Tag Archives: Rudy Gestede

Saying Goodbye to Our Hero

Don & I with Graham & Rita

Don & I with Graham & Rita

The first time I ‘met’ Graham Taylor was one Summer in the early 80s.  I had heard that the Hornets trained at Shendish, which was a short walk across the fields from our house.  We headed over there a couple of times, while walking the dog, before the golden day when we saw the Watford players streaming on to the training pitch.  We were awestruck.  As they played a training game, every time the ball rolled off the pitch towards her, my young sister would pick it up and hold it for one of the players to collect.  After she had done this a few times, GT gently said, “You can throw it, you know.”  She started doing that and the practice flowed more smoothly.  Then my attention switched to Nigel Callaghan who was practising his ball skills when our Border Collie decided to challenge him.  When I look back on that day, I am horrified.  We were a group of children disrupting their training session, and GT would have been totally justified in sending us packing, but he didn’t once make us feel as though we shouldn’t be there.  That was just one of a number of encounters that I have had over the years with Graham Taylor that have always left me walking on air and adoring the man.  When I heard about his death this week, I felt as though I had lost a favourite uncle and discussions with fellow fans and those throughout the football world who had been lucky enough to come into contact with him showed that my feelings were shared by many.

Suddenly Saturday’s game with Middlesbrough had taken on a great significance and the tickets that were unsold as of Thursday morning were soon snapped up.

Graham Taylor, We Love You

Graham Taylor, We Love You

As always on an important football day, I took some time choosing my outfit for the game.  I could not find my “Golden Boy Forever” t-shirt, but did find “Elton John’s Taylor-made Champions” from 97-98.  I also took my Cup Final replica shirt to wear in the ground so that both eras were covered.

I left home earlier than usual so that I could get to the Hornet Shop to sign the book of condolence before the crowds descended.  On the train journey, I listened (again) to the 5Live tribute show.  The outpouring of love was just remarkable and it was wonderful to know that it wasn’t just Watford fans that loved the man so much.

As I walked along Market Street, I saw a friend coming in the opposite direction.  No words were exchanged as we met, just a heartfelt hug.  That would become a feature of the day.  I arrived at the ground at about 11:30 and took a while to admire the tributes that had already been left before joining the queue to sign the book.  It was lovely to see that the display in the windows of the club shop had been changed to feature shirts and tracksuits from GT’s time at the club.

There's only one Graham Taylor

There’s only one Graham Taylor

We took up residence at our usual table in the West Herts which soon filled up with the regulars and with some more occasional visitors, each arrived looking bereft and was greeted with warm hugs.  The build up to the Spurs v WBA game was being shown on the televisions and I was not taking much notice when suddenly I became aware of the sound of clapping.  I looked up to see Graham Taylor’s picture displayed on the screen at the ground and the players and crowd taking part in a minute’s applause.  All conversation in the bar ceased and you could have heard a pin drop until the referee’s whistle went on the television when we applauded the gesture and went back to our previous discussions.

I am usually guilty of getting to my seat just in time for Z-cars, but on this occasion, I wanted to be there early to pay my respects, particularly as Graham’s family would be in attendance, which I thought was incredibly brave given how recently they had lost him.  But, as Pete pointed out, “It’s what Graham would have done.”  As we got to the ground, the size of the crowds and the floral tributes had grown considerably since my earlier visit.  So many flowers and shirts with lovely messages and each of the bollards had Watford scarves tied around them.  Arriving inside the Rookery I saw yet another queue to sign the condolence book which brought tears to my eyes.

The tribute in the Rookery (many thanks to Sarah Priestley for the photo)

The tribute in the Rookery (many thanks to Sarah Priestley for the photo)

On the way through the concourse, I bumped into more and more friends, all in or on the verge of tears.  As we reached our seats, GT’s picture was on the big screen and “There’s only one Graham Taylor” was rolling across the electronic hoardings and being sung by the crowd.  Then I noticed other little details such as the black corner flags and that Harry Hornet was wearing the CTX shirt from the 97-98 season.  As we waited for kick-off, they were playing GT’s favourite songs and the big screen was showing highlights from past triumphs.  They then cut to show Rita, Joanne and Karen in the GT stand and I lost it completely.  Just before the teams came out, they played GT’s favourite song which is Buddy Holly’s “Raining in my Heart.”  If there was anybody in the ground who had kept it together until that point, I expect that finished them off.

As Z-cars was played and the teams came on to the pitch, the big screen was showing GT leading the team out at Wembley on cup final day.  The 1881 had arranged a foil display and as we held them up, I managed to catch a glimpse of the big screen.  The design GT on a yellow background was just perfect and those holding them were loudly singing “There’s only one Graham Taylor”.  The pre-match tribute continued as the foils were lowered and the legends flag was displayed in the centre of the Rookery.

The players lined up for the minute's applause

The players lined up for the minute’s applause

There had been some discussion before the game about whether a minute’s silence or applause was the most appropriate.  Tim Coombs closed the discussion with the statement that, at the family’s request, a minute’s applause would be held.  This had the benefit of allowing all in the ground to belt out “One Graham Taylor”, at least those who were capable of chanting through the tears.  It was wonderful to see that the Middlesbrough fans joined in with both the applause and the singing.

After all that, it was easy to forget that a game was taking place.  Team news was that Mazzarri had made five changes from the Burton game with Gomes, Prödl, Behrami, Holebas and Okaka coming in for Pantilimon, Cathcart, Mason, Sinclair and Ighalo.  So, the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Kabasele, Doucouré, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney and Okaka.  Returning loan signing, Tom Cleverley was on the bench.

