Tag Archives: Sean Murray

The U21s Start their Season at Clarence Park

Jakubiak and Ovenden waiting for a corner

Jakubiak and Ovenden waiting for a corner

The main Watford news on Saturday morning was the signing of Colombian international, Zuniga.  While I don’t tend to get too excited about new signings until I see them play, the signing of an experienced wing back could only be a good thing.  But, with the first team flying out to their pre-season training camp in Austria, Saturday’s focus was on the U21s first game at St Albans.

I met Toddy in our usual pre-match pub for a lovely lunch in the beer garden before heading for the ground.

On arrival at Clarence Park, we bumped into Jon Marks and had a good catch up.  With many of last year’s U21s having been released, I wondered what the team would look like and was not surprised to see two trialists and a number who were in the U18s last season.  The starting line-up was Trialist GK, Eleftheriou, Stevens, Belkalem, Trialist, Murray, Ovenden, Stewart, Pereira, Jakubiak and Adeyemo.  The U21s had a very disappointing season last year and there was an impression that there was quite a distance between them and the first team.  Given that Mazzarri is a proponent of 3-5-2 and the U21s were lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, the first indications were not positive that there will be more of a collaboration between the development squad and the first team this season.

Lining up to defend

Lining up to defend

The young Hornets started brightly with Jakubiak setting up his strike partner, Adeyemo, who shot over the bar.  But, on a very warm afternoon in Hertfordshire, chances were at a premium.  The best came when Murray unleashed a volley that tested the City keeper, Russell.  Towards the end of the half, Jakubiak broke into the box and forced another save from Russell, but the first-half ended goalless.  The home side had had chances of their own, but none that tested the unknown goalkeeper.

There were a number of substitutions at the start of the second half with Watford bringing on two more trialists and replacing Jakubiak and Adeyemo with Folivi and Obi.  The substitutions for St Albans were a bit of a blast from the past as they introduced former Watford youngsters Matty Whichelow and Billy Gibson.  Whichelow, who was a player that I had a soft spot for, had the best chance of the game with a cracking shot that the Watford goalkeeper had to tip over the bar.  St Albans dominated the first period of the second half as captain, Theophanous, hit a shot wide and Whichelow again drew a save from the keeper.

Belkalem bandaged after the clash of heads

Belkalem bandaged after the clash of heads

The most notable event of the half for the Hornets was a clash of heads between Belkalem and his team mate Ryan.  The youngster had jumped late for the ball, causing the clash but, as he fell to the ground with blood pouring down his face, I thought Belkalem should have made sure he was all right.  It was then that I noticed that the Algerian, who had shrugged off the challenge, was also bleeding.  The St Albans physio saw to his injury and, being made of stern stuff, he was soon bandaged up and returned to the field.  Ryan, sadly, was unable to continue and, because Watford could not make any more substitutions, they were down to 10 men.  But the Saints’ manager, Ian Allinson, made the very sporting decision to withdraw one of his players (his captain) to even things up.  In the last minutes of the game, both of the Watford strikers had chances to win the game as, first, Folivi broke through and hit a shot that was blocked by the keeper.  Then Obi received a lovely pass from Stewart before shooting straight at the keeper’s legs.

So the game finished goalless on a very hot afternoon in St Albans.  It was not a happy start to the U21 season and I was disappointed to hear that their next game would be held at the training ground and so would not be open to fans.  I really hope that the U21s are given more opportunities to play in front of supporters next season and that they are integrated further with the first team as there are some great youngsters there that deserve that opportunity.

Ultras and Bouncy Castles

The cycle rack outside the  Eintracht Stadion

The cycle rack outside the Eintracht Stadion

Having had plenty of notice of the pre-season tour this year, flights were booked some time ago for the trip to Braunschweig and Paderborn.  The evening before I left, I was on the way home from a performance of La Boheme at the Royal Opera House when I was greeted with the news that Friday’s game had been cancelled.  So, after very little sleep, I was not best pleased to be on an early flight to Germany with little idea of what to do with the next two days.  Still, I was sure that I could keep myself amused.

When I changed trains at Hannover, I saw some familiar faces on the platform.  Ian is one of the regular away travellers that I often meet on trains to games, but it was still a little incongruous to encounter him and his brother at a station in Germany.  I must say that, having travelled out on my own, I was rather pleased to have companions for the remainder of the journey.  During the trip to Braunschweig it was decided that, since Rayo Vallecano were to take Watford’s place in that evening’s game, we would take in the match at the Eintracht Stadion anyway.

On arrival at the ground, the first thing that I noticed was the huge number of bicycles that were chained up outside.  You would never see that at an English ground.  The next thing of note was the beer stand where I met my travelling companions and quenched my thirst after the long walk in the heat.

You'll Never Walk Alone Braunschweig Style

You’ll Never Walk Alone Braunschweig Style

When we entered the stadium, we found that the standing area that we had chosen was the home of the local Ultras.  They were gathered at the front of the terrace, so we were in a good position to observe.  As the teams emerged, we were a little surprised when scarves were raised and a rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” rang out.  The home fans were great entertainment.  The level of noise generated for a pre-season game was incredible, with quite a variety of songs ringing out.  There was also rather a lot of liquid being thrown about.  At first I thought they were throwing beer around, then it became apparent that there was a barrel of water at the front that was being liberally distributed into the crowd to cool them down on a warm evening.  With the score at one apiece going in to the final few minutes, there was a conga through the stand.  I’m not sure that any of the participants were aware that they conceded a late goal and lost the game.  After the match, we headed on the tram back to town and had dinner and beers at a traditional German restaurant.

