Tag Archives: Sebastian Prodl

Should Have Stayed in the Pub with Prowsey

A rather gorgeous quilt at St George’s Hall

During the weeks that the rail companies are expecting leaves on the line my morning train to work leaves two minutes earlier than usual.  For someone who needs every minute in the mornings, this causes me issues.  As I prepared to leave the house with my bag packed for the overnight stay in Liverpool, I realised that I had forgotten something so, by the time I left, I was cutting it very fine.  Sure enough, I arrived at the station to see the train start to pull out.  As I had half an hour to wait for the next one, I decided to collect my tickets for the journey to Liverpool.  That was my second mistake of the morning as my credit card was damaged and became stuck in the machine, much to the displeasure of the woman in the ticket office.  At that point, I boarded my train, sat down with a coffee and hoped that was the end of my bad luck for the day.

After a shorter than anticipated morning at work, I arrived at Euston where I bumped into Mick Smithers, our Police liaison officer.  I almost didn’t recognise him as he was in civvies.  We had a chat speculating on the likely small away attendance and then went our separate ways.  I caught up with Adam, my travelling companion for the day, on the train and we settled down for the journey north.

As we arrived too early to head for the pub, I tried to do something cultural.  I didn’t fancy the clothing exhibition at the Walker, so headed for St George’s Hall as we believed there was a photography exhibition there.  The signage wasn’t good, so we scaled the three flights, had a look around the courtroom and into the gallery before descending and finding that the exhibition was on the ground floor.  It was diverting enough, but I found myself spending more time with the educational display about crime and punishment in Victorian Liverpool.  Of particular interest there were the cautionary tales of the punishment of habitual drunks, most of whom appeared to be female.   With this still fresh in my mind, we headed for the pub where we met up with Mike.

While sitting in the pub, we saw a man knocking on the window trying to attract someone’s attention.  The young lad sitting behind us went out to see him and returned to inform us that he had been summoned to see the Watford team boarding their coach which was parked opposite the pub.  It was only about 75 minutes to kick-off, so it seemed that they were also cutting it a bit fine.

Gomes back in goal

I am a big fan of the musician Ian Prowse of Amsterdam and Pele.  It just so happens that Mike is a friend of his, having worked with him on an educational video some years ago.  Ian had promised to drop in to say hello, but as time went on it appeared that he had found something better to do.  Just as we had given up on him, he appeared and told a few stories as only Scousers (and the Irish) can.  It was very tempting to get another drink and stay in the pub with him, but we dutifully headed to the ground at the appointed hour.

The seats that we had been allocated were at the back of the stand, so the view was somewhat restricted by the low roof.  Luckily, due to the small crowd, we were able to find seats at the front of the block where we could see most of the pitch (around the pillars) and at least we could sit when the ball was down our end.

Team news was that Quique had made eight changes but was sticking with first team players.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Cathcart; Foulquier, Chalobah, Quina, Hughes, Femenía; Pereyra, Gray.  Dalby, who has been impressing in the U23s had travelled with the team but only made the bench.

Kiko takes a throw-in

Everton had an early chance as a counter-attack finished with a shot from Kean that was blocked by Cathcart.  A mistake from Richarlison was greeted with jeers from the travelling Watford fans, which set the tone for the game as he was booed every time he touched the ball.  The animosity towards that young lad really baffles me.  Watford’s first chance came in the 17th minute, a low cross from Pereyra reached Quina at the far post, but he couldn’t sort his feet out and could only turn his shot wide.  It was a very cagey first half, so the next action of note was after half an hour.  Pereyra intercepted the ball, found Chalobah, who hesitated before shooting and was crowded out, the ball broke to Foulquier who won a throw.  The throw-in reached Pereyra, whose shot was very poor.  The fact that this uninspiring passage of play was deemed worthy of note highlights how poor the rest of the half had been.  At the other end a cross from Iwobi was easily caught by Gomes.  Each side was forced to make a substitution towards the end of the half.  Quina, who had been struggling for a while, made way for Doucouré and Mina was replaced by Keane.  The home side had a chance to open the scoring just before half time when Hornets gave the ball away on the edge of the box allowing Iwobi to get in a shot, but Gomes made the catch.

Pereyra prepares to take a corner

So the half ended goalless.  It had been a very dull half of football, and the cagey approach had led to a shout from behind me of “Don’t play for 0-0, it’s a cup game.”  There were some suggesting that the game should go straight to penalties rather than making us sit through another half of tedium, but we weren’t to be so lucky.

Everton made their second substitution at the break as Walcott replaced Kean.  On 54 minutes, Watford had the best chance of the game so far, and their first shot on target, as Gray went on a run before hitting a powerful shot that required a good save from Pickford to keep it out.  Then Gray tried to play Doucouré in, but it was a poor pass that was easily dealt with.  Everton had a decent chance from a Digne free kick, Keane had a free header, but he headed downwards and it bounced into the arms of Gomes.  Then Hughes picked up a loose ball and released Gray who played a square ball which went begging.    At the other end, Digne tried a low shot, but Gomes was down to gather.  The home side should have taken the lead when Richarlison cut the ball back to Gomes but the shot was cleared off the line by Mariappa.  Watford made another substitution bringing Kabasele on for Prödl.