Capoue lines up a free kick

Capoue lines up a free kick

Watford had a great chance to open the scoring in the 9th minute as Capoue went on a run, a defender attempted a tackle but the ball rebounded in the direction of the goal, Etienne continued his run while the ball took an age to drop, sadly the Frenchman’s first touch was poor and Boro keeper, Valdés, had time to save at his feet.  At the other end, a ball into the box was headed down to Stuani who poked it home but, much to the relief of the Watford fans, the flag was up for offside, so it didn’t count.  The next action of note was on the 26th minute as Okaka nodded the ball down for Doucouré, whose lovely strike was blocked by Valdés.  Soon after, the same players combined again as Okaka broke forward and fed Doucouré whose shot was blocked, a cross back into the box was just missed by the head of Okaka.  The Italian launched another attack, beating two players before putting in a cross that Chambers cleared just before Deeney could connect.  The visitors threatened again as a ball was flicked into the Watford box and Stuani chipped over Gomes but, thankfully, also over the bar.  A guy near the front of the Rookery stood up to remonstrate with the Watford keeper who, to everyone’s surprise, gave the fan a piece of his mind.  Just before half time, some more good work from Okaka allowed Doucouré to try another shot but, again, it was just over the bar.

The former players at half time

The former players at half time

There were boos at the half time whistle.  It had been a poor half, although Watford had the better of the chances.

I felt very sorry for the children taking part in the half-time penalty shoot-out in front of the Rookery as all attention was on the former players gathered on the side of the pitch being interviewed by Tim and Emma.  Ian Bolton, Les Taylor, Nick Wright, Allan Smart, Tommy Mooney and Luther Blissett all spoke about the great man and, as he has done a number of times this week, it fell to Luther to pay the most perfect tribute, “He is the greatest man I’ve known.”

The second half started with a great chance for the Hornets, but Kabasele headed Capoue’s cross just wide of the near post.  The home side had another half chance as a free kick from Capoue was headed goalwards by Okaka, but Valdés dropped to make the save.  At the other end a Prödl clearance found Fabio who forced Gomes into a flying save.

Waiting for a ball into the box

Waiting for a ball into the box

Capoue should have opened the scoring with a lovely curling shot that was just wide of the far post.  On 65 minutes, Gomes had to be replaced after picking up an injury when he fell awkwardly making a save.  Pantilimon took the field to chants of “Mackem reject” from the Boro faithful.  At the same time, the visitors brought Gestede on to make his debut in place of De Roon.  The substitute keeper’s first test came from a free kick that he gathered safely.  At the other end, Deeney played the ball out to Kabasele whose cross was headed just wide by Doucouré.  At this point (the 72nd minute) another minute’s applause started with the accompanying chants for Graham Taylor, again the Boro fans joined in.  Watford’s next substitution saw Tom Cleverley making his second debut for Watford in place of Behrami.  The Watford fans were screaming for a penalty as Okaka battled with a defender in the box before being pulled to the ground.  Instead, the referee awarded a free kick to the visitors and showed Okaka a yellow card.  Boro substitute, Gestede, tried his luck from 25 yards, but his shot flew over the bar.  Watford’s substitute had a much better chance and we were already on our feet celebrating when Cleverley’s shot rebounded off the post, Capoue’s follow-up cleared the bar.  Nothing was going our way.

Kaboul and Okaka

Kaboul and Okaka

Deeney had a great chance in the last few minutes as he ran on to a lovely ball over the top from Cleverley, with only Valdés to beat, the keeper stuck his leg out and the shot deflected wide of the far post.  From the corner, Prödl headed goalwards, but Valdés was able to make the save.  Watford’s final substitution saw Zúñiga take the place of Holebas, who took an age to leave the field, much to the displeasure of the Watford fans.  Watford had one final chance from a corner in time added on, but Kabasele’s header was saved.  There was just time for some handbags as Fabio and Deeney clashed after Britos had been booked for a foul on the Middlesbrough man.  So a disappointing game ended goalless.

There were a number of complaints after the game, but we had a considerably improved second half and had made enough chances to have won the game easily.  There were a number of positives for me.  There had been some good signs from Okaka.  Doucouré had an excellent game playing as the box-to-box midfielder that we had been promised.  Capoue was much improved with some good deliveries from set pieces and a couple of decent chances himself.  Finally, it was nice to see Tom Cleverley back, he made some lovely touches and almost grabbed the winner.  Off the pitch, the fans had been magnificent, both the 1881 for the pre-match displays, which were remarkable given the short time that they had to organize them, and the fans as a whole for singing Graham Taylor’s name for most of the ninety minutes.  I hope that Rita and the rest of the family took a little comfort from the outpouring of love from the fans.

The tributes outside Vicarage Road

The tributes outside Vicarage Road

We left the ground through the stand named after the great man, taking the time to remember all his achievements that are commemorated there.  We then stopped outside the shop to admire all the tributes that had been left.  It was a beautiful display.

Back in the West Herts, the post-match analysis was soon replaced with talk of Graham Taylor.  Unusually, perhaps, there were no reminiscences about great games, but all the talk was about encounters with him and the legacy that he has left for the club and the town.  We went back to the 80s when football grounds were generally nasty places to be and yet families were flocking to Vicarage Road to watch football in safety on the family terrace that had been built after GT raised money for it by running the London marathon.  At away games, we watched football from inside cages, but there were never any fences separating the fans from the players at the Vic.  He had also refused to have a covered dugout built until the fans in the Vicarage Road end had a roof.  At a time when football fans were treated like criminals, Graham Taylor refused to take this stance.  He treated the fans as he would want to be treated and the fans responded in kind.  The football club was built in his image and was a wonderful warm place to be.

Many Watford fans have talked this week about how much influence Graham Taylor had on their lives.  He was a man of great kindness and integrity who was a great role model to us all.  As a fan meeting GT, he had an incredible knack of making you feel that it was his pleasure to be speaking you.  He built a football club that still retains the family ethos that he instilled.  Last week that club lost its father.  We will miss him terribly.

Mathematically Safe at Last

Abdi and Paredes

Abdi and Paredes

The week before this game was dominated by feelings of disappointment following the FA Cup semi-final at which our team really didn’t do themselves justice.  I had a clear indication of my level of disillusion after that game when I realized on Tuesday morning that I had completely forgotten to buy tickets for the trip to Norwich the previous day.  Normally I buy my tickets for away games as soon as they go on sale.

