Tag Archives: Sebastien Bassong

Silencing the Canaries

 

Lloydy at City 'Orns

Lloydy at City ‘Orns

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.

Ake taking a throw

Ake taking a throw

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.

Deeney waiting to take the penalty

Deeney waiting to take the penalty

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.

Deeney sending Rudd the wrong way

Deeney sending Rudd the wrong way

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.

Gomes in goal

Gomes in goal

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 lining up in the box with Ake and Deeney

Capoue lining up in the box with Ake and Deeney

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.

Watson takes a free kick

Watson takes a free kick

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.

Deeney and Britos ready for action

Deeney and Britos ready for action

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.

Canaries do the Double

Ben Watson has his eye on the ball

Ben Watson has his eye on the ball

This fixture was always going to struggle to live up to the excitement of the last few games.  Norwich certainly promised to be tricky opponents having been in decent form since Alex Neil took over.  Team news was that Deeney was restored to the starting line-up which was Gomes, Angella, Ekstrand, Cathcart, Anya, Abdi, Watson, Layun, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney.  Former loanee, Sebastien Bassong, started for the visitors.

It all started rather brightly as Watford fashioned a chance in the second minute but Deeney headed Layun’s cross over the bar.  The first goal attempt for Norwich came from a controversial free kick that was taken short to Whittaker whose shot was high and wide.  Ighalo did really well to retain the ball under pressure from the defenders, played it out to Paredes whose cross was disappointingly hit straight to the Norwich keeper, Ruddy.

Layun lines up a free kick

Layun lines up a free kick

Ighalo won the ball from Bassong in the midfield and played it to Deeney whose shot from an acute angle went wide of the far post.  On 35 minutes, Abdi was hacked down by Tettey on the edge of the box.  The Norwich players surrounded the referee protesting ridiculously at a cynical foul ensuring that Johnson joined Tettey in the referee’s book.  The free-kick was in perfect position for Abdi, but his shot was deflected off a Norwich head and clear.  The half-time whistle went after a total non-event of a half.  Watford had had the better of the possession but Norwich, using fair means and foul, had done a very good job of disrupting our play so there had been little in the way of goalmouth action.  The fact that I had managed barely half a page of notes during the half tells its own story.

Paredes baffled and Jokanovic questioning the fourth official following another odd decision

Paredes baffled and Jokanovic questioning the fourth official following another odd decision

Watford also had the first goal attempt of the second half as a cross from Anya was headed clear.  The corner was disappointing with Layun’s set piece going straight to Ruddy.  Deeney did really well to keep the ball under pressure, he played it in to Ighalo in the box, but the ball was taken off his feet by a Norwich defender before he could shoot.  A break by Johnson was stopped by Cathcart who was booked for the foul.  Tettey shrugged off a challenge from Ighalo, knocking the Nigerian to the ground as he ran into the box, before wellying his shot over the bar.  On the hour, a cross from Anya was blocked, the ball fell to Abdi but he was off balance as he shot and it was an easy catch for Ruddy.  The game changed in the 64th minute as Hoolahan broke into the Watford box and executed a dramatic dive.  It was clear from our vantage point that he was play-acting, but the referee was behind him and pointed to the spot.  Grabban stepped up and hit the penalty to Gomes’s left.  The keeper went the right way but couldn’t reach the ball which nestled in the bottom corner.

Gomes takes a free kick

Gomes takes a free kick

The referee continued to endear himself to the Watford fans as, following a nasty foul by Howson on Abdi, the yellow card was shown to Ben Watson.  I have no idea what he had done, but most likely he had critiqued the referee’s performance.  Jokanovic made his first substitution at this point bringing Munari on for Layun.  The visitors were two goals to the good soon after as Johnson played the ball to Jerome who chipped over Gomes and into the net.  Watford’s second substitution saw Vydra on for Ekstrand.  Watford’s goal was threatened again as Cathcart passed a clearance straight to Grabban whose shot had to be turned around the post by Gomes.  Watford’s final substitution came on 77 minutes as Tözsér replaced Watson.  Watford had a chance to hit back as Vydra received a pass from Ighalo in a decent position to try a shot but he elected to pass to Deeney instead and the ball was cut out.  Norwich had a great opportunity to further increase their lead as a Redmond free kick was met with a smart header from Johnson, but Gomes pulled off a great save as he dived and got a hand to the ball to keep it out.  Norwich scored their third with the next move as Cathcart failed to cut out a cross from Whittaker which reached Grabban, who turned it past Gomes.  Grabban could have had his hat trick soon after as he broke forward but his shot from an angle flew just over the bar.  The last chance of the game fell to Watford, a cross from Anya was headed away from goal by Deeney, it fell to Tözsér who shot wide of the target.

