Tag Archives: Steven Berghuis

Wimbledon Prevail at Kingsmeadow

Neal Ardley and Marco Silva make their way to the dugouts

In contrast to the warmth and bright sunshine that we enjoyed during the Woking game, I arrived in Kingston to cool temperatures and drizzle for the short walk to Kingsmeadow.  A number of the City ‘Orns had been put off meeting at the ground due to the advertised beer festival for which the tickets were advertised at £17.  In fact, all of the bars at the ground were open and, if you wanted the odd drink at the beer festival, there were tokens available, so I was able to avail myself of a lovely pint (or two) of Rosie’s Pig.  I had forgotten about the German theme of our last visit and, in particular, the oompah band, until the men (and one woman) in lederhosen appeared and struck up.  To be fair, there wasn’t a lot of oompah going on and I enjoyed the entertainment.  The German theme continued with the offerings at the burger van.  Miles Jacobson (fresh from a trip to Japan, the sole purpose of which seemed to be to import sake kit-kats) recommended the krakuer, a wurst infused with cheese, which is as good and as bad as it sounds.

Preliminary team news had focussed on the players who were out through injury and the fact that we were unlikely to see many of the new signings.  Sure enough, the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Watson, Doucouré; Success, Capoue, Berghuis; Okaka.

We took up a position on the terraces quite close to the dugouts.  When Marco Silva appeared, he was given a very enthusiastic reception from the Watford fans.  It was gratifying to see that Neal Ardley was greeted in an equally warm manner.

Proedl on the ball

Watford had an early chance as Doucouré went on a run before finding Capoue whose chip cleared the crossbar.  Then there was an early display of petulance from Holebas as he failed to keep a ball in play.  It was oddly endearing and indicated that we were back.  Jose was then serenaded with Colin and Flo’s song “He always wins the ball, he never smiles at all.”  I’m sure he loved that.  Especially when it was followed by “Jose, give us a smile.”  Back to the football, Wimbledon were on the attack, but Barcham’s shot cleared the crossbar.  The home side very nearly made the breakthrough as, from a Francomb corner, a glancing header from Taylor rebounded off the post.  Down the other end a cross reached Doucouré at an awkward angle so he could only head it away from goal.  There was a better opportunity as a Holebas free kick was cleared to Capoue who lashed it wide. Then Britos met a Watson corner with a decent header that was blocked by the Dons keeper, Long.  Watford should have opened the scoring from a lovely free kick by Holebas, but Long pushed it clear, so we reached half time goalless.

Watford made three substitutions at the break with Janmaat, Britos and Success making way for Dja Djédjé, Kabasele and Amrabat.

Challenging at a corner

Those who were late leaving the bar after half time (no names mentioned) returned completely oblivious to the fact that Wimbledon had scored two goals in the first five minutes of the half.  The first came as a cross from Taylor was turned in by McDonald.  The second came after a mistake in midfield allowed Barcham to escape and cross for McDonald to score his second.  Watford hit back as Holebas crossed for the ever reliable Watson, who beat the Dons keeper.  Watford then had a great chance for an equalizer as Berghuis played the ball back to Capoue who shot just wide of the target.  On the hour, Silva substituted the goalkeeper as Gomes made way for Bachmann.  The goal action continued at the Wimbledon end as a close range shot from Amrabat was blocked, it fell to Okaka who, under a challenge, was unable to bundle it in.  Then Amrabat played a through ball to Dja Djédjé who crossed for Watson whose shot was blocked, as was the follow-up from Capoue who immediately appealed for handball, but the referee was having none of it.  There was a great chance for an equalizer as a throw from Holebas was headed on by Okaka to Berghuis but the header was just wide of the target.  The Dutchman was not to be denied, though and, with 13 minutes remaining, he met a cross from Dja Djédjé with a pin-point header to level the score.

Daniel Bachmann

Capoue should have put the visitors in the lead as Amrabat found Dja Djédjé on the overlap again, he crossed for Capoue who appeared to kick the ground so failed to test the keeper.  Wimbledon then tried a shot from an angle, but Bachmann was able to push it over the bar.  Watford had a golden chance as Doucouré found Capoue with a lovely pass but, with the goal at his mercy, the Frenchman hit his shot straight at the keeper.  Soon after, Etienne made way for Folivi.  The home side had a great chance to snatch the winner as Appiah found himself one on one with Bachmann, but the keeper prevailed  Sadly, the home side were not to be denied, Watford failed to clear a cross, Antwi’s shot was blocked only for the ball to fall to Egan who hit a low shot past Bachmann to secure the victory.  There was only time for 16 year-old Lewis Gordon to replace Berghuis for the Hornets before the final whistle went.  I heard some boos in the away stand …. at the end of our first pre-season game.  As so often, I ask myself, who are these people?

Okaka and Doucoure after the goal from Berghuis

The post match conclusion was that it had been an entertaining game that had raised a number of questions.  Ben Watson didn’t put a foot wrong but, with the influx of midfielders, would he be on his way or is there still a place for his presence as a defensive midfielder.  The hope from our party was that there is.  Capoue was his usual mixture of brilliance and frustration, if only the former can outweigh the latter, we will all be happy.  But the main topics of discussion were the full backs and the strikers.  We have made a number of impressive signings in this transfer window, but we still need bolstering in those departments.  The discussion of possible strikers to bring in seemed rather hopeful and I dreamed of a young Blissett lurking in the wings.  No doubt the Pozzos will bring in somebody that I have never heard of and let us hope that it is someone who can make a sustained contribution.

I’m unable to make the trip to Austria for the games there, so my next opportunity to see the Hornets will be the trip to Villa.  It will be very interesting to see what changes have been made to the line-up by then.

Capoue Breaks His Duck

A welcome to Stevenage in the Ladies

A welcome to Stevenage in the Ladies

Pre-season continued on Thursday night in Stevenage.  I was delighted when my final meeting of the day finished early, so I was able to make a quick getaway.  Not so pleased to find that my card wouldn’t work in the ticket machines and the trains were delayed.  Thankfully, a late running train left at the time that I had intended to leave and I was in the pub in Stevenage in plenty of time to meet my companions and have a swift pint or two.  After a dissection of last season and the Euros, we left for the ground.  Having thought that we had left plenty of time before kick-off, we were a bit shocked to arrive at the turnstiles to see huge queues and realize that having pre purchased our tickets was not going to speed our entry to the stadium.  I hate being outside the ground and hearing the whistle go for kick-off, but we were soon inside and took our place in a packed away stand.

Catching up on the team news, I noted that the conspiracy theorists would have been pleased (disappointed?) to see Deeney in the starting line-up replacing Vydra.  The starting XI was Gomes, Nyom, Britos, Hoban, Amrabat, Capoue, Suarez, Berghuis, Holebas, Deeney and Ighalo.

The first half was standard pre-season fare, although Watford did create the best of the chances.  Ighalo had a couple of shots cleared off the line, one of which had he and Deeney in a long discussion with the referee trying to convince him that a hand had kept the ball out of the net.  Capoue also had a couple of decent chances but, in usual fashion, the shots didn’t trouble the goalkeeper.  The referee was allowing the players to get away with some rather robust tackles, which had the consequence that the challenges were getting worse and worse as the half went on, culminating in a nasty looking scissor challenge from Berghuis on Fox that resulted in a spot of handbags.  It was the home side that had the last chance of the half with a shot from Godden that flew just over the bar.

