Tag Archives: Sergio Aguero

No Shame in Defeat at the Etihad

Capoue and Carrillo at the Etihad

When the television schedule was announced for the Christmas period, it was a source of some irritation that, despite the fact that none of our games would be televised, Man City’s game being moved to New Year’s Eve meant that our bank holiday game was now to be played on the evening of the 2nd.  This meant a very brief return to work on Tuesday morning, with just time to wish everyone a happy new year before catching a train to Manchester.  There had been an early indication that the away following would be reduced when I received a set of replacement tickets with a letter explaining that, to maximise attendance, the Watford fans would all be located in the lower tier.  There was a further indication on the day, when the club announced that all of the fans travelling to the game would be given a voucher for £10 towards food and drink on entry to the stadium.

When I arrived at the designated pre-match pub, the Happy Valley Horns were already there in force.  The table next to us was populated with Man City fans and we were a little taken aback to hear a loud cheer from one of them before he exclaimed in triumph that De Bruyne was starting.  Did he really think they needed him?  At this point in the evening, I had started to feel rather ropey and, given the excellent quality of the pie and pint that I had sampled, could only put this down to nerves at what I was about to witness on the football field.  City had put 6 goals past us when we were playing well, so this could prove to be an absolute annihilation.

Doucoure and Wague looking drenched

Apparently I wasn’t the only person of a Watford persuasion who wasn’t feeling at their best on Tuesday evening as Okaka and Cleverley were both missing from the starting XI due to illness, Gray and Capoue were the replacements.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Wagué, Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Doucouré, Watson; Carrillo, Capoue, Richarlison; Gray.

A late realisation that the clock in the pub was very slow and the group of City fans next to us were not going to the game meant that we left for the ground later than intended.  The persistent rain persuaded us to forego the half hour walk and take a tram but, having just missed one, we arrived at the Etihad very close to kick-off and the detour that we were forced to take to reach the away turnstiles meant that we heard the game kick off while still being searched.  I had just reached the turnstiles when I heard a roar that signalled the opening goal.  As I emerged into the concourse, I was greeted by Dave Messenger, handing out the promised vouchers, who confirmed that the goal that I had missed hadn’t been scored by a Watford player.  When I reached my seat those of our party already in position confirmed that the goal had been scored straight from kick-off and that no Watford player had touched the ball before it hit the net.  Having been treated to a replay at a later point I now know that Sané crossed for Sterling to tap in at the far post.

Janmaat after taking a throw-in

My first view of the game was of all the players still camped in the Watford half and it wasn’t long before City had another decent chance from a Sané cross but, on this occasion, Stones blazed the shot over the bar.  Happily, Watford launched an early attack as Gray latched onto a ball over the top but Ederson smothered the shot.  City threatened again as Sané sent a low cross in front of the goal, but nobody was there to apply the finishing touch.  The second City goal came on 13 minutes as De Bruyne crossed towards Agüero, Kabasele intercepted, but could only turn the ball past Gomes.  At this point the crowd just to my left erupted and I realised quite how few Watford fans were actually in the stadium (588 according to the Watford Police twitter).  The travelling Hornets greeted this new set back with a chant of “We want more vouchers.”  A young lad behind me then tried to set a positive tone with “We’re gonna win 3-2.”  Soon after, City won a free-kick on the edge of the box, and he reconsidered, “We’re gonna win 4-3.”  Thankfully, De Bruyne’s free kick came back off the crossbar and the follow-up header from Stones was caught by Gomes.  The unusual sight of the Watford players in possession was celebrated with “We’ve got the ball.”  Sadly, it wasn’t long before it had to be modified to “We’ve lost the ball.”

Cleverley and Aguero

Watford’s second goal attempt came just before the half hour mark as Janmaat hit a shot from distance well wide of the far post.  This proved to be a good spell for the Hornets as Gray broke forward and called Ederson into action to push his shot around the post.  The rolling banner around the ground was displaying facts relating to the two teams and I really could have done without being informed that City had won the last 7 meetings with an aggregate score of 24-3.  Watford had something to cheer in defence as Wagué pulled off a great saving tackle on Agüero in the Watford box just as he was about to shoot.  Silva was the next to try his luck, but his shot was over the bar.  A dangerous cross from De Bruyne reached Agüero in the box, Gomes fell at his feet to pull off a brave save, but was hurt in the process.  Hearts sank at the thought that he may have to be replaced by Karnezis, but he just needed a breather and was soon back on his feet.  It wasn’t all one-way traffic, though, and the next chance fell to Capoue, who found space for a shot, but it was easily gathered by Ederson.  The home side had another chance to increase their lead soon after with a curling free kick from De Bruyne which flew just wide.  The home side launched one final attack in time added on at the end of the first half as De Bruyne crossed for Agüero but the shot was easily gathered by Gomes.  So we reached half time with City only leading by two goals.  After the way that the game had started, that was a bit of a relief.

By half time I was feeling rather better than I had been at kick-off.  Then the players came out for the second half and I felt distinctly unwell again.  It was clearly the thought of the football that was making me ill.

Gray’s goal celebration was to run back to the centre circle

The first chance of the second half came from the usual source as a cross from De Bruyne was met by the head of Agüero, but his effort was well wide of the target.  City fans were shouting for a penalty when Agüero broke into the box and appeared to be taken down by Wagué, it looked nailed on from our vantage point at the other end, but the referee waved play on.  From a short corner, De Bruyne crossed for Otamendi who should have increased City’s lead but directed his header wide of the target.  Marco Silva made a double substitution just after the hour mark with Watson and Capoue making way for Pereyra and Cleverley, who was roundly booed by the home fans, presumably for his history at United.  City’s third goal came soon after as a cross from De Bruyne was spilled by Gomes and Agüero poked the loose ball home.  I was really fed up at this point and found myself bizarrely muttering abuse at the image of Agüero on the big screen that they used to celebrate the goal.  City also made a couple of changes as, first, Danilo came on for Stones, then Touré replaced Fernandinho.  De Bruyne threatened again, playing a one-two with Sané before taking a shot that was deflected into the side netting.  Thankfully for our goal difference, that was his last action of the game as he was replaced by Bernardo Silva.  I did have to join in the applause as he left the pitch as he was truly excellent.  There was an unexpected treat as Watford pulled a goal back, a cross from Richarlison was punched clear but only as far as Carrillo who crossed back for Gray to finish.  The goal was celebrated with considerably more gusto in the stands than on the pitch.  The final substitution for the Hornets saw Richarlison make way for Sinclair.  Gray had a chance to further reduce the deficit as he received a through ball from Zeegelaar, but he was stretching and poked the ball just wide of the target.  There was one final chance for the home side with a shot from Sterling, but Gomes was equal to it.  In time added on, Pereyra tumbled in the box under a challenge from Otamendi.  There were howls for a penalty from the travelling Hornets, but I must admit that I wouldn’t have given it, so was not surprised when the referee waved play on.

