Tag Archives: Romelu Lukaku

Disappointment and Pride after First Defeat of the Season

Harry Hornet in happier times

After a trio of Sunday afternoon games, we returned to a Saturday kick-off, although it was not until 5:30pm, so still a disruption to the routine.  When kick-offs are moved, I always have a fear in the back of my mind that I have the time wrong and will miss the game. This wasn’t helped when I watched the rather sweet NBC advertisement for the game which featured a little girl answering questions from her friend about why she is a Watford fan.  At the end, they announce that kick-off is at 12:30 and I had a brief moment of panic before I realised that this was the time on the East coast of the US.  This piece heavily featured Harry Hornet, which was rather sad following the announcement this week that he was hanging up his oversized boots.

He has provided the fans with a lot of entertainment over the years and will be greatly missed.

Due to the late kick-off and an appointment in Hemel the next day, I decided to stay in Watford overnight and, as I checked in, the American couple in front of me were asking about where to go for the pre-match atmosphere.  It turned out that this Man United fan had turned up in Watford without a ticket.  A risky ploy given the relatively small capacity at Vicarage Road.

Our Stars in Stripes in front of the display in the family stand

I was in the West Herts bright and early to join Don who, needless to say, had been there since before the doors opened.  He does like to make sure that he is in place in plenty of time for kick-off.  We suspect that, between games, he sits quietly in a corner where they keep him going with regular cups of tea.  It was a day to remember absent friends as it would have been GT’s 74th birthday and Toddy’s anniversary is this week.  While there was little expectation that our 100% record would continue, we had to hope that the lads would still do them both proud.

As we approached the ground, the touts were out in force on Vicarage Road, a very distasteful sight, but one that would have been welcomed by the young American that I met at the hotel.  When I went to buy a programme from my usual seller, I was a little concerned to see a young lad in place of the usual woman, so asked after her to find that she was absent due to a hen night.  I was mightily relieved.

As we took our seats we were greeted with impressive stripes of yellow and black in the family stand and the SEJ, as the club had put yellow and black t-shirts on seats to further encourage the fans to join in with the ‘Stars in Stripes’ that we have come to love this season.  I was actually amazed at how many people had donned the t-shirts.  It looked great.  Prior to kick-off, Emma congratulated Javi Gracia on both the Manager of the Month award and the League Managers Association Performance of the Week for the Tottenham game.  As he took the applause of the crowd, there was that niggling worry that the curse of the MoM award would kick in.

Pereyra on the ball

Team news was, unsurprisingly, that the starting XI remained unchanged for a fifth match in a row so the line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Janmaat; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deeney, Gray.  Manchester United featured former Watford favourite, Ashley Young, who has sadly become a villain for the crowd after his “in your face” goal celebrations in front of the Rookery on his last visit.  The visitors were sporting pale salmon pink shirts that appeared to be the result of the kit man leaving a red sock in the machine when washing a white away kit.

The visitors started the game strongly with Foster being called into action in the second minute when Sánchez found Lukaku in the box, but the Watford keeper dived at his feet to avert the danger.  Watford’s first chance came soon after as a clearance fell to Doucouré whose shot was wild and wide of the target.  United’s next chance came through a shot from Pogba, but Foster was down low to save.  At the other end Hughes turned and shot, but it was an easy catch for de Gea.  At this point, there was a very loud chorus of one Harry Hornet.  Watford had a terrific chance to take the lead after some interplay between Pereyra and Deeney, the Watford captain’s shot required a smart save from de Gea to tip it over the bar.

Doucoure, Capoue and Hughes looking unsure about Deeney’s instruction

United had the ball in the net in the 24th minute as Sánchez finished from close range, but the flag was up for offside.   Sánchez threatened again on the half hour, running into the box and hitting a shot that was pushed over by Foster.  The first booking went to Capoue for a rather innocuous trip on Lingard, which seemed harsh given some of the challenges that had gone before.  The visitors took the lead after 35 minutes when Lukaku chested Young’s cross home.  From the Rookery, there were (erroneous) shouts of offside.  Holebas was also unhappy at something about the goal and was booked for his protest.  Watford had a wobble after the goal and United could have had a second from a Pogba shot, but Foster pulled off a terrific save.  But the visitors scored a second within 3 minutes as a corner was flicked on by Fellaini to Smalling who controlled on his chest before volleying past Foster.  The visitors had a chance to increase their lead further in time added on at the end of the half as Lingard crossed for Pogba whose snapshot was kept out by a brilliant save from Foster.  So we reached half time two goals down, which seemed slightly harsh but was the result of an uncharacteristically shaky spell after the first goal was scored.

The half time guest was Peter Kennedy who, it has to be said, was totally unrecognizable.  He works as an accountant in local government in Northern Ireland now, not a typical career path for a former Premier League footballer.