Capoue congratulated on his first goal for the Hornets

Capoue congratulated on his first goal for the Hornets

Watford made four changes at the start of the second half, bringing Arlauskis, Anya, Doucouré and Guedioura on for Gomes, Amrabat, Suárez and Berghuis.  The visitors opened the scoring early in the second half.  I was quite glad that I wasn’t sitting behind the goal at this point as seeing Capoue shape to shoot would likely have meant that I would have ducked and missed the goal.  Instead I was in prime position to see him curl a gorgeous shot past Jones in the Stevenage goal.  The hearty rendition of his song stumbled a bit when it got to “Quique’s man”, but we recovered.  The second half was terrific entertainment.  Watford had chances to increase the lead as Ighalo hit the bar and Deeney was left smiling ruefully as his shot came back off the far post.  Sinclair went on a lovely run before crossing for Deeney, who was frustrated again as Chris Day, who had come on as a substitute, blocked the shot with his feet.  Finding out that Chris is now a veteran of 40 makes me feel very old indeed.  I remember a very young Chris presenting me with a cheque on the pitch when I won the Hornets lottery.  It is very hard to believe that was nearly 20 years ago.  It wasn’t all Watford and Pett had a decent chance to level the score with a shot from the edge of the area, but Arlauskis was equal to it.  The Hornets made certain of the victory in the last minute of the game when Sinclair headed home a lovely cross from Abdi.

Mazzarri expressing his frustration

Mazzarri expressing his frustration

So a perfect pre-season game.  A very entertaining performance on a lovely Summer evening with a couple of goals to savour and a chance to become more familiar with some of the new boys.  The more I see of Doucouré, the more I like him.  He has described himself as a box to box midfielder, which was every apparent in this game and he has a lovely touch.  Sinclair again looked lively and, this time, found the net.  But man of the match was Capoue who put in a typically assured performance topped off with a lovely goal.  Now that he has broken that duck, I hope he is a regular on the scoresheet.  It is early days but this team is shaping up to be quite formidable, which bodes well for the new season.

Mazzarri Braves the Wilds of Woking

Troy and Don discussing pre-season

Troy and Don discussing pre-season

I know that a lot of people have no interest in pre-season friendlies, but I love them.  It is a chance to catch up with old friends, get familiar with current players’ new hair styles and have a first look at any new players.  It is also a chance to watch your team in a game when the result doesn’t really matter, so you can just enjoy yourself.

When I checked Woking FC’s website for directions to the ground, I was a little perturbed to see a statement in bold text stating that, for personal safety reasons, they recommended that ‘unaccompanied women and children’ did not attempt the 15 minute walk from the railway station to the ground but took a taxi instead.  I pondered the danger while remembering walks back to hotels in Burnley and Doncaster after evening games and decided that I would take my chances in Woking.

I am pleased to say that my walk through leafy Surrey passed without incident and, on arrival at the ground, I heard my name called and turned to see Dee and Mike who had just arrived.  When we passed through the turnstiles we spotted Don, Trond and Gavin and all was right with the World.  Prior to kick-off, Don and co. were joined by Troy Deeney who Don quizzed about the pre-season tour.  Troy was not playing because of a knock but said he’d done three training sessions that day.  As always, he was very willing to chat and pose for photos.  One guy asked if he was going to stay.  “I’ve just signed a new contract, what more can I do?”

Poke saving from Britos

Poke saving from Britos

Before the teams were announced, I wondered how many players I would recognize, but the starting line-up contained no newcomers and no new hair styles as Gomes, Nyom, Britos, Hoban, Anya, Capoue, Suarez, Berghuis, Amrabat, Ighalo and Vydra, lined up in a 3-5-2 formation.

We were stationed in the large stand behind the goal that Watford attacked in the first half and, after a quiet start to the game, there was suddenly a flurry of activity in front of us as Britos twice met Berghuis corners with headers, the first of which was cleared off the line, the second saved by the Woking keeper, Poke.  Suarez then tested the keeper with a volley from distance which required a decent save to deny the Spaniard.  Ighalo was the next to threaten from a corner, but I watch goalbound headers from Ighalo more in hope than expectation, so was not surprised to see Poke make the save.

Congratulating Berghuis on his goal

Congratulating Berghuis on his goal

The Hornets took the lead on 20 minutes as Anya cut the ball back to Berghuis whose shot took a deflection and ended up in the back of the net off the gloves of Poke.  It had been all Watford to this point so it was slightly irritating when the home side equalized soon after.  They won a free kick in a dangerous position, Gomes got his hand to the initial shot, but the loose ball was turned in.  I must admit that, at the time, I was rather distracted by the beautiful Red Kite that was soaring over the field, I hope that the same was not the case with the Watford defence.  The visitors had an excellent chance to regain the lead as Ighalo played a one-two with Capoue but his shot was well over the target.  The pitch had been cutting up rather badly so we were then treated to the sight of Capoue on groundsman duty, replacing the divots.  Les Simmons would have been impressed.  Ighalo tried to meet a Berghuis cross with a spectacular shot and missed completely.  In the last minute of the half, Woking had another free kick in a dangerous position but, with no Kite to help, it missed the target.

Suarez, Hoban and Britos

Suarez, Hoban and Britos

The start of the second half saw six substitutions with Arlauskis, Guedioura, Watson and Oularé coming on and a first chance to see Doucouré and Sinclair in Watford shirts.  Sinclair made a lively start as he turned in the box and forced a save before heading a cross from Anya over the bar.  Then Doucouré had a chance with a shot from distance.  Mazzarri made further substitutions during the half with Holebas coming on for Amrabat and Hoban replaced by Success.  The enthusiasm to see the young Nigerian play was slightly tempered by the fact that he was wearing Lloydy’s no 12 shirt (sob!)  Arlauskis was called into action to deal with a cracking shot from Kretzschmar that he parried with both hands.  An assured save that was in contrast to much of his performance.  His tendency to come charging out of goal to intercept balls that the defence is already dealing with was not doing my delicate nerves a lot of good.  Late in the game Britos made a great saving tackle that prevented a goal opportunity for the home side.  Soon after, the final substitution saw the Uruguayan replaced by Charlie Rowan.  The last action of the game was a weak shot from Thorburn that was easily saved by Arlauskis and the game ended in a draw.

Oulare and Doucoure

Oulare and Doucoure

It had been a game of two halves.  The first had been very enjoyable with Watford peppering the Woking goal and being frustrated by a combination of a decent performance from Poke and the 11 men lined up to stop them.  It was a shame that we didn’t make more of the chances, but it was a good run out.  In contrast, the second half was scrappy featuring a number of players who had only met the previous Monday and it showed.  Of the new players, Sinclair looked lively and fashioned a couple of chances.  Doucouré also showed up well, although a few times when he appeared to have an opportunity to shoot, he passed to Success instead.  The Nigerian was given less time to impress and, given that the overall performance was somewhat chaotic when he came on, it was difficult to form an impression.  It was lovely to see Tommy Hoban back in action.  Ighalo and Vydra were both in frustrating mode, although Ighalo had the better of the chances that were created.

As we left the ground, the players who had played in the first half were milling around the car park.  It was a chance for photos with a group who were all on good form.  Ighalo was in a particularly good mood, although his footwear was decidedly dodgy particularly as it was in Luton colours.  After a while, the second half team emerged to get on the team bus.  Last to emerge was Mazzarri, who I was surprised to see surrounded by stewards although a “Welcome to Watford” was greeted with a smile and “Thank-you,” which was repeated by the man that was identified as his translator, just in case I hadn’t understood the first time.

And so the build up to the new season starts.  Who knows what joys and sorrows we have to come, but I am really looking forward to finding out.

Norwich Down but No Thanks to Watford

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

In contrast to the blazing sunshine of Sunday, I arrived in Norwich on a very muggy afternoon.  I had a quick wander around the town and then headed for the pre-match pub to meet up with our much depleted party and the Norfolk ‘Orns.  The pre-match beers in the sunshine, were very enjoyable and we had the added pleasure of cheering the team bus as it passed on its way to the ground.  I must admit that, of the three teams still under threat, Norwich were my first choice for the drop, but I did have to feel sorry for the bloke in the pub who was begging Watford fans for mercy.