In the wider football world, the main news of the week had been the final verdicts in the Hillsborough inquest.  Those of us who went to football in the 80s were all too aware of the conditions that we faced at grounds and the attitudes of the authorities towards us.  What happened at Hillsborough could just as easily have happened to me and my family and friends and the vilification that the victims and their families have endured over the past 27 years has been shocking beyond belief.  I am very thankful that the truth that was so evident to anyone without an agenda in the 80s is now a matter of record.  Well done to the families for never giving up their fight for justice.

Miguel Britos

Miguel Britos

On the train to the game, I was reading the BBC football website and the responses to their request for people to comment on what they were looking forward to from the day’s football.  One comment stood out.  “Does anyone care about Watford vs Aston Villa? #deadrubber.”  It was hard to argue with that viewpoint although, even though I have felt that we were safe ever since we hit 37 points, Watford were not yet mathematically safe from relegation.  When we took our seats in the Rookery, I was very impressed with the number of Aston Villa fans who had made the journey from Birmingham for this fixture.  Although the mood among them did not seem particularly positive as, with good reason, they booed when the name of their captain, Lescott, was read out.

One other story dominating the Watford press during the week concerned the strong rumours that Flores would be on his way during the Summer.  Speculation regarding his future seemed grossly unfair given that he had achieved the aim of keeping Watford in the Premier League with the added bonus of an FA Cup semi-final.  The reaction to these rumours on the social media that I bother with had been mixed, so it was pleasing to see the 1881 display a flag bearing Flores’ face prior to kick off.

Flores in the dugout

Flores in the dugout

Team news was that there were four changes from Sunday with Gomes, Paredes, Anya and Suárez in for Pantilimon, Nyom, Aké and Capoue.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Britos, Cathcart, Paredes, Jurado, Watson, Suárez, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo.  The Watford players all took to the pitch wearing black armbands which I assumed were in honour of Ighalo’s father who passed away last week, but I am happy to be contradicted on that one.

The support for Flores from the Watford fans continued after kick off as his name was chanted non-stop for the first 15 minutes of the game.  Watford started well and fashioned an early chance as a cross from Abdi reached Jurado who played the ball out to Suárez whose shot was over the bar.  Then Deeney got his head to a Jurado cross, but his connection was not solid and the ball flew wide of the Villa goal.  Jurado went on a promising run which finished with a cross that was too far in front of Ighalo.  Then Ighalo did well to beat a couple of defenders in the box, but his shot was blocked for a corner while Deeney was in space.  At this point Troy let his strike partner know in no uncertain terms how unhappy he was with his decision making.  A chant of “Championship you’re having a laugh” emanated from the away end and I could only assume this was aimed at their own players who had been woeful to that point.

Abdi and Suarez line up for the free kick that led to the goal

Abdi and Suarez line up for the free kick that led to the goal

Deeney made what looked like a terrible tackle on Bacuna who, thankfully, got up unharmed and there was no punishment for Deeney beyond the award of the free kick.  Paredes found Abdi on the overlap, his cross reached Ighalo at the far post where his shot was blocked by Bunn sticking a foot out.  At this point, half way through the first half, the Rookery crowd were yelling “shoot”, every time a Watford player got the ball anywhere near the Villa box and they were rewarded when Watson blasted a volley from distance that crashed off the crossbar.  Villa’s first goal attempt came on 26 minutes and it was a dreadful shot from distance by Ayew that flew well over the target.  This prompted the travelling Villa fans to jump up and down celebrating as if a goal had been scored while chanting “We’ve had a shot”.   So it was a shock to everyone in the ground when the visitors took the lead two minutes later as Clark met a Westwood corner and headed it past Gomes.  The Villa fans celebrated properly and followed up with “Easy, easy” and “We scored a goal.”  Watford looked to hit back through Deeney who latched on to a ball over the top and won a corner off Toner.  Jurado’s delivery was headed on by Britos to Abdi who should have done better with the shot, but he directed it way off target.  Villa threatened again with a cross from Hutton, but Cathcart was on hand to head clear.

Celebrating Abdi's strike

Celebrating Abdi’s strike

The Villa fans continued their continuous singing with “There’s only one Graham Taylor”, which was lovely and I was very disappointed that the Watford fans didn’t join in (I seemed to be on my own).  The first caution went to Bacuna for a trip on Anya.  Watford’s next chance on goal came when Deeney met a cross from Suárez with a hopeful header that flew wide.  The visitors nearly extended their lead with a header from Ayew that hit the post.  Watford had a decent chance to equalize as Ighalo met a cross from Abdi with a header, but Lescott was in close attendance and the ball bounced off him and safely to Bunn.  In time added on at the end of the half, when a large number of fans were already in the concourses queuing for their half time refreshments, Gueye was booked for a foul on Abdi just outside the box.  Almen stepped up to take the free kick himself and took the perfect free kick, hitting it up and over the wall and into the net past Bunn.  Having got my camera out to capture Deeney’s penalty at West Ham, I felt like I had jinxed it, so the camera was left in my pocket as Abdi stepped up I was rewarded with a goal.

Challenging at a Watford corner

Challenging at a Watford corner

On the balance of play, Watford deserved to go in to the break level.  We had been much the better side in the first 20 minutes and towards the end of the half, but heads had gone down after Villa took the lead and we had been poor in that period.

At half time, the U18s were given their trophy and medals for winning the Professional Development League 2 South.  The presentation took place in front of the SEJ stand, so they had their backs to those of us in the Rookery and I was disappointed that there was no lap of honour.

At the start of the second half, I realized that my notes on the first period had omitted any comment on the performance of the visitors.  As I looked up from writing “Villa dreadful” I saw Ayew running towards us with no Watford player anywhere near and he beat Gomes to restore the lead for the visitors.  That’ll teach me for tempting fate.  Villa threatened again as Ayew and Westwood broke forward before finding Gestede who shot high and wide prompting boos from the Rookery.