Both teams emerged promptly for the second half but were kept waiting by the officials.  Having toured the ground recently, I can assure you that it wasn’t the comfort of the referee’s room that detained them.

The wall jumps as Pereyra takes a free kick

The first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets when Pereyra won a free kick and took it himself, but his shot was over the bar.  The Hornets almost made the breakthrough as Holebas delivered a corner into the box, but Smalling beat Kabasele to the header and it went out for a corner.  The Hornets pulled one back after 65 minutes as Doucouré beat a defender and pulled the ball back for Gray who finished brilliantly past de Gea.  There was minimal celebration before the Watford lads ran back to the centre circle for the restart.  Game on!!  A couple of minutes later, there were shouts for a free kick as Pereyra was fouled on the edge of the area, but Mike Dean waved play on.  With 20 minutes remaining, each side made a change with Lingard making way for Martial for the visitors and Femenía replacing Janmaat for the Hornets.  Femenía’s first act was to play a lovely cross for Pereyra, but Valencia took the ball off the foot of the Argentine.  Pereyra then laid the ball off for Doucouré, but the shot was well over the bar.  Matić was booked for a foul in the build-up.  The central defenders came into their own as Craig Cathcart made a brilliant sliding tackle as Sánchez appeared to be through on goal.  Then Martial was prevented from shooting by an equally wonderful tackle from Kabasele.

Holebas crosses

There was a rash of late substitutions as McTominay replaced Sánchez for United and Gracia brought Masina and Success on for Holebas and Cathcart, both of whom left the field to appreciative applause.  Doucouré had impressed in the second half, although his shooting had been suspect, but he did brilliantly with a curling shot that de Gea just managed to hold.  There was a paltry 3 minutes added at the end of the game, most of which seemed to be taken up by Valencia taking an age to leave the pitch when being replaced by Bailly and then Matić leaving the field equally slowly after being shown a second yellow card for a foul on Hughes.  Foster came up for the free-kick, and it looked as through Watford would save a point as the delivery from Hughes was met by the head of Kabasele, but de Gea appeared from nowhere to make the save.  There was one final chance for the Hornets as Masina’s corner curled across goal and just past the far post, so the Hornets went down to their first defeat this season.

 

Cathcart ignoring Deeney

Fair play to the Watford fans who chanted passionately for their team after the final whistle.  Given that the Hornets had been behind for the whole of the second half, it was a testament to their performance that Occupation Road was totally packed at the end of the game as the Watford fans had stayed to the end.  It was a terrific second half performance which deserved a point.  As has been the case in every game so far this season, it was a terrific team effort but Cathcart and Kabasele continue to impress.  It seems time to resurrect the “Cool as Craig” t-shirts for our unfussy, unflappable defender.  Deeney and Gray also continue to link up well and Andre’s goal was terrific.

Back to the West Herts and Glenn had picked up some unwanted yellow shirts, so this Rookery resident was able to take one home.  The consensus of the post-match discussion was that, while we were all disappointed at the result, it had been a very impressive performance and we matched Manchester United all over the pitch.  We were a very content group of Hornets.  Our recent performances have shown that we have nothing to fear in this division this season, and that is certainly not what Watford fans were expecting when the season started.  Long may it continue.

Watford Missing the X-factor

Spot the ball

Midweek games are something of a rarity these days, so it seemed odd to be slipping out of work to head for Vicarage Road.  As I approached the West Herts, I bumped into Don and Trond, who were already on their way to the ground.  I know that they usually leave pretty early, but there were a number of other people also heading in the opposite direction to me, so I became a little concerned that I had made a mistake regarding the kick-off time.  Thankfully the bar was still busy and our usual table was populated with friendly faces.  There was a surprise appearance by Chris and Carl Todd.  So lovely to see them and even better that there was a spare ticket available among our group allowing Chris to see the game live rather than watching the television in the bar.

Team news was that Silva had made one change from the team that started at Newcastle, with Prödl replacing the injured Britos in defence.  So, the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Kabasele; Femenía, Cleverley, Doucouré, Zeegelaar; Hughes, Richarlison; Gray.  Former Watford youngster, Ashley Young, started for the visitors and his name was cheered as it was announced.