Dmitri Foulquier

The second half was much livelier than the first but, unfortunately, it was the home side who were creating the most threat.  Their next chance came from a shot from Iwobi that rebounded off the crossbar.  Flores made his final change and it became clear that we were not to see U23 goal machine, Sam Dalby, instead Deulofeu replaced Pereyra.  The Spaniard took to the field to applause from the Everton fans.  That warm greeting for former players used to be the practice among Watford fans, I don’t know when we morphed into a group who jeer nastily.  The first booking of the game went to Doucouré for a foul on Gomes.  Digne took the free kick which was deflected off the Watford wall and, again, the crossbar saved us.  Everton took the lead in the 72nd minute as Walcott crossed for Holgate to head home.  The goal was greeted with a sense of resignation in the away end.  It had been coming and, given what had gone before, it seemed highly unlikely that Watford would get back into the game.  Silva made his final substitution bringing Tosun on in place of Calvert-Lewin.  Everton won a free kick in a dangerous position but, before they could take it, Hughes required treatment, which was of some concern as the Hornets had already used all of their substitutes.  When the free kick was eventually taken, it was a terrible delivery that flew wide of the near post.  As the game reached the 90 minute mark, Mariappa was booked for a clumsy tackle.  He protested the decision, I have no idea why.  There was 4 minutes of added time which was not welcomed in the away end.  The Hornets did have a half chance to draw level when Deulofeu exchanged passes with Chalobah, but his shot was straight at a defender.  Instead Everton broke downfield and Tosun fed Richarlison who finished past his mentor, Gomes, to seal the win for the Toffees.  The travelling Watford fans streamed out at that point.  I did stay around long enough to applaud the team off.  There was some consolation for the fans who had stayed to the bitter end as a number of the players came over to give away their shirts.

Deulofeu comes over to take a corner

We headed back to the pub a disappointed bunch.  It had been a miserable performance.  Everton were very poor, but we were worse.  Apart from the Gray shot early in the second half, we didn’t look likely to test Pickford.  That is what I am finding so frustrating this season.  Even if we are short on strikers, we have players who can create chances and they aren’t doing so.  The cup defeat means that we can now concentrate on the league, but I am increasingly concerned that this is a relegation season in the making.  We often joke about staying in the pub rather than going to the game and I couldn’t help thinking that we would have had a lot more entertainment if we had continued drinking with Prowsey.

On Wednesday, I had a lazy morning but caught a train in time to get to work for the afternoon.  At least that was the plan, but a combination of a broken-down train on the line and signal failure meant that I didn’t arrive back in London until after 3:30, so ended up having to book another half day off work for a game that certainly wasn’t worth using that much holiday.  This was certainly not the best trip I have ever been on.

A Soggy Stalemate

Welbeck and Gray waltzing with the opposition defenders

Due to evening commitments in London last week, my commuting time was at a minimum, this meant that I hadn’t listened to the “From the Rookery End” podcast.  So, I made it my accompaniment for the train journey to Watford and wished that I hadn’t.  When even the ultra-positive Colin sounds exasperated, and that game at Wolves was enough to try the patience of a saint, you know that we are in trouble.

I arrived at the West Herts later than usual to find my sister at the bar.  She had arrived early for a chat and was somewhat put out to find that I wasn’t there yet.  We joined the usual suspects at our table before the Norfolk ‘Orns made an appearance.  They were on one of their days out, which generally means an early start on the beer and shots in the West Herts.  It has to be said that they were already very jolly when they arrived, but their early start meant that there were no pork scratchings in Glenn’s goodie bag to the consternation of all.

Pereyra preparing for a corner

On arrival at the Rookery turnstiles, I was patted down by a steward, I don’t believe that has happened before.  It was noticeable that, as there was only a female steward at that end of the turnstiles, while I was being searched, the men were streaming past unmolested, which was a source of some irritation.  On arrival in the Rookery, we found, as we had for the Swansea game, a pool of water under our seats.  We asked a steward for assistance in clearing it, his solution was to tell us we could find another seat if any were available.  We had seen one of the cleaning staff with a mop and a bucket further down the stand, so I went and asked him to assist us.  This meant that we missed joining in the “Forza” display prior to kick-off.  Even after the man with the mop had done his (much appreciated) thing, the floor was too wet to place my bag down, so I was relieved when the guy that sits next to me did not appear and I was able to use his seat for my bag.  To add insult to injury, when I tried to take a photograph for the blog, I found that my camera battery was drained.  Thankfully I had a charger with me so was able to remedy the situation and just hoped that there would be something worth photographing.

Team news was that Quique had made 4 changes with Prödl, Kabasele, Pereyra and Gray replacing Dawson, Capoue, Sarr and Deulofeu.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Prödl, Kabasele; Holebas, Cleverley, Doucouré, Janmaat; Pereyra; Welbeck, Gray.

Challenging at a corner

Watford had a great chance to open the scoring in the 8th minute after a terrific run from Pereyra, he put in a low cross for Gray who managed to blast the ball into the Vicarage Road stand when it looked much easier to score.  Soon after, Pereyra won a corner that was taken short but eventually led to a cross by Janmaat that was headed over by Prödl.  There was almost a disaster of our own making at the other end as Cathcart turned a cross from Baldock towards his own goal, but Foster pulled off a smart save to stop it.  The visitors had another chance to open the scoring with a low shot from Fleck, but it was an easy save for Foster.  The Blades threatened again as McBurnie slid in trying to convert a low cross from Basham, but Foster was able to gather.  Doucouré got himself into a great position for a shot, but there was a body in the way of his effort from the edge of the box.  The Hornets had one last chance to take a lead into the break as Prödl met a cross from Cleverley with a header that dropped to Kabasele who tried to turn it in, but Henderson was able to make the save.