Cathcart and Deeney

Cathcart and Deeney

Flores made his first substitution just before the hour mark and, when the board went up showing that it was Paredes who would make way, there were loud cheers from the Watford fans.  He was replaced by Berghuis, who had impressed at West Ham.  More of the same please, Steven.  Watford had a great chance to draw level again as a Jurado corner was met by a header from Deeney that was cleared off the line.  At the other end, a free kick from Westwood was met with a header from Toner that went wide of the target.  Berghuis tried an audacious shot from distance which was deflected, taking the pace off it and ensuring it was easy for Bunn to deal with.  The 1881 had clearly lost patience with their team at this point as there were chants of “Are you Villa in disguise.”  Never good to hear fans getting so negative towards their own players.  Flores made a second substitution replacing Jurado with Amrabat.  Watford had an opportunity to equalize as Watson released Anya who went on a tremendous run down the middle of the pitch and was clean through on goal when Cissokho took him down on the edge of the box.  The Villa man was shown a red card for preventing a goal scoring opportunity.  Abdi’s free kick came back off the wall and the chance came to nothing.  The Villa keeper, Bunn, was booked for time wasting in an incident in which Ighalo lost patience with him delaying a kick, so decided to take it himself.

Gomes takes a goal kick

Gomes takes a goal kick

Watford threatened again as a Berghuis cross to the far post was blocked before it reached Deeney, it fell to Amrabat whose cross was headed wide by Ighalo.  There were hopeful appeals for a penalty when Britos went down under a challenge as a cross from Abdi came into the box, but the referee waved play on.  Frustration built further among the home fans as a series of crosses into the Villa box were met by defenders’ heads.  As the game drew to a close, Watford were pushing for an equalizer as a cross from Amrabat was palmed out by Bunn and then a powerful shot from Berghuis flew just wide.  The young Dutchman turned provider as the clock reached 90 minutes with a cross that was headed home by Deeney.  The Rookery went wild and, as Troy had been given constant abuse from the Villa fans, he appeared to enjoy his goal celebration at their end very much indeed.  The Watford fans followed the goal with a chant of “That boy, Troy Deeney, he hates the Villa.”  The announcement of five minutes of added time was greeted with loud cheers from the Watford faithful and they were rewarded three minutes into injury time as Ighalo knocked the ball down to Deeney who powered it past Bunn to win the game for the home side.

Abdi takes a throw-in

Abdi takes a throw-in

Just like the game at Villa Park earlier in the season, it was an unconvincing performance from the Hornets and we were very fortunate to come away with the three points.  Deeney had not looked happy during the game, but he was the hero of the day after hitting the two goals to secure the win.  As at West Ham, Berghuis had put in a very lively performance when he came on.  It was great to see him run at players.  He didn’t always succeed in beating them, but kept the ball on enough occasions to make you want to see him do it again.  The three points ensured that we remained in 12th position and were now mathematically safe from relegation.  I never thought that would be the case with three games remaining in the season.

We were listening to 3 Counties in the car on the way home and, given a lot of the anti-Flores stuff on social media during the week, I found it interesting that both the presenter and the majority of those sending in messages believed that Flores should still be the Watford manager next season.

It is all down to expectations.  I expected Watford to struggle this season and I suspect that my tolerance of the performances that I have seen lately is down to the fact that they are more in line with what I was expecting for this season.  The fact that we have also been treated to some very entertaining football and some historic wins means that Flores and his players are still in credit as far as I am concerned.

 

A Rare Win at Villa Park

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

Having endured the international break and then missed the Man Utd game due to work commitments, I was very happy to be going to a football match again.  On the train to Birmingham, I spotted a familiar face so was graced with delightful company for the journey.  The pre-match pub was a good one and even featured a blackboard offering “a match made in heaven” which was perched atop some gold and red baubles.  Was this a good omen?  A couple of the usual suspects were accompanied by Villa fans who, along with the locals, were prophets of doom for their team’s chances.  That always worries me as, in many years of following the Hornets, the bankers have never been those that we win.

Team news was that Flores had made two changes from the Man United game bringing Aké and Paredes in for Anya and Jurado.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Abdi, Deeney, Paredes and Ighalo.

A blurred celebration of the first goal

A blurred celebration of the first goal

The first chance of the game fell to the visitors as Ighalo played in Deeney on the edge of the box, but he hit the ball over the bar.  This bright start was followed by a longish spell of Villa pressure.  Ayew was the first to threaten the Watford goal as he broke forward and crossed, Gomes parried and Cathcart cleared.  Then, from a corner, a Sinclair header rebounded off the bar to safety.  Another Villa corner was met by Cathcart who cleared over the bar.  On 13 minutes, the young lad behind me complained that we should be winning.  That level of expectation is always worrying as it stops the crowd getting behind the team when they need them most.  Thankfully, he was placated 3 minutes later as Watford took the lead against the run of play.  Ighalo got into the box and manoeuvered into position for a shot, which was saved, the ball fell to Watson on the edge of the box, his shot was blocked and the ball rebounded to Ighalo who was in front of the Villa defence and made no mistake with his finish.  As we celebrated, the Villa players were calling for an offside decision.  Clark came over to question the lino on our side of the field, but was sent packing and the Hornets were a goal to the good.  The mood in the away end improved and there was even a spell of bouncing.  Watford looked to increase their lead but Deeney’s cross was cut out by Richards who had Ighalo lurking behind him.  Villa broke straight down the other end to win a corner from which they really should have scored, but Ayew shot wide from close range when it looked easier to hit the target.

