Tag Archives: Stephen Ward

Hooray for London Buses

Kabasele tracking Barnes

In my enthusiasm to buy train tickets for the first away game of the season, I completely forgot about Burnley’s involvement in the Europa League, so was booked on the 8:03 from King’s Cross via Leeds on Saturday morning.  When the game was moved to the Sunday, I looked at changing the ticket but found that the first train leaving London on Sunday would not arrive in time for me to make kick-off.  Just as I was contemplating a lonely Saturday night in Burnley, a dear friend offered to show me the sights of Bradford, so I was treated to a Hockney exhibition followed by curry, beer and putting the world to rights.  All rather lovely.

We made good time on the journey from Bradford to Burnley on Sunday morning and were in the Cricket Club by 11 and soon joined by a couple of VIPs from the club as well as the Happy Valley Horns and Kate and the two Janices who had caught the supporters’ coach at 6am.  The cricket club is a lovely friendly place and we were soon in conversation with a local who is clearly enjoying their European exploits.

On arrival at the turnstiles, the steward looked slightly aghast at my tightly packed overnight bag and the discovery of toiletries inside had her shaking her head, declaring them flammable and therefore not allowed inside the stadium.  Thankfully her supervisor decided that roll-on deodorant and lemon shower gel were not too dangerous in the hands of a middle-aged woman so I was allowed to keep them. I assured her that I wouldn’t put a match to them.

Holebas launches a throw to Pereyra

Team news was that Gracia had kept faith with the team who did so well last week, so the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Kabasele, Janmaat; Pereyra, Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes; Gray, Deeney.  Burnley featured former Watford loanee Jack Cork and, of course, had Sean Dyche and Ian Woan in the dugout.

As I was on a flight to the US last Saturday for work, I missed the Brighton game, so I was really looking forward to my season starting properly.  But, as Watford hadn’t scored away from home since January 2nd and we never get anything at Burnley, my expectations were pretty low prior to kick-off.  Thankfully they were confounded as the Hornets started brilliantly with a chance in the second minute as Deeney crossed for Gray, whose shot was blocked by Tarkowski.  The visitors took the lead a minute later as Deeney and Gray exchanged passes before the former Burnley man hit a superb volley that gave Hart no chance.  I am pleased to confirm that, despite the length of time that had elapsed since the last away goal, the travelling Hornets had not forgotten how to celebrate.  The home fans were not so happy and, as if in sympathy, the big screen in the opposite corner went blank.

Cathcart takes a free kick

Unfortunately, Watford’s lead was very short lived as Burnley won a corner and Tarkowski rose highest to head home for the equaliser.  The home side then had a period of dominance and had a great chance to take the lead as Gudmundsson curled a gorgeous free kick towards the Watford goal, but Foster pulled off a decent save to keep the scores level.  Gray should have done better after exchanging passes with Pereyra but his shot was mishit and flew wide.  At the other end a Cork shot was blocked and, in the ensuing goalmouth scramble some tenacious defending ensured that no Burnley player got a clear sight of goal before the ball was finally cleared.  The Hornets had a decent end to the half and could have regained the lead when Deeney tried a shot from distance, but Hart got a hand to it and kept it out.  The first caution of the game went to Hughes for a silly challenge on Ward that appeared to take place off the field when Watford had already won a throw-in.  The home side had one last chance to take the lead before half time as a cross-cum-shot from Hendrick was saved by Foster, it fell to Lennon, but Holebas made a terrific tackle to prevent the shot.  So we reached half time with honours even.  It has to be said that Burnley had slightly the better of the half, but it had been a good contest.

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

The second half started brilliantly for the Hornets as a blocked ball into the box rebounded to Doucouré, who played a gorgeous pass to Deeney, with only Hart to beat he made no mistake and the Hornets were ahead again.  It turns out that Watford away goals are like London buses, you don’t see one for over seven months and then three come along at once.  This time it was Hughes who intercepted a terrible ball from Lowton, advanced and found the bottom corner.  At this point, the travelling Hornets were beside themselves.  The first Burnley booking was born of frustration as Ward was cautioned for pulling Hughes down.  Watford had a decent chance to increase their lead as Capoue launched a long cross into the box, but it was just too far in front of Deeney. As the game reached the final quarter hour, both sides made substitutions as Barnes and Vokes came on for Wood and Hendrick for the home side and Sema replaced Gray for the visitors with Watford switching to just one up front.  Vokes almost made an instant impact as he met a Gudmundsson free kick with a header that flew just wide.  Each side made a further substitution as Taylor came on for Ward and Femenía replaced Will Hughes, who went off to a standing ovation.  With time running out, Sema had a great chance to grab a fourth goal for the Hornets, but his low shot was put out for a corner.  Watford’s final substitution came with a minute to go as Deeney made way for Success.  As the fourth official raised the board showing time added on, Vokes crossed for Mee but the shot was poor and missed the target.  There was a better-looking chance as a cross reached Barnes but the shot was met with a good catch from Foster and the flag was up for offside anyway.  There was another caution for the Hornets as Janmaat was booked for a late tackle that was totally unnecessary.  But the final whistle went on a very satisfying win for the Hornets.

