As I approached Watford on the train, I could see a huge queue of cars on Waterfields Way. I didn’t take much notice until I saw the traffic at a standstill on both the ring road and Ricky Road. When I arrived at the West Herts, it was very quiet indeed and John, the manager, mentioned that some of his staff were still stuck in the traffic, apparently the result of a fire in the Lower High Street and a domestic incident near Upton Road. Needless to say, Don was in his usual position at ‘our’ table, so we had a good catch up. When the rest of our party gathered, it was time to toast our absent friends, Dee and Toddy, who both had birthdays this weekend. They are greatly missed.
Team news was three changes from last week with Kabasele, Holebas and Okaka in for Prödl, Janmaat and Femenía. So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Mariappa, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Hughes, Capoue, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney, Okaka. So Gracia was finally granting many wishes by starting with two up-front and all I could think was that Okaka may breathe on Zaha and all would be lost. As the teams were announced, young Wilf was given a less than cordial welcome from the Watford fans. In contrast, when Emma welcomed back Ray Lew, our former manager was given a tremendous reception.
After the terrible game at Huddersfield, I was hoping that there would be more entertainment on show this afternoon and it all started very promisingly with an early chance for Hughes whose shot across goal flew wide. There was an even better chance a minute later as Okaka met a cross from Deeney with a header that rebounded off the crossbar.
The next goal attempt didn’t come until the 19th minute when a cross from Deeney was turned towards his own goal by Ward and Hennessey just managed to get down to keep it out. Ward’s afternoon didn’t get any better as he was booked for a foul on Pereyra. Then, from a corner, Cathcart had two chances to break the deadlock, the first a header that was blocked, the second a shot that Hennessey saved. Watford threatened again as Okaka played the ball back to Pereyra, whose shot was well over the bar. The first booking of the game went to the Hornets as Doucouré was penalised for a foul on Loftus-Cheek. Palace’s first shot on goal came after 34 minutes as a free-kick was met by Tomkins, but his downwards header gave Karnezis an easy save. This incident was missed by a couple of guys who had taken seats in the row behind us and were clearly not Watford fans. When challenged, they claimed to be scouts who had been given seats at the front of the Rookery and had moved back so they could get a decent view. It sounded improbable and, soon after, they were invited for a chat by a couple of stewards and we didn’t see them again. Back to matters on the pitch and a corner from Holebas was met by a Palace head, the clearance fell to Hughes who shot over the bar. Late in the half, Zaha made his first run into the Watford box with Kabasele challenging, so the Palace man, inevitably, went down. The referee waved his appeals away, but Doucouré reacted with fury, pushing Zaha, and was very lucky not to get a second yellow for his trouble. As the clock reached 45 minutes, Deeney played a one-two with Okaka, before trying a shot through legs that ended up being an easy catch for Hennessey. The final chance of the half came from a long throw that found its way to Mariappa whose shot was deflected wide.
It had been a thoroughly entertaining half of football. Watford were a completely different team from last week, playing positively and battling for everything. We had managed 11 shots on goal, but without really testing Hennessey. The Watford fans were also putting in a good performance, loud and proud in support of their team, which was essential as Palace usually bring a very noisy crowd with them.
At half time, there was an interview with Jóhann Gudmundsson , whose time in a Watford shirt had been completely forgotten by all around me (my excuse was that I was living in the US at the time). There was also a parade of young players from the various Watford Ladies age groups, who were given a tremendous reception.
The first action of the second half involved Zaha who, while going for a ball in the box, kicked Karnezis in the stomach. It was a nasty tackle and, needless to say, the Rookery were shouting for him to be sent off. The referee decided that a talking-to was sufficient, which seemed very lenient.
The first substitution was enforced as Pereyra picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Richarlison. It was a great shame to see the Argentine leave the field as he was having another great game. There was then a booking for Mariappa for a slight pull on Zaha’s shirt, which seemed rather harsh after Wilf’s assault on Karnezis went unpunished. Palace then had their best chance so far after Zaha was tripped on the edge of the box. Milivojević stepped up to take the free kick and it rebounded off the crossbar then bounced around the Watford box until Karnezis was finally able to clear. Zaha went on another run into the Watford box, before falling … again. When the referee blew his whistle, my heart sank, until he pointed back up the pitch and booked Zaha for simulation. At this point, I celebrated as if we had scored. Ironically, Wilf had a good shout for a penalty on that occasion, but he goes down so easily and so often, always looking for the foul, that he tries the patience of referees as much as of opposition fans. Palace looked sure to take the lead from a corner, as a Tomkins header hit the post, the rebound dropped for Sakho in the six yard box, but Deeney was on hand to clear before the Palace man could make contact.
With 20 minutes to go, Gracia made his second substitution, replacing Okaka, who had a decent game, with Femenía. Watford continued to threaten as Hughes played Richarlison in, the young Brazilian’s first shot was blocked, his follow-up curled wide of the far post. Watford’s final change saw Gray come on in place of Hughes. The home side had another good chance as Deeney played the ball out to Richarlison whose shot needed a decent save from Hennessey to keep it out. Deeney then tried a shot from a good position, but didn’t quite catch the ball right and it went over. Palace made their first substitution with 10 minutes to go, bringing Benteke on for McArthur. But Watford had the next goal attempt as Richarlison tried a looping shot that was easy for Hennessey. The youngster then intercepted the ball in midfield and tried to release Gray, but the pass was just too long. There were two late bookings as Tomkins was cautioned for a foul on Richarlison and Cathcart for stopping Zaha. Palace’s last chance to grab the points came when Zaha crossed for Townsend whose header was wide of the target, but the flag was up for offside anyway. Watford had one final chance in time added on when they won a free-kick on the edge of area, but the delivery from Holebas rebounded off the wall and the game finished goal-less.
As 0-0 draws go, that was actually an entertaining game. Both teams were up for it and Watford completely dominated the first half before a fairly even second period. Palace are always tricky opposition and have a good record against the teams in the bottom half, so I was happy with a point, especially as that deprived them of a further two as they tried to catch us.
There were some good performances. Pereyra continues to impress and gave Ward a torrid time on the wing. As with Cathcart last week, Kabasele impressed on his return, so I look forward to him entertaining on the pitch as much as he does on Twitter. The two up front led to us creating more chances and Okaka had one of his good games, but he blows so hot and cold that you never quite know what you will get from him. As for the pantomime villain of the day. I was interested to hear Roy Hodgson on MotD saying that rumours that Zaha is a cheat lead to the crowd’s reaction, completely missing the point that we have witnessed his gamesmanship over many years. I can’t bear him. Players do not gain a reputation like that without reason.
Well, with 3 games to go Watford are still mid-table and, if they continue putting in battling performances like that, I will finish the season with a smile on my face.