Behrami before I saw him put in a tackle

Behrami before I saw him put in a tackle

My plan for Saturday had been to do a bit of sightseeing.  But, having been deprived of a chance to see Watford play, those travelling had been invited to send their contact details to the club and so I had received a call from Jon Marks informing me that we were invited to a training session at the team’s hotel.  The slight drawback was that this was in the middle of nowhere in a small town some distance from Braunschweig.  But we are seasoned travellers, so soon found details of the trains we needed to take and, after a late night out in Braunschweig, it was a slightly delicate bunch that met to catch the train to Gütersloh followed by a cab to Marienfeld.  On arrival at the team’s hotel, we found the Sportsplätze and there was a group of people in yellow shirts watching the Watford team going through some fitness routines that appeared to include trying to wreck the fence around the field.  The team had been split up into a number of different groups for these sessions and, as each group finished their routines, they emerged to sign autographs and have photographs taken with the supporters gathered there.

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Welcome to Arminia Bielefeld

While watching the training, we saw some Hamburg players and found out that they were scheduled to play Bielefeld that afternoon.  Since this was only one stop from Gütersloh on the train, we decided to take in the game.  On arrival at Bielefeld railway station, we followed the crowds to the stadium.  Again we opted to join the fans on the terraces.  The home end was packed.  As the team emerged, we were treated to a rendition of their club song, which had several verses.  They had a number of songs including a very effective call and answer of Arminia … Bielefeld.  To our surprise, a group that we thought were Hamburg fans in the opposite corner also participated in this chant (it was very difficult to distinguish between them as both sets of fans were wearing blue shirts).  Athough, judging by the flag that was waving in that section, there seemed to be a good number of home fans in that section.  The game resulted in a 2-0 win for the home side against a very poor Hamburg team.

Bouncy castle with footballs being fired at the 'goalie'

Bouncy castle with footballs being fired at the ‘goalie’

Sunday morning, I woke up to a storm of biblical proportions.  But, thankfully, the long train journey to Paderborn meant we left the rain behind.  After freshening up in the hotel, we headed into town for a beer and then got a cab to take us to the ground.  The last stage of the short journey took us up a narrow street that required a barricade to be moved for us to get through.  We then emerged into a country road bordered with a cornfield which happened to have a football stadium at the end of it.  There was a party atmosphere at the ground, with a bouncy castle goal and another bouncy full size fussball game, a carousel and the obligatory beer and würst.  Something for everyone.

After good experiences on the previous two days, I was looking forward to the performance of the Paderborn fans, so was disappointed when their club song was played over the tannoy rather than being sung by the spectators.  However, from a Watford perspective, it was just lovely to see our players warming up for the game.

At last I see a Watford team in Germany

At last I see a Watford team in Germany

The starting line-up was Arlauskis, Holebas, Prödl, Cathcart, Nyom, Behrami, Capoue, Watson, Abdi, Vydra and Deeney.

We’d had a conversation at a previous game about the drinking, smoking, water throwing and flares that are in evidence in German stadia and speculated on what would not be allowed.  We found out when a steward appeared to tell some fans that they couldn’t have their flag hanging from a crush barrier.  When they tried to protest, his gambit was “Look, they sent the fat bloke up to tell you, so do me a favour.”  It worked.

Troy congratulating the invisible Vydra

Troy congratulating Vydra

The first notable action of the game was Behrami knocking one of the Paderborn players flying.  It was a statement of intent.  Watford took the lead in the 11th minute as Deeney played a lovely through ball for Vydra who hit his shot sweetly past Kruse in the Paderborn goal.  The home side could have equalized soon afterwards as a cross reached Ouali in the box, but he blasted the ball way over the target.  In the 23rd minute, Abdi exchanged passes with Nyom, but the return pass was poor allowing the home side to launch a counter attack which finished with Ndjeng shooting straight at Arlauskis.  Behrami was then penalized for a tackle on Koc, who went down with a dramatic scream which was something of an over-reaction, but ensured that the Swiss international received a yellow card for the offence.  Koc took the resulting free-kick himself and blasted it way over the bar.  We had a great chance to increase the lead as, from an Abdi cross, Watson nodded the ball down to Deeney, whose shot appeared to be going in, but the keeper pulled off a good save to deny him.  From the corner, Deeney’s header was straight at the keeper.  The battle between Behrami and Koc continued, but on this occasion the Watford man was sinned against and won the free kick.

Abdi lines up a free kick

Abdi lines up a free kick

Paderborn had the ball in the net as a cross was headed home by Proschwitz, but he had been a mile offside.  Abdi came in for a tackle, won the ball and was booked, very harshly I thought.  In the 32nd minute the travelling Hornets started a minute’s applause and chants of “Only one Chris Dyer” for the Watford supporting victim of the terrorist attack in Tunisia.  Deeney challenged the keeper for a long ball, leaving the stopper on the floor, but his shot from a narrow angle went wide.  A Paderborn corner, for which the ball wasn’t even in the vicinity of the corner arc, was met with a header that was caught by Arlauskis, who stepped behind the goal line, but kept the ball out.  Paderborn challenged again with a free kick from Ndjeng that flew wide of the far post.  Deeney exchanged passes with Vydra but his shot took a deflection and went wide.  Vydra then hit a cross-cum-shot that a defender, under no pressure at all, put out for a corner.  The corner was met by a header from Deeney, but he was adjudged to have fouled the keeper so the referee blew up.  At the other end, Ndjeng broke into the box, but Prödl was on hand to challenge as he tried to shoot, so the ball was easily gathered by Arlauskis.

