Tag Archives: Stefano Okaka

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.

 

Deeney’s Goal Beats the Baggies

Deeney challenging in the West Brom box

After a week dominated by cold weather and snow disruption, it was a relief to end the week with some football.  Although for that we need to give thanks to the large number of kind souls who were at Vicarage Road early in the morning to help clear snow from the stadium and ensure that the game could be played.  Before 10am there was a notice on social media thanking the volunteers and saying that no more were needed.  Well played Hornets fans.  There was also a request from the 1881 for donations to the local foodbank.  When I arrived with my tins just before midday, there was a nice collection beginning and, at the end of the day, the foodbank thanked the fans with a message that “nearly a quarter of a tonne of food” had been donated.  A tremendous effort.

When I arrived at the West Herts, there were a couple of unfamiliar faces who turned out to be Norwegian friends of Trond.  One of them had been to Kaiserslauten home and away, which were his last Watford games before this one!

Holebas preparing for a free kick

After the unwelcome information midweek regarding the severity of Deulofeu’s injury, it was very disappointing when the team news came through to find that there was no sign of Femenía.  Thankfully a follow-up message said that it was due to sickness rather than injury.  Let us hope that he recovers very soon.  I was greatly cheered by the news that Hughes was fit enough to take a place on the bench.  Gracia’s only change from the Everton game was to replace Deulofeu with Carrillo.  So the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Prödl, Mariappa, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Carrillo, Pereyra, Richarlison; Deeney.  Former loanee, Ben Foster started for the visitors, who also had Allan Nyom on the bench.

It looked as though our injury list was to have a further addition when Capoue needed treatment in the second minute but, thankfully, he was soon fit to continue.  There was then some danger for Watford as a series of attempted clearances rebounded to West Brom players before a shot from Krychowiak was blocked by Mariappa, who was making his 250th start in a Watford shirt.  Watford’s first chance came from a Holebas cross, Carrillo’s header was poor, but the ball broke to Pereyra whose shot deflected off Gibbs.  Soon after,

Capoue, Mariappa and Deeney

Mariappa was in action at both ends of the pitch, flicking on a corner that didn’t quite reach Deeney and then clearing Rondón’s cross after Capoue had lost out in midfield.  A lovely attacking move for the Hornets finished as Doucouré found Deeney whose shot looked more like a back pass to Foster.  The first card of the game went to Capoue who was booked for a clumsy collision, which seemed rather harsh.  West Brom had a decent chance to open the scoring but, thankfully, Rondón’s header was wide of the near post.  At this point attention was drawn to an advertising hoarding that appeared to be on fire, much to the amusement of the travelling Baggies who were singing “Watford’s burning down.”  Back on the pitch, Doucouré tried a strike from distance that was blocked.  There was then a great chance for the Hornets as Pereyra broke and found himself in space, he played the ball to Janmaat whose shot was goalbound until Foster stuck out a leg and deflected it wide.  The resultant corner was headed just over the bar by Prödl.  In the last minute of the first half, Holebas was penalised for a challenge on Rondón.  He wasn’t impressed with the decision and let the officials know in no uncertain terms and was very lucky not to talk his way into the referee’s book, in fact he probably would have seen a card had Deeney not manoeuvred him out of earshot.  The free-kick was taken by Brunt and landed on the roof of the net, so the half finished goalless.

Deeney and Okaka challenging

At half time, we were introduced to Lewis Gordon, the latest Academy graduate to sign as a professional.  We also had the rather sorry sight of St Bernadette’s school taking part in the half time shoot out with only 2 of the 5 penalty takers.  At first this appeared to be a ruse as the first penalty was excellent, but it was beginners luck and they were soon knocked out of the competition.

As he approached the goal at the Rookery end for the start of the second half, Ben Foster was greeted with a tremendous reception to which he reacted with applause and by blowing a kiss to the crowd.  How lovely.  Watford had the first chance of the half from a Holebas free kick that Richarlison headed wide.  The young Brazilian had another decent chance soon after, but ran into a crowd of players and lost the ball.  At the other end there was a low shot from Rondón that was easily gathered by Karnezis.  The West Brom man then had an identical chance from the opposite side, he struck this one with more power but, again, Karnezis was equal to it.  Carrillo then broke on a counter attack and crossed for Doucouré who headed the ball down to Richarlison whose overhead kick appeared to be deflected wide by Livermore, but a goal kick was given.  Rondón really should have opened the scoring but, again, directed a header wide of the target.