The Royal Dyche

As we streamed out of the ground, there were beaming smiles among the Watford fans who couldn’t quite believe what they had seen.  Not just three goals away from home, but against a very decent Burnley side at Turf Moor.  The first half had been even but, once Watford took the lead in the second half, the home side never looked like they would get back in the game.  It was great to see both Gray and Deeney on the scoresheet, they are playing very effectively together and making chances for each other and others.  There was some lovely football played, with three excellent goals, but that sublime pass from Doucouré was the pick of the bunch.  I think most Watford fans consider him to be the signing of the Summer but, after missing all of the pre-season games, he could have been forgiven if he had taken a few games to get back to his best.  On Sunday he was running after everything and playing as if he had never had a break.  He wasn’t the only one, another pleasing contrast to last season is the fitness of the players.  Most games last season started at pace but fizzled out after about 70 minutes as the players tired.  On Sunday, they were working until the end and saw the game out effectively.  A lot of people were nervous at the start of the season, but this is looking like a very strong side and they are playing the sort of football that we knew they were capable of last season, but so rarely saw.

On the way back to the station, I was delighted to pass the Royal Dyche pub.  The sign is a thing of beauty and I wish Sean luck for the rest of the season, but am delighted that it was the Watford fans who were smiling on Sunday.

 

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.

Frustrating Defeat in the Snow

Deeney escapes from a Bardsley challenge

The weather forecast for the weekend had been for cold temperatures and some snow and, sure enough, we were not far out of London when the landscapes became white under a beautiful blue sky.  The sky changed to grey as we went further north and, on changing trains at Preston, the snow was falling.

The train bookings I had made for this journey were a little odd, to say the least.  I had booked to arrive at Burnley Barracks, as it allowed the earliest connection to my train from London, only to find that the same train was going on to Burnley Central and that the Barracks station was a request stop on the line which meant that you had to ask the conductor to let you off there.  Since Central was a better option for the ground, I asked whether there would be a penalty if I stayed on for the extra stop and was assured that I would be fine.  So, with the snow falling heavily, I opted for an extra 2 minutes on the train to save a further 10 minute walk.

As I walked towards the ground, I was amazed to see someone setting up a stall selling Burnley/Watford half-and-half scarves.  Who on earth did he think would buy one?  This was not a game likely to attract a lot of tourists.  When I arrived at the Cricket Club, I was expecting to see some of my party in our usual spot, but the room was empty.  Thankfully, they arrived soon after and we were soon thoroughly enjoying the cask beer and the pie, chips, mushy peas and gravy on offer at Annie’s Kitchen.  Our party grew quickly and there was a lovely surprise when the arrival of the supporters’ coach led to us being joined by the two Janices, who declared that they had finally found somewhere in Burnley that they liked.

Janmaat challenges Arfield

As we got to the turnstiles, we endured the usual search which was made unusually pleasant by the stewards being rather apologetic about the intrusion.

Team news was two changes from the Spurs game with Janmaat and Carrillo coming in for Femenía and Prödl.  Silva had also opted for a change in formation to 4-2-3-1.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Mariappa, Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Cleverley, Doucouré; Carrillo, Pereyra, Richarlison; Deeney.  Burnley’s starting line-up included former Watford loanee, Jack Cork, but the main connection was in the dug-out with former player and manager, Sean Dyche, and his best mate, Ian Woan.

The view from the away end at Burnley is rather delightful.  If there is nothing interesting to see on the pitch, you have the hills to look at which, on this occasion, looked enchanting with their frosting of snow.