So the Hornets went into half time with the lead.  When we went looking for beers, we found that the stall was in the home section, which was rather interesting.  Some who had bought seats also took this opportunity to swap to the terrace.

Ighalo congratulated on his 6th goal of this pre-season

Ighalo congratulated on his 6th goal of this pre-season

Flores made no changes to the Hornets’ line up at half time.  The home side made a decent start with an early shot that was straight at the Watford keeper.  Then a cross-cum shot from Koc was saved by the feet of Arlauskis.  Capoue lost out to Ndjeng, who went down on the edge of the box, a bit of a soft free kick to give away.  Saglik hit the set piece low and Arlauskis dropped to save.  Watford’s first substitutions came 10 minutes into the second half as Ighalo, Anya and Pudil came on for Vydra, Behrami and Holebas.  The Swiss left the field to boos from the home fans.  On the hour Saglik chested the ball down and shot wide.  We were two goals up soon after as Anya ran down the left and crossed for Deeney, who appeared to mishit the shot but the ball reached Ighalo who found the net for his 6th goal of this pre-season.  Watford should have had a penalty soon after as a cross from Anya appeared to be handled by Hünemeier, but the referee gave nothing.  Deeney was the next to be substituted, being replaced by Fabbrini.  Then Stoppelkamp went on a run into the box and took a tumble, thankfully no Watford player was anywhere near him so we didn’t concede the penalty that he seemed to be playing for.

Nyom, Abdi and Proedl

Nyom, Abdi and Proedl

Ndjeng tried to beat Arlauskis with a curling shot, but the Lithuanian was behind the ball and gathered comfortably.  That was his last action of the game as he was replaced by Gilmartin.  The Irishman was called into action immediately, although his dive proved to be unnecessary, as Proschwitz’s shot was just wide of the target.  That was the striker’s last contribution as he was substituted immediately.  At the same time, Dyer came on to replace Abdi.  Gilmartin was tested with a cross-cum-shot that he parried before gathering.  Then Stoppelkamp shot across goal and wide.  Eyes were then drawn to the Watford bench where Deeney could be seen getting up and limping to the dressing room.  Hopefully, he was just a bit stiff rather than something more concerning.  Watford’s final substitution saw Murray replacing Watson for the last couple of minutes, but there was no further score so Watford ran out comfortable 2-0 winners after a decent performance.

After the final whistle some of the fans around me starting muttering about a ‘disgrace’ and there were a few boos.  I was a bit baffled until it became apparent that they were angry that some of the Watford players had not come over to applaud them at the end.  As a result they cheered the Paderborn players off.  It seemed an overly sensitive reaction, but applause from the players is expected by English (and German) fans in a way that it isn’t in some other European countries.

Cathcart and Gilmartin

Cathcart and Gilmartin

We took the shuttle bus back into town and, while searching for somewhere to have dinner, met some Paderborn fans who had enjoyed the game and were very happy to direct us to a traditional restaurant, which turned out to be an excellent recommendation.

There is always a risk in attending pre-season friendlies.  Early matches are, effectively, training games to build up fitness, so nothing can be read into them.  I quite like the relaxation of watching games in which the score doesn’t matter so you can just watch the players perform.  The most appealing part of these tours, though, is the opportunity to experience a game in an unfamiliar city with the opportunities that gives for exploration.  I love Germany, the landscape, the food and the people so, despite the difficulties on this tour, it turned out to be a cracking long weekend away.

I will miss the rest of our pre-season campaign as I gather my strength for a trip to Everton.  Hope springs eternal at this stage.  We can only hope that this season heralds our best showing in the top division since the 80s.

Watford’s Youngsters Crush Leeds

The teams take the field

The teams take the field

This evening was my first visit to the Upper GT stand since the commemorative posters were put up.  Each one of them evoked memories that brought a smile to my face and a tear to my eye.  But tonight was about the future.  The starting line-up included the permitted three overage players plus an overage goalkeeper and was Gilmartin, Doherty, Savic, Young, Martin, O’Nien, Byers, Murray, Mensah, Ranegie and Fabbrini.  Apparently Savic is a Serbian triallist.  Among the crowd, it was lovely to see David Hughes back to see the youngsters that he used to train.

As the teams emerged from the tunnel the ref decided that they should face the SEJ stand for the respect handshakes.  This benefitted their non-playing team mates and the benches, but meant that they had their backs turned to all the paying punters.

