Tag Archives: Sam Allardyce

Revenge on the Toffees is Sweet

Terry Challis painting/collage of GT

With the game kicking off at 5:30pm and it being the last day of the Graham Taylor exhibition at the museum, there was no question about how I would start my afternoon in Watford.  My sister, Rose, joined me and we spent a lovely hour looking at the exhibits and reminiscing.  There were a couple of new additions since my previous visit, including a beautiful painting/collage by Terry Challis, which was well worth the repeat visit all on its own.  Rose had not seen the exhibition before, so dutifully went around with the list of exhibits ticking them off.  We also had the added unexpected pleasure of Sarah Priestley being on hand to talk us through the collection and her lovely meetings with Rita while putting it together.  Apparently, Rita has visited on a few occasions and had fans chatting to her about their memories of Graham before they realised who they were talking to.  I have to say that brought a tear to all of our eyes.

As we walked to the West Herts, we encountered a group of Everton fans piling off a coach at the traffic lights at the junction of Vicarage Road so that they could visit the Oddfellows.  When one started a chorus of “Hi ho Silva lining”, I remembered that this was a grudge match.  When we met up with our pre-match crew, Elaine was there without her Everton-supporting husband in tow.  “He’s banned.  He couldn’t get a ticket in the away end and I wouldn’t give him his Fan ID.”  Brilliant!

Doucoure on the ball

The main talking point surrounding the Watford team selection focused on the goalkeeping position.  With Gomes back from injury would Gracia grant him an immediate return to the starting XI or keep faith with Karnezis who has been performing well and has certainly overcome the doubts raised by his performance when he came on as substitute at Goodison Park?  When the team was announced, Karnezis was indeed retained, Gracia’s only change was to bring in Pereyra for Zeegelaar.  So, the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Mariappa, Prödl, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Deulofeu, Pereyra, Richarlison; Deeney.  I must say that I was very pleased indeed to see Femenía named among the substitutes.  We have missed him.

Despite the forecast of bitter cold, I had left home without a scarf.  I agonised about buying a new one as the scarf that I wore at Goodison Park had never been seen at a game before and we all know what happened that afternoon.  But it was far too cold to do without, so I took the risk.

Before kick-off, the 1881 launched streamers into the Rookery.  With the flags also out in force I am sure that it was a great spectacle for those watching on television.

Pereyra and Deulofeu preparing for a free kick

The first half-chance of the game came from an Everton free-kick which fell for Niasse, who failed to connect and the chance was lost.  Watford’s first chance came from a corner which fell to Doucouré whose shot was way off target.  Everton threatened again as Niasse tried to sneak the ball in from a narrow angle, but Karnezis was alert and blocked the attempt.  The next chance for the visitors fell to Sigurdsson, but his shot was soft and straight at Karnezis.  There were howls for a yellow/red card as Keane put in a rather robust challenge on Doucouré, but the referee waved play on.  Than a dangerous looking cross from the visitors was dealt with by a wonderful header from Mariappa.  Watford should have done better after launching a dangerous looking break, but Deulofeu’s shot was blocked and Capoue’s follow-up was high and wide.  And that was it for the first half.  It had been a remarkably dull game with most of the excitement of the first half deriving from having to fight off streamers that had detached themselves from the roof.

Okaka and Prodl challenging at a corner

At half time, Academy Day at Vicarage Road was marked with the under 9s being put through their paces before parading around the ground.  We also had Under 23 player Andrew Eleftheriou talking about his progression through the academy and stressing the need for hard work.

The second half started brightly and there was an early chance for the Hornets as a corner reached Prödl, but his header was over the target.  There was danger from the visitors as a cross from Walcott found Keane unmarked, but his header flew wide, much to my relief.  Given some of the tackles that had passed without caution in the first half, it was a little surprising that the first card of the game went to Capoue for a challenge on Walcott that was clumsy rather than malicious.  Watford had a decent chance to open the scoring as a lovely cross from Pereyra was met by the head of Deeney, but Pickford was able to gather.  Just before the hour mark, Gracia made his first changes as Pereyra and Richarlison made way for Okaka and Femenía.  At the same time, Tosun replaced Niasse for the visitors.  I must admit that I can’t help but feel sad when Richarlison is replaced, but it was immediately apparent that the substitutes made a difference.  On a day when we were celebrating the return from injury of a couple of players, it was frustrating to see Deulofeu go down needing treatment.  He came back on, but his first attempt at a run resulted in him dropping to the ground again and he had to be replaced by Carrillo, who is now a bottle blond.