Cleverley lines up a free kick

It all started so well.  The Hornets had an early chance as Femenía hit a cross that Richarlison was just unable to reach.  The Brazilian was the next to try a cross, but it was caught by De Gea.  A corner from Cleverley was met by the head of Zeegelaar, but the effort was blocked.  Somewhat against the run of play, the visitors took the lead in the 19th minute with a gorgeous shot from Young that curled in at the near post.  He celebrated in front of the Watford fans, which incurred the wrath of many in the Rookery meaning that his every touch was booed from that moment on.  The first booking of the evening went to Doucouré after a tackle on Pogba.  Young scored a second after 25 minutes with a stunning free kick which flew over the wall and under the crossbar before Gomes saw it.  This time he celebrated by sliding on his knees towards the Rookery.  Now I am not one of those who believes that returning players should not celebrate, but I thought this celebration was a bit rude.  There is no need to goad the opposition fans and it would have been more enjoyable for both sets of fans if he had celebrated facing the away end.  The visitors scored their third after both Kabasele and Prödl failed to clear when given the opportunity, allowing Lukaku to feed Martial who had an easy finish.  Gomes saved Watford’s blushes, preventing a fourth goal, as he parried Lukaku’s shot from the edge of the area, Lingard looked sure to score from the follow-up and Gomes did well to tip the shot over the bar.  In time added on at the end of the half, there was finally something to make the Watford fans smile as Femenía went on a run across the pitch and into the box where he crossed for Richarlison whose header hit the bar and flew over the target.

Rak-Su entertaining the crowd

The half-time entertainment was a visit by X-factor finalists, Rak-Su, a band of Watford lads.  It probably wasn’t the best evening for them to be appearing as the Watford crowd were not in the best of moods by this point.  They did their best to lift spirits, but were fighting a losing battle.

I was not looking forward to the teams returning after the break, but the Hornets started brightly as Cleverley tried a cross which was too close to De Gea.  At the other end, Martial found Lukaku who shot wide of the far post.  Each side was forced to make a substitution early in the half with Herrera coming on for the injured Matic for the visitors, while Pereyra and Carrillo replaced Prödl and Hughes, who appeared to have a strain, for the home side.  Watford threatened with a shot from distance from Doucouré that flew over the bar.  The Hornets came even closer to pulling one back when a lovely cross from Femenía was met by Richarlison whose header was just wide of the near post.  United’s second change saw Rashford come on for Martial.  The visitors had a chance to increase their lead as Pogba met a corner from Lingard, but Gomes dropped to make the save.  Carrillo did really well to turn and lose his marker on the edge of the box, he put in a decent cross, but no Watford player could apply the finishing touch.  Then a Zeegelaar cross flew over the head of Richarlison, the clearance fell to Mariappa who tried a shot from distance that flew wide of the near post.

Deeney heading back to the centre circle after scoring the penalty

Silva’s final change was to bring Deeney on for Gray.  The captain took the field to a massive roar from the Vicarage Road faithful.  He had an early chance to make an impression as a cross from Doucouré came his way, but the defender stopped him making a clean connection.  The visitors had a further chance to increase their lead as a free-kick from Lingard was met by Pogba, but his header was just over the bar.  A couple of chances then fell to Lukaku, the first was blocked by Mariappa, the second flew wide of the far post.  Watford got a goal back on 77 minutes after Rojo tripped Pereyra in the box.  The United players surrounded the referee, but he had already pointed to the spot.  Deeney stepped up with a smile on his face.  The guy next to me couldn’t look, so missed seeing Troy kiss the ball before placing it on the spot and burying it in the left-hand corner after sending De Gea the wrong way.  At last, something to cheer for the fans of the Hornets.  The Watford captain had a chance to score a second as Femenía delivered a lovely cross that Troy headed goalwards, but it was caught by De Gea.  The second Watford goal was a thing of beauty as Carrillo crossed for Doucouré to hit a terrific shot past De Gea.  Suddenly it was game on and the Watford crowd were roaring their encouragement.  Richarlison had a chance for an equalizer, but his close range shot was blocked at the near post.  Then United broke down field and Lingard dribbled half the length of the pitch.  With the Watford defence arrayed in front of him, I was willing one of them to stop him, but no tackle came and he beat Gomes to give the visitors a two goal cushion.  Despite the set-back, Watford were still battling to get something from the game as Richarlison crossed from the byline but De Gea put the ball out for a corner, from which Cleverley’s delivery was headed clear by Pogba.  There was a roar from the home crowd as the fourth official indicated that there were 4 additional minutes, but it was in vain and the game finished in defeat, but with the Watford team applauded off the pitch.

Doucoure after scoring the second

It was an odd game.  The first half had been brutal.  Watford had not been overrun as far as possession was concerned, but each misplaced pass seemed to be punished.  It has to be said that Young’s goals were both excellent, but I was pretty miserable at the end of the half.  But the Watford team showed great resilience with a considerably better performance in the second half.  The introduction of Carrillo made a difference, he was excellent.  Deeney also contributed to the upturn, his strength is always an asset and he certainly added a new dimension to the game.  When Doucouré’s goal went in, there was a definite feeling that we could get something from the game, something that would have seemed impossible at half time.

The defeat was disappointing but, before the game, we had this one down as a free hit and I enjoyed the comment of one of the lads behind me that, having already won 4 points from games against Liverpool and Arsenal, that would do for him.  We host Tottenham on Saturday, which won’t be any easier, but can also be considered a free hit before we have a series of games against those around us in the table.  Our points total in December will give a very good signal of whether this team is as good as we think it is.  With 21 points already on the board, a relegation battle is looking unlikely, so I hope that we can continue to look up the table and enjoy the football.  That would make me very happy indeed.

