Tag Archives: Shane Duffy

Despite the Disappointment, This is What We Do

The bust in the Glyndebourne room

A late kick-off on the South Coast played havoc with my sense of order.  It didn’t help that, due to engineering works, the timetable from Windsor had changed just for the weekend.  Thankfully, I managed to catch the train that I was aiming for and, when changing trains at Clapham Junction, I bumped into Jacque.  Others had been more organised than me, so she had arranged to meet Mike on the Lewes train.  By some brilliant planning (actually, a lot of luck), when the train pulled in we found that we had judged perfectly and were standing right by the doors to the coach in which Mike was sitting so were able to make the journey south together.

When we reached Lewes, we headed for the pre-match pub, which seems to have been under different ownership every time we have visited.  The new owners have introduced a Spanish feel to the menu and a new décor that I wasn’t totally enamoured with, apart from the lemur wallpaper in the bathrooms that was absolutely gorgeous.  Due to the late kick-off meaning a very late arrival home after the game, a couple of us had decided to stay the night in Lewes.  I had booked a room above the pub, so went and checked in.  I was staying in the Glyndebourne room in which the accessories included a “bronze” bust and a selection of opera glasses.  The bathroom was quite magnificent, including a deep bath and a shower that the landlady assured me was very easy to operate, even though there were multiple controls including one that turned it into a sauna.  I have to say that I wasn’t convinced that I would be able to remember her instructions by the next morning and was a little disappointed that the built-in seat wasn’t designed for me to take a rest while showering.

A kind welcome in the Ladies’ loo

As we got ready to leave for the game, I was in a foul mood and couldn’t work out why.  It wasn’t until the game got underway that I realised that it was pre-match nerves that had kicked in due to the importance of this game.  Earlier in the afternoon, it had been noted that Lewes FC were at home to Cheshunt at the wonderfully named Dripping Pan.  There was a suggestion that we should attend the game prior to heading for Falmer, but we would have had to leave halfway through the second half and that seemed a little rude.  As we waited for the train, we could hear cheers coming from the ground , we had assumed that this meant that Lewes were pulling ahead, but it turned out that Cheshunt were banging in the goals and ended the day as 6-1 winners.  In hindsight, maybe we should have stayed there after all.

Team news was that Pearson had made just the one change with Hughes in for Chalobah.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Hughes, Capoue; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney.

As I retrieved my distance glasses from my bag in order to watch the game there seemed to be something awry.  I couldn’t work out why my vision was impaired until I realised that one of the lenses had popped out.  Thankfully, it was in the glasses case, but I couldn’t replace it, so decided to dispense with the glasses for the afternoon.  It has to be said that, of late, there hasn’t been a lot worth seeing.

Doucoure celebrating with the bench (honest!)

The game kicked off and the home side created a very early chance as Kabasele failed to get his head on a cross from Trossard, the ball reached March whose shot was blocked for a corner.  March was involved in the next move, swinging in a cross that was met by Murray at the back post, but his header was easily caught by Foster.  The first vaguely meaningful attack from the Hornets came as Pereyra played the ball out to Doucouré who crossed for Deulofeu, but the shot was weak and easily claimed by Ryan.  By this time, my blurred vision was starting to irritate me and I decided that being able to see out of one eye was better than nothing, so I put on the damaged glasses just in time to see Capoue intercept a pass from Mooy, the ball fell to Doucouré who ran upfield and shot across Ryan into the corner.  It was a gorgeous goal and it was interesting to see Abdoulaye immediately run to the bench to celebrate with Pearson and the coaching staff.  The home side looked to hit back as a cross was headed out by Mariappa and the ball dropped to Mooy who shot well over the bar.  At the other end Doucouré found Deulofeu who pulled the ball back for Hughes whose shot was deflected for a corner.  The first booking of the game went to Schelotto for a foul on Deulofeu.  From the other end of the pitch, the card looked rather harsh as Geri had run into his opponent as he tried to clear the ball.  I had thought that we were fortunate to get the free kick, so certainly wasn’t expecting a card.

Deulofeu takes a free kick

The Hornets threatened again as Deeney knocked Duffy off the ball and played in Pereyra, but the cross went begging.  At the other end a cross from Trossard towards Murray in the box was cut out by Cathcart.  There were shouts for a penalty when Schelotto went down in the box, but the referee wasn’t interested.  As half-time beckoned a cross was deflected back to Foster by Pereyra, Ben caught the ball slightly dramatically and slid on his knees across the box giving a cheeky smile to the fans behind the goal.  This loses a lot in the telling, but was one of the most entertaining moments of the half.

So, we reached the break a goal to the good.  It had been a pretty dull half of football, although I was missing the action at our end of the ground as my view was restricted due to the people standing up in front of me in a shallow stand.  There was a child behind me standing on his seat and I have never been so tempted to do the same.

