Tag Archives: Theo Walcott

Another Self-inflicted Defeat

Doucoure gets stuck in

After a weekend off, it was good to get back to the West Herts even if, after the last two games, I was no longer feeling optimistic about our chances.  The pre-match discussion about the end of the transfer window was brief as it had been fairly quiet for the Hornets, although there was a lot of sadness at the departure of Seb Prödl who went from Player of the Season to invisible after injuries.  I do hope that he goes on to great things.  There was also some discussion of Ighalo’s move to Manchester United, which took me by surprise, and a hope that Richarlison’s head had been turned by the interest from Barcelona.

As we reached Vicarage Road on the way to the ground, you could tell that it wasn’t one of the bigger clubs visiting, as there was only one tout in view and even he may just have been a bloke trying to offload a spare ticket.  As we reached Occupation Road, there seemed to be a big crowd blocking the way but, once we passed the first turnstile for the SEJ stand, the crowd reduced to usual size and we were soon through the turnstiles.  As I was unable to find a programme at the home tie against Tranmere and then threw coffee over the programme I bought at the away game, I went to Doreen Pym’s programme stand at the GT end of the Rookery to try to get replacements.  Sadly, they did not have either publication, but the journey was not wasted as I bumped into a friend on the way.  The detour and chat meant a delay in getting to my seat and, when I arrived, I was told that I had just missed the lovely Seb Prödl saying goodbye to the Watford fans.  That made me very sad, as I have a very soft spot for Seb.  I was greatly cheered when my lovely friend, Alice, later told me that she had made him some Vanillekipferl as a goodbye gift.  I am told that they went down very well with Seb and he kindly shared them with his countryman, Daniel Bachmann.

Celebrating Masina’s opening goal

Team news was that Pearson had made just the one enforced change from the Villa game with Kabasele in for Dawson, who was missing due to injury.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Chalobah, Capoue; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney.  It was great to see both Welbeck and Hughes on the bench, although we were short of defensive options with only Holebas included.  Former Watford starlet, Richarlison, started for Everton and was booed as he has been ever since he left.  Something that baffles me as we got very good money for him when he moved to Everton.

The visitors had the first chance of the game as Richarlison got on the end of a cross from Iwobi, but his shot flew over the bar.  At the other end a great corner from Masina was met by the head of Kabasele, but he couldn’t get his effort on target.  Christian was then in action at the other end as Richarlison tried to break into the box, but Kaba was on hand to steal the ball from him and snuff out the danger.  The Hornets took the lead after 10 minutes and it was a wonderful goal that started with Capoue playing a lovely cross-field pass to Deulofeu who brought the ball down before passing back to Masina who shot past Pickford into the opposite corner.

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal

The Hornets threatened again as Capoue played another lovely ball, this time for Pereyra, but Pickford was out to gather.  The visitors created a decent chance as Sidibé crossed for Calvert-Lewin, but the header was easy for Foster.  Off the pitch, the first sight of Danny Welbeck warming up was greeted with applause.  Watford had a chance to increase their lead when a free kick from Masina was cleared as far as Doucouré whose bicycle kick cleared the bar.  The hosts threatened again as Deulofeu found Doucouré on the edge of the box, but the shot was blocked at close range.  VAR was then invoked as a nasty looking tackle by Digne on Pereyra was checked, but no punishment ensued.  Maxi returned after treatment and exacted revenge on Digne.  Again, VAR was called into action but, again, the offence was not deemed worthy of a red card (or a yellow for that matter).  The second goal for the Hornets came after Deeney latched on to a loose ball and played a lovely pass to Pereyra who finished beautifully to put the Hornets in a commanding position with two minutes to go until half time.  The goal had been against the run of play, but it was all looking so positive at that point.  Sadly, 2-0 is a dangerous score and there followed two minutes of madness.  The clock had reached 45 minutes when Everton won a corner.  The Watford defenders failed to clear and the ball pinged around the box until Mina turned it in.  It was a very scrappy goal to give away.  It got worse almost immediately as Everton won another corner, Sigurdsson’s delivery was met by Mina, who was allowed a free header which beat Foster to level the score.  The scorer was milking the celebrations right in front of the 1881 which irritated me immensely even if it is likely that he had been jeered by the home fans.

Everton Speedo Mick interviewed by Emma

There was shock at half time, we had appeared to be in control of the game and had been defending very solidly, but that was all undone by two corners when the defence went missing.  So frustrating in such an important game.

The first topic of the half time interviews was the National Citizen Service (NCS), a programme for 15-17 year-olds which has been one of the projects run by Watford Community Trust.  It is a very positive project that has benefited many local youngsters.

The legend on duty was Gary Porter talking about his distinguished career with the Hornets.  He was a part of some amazing teams and is very fondly remembered, although it shocks me to realise how long ago he retired as I think of him as one of the youngsters!

Last up was Everton Speedo Mick who is walking 1000 miles from John O’Groats to Lands End while dressed in Speedo swimming trunks to raise money for Leave the Light On which contributes to community projects that help disadvantaged young people.  His excitement at Everton’s comeback was a little hard to listen to, but I let him off as it is a tremendous charity https://www.gofundme.com/f/speedomick-1000-ml-charity.  I was a little embarrassed when the two guys in front of us commented on my taking photos.  It was for the blog, honest, not because I want photos of a middle-aged bloke in a Speedo.

