink back at the hotel, we reflected on a cracking day out where we’d seen some football but also met some delightful people, many of them connected to our football club.  We both concluded that we couldn’t think of a better way to spend the weekend.

Beating the Blues

Ekstrand on the ball

Ekstrand on the ball

When this game was rescheduled due to our meeting with Man City, I realised that it would coincide with a visit by colleagues from the US.  It goes without saying that everyone who works with me is aware of my passion for Watford FC and I try to share the joy by dragging inviting them along.  An e-mail went out to each of them and I had four affirmative answers, so I left work yesterday with a full car hoping that my team would put on a good show.   First stop was the West Herts where the strangers received a very warm welcome from the locals who helped with advice on how to get served at the bar.  We had also ordered food, which took an age to be served, so we had a rapid walk to the stadium, but timed our entrance perfectly as we took our seats in the Upper Rous just before kick-off.  Although a regular in that row lived up to the UR stereotype by tapping his watch and asking what time we called this.

Team news was Murray making way for Merkel, and Pudil replacing the injured Anya.  So the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Pudil, Merkel, Battocchio, Tözsér, Faraoni, Forestieri and Deeney.  Captaining the opposition was one of Watford’s favourite sons, Paul Robinson.

Forestieri defending

Forestieri defending

The first chance of the game fell to the visitors as Ekstrand lost out to Macheda, the ball reached Burke who tried a cross that Almunia had to stretch to keep out.  From the resulting corner, Martin shot wide.  In Watford’s first attack, Battocchio found Deeney who tried a through ball to Forestieri, but Birmingham keeper, Randolph, was first to the ball.  Soon after, Deeney headed down to Merkel whose shot was wide of the target.  Birmingham had a great chance to take the lead on 11 minutes as a powerful shot from Caddis careered back off the crossbar.  As Rusnák tried the follow-up he appeared to be felled in the box by Faraoni, but the referee waved the penalty appeals away.  Then Forestieri won the ball in the middle and played a through ball to Deeney who was tackled by Packwood, but the offside flag was already up.  Birmingham won a free kick in a

Battocchio lining up a free kick

Battocchio lining up a free kick

dangerous position, which Huws delivered but it was an easy catch for Almunia.  There was an early substitution for Watford as Ekstrand left the field, presumably due to injury, to be replaced by the wonderful Lloyd Doyley.  Watford threatened as Merkel passed to Battocchio who headed down to Deeney but his pass was too far in front of Forestieri.  Then a good corner from Tözsér was headed wide by Angella.  On the half hour, Battocchio flicked the ball to Forestieri who appeared to be fouled by Robbo in the box, but the referee was having none of it.  Watford went ahead on 32 minutes as Forestieri found Deeney on the edge of the box.  His first attempt to connect missed the ball

Goal!!

Goal!!

completely, but he recovered and buried it at the second attempt.  Not the most elegant of goals, but they all count.  It went a bit quiet after that until, on the stroke of half time, Deeney found Forestieri on the edge of the box, but his shot was disappointing flying well wide of the near post.  At half time, one of my colleagues, looking to enhance her knowledge of the rules of ‘soccer’, asked whether you were only allowed to keep possession for a certain amount of time before giving the ball to the other team.  I had to laugh, but I thought that summed up the quality of the passing in the first half quite beautifully.

Lloydy moving so fast he is blurred

Lloydy moving so fast he is blurred

At the start of the second half, Birmingham made a substitution bringing on Reece Brown for Rusnák.  This caused me some confusion as I thought one of our players had defected without any publicity but, apparently, this Reece Brown is a 17 year-old from Dudley.  Early in the half, a free-kick from Huws was headed out by Angella who gave the resulting corner the same treatment.  The next corner was punched clear by Almunia.  Then Deeney found Forestieri close to the bye-line and, with a defender in attendance, he did really well to flick the ball up the line to Merkel whose shot from distance was poor and well wide.  For the visitors, Huws took another free-kick that was gathered by Almunia.  Then a shot from Macheda was straight into Almunia’s arms.  From a corner, the ball broke to Burke whose pass found Howard whose shot was weak and straight

Huws lining up a free kick

Huws lining up a free kick

at Almunia.  Ten minutes into the half, Watford launched their first attack of the second period.  A shot from Forestieri was blocked, Doyley did well to win back possession and return the ball to Forestieri who shot straight at Randolph.  Just before the hour, Forestieri fed Battocchio who went on a great run but, instead of shooting, he passed to Deeney who was, sadly, in an offside position.  Sannino made a further substitution as Battocchio was withdrawn and replaced by Murray.  On 67 minutes, there was a most bizarre incident.  Forestieri was off the field for what seemed to be an age as he waited to come back on after receiving treatment for an injury.  The referee finally indicated that he could come on, but there was a Birmingham player just in front of him and he immediately launched in to a tackle.  This seemed to infuriate the referee who stopped play and was reaching for a card before he realised that the error was his and the game restarted with a drop ball.  Faraoni should have done better soon after as he headed wide

Robbo unimpressed with the ref

Robbo unimpressed with the ref

from a Tözsér free kick.  With quarter of an hour remaining, Lee Clark made his remaining substitutions as Løvenkrands and Novak replaced Howard and Adeyemi.  Watford should have scored a second as a corner from Tözsér was met by a Forestieri header that was cleared off the line.  With 8 minutes remaining, Sannino made his final substitution replacing Merkel with Bellerin.  The young Spaniard’s first act was to control a clearance from Almunia with his hand and earn a yellow card for his trouble.  In the last minute of normal time, a ball in to the box from Bellerin was being shepherded out by the defender, but Deeney fought to keep it in and crossed back in the general direction of Forestieri, but it was too far away for him to connect.  In time added on, Forestieri ran into trouble allowing the visitors to counter, Løvenkrands broke into the box but the ever reliable Doyley was back to clear.  Forestieri received a silly yellow card after a blatant hand ball in the centre circle which he followed up with a run and a lob over Randolph.  As Birmingham were lining up the free kick, Caddis clearly felt that Forestieri was too close so walked up and pushed him back.  When Randolph finally took the kick, Packwood met it with a header that, thankfully, flew into the side netting so we preserved the clean sheet and put another three points on the board.

Applauding the crowd

Applauding the crowd

As welcome as the win was, that had been a horrible game to watch and I was a bit embarrassed that I had subjected my poor colleagues to it, so I was delighted when they told me how much they had enjoyed the experience.  During the game, they had admired the effort and enjoyed the chanting.  You don’t really get the latter at US sports.  But what made my evening was to hear my visitors talk about the wonderful welcome that they’d had from all the Watford fans that they had met and how they couldn’t imagine experiencing something similar in the US.  So the football may have been disappointing, but the lovely Watford community made me very proud indeed.