Tag Archives: Stefano Okaka

Wasteful Finishing Leads to a Loss on the Tyne

The view of the Tyne Bridge and the Sage, Gateshead from the back of the stand at St James Park

As has become our custom when playing in the North-East, we arranged to meet in Durham on Friday evening.  This plan appeared to be threatened when I received an invitation to travel to New York for a work event on Thursday morning.  But, despite a hiccup due to a slight delay on my return flight, my travel planning turned out to be spot on.  I arrived at Heathrow soon after 9:30am on Friday giving me time to get home for a shower and change of clothes before arriving at Kings Cross in plenty of time for my train at 1:30pm.

The Friday evening meal and drinks were lovely, although the wine flowed a little too freely, for which I have nobody to blame but myself.  The walk from the city centre to the railway station in Durham is up a series of flights of steps.  I saw it as training for the climb to the away stand in St James’s Park later in the day.  On arrival in Newcastle, we had a lovely breakfast followed by a walk along the Tyne which was enlivened by a troupe of teenage girl acrobats, wearing even less than your average Geordie, putting on a display that included some precariously standing on their friends’ shoulders and appearing in distinct danger of being blown into the river.  As if that wasn’t enough, there was a bonkers busker who decided to serenade the couples out for a ‘romantic’ walk with a rendition of Minnie Ripperton’s “Lovin’ You” which was unexpected and impressive as he (sort of) hit the high notes.

My view of the minute’s silence

We were outside the door of our chosen pre-match establishment before they opened and managed to secure a secluded area for our party.  As we enjoyed our refreshments, we were visited by a Newcastle fan dropping off flyers detailing the upcoming protests against Mike Ashley.  Today’s was an 11th minute brandishing of the leaflet reading “Get out of our Club” and a protest outside the lounge at the end of the game.  I was also delighted to be joined by my sister and brother-in-law who had come up on the supporters coach which had arrived in Newcastle uncharacteristically early.

We left in plenty of time to take the stroll uphill to the ground, before scaling the 14 flights to the stand.  On arrival, we were less than delighted to discover that our seats were almost at the back requiring us to negotiate another steep flight of steps and ensuring that I had worked off my breakfast prior to kick-off.

Team news was that Gracia had made the one change with Holebas returning in place of Masina.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Mariappa, Femenía; Pereyra, Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes; Success, Deulofeu.

The minute’s silence at pitch level

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s silence for Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the Leicester owner, and the others who lost their lives in the helicopter crash last weekend.  The silence spontaneously erupted into applause, which seemed appropriate for a man who had given so much to his community.  The contrast with the feelings of the locals for the Newcastle owner was not lost on me.

The first attack of note was made by the home side with a cross that was met by a wayward header from Mariappa that went out for a corner, the delivery of which by Shelvey was cleared by Hughes.  At the other end Capoue broke and fed Pereyra who was tackled, the ball fell to Deulofeu whose shot was deflected for a corner.  Former Watford loanee, Kenedy, was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that was well wide of the target.  Then, as Muto broke forward, a shout of “handball” went up from the travelling Hornets, who took full credit when the referee blew up even though we knew that he couldn’t possibly have heard us.

Holebas lining up a corner with Pereyra in attendance

Pereyra and Holebas then combined brilliantly to get the ball to Hughes in the box, but the ball stuck under his feet and a tackle came in before he could shoot.  Watford should have taken the lead after 15 minutes when Mariappa met a Holebas corner with a header that was blocked on the line, the rebound fell to Hughes whose shot was also blocked, Mariappa had a second chance to score but shot just wide of the near post.  Newcastle were still causing the Hornets problems and a terrific shot from Diamé needed a good save from Foster to keep it out.  A lovely Watford move deserved more as Success found Deulofeu who broke into the box but was tackled before he could shoot.  This was followed by another gorgeous passage of play from the Hornets as Pereyra played the ball out to Holebas who put in a low cross for Deulofeu, but the Spaniard snatched at his shot and the ball flew wide of the near post.   At the other end, a misplaced pass allowed Kenedy to break, but he was stopped by a brilliant saving tackle by Mariappa.  Watford had another great chance to open the scoring as Success broke forward and passed to Deulofeu who was in an acre of space and should have done better with only the keeper to beat, but his shot was wide of the far post.

Breaking at a corner

A decent break from the home side was stopped by some clever defending from Holebas who managed to get in front of the Newcastle man and draw a foul.  Holebas was the centre of attention again soon after as he changed his shorts on the sideline.  Unfortunately my camera was in my pocket at the time.  Watford then won a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery from Capoue flew just over the bar.  The Frenchman was then booked for a tackle from behind on Muto.  Shelvey took the free kick, which was in an equally dangerous position, but his effort was well over the bar.  Deulofeu threatened again as he broke down the left, but his shot hit the side netting.  Watford had yet another decent chance as Pereyra played Success in, but the shot was blocked.  There was a final chance for the Hornets to take the lead before the break when Deulofeu slid the ball through to Success, but Dubravka was equal to the shot.  Despite Watford’s numerous chances during the half, that was the first save that the Newcastle keeper had had to make.  In the minute added on at the end of the half, Benitez made a substitution bringing Pérez on for Muto, who had taken a knock.  A decision that provoked a furious rant from Pete about the sheer pointlessness of the move when he could have had 20 minutes to recover.  Needless to say, the half time whistle went with the substitute not having had a touch and the game goalless.  It had been a frustrating half for the travelling Hornets.  Watford had much the better of the play and had created plenty of chances, Deulofeu could have had a hat trick on his own, but the finishing had been wasteful.