Pereyra on the ball

The visitors had the first chance of the second half and, again, it was from a set piece.  Sigurdsson took a free kick which reached Calvert-Lewin, whose header was deflected over the bar.  There was then a tussle between Deeney and Mina, not the first of the afternoon.  The Everton man was rolling around trying to get Troy into trouble and Troy’s look of contempt mirrored my feelings.  Nigel Pearson made his first substitution just before the hour mark as Chalobah made way for Welbeck.  Nate did not look happy at being replaced, but the introduction of Welbeck was warmly received by the crowd.  The first booking of the game came soon after and went to Delph for a trip on Pereyra.  The visitors made two changes in quick succession bringing Kean and Schneiderlin on for Iwobi and Sigurdsson.  There were a couple of rash-looking tackles from the Hornets as Everton broke forward, but the referee finally blew up for a nudge on Richarlison on the edge of the box, with Masina booked for the most innocuous foul in that sequence.  The resulting free kick was taken by Digne who hit it straight into the wall.  With 20 minutes remaining, the visitors were reduced to ten men after Delph was shown a second yellow card for a clumsy foul on Capoue.  The resulting free kick was repelled as far as Capoue who shot over the target.

Danny Welbeck back in action

Each side then made a change with Keane replacing Calvert-Lewin for the visitors and Success on for Pereyra for the home side.  The first contribution from Success was unimpressive, he lost out to Sidibé and so brought him down and was shown a yellow card for his trouble.  Pearson made his final change replacing Deulofeu with Pussetto.  Geri left the pitch by the goal in front of the Rookery and walked half the length of the stand where he was applauded the whole way around but didn’t once acknowledge the crowd.  Late in the game the Hornets had a few decent chances to regain the lead.  First a corner from Masina was cleared to Doucouré on the edge of the box, his shot was hit well but flew wide of the far post.  The next yellow card went to Mina, who was seriously annoying me, so I was glad to see him booked for a foul on Success.  The Hornets threatened again as a lovely free kick from Pussetto was punched clear to Capoue who squared for Doucouré whose shot was wide of the near post.  The visitors picked up another yellow card as Holgate was booked for a foul on Doucouré.  There was another half chance to grab a winner for the Hornets when they got the ball into the Everton box, but no Watford man could get a meaningful touch on it.  The Hornets had been pushing for the winner, but it was the visitors who took all three points with a goal in the 90th minute.  Masina lost out in the middle of the pitch, Richarlison advanced and played in Kean who moved the ball on to Walcott, at first he appeared to have run wide of the goal, but that proved to be wishful thinking on my part as he finished past Foster.  There was a roar of encouragement from the Watford faithful as the fourth official held up the board indicating 5 minutes of added time, but the Hornets created nothing of note in added time and the final whistle went to boos from the home fans.

Pussetto lines up a free kick

The reaction after the game was mostly anger.  Listening to fans as we left the ground, Nigel Pearson has gone from football genius to being utterly clueless.  Again, the withdrawal of Chalobah was questioned especially as he didn’t take advantage of the presence of Hughes on the bench who would have firmed up the midfield, but that could have been criticised as like-for-like when Pearson was making a change to the formation.  But most of the fury was directed towards the appearance of Success.  Given the amount of criticism Gray has attracted recently, I was rather amused to hear a comment that Andre must wonder what he has to do if Isaac is coming on ahead of him.  My assumption was that Success was brought on due to his strength and, given that Gray was awful at Tranmere, the greater likelihood that he would cause the Everton defence problems.  But when he does nothing it looks to be a poor substitution.

My great annoyance was at the fact that we have lost to Everton on three occasions this season and they haven’t had to play well in any of those games.  On Saturday we beat ourselves and that hurts.  We had scored two lovely goals in the first half and had kept Everton completely at bay through effective defending, but that was undone with some sloppy play at the end of the half.  Watford looked most likely to win the game late on, but we wasted our chances and one mistake allowed Everton the opportunity to grab the winner.

So, we are back in the bottom three and the visit to Brighton is looking to be crucial, given that it is followed by a trip to Old Trafford and the visit of Liverpool.  Consider me fickle, but I hate football again.

Should Have Stayed in the Pub with Prowsey

A rather gorgeous quilt at St George’s Hall

During the weeks that the rail companies are expecting leaves on the line my morning train to work leaves two minutes earlier than usual.  For someone who needs every minute in the mornings, this causes me issues.  As I prepared to leave the house with my bag packed for the overnight stay in Liverpool, I realised that I had forgotten something so, by the time I left, I was cutting it very fine.  Sure enough, I arrived at the station to see the train start to pull out.  As I had half an hour to wait for the next one, I decided to collect my tickets for the journey to Liverpool.  That was my second mistake of the morning as my credit card was damaged and became stuck in the machine, much to the displeasure of the woman in the ticket office.  At that point, I boarded my train, sat down with a coffee and hoped that was the end of my bad luck for the day.

After a shorter than anticipated morning at work, I arrived at Euston where I bumped into Mick Smithers, our Police liaison officer.  I almost didn’t recognise him as he was in civvies.  We had a chat speculating on the likely small away attendance and then went our separate ways.  I caught up with Adam, my travelling companion for the day, on the train and we settled down for the journey north.

As we arrived too early to head for the pub, I tried to do something cultural.  I didn’t fancy the clothing exhibition at the Walker, so headed for St George’s Hall as we believed there was a photography exhibition there.  The signage wasn’t good, so we scaled the three flights, had a look around the courtroom and into the gallery before descending and finding that the exhibition was on the ground floor.  It was diverting enough, but I found myself spending more time with the educational display about crime and punishment in Victorian Liverpool.  Of particular interest there were the cautionary tales of the punishment of habitual drunks, most of whom appeared to be female.   With this still fresh in my mind, we headed for the pub where we met up with Mike.