When we reached the turnstiles, we encountered a sniffer dog.  I know that it is a no-no, but the hound was so adorable that I asked the handler whether I could pet it.  She asked me, in return, if I would do her a favour and give the dog something to find.  She explained that, when the dogs don’t find anything for a while, they get a bit bored and she wanted to make sure that her charge was still paying attention.  So I was given a scent to put in my pocket and asked to come back in again.  Once I was assured that this plant would not lead to my arrest, I did as she asked and, sure enough, the hound leapt up at me, identified the scent and was suitably rewarded and I got a doggy cuddle.

Team news was only the one change with Nyom coming in at right back and Prödl making way for Cathcart in the centre of defence.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Jurado, Watson, Suarez, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo.  It was not a selection to quell the doubts of those calling for Quique’s head.

Celebrating the first goal

Celebrating the first goal

The travelling Watford fans started goading their counterparts early on with chants of “We are staying up.”  And the game started rather well for the visitors as Troy had an early shot from distance that the Norwich keeper, Ruddy, just kept out.  We took the lead on 11 minutes as a long ball from Britos was headed down by Deeney to Ighalo, Ruddy smothered his shot, but the ball broke to Deeney who finished into the empty net.  At this stage, it looked as though Norwich could be in for a comprehensive defeat to send them down.  That couldn’t have been further from the truth as, a couple of minutes later, an innocuous looking Norwich attack finished with Redmond exchanging passes with Naismith before scoring through the legs of Gomes.  The home fans started singing “The Great Escape” at this point.  Unbelievably, the home side were 2-1 up soon afterwards as Watford failed to clear the ball allowing Redmond to hit the post and the rebound was buried by Mbokani.  Watford tried to hit back with a ball into the box that was gathered by Ruddy with Deeney challenging.  There was an immediate counter attack which finished with a shot from Redmond that flew just wide.  More lax defending from Watford allowed Redmond to hit the post again, on this occasion the follow-up from Olsson was kept out by a smart save from Gomes.  At this point, there were boos ringing out in the away end.

Watson on the ball

Watson on the ball

Watford gifted Norwich a third in the 37th minute as Watson gave the ball away, Jurado failed to tackle when given the chance and Nyom slipped allowing the ball to run through to Hoolahan, whose cross looked unlikely to trouble the defence until Cathcart intervened to power it past Gomes.  You’d have thought that the Watford team had a bet on Norwich to stay up.  But, soon after the goal, it became apparent that that was out of their hands as a chant of “1-0 to the Sunderland” went up in the away end indicating Sunderland’s breakthrough against Everton.  This was followed by “We are Premier League”.  Hmm, not on the evidence of tonight’s showing.  Watford attacked again as Watson crossed for Deeney but his shot was saved by Ruddy, and the flag was up anyway.  The travelling Hornets continued to console themselves by goading the opposition.  This time with “Burton Albion on a Tuesday night,” which sounded rather appealing to me.  Norwich had a couple more chances before half time.  First Hoolahan played a through ball to Naismith whose shot was saved by Gomes.  Then the Watford keeper was called into action again to stop a long range shot from Hoolahan.  The half time whistle went to boos from the away end.  I never boo my team, but this was one occasion when I had sympathy with those who did.

At half time, I went to chat with Don.  You know that things are not going well when even Don can’t find anything positive to say.  Although he did manage a complaint about the ref, so I knew he was OK.  Our summary of the first half was that the majority of the Watford players were on the beach.

Deeney crosses for the second Watford goal

Deeney crosses for the second Watford goal

Flores made a change at half time bringing Aké on for Nyom.  There was a bright start to the second period as Anya played a ball down the wing to Deeney who cut back for Igahlo to score his fifteenth league goal of the season, which was also his first in the league since January.  The Watford fans greeted the strike with, “We’re gonna win 4-3.”  Flores made his second substitution to loud cheers as Jurado made way for Berghuis.  Norwich nearly did us a favour as a long ball from Abdi was headed back towards Ighalo by Deeney and Bennett’s attempt to clear flew just over the bar.  As it happened, it wouldn’t have counted as he was deemed to have been fouled by the Nigerian.  Norwich scored their fourth just before the hour mark as Redmond played a through ball to Mbokani, who dinked it over Gomes.  The Norwich fans were doing an impressive job of supporting their team despite knowing that Sunderland were three goals up against Everton, so their fate was sealed.  Watford attempted to hit back as Berghuis found Abdi but the shot was just wide of the far post.  Watson was booked for a frustrated tackle on Naismith and, soon after, made way for Guedioura.  While Norwich’s first change saw Brady coming on for Hoolahan.  The home fans continued their impressive support with a chant of “One Alex Neil”.

Berghuis, Guedioura and Abdi discuss a free kick

Berghuis, Guedioura and Abdi discuss a free kick

An extended period of possession for the Hornets finished with Abdi exchanging passes with Berghuis before hitting a volley straight at Ruddy.  I thought that Norwich should have been awarded a penalty as Naismith was tripped in the box, but the referee waved play on.  Soon after, the Scotsman was replaced by Odjidja-Ofoe and Jarvis came on for the excellent Redmond.  Late in the game, Aké was booked for a stupid tackle on Mbokani.  There was a great chance for Watford to strike back after Abdi was fouled on the edge of the box.  But the ball was placed considerably further back for the free kick and Guedioura hit it into Row Z, summing up the evening.  A cross into the Norwich box was met by the head of Anya but he could only direct it back to Ruddy.  Then Deeney had one last chance to cut the deficit with a shot from outside the area that Ruddy spilled towards the goal, but managed to recover.  In the last minute I, again, thought that we had conceded a penalty, but the trip was outside the area and the free kick was straight into the Watford wall.  It was a relief when the final whistle went.

Ighalo

Ighalo

I usually take defeats in my stride and try to take positives from any game.  But my patience ran out last night.  The dedicated souls who travelled to Norwich took time off work, spent a lot of money on travel, tickets and, in many cases, hotels and were rewarded with an abject performance from a bunch of lads who looked like they were on holiday.  I can take being beaten by a better team, but not such a sub-par performance from players who are so much better than that.   I was so irate that, as Britos came over to offer his shirt to a fan I found myself shouting “It’s your pay packet you should be giving us, not your shirt”.  To be fair, the young girl who went home with the shirt was very happy indeed.  The most shocking aspect of the evening was the performance of the defence, which has been excellent for most of the season, but played like clowns on the evening.  Even Gomes had a very rare off day.  Deeney was the only player to come out of the game with any credit.  I’m sure I will calm down by Sunday and, of course, I will be at Vicarage Road to support the lads in the last game of what has been a very successful season.  I just hope they end on a high.

A Better Performance at Anfield

Justice for the 96

Justice for the 96

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

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

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

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

The Kop pre-game

The Kop pre-game

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

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

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

Ighalo challenges for the ball

Ighalo challenges for the ball

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

Abdi lines up a free kick

Abdi lines up a free kick

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

Britos lines up a free kick

Britos lines up a free kick

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

Flores consoling Deeney

Flores consoling Deeney

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

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

 

Mathematically Safe at Last

Abdi and Paredes

Abdi and Paredes

The week before this game was dominated by feelings of disappointment following the FA Cup semi-final at which our team really didn’t do themselves justice.  I had a clear indication of my level of disillusion after that game when I realized on Tuesday morning that I had completely forgotten to buy tickets for the trip to Norwich the previous day.  Normally I buy my tickets for away games as soon as they go on sale.