Femenia congratulating Deeney

The first caution for Everton was earned by Gueye who took down Okaka as he tried to break.  The next goal chance fell to Rooney, who tried a volley from the edge of the box, thankfully he didn’t make a good contact and the ball flew over the target.  This was followed by a lovely move from the Hornets which finished with a cross from Okaka that went begging.  Soon after, a cross from Femenía was cleared only as far as Capoue, but his shot was off target.  Then a clearance from Pickford hit Deeney and rebounded to Femenía whose shot needed a decent save from the Everton keeper to keep it out.  But the Hornets were not to be denied as Femenía broke forward and fed Okaka who crossed for Deeney who powered an absolute beast of a shot past Pickford.  It was one of those moments when I love sitting behind the goal as that ball was coming straight for us as we rose as one to celebrate.  Allardyce immediately made a couple of changes replacing Rooney and Sigurdsson with Calvert-Lewin and Bolasie.  But it was Watford who continued to attack as Holebas went on a terrific run up the wing, he played in Okaka who beat a defender before shooting but Pickford was able to make the save.  As the clock ticked down, the Hornets were looking to keep the ball in the corner, but this is always a risky tactic and, needless to say, the visitors launched one last attack and won a corner.  I heard “Here we go,” from behind me which matched my thoughts and fears exactly.  Pickford went up to join the attack and there was an almighty scramble in the Watford box and, as Karnezis dropped to make a save, I thought the ball had gone in, so was mightily relieved when I realised that the Watford keeper had smothered the ball and the three points had gone to the Hornets.

Deulofeu ready to take a corner

There was an almighty roar at the final whistle and much celebration as the players did their lap of honour.  As always, Deeney was the last to reach the Rookery and was given a well-deserved hero’s welcome.  We left the ground with smiles on our faces and Elton’s “I guess that’s why They Call it the Blues” ringing in our ears!

The post match consensus was that it had been a terrible game, but a great three points.  Watford ended the day in 10th place (back in the top half) and, while we are only 6 points off the relegation zone, you have to think that the win has ensured safety for this season.  It was a match of little quality, but Watford made the majority of the chances that there were and just about deserved the win based on the second half performance.  I blow hot and cold with Okaka, but he was`excellent, making forward moves when many of his team mates were happy to pass sideways and backwards.  He provided the assist for Deeney, as well as nearly scoring a second.  It was also wonderful to see Femenía back on the pitch.  He certainly showed why we have missed him.

With West Brom the visitors next week, I have that sinking feeling about a banana skin, but there is certainly a new spirit around the club, so I hope that the players show what they can do.  Another three points will certainly calm a lot of nerves and allow us to enjoy the end of the season.

 

Pitiful Performance against Palace

On Tuesday, I was lucky enough to spend a cracking evening listening to Luther Blissett, Tony Coton, Sean Dyche and Paul Wilkinson reminiscing with Adam Leventhal in Tales from the Vicarage.  As well as the anecdotes, there were some interesting musings on modern football, especially the penchant for diving.  Coton said that, in his day, cheats would be called out by their team mates as well as the opposition.  An interesting thought going into an afternoon with Wilfried Zaha.

As if to punish me for having such a great time, I woke up the next morning with a nasty case of vertigo, which has plagued me for the rest of the week.  As I left home to walk to the station for the journey to Selhurst Park, I was a little unsteady and wondered whether I should stay at home but, since this was our only game in three weeks, I certainly wasn’t going to miss it.

As it was a London game, the City ‘Orns were allowed a block booking of tickets, so we duly met in Croydon for our pre-match drinks.  Whenever two or three (or twelve) football fans are gathered together, the conversation often turns to superstitions and we soon discovered that a number of our group were wearing their “lucky socks”, although the evidence that these articles of clothing were actually lucky was almost as scanty as the shorts that Paul Wilkinson brought along on Tuesday.

Britos takes a throw

Team news was that Mazzarri had made two changes with Cathcart and Janmaat coming in for Holebas and Okaka.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Behrami; Janmaat, Cleverley, Capoue, Niang; and Deeney.

The first incident of the game involved Cathcart stopping a run by Zaha on the edge of the Watford box, allowing the Palace man to take a tumble in the area.  Needless to say, the home fans were yelling for a penalty, while the away fans were berating him for diving.  The first action resembling a goal attempt came from the home side as Sakho headed a Cabaye corner over the bar.  The Hornets fashioned a much better chance as Niang advanced before taking a shot, but it was straight at Hennessey in the Palace goal.  That was it for the first half hour of the game.  The next thing that I deemed worthy of noting down was a chant of “You wrecked your own bus” from the Watford crowd following the report that the Middlesbrough team bus that was covered in Palace graffiti on their visit to Selhurst Park had been loaned from their hosts.  Palace’s best chance of the game so far came on 36 minutes as Zaha advanced down the left, his cross was headed clear by Kaboul, but only as far as Cabaye whose shot was deflected for a corner.