Deeney breaks forward

Deeney breaks forward

There were no boos at the final whistle, mainly because those who indulge in such behaviour had set off for home some time beforehand.  After some terrific performances in the last few weeks, it is difficult to be critical.  The penalty that shouldn’t have been was definitely a turning point, but it was disappointing that we capitulated rather than fighting back as we did at Bolton and Brentford.  Norwich came to disrupt our play and we allowed them to do so a little too easily.  The scoreline flattered the visitors, but we barely had a shot on goal so didn’t deserve anything from the game.  Thankfully, we have another home match on Tuesday in which to get this out of our system.

As there was so little to say about the game, there is time and space to mention a couple of off pitch incidents.  I am reliably informed that there was a fight between Watford fans in the SEJ stand.  Stewards involved and everything.  What is the World coming to?  I was also surprised to hear that Beppe Sannino was at the game.  He told Don afterwards that he was “Sorry Watford lost,” but that we would soon be a Premier League team.  At least Don thought he meant us, not Norwich!  It is good to see that there are no hard feelings there anyway.

Defeat to Wolves in the Rain

The teams take to the field

The teams take to the field

My niece, Amelia, has been coming to occasional games for years.  This season she has become a regular, so a half season ticket seemed a perfect Christmas present and Boxing Day’s game against Wolves was her first match as a season ticket holder.  Since the game was at an odd time, I wasn’t sure what time to leave, but wanted to get to the West Herts early to ensure a decent parking space.  When we arrived the car park was oddly deserted.

The rain was pouring down as we made our way to the ground, it was cold and wet and nasty.  Not the best conditions for football.

Jokanovic made three changes from the Reading game.  Doyley was in for the suspended Angella, Munari and Paredes returned in place of Guédioura and Pudil.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Bassong, Cathcart, Doyley, Anya, Abdi, Tözsér, Munari, Paredes, Deeney and Vydra.  For the visitors, Kuszczak and Danny Graham were on the bench for Wolves, the latter getting a tremendous reception from the home crowd when his name was announced.  The Wolves dugout also contained a Watford legend, in the person of their manager, Kenny Jackett.

Kenny Jackett in the visitors' dugout

Kenny Jackett in the visitors’ dugout

The pre-match build-up was a bit of a shambles.  When the player photo went up on the screen for the number seven, there was Battocchio smiling out at us instead of Guédioura.  Then the music system malfunctioned, so there was an eerie silence and I found myself humming Z-cars as the teams came out.  As a final straw, there were boos following the toss as the players changed ends.  There is a superstition that we never do well when we attack the Rookery in the first half.

Wolves had the best of the early exchanges.  From a corner, Gomes punched the ball as far as Iorfa who, luckily for the home side, opted to pass instead of shooting.  Paredes lost the ball to Sako who played it to Van La Parra whose shot from distance was just wide.  Iorfa exchanged passes with McDonald in the Watford box before shooting wide.  A low cross from van La Parra was almost turned in at close range by Edwards, but Gomes dropped to push it around the post.  From the corner, the ball squirmed out of Gomes’s hands but was thankfully cleared.  At this point, Paredes took his gloves off, it looked like he meant business but, sadly, it didn’t improve his performance.

A throw from Anya

A throw from Anya

Watford threatened the Wolves goal for the first time from a Tözsér free-kick, but the keeper, Ikeme, dropped and gathered the ball.  Wolves were completely dominant at this point.  They were strong and their passing was effective, in contrast to the sloppy play that the home side were demonstrating.  Wolves should have taken the lead in the 17th minute with a strong shot from Hause that was curling in when Gomes pushed it over the bar.  From the corner, the ball was headed out to van La Parra whose shot was pushed clear by the keeper.  In a rare Watford attack, Vydra found Deeney who advanced and shot, but it was blocked, the ball came back in to Munari who played it to Tözsér whose shot was also blocked.  Deeney played the ball out to Paredes whose shot was deflected wide.  Then Anya played the ball back to Abdi but again the shot was deflected wide.  This had been a better spell from the Hornets, but they hadn’t really threatened the Wolves goal.  The visitors had another chance to take the lead as Sako broke through the defence but Gomes came out to challenge and caused him to shoot wide.  Deeney stretched to play a ball on the sidelines, Hause fell over him and Troy was booked.  In time added on, Gomes had to be alert again to punch a corner clear.  The half-time whistle went after a dreadful first half performance from the home side who, if not for the brilliance of Gomes, could have been three goals behind.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