In the wider football world, the main news of the week had been the final verdicts in the Hillsborough inquest.  Those of us who went to football in the 80s were all too aware of the conditions that we faced at grounds and the attitudes of the authorities towards us.  What happened at Hillsborough could just as easily have happened to me and my family and friends and the vilification that the victims and their families have endured over the past 27 years has been shocking beyond belief.  I am very thankful that the truth that was so evident to anyone without an agenda in the 80s is now a matter of record.  Well done to the families for never giving up their fight for justice.

Miguel Britos

Miguel Britos

On the train to the game, I was reading the BBC football website and the responses to their request for people to comment on what they were looking forward to from the day’s football.  One comment stood out.  “Does anyone care about Watford vs Aston Villa? #deadrubber.”  It was hard to argue with that viewpoint although, even though I have felt that we were safe ever since we hit 37 points, Watford were not yet mathematically safe from relegation.  When we took our seats in the Rookery, I was very impressed with the number of Aston Villa fans who had made the journey from Birmingham for this fixture.  Although the mood among them did not seem particularly positive as, with good reason, they booed when the name of their captain, Lescott, was read out.

One other story dominating the Watford press during the week concerned the strong rumours that Flores would be on his way during the Summer.  Speculation regarding his future seemed grossly unfair given that he had achieved the aim of keeping Watford in the Premier League with the added bonus of an FA Cup semi-final.  The reaction to these rumours on the social media that I bother with had been mixed, so it was pleasing to see the 1881 display a flag bearing Flores’ face prior to kick off.

Flores in the dugout

Flores in the dugout

Team news was that there were four changes from Sunday with Gomes, Paredes, Anya and Suárez in for Pantilimon, Nyom, Aké and Capoue.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Britos, Cathcart, Paredes, Jurado, Watson, Suárez, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo.  The Watford players all took to the pitch wearing black armbands which I assumed were in honour of Ighalo’s father who passed away last week, but I am happy to be contradicted on that one.

The support for Flores from the Watford fans continued after kick off as his name was chanted non-stop for the first 15 minutes of the game.  Watford started well and fashioned an early chance as a cross from Abdi reached Jurado who played the ball out to Suárez whose shot was over the bar.  Then Deeney got his head to a Jurado cross, but his connection was not solid and the ball flew wide of the Villa goal.  Jurado went on a promising run which finished with a cross that was too far in front of Ighalo.  Then Ighalo did well to beat a couple of defenders in the box, but his shot was blocked for a corner while Deeney was in space.  At this point Troy let his strike partner know in no uncertain terms how unhappy he was with his decision making.  A chant of “Championship you’re having a laugh” emanated from the away end and I could only assume this was aimed at their own players who had been woeful to that point.

Abdi and Suarez line up for the free kick that led to the goal

Abdi and Suarez line up for the free kick that led to the goal

Deeney made what looked like a terrible tackle on Bacuna who, thankfully, got up unharmed and there was no punishment for Deeney beyond the award of the free kick.  Paredes found Abdi on the overlap, his cross reached Ighalo at the far post where his shot was blocked by Bunn sticking a foot out.  At this point, half way through the first half, the Rookery crowd were yelling “shoot”, every time a Watford player got the ball anywhere near the Villa box and they were rewarded when Watson blasted a volley from distance that crashed off the crossbar.  Villa’s first goal attempt came on 26 minutes and it was a dreadful shot from distance by Ayew that flew well over the target.  This prompted the travelling Villa fans to jump up and down celebrating as if a goal had been scored while chanting “We’ve had a shot”.   So it was a shock to everyone in the ground when the visitors took the lead two minutes later as Clark met a Westwood corner and headed it past Gomes.  The Villa fans celebrated properly and followed up with “Easy, easy” and “We scored a goal.”  Watford looked to hit back through Deeney who latched on to a ball over the top and won a corner off Toner.  Jurado’s delivery was headed on by Britos to Abdi who should have done better with the shot, but he directed it way off target.  Villa threatened again with a cross from Hutton, but Cathcart was on hand to head clear.

Celebrating Abdi's strike

Celebrating Abdi’s strike

The Villa fans continued their continuous singing with “There’s only one Graham Taylor”, which was lovely and I was very disappointed that the Watford fans didn’t join in (I seemed to be on my own).  The first caution went to Bacuna for a trip on Anya.  Watford’s next chance on goal came when Deeney met a cross from Suárez with a hopeful header that flew wide.  The visitors nearly extended their lead with a header from Ayew that hit the post.  Watford had a decent chance to equalize as Ighalo met a cross from Abdi with a header, but Lescott was in close attendance and the ball bounced off him and safely to Bunn.  In time added on at the end of the half, when a large number of fans were already in the concourses queuing for their half time refreshments, Gueye was booked for a foul on Abdi just outside the box.  Almen stepped up to take the free kick himself and took the perfect free kick, hitting it up and over the wall and into the net past Bunn.  Having got my camera out to capture Deeney’s penalty at West Ham, I felt like I had jinxed it, so the camera was left in my pocket as Abdi stepped up I was rewarded with a goal.

Challenging at a Watford corner

Challenging at a Watford corner

On the balance of play, Watford deserved to go in to the break level.  We had been much the better side in the first 20 minutes and towards the end of the half, but heads had gone down after Villa took the lead and we had been poor in that period.

At half time, the U18s were given their trophy and medals for winning the Professional Development League 2 South.  The presentation took place in front of the SEJ stand, so they had their backs to those of us in the Rookery and I was disappointed that there was no lap of honour.

At the start of the second half, I realized that my notes on the first period had omitted any comment on the performance of the visitors.  As I looked up from writing “Villa dreadful” I saw Ayew running towards us with no Watford player anywhere near and he beat Gomes to restore the lead for the visitors.  That’ll teach me for tempting fate.  Villa threatened again as Ayew and Westwood broke forward before finding Gestede who shot high and wide prompting boos from the Rookery.

Cathcart and Deeney

Cathcart and Deeney

Flores made his first substitution just before the hour mark and, when the board went up showing that it was Paredes who would make way, there were loud cheers from the Watford fans.  He was replaced by Berghuis, who had impressed at West Ham.  More of the same please, Steven.  Watford had a great chance to draw level again as a Jurado corner was met by a header from Deeney that was cleared off the line.  At the other end, a free kick from Westwood was met with a header from Toner that went wide of the target.  Berghuis tried an audacious shot from distance which was deflected, taking the pace off it and ensuring it was easy for Bunn to deal with.  The 1881 had clearly lost patience with their team at this point as there were chants of “Are you Villa in disguise.”  Never good to hear fans getting so negative towards their own players.  Flores made a second substitution replacing Jurado with Amrabat.  Watford had an opportunity to equalize as Watson released Anya who went on a tremendous run down the middle of the pitch and was clean through on goal when Cissokho took him down on the edge of the box.  The Villa man was shown a red card for preventing a goal scoring opportunity.  Abdi’s free kick came back off the wall and the chance came to nothing.  The Villa keeper, Bunn, was booked for time wasting in an incident in which Ighalo lost patience with him delaying a kick, so decided to take it himself.

Gomes takes a goal kick

Gomes takes a goal kick

Watford threatened again as a Berghuis cross to the far post was blocked before it reached Deeney, it fell to Amrabat whose cross was headed wide by Ighalo.  There were hopeful appeals for a penalty when Britos went down under a challenge as a cross from Abdi came into the box, but the referee waved play on.  Frustration built further among the home fans as a series of crosses into the Villa box were met by defenders’ heads.  As the game drew to a close, Watford were pushing for an equalizer as a cross from Amrabat was palmed out by Bunn and then a powerful shot from Berghuis flew just wide.  The young Dutchman turned provider as the clock reached 90 minutes with a cross that was headed home by Deeney.  The Rookery went wild and, as Troy had been given constant abuse from the Villa fans, he appeared to enjoy his goal celebration at their end very much indeed.  The Watford fans followed the goal with a chant of “That boy, Troy Deeney, he hates the Villa.”  The announcement of five minutes of added time was greeted with loud cheers from the Watford faithful and they were rewarded three minutes into injury time as Ighalo knocked the ball down to Deeney who powered it past Bunn to win the game for the home side.