Niang and Deeney looking for the ball

The first caution of the game went to Cleverley for a late foul on Zaha.  A nice passing move between Zaha and Townsend led to a cross that was headed clear by Britos under challenge by Sakho.  Soon after, the ball fell to Zaha on the edge of the box, but his shot was well over the target.  The visitors had the last chance of the half as a header from Janmaat dropped to Behrami whose volley was high and wide.

The whistle went to end a dreadful half of football.  Watford had dominated the early part of the game, with the hosts coming into it towards half time, but the only shot on target had been the tame effort from Niang and most of the entertainment was coming from the stands.  During the half time entertainment, t-shirts were thrown into the crowd.  A number in the away end chose to throw them back.  A poor move as one young lad who opened his was soon sporting a “Cult Heroes” shirt with Luther’s face on it.  Although, after that first half, to remind us of the team of the early 80s was rubbing salt in the wound.

Capoue, Doucoure and Amrabat waiting for a Britos throw

Mazzarri was forced into a substitution at the start of the second half bringing Doucouré on to replace Behrami, who had been struggling with an injury.  The first chance of the second half fell to the visitors as Capoue launched a shot from distance over the bar.  Just before the hour mark, there was a frission of excitement in the away end as Amrabat appeared to be getting ready to come on.  The tension mounted and dissenting voices were heard as he was sent on a warm up run down the touchline.  But, finally, he donned a white shirt and entered the field of play in place of Janmaat who had had an absolute mare.  Zaha was lucky to escape a caution as his reaction to being dispossessed by Prödl was to knock the Austrian to the ground.  There was a scare for the Hornets as Britos gave the ball away, not for the first time, Townsend crossed for Zaha but, yet again, the shot was over the bar.  Palace took the lead on 68 minutes.  Due to the sightlines at Selhurst Park when the crowd are standing, I didn’t see either the incident that led to the goal or the strike that beat Gomes, but I am reliably informed that Prödl fouled Zaha (a tactical move that earned him a yellow card), Cabaye took the free kick and, as Deeney attempted to head clear, the ball went in off the post.  So Palace had managed to take the lead in a game in which they hadn’t had a shot on target.

Kaboul

Watford had a great chance to equalize as Doucouré hit a shot from distance that Hennessey just managed to tip around the post for a corner.  At this point Jacque leaned over and suggested a ritual burning of our lucky socks, which had let us down very badly on this occasion.  Mazzarri made another popular substitution bringing on Success, although many around me were questioning why Cleverley had been the man to make way.  My feeling was that Tom had been becoming increasingly frustrated and was a foul away from a second yellow.  Others saw it as a tactical move as he changed the formation.  Anyhow, the next attack came from the home team as Benteke ran half the length of the pitch before sending a dreadful shot well wide of the target.  Palace had a much better chance as Britos lost the ball, again, Cathcart came to the rescue blocking a shot from Zaha, but the rebound reached Cabaye who shot wide.  Another decent chance to equalize came to nothing as Niang did really well to get into the box but, instead of playing a square ball to one of his teammates, opted to cut the ball back to an area populated with Palace defenders.  As the clock reached 90 minutes Doucouré fed Success inside the area, I just wanted one of them to try a shot, but it wasn’t to be as they were smothered by the Palace defence and the ball rolled out for a goal kick.  There was one final chance to grab a point in the last minute of time added on as Hennessey came out to deal with a high cross towards Deeney in the box, he collided with the Watford man, the ball fell to Niang, but his shot just cleared the bar and the points stayed in South London.

Doucoure and Britos

The away crowd had been getting increasingly irate throughout the game and a number of fans gathered at the front of the stand to make their feelings known to the players.  Unfortunately the two who were applauding the crowd when the volley of abuse was aimed their way were Cathcart, who had done pretty well against Zaha, and Prödl, who was also pretty blameless and looked far from impressed at the reception.