Pereyra, Holebas and Capoue gather for a free kick

The home side made another injury-enforced change at the break with Lascelles making way for Schär.  Watford had a superb chance to take the lead early in the second half when Success fought his way past Yedlin before passing to Pereyra whose shot looked all the way in until the crossbar got in the way.  Benitez was forced to make his final substitution only five minutes into the half when Shelvey was replaced by Ki, again due to an injury. Watford had another chance to take the lead from a corner, but Cathcart’s header was just over the bar.  Newcastle threatened as Rondón ran on to a through ball, Foster made a brave save, although he needn’t have bothered as the flag had gone up for offside anyway.  Foster came to the rescue again, punching a Ritchie corner clear, the ball came back in from Ki, but Foster gathered.  Hughes was then booked for a foul on Ki, conceding a free kick in a dangerous position.  Ki delivered the free-kick himself and it was headed home by Pérez to give the home side an unexpected lead.  Gracia made an immediate change bringing Gray on for Deulofeu.

Holebas delivers a corner

From the restart Newcastle broke forward, but Foster came out to make the tackle and avert the danger.  The home side had a great chance for a second goal soon after as a Kenedy cross was met by a header from Rondón that flew just wide of the target.  At the other end, a ball was launched for Success to run on to, but he let it run out of play much to the frustration of the travelling Hornets.  Kenedy did well to beat Mariappa and cross for Rondón, but Cathcart was on hand to make a saving header.  Success then did really well to break forward and cross for Gray who was stopped by a tackle from Kenedy.  Watford’s second substitution saw Hughes make way for Okaka.  Watford’s attempts to draw level continued as Pereyra crossed for Gray, but Dubravka was able to gather the ball.  A lovely passing move by the Hornets finished with a poor cross and the chance was lost.  Gracia made his final substitution replacing Success with Chalobah. I was shocked to hear cheers greeting this change.  I tried to be charitable and reason that the cheers must have been for the return of Chalobah, but it was so clear that they weren’t.  Now I am not Isaac’s biggest fan, he frustrates me greatly with some of his decision making.  A bit more thought allied with his skill and he would be a world beater.  He was also getting knocked off the ball a little too easily.  But he had worked hard and created some brilliant chances and certainly did not deserve that treatment from his own fans.  Watford had a late chance as Doucouré fired across the goal, but there was nobody on hand to turn the ball in.

Gathering for a Watford corner

There had been some theatrical feigning of injury by the Newcastle players (interspersed with bouts of cramp) which culminated in Yedlin going down dramatically after a collision with Pereyra.  The Newcastle man was claiming that his opponent had stamped on him.  As the Argentine protested, Holebas got involved and it all kicked off on the sideline with Holebas and Schär both being shown a yellow card after the handbags had been put down.  The Hornets had one last chance to snatch a point and it was a decent one as Doucouré played the ball back to Okaka who should have scored, but fired over the bar instead and Newcastle gained their first win of the season.

There were a lot of angry Watford fans after the game.  There was some justification for this as Newcastle had been very poor and were there for the taking.  But the first half performance had been impressive and the Hornets should have been 3 or 4 up at half time.  If the Pereyra shot that hit the crossbar early in the second half had gone in, we would have won the game.  But Newcastle worked hard, managed to get a goal from a set piece and it seemed to be game over from that point.  Still it is very dispiriting to hear so much anger directed at the players who have entertained us wonderfully so far this season.  We are half way to safety with less than 30% of the games played, so are already on the way to having a great season.  There will be the odd blip, but that shouldn’t derail the support as we are all in this together.  It would be great if some of our more volatile supporters could remember that.

The Youngsters Shine Against the Royals

So good to see Chalobah back from injury

I was rather pleased when the draw for the second round of the League Cup gave us a trip to Reading as it is almost a home game for me.  Even more so when the game was scheduled for Wednesday evening as I was already planning to work from home due to a dental check-up in Maidenhead in the afternoon.  I always have a chat about football with my dentist, who is really an Arsenal fan but used to be a Reading Season Ticket holder who gave up going because the team were hopeless.  We chatted about the game and he warned that they may cause us problems.  I assured him that, given our recent history in this cup, I was taking nothing for granted.  Once he gave me the all clear, I was on my way to Reading where I was in the pre-match pub far too early, although not as early as the chap in the Watford shirt who was already sitting in the corner.  I bought myself a lovely real cider and then found a little booth to hide away in and wait for the rest of my party who arrived in due course.

On arrival at the ground, the bag search was being undertaken by a woman whose main concern seemed to be to find some goodies that could be shared with her.  It always makes the day a bit nicer when the stewards have a sense of humour.  As our pre-match pub is excellent for beer but doesn’t serve food, I had a chicken balti pie inside the ground that I have to say was very good indeed.  While waiting for kick-off, Sweet Caroline was played which apparently is a Reading favourite but made me a little homesick for Fenway Park.

Prodl lines up a free kick

Team news was that Gracia had made 11 changes with debuts for Navarro, Masina, Wilmot and Quina and the return of Chalobah, so the starting line-up was Gomes; Navarro, Mariappa, Prödl, Masina; Femenía, Chalobah, Wilmot, Quina, Sema; Success.  I have to say that looked like a pretty decent team.  Reading had also made 8 changes, but the main Watford connection with the opposition was in the dug out in the person of Sir Nigel Gibbs.