Abdi takes a throw-in

Abdi takes a throw-in

Just like the game at Villa Park earlier in the season, it was an unconvincing performance from the Hornets and we were very fortunate to come away with the three points.  Deeney had not looked happy during the game, but he was the hero of the day after hitting the two goals to secure the win.  As at West Ham, Berghuis had put in a very lively performance when he came on.  It was great to see him run at players.  He didn’t always succeed in beating them, but kept the ball on enough occasions to make you want to see him do it again.  The three points ensured that we remained in 12th position and were now mathematically safe from relegation.  I never thought that would be the case with three games remaining in the season.

We were listening to 3 Counties in the car on the way home and, given a lot of the anti-Flores stuff on social media during the week, I found it interesting that both the presenter and the majority of those sending in messages believed that Flores should still be the Watford manager next season.

It is all down to expectations.  I expected Watford to struggle this season and I suspect that my tolerance of the performances that I have seen lately is down to the fact that they are more in line with what I was expecting for this season.  The fact that we have also been treated to some very entertaining football and some historic wins means that Flores and his players are still in credit as far as I am concerned.

 

Our Last Visit to the Boleyn

Cathcart and Prodl bonding before kick off

Cathcart and Prodl bonding before kick off

Due to being busy at work and my niece having a driving lesson, there was no time to join the pre-match gathering with the City ‘Orns, so it was straight to Upton Park.  Leaving the station you have the walk down Green Street, which has a great character and is a lot less terrifying than it was in the 80s.  One drawback of an evening kick-off is that you miss the market experience.  I considered getting a beverage inside the ground but the crush in the concourse persuaded me to go straight to my seat.  My friend, Boyd, attending his last game before returning to the US, was already in his seat and showed me his photos of the statues outside, which made me regret walking straight to the away end.

When the team news came through, it was unsurprising to hear that Flores had made seven changes from the West Brom game.  I thought that the team selection would give us a good idea of who would play in the semi-final, so the fact that he had included Gomes suggested that Pantilimon would start at Wembley.  But I find it hard to believe that Cathcart won’t make the cut.  The starting XI was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart, Prödl, Paredes, Behrami, Suárez, Abdi, Jurado, Guedioura and Amrabat.  The major question among fans about the team was where were the strikers.  The answer ‘Amrabat’ was not accepted by many.  Once the pre match bubbles, both physical and in song form, were dealt with, it was time to kick off.

Suarez on the ball

Suarez on the ball

The home side took the lead in the 11th minute with the first shot of the game as Carroll floated balletically into the area to connect with a cross from Payet and poke the ball past Gomes.  From our perspective behind the goal it looked like a poor goal to give away.  When the replay was shown on the big screen from the side on perspective, there was a glimpse of someone in an offside position before the image went blank and they decided to show it from behind the striker instead.  I must admit that I thought at this stage that we could be on the end of a rout.  The next action did nothing to quell this fear as Payet’s shot was blocked and Gomes had to save the follow-up from Sakho, although the flag was up for offside.  Watford’s first shot came in the 17th minute when Jurado went on a run and Adrian had to push his shot clear.   Watford were involved in another good move which finished with a cross from Guedioura that was headed clear before it reached Jurado.  Jurado went on another run before cutting along the byline and pulling ball back for Abdi who couldn’t finish.  The first booking was earned by Prödl for a foul on Sakho.  Payet took the resulting free kick, hitting his shot through the wall but Gomes caught it comfortably.

Guedioura's free kick position marked

Guedioura’s free kick position marked

A promising move by the visitors broke down when Behrami lost the ball on the edge of the box, West Ham launched a counter attack which ended with a shot from Payet that flew over the target.  At the other end Adrian saved after a turn and shot by Amrabat.  West Ham really should have increased their lead when Payet broke into the box and curled a shot just over the bar.  On 38 minutes, a picture of Dylan Tombides was shown on the big screen and Watford fans joined the home crowd in a minute’s applause in memory of this young Hammer who died of testicular cancer two years ago (check ‘em lads!)  It was rather nice to see Sakho joining in the applause.  A Watford attack came to nothing when Guedioura’s cross met the head of a defender before Abdi could connect.  West Ham had a great chance to increase their lead as Carroll played the ball back to Sakho whose shot was tipped around the post by Gomes.  But they got their second goal just before half time when Holebas jumped into a challenge and flattened Kouyate prompting the referee to point to the spot.  It was a stupid penalty to concede.  Gomes was not to continue his penalty-saving heroics as Noble sent him the wrong way.  The Hammers should have scored a third goal in time added on after Lanzini got into the box but, thankfully, he hit his shot wide.

Challenging in the West Ham box

Challenging in the West Ham box

So we reached the interval two goals down, which was a bit harsh as it had been a decent performance from the Hornets but we were lacking a goal threat.  At the interval all that is wrong with modern football was encapsulated in the sight of a tourist in a half and half scarf taking photos with a selfie stick.  I can’t believe that made me nostalgic for the days when a trip to the Boleyn meant a police escort with horses taking us back to the tube station to catch an away fans’ tube straight back to Euston Square.

West Ham had a chance in the first minute of the second half as Sakho ghosted in but he put his shot wide.  At the other end a cross from Paredes was just too high for the leap of Abdi.  Jurado went on a great run before playing a square ball just in front of Abdi who was stretching to reach it so directed his shot over the bar.  On 52 minutes West Ham were awarded another penalty, this time for a trip by Abdi on Antonio on the edge of the box.  Again Noble stepped up and this time he hit the penalty down the middle over the diving Gomes.  Flores made a double substitution soon after bringing Berghuis and Anya on for Jurado and Guedioura.  Most of the singing in the Watford end to that point had been repetitious renditions of the Behrami song to the tune of La Bamba.

Berghuis taking a free kick

Berghuis taking a free kick

Since it is a relatively new/little used ditty, it seemed as if the crowd were indulging in some singing practice.  So it was good to have a bit of variety introduced with the appearance of the young Dutchman prompting a few choruses of “Berg-huis in the middle of our street.”  Catchy and easy to learn, it brought a smile to my face.  As did the performance of young Steven who was involved in Watford’s goal as his free kick was volleyed home by Prödl.  There was no celebration by the Watford players, they just headed back to the centre circle.  West Ham looked to regain their three goal lead as a corner was headed back by Carroll to Reid but the shot was deflected wide.  Berghuis had a great chance to cut the deficit further as he appeared in the West Ham box, but his shot hit the side netting.  Watford picked up a couple of bookings as both Suárez and Amrabat were cautioned for fouls.  Flores made his final substitution with 14 minutes to go, and it was a surprise to see Deeney coming on to replace Abdi.  I can’t have been the only Watford fan horrified at the thought that our captain and talisman may get an injury and miss the semi-final.  Bilic also made a change bringing Moses on for Sakho.  Watford could have pulled another goal back as Berghuis played a lovely through ball for Anya, but Adrian reached it first.  Berghuis played provider again playing the ball out to Anya, who should have tried an early shot but took the ball too far wide and his cross went begging.

Deeney looking relaxed before the penalty

Deeney looking relaxed before the penalty

As I was distracted by a steward dealing with a beach ball on the pitch, Gomes was busy saving a shot from Moses.  Gomes was in action again coming out to unnerve Lanzini and ensure that his shot missed the target.  West Ham’s second substitution saw Andy Carroll making way for Emenike.  On 90 minutes, Anya got to the by line and shot goalwards, but Adrian was equal to it.  Watford won a late penalty as Ogbonna fouled Prödl in the box.  Deeney looked confident as he stepped up, but I jinxed it by getting my camera out and Adrian made the save.  In time added on Amrabat was sent off for a second yellow after tripping Reid.  A silly thing to do with the opportunity to play at Wembley on the horizon.  The final whistle went to sighs of relief that none of our key players had picked up injuries and comments that we had won the double header on away goals.  I felt that 3-1 was a bit harsh on us as we had played some nice football while West Ham had not gone for it as I would have expected.