It had been an appalling game.  Palace were dreadful and were there for the taking, but we didn’t test them at all.  I had high hopes when both Amrabat and Success came on, but each time I was disappointed.  I was just thankful that, even with a diverted train, it was a fairly easy journey home.  This season is becoming increasingly frustrating.  We have a very talented group of players at our disposal who have no excuses for putting in a lacklustre performance against such a poor side.  We can only be grateful that there are some truly awful teams in this division.  One of those is up next at Vicarage Road.  We have to be expect much better from that game or the post-match threats from some in our party only to turn up for the pre-match pints and forego the actual game may well come to pass.

Ton Up Troy

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

Christmas was spent with family, so we travelled en masse to the early kick-off on Boxing Day.  The roads were surprisingly empty but as we got nearer to the ground, the crowds were gathering and the pulses quickened.

Despite Palace’s poor performances this season, the news that Pardew had been replaced by Allardyce was not what we needed going in to this game and I approached it with low expectations.

The main team news was that Deeney had been named on the bench, with Janmaat taking his place in a front three.  Mazzarri’s other change was to bring Guedioura in for Zúñiga.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Capoue, Behrami, Guedioura; Amrabat, Ighalo and Janmaat.

Challenging for the ball

Challenging for the ball

Mazzarri’s game plan was scuppered in the first couple of minutes as Janmaat picked up an injury while tackling Zaha and was stretchered off to be replaced by Zúñiga.  I was gratified to see that a good number of the Palace fans joined us in applauding Janmaat off the pitch.  There was an early scare for the Hornets when Zaha, who was booed from the start by the Watford fans, was tripped by Guedioura in a dangerous position.  I held my breath as Clattenburg pointed to where the offence was committed but could breathe again when he confirmed that it was outside the box.   Thankfully, the free kick did not trouble Gomes.  There were more injury woes for the Hornets on 13 minutes as Behrami went down holding his hamstring.  He was replaced by Deeney, whose first touch was a lovely ball to Ighalo, but the Nigerian’s cross was blocked.  There was nothing in the way of notable chances before the 24th minute when Prödl tackled Benteke on the edge of the box, the ball broke to Cabaye whose shot was just wide of the near post.  The Palace man was more successful in the next move, Townsend broke forward and played a lovely through ball to Cabaye, who looked a mile offside when he slotted home, but our hopes were dashed as the linesman kept his flag down and the visitors took the lead.  Cabaye also had the next chance with a shot that was well wide of the near post.

Etienne Capoue on the ball

Etienne Capoue on the ball

Watford’s first meaningful chance of the game came on the half hour as Holebas played the ball out to Guedioura who shot wide of the far post.  Another chance came Watford’s way when Ighalo was tripped on the edge of the box, the ball fell to Amrabat but his cross-cum-shot hit Zúñiga and ran through to Hennessey.  The home side looked to be the architects of their own downfall on 36 minutes as Prödl played a terrible back pass to Gomes, Benteke ran on to it and was tripped by the Watford keeper.  The referee had no choice but to point to the spot.  Benteke stepped up to take the penalty himself and, with the Rookery doing their best to put him off, hit a terrible shot that was easily saved by Gomes on his 100th appearance for the club.  Boos greeted the half time whistle.  It had been a very poor half from the Hornets who had created next to nothing.  Salt was rubbed into the wound by the half time entertainment, which was a montage of goals on the big screen.  As I watched it, I despaired that the same players were now incapable of hitting a barn door.

Celebrating Troy's 100th Goal

Celebrating Troy’s 100th Goal

The Hornets made a much better start to the second half but the lively play didn’t translate into many chances.  The first was a shot from distance from Guedioura that flew wide of the far post.  Then Prödl played a ball the length of the pitch, Ighalo latched onto it in the box, but could only shoot wide of the near post.  The next chance fell to Zúñiga, as a Prödl free kick was headed down to him by Deeney, but he shot into Row ZZ, so I didn’t have to duck.  Amrabat went on a lovely run and crossed to the opposite wing where Zúñiga picked the ball up, but his cross was blocked.  Then Watford got the break that they needed as, at a corner, Prödl was dragged to the ground by Delaney and Mark Clattenburg pointed to the spot.  The significance of the penalty award was not lost on anyone in the Rookery as Deeney picked up the ball and the tension grew.  Trevor in the row in front said he didn’t have a good feeling about this.  “Shut up, Cassandra!”  Our Cate wasn’t sure she could look.  I was just concentrating on the man with the ball muttering a mantra, “Come on Troy. Come on Troy.”  Deeney kissed the ball and placed it on the spot, sent Hennessey the wrong way and the Rookery into raptures as he finally scored his hundredth goal for the Hornets.  It had been a long time coming, but it was richly deserved as he had worked incredibly hard since he came on.