Much amusement after Mensah scored the third

Much amusement after Mensah scored the third

The visitors started brightly but Watford took the lead in the fourth minute.  Luke O’Nien, fresh from his goalscoring exploits for Wealdstone against home town club, Hemel, advanced to the edge of the box and as Don was yelling “Not from there,” belted it into the top corner.  A couple of minutes later Fabbrini went on a great run and passed to O’Nien whose shot from the angle was pushed out by the Leeds keeper, Grimes.  From our viewpoint, the corner appeared to have been headed the other side of the post, but Grimes emerged with the ball that he had retrieved from the net and the lino signalled that Doherty had scored.  It wasn’t all Watford, Leeds had a chance to reduce the deficit when a clearance came back to Stokes but Gilmartin was behind his shot.  Then Phillips got on the end of a cross from Dawson but headed over the target.  Murray played a one-two with Fabbrini, his shot from an angle bounced off the inside of the far post, Skelton’s attempted clearance hit Mensah and flew in to put Watford three goals up after 21 minutes.

O'Nien after scoring his second goal of the night

O’Nien after scoring his second goal of the night

Watford’s fourth came 15 minutes later as Fabbrini released Martin whose cross was met by Ranegie, his shot was blocked but the ball fell to O’Nien who made no mistake for his second goal of the night.  The fifth came soon after as Fabbrini hit a lovely curling shot into the top corner.  The first booking of the evening went to Purver of Leeds for clattering O’Nien, who was proving to be a menace.  In the dying minutes of the half, Leeds tried to strike back as Stokes broke clear and unleashed a shot but it was over the target.  It had been a tremendous half of football by the young Hornets who had hardly let the visitors have a sight of the ball, played some lovely passing football and been clinical in their finishing.

Fair play to the Leeds team, then, for coming out and having a go in the second period.  They had a shot in the first minute of the half, but Parkin’s shot was blocked by Gilmartin.  Booker was the next to have a go, his shot was blocked and fell to Parkin whose strike was easily caught by Gilmartin.

Traillist Savic

Traillist Savic

At the other end, Murray tried a curler from distance but it flew past the far post.  Parkin continued to threaten as a low cross was cut out by Doherty.  A lovely Watford move finished with a low cross/shot from Martin which Grimes pushed around the post.  The second Leeds booking went to Parkin, again for a tackle on O’Nien.  This had been a good spell for Watford, but Leeds were still pressing as a shot from distance from Skelton flew high and wide.  Watford made their first substitution just after the hour mark with triallist Savic, who had a decent game in the centre of defence, making way for Rowan.  Watford’s sixth goal came soon after as Ranegie ran into the box, held off the defender and shot into the roof of the net.  Watford made another change with Lewis coming on for Martin, so Mensah moved to the left.  I take full responsibility for the Leeds consolation as I commented that we might have won this game just before Phillips won a tackle and advanced into the box before playing the ball back to Dawson who beat Gilmartin.  Watford continued to threaten the Leeds goal as Fabbrini passed to Lewis who picked the ball up at the corner flag and did really well to keep it in and beat the defender to get in a low cross, but nobody could apply the finishing touch.

Congratulations for Ranegie after scoring Watford's sixth goal

Congratulations for Ranegie after scoring Watford’s sixth goal

A Murray free-kick into the box reached Ranegie, but he got under the header and it looped over the bar.  At the other end, Phillips had a free header from a cross to the far post but directed it into the side netting.  Watford’s final substitution saw Folivi come on for Fabbrini.  Gilmartin had to drop to save a low shot from Leeds sub Mulhern.  With 10 minutes to go, Watford were down to ten men as Mensah limped off.  O’Nein, who had so often been on the wrong end of Leeds tackles, got his own back and was booked for taking down a Leeds player as he tried to break.  Leeds hadn’t given up and a looping cross was headed goalwards by Mulhern but Gilmartin was there to gather the ball.  Ranegie was booked after complaints from the Leeds players that he had used an elbow.  Mulhern had been a constant danger since he came on, so it was a relief to see his cross/shot tipped over by Gilmartin.  Leeds earned another booking as Phillips was penalised for taking Lewis down as he attempted a break.  In time added on there were chances for both sides as, first, Folivi tried a shot from distance that was easy for Grimes then Mulhern came for a header, but the challenge of Gilmartin ensured that he directed it over the bar.

So, an impressive win for the youngsters but the visitors certainly deserved great credit for not giving up despite being 6-1 down.  Finally, thanks must go to Dave, the steward in the Lower GT disabled enclosure who was beyond helpful in ensuring that we got out of the stadium with the minimum of effort.

A View from the Bridge

Angella late to the pre-match huddle

Angella late to the pre-match huddle

I love the third round of the FA Cup as it can give an opportunity to play unfamiliar opposition and visit a new ground.  I was on a flight to the US when the draw was made.  On landing I eagerly checked who we’d be playing and my heart sank when I saw it was Chelsea.  How terribly dull.  Still, the pre-match pub had good beer and decent pies and we had a lovely stroll through Brompton Cemetery on the way to the ground.  There we were met by a ridiculous security cordon.  There were so many checking the tickets of those trying to enter the away end that it was almost impossible to find a space to walk between them.  Inside the stadium, I marveled at the array of banners declaring the support of fans from all over the place.  The Cornish flag emblazoned with “East Cornwall” was particularly bizarre.  Oddly enough there were no banners for Chelsea fans that actually come from London.  I much preferred Stamford Bridge when we stood on that open terrace with the hut selling wagon wheels at the back.  It had a bit of character then.