It had been an incredibly dull half of football, which had done nothing to improve my mood.  The half time celebrity guest was Alan Smart.  Being reminded of the awful season that he was involved in at this level didn’t help.  The high point for him was scoring the winner against Chelsea.  Unfortunately, the prospect of any similar results this season are currently looking very remote.

Janmaat takes a free kick

The second half started promisingly for the Hornets as a misplaced header dropped to Welbeck who powered downfield with Gray running alongside.  As Henderson came out to meet him, he decided to take the shot himself and it was blocked by the keeper.  From our perspective in the Rookery, passing to Gray looked like a better option but, given his earlier miss, the outcome may well have been the same.  The Hornets had a really good spell, which galvanised the crowd, but they couldn’t fashion a goal attempt worthy of note.  The visitors had the next chance as Robinson volleyed goalwards, but Foster was able to make the save.  Watford made two substitutions in quick succession.  Prödl limped off due to a hamstring injury to be replaced by Dawson, a great shame as the presence of Seb in the back three had been a positive.  Then Gray made way for Deulofeu.  In between the substitutions McBurnie was booked for a foul on Kabasele.  Soon after being cautioned he was replaced by Mousset.  Next there was a break in play due to an injury to Holebas.  José was down for a while being treated but, once back on his feet, he walked off the pitch while giving the evil eye to his assailant, who had my sympathy.

Foster prepares to take a free kick

The visitors made a second substitution, replacing Robinson with Billy Sharp, who was once heralded as “the answer” by a section of Hornet fans.  Flores also made a change bringing Sarr on for Welbeck.  Deulofeu impressed as he ran to keep an impossible ball in play, advanced and crossed, but it was just too high for Doucouré and Henderson was able to make the catch.  Deulofeu created a half chance as he cut in from the left and tried a shot, but it was easy for the keeper.  As the clock struck 90 minutes, a break by Deulofeu was stopped by a foul by Lundstram, who was shown a yellow card for his trouble.  The Hornets had a great chance to snatch the three points when the free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Dawson, but Henderson managed to make the save.  There was one final chance for the Hornets as Doucouré was urged to shoot by the crowd, but the shot from distance was woeful and nearly hit the corner flag.  So, the game ended goalless.

As I walked back to the West Herts, I bumped into another regular.  He was very philosophical, reasoning that we’ve both been watching Watford for a long time and have seen a lot worse than this.  He was right, but the current winless streak is still a great cause for concern.

Man of the Match Kabasele calling the shots

The main positive from the afternoon was that this was the first clean sheet since February.  Our defence has been dreadfully leaky and we looked much stronger with three at the back, although this improvement at the back may have been helped by the opposition being Sheffield United.  Still, Prödl had a great game, he is much more of a commanding presence at the back than either Cathcart or Dawson.  Kabasele was immense and was named man of the match by the sponsors and thoroughly deserved it.  The strikers are still struggling, but at least they are making chances and we really should have won this game.  Sadly, I have felt that after most of the games this season, Brighton and Man City notwithstanding.  Most of the teams that we have played this season have been poor to mediocre and yet we find ourselves with only 3 points from 8 games.  The big problem with this team, as many have been saying for weeks is a lack of confidence and leadership.  Troy is badly missed and you can’t help thinking that a scrambled goal or one bouncing off someone would make a huge difference.

So we go into an international break for a much needed breather and the hope that we will soon see an upturn.  My dear friend, Don, always urges us to “Keep the Faith”.  It is becoming increasingly hard.

 

Back to Winning Ways at Wolves

Masina, Mariappa and Cathcart

Thankfully I chose the weekend of the Bournemouth game to travel to the Turks & Caicos for a week’s diving.  Although I made the mistake of listening to the game, which was not a good start to the holiday.  But it has to be said that, despite the recent poor run of results, this seemed to be the first bad performance of the season and it was good that the lads had the international break to give them time to recover.  Since Watford’s downturn started after Javi won the Manager of the Month award, I was hoping that the curse would now transfer to Nuno.

A trip to Molineux evoked awful memories of our last visit which ended with one of our regular travelling fans, Nic Cruwys, fighting for his life following an attack after the game.  Having previously witnessed an attack on the Watford fans’ coaches (which are generally used by families and the elderly), I was not looking forward to this trip.  Our party decided to delay our arrival by meeting in our pre-match pub of choice in Birmingham instead.  When I arrived early doors, Graham was already in place, but the pub was otherwise almost empty.  Then, suddenly, there was an invasion of Morris Dancers.  The bells were driving me crazy.  Having thought we had found a quiet spot, the rest of our party arrived to find a dance taking place in front of our table.  I couldn’t help reflecting on the irony that the two Morris dancers in our usual away crowd had decided to give this game a miss.

The Wolves Pyro Display

We left Birmingham in plenty of time to make the journey to Wolverhampton.  On arrival at the station, we were met by a phalanx of police who directed us behind the station and on a rather circuitous route as they didn’t want Watford fans walking through the city centre.  I must say that the route that we took seemed a little too out of the way for my liking, but there were police officers stationed at various points on the way and we arrived at the ground with no sign of any trouble.

