Tag Archives: Sam Byram

Disappointing Afternoon at the London Stadium

Capoue and Holebas taking a free kick

After the cold night out in Stoke, I started feeling unwell.  At first I thought it was the late night that was catching up with me, but I felt worse and worse as the week went on and spent the whole weekend curled up on the sofa.  I haven’t missed a game all season and agonised about not going to the Chelsea game on Monday.  But I had seen so many people laid really low with that nasty cold/flu, that I had to conclude that a night in the freezing cold was really not a good idea, so decided to stay at home and follow the game from there.  Of all the games to miss, I am still devastated.

I also had a different type of match day on Saturday.  My brother-in-law is a West Ham season ticket holder and my Watford supporting sister was coming to the game with me, so I had spent Friday evening at theirs and, due to dog walking duties, we ended up leaving for the game at a time when I would usually be in the pub.  I was having a bit of a panic about missing kick-off, but we arrived in plenty of time to have some pre-match refreshments inside the ground while catching up with the usual suspects.

Team news was that Gracia had named the same starting XI who performed so well against Chelsea, so the starting line-up was Karnezis; Mariappa, Prödl, Holebas; Janmaat, Doucouré, Capoue, Zeegelaar; Deulofeu, Deeney, Richarlison.

Gathering for a corner

Watford had the first chance of the game as the ball was laid back to Capoue whose shot was blocked for a corner.  The delivery was met by the head of Mariappa, but Adrian made the save.  The first chance for the home side came as Arnautovic went on a run into the box, he was tackled by a combination of Prödl and Mariappa and, with the home fans appealing for a penalty, the ball broke to Mário whose shot was saved by Karnezis.  It all went quiet then until the half hour mark when Hernandez headed home from Mário’s free kick.  The bubble machine was in full celebratory force before it was noticed that the linesman had flagged for offside.  Watford immediately broke down the other end of the field and Capoue unleashed a shot that Adrian fumbled before gathering, much to his relief.  Arnautovic should have opened the scoring with a shot from close range that Karnezis did brilliantly to block.  But the Hammers took the lead a minute later as Antonio crossed for Hernandez who was left with a free header when Zeegelaar fell over.  It had been coming, but it was a very soft goal to give away.  So we reached half time with West Ham in a deserved lead.

Deulofeu and Pereyra waiting for the referee to get out of the way of their free kick

Watford had the first chance of the second half when a corner was met by the head of Deeney, but he headed it down into a crowd of players and it was cleared.  At the other end, a corner was headed goalwards by Kouyaté forcing Prödl to head over from under his own bar.  Gracia made his first substitution on 55 minutes replacing Zeegelaar with Pereyra.  Watford had a terrific chance to grab the equaliser when Deulofeu won a free kick just outside the area.  He took it himself, launching a marvellous shot over the wall which Adrian did very well to keep out.  Then Holebas broke forward and found Deeney in a great position in the box, but the referee blew up for a foul and the chance was gone.  Another decent move from the Hornets finished with a cross from Pereyra that was easily gathered by Adrian.  Hernandez looked sure to secure the three points for the Hammers when he broke into the Watford box, but Karnezis smothered the danger.  Watford’s second substitution surprisingly saw Lukebakio making his debut in place of Deulofeu, who I would have kept on as he always looked as though he could cause problems.  Watford had another chance to level from a corner but Prödl’s header was just over the bar.  The Hammers scored their second soon after as a goalmouth scramble finished with a clearance that rebounded to Arnautovic, who crowned a superb performance with a somewhat scrappy goal.

Lukebakio on his debut

Watford tried to strike back as Richarlison turned and shot straight at Adrian.  Lukebakio was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that flew over the target.  Gracia’s final substitution saw Gray come on for Richarlison.  Moyes had also made late substitutions with Mário, Arnautovic and Hernandez making way for Byram, Rice and Hugill.  Watford were still trying to pull one back and had a decent chance as a cross from Holebas was met by the head of Mariappa, but the effort was blocked.  The Hornets had one final chance as Gray got into a decent position, but his header was poor and the game finished with a comfortable win for the home side.