I was rather sad to leave the Boleyn ground for the last time.  It is a city centre ground (my cousins grew up in the street that continues on from Green Street and went to school next door) and the structure inside ensures that the crowd is close to the pitch which usually means a good atmosphere.  So I was disappointed that at this game it was all rather muted.  Very odd given that they still have a European place to play for.  I fear that the Olympic Park will be another in the pantheon of soulless bowls and not a fun place to visit at all.

Despite the defeat, we finished the evening in 12th position with an FA Cup semi-final to look forward to.  This game had been a distraction and an irritation as both the players and fans prepared themselves for the big one on Sunday.  Troy has talked in the build-up of the chance to make themselves Watford legends.  I would argue that he is already there, but leading the team out for an FA Cup final would cement that for him.  I do hope he gets that chance.

A Cup win Against the Magpies

Oulare versus Collochini

Oulare versus Collochini

After a run of two defeats, we really needed a win in this game. The draw against Newcastle couldn’t have been less inspiring and, despite the claims in the Newcastle Chronicle earlier in the season that we were pygmys to their giants, I couldn’t help feeling that this was a game that we really ought to win. There was a lot of speculation during the week about how many players would be rested but, when the team news came through, we found that Flores had made only four changes. Oularé was given his debut in place of Ighalo; Guedioura and Berghuis made their first starts of the season in place of Capoue and Abdi, and Prödl was drafted in for Britos. So the starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Prödl, Cathcart, Nyom, Guedioura, Watson, Jurado, Deeney, Berghuis and Oularé.

Taking our usual seats in the Rookery, it was a little strange to see a number of unfamiliar faces around us. At the other end of the ground it was rather sad to see a large number of empty seats in the Vicarage Road end, a result of Newcastle demanding a £35 membership fee from anyone who wanted to buy a ticket. A real shame as the ticket prices were so reasonable and fair play to Watford for offering a discount to our season ticket holders.

Cathcart lines up a free kick

Cathcart lines up a free kick

The first chance of the game fell to the home side as a clearance only went as far as Berghuis, whose shot from distance was well over the target. At the other end, Janmaat went charging into the Watford box but Gomes blocked the shot. Oularé did well to battle past the Newcastle defence but had no way to goal so played a square ball to Deeney who found Guedioura to his right but the Algerian’s shot was blocked. There was then some good work from Guedioura beating a couple of players before finding Jurado whose shot curled into the arms of Elliot. There was danger in the Watford box as a cross from Janmaat reached Wijnaldum at the near post, but Gomes was down to block. Guedioura threatened again with a cross to Oularé, who tried to touch it on to Deeney, but the pass was cut out. Sissoko went on a powerful run and crossed for Pérez whose shot was wide of the far post. Sissoko then tried a cross that was met with a strong header from Prödl for a corner. The visitors had a decent chance from a corner but the header was glanced over by Mitrovic. Another Newcastle corner came to nothing as Janmaat wellied well over. The first booking of the game went to Tioté for a clumsy trip on Guedioura. It was then Watford’s turn to create a couple of decent chances. First Watson’s free kick was headed goalwards by Cathcart, but Elliot tipped the ball around the post. The resultant corner was punched as far as Jurado whose shot was blocked.

Jurado congratulates Deeney on his goal

Jurado congratulates Deeney on his goal

The visitors could have opened the scoring as Mbabu went on a long run before hitting a shot that was punched clear by Gomes. But it was Watford who took the lead rather unexpectedly just before half time. A mistake from Wijnaldum led to the ball running through to Deeney who only had Elliot to beat, which he did by rounding the keeper and coolly slotting home. It was notable that, due to the influx of occasional supporters, the four of us seemed to be the only ones indulging in the post goal bouncing in our section of the Rookery. The game had been pretty dire until that point so that sent us in to the break with smiles on our faces.

At half time, there was a race between Harry the Hornet and a mascot representing a new club in town. It is common knowledge that Harry takes his fitness seriously, so he was an easy winner and celebrated by ‘doing an Ighalo’ at the corner flag.

 

Berghuis preparing for a throw in

Berghuis preparing for a throw in

There was a half-time substitution as Anya came on for Oularé which resulted in a switch to 4-5-1 with Jurado going into the hole behind Deeney. The second half was only five minutes old when the visiting fans started singing “How sh*t must you be, it’s only 1-0.’ Which seemed a tad harsh as Newcastle had made a decent fist of the first half. Newcastle then had the first goal attempt of the half which was a terrible shot by Pérez from the edge of the box that flew past the near post. After seeing that, I had a bit more sympathy for the sentiments of the Newcastle fans. Watford then attacked as Anya broke down the left before making his way along the by-line to cut the ball back to Deeney who was unable to get a shot in. It was then Newcastle’s turn to break through Pérez who found Thauvin in space but his cross was caught by Gomes. The visitors really should have equalized as Sissoko slid a ball into the box, Gomes was in trouble as Mitrovic ran in but the Newcastle man couldn’t connect, much to the relief of the home fans. Watford’s second substitution saw Abdi coming on for Berghuis who really hadn’t made a claim for his place. Anya went on a run and launched a cross that was headed out for a corner. Then a quick throw from Deeney found Anya who cut the ball back to Jurado but his shot was blocked. Sissoko broke again and crossed for Thauvin who was in space and Gomes did very well to block his shot, but the flag had been raised anyway.

Watson lines up a free kick

Watson lines up a free kick

I noticed Troy jumping over the hoardings into the Lower GT and assumed that his momentum had taken him there until he returned with a Newcastle player who, presumably, he had bundled over. Watford’s final substitution came with 20 minutes remaining as Ighalo replaced Jurado, who was given a standing ovation. The Nigerian had been well wrapped up as he warmed up, so must have been given a good amount of time to remove all the layers before coming on. Watford looked to increase their lead as Guedioura played a through ball into the box but it was just too far in front of Holebas. At this stage the Newcastle fans were demanding their money back and I had a bit more sympathy than I’d had for the earlier chant. Abdi put a decent cross into the Newcastle box but Anya couldn’t get on the end of it. Watford’s only booking came as Guedioura was cautioned for a kick on Thauvin as the Newcastle player tried to break. The next contribution from the Newcastle fans was “You’re getting sacked in the morning,” which was gleefully taken up by the Rookery. As if to prove the point, Newcastle had won a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery was absolutely dreadful and straight into the arms of Gomes. Newcastle had one last chance to equalize in the final minute of time added on but Thauvin could only shoot into the side netting.

Berghuis after taking a corner

Berghuis after taking a corner

It had been a pretty awful game. Watford had been poor but, once they took the lead, the visitors never really looked like getting back into the game. You really have to feel for the Newcastle fans as their players made some good attacking moves, particularly through Sissoko, but their finishing was abysmal. The four Watford players given their chance had mixed afternoons. Oularé showed some good touches, but certainly suffered in comparison to Ighalo as, despite his size, his strength and workrate were not in the same league. But he is young and has potential. Berghuis didn’t do a lot, so Abdi must have felt pretty comfortable as he sat on the bench. Guedioura was lively and did nothing wrong, but did not have the influence that Capoue does. Prödl was excellent. I felt he was unlucky to lose his place earlier in the season, and even more so that Britos then played superbly. He was deservedly given the Man of the Match award. He was also responsible for one of the highlights of the afternoon as he went to the Lower GT and handed a young boy his shirt, stopping for a long chat. From reading a friend’s facebook page it seems it was a lad called Ossie who is being treated for neuroblastoma and had been allowed a day out from hospital to go to the game as a guest of the club. The beaming smile on the boy’s face as Prödl spoke to him just lit up the ground.