Team news was that, in addition to the suspensions of Kabasele and Holebas, Deeney had picked up a minor injury and Gracia had decided to drop Gray to the bench, the replacements being Mariappa (who also captained the team), Masina, Deulofeu and Success.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart. Mariappa, Masina; Deulofeu, Hughes, Capoue, Doucouré, Pereyra; Success.  Wolves were unchanged for the ninth game this season.

As the teams came out prior to kick-off, there were some very impressive pyrotechnics.  Our pitch side seats meant there was a danger of scorching, my eyebrows may never recover.  When it was over, we couldn’t see the pitch for the smoke.  It seems that Wolves subscribe to the adage “no pyro, no party”.

Finding a shady spot to celebrate Capoue’s goal

As well as the overheating prior to kick-off, the stand had no leg room (I am 5ft6in and could not sit comfortably, even if the people in front had allowed me to do so) and was also bathed in bright sunlight, which made it incredibly difficult to watch the game.  The first half chance of the match came as a free-kick from Neves was headed over by Masina. The resultant corner was met with a looping header from Bennett that was pushed over the bar by Foster.  The second corner led to a quick break by the Hornets as Femenía hared upfield before finding Deulofeu whose cross was straight into the arms of the Wolves keeper, Patricio.  After an even start that had been short on chances, Watford took the lead on 20 minutes.  The move started with some really good work from Deulofeu before Doucouré played the ball out to Capoue who blasted a low shot from distance into the Wolves net.  There was a momentary delay before the celebration as we couldn’t quite believe what we had seen.  It was a terrific strike.  We had hardly stopped bouncing when the second goal went in.  Straight from the restart, the ball found its way to Pereyra on the left from where he effortlessly curled a shot over the keeper and into the opposite corner.  Well, that was unexpected!

Man of the match, Capoue, lining up a free kick

Wolves seemed a bit shell shocked at that point and the next Watford attack finished with Success being taken out.  The travelling Hornets were shouting for a penalty, but the referee indicated that the foul had been committed outside the area.  It was in a dangerous position, but Deulofeu’s free-kick was disappointingly straight into the wall.  The first booking of the game went to Neves after a foul on Hughes.  Watford continued to dominate and some lovely passing around the Wolves box finished with Doucouré playing the ball back to Pereyra who curled his shot over the bar.  There was a rare attack from the home side as Jiménez broke forward and got into a dangerous position, but his shot was poor and flew wide of the far post.  After another lovely passing move involving Femenía and Hughes, the ball reached Doucouré whose shot was saved by Patricio dropping low to gather.  The half time whistle went with the Hornets two goals ahead and in total control of the game.  It had been an impressive half of football from the visitors.  The two goals in quick succession had shocked the home side, but it had been a performance of assurance and skill.

Pereyra put in a shift at both ends of the pitch

Wolves made a substitution at the restart bringing Vinagre on for Jonny.  Watford started the half well as Success latched on to a through ball and surged forward, but his shot was wide of the target.  There was an early chance for the home side as Vinagre tried a shot, but Foster was down to block and the ball was cleared.  Foster was taking his time to restart the game, which enraged the Wolves fans behind the goal who were already on his case for his West Brom connections.  Ben couldn’t have cared less.  Nuno made a second substitution on the hour mark bringing Cavaleiro on for Jiménez.  Wolves had a half chance as, from a Moutinho free kick, Boly tried a backheel in the direction of the goal, but Foster was able to make the save.  Watford made a rare second half break as Success found Doucouré whose shot was blocked.  Hughes was the first Watford player to be cautioned after he pulled back Vinagre as he tried to escape upfield.  Gracia’s first substitution saw Gray coming on for Deulofeu, who had run the first half, but had faded since the break.  Wolves continued their attempts to break back as Moutinho tried a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  The home side then made their last change bringing Traore on for Doherty.  Gracia’s next substitution was a defensive one as Prödl replaced Success.

Pereyra and Gray preparing for a corner

At about this time, with 15 minutes to go, the sun disappeared behind the stand and I could finally see the game without having to shield my eyes or being blinded by the glare from my glasses.  Wolves were getting closer to reducing the deficit as a cross from Vinagre was headed just over by Cavaleiro.  It felt as though the Watford goal was leading a charmed life at this point, but the home side were incredibly wasteful as another free kick from a dangerous position was launched high and wide by Neves.  Watford were still making occasional attempts to increase their lead, on this occasion a shot from Gray was blocked, so Hughes tried to score with a tackle, but Patricio was able to gather.  With the clock running down, the next chance for Wolves to get something from the game fell to Costa who again directed his shot over the bar.  Prödl’s appearance was short lived as he left the field limping and was replaced by Wilmot who was making his Premier League debut.  Wolves had one last chance from a free-kick which was met by a glancing header that flew wide.  The fourth official indicated four additional minutes, but they were painless for the Hornets who finished the game as deserved winners.

Ben Foster beaming after the final whistle

The post-match celebrations were very enjoyable.  Clearly Ben Foster, who had been the target for dog’s abuse for most of the game, was delighted.  His fist pumping was almost Gomes-esque!  It was also lovely to see players coming over to the fans to present them with shirts, the first being Deulofeu who jumped the barriers to hand his shirt to a fan.  But I must admit that the one that got to me was when Aidy Mariappa came over to Flora, one of our wheelchair fans.  Aidy also jumped the barriers to reach Flora to hand her his shirt and have a chat with a beaming smile on his face.  I had to wipe away a tear.