The visitors threatened early in the second half as a corner was punched out by Gomes, it was headed back in by Price but the keeper was able to gather.  Watford had their first shot on target as Vydra received a cross from Paredes but Ikeme caught the ball.  A lovely passing move featuring Deeney, Vydra and Anya finished with a low shot from Tözsér which was caught by Ikeme.  It felt like we were punished for finally showing a moment of quality as van La Parra immediately broke upfield and crossed for Dicko to hit the ball past Gomes.  After the keeper’s first half heroics, it was a terrible shame that he was beaten by what was rather a poor effort.  Another ball into the Watford box, this time by Sako, was met with a weak overhead kick from Edwards that went wide of the near post.  Just after the hour Jokanovic made two changes bringing Ighalo on for Vydra and replacing Munari with Forestieri.  Stearman was the first Wolves player to be booked as he handled to stop a Watford break.

Watford on the attack

Watford on the attack

A Tözsér free-kick led to a goalmouth scramble, but no Watford player was able to apply the finishing touch.  Then Doyley headed a Tözsér corner down for Bassong, but Ikeme saved on the line.  Tözsér was the next player to be booked as he delayed passing and was tackled by Edwards so pulled him back to prevent a break.  He was substituted almost immediately with Guédioura coming on.  Deeney got in a great position to try for an equalizer but his shot drifted wide of the far post.  Ighalo then stung Ikeme’s hands, Doyley’s follow-up was blocked.  At the other end Doyley chested the ball down to Gomes, but Dicko was close by and the keeper had to be quick to gather.  There was some head tennis in the Wolves box, but it didn’t result in a shot.  In time added on, we thought we’d rescued a point as Ighalo’s powerful shot was heading for the goal but clattered off the crossbar.  It was disappointing but, despite the improved performance in the second half, Wolves were worthy winners.

It was cold and wet as we trudged back to the car.  Thankfully, despite the crowd of over 17K, there was no traffic and we were home in the warm in no time.  I spent most of the journey apologising to Amelia and suggesting that she would have been better off watching it on TV.  But, when we said our goodbyes, I got a big hug and thanks for her lovely Christmas present.  What have I done?

 

Oh What Fun It is to See Watford Win Away

A welcome from our hosts

A kind welcome from our hosts

My Friday night entertainment this week was Kristin Scott-Thomas in a Greek tragedy at the Old Vic, I was hoping for somewhat jollier fare at Reading, but it couldn’t be guaranteed.  Certainly the pre-match meeting place was top notch, lovely real ale in a pub with lots of nooks and crannies that has been described by a friend as a Harry Potter house.

Jokanovic made two changes from the win over Wigan.  One was forced, as Munari had a slight hamstring injury that necessitated the inclusion of Guedioura.  For the other, Pudil was preferred to Paredes, allowing him to make his 100th appearance.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Bassong, Angella, Cathcart, Pudil, Tözsér, Guedioura, Abdi, Anya, Deeney and Vydra.

There was a very lively start as a first minute cross found Murray on the right of the box, but his volley was well over the target.  Watford’s first goal attempt came soon after as Pudil headed a Guedioura cross goalwards, Federici pushed it out for a corner from which Guedioura’s shot was blocked.  Abdi was the next to threaten the Reading goal with a powerful curling shot that Federici pushed clear.  The half then became incredibly dull, the next action of note being a nothing foul on the half hour that earned Abdi a yellow card.

Angella begs for (and is shown) forgiveness as Murray falls to the ground

On this occasion Angella begs for (and is shown) forgiveness as Murray falls to the ground

There was a worrying scramble in the Watford box as Gomes parried a header from Murray, the ball came back in but was eventually cleared.  Then Gunter beat Pudil to get into the box and crossed for Blackman who headed over under a challenge from Cathcart.  On 37 minutes, Angella got into a tussle with Murray who was backing into him.  It was six of one and half a dozen of the other, so there were roars of derision from the travelling Hornets as the referee showed Angella a yellow card.  Guedioura had the first Watford chance for some considerable time when he shot over the bar.  Pudil played a lovely ball to Abdi whose cross was headed down to Deeney who tried an overhead kick that flew wide.  Reading should have taken the lead just before half time as Murray received the ball in the box but managed to fire wide of the far post.  In time added on at the end of the half, Angella was tripped on the edge of the box and his arm hit the ball as he fell.  The referee, with the help of the lino, decided that this constituted deliberate handball and was worthy of a second yellow, so Angella was given his marching orders.  It had been a dire half of football, but that decision ensured that the half time boos were directed towards the officials rather than the players.