I had my own close encounter with a hero as I was walking through the GT on the way out. I saw Luke Dowling and then noticed the man walking behind him was Gino Pozzo. I just said, “Thank-you, Sir” and was rewarded with a smile. It seemed fitting to see the architect of our current success under the banners of our past and that sent me home smiling.

Palace Victors on The Box

Abdi in action

Abdi in action

We haven’t faced Palace since the play-off final two years ago and there is a lingering resentment that we were mugged that day.  While Palace’s spoiling tactics made for an unpleasant game, too many of our players didn’t turn up and we didn’t really deserve anything out of the match.  In all honesty, I am delighted that we had a couple more seasons in the Championship and were promoted at a time when we were better prepared for survival in the top division.

The late kick off on Sunday ensured that I had time for lunch with my Dad before the game.  Neither roast pork nor a glass of Malbec play any part in my usual pre-match ritual, so maybe what ensued is all my fault.

The usual suspects were gathered in the West Herts when I arrived and there was time for a pint of ale and a resumption of proper pre-match stuff.  While there we were entertained by the sight of Diego Fabbrini scoring for Middlesbrough (he fell over while doing so).  I must admit to having a soft spot for Diego following a sterling performance in a Herts Senior Cup game on a freezing cold night in Royston a couple of years ago, so I was glad to see that he is doing well at the Riverside.

Cathcart and Nyom

Cathcart and Nyom

It was a gorgeous afternoon and as we walked down Occupation Road, it was lovely to see Lloyd Doyley with his son, even if he was wearing a Jeter shirt.  I was (pleasantly) surprised then to see a smiling Matej Vydra, although it is a shame that he is not available for selection.

Team news was that there were no changes from Newcastle so the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Prödl, Cathcart, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi, Ighalo.  The Palace substitutes included the lovely Adrian Mariappa, whose name was greeted with warm applause from the Hornet faithful.

In his programme notes, Troy Deeney made mention of the sterling efforts of the 1881 and they were on top form pre-match putting on a show for the cameras.  As the teams emerged from the tunnel, the Legends flag was unfurled in the Rookery (or should that be upfurled as it went up the stand and over our heads).  I’m sure it looked amazing from the other stands and on TV.

Anya and Jurado

Anya and Jurado

Watford had a lively start to the game without threatening the Palace goal as a Capoue shot from outside the area and a Prödl header following a corner from Abdi were both wide of the target.  Hennessey’s first involvement came when Anya played the ball out to Deeney but Troy’s shot caused the keeper no problems.  Palace had a great chance to take the lead as Hangeland met a Cabaye free kick with a powerful header that was stopped by a great save from Gomes.  There was then a break in the game while Watson was treated for what appeared to be a dislocated thumb.  While I was concerned because Ben was clearly in a lot of pain, the loud bloke who sits a couple of rows behind me was more interested in speculating on why a penalty hadn’t been awarded, as he’d clearly handled in the box!  Palace threatened again as Cabaye blasted a free kick into the wall, the ball rebounded to Puncheon who shot wide of the target.  At the other end, Jurado played the ball out to Anya who dribbled along the by line before putting in a cross that Ledley headed out for a corner.  A cross from Jurado was then safely headed back to the Palace keeper.  The Hornets had a decent spell of pressure around the Palace box, but the nearest they came to threatening Hennessey was a Nyom shot that was blocked.  On the half hour Jurado found Abdi on the right, his first cross was blocked and came back to him, the second was headed tamely wide by Deeney.  Palace broke again as Sako muscled past Anya on his way towards goal, but his shot was straight at Gomes.  The first booking of the game was earned by Abdi for a late tackle on Bolasie that prompted a chant of “Dirty Northern Bastards” from the away fans.  The resultant free kick from Cabaye flew wide of the far post.  Bolasie, who had caused us problems all half, outpaced the defence to run on to a ball played over the top, Gomes came out to meet him and launched the ball over the SEJ stand to cheers.  Ighalo did really well to battle past a couple of robust challenges before the ball reached Anya by way of Jurado but the cross was cut out by Hangeland before it reached Ighalo who had made a run into the box.  In time added on at the end of the half, Ighalo won a free kick on the edge of the box.  Abdi took the set piece which was deflected for a corner.

Jurado takes a free kick

Jurado takes a free kick

The half ended with both sides having had just a single shot on target.  It had been a disjointed half constantly interrupted by the referee’s whistle as the Palace players tumbled under the slightest challenge.

The best chance of the game so far came at the start of the second half and fell to the home side as Jurado hit the crossbar with a free kick, Deeney met the rebound but headed it over the bar.  Watford put together another good move as Deeney fed Ighalo who chested the ball down to Abdi whose shot was saved.  There was a scare for the Hornets as a free-kick from Sako was deflected just wide of the target.  And another as Gayle bore down on goal, but the attentions of Cathcart ensured that the shot hit the bar and rebounded safely into the arms of Gomes.  Around the hour mark, there was a substitution for each side as Zaha replaced Sako for the visitors and Berghuis came on for Abdi.  The Palace substitution proved to be the decisive one as Zaha fell in the corner of the box under a challenge from Nyom and the referee pointed to the spot.  It was a very soft penalty and one of those that irritates as it was given for an offence that certainly didn’t prevent a goal scoring opportunity.  In the aftermath, Jurado was booked for his protests.  Cabaye stepped up to take the spot kick which went in off the post.  There was a spirited reaction to the goal, both on the pitch and in the stands.  The Rookery were on their feet chanting while Deeney headed the ball down to Ighalo who was tackled before he could shoot.

Gomes with a Watford legend in the background

Gomes with a Watford legend in the background

Watford’s second substitution saw Nyom make way for Aké.  The first booking for the visitors came as Cabaye took down Jurado as he bore down on goal.  Palace threatened to increase their lead as Zaha crossed to the back post where Bolasie headed the ball down to Gayle who shot wide of the target.  A free kick from Puncheon flew over the wall, but was comfortably caught by Gomes.  The Palace midfielder was then booked for sending Watson flying well after the ball had gone.  That was Ben’s last involvement in the game as he was replaced by Ibarbo.  A counter attack from the visitors finished with a shot from Gayle which was well wide and soon after he was replaced by Campbell.  There was a lovely exchange of passes between Ibarbo and Aké on the wing, the ball was crossed for Deeney who headed down to Ighalo but the Nigerian was being wrestled away from the ball which was permitted on this occasion, rather bizarre given the referee’s previous sensitivity to challenges of any kind.  Puncheon threatened with a run along the by line, but Gomes was there to snuff out the danger.  There was a flurry of activity in injury time.  First the ever-threatening Bolasie had a decent chance with another break and a shot that flew just over the bar.  Then Anya crossed for Ibarbo whose shot was turned around for a corner.  Just before the final whistle there was a bit of a scramble in the Palace box, but each of the attempts to shoot was blocked.  There were late shouts for a Watford penalty as Prödl went down in the box, but the referee (correctly) gave the free kick the other way.

Lining up a free kick

Lining up a free kick

It was a disappointing loss, but Pardew had got the tactics right particularly through the Palace wide men who had given Anya and Nyom a torrid time.  One plus point was a considerably improved performance from Jurado who showed what Flores sees in him, although his set pieces still leave something to be desired, but he is not alone in that regard.

As the only game played on Sunday we were, of course, the featured game on Match of the Day.  I wondered whether to bother watching, but was glad that I did as the montage that they showed at the start of the game featuring Blissett, Barnes, Callaghan and co. brought the smile back to my face.  I look back on those glory days with great fondness while being well aware that they must have featured frustrating days like today.  I can’t help wondering which of today’s team will achieve legend status.  Based on performances to date, I feel it will be the majority.

