On Thursday evening the City ‘Orns had their traditional Christmas curry. This year the usual delightful company was enhanced with a visit from Lloyd Doyley who, for many years, was sponsored by the group. He was in good form, he’s still training at Watford while he searches for a new club. He’s had offers, but is waiting for the right one. After chatting away all evening and submitting to an excess of photos, as we left the restaurant he asked if anyone wanted a lift back to Watford. What a sweetheart. One of our newer members declared that it was the best night of his year.
Back to Saturday and, having missed the last home game, it has been over a month since I was at Vicarage Road, so it was good to be back home. The West Herts was packed when I arrived, but it was good to see all the usual suspects and a special treat to see Tim and Jemima visiting from Norway. A number of our party are Norfolk ‘Orns, so this is a Derby game for them. The Canaries have also been a bogey team for us so, despite our relative positions in the table, there was no complacency in the pre-match discussions.
Team news was that Gomes was fit to start, while Anya and Jurado came in for Paredes and Abdi. There was a lot of muttering about the inclusion of Jurado, who has not impressed to date, over Abdi and Guedioura who, it was said, were not being risked due to knocks that they had picked up at Villa. This caused much muttering, “If they are on the bench, they must be fit.” The starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Anya and Ighalo. When Gomes’s name was read out pre-match, it was greeted with an even louder and longer cheer than usual. Norwich’s starters included former Watford loanee, Sebastien Bassong, who was given a good reception from the Hornet faithful. I was also interested to hear that the visitors had Rudd in goal in place of the more famous Ruddy. Do they share shirts?
The improvement of the ground by the Pozzos continues with the addition of a big screen over the Police control room at the Rookery end of the ground. Lucky me as, from my position in the middle of the Rookery, I can see both screens. I am spoiled.
The start of the game seemed to be dominated by the visitors but they only had one effort anywhere near the goal, a cross from Grabban that went begging. The first chance for the home side came when Watson hit a shot from distance that was deflected wide by Bassong. Soon after, a shot from Aké was blocked to shouts of ‘hand ball’, but the referee gave nothing. There were more pleas directed at the referee as Capoue put in a looping cross and Deeney went down under a challenge from Bennett but, again, play was waved on. Then Nyom played a lovely through ball to Anya, but he slipped as he put in the cross, so Rudd was able to gather the ball as Ighalo closed in. On 28 minutes Capoue played a ball to Ighalo in the box, where he became the meat in a Tettey-Bassong sandwich and the referee finally pointed to the spot. Rudd delayed the taking of the penalty for as long as he could but, when Deeney stepped up, he coolly put the ball to Rudd’s left sending the keeper the wrong way. Watford had a great chance to increase the lead as Deeney headed the ball down to Ighalo who broke free of the defence but was flagged offside. At the other end a ball into the box seemed to bounce past Gomes with a Norwich player closing in, but the keeper turned and gathered the ball. Watford looked to have increased their lead on 36 minutes as a Nyom cross was slotted home by Ighalo, but the celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s flag.
The next chance fell to Capoue, who is an absolute hero everywhere on the pitch except in front of goal, he tried a volley from outside the box which was way off target which he acknowledged to the Rookery. Ighalo’s harrying caused Rudd to make a poor clearance that went straight to Jurado, who passed to Deeney who tried to play it through to Anya, but the ball was cut out before it reached the Scotsman. A lovely period of pressing from Ighalo and Deeney frustrated the Norwich defence who could not find a way to get the ball out of their half, eventually Watson got involved and forced Olsson to concede a throw-in to loud applause from the Hornet faithful. Ighalo threatened the Norwich goal yet again in the dying minutes of the half but, again, Rudd managed to block. In time added on, Norwich had their first shot on goal as a Brady free kick was headed over by Bassong.
So we reached half time a goal ahead. Apart from the first few minutes, Watford had completely dominated, Ighalo should have had a couple of goals and Gomes hadn’t had a save to make.
During the break, Malky Mackay was on the pitch with his son, Callum, making the half time draw. He said nice things about both of his old clubs and predicted that we would both survive. He paid tribute to the Pozzos for what they have done since they came in and was also very complimentary about his fellow Glaswegian, Anya. There were a few boos from the back of the Rookery as his name was announced, but he received warm applause as he walked along the front of the Rookery.
