Tag Archives: Ruben Loftus-Cheek

A Frustrating Sunday Afternoon at the Bridge

Foster about to take a free kick

This is one of the easiest of away trips for me and, for once, the bizarre weekend schedules of South Western Railway did not cause me any problems.  They had even cleared the tree that had meant a trip from Clapham Junction to Windsor on Saturday evening required a detour via Paddington.  So, after a pleasant train journey to Putney and a walk through some dodgy looking areas of Fulham, I found myself in Parsons Green to meet friends for Sunday lunch.  Lots of talk of what we had been up to since we last met.  Mike and I had seen Maggie Smith in “A German Life”, which was superb.  Graham had been to the Don McCullin exhibition and was still a bit shell shocked from it.  I had missed City Orns to see The Unthanks, so was updated on the gathering that I had missed while enjoying an evening of Northumbrian folk music.  Our peace was briefly shattered when the Norfolk/East Anglian Horns turned up to say “Hello”.  Glenn told us that, as it was the last away game of the season, he had started his trip with champagne and strawberries.  Our friends from Norfolk know how to travel in style.  A Chelsea fan appeared and wished us luck in the Cup Final.  The Sunday roasts were absolutely delicious, and we were enjoying our lunch so much that we almost forgot that there was a match to go to.  Almost …

The welcome return of Deeney

We left plenty of time for our walk to Stamford Bridge and to negotiate our way past the multiple phalanxes of security guards.  There was a surprise in store as we were greeted by a voice announcing, “FA Cup Finalists to the left.”  I was still smiling when I heard another directing us on “The road to Wembley.”  A rather lovely and unexpected welcome which meant that my opinion of Chelsea went up massively.

Team news was that Gracia had made two changes with the welcome return of Deeney in place of Gray and a rare start for Chalobah deputising for the injured Capoue.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Mariappa, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Chalobah, Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu, Deeney.  The choice of Chalobah over Cleverley, who was on the bench, was an interesting one.  Our hope was that Nate’s return to Chelsea would give him an extra incentive to impress.  It was pleasing to see that he was given a warm welcome back by the Chelsea fans.

As we took our seats, Alice produced her flag.  Designed by the 1881, in an homage to our previous cup final, it bore the legend “Hot cross Barnes Holebas.”  Just wonderful.

Mariappa on the ball

The game kicked off and there was a great early chance for the Hornets as Deulofeu turned and hit a shot that was just wide of the target.  Watford should have taken the lead on 8 minutes when, from a short corner, Holebas crossed for Deeney whose header was heading for the top corner until Kepa somehow got a hand to it and kept it out, the ball dropped to Hughes whose shot was well over the bar.  Sarri was forced into an early change as Kanté picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Loftus-Cheek.  Chelsea had their first shot in the 14th minute, a chip from Jorginho that was blocked by Foster.  The home side threatened again as Higuaín broke into the box but was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Mariappa.  Watford created another decent chance as Hughes laid the ball off to Deulofeu, but the shot was wide of the target.  The next chance for the Hornets came as a lovely passing move finished with Holebas shooting over the bar.  Chelsea had a half chance as the ball was dinked to Hazard in the box, Foster appeared to hesitate, but recovered and was able to gather the ball.  Then Pereyra and Deeney combined to get the ball to Doucouré in shooting position, but his shot flew wide of the target.  There was a shout for a penalty as Femenía tussled with Luiz in the box.  From our angle, it looked as though the Chelsea man was playing for the foul, the referee was equally unimpressed and waved play on.  Another chance for the home side came as Hazard took the ball off Doucouré before playing in Pedro, whose shot curled over the target.  There was some frustration in the away end as the ball was passed from Doucouré to Deeney to Pereyra, all of whom could have taken a shot, but none did, and the chance was gone.    At the other end, Pedro played a one-two with Higuaín before taking a shot that was just wide of the target.  Another opportunity went begging after some good work from Pereyra who slipped in the build-up, but recovered to put in a decent cross, sadly there was no Watford player on hand to take advantage.  The half time whistle went to boos from the Chelsea fans and cheers from the travelling Hornets who had seen their team completely dominate the half, playing some exquisite football, but failing to make the most of their chances.  When have we heard that before this season?