Goalscorer Gray

Given my pessimism prior to kick-off, which had been compounded by the early goal, I was oddly relieved at a 3-1 defeat.  I would have taken that before the game.  There was a feeling that City had taken their foot off the pedal, they certainly were not as relentless as they had been at Vicarage Road.  But the Hornets had given a good account of themselves in the second half and the game had not damaged the goal difference unduly.

At the end of the game, Gomes came over to the away end and gave his shirt to a young fan.  Richarlison also came over, but was very particular about the recipient of his shirt, it turned out to have been presented to his Dad.  At this point I must mention the fans who travelled to the game.  There were not many of us, but those in attendance were singing until the final whistle, so did their team proud.

We retired to the hotel bar for a post-match drink, trying to avoid the highlights of the game that seemed to be showing on a loop on the televisions around the bar.  Our last visit to this hotel had been for a game against United and the bar had been packed with foreign tourists sporting brand spanking new red shirts.  On this occasion, the only City fans were old fellas whose scarves had accompanied them for many a year.  As we relaxed, we reflected on why we travel around the country on days like this when the likelihood of a positive result is so low.  The fear of missing something and the delightful company were both mentioned, but in the end there was no rational explanation, we just do.

Watford Thrashed by Relentless City

Tony Coton and Don Fraser

For the second week running there was a Watford related event on Friday night.  This time it was Tony Coton’s book launch at the Vic.  Due to the fire disrupting trains on the Euston-Watford line, I had opted to travel to Watford on the Met line, so was running later than planned.  The room was packed when I arrived, but I had been saved a seat in a prime position, so was very grateful to my more punctual friends.  The main event had Rich Walker asking Tony a number of questions about his younger days and there were some great stories.  I was highly amused to hear that the only game his Mum ever saw was against Southampton as she loved Kevin Keegan.  It was really lovely to see that the front cover of his book featured Tony in a Watford shirt.  He said that he had insisted on that as it was his happiest time in football.  At the break, Tony went around the room signing everybody’s books.  He was then given some respite as Steve Harrison took the mic.  No interview for Steve, this was stand-up comedy and he was hilarious.  Tom Walley was also in attendance, it was so lovely to see him.  Mick Harford also made a guest appearance, and some brave Watford souls even went over to talk to him!  Hearing Steve Harrison tell Don that he was his hero for following the Hornets all over the place made my heart swell with joy.   It was a top evening. and yet another one that made me so happy and proud to be a Hornet.

Zachary and Elijah Furnish-John among the Watford mascots

After the fun of the night before, Saturday morning came far too soon.  My cousin, Doreen, who was visiting from New Zealand, had decided to join us for the game.  As my niece was heading to university, her season ticket was going spare, so Doreen took her ticket, so at least there was a familiar face in Amelia’s seat.  I had arranged to meet Doreen at the West Herts.  I wasn’t expecting her to be quite so keen, so was a little shocked to get a message while I was still in the hotel to say she had arrived before the doors had opened.  Somehow, I managed to get her and Don to meet so that, when I arrived, they were happily sat at our usual table.  It was a pleasure to introduce her to the pre-match experience and the West Herts crew were their usual delightful selves.

Team news was two changes enforced by injury with Janmaat and Mariappa coming in for Kaboul and Femenía.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Mariappa, Kabasele, Holebas; Chalobah, Doucouré; Carrillo, Cleverley, Richarlison; Gray.

I had heard that Elton John was at the game and, among the mascots, were his boys, Zachary and Elijah.  A fact that Elton announced in an Instagram posting, as proud as any Watford fan on such a momentous occasion.

Gray, Cleverley and Doucoure wishing they could escape the rain

The game started as it would go on with a series of attacks from the visitors.  A couple of off target efforts were followed by a shot from distance by Fernandinho that Gomes dived to save.  At this point the heavens opened and a number of people (mostly young lads) from the first few rows of the Rookery vacated their seats to take cover further up the stand.  This led us grumpy old folk to mutter about the youth of today and how, in our day, we stood for 90 minutes in torrential rain and liked it!  Back on the pitch, De Bruyne played a one-two with Silva before shooting wide.  Watford finally had a sniff of the City goal but Richarlison’s shot was weak and easily saved.  Doucouré found himself in a great position to open the scoring, but his shot was way off target, his embarrassment slightly tempered as the ball bounced off Kabasele so that it ended up flying not too far wide of the goal.  At the other end, Aguero lifted a shot onto the roof of the net.  Then Sterling broke into the box, but Kabasele made a brilliant tackle to prevent the shot.  There was a brief moment of hope for the Hornets as the ball bounced off Otamendi and it appeared that Gray would break clear, but the ball ran away from him to safety.  City threatened again from a corner which reached Aguero who volleyed wide of the near post.  There was a worrying moment as Janmaat flew to head the ball clear and his head made contact with a City player.  He needed treatment for some time, but he’s hard as nails and was soon back on the pitch.

Janmaat challenges Jesus

Watford had an excellent chance to take the lead as a free-kick from Holebas was met by the head of Richarlison, but his effort flew just wide of the target.  Three minutes later the visitors took the lead from a similar situation as Aguero headed De Bruyne’s delivery past Gomes.  Normal service resumed on the discipline front as Holebas was booked for a late foul on De Bruyne.  City were two up on the half hour.  Silva’s cross should have been stopped before it reached Aguero who had a simple tap in for his brace.  The third goal came on 38 minutes, Watford fans were shouting for a foul in the build-up, that wasn’t given, allowing Aguero to find Jesus who appeared to be offside before he finished past Gomes.  A Watford fan in the Lower GT had had enough of the questionable decisions by the linesman on that side and ran down to the perimeter to tell him exactly what he thought.  A steward came over to have a word, but the bloke finished his rant and returned to his seat with applause ringing in his ears.  A rare moment of pleasure in this game came as the big screen showed Elton in the stands, there was warm applause from the Watford fans, which he acknowledged with a wave and a big smile.  Watford had a chance to break back before half time as a ball was played into the City box but the City keeper, Ederson, arrived before Gray, so we reached the break with a three goal deficit.