Carrillo on the ball

The first chance of the game fell to the visitors as an early corner from Cleverley was touched on by Pereyra to Deeney who nodded wide.  Watford should have opened the scoring when Carrillo played a great ball to Richarlison but the young Brazilian shot just wide of the near post.  The travelling Hornets had great faith in him, though, as they started a chant of “He’ll score in the snow.”  At this point, there was some discussion about the players who were wearing gloves, Carrillo and Richarlison I accepted, but Janmaat is Dutch, he shouldn’t be bothered by a little snow!  Burnley’s first chance came with a shot from Wood which was comfortably gathered by Gomes.  The home side had a wonderful chance to take the lead when they won a free kick in a dangerous position.  Gudmundsson delivered a superb shot over the wall which was met by an equally brilliant save by Gomes to keep the game goalless.  The Icelander had another go, but this time his shot from distance was wide of the near post.  The next Burnley chance came from a long pass upfield that Wood met on the volley, but Gomes had an easy catch.  Watford threatened when a long throw was met by a snapshot from Doucouré which was saved resulting, eventually, in a corner, which came to nothing as Kabasele shot well wide.

Pereyra and Deeney in the snow

The snow was coming down in earnest now, but we were warmed by a lovely passing move from the Hornets that finished with a cross from Pereyra being headed goalwards by Janmaat, unfortunately Pope was able to make the save.  A couple of minutes later, it all went horribly wrong as Zeegelaar slid into a challenge on Defour.  It didn’t look particularly bad from our vantage point, so there was shock among the travelling fans when a red card was brandished.  Due to the dismissal, Silva made the decision to sacrifice Pereyra for Holebas.  The Watford fans were calling for a penalty soon afterwards when Richarlison was knocked down in the box, but nothing was given.  Holebas had a chance to put Watford in the lead as he latched on to a cross from Carrillo, but he powered his shot into the side netting.  Burnley took the lead just before half time as Gudmundsson found Arfield in space and he slotted home.  It was all rather cruel.

At half time there was a lot of complaining about the referee, apart from those who had received messages from friends with a better view who were all of the opinion that the card had been justified.  Whatever the truth of the matter, we were looking forward to a very tough 45 minutes.

Gomes takes a goal kick

Early in the second half, there was an angry exchange between Gomes and the referee. The keeper had taken off his gloves and appeared to be gesturing to his hand, possibly to an injury that he had sustained that had evaded the notice of the referee.  The first chance of the second half came when Richarlison played a square ball to Doucouré who directed the shot wide of the target.  Then Janmaat did well to battle past a couple of defenders into the box, but was tackled and the ball went out for what looked like a corner, but a goal kick was given.  Carrillo had the ball in the box with the goal at his mercy, but he thought too long about the shot and was tackled.  Then, following a couple of blocked shots after a corner, the ball fell to Cleverley on the edge of the box but he fired over the target.  It appeared to be game over just before the hour mark when a ball over the top found Wood who tapped home, but his celebrations were stopped by an offside flag.  Burnley threatened again as a free kick reached Long who shot over the bar.  There was another shout for a Watford penalty as Carrillo collided with a Burnley player in the box, he went down protesting, but it looked like a coming together to me and the referee was right to wave play on.

Kabasele shaping to make a pass

Burnley had the ball in the net again as Watford failed to clear allowing the ball through to Barnes, who was flagged offside although, on this occasion, there was a long discussion between the linesman and referee before he indicated the free kick as opposed to a goal, much to the relief of those in the away end.  Burnley were then awarded a free kick on the edge of the box for what appeared to be a foul on Kabasele.  Thankfully Defour hit it just wide of the target.  Deeney played in Richarlison who was taken down in the box but, with the travelling Hornets again howling for a penalty, the referee indicated a corner.  Watford’s second substitution came with 10 minutes to go as Carrillo made way for Gray who was welcomed back to Turf Moor with boos and chants of “short, greedy b*st*rd.”  It is so lovely to be warmly remembered.  A Watford corner came to nothing as Janmaat headed just over.  Gray had an early chance to anger the home fans further as he ran on to a lovely ball from Richarlison, but Pope arrived first to avert the danger.  Burnley had a great chance to increase their lead but Gomes stretched to pull off a great save to stop Gudmundsson’s shot.  Richarlison was in the wars again as Bardsley sent him flying and was booked for his trouble.  Watford threatened from a free-kick, Holebas delivered a lovely ball into the box, but no Watford player could connect to shoot.  The visitors had a final chance to save a point when they were awarded a free kick in the last minute of added time.  Gomes joined his colleagues in the Burnley box, but Pope plucked the delivery out of the air and the game ended in a narrow defeat for the Hornets.

Mariappa, Cleverley and Janmaat in defensive mode

After the final whistle, both Silva and Gomes had stern words with the referee and, once the players had been applauded off, he attracted the wrath of the away fans, although I don’t think he was flavour of the month for the home fans either after the disallowed ‘goals’.  Sean Dyche again acknowledged the Watford fans on his way towards the tunnel and was rewarded with warm applause.