Watford had played considerably better in the second half but, while it could be said that the score was a little flattering to the hosts, some poor defending and equally poor finishing meant that it felt as though the Hornets didn’t deserve anything from the game.

The results elsewhere over the weekend now mean that Watford, in 11th place, are only 4 points off the relegation zone.  It is a bizarre position to be in and it is a bit of a relief that we now have a week off to give some of the injured players a chance to recover.  It has been a tough few weeks, but our squad has to be better than at least three of the other teams below us.  The next few weeks will be fascinating.

 

A Memorable Afternoon at the London Stadium

The London Stadium

The London Stadium

Having thought that I had timed my arrival at the pre-match pub perfectly for opening time at 12, I found a queue outside which, fortunately, included a couple of friendly faces.  Thankfully the doors were soon open and we were comfortably sat with a pint and ready to catch up after our international break.  Having been warned about the walk from Stratford station to the stadium, we left plenty of time for the journey.  It was very pleasant to board a nice, quiet, pretty empty train.  Then, just before it was due to depart, a large group of lads boarded and treated the carriage to some Watford chants.  In a lull in the singing one of our party started a rendition of Molly Malone.  They didn’t join in, but a section of their group did add the song to their repertoire before we finished the seven minute journey.  As we were walking along the platform to leave the station, a can of beer flew over our heads and two groups of lads squared up to each other.  Sadly that wasn’t the last time that we saw trouble on the day.

 

Bubbles greet the entrance of the teams

Bubbles greet the entrance of the teams

I was lucky enough to attend a couple of events at the Olympic Stadium during the Summer of 2012.  Having seen it as a venue for athletics, I found it hard to believe that it would function as a football stadium.  I was very sad when the Hammers left Upton Park as it was a cracking place to watch football with the stands so close to the pitch and an incredible atmosphere.  On arrival all went well.  The entry to the Stadium went very smoothly and, in marked contrast to Upton Park, there was no queue at the food stands and plenty of room to stand in the concourse to have a drink or eat your pie.  As we entered the seating area of the stadium I spotted Don Fraser, so had a chance to critique the disabled section.  I must admit that I was impressed.  He was sitting just behind the goal at a decent elevation and, if the evidence of the blokes standing in the area in front of him before kick-off was anything to go by, wheelchair users would have no trouble seeing past those in the stand in front of them even if they stood for the whole game.  I then bumped into another friend who told me that he had a good feeling about the game.  I have to say that, always the pessimist, he was feeling a lot more positive than I was.  On taking our seats, I was happy that, even though we were only 8 rows up, we were behind the goal with a very decent view and were sheltered from the rain that we could see was falling on the pitch.

Waiting for an attacking corner

Waiting for an attacking corner

Team news for the Hammers was the rather disturbing (for Watford fans) return of Payet and a debut for Zaza.  For the Hornets, Mazzari made four changes with Cathcart, Britos, Janmaat and Pereyra in for Kabasele, Prödl, Amrabat and Guedioura.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kaboul, Britos; Janmaat, Capoue, Pereyra, Behrami, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.  As the teams emerged for kick off, “Bubbles” rang out and the bubble machines were going although I suspect that they made little impression on those that were not sitting right behind them.  It has to be said that any concerns about there being no atmosphere in the new ground disappeared on hearing the wall of noise coming from the stands.

The game started impressively for the home side as Antonio and Payet both had first minute shots saved by Gomes.  Ighalo provided a nice distraction with a shot into the side netting, but the Hammers took the lead in the fifth minute as Antonio met a Payet corner with a header that flew past Gomes.  At this point Dave’s good feeling was looking rather misguided.  Janmaat almost had a nightmare start to his full debut as he turned a cross from Antonio against the post.

