Tag Archives: Sam Baldock

The Youngsters Shine Against the Royals

So good to see Chalobah back from injury

I was rather pleased when the draw for the second round of the League Cup gave us a trip to Reading as it is almost a home game for me.  Even more so when the game was scheduled for Wednesday evening as I was already planning to work from home due to a dental check-up in Maidenhead in the afternoon.  I always have a chat about football with my dentist, who is really an Arsenal fan but used to be a Reading Season Ticket holder who gave up going because the team were hopeless.  We chatted about the game and he warned that they may cause us problems.  I assured him that, given our recent history in this cup, I was taking nothing for granted.  Once he gave me the all clear, I was on my way to Reading where I was in the pre-match pub far too early, although not as early as the chap in the Watford shirt who was already sitting in the corner.  I bought myself a lovely real cider and then found a little booth to hide away in and wait for the rest of my party who arrived in due course.

On arrival at the ground, the bag search was being undertaken by a woman whose main concern seemed to be to find some goodies that could be shared with her.  It always makes the day a bit nicer when the stewards have a sense of humour.  As our pre-match pub is excellent for beer but doesn’t serve food, I had a chicken balti pie inside the ground that I have to say was very good indeed.  While waiting for kick-off, Sweet Caroline was played which apparently is a Reading favourite but made me a little homesick for Fenway Park.

Prodl lines up a free kick

Team news was that Gracia had made 11 changes with debuts for Navarro, Masina, Wilmot and Quina and the return of Chalobah, so the starting line-up was Gomes; Navarro, Mariappa, Prödl, Masina; Femenía, Chalobah, Wilmot, Quina, Sema; Success.  I have to say that looked like a pretty decent team.  Reading had also made 8 changes, but the main Watford connection with the opposition was in the dug out in the person of Sir Nigel Gibbs.

The first chance of the game came from a Navarro free kick from distance that was an easy save for Walker in the Reading goal.  Early in the game there was a switch in formation to three at the back with Wilmot in the middle and Navarro and Masina playing as wing backs.  Watford’s next chance also came from a free kick from Chalobah that just cleared the bar.  From a corner, Femenía played the ball back into the box where it was parried and fell to Mariappa whose shot was blocked before Wilmot tried a cheeky back heel that was cleared.  Young Wilmot was having an impressive start and he was soon in action at the other end of the pitch cutting out a dangerous ball into the box.  The first chance for the home side came in the 23rd minute as Watford failed to clear a cross into their box allowing McNulty to volley over the bar.  Then Watford launched a great break, Success got to the byline and put in a low cross, but nobody was there to take advantage.  Soon after, a corner from Sema reached Femenía who played it in to Success whose shot missed the target.  He wasn’t to make the same mistake a minute later as Masina played the ball back to him, he took one touch and then finished past Walker.  Reading had a chance to break back from a free kick which was launched over the wall, but Gomes dropped to make an easy catch.  So Watford reached half time a goal to the good and looking uncharacteristically comfortable.

Celebrating Quina’s magnificent strike

Reading made a change at the break bringing Sims on for Swift.  The second half started with a decent chance for the Hornets.  After a fast break, Navarro crossed for Success who headed just over the bar.  Soon after, the Watford striker had another chance to increase the lead, this time from a Masina cross, but he nodded wide.  The travelling Hornets were in good voice and a lovely bit of skill from Quina was greeted with an appreciative chorus of “sexy football”.  There was a decent chance to get a second as Chalobah played a lovely ball for Femenía to run on to, but the shot was blocked by the Reading keeper.  The second Watford goal was a thing of beauty, the ball was cleared to Quina outside the box, he advanced a couple of steps and then took the advice of the bloke standing behind me who was yelling ‘hit it’ and powered a rocket into the top corner.  It was quite a strike. There were changes for both sides soon after as Baldock and former Watford youngster Yiadom came on for O’Shea and Richards for the home side.  For the Hornets, Sema made way for Okaka.  The Watford substitute had an immediate chance to get on the score sheet as he got on the end of a looping cross from Femenía, but his glancing header was wide of the target.  There was a rare chance for the home side as a ball dropped to Kelly inside the box, but he hit it over the bar.  Quina’s enjoyable debut came to an end as he was replaced by Doucouré.  He looked shattered as he left to field to an ovation from the travelling Hornets.  Watford were still pushing to extend their lead as a shot from Navarro was pushed over the bar.  At the other end McNulty lobbed Gomes, but Mariappa was back to clear the ball.  Reading threatened again with a decent shot from distance from Méïté, but Gomes was down to make the save.  Watford’s final change saw Hughes come on for Chalobah, it was so great to see him back in action and managing almost 90 minutes.  Reading had one last chance to reduce the deficit from a free kick, but the shot was easily caught by Gomes.