Great to see Chalobah back in the team

All our good work was undone in the first five minutes of the second half.  Hazard tried a shot from an acute angle that Foster pushed around the post for a corner.  From the corner Hazard crossed and Loftus-Cheek beat Chalobah to open the scoring.  Two minutes later, the home side were two up as, from another corner, Luiz came around the blind side of Mariappa and headed home.  It was the Manchester City away game all over again.  The Hornets tried to hit back as Deeney found Deulofeu just outside the box, he took his time to pick his shot before firing just wide of the far post.  Pereyra played a lovely through ball to Deulofeu whose shot was weak and easily dealt with by Kepa.  We then had the interesting sight of a fired-up Holebas (what other kind is there), tackling Pereyra before snapping into a set of challenges.  Even when we are losing, angry José can make me smile.  Chelsea had a decent chance to score a third as Hazard found Pedro in the box, thankfully the shot was saved by Foster and Loftus-Cheek put the follow-up wide.  The Hornets had a chance to pull one back as Mariappa crossed for Doucouré, who couldn’t get above the ball, so it came off the top of his head and flew over the bar.  At the other end, the home side had a great chance to increase their lead as a shot from Higuaín was kept out by a brilliant save from Foster.  Then Chalobah played a lovely ball for Deulofeu who hit a decent cross towards Deeney, but Alonso put the ball out for a corner.

Holebas and Pereyra prepare for a free kick

Gracia made his first substitution replacing Chalobah with Cleverley.  It had been an interesting choice before the game, but Nate had justified his selection putting in the best performance that I have seen from him since he came back from injury.  Watford had another chance to reduce the deficit when Deulofeu found Hughes in prime position, but the shot was appalling.  A number around us were berating him for passing instead of shooting.  It looked like a shot to me, but it was that poor that it was mistaken for a pass.  Any hopes the Hornets had of a comeback were dashed when Pedro played the ball to Higuaín, Foster came out to meet him, but the Argentine chipped the keeper and found the net.  But Watford were still fighting and Deeney should have done better when the ball fell to him, but he belted his shot over the bar.  There was a much better chance soon after when Holebas nicked the ball and rounded Luiz, but his shot rebounded agonisingly off the crossbar.  Each side made late substitutions.  Giroud replaced Higuaín for the home side, while Deeney and Deulofeu made way for Gray and Success.  Troy looked furious when he saw the board go up indicating that his afternoon was over.  Watford finally had the ball in the net, and it was typical of our day.  A free kick from Pereyra appeared to have been cleared off the line by Holebas, Success got his head on it, but it bounced off Gray on the way in and was flagged offside due to Gray’s inadvertent touch.  Chelsea should have scored a fourth as Hazard crossed for Giroud who scuffed his shot and cleared the bar.

Pereyra takes a free kick

Watford had a half chance as Hughes crossed for Success, but the header was an easy catch for Kepa.  The last substitution for Chelsea saw Cahill come on for Luiz, he was handed the captain’s armband and got the biggest cheer of the afternoon.  Femenía went on a decent run, but his cross was turned around for a corner.  The first card of the game came in time added on as Doucouré was cautioned for a pull on Hazard.  Foster was in action twice in added time, first to divert a shot from Hazard into the side netting, then to gather a low shot from Giroud.  The last chance of the game fell to the Hornets, but the shot from Success was poor and easily saved by Kepa.

We headed back to Parsons Green to drown our sorrows.  As we arrived at the pub, we saw the Chelsea fan who had wished us luck at Wembley before the game.  His verdict, “We robbed you.”  He wasn’t wrong.  The scoreline indicated that we had been well beaten, the pattern of the game nothing of the kind.  But this has been the case in a number of our games against the top six this season.  Similar to the matches against Arsenal and Manchester United, we dominated large parts of the game, but could not turn that domination into goals and were let down by defensive mistakes.  In the first half in particular, the passing was incredibly slick, and we played some gorgeous football but our finishing let us down.  It was great to see Troy back.  He looked hungry and desperate to make up for lost time and we saw the leadership that we had been missing.  As frustrating as the afternoon had been, the conversation soon took a positive turn as we reflected how far this team has come.  In contrast to when we were first promoted, I now travel to most games feeling that we have a team good enough to get something from the game.  It is very rare that we leave a ground with that humiliating feeling of having been taught a lesson by a much better team.  That is something to be relished and when we look back on this season, it will be with pride and happiness and a sense that we have progressed.

 

An Entertaining Goal-less Draw

Dee and Toddy in typical pose

As I approached Watford on the train, I could see a huge queue of cars on Waterfields Way.  I didn’t take much notice until I saw the traffic at a standstill on both the ring road and Ricky Road.  When I arrived at the West Herts, it was very quiet indeed and John, the manager, mentioned that some of his staff were still stuck in the traffic, apparently the result of a fire in the Lower High Street and a domestic incident near Upton Road.  Needless to say, Don was in his usual position at ‘our’ table, so we had a good catch up.  When the rest of our party gathered, it was time to toast our absent friends, Dee and Toddy, who both had birthdays this weekend.  They are greatly missed.