Before the game, the Watford fans I spoke to had all been of the opinion that a point would have been a good result, but nobody seemed at all confident of that outcome.  That two goal first half minute decided the game but, despite the rearguard effort in the second half, Watford were in control for the full ninety minutes and Wolves never looked like getting back in the game.  As good at the forward play was in the first half, and there were some absolutely gorgeous moves, the defensive performance in the second half was equally good, with some brilliantly timed tackling and a general sense that Wolves had nowhere to go meaning that they were reduced to long range efforts and set pieces.  Deulofeu’s first start of the season was excellent, it was lovely to see him back.  But the highlight for me was the fact that, although Capoue and Pereyra will be lauded for their goals, they both put in a shift at the back as well.  It was a real team effort.

After the wobble in recent weeks, that was certainly a performance to put smiles back on the faces of Hornets fans and to give us renewed confidence for the rest of the season.  Football is fun again.

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.

A Pre-season Double-header

A lovely present from the club

Although I tend to make the most of my Summer break from football, it is always good when pre-season comes around.  Unusually, the first games for the first team were on the pre-season tour, which I didn’t make this year due to work commitments that also prevented me from making the trips to Welling and Hemel to see the U23s.  So my first chance to see the lads was to be the trip to Stevenage.

Oddly, Watford had arranged two games in two days that both appeared on the first team page, so a lot of fans stayed away on Friday night thinking that it would be a run out for the U23s.  My attendance was also looking a little in doubt as technical difficulties meant that the 4pm meeting at work started 15 minutes late.  That and disruption on the East Coast line had me a little nervous about making it, but I arrived at King’s Cross in time for the planned train which was running on time, so I was in the pub not long after 6 enjoying my first pre-match pint of the season.

After the heatwave, most of which I have spent stuck indoors (partly through choice), there was an irony in the fact that my return to football watching coincided with a thunderstorm.  It started rather gently, so we decided to stay outside in the beer garden but were persuaded to take shelter when the forked lightning appeared.  The walk to the ground was in a downpour, but after the oppressive heat that we have had, the soaking was rather lovely.

Masina and Sema join the fray

Team news was that Gracia had picked a very strong first XI which would give us a chance to see some new faces as the starting line-up was Gomes; Navarro, Prödl, Mariappa, Masina; Hughes, Rodwell, Wilmot, Sema; Jakubiak, Deeney.  Pete and I had turned up wearing the lovely new green away kit.  Mine had arrived by special delivery the week before in a presentation box with a letter from Troy thanking me for attending all 19 away games last season.  A really lovely gesture from the club that made me feel appreciated after turning up on a Wednesday night in Stoke.  We had assumed that it would get a run out, especially when we saw the officials warming up in yellow kits, but the lads emerged from the tunnel wearing the home stripes to confound us.

 

 

Ben Wilmot

Watford started the game very brightly with Wilmot almost opening the scoring against his old club after some good work from Sema on the wing, but his shot was just wide of the target.  The Stevenage goalkeeper, Farman, then pulled off an excellent flying save to keep out a shot from Hughes.  From the resulting corner, Farman again did very well to save a header from Prödl.  Watford continued to dominate without creating much in front of goal until near the half hour mark when Jakubiak found the side netting.  Hughes was the next to threaten the Stevenage goal, but Farman pulled off another decent save and was then out to frustrate Jakubiak as he bore down on goal.  The home side didn’t test Gomes until just before half time when Nugent rose to meet a free kick with a powerful header that the Brazilian stopper did well to keep out.

So we reached half time goalless, but it had been a decent showing from the Hornets who had been unlucky to find the Stevenage keeper in top form.  At the other end of the pitch, it was pleasing to see that Gomes was being shown a lot of love by the Watford fans who had made the journey.

Congratulating Gray after scoring the winner

At half time, Gracia must have been alone in the dressing room as all the substitutes appeared to be warming up and the first half team warming down, but there were actually no changes for the Hornets at the break.

Stevenage were much the brighter team at the start of the second half and had a great chance to take the lead with a header from Revell, but Gomes did brilliantly to keep it out.  On the hour mark, Gracia made nine changes bringing Janmaat, Britos, Cathcart, Holebas, Charles, Capoue, Pereyra, Success and Gray on to join Hughes and Gomes, who would play the entire 90 minutes.  The Hornets got back on top after the substitutions and should have opened the scoring when Pereyra unleashing a lovely curling shot, but Farman was again equal to it.  Just as it seemed that the night would end goalless, Farman made his first mistake of the evening allowing Pereyra to cross for Gray to head home from close range and the Hornets left Stevenage with a slightly fortunate win.

Challenging on the goal line

It was a game of two halves.  The first half had been all Watford with some lively play that should have given us a comfortable lead, if it wasn’t for the performance of the keeper.  The second half was less convincing, but improved after the substitutions.  I liked the look of the new players although I have yet to put a name to most of them.  One bizarre aspect of the evening was the involvement of Kabasele, who took no part in the game but was doing timed sprints on the sidelines.  I swear he ran as far as some of those who actually played.