The first chance of the game came from a Navarro free kick from distance that was an easy save for Walker in the Reading goal.  Early in the game there was a switch in formation to three at the back with Wilmot in the middle and Navarro and Masina playing as wing backs.  Watford’s next chance also came from a free kick from Chalobah that just cleared the bar.  From a corner, Femenía played the ball back into the box where it was parried and fell to Mariappa whose shot was blocked before Wilmot tried a cheeky back heel that was cleared.  Young Wilmot was having an impressive start and he was soon in action at the other end of the pitch cutting out a dangerous ball into the box.  The first chance for the home side came in the 23rd minute as Watford failed to clear a cross into their box allowing McNulty to volley over the bar.  Then Watford launched a great break, Success got to the byline and put in a low cross, but nobody was there to take advantage.  Soon after, a corner from Sema reached Femenía who played it in to Success whose shot missed the target.  He wasn’t to make the same mistake a minute later as Masina played the ball back to him, he took one touch and then finished past Walker.  Reading had a chance to break back from a free kick which was launched over the wall, but Gomes dropped to make an easy catch.  So Watford reached half time a goal to the good and looking uncharacteristically comfortable.

Celebrating Quina’s magnificent strike

Reading made a change at the break bringing Sims on for Swift.  The second half started with a decent chance for the Hornets.  After a fast break, Navarro crossed for Success who headed just over the bar.  Soon after, the Watford striker had another chance to increase the lead, this time from a Masina cross, but he nodded wide.  The travelling Hornets were in good voice and a lovely bit of skill from Quina was greeted with an appreciative chorus of “sexy football”.  There was a decent chance to get a second as Chalobah played a lovely ball for Femenía to run on to, but the shot was blocked by the Reading keeper.  The second Watford goal was a thing of beauty, the ball was cleared to Quina outside the box, he advanced a couple of steps and then took the advice of the bloke standing behind me who was yelling ‘hit it’ and powered a rocket into the top corner.  It was quite a strike. There were changes for both sides soon after as Baldock and former Watford youngster Yiadom came on for O’Shea and Richards for the home side.  For the Hornets, Sema made way for Okaka.  The Watford substitute had an immediate chance to get on the score sheet as he got on the end of a looping cross from Femenía, but his glancing header was wide of the target.  There was a rare chance for the home side as a ball dropped to Kelly inside the box, but he hit it over the bar.  Quina’s enjoyable debut came to an end as he was replaced by Doucouré.  He looked shattered as he left to field to an ovation from the travelling Hornets.  Watford were still pushing to extend their lead as a shot from Navarro was pushed over the bar.  At the other end McNulty lobbed Gomes, but Mariappa was back to clear the ball.  Reading threatened again with a decent shot from distance from Méïté, but Gomes was down to make the save.  Watford’s final change saw Hughes come on for Chalobah, it was so great to see him back in action and managing almost 90 minutes.  Reading had one last chance to reduce the deficit from a free kick, but the shot was easily caught by Gomes.

Gomes back in goal

So, in the end, it was a convincing and comfortable win for the Hornets.  The second string put in a very good performance which gives a pleasing indication of the strength of the squad.  Of the new guys, Wilmot was the most impressive, looking very assured in the middle of the back three.  The other youngster, Quina, made some lovely touches and his goal was a worldie.  These two look to have very promising futures.  It was also a delight to see Chalobah back on the pitch and putting in a great shift for almost the entire 90 minutes.  He was beaming as he responded to the chants of “Chalobah, my lord” after the final whistle.

Also, fair play to the 2514 fans who travelled to the game.  It is not a long journey but, given our recent record in this competition, they would have travelled more in hope than expectation, so thoroughly deserved that win.

We have Spurs next in both the league and the cup.  I don’t expect anything from either game, but if this team continues to perform as they have so far this season, we are in for a rather enjoyable season.

An Entertaining Goal-less Draw

Dee and Toddy in typical pose

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.

Mariappa takes a throw-in

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.

Pereyra leaves the free kick to Holebas

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.

Hughes on the ball

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.

Capoue takes a free kick

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.

Karnezis takes a free kick

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.

Domination Leads to an Undeserved Defeat

Deeney, Mariappa and Capoue gather for a corner

Pre-match I had a very frustrating encounter at the ticket office where I was told that, unless we could provide a letter from the university proving that my niece has a place for her second year (we can’t as she has yet to finish her first year), we wouldn’t be able to renew her season ticket at student prices so she would jump from paying the 18 and under to the adult price, which is very steep for a 19 year old student.  After the Fans Forum event, at which the club made noises about encouraging local youngsters to support the club, I was very

disappointed that the club would treat a loyal young fan so appallingly.

Thankfully I was able to go to the West Herts to calm down.  Our usual pre-match crew was joined a couple of very welcome guests, who I hope will join us more regularly in the future.

Team news was that Gracia had named the same team as last week, so the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Mariappa, Prödl, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Femenía, Hughes, Pereyra; Deeney.  The Burnley team included former Watford loanee, Jack Cork, and their Management team, of course, includes Sean Dyche and Ian Woan.  Tim Coombs made a point of welcoming Sean back after the teams were announced and the Burnley manager was given a terrific welcome by the Vicarage Road faithful.