An Abdi leap to challenge

An Abdi leap to challenge

Another Villa corner was headed clear by Watson.  At the other end, Deeney played a lovely through ball to Capoue, who had the goal at his mercy but shot straight at Guzan giving him an easy block.  Pete commented that maybe Capoue should get the odd half chance, because he never buries the easy ones.  A long ball from Britos was cleared by Richards with Deeney challenging.  Then Sánchez gave the ball away to Deeney, who probably should have tried a shot but instead tried a pass to Ighalo that was intercepted by Richards.  At the other end, a ball into the Watford box was cleared as far as Gueye who curled a shot just wide.  Villa had a great chance to equalize on the half hour as Ayew’s shot was parried by Gomes.  Sinclair should have done better with the follow-up, but hit it straight at the Watford keeper.  Sinclair then had a much better effort that required a really good save from Gomes to keep it out.  There was frustration for the visitors as Ighalo was prevented from reaching a lovely ball from Abdi by a tug on his shirt that was missed by the referee, much to his and our annoyance.  At the other end, the home side had another great chance to equalize as a corner reached Clark in the 6 yard box and he slid the ball wide from close range.  Villa threatened again as a Gomes punch went to Sánchez who, kindly, returned it to the Watford keeper.  With 10 minutes to half time, Villa won a free kick.  There were a lot of complaints in the away end about the distance that the referee pushed the wall back as it seemed considerably more than the required 10 yards.  The kick was taken, Richards had a free header and the game was level.  If truth be told, it was no more than Villa deserved as the visitors had been hanging on for some time.  The home side had a chance to take the lead just before half time, but Ayew just failed to connect with Sinclair’s ball across the box.

Britos lines up a free kick

Britos lines up a free kick

So the game was level at half time, but it had been a poor half from the visitors.  The weather which was windy with rain showers may have had an effect on the players, but it was certainly affecting the crowd.  Those who had priority booking for this game were housed in the lower tier.  My party were fortunate as our seats were far enough up that we had the protection of the roof, but half time saw the concourse packed with those from the seats at the front taking shelter from the rain.

There was a lively start to the second half as a Watson corner was met by a back-header from Deeney that was cleared.  Another corner was met with a side foot from Deeney that was cleared off the line.  On the hour, Gomes parried a cross and, while we missed seeing his collision with Cathcart, it was soon apparent from our vantage point in the stands that he was in a lot of pain, holding his head.  Heurelho was down having treatment for a considerable time, which is always a worry.  During the long break in play, the Villa fans decided to goad Deeney and the Watford fans responded with “Troy Deeney, Watford’s Number 9”.  I think it was also during this period that a moron in the Watford crowd decided to throw a flare onto the pitch.  They were identified and arrested so no more away days for them.  Heurelho was finally put into a neck brace and carried off on a stretcher, a sad sight.  But I was very impressed to see the Villa fans all rising to stand and applaud him off.  That is the way that it should be, but it was still really nice to see.  He was replaced by Arlauskis who came on wearing a short sleeved shirt on a cold day.  At the same time, Anya came on for Paredes, who had not had the best of games.  For the home side Adama Traoré replaced Gil.

Paredes on the move

Paredes on the move

Very soon after the game restarted Watford regained the lead.  A ball into the box from Deeney just seemed to drift into the Villa goal.  I couldn’t see who applied the final touch but it was put down as an own goal by Hutton.  Villa tried to bounce back from a corner, but the ball was turned just wide by Watson.  Then Nyom exchanged passes with Capoue on the right wing and hit a cross that was just a little too far in front of Ighalo.  Traoré had been menacing the Watford defence with his pace since he came on and soon drew a foul from Capoue that earned the Watford man a yellow card.  With 10 minutes remaining, Guedioura, the man with a permanent smile on his face, came on for Abdi.  Watford had a decent chance to further increase their lead as a lovely ball over the top from Cathcart was met with a volley by Deeney which flew over the bar.  Villa’s next substitution saw Gueye replaced by Gestede, which was a bit of a worry as I feel that he has done well against us in the past.  Arlauskis’s first involvement was not impressive as he dropped a cross from Traoré but, luckily, a defender was on hand to welly the ball clear.

The players' celebration masked by that in the Deadly Doug stand

The players’ celebration masked by that in the Deadly Doug stand

Watford were given a welcome cushion as a shot from Ighalo was blocked and looped up for Deeney to head home in front of the Holte End.  Judging by his reaction, I think Troy enjoyed that goal as much as, if not more than, we did.  The next contribution from Arlauskis was as worrying as his first, as an easy ball into the box that appeared to be falling straight into his arms was fumbled and dropped.  Thankfully he was alone in the box so had time to recover.  Villa pulled a goal back with a couple of minutes of normal time remaining as Ayew got the ball in the box turned and hit a terrific shot past Arlauskis to set up a nervous end to the game for the travelling Hornets.  From the restart Guedioura went on an impressive run and unleashed a shot that Guzan pushed around the post.  There was no surprise when the fourth official indicated 10 minutes of time added on but we could have done without it.  However, the first chance of time added on fell to the Hornets and it was Guedioura again but, again, Guzan was equal to his shot.  Aké was the next to get in on the act, hitting a shot from the edge of the area that was deflected wide.  Then a long ball flew over the head of Sánchez, as Deeney ran on to it the travelling faithful were screaming at him to shoot, but he took his time and his shot was blocked for a corner.  Deeney had another run on goal, this time instead of shooting he passed to Capoue whose cross was blocked for a corner, which was a good opportunity to waste a bit of time and the full time whistle went for a Watford win, provoking huge cheers in the away end.  In the post-match celebrations Flores blew a kiss to the crowd, while Deeney was beaming and couldn’t stop himself from gesturing (although not in a vulgar manner) to the home crowd.  They had given him enough grief that they deserved a little back.  Apart from that, there were very few of them left and it amused us greatly.