Gomes back in goal

So, in the end, it was a convincing and comfortable win for the Hornets.  The second string put in a very good performance which gives a pleasing indication of the strength of the squad.  Of the new guys, Wilmot was the most impressive, looking very assured in the middle of the back three.  The other youngster, Quina, made some lovely touches and his goal was a worldie.  These two look to have very promising futures.  It was also a delight to see Chalobah back on the pitch and putting in a great shift for almost the entire 90 minutes.  He was beaming as he responded to the chants of “Chalobah, my lord” after the final whistle.

Also, fair play to the 2514 fans who travelled to the game.  It is not a long journey but, given our recent record in this competition, they would have travelled more in hope than expectation, so thoroughly deserved that win.

We have Spurs next in both the league and the cup.  I don’t expect anything from either game, but if this team continues to perform as they have so far this season, we are in for a rather enjoyable season.

Silencing the Robins

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

Having left work a little later than was good for my blood pressure as I sat in traffic, I was very surprised on my arrival at the West Herts to find that none of my usual pre-match companions was present.  I went directly to the ground and took my usual seat in the Rookery to find that I was sitting in an acre of space.  I tried not to take these events to heart.  The Rookery did fill up as kick-off approached, but most of those who took the seats around me were unfamiliar faces.  The uninspiring performance in the game at Ashton Gate as well as the prospect of a win potentially treating us to another trip to Eastlands had meant that I was not relishing the prospect of this game.  Clearly this sentiment was widespread among my fellow season ticket holders.

Team news was that Sannino had made seven changes from Saturday.  However, none of the changes was radical and the bench was very experienced, unlike in the original fixture.  The news that gladdened the hearts of every Hornet was that Almen Abdi was named among the substitutes.  After the toss, we changed ends which provoked some disquiet among the superstitious around me.

Watford on the attack

Watford on the attack

The visitors launched an attack in the first minute, Emmanuel-Thomas finding Baldock with a through ball but the shot was straight at Bond.  McGugan had Watford’s first chance, dribbling along the top of the box to get a sight of goal but his shot was also straight at the keeper.  Then a through ball to Deeney was cut out and rebounded to Forestieri who was tackled and took a tumble but the referee waved play on.  At the other end, Moloney broke into the Watford box, but the attentions of a defender put him off and he shot wide of the far post.  Watford broke forward again as McGugan’s back heel reached Deeney, but he was closed down and his shot was blocked.  Baldock should have done better with a Flint header into the box, but his header looped over the bar.  Bond had to be smart

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

soon after as he came to punch a cross from Bryan.  Watford then threatened as Forestieri went on a rampaging run and crossed for McGugan who hit it first time and the ball flew high and wide.  Anya was the next to launch an attack, but his cross was blocked and ricocheted off him for a goal kick while he finished up on the grass behind the goal line.  It didn’t look good, especially when the St John’s Ambulance guys started wheeling the stretcher in his direction, but they were soon doing an impression of the vultures in Bedknobs and Broomsticks as they trudged back disappointed and Anya rejoined the fray.  On 20 minutes, Battocchio dinked a ball over to Forestieri who put a low cross into the box, McGugan dummied, fooling everyone including his own team mates, so the chance went begging.  Soon after, Anya skipped into the box but his shot was blocked.  Then Deeney

Goal!!

Goal!!

headed a McGugan corner past the far post.  It was another McGugan corner that led to the opening goal as the ball was headed out to Faraoni whose shot appeared to bounce off two or three City players before going in to the net.  It wasn’t pretty, but they all count.  Forestieri’s attempt to double the lead soon after resulted in a disappointing shot from the edge of the box that was well over the crossbar.  Into the last five minutes of the half, Emmanuel-Thomas shot from the edge of the area, but his shot was well held by Bond.  Then Anya found Forestieri whose shot was deflected wide.  In the final attack before the break, a lovely City move saw Reid feed Elliott and then get on the end of his cross but shoot agonizingly over.  We were slightly fortunate to be ahead at half-time.