My eccentric train booking meant that I had a couple of hours to kill in Burnley after the game.  Having been irritated by some goading on our way back to the cricket club, I was thankful that those inside were generally very pleasant and our post-match reflections took place in a convivial atmosphere.  The general feeling among the Watford fans was pure frustration.  Burnley were always going to be difficult opponents, but the game had been shaping up nicely as a contest when Zeegelaar was dismissed.  The ten men competed admirably for the whole of the second half and nobody could have argued it was undeserved if they had gone home with a point.  But I would have loved to see what we could have done with 11 against 11 for 90 minutes.

Holebas waits to take a free kick

The journey home started with a treacherous walk on icy pavements to the station.  We were then treated to a slow running train to Preston, which had us anxiously checking our watches and connection time.  We needn’t have worried as the London train was kept in Preston station to meet a train from Glasgow that was not going any further south.  This also had the knock-on effect of extra stops and an arrival in London after 11pm.  There was an upside, though, as one of the passengers who transferred from the Glasgow train was the lovely James McArdle whose work at the National Theatre I have greatly admired.  He walked past me half a dozen times before I plucked up the courage to ask if he was who I thought he was and, when he answered in the affirmative, tell him how much I enjoyed his work.  The encounter cheered me up no end.

Due to further delays on top of my late booking, it was nearly 1am before I arrived home.  It is a long journey home after a defeat but somehow it doesn’t discourage me and I found myself looking at the route to Huddersfield today (although trains won’t be booked until the TV fixtures are out for April).  We go again at Selhurst Park on Tuesday, another ground that most people dread visiting, but I quite like for the atmosphere and the feel of a ‘proper’ football ground (even if I can’t see much).  I am forgoing my work Christmas party for this match, so am very much hoping that it is worth the sacrifice.

The Second Good Win in a Week

Order of service for Graham Taylor's funeral

Order of service for Graham Taylor’s funeral

The week running up to this match had been an emotional rollercoaster for fans of the Hornets.  The dreadful cup defeat to Millwall had been followed by a magnificent win at Arsenal.  But both events were overshadowed on Wednesday as we said goodbye to Graham Taylor.  The family were very gracious in allowing the funeral to be broadcast to those who gathered outside the church.  The service was very sad but also uplifting.  His children and grandchildren all spoke beautifully about the family man that they knew.  I thought the club and the council did them proud with the little details.  The One Bell, which is boarded up had been decorated with pictures and quotes from GT.  There was also a gorgeous order of service that was handed to those outside, allowing us to join in with the hymns, which included “Abide with Me”.  A scanned copy of the order of service is available at http://www.wfc.net/files/GT/GT_Order_of_Service.pdf.

On Saturday we were back at Vicarage Road for the visit of Burnley.  Those who had been at the mid-week game were waxing lyrical about the performance, but there was a niggling feeling that this Watford team tends to raise its game for the big clubs and that Burnley, despite their failure to win on the road this season, were just the sort of team to cause us problems.

Team news was that Mazzarri made two changes from the team that won at the Emirates with Britos and Janmaat replaced by Holebas and Zárate, both of whom were returning from suspension, which seemed a little bizarre given that this was the Argentine’s debut.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kaboul, Prödl, Holebas; Behrami; Niang, Cleverley, Capoue, Zárate; Deeney.  The 4-1-4-1 formation that had served us well in the previous game making another appearance.

Deeney and Niang celebrate the first goal

Deeney and Niang celebrate the first goal

The notable action in the first few minutes of the game was all related to cards.  First, Niang was booked after flying into a tackle on Ward.  A minute later, Hendricks was shown a straight red card for a nasty foul on Holebas.  Playing against 10 men isn’t always easy, especially when the team is as well organized as Burnley, so it was a relief when Watford took the lead in the tenth minute as a lovely cross from Niang was headed home by Deeney from close range.  With Troy now having scored three goals in the last four games, it seems hard to believe that such a long period elapsed between his 99th and 100th goals.  There was another booking soon after as Holebas was penalised for a high foot as he challenged Barton.  Watford had a great chance for a second goal as Niang exchanged passes with Deeney before unleashing a shot that Heaton tipped over.  Then, from a throw, Zárate hit a lovely shot from the edge of the area that Heaton managed to catch.  Burnley’s first on-target shot came just before the half hour as Lowton tried his luck, but it was an easy catch for Gomes.  The Watford keeper was called into action again soon after tipping over a free kick that Barton hit from the edge of the area.  Niang threatened again, going on a lovely run before taking a shot from the edge of the box that was blocked, the ball rebounded back to him and his second shot was comfortably saved by Heaton.  Watford had another decent chance as Cleverley passed the ball out to Zárate on the wing, he burst into the box before shooting just wide of the far post.  Then Holebas took a short corner, exchanging passes with Zárate before crossing for Capoue whose shot was blocked by the face of Barnes.  As we reached time added on at the end of the half, I was beginning to worry that we had wasted too many chances, then Holebas whipped in a lovely cross that Niang met with a superb header and the Hornets went in to the break two goals to the good.