 

The Pygmies Slay the Giants

The statue of Bobby Robson

The statue of Bobby Robson

I was up at the crack of dawn again for the trip to Newcastle.  In my desire not to miss the train I had booked, tickets for which had cost a small fortune despite booking as soon as the fixture date was confirmed, I was at Kings Cross an hour before it was due to leave.  The upside of this is that it meant I bumped into Jon Marks and had time for a chat about our season so far.  The main theme was the fact that, unlike our last season in the Premier League, this time we are not travelling to every away game with a sense of impending doom.  Given the form of Newcastle this season, this game was definitely winnable.  It was only when he left that I realized that I hadn’t congratulated him on his tremendous celebration at the end of the Swansea game.

Newcastle really is a beautiful city.  The (circuitous) route to the designated pre-match pub took me down the steps at the side of the castle allowing a bit of sightseeing.  I arrived at the pub just after the doors had opened, so was able to grab a little section for our party to fill and I was soon joined by the usual suspects.  Among those in the same hostelry was Dave, our Supporter Liaison Officer, who took time to talk with a number of the North West Horns who were present.

 

A distant view of the handshakes

A distant view of the handshakes

The journey from the pub to the ground is not long, but it is all uphill, which was more painful due to the knowledge that on arrival we would have to climb 14 flights of stairs to reach level 7.  My memory of our last visit was that we were so high up that I could barely recognize the players.  In fact, I recall reading somewhere that it is a quarter of a mile from the back of the away end to the centre circle, so I had brought my binoculars.  Outside the ground, I was drawn to a statue (I do love statues) that purported to be of Bobby Robson but, to my mind, was not a great likeness.

Team news was that the only change was the replacement of the suspended Behrami with Ben Watson.  So the starting 11 was Gomes, Anya, Prödl, Cathcart, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.

 

In the run up to the game, the Newcastle Chronicle had an article which included the paragraph, “Let’s face it, Watford are pygmies living in a land of giants.  They deserve huge credit for achieving what they have, but clubs like Newcastle, with 50,000 fans bellowing them on, ought to sweep them contemptuously aside.”  The words made my blood boil, but meant that Flores didn’t need to dig too deep to get inspiration for the pre-match team talk.

Congratulating Ighalo on goal number one

Congratulating Ighalo on goal number one

As the team prepared for kick off I was both surprised and encouraged to see the players acknowledging our chants.  It was a relief that they could hear us from such a distance.

Watford had the best of the early exchanges with Ighalo getting an early sight of goal as he beat his man on the edge of the box, turned and shot wide of the near post.  He went even closer soon after, shooting just wide after Abdi headed the ball down to him.  There was danger at the other end as a Newcastle cross was only helped on by Cathcart and Cisse prodded the ball past Gomes who, thankfully, scrambled back to smother it before it reached the goal.  The visitors were ahead after 10 minutes as Abdi won the ball on the wing, it found its way to Ighalo via Capoue and Deeney and the Nigerian hit it into the bottom corner to a send the travelling Hornets on level 7 into ecstasy.  Goal celebrations at that elevation were a bit dodgy and the chap in the row in front nearly went tumbling, but managed to regain his balance before any damage was done.  There then followed a period of bouncing from the happy Hornets up in the gods.

A second goal celebration

A second goal celebration

Newcastle looked to strike back almost immediately with a quick counter attack by Sissoko who played the ball out to Cisse but the shot was into the side netting.  The home side had another chance as Haidara cut the ball back to Sissoko but the cross evaded both Thauvin’s head and the goal.  Ighalo was taken down as he tried to break, howls for a foul were quietened when the ball broke to Jurado who found Abdi, he teed up Deeney whose shot curled just wide of the target.  Jurado had the ball on the edge of the box, but failed to test Krul with a shot that was weak and straight at the keeper.  Ighalo received the ball from a throw-in before breaking free of the defence but his shot was also straight at Krul.  Just before the half hour Watford were two goals ahead as a long pass from Prödl was beautifully controlled by Deeney before he played a through ball to Ighalo who rounded the keeper and found the net.  It was a lovely goal and, after chanting in praise of the scorer, the travelling Hornets also acknowledged Deeney’s contribution.  Full back, Nyom, went on a stunning run and, with no better idea of what to do just belted the ball at a defender to win a corner.  Jurado had the ball in the Newcastle box but didn’t seem to want to shoot and the lack of other options meant the chance went begging.    A Newcastle break was stopped by a cynical foul from Abdi who was booked for his trouble.  Newcastle looked to pull one back through Perez but his shot from distance flew over the bar.  Then a shot from Thauvin was parried by Gomes, the ball fell to Anya who went on a run upfield but, with nobody accompanying him, he had no outlet.  Just before half time, a ball into the Watford box bounced off a defender and out for a corner prompting loud cheers from the home fans that summed up how little they had had to applaud in the first half.  In time added on, Nyom released Ighalo but Krul was quickly out of his box to clear the danger.  The half time whistle went to boos from the Newcastle fans.  In contrast, the travelling Hornets were delighted with their two goal lead and the very assured performance of their team.

Gomes launches the ball

Gomes launches the ball

The visitors had the first chance of the second half through Deeney, whose shot was deflected for a corner.  But it was the home side who struck next, pulling a goal back just after the hour mark as Janmaat exchanged passes with Sissoko before shooting past Gomes.  Watford tried to restore the two goal lead as Ighalo found Deeney in the box but he was tackled before he could line up a shot.  Newcastle’s goalscorer, Janmaat, very nearly grabbed an equalizer, but Gomes was equal to the shot and pushed the ball around the post.  The Dutchman then turned provider with a cross that de Jong headed wide.  Flores made his first substitution with 15 minutes to go with Berghuis coming on for Abdi.  The substitute went on a run through the middle and passed to Nyom whose cross was wild.  A counter attack by the home side finished with a shot from de Jong that Gomes got down to save.  Watford’s second substitution saw Ake coming on for Jurado, a change which was welcomed by the fans in the away end as the Spaniard had had another disappointing game.  An attempt to break by Wijnaldum was stopped as he was pulled back by Capoue, who was cautioned.  With three minutes remaining on the clock, Guedioura replaced Watson much to the delight of the travelling Hornets who had been calling for his introduction for some time.

Challenging at a corner

Challenging at a corner

Newcastle’s first caution went to Colback who received a yellow card for a trip on Ighalo as he tried to break.  In all honesty, this did us a favour as Odion appeared to be running out of steam and this ensured that we kept possession and a little more time was used up.  Berghuis cut the ball back to Nyom on the right wing, he charged into the box but his shot was high and wide.  I had been counting down the seconds since Newcastle’s goal, so was relieved that there was only 4 minutes of added time this week.  Thankfully, the only chance of an equalizer in this period came with a shot from Mbemba that went harmlessly across the goal and wide.  The final whistle went to boos from the home fans and loud cheers from Hornets up in the gods.  The joy on the faces of the players and coaching staff as they celebrated reflected that of the fans in level 7.  I swear we floated back down those 14 flights.

 

Nathan Ake

Nathan Ake

So, back to back wins in the Premier League, both of them thoroughly good performances.  Although, as this is Watford, they never make it easy for us and that second half had been a bit painful to watch at times.  Especially occasions when we had a good spell of possession but didn’t seem to want to increase the goal tally.  While Ighalo will receive the plaudits for his goals, it was his great interaction with Deeney that left the biggest smile on my face.  They are back to their best.  We missed Behrami in midfield and I was, again, disappointed with Jurado but, all in all, it was another impressive performance from a team that looks like it belongs at this level.  I am starting to like Premier League football.