Deeney tries to reason with the referee

As at all Premier League grounds, there was a minute’s applause for Ray Wilkins, whose passing at the ridiculously young age of 61 hit me rather hard.  His time at Vicarage Road was not one that is remembered fondly by Watford fans, but when I met him at the kit sponsors do, I found him to be a lovely man (unlike Vialli).  It was pleasing that the applause in his memory started well before it was instructed.

Burnley started the game very brightly and had the ball in the net in the second minute from a Wood header, but the goal was disallowed for offside.  The visitors threatened again as a cross from Ward was met with a header from Barnes that cleared the crossbar.  Watford’s first chance came from a Janmaat cross that Deeney glanced just wide of the far post.  The next chance for the Hornets came from a lovely move involving Capoue, Janmaat and Hughes, who found Pereyra whose shot needed a decent save from the Burnley keeper, Pope, to keep it out.  Pereyra had another chance soon after as a short corner was played to Holebas who crossed for the Argentinian, whose shot from distance was saved.  The home side executed another lovely move as Hughes played a gorgeous pass to Femenía, who tried to return the compliment, but Pope was out to gather before the pass reached the Watford man.

Holebas prepares to take a corner

A rare attacking move for the visitors led to the ball pin-balling around the Watford box before it fell to Westwood whose shot was blocked by Mariappa.  Another short corner for the home side allowed Holebas to put in a dangerous looking cross, but Pope was able to claim it.  Watford attacked again, and the ball bounced between players without any of them being able to make a decent contact, finally it fell to Capoue who shot wide of the far post, to groans from the Rookery.  Pereyra had another great chance to put the Hornets in the lead as he beat a defender to get into the box and shot towards the top corner, but Pope pulled off another great save to deny him.  Deeney was the next to try his luck with a low shot that was cleared and that was it for the first half action.

It had been a terrific half of football.  The visitors started strongly but, from the 10th minute onwards, Watford were in control, playing some superb football and, were it not for a terrific performance from Pope in the Burnley goal, would have been a couple of goals to the good.

At half time, the crowd was introduced to Ryan Cassidy, a first year scholar who has just signed his first professional contract with Watford.  The little I have seen of him in action for the U18/U23 has been impressive.  Let us hope that he goes on to make a name for himself in the first team.

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal (photo by Cate Ephgrave)

The 50-50 draw was made by Malky Mackay, who mentioned that he had been joined by Aidy Boothroyd at the game.  Malky was given a very warm welcome, which made me happy as I sponsored him for a few years as player/manager and always found him to be a lovely man.

There was an early scare for the Hornets in the second half, as Karnezis came to gather a high ball and failed, thankfully it rebounded to safety.  Watford’s first chance of the second period came as Femenía found Hughes who played the ball back to Janmaat whose shot was straight at the keeper.  Watford won a free kick as Hughes was tripped on the edge of the Burnley box.  Pereyra’s set piece rebounded off the wall, but Watford kept possession and the ball reached Pereyra in the box, his strike was more impressive than last week’s, and had the same impact as it also ended up in the net to give Watford a very deserved lead.  At that point, I thought we would go on and win the game.  It wasn’t to be.

Pereyra prepares to take a free kick

With 20 minutes to go, Dyche made his first substitution bringing Vokes on for N’Koudou.  The Burnley substitute had an immediate impact as a free-kick was headed on by an off-balance Mariappa, and fell to Vokes who poked it past Karnezis.  It was his first touch and Burnley’s first shot of the half, but the visitors were level.  It went from bad to worse as, within 3 minutes, Burnley took the lead.  A free-kick into the box bounced around, it appeared that Karnezis had cleared it, but the referee indicated a goal from a Cork header and Burnley were inexplicably ahead.  Gracia made his first substitution bringing Okaka on for Janmaat.  Watford had a chance to hit back as a cross reached Deeney, but it appeared to bounce off his head and the chance was gone.  There was a better chance as Femenía crossed for Okaka, who headed over when he should have done better.  There was a rash of substitutions, as Hendrick replaced Lennon for the visitors, and Doucouré and Hughes made way for Carrillo and Richarlison for the Hornets.  The last 10 minutes were notable for a series of dramatic collapses by Burnley players when in the vicinity of an opponent, too many of which the referee fell for.  These were supplemented by other antics that my friend, Jacque, described as elevating time-wasting into an art-form.  The Hornets had one last chance to rescue a point as Holebas launched a cross into the box, but Pope was there to gather and the points went to the visitors who celebrated with chants of “We’re all going on a European tour.”

Gathering in the Burnley box

There were a lot of complaints from those around us on the way up Occupation Road and it was very hard to come to terms with the fact that we had lost a game that we had dominated so convincingly.  But, once Burnley equalized, we lost our nerve against a very well-organized team, so the game finished very badly for the Hornets.

It is a source of some frustration that we have finished two very winnable games with only a point to show for a couple of excellent performances.  There have been some very promising signs, Hughes and Pereyra have been outstanding, but we are not clinical enough in front of goal and make too many mistakes at the back.  But the football has been (mostly entertaining), we must be safe and we have a terrific squad to build on for next year.  These are still the good old days.