Celebrating Niang's goal

Celebrating Niang’s goal

The second half started with the Hornets on top.  A lovely early move finished with a cross from Holebas, but no Watford player was on hand to finish.  There was a better chance soon after as a cross from Capoue was just a fraction too far in front of Deeney for him to apply the finishing touch.  At the other end, a Burnley corner was headed goalwards by Keane, but Gomes dropped to push it around the post.  Sean Dyche was the first to make a substitution, replacing Gray with new signing, Brady.  Mazzarri’s first change was to bring Doucouré on for Behrami.  I was much more comfortable with that change on this occasion than I had been midweek.  Watford continued to threaten the Burnley goal as Capoue received a cut back from Holebas, but his shot was saved.  Burnley threatened briefly as Barnes had the ball in the Watford box but Cleverley just took it off his feet.  The Hornets created another excellent chance as Niang crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked on the line.  As we reached the 72nd minute, the Watford crowd got to their feet to applaud and sing Graham Taylor’s name.  It was very pleasing to see that both those in the Director’s box and a good portion of the visiting crowd joined in.  Burnley had a rare shot with a powerful strike from Arfield, which was blocked by Gomes.  That was the last act for the Burnley man as he was replaced by Westwood.

Zarate waits for a corner

Zarate waits for a corner

There was a flurry of activity in the Watford box following a corner as a shot from Barnes was cleared off the line, the ball reached Barton on the edge of the area, his shot was also blocked and the ball went out for a corner.  When I saw Prödl arguing with the referee, I thought that he was disputing the corner.  Then the awful realization dawned that a penalty had been awarded and Prödl had been shown the yellow card for handball.  Barnes stepped up to take the spot kick and, on this occasion, the Gomes psychology did not work and the shot went in off the post.  It was very frustrating as, despite a flurry of activity, Burnley really hadn’t looked like scoring, but Watford would have to keep it tight for the remaining 12 minutes.  Mazzarri made a second substitution as Niang, who had put in another terrific performance, made way for Success.  But the next chance fell to the visitors as Brady broke forward and unleashed a shot that was straight at Gomes.  There were two late substitutions as Vokes replaced Boyd for the visitors and Janmaat came on for Zárate.  In time added on, the Watford players seemed determined to push the self-destruct button.  First Gomes decided to dribble after receiving a back pass instead of wellying upfield, and was almost caught out.  Then Cathcart gave the ball away to Barnes on the edge of the box and Gomes had to make a smart save to stop the shot.  The keeper was so furious with his defender that he had to be held back by Prödl.

Zarate and Deeney wait for a throw-in

Zarate and Deeney wait for a throw-in

So it was a relief to see Watford on the attack in the final minute, Success crossed and Deeney powered the ball home to secure the win.  Or so we thought.  I was in mid-celebration when I turned back to the pitch to see a Burnley player flying upfield and it became apparent that the goal had been disallowed and the points were still up for grabs.  Thankfully a late free kick for the visitors came to nothing and the Hornets achieved their second win in a week.  The manner of the win had been rather frustrating as, after looking really comfortable for most of the game, we really shouldn’t have been holding on at the end.

But what a difference a week makes.  After the abject performance in the cup against Millwall and some very disappointing showings over the past few weeks, most of us were looking nervously down the table.  Two wins in a week and we are back in the top half and looking forward to the rest of the season.  The club have done some terrific business in the transfer window.  It was very sad to see both Ighalo and Guedioura go, they were terrific servants to the club.  But the return of Cleverley and the addition of Niang and Zárate seems to have strengthened the squad considerably.  Zarate did well on his first showing.  Niang was superb, scoring one goal and creating the other, and he already seems to have built up an understanding with Deeney.  Cleverley was named man of the match and deservedly so.  The smiles are now back on the faces of Watford fans as we seem to be over our slump and can look forward to the rest of the season with some optimism.

Can They Do It On a Wet Night in Burnley?