Team news was three changes from last week with Kabasele, Holebas and Okaka in for Prödl, Janmaat and Femenía.  So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Mariappa, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Hughes, Capoue, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney, Okaka.  So Gracia was finally granting many wishes by starting with two up-front and all I could think was that Okaka may breathe on Zaha and all would be lost.  As the teams were announced, young Wilf was given a less than cordial welcome from the Watford fans.  In contrast, when Emma welcomed back Ray Lew, our former manager was given a tremendous reception.

After the terrible game at Huddersfield, I was hoping that there would be more entertainment on show this afternoon and it all started very promisingly with an early chance for Hughes whose shot across goal flew wide.  There was an even better chance a minute later as Okaka met a cross from Deeney with a header that rebounded off the crossbar.

Mariappa takes a throw-in

The next goal attempt didn’t come until the 19th minute when a cross from Deeney was turned towards his own goal by Ward and Hennessey just managed to get down to keep it out.  Ward’s afternoon didn’t get any better as he was booked for a foul on Pereyra.  Then, from a corner, Cathcart had two chances to break the deadlock, the first a header that was blocked, the second a shot that Hennessey saved.  Watford threatened again as Okaka played the ball back to Pereyra, whose shot was well over the bar.  The first booking of the game went to the Hornets as Doucouré was penalised for a foul on Loftus-Cheek.  Palace’s first shot on goal came after 34 minutes as a free-kick was met by Tomkins, but his downwards header gave Karnezis an easy save.  This incident was missed by a couple of guys who had taken seats in the row behind us and were clearly not Watford fans.  When challenged, they claimed to be scouts who had been given seats at the front of the Rookery and had moved back so they could get a decent view.  It sounded improbable and, soon after, they were invited for a chat by a couple of stewards and we didn’t see them again.  Back to matters on the pitch and a corner from Holebas was met by a Palace head, the clearance fell to Hughes who shot over the bar.  Late in the half, Zaha made his first run into the Watford box with Kabasele challenging, so the Palace man, inevitably, went down.  The referee waved his appeals away, but Doucouré reacted with fury, pushing Zaha, and was very lucky not to get a second yellow for his trouble.  As the clock reached 45 minutes, Deeney played a one-two with Okaka, before trying a shot through legs that ended up being an easy catch for Hennessey.  The final chance of the half came from a long throw that found its way to Mariappa whose shot was deflected wide.

Pereyra leaves the free kick to Holebas

It had been a thoroughly entertaining half of football.  Watford were a completely different team from last week, playing positively and battling for everything.  We had managed 11 shots on goal, but without really testing Hennessey.  The Watford fans were also putting in a good performance, loud and proud in support of their team, which was essential as Palace usually bring a very noisy crowd with them.

At half time, there was an interview with Jóhann Gudmundsson , whose time in a Watford shirt had been completely forgotten by all around me (my excuse was that I was living in the US at the time).  There was also a parade of young players from the various Watford Ladies age groups, who were given a tremendous reception.

The first action of the second half involved Zaha who, while going for a ball in the box, kicked Karnezis in the stomach.  It was a nasty tackle and, needless to say, the Rookery were shouting for him to be sent off.  The referee decided that a talking-to was sufficient, which seemed very lenient.

Hughes on the ball

The first substitution was enforced as Pereyra picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Richarlison.  It was a great shame to see the Argentine leave the field as he was having another great game.  There was then a booking for Mariappa for a slight pull on Zaha’s shirt, which seemed rather harsh after Wilf’s assault on Karnezis went unpunished.  Palace then had their best chance so far after Zaha was tripped on the edge of the box.  Milivojević stepped up to take the free kick and it rebounded off the crossbar then bounced around the Watford box until Karnezis was finally able to clear.  Zaha went on another run into the Watford box, before falling … again.  When the referee blew his whistle, my heart sank, until he pointed back up the pitch and booked Zaha for simulation.  At this point, I celebrated as if we had scored.  Ironically, Wilf had a good shout for a penalty on that occasion, but he goes down so easily and so often, always looking for the foul, that he tries the patience of referees as much as of opposition fans.  Palace looked sure to take the lead from a corner, as a Tomkins header hit the post, the rebound dropped for Sakho in the six yard box, but Deeney was on hand to clear before the Palace man could make contact.