Congratulations to Troy on his milestone

Congratulations to Troy on his milestone

The visitors tried to hit back as Puncheon took a free kick, but it was headed over the target by Dann.  A Palace substitution saw former Watford loanee Jordon Mutch replace a less fondly remembered loanee, Andros Townsend.  There was a rare moment of quality as Zúñiga played a clever back heel to Guedioura whose cross was met with a flick header from Ighalo that was easily gathered by Hennessey.  Mazzarri’s final substitution saw Sinclair come on for Zúñiga.  The next action of note was Zaha going down in the Watford box, my heart sank and then swelled when I saw the referee indicate a Watford free kick and brandish a yellow card at the Palace man.  The final chance of the game came with a lovely bit of ball juggling from Guedioura, but his volley was saved by Hennessey and the game finished with honours even.

A draw was probably a fair result.  The visitors had the best of the first half, but the Hornets had been the better team in the second.  The game would probably have been very different had Watford’s starting XI lasted a bit longer, but there was a great deal of frustration at the lack of service to the forwards.  Amrabat and Holebas have been two of our better performers this season but they managed one decent cross into the box between them.  One positive for me was that there were some indications of a revival of the understanding between Deeney and Ighalo.  But when I start fretting about recent results, I look at the table and marvel at the fact that we will finish the year in 10th place in the Premier League so, despite some awful performances, we are doing something right.

Goodbye Señor Flores and Thank-you

Deeney apologises to girl in the Rookery

Deeney apologises to girl in the Rookery

At the start of the season, I doubt that any Watford fan would have believed that if we came into the last game of the season with nothing to play for, it would be because we had already secured safety.  This should have been a reason for celebration.  But the excitement of the first half of the season has been contrasted with a rather dull second half.  It seemed that, once we hit 37 points, the players switched off.  Despite that, Flores made few changes and often played players out of position, although I would argue that he chose his best team as, when alternatives were drafted in, they rarely added anything (apart from the odd Berghuis cameo).  It has to be said that when the transfer window came and went with no competition brought in for Ighalo and Deeney, and an embarrassment of riches in central midfield, the second half of the season was rather inevitable.  But the sad consequence of this was that, after stories emerged before the semi-final casting the future of Flores into question, it was finally announced on Friday that he would be leaving the club at the end of the season.  Despite the fact that this announcement was expected and that I was still annoyed after the non-performance at Norwich, this news upset me greatly.  Pre match discussions indicated a split in opinion among the fans regarding the departure of our head coach.  However everyone wished Flores well and wanted to give him a good send off.

There was some idle speculation that Flores would go for broke in the last game, but I found it rather reassuring that he stuck with his usual suspects.  He had made three changes from Norwich with Prödl, Aké and Guedioura in for Nyom, Anya and Suárez and was playing Cathcart at right back.  So, the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Prödl, Britos, Cathcart, Jurado, Watson, Guedioura, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo.

When I arrived at the ground, my sister told me that Deeney had been in the crowd near them.  A ball that he had kicked in the warm-up had hit a young girl so immediately he came into the stand to make sure she was OK and give her a shirt.  A really lovely thing to do.

Cathcart challenged

Cathcart challenged

Pre-match there were 1881 banners for Quique, Gino Pozzo and Troy Deeney, but I still don’t know which one was over my head.  The crowd were enthusiastically chanting for Flores, which was very pleasing.

There was a wonderful move early in the game involving Deeney, Ighalo and Abdi which finished with Almen shooting just wide of the far post.  Soon after Jurado found Ighalo who just missed the target.  Abdi threatened again, evading defenders while dribbling along the top of the box before curling a shot wide.  From a corner, Prödl’s header was blocked, the ball broke to Abdi but, again, the shot was blocked.  Jurado then tried his luck with a shot from distance that was caught by Pickford in the Sunderland goal.  Sunderland’s first venture into the Watford box came on the half hour and was nearly a disaster for the Hornets as a cross from Watmore was met by Britos who turned it over the bar when it looked as though he may have threatened Gomes in goal.  Ighalo received a ball from Abdi before executing a trademark scoop but, sadly, he shot wide of the far post.  Abdi had a shot blocked before Ake’s follow-up was saved by Pickford.  There were shouts for a penalty as Ighalo was wrestled in the box, but nothing was given.