Team news was that there were three changes from the Cardiff game with Bond, Deeney and Tözsér coming in for the injured Gomes, the departed Guedioura and the rested Abdi.  The starting line-up was Bond, Angella, Cathcart, Hoban, Pudil, Forestieri, Tözsér, Munari, Paredes, Deeney & Ighalo.  There was a nice touch from the announcer when he welcomed Jokanovic back to Stamford Bridge.

Challenging for a ball into the box

Challenging for a ball into the box

The first five minutes were awful to watch for a Watford fan as Chelsea played the ball about between themselves as if the Watford players were not there.  Pete commented that we should have kicked off because at least that would have meant a touch.  The home side’s first goal attempt came as a free kick reached Cahill but he volleyed it over the bar.  Thankfully, the visitors soon began to get a foothold in the game and had their first shot on goal with a Tözsér attempt from distance that was easily held by Cech.  Soon after a Tözsér free-kick was headed clear by Drogba.  At the other end a shot from Remy curled past the top corner.  Paredes was booked for jumping into Schürrle much to the disgust of those around me, but it had been a silly challenge.  Deeney tried a shot from distance but Cech was behind it.  Chelsea’s first on target attempt was a decent one as Drogba got his head to a cross from Remy, Bond dropped and did well to keep it out.  Drogba held the ball up and played it square to Schürrle who fired over the target.  Just before half time, Forestieri went on a run into the box but his shot was deflected for a corner.  Watford could have taken the lead on the stroke of half time as Pudil was released and crossed for Ighalo who disappointingly scuffed his shot wide of the near post.

So we reached half time having matched Chelsea, actually having the majority of the three on-target shots.  Mourinho was clearly not impressed with his side’s first half showing as he replaced Schürrle and Oscar with Willian and Diego Costa.

Troy wants the ball

Troy wants the ball

Ten minutes into the half, there was a brilliant reaction save from Cech who stuck out a foot to prevent a Deeney shot deflecting into the far corner.  Chelsea took the lead a couple of minutes later as Willian got the ball on the edge of the box and looped it into the top corner.  Watford tried to strike back immediately as Deeney exchanged passes with Ighalo and unleashed a shot, but Cech was behind it.  Jokanovic made his first substitution replacing Ighalo with Vydra.  Watford’s second booking came as Tözsér knocked Ramires over in an innocuous looking coming together.  A free-kick from distance looped into Bond’s arms.  Chelsea increased their lead on 69 minutes as a shot from Costa was charged down, the ball dropped to Remy who hit it past Bond.  Forestieri, who had been guilty of some poor decision making throughout the game, hit a shot from the edge of the box when a pass to Vydra may have been the better option.  Chelsea’s third came on 73 minutes as Zouma got on the end of a cross to the back post and headed it past Bond.  Jokanovic immediately made his second substitution replacing Tözsér with Abdi.

Abdi lines up a free-kick

Abdi lines up a free-kick

There were loud shouts for a penalty both on the pitch and in the away end as a cross from Forestieri appeared to be handled by Zouma, but the referee waved the appeals away.  Watford pushed for a goal as a shot from Vydra was pushed over by Cech who punched the resulting corner clear while Angella challenged.  Watford’s final change saw Murray come on for Munari.  Chelsea had a great chance for a fourth as Costa hit a free kick over the wall but Bond got a hand to it to push the ball clear.  In the final minute Cathcart exchanged passes with Vydra but his shot was over the target.

While the result may have been expected, the performance had been excellent and the score flattered our hosts.  The Watford fans had been on their feet singing for 90 minutes so deserved the gratitude of the players who came over to thank us.  I looked beyond them to see no Chelsea player on the pitch and the home stands deserted.  What a shame to be so complacent that a 3-0 win is not worthy of celebration.  I’m glad we have that over and done with.  We can now concentrate on the league and look forward to a trip to Huddersfield on Saturday.

Stone the Crows

Garden Walk

Garden Walk

In the Herts Senior Cup there is an expectation of nice local (to Watford) fixtures but drawing Royston meant a journey to the opposite end of the county.  I work 30 miles from Watford, so it was a bit of a shock to the system when, after picking Don up, I entered Garden Walk into my sat nav to be told that I still had another 35 miles to go.

Having called Royston Town and been assured that there was a disabled parking space available (and hoping it hadn’t been nabbed by someone else), I pulled up to the gates at Garden Walk and knocked.  I was greeted by a quizzical look from the steward who then kindly directed me to a parking space right by the club house.  His only request was that I leave a space next to me.  When I looked, I saw that the disabled space was next to the President’s, so the space was duly left.

The 'respect' handshakes

The ‘respect’ handshakes

When we arrived, the players were warming up and, while queuing at the tea bar, I turned to see a yellow-shirted player returning to the dressing room.  I did a double take when I realized it was Diego Fabbrini.  Now these foreign players are all very well, but how will they do on a cold Tuesday night in Royston?  We were about to find out.

The starting line-up was a nice mixture of youth and experience:  Gilmartin, Kyprianou, Doherty, Smith, Rowan, Hoban, Fabbrini, Byers, Lewis, Murray and Martin.