Celebrating the winner

Watford made their first substitution on 54 minutes as Richarlison made way for Okaka.  Young Ricky was not happy and threw his gloves to the ground as he reached the dugout.  Thank goodness his Uncle Heurelho was there to look after him.  Okaka made an immediate impact playing a lovely through ball for Deeney who, sadly, wasn’t ready for it.  Then Doucouré tried to play in Okaka, but the ball bounced off the Italian and the chance was gone.  Watford were coming closer to breaking the deadlock and the next chance came as a cross from Pereyra reached Carillo whose shot was just over the bar with Foster beaten.  That was the last contribution from the Peruvian who was immediately replaced with Hughes.  We then had the bizarre experience of a player doing the time-wasting trudge off the pitch when there were still 24 minutes to go and he game was goalless.  Even his own fans were booing Carrillo before he reached the dugout.  West Brom had a great chance to take the lead as a cross came in for Rodriguez, but Janmaat made a vital intervention to stop the shot.  Mariappa earned a booking after losing Rondón and then hauling him down to stop his escape.  Watford should have taken the lead with 15 minutes remaining as a corner from Holebas reached Okaka in the box with the goal at his mercy, but his shot was blocked by Gibbs on the line.  The Hornets took the lead in the next move as a mistake in the West Brom midfield gifted Hughes the ball and he played a perfect pass for Deeney to run on to, Foster came out to meet him, but Troy was focussed on the goal and lifted the ball over Foster to send the Rookery wild.  The first substitution for the visitors saw McClean on to replace Krychowiak.

Hughes and Pereyra in the box

Mariappa, who had been tremendous, nearly put the Hornets in trouble with a terrible back pass but Karnezis was off his line to prevent Rondón taking advantage.  West Brom made two late substitutions with Livermore and Rodriguez making way for Field and Burke.  A deep corner from West Broom looked threatening, but Karnezis came confidently to claim the ball.  In time added on there was a decent chance for Hughes to increase Watford’s lead but his shot was deflected to Foster.  Gracia had intended to make a third substitution, bringing Lukebakio on for the final minute or so, when Holebas went down injured, so Britos was brought on to replace the limping Jose.  In the final minute of the game Watford won a free kick and I was baffled when Okaka went over towards the ball, leaving no one in the box, until the ball was played short for him to keep it in the corner until the final whistle went.

It had been another poor game, but another great three points.  On his 250th start, it was rather lovely that Mariappa was given man of the match.  It was also pleasing to see Deeney score his second goal in successive games.  His goals have been few and far between this season, but these were crucial to our survival in this division.  And there was a warm welcome back to Will Hughes, who provided the pass that led to the goal.

This win took us to 9th in the table and really has to mean that we are safe from relegation, which is a bit of a relief as our next two games are against Arsenal and Liverpool, although neither of those clubs are models of consistency, so points against them are not out of the question.

On our way back to the station, we met a group of West Brom fans trying to find their way back to The Flag.  They were very philosophical about our putting the final nail in their coffin which made me even happier that we could look forward to the last few games without stressing about the results.

Revenge on the Toffees is Sweet

Terry Challis painting/collage of GT

With the game kicking off at 5:30pm and it being the last day of the Graham Taylor exhibition at the museum, there was no question about how I would start my afternoon in Watford.  My sister, Rose, joined me and we spent a lovely hour looking at the exhibits and reminiscing.  There were a couple of new additions since my previous visit, including a beautiful painting/collage by Terry Challis, which was well worth the repeat visit all on its own.  Rose had not seen the exhibition before, so dutifully went around with the list of exhibits ticking them off.  We also had the added unexpected pleasure of Sarah Priestley being on hand to talk us through the collection and her lovely meetings with Rita while putting it together.  Apparently, Rita has visited on a few occasions and had fans chatting to her about their memories of Graham before they realised who they were talking to.  I have to say that brought a tear to all of our eyes.

As we walked to the West Herts, we encountered a group of Everton fans piling off a coach at the traffic lights at the junction of Vicarage Road so that they could visit the Oddfellows.  When one started a chorus of “Hi ho Silva lining”, I remembered that this was a grudge match.  When we met up with our pre-match crew, Elaine was there without her Everton-supporting husband in tow.  “He’s banned.  He couldn’t get a ticket in the away end and I wouldn’t give him his Fan ID.”  Brilliant!

Doucoure on the ball

The main talking point surrounding the Watford team selection focused on the goalkeeping position.  With Gomes back from injury would Gracia grant him an immediate return to the starting XI or keep faith with Karnezis who has been performing well and has certainly overcome the doubts raised by his performance when he came on as substitute at Goodison Park?  When the team was announced, Karnezis was indeed retained, Gracia’s only change was to bring in Pereyra for Zeegelaar.  So, the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Mariappa, Prödl, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Deulofeu, Pereyra, Richarlison; Deeney.  I must say that I was very pleased indeed to see Femenía named among the substitutes.  We have missed him.

Despite the forecast of bitter cold, I had left home without a scarf.  I agonised about buying a new one as the scarf that I wore at Goodison Park had never been seen at a game before and we all know what happened that afternoon.  But it was far too cold to do without, so I took the risk.

Before kick-off, the 1881 launched streamers into the Rookery.  With the flags also out in force I am sure that it was a great spectacle for those watching on television.