Steve Harrison and Tom Walley

The respite of half time was welcome.  Steve Harrison was the guest drawing the 50-50 tickets and spoke glowingly of his friend, Graham Taylor.  Then a nice moment as Dion Pereira and Andrew Eleftheriou were awarded match balls for making their Premier League debuts as players who had come through the Academy.  I do hope we see a lot more of these lads in the future.

After the battering of the first half, it was very gratifying that the first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets as Holebas put in a lovely cross, Gray was unable to connect, but the ball came out to Carrillo who shot just wide.  Watford fans were screaming for a penalty as Chalobah was kicked in the box (that is not a euphemism), but the referee decided that there was no infringement, a decision that young Nathaniel challenged but his arguments were given short shrift.  Watford had another chance from a corner, but Richarlison headed it over the bar.  City’s next chance came from a back heel to David Silva whose shot was tipped over impressively by Gomes.  But the relief was short-lived as the corner to the far post was headed home by Otamendi.  At this point, I groaned, “Please make it stop,” but there was still 25 minutes to go.

Chalobah, Mariappa and Carrillo gather for a corner

There were substitutions for both teams as Jesus and De Bruyne were replaced by Bernardo Silva and Gündoğan for the visitors, Pereyra and Capoue came on for Cleverley and Chalobah for the Hornets.  Watford had a great chance to pull one back as a corner was flicked on to Capoue who headed agonisingly wide.  Marco Silva made his final substitution with 15 minutes to go bringing Deeney on for Gray.  City’s fifth came after a run by Aguero, there was a brief hope that his shot had been cleared off the line by Mariappa, but the referee signalled the goal, Aguero had his hat trick and City were five goals to the good.  At this point, many in the home crowd started streaming out.  My neighbour in the Rookery said we had better get Amelia back from university.  City were not satisfied with only five goals and Sterling had a chance to increase the score but shot just wide.  Fair play to the home fans at this point as a loud chant of “Since I was young ….” emanated from the Rookery, including those around me, who aren’t always the loudest.  It wasn’t going to get any better for the Hornets, Sterling was tripped in the box and the referee pointed to the spot.  Sterling took the penalty himself and made no mistake.  They could have had a seventh in time added on but a great shot from Aguero was met by an equally great save from Gomes.

Holebas delivers a corner

At the end of the game, Silva had a long talk with both the referee and the linesman from the GT side.  The players looked despondent, but Gomes, despite the disappointment of having conceded six goals, still did his usual lap of the pitch acknowledging the crowd.  Doreen was very impressed at this show of character.

It was a sombre group that gathered to drown our sorrows at the West Herts.  Before the game I had said that this one was a free hit, but it is never pleasant to see your team so soundly beaten.  It really should be a joy watching players as good as City’s, but it isn’t when you care so much about the opposition.  There was no anger or bitterness from our crew though.  Sometimes you are beaten by the better team and City were truly remarkable.  Their passing was precise, but it was their breaking at pace that took your breath away.  They were also completely relentless, characterised by the fact that they were still attacking in time added on, despite being six goals ahead.  Contrasts were made with the 5-0 defeat to the same team at the end of last season.  That had been an abject performance by the Hornets, but this was not.  We were well beaten, but the team did try to give it a go.  Watford have improved considerably since last season, but so have City and, on this showing, there will be a few more teams on the end of hidings from them this season.

So we just have to put this one behind us and concentrate on putting in good performances against Swansea and West Brom.  Those are the games from which we need to get points, and I will travel with optimism.  I hope it is not misplaced.

A Miserable End to the Season

GT’s bench

When I embarked on the train to Watford, the carriage was packed with people in costume on their way to the Harry Potter experience.  All I could see of the person a couple of rows in front of me was a crooked hat.  On arrival at Watford Junction, I had somewhere more important to go.  My usual walk to the West Herts took a slight detour as I entered Cassiobury Park on a mission to find GT’s bench.  It wasn’t long before I spotted a brand new bench in a little oasis and I headed over.  I was disappointed to find someone already there, but gratified when I noticed the Watford top and we soon fell into conversation.  As we sat there, a number of people came past and commented on what a lovely gesture the bench was, the Watford fans among them taking the chance to have their photos taken and to remember the great man.

After paying my respects, I headed to the West Herts for the last pre-game drinks of the season.  Top of the agenda was Mazzarri’s sacking.  Most in attendance were happy at the news.  While I can’t say that I was a big fan of the football we’ve been watching for most of this season, I can’t help feeling that Mazzarri was a little hard done by.  By all accounts Flores was dispensed with as he was too soft on the players.  Mazzarri had come in to instil some discipline but, very much like Sannino, his methods did not find favour with the players, which seemed to lead to performances well below the standard that should have been expected from a squad of that quality.  The other discussion surrounded Holebas who was on track to achieve a premier league record of 15 bookings in a season.  Of course, this would lead to him missing three games at the start of next season although, due to a bizarre loophole, I was assured that, if he was booked twice, he would only serve a one match suspension.  I found that difficult to believe.

Gomes takes a free kick

Team news came through and our problems in central defence were highlighted by the fact that Mariappa was the only recognised central defender in the team.  There was worse news soon after when a correction was made removing Mariappa from the line-up with Behrami filling his position in the back line.  As if that wasn’t enough to provoke discussion, Deeney had been left on the bench where he was to be joined by both Pantilimon and Gilmartin.  Mazzarri was going out in style!  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Behrami, Holebas; Amrabat, Cleverley, Doucouré, Capoue, Mason; Niang and Okaka.