The welcome return of Will Hughes

The first chance of the second half went to the home side.   March was fouled by Pereyra on the edge of the box, Groß stepped up to take the free kick and his delivery was met with a strong punch from Foster.  The home side threatened again as a poor clearance came back to Schelotto, whose shot across goal looked dangerous, but there was no Brighton player on hand to turn it in.  The first substitution came on 57 minutes as Maupay replaced Burn for the home side.  The Hornets had a decent chance of a second goal when Deulofeu broke into the box, but his shot was poor and flew wide of the near post.  Potter then made a second change, bringing Alzate on for Groß.  There were then a couple of cautions for the visitors.  First, Hughes was booked for a robust tackle on Maupay.  Then Mariappa for a foul on March.  On both occasions, the home side had won free kicks in a dangerous position, but Foster was not tested on either occasion.  Even so, with our weakness against set pieces, this was causing me some concern.  With 15 minutes to go, Brighton made their final substitution as Jahanbakhsh came on in place of Schelotto.  There was some concern for the visiting fans as Masina was down for a while receiving treatment.  Holebas was stripped off ready to take in his place, but Adam recovered and was able to continue.  Brighton looked certain to grab the equaliser when Mooy broke into the box and shot goalwards, but Foster stuck a leg out and made a terrific save.  Sadly, it would prove to be in vain as, a minute or so later, Jahanbakhsh put in a cross which Mariappa powered past Foster.  The defender’s action was inexplicable.  There didn’t appear to be any Brighton players close by and Foster could have gathered the ball had Mariappa not intervened.  It was incredibly frustrating, and the travelling faithful were now bracing themselves for a defeat.  Pearson made his first change on 82 minutes replacing Pereyra with Pussetto.  The second change for the Hornets came soon after as Welbeck came on for Deulofeu.  The game was fizzling out but, with a minute to go, the home side had a chance to grab a winner when Jahanbakhsh crossed for Trossard, but he could only flick the ball wide.  There were 5 minutes of added time, but they passed without incident and the game ended in a draw.

Masina passes to Deulofeu

The fans in the away end had been getting increasingly irate during the second half and, as the final whistle went, a couple of fans were venting their anger at the players.  Normally I would dismiss the ranting, but these lads sit behind me in the Rookery every game and are absolutely lovely.  They had just seen enough, and I had a lot of sympathy with their viewpoint.  It is not often that I don’t applaud the players at the end of a game, but this was one of those occasions.

It took an age to get on the train back to Lewes.  On arrival, the London contingent headed home, while those of us from the suburbs and further afield headed for the pub and it was a relief to be sitting with a glass of wine in order to reflect on the afternoon.  It had been an awful game of football and, yet again, we had been the architects of our own downfall.  There was one moment of quality in the game, which was the gorgeous goal from Doucouré.  Although the late effort from Mooy and the save from Foster deserve a special mention.  Other than that, it was really turgid with Watford sitting deep against an ineffective Brighton attack.  It really hurt that we had lost two points due to a pointless own goal, especially as I am very fond of Mariappa, but I don’t know what he was thinking when he blasted that ball into the net.  At the end of the day, we remain in the bottom three and, while we are not yet adrift, it is hard to see where the next points are coming from.

I’m not sure that these would have helped at the game

The decision to stay over after the game turned out to be a good one as the anger and frustration about the day’s performance was supplanted with a discussion of how you can’t enjoy the highs anywhere near so much if you haven’t experienced the lows.  In the 40 years that I have been following the Hornets, I have experienced both, but I still marvel at the number of amazing days out that I have had while following a small, unfashionable club.

We all questioned why on earth we spend our Saturdays travelling to an event that gives no guarantee of any pleasure or entertainment.  The wonderful company is a major reason but, at the end of the day, this is what we do, and I don’t see any of us finding a replacement hobby any time soon.

Disappointing Defeat to Start the Season

Sarr visits the lower GT

During the week, I changed trains at Embankment station and found myself looking at a poster for Sky Sports which featured a large photo of Troy Deeney.  I sat staring at it, feeling ridiculously proud.  I am sure that when Troy was working as a brickie he never imagined himself as captain of a Premier League team and that he would be a poster boy for Sky.  But he has worked incredibly hard for his success and has become a real role model.  I am delighted for him and a poster like this will always make me smile.

After the appetiser last week, it was back to the West Herts to prepare for a proper football match.  Our party gradually gathered and the mood was positive.  The transfer window has been a good one for us.  The arrival of both Sarr and Welbeck this week was very welcome.  The Welbeck signing came out of nowhere and seems to be an excellent piece of business.  Added to that, we have kept all of our key players, so come into this season stronger than we finished last.  Then, to make us all even happier, sweetie man, Glenn, arrived with a bag of freshly made pork scratchings that he gets from his local butcher.  They are absolutely gorgeous and always welcome.  The one negative for me going into the new season was the introduction of VAR.  I have always been against the technology.  Football is not a game that stops and starts, so is not suited to lengthy reviews.  I have experienced them as a baseball fan in the US, and never been convinced that they always lead to ‘correct’ decisions.  Also the idea that the spontaneity of goal celebrations may be impacted due to the wait for confirmation really bothers me.  If the lino has his flag down, I am gone.  My first experience of VAR in the Premier League was watching the West Ham vs Man City game in the West Herts and the interruptions were attracting a lot of negative comment and irritating me immensely.

Gathering for a corner

As Trond was away, I had the honour of accompanying Don to the ground.  As we reached the disabled entrance, the young steward who, to be fair to her, had never seen me before asked if I was into football.  “Well, I’m a season ticket holder and have been coming here for 40 years, so ….”  She looked suitably embarrassed.  Entering through the opposite end of the Rookery to normal, I was able to buy my programme from Doreen Pym.  It was like old times, I must admit that I still miss seeing her in Bill Mainwood’s programme hut.