Belgians and Brides

Walter Mazzarri, he bought me a drink!

With the game moved to Friday evening so that Sky could show our match with Chelsea on Monday, Friday morning was spent trying to get everything at work in order so that I could enjoy my afternoon off.  A text from Pete brought my planned departure forward to give me time to meet him for a lunchtime pint in the Doric Arch.  As we queued to board the train we spotted Paolo de Toffol, prompting speculation as to why he hadn’t travelled with the rest of the team on the previous day’s flight.

On checking in to the hotel in Liverpool, I was told that I had been upgraded to a superior room, which meant there was a little gift basket in my room containing chocolate, jelly beans and crisps.  I also had a great view of the Liver Building and the Mersey which was rather lovely.  But we weren’t there for the view so, having dumped our overnight things, we headed for the pre-match pub.  We were not the first to arrive as some of the North-West ‘Orns were already in situ and, as is always the case, our group quickly grew and the beer and conversation flowed.  There has been a lot of discussion about our poor away form lately, but it was still a shock when Andy, who is a regular at our Northern excursions, said that he hadn’t seen us win all season.

Banner in support of Aaron Lennon

When we got off the bus at Goodison Park, the rain was starting so we made a rapid beeline for the turnstiles, an extra motivation being the announcement on social media before the game that “the first drink” would be on Walter this evening.  I have to say that having enjoyed a pint at Euston, red wine in first class on the train and more beer at the pre-match gathering, this was most certainly not my first of the day, but I am not one to pass up a free drink so I picked up my voucher from the steward inside the turnstiles and exchanged it for a (small) bottle of red wine.  The atmosphere in the concourse was particularly jovial with chants of “Beers up, if you love Walter” and “Walter Mazzarri, he bought me a beer.”

On reaching our seats, there was an appreciation of what a great (proper) ground Goodison Park is.  So much nicer than the soulless bowls that so many teams are moving to.  It was also lovely to see a banner in the home stands supporting Aaron Lennon who has been hospitalized due to mental health issues.  I wish him a speedy recovery.

Capoue over to take a corner

Team news was that Mazzarri had made three changes with Holebas, Behrami and Deeney replacing Amrabat, Cleverley (who was ineligible to play against his parent club) and Niang.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kabasele, Prödl, Mariappa; Janmaat, Doucouré, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Okaka and Deeney.

Everton had the first chance of the game with a shot from Barkley but Gomes was down quickly to make the save.  Watford’s first goal attempt came from a corner as Holebas crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked.  The next chance for the home side also came from a corner which Jagielka flicked goalwards needing Gomes to pull off a decent save to keep it out.  Okaka was the next to threaten, going on a run before unleashing a shot that flew wide of near post.  The Hornets nearly got themselves into trouble with a short back pass that Mirallas chased but, thankfully, Gomes was first to the ball.  The rather impressive youngster, Tom Davies (to whom I took an instant dislike, possibly due to his resemblance to Robbie Savage), then hit a cracking shot from distance that Gomes met with a flying save.  A lovely passing move featuring Okaka and Deeney finished with Doucouré shooting straight at Robles.  The Hornets came closer to opening the scoring as a Holebas cross was headed just over by Mariappa.

Waiting for the corner to be taken

Watford’s ridiculous run of injuries to defenders continued when Kabasele went down with an apparent hamstring pull.  Given that we had no central defender on the bench, there was some speculation in the away end about who would replace him, the answer was Zúñiga, who took Kabasele’s place in the back three until Holebas told him not to be ridiculous and swapped places.  Towards the end of the half, a Behrami tackle led to some handbags as Janmaat stupidly got involved until Prödl stepped in and pushed him away.  Both Behrami and Janmaat were booked for their trouble.  Towards the end of the half, Watford won a free kick in a decent position but, instead of directing it goalwards, Capoue chose to pass to Holebas on the wing and any possibility of a goal attempt disappeared.  So we reached the break goalless after an enjoyable half in which the visitors had put on a decent performance.

At half time, there were celebrations on the pitch as the Everton U23s received their trophy for winning Premier League 2.  The stewards then took to the pitch to celebrate being voted best stewards in the Premier League for the eighth year in succession.  An impressive record and, it has to be said, they are rather lovely so I was happy to join the applause.