Deeney and Ighalo celebrating the equalizer

Deeney and Ighalo celebrating the equalizer

Watford should have drawn level as Pereyra found Ighalo in a good position, but his shot was deflected wide.  Pereyra and Ighalo combined again, this time the Nigerian’s shot was saved on the line by Adrian and Behrami’s follow-up flew over the bar.  The Hammers had a couple of chances to increase their lead as, first, Antonio shot just over the bar and then Lanzini put a shot just wide of the post.  West Ham’s second goal came in the 32nd minute.  Payet played an audacious cross, Antonio ghosted past Cathcart and planted another header past Gomes.  As the West Ham fans jeered “You might as well go home,” I heard a young voice behind me sigh, “Only another hour to go.”  I knew exactly how she felt.  While we had had some chances in the first half hour, West Ham just looked quicker and better than we did and our defence looked as though they had just met.  Imagine our surprise when the next action of note, in the 41st minute, was a lovely ball from Capoue to Ighalo who cut inside before taking a shot which beat Adrian following a deflection off Collins.  Unbelievably we were level just before half time after a mix up between Collins and Adrian allowed the ball to fall to Deeney.  As we were watching from low down at the other end of the ground it wasn’t until I got home that I appreciated quite how good Deeney’s strike was, but we celebrated massively all the same.

Capoue celebrates striking the third goal

Capoue celebrates striking the third goal

At half time every one that I spoke to had a similar reaction.  A shake of the head, a rueful smile and “How are we still in this game?”  The trek to the concourse at half time was ‘interesting’.  Looking to my left I saw a crowd of West Ham fans on the other side of a barrier facing a group of Watford fans on our side so I had the pitiful sight of a bunch of middle aged blokes offering each other out.

As the players emerged for the second half, I had no idea where this game was going.  What followed was quite remarkable.  If a reaction from West Ham was expected, it didn’t materialize and Watford took the lead in the 52nd minute as Capoue chested down a cross from Pereyra before volleying the ball in off the post.  This goal brought an extra special smile to my niece’s face.  She is a huge fan of Capoue and had missed his two previous goals this season, so was delighted finally to see him score and there were hugs all round.

Great joy at scoring a fourth goal

Great joy at scoring a fourth goal

Just after the hour, Ighalo crossed for Janmaat whose shot was blocked, the clearance came back to Ighalo who cut back to Holebas who powered in from just outside the area.  The celebration for this goal was a mixture of ecstasy and disbelief.  But, at this stage of the game, the lead was thoroughly deserved and it was the Watford fans chanting “You might as well go home.”  At this point my gaze was drawn to the upper tier where it seemed to be kicking off.  Earlier in the game, there had been a scuffle among the home fans in the lower tier of the stand to our right.  On this occasion, it appeared that West Ham fans were trying to get to the Watford fans sitting near them in the top tier.  I could see nothing in place to enforce the segregation with only a flight of stairs and a handful of stewards between the two sets of fans, which was no deterrent for anyone who wanted to cause trouble.  It looked chaotic up there and, even though extra stewards were drafted in, it was some considerable time before they were augmented by officers from the Met.  Back to matters on the field, Ighalo was rewarded for his goal and assist by being given a bit of a rest as Success came on to replace him.  The youngster almost made an immediate impact as he went on a lovely run before taking a shot that was blocked by Adrian.

Holebas takes a corner

Holebas takes a corner

The home side had a rare second half chance as a free kick dropped to Payet who appeared to have a sitter to hit, but his shot was blocked and his blushes spared as the flag was raised for offside.  Mazzari’s second change was also to the forward line as Okaka came on to make his debut in place of Deeney.  If Deeney has been looking a bit stocky this season, Okaka completely dwarfs him.  His physique is positively Shittu-esque.  There was a touch of class from Pereyra who went on a lovely mazy run through the box, sadly his shot was blocked as that would have been a very special goal indeed.  Okaka then found the net following a Capoue corner, but our celebrations were cut short as the offside flag went up.  I know I wasn’t the only one thinking that I would have preferred to be going in to the last 10 minutes with a three goal cushion.  I needn’t have worried.  Watford’s final substitution saw Prödl replace Kaboul in defence and the exchange was seamless.  New boy Okaka had an eventful end to the game.  First he received a pass from Success and unleashed a shot that was saved.  Next he was booked for dissent.  Finally, and most regrettably, he appeared to pull a hamstring and had to leave the field meaning that Watford played the time added on with ten men.  But West Ham were a spent force at this point and Watford ran out 4-2 winners, a score that I am still looking at in disbelief even though I saw the game.