McGugan lines up a free kick

McGugan lines up a free kick

City started the second half brightly as Pack hit a dangerous shot that Bond tipped around the post.  Angella then took advantage of his position on the right of the back three to go on a tremendous forward run and hit a shot that curled just wide of the near post.  Then Faraoni got on the end of a cross from Anya but sent it over the bar.  There were loud calls for a penalty for Bristol City as Osborne played a through ball to Baldock whose low cross bounced off Hall as he went to ground.  The City man turned and appealed passionately that it had hit the defender’s hand, but the officials were about as convinced as those in the Rookery who had a clear view of the incident.  There was a more convincing penalty appeal down the other end as Forestieri appeared to have been thrown to the ground by Flint, but the referee waved appeals away.  Watford doubled their lead soon after as Deeney tried to battle through the City defence, but lost the ball which fell to

McGugan receives the congratulations of his team mates

McGugan receives the congratulations of his team mates

McGugan who made no mistake in shooting past Parish.  There was a good break by McGugan soon after but he maybe should have played Anya in a bit earlier as the Scot had a narrower angle to shoot from and his shot was deflected into the side netting.  From the corner, Faraoni’s cross was punched clear by Parish.  As Watford continued to threaten the City goal, Deeney got the ball in space, but his shot was deflected wide.  Battocchio then received the ball on the edge of the area, the shouts of ‘shooot’ from the Rookery must have gone to his head as he hit the ball straight at Parish.  Then Faraoni found McGugan whose shot was just wide of the target.  With 15 minutes remaining, all attention was focused on the sidelines as the Hornet faithful were treated to the sight of Almen Abdi stripped and ready to come on.  It was a while before the ball went out of play and I have

Abdi waiting to come on

Abdi waiting to come on

never heard such loud cheers for a throw-in.  McGugan was the man who made way.  There was something delightful about seeing Abdi on the field again.  He was immediately in the middle of everything, barking orders and organizing his team mates.  How we have missed him.  His first few touches were greeted with enthusiastic cheers from the crowd and then an ironic boo as he horribly misplaced a pass.  But it wasn’t all about Abdi as Deeney went on a run and shot straight at Parish.  City had been quiet in this period of the game but, when Bryan tried to break, he was stopped by a sliding tackle from Angella that earned the Italian a yellow card.  With 10 minutes to go, Abdi latched on to a ball and passed to Battocchio who found Forestieri in the box but his shot was dreadful and

Battocchio dispossessed

Battocchio dispossessed

well wide of the near post.  The frustration began to show in the visitors as Wagstaff was booked for kicking the ball away.  With five minutes remaining Pudil replaced Anya.  The last action of note was a bit of a scramble in the Watford box, but Bond was able to poke the ball clear and maintain the clean sheet.

The final whistle went to cheers from the home crowd.  The performance was considerably better than that at Ashton Gate and, while the Robins had their chances, Bond was never really tested and Watford looked increasingly in control as the game went on.  After going ahead, we never really looked like losing.  Hall had a great game in the centre of defence, with the change in formation allowing the always impressive Angella a chance to break forward.  It was wonderful to see Abdi back, his mere presence on the pitch seems to induce a calm.  Let’s hope that he is a fixture in the team again very soon.  Despite my lack of appetite for another trip to either the Etihad or Ewood Park, that win cheered me up no end and should give us some momentum for the upcoming games.

Yet Another Trip to Bristol in the Cup

The teams come on to the pitch

The teams come on to the pitch

For the second time in four days I set off in the rain to drive westwards wondering if there was to be a game at the end of it.  The postponement on New Year’s Day was very frustrating.  Particularly because the flooded roads on the way in to Yeovil had made the decision inevitable and there was a sneaking feeling that, without the promise of Sky money, the game would have been called off earlier and saved us a wasted journey.  On Saturday, I had arranged to visit friends after the game, so a postponement wouldn’t have been as much of a disappointment.  I had been tasked with choosing the pre-match pub and stumbled on one a short walk from where I was staying, which turned out to be a little gem.  Real ale, excellent pies served with delicious minty mushy peas and very friendly bar staff.  In fact, the pub was so delightful that we nearly forgot to leave for the game.  In retrospect that would have been a good decision.

Prior to the match, we had speculated on who would fill in at left wing back in the absence of Anya, Pudil and Bellerin.  The answer was Battocchio, an interesting and slightly worrying choice.  I was disappointed to hear that Doyley had been relegated to the bench, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Angella, Nosworthy, Battocchio, McGugan, Iriney, Murray, Cassetti, Fabbrini and Deeney.