Deeney on the ball

Deeney on the ball

As we reached the last 10 minutes of the first half, Sunderland had their first real chance of the game as Rodwell shot just wide of the far post.  The visitors took the lead a couple of minutes later as Prödl slipped allowing Lens to shoot, Gomes pulled off a decent save, but the ball wasn’t cleared and Lens was able to cross for Rodwell to tap in at the far post.  It seemed unfair for the Hornets to go behind following Sunderland’s first real shot of the game and it nearly got worse a couple of minutes later as Watmore latched on to a through ball from N’Doye and finished under Gomes but, thankfully the linesman had raised the flag for offside.  At this point the Sunderland fans were chanting “Leicester City, we’re coming for you.”  We seemed to want to put ourselves in trouble as Jurado gave the ball away and N’Doye went on a run but he was stopped by a great tackle from Prödl.  There were boos at half time, which was harsh as Watford had dominated all but the last 10 minutes of the half.

At half time, there was a very emotional presentation as Gina Van Dort, who survived the Tunisia terrorist attack in which her husband, Chris Dyer, was killed, made an appearance on the pitch.  Her words were read out by Tim.  She said that this was her first game of the season and she was determined to make it as she had attended a game every season since she and Chris became season ticket holders.  This was their wedding anniversary and they have a brick in the lower GT stand that commemorates the date.  She appreciated all the support that had been given to her since the attack.  She then said a few words of thanks herself and was greeted with a tremendous ovation for her bravery.

Congratulating Proedl

Congratulating Proedl

Flores made a trademark substitution at half time bringing Paredes on for Cathcart.  The Hornets equalized three minutes into the half as a corner from Guedioura was headed home by Prödl.  A cracking strike just in front of us, which cheered us up no end.  Sadly the good mood in the home stands was short lived as Deeney was flattened following a corner, play was waved on and the counter attack finished with Watmore finding Lens who finished past Gomes to restore the lead for the visitors.  Watford came close to getting an equaliser soon after as Aké unleashed a shot that had to be tipped to safety by Pickford.  From the corner Britos headed just over the bar.  Then Jurado found himself in space but his shot was awful.  The Spaniard turned provider as he cut the ball back to Guedioura who shot over.  There was another scare for the Hornets as a free-kick was headed home by N’Doye but, again, it was disallowed for offside.  Watford’s fortunes improved when Paredes crossed for Deeney, he headed the ball back to Jurado who was sandwiched between two defenders and the referee pointed to the spot.  Having learned my lesson at West Ham, I put my camera away as Deeney stepped up and was delighted to see him send Pickford the wrong way as he buried the ball to the keeper’s left.

Ighalo congratulates Deeney after the penalty

Ighalo congratulates Deeney after the penalty

Watford’s second substitution saw Abdi make way for Suárez.  There was a very promising move by the Hornets as Jurado intercepted and played a lovely through ball for Deeney who was tripped on the edge of the box.  Kevin Friend consulted his linesman and waved play on.  A terrible decision.  While there was a break in play due to an injury to Yedlin, Troy went to pick up a water bottle from the side of the pitch and seemed to be having a discussion with the lino about recent decisions.  The Rookery helpfully sang ‘Knock him out.’  Troy laughed and shook his head.  After play restarted, Jurado released Aké whose cross was too close to the keeper.  The only booking of the game went to Guedioura for a clumsy challenge on Honeyman.  With 10 minutes to go, Flores brought Amrabat on for Jurado, who left the field to cheers after putting in a good performance.  Suárez had a chance to take the lead for the Hornets, but his shot was well over.  Ighalo battled well on one flank to keep the ball before crossing for Guedioura who also beat a couple of players before putting in a really disappointing shot.  Sunderland had a good chance to regain the lead, but Gomes came off his line to stop Watmore.  Watford looked the most likely to steal the three points in the final minutes but were unable to test the keeper.  The best chance came when Suárez found Ighalo in the middle of the box, but his first touch was poor, and when he turned and shot there was a Sunderland defender in the way.  There was a final chance when Watson found Guedioura, but his volley was wild and way off target.

Goodbye and Thank you, Senor Flores

Goodbye and Thank you, Senor Flores

The final whistle went signalling a draw in an entertaining game.  It would have been nice to send Flores off with a win, but the draw meant that we retained 13th position.  When we had our prediction competition at the start of the season, my entry was 15th, but that was me being ultra-positive.  We waited behind to cheer the players on their lap of honour.  For a few weeks now, people have been asking whether Flores was waving goodbye at the end of the game.  He does that every week but, on this occasion, he was waving goodbye, which saddened me greatly.  But you couldn’t help wondering who else had been seen for the last time in a Watford shirt.  Certainly, as Deeney videoed the crowd singing his name, I couldn’t help but wonder if he would be on his way.  The final word at Vicarage Road this season went to Troy who said, “This is all about these guys <the fans> and the gaffer.”  That sums it up for me.  This has been an incredible season of ups and downs.  There are moments I will never forget with the home games against Liverpool and West Ham and the FA Cup tie at Arsenal being high on that list.  It is very sad that the season has ended on such a low note, but I am still eagerly writing the pre-season games into my calendar.  When are the fixtures out??!!