Capoue takes a free kick

With 20 minutes to go, Gracia made his second substitution, replacing Okaka, who had a decent game, with Femenía.  Watford continued to threaten as Hughes played Richarlison in, the young Brazilian’s first shot was blocked, his follow-up curled wide of the far post.  Watford’s final change saw Gray come on in place of Hughes.  The home side had another good chance as Deeney played the ball out to Richarlison whose shot needed a decent save from Hennessey to keep it out.  Deeney then tried a shot from a good position, but didn’t quite catch the ball right and it went over.  Palace made their first substitution with 10 minutes to go, bringing Benteke on for McArthur.  But Watford had the next goal attempt as Richarlison tried a looping shot that was easy for Hennessey.  The youngster then intercepted the ball in midfield and tried to release Gray, but the pass was just too long.  There were two late bookings as Tomkins was cautioned for a foul on Richarlison and Cathcart for stopping Zaha.  Palace’s last chance to grab the points came when Zaha crossed for Townsend whose header was wide of the target, but the flag was up for offside anyway.  Watford had one final chance in time added on when they won a free-kick on the edge of area, but the delivery from Holebas rebounded off the wall and the game finished goal-less.

Karnezis takes a free kick

As 0-0 draws go, that was actually an entertaining game.  Both teams were up for it and Watford completely dominated the first half before a fairly even second period.  Palace are always tricky opposition and have a good record against the teams in the bottom half, so I was happy with a point, especially as that deprived them of a further two as they tried to catch us.

There were some good performances.  Pereyra continues to impress and gave Ward a torrid time on the wing.  As with Cathcart last week, Kabasele impressed on his return, so I look forward to him entertaining on the pitch as much as he does on Twitter.  The two up front led to us creating more chances and Okaka had one of his good games, but he blows so hot and cold that you never quite know what you will get from him.  As for the pantomime villain of the day.  I was interested to hear Roy Hodgson on MotD saying that rumours that Zaha is a cheat lead to the crowd’s reaction, completely missing the point that we have witnessed his gamesmanship over many years.  I can’t bear him.  Players do not gain a reputation like that without reason.

Well, with 3 games to go Watford are still mid-table and, if they continue putting in battling performances like that, I will finish the season with a smile on my face.

Shooting Ourselves in the Foot at Selhurst Park

Dann warily eyeing Mariappa and Prodl

On Tuesday evening my office Christmas party was taking place.  I work for a very small company, so all day there was a subtle build-up with people coming in wearing party clothes and the box of presents for Secret Santa filling up.  Late afternoon, we had a company meeting to reflect on the achievements of the year and everyone was in party mood as they contemplated an evening of celebration.  Meanwhile, I was heading to Selhurst Park.

There had been a late decision by our pre-match party to forego a trip to the pub we usually frequent for an establishment closer to the ground.  This meant that, despite a meeting that finished just before 6pm, I was able to join them in plenty of time for a couple of pints and a plate of mixed pierogies, which were absolutely delicious.  From there it was a short walk to the ground to take our “seats”.  I do love Selhurst Park but, due to the people standing in front of me, spend a lot of the game with no view of the play, particularly at the far end on our side of the pitch.  I comfort myself with the fact that the lack of view is compensated by an increase in atmosphere.  But it doesn’t do my nerves any good when something crucial is happening and I am relying on the reactions of the crowd to tell me whether it is good or bad from a Watford perspective.

Goalscorer Janmaat

Team news was that Silva had made two changes bringing Prödl and Holebas in for the suspended Zeegelaar and Pereyra.  So, the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Kabasele, Janmaat, Cleverley, Doucouré, Holebas; Carrillo, Richarlison; Deeney.  Palace’s starting XI included former (very short-term) loanee, Townsend.  But, as on Saturday, the most significant ex-Watford connection was in the dug-out in the person of the utterly wonderful Ray Lewington.

There was applause before the game for Julian Speroni, who was making his 400th appearance for Palace.  I was gratified that I wasn’t the only Watford fan to applaud him as I have always liked Speroni.

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets as Richarlison crossed for Janmaat to head home to give the visitors the lead in the third minute.  The Dutchman threatened the Palace goal again soon after, but his cross was too close to Speroni.  Watford looked sure to score their second on 10 minutes after Carrillo found Richarlison, but the shot was headed off the line by Tomkins.