Ake and Ighalo anticipate

Ake and Ighalo anticipate

This wasn’t a great performance from the Hornets.  Our defence has been masterful this season, but was challenged more than might have been expected by a team that are struggling.  Deeney frustrated me as he seemed reluctant to shoot at times.  But we left Villa Park with three points and Deeney had scored his fourth goal in five games, so it seemed churlish to complain.  I couldn’t help harking back to our last visit to Villa Park for a league game when we went down to a harsh defeat at a time when we already felt doomed.  On this occasion, it was the home fans that were bemoaning their fate on the way out of the ground.  On the train back to London, we were sat opposite a Villa fan travelling with his son.  He had been very impressed with our movement and was much more positive about our performance than we were.  He said that he had a soft spot for Watford, probably because we had shared a manager (and what a manager).  He said that he had travelled on the local train to the ground surrounded by Watford fans and had been impressed by their spirit and conversation.  He then bemoaned what he was doing to his son by encouraging him to follow Villa when he could have chosen to support Chelsea or Man Utd.  Richard and I both assured him that his parenting skills were spot on in that regard.

We are now 14 games in to the season in 11th place and with 19 points on the board.  So just over a third of the way through the season with a points total that is almost halfway to safety.  I was sceptical about our chances following promotion, but I am loving this mid-table obscurity.

Of course the icing on the cake was the news that Gomes had been given the all clear and was able to travel home on the team bus.  He even tweeted to say that he just had a stiff neck.  What a relief.

Winning Against the Odds

Kick-off

Kick-off

After last week’s injustice on the South Coast, we returned to Vicarage Road, scene of recent goal fests.  With Angella’s red card rescinded the only change from the team that started at Bournemouth was the return of Paredes, meaning that Layun moved to a more central midfield position and Tözsér dropped to the bench.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Munari, Watson, Layun, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney.  With Abdi and Forestieri both back from injury we also had an incredibly strong bench.

In the first minute, a shot from Ighalo was blocked and rebounded to Layun who hit his shot wide of the target.  At the other end a Blackburn corner was headed goalwards by Hanley but deflected for a corner.  Anya broke forward and played a lovely through ball to Layun whose shot was turned around the post by Steele.  The resulting corner was met with a strong header from Angella, but again Steele was equal to it.

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

Ighalo did really well to muscle Hanley off the ball before playing a square pass to Watson whose shot was just over the bar.  As the 20th minute approached, there was a yellow card for each side as Spearing was penalized for taking Deeney out and Paredes was booked for giving Conway similar treatment.  From Blackburn’s free-kick, the ball reached Rhodes in the Watford box, but his shot was high and wide.  Blackburn had another decent chance from a free-kick soon after but Brown’s header flew just past the top corner.   Cathcart was the next player to go into Mr Madley’s book.  The referee was blowing up for some very soft fouls against both teams and this looked like a harsh booking.  Anya tried for some time to get into a position to cross, the Blackburn defence was harrying him, but he kept dropping back to relaunch his attack.  When he finally got his cross in, it dropped to Deeney who paused before shooting and so his attempt was blocked.  Deeney then played a one-two with Ighalo, but was stopped by a great saving tackle in the box.

A stout defence

A stout defence

A Layun corner was cleared as far as Angella who headed down to Anya whose shot was well wide of the near post.  In time added on at the end of the first half, Munari was booked for a foul on Rhodes.  Marshall’s free-kick required a good save from Gomes to ensure that the game was goalless at half time.  It had been a disappointing half of football.  Watford had had some decent possession, but weren’t doing themselves a lot of favours with some dreadful misplaced passes.  But credit to Blackburn who were ensuring that the home team had little time on the ball and, when they were in possession, were closed down and harried into making mistakes.

An attacking corner

An attacking corner

Blackburn had the first chance of the second half, as Rhodes headed a Marshall cross wide.  At the other end, Ighalo was fouled on the edge of the box.  It seemed a perfect position for Layun to try a shot but, instead, Watson played a short ball to Layun who was closed down before he could cross and the chance was gone.  That routine may have looked great on the training ground, but it looked appalling at Vicarage Road.  On the hour, Jokanovic made an attacking substitution taking Hoban off to make way for Vydra.  The Czech’s first shot was easily gathered by Steele who appeared to take it behind for a corner.  At the other end, Gomes had to drop to gather a shot from Conway.  Blackburn threatened again as Gestede headed the ball down to Rhodes whose shot looked likely to break the deadlock until Gomes got across to tip it wide.  Watford failed to clear the corner which fell to Conway whose shot was brilliantly saved by Gomes.  With 17 minutes remaining, it was great to see the return of Abdi as he came on to replace Watson.  Blackburn had another attempt on goal as Conway played the ball back to Cairney who shot over from distance.  Gomes saved the home side again as a Conway free-kick was met with another great save.

14 - Celebrating the miracle goalIn a rare Watford attack, Vydra exchanged passes with Deeney and tried a shot that was blocked, it fell to Paredes who played it out to Deeney whose shot was put out for a corner.  Watford then took an unexpected lead as Layun’s set piece was played on by Angella to Ighalo whose shot found the net by way of Steele’s hand and the post.  The celebration of this miracle included a very long prayer from the goalscorer.  Blackburn tried to hit back and there was a moment of drama as Gomes punched a cross then chased the ball out of the box to welly it over the SEJ stand to loud cheers from the Watford faithful.  Watford appeared to have increased their lead in the final moments as Vydra and Ighalo broke forward and the Czech won a corner from which a cross was headed home by a defender as Ighalo challenged, but the goal was ruled out for offside presumably as Ighalo was deemed to be interfering with play.  There were huge cheers at the final whistle.  It had been a difficult game and the win was hardly deserved, but Blackburn had been such unpleasant opponents that I felt no guilt.  It was no surprise that Gomes won the man of the match award and he was given a tremendous ovation as he did his lap of the pitch applauding the crowd at the end.

If we learnt anything from this game it was that the team has finally injected some steel into their game and we can win when the opposition comes to stop us playing.  That bodes very well for the rest of the season.

Honours Even at Ewood Park

The teams take to the pitch at Ewood Park

The teams take to the pitch at Ewood Park

We don’t have a good record at Blackburn in the few games that we have played there in recent years, the most recent win being the 4-3 during the petrol crisis in 2000.  So I have never seen us win at Ewood Park, although it is still an away day that I enjoy.  Despite seemingly constant traffic on the way up, we made good time and were soon holed up in the pre-match pub waiting for the rest of the North-West Horns to arrive.  The first pint was rather lovely, but the pub ran out of beer from the hand-pump very early much to the annoyance of some of our party.  But the beer still flowed as our number swelled and the pre-match gathering was fun as always.