There was almost a disaster in the first minute as Gomes delayed a clearance, he lost out to Agüero who crossed for Jesus whose header was cleared off the line by Holebas before the danger was cleared.  But the respite was brief and the Hornets were a goal down on 4 minutes as a corner from De Bruyne was met by Kompany who was allowed a free header to finish past Gomes.  After witnessing constant pressure from the visitors in the first 10 minutes, it was a relief to see a Watford attack, although it finished with Niang cutting inside and shooting just over the target.

Mason, Cleverley and Holebas being watched by Harry

It appeared that a second City goal was inevitable when Jesus broke down the left and squared the ball for Agüero who had an open goal to aim at, but Behrami put in a terrific tackle to avert the danger.  Gomes then pulled off a terrific save to deny Agüero from point blank range.  But the Argentine wasn’t to be denied for long as he latched on to a through ball from De Bruyne and finished clinically past Gomes.  Soon after there was a rousing chant for Troy Deeney who, at the time, was sitting somewhere towards the back of the bench.  Gomes was in action again claiming a ball over the top from Otamendi as Silva challenged.  Mason incurred the wrath of the referee, although escaped a booking, after sending Jesus into the hoardings.  The first sight of Deeney warming up was greeted with a standing ovation, which was as much anti Mazzarri as it was pro Deeney.  The visitors claimed their third on 36 minutes as Sané broke down the wing before squaring the ball for Agüero to score his second.  Watford’s defensive woes continued as Janmaat went down with an injury and had to be replaced by Eleftheriou, who was making his Watford debut in the worst possible circumstances.  The fourth goal came as Fernandinho exchanged passes with Agüero before holding off the challenge of Mason and finishing past Gomes.  The goal was greeted with boos and streams of people heading for their half-time refreshments or, possibly, the exit.  The first caution was earned by Doucouré for pulling Agüero back.  The resultant free-kick was blocked for a corner from which the ball was cleared to Agüero who, thankfully, shot wide of the near post.

Eleftheriou making his debut

The half time whistle went to loud boos.  It was noticeable that Deeney spent the break warming up, he appeared to be doing it off his own bat rather than training with a coach.  The half time distractions included a brief interview with Bill Shipwright, a defender from the 50s, who did the half time draw.  Also the introduction to the crowd of Chris Williams, a steward retiring after many years of service.  Sacred Heart beat Bushey Heath in the penalty shoot-out which gave us some excitement as it went to a sudden death finish involving the goalkeepers.  It was all a pleasant diversion from what had been an abysmal half of football.

The seats behind me were occupied by a father and two young children, who were friends of the season ticket holders who have those seats.  There had been a number of incredulous questions to the father about why he was still supporting Watford in the game and why the players weren’t trying (slightly unfair given the opposition).  So I was disappointed that they were still in the concourse when Watford had their best chance of the game as Okaka went on a run and blasted the ball at Caballero who pushed it out for a corner.  There was another chance for the home side as Fernandinho lost out to Niang whose shot was deflected into the side netting.

Cleverley on the ball

There was a bizarre incident 10 minutes into the half as the referee strode over to the Watford bench to have words with Mazzarri, whose English must be better than we all thought unless the fourth official is fluent in Italian.  This was greeted with loud chants of “Off, off, off” from the Rookery that made me cringe.  When the referee returned without sending Mazzarri to the stands, it was to a chorus of “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

City’s fifth goal came just before the hour mark as Cleverley failed to clear a cross from Agüero, Jesus lifted the ball over Gomes and it hit the net despite Eleftheriou’s best efforts to head it off the line.  Before the restart Deeney replaced Amrabat.  Agüero’s chance for a hat trick was stopped with a tackle from Behrami.  The crowd’s chants against the head coach continued with “Walter Mazzarri get out of our club.”  City made a double substitution bringing Navas and Sagna on for Touré and Sané, leading one of my neighbours to quip, “They’ve gone all defensive, they ‘re scared of us.”  Agüero threatened again with a shot that was tipped over by Gomes.  At this point, there were chants for Rene Gilmartin, which were certainly not a judgement on the performance of the incumbent in goal.

Deeney can’t get the decisive touch

Gomes denied Agüero again dropping to block and getting injured in the process.  What a relief that there were two goalkeepers on the bench.  Despite the chants for Gilmartin, it was Pantilimon who readied to come on but, after treatment, Gomes was fit to continue.  With 20 minutes to go, Agüero left the field to applause from all corners of the ground after a tremendous showing, he was replaced by Iheanacho who was wearing 72, so was greeted with a chant of “One Graham Taylor.”  As we reached the 72nd minute, the influence of GT was felt as the Watford players suddenly sprung into life.  Doucouré came close with a shot that was cleared off the line.  Then a Capoue shot was blocked, the ball fell to Okaka who had a chance to score from close range, but he was being challenged so couldn’t get a clean contact and the ball bounced off him into the arms of Caballero.  Watford’s final substitution saw Pereira come on for Niang.  The youngster gave the Watford crowd a brief moment of joy as he combined with Eleftheriou on the overlap, but the cross was cleared.  As the clock wound down, there was little on the pitch to amuse the 1881 so their attention turned to Thierry Henry who was in the corner next to them waiting to do the post-match summary for the TV, and was serenaded with chants of “Sign him up” and “Henry for Watford”.

Mason lines up a free kick

It was a relief when the final whistle went and, as a soppy old woman, I was pleased that enough people stayed for the “lap of appreciation” to make it worthwhile.  Troy’s daughter, dressed in her tutu, was performing for the cameras and I was happy to see that the person who wanted a word with Troy at the end appeared to be congratulating him.  Both Heurelho and Troy said a few words, but they were understandably downbeat and I think we were all happy to see the season come to an end.

Back to the West Herts and there were some heated exchanges between those who had left promptly on (or before) the final whistle and those who stayed to applaud the team.  With Watford having nothing to play for and City needing the points, this was always going to be a difficult game, but for many it was the final straw after the six successive defeats that followed our achievement of 40 points.  Added to that, the fall from mid-table to just above the relegation zone in a season when we were never really in a relegation battle had angered a lot of people.

It is such a shame that this season will be looked back on with such disappointment.  There were certainly highlights.  Those who travelled to Arsenal and West Ham or saw the home game against Man United will cherish those memories.  But, ultimately, despite retaining our place in the top division, it was not a season to remember.  It remains to be seen who will take charge of the team next season, since neither the iron fist nor the velvet glove seems to have worked, let’s hope that Gino can find a coach who can strike the right balance between the two approaches.