 

A Snowy Day in Sunderland

A distraction on the stairs to the away end

A distraction on the stairs to the away end

This game was the first that I looked for when the fixture list came out as it would be my only opportunity to visit a new ground in the league.  Most of my away travelling was done in the late 80s and in the last 10 years, so I have not previously had an opportunity to go to the Stadium of Light.  My abiding memory of a game away to Sunderland is of sitting in a hotel room in San Diego looking at a stunning view of the Pacific with tears running down my face as I wished I was in Sunderland with my sister for the FA Cup game with the twice taken Tommy Smith penalty.

I had booked a ridiculously early train to Sunderland via Newcastle and thought I would probably be alone, but that was far from the case as I saw a number of yellow clad people at Kings Cross.  I had arranged to meet the Hebden/Bradford massive for pre-match drinks in Newcastle, but arrived too early for the pub of choice to be open so I went for a walk into town until the cold rain drove me into an alternative hostelry for an early lunch.  At opening time, I headed across the road to join the queue (of 3) to get in and grab a comfy berth.  Needless to say, it was considerably quieter than when Newcastle are at home, but all the locals were friendly and wished us a lovely afternoon and to leave Sunderland with 3 points.  The pub had a proper record player on the bar on which they started playing some Christmas tunes, but soon got bored and reverted to some 60s classics, which made me very happy indeed.

The pre-match huddle

The pre-match huddle

The trip up to Newcastle had been in rain but, as we left the pub to get the metro to Sunderland, thick snowflakes were falling and there was some questioning of whether the game could be in jeopardy, the conclusion being that undersoil heating meant that was unlikely.  After entering the Stadium of Light we found several flights of stairs to an away end that is not quite as high as Newcastle’s but not far off.  The trip up was made easier by the entertainment provided by a string of football related quotes.  For Watford interest, there were references to GT, Ronnie Rosenthal and Jason Lee.  It made me smile through the exhaustion.

Team news was that there was one change from the win against Norwich as Abdi came in for Anya.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.

 

Celebrating Ighalo's goal

Celebrating Ighalo’s goal

Watford had the perfect start to the game, taking the lead after 4 minutes.  In real time, I thought that Ighalo had missed Nyom’s cross and the keeper had turned it in, but I was doing Odion a grave disservice as the ball had been poked goalwards and what I saw was it going through the goalie’s legs.  Whoever had provided the final touch, it was Ighalo’s battling presence that led to the goal.  Happily there was some early bouncing in the away end.  Watford continued in this positive manner as a cross from Aké dropped to Abdi, whose shot was blocked for a corner.  I am still shaking my head at why the next passage of play didn’t result in a goal.  Ighalo got into the box and beat O’Shea before hitting a shot that was blocked, his follow-up appeared to be going in but was cleared off the line, then Abdi tried a shot that was blocked, finally Jurado’s shot hit the post.  There were heads in hands in the away end.  We had started the game very well.  Apart from the goal, the lads had been playing the ball around in a very composed manner.  It was looking very impressive, but why weren’t we two up?!  The home side had their first shot on goal in the 14th minute, but it didn’t trouble Gomes as Jones wellied the ball high and wide.  Their next chance came soon after and was much more dangerous.  Deeney lost the ball to M’Vila who played a lovely ball to Borini, but his shot flew wide of the far post.  Sunderland made an early tactical substitution replacing Yedlin with Rodwell.

Watson and Capoue all smiles as our midfield generals

Watson and Capoue all smiles as our midfield generals

Watford’s impressive play continued with a lovely cross-field passing move which resulted in Nyom having the ball in space on the right, he started to advance upfield but got bored and launched a shot from a mile out that was well over the target.  I love you, Allan, but Why???  Ighalo nicked the ball in the midfield and passed to Abdi who crossed for Capoue whose curling shot required a good save from Pantilimon.  Then Abdi lost the ball in midfield, but he and Watson were soon back to snuff out the danger.  Another dangerous break by Sunderland was briefly interrupted as Aké was back to block the cross for a corner.  Gomes came to meet the corner, but his punch reached Borini who shot well wide.  The home side had a great chance to equalize just before half time as a M’Vila free-kick appeared to be flying in when Gomes made a really good save to keep it out.  I was puzzled at half-time to see that Sunderland had no shots on target, until I found out that the ball had been flicked on by Britos.  The last action of the half was another chance for the Hornets.  Jurado appeared to be in a good position to shoot, but passed to Deeney who needed time to position himself and shot wide.