With Garcia now out of hospital but in the director’s box, it was Ruben Martinez in the dugout again.  There were four changes from the Bournemouth game with Angella, Cathcart, Munari and Ighalo coming in for Tamaz Ekstrand, Abdi and Dyer.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Pudil, Cathcart, Angella, Paredes, Murray, Munari, Tözsér, Anya, Vydra and Ighalo.  Watford old boy Lee Williamson lined up for the opposition.

Preparing for a corner

Preparing for a corner

We had a great chance to take the lead in the first minute of the game as Anya cut the ball back to Ighalo, but he shot well wide when he should have hit the target.  Rhodes was the first to threaten for the home side as he chipped the ball goalwards, but Gomes gathered easily.  Baptiste tried a low shot from the right which Gomes dropped to save.  A lovely through ball reached Rhodes who was advancing into the box, but Paredes got in his way and the ball found its way back to Gomes.  Tözsér found Murray who advanced down the left before passing to Ighalo who took a couple of touches before finding the space to shoot, Steele was down quickly to block the shot.  A short corner was dummied by Vydra and ran through to Tözsér whose shot was blocked.  At the other end, Cairney cut in and shot goalwards but Gomes was behind it.  Cairney threatened again as he received a pass from Gestede but shot over the bar.

Vydra congratulated by his team mates

Vydra congratulated by his team mates

Watford made the breakthrough after half an hour as Cathcart released Vydra, who seemed to pause expecting an offside flag, which gave the defender time to get back, but he recovered and shot past Steele to put the Hornets ahead against the run of play.  Munari broke down the wing and exchanged passes with Anya whose shot was blocked.  In the 39th minute, Rovers came close to equalizing but the shot from Gestede was fractionally wide.  Instead it was Watford who increased the lead as Tözsér curled a free kick which bounced in off the post.  Rhodes and Gomes both tried to reach a cross from Baptiste, but the Spaniard was first to the ball punching it to safety.  The last chance of the half was an overhead kick from Rhodes that cleared the bar.  The half-time whistle went with Watford two goals to the good, although it has to be said that the scoreline flattered us a bit.

The celebrations for Tozser's free kick

The celebrations for Tozser’s free kick

At the start of the second half, Rovers made a change replacing Baptiste with erstwhile Watford target Craig Conway.  A number of fans had yet to return to their seats after the interval when Blackburn pulled one back as Gestede got his head to a deep cross into the box to propel a powerful header past Gomes.  Rovers threatened again soon after, Paredes could only knock a ball into the box sideways to Gestede but, fortunately for the visitors, he shot wide.  Rhodes received the ball in the box turned and shot but he also missed the target.  At the other end, Ighalo fed Murray who curled a shot into Steele’s arms.  Then Vydra played the ball out to Murray who passed it back when he was probably in a better position to shoot, albeit from distance.  There were loud protests from the Blackburn faithful as Pudil put the ball out for a corner, I couldn’t see from the opposite end but they clearly felt that a hand had been used.  From the subsequent corner, Marshall headed wide.

Jostling for the ball at a corner

Jostling for the ball at a corner

The crowd in the Ronnie Clayton stand were getting increasingly angry at the time that Gomes was taking for his goal kicks, the referee agreed with them and showed the keeper a yellow card.  Murray played the ball out to Anya on the wing, but his cross was over the heads of all in the box.  Munari released Vydra who played it out to Ighalo who was pushed off the ball far too easily.  At the other end, Rhodes got the ball on the edge of the box but Paredes made a great tackle to avert the danger.  Vydra was booked for knocking Duffy flying after the Blackburn player had already played the ball.  It was an odd challenge that can only have been born of frustration.  Rovers then made their second substitution replacing Williamson with Tunnicliffe.  Pudil played a low cross towards Ighalo who failed to connect although he was offside anyway.  A shot from Gestede was knocked out for a corner by Gomes with a Blackburn player challenging for the header.  A cross from Paredes was slightly too high for Ighalo to get a decent contact.  On 68 minutes, Dyer replaced Ighalo who had had an awful game being shrugged off the ball far too easily.  Dyer’s first act was to play a through ball to Vydra just before being taken down.  The referee blew up for the free-kick when it looked sensible to play advantage, Vydra lashed the ball into the net in frustration.

Gestede holding Cathcart at bay

Gestede holding Cathcart at bay

Cairney was the next player to see yellow as he handled the ball when he was on the ground.  Vydra had a great chance to increase the lead as he latched on to a header from Hanley but he passed instead of shooting and the chance was gone.  An overhead kick from Gestede was blocked by Angella and went out for a corner with the home fans howling that he’d handled.  Gestede threatened again with a shot from the corner of the box that was well wide.  Rovers equalized on 77 minutes as Tunnicliffe headed a cross from Marshall into an empty net.  It was no more than they deserved.  Soon after, Murray made way for Forestieri.  Tözsér played a dangerous ball into the box but Munari couldn’t get a touch to it.  Watford nerves were jangling as Duffy unleashed a shot from distance that was just wide of the target.  At the other end, a corner from Tözsér was met with a glancing header from Munari which flew just wide.

Angella on the ball

Angella on the ball

Rhodes went down very easily on the edge of the Watford box following a challenge from Angella.  Cairney’s free-kick rebounded off the corner of the post and crossbar, the follow-up from Gestede was saved by Gomes who was then fouled by Rhodes who knocked the ball into the net but the referee blew up for the foul.  With a couple of minutes remaining, Ekstrand replaced Anya for the Hornets.  The Swede was tested immediately being beaten by Rhodes whose close range shot was saved by Gomes.  In injury time Forestieri went down dramatically clutching his face after what looked like a nothing challenge.  I was yelling for him to get up, so felt a bit guilty when I saw a photo of his swollen eye on Twitter.  Angella then spent some time off the pitch with an injury and was booked when he came back on, presumably because he hadn’t received the referee’s blessing.  The final whistle was greeted with anger in the Watford crowd that we’d thrown away a two goal lead.  But, on the balance of play, that lead had flattered us and, after hanging on in the second half, a draw felt like a decent result.