The final score!

The final score!

We had to keep our joy in check as we left the ground, so as not to rub it in when we met my lovely Hammer-supporting brother-in-law.  But I was soon back in the pub for post-match reflections with the Watford crew and the smiles could not be suppressed.

The last hour of this game featured one of the best performances that I have seen from a Watford team.  For the first half hour we looked second best and the defence struggled.  Then, suddenly, it all clicked into place.  The defence were organized and stood up to everything that West Ham tried.  The midfield were excellent.  Janmaat had looked like a liability early on, but finished superbly so Amrabat wasn’t missed.  Holebas had another good game, capping his performance with a great strike.  Behrami was in beast mode stopping anyone who came his way.  Capoue continues to enjoy the freedom to get forward immensely and Pereyra is certainly living up to the hype.  Then there was the front two.  Much concern has been expressed about both Deeney and Ighalo’s start to the season.  To see them both on the scoresheet with the added delight of an assist from Ighalo made me very happy indeed and their performances were assured.  Not only that, but the men who were brought on to replace them late in the game both appeared to be very worthy substitutes indeed, which was very reassuring.  From front to back we were excellent so I couldn’t help speculating how good this team is going to be when they actually get to know each other.

At this stage in the season we have four more points than I expected and the omens are good.  Unlike last season, the new players that arrived to a fanfare are living up to that billing.  We finally have strength in depth in all positions.  The team is playing lovely football and sharing goals among themselves.  This has the makings of a season to relish.

Dirty Leeds Crushed

An earlier close encounter with the lovely Johnny Mac

A previous close encounter with the lovely Johnny Mac

There was plenty to discuss pre-match what with the Mackay-Moody text messages and the rumours of unrest in the dressing room.  With all that doom and gloom, it was good to turn my thoughts to happier things such as the fact that the wonderful John McClelland was the guest in the corporate lounge.  When I entered the ground, Macca was being interviewed by Luther.  What a joy to listen to my two all-time favourite players chatting.  When they finished, I made my way around to the Lower Rous to give Don a bag that he had left in the West Herts.  As I reached the disabled area, Don was coming to greet me and pointing rather urgently behind me.  I turned and there was John McClelland looking exactly as he did in the 80s.  I immediately turned into a gibbering star struck fan.  I managed to blurt out that I’d loved watching him play and went to shake his hand and found myself being warmly hugged.  It is quite possible that my feet will never touch the ground again.

Challenging at a corner

Challenging at a corner

There were four changes from Tuesday night with Abdi and Tözsér back in the midfield and Pudil and Forestieri replacing Anya and Vydra, who had limped off at the end of the previous game.  Unsurprisingly, after his goal celebration on Tuesday, Dyer was not in the 18.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Tamas, Pudil, Munari, Tözsér, Abdi, Paredes, Deeney and Forestieri.

We started brightly with an early corner from Adbi requiring a smart save from Silvestri.  Then Deeney tried to find Forestieri in the box, but Silvestri beat him to the ball.  Munari received a lovely pass, but dwelled too long on it so had to play the ball back to Paredes who crossed for Deeney whose header flew well over the bar.  Tözsér played a ball over the top to Deeney who played a low cross to Abdi, but he was crowded out before he could shoot.  For Leeds, a shot from Tonge was blocked by Pudil, the ball came out to Austin whose shot was wide of the far post.

Celebrations of the first goal featuring three dear friends

Celebrations of the first goal featuring three dear friends

We were a goal up after 20 minutes when Forestieri passed to Deeney who flicked the ball to Munari in the box, the Italian went down under a challenge, but the ball ran through to Forestieri whose initial shot was blocked but his follow-up header beat Silvestri.  I finally witnessed the Gomes goal celebration as he joyfully leapt in front of the Rookery.  Heartwarming.  Leeds got the ball in a dangerous position, but Antenucci’s shot was high and wide.  On the half hour, Deeney passed to Forestieri whose shot through a crowd of players was easily gathered by Silvestri.  Leeds equalized soon after as an innocuous-looking ball in from Sharp was diverted past Gomes by the foot of Tamas, when he really didn’t need to intervene.  It was a very disappointing equalizer that was totally undeserved for the visitors who had yet to have a shot on target.  I was pleased to see Gomes offering commiserations to Tamas.  At the other end, Deeney fed Paredes whose shot was deflected over for a corner from which Abdi’s delivery was headed over by the unmarked Hoban.  Just before half-time, Pudil broke forward but his shot was gathered by Silvestri.  Then Sharp played for a foul and succeeded in getting Tözsér booked.