Zuniga pretends to line up a free kick that Holebas will take

The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as a cross was punched by Gomes to Schneiderlin who belted the ball over the bar.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came as Janmaat exchanged passes with Okaka before feeding Deeney who, under challenge from Jagielka, could only direct his shot just wide of the near post.  But it was the home side who took the lead just before the hour mark, as Barkley picked up the ball and was allowed a free run at goal, Prödl failed to put in a tackle and actually moved away from the shot before it flew past the diving Gomes.  Another frustrating goal to give away.  Everton then had a decent shout for a penalty as Gomes spilled a long-range shot from Mirallas, Lukaku looked ready to pounce but was brought down by Janmaat.  The referee waved play on, but I couldn’t help thinking that Watford got away with that one.  Everton had another chance to increase their lead as Schneiderlin met a corner from Baines, but he headed it over the bar.  Okaka, who was being given no protection by the referee, broke into the box, he was tackled but did very well to win the ball back at which point he was adjudged to have committed a foul, a ridiculous decision.   Holebas picked up his 13th yellow card of the season for complaining about something (nothing new there).  During the game we had been regaled by chants for José from Colin and Flo who were sitting behind us.  “Hole, Hole, Hole, bas bas bas” was good, but “He always wins the ball, he never smiles at all” won my vote.

Deeney and Davies

With 20 minutes to go Mazzarri made another substitution with Amrabat coming on in place of Behrami.  Nordin was in action almost immediately crossing for Okaka, whose goalbound header was blocked.  At the other end, a shot from Lukaku was cleared off the line by Mariappa.  As the travelling Hornets started the 72nd minute chorus of “One Graham Taylor”, it was lovely to see the Everton fans in the block to our left getting to their feet to join in with the applause.  There was then a rather bizarre pitch invasion as a couple of 10 year olds went belting across the pitch towards Robles, they were hugged by the smiling keeper before one ran off behind the goal while the other headed back to his seat in the block next to us to chants of “Sign him up” from the away fans.  They were both escorted from the ground and the stewards doubled up around the perimeter of the pitch.  Watford had a decent chance to equalize as Mariappa met a corner from Capoue with a header that flew just wide.  Into the last 10 minutes of the game and each side made substitutions.  Goalscorer, Barkley, and Mirallas made way for Barry and Koné for the home side while Niang replaced Capoue for the visitors.  Okaka had a great chance to level the score as he received the ball in the box with his back to goal, turned and shot but Robles was equal to it.  Watford continued to push for the equalizer as Niang curled a shot towards the far corner, but Barry got his head in the way to block it.  At the other end Gomes stopped a shot from Valencia.  There was one last attack from the visitors in time added on, but a cross from Amrabat flew over Okaka’s head and the Hornets fell to their fourth defeat in a row.

Challenging in the box

Despite the result, most of the 680 Watford fans who had travelled to Everton appreciated the efforts of the players.  It had been a lively performance which was only let down by the finishing.  Mariappa, who had kept Lukaku pretty quiet after the departure of Kabasele, looked really disappointed as he applauded the fans, and he certainly cheered me up no end by taking his shirt off and giving it to a fan.  Deeney followed suit and gestured to the other players around him to do the same.  Sadly there was one among the travelling fans who thought it appropriate to abuse the players.  There was a look of horror on the faces of the Everton stewards as Deeney crossed the hoardings into the away stand.  He listened to what the fella had to say and then headed over to talk to Flora, one of our young disabled fans, and hand her his boots.  Sadly, Mr Angry couldn’t leave it and carried on abusing the Watford captain at which point he was grabbed by the police and stewards and escorted out of the ground.  On a more pleasant note, as the Everton fans applauded their team on their end of season lap of honour, they also took time to applaud the Watford crowd and we replied in kind.

Behrami versus Barkley

We headed back to the city for a post-match pint.  The highlights of the game were showing in the pub and backed up my impression that Watford had made some decent chances.  We were also engaged in conversation with some Everton fans, all of whom were delightful.  Liverpool really is a fantastic city.

Then it was back to the hotel for the late night shenanigans in the bar.  Notable sights were a woman draped in a Belgian flag, no idea if she was supporting Lukaku and Mirallas or Kabasele.  Then a bride in full white dress appeared to get a round in, leaving the bar with a tray of drinks.  We were then joined by another group of Watford fans, so our attention went back to the post-match analysis which went on until we closed the bar at 3am.

Considering the Everton game in isolation, it would be seen as a decent performance against a good team.  But, at this stage of the season and with the poor run of late, it was just another in a series of disappointing results.  Mazzarri comes in for a lot of criticism, but so many of our defeats have been down to individual mistakes and he cannot be held responsible for that.  With Chelsea having won the league title on Friday evening, we can only hope that they are on the beach by Monday and that Hull don’t beat Palace.  Having to face Manchester City next Sunday needing points just doesn’t bear thinking about.

Much Improved Performance Against the Toffees

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

It seems like a very long time since our trip to Goodison Park for the first game of the season.  At that time, the memory of our last visit (and the Chris Powell ‘handball’) loomed large, but the spirited draw was the first sign that this would be a much more enjoyable season.  Even though we have been on a poor run of late, it is worth remembering that we are guaranteed to finish higher than in our last two seasons at this level and, while we are not mathematically safe from relegation, it looks highly unlikely that we will get dragged into a fight against the drop.  There was some great news prior to the game as we heard that the U18s had won their league.