Despite how thoroughly fed up I felt after the game, it won’t be long until I am counting the days to the release of the fixture list and the start of pre-season.  Head coaches come and go, but the fans who go week in, week out will still be there cheering the team on.  Let us hope that there is a lot more to cheer next season.

Pride Despite a Defeat

The 1881 banner in the family stand

The 1881 banner in the family stand

Early evening kick offs on a Saturday always play merry hell with my nerves.  I must have checked the kick-off time a dozen times in the morning, but I still made sure that I was in Watford in plenty of time should the kick off actually be at 3pm.  This meant that I was in the West Herts rather earlier than was strictly necessary, all the better for tracking the progress of our rivals for the European spots <cough>.

It had been a foul afternoon with persistent rain soaking me on the way to the West Herts but, thankfully, it eased off as we made our way to the ground.  It appears that the Christmas break has been so relaxing that my brain has ceased to work as, for the second game in a row, I tried to use my Oyster card to get through the turnstile.

Team news was that Holebas came in for the suspended Aké and Nyom replaced Anya.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Britos, Cathcart, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.

Cathcart after launching a free kick

Cathcart after launching a free kick

Before the game, I wondered how our approach to this fixture would differ from the game at Eastlands where we looked to contain the opposition and I don’t remember us passing the half way line in the first half.  So I was delighted to see us attacking in the first minute as a lovely move from Jurado found Abdi by way of Deeney but sadly Almen shot over the bar.  Kolarov then had a couple of chances for the visitors, first a shot from distance that was well wide of the target, then a cross that Gomes gathered at the second attempt.  Ighalo’s first chance of the game came as a misclearance reached Abdi who played the Nigerian in but his shot was cleared for a corner.  Abdi then found Deeney in the box, where he was hacked down.  There were screams for a penalty from the home fans, but nothing was given.  Watford threatened again as Abdi found Ighalo who shook off his marker but the shot was saved by Hart.  Ighalo then won a free kick on the edge of the area.  A number around me were asking for an Abdi special, but it was Watson who stepped up and fired just over the bar.

Holebas making his way into the box for a corner

Holebas making his way into the box for a corner

Chants of “Where were you when you were sh*t,” were aimed at the Man City supporters, which was rather unfair given that City have always attracted good crowds.  The chant came straight back at us with, I have to say, somewhat more justification.  There was danger in the Watford box as Gomes parried a shot from De Bruyne but, thankfully, Aguero was unable to connect with the rebound.  Ighalo’s persistence won a corner for the Hornets, Cathcart connected with Watson’s delivery but the header was downwards and Hart was able to gather.  At the other end, Silva broke into the box but good defensive work by Britos and Watson meant that the ball rolled harmlessly through to Gomes.  Fernandinho then broke forward, his shot was saved by the feet of Gomes and Sterling’s follow-up was high and wide.  Aguero got the ball in space in the Watford box, but Cathcart closed him down brilliantly and the ball ended up in the side netting.  The only booking of the game came when Nyom took a dive and was shown a yellow card.  Lads as big as Nyom always look rather foolish when they take a tumble like that, so I really don’t know why they do it.  Watford had a chance to take the lead just before half time as a Watson free-kick was punched clear and Jurado’s follow-up was just wide of the target.  So we reached half-time goalless, just as we had at Eastlands in August, but this game couldn’t have been more different as we had been lively in attack, had matched the visitors and had the better goal chances.

Tony Coton with his trophy

Tony Coton with his trophy

At half time, Tommy Smith was on the pitch drawing the 50-50 tickets and reminiscing about his appearances in both of our previous Premier League seasons.  He was then joined by Tony Coton, who had been a star player during our spell in the top flight in the 80s.  When asked why he signed for Watford, his simple answer was “Graham Taylor.  You sit down and talk to Graham and he sells the club to you and you have no choice but to sign.”  Tommy then presented Tony with a trophy marking the fact that he is the only player to date to win the Player of the Season award on three occasions.  I think it was that man himself who mentioned that Deeney might match him if he continues playing as well as he has been.  Since Coton had also played at Man City, he was given a good reception by both sets of fans and said he had to hope that the score stayed as it was.

The second half at Eastlands had started with a goal for City, so I braced myself, but the first chance of the half was a shot for Watson that was pushed around the post by Hart.  The superb Watson was involved again as he took a free kick that was headed on by Cathcart in the direction of Deeney, but a last gasp clearance prevented the ball reaching Troy.  City had their best chance of the game so far on 52 minutes as a Silva corner was met with a great header from Fernandinho that was just over the bar.

All smiles after the goal

All smiles after the goal

But it was the Hornets who took the lead two minutes later.  Jurado had played a through ball to Ighalo, who won a corner.  Watson’s delivery found its way past Hart via the head of Kolarov.  There were mad celebrations and a period of bouncing in the Rookery although that petered out as all eyes were on a City attack that, thankfully, came to nothing.  Watford continued to attack as Nyom played the ball in to Ighalo, but there were two City defenders in attendance to stop him shooting.  The first substitution came on the hour as Sterling, who had been so influential in the earlier tie, was replaced by Navas for the visitors.  A brilliant run by Holebas finished with a shot that was blocked by Ighalo of all people.  At the other end, De Bruyne cut the ball back to Touré who hit his shot well over the target.  De Bruyne was the next to threaten the Watford goal with a shot that was tipped wide by Gomes.  Touré then tried a shot from distance that was wide of the target.  It occurred to me at this point that it was a while since I had sat down, which is unusual in the Rookery as the crowd tends to stand only during periods of high tension, then the penny dropped.  Watford had another decent chance as Holebas played the ball in to Abdi, but the shot was wide of the target.  City made their second substitution as Bony came on for Mangala.  Watford had a great chance to increase their lead as Capoue broke into the box and beat the defender, but the ball took an awkward bounce and his shot was not as clean as it could have been and flew wide of the target.  Watford’s first substitution came after 80 minutes with Guedioura coming on for Jurado who went off to an ovation and his name being sung.  It was a nice contrast to the grief that he often gets from the crowd, but this was by some way his best performance to date in a Watford shirt.