After a restful night’s sleep, I had a Saturday lunchtime trip to West London to see the Hornets play at Brentford.  In contrast to the previous evening, we found ourselves sitting in a pub garden in blazing sunshine.  Our choice of pre-match establishment wasn’t one of the four on the corners of the ground, but it was rather lovely, if very partisan, with the staff wearing Brentford shirts and flags up all around.  I wondered whether it was a good omen when one of the flags fell off the door.  Oh the straws we clutch on to as fans.

Janmaat and Charles waiting for a throw-in

Pete and I thought we had left in plenty of time to get to the ground for kick-off and there wasn’t much of a queue outside, but it took an age to get through the turnstiles as, instead of just taking your tenner, they then grabbed a ticket which was scanned and the counterfoil torn off before you were permitted into the ground.  With the choice of sitting or standing, we opted for the terraces and took our place at a crush barrier behind the goal.

As was expected most of the starting XI were those that had played the last half hour at Stevenage.  So the line-up was Foster (GK); Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos, Holebas; Pereyra, Charles, Capoue (C), Sema; Success, Gray.  Foster was given a tremendous welcome by the Watford fans with chants of “Foster’s coming home.”  My main concern with the line-up was that Kabasele would be worn out after the workout that he was given on the sideline the night before.

Pete and I had persisted with wearing our green shirts so were happy to see the team were also resplendent in the emerald.  Unfortunately, it had taken so long to get through the turnstiles that we missed kick-off, but arrived on the terrace behind the goal in time to see Foster parry a free-kick from Marcondes, it dropped to Watkins who finished to give the Bees an early lead.  Watford had a chance to break back almost immediately, but Success undid the good work of his run by shooting straight at Bentley in the Brentford goal.

Pereyra takes a free kick

There was a better chance for Pereyra whose cheeky flick bounced off the top of the crossbar.  Gray then had a decent shot that just cleared the bar.  The opening goal came on 25 minutes as Pereyra tried a shot, the keeper was equal to it but Dalsgaard mishit his clearance which found the net to draw the visitors level.  Ten minutes later, the Hornets took the lead as Gray finished from the edge of the area.  I am ashamed to say that I missed the goal as the substitutes were walking in front of the away terrace and I was distracted by how blond Prödl seems to have gone this Summer!  I sensed I wasn’t the only one to miss the goal as there soon followed a chant from the kids to the right of me of “Let’s pretend that we have scored.”  The Hornets had a chance to increase their lead before half time, but this time Gray’s shot was just over the bar.

At half-time Masina replaced Holebas then, on the hour, Gracia made wholesale changes bringing Navarro, Prödl, Rodwell, Wilmot, Mariappa, Deeney and Jakubiak on to replace Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos, Charles, Capoue, Sema and Gray.  Soon after the substitutions, Success had a great chance to increase the lead for the Hornets but, as too often, a tremendous run finished with a terrible shot.  Watkins had a couple of chances to restore parity for the home side, first with a shot across goal and then with a long range shot that was caught by Foster.  The Hornets had the ball in the net on two more occasions, once from a Pereyra header, and then a shot from Deeney who got ahead of the defence before poking home, but both were adjudged to be offside, so the game finished with a narrow win for the visitors.

It had been a typical pre-season game.  A run out that gave few clues to what we can expect for the rest of the season, but it was an enjoyable enough afternoon.  Bizarrely, the atmosphere in the away end was livelier than I am used to at pre-season games, although the chanting was dominated by anti-Luton songs, being delivered by kids who, if I am any judge of ages, are too young ever to have seen Watford play them up the road.

Post-match it was back to one of the pubs on the corner to confirm that none of us was any the wiser, but the beer was good.  Some wonder why we bother with pre-season games.  Personally, I enjoy getting back in the swing of things with the chance to see the new players or the new hair cuts on the old players and to have an afternoon out with friends knowing that the result won’t make much difference to the enjoyment of the day.

 

At Least the Pies Were Good

Harold Wilson still IN

After my complaints last week about the ticket office being unhelpful in our attempts to renew my niece’s season ticket, I am pleased to report that, thanks to help from Richard Walker and Dave Messenger, it was all sorted out on Monday and Amelia has secured her seat for next season.

On to this Saturday and I left London ridiculously early, taking the 8:33 out of King’s Cross.  This proved to be a very good decision as the train an hour later was subject to long delays that would have severely restricted my time in what was a fabulous pub.  After a pleasant journey, I arrived to find Harold Wilson in the square outside the station draped in an EU flag with a placard declaring his support for continued membership.  It was then a short walk to the pre-match pub where the beer was fabulous and the pies were superb.  I chose the moo and blue, which was as meaty and cheesy as you could wish for and accompanied by lovely, thick, caramelised chips, peas and onion gravy.  Others in our party who tried the goat curry pie were equally fulsome in their praise of the food.

The pub was also hosting an “At Your Place” event, which was packed out and, by all accounts, went very well.  A special treat for the NE/NW/Yorks Hornets was the presence of Tony Coton, who came and said hello to us afterwards.  He looked unsure about leaning across a table full of beer glasses to give me a kiss, but I wasn’t taking no for an answer.

The walk to the stadium was everything I love about that time before the game.  As the crowds merged, there was that sense of anticipation that builds when you don’t quite know how the afternoon will pan out.  When we arrived by the away turnstiles, we found a huge queue in front of us, but, thankfully, we were soon through security and took our seats just in time for kick-off.