There was a lively start to the second half. A quick throw from Ighalo set Anya up, but his shot was over the target. At the other end, Capoue and Cathcart both let a ball go over their heads under the assumption that Gomes would gather, but they hadn’t seen Brady lurking and there were huge sighs of relief in the Rookery when he shot wide. There was a worrying moment as Aké and Wisdom challenged for a header, the Watford man was knocked flying and fell very awkwardly. We could see his legs moving, but he was keeping his head and neck rigid and there was soon a stretcher on the pitch. Thankfully, on this occasion, it wasn’t required and Nathan was able to continue in the game. Almost immediately he showed that there were no ill effects as he went on a storming run down the left before putting in a great cross that Ighalo was unable to convert. Soon after, Jurado won the ball and broke clear, he found Ighalo who battled against a defender to get a shot in but the ball was deflected into the side netting. A Norwich break was stopped as Deeney bundled Brady over and was shown a yellow card for his trouble. A lovely passing move from Watford, including a trademark nutmeg from Capoue, finished disappointingly with a welly from Aké. Watson slid into a tackle on Olsson, he won the ball but the Norwich player fell over his trailing leg so Ben received a yellow card for what appeared to be a good tackle. From Brady’s free kick, Mbokani was challenging but Gomes caught the ball.
Capoue showed his skills again, taking the ball from between a Norwich player’s legs and disappearing up the field, he skipped past two players before playing a through ball to Ighalo whose shot was saved. Ighalo threatened again as he received a ball over the top from Deeney, he did well to get into position for the shot but it was rather weak and easily gathered by Rudd. A dangerous clearance from the Norwich keeper was gathered by Gomes as Brady challenged. Deeney played another ball over the top to Ighalo and this time the Nigerian’s shot was wide of the far post. Flores’s first substitution was to replace Anya with Paredes. A break from Ighalo was stopped as he was sent flying by Bennett who was booked for the offence. Watford’s second substitution saw Jurado replaced by Abdi. It has to be said that, after a ropey start, Jurado had grown into the game and put in his best performance to date. Watford’s next chance came as Aké played a cross field ball to Paredes, who crossed for Ighalo whose shot was saved by Rudd. Yet another chance fell to Ighalo and, yet again, Rudd blocked it. A rare threat by the visitors was wasted as a ball into the box was met with a back header by Jerome that went out for a goal kick, when Brady was lurking behind him in a more dangerous position.
Gomes gave us another worrying moment as he went down needing treatment but, thankfully, he was able to continue. Abdi had been a man possessed since he came on, putting in an uncharacteristically aggressive performance, and after a battling run down the wing alongside Brady his opponent was booked for a petulant push. In the last moments of the game, Ighalo took another tumble in the box, but this time the referee waved play on. There was a spell of pressure in the Watford area as we failed to clear but it finished with a looping ball into the area from Bennett that was easily gathered by Gomes. As Emma announced six minutes of time added on, my heart sank, but our nerves were soon calmed as Deeney found Ighalo in the box who worked his way into position and shot past Rudd. He thoroughly deserved his goal as he had been working his socks off and he celebrated by throwing his shirt away. I’m sure the booking didn’t faze him. Soon after, he was replaced by Guedioura and went up to shake the referee’s hand before he left the field. Bless his heart. Norwich never looked like striking back and the last goal chance of the game came when a poor clearance from Rudd reached Guedioura, he tried to chip the keeper who was out of his goal but the ball flew over the bar. It was worth trying.
The final whistle went after the quickest 6 minutes of injury time that I have ever experienced. Despite the scoreline, it had been a convincing win. In the celebrations on the pitch, the Quique hugs were in evidence. First a very warm embrace for Gomes. Then he approached Harry Hornet, who dropped his drum like a brick in order to enjoy his hug. Well done to Flores for recognizing the incredible work that Harry does during games. The performances this season have not generally needed the addition of his entertainment, but he is always there in a quiet moment to make the crowd laugh and encourage them to cheer their team on.
The table on Saturday evening showed us in 9th place. Due to the number of games played at odd times, the position at 5pm on Saturday can be misleading but examination of the remaining fixtures for the weekend indicated that only Everton, playing on Monday, could overtake us, so we are guaranteed to be in the top half at the end of the weekend. I expected us to make a good fist of it this season, but this is beyond my wildest dreams.