Tag Archives: Sebastian Prodl

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.

The Cherries Steal a Point at the Death

The 1881 encouraging the crowd to sing

On Wednesday evening was an At Our Place event as fans were invited to question Javi Gracia, Tom Cleverley and Scott Duxbury. The evening started with an introduction to the diversity work of FSF by Anwar Uddin. He was a very engaging speaker, a former footballer who Watford once tried to sign. West Ham wouldn’t let him go at the time and, when they did release him, he found that Lloyd Doyley had come on leaps and bounds and he was no longer needed. He was the first British player of Asian origin and is still a rarity in that area and works with the community to find out why. But he also works in all areas of diversity including setting up a group for older supporters at West Ham called Any Old Irons, you had to love him for that. He was joined by Sam McLeod, the reporting officer for Kick it Out, who told us about the reporting mechanism when you hear abuse at the ground. After a short break, the Watford men took the stage. Javi is very engaging and did well in dealing with questions (with a little help from his translator). Tom Cleverley is a sweetheart and spoke positively about being back at Watford. Scott Duxbury talked about the business and how Gino Pozzo is in it for the long-term. It was a fabulous evening, fair play to the club for putting it on. They even gave us food and a free drink at the bar.

On Saturday morning, I was in Watford early in order to attend the Watford Community Trust exhibition at the museum, which was small, but perfectly formed. I particularly liked the Terry Challis painting of the two Robs (Smith and Clarke).

Gathering for a corner

Then it was on to the West Herts where our usual crew were treated to a visit from Debs and Jane over from Sydney on a flying visit. It was lovely to catch up as we all cheered the demise of Palace against Liverpool (sorry Ray Lew).

Team news was two changes from the trip to Liverpool with Janmaat and Hughes in for Britos and Richarlison. After his nightmare at Anfield, it wasn’t a huge surprise to find that Britos had called in sick. More of a surprise was that Richarlison was finally being given the rest that many fans have been calling for. So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Mariappa, Prödl, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Femenía, Hughes, Pereyra; Deeney. Nathan Aké started for the visitors, I know that I am not the only Watford fan who is still very disappointed that he didn’t sign for us instead.

Watford started the game brightly enough, but the visitors had the first chance from a free kick that was taken short to Stanislas whose cross was met by Aké whose header hit the crossbar. Bournemouth had another decent chance to take an early lead as a terrific shot from Stanislas was met by Karnezis who, at full stretch, managed to push the ball to safety.

Congratulating Femenia on his goal

Watford’s first goal attempt came after some good work from Hughes, who found Deeney whose shot from the edge of the box was blocked. Watford took the lead after 13 minutes as a corner was taken short to Holebas who crossed for Femenía whose volley took a deflection before beating Begović. Bournemouth had a chance to break back almost immediately as a free kick from Stansilas was headed over the bar by Aké, although the lino seemed to have the flag up for offside. There was a scare for the Hornets as Mariappa lost out to King, who was stopped by a terrific tackle from Prödl before he could get a shot in. Watford threatened again as Femenía went on a lovely run to meet a ball over the top, he found Hughes whose shot was sadly blocked by the legs of Deeney diverting it wide of the target. Holebas was the next to try his luck with a free kick that rebounded off the wall, his follow-up lob was easily gathered by Begović. Bournemouth then had a corner that was met by the head of Cook whose downward header was blocked. It was end to end action as Femenía found Deeney whose acrobatic shot was blocked, the ball went out to Janmaat whose low shot was easily saved. At the other end, a shot from Stanislas was stopped by a brilliant save from Karnezis, but the rebound was pushed to safety by a hand from Holebas as Ibe tried to turn it in and the referee pointed to the spot. King stepped up and sent Karnezis the wrong way to grab the equalizer for the visitors. Bournemouth were forced to make a substitution at the end of the half due to an injury to Stanislas who was replaced by Pugh.

So we went into half time with honours even after a competitive and entertaining half of football.

Deeney congratulates Pereyra on his goal

The second half started with a chance for the Hornets, but Femenía’s shot was blocked. Watford regained the lead in the 49th minute after Deeney battled past a defender and found Hughes who laid the ball back to Pereyra whose shot appeared to be in slow motion as it left Begović wrong footed and found the net. The Argentine looked to be on course for a second goal when he received a pass from Hughes, but the space in front of him was soon closed down. At the other end, Ibe had a shot from the edge of the area, but it was easily gathered by Karnezis. Watford made their first substitution replacing Prödl, who was on a yellow card, with Cathcart, whose return from injury was greeted with a very appreciative roar from the crowd. The visitors also made a change as Defoe came on for Ibe. Gracia’s second substitution was to bring Okaka on to replace Hughes, who had an excellent game. Back to matters on the pitch, a header from Defoe appeared to clear the bar, but Karnezis was adjudged to have helped it over and a corner was given which, thankfully, came to nothing. At the other end, Deeney raced to get on the end of a long ball, but Begović was out to clear the danger. With 10 minutes remaining, each side made their final change with Femenía making way for Richarlison and Surman on for Wilson.