Favourites old and new, Femenia and Hogg

Team news was the very welcome return of Cathcart in place of Holebas, who had taken a knock during the week.  Otherwise, the Hornets were unchanged from the last game, so the starting line-up was Karnezis; Mariappa, Prödl, Cathcart, Janmaat; Doucouré, Capoue; Femenía, Hughes, Pereyra; Deeney.  Huddersfield was captained by former Watford hero, Jonathan Hogg, who certainly still has a place in my heart.

The game started with the home side dominating possession, although the first goal attempt didn’t come until the 18th minute when, from a corner, Mounié headed the ball down for Quaner, Karnezis managed to block the shot, but the flag was up for offside anyway.  The Terriers had another chance soon after as van La Parra crossed into a danger area, but Janmaat was on hand to put the ball out for a corner just before being booked for an earlier foul on Mooy.  Watford’s first real attack came in the 27th minute when they won a corner, but Pereyra’s delivery was poor and went straight out of play.  The visitors followed up with a nice passing move, but it finished with a wayward shot from Deeney that was deflected for a corner.  Again the delivery of the set-piece by Pereyra was dreadful and the ball flew out of play.  It was not the Argentine’s day as he made an attempt to rescue a ball, fell while challenging and was booked, apparently for simulation, which seemed odd as, from my vantage point, he just appeared to have missed a tackle.  Pereyra redeemed himself by playing a lovely pass to Doucouré but the shot was straight at Lössl in the Huddersfield goal, so was easily saved.  A Pereyra free-kick was pounced on by both Deeney and Doucouré, they seemed to get in each other’s way, but the skipper touched it on and Abdoulaye managed a shot that was deflected into the side netting.  That was the closest that either side came to a goal in a half in which the final action was a booking for Zanka for a trip on Pereyra.

Pereyra and Mariappa

It had been a strange first half, there was a lot of running with very little in the way of either goalmouth action or quality.  Huddersfield had dominated possession but had yet to test Karnezis.

The second half also started slowly, the first action of note being a free kick that was played short to Hughes, but his delivery was poor and flew wide of the target.  Each side made a substitution around the hour mark.  First Femenía made way for Richarlison.  Then Ince came on for Quaner to boos from the travelling Hornets.  The visitors had a decent looking chance (at least in the context of this game) as Deeney played in Hughes but, while trying to avoid challenges, he was unable to get a shot in and the ball rolled through to Lössl.  There was a half chance for the home side as a shot from Mounié was blocked by Doucouré.  Then van La Parra tried his luck with a curling shot that was well wide of the target.  Huddersfield made their second change bringing Depoitre on for Mounié.  From the other end of the ground, I was a little concerned when Pritchard went down under a challenge from Prödl, but the referee adjudged that the Huddersfield man had played for the penalty and booked him.

Challenging at a corner

With about 10 minutes remaining, each side made a substitution with Billing on for van La Parra and Deeney making way for Gray.  The home side had a chance to take the lead almost immediately as a defensive header from Prödl reached Hogg, whose shot was just wide of the far post.  At this point, there was an ironic chant of “This is the best trip I’ve ever been on” from the travelling Hornets.  Gracia’s last roll of the dice was to replace Hughes with Sinclair.  But it was the home side who made the breakthrough in time added on with a goal out of nothing.  A ball was launched into the Watford box, Karnezis came across to gather but Zanka pulled the ball back and Ince was on hand to finish into an empty net with Huddersfield’s first on-target shot of the game.  So frustrating.  The Hornets tried to hit back as a shot from Prödl was blocked leading to a Watford corner, but Lössl leapt to gather the delivery and the home side won all three points at the death.

 

Pereyra ready to take a free kick

At the final whistle there was a joyous roar from the Huddersfield fans, who had been very loud in support of their team throughout the game.  I was happy for them, but couldn’t help but contrast that with the tears of two young Watford fans who were sitting near me.

It was another very frustrating afternoon for Watford fans.  Our team had certainly been better in the second half, but it was hard to argue that we deserved anything out of the game.  Huddersfield seemed to want it more, even if they did have only the one shot on target.

Sadly we are having yet another season where we finish with a whimper and (hopefully) stay up due to sterling efforts in our early games.  I find myself looking forward to mid-May when it will all be over.  But I can’t help hoping that we still have something more to cheer this season.  Otherwise, the pies had better be cracking over the next month.

Domination Leads to an Undeserved Defeat

Deeney, Mariappa and Capoue gather for a corner

Pre-match I had a very frustrating encounter at the ticket office where I was told that, unless we could provide a letter from the university proving that my niece has a place for her second year (we can’t as she has yet to finish her first year), we wouldn’t be able to renew her season ticket at student prices so she would jump from paying the 18 and under to the adult price, which is very steep for a 19 year old student.  After the Fans Forum event, at which the club made noises about encouraging local youngsters to support the club, I was very

disappointed that the club would treat a loyal young fan so appallingly.

Thankfully I was able to go to the West Herts to calm down.  Our usual pre-match crew was joined a couple of very welcome guests, who I hope will join us more regularly in the future.

Team news was that Gracia had named the same team as last week, so the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Mariappa, Prödl, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Femenía, Hughes, Pereyra; Deeney.  The Burnley team included former Watford loanee, Jack Cork, and their Management team, of course, includes Sean Dyche and Ian Woan.  Tim Coombs made a point of welcoming Sean back after the teams were announced and the Burnley manager was given a terrific welcome by the Vicarage Road faithful.