Team news was that there would not be debuts for either of the new signings with the only change from the Real Sociedad game being the return of Deulofeu in place of Sema.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Feminía, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas; Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu; Gray, Deeney.  Even if we weren’t to see them on the pitch, Welbeck and Sarr were introduced to the crowd before the game and were given a very warm welcome.

Just before the teams took to the field, Z-cars rang out and was greeted with cheers throughout the ground.  At last the club have seen sense.  I wasn’t to know at that point, that it would be the highlight of the afternoon.

Holebas takes a throw in

The game started positively and there was an early chance for the Hornets as Deulofeu showed some quick feet to get himself into position and then took a shot from the edge of the area which was well over the crossbar.  The first shot on target fell to the visitors, but Locadia’s effort was straight at Foster.  The Hornets immediately launched a counter attack, Deeney was tackled, the ball fell to Hughes, who was also closed down, the ball fell to Deeney again, he managed to get in a shot, but it was easily saved by Ryan.  There was a great chance for the visitors as Stephens played the ball out to Propper whose shot was only just over the crossbar.  Watford then had a great opportunity as the ball broke to Deulofeu who charged into the box, but was tracked all the way by Duffy and eventually went down under a challenge.  He called for a penalty, but his appeal was waved away.  Brighton took the lead with a bizarre goal.  From the other end of the pitch, it appeared that the initial cross was going out for a goal kick when Holebas headed it back in, it reached Groß whose cross was turned in by Doucouré.  It was a poor goal to concede, but there was plenty of time to recover and Watford tried to break back immediately as Doucouré looked to make amends by finding Hughes in the box, but Will was being challenged and could only shoot wide of the near post.  The visitors looked to increase their lead when a dangerous looking cross came in from Groß, Foster did well to make the catch as Murray challenged.  At the other end Capoue tried a shot from distance, but it was well over the target.  Capoue then played Femenía in, but the shot was deflected for a corner.  The Spaniard had another chance from the set piece as Ryan’s punch dropped to him, but this time his shot cleared the bar.  Watford nearly grabbed an equaliser before half time as a free kick from Holebas appeared to be heading for the goal until Ryan stretched to get a hand to it and keep it out.

Deulofeu and Capoue

It had been a disappointing half of football, but we were only a goal down and I was hopeful that the second half would see a similar turnaround to the previous week.

For half time entertainment, we had the introduction of the dizzy kicks competition.  Bizarrely, it was won by the only bloke who failed to score.  He was given the win due to getting the loudest cheer from the crowd!!  Now, not that I am biased as I know one of the lads who was defeated, but the rules need to be examined as that can’t be right.

Gracia made a substitution at the break bringing a bleached blond Pereyra on for Deulofeu.  I wasn’t sure about the wisdom of this change, replacing like with like, but was happy to see Roberto tracking back and fighting for possession.  The Hornets should have drawn level early in the half as Femenía nipped in while a defender was shepherding the ball out, he dribbled around him on the by-line before pulling the ball back for Gray whose shot was blocked on the line by a combination of Dunk and Ryan.

Deeney waiting for the ball to drop

Watford won a free kick in a dangerous position when Hughes was brought down on the edge of the box.  Pereyra took the free kick, which hit the wall prompting him to shout for a penalty.  I had already moved on when the scoreboard informed us that VAR was checking for the penalty, and then confirmed that it was not a penalty.  It all seemed rather pointless.  If a penalty is awarded, I want to see the referee pointing to the spot and, if not, waving it away, the series of statements on the big screen just irritated me.  Brighton made a double substitution on 64 minutes with Andone and Maupay replacing Locadia and Murray.  The visitors got a second goal almost immediately as Holebas failed to stop a cross from Groß allowing Andone to score with his first touch of the game.  At this point, the Brighton fans started a chant of “We’re gonna win the league.”  Watford tried to reduce the deficit with a deep cross that was met by the head of Dawson, but Ryan was equal to it.  Gracia made another substitution as Success replaced Gray, again this seemed like an odd change as the problem was not the finishing but the creation of chances.  Sure enough, it was the visitors who got a third as a through ball was played to Maupay who rounded Foster to score on his debut.  At this point there were loud boos from the Watford fans and the ground started to empty.  Success was almost gifted a chance to get one back through a terrible back pass from Dunk, but Ryan was first to the ball.  There was one last chance to spare our blushes as Pereyra was tripped on the edge of the box and Dunk received the first booking of the game.  Pereyra’s free kick rebounded off the wall, the follow-up reached Dawson but, again, the shot was blocked on the line.  When 4 minutes of added time was announced, there were loud boos from the Watford fans.  The only action during added time was the appearance of Bernardo in place of March for the visitors.

Pereyra and Capoue prepare for a free kick

The final whistle went to boos from the Watford faithful and, while the Brighton players spent some time celebrating with their fans, the Watford players disappeared pretty quickly.  But, fair play to Deeney, he did his usual lap of the pitch to applaud the fans in each stand and, despite the anger and disappointment in the crowd, he was warmly applauded for it.