While sitting in the pub, we saw a man knocking on the window trying to attract someone’s attention.  The young lad sitting behind us went out to see him and returned to inform us that he had been summoned to see the Watford team boarding their coach which was parked opposite the pub.  It was only about 75 minutes to kick-off, so it seemed that they were also cutting it a bit fine.

Gomes back in goal

I am a big fan of the musician Ian Prowse of Amsterdam and Pele.  It just so happens that Mike is a friend of his, having worked with him on an educational video some years ago.  Ian had promised to drop in to say hello, but as time went on it appeared that he had found something better to do.  Just as we had given up on him, he appeared and told a few stories as only Scousers (and the Irish) can.  It was very tempting to get another drink and stay in the pub with him, but we dutifully headed to the ground at the appointed hour.

The seats that we had been allocated were at the back of the stand, so the view was somewhat restricted by the low roof.  Luckily, due to the small crowd, we were able to find seats at the front of the block where we could see most of the pitch (around the pillars) and at least we could sit when the ball was down our end.

Team news was that Quique had made eight changes but was sticking with first team players.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Cathcart; Foulquier, Chalobah, Quina, Hughes, Femenía; Pereyra, Gray.  Dalby, who has been impressing in the U23s had travelled with the team but only made the bench.

Kiko takes a throw-in

Everton had an early chance as a counter-attack finished with a shot from Kean that was blocked by Cathcart.  A mistake from Richarlison was greeted with jeers from the travelling Watford fans, which set the tone for the game as he was booed every time he touched the ball.  The animosity towards that young lad really baffles me.  Watford’s first chance came in the 17th minute, a low cross from Pereyra reached Quina at the far post, but he couldn’t sort his feet out and could only turn his shot wide.  It was a very cagey first half, so the next action of note was after half an hour.  Pereyra intercepted the ball, found Chalobah, who hesitated before shooting and was crowded out, the ball broke to Foulquier who won a throw.  The throw-in reached Pereyra, whose shot was very poor.  The fact that this uninspiring passage of play was deemed worthy of note highlights how poor the rest of the half had been.  At the other end a cross from Iwobi was easily caught by Gomes.  Each side was forced to make a substitution towards the end of the half.  Quina, who had been struggling for a while, made way for Doucouré and Mina was replaced by Keane.  The home side had a chance to open the scoring just before half time when Hornets gave the ball away on the edge of the box allowing Iwobi to get in a shot, but Gomes made the catch.

Pereyra prepares to take a corner

So the half ended goalless.  It had been a very dull half of football, and the cagey approach had led to a shout from behind me of “Don’t play for 0-0, it’s a cup game.”  There were some suggesting that the game should go straight to penalties rather than making us sit through another half of tedium, but we weren’t to be so lucky.

Everton made their second substitution at the break as Walcott replaced Kean.  On 54 minutes, Watford had the best chance of the game so far, and their first shot on target, as Gray went on a run before hitting a powerful shot that required a good save from Pickford to keep it out.  Then Gray tried to play Doucouré in, but it was a poor pass that was easily dealt with.  Everton had a decent chance from a Digne free kick, Keane had a free header, but he headed downwards and it bounced into the arms of Gomes.  Then Hughes picked up a loose ball and released Gray who played a square ball which went begging.    At the other end, Digne tried a low shot, but Gomes was down to gather.  The home side should have taken the lead when Richarlison cut the ball back to Gomes but the shot was cleared off the line by Mariappa.  Watford made another substitution bringing Kabasele on for Prödl.

Dmitri Foulquier

The second half was much livelier than the first but, unfortunately, it was the home side who were creating the most threat.  Their next chance came from a shot from Iwobi that rebounded off the crossbar.  Flores made his final change and it became clear that we were not to see U23 goal machine, Sam Dalby, instead Deulofeu replaced Pereyra.  The Spaniard took to the field to applause from the Everton fans.  That warm greeting for former players used to be the practice among Watford fans, I don’t know when we morphed into a group who jeer nastily.  The first booking of the game went to Doucouré for a foul on Gomes.  Digne took the free kick which was deflected off the Watford wall and, again, the crossbar saved us.  Everton took the lead in the 72nd minute as Walcott crossed for Holgate to head home.  The goal was greeted with a sense of resignation in the away end.  It had been coming and, given what had gone before, it seemed highly unlikely that Watford would get back into the game.  Silva made his final substitution bringing Tosun on in place of Calvert-Lewin.  Everton won a free kick in a dangerous position but, before they could take it, Hughes required treatment, which was of some concern as the Hornets had already used all of their substitutes.  When the free kick was eventually taken, it was a terrible delivery that flew wide of the near post.  As the game reached the 90 minute mark, Mariappa was booked for a clumsy tackle.  He protested the decision, I have no idea why.  There was 4 minutes of added time which was not welcomed in the away end.  The Hornets did have a half chance to draw level when Deulofeu exchanged passes with Chalobah, but his shot was straight at a defender.  Instead Everton broke downfield and Tosun fed Richarlison who finished past his mentor, Gomes, to seal the win for the Toffees.  The travelling Watford fans streamed out at that point.  I did stay around long enough to applaud the team off.  There was some consolation for the fans who had stayed to the bitter end as a number of the players came over to give away their shirts.

Deulofeu comes over to take a corner

We headed back to the pub a disappointed bunch.  It had been a miserable performance.  Everton were very poor, but we were worse.  Apart from the Gray shot early in the second half, we didn’t look likely to test Pickford.  That is what I am finding so frustrating this season.  Even if we are short on strikers, we have players who can create chances and they aren’t doing so.  The cup defeat means that we can now concentrate on the league, but I am increasingly concerned that this is a relegation season in the making.  We often joke about staying in the pub rather than going to the game and I couldn’t help thinking that we would have had a lot more entertainment if we had continued drinking with Prowsey.

