Tag Archives: Sheyi Ojo

A Better Performance at Anfield

Justice for the 96

Justice for the 96

Liverpool’s progression to the semi-final of the Europa League meant that our trip to Anfield was delayed to Sunday.  Thankfully, I had bought refundable train tickets, so was able to reschedule with no hassle.  It also meant that I had a Saturday afternoon free to see The Caretaker at the Old Vic which I had missed (slept through) after watching the U18s lose in their play-off a couple of weeks before.  The play was marvellous, Timothy Spall absolutely brilliant, and it made a lovely start to the weekend.

The train journey north seemed overly leisurely with a number of stops at intermediate stations to remain on schedule, so I was happy finally to arrive in Liverpool.  Even better to find that the pre-match pub was pleasantly empty, so I joined the advance party and was soon happily sat with good beer, a nice lunch and wonderful company.

The build-up to this match was oddly devoid of discussions of the home game against Liverpool, which seemed like a distant memory.  That was an amazing game and, sadly, our league form since has been rather poor, meaning that the achievements of this season have been overshadowed by the recent disappointments.

Team news was that Flores had made one change from the Villa game, bringing Prödl in for Paredes, meaning that Cathcart moved to the right back position.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Prödl, Britos, Cathcart, Jurado, Watson, Suarez, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo.  The inclusion of three centre backs did not go down well with many in the pre-match pub, but I’d trust Cathcart anywhere across the back.

The Kop pre-game

The Kop pre-game

We got on the bus to the ground with some friendly Liverpool fans and were dropped off to meet the rest of our party who had driven directly to the ground and visited the Fan Zone to pass the time.  As we waited at the away turnstiles, we saw the East Anglian Horns with a banner celebrating the final achievement of justice for the Hillsborough 96.  Well done to all involved in the banner for paying tribute to their fellow fans.

Prior to kick off, the rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” made the hairs on the back of the neck stand up.

Watford had the first shot on goal as Ighalo made an audacious attempt to lob Mignolet that was only just over the bar.  The visitors had another chance to take the lead as Ighalo played the ball out to Anya who crossed for Abdi whose shot was disappointingly over the bar.  I noticed, at this point, that the entire Kop was sitting down.  It puzzled me for a minute as it was such an unusual sight but, of course, Liverpool fans are passionately anti standing following the Hillsborough disaster.

Ighalo challenges for the ball

Ighalo challenges for the ball

Liverpool’s first chance came on 11 minutes with a shot from Coutinho that was deflected just wide.  At the other end, a cross from Abdi flew just over the head of Jurado.  For the home side, Moreno’s shot from just outside the area flew well over the bar.  Then Anya broke forward and tried a shot from a tight angle which flew over.  There was a very odd interlude as Coutinho prepared to take a free kick.  The referee marked the spot the kick should be taken from with his spray.  The player chose his spot and was told to move the ball.  But, as the referee walked away to mark the line for the defence, Coutinho picked the foam spot up and moved it and the ball to where he wanted to take the kick.  Bizarre.  A ball over the top reached Ighalo in the box, but it was taken off his feet by a defender who conceded a corner.  The corner was cleared to Abdi whose shot was blocked on the line.  Suárez conceded a free kick when he tripped Ibe just outside the box.  Benteke hit both the set piece and his follow-up into the wall.  Liverpool opened the scoring soon afterwards and it was a poor goal to give away.  A cross from Coutinho was knocked down by Benteke into the path of Allen and he finished past Gomes.  Watford almost hit back immediately as Anya found Jurado on the wing, his cross was headed just wide by Ighalo.  It was Watson’s turn next as he made up for his initial mis-kick with a better shot that was blocked.  At the other end Coutinho had two chances: first a shot from distance that was saved by Gomes, then a shot that was blocked by Prödl.  There was a shout for a penalty from the Hornets faithful as Skrtel appeared to be on Deeney’s shoulders in the box, but nothing was given so the Hornets went in at the break a goal down.  Despite the moans at the team selection, it had been a much better performance than of late and we were unfortunate to be behind.  In particular, Ighalo had been much livelier and I lived in hope that he would find his shooting boots in the second half.

Abdi lines up a free kick

Abdi lines up a free kick

The home side had the first chance of the second period as Coutinho played the ball out to Benteke before receiving a return ball which he put wide.  The Brazilian had another chance soon after, but this time his shot was easily saved by Gomes.  Ojo made a dangerous break before shooting high and wide.  Flores made his first substitute on 52 minutes bringing Guedioura on for Suárez.  Ighalo had a great chance to equalize as Anya crossed from the left and Deeney dummied leaving the Nigerian to hit a sweet shot that was heading for the top corner when Mignolet got his fingertips to it to push it behind.  Guedioura was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that flew high and wide.  Flores made a second substitution replacing Jurado with Berghuis.  Britos was the first to find his way into the referee’s book, although he was a bit unfortunate as he was swinging his leg at the ball when Benteke came running in and was kicked.  Liverpool’s first change came on the hour as Firmino replaced Coutinho.  The substitute tried his luck immediately but his shot was comfortably saved by Gomes.  A promising Watford move was stopped by a cynical foul by Flanagan on Abdi.  The Kosovan had a decent chance soon after as, with the Watford fans chanting his name, he hit a free kick just over the bar.  That was his last contribution to the game as he was replaced immediately by Amrabat.