The Cherries Steal a Point at the Death

The 1881 encouraging the crowd to sing

On Wednesday evening was an At Our Place event as fans were invited to question Javi Gracia, Tom Cleverley and Scott Duxbury. The evening started with an introduction to the diversity work of FSF by Anwar Uddin. He was a very engaging speaker, a former footballer who Watford once tried to sign. West Ham wouldn’t let him go at the time and, when they did release him, he found that Lloyd Doyley had come on leaps and bounds and he was no longer needed. He was the first British player of Asian origin and is still a rarity in that area and works with the community to find out why. But he also works in all areas of diversity including setting up a group for older supporters at West Ham called Any Old Irons, you had to love him for that. He was joined by Sam McLeod, the reporting officer for Kick it Out, who told us about the reporting mechanism when you hear abuse at the ground. After a short break, the Watford men took the stage. Javi is very engaging and did well in dealing with questions (with a little help from his translator). Tom Cleverley is a sweetheart and spoke positively about being back at Watford. Scott Duxbury talked about the business and how Gino Pozzo is in it for the long-term. It was a fabulous evening, fair play to the club for putting it on. They even gave us food and a free drink at the bar.

On Saturday morning, I was in Watford early in order to attend the Watford Community Trust exhibition at the museum, which was small, but perfectly formed. I particularly liked the Terry Challis painting of the two Robs (Smith and Clarke).

Gathering for a corner

Then it was on to the West Herts where our usual crew were treated to a visit from Debs and Jane over from Sydney on a flying visit. It was lovely to catch up as we all cheered the demise of Palace against Liverpool (sorry Ray Lew).

Team news was two changes from the trip to Liverpool with Janmaat and Hughes in for Britos and Richarlison. After his nightmare at Anfield, it wasn’t a huge surprise to find that Britos had called in sick. More of a surprise was that Richarlison was finally being given the rest that many fans have been calling for. So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Mariappa, Prödl, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Femenía, Hughes, Pereyra; Deeney. Nathan Aké started for the visitors, I know that I am not the only Watford fan who is still very disappointed that he didn’t sign for us instead.

Watford started the game brightly enough, but the visitors had the first chance from a free kick that was taken short to Stanislas whose cross was met by Aké whose header hit the crossbar. Bournemouth had another decent chance to take an early lead as a terrific shot from Stanislas was met by Karnezis who, at full stretch, managed to push the ball to safety.

Congratulating Femenia on his goal

Watford’s first goal attempt came after some good work from Hughes, who found Deeney whose shot from the edge of the box was blocked. Watford took the lead after 13 minutes as a corner was taken short to Holebas who crossed for Femenía whose volley took a deflection before beating Begović. Bournemouth had a chance to break back almost immediately as a free kick from Stansilas was headed over the bar by Aké, although the lino seemed to have the flag up for offside. There was a scare for the Hornets as Mariappa lost out to King, who was stopped by a terrific tackle from Prödl before he could get a shot in. Watford threatened again as Femenía went on a lovely run to meet a ball over the top, he found Hughes whose shot was sadly blocked by the legs of Deeney diverting it wide of the target. Holebas was the next to try his luck with a free kick that rebounded off the wall, his follow-up lob was easily gathered by Begović. Bournemouth then had a corner that was met by the head of Cook whose downward header was blocked. It was end to end action as Femenía found Deeney whose acrobatic shot was blocked, the ball went out to Janmaat whose low shot was easily saved. At the other end, a shot from Stanislas was stopped by a brilliant save from Karnezis, but the rebound was pushed to safety by a hand from Holebas as Ibe tried to turn it in and the referee pointed to the spot. King stepped up and sent Karnezis the wrong way to grab the equalizer for the visitors. Bournemouth were forced to make a substitution at the end of the half due to an injury to Stanislas who was replaced by Pugh.

So we went into half time with honours even after a competitive and entertaining half of football.

Deeney congratulates Pereyra on his goal

The second half started with a chance for the Hornets, but Femenía’s shot was blocked. Watford regained the lead in the 49th minute after Deeney battled past a defender and found Hughes who laid the ball back to Pereyra whose shot appeared to be in slow motion as it left Begović wrong footed and found the net. The Argentine looked to be on course for a second goal when he received a pass from Hughes, but the space in front of him was soon closed down. At the other end, Ibe had a shot from the edge of the area, but it was easily gathered by Karnezis. Watford made their first substitution replacing Prödl, who was on a yellow card, with Cathcart, whose return from injury was greeted with a very appreciative roar from the crowd. The visitors also made a change as Defoe came on for Ibe. Gracia’s second substitution was to bring Okaka on to replace Hughes, who had an excellent game. Back to matters on the pitch, a header from Defoe appeared to clear the bar, but Karnezis was adjudged to have helped it over and a corner was given which, thankfully, came to nothing. At the other end, Deeney raced to get on the end of a long ball, but Begović was out to clear the danger. With 10 minutes remaining, each side made their final change with Femenía making way for Richarlison and Surman on for Wilson.

Cathcart challenging as Okaka looks on

Watford won a corner and the delivery from Holebas was headed down by Deeney but was claimed by Begović. Deeney then tried a shot from the edge of the area but, again, Begović was behind it. In time added on, there was what appeared to be a coming together between Okaka and Cook as they challenged for a header. As the Bournemouth man was lying prostrate on the turf, we assumed that the referee had stopped the game due to the possibility of a head injury, but he gave a free kick, booked Okaka and Cook was miraculously restored to full fitness. The free kick was helped on by Aké to Defoe and the visitors were able to snatch a point at the death. A very frustrating end to the match and the final whistle went to boos from the Watford fans, which were directed at the referee and the opposition. Troy’s usual lap of the ground was oddly truncated and the final two people on the pitch were Aké and (a newly blond) Capoue having a lengthy chat before each returned to their dressing room.