Dyche & Mazzarri

Dyche & Mazzarri

As I left work to catch the train to Burnley, I bumped into a colleague who, on spotting my overnight bag, asked where I was going.  My response left her confused, “Burnley?  Where is Burnley?”  I tried to describe the location adding that it is not the nicest of towns but I was going there for football.  “Why not watch it in the comfort of your own home?”  A good question, but I don’t particularly enjoy watching football on television and don’t have Sky TV at home, so off to Burnley it was.

My journey included an hour ‘layover’ at Preston.  There was a time not so long ago when I was travelling though Preston very regularly but, since our promotion, it has become a rare occurrence and, for some inexplicable reason, I’ve actually missed it.  On arrival, Burnley was grey and damp.  After a brief detour to check in to the surprisingly pleasant hotel, I set off for the cricket club spotting a good few familiar faces on the way.  My first thought when this game was moved for television was that it would a bit of a throw-back to our Championship days when the midweek away crowd was mostly the hard core.  But the club having subsidized the tickets and laid on cheap coaches meant that we had sold over 1400 tickets, so there would be a very impressive turn out for a Monday TV game.

Ighalo waiting for the ball to drop

Ighalo waiting for the ball to drop

The Cricket Club had been spruced up and our usual corner was already occupied by a couple of our party.  Our welcome to the North was cask ale at £1.50 a pint and “Annie’s kitchen” was doing a roaring trade in the pie, chips peas and gravy.  The side room where we had gathered soon filled up with familiar Watford faces.  So, as Angela started telling us that her daughter had bought her a copy of “On this Day” by one of the BSaD guys, I was a little bit confused.  I assumed that everyone there knew everyone else, but she was totally oblivious to the fact that the author of her lovely birthday present was at the other end of table.  So, of course, I introduced them.

Team news was just the one change with Amrabat in for the injured Janmaat.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos; Amrabat, Capoue, Behrami, Pereyra, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.  Rather oddly, for the second away game in a row the Hornets faced a team in claret and blue wearing their white away kit which meant that both teams were wearing the same coloured shorts and Gomes was in a purple shirt that would have been deemed a clash in a bygone age.  After our last two convincing performances, confidence was high among the fans before the game.  But there was a question in the back of my mind as to whether this team could do it on a wet Monday night in Burnley.  With former Watford boss, Dyche, in charge, our hosts were not going to be a pushover.

Behrami

Behrami

The first chance of the game was a warning of things to come from the home side as, from a corner, the ball fell to Boyd whose shot drew a decent save from Gomes who tipped it over the bar.  Watford were a little lucky to escape a penalty appeal as a ball hit Holebas on the upper arm.  It was definitely a case of ball to arm, but I have seen them given.  After 20 minutes, I made a note that it had been mostly Burnley on top.  I wasn’t to know at that point that I could have made the same note at almost any time in the game.  The first sign that the Watford players were rattled came when Pereyra fouled Boyd and was booked for arguing with the referee.  It was a really stupid booking to attract.  Despite their dominance, Burnley didn’t threaten again until the 23rd minute when Gudmundsson took a shot from the edge of the area that flew just wide.  Watford’s first chance on goal came soon after as a corner from Capoue reached Holebas whose shot was blocked on the line.  In the 38th minute, Burnley won a disputed corner, Holebas was booked for protesting and many around me were unhappy at the decision although, to be fair, most of them had been unhappy since kick-off.  Burnley took the lead from the corner as Defour’s deep delivery was headed home by Hendricks.  It was a poor goal to give away, but the home side’s lead was well deserved on the balance of play.  Watford’s best chance of the half came in time added on as a free kick reached Pereyra whose cross was headed goalwards by Ighalo, but Heaton gathered easily.  It was a relief to hear the half time whistle.  It had been an utterly dreadful performance from the Hornets but that had a lot to do with the opposition.  Sean Dyche had done a tremendous job in organizing his team to stop the Watford players, who had no space to play in, although I’m not sure that excuses them not being able to string two passes together or defend set pieces.

Holebas and Capoue readying for a free kick

Holebas and Capoue readying for a free kick

It was hoped that Mazzarri would make changes at half time, but the only change in personnel was to bring Zúñiga on for Cathcart.  Watford started the half brightly with a lovely passing move ending in a shot from Deeney that was blocked and then cleared for a corner before he could connect with the follow-up.  But the good play didn’t last long and the home side increased their lead on 51 minutes as Defour’s corner was returned to him, his follow-up cross was met by Keane who was allowed a free header to beat Gomes.  Watford never really looked like getting back in the game after that, although there was some hope with the second substitution which saw Success come on for Amrabat.  That change went down very well among the away support who had been berating Nordin throughout the game.  On the hour, the Hornets had Gomes to thank for keeping the score respectable as he did brilliantly to save a shot from Defour.  At the other end Deeney met a Pereyra cross with a header that Heaton saved, but it would have been off target anyway.  Success had been lively since he came on and a run at the Burnley defence drew a foul and a free kick in a decent position.  Holebas stepped up to take it and shot into the wall, the ball rebounded to Capoue whose shot was blocked and Deeney’s follow-up was saved.  Watford were having a lot of possession during this period but too often were passing sideways or backwards, any forward passes seemed to be from Gomes launching the ball upfield, much to the frustration of those around me who were letting their feelings be known.