Man of the Match Watson lines up a free kick

Man of the Match Watson lines up a free kick

I blame myself entirely for what happened next.  I dropped my pen and could not locate it, so felt in my bag and retrieved the pen that I had used for the Tottenham game.  I thought about rooting about for an alternative but decided against it, I was soon to regret that decision when City hit their equalizer.  I couldn’t see it properly as it was at the other end of the ground but television pictures show that Touré met Kolarov’s corner with a stunning volley.  Hearts broke in the home stands as City got their second a couple of minutes later as Sagna broke forward and hit a gorgeous cross for Aguero to head past Gomes.  Given the performance of the Hornets, it felt beyond cruel that we were behind and, for the first time in the game, the City fans were in full voice.  Almost immediately, Pellegrini made another substitution which appeared designed to waste time as Demichelis came on for Aguero after a false start when Silva’s number was shown.  Neither of the possible substitutes was in a hurry to leave the field.  Watford pushed for an equalizer as Guedioura played Ighalo in, but Hart was able to block the shot.  Deep into injury time, Deeney tried to find Ighalo but the ball was headed clear and the visitors left Vicarage Road with all three points.  Despite the disappointment, many in the crowd stayed to cheer the Watford players for what had been a tremendous performance.  Ben Watson was, quite rightly, given Man of the Match, but special mention should go to Jurado for a sparkling display and Holebas who, earlier in the season, had been rumoured to be on his way out due to his poor attitude put in a tremendous shift and meant that we didn’t miss Aké as we might have done.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

As we made our way out of the ground there was a feeling of dejection and many comments along the lines that we hadn’t deserved that defeat.  To go in to the last 10 minutes in the lead and then conceded two goals in quick succession was very hard to take.  But, once the dust settled, I felt a lot happier.  Before the game I had been thinking back to the match at their place earlier in the season when we didn’t have a shot on target.  While I understood the approach, it had been very difficult to watch.  In this game, we had matched City and were beaten by two excellent pieces of skill as our defence tired.  Prior to the tough run of Christmas games, there was an expectation that we would see what this team was made of.  As we finish that period with 4 points and disappointment as we deserved more from the two defeats, I find myself bursting with pride and the feeling that we can take on any team in this division.  As we left the ground, we went through the GT stand and enjoyed the wonderful banners that commemorate the great man’s time at the club.  I have always regarded those banners with a tinge of sadness that we would never witness times like that again.  On Saturday, I found that sadness no longer existed.  This is a truly wonderful time to be a Watford fan.

 

No Goal Attempts but Impressive Defence

A gorgeous pre-match pub

A gorgeous pre-match pub

Another departure at the crack of dawn.  A rail strike and bank holiday engineering work threatened to disrupt the journey but, fortunately, everything ran to schedule.  On our last visit to Manchester, we had been turned away from our designated pre-match pub and ended up in a Wetherspoons.  So this time we had chosen a meeting place that was slightly out of town.  As I approached the pub and saw that the doors were closed, I was a little concerned that we would end up finding that the walk out of the city had been in vain.  However, just before John and I reached the doors, they opened to welcome us and we were soon sitting in a comfy corner of a beautiful pub with a couple of lovely pints in front of us and all was right with the world.

On arrival at the Etihad, I instantly regretted buying one of the seats in the top tier as it was a hell of a trek up there, although good practice for our trip to Newcastle.  When the teams were announced on the big screen, there was a duplication of Christian names so we had Heurelho Nyom and Sebastian Jurado.  I was a little disappointed not to see Valon Deeney in the team.  The starting line-up showed one change as Abdi replaced Anya so was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Capoue, Behrami, Abdi, Ighalo, Jurado and Deeney.  When the team lined up, the apparent 4-2-3-1 formation became 4-2-4-0 as Deeney was playing out wide on the right.  The tannoy guy repeatedly welcomed us to the ‘newly expanded’ stadium.  It has to be said that the new upper tier was pretty deserted and so far from the pitch that I needed to find the distance glasses that I rarely use.

The pre-match huddle

The pre-match huddle

Prior to the match we also found out that Daniel Pudil had moved (on loan) to Sheffield Wednesday.  I will miss muttering “Who killed Danny?” as he collapsed under an innocuous challenge.  But, I will particularly miss seeing the photos of his family in and around Watford.  To see a player who has moved from overseas proudly posting photos of his wife and son in Cassiobury Park made me ridiculously happy.  Sadly Dan never looked likely to be part of the Premier League plans, but he will be remembered fondly for his contributions on the pitch and his proudly embracing Watford as his home.

As may have been expected, Agüero was an immediate threat on the Watford goal.  His first foray forward was closed down by the Watford defence, the next resulted in a shot that was blocked by Cathcart.  Watford’s first attack saw Layun play the ball out to Holebas whose cross was headed clear by Kompany.  The resulting corner led to a bit of a goalmouth scramble with a couple of shots blocked before the ball was cleared.  At the other end, a cross in the direction of Agüero was cut out by Prödl.  The corner by Silva was also headed clear by the Austrian.

Abdi on the ball

Abdi on the ball

The Watford goal was threatened further as, first, Navas played a cross into the box which flew off target, then a free kick from Kolarov curled wide of the far post.  Watford caused themselves problems as Jurado gave the ball away, Sterling broke into the box but was tackled by Cathcart for a corner.  Then Gomes was called into action, dropping to save a shot from Sagna.  The best chance of a goal so far came as Sterling broke into the box with only Gomes to beat, the keeper stopped the shot, but the ball squirmed out of his hands and, thankfully, rolled out for a corner.  A rare Watford attack ended when a Nyom cross from distance was easily gathered by Hart.  The home side threatened again as the ball was taken off Abdi’s feet and Agüero hit a shot that flew just wide of the target.  The first booking of the game went to the home side as Kompany was punished for a foul on Jurado.  The cards were evened up soon after Nyom was booked for flying through the back of Sterling.  The Frenchman’s reaction was priceless as he expressed his outrage by mimicking Sterling’s dramatic collapse.  I have a certain sympathy with his annoyance at the player’s dramatic reaction, but he probably shouldn’t have knocked him flying in the first place.  The Hornets had their longest spell of possession in the half in time added on, but, typically of their defensive approach to the game, it finished with a pass back to Gomes.