Tozser lines up a free kick

Tozser lines up a free kick

At the start of the second half, Vydra was sacrificed for Paredes.  Watford, facing a second half playing with ten men, had to decide their approach.  They started the half by pressing the home side and in the 53rd minute, a Tözsér corner was curling in when Federici got a hand to it and pushed it clear.  At the other end, Murray got behind the Watford defence where he directed his shot wide of the far post.  A break by the home side finished with a cross from Blackman which was caught by Gomes.  Reading threatened again as a shot from McCleary was parried by Gomes, the follow-up from Gunter was turned around the post.  A low cross from McCleary went just wide of the far post as Blackman was sliding in and just failed to connect.  Watford fashioned a good move that appeared to give several chances for a strike on goal, but finished with the ball being taken off Abdi’s foot as he shaped to shoot.  For Reading, Blackman shot well over the bar.

Celebrations of Abdi's goal

Celebrations of Abdi’s goal

Watford had mounted a decent rearguard action to this point.  Then, all of a sudden, we took the lead.  Unlike the 70 minutes that had preceded it, Watford’s goal was a thing of beauty as Guedioura won a tackle in midfield and played it out to Anya on the left, he crossed back to Abdi who blasted it past Federici right in front of the Watford fans who reacted with total delirium.  The goal changed the momentum of the game.  Reading’s first yellow card was shown to Williams who was penalized for taking Paredes down as he attempted to break.  Guedioura played a ball over the top for Deeney, but it was a bit too far in front of him so Federici gathered the ball just as Deeney arrived and the players collided resulting in treatment for the Watford man.  At the other end, Gunter went down as he was challenged on the edge of the box, thankfully the referee waved penalty appeals away.  The board went up for a Watford substitution and we expected Deeney to leave the field, but instead Anya made way for Dyer.  Deeney only lasted another couple of minutes, clearly he couldn’t run the injury off, so he was replaced by Ighalo.

Red sky at night

Red sky at night

A ball into the Watford box appeared to be headed on by Paredes but, thankfully, Blackman volleyed over.   The referee added four minutes which were then extended as an off-the ball altercation between Murray and Paredes ended with the Ecuadorean poleaxed and the Reading player being shown a yellow card.  Reading’s last attempt at an equalizer was a soft header from Cooper that was comfortably caught by Gomes.  The final whistle went to loud cheers from the Watford fans.  Jokanovic was his usual, calm self, but Martinez was going mental on the sidelines.  The players came over and applauded the appreciative fans who had certainly done their part in cheering the ten men on in the second half.  In gratitude, Abdi and Pudil kindly donated their shirts to a couple of lucky fans.

Since the away stand is the opposite end of the ground from the shuttle buses back to town, it was no surprise that the bus we took was packed with Watford fans.  The youngsters on the top deck were making a lot of joyful noise and the old folk (including me) on the lower deck were just grinning like fools.  As Jingle Bells (Oh what fun it is to see Watford win away) rang out, my friend commented that he was surprised that it had not had an earlier airing, but I don’t think anyone dared tempt fate like that until the final whistle.

I wish all my readers a very happy Christmas.  See you all on Boxing Day.

Elton’s Homecoming

Elton, David, Zachary and Elijah on the pitch as the SEJ stand is opened

Elton, David, Zachary and Elijah on the pitch as the SEJ stand is opened

Pre-match, all the attention was on Elton’s return to Vicarage Road for the naming of his stand.  As requested, we entered the ground early and were treated to Elton John songs over the tannoy.  The new stand now has words from “Your Song” along the back and there was a request that we welcome Elton by singing along.  I joined in with some gusto, although it is a song that always chokes me up.  When Elton was announced, the crowd were already singing “Elton John’s Taylor-made Army”, which sent shivers down the spine.  When Elton took centre stage, he said that it was one of the greatest days of his life.  He recalled coming as a six year old to stand on the cinder bank.  At that time he never imagined having a stand named after him, in fact he never imagined sitting in a stand.  He paid tribute to the people of Watford and turned to address each stand as he spoke.  He also paid tribute to Dave Whelan and the Wigan fans.  He thanked the Pozzos and said the club was in good hands.  “Watford Football Club is forever in my heart.”  He was clearly moved by the occasion and there wasn’t a dry eye in the Rookery.  The fans sang his name loud and proud.  It was so lovely seeing him there with his two sons in Watford scarves and hats.  They must have loved hearing the crowd singing their Dad’s name.  Well done to the Pozzos for such a lovely gesture, and thank-you, Elton, for decades of wonderful memories.