The crowd back at the West Herts were subdued.  It had been a very disappointing performance with nothing to redeem it.  Hughton-era Brighton were difficult to play against as they defended resolutely, and that hasn’t changed under the new manager.  They gave the Watford players no space in which to play and this team has always struggled against teams who close them down.  The midfield was smothered and any promising passages of play finished with passes going astray.  But Potter has added some attacking prowess, so Brighton look to be a much better team than they were last season and we were all taken a little by surprise.  The main disappointment, though, was the fact that we have so much talent in the team but were given a completely lacklustre performance.  I was also disappointed in the substitutions.  Given how the midfield was struggling, it seemed pointless to replace Deulofeu with Pereyra, I thought that Cleverley would have been a better bet as he could offer something different.  Also, given that Gray has been on fire in pre-season, it seemed unlikely that Success would be a better bet up front.  Anyway, with a visit to Everton next week (we never win there), I am trying to convince myself that we can’t possibly be that bad two weeks in a row.  But, if we are, at least Everton is a cracking day out.

 

The Ballad of Jose’s Gloves

Captain Troy Deeney

On Saturday, Watford played their third away game in 8 days.  Thankfully, this was the second with an easy journey, this time to the south coast.  I changed trains at Clapham Junction where I bumped into Jacque.  As we sat on the train, Pete appeared looking for Richard, who was also supposed to have been on that train, but had left an hour earlier so was already in Lewes.  As we disembarked on arrival, there were a lot of familiar faces who had also chosen this as their pre-match meeting place.  On the walk to the pub, I admired the pretty town of Lewes that I only ever visit fleetingly on the way to Falmer or Glyndebourne, and determined to make a proper visit to take in their football ground, the wonderfully named Dripping Pan.

We have very happy memories of the pub in Lewes as we were there the day that Watford won promotion to the Premier League, attracting quizzical looks from the others in the beer garden as we cheered and hugged following the confirmation of the final scores from around the country. The pub had recently undergone a refurbishment, and it has to be said that the food and the beer were both excellent.

After lunch we took the short journey to Falmer and, on arrival at the ground contemplated the best way to head to the away end (which is about half way around the ground).  A helpful local pointed to the left and I had to agree that the gentle slope is definitely preferable to the flights of steps at the other side (we had enough of those at Newcastle).

Sema, Cathcart and Capoue looking quizzical

Team news was that Gracia had made just the one change from the Spurs game in mid-week with Sema in for Pereyra, who had picked up a knock in training.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Hughes, Cleverley, Capoue, Sema; Deulofeu and Deeney.

The concourse at the ground has the appearance of being huge, so it always baffles me that it is always so packed and you have to fight through the crowd to get to your seat.  The game kicked off on an icy afternoon and took a while to get going, so I wasn’t moved to retrieve the notebook from my bag until the 17th minute when Janmaat crossed for Deeney whose header was just wide of the target.  Brighton’s first chance of note was a shot from distance from Bissouma that flew high and wide.  The next chance fell to Groß who shot wide of the near post.  Locadia was the next to try his luck, but his shot was high and wide.  Brighton threatened again from a free kick, but the header from Dunk was wide of the target.

Holebas preparing for a free kick without his gloves

The most entertaining moment of the first half came on the half hour as Holebas battled with March on the wing and ended up giving away the first corner of the game.  In typical Jose manner he then walked towards the goal to defend the set piece, looking furious as only he can.  He was looking for someone or something to blame, and suddenly focussed on his gloves which were ripped from his hands and thrown behind the goal line.  I realise that this loses a lot in translation, but it caused great amusement to the Holebas fans in our party.  Thankfully, for Jose’s blood pressure as much as anything else, the corner came to nothing.  Brighton had another chance to take the lead as a free kick reached Pröpper at the far post but he fired wide.  Foster, who had been a spectator to this point, was then called into action to claim a cross from Locadia while under challenge from Murray.  The first shot on target came in the 41st minute as a lovely cross from Groß was met by the head of Locadia, Foster did brilliantly to push the ball clear.  And that was it for a very dull first half.

Janmaat launching a throw-in

Brighton started the second half with a dangerous looking corner from March that Foster tipped over the bar, but he was being fouled at the time so won a free kick.  Watford had a rare goal attempt as a long ball was headed down by Deeney to Hughes, whose shot was poor and going wide when Ryan dropped to make the save.  The Hornets created a better chance as Janmaat crossed for Sema but his header was just over the target.  It had been the brightest spell of the game for the Hornets but Ryan didn’t have to make a save worthy of the name and it was very short lived.  Normal service resumed as Brighton attacked with a Groß free kick that was headed wide by Murray.  With 20 minutes to go, each side made a substitution as Gray replaced Deulofeu, who had another disappointing game, for the Hornets, and Murray made way for Andone for the Seagulls.  The next goal attempt was a good reflection of the quality of the game as Locadia’s effort went out for a throw in.  His next effort was considerably better, the header appeared to be goalbound until Foster pulled off another brilliant save to keep it out.  The resulting corner was flicked on by Dunk to Duffy who tried an overhead kick that was blocked on the line by Foster.  Gracia made another change as Sema was replaced by Quina, presumably to inject a bit of pace into Watford’s game.