Despite the disappointment of conceding such a late equaliser, a draw was probably a fair result and it had been a terrifically entertaining game. Hughes and Femenía both put in superb performances and highlighted Duxbury’s statement at the Fans’ Forum that, when our injured players returned, our squad would be of very high quality. It was lovely to see Aké back, just sad that he was wearing the wrong coloured shirt as he was terrific at both ends of the pitch.

We welcome Burnley next Saturday and the return of Sean Dyche. It will be another tough game but, after Saturday’s performance, I am very much looking forward to it.

Another Heavy Defeat at Anfield

Pereyra attempting to keep warm as snow falls during the pre-match handshakes

An away game in Liverpool is always a good opportunity to catch up with one of my oldest and dearest friends and I have to say that I travelled to Liverpool acutely aware that the time spent with her and the planned visit to the Tate on Sunday were likely to be considerably more enjoyable than the 90 minutes at Anfield.

Saturday lunchtime we had a lovely walk through the woods from her town to the next railway station down the line.  The weather was lovely, a bright blue sky with the forecast snow falling as the wispiest of flakes.  As we waited for our trains she mentioned that she often visits a pub nearby which happens to be Jurgen Klopp’s local.  When I arrived in the City Centre, it was decked out in green, white and gold for St Patrick’s Day and everyone I passed seemed to be wearing a green shirt (as was I).  Given that the Six Nations clash between Ireland and England was taking place that afternoon, I felt sorry for any English rugby fans who may have been in town as they were horribly outnumbered.

When I had texted one of my party earlier in the day to reassure him that I still had his ticket and find out what time he would be in the pub, I was a little surprised when he indicated that it would be soon after midday.  When I arrived, a couple of hours after that, it was acknowledged that this was similar to arriving in the West Herts at 9:30 in the morning.  Even Don doesn’t get there that early.

Remembering the 96

We had a convivial and very tasty lunch (the pies are so good) and were soon joined by the Happy Valley Horns and the Liverpool contingent.  As we left the pub (with Ireland well on the way to a result that would give them the Grand Slam) some proper snow was falling.  As the buses for the stadium started lining up I was impressed to see them displaying a banner “Remembering the 96”.

When we arrived at the ground, the short walk from the bus to the away entrance was bitter as an icy wind accompanied the snow.  The security search was perfunctory and the lovely woman performing it said that I would soon be inside and could warm myself up jumping up and down as my team came out for the game.  I smiled and said that we’d make the most of that as it wasn’t likely that we would have any goals to celebrate.

Team news was just the one change in personnel from the Arsenal game, as Britos came in to replace Janmaat, and a change of formation to 5-4-1.  So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Femenía, Mariappa, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Pereyra, Doucouré, Capoue, Richarlison; Deeney.

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s applause for John Molineux, a former Liverpool player who recently passed away.

Javi all wrapped up at Anfield

The game started disastrously for the Hornets as Salah broke into the box in the third minute and left Britos on the floor before beating Karnezis to open the scoring.   At least I’m told that was what happened, as I was too short to see the action in the box at our end which was obscured by my fellow fans standing in front of me.  The Egyptian could have increased the lead soon after as a through ball was played towards him, but Karnezis was out to save on the edge of the box.  At last a Watford attack as Femenía went on a run down the wing before crossing for Pereyra whose header looped wide of the target.  It went a bit quiet then for a while (thank goodness) the next action was a decent attack by the Hornets as Doucouré broke free of the Liverpool defence but decided against taking a shot so passed to Femenia and the home defence were able to clear.  Liverpool were forced into an early substitution due to an injury to Can, who was replaced by Milner.  The Hornets launched another attack as Deeney played the ball out to Pereyra who did brilliantly to beat his man and get into the box, he played the ball across the goal, but it was blocked.  At the other end, Watford’s day was summed up in a single move as Prödl made a brilliant tackle to dispossess Salah and then immediately lost the ball.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came came as Pereyra crossed for Richarlison, whose header was on target but straight at Karius.  The next move seemed to start with a foul on the edge of the Liverpool box as Pereyra was pulled to the ground, but the referee was unmoved and the home side launched a counter attack allowing Salah to break free before playing a ball to Firmino who was stopped by a brilliant save from Karnezis.  Just when I thought that Watford could get to half time only one down, Liverpool scored the simplest of goals as Robertson played a lovely cross to an unmarked Salah who had the easiest of tap-ins (I am told, again my view of the shot was obscured).

Deeney and Pereyra looking horrified

The home side increased their lead early in the second half, while many were still in the concourse enjoying their half time refreshments.  I actually saw this one as it was at the other end of the ground, or I thought I did and was under the impression that it marked Salah’s hat trick, but he turned provider on this occasion as his cross from a narrow angle was turned into the net by an audacious flick from Firmino.  Watford had a couple of decent chances to reduce the deficit.  First a shot from Holebas flew just wide of the near post.  Then Gomez was shown a yellow card for a foul on Richarlison, allowing Pereyra to step up and hit a lovely free kick that bounced off the top of the crossbar.  The Hornets attacked again as a lovely ball was played out to Holebas who whipped the cross in but Karius plucked the ball out of the air.  At the other end there were shouts for handball as Mariappa blocked a cross from Firmino, but the referee saw no infringement.  Pereyra did really well to battle past a couple of defenders before crossing for Richarlison, who was being challenged so was off balance and could only manage a weak header that was easily blocked.  There was a rash of substitutions midway through the second half as, first, Hughes replaced Richarlison, then Okaka replaced Deeney to much muttering behind me.  “We’re three goals down and he takes off a striker”.  I couldn’t help thinking that going for it would be reckless at this stage when all we were playing for was goal difference.