Britos lines up a free kick

Britos lines up a free kick

Deeney did brilliantly to keep the ball while being challenged, his cross reached Ighalo, but the Nigerian couldn’t convert.  Deeney played the ball out to Berghuis whose shot was straight at Mignolet.  The Dutchman was then booked for a late tackle on Ibe.  It had been a lovely spell of play for the Hornets, so it was a great disappointment when Anya gave the ball away and it reached Firmino whose shot beat Gomes, who got a hand to it but couldn’t keep it out.  Again the Hornets tried to hit back as a shot from Ighalo was deflected into the side netting.  Britos met the corner from Berghuis with a header that flew over the bar.  Amrabat crossed for Ighalo who didn’t catch the ball properly, so the shot looped into the keeper’s arms.  At the other end a cross from Benteke was gathered by Gomes.  The home side could have increased their lead as Firmino’s cross drifted along in front of goal and Ibe met it with a powerful shot that came back off the post.  At this point, there was an announcement over the tannoy for the Watford supporters thanking them for their support for the 96 and particularly the banner and wishing us a safe journey home.  This was met with warm and lengthy applause from the travelling Hornets.  There was one last chance in time added on and it fell to the home side with a cross that Benteke somehow turned over the bar when it would have been easier to score.

Flores consoling Deeney

Flores consoling Deeney

So the final whistle went to a 2-0 defeat which was met with a chant of ‘3-2 on aggregate.’  It had been a much better performance, let down by a couple of mistakes which led to goals, and poor finishing from a Watford perspective.  Ighalo had the best game he has had for months but, earlier in the season, would have converted at least two of his chances.  After the final whistle we stayed behind to applaud the team.  Troy is normally the last player to come to the away end after he has completed his captain’s duties, but this afternoon was different.  I saw him standing talking to Flores, he had his head down and looked distraught.  Flores spoke to him for a while and then they came towards us together to take the plaudits.

As we left the ground we were wished a safe journey home by some of the nicest stewards that I have encountered all season.  That was also the most positive that I have felt after a defeat for some time.  It is hard to believe that there is only a week left of the season.  It has flown by and, at this stage, our only relegation concerns are regarding where we will be visiting next season.  That makes me very happy.

 

Bowing out of the Youth Cup

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

Another day, another match.  After our trip to Yeovil, we were back at the Vic to see the U18s take on Liverpool in the 5th round of the FA Youth Cup.  I was pleased to see that the club had again produced a programme which included player profiles and photos from the previous round.  The players also emerged from the tunnel to Z-cars, so they were exposed to the ‘big match’ experience, which I think is important.

The starting line-up for Watford was Dan Wilks, Jazzi Barnum-Bobb, Josh Doherty, George Byers, Jorell Johnson (c), Alfie Young, Kurtis Cumberbatch, Ryan Hope, Alex Jakubiak, Tom Rosenthal and Mahlondo Martin.  The Liverpool team was Ryan Fulton, Connor Randall (c), Joe Maguire, Jordan Williams, Lloyd Jones, Jordan Rossiter, Harry Wilson, Cameron Brannagan, Ryan Kent, David Trickett-Smith and Sheyi Ojo.  Prior to the game, the steward in the disabled area told us that the Liverpool team had cost £35M with one player costing £6M on his own.  I hear something similar every time we face Premier League opposition at this level and it serves to emphasize the gulf that exists between clubs even in the Academies.

Jorell Johnson clears

Jorell Johnson clears

Liverpool started the game brightly and created an early chance as Brannagan broke on the right wing and crossed for Trickett-Smith whose header was straight at Wilks.  Watford also provided an early test for the opposition keeper as, from a corner, there was a header down to Rosenthal whose shot was blocked but Jakubiak latched on to the ball skipped around the defender and unleashed a shot that Fulton had to drop smartly to push around the post.  A ball over the top for Liverpool found Kent offside in the area.  Then Rossiter shot wide from the edge of the box.  As I was sitting in the disabled area in the Lower Rous and only the Upper Rous was open, I had no idea how many fans were in attendance, but it was great to hear the 1881, complete with drum, singing their