Adrian Mariappa (still wearing his shirt)

The Hornets really should have taken the lead during a scramble in the Brighton box.  It was right in front of us and there seemed to be a number of opportunities to get a shot in, but each time another pass was made.  Hughes and Gray were both in the box and you felt that one of them had to score but, bizarrely, the ball then spent some time motionless between the legs of a defender before it was finally cleared without the keeper having to get involved.  Brighton threatened again as Andone advanced into the Watford box, but Foster was out to clear.  It was end to end at this point and the Hornets had a decent chance when Capoue found Hughes but the shot was from an acute angle and hit the side netting.  Andone had another chance to snatch a winner as he turned and unleashed a shot that cleared the bar.  The home side had one last opportunity to take all three points but Bissouma’s shot from distance flew just wide of the target and the game ended goalless.

After the final whistle, as is their habit, Deeney and Mariappa came over to give their shirts to fans.  On seeing that Mapps was not wearing an undershirt, I couldn’t help but exclaim, “You’ll catch your death!!”  However, the shirts were a distraction from the real prize which was Jose’s gloves that were still lying by the goal where they had been discarded.  Unfortunately we were too far back to claim them and some lucky fan alerted an official who retrieved them and handed them over.  I was green with envy.

Magnificent Ben Foster

On the way out of the ground, we walked past the celebratory banners.  When the ground was first opened, these were of heroes from Brighton’s history, but they have been replaced with a series celebrating last season’s Premier League campaign, which was rather interesting but not a patch on Norman Wisdom.

We headed back to Lewes, although nearly missed our stop as nobody on the station had bothered to mention the fact that the doors in the rear carriages of the train would not open, this meant that there was a rather extended stop at Lewes station as the majority of the passengers in the rear four coaches left the train through the same door.

We headed back to the pub for the post game analysis, although there was little to discuss.  It had been a very dull game in which Watford failed to manage a shot on target.  The defence had again been impressive and restricted the opportunities for the home side who, any time they did manage to break through, were faced with the barrier that is Ben Foster, who put in yet another man of the match performance.  But, despite the lack of entertainment on the pitch, results mostly went our way, so we remain eighth in the table with a decent cup tie to come.  When these dull games have been forgotten (they almost have already), this will be remembered as a good season to have followed the Hornets.

 

Watford Earn a Point as Britos Sees Red

Femenia takes a throw in

Pre-match in the West Herts was unusually quiet, the bank holiday weekend clearly meaning that many regulars had made alternative plans.  Before arriving, I had received a text from Don to tell me that there was hot food available and that the menu included jerk chicken.  In fact, they were offering jerk chicken in a roll at a bargain price and it was absolutely gorgeous.  My new favourite pre-match lunch.  As we enjoyed our pints, the televisions were showing Bournemouth vs. Manchester City.  The animosity that has developed between the Hornets and the Cherries was clearly shown when City scored a 96th minute winner and the West Herts erupted into a massive celebration.

As we walked down Vicarage Road, I was a little surprised to encounter touts.  I have come to expect that when the top six clubs are in town, but touts for Watford vs Brighton is a new one on me.  As I came through the turnstiles, “September” was playing over the tannoy, clearly getting us ready for Doucoure’s chant.

Chalobah on the run

Team news was that Silva had made just the one change from the Bournemouth game with Kabasele in for the suspended Holebas, so the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Prödl, Kabasele, Britos; Chalobah, Doucouré; Amrabat, Cleverley, Richarlison; Gray.  Our old friend, Anthony Knockaert, started for the visitors, his name was announced to a loud chorus of boos.  Also of note was the fact that Silva was back in a suit, having donned a tracksuit for the Bristol City game in midweek.

There was an early chance for the Hornets as Amrabat played a through ball to Gray, but his shot was well wide of the target.  Our first chance to boo the pantomime villain came as Cleverley lined up to take a free kick and Knockaert took his place in a one man wall in front of the Rookery.  The wall was ineffective and the delivery was met by Chalobah whose header was blocked.  Amrabat beat a defender on the right before delivering a cross into the box, Richarlison and Gray both went for the ball but neither was able to make contact.  The first decent goal attempt came from the visitors after quarter of an hour with a curling shot from Knockaert which rebounded off the inside of the far post.  The first booking went to Brighton’s Bruno who was cautioned after clattering Richarlison.

Gerry Armstrong

The Brighton fans were yelling for a penalty after the ball appeared to hit Prödl, but it was clearly ball to arm and a corner was given.  The game changed on a moment of madness.  Knockaert was advancing down the wing and Britos just flew into a tackle with both feet off the ground.  It was a straight red card, with no complaints from any of us.  Thankfully Knockaert wasn’t injured.  The sending off prompted Silva to make a tactical substitution sacrificing Amrabat for Cathcart, which was a bit of a shame as Nordin was having his best game for a while.  The visitors had another chance to open the scoring as a corner from Groβ was headed wide by Dunk.  The post came to the Hornets’ rescue again as Hemed’s effort rebounded to safety.  At the other end, Chalobah tried a shot from distance that was just wide of the near post.  In time added on, Gomes was alert to punch a cross from Knockaert out for a corner, which came to nothing.