Gathering for a Watford corner

For the home side Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced Wijnaldum.  The young substitute was the next to test Karnezis, but it was an easy save for the Watford keeper.  Karnezis was less successful a couple of minutes later as Salah got the ball in the box and, despite there being a number of defenders in his way, he tricked them all and finished for his hat-trick and Liverpool’s fourth.  Watford hadn’t given up and Okaka broke into the Liverpool box, but with less success as his shot was blocked.  The final substitution for each side saw Ings replacing Firmino and Janmaat on for Britos, who had had a torrid time of it against Salah so was likely happy to be relieved of his duties.  Ings almost scored with his first attempt, but Karnezis made a great save, stretching and managing to get a hand to the shot to keep it out.  But Liverpool were not to be denied their fifth goal as Salah set up Ings whose shot was blocked so the ball rebounded to the Egyptian to score his fourth goal of the evening.  Salah had one more chance, and my heart sank as I saw him bearing down on the Watford goal, but Karnezis was able to get in the way and block the attempt.  As the fourth official held up the board indicating only 2 minutes of added time, Pete observed that it must have been a sympathy decision.  There was a rare moment to make me smile as the ball ended up in one of the stands and Mane leant over the hoardings to retrieve it while Prödl held his legs.  Watford had one last chance to score a consolation goal as Femenía swung a cross in, but Matip was on hand to clear and the whistle went on another heavy defeat for the Hornets at Anfield.

Holebas and Richarlison lining up a free kick with Britos contemplating joining them

As we left the stadium, I was very grateful to see that the snow had stopped falling so I had a very pleasant walk back to Sandhills station before taking a seat on a sparsely occupied train back to my friend’s house on the coast.

I arrived back to a sympathetic welcome, although I couldn’t say that I was either cold or wet, just rather miserable about the result of the game.  But it was hardly an unexpected outcome and I found myself baffled about the constant complaints that I heard from the people behind me.  I had observed early in the game that Liverpool were simply better than us, but that didn’t seem to register.  Some fans seem unable to view a game from that perspective so spend ninety minutes berating their players for losing to a team playing some brilliant football.

There were some positives for the Hornets.  Karnezis, despite letting in five goals, put on a decent show.  But my highlight was a decent performance from Pereyra, who put together some lovely moves which cheered me up greatly on a day when there were few moments of joy.  He seems to shine against more talented opposition as he clearly feels that he is less likely to be clattered.

But, in the end, it was the Salah show.  He is an exceptional footballer and sometimes you have to just appreciate that and move on.  This game was never one that we targeted to gain points, so we should all recharge our batteries over the international break and return, refreshed, for the visit of Bournemouth.

 

Deeney’s Words Come Back to Haunt Him

Gathering for a corner

During the week the Sports Quiz took place at Vicarage Road.  The club usually try to get a couple of players to come along and, on this occasion, it was Deeney and Mariappa.  The former was livid when he didn’t identify all the Premier League players from their pixilated pictures.  As I often do on these occasions, I wondered how many premier league clubs would have the captain picking out raffle tickets on such an evening.  As we were on the next table, I took the chance to have a chat with the lovely Adrian Mariappa.  As usual, I asked about Lloyd Doyley.  I knew he was at Hemel now and just wanted to make sure that he was happy.  There was a smile and “Lloyd’s always happy”.

On Sunday, I left home bright and early and was in the pre-match pub before 11.  My party had not yet arrived, but the Norfolk/East Anglian Hornets were out in force, so I was welcomed into their fold, which is always great entertainment.

Team news was just the one change for the Hornets with Femenía in for Carrillo, so the starting line-up was Karnezis; Femenía, Prödl, Mariappa, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Janmaat, Pereyra, Richarlison; Deeney.   Interestingly, Bachmann filled the goalkeeping spot on the bench leading to a tweet from Gomes that indicated that he was not happy at that decision.  Arsenal’s line-up showed six changes from the team that started the Europa League match in midweek and they had more than one substitute with a shirt number in the 60s.  I guess Watford are not AC Milan.

Richarlison lines up a free kick

There was also a milestone in the commentary box as it was to be John Motson’s last live radio commentary.  I could only hope that Watford would give him something interesting to talk about (in a good way).

As we took our seats in the stand, it was notable that there were vast swathes of empty seats in the upper tier of the Emirates.

There had been a discussion pre-match about the line-up which indicated that Femenía was playing at right-back.  As the team lined up for kick-off, Pete commented ‘Femenía won’ as it became clear that Kiko was playing on the wing and Janmaat had taken up the defensive position.

The home side created a very early chance as a lovely passing move finished with Özil setting Aubameyang up to challenge Karnezis, the Watford keeper won that duel saving the shot with his legs.  Watford’s first chance came as Pereyra played the ball out to Richarlison whose shot was wide of the near post.  Arsenal took the lead in the eighth minute as an Özil free kick was headed home by Mustafi.  It was a simple goal and rather frustrating.