There was an early scare for the Hornets as Gilmartin came to catch a free-kick, was impeded and dropped the ball which was, thankfully, cleared off the line.  Watford immediately launched a counter attack which finished with Fabbrini tumbling in the box.  I couldn’t help laughing, but Diego soon redeemed himself.  His next action was to cut the ball back for Byers to shoot, but the Royston keeper, Ron Yates (yes, really), saved.  Byers broke into the box again passing to Lewis whose shot was parried to safety.  It wasn’t all Watford as a cross from Watters was headed out for a corner.  Lewis got on the end of a cross from Murray heading it goalwards but, again, Yates was equal to it.  Lewis then turned provider cutting the ball back for Smith to shoot but the shot was blocked.

Watford defend a corner

Watford defend a corner

Royston won a corner and Gilmartin had to stretch to push the ball clear.  Then a ball was played over the top to Fehmi who shot wide of the near post.  A cross field ball released Fabbrini, but he couldn’t find room for a shot.  Royston took the lead in the 18th minute as a cross from Bradshaw was headed home by Fehmi.  This provoked chants of “Championship, you’re having a laugh” from the home fans.  Watford tried to hit back immediately but Lewis failed to connect with a decent cross from Smith.  The equalizer came on 26 minutes as Martin did well to keep the ball in on the left touchline, he released Lewis who beat his marker for pace before crossing to Fabbrini who, with his back to goal, found time to turn and bury the ball past Yates.  Two minutes later, the Hornets were ahead as Fabbrini hit a lovely shot from the edge of the area.  Royston had a couple of chances to break back as Fehmi tried a shot from distance that hit the side netting, then Bradshaw put a shot well over the bar.

Fabbrini congratulated after scoring

Fabbrini congratulated after scoring

Lewis connected with a Byers free-kick, but his header was weak and straight at Yates.  Watford had a great chance to increase the lead but the Royston defence was resolute in blocking shots from Lewis and Martin before Murray’s shot was put out for a corner.  The visitors continued to threaten as Lewis broke forward with Fabbrini in close attendance but the attempted through ball was cut out.  So the visitors reached half time a goal to the good.  It had been an enjoyable first half with some lovely football from the Watford team, all of whom were working hard on a very heavy pitch.

At half time, there was an eerie atmosphere in the ground as the entire crowd (apart from Don and I) disappeared into the clubhouse and there was no music was playing over the tannoy.  Heaven knows why we decided to stay outside as it was bitterly cold.  But I feared that, if I ventured inside, I wouldn’t want to return for the second half.

Royston's turn to defend

Royston’s turn to defend

Royston had the first chance of the second period as substitute, Ingrey, shot over the bar.  Normal service resumed as Murray broke forward and fed Fabbrini whose shot was blocked.  Murray then launched a cross which flew over the head of the leaping Lewis.  For the home side a free kick from Fehmi was headed clear by Hoban.  A cross by Lewis to the far post was hooked clear.  On the hour, Folivi replaced Murray for the Hornets and Lockett came on for Watters for the Crows.  The indefatigable Fabbrini went on another run before passing to Martin whose shot was blocked.  Folivi played a short corner to Smith who returned the ball and Folivi hit a lovely shot that required a terrific save from Yates to keep it out.  A follow-up shot from Rowan was deflected over the bar.  It wasn’t all Watford as a cross from Dobson was hit goalwards by Ingrey but blocked.  Then Lewis fed Folivi whose shot was blocked.  With 15 minutes remaining, Stevens, who had replaced Kyprianou for the Hornets five minutes earlier, was booked for a foul on Dobson.  Bradshaw hit a hopeful shot straight into Gilmartin’s arms.  There was danger for the Hornets as Dobson broke into the box and unleashed a great strike that Gilmartin pushed over the bar.

Nothing will pass Fabbrini and Murray

Nothing will pass Fabbrini and Murray

At the other end, Fabbrini and Martin combined to feed Folivi whose shot was blocked.  With 5 minutes remaining, Martin pulled Dobson down just outside the box.  Fabbrini did an effective job as the only man in the wall, “intimidating” Dobson into curling the free kick wide of the far post.  Endacott fell under a challenge in the Watford box, his claims for a penalty were given short shrift by the referee who may have been lynched if he took the game to extra time.  Watford continued to press with a Martin run into the box where he played a square ball to Fabbrini who shot wide of the target.  Diego wasn’t to get his hat trick, but he did have a hand in the third goal, exchanging passes with Folivi who shot past Yates to seal the win in the last minute of the game.

Too often in these games, we have fielded an Under 18 team which has been beaten by the physical strength of the men fielded by the opposition.  The team fielded last night was a nice mix of youth and experience that continued to play lovely passing football in difficult conditions.  Royston certainly had their chances, but the Hornets were worthy winners and Fabbrini was a revelation on a cold night in Royston.

As Don and I came off the A1M a car came up beside us at the lights on the roundabout and sped off on green.  I noted that it had an Italian number plate.  When I caught up at the next set of lights, I glanced over to see Fabbrini in the driving seat of the least flash footballer’s car that I have seen since Jay DeMerit had that old mini.  Not for the first time that evening, my opinion of Diego went up a notch.

A Stunning Comeback Against the Gills

The GT poster in the Lower GT

The GT poster in the Lower GT

It was a cold, wet evening in November so what better way to spend it than watching the Under-21s in the Premier League Cup.  Entry to the ground was through the Hornet Shop and there was more than a touch of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to the passage through a small door into a magical kingdom, although Narnia has nothing on Vicarage Road under the lights.  I had arranged to meet Don in the Lower GT disabled area and, as I descended the steps, I was delighted to see a huge poster with a quote from the great man.  Don then sent me back to see what I had missed.  On the steps up from the Rookery and those to the Upper GT, the great man’s achievements were commemorated.  A lovely touch, which brought a nostalgic tear to my eye.  But we were there to see the next generation (and Almen Abdi).