While we had been bemoaning our own recent poor form, it was easy to forget that Everton have also been on a bad run.  So it was a bit shocking to see a ‘Martinez Out’ banner unfurled in the away stand before kick-off.

For those of a nervous disposition, the team news did nothing to quell their jitters as Flores had made five changes bringing Paredes, Britos, Holebas, Behrami and Jurado in for Nyom, Prödl, Aké, Suárez and Abdi.  While we had been awful last week, the almost complete overhaul of the defence caused some concern.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart, Britos, Paredes, Behrami, Watson, Capoue, Deeney, Jurado and Ighalo.

Jurado on the ball

Jurado on the ball

The first action of the game was indicative of what was to follow as Deeney tackled Barkley who collapsed like a spoilt child and won a free kick.  On the positive side, any concerns about the return of Holebas were quelled when he stopped an Everton break with a great saving tackle.  Kevin Friend had set his stall out early by penalising every Watford challenge, so it was no surprise when the first booking went to Capoue for a foul on Barkley, although it was the Watford man who required the longest period of treatment following the challenge.  Watford’s first goal attempt came after quarter of an hour when Paredes intercepted the ball and went on a run before passing to Behrami, he found Jurado who unleashed a fantastic shot that required a decent save from Robles.  When Watson was fouled on the edge of the box, Mr Friend was forced to wave play on as it was he who had taken the Watford man down.  The resultant Everton break was made to a chorus of boos particularly when Gomes had to make a sharp save to deny Deulofeu.  Watford attacked again after Holebas intercepted the ball before feeding Jurado who made a lovely turn, but his pass towards Deeney was too heavy.  Then Paredes found Ighalo whose shot was cleared.  Lukaku tried a shot from distance but, under challenge, he hit it well over the bar.

Celebrating the goal

Celebrating the goal

A move that was started by Ighalo finished with Jurado playing the ball back to Watson who shot straight at the keeper.  In the Watford box, Barry went down looking for a penalty which, fortunately, wasn’t given, the ball broke to Barkley whose shot was caught by Gomes.  Jurado exchanged passes with Holebas on the wing but his cross was straight at the keeper.  Then a cross from Holebas was met by a misdirected header from Ighalo which flew wide.  Just before half time, Watford had a good chance to take the lead as a Jurado free kick rebounded off the wall and Capoue’s follow-up was deflected just wide of the far post.  From Watson’s corner, Holebas headed just wide.  But it was the visitors who took the lead in time added on at the end of the half, as Britos lost out to McCarthy on the edge of the box and he finished past Gomes.  I felt so sorry for Britos, who was clearly devastated at his mistake.  But, at a time when the team needed the crowd to get behind them, one of my neighbours in the Rookery decided that the appropriate response was to boo very loudly.  Not for the first time, I told him exactly what I thought of him.  It made me feel a bit better, but what happened on the pitch next lightened my mood considerably.  Ighalo’s harrying forced Robles to concede a corner.  Ben Watson’s delivery to the far post was met by Holebas, whose header took a deflection before hitting the net and sending the home crowd into raptures.

So we were level at half-time, which was probably fair in an even game of few goal attempts.

The half time shoot out had reached the semi-final phase and was a cracking contest between Sacred Heart and St Paul’s with the latter prevailing during sudden death.  Both teams were applauded off the pitch with an enthusiasm that these contests rarely inspire.

Guedioura lines up a corner

Guedioura lines up a corner

Guedioura had spent the break on the pitch warming up, so it was no surprise when he replaced Behrami at the start of the second half.  Early in the half, irritation with the ref went up a notch as Ighalo was pushed over by Jagielka and nothing was given when Barkley appeared to get the benefit of the doubt every time he went to ground.  The first goal attempt of the half came 10 minutes in and took some remarkable work from Gomes to keep the scores level as he parried a shot from Lennon and then, somehow, prevented Lukaku reaching the loose ball.  At the other end, Watford had a free kick in a dangerous position, Watson played it short to Holebas whose shot went through the wall, but the pace was taken off and it was easy for Robles to gather.  Guedioura went on a great run, played the ball out to Deeney who crossed for Ighalo who couldn’t quite turn it in.  Watford’s second substitution saw Amrabat on for Jurado who had played very well.  Gomes was the hero again as Deulofeu broke into the box, he managed to shoot, despite a challenge from Paredes, and the Brazilian was down to make the save.  Martinez made his first substitution on 65 minutes replacing Barkley (who was booed off by the Watford faithful due to his tedious theatrics) with Tom Cleverley who was applauded on to the field for his Player of the Season turn as a loanee.  Everton threatened again as Coleman ran the length of the field, but his cross was safely caught by Gomes.