Deeney tries to reason with the referee

As at all Premier League grounds, there was a minute’s applause for Ray Wilkins, whose passing at the ridiculously young age of 61 hit me rather hard.  His time at Vicarage Road was not one that is remembered fondly by Watford fans, but when I met him at the kit sponsors do, I found him to be a lovely man (unlike Vialli).  It was pleasing that the applause in his memory started well before it was instructed.

Burnley started the game very brightly and had the ball in the net in the second minute from a Wood header, but the goal was disallowed for offside.  The visitors threatened again as a cross from Ward was met with a header from Barnes that cleared the crossbar.  Watford’s first chance came from a Janmaat cross that Deeney glanced just wide of the far post.  The next chance for the Hornets came from a lovely move involving Capoue, Janmaat and Hughes, who found Pereyra whose shot needed a decent save from the Burnley keeper, Pope, to keep it out.  Pereyra had another chance soon after as a short corner was played to Holebas who crossed for the Argentinian, whose shot from distance was saved.  The home side executed another lovely move as Hughes played a gorgeous pass to Femenía, who tried to return the compliment, but Pope was out to gather before the pass reached the Watford man.

Holebas prepares to take a corner

A rare attacking move for the visitors led to the ball pin-balling around the Watford box before it fell to Westwood whose shot was blocked by Mariappa.  Another short corner for the home side allowed Holebas to put in a dangerous looking cross, but Pope was able to claim it.  Watford attacked again, and the ball bounced between players without any of them being able to make a decent contact, finally it fell to Capoue who shot wide of the far post, to groans from the Rookery.  Pereyra had another great chance to put the Hornets in the lead as he beat a defender to get into the box and shot towards the top corner, but Pope pulled off another great save to deny him.  Deeney was the next to try his luck with a low shot that was cleared and that was it for the first half action.

It had been a terrific half of football.  The visitors started strongly but, from the 10th minute onwards, Watford were in control, playing some superb football and, were it not for a terrific performance from Pope in the Burnley goal, would have been a couple of goals to the good.

At half time, the crowd was introduced to Ryan Cassidy, a first year scholar who has just signed his first professional contract with Watford.  The little I have seen of him in action for the U18/U23 has been impressive.  Let us hope that he goes on to make a name for himself in the first team.

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal (photo by Cate Ephgrave)

The 50-50 draw was made by Malky Mackay, who mentioned that he had been joined by Aidy Boothroyd at the game.  Malky was given a very warm welcome, which made me happy as I sponsored him for a few years as player/manager and always found him to be a lovely man.

There was an early scare for the Hornets in the second half, as Karnezis came to gather a high ball and failed, thankfully it rebounded to safety.  Watford’s first chance of the second period came as Femenía found Hughes who played the ball back to Janmaat whose shot was straight at the keeper.  Watford won a free kick as Hughes was tripped on the edge of the Burnley box.  Pereyra’s set piece rebounded off the wall, but Watford kept possession and the ball reached Pereyra in the box, his strike was more impressive than last week’s, and had the same impact as it also ended up in the net to give Watford a very deserved lead.  At that point, I thought we would go on and win the game.  It wasn’t to be.

Pereyra prepares to take a free kick

With 20 minutes to go, Dyche made his first substitution bringing Vokes on for N’Koudou.  The Burnley substitute had an immediate impact as a free-kick was headed on by an off-balance Mariappa, and fell to Vokes who poked it past Karnezis.  It was his first touch and Burnley’s first shot of the half, but the visitors were level.  It went from bad to worse as, within 3 minutes, Burnley took the lead.  A free-kick into the box bounced around, it appeared that Karnezis had cleared it, but the referee indicated a goal from a Cork header and Burnley were inexplicably ahead.  Gracia made his first substitution bringing Okaka on for Janmaat.  Watford had a chance to hit back as a cross reached Deeney, but it appeared to bounce off his head and the chance was gone.  There was a better chance as Femenía crossed for Okaka, who headed over when he should have done better.  There was a rash of substitutions, as Hendrick replaced Lennon for the visitors, and Doucouré and Hughes made way for Carrillo and Richarlison for the Hornets.  The last 10 minutes were notable for a series of dramatic collapses by Burnley players when in the vicinity of an opponent, too many of which the referee fell for.  These were supplemented by other antics that my friend, Jacque, described as elevating time-wasting into an art-form.  The Hornets had one last chance to rescue a point as Holebas launched a cross into the box, but Pope was there to gather and the points went to the visitors who celebrated with chants of “We’re all going on a European tour.”

Gathering in the Burnley box

There were a lot of complaints from those around us on the way up Occupation Road and it was very hard to come to terms with the fact that we had lost a game that we had dominated so convincingly.  But, once Burnley equalized, we lost our nerve against a very well-organized team, so the game finished very badly for the Hornets.

It is a source of some frustration that we have finished two very winnable games with only a point to show for a couple of excellent performances.  There have been some very promising signs, Hughes and Pereyra have been outstanding, but we are not clinical enough in front of goal and make too many mistakes at the back.  But the football has been (mostly entertaining), we must be safe and we have a terrific squad to build on for next year.  These are still the good old days.