On Wednesday, I had a lazy morning but caught a train in time to get to work for the afternoon.  At least that was the plan, but a combination of a broken-down train on the line and signal failure meant that I didn’t arrive back in London until after 3:30, so ended up having to book another half day off work for a game that certainly wasn’t worth using that much holiday.  This was certainly not the best trip I have ever been on.

Another Defeat at Goodison Park

Troy leading the team out at Goodison Park

As is usual for games in Liverpool, I went up on Friday to see an old friend.  Lots of catching up and a scary amount of reminiscing about a play that we were involved in during sixth form and a pub that we both worked in.  The locals were a cast of characters whose names and catch phrases we both remembered, while struggling to recall what play I saw last week (actually, it was Blues in the Night at the Kiln Theatre, very good).

Saturday lunchtime, I bid them farewell before heading to the designated pub.  As planned, I arrived just before 1 and was greeted with questions about where on earth I had been to be so late.  Our travelling group was rather depleted for this game, but we were joined by the Happy Valley crowd so the turnout was respectable.  As usual, both the beer and the food were excellent, but we were a little concerned that there was no sign of the shuttle buses to the ground that are usually lined up outside.  On leaving the pub we spotted a steward who directed us to the new boarding place, so we were at Goodison in plenty of time.  As we passed through the fan zone, it was lovely to hear Z-cars, even if it wasn’t for us.

Foster takes a free kick

Team news was that Gracia had made only one change from the Brighton game with Pereyra in for Gray.  So, Watford’s starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.  Dropping Gray seemed a bit harsh after his great pre-season, it wasn’t his fault that he had no service last week.  That said, it was pleasing to see both Quina and Welbeck on the bench.  The home side had Richarlison in the starting line-up and, of course, our previous manager in the dug-out.

Everton had placed flags at each seat in the home stands which were to be waved as the players emerged from the tunnel.  It has to be said that they were not a patch on the flags at Vicarage Road.  Maybe we were unlucky with our positioning, but we were surrounded by some of the worst of our fan base and started the game with our ears being assaulted by an abusive song aimed at Silva.  Now I have no love at all for the man, but he won’t give a damn what we think about him (that was obvious when he left), neither will the Everton fans, so chanting abuse at him is totally futile and detracts from supporting our own team.

Roberto Pereyra

The Hornets started well and had an early chance as Deulofeu won a tackle in the midfield, then hared upfield before trying to play Deeney in, but, unfortunately, the pass was overhit.  The Watford defence were guilty of complacency as they paid no attention when an Everton corner looked to be rolling out on the opposite side of the goal, they had missed the presence of Digne who managed to keep the ball in before shooting just wide of the near post.   Everton took the lead in the 10th minute and it was too easy.  Digne found Bernard on the left, he cut inside, moved the ball onto his right foot and slotted it just inside the near post.  At the time, it looked as though Foster should have done better, but his view was likely blocked by the defenders and it seems that the shot also took a deflection.  But it was not a good start and, given our record at Goodison Park, I was not hopeful.  The first booking of the game also went to the home side as Coleman was cautioned for a foul on Pereyra.  Watford had a great chance to score an equaliser as a deep corner from Holebas was met by the head of Dawson, but his effort rebounded off the crossbar.  There was a half-hearted appeal for a penalty from the home side as Calvert-Lewin tumbled in the box, but the referee was having none of it and VAR didn’t get involved.  At this point the chants for Danny Welbeck started in the away end.

Lining up to meet a free kick

The next caution of the game was earned by Capoue for a foul on former teammate, Richarlison.  The lively Deulofeu made another foray into the Everton box, but was crowded out by the defence.  The Hornets won a free kick in a dangerous position as Hughes was fouled on the edge of the box, but Holebas wasted the chance with his delivery flying wide of the far post.  Watford also had a shout for a penalty as Deulofeu went down in the box.  On this occasion VAR was invoked, which prompted a loud voice behind me to declare that they were never going to give the penalty as they wouldn’t humiliate the referee.  I must say that this was a new take on VAR for me.  Maybe they had a point, though, as the penalty wasn’t given.  The Hornets had a great chance to draw level as Deeney played the ball back to Capoue whose powerful shot required a decent save from Pickford to keep it out.   At the other end, Richarlison should have extended the lead for the home side as he got on the end of a free kick from Sigurdsson and was allowed a free header which, thankfully, cleared the bar.  Some good work from Pereyra on the left led to him winning a free kick.  The delivery from Deulofeu was excellent, but Capoue was unable to connect so the chance went begging.  In time added on at the end of the half, Hughes found Deeney whose shot was blocked, he claimed by a hand, but the referee wasn’t moved.

So we reached half time a goal down, although the performance from the Hornets was considerably better than last week, and we were unlucky to be behind.  As the substitutes came out to warm-up during the break, there were cheers and applause for Welbeck.