Half-time conversations expressed pleasure at the strong defensive performance of the Hornets, but concern that we had no player up front so never looked likely to score.

Deeney attacks

Deeney on the attack

At the start of the second half Pellegrini made a change, bringing Nasri on for Navas and changing the formation to put two up front.  This immediately paid dividends as Sagna crossed to the far post and Sterling ghosted in to tap the ball past Gomes.  The home side were soon two goals ahead as a Touré free-kick hit the wall, Watford failed to clear so the ball reached Fernandinho who hit a powerful shot across Gomes and into the far corner.  At this point it looked like City may score a hat full, especially when Agüero attacked again but on this occasion he mishit his shot which spun before being caught easily by Gomes.  A rare forward passing move by the Hornets finished when a cross from Layun was cut out by Kompany, the City break was stopped (not for the first time) by a tackle from Cathcart.  On the hour mark Flores made his first substitution replacing Abdi with Anya.  This appeared to be an uncharacteristically attacking substitution.  City’s next break by Agüero was stopped by Prödl who was booked for the infringement.  Silva took the resulting free kick, which flew just wide.  Watford’s best move of the game came as Jurado broke into the box, his low cross was dummied by Deeney and reached Anya whose cross was blocked for a corner.  Watford’s second substitution saw Layun on for Ighalo, much to the disappointment of many in the away end who would have liked to have seen Vydra given a chance.  City brought Delph on for Silva.

Anya down the wing

Anya down the wing

City had a great chance to increase their lead as Nasri released Kolorov, his cross was met by Touré whose shot flew just wide.  The final substitution for the Hornets saw Watson come on for Capoue to loud boos from the home fans who haven’t forgiven him for winning the FA Cup for Wigan.  Some of the Watford fans were equally unhappy at this substitution as Vydra’s name rang out again in the away end.  Another Watford attack came to nothing as Jurado played the ball out to Layun whose low cross was straight at Joe Hart.  As City seemed to settle for a two goal win, there were a couple of late attacks by the Hornets.  First Anya broke forward but his cross was behind Deeney and cut out before it reached Layun.  Nasri tried a shot from outside the box that was saved by Gomes.  The last action of the game was a shot from distance by Layun that was weak and flew well wide of the target.  At the end of the game, a frustrated-looking Deeney tried to cheer up a couple of people in the away end by throwing his boots into the crowd.

It was hard to know how to feel after this game.  The defensive set-up had worked in so far as we only conceded two goals against the best team in the division.  However, for someone who came to football watching Graham Taylor’s attacking teams, it is really difficult to watch a team that not only don’t have a shot on goal but don’t look as though they want one.  We have now gone two games without a shot on target, although in the Southampton game that wasn’t for lack of trying.  Between now and the next game are the end of the transfer window and an international break so predictions of what we will see in the Swansea match are futile at this point.

On the way home I heard that Forestieri had joined Pudil at Wednesday, with Fernando’s being a permanent move.  This was another sad piece of news if only because Forestieri never reached his potential.  Fernando was a player who was loved for his enthusiasm while he irritated for his poor judgement.  But he is probably the only player in history to have tweeted a photo of himself buying a toaster in the pound shop and he also had a crucial part in *that goal*.  For those reasons he will always have a place in Hornet history.

 

Testing Ourselves Against the Best

 

The Maine Road Chippie

The Maine Road Chippie

When I heard the draw for the fourth round of the cup, my heart sank.  Such is the gulf between teams like City and those battling a division below that an upset seemed impossible.  I’ve heard the argument that if you want to progress you need to test yourself against the best.  That is fine if you are ready for the test.  But nothing that I have seen from my team this season suggests that we are and there is nothing worse than seeing your side given a footballing lesson.  Our tie against the same opposition last season saw an arguably stronger side play well and still lose 3-0 to a City team that didn’t get out of second gear.   Listening to the pundits before the game didn’t help my mood.  On Radio 5Live, there was talk of Kidderminster getting a result at Sunderland, while we were given no chance.  Equally, on breakfast television on Saturday morning the suggestion from a presenter that Watford may get a result was countered with the comment that this was the game which was least likely to see an upset.

The Pre-match Handshakes

The Pre-match Handshakes

Our time in Manchester didn’t start well as our pre-match pub of choice refused entry to Southerners so we decamped to a less interesting hostelry to numb ourselves.  The texts from Toddy informing me that the U18s were 3-0 up in their cup game helped to enforce the notion that I had chosen the wrong match to attend.  Given that City had scored 106 goals and an average of 4 a game so far this season, more than one Hornet mentioned their hope that we would keep the score down to single figures.  When we reached the Etihad, which is an impressive stadium, I enjoyed the sight of the Maine Road chippie and hair salon opposite.  It seemed to be positioned to remind the Etihad where they had come from and bring it down a peg or two.  Before we were permitted entry to the ground, there was an impressive search procedure.  Bags were searched, we were all patted down to ensure we had nothing illegal concealed about our person and, a first for me, a friendly sniffer dog was set on me, presumably to see whether I was concealing any flares. When the team was announced, we had made 5 changes.  To be honest, it was difficult to work out what the formation was, but at least the much discussed midfield included some midfielders.  Our starting line-up was Bond, Ekstrand, Angella, Doyley, Pudil, Anya, Murray, Battocchio, Faraoni, Forestieri and Deeney.