Back to the game against Wigan.  Jokanovic had named an unchanged side from the Fulham game, so we started with Gomes, Bassong, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Munari, Tözsér, Abdi, Paredes, Deeney and Vydra.  Wigan featured former players Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor as well as Malky Mackay and David Kerslake in the dugout.

Celebrations after Deeney's first goal

Celebrations after Deeney’s first goal

Watford had an early goal chance as Anya played the ball back to Abdi who curled a cross wide of the target.  At the other end, Espinoza tried a shot from distance that hit the side netting.  Carson had to drop to keep a shot from Munari out.  Vydra played a lovely ball to Paredes whose shot was cleared.  Wigan threatened as a high cross from Taylor was gathered by Gomes with McClean challenging.  Watford won a free kick in a dangerous position, but Tözsér’s low delivery was stopped by Carson. Watford took the lead on 20 minutes, a lovely headed pass from Anya reached Deeney in the box, where he beat Carson from a tight angle.  Another cross from Anya was knocked wide of the near post by Munari.  Wigan had a decent chance to equalize from a Watson free-kick which was headed goalwards by Barnett but Gomes caught it.  McClean hit a decent shot that was blocked by the legs of Gomes.  With a couple of minutes remaining in the half, Watford had their first chance for a while as Abdi found Deeney on the right, but Troy’s shot was wide of the far post.  Wigan equalized just before half time as McCann was allowed a free header as he connected with a corner from McClean and beat Gomes.  It felt like that goal had been coming.  In the aftermath, Anya and Tözsér squared up to each other and had to be held apart.  I have mixed feelings about that.  It is not good to see team mates arguing, but it is good to see them care so much.  When the half time whistle went, it had been a half with little goalmouth action and the draw seemed a fair reflection of the play.

Tozser's free-kick through the wall

Tozser’s free-kick through the wall

At the start of the second half, Paredes made way for Dyer.  The substitute was involved immediately with a ball to Abdi who found Deeney whose cross was blocked.  Deeney then had a shot which hit the side netting.  For the visitors, a free kick from Watson was headed wide by Barnett.  Watson then headed over from a McClean free-kick.  McClean threatened again with a cross to the near post which Gomes got down to block.  On the hour, Abdi played a ball into the box for Vydra, but it was too far in front of him so he had to stretch and knocked it out.  Vydra then played the ball out to Dyer who hit a low cross but there was no one in the box to turn it in.  A cross from Anya was cleared to Tözsér whose shot flew just wide of the target.  Then a long ball forward saw Deeney running to connect while Carson came out to clear and the two collided, the ball broke to Vydra who was tackled before he could shoot.  Deeney was down injured for a while but, thankfully, was fit to continue.  There was a period then when the Watford players played some lovely passes, but it was all show with no end product.  With 15 minutes remaining Vydra was replaced by Ighalo.  A Tözsér free-kick was cleared to Bassong whose shot was weak and easily cleared.

Deeney celebrates his second goal with the Rookery

Deeney celebrates his second goal with the Rookery

With 10 minutes remaining, Watford regained the lead as Anya crossed from the bye-line and Deeney powered the header home.  Troy followed the ball into the net where his powerful reaction showed how much the goal meant.  It was all Watford after that.  Ighalo chested the ball down to Abdi, who should have hit the target, but blasted the ball over.  That was the Kosovan’s last involvement in the game as he was replaced by Guedioura.  Wigan had their first chance for some time with a deep free kick, but Gomes was equal to it.  At the other end, Dyer played a deep cross towards Ighalo who stretched but could not connect with it.  Ighalo then showed some skills in the box before cutting back to Deeney whose shot was way over the bar.  Ighalo then played a lovely ball for Deeney who was flagged offside.  The last action of the game was a shot from Guedioura from the edge of the box that went over the bar.

Elton points to the cinder track where he stood 61 years ago

Elton points to the cinder track where he stood 61 years ago

The final whistle went to cheers from the home fans.  It was not the greatest of performances from Watford, but those were two thrilling goals.  We’ve played better and lost, so there was a certain pride in winning ugly.  Special mention must go to the referee whose playing of the advantage rule was very impressive.

After the game, there were lots of hugs and kisses as we wished our friends and neighbours a happy Christmas as we won’t see them again until Boxing Day.  The game may ultimately be forgettable, but seeing Elton John opening the stand will stay long in the memory and the post-match tweets from players proudly sharing their photos with Elton was just lovely

A Long Awaited Revenge on the Banks of the Thames

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

I’m not a fan of games being moved for television but, if we do have to play on a Friday night, it may as well be an away game a 45 minute train journey from home.  Despite the run of poor results, I have been quite positive about the performances (Birmingham excepted), but a lunchtime listen to the Watford Weekend preview show on which Jon Marks trawled through a bucket load of stats about how bad we have been against Fulham made me wonder whether I should stay at home.