Holebas comes over to take a corner

Watford looked to break back quickly as Pereyra found Richarlison in space but, as so often recently, the youngster hesitated and the space was gone, so he played the ball back to Doucouré whose shot was blocked by the keeper, Cech.  At the other end a through ball found Kolašinac whose cross was just too far in front of Aubameyang who could only poke the ball wide of the near post.  Watford really should have equalised in the next passage of play as, first, Richarlison hit a free kick that was on target, Cech managed to push it out but only as far as Pereyra who, with the goal gaping, belted the ball high and wide of the target.  Arsenal could have increased their lead as Özil, who had been a menace all afternoon, was through on goal, but Mariappa managed to put him off and Karnezis was able to block the shot.  Nearly half an hour into the game the upper tier was still sparsely populated and the seats behind us were finally occupied by a young couple who were clearly not Watford fans.  Very strange as there was plenty of space for them in their own end.  The home side had another decent chance to take the lead as Aubameyang got the ball inside the box, but he was denied by a superb tackle from Mariappa.  At the other end, Richarlison and Pereyra combined again, this time the young Brazilian was provider playing a through ball to his colleague whose shot was blocked.  The visitors threatened again as Capoue found Femenía whose volley was deflected over the target.  The Hornets were finishing the half strongly and a decent break finished with a cross from Janmaat that was plucked out of the air by Cech.  The last chance of the half came as a lovely cross from Femenía was met by the head of Richarlison, but his effort was pushed around the post by Cech and the half time whistle went with the Hornets still trailing by the early goal.

When Watford conceded in the eighth minute, it looked as though it could be a long afternoon but, even though Arsenal had the better of the early exchanges, the Hornets had put in a strong show later in the half and really should have scored.  I hoped that we wouldn’t come to regret the missed chances.

Deeney and Mustafi

Arsenal had the first chance of the second half with a shot from distance from Xhaka that Karnezis caught at the second attempt.  Watford then had a decent chance as a ball from Doucouré was headed on by Richarlison to Femenía whose volley was blocked.  The first caution of the game was earned by Mustafi who stopped Richarlison escaping by tripping him.  The Hornets had another decent chance as Capoue dinked the ball to Femenía whose shot was deflected wide.  After a bright start to the half by the Hornets, it was frustrating to see the home side increase their lead as Mkhitaryan launched a counter attack before playing a through ball to Aubameyang who rounded Karnezis and scored.  Watford had a chance to pull one back as Pereyra ran into the box and encountered two Arsenal defenders so leapt between them and was adjudged to have been fouled.  From our (rather good) vantage point, it appeared to be a very soft penalty.  As Deeney stepped up to take it, I had a feeling of dread with the word ‘cohones’ going through my head.  The Arsenal fans behind the goal were on their feet jeering trying to put Troy off and, sure enough, Cech went the right way and the shot was at a decent height for the keeper who made his first penalty save for the Gunners.  Interestingly Deeney’s miss got a bigger cheer from the home crowd than either of the Arsenal goals that preceded it.  While nobody was looking, Gracia made his first change bringing Hughes on for Femenia, who had put in a very impressive performance.

Okaka, Deeney and Mariappa gather for a corner

Watford could then have conceded a penalty themselves as Mariappa made a rather robust tackle on Mkhitaryan, but the referee gave nothing.  Richarlison again had a chance to pull one back for the visitors, but he didn’t take the early shot and was closed down.  In the pub before the game, Pete had been talking about the bet that he had laid which required both teams to score and both Deeney and Holebas to be booked.  Jose kindly fulfilled his part of that bargain with a foul on Mkhitaryan.  There was a substitution for each side at that point as Welbeck came on for Iwobi for the home side and Okaka replaced Pereyra for the visitors.  Watford had a great chance to reduce the deficit when a Richarlison cross was knocked on to Janmaat but the shot was poor and cleared the bar.  Arsenal then scored a third that was totally undeserved with a shot from distance from Mkhitaryan that bounced off Karnezis, who probably should have done better with it.  Holebas then did his best to get sent off with a red mist moment as he charged in to a challenge but, thankfully, was unable to inflict the intended damage, so stayed on the field. Each side made further changes with Chambers and Wilshere replacing Mustafi and Mkhitaryan for Arsenal and Britos coming on for Janmaat for the Hornets.  The Arsenal fans finally started a chant and, needless to say, it was to goad the Watford captain with “Deeney, what’s the score?”  Watford continued to try to get a goal back as a cross from Mariappa reached Okaka, who stabbed the ball goalwards but it was easy for Cech.  At the other end, Karnezis was called into action to block a shot from distance from Welbeck.  Richarlison again broke forward, his initial shot was blocked, the ball rebounded back to him but he was closed down before he could finish.  The final chance of the game fell to Prödl in a great position, but he belted the ball over the bar.  It was that sort of afternoon for the Hornets.

Capoue and Holebas prepare for a free kick

It was a rather odd game.  Arsenal played better than they had of late and Özil and Aubameyang were a menace all afternoon.  But Watford had some great spells of play and a confident Richarlison could have had a hat-trick.  If Deeney had scored the penalty at 2-0, it would likely have been a different outcome, but we were left to rue our misses.  It didn’t feel like a 3-0 defeat, the score greatly flattered the home side.  But, with Bournemouth losing to Tottenham later that afternoon, we finished the weekend in the top half of the table so there were no complaints.  With a trip to Liverpool on St Patrick’s day, I am not expecting any points next week, so we can just look forward to our upcoming run of home games and hope that we finish in style.  After the disappointing ends to the past couple of seasons, we deserve a decent finish.