Waiting for a Free-kick

Waiting for a Free-kick

We started brightly and, some gallows humour from my companions encouraged me to make a note at 1 minute and 40 seconds that City hadn’t got out of their own half.  In the second minute, Forestieri was felled on the edge of the box.  He took the free kick himself, hitting it straight at the wall but the ball fell to Battocchio whose shot was high and wide.  In the sixth minute, we had a shout for a penalty as Forestieri found Anya in the box where Pantilimon brought him down, but Kevin Friend waved the appeals away.  At the other end Richards went down after being tackled on the edge of the box.  While waiting for the free kick, there was a bit of pushing between Dzeko and Angella in the box that earned the City player a yellow card.  On 10 minutes, Bond was called into action for the first time as a shot came in following a free-kick, which he blocked and then dropped to

Forestieri congratulated on his goal

Forestieri congratulated on his goal

claim the ball.  Soon after, a corner from Navas was met with a header by Kolarov which flew across the box, but nobody was able to get a touch.  Then Murray and Deeney combined to feed Anya whose cross was caught with Forestieri challenging Pantilimon.  At this point the City fans started up a chant of “You’re just a stop off at Wembley.”  Good one!  On 15 minutes, City finally showed a glimpse of their quality with a lovely move that finished with a shot from Toure that was blocked.  Watford continued to threaten as Forestieri broke downfield and fed Faraoni whose shot was straight at Pantilimon.  In City’s next attack Angella was on hand to intercept a cut back from Navas.  On 20 minutes, Watford went one up as Forestieri ran on to a through ball from Deeney and

It's official

It’s official

shot into the far corner.  The celebrations in the away end were a mixture of joy and disbelief, but there was no doubt that the goal was well deserved.  Soon after, Rodwell tried a shot that was deflected into Bond’s arms.  Then Aguero received a pass from Toure and, despite the attentions of Angella, managed to shoot but Bond turned it around the post.  Watford were then on the attack again.  Forestieri picked up the ball from a throw-in and shot just wide of the near post.  Then Sean Murray played a cross-field ball to Anya who found Deeney who slipped the ball between Pantilimon and the post.  If the first goal celebration had been joyous, this one was properly mental.  Thirty minutes in to the game and Watford are 2-0 up at the Etihad.  The disbelief was palpable throughout the stadium.  Watford continued to attack as Murray again found Anya who passed to Forestieri,

Celebrating Deeney's goal

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

but his cross was cut out.  A chant of “What the f*ck is going on” started.  For the life of me I can’t remember which stand it came from, but both sets of fans would have been equally justified in singing it.  Towards the end of the half, Kolarov tried a shot that Bond bravely came to gather.  Then a shot from Anya was blocked, the rebound fell to Faraoni who shot wide of the far post.  Next it was City’s turn with a Lopes shot that went wide of the near post.  In the last minute of the half we could have been three up as a lovely Watford move ended with a Pudil shot that hit the side netting.  I almost passed out at this point.  Just before half time Kolarov had another attempt that was wide of the far post.  Then a Lopes break was stopped by a tackle from Murray, who had been totally fearless all afternoon.  Very impressive for such a young player. 

The half-time score

The half-time score

At half time, the concourse was full of song.  Although most people that I spoke to either wanted to know when they’d wake up or to go home, because surely we couldn’t keep this up. As the players came out for the second half, Kompany and Zabaleta had replaced Rodwell and Richards.  The tannoy announcer originally stated that Zabaleta was on for someone “as yet unknown”.  Given the size of Richards, I would have thought he was pretty hard to miss.  The substitutions indicated that our first half performance had rattled Pellegrini.

A second half corner

A second half corner

Early in the second half, Pudil was booked for a tackle on Navas that had looked decent from our vantage point.  On 53 minutes, a Murray corner was cleared and fell to Anya, but his shot was weak and easy for Pantilimon to deal with.  Then Deeney found Anya, whose cross was cut out by Lescott.  On 55 minutes, Aguero passed to Navas who found Dzeko whose shot was pounced on by Bond.  At this point young Lopes was replaced by Jovetic.  From a City corner, we twice cleared but the ball came back and finally fell to Jovetic who hit the shot wide of the target.  On 58 minutes, City pulled a goal back.  Kolarov crossed into the box, Bond did well to save Dzeko’s shot, but Aguero pounced on the loose ball to score.  It had taken City an hour to breach the Watford defence and suddenly the home crowd could be heard.  Soon after, Watford made their first

Sannino wanting to join the action

Sannino wanting to join the action

substitution as Cassetti replaced Forestieri.  Aguero threated again almost immediately, getting on the end of a cross from Kompany but Doyley was on hand to block the shot.  Doyley also foiled the next attempt as Dzeko got on to the end of a cross from Toure, but Lloyd’s attentions ensured that he headed wide of the target.  A great rear-guard action by the Hornets couldn’t stop Kompany getting in a cross, but Dzeko’s shot was straight at Bond.  On 75 minutes, Abdi replaced Murray, who had been excellent.  Soon after, City were level as Navas advanced and passed to Aguero who struck an exquisite shot into the top left-hand corner.  I have to say that we’d done brilliantly in matching them to this point but, gutting as that goal was, you couldn’t help admire it.  Into the last 10 minutes and Cassetti got his customary booking, sticking out a foot as Kolarov attempted to run past him and then doing that look of horror at the injustice that we love so well.  On 84 minutes, Fabbrini

Battocchio on the ball

Battocchio on the ball

replaced Faraoni.  With five minutes to go until we’d earned a replay, disaster struck.  Kolarov hit a speculative shot from outside the box.  Bond dropped and appeared to have caught it, but the ball squirmed through his legs and into the net.  That was a cruel way to go behind and Bond didn’t deserve that based on his performance.  Neither did the travelling fans, but we were not downhearted and launched into loud chants in support of our team.  On the pitch we battled on, as Deeney played a through ball to Anya but his shot on the run was high and wide.  Anya broke again and played a through ball to Fabbrini, but the Italian was offside.  Then Toure fed Navas whose initial shot rebounded back to him and Bond caught the follow-up.  In time added on, City added a fourth as Aguero claimed his hat-trick with a header from a Navas cross.  Straight from kick-off, Angella tried his luck with a shot from distance that was well wide of the target.  The final whistle went and there was no upset, but every Watford fan in attendance left the stadium with their head held high as our lads had given City a game and, despite their second half dominance, the Premier League high-fliers were flattered by the score.

Applauding the travelling fans

Applauding the travelling fans

At full time, Deeney went to swap shirts.  Since the first player he approached didn’t take his, he ended up with two City shirts.  Pudil and Doyley came over and handed their shirts to kids in the crowd.  I then saw Deeney reach down the front of his shorts and my imagination went in to over drive about quite what he was going to throw into the crowd, so I was relieved when he extracted the two City shirts that he had placed there for safe-keeping as he applauded the fans. When I arrived home, I turned on the news and heard the newsreader talking about “an amazing comeback by Manchester City.”  That was certainly not what anyone had expected on Saturday morning, but that is what keeps us going to games like this.  Despite the final score, we were magnificent.  Hell, we even won the first half and that made me very happy indeed.