Cathcart challenging as Okaka looks on

Watford won a corner and the delivery from Holebas was headed down by Deeney but was claimed by Begović. Deeney then tried a shot from the edge of the area but, again, Begović was behind it. In time added on, there was what appeared to be a coming together between Okaka and Cook as they challenged for a header. As the Bournemouth man was lying prostrate on the turf, we assumed that the referee had stopped the game due to the possibility of a head injury, but he gave a free kick, booked Okaka and Cook was miraculously restored to full fitness. The free kick was helped on by Aké to Defoe and the visitors were able to snatch a point at the death. A very frustrating end to the match and the final whistle went to boos from the Watford fans, which were directed at the referee and the opposition. Troy’s usual lap of the ground was oddly truncated and the final two people on the pitch were Aké and (a newly blond) Capoue having a lengthy chat before each returned to their dressing room.

Despite the disappointment of conceding such a late equaliser, a draw was probably a fair result and it had been a terrifically entertaining game. Hughes and Femenía both put in superb performances and highlighted Duxbury’s statement at the Fans’ Forum that, when our injured players returned, our squad would be of very high quality. It was lovely to see Aké back, just sad that he was wearing the wrong coloured shirt as he was terrific at both ends of the pitch.

We welcome Burnley next Saturday and the return of Sean Dyche. It will be another tough game but, after Saturday’s performance, I am very much looking forward to it.

Another Heavy Defeat at Anfield

Pereyra attempting to keep warm as snow falls during the pre-match handshakes

An away game in Liverpool is always a good opportunity to catch up with one of my oldest and dearest friends and I have to say that I travelled to Liverpool acutely aware that the time spent with her and the planned visit to the Tate on Sunday were likely to be considerably more enjoyable than the 90 minutes at Anfield.

Saturday lunchtime we had a lovely walk through the woods from her town to the next railway station down the line.  The weather was lovely, a bright blue sky with the forecast snow falling as the wispiest of flakes.  As we waited for our trains she mentioned that she often visits a pub nearby which happens to be Jurgen Klopp’s local.  When I arrived in the City Centre, it was decked out in green, white and gold for St Patrick’s Day and everyone I passed seemed to be wearing a green shirt (as was I).  Given that the Six Nations clash between Ireland and England was taking place that afternoon, I felt sorry for any English rugby fans who may have been in town as they were horribly outnumbered.

When I had texted one of my party earlier in the day to reassure him that I still had his ticket and find out what time he would be in the pub, I was a little surprised when he indicated that it would be soon after midday.  When I arrived, a couple of hours after that, it was acknowledged that this was similar to arriving in the West Herts at 9:30 in the morning.  Even Don doesn’t get there that early.

Remembering the 96

We had a convivial and very tasty lunch (the pies are so good) and were soon joined by the Happy Valley Horns and the Liverpool contingent.  As we left the pub (with Ireland well on the way to a result that would give them the Grand Slam) some proper snow was falling.  As the buses for the stadium started lining up I was impressed to see them displaying a banner “Remembering the 96”.

When we arrived at the ground, the short walk from the bus to the away entrance was bitter as an icy wind accompanied the snow.  The security search was perfunctory and the lovely woman performing it said that I would soon be inside and could warm myself up jumping up and down as my team came out for the game.  I smiled and said that we’d make the most of that as it wasn’t likely that we would have any goals to celebrate.

Team news was just the one change in personnel from the Arsenal game, as Britos came in to replace Janmaat, and a change of formation to 5-4-1.  So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Femenía, Mariappa, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Pereyra, Doucouré, Capoue, Richarlison; Deeney.

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s applause for John Molineux, a former Liverpool player who recently passed away.