At half time, Watford were well worth the lead but there was frustration that we hadn’t got a second goal.

Heurelho Gomes kept us in the game

Heurelho Gomes kept us in the game

The first action of the second half was a shot from van Aanholt that flew wide of the target.  Watford also had an early chance as Ighalo got on the end of a cross from Nyom to head goalwards, Pantilimon made the save, but the flag was up anyway.  The positive part of that move was seeing Ighalo beat his man, as he had spent a lot of the first half being frustrated by the attentions of the Sunderland players.  At the other end a Cathcart clearance only went as far as Fletcher, but the Irishman redeemed himself getting into position to block the shot.  Gomes was then on hand to punch a shot from Rodwell.   There was another substitution for Sunderland as former Watford loanee, Adam Johnson, came on to replace Borini.  He was booed by many in the away end and then received sustained abuse relating to his upcoming trial.  The only yellow card of the game went to Rodwell who was booked for a nasty tackle on Watson.  Just after the hour mark, the home side’s decision to take a free kick quickly backfired as the ball was passed straight to Ighalo but the Nigerian was knocked over before he could do any harm and the referee, who I credit with letting the game flow, didn’t see a foul.

Ake on the ball

Ake on the ball

Rodwell got the ball on the edge of the Watford box but his shot was high and wide.  The home side took a very poor corner and the ball broke to Ighalo, who went haring up field but the break came to nothing as he played a poor pass towards Nyom.  Watford’s first substitution saw Guedioura come on to replace Abdi.  The nerves in the away end became even more frayed as Allardyce made his final substitution replacing Fletcher with Defoe.  He almost made an immediate impact as he latched on to a through ball from Johnson and fired it past Gomes.  Thankfully the linesman raised his flag and the goal was disallowed.  Flores made a second substitution replacing Jurado with Anya.  New graduate, Watmore, came close to scoring an equalizer with a shot that curled just wide.  Watford broke forward again as Aké released Ighalo, but a defender was snapping at his heels as he ran into the box, which was enough to put him off his shot so Pantilimon was able to block.  At the other end, Gomes was called in to action pulling off a great diving save to keep out a shot from Defoe.

Jurado on the attack

Jurado on the attack

With 10 minutes remaining, Capoue released Ighalo but Coates got back to block his shot.  Despite the early goal, it was looking like it just wasn’t Odion’s day.  At the other end, a cross from van Aanholt was touched just wide by Defoe to the great relief of those in the upper tier behind the goal.  Gomes then added to the jangling nerves by delaying picking up a ball into the box, he didn’t see the Sunderland player approaching and ended up having to grab it.  Watford nearly killed the game off as Anya played the ball back to Guedioura who hit a lovely curling shot that was pushed clear.  There was another assault on the Watford goal that finished with Johnson shooting wide of the far post.  Then Guedioura advanced down the wing and played the ball back to Capoue who moved it on to Deeney whose shot was deflected for a corner.  As we approached time added on, it baffled me to see so many Sunderland fans leaving.  I was far from confident that we would win the game.  There was a final scramble in the Watford box that finished with a block from Gomes and then Watson making a strong clearance.  The final attack of the game came from the visitors as Deeney released Ighalo, who appeared to be a mile offside, but we were not to have another late goal as the shot was saved.  When the final whistle went, it was clear that the relief on the pitch matched that in the stands.

On the way out of the ground most of the conversation was about how Deeney and Ighalo had both had off days.  There had been plenty of positives about the performance but the two of them seemed to be muscled out of the game.  That was followed by the reflection that successful teams are those who win when they are not at their best.  The third stage was the grins as we reflected that we were seventh in the table and had already exceeded our points total from 99/00 after 15 games.  When my friend showed me the table at the end of the game, my initial reaction was that the table at 5pm on Saturday can be misleading.  I am writing this after the games on Sunday and we are still seventh and go into the Liverpool game above them in the table (and above Everton, West Ham and Chelsea).  Wow, just wow!!  We now go into a difficult run of games, but we can go into them with some hope of points and, if the worst happens, we have a decent cushion to tide us over.  Who knew the Premier League could be fun!