As with the trip to Bristol City our team looked strong, it was certainly good to see Abdi on a team sheet again.  The starting line-up was Ammann, Rowan, Hoban, Young, Doherty, Abdi, Murray, Byers, Smith, Jakubiak and Ikpeazu.

The corner that led to Gillingham's first goal

The corner that led to Gillingham’s first goal

The game started in the worst possible way for the home side as, in the fourth minute, a corner was headed goalwards by Davies, Ammann could only parry the ball and Norris turned it in at the near post.  Jakubiak tried to strike back but his shot was blocked for a corner.  Watford had the ball in the net in the 11th minute as a shot from Ikpeazu bounced up off the Gillingham keeper, Morris, and Hoban headed it into the empty net, but the linesman had his flag raised, so it didn’t count.  Norris threatened again with a header but Ammann got a hand to it.  Byers went on a run and fed Smith but the Irishman’s shot was straight at the keeper.  At the other end, Linganzi took a shot that flew over the bar.  Watford had a great chance to equalize as Jakubiak went on a run and played a through ball to Ikpeazu whose shot was blocked by the keeper’s legs.  At the other end a shot from Norris was blocked by Smith.  Watford should have equalized on 35 minutes as a corner from Abdi was met with a header from Ikpeazu in front of goal.  It looked easier to score but the header flew over the bar.  The home side continued to threaten as a lovely through ball from Jakubiak reached Ikpeazu but his shot was gathered by Morris.  Byers then received the ball in the box but his shot was deflected for a corner.  In time added on, a wonderful ball over the top from Abdi released Smith who found space for a shot, but Morris was on hand to block.

The two goal scorers celebrate together

The two goal scorers celebrate together

At the start of the second half, Folivi replaced Ikpeazu who didn’t look fully fit.  Folivi has been banging the goals in for the youth team, so I was looking forward to seeing him play.  Jakubiak broke into the box but seemed to be indecisive about whether to shoot or cross and ended up hitting a wayward pass that went out for a throw.  The Hornets went two down three minutes into the half as Blanchard hit a stunning volley that gave Ammann no chance.  It was a real blow to go two goals down and the chances of the young Hornets getting back into the game looked slim, which made what followed all the more enjoyable.  Ten minutes into the half Folivi released Jakubiak who hit a shot on the run that was smothered by Morris.  The next move involving the two front men resulted in the Hornets pulling a goal back.  Folivi closed down a clearance, the ball flew into the box where Jakubiak was on hand to shoot past Morris in the Gillingham goal.  On the hour, Abdi made way for Stewart.  It was great to see Almen back in action.  But back to the youngsters and Watford were level soon after as Murray played a ball out to Folivi on the right wing, he played a low cross into the box where Jakubiak took a touch to control the ball then blasted it into the net.  Delighted as I was with the equalizer, I was begging for a third goal at this point as it was freezing and the thought of extra time and penalties was not appealing.  Gillingham tried to hit back with a cross-cum-shot from Freiter but Ammann parried it to safety.

Congratulating Folivi

Congratulating Folivi

It was the substitute, Folivi, who completed the Watford come back receiving a pass from Byers and hitting a shot from distance into the top corner.  It was a thrilling goal.  Folivi had a chance to grab another as he latched on to a pass from Byers into the box, but a defender was in close attendance and he tumbled.  The referee indicated a free kick for the visitors and appeared to be about to book Folivi for a dive (which it wasn’t), but instead showed the card to Romeo who had clattered Folivi earlier in the move.  Sellens was the next to threaten the Watford goal but his shot was wide of the target,  At this point we were visited in the disabled enclosure by a lovely man from the catering department who gave us each a portion of chips.  Crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, just what the doctor ordered on a cold night.  Back to the action on the pitch, a shot from Freiter was deflected wide.  From the corner Staunton headed over the target.  At the other end Murray tried a shot from distance that was saved by the Gillingham keeper.  The visitors launched a counter attack but Ammann was down to save the shot from Pritchard.  With 8 minutes remaining, Murray made way for Lewis.  Byers had a chance to increase the lead but shot well wide of the target.  At this point, there was suddenly a burst of song from the Upper GT.  Most uncharacteristic.  In the dying minutes of the game, Freiter broke forward but Hoban was on hand to clear.  Connor Smith was booked for a rather reckless tackle on Blanchard and the final action was a Gillingham corner that was headed over the bar by Staunton.  So the young Hornets reached the final 16 after a lively second half performance achieved a result that had looked highly unlikely early in the half.

 

Arie Ammann

Arie Ammann

So a very impressive come from behind win by the under 21s.  Despite the appearance of players with first team experience, it was the kids that caught the eye.  Charlie Rowan put in a good shift in the centre of defence.  George Byers worked hard creating a lot of chances.  Alex jakubiak never stopped working and was a constant threat on the Gillingham goal.  Michael Folivi was super sub scoring one and providing assists for the other two goals.  So, on a cold wet night, I left Vicarage Road with a huge smile on my face having been royally entertained.