Deulofeu prepares to take a free kick

The second half started with a card for Gomes for a foul on Capoue.  Watford had a great chance to equalise when Capoue broke forward and found Deulofeu, who played a lovely ball through to Deeney, who was one on one with the goalkeeper, but his shot was blocked by Pickford’s face.  So frustrating (and painful for the Everton keeper).   Holebas then picked up his booking, again for a foul on Richarlison.  The young Brazilian had a chance to extend their lead but, again, his header from a free kick was over the bar.  On the hour mark, Pereyra wasted a decent attack by theatrically falling to the ground due to the presence of Sigurdsson.  It was a pathetic dive and thoroughly deserving of the yellow card that was brandished. The first substitution was made by the home side as Walcott replaced Richarlison, the former Watford man leaving the field to jeers from the hard of thinking among the away crowd.  Another decent chance for the Hornets ended with a bit of head tennis as Doucouré knocked the ball on to Pereyra whose effort cleared the bar.  Gracia made his first substitution on 67 minutes bringing Welbeck on for his debut in place of Hughes.  Danny’s first touch was less than accomplished and, hey presto, the ‘answer’ was transformed into a donkey in the eyes of some in our vicinity.

Welbeck waits for the ball to drop

For the home side Kean replaced Calvert-Lewin and, almost immediately, Silva was forced to make his final substitution as an injury to Digne meant he had to be replaced by Holgate.  Welbeck’s next contribution was decent enough as he found Deulofeu but the Spaniard’s shot was well over the bar.  That was Gerry’s last involvement in the game as he was replaced by Cleverley and, in contrast to the jeering of Richarlison by a large number of those in the away end, he was applauded off by the Everton fans.  Watford wasted another chance to get back on terms when Femenía put in a decent cross, but there was no Watford player in the box to meet it, so it was an easy catch for Pickford.  Gracia made a final change for the Hornets bringing Gray on for Capoue, meaning there were 3 strikers on the pitch.  Unfortunately, it did not lead to a goal with the best chance coming when a shot from Deeney was blocked and broke to Doucouré but his shot was well wide of the target.  Everton had a chance to increase their lead when Kean went on a dangerous run but, as so often in this game, the shot was well wide.  Kean had another chance to increase the Everton lead in time added on and, from my vantage point, I thought that the ball was in the net and had been ruled out for offside.  Replays showed that it had rolled just the other side of the post.  The final whistle went on a narrow defeat and, thankfully, there was just a smattering of boos.

Etienne Capoue

We headed back into town for a quick drink prior to catching the train home.  The post-match consensus was that we were unlucky not to get a point from the game.  While it wasn’t a great performance, it was considerably better than the previous week and there were certainly some positives.  The midfield looked far more effective, particularly Deulofeu, but the defence remained fragile.  The two Craigs do not seem to be gelling.  That said, Everton’s shooting was pretty woeful throughout the game.   The biggest disappointment was that they were there for the taking, but we couldn’t capitalise as their defence was the difference between the teams.

There was also some discussion of the away crowd.  The protracted and pathetic abuse of Silva and Richarlison contrasted badly with the warm reception that the Everton fans gave both Deulofeu and Cleverley.  Then, when they weren’t abusing former players, they turned on ours.  Dawson seems to be a particular target for the boo boys at the moment, but what really rankled was the moaning about Welbeck.  He is clearly rusty and will take a while to get back to fitness, but he looks like he will be a great asset to us.  I am already excited about his partnership with Deeney, and there were some early signs that they are already forming an understanding.

So we finish the weekend bottom of the Premier League due to our name starting with W, although the table is not worth a look until at least four games have been played.  I hope at that stage things are looking a bit brighter or I might have to stop going to away games as the moaning is bad for my health.

 

The Return of Silva

Deeney versus Keane

The return of Marco Silva to Vicarage Road had been hotly anticipated, although his recent on-field problems had led to many Watford fans being concerned that he may be sacked before they played us.  There had been some negative reports in the press relating to a fans forum that had taken place in a London pub during the week.  These related to some very innocuous comments that Deeney had made when asked whether the players knew what the Everton game meant to the fans.  He basically said that the fans shouldn’t have a go at Everton as it would motivate them, but that the players would do the job (I’m paraphrasing here).  He was also very positive in talking about Richarlison, saying he had done nothing wrong.  Sadly the language that he had used was a little ripe, so the reports built his comments into an attack that provided a rallying cry for Everton, which was a shame as it was nothing of the kind.  On the subject of that forum, Scott Duxbury, Fillippo Giraldi and Troy Deeney came along to a London pub on a Wednesday night to answer questions fired at them from a crowd of fans.  This took place in a crowded bar and I have to give credit to them all for coming along and answering all of the questions openly and honestly.  It was a tremendous evening.

Saturday and we were back to the West Herts for our only home game in February.  While we may be only occasional visitors at the moment, it is always lovely to gather at ‘our’ table and the beer and jerk chicken were both excellent.

Holebas takes a throw in

Team news was that Gracia had made just the one change from the Brighton game with the welcome return of Doucouré in place of Cleverley.  I must admit that I was a bit disappointed to hear that Femenía hadn’t even made the bench.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Sema; Deulofeu and Deeney.  This would be Holebas’s 100th appearance for the club.  Everton’s starting XI included Richarlison, the announcement of whose name was met with a mixture of boos and applause.  Emma Saunders then welcomed Marco Silva back, which elicited only boos.  On the way into the ground I couldn’t help noticing how many fans had turned up with plastic snakes.

As the teams came out, the “Audentior” banner was raised over the middle of the Rookery.  We were under this when the announcement was made of a minute’s appreciation for Emiliano Sala, which was honoured with applause from those of us under the flag.