Pereyra and Deulofeu preparing for a free kick

The first half-chance of the game came from an Everton free-kick which fell for Niasse, who failed to connect and the chance was lost.  Watford’s first chance came from a corner which fell to Doucouré whose shot was way off target.  Everton threatened again as Niasse tried to sneak the ball in from a narrow angle, but Karnezis was alert and blocked the attempt.  The next chance for the visitors fell to Sigurdsson, but his shot was soft and straight at Karnezis.  There were howls for a yellow/red card as Keane put in a rather robust challenge on Doucouré, but the referee waved play on.  Than a dangerous looking cross from the visitors was dealt with by a wonderful header from Mariappa.  Watford should have done better after launching a dangerous looking break, but Deulofeu’s shot was blocked and Capoue’s follow-up was high and wide.  And that was it for the first half.  It had been a remarkably dull game with most of the excitement of the first half deriving from having to fight off streamers that had detached themselves from the roof.

Okaka and Prodl challenging at a corner

At half time, Academy Day at Vicarage Road was marked with the under 9s being put through their paces before parading around the ground.  We also had Under 23 player Andrew Eleftheriou talking about his progression through the academy and stressing the need for hard work.

The second half started brightly and there was an early chance for the Hornets as a corner reached Prödl, but his header was over the target.  There was danger from the visitors as a cross from Walcott found Keane unmarked, but his header flew wide, much to my relief.  Given some of the tackles that had passed without caution in the first half, it was a little surprising that the first card of the game went to Capoue for a challenge on Walcott that was clumsy rather than malicious.  Watford had a decent chance to open the scoring as a lovely cross from Pereyra was met by the head of Deeney, but Pickford was able to gather.  Just before the hour mark, Gracia made his first changes as Pereyra and Richarlison made way for Okaka and Femenía.  At the same time, Tosun replaced Niasse for the visitors.  I must admit that I can’t help but feel sad when Richarlison is replaced, but it was immediately apparent that the substitutes made a difference.  On a day when we were celebrating the return from injury of a couple of players, it was frustrating to see Deulofeu go down needing treatment.  He came back on, but his first attempt at a run resulted in him dropping to the ground again and he had to be replaced by Carrillo, who is now a bottle blond.

Femenia congratulating Deeney

The first caution for Everton was earned by Gueye who took down Okaka as he tried to break.  The next goal chance fell to Rooney, who tried a volley from the edge of the box, thankfully he didn’t make a good contact and the ball flew over the target.  This was followed by a lovely move from the Hornets which finished with a cross from Okaka that went begging.  Soon after, a cross from Femenía was cleared only as far as Capoue, but his shot was off target.  Then a clearance from Pickford hit Deeney and rebounded to Femenía whose shot needed a decent save from the Everton keeper to keep it out.  But the Hornets were not to be denied as Femenía broke forward and fed Okaka who crossed for Deeney who powered an absolute beast of a shot past Pickford.  It was one of those moments when I love sitting behind the goal as that ball was coming straight for us as we rose as one to celebrate.  Allardyce immediately made a couple of changes replacing Rooney and Sigurdsson with Calvert-Lewin and Bolasie.  But it was Watford who continued to attack as Holebas went on a terrific run up the wing, he played in Okaka who beat a defender before shooting but Pickford was able to make the save.  As the clock ticked down, the Hornets were looking to keep the ball in the corner, but this is always a risky tactic and, needless to say, the visitors launched one last attack and won a corner.  I heard “Here we go,” from behind me which matched my thoughts and fears exactly.  Pickford went up to join the attack and there was an almighty scramble in the Watford box and, as Karnezis dropped to make a save, I thought the ball had gone in, so was mightily relieved when I realised that the Watford keeper had smothered the ball and the three points had gone to the Hornets.

Deulofeu ready to take a corner

There was an almighty roar at the final whistle and much celebration as the players did their lap of honour.  As always, Deeney was the last to reach the Rookery and was given a well-deserved hero’s welcome.  We left the ground with smiles on our faces and Elton’s “I guess that’s why They Call it the Blues” ringing in our ears!

The post match consensus was that it had been a terrible game, but a great three points.  Watford ended the day in 10th place (back in the top half) and, while we are only 6 points off the relegation zone, you have to think that the win has ensured safety for this season.  It was a match of little quality, but Watford made the majority of the chances that there were and just about deserved the win based on the second half performance.  I blow hot and cold with Okaka, but he was`excellent, making forward moves when many of his team mates were happy to pass sideways and backwards.  He provided the assist for Deeney, as well as nearly scoring a second.  It was also wonderful to see Femenía back on the pitch.  He certainly showed why we have missed him.

With West Brom the visitors next week, I have that sinking feeling about a banana skin, but there is certainly a new spirit around the club, so I hope that the players show what they can do.  Another three points will certainly calm a lot of nerves and allow us to enjoy the end of the season.