Kenedy makes an appearance

Kenedy makes an appearance

Mazzarri’s final change saw Kenedy on for Pereyra who had been lucky to avoid a second yellow card after a petulant challenge.  Into the last ten minutes and the involvement of Success and Kenedy had introduced some energy on the field that transferred itself to the stands and the travelling Hornets started making some positive noise.  Deeney went on a run and found Success who cut in, beating a couple of defenders, but his shot was from a tight angle and no Watford player could connect with the ball as it rolled along the goal line before it was put out by a defender.  The resulting corner came to Behrami on the edge of the box whose shot flew just wide.  Success had one final chance to reduce the deficit in the last minute of time added on, but his shot from an angle flew over the bar.  The final whistle was greeted with boos from the away stand.  Although this was followed by some sympathy applause for the players from the soft-hearted among us.  Deeney looked livid as he applauded the crowd and he certainly did not hold back in his post-match comments.

Deeney, Pereyra, Behrami and Britos

Deeney, Pereyra, Behrami and Britos

There was a lot of grumbling on the way out about the players being able to motivate themselves for the big teams while capitulating against Burnley.  There is a sad irony in fans criticising the players for arrogance while taking it as a given that we should beat a team like Burnley.  Personally, I am rather heartened that this division is competitive, so results cannot easily be predicted.  But I hope that future performances are a bit more entertaining to reward those who travel.  As I saw the fans piling on to the coaches for the long journey home, I was very happy that I had decided to stay over so only had a short walk back to my hotel room.

On checking out of the hotel the next morning, the woman on reception asked if I’d been to the football.  I bemoaned our performance, but we then had an interesting conversation about Sean Dyche.  She was definitely a fan, praising the efforts that he has put into developing the infrastructure of the club, so that they are set up for a future in the Premier League.  I’m told they have a nice new training ground and that the academy has grown under his leadership.  While he’s not a local he seems to have taken the club to his heart much as he did at Watford, which has gone down very well.

Saturday we will be back to Vicarage Road and there needs to be no complacency from either the players or the fans.  Bournemouth will be tough opposition and we will need to be at our best to ensure that we get a result against a team that we have had little success against recently.  This has been a great start to the season, so I sincerely hope that Monday was just a blip and we can return to winning ways very soon.

A New Dawn?

Tozser lining up a free kick

Tozser lining up a free kick

After the horrible collapse at Forest on Thursday, I can’t say that I was looking forward to this game. Deadline day had seen some action with Iriney and Fabbrini departing on loan and Diakite and Park arriving.  However, having been crying out for a defensive midfielder, the arrival causing most interest was Tözsér who had come in on loan from Genoa, hopefully to shore up our midfield.  When the teams were announced, we found we were to get an early idea of whether he was “the answer”.  The starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Hall, Angella, Anya, Merkel, Tözsér, Battocchio, Cassetti, Forestieri and Deeney.  In goal for the visitors was former loanee, Kuszczak, although I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t recognize him.  I knew he looked familiar, but couldn’t quite place the face.

Anya being congratulated for his goal

Anya being congratulated for his goal

The first action of note came in the 11th minute.  Almunia came out of his area to clear as Ulloa threw himself to the ground in the box, the clearance fell to Forestieri who tried a shot which didn’t trouble Kuszczak.  We were a goal up soon after as Forestieri won the ball in the middle of the park, turned and fed Merkel, he found Anya on the left who made no mistake shooting across Kuszczak into the far corner.  Anya was involved again soon after, going on a long run up the left wing, crossing the touchline just in front of the linesman at one point, but in the absence of a flag the run continued and culminated in a shot from distance, but Kuszczak was equal to it.  On 25 minutes, Brighton threatened for the first time as a López cross flew across our area but Battocchio was back to make a crucial tackle.  We should have been two goals up a minute later as Cassetti won the ball on the right and crossed to Forestieri who, with only the keeper to beat, opted to place