Harry undertaking the ALS/MND ice-bucket challenge

Harry undertaking the ALS/MND ice-bucket challenge

I was a hell of a lot happier at half-time than I had been on Tuesday and not just because of the close encounter with John McClelland.  While it was annoying that Leeds were level without having had a shot on target, we had played very well and were definitely the better side.  Half-time entertainment included Harry Hornet accepting Miles Jacobson’s ALS/MND ice-bucket challenge and being given his soaking on the sidelines.  What was he thinking?  He could have caught his death of cold.

We started the second half brightly as Forestieri curled a shot just past the far top corner.  At the other end, Murphy’s free-kick was headed over by Pearce.  Then Abdi found Deeney who was hacked down just outside the box.  Tözsér stepped up to take the free kick, but the delivery was awful, flying well over the bar.  Sannino’s first substitution of the afternoon saw Anya coming on for Paredes.

Deeney steps up to take the penalty

Deeney steps up to take the penalty

We took the lead again just before the hour as Forestieri beat Bellusci to a dropping ball in the box and was taken down by the defender.  The referee had no choice but to point to the spot and dismiss Bellusci.  Deeney stepped up and hit the ball straight down the middle while Silvestri dived to his right.  Soon after, there was a break for treatment as a Deeney shot was blocked by Pearce’s head knocking the defender to the ground.  Pudil latched onto a cross-field ball from Tözsér but his shot went wide of the near post.  Watford’s third goal was a thing of beauty as Munari passed to Forestieri who skipped past numerous defenders in the box before unleashing a shot that bounced in off the post.

Congratulations for Forestieri's wonderful second

Congratulations for Forestieri’s wonderful second

Forestieri and Deeney were working really well together as, first Fernando fed Troy whose shot from the right was blocked, then it was Deeney’s turn to find Forestieri whose shot appeared to be going in, but flew just wide.  That was Fernando’s last action of the game as he was replaced by Ighalo.  For Leeds, the evil Dominic Poleon came on as a substitute and was roundly booed by the Hornets faithful.  Watford had a chance to increase their lead as Munari connected with a corner from Tözsér, but his header was wide of the target.  Tözsér then played a lovely crossfield ball to Pudil, who crossed back for Ighalo who was challenged and couldn’t find room for a shot.  Abdi made way for Andrews who was involved immediately as a corner was cleared to him but his shot was well wide.  Murphy was the next to find his way into the referee’s book after a foul on Pudil.

Tozser congratulated for a superb strike

Tozser congratulated for a superb strike

In the 90th minute, Austin was booked for a foul on Deeney.  In the crowd, people were preparing to go home as Tözsér stepped up to take the free-kick, which was so far out that there appeared to be no danger.  But Tözsér thought otherwise, as he stepped up and hit the ball straight into the bottom corner with no Leeds player appearing to move.  As way of celebration, he ran straight over to his family in the Lower GT.  In injury time, Deeney was breaking upfield when the whistle went.  At first I thought it was signalling the end of the game, but the referee went over to where Pudil was lying on the ground and, after talking to the linesman, sent Byram off, apparently for a head butt.  The final whistle went soon after.  It had been a superb performance by the Hornets, restricting the visitors so much that their only shot on target was from Watford’s Tamas.  There was a nice touch from Harry Hornet at the end, as the players celebrated he got on his knees and polished Tözsér’s right boot.

The reports of unrest among the squad in the week had been unsettling, so it was a relief that any unhappiness stayed in the dressing room and the lads put on a great display for the home crowd.  This is a talented, exciting squad.  If our displays away from home start to match the quality of those at Vicarage Road, we are in for a wonderful season.