On arrival in Fulham, there were a lot of Watford fans in evidence and their demeanour suggested that they had been enjoying the local hospitality for some time.  There was a lot of singing in the misnamed Temperance and I was hoping that it would continue in the ground.  There is nothing worse than an away day when all the singing happens in the pub.

Commemorating the Christmas truce in 1914

Commemorating the Christmas truce in 1914

Team news was that Jokanovic had made just one change, with Cathcart in for Ekstrand, so the starting line-up was Gomes, Bassong, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Munari, Tözsér, Abdi, Paredes, Deeney and Vydra.  I wasn’t best pleased to get to my seat to find a huge pillar obstructing my view, but we stood for the whole game which made it a bit easier to adjust position to look around it.  When the players emerged, Richard noted with some joy that they were wearing red shorts.  Prior to kick-off the two teams mingled for a photograph to commemorate the Christmas truce in 1914.

Watford could have taken the lead in the second minute as a Tözsér free-kick was heading for the top corner until Bettinelli got a hand to it and tipped it over.  Tözsér took the resulting corner which flew across the goal but nobody could get a touch to it.  Deeney received a ball from Tözsér in the box, Troy’s header beat the keeper but was cleared off the line.  Fulham won a free-kick in a dangerous position, but McCormack blasted it over the bar.  Tözsér threatened again with a powerful shot from outside the area that stung Bettinelli’s palms.  Watford took the lead after 15 minutes as we won a free-kick in a dangerous position.  Fulham lined up their wall but Abdi hit a low shot between legs and into the bottom corner.  Cue crazy celebrations in the away end.

Deeney sends Kiraly the wrong way

Deeney sends Kiraly the wrong way

Two minutes later Abdi fed Vydra who was through on goal when Bettinelli took him down.  The referee immediately pointed to the spot and brandished a red card at the Fulham keeper.  Ruiz was sacrificed for Kiraly who, after all these years, still hasn’t worked out that pajama bottoms are not a good look for a keeper.  For his fashion faux pas alone, it was sweet justice that he went the wrong way as Deeney hit the penalty down the middle to put Watford two up.  The home side tried to strike back immediately as Christensen broke into the box but Tözsér was on hand to make a brilliant saving tackle.  Paredes crossed for Deeney, but he had two defenders in attendance and the ball was taken off his feet.  At the other end, McCormack hit a cross towards Rodallega, but Angella was on hand to turn it out for a corner.  At this point the Watford fans started a chant of “We’ll bounce when we want” which we did in the rather rickety stand.  This chant continued in various forms throughout the game and the exercise, in addition to the goals, ensured that I felt nice and warm all evening.

Deeney congratulated for his goal

Deeney congratulated for his goal

On the field, a through ball was played to Tözsér, with two defenders on him it looked as though any chance of a shot was gone but he continued to challenge, so the ball came off a defender and Kiraly had to scramble to prevent a corner.  A lovely passing move finished with Tözsér feeding Deeney whose shot was deflected over the bar.  Watford’s third goal came on 36 minutes as a Cathcart shot was blocked, Munari played it back in for Deeney who beat the defence and knocked it past Kiraly.  Munari played a lovely ball to Vydra who shot first time and Kiraly had to make a smart save to keep it out.  I was very happy to see Matej try the early shot as he only does that when he’s feeling confident and a confident Vydra is a joy to watch.  He took the corner himself, but Cathcart headed over the bar.  When the announcement of time added on was made, I was rather sad that it was no longer Diddy David Hamilton’s dulcet tones on the tannoy.  Anya had the ball in the net in injury time, but the offside flag was up.

Abdi congratulated after scoring his second

Abdi congratulated after scoring his second

At half time, there was unconfined joy in the away end.  That was, until I caught up with Don Fraser who said he’d like a fourth goal to calm his nerves!  The Hornets duly obliged, five minutes into the second half, but I have to admit that I didn’t see the strike as Almen Abdi was behind the pillar when he hit the shot which I did see hitting the back of the net.  I’m told it was a rather good strike.  One of the guys sitting behind us came back into the stand and jokingly asked if he’d missed anything.  It was a tad ironic that he had a better view of the goal in the concourse than I did from the stands.  Abdi could have had his hat trick as Vydra beat a defender on the right, crossed to Anya who played the ball back but Almen shot just wide.  Tözsér was the next to test Kiraly as he picked up a short corner from Vydra, but the keeper cleared.  The home side made a rare foray into the Watford box but Rodallega’s shot was blocked.