Battocchio on the attack

Battocchio on the attack

the shot instead of going for power and did so right into Kuszczak’s arms.  Irritation at the miss was tempered with relief that we hadn’t built a two goal lead to throw away.  Brighton’s next goal attempt came from a corner, the ball fell to Andrews but his shot from distance was well over the bar.  On the half hour, Almunia had to come out to get a hand to a dangerous cross from Ward before Ulloa could get his head on it.  López’s follow up shot was wide of the far post.  Then another Brighton corner was met by Upson who headed well over the bar.  On 39 minutes, an injury forced the first substitution as Forster-Caskey was replaced by LuaLua.  In the closing minutes of the half, Forestieri played a square ball to Battocchio on the edge of the box, but his speculative shot was straight at Kuszczak.  Brighton could have equalized as the substitute, LuaLua, went on a run down the left and unleashed a fierce shot that hit the corner of the bar and post, the ball reached Lopez, who shot into the side netting.

Ready to attack a corner

Ready to attack a corner

As the players came out for the second half, Kuszczak’s appearance in the goal at the Rookery end was greeted with very warm applause.  Brighton threatened early on, as a ball into our box was met with a firm header by Hall, it fell to López whose shot was caught by Almunia.  On 52 minutes, Brighton were wasteful again as the ball fell to Andrews on the edge of the box, but his shock was reckless and well wide of the target.  Then Forestieri must have won the ball three or four times as he fought off the attentions of Brighton defenders before releasing Anya but, sadly, all that resulted from their hard work was a corner.  Another Brighton attack failed to muster a shot on target as Ulloa’s shot was blocked, the ball fell to López whose shot was well wide.  Deeney then closed down a clearance by Greer, but the ball looped over the bar.  Watford had another decent chance to increase their lead as a ball came in to Forestieri who held off two defenders to head the

Forestieri celebrates

Forestieri celebrates

ball down to Deeney, but his shot was over the bar.  At the other end LuaLua found Stephens but he shot well wide.  Just before the hour mark, Forestieri won the ball on the left, dribbled around Kuszcazk and shot into the open goal.  The goal was a just reward for Fernando’s tremendous performance.  However, there were a few muttering about us being two up given what that heralded in the last two games.  I was heartened at the fact that on the hour it was us scoring rather than the opposition.  Soon after, new boy Tözsér lined up a free-kick which looped just over the bar.  Brighton made their second substitution as Rodríguez replaced Orlandi.  There was a let off for the Hornets on 67 minutes as a free-kick was headed past Almunia by Ulloa but it was ruled out for off-side.  Harry Hornet was highly amused at this turn of events.  Another Brighton free-kick was hit

New boy, Merkel, takes a throw

New boy, Merkel, takes a throw

straight at the wall, but they regained possession and a cross to the far post was met with a header that Almunia caught.  Then a sliced shot by LuaLua was blocked by Angella.  The resulting corner was met with a header from Ulloa that was going wide, but Almunia was taking no chances and claimed it.  With 15 minutes remaining, Murray replaced Merkel after spending some considerable time standing on the touchline waiting for a suitable break in the game.  Watford’s next attack was thwarted as Deeney received the ball in an advanced position but was hacked down by Greer, who was booked for the offence.  Murray took the resulting free-kick which flew through the wall but was gathered by Kuszczak.  With 10 minutes remaining March replaced López.  Deeney had a half chance as he ran into the box to a ball that had bounced off Murray, but Kuszczak got there first.  In the last minutes of normal time, Battocchio made way for Diakite, and Forestieri was withdrawn to a standing ovation and replaced by Park.  There was five minutes of time added on, but the only action of note was a reckless challenge by Park on the edge of our area which led to another silly yellow card for Ekstrand for kicking the ball away.  The resulting free kick curled over the bar and our clean sheet was preserved.

Ekstrand takes a free-kick

Ekstrand takes a free-kick

What a difference a couple of days make.  Three points are always welcome, but it was the performance that really pleased.  Tözsér impressed immediately, putting his foot in when needed and acting as that midfield fulcrum that we’ve missed.  Hall was immense in the centre of defence.  They formed the spine that was so obviously missing on Thursday and the overall performance improved immeasurably.  I sometimes feel that Forestieri wins man of the match awards for being eye-catching rather than effective, but today it was thoroughly deserved.  He was tireless, playing like a terrier whose favourite ball you were trying to take.  But he wasn’t the only one in that regard.  Where, on Thursday, we were nowhere to be seen as Forest took their chances, today we refused to allow the Brighton players any space.  If a ball was lost, there was a player instantly fighting to get it back.  While I’m not convinced that we’ll get anything at Leicester next week, I’m very encouraged that we are going in the right direction.