Liverpool line up a free kick

Liverpool line up a free kick

hearts out just above me.  Liverpool won a free kick on the edge of the Watford box as Kent was tripped.  There was a lot of jostling in the wall as Trickett-Smith seemed to be doing jumping jacks in front of the Watford defenders.  In the event, the free kick was hit low and Wilks got down to save it.  In the next Liverpool attack, Johnson was on hand to head a cross from Maguire clear.  Wilson then tried a shot from the right, but Wilks was equal to it.  Watford had struggled to get out of their own half, so it was great to see Rosenthal go on a run down the left skipping around a couple of tackles but his cross was wasted as there was no Watford player in the Liverpool box.  One of the joys of being at games like this is that you can hear some of the exchanges on the pitch.  At this point we were treated to the ref telling one of the young reds, “I suggest you stand up and shut up.”  If only this were still possible with their senior colleagues, the behaviour on the pitch would be so much better.  Liverpool were soon on the attack again through Ojo who cut the ball back but it bounced off Brannagan and out of play.  For the home side a lovely cross found Cumberbatch marginally off-side.  Just before the half hour, Liverpool had the best chance of the game so far as Maguire broke into the box and cut the ball back to Brannagan whose

Alfie Young and George Byers

Alfie Young and George Byers

shot required a good save from Wilks to keep the game scoreless.  A lovely Watford move saw Byers and Rosenthal combine to play Jakubiak in, but the pass was just too far in front of the forward and Fulton got to it first.  Then Kent beat Barnum-Bobb to get in a shot that was headed clear by Johnson.  Trickett-Smith met the corner with a header that hit the side-netting to the relief of the Watford faithful.  At the other end, Rosenthal played a great ball to release Jakubiak but again Fulton came out and gathered it just on the edge of his area.  Liverpool continued to attack the Watford goal.  First Kent had a shot that curled wide.  Then Wilks spilled a cross from Ojo but Doherty was on hand to clear.  Maguire broke again and played in Kent who turned and fed Trickett-Smith whose shot dropped straight into the Wilks’ arms.  Liverpool finally made the breakthrough on 40 minutes as Randall reached the bye-line and cut the ball back to Trickett-Smith who swept it past Wilks.  The Watford defence had done well in frustrating the visitors, but the goal had been coming.  Doherty was the first player to be cautioned.  It seemed a bit harsh from my vantage point as it looked as though Randall had run into him.  The last action of the half was another low free-kick by Liverpool, but Wilks gathered it easily.

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

Before the start of the second half, Jakubiak was out early for an extra warm-up.  Liverpool’s first attack of the second period saw Maguire cutting the ball back in the box, but Doherty was on hand to kick it into row Z.  Six minutes into the half, Watford made their first substitution with Kurtis Cumberbatch making way for Dennon Lewis.  The substitute was immediately involved, playing a through ball to Jakubiak who was sadly offside.  For the visitors, Wilson tried a shot from distance that Wilks gathered at the second attempt.  Then Byers released Jakubiak who beat a defender to get in a shot that was deflected for a corner.  Watford’s second substitution was Carl Stewart for Ryan Hope.  On

The defence standing strong

The defence standing strong

the hour, Wilks did well to deny Trickett-Smith, sticking a leg out to block his shot, the forward hit a follow-up that was cleared.  Trickett-Smith then turned provider, finding Wilson on the edge of the box who juggled the ball before shooting well over.  A ball from Young released Jakubiak who cut the ball back to Rosenthal but his shot was wide of the near post.  On 72 minutes, Bobson Bawling replaced Tom Rosenthal.  Liverpool’s first substitution saw Ryan Kent replaced by Jerome Sinclair.  With 10 minutes to go, Liverpool scored a second as Trickett-Smith found Randall on the right, he cut the ball back to Wilson who shot past Wilks in the Watford goal.  The game became a bit scrappy as the players tired.  Young stopped Ojo escaping by pulling him over and was lucky to escape a caution.  Barnum-Bobb did earn a booking for taking Maguire down.  Liverpool’s final substitution was Trickett-Smith for Pedro Chirivella.   In the last five minutes of normal time, Rossiter made a late, high tackle on George Byers which earned him a deserved booking. 

Preparing to defend a free-kick

Preparing to defend a free-kick

After treatment, Byers tried to limp off while supported on both sides but couldn’t put any weight on his right foot so another coach came on to help carry him off.  It looked a nasty injury so I was happy to hear today that he was just badly bruised.  Having already used all of our substitutes, we finished the game with 10 men.  In the last minute of normal time Brannagan outpaced the Watford defence, although he looked offside to me, and, with Johnson closing in, he shot over the bar.  The lino indicated a corner, but I didn’t think the defender got a touch.  There were 4 minutes of time added on.  Wilson released Sinclair who was denied by Wilks diving at his feet, but the ball broke and Sinclair poked it goalwards but, thankfully, it rolled wide.  Wilks was the hero again as he stuck out a leg to block another shot from Sinclair.  The final action of the game saw Rossiter poke the ball wide from distance.

Dan Wilks

Dan Wilks

Sadly, this ended the U18s involvement in the youth cup.  Liverpool had dominated the game and were worthy winners, but the Watford lads had played well and worked their socks off and should be very proud of their efforts.  Watford captain, Jorell Johnson, looked gutted at the end, but the lads received enthusiastic applause and encouragement from the 1923 in attendance who will have gone home impressed with the next generation of Watford players.