Munari and Abdi congratulate Deeney

Munari and Abdi congratulate Deeney

On 65 minutes, Jokanovic replaced Vydra with Forestieri, much to the dismay of the Czech striker.  There was a scare for the visitors as we gave the ball away to McCormack who was taken down on the edge of the box.  Fortunately the free kick rebounded off the wall.  Then Forestieri gave the ball away, it reached Williams who tried a shot from distance that was deflected goalwards, but Gomes got a hand to push it around the post.  From the corner the header was easily gathered by Gomes.  At this point the Watford fans launched into a chant of “There’s only one Graham Taylor”, that was followed by a few classic chants from the 90s.  At first it seemed a bit odd, but we reasoned that it was a flashback to the last time we won at Craven Cottage.  There had been a long period of Fulham possession without them creating much, but the Hornets revived.  Forestieri should have scored the fifth as he received the ball with only the keeper to beat, but he tried to dribble around Kiraly who stuck out a hand to push the ball off his feet.  You could just imagine Vydra on the bench muttering, “I’d have scored that.”

Deeney applauds the travelling Hornets after scoring his third

Deeney applauds the travelling Hornets after scoring his third

Paredes put in a dangerous cross but Deeney could not connect.  With 8 minutes remaining, Tözsér made way for Guedioura.  The departing player was given a rapturous send off by the travelling Hornets.  Soon after Anya made way for Pudil.  Deeney tried a shot from distance that Kiraly saved.  Fulham broke down the other end, I was so hoping that we would keep our clean sheet so was very happy to see Rodallega’s shot fly well wide of the far post.  In the final minute of the game, we finally achieved vengeance for that horrible defeat on Boxing Day 2000 when Munari played a through ball to Deeney who walloped it past Kiraly for his hat-trick.  That was the last action of the game as the referee blew up before the restart.

What an evening.  It was a tremendously assured performance.  While Fulham were disadvantaged going down to 10 men early on, Watford were already well on top at that point and we certainly made the most of the extra man, constantly harrying the opposition, and giving them no time or space to get back into the game.  Abdi was back to his best and Deeney’s recent struggles appear to be over.  As if all that wasn’t enough, messages arrived during the game from friends informing me that Sir Nigel Gibbs is coming home to assist Jokanovic.  Friday nights don’t get better than that.

Honouring a Legend

GT receiving his salver from Stuart Timperley

GT receiving his salver from Stuart Timperley

Before the game was the official renaming of the Graham Taylor stand so we made sure that we were in our seats in plenty of time.  Players and coaching staff from both of GT’s spells at the club had been invited to join in the celebrations and they were introduced one by one.  Tom Walley, Steve Harrison, Dennis Booth, Ian Bolton, Steve Terry, Steve Sherwood, Neil Price, Iwan Roberts, Tony Coton, Richard Johnson, Alec Chamberlain, Tommy Mooney, Nigel Gibbs and Luther Blissett.  So many happy memories meant that each of them was cheered on to the pitch.  Needless to say Steve Harrison was greeted with roars of laughter as he came on doing his Norman Wisdom walk.  The legends formed a guard of honour for GT to walk through which he did to a chorus of “There’s only one Graham Taylor.”

GT with his family and many friends

GT with his family and many friends

He was then presented with a salver by Stuart Timperley.  Unfortunately I missed what happened next as the 1881 chose the moment that GT took centre stage to place a huge flag over the centre of the Rookery so that nobody in that section could see what was going on.  It meant that the climax of the presentation was greeted with a lot of very irritated people asking what the hell was going on.  It put a dampener on the occasion.  When we finally emerged into the light again, it was lovely to see messages on the big screen from some who could not be there including Kenny Jackett, Sean Dyche, Malky Mackay and John Barnes.

Jokanovic made six changes from the Derby game.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Bassong, Ekstrand, Angella, Anya, Munari, Tözsér, Abdi, Paredes, Deeney and Vydra.  It was certainly good to see Abdi and Angella back in the team.

Matej Vydra

Matej Vydra

Watford made a very bright start as Tözsér’s shot through a crowd of players was stopped by Marshall and Deeney’s follow-up was cleared off the line.  At the other end Pilkington headed a Noone cross wide of the target.  Deeney played a through ball to Vydra whose shot was blocked by Marshall.  Cardiff were inexplicably ahead after 12 minutes as a cross from Pilkington flew into the box, Gomes came out to challenge Jones who managed to head the ball goalwards, before both players collapsed to the ground.  The header was drifting wide but Le Fondre saved the ball from going out and was able to tap it in to an empty goal.  Le Fondre took so long to finish that I thought there had been a whistle for a foul, but the striker was just taking the piss out of the fans in the Rookery.  That didn’t help my foul mood at all.  Anya exchanged passes with Vydra but could not latch onto the return which was marshalled out by the defender.