The half time player chat was with Gerry Armstrong.  As with all of the interviewee’s this season, he was asked about GT’s influence.  He credited the gaffer with getting him fit and allowing him to shine for Northern Ireland at the 1982 World Cup.   None of us who were around at the time will forget his goal scoring exploits at that tournament.  A Watford player at a World Cup was a new experience in 1982.

Carrillo makes his debut

Cathcart’s return from injury turned out to be short-lived, as he ran for a ball early in the second half and had to pull up.  He looked as though he wanted to continue but was convinced to seek treatment, after which he left the pitch to be replaced by new signing, Carrillo. At this point, Cleverley dropped into the right back position.  Brighton threatened with a dangerous cross towards Groβ in the Watford boss, but he was stopped by an excellent tackle from Femenía.  From a corner, the ball was headed back to Hemed who volleyed just wide of the target.  There was much discussion in the stands regarding the laws of the game when Knockaert went down in the box and, after a long consultation with the lino, the referee awarded an indirect free kick that was blasted off the wall.  Brighton threatened again as a cross was headed back across goal by Knockaert, on this occasion Prödl put it out for a corner.  A very promising break by Richarlison finished with a shot that was high and wide.  At the other end, a dangerous looking cross was saved by Gomes with Knockaert closing in.  Knockaert had yet another chance with 15 minutes to go, but his shot was saved by Gomes.  Brighton’s next attempt came from a corner, but Duffy headed just wide.  Richarlison lifted Watford hearts again after another break downfield, this time he fed Gray, but the outcome was the same with a shot that was well over the bar.

Prodl rises to meet the ball

With 10 minutes to go, Knockaert was replaced by Izquierdo, which was a relief as he had run us ragged.  Silva also made a late change, replacing Gray, who had worked very hard but never looked like scoring, with Deeney, a substitution that was very popular with the Watford crowd.  Both teams had a late chance to snatch the victory. The Brighton substitute, Izquierdo, tried a shot from distance that flew high and wide at the near post.  Then Watford’s new signing, Carrillo, had an opportunity to crown his debut when he met a cross from Femenía, but his header flew over the bar.  With the last kick of the game, Femenía sent a shot high and wide and the game finished goalless.

The post match consensus was that the ten men had put in a sterling performance to win a very well deserved point.  There was no sympathy for Britos whose tackle had been as reckless as it was unnecessary.  But there was much admiration for many of the others.  I don’t think he has been mentioned in the report at all, but Kabasele was absolutely immense.  He battled hard and consistently snuffed out attacks.  Femenía, who had replaced Britos on the left, had also done really well in the makeshift position.

Richarlison

The midfield players were excellent again.  Doucouré and Chalobah continue to impress.  Cleverley worked his socks off again and our first glimpse of Carrillo was a positive one.  Even Amrabat had his best game for a while, finding some end product to match the surging runs.  Then there was Richarlison, who has quickly become a favourite of mine.  What chances we created mostly came through him and he also gave a rather lovely interview to the programme, presumably through an interpreter.  It is clear that his attempts to settle in have been greatly helped by the presence of Gomes as well as a manager who speaks his language.  By all accounts, he is a lovely lad and his future looks very bright indeed.

The international break comes at a good time.  By the time we meet Southampton, we will know the final shape of our squad and hopefully will have some players back from injury.  We are unbeaten so far this season and there is a lot to like in this new squad.  If our next trip to the South coast is half as much fun as the last one, we have a lot to look forward to.

 

Honours Even at Ewood Park

The teams take to the pitch at Ewood Park

The teams take to the pitch at Ewood Park

We don’t have a good record at Blackburn in the few games that we have played there in recent years, the most recent win being the 4-3 during the petrol crisis in 2000.  So I have never seen us win at Ewood Park, although it is still an away day that I enjoy.  Despite seemingly constant traffic on the way up, we made good time and were soon holed up in the pre-match pub waiting for the rest of the North-West Horns to arrive.  The first pint was rather lovely, but the pub ran out of beer from the hand-pump very early much to the annoyance of some of our party.  But the beer still flowed as our number swelled and the pre-match gathering was fun as always.

With Garcia now out of hospital but in the director’s box, it was Ruben Martinez in the dugout again.  There were four changes from the Bournemouth game with Angella, Cathcart, Munari and Ighalo coming in for Tamaz Ekstrand, Abdi and Dyer.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Pudil, Cathcart, Angella, Paredes, Murray, Munari, Tözsér, Anya, Vydra and Ighalo.  Watford old boy Lee Williamson lined up for the opposition.

Preparing for a corner

Preparing for a corner

We had a great chance to take the lead in the first minute of the game as Anya cut the ball back to Ighalo, but he shot well wide when he should have hit the target.  Rhodes was the first to threaten for the home side as he chipped the ball goalwards, but Gomes gathered easily.  Baptiste tried a low shot from the right which Gomes dropped to save.  A lovely through ball reached Rhodes who was advancing into the box, but Paredes got in his way and the ball found its way back to Gomes.  Tözsér found Murray who advanced down the left before passing to Ighalo who took a couple of touches before finding the space to shoot, Steele was down quickly to block the shot.  A short corner was dummied by Vydra and ran through to Tözsér whose shot was blocked.  At the other end, Cairney cut in and shot goalwards but Gomes was behind it.  Cairney threatened again as he received a pass from Gestede but shot over the bar.