Ighalo, Deeney and Capoue challenge in the box

Ighalo, Deeney and Capoue challenge in the box

The visitors had a great chance to take the lead as Lukaku played a neat back heel to Lennon whose shot was kept out by yet another superb save from Gomes.  As we reached the last 10 minutes, each side made a substitution with Mirallas coming on for Deulofeu and Suárez replacing Capoue.  Everton could have won the game in the last couple of minutes of normal time as Mirallas won a free kick on the edge of the box.  His delivery was parried by Gomes and hearts were in mouths as Lukaku’s follow-up rebounded off the crossbar.  Lukaku had another chance to snatch a winner as he met a cross from Coleman with a header but he directed it downwards and it was easy for Gomes.  In time added on, it was Watford who had a chance to get the winner as Amrabat played the ball back to Watson whose long range shot took a deflection and appeared to be heading for the top corner when Robles pulled off a great save to keep it out.  Guedioura was the next with a sight of goal, but he shot well over the bar.  Each side had one final half chance to snatch a winner.  First the visitors as Barry met a free kick with a header that was saved comfortably by Gomes.  Then Suárez found Ighalo whose shot was disappointingly soft and easy for Robles.

So, the final whistle went on what had been a very entertaining game of football and a pleasing point for both teams after their recent run of defeats.  Watford had been much brighter than of late and the return of Capoue to a central position did both him and us a favour.

Post-game, I had a quick chat with Mick Smithers, Watford’s Football Liaison Officer, who mentioned that the Everton fans had been delightful.  This was backed up by Karoline the Roadie who said they had been the nicest group of fans to visit Vicarage Road this season.

It is hard to believe that there are only two more home games left in this season but, before the next we have a trip to West Bromwich, a final hurrah at the Boleyn and a semi-final at Wembley.  A lot to look forward to and let’s hope that the team go into them with the positive approach that they took today.

A Pleasing Start

Pre-match formalities with a silly arch

Pre-match formalities with a silly arch

There was a certain element of groundhog day as the fixture computer gave us Everton away for the first game of the season, just as they did on our last visit to the Premier League. On that occasion, I left Watford at the crack of dawn on match day in order to visit Anthony Gormley’s Another Place on Crosby Beach, a place that I have come to love. The decision to add a distraction from the football was justified when we were robbed of a point due to a referee penalizing Chris Powell for a handball which actually struck his head. On arrival back at Watford Junction that evening, I bumped into Graham Simpson whose reaction to my concerns about that sort of luck plaguing our season was typically stroppy. I was saddened to be proved correct come the following May.

In the light of my previous experience, it was, perhaps, tempting fate to add a cultural element to Saturday’s visit to Liverpool. But, as my train arrived very early, I arranged to meet a friend at the Walker Gallery and thoroughly enjoyed my visit. Normal matchday protocol was soon resumed as the usual suspects gathered in a lovely old pub for beer and delicious pies. There was a lot of discussion pre-match about the propensity for pundits to predict our immediate relegation without having a clue about our manager or players. A bit of pragmatism was introduced as we acknowledged that most of us were equally ignorant of how our new recruits would perform and whether the team would gel in time.

Jurado ready to take a corner

Jurado ready to take a corner

The taxi driver who took us to the ground was clearly a red as he wished us luck while commenting that the Everton fans were expecting to thrash us. I can’t say that I doubted their confidence. Despite the feeling that we had made some quality signings during the Summer, I was feeling rather flat at the prospect of the new season.

Flores’s first competitive line-up included six new signings. The team was Gomes, Holebas, Prodl, Cathcart, Nyom, Behrami, Capoue, Layun, Jurado, Anya and Deeney. Former Watford loanee and Player of the Season, Tom Cleverley started for Everton.

As the formalities started before the game, there was a silly arch on the pitch that seemed to have no purpose beyond decoration. Also, I must admit that I didn’t hear Z-cars, which saddened me a bit. But, finally, the build-up was over and the game kicked off.

Celebrating Layun's strike

Celebrating Layun’s strike

The first goal action came in the 12th minute from the visitors as a Capoue cross was touched back by Layun to Deeney who tried a bicycle kick that flew wide. A minute later, Watford took the lead as a Deeney shot was blocked, it fell to Layun who hit it beautifully into the corner. The away end erupted with joy and, apologies for the blurred photo, but it was all I could do to point the camera, I couldn’t stop my hands shaking. Everton nearly equalized five minutes later as a corner from Mirallis was headed goalwards by Barry but Gomes was on hand to tip the ball over the bar. Capoue and Jurado exchanged passes, but the return was taken off the Frenchman’s feet. A through ball to Anya came to nothing as Howard was first to it. On 25 minutes, I saw a couple of fans that I know taking their seats. I had heard that the coaches were delayed and could only sympathise that they had missed our (opening) goal. It wasn’t until I got home that I discovered that the traffic queues on the M6 were caused by a friend of mine breaking down in the outside lane. She missed the game completely and insult was added to injury when she found out that her seat would have been very close to that occupied by her beloved professor Almen Abdi.