Defending a throw-in

Defending a throw-in

A ball into the Watford box bounced to Le Fondre but he shot over the target.  Vydra really should have done better when Deeney played a gorgeous ball to him but he took several attempts to control and get into scoring position and eventually the chance was lost.  Vydra then did well to keep the ball under a challenge and played a cross field pass to Anya whose shot was well off target.  On the half hour, a lovely move finished with Abdi playing in Vydra but Connolly challenged, blocking the shot which flew over the bar.  Another great passing move finished with Angella shooting wide.  At the other end, Le Fondre left Ekstrand on the ground but shot wide of the near post.  For the home side Deeney cut the ball back to Paredes who was running into the box with a defender in attendance but the ball rolled through to the keeper.  Paredes then played a cross field ball to Angella whose shot was way off target.  On the stroke of half time, Paredes lost the ball to Le Fondre, it was Gomes to the rescue parrying Le Fondre’s shot and saving the follow-up from Jones, but the flag had been raised for offside.

At half-time we were ruing wasted chances against a poor Cardiff side.  It was very similar to the first half of the U21 game in midweek so I was hoping for a similar turnaround.

Tozser and Vydra line up a free kick

Tozser and Vydra line up a free kick

Watford started the second half on the attack as Deeney played a short pass to Munari whose shot was smothered by Marshall.  Deeney played provider again playing a through ball to Vydra but Marshall was first to the ball.  Deeney then headed a ball down to Anya who was running in but shot into the side netting.  Watford had another wonderful chance to take the lead ten minutes into the half when Abdi met a cross from Anya with a terrific header which Marshall parried, Munari’s follow-up was blocked and, finally, Vydra’s shot was caught by Marshall.  Then Anya cut the ball back to Vydra who shot over the bar.  Anya’s next cut back was for Deeney whose shot was deflected wide.  Fans in the Rookery thought that we had equalized as a shot from Vydra hit the inside of the post but it rebounded out and Paredes was unable to follow up.  On the hour, Anya fizzed in a high cross, but it was flying too fast for Deeney to connect with a header.  Jokanovic made a double substitution as Adbi made way for Guedioura and Forestieri replaced Paredes, whose withdrawal was greeted with loud cheers from the home fans.  While I wouldn’t normally approve of such behaviour, he had had a nightmare so I was pleased to see the change.

Gathering for a set piece

Gathering for a set piece

It was the 67th minute before Cardiff mustered their first shot of the second half as Pilkington broke forward and unleashed a shot, Gomes pulled off a good save.  An attempted break by Vydra was stopped by Le Fondre who was booked for the foul.  At this point the guy who sits next to me turned and remarked, “If this was a boxing match the referee would have stopped it.”  An accurate assessment that underlined the frustration that Watford were still losing the game.  A couple of Watford shots were blocked before the ball broke to Angella who shot wide of the near post.  Another rare attack from the visitors as Le Fondre crossed for Jones whose shot was cleared off the line by Guedioura.  At the other end Tözsér had the ball in space, he maybe should have played a pass for Vydra to run on to but opted for a shot from distance that was over the target.  Then a cross to the far post by Anya reached Forestieri whose header was straight at Marshall.

Steve Terry catching up with Tom Walley, plus Iwan Roberts, Ian Bolton, Steve Harrison, Steve Sherwood and Dennis Booth

Steve Terry catching up with Tom Walley, plus Iwan Roberts, Ian Bolton, Steve Harrison, Steve Sherwood (wearing the GT commemorative scarf) and Dennis Booth

Forestieri exchanged passes with Vydra before shooting just wide.  Vydra then turned provider playing a square ball to Tözsér who shot over.  There was another booking for the visitors as Noone was penalized for grabbing Vydra around the neck in order to impede him.  On 90 minutes Deeney knocked the ball down to Angella whose scissor kick was blocked.  There was five minutes of added time but all Watford could muster in that period was a side-foot from Bassong that was easily caught by Marshall.

So, another week, another frustrating defeat.  This one was much harder to take than the loss to Derby as Cardiff did not play well, we completely dominated but could not find the net.  But I remain optimistic about our prospects this season.  We are creating a lot of chances, we just need to start finishing them again.