Vydra congratulated by his team mates

Vydra congratulated by his team mates

Watford made the breakthrough after half an hour as Cathcart released Vydra, who seemed to pause expecting an offside flag, which gave the defender time to get back, but he recovered and shot past Steele to put the Hornets ahead against the run of play.  Munari broke down the wing and exchanged passes with Anya whose shot was blocked.  In the 39th minute, Rovers came close to equalizing but the shot from Gestede was fractionally wide.  Instead it was Watford who increased the lead as Tözsér curled a free kick which bounced in off the post.  Rhodes and Gomes both tried to reach a cross from Baptiste, but the Spaniard was first to the ball punching it to safety.  The last chance of the half was an overhead kick from Rhodes that cleared the bar.  The half-time whistle went with Watford two goals to the good, although it has to be said that the scoreline flattered us a bit.

The celebrations for Tozser's free kick

The celebrations for Tozser’s free kick

At the start of the second half, Rovers made a change replacing Baptiste with erstwhile Watford target Craig Conway.  A number of fans had yet to return to their seats after the interval when Blackburn pulled one back as Gestede got his head to a deep cross into the box to propel a powerful header past Gomes.  Rovers threatened again soon after, Paredes could only knock a ball into the box sideways to Gestede but, fortunately for the visitors, he shot wide.  Rhodes received the ball in the box turned and shot but he also missed the target.  At the other end, Ighalo fed Murray who curled a shot into Steele’s arms.  Then Vydra played the ball out to Murray who passed it back when he was probably in a better position to shoot, albeit from distance.  There were loud protests from the Blackburn faithful as Pudil put the ball out for a corner, I couldn’t see from the opposite end but they clearly felt that a hand had been used.  From the subsequent corner, Marshall headed wide.

Jostling for the ball at a corner

Jostling for the ball at a corner

The crowd in the Ronnie Clayton stand were getting increasingly angry at the time that Gomes was taking for his goal kicks, the referee agreed with them and showed the keeper a yellow card.  Murray played the ball out to Anya on the wing, but his cross was over the heads of all in the box.  Munari released Vydra who played it out to Ighalo who was pushed off the ball far too easily.  At the other end, Rhodes got the ball on the edge of the box but Paredes made a great tackle to avert the danger.  Vydra was booked for knocking Duffy flying after the Blackburn player had already played the ball.  It was an odd challenge that can only have been born of frustration.  Rovers then made their second substitution replacing Williamson with Tunnicliffe.  Pudil played a low cross towards Ighalo who failed to connect although he was offside anyway.  A shot from Gestede was knocked out for a corner by Gomes with a Blackburn player challenging for the header.  A cross from Paredes was slightly too high for Ighalo to get a decent contact.  On 68 minutes, Dyer replaced Ighalo who had had an awful game being shrugged off the ball far too easily.  Dyer’s first act was to play a through ball to Vydra just before being taken down.  The referee blew up for the free-kick when it looked sensible to play advantage, Vydra lashed the ball into the net in frustration.

Gestede holding Cathcart at bay

Gestede holding Cathcart at bay

Cairney was the next player to see yellow as he handled the ball when he was on the ground.  Vydra had a great chance to increase the lead as he latched on to a header from Hanley but he passed instead of shooting and the chance was gone.  An overhead kick from Gestede was blocked by Angella and went out for a corner with the home fans howling that he’d handled.  Gestede threatened again with a shot from the corner of the box that was well wide.  Rovers equalized on 77 minutes as Tunnicliffe headed a cross from Marshall into an empty net.  It was no more than they deserved.  Soon after, Murray made way for Forestieri.  Tözsér played a dangerous ball into the box but Munari couldn’t get a touch to it.  Watford nerves were jangling as Duffy unleashed a shot from distance that was just wide of the target.  At the other end, a corner from Tözsér was met with a glancing header from Munari which flew just wide.

Angella on the ball

Angella on the ball

Rhodes went down very easily on the edge of the Watford box following a challenge from Angella.  Cairney’s free-kick rebounded off the corner of the post and crossbar, the follow-up from Gestede was saved by Gomes who was then fouled by Rhodes who knocked the ball into the net but the referee blew up for the foul.  With a couple of minutes remaining, Ekstrand replaced Anya for the Hornets.  The Swede was tested immediately being beaten by Rhodes whose close range shot was saved by Gomes.  In injury time Forestieri went down dramatically clutching his face after what looked like a nothing challenge.  I was yelling for him to get up, so felt a bit guilty when I saw a photo of his swollen eye on Twitter.  Angella then spent some time off the pitch with an injury and was booked when he came back on, presumably because he hadn’t received the referee’s blessing.  The final whistle was greeted with anger in the Watford crowd that we’d thrown away a two goal lead.  But, on the balance of play, that lead had flattered us and, after hanging on in the second half, a draw felt like a decent result.