Prodl lines up a free kick

Prodl lines up a free kick

Back to the game and Everton had a lot of possession, but the Watford lads were doing a great job of frustrating them, constantly snapping at their feet and giving them no space at all such that it took nearly half an hour for the home side’s first goal attempt from open play which was a Barkley shot from distance that flew well over the bar. Barkley’s next attempt came soon after and was considerably more dangerous, a shot from the left of the area that required a touch from Gomes to keep it out. Cleverley was the next to threaten the Watford goal, but his cross-cum-shot was weak and easily gathered by the Watford keeper. A Barkley cross was headed clear by Holebas. Then Nyom appeared to be beaten on the wing, but caught his player, dispossessed him and went haring away with the ball, it was a real shame that this piece of joyous skill came to nothing as, when the ball eventually reached Capoue, he shot straight at Howard. Anya crossed for Deeney in the Everton box, but Stones fell on the ball which then broke to Galloway and Troy’s attempt to retrieve the ball left the Everton player on the floor and earned the Watford man a yellow card. Gomes came out to deal with a long ball and, as he was close to the edge of his area, pushed it clear of the attacking player. The home fans behind the goal appealed that he’d handled outside the box, but we were in line with it and it looked a legitimate move. There were smiles on Hornet faces again as Jurado nutmegged his man, the ball eventually reached Layun who shot just wide of the far post.

Gomes takes a free kick

Gomes takes a free kick

So we reached half time a goal to the good. But the smiles in the away end were as much to do with the performance, which had been disciplined to the extent of restricting the home team mostly to desperate shots from distance. Our defence, which came in for some criticism last season, looked solid. As a fan of Angella, it hurts me to admit this, but Prodl and Cathcart look like a formidable partnership. The quality of our other new recruits was clear to see and the concerns about the team gelling had been quelled. These were clearly lads who had met before.

It was unsurprising that Everton changed their shape in the second half and became more of a challenge. The first chance fell to Lukaku whose shot from a narrow angle was straight at Gomes. A long clearance from the Watford keeper reached Deeney whose downward header was gathered by Howard. Mirallas made a run down the wing and crossed, but Gomes punched for a corner that he comfortably gathered. A cross from Barkley gave Lukaku a great chance to equalize, but he headed wide. Lukaku then turned Cathcart but the Watford defender was soon back to snuff out the threat. An attempt to break by Capoue was stopped by Coleman who was booked for the foul. Watford’s first substitution saw Paredes replacing the goalscorer, Layun. Anya went on a great run down the wing, but his cross was blocked by Stones. Holebas was booked for taking too long over the resulting throw. When he finally released the ball, it was returned to him and he dribbled into the box but his shot was blocked. The Greek then tried a shot from distance that was punched by Howard as far as Jurado who shot over the bar.

IMG_6459

The bundle after Ighalo’s goal

A cross from Cleverley was met by the head of Kone who directed it just wide. Another Everton cross flew over the heads of the Watford defenders and reached Mirallas who clearly wasn’t expecting the ball, so it bounced off him. Watford’s second substitution saw the tiring Jurado replaced by Ighalo. Watford had had the lead for an hour, but the home side equalized with a lovely strike from Barkley which came after Behrami had tried to play the ball out instead of wellying it. I worried at this point that the home side would take control but the next chance was a Deeney header from a Holebas cross that Howard gathered, although I believe the lino on the opposite side had his flag raised. The final change for the Hornets saw Watson replace Behrami. The Hornets regained the lead on 83 minutes as Ighalo received the ball on the edge of the box and dummied England internationals Stones and Jagielka before coolly finishing past Howard. At this point, Deeney was standing in the box with his fists raised in celebration and the home fans were streaming for the exit. More fool them, as Everton equalized soon after as their substitute, Kone, shot across Gomes into the far corner. Both teams tried to push for the win. First Anya cut inside, but his shot was a bit weak and flew wide. Then Lukaku broke into the Watford box, Nyom got a touch to put him off and his subsequent shot was caught by Gomes. The five minutes of injury time passed without incident and the Hornets left Goodison Park with their first ever point at that venue.

Thanking the fans

Thanking the fans

There was some disappointment among some Watford fans that we had twice surrendered the lead. Others, me included, felt that we would have bitten hands off if offered a draw at the start of the game. We met a number of Toffees fans on our journey back to the city centre who were very complimentary about our performance and scathing of theirs. Most Watford fans were impressed with our strong showing and the quality of our new signings. Quique has promised us a surprise in each game. I am not sure that will be good for my blood pressure or my sanity, but I am intrigued to see how he will set up at home. So far, so good and I am really looking forward to the rest of the season.