Deulofeu orchestrates proceedings

Watford had a great chance to take the lead in the 10th minute as Janmaat crossed for Deeney who chested the ball down to Capoue but the shot from close range was turned over the bar by Pickford.  At the other end a dangerous cross from Richarlison was headed clear by Mariappa before it could reach Tosun.  Richarlison went down rather too easily (nothing new there) to win a free kick.  Digne’s effort reached Keane who headed goalwards, but it was an easy save for Foster.  The visitors had another chance as Zouma latched on to a cross from Digne, it was a much better header but Foster was equal to it.  At the other end a cross from Hughes went straight to the keeper.  Watford then made problems for themselves as a misplaced pass, while trying to clear the ball, led to Tosun gaining possession, thankfully his powerful shot was stopped by Foster.  Watford then had a chance as Deulofeu crossed towards Hughes, but Zouma intervened and headed over the bar.  Deulofeu threatened again, this time his shot was blocked.  Watford could have taken the lead in the last minute of the half as Pickford dropped a free kick, but they couldn’t capitalise on the mistake so the half ended goalless.

Steve Sherwood was the guest for the half time draw.  He will still have nightmares over a certain game against Everton, so it was very gratifying to see the incredible reception that he was given as he walked along the front of the Rookery.  He looked very happy as he applauded the fans back.

Goal celebration with Chalobah very happy for Gray

At the start of the second half, Gracia replaced Sema with Gray, a positive move.  Everton had the first chance of the second half with a shot from Sigurdsson that hit the top of the crossbar.  Holebas then tried his luck with a shot from outside the area that flew wide of the far post.  A deep corner from Holebas caused Pickford some concern, but the ball bounced off an Everton player for a corner which wasn’t given as the referee believed there had been a push on the keeper.  Just after the hour mark, the visitors made their first change bringing Walcott on for Gomes.  Watford had another decent chance with an angled shot from Holebas that flew just wide of the target as Deeney was bearing down on goal but couldn’t quite reach it.  The goal came on 65 minutes and started with a gorgeous pass by Cathcart to Hughes who put in a low cross for Gray to power past Pickford from close range and send the Hornets fans wild.  Marco Silva was then serenaded with a chorus of “Sacked in the morning.”  Before the restart, Richarlison was replaced by Bernard and left the field to a chorus of “50 million, you’re having a laugh.”  I must say that I felt sorry for young Ricky.  He had started brightly enough, but soon found himself in Holebas’s pocket and was reduced to falling over looking for sympathy which quickly elicited the opposite reaction.  Deeney received the first booking of the game for a challenge on Zouma.

Doucoure and Janmaat taking a breather

Watford had a chance to grab a second when a Holebas corner was cleared to Mariappa whose shot cleared the bar.  Silva made another change with 15 minutes remaining, bringing Calvert-Lewin on for Sigurdsson.  Everton attempted to hit back as a cross from Walcott found Tosun, but his shot flew wide of the target.  Gracia made his second substitution bringing Cleverley on for Deulofeu, who had had another frustrating afternoon.  Holebas received his 10th booking of the season for a push on Walcott.  It was needless and means that we will lose him for two games, just when he is in such tremendous form.  The resultant free kick rebounded off the top of the crossbar, but it had never looked likely to trouble Foster.   Zouma wrestled Hughes off the ball in midfield, which was completely within the laws of the game according to Lee Probert, so he was allowed to break upfield and cross for Calvert-Lewin who, thankfully, headed wide of the target.  Gracia made his final change in the last minute of normal time, bringing Chalobah on for Hughes.  There were four minutes of added time during which Everton had a couple of chances to gain a point.  First a free kick from Digne was headed goalwards by Calvert-Lewin, but Foster was behind it.  In the last minute of added time, Bernard crossed for Tosun whose header looked as though it was flying in, so there were a lot of very relieved Hornets when the ball cleared the bar, although Tosun was in an offside position so any goal would have been disallowed, but we didn’t know that as our hearts raced.

Deeney, Cathcart and Capoue gather for a corner

The final whistle went to tremendous celebrations among the Watford fans, who belted out “Javi Gracia, he’s better than you,” with a renewed vigour.  Mariappa came over, as he usually does, and gave his shirt to a young fan, before a tremendous fist pumping celebration that showed exactly what this win meant.  As icing on the cake, Zouma, who had been a niggly and unpleasant presence during the game, had words with the referee after the final whistle and earned himself two yellow cards and a sending off.

As we walked along Vicarage Road away from the ground, we could see something going on by the Everton coaches.  There was a crowd by the cemetery wall looking in and first reports were that there had been a stabbing, although that was proved wrong after the game.  But two Watford fans were hospitalised, one with a nasty head injury.  As someone who started to go to football matches in 1979, these scenes were seen on a weekly basis in those days but had become a rarity in recent times.  I really hope that it remains that way.

That was a sad end to what had been a good day.  It hadn’t been a classic game by any stretch of the imagination, but the Marco Silva factor meant that there was an edge to the game that spurred on both the crowd and the players.  The second half had been much better for the Hornets.  The introduction of Andre Gray made a difference, he was linking up well with Deeney and took his goal very well.  The defence had been superb.  Both Cathcart and Mariappa were assured and solid.  Holebas was magnificent, giving Richarlison no room to play.  And Janmaat was excellent, making my pre-game disappointment at the absence of Femenía look rather foolish.  The return of Doucouré was very welcome, he makes such a difference especially as he allows Capoue to shine.  So, not a brilliant performance, but still very pleasing and a deserved win against a team that were thought to be a step up for Marco Silva last season.

We go into the FA Cup weekend comfortably in 8th place.  It will be very interesting to see what the team is next week, but we have to give of our best as, for a team in our position, a cup run can only be a positive thing.

Battling Snakes on a Monday Night

Holebas launches a throw-in

A Monday night game at Everton was a good excuse for a weekend in Liverpool.  Things didn’t go quite to plan, but I had a fun weekend of comedy, music, art, film and hoped to finish it with a decent game of football.  After a lovely morning at the Tate and visiting the studio of an artist friend of a friend on the waterfront, I returned to the hotel to meet up with our much depleted party.  We were in the pub bright and early and found a table in our usual area where we were soon joined by a number of North-West and Happy Valley Horns, travelling fans who so rarely see us win in their neck of the woods.