Our First Visit to Huish Park

Jostling in the box

Jostling in the box

As I sat at work on Tuesday morning listening to the rain, I feared another abortive tip to Yeovil.  In the event, I had a decent journey and arrived to sunshine and blue sky.  Our party gathered in the pub which was soon home to a host of other Watford fans, a number of whom I had also seen in there on New Year’s Day.  We’d been told that the ground was only a couple of hundred metres from the pub, so it was odd to set off and not see any evidence of a stadium.  But as we cut through an industrial estate, I finally caught sight of some floodlights.  The security procedure prior to the game was completely over the top with every man, woman and child being frisked before they were permitted entry to the ground.  I questioned the necessity of this and was told that a grandmother had smuggled a flare in for her grandson and so we were all to be treated as suspects.  On taking my first look inside Huish Park, it has to be said that it’s a lovely neat little ground and it was absolutely wonderful to be on an open terrace right on top of the action.

Team news was that Almunia and Ekstrand were back from injury and Ranegie was to make his debut.  In fact there were six changes from Saturday, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Pudil, Tözsér, Merkel, Ranegie, Battocchio, Anya, and Deeney.

 

Ranegie tries to break into the box

Ranegie tries to break into the box

There was an early scare for the Hornets as Miller poked the ball past Almunia in the second minute, but the goal was ruled out for offside.  Miller threatened again as he broke forward and cut the ball back for Hayter but the shot was blocked.  It was Miller again, but this time he went for goal himself and shot over the bar.  Watford’s first chance fell to Merkel who latched on to a header down from Deeney and lashed it over the bar.  Then Yeovil’s Lawrence tried a shot from distance which went just wide.  On 13 minutes, it was the turn of the visitors to have a goal disallowed as Anya found Merkel in an offside position in the box, he turned and shot past Stech but everyone in the ground knew the flag would be raised.  At the other end Lawrence broke into the box and cut the ball back

Yeovil line up a free kick

Yeovil line up a free kick

to Edwards who shot just wide.  The visitors tested the Yeovil keeper for the first (and last) time as Merkel got on the end of a cross from Anya and Stech had to pull off a flying save to keep it out.  Watford were having a decent spell as Angella had a shot that was just wide of the target, and then Merkel tried a shot from distance that was well over the bar.  Then there was some great defending by Yeovil as Deeney received a pass from Battocchio but Duffy just took the ball from his feet.  At the other end, a free kick from Lundstram curled dangerously goalwards and Almunia had to leap to get a hand to it.  Then Deeney had a shot that was deflected for a corner.  Lawrence tested Almunia with a shot from close to the bye-line which the Spaniard got a hand to and kept out.  The first half passed quickly but there hadn’t been a lot in the way of goalmouth action.

 

Ranegie and Duffy

Ranegie and Duffy

In the second half, Watford were shooting towards the goal in front of the terrace accommodating the travelling Hornets.  There was a decent move early on as Anya received the ball on the right and crossed for Pudil whose shot was blocked.  We barely saw anyone down our end after that.  Yeovil threatened as a shot from Hayter was parried by Almunia before being hacked clear by Ekstrand.  The ball broke to Deeney in a dangerous position, but he was closed down and couldn’t find room for a shot.  Then Watford lost the ball from a short corner, Yeovil broke on the counter and Lawrence shot over the bar.  Next Edwards fed Miller who advanced goalwards, but his shot was deflected just over and into the netting on top of the goal.  The defender, Duffy, had a header on target but it was straight at Almunia.  Soon after Lawrence, who had been a constant threat,

Lining up to defend

Lining up to defend

shot wide of the far post.  On 70 minutes, Anya found Battocchio who put in a cross that was caught by Stech.  Then came the first booking of the game as Ranegie had his legs taken from under him by Webster.  Watford’s first substitution saw Murray replacing Merkel.  There was a rare glimpse of action down our end as Anya broke forward, his cross was deflected before being punched clear by Stech.  Then Yeovil had a decent chance after Murray gave the ball away, Ralls crossed for Miller who headed wide of the target.  A double substitution was announced for the home side although at this time only Hayter made way for Moore.  From a Yeovil corner, Almunia got to a glancing back-header to punch clear.  Then Almunia had to dive low to save a free-kick from Ralls.  Yeovil then made their second substitution with Lundstram making way for Morgan.  Cassetti picked up a booking for a foul on Lawrence.  Boredom had set in at this point, so my attention was drawn to the delightful sound of a Dorset cow bell.  This coincided with a chant starting in the away end: “If we score, we’re on the pitch,” which was greeted with a comment that the pitch was safe.  With four minutes remaining, Cassetti took Lawrence

Almunia lines up to take a kick

Almunia lines up to take a kick

down again and was very lucky to escape with just a final warning.  With a couple of minutes left on the clock, Faraoni replaced Pudil.  Miller then went flying into Tözsér and was booked for his trouble.  In time added on, we finally saw some action in the Yeovil box as a Faraoni cross was clearly handled by McAllister.  The linesman was in a perfect position to see it, but didn’t flag and the referee just gave a corner.  If truth be told, a Watford win would have been a travesty since I could only remember Stech having to make a single save and it had been all Yeovil in the second half.

While I haven’t particularly enjoyed the past two home games, our performance against the team bottom of the division was like watching paint dry.  Ranegie showed some good touches on his debut, but he didn’t seem to want to get involved.  The highlight of the evening was definitely the experience of being in the ground.  There is something about standing on an open terrace right on top of the action that makes you feel less of a spectator and more a part of the game.  The other plus point was that I was staying over and only 10 minutes’ walk from the pub.  The pints of post-match cider were very welcome as we tried to banish the memory of the game.