Almunia keeping warm

Almunia keeping warm

The game was played with a pink ball, which was one of the brighter aspects of the afternoon.  We started well enough and, in the second minute, McGugan broke into the box but shot wide.  City were on the attack on 7 minutes with a dangerous ball into the box, Almunia was nudged out of the way as he came to collect it, the ball went out of play and the free kick was delayed as the Bristol City fans in the Wedlock stand refused to give the ball back.  On 8 minutes, Fabbrini lost the ball in the middle of the pitch, Baldock went on a run and shot from distance but Almunia dropped to gather.  The Watford keeper was in action again soon after, plucking a cross from Bryan out of the air.  On the quarter hour, Fabbrini went on a great run down the wing and broke into the box where he went down under a challenge.  Given that Diego’s tumble was greeted with groans from the travelling ‘Orns, it was no surprise when the referee waved play on.  Battocchio tried a shot from the edge of the area, but Parish was equal to it.  City were soon on the counter-attack, but Reid’s shot was also from distance and was wide of the target.  At the break in play, the ref had words with Fabbrini.  On 20 minutes, Emmanuel-Thomas shot wide of the far post.  Then McGugan got the ball in the area ran across the box to get into a better shooting position but skewed his shot disappointingly over the bar.  Bristol threatened again as a cross was headed on to Bryan whose shot required a decent save from Almunia who pushed it around the post.  The corner fell to Elliott who shot over the bar.  Down the other end

Bryan clearing the ball

Bryan clearing the ball

McGugan hit a lovely shot towards the top corner and Parish had to leap to tip it over.  On 34 minutes McGugan hit a free kick from a long way out which flew wide of the near post.  Then a run and cross from Bryan had both Emmanuel-Thomas and Wagstaff coming to meet it, they got in each other’s way and the header was wide.  With five minutes to half time, Battocchio required a bit of  juggling to control the ball and give it to Fabbrini who advanced into the box and squared to McGugan whose shot was blocked.  From the resultant corner, the ball fell to Battocchio whose cross was met by a header from Angella that hit the top of the crossbar.  In time added on, a free-kick from Reid was headed wide by Osborne.

 

McGugan on the attack

McGugan on the attack

At half-time, our wing-back situation became even stranger as Cassetti was replaced by Smith who is neither a winger nor a back.  I thought moving Murray out may have been a better bet, with Smith playing in the middle, until I had a flashback to the game at Ashton Gate last season when Sean took Cassetti’s place and had a complete nightmare.  Bristol City made the running at the start of the second half as Emmanuel-Thomas played a through ball to Baldock whose shot was easily saved by Almunia.   Soon after, Almunia was in action again as Elliott got on the end of a corner but his header was straight at the Watford keeper.   Then a move started with a ball to Deeney that should have allowed him to break free, but instead we saw a sequence involving several awful misplaced passes by Watford players which finished with Emmanuel-Thomas shooting wide.  The only other notable events in the first 25 minutes of the half were a McGugan free-kick that he put over the bar and a tannoy announcement requesting that Watford’s Italian coach driver make himself known to the stewards.  I am still trying to work out if that was a coded message. 

Fabbrini on the attack

Fabbrini on the attack

Just after 70 minutes, Watford finally made their first attack of the half as Fabbrini played a through ball to McGugan who fell over in the box.  Then Fabbrini broke again and fed Deeney whose shot was saved by Parish.  Next a free-kick for the home team was headed back from the far post by Elliott to Osborne who headed it over the bar.  Fabbrini was on the attack again but this time his cross was headed wide by Burns. Then McGugan broke into the box but his shot was deflected for a corner.  On 83 minutes, we appeared to have won the game as Smith squared the ball to Murray.  I saw the Watford youngster shoot, but my view of the goal was blocked by the crowd in front of me standing up so I was a little late to join in the celebrations as the ball went in to the bottom

Goal celebrations in the Wedlock Stand

Goal celebrations in the Wedlock Stand

corner.  I had just remarked that we didn’t really deserve the lead when we no longer had it, as Emmanuel-Thomas scored at the other end, Burns having beaten Battocchio to set him up.  We tried to regain the lead as Fabbrini broke and played a ball for Deeney, but the defender was quicker to it and the chance was gone.  In the last minute of normal time, a shot from distance came in that was pushed over by Almunia, who was also required to come and punch clear from the corner.  The home side had one final chance to win the game as Osborne met a free-kick with a header, but Almunia was equal to it.  On the final whistle, my first thought was annoyance that I would have to endure that a second time.  It was not an enjoyable game.  I hope that some of the absentees are fit for Saturday or it could be a very difficult afternoon indeed.