Team news was that Gracia had made two changes with Sema and Quina (both making their Premier League debuts) replacing Hughes (who had picked up an injury against Man City) and Chalobah.  I must say that the inclusion of Sema was a surprise to everyone.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Doucouré, Quina, Sema; Deeney, Success.  Needless to say, the Everton line-up included former Watford starlet, Richarlison, and our former manager, Marco Silva, was in the home dugout.  It was clear that neither of them was going to get a good reception from the travelling Hornets, which was more understandable for Silva than for Richarlison who made the club a tidy sum when he was sold.

The meal voucher from the club

As we entered through the turnstiles, we were greeted by Dave Messenger who was handing out vouchers for £10 for food and drink.  A really lovely gesture from the club to reward those who had made the journey to Liverpool on a Monday night.  The smallish crowd meant that it was like the old days in the away stand, with us able to take any seat we wanted.  So we headed to an empty section further back where we could stretch out and move about in comfort.  Bliss!

On arrival at the ground, I had discovered that I did not have my purse with me.  The inconvenience of having to cancel and replace cards was overwhelmed by the fact that I now had no cash and no train ticket home.  My first thought was that I had left it on the bus to the ground, but a few minutes into the game I remembered exactly where I had left it.  A quick call to the pub to tell them that a wallet bearing a Watford crest had been left on an armchair by the fire and they confirmed that they had it and it would be behind the bar on my return.

Panic over, I was able to concentrate on the match, the start of which had been dominated by chants against Silva and Richarlison.  A number in the crowd had brought snakes with them to wave at Silva, which led to my first experience of seeing an inflatable snake being confiscated in a football ground.

Doucoure, Cathcart and Deeney in the box

There was an early chance for each side as, first, Pereyra had a shot from the edge of the box that was held by the Everton keeper, Pickford.  Then Walcott met a cross from Digne with a header that was easily saved by Foster.  The home side took the lead in the 15th minute when Gomes cut the ball back to Richarlison who blasted the ball past Foster.  The young Brazilian celebrated by patting the badge over his heart.  Oh Ricky, what a short memory you have.  Watford should have equalized within a couple of minutes as Quina crossed for Deeney who, with an open goal in front of him, somehow managed to clear the bar with his shot.  Richarlison could have had a second soon after, but a tremendous block by Holebas averted the danger.  The first caution of the game went to Everton’s Mina who had handled a cross from Sigurdsson.  Watford had a decent chance to draw level as a cross from Sema was met by Pereyra but his header was just wide of the target.  Watford threatened again as a cross from Femenía fell to Deeney whose shot was blocked by Mina for a corner.  Deeney was then in action at the other end of the pitch, snuffing out an Everton attack with a great tackle.  Richarlison then tangled with Kabasele and, as is his wont, executed an outrageous dive (not his first of the evening).  Kabasele’s expression as they made their way back upfield in conversation indicated that he was letting his former team mate know exactly what he thought of his actions.  Watford had a great chance to grab an equaliser just before half time as Deeney received a long ball from Quina but he volleyed just wide.  In the minute added on at the end of the half, Deeney found Success on the edge of the box where he was fouled by Mina.  If the referee had given the free kick, he would have had to show Mina a second yellow and Everton would have been down to ten men, but he waved play on and the half-time whistle went with the Hornets a goal down and feeling rather aggrieved.

Sema lines up a free kick

It had been a decent half of football.  The home side had dominated the early exchanges, but the Hornets had grown into the game and were the better side at the end of the half.  The half time discussion was around two crucial decisions and benefited from reports from those watching at home.  By all accounts, Everton’s goal should have been disallowed as Walcott, who had been involved in the build-up, had been in an off-side position.  So, that and the fact that Mina had got away with an obvious foul on Success that should have earned us a free kick and him a second yellow card, meant we were feeling very hard done by.

At half time, the shoot-out involved a lad in a wheelchair, which was rather lovely.

The first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets as Pereyra hit a free-kick that went into the side-netting, although a good number in the away end were celebrating as they thought it had gone in.  Watford continued to threaten as a long throw reached Doucouré in the box, but his shot was blocked.  Then Deeney played a one-two with Doucouré before taking a shot, but Pickford was down to make the save.  Gracia made his first change just before the hour mark with Sema making way for Deulofeu.

Celebrating the first Watford goal

I won’t say that the substitution was inspired, but the Hornets equalised on 63 minutes as Femenía crossed for Pereyra, whose shot hit the post but rebounded out to Coleman and bounced off the Everton man into the net.  For once it felt like luck was on our side and it has to be said that the equaliser was well deserved.  But that wasn’t the end of it, as the Hornets took the lead a couple of minutes later as Pereyra crossed for Doucouré who rose above the defence and headed past Pickford.  Needless to say, the celebrations in the away end were brilliant.  When the travelling Hornets started chants of “Silva, what’s the score?”  I couldn’t help feeling uneasy.  It is never a good idea to crow over the opposition that early in the game.  Sure enough, while I was distracted noting that Calvert-Lewin had come on for Bernard, I heard a cheer from the home fans.  At first I thought that they had scored, but it then became clear that the referee had awarded a penalty for a foul by Kabasele on Mina.  I had everything crossed as Sigurdsson stepped up to take the spot kick and was joy was unconfined when the shot was saved by Foster’s trailing leg.  In the confusion, I had missed that Silva had made a double substitution, as Walcott had made way for Lookman.  Quina, who had impressed on the ball, also showed what he can contribute to the defence as he tackled Richarlison in the box.