Six Goals but Not a Thriller

The construction of the East Stand is progressing

The construction of the East Stand is progressing

Pre-match gatherings before midweek home games are always a rather subdued affair as those of us who neither live nor work in Watford have rushed to get there after work.  So it was a pleasure to be joined by Rod and his son, Luke, who were on holiday from New Zealand and had Toddy on hand to ensure that they experienced the best that the UK has to offer.

Team news was that Beppe had made 4 changes from Saturday with Ekstrand, Hoban, Murray and Merkel in for Belkalem, Faraoni, Battocchio and McGugan.  The changes sounded a bit odd until we realised that Ekstrand and Hoban would go into the back three

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

with Cassetti taking up Faraoni’s position as right wing-back.  The starting line-up was Almunia, Angella, Ekstrand, Hoban, Pudil, Merkel, Tözsér, Murray, Cassetti, Anya and Deeney.  Lee Williamson started for the visitors and was given a decent reception by the home crowd.  In fact it was a warmer welcome than he had in some games when he played for us.  But more on that theme later.

Blackburn almost scored in the first minute but Almunia leapt to get a hand to a speculative shot from Kane.  At the other end, Angella met a corner from Anya with a header that flew wide.  The first goal came in the third

Cassetti after scoring the first goal (I was so thrilled I forgot to get my camera out)

Cassetti after scoring the first goal (I was so thrilled I forgot to get my camera out)

minute and from an unexpected source as a throw-in from Anya was flicked on by Merkel to Cassetti who knocked the ball past Robinson.  It was a goal that brought a smile to all our faces as much for the goalscorer as the goal.  The visitors almost struck back immediately as Gestede was one-on-one with Almunia, but the keeper stood strong to make the save.  Gestede had another chance soon after with a header from a corner that flew over the bar.  At the other end Murray tried a shot from distance that was just wide of the far post.  Then Tözsér played a ball over the top to Deeney, who beat the defender but shot into the side netting.  Rovers equalized on 27 minutes, Almunia came to punch a free-kick clear but it fell to Dunn who shot into the opposite corner.  Rovers could have taken the lead as Gestede met a long throw from Spurr with a header that he glanced just wide of the target.  Just before half time, Almunia was first to a cross into the box so Gestede came in hard and knocked him flying.  Rhodes picked up the loose ball and put it in the net, but it was long after the referee had blown up for the foul.  In time added on Kilgallon met a corner from Conway with a header but Almunia was equal to it.

 

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

As Robinson came out to take his place in the goal at the Rookery end at the start of the second half, it was really nice to see him applauding the home crowd before we greeted him.  The teams were all in position before the officials appeared and he endeared himself even further by chivvying along the lino who was checking his net.  We thought we’d regained the lead soon after the start of the second half as Pudil played a one-two with Anya who passed the ball back to Deeney who buried it past Robinson.  Our celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s flag.  My brother-in-law, who was listening to the lovely Jon Marks, informed us that it was Anya had been flagged offside but that Jon had seen a replay, courtesy of the Blackburn analyst, which showed that he was nothing of the sort.  Deeney then turned provider with a pass to Anya who shot wide of the far post.

A Cassetti throw-in

A Cassetti throw-in

Deeney had the ball in the box again but was challenged and the ball broke to Cassetti who juggled it before finding Murray whose shot was deflected.  Then Pudil and Tözsér exchanged passes before crossing for Deeney who was crowded out before he could shoot.  Battocchio replaced Murray after an hour.  On 64 minutes, we were a goal down as Hoban lost the ball to Dunn in the box, he played it into the path of Conway who slotted past Almunia.  We were not behind for long as Kane handled Anya’s cross and the referee pointed to the spot.  Deeney made no mistake hitting the ball to Robinson’s right as the keeper went the wrong way.  McGugan replaced Hoban and then boos from the Rookery greeted Diakité as he prepared to come on for Merkel.  The loanee had received the

Celebration of Battocchio's goal

Celebration of Battocchio’s goal

same treatment at Wigan.  It really baffles me why a section of our fans would rather abuse their own player than support the team.  As it so happened, he had his best showing so far in a Watford shirt and, although he was involved in a yellow card incident, he was the victim having been fouled by Evans.  The visitors threatened as Rhodes tried his luck with a shot from the right which Almunia claimed.  Then Kane was booked for a foul on McGugan.  Watford’s third goal came with a couple of minutes to go and was a joy to behold as Anya released Battocchio, who had a lot of ground to cover before he reached the edge of the box and unleashed a shot that flew past Robinson into the goal at the Rookery end.  By way of celebration, he was buried under a crowd of players plus a certain mascot.

On the attack

On the attack

We wondered where the referee found 6 minutes to add on and, half way through the additional period, the visitors equalized as a Gestede header hit the inside of Almunia’s right-hand post and bounced across the goal into the net on the opposite side.  The frustration in the stands was equalled on the pitch at the final whistle as Deeney aimed a kick at a goalpost.  But Angella went one better.  He was furious and took it out on Pudil aiming a verbal volley that left the Czech defender standing in the middle of the penalty area appearing to tell his team mates that he wasn’t going back into the dressing room until Gabriele had calmed down.

For the second home game in a row, there were complaints about the entertainment value from a game in which we’d scored three goals.  The consensus was that it was the most boring 6 goal “thriller” that we’d ever seen.  It is an odd time as most of the people that I know like the manager and most of the players but there is something missing on the pitch.  We have watched much worse football than this and cheered the teams on, but maybe the gorgeous football that we saw for much of last season has spoiled us.  At this point the season is over for us so we can relax in the upcoming games, the next of which is probably my favourite away day of the season.