A Rare Defeat in Suffolk

The players are joined by servicemen for the minute's silence

The players are joined by servicemen for the minute’s silence

When I arrived at Liverpool Street at 10:30, I didn’t bother to text my travelling companions, just headed for the pub and, sure enough, there was Jac (with a pint of Stella) I turned around to find Toddy walking in, so we were soon sitting comfortably with a tasty breakfast (IPA).  If we started early, the Norfolk ‘Orns had started earlier and with some gusto, so were a very merry group on their arrival.  So much so that one of them was requested to pop over to the burger van for a cup of tea before he was allowed entrance at Portman Road.

For the second game running, Jokanovic had made 5 changes, although there were fewer complaints this time as the only change from the win against Millwall was Forestieri in for Ighalo.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Pudil, Ekstrand, Bassong, Paredes, Andrews, Munari, Tözsér, Forestieri, Deeney, Vydra.

A cross from Williams is cleared

A cross from Williams is cleared

The home side had an early corner that was cleared by Bassong.  Then a rebound fell perfectly for Forestieri who advanced into the box but was tackled before he could shoot.  Watford should have taken the lead after ten minutes when Vydra played a ball across to Forestieri, his pass found Munari in the box who had only the keeper to beat but hit his shot straight at Bialkowski.  Ipswich then had a wonderful chance of their own with a side foot volley from Murphy that was tipped over by Gomes.  The next goal attempt also fell to Murphy, but this one was a soft shot that was straight at Gomes.  At the other end Vydra fed Forestieri but again his shot was blocked.  The first card of the game came after half an hour when Paredes was booked for a foul on Williams, which was a bit frustrating as the referee had let a lot of fouls against Watford players go.  Watford had another half chance as Vydra received a ball from Andrews on the right, he cut it back to Pudil whose shot deflected off a defender into the keeper’s arms.  Then Paredes crossed for Deeney who had to control the ball before hitting his shot, which was blocked.

Challenging at a corner

Challenging at a corner

The first, and only, card for Ipswich came when McGoldrick stopped Watford taking a quick free-kick.  Just before half time, McGoldrick was penalized for a handball which was greeted with red and yellow confetti in the away end from fans frustrated that none of the decisions seemed to be going our way.  When the whistle went for half time, the referee was booed off by the Watford fans.  In all honesty, it had been a scrappy half, the play had been end to end but there was little in the way of decent chances.

Deeney had a fantastic chance to put the visitors ahead early in the second half after Forestieri and Vydra broke forward, but Fernando’s shot from Matej’s cut back flew well over the crossbar.  The home side threatened after Andrews failed to clear, Williams hit a shot wide of the far post although it didn’t seem to concern Gomes who just stood and watched it drift wide.  A cut back from Murphy was cleared by Ekstrand.  Murphy then received a ball over the top and hit a shot that required an excellent save from Gomes to turn it over the bar.  The keeper’s sterling efforts proved unnecessary as the flag was already up for offside.

Deeney on the ball

Deeney on the ball

Ekstrand was the next Watford player to be booked as he fouled Williams to stop a breakaway.  That was the midfielder’s last involvement in the game as the injury that was inflicted by the tackle meant that he couldn’t continue.  He was replaced by Bishop.  The resulting free kick was punched clear by Gomes.  Hunt tried to lob the keeper, but the ball ended up on top of the net.  Watford had another wonderful chance as Vydra broke forward, he crossed for Forestieri who really should have hit the target, but he blasted his shot over the bar.  Then Hunt broke into the Watford box, Gomes bravely saved at his feet but they had come together with some force so the keeper needed treatment.  Bond readied himself to come on but Gomes eventually got back to his feet and was judged fit to continue.  On 70 minutes some lights appeared in the Ipswich crowd.  I have no idea what they signified and they were gone as soon as they appeared, but it was very bizarre.  On 73 minutes, Jokanovic made his first substitution as Forestieri made way for Ighalo.

Tozser takes a free kick

Tozser takes a free kick

A poor pass from Vydra allowed McGoldrick to break so Munari took the forward down and received a yellow card that he accepted with a handshake.  Bru had a great chance to put the home side ahead when a corner was cleared to him but he volleyed just wide.  The same player threatened the Watford goal again soon after but his shot was met with a brilliant catch from Gomes.  At the other end a Deeney cross found Ighalo free in the box, the flag stayed down but the Nigerian’s shot was blocked for a corner.  Increasingly it appeared that one goal would win this game.  Unfortunately that goal went to the home side.  Watford failed to clear from a free-kick, the ball bobbled around the box before falling to Smith who hit it past Gomes.  It was a scrappy goal that summed up the game.  There were a couple of late substitutions with Murray coming on for Andrews for the visitors and Sammon replacing McGoldrick for the home side.  Watford waited until the last minute of the six added on before attempting an equalizer, but the shot from Munari was blocked by Bialkowski and the three points stayed in Suffolk.

So, after a nine game unbeaten run, we had suffered two consecutive defeats.  Both performances were disappointing, but two draws would probably have been fair as neither side dominated in the games.  We now have the international break to regroup.  The last two breaks have seen the Watford manager replaced but that is very unlikely to happen again, so Jokanovic has two weeks to plot the downfall of Derby whose recent blip appears to be over.  Despite the disappointment of the last couple of games, I am really looking forward to that encounter.