After a run of two defeats, we really needed a win in this game. The draw against Newcastle couldn’t have been less inspiring and, despite the claims in the Newcastle Chronicle earlier in the season that we were pygmys to their giants, I couldn’t help feeling that this was a game that we really ought to win. There was a lot of speculation during the week about how many players would be rested but, when the team news came through, we found that Flores had made only four changes. Oularé was given his debut in place of Ighalo; Guedioura and Berghuis made their first starts of the season in place of Capoue and Abdi, and Prödl was drafted in for Britos. So the starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Prödl, Cathcart, Nyom, Guedioura, Watson, Jurado, Deeney, Berghuis and Oularé.
Taking our usual seats in the Rookery, it was a little strange to see a number of unfamiliar faces around us. At the other end of the ground it was rather sad to see a large number of empty seats in the Vicarage Road end, a result of Newcastle demanding a £35 membership fee from anyone who wanted to buy a ticket. A real shame as the ticket prices were so reasonable and fair play to Watford for offering a discount to our season ticket holders.
The first chance of the game fell to the home side as a clearance only went as far as Berghuis, whose shot from distance was well over the target. At the other end, Janmaat went charging into the Watford box but Gomes blocked the shot. Oularé did well to battle past the Newcastle defence but had no way to goal so played a square ball to Deeney who found Guedioura to his right but the Algerian’s shot was blocked. There was then some good work from Guedioura beating a couple of players before finding Jurado whose shot curled into the arms of Elliot. There was danger in the Watford box as a cross from Janmaat reached Wijnaldum at the near post, but Gomes was down to block. Guedioura threatened again with a cross to Oularé, who tried to touch it on to Deeney, but the pass was cut out. Sissoko went on a powerful run and crossed for Pérez whose shot was wide of the far post. Sissoko then tried a cross that was met with a strong header from Prödl for a corner. The visitors had a decent chance from a corner but the header was glanced over by Mitrovic. Another Newcastle corner came to nothing as Janmaat wellied well over. The first booking of the game went to Tioté for a clumsy trip on Guedioura. It was then Watford’s turn to create a couple of decent chances. First Watson’s free kick was headed goalwards by Cathcart, but Elliot tipped the ball around the post. The resultant corner was punched as far as Jurado whose shot was blocked.
The visitors could have opened the scoring as Mbabu went on a long run before hitting a shot that was punched clear by Gomes. But it was Watford who took the lead rather unexpectedly just before half time. A mistake from Wijnaldum led to the ball running through to Deeney who only had Elliot to beat, which he did by rounding the keeper and coolly slotting home. It was notable that, due to the influx of occasional supporters, the four of us seemed to be the only ones indulging in the post goal bouncing in our section of the Rookery. The game had been pretty dire until that point so that sent us in to the break with smiles on our faces.
At half time, there was a race between Harry the Hornet and a mascot representing a new club in town. It is common knowledge that Harry takes his fitness seriously, so he was an easy winner and celebrated by ‘doing an Ighalo’ at the corner flag.
There was a half-time substitution as Anya came on for Oularé which resulted in a switch to 4-5-1 with Jurado going into the hole behind Deeney. The second half was only five minutes old when the visiting fans started singing “How sh*t must you be, it’s only 1-0.’ Which seemed a tad harsh as Newcastle had made a decent fist of the first half. Newcastle then had the first goal attempt of the half which was a terrible shot by Pérez from the edge of the box that flew past the near post. After seeing that, I had a bit more sympathy for the sentiments of the Newcastle fans. Watford then attacked as Anya broke down the left before making his way along the by-line to cut the ball back to Deeney who was unable to get a shot in. It was then Newcastle’s turn to break through Pérez who found Thauvin in space but his cross was caught by Gomes. The visitors really should have equalized as Sissoko slid a ball into the box, Gomes was in trouble as Mitrovic ran in but the Newcastle man couldn’t connect, much to the relief of the home fans. Watford’s second substitution saw Abdi coming on for Berghuis who really hadn’t made a claim for his place. Anya went on a run and launched a cross that was headed out for a corner. Then a quick throw from Deeney found Anya who cut the ball back to Jurado but his shot was blocked. Sissoko broke again and crossed for Thauvin who was in space and Gomes did very well to block his shot, but the flag had been raised anyway.
I noticed Troy jumping over the hoardings into the Lower GT and assumed that his momentum had taken him there until he returned with a Newcastle player who, presumably, he had bundled over. Watford’s final substitution came with 20 minutes remaining as Ighalo replaced Jurado, who was given a standing ovation. The Nigerian had been well wrapped up as he warmed up, so must have been given a good amount of time to remove all the layers before coming on. Watford looked to increase their lead as Guedioura played a through ball into the box but it was just too far in front of Holebas. At this stage the Newcastle fans were demanding their money back and I had a bit more sympathy than I’d had for the earlier chant. Abdi put a decent cross into the Newcastle box but Anya couldn’t get on the end of it. Watford’s only booking came as Guedioura was cautioned for a kick on Thauvin as the Newcastle player tried to break. The next contribution from the Newcastle fans was “You’re getting sacked in the morning,” which was gleefully taken up by the Rookery. As if to prove the point, Newcastle had won a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery was absolutely dreadful and straight into the arms of Gomes. Newcastle had one last chance to equalize in the final minute of time added on but Thauvin could only shoot into the side netting.
It had been a pretty awful game. Watford had been poor but, once they took the lead, the visitors never really looked like getting back into the game. You really have to feel for the Newcastle fans as their players made some good attacking moves, particularly through Sissoko, but their finishing was abysmal. The four Watford players given their chance had mixed afternoons. Oularé showed some good touches, but certainly suffered in comparison to Ighalo as, despite his size, his strength and workrate were not in the same league. But he is young and has potential. Berghuis didn’t do a lot, so Abdi must have felt pretty comfortable as he sat on the bench. Guedioura was lively and did nothing wrong, but did not have the influence that Capoue does. Prödl was excellent. I felt he was unlucky to lose his place earlier in the season, and even more so that Britos then played superbly. He was deservedly given the Man of the Match award. He was also responsible for one of the highlights of the afternoon as he went to the Lower GT and handed a young boy his shirt, stopping for a long chat. From reading a friend’s facebook page it seems it was a lad called Ossie who is being treated for neuroblastoma and had been allowed a day out from hospital to go to the game as a guest of the club. The beaming smile on the boy’s face as Prödl spoke to him just lit up the ground.
I had my own close encounter with a hero as I was walking through the GT on the way out. I saw Luke Dowling and then noticed the man walking behind him was Gino Pozzo. I just said, “Thank-you, Sir” and was rewarded with a smile. It seemed fitting to see the architect of our current success under the banners of our past and that sent me home smiling.