Javi all wrapped up at Anfield

The game started disastrously for the Hornets as Salah broke into the box in the third minute and left Britos on the floor before beating Karnezis to open the scoring.   At least I’m told that was what happened, as I was too short to see the action in the box at our end which was obscured by my fellow fans standing in front of me.  The Egyptian could have increased the lead soon after as a through ball was played towards him, but Karnezis was out to save on the edge of the box.  At last a Watford attack as Femenía went on a run down the wing before crossing for Pereyra whose header looped wide of the target.  It went a bit quiet then for a while (thank goodness) the next action was a decent attack by the Hornets as Doucouré broke free of the Liverpool defence but decided against taking a shot so passed to Femenia and the home defence were able to clear.  Liverpool were forced into an early substitution due to an injury to Can, who was replaced by Milner.  The Hornets launched another attack as Deeney played the ball out to Pereyra who did brilliantly to beat his man and get into the box, he played the ball across the goal, but it was blocked.  At the other end, Watford’s day was summed up in a single move as Prödl made a brilliant tackle to dispossess Salah and then immediately lost the ball.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came came as Pereyra crossed for Richarlison, whose header was on target but straight at Karius.  The next move seemed to start with a foul on the edge of the Liverpool box as Pereyra was pulled to the ground, but the referee was unmoved and the home side launched a counter attack allowing Salah to break free before playing a ball to Firmino who was stopped by a brilliant save from Karnezis.  Just when I thought that Watford could get to half time only one down, Liverpool scored the simplest of goals as Robertson played a lovely cross to an unmarked Salah who had the easiest of tap-ins (I am told, again my view of the shot was obscured).

Deeney and Pereyra looking horrified

The home side increased their lead early in the second half, while many were still in the concourse enjoying their half time refreshments.  I actually saw this one as it was at the other end of the ground, or I thought I did and was under the impression that it marked Salah’s hat trick, but he turned provider on this occasion as his cross from a narrow angle was turned into the net by an audacious flick from Firmino.  Watford had a couple of decent chances to reduce the deficit.  First a shot from Holebas flew just wide of the near post.  Then Gomez was shown a yellow card for a foul on Richarlison, allowing Pereyra to step up and hit a lovely free kick that bounced off the top of the crossbar.  The Hornets attacked again as a lovely ball was played out to Holebas who whipped the cross in but Karius plucked the ball out of the air.  At the other end there were shouts for handball as Mariappa blocked a cross from Firmino, but the referee saw no infringement.  Pereyra did really well to battle past a couple of defenders before crossing for Richarlison, who was being challenged so was off balance and could only manage a weak header that was easily blocked.  There was a rash of substitutions midway through the second half as, first, Hughes replaced Richarlison, then Okaka replaced Deeney to much muttering behind me.  “We’re three goals down and he takes off a striker”.  I couldn’t help thinking that going for it would be reckless at this stage when all we were playing for was goal difference.

Gathering for a Watford corner

For the home side Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced Wijnaldum.  The young substitute was the next to test Karnezis, but it was an easy save for the Watford keeper.  Karnezis was less successful a couple of minutes later as Salah got the ball in the box and, despite there being a number of defenders in his way, he tricked them all and finished for his hat-trick and Liverpool’s fourth.  Watford hadn’t given up and Okaka broke into the Liverpool box, but with less success as his shot was blocked.  The final substitution for each side saw Ings replacing Firmino and Janmaat on for Britos, who had had a torrid time of it against Salah so was likely happy to be relieved of his duties.  Ings almost scored with his first attempt, but Karnezis made a great save, stretching and managing to get a hand to the shot to keep it out.  But Liverpool were not to be denied their fifth goal as Salah set up Ings whose shot was blocked so the ball rebounded to the Egyptian to score his fourth goal of the evening.  Salah had one more chance, and my heart sank as I saw him bearing down on the Watford goal, but Karnezis was able to get in the way and block the attempt.  As the fourth official held up the board indicating only 2 minutes of added time, Pete observed that it must have been a sympathy decision.  There was a rare moment to make me smile as the ball ended up in one of the stands and Mane leant over the hoardings to retrieve it while Prödl held his legs.  Watford had one last chance to score a consolation goal as Femenía swung a cross in, but Matip was on hand to clear and the whistle went on another heavy defeat for the Hornets at Anfield.

Holebas and Richarlison lining up a free kick with Britos contemplating joining them

As we left the stadium, I was very grateful to see that the snow had stopped falling so I had a very pleasant walk back to Sandhills station before taking a seat on a sparsely occupied train back to my friend’s house on the coast.

I arrived back to a sympathetic welcome, although I couldn’t say that I was either cold or wet, just rather miserable about the result of the game.  But it was hardly an unexpected outcome and I found myself baffled about the constant complaints that I heard from the people behind me.  I had observed early in the game that Liverpool were simply better than us, but that didn’t seem to register.  Some fans seem unable to view a game from that perspective so spend ninety minutes berating their players for losing to a team playing some brilliant football.

There were some positives for the Hornets.  Karnezis, despite letting in five goals, put on a decent show.  But my highlight was a decent performance from Pereyra, who put together some lovely moves which cheered me up greatly on a day when there were few moments of joy.  He seems to shine against more talented opposition as he clearly feels that he is less likely to be clattered.

But, in the end, it was the Salah show.  He is an exceptional footballer and sometimes you have to just appreciate that and move on.  This game was never one that we targeted to gain points, so we should all recharge our batteries over the international break and return, refreshed, for the visit of Bournemouth.