Gomes ready to launch the ball

There was some concern for the young Brazilian soon after following a clash of heads with Deeney, but nobody had pointed a gun at him, so he was fine to continue.  Palace’s first shot of the game came from Fosu-Mensah whose effort was wide of the near post.  Watford had another decent chance to increase their lead, but Janmaat’s shot was deflected for a corner that was delivered straight to Speroni.  Richarlison impressed again, nipping in to the box before shooting just wide.  Palace then launched a counter-attack that finished with a shot from distance from Townsend that was well over the bar.  Janmaat was impressing in both boxes after meeting a cross from Cabaye with a good defensive header.  The resulting corner was headed wide by Dann.  I was just complaining about Doucouré, who never gives the ball away, giving a lie to that statement when a Palace player did the same, Deeney picked up the loose ball and played it out to Richarlison who played a return pass to Troy who somehow fashioned a miss from a yard out, leaving the Watford fans holding their heads in disbelief. 

Challenging at a corner

The travelling Hornets had been baiting Zaha for most of the game and, as he was challenged while running into the box, a voice near me said that he would go down.  He did, the referee waved play on and, when he finally got back to his feet, he was giving Gomes a mouthful, presumably as the Watford keeper had called him out for his theatrics.  Palace had a half chance as a free kick was headed goalwards by Dann, but Gomes was able to gather.  The home side were presented with a great chance to equalise just before half time as the referee penalised what looked like a great tackle from Kabasele on the edge of the box.  Thankfully, the free-kick rebounded straight back off the wall, allowing Richarlison to break upfield, but Speroni gathered his cross.

So, the Hornets went into the break with the lead, which should have been considerably more comfortable.  We had a few very good chances that should have been converted and, while Palace had a decent share of the play, they had yet to test Gomes.

Holebas prepares to take a throw

The first chance of the second half went to the home side, but Mariappa did well to block the shot from Loftus-Cheek.  From a Watford throw-in, there was a bit of a scramble before the ball was cleared to Janmaat on the edge of the box from where he shot over the bar.  The first card of the game went to Milivojevic for what looked like a fairly innocuous tackle on Doucouré.  It seemed an odd decision, as there had been some pretty robust challenges that had escaped punishment.  Watford had a superb chance to finish the game off when Janmaat crossed for Richarlison but, with the goal at his mercy, he shot straight at Speroni.  Hodgson made a couple of changes at this point as Townsend and Fosu-Mensah made way for van Aanholt and Sako.  Silva’s first substitution saw Pereyra come on for Carrillo.  Sako’s first contribution was impressive with a dangerous cross from the left that Gomes did brilliantly to palm away from danger.  Palace made their final substitution bringing McArthur on for Cabaye.  Watford’s first card of the evening came when Cleverley took McArthur down to prevent a break.  Silva made a second change with 10 minutes to go, bringing Gray on for Deeney, who hadn’t had the best of evenings.  Zaha had a decent chance to grab an equaliser but his shot was just over the target.  Silva then made his final substitution bringing Femenía on for Richarlison.

Waiting for the ball to drop

A minute later, it appeared that we would live to regret using our final substitute as Pereyra went down after a nasty tackle from van Aanholt, who was booked for the offense.  Just when it appeared that Watford would leave South London with a comfortable three points, Cleverley had a moment of madness.  The ball fell to him just outside the area, he swung at it, missed and lost possession.  In his desperation to win the ball back, he made a clumsy challenge on Schlupp and was shown a second yellow card, so the Hornets were down to 10 men (again), or 9 as Pereyra was still struggling.  Cleverley was barely down the tunnel when Zaha tried a shot, which was saved by Gomes, the ball fell to Sako whose first shot was blocked, but he buried the follow-up sending the home fans, who had been very quiet up to that point, into ecstasy.  The fourth official indicated six minutes of added time and it went from bad to worse as Zaha crossed for McArthur to grab the winner.

 

Deeney kept in check by Schlupp

There was disbelief among the Watford fans at the end of the game.  We had been so clearly the better team and had made some excellent chances, so there was no way we should have been leaving South London with no points.  Cleverley’s sending off was stupid and gave Palace the momentum, but a second goal earlier in the game would have killed off the Palace threat and there was frustration that this Watford team seem unable to do that.  I couldn’t help a wry smile on seeing the message from Watford Police on twitter after the game which reported that “apart from a few disgruntled fans” there was no trouble, which rather nicely summed up the evening.

Adding insult to injury, we had to walk back to the station among jubilant Palace fans, one of whom was overheard saying that we were the best team that he’d seen this season, which only added to the frustration.  As I travelled back from the game I started to wonder whether I would have been better to have opted for the work Christmas party.  One of my colleagues had sent a photo with the message “where are you?” at about 9:45.  On reflection, knowing that was around the time that the game was thrown away and what sort of mood I would have been in on hearing that news while with my colleagues, I made the right decision.

So we go again on Saturday for the visit of Huddersfield and I can only hope that we will see a game in which the result reflects the performance.