Holebas congratulates Doucoure on his goal

Each side made another substitution as Everton brought Tosun on for Gueye and Success made way for Chalobah for the Hornets.  The Watford man’s first action of note was to get booked for time wasting.  Richarlison looked to bring the home side level as he ran on to a ball into the box, but Foster was out to save at his feet.  As the clock ran down, Everton won a series of corners, but only one (a Sigurdsson header from a Coleman cross) required a save from Foster.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, the board for extra time was held up indicating 6 minutes.  Oh, for goodness sake, my nerves were already in tatters.  Gracia made a final substitution replacing Quina with Mariappa.  Just when we thought we would finally see a win at Goodison Park, Kabasele needlessly handled a long forward ball and the referee awarded a free kick on the edge of the area.  Again, I had everything crossed, but when Digne stepped up I knew that there was only one outcome and, sure enough, his free kick cleared the wall and found the top corner to level the game.  There was just time for one last attack from the visitors as Deulofeu surged forward and found Pereyra, but he could only direct his shot across the front of the goal and the game ended in a draw.

Several of the players dropped to the turf in despair at the end of the game.  Most notably Holebas, who didn’t move for ages until Zigor Aranalde went over to commiserate when he reacted angrily.  The players were right to be angry and upset.  They had done more than enough to win the game and had been easily the better team in the second half.  But they were beaten by a mistake from the officials and a moment of madness from Kabasele.

Deeney and Success wait for a ball into the box

We headed back to the pub, where my purse was returned to me, so the least I could do was to buy a round.  We then settled down to analyse the game.  The overwhelming feeling was one of frustration.  It had been a terrific evening’s entertainment and if someone had offered me a point before the game, I would have bitten their hand off.  But, after that performance we deserved to come away with all three points.  Concentrating on the positives, Pereyra and Doucouré both put in their best performances in some time.  Quina continues to impress, for such a young man he plays with great assurance and is a tremendous addition to our squad.  Watford were clearly the better team, but we have to start translating that into victories.  This is a likeable and talented team, probably the best that Watford have ever had.  But the players are also working hard, so surely it must only be a matter of time before the talent translates into positive results.  Please let that start against Cardiff on Saturday.

Revenge on the Toffees is Sweet

Terry Challis painting/collage of GT

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

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

Doucoure on the ball

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

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

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

Pereyra and Deulofeu preparing for a free kick

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

Okaka and Prodl challenging at a corner

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

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

Femenia congratulating Deeney

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

Deulofeu ready to take a corner

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

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

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

 

That Was for You, Graham

Pre-match huddle at the Emirates

Pre-match huddle at the Emirates

In Graham Taylor’s first period in charge, wins against the Gunners were commonplace, but times have changed and we travelled to the Emirates with very little hope of anything other than a harsh defeat.  After the dreadful game on Sunday, I had spent my day at work with a very heavy heart, wondering why I was subjecting myself and, more importantly, my niece to another night of misery.  The fact that the club had decided not to move the game to Wednesday, despite playing on Sunday, seemed to indicate that they had written it off and would concentrate their efforts on Saturday’s game at home to Burnley.

The match had taken on an extra significance as it was on the eve of GT’s funeral.  For that reason, the scarf that I bought from Peter Percy in Hemel in 1979, which has not left the house in many a year, got an airing.

Pre-match the City Orns gathered and shared predictions.  Most were for a heavy defeat.  Mike mentioned that he had got in the habit of betting on 2-1 for every game, but thought he’d give it a miss for this one.

Team news was that there were nine changes from Sunday, with only Britos and Kaboul keeping their places.  This would be our first chance to see our intriguing new signing, M’Baye Niang.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Behrami; Janmaat, Cleverley, Capoue, Niang; and Deeney lining up in a 4-1-4-1 formation.

Returning upfield for the restart after taking the lead

Returning upfield for the restart after taking the lead

There was a positive start to the game from the Hornets, but it took us all by surprise when Cleverley played a short free kick to Kaboul who, with the assistance of a slight deflection, fired past Cech to put the Hornets into a totally unexpected lead.  I couldn’t help but despair at the modern football fan, as the away crowd decided that the most appropriate chant to celebrate going a goal up against Arsenal at the Emirates was “How sh*t must you be, we’re winning away.”  The voice of reason/Cassandra next to me warned, “It’s too early.”  But, no sooner had we come to terms with the fact that we had scored, than we had a second.  Capoue went on a storming run from the halfway line, his shot was blocked by Cech, but rebounded to Deeney who poked it into the empty net.  This goal was greeted with a mental celebration and “This is the best trip I’ve ever been on.”  Much better.  There was a long way to go, but this was incredibly impressive from the Hornets.  The home side were forced into an early substitution as Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for the Ramsey, who had picked up an injury.  The Arsenal players were becoming increasingly frustrated as Watford continued to dominate, and Gabriel was booked for hacking down Niang.  My heart was in my mouth as Monreal went down in the Watford box.  The referee blew up and I thought he was about to point to the spot but, instead, he pointed at the Arsenal man and brandished a yellow card for diving.

Cleverley takes a free kick

Cleverley takes a free kick

Watford continued to threaten the Arsenal goal as Janmaat played a short pass to Capoue on the edge of the area, but his shot was comfortably saved by Cech.  The Frenchman then went on another run, this time down the wing to the byline, before crossing for Prödl whose header had to be tipped over by Cech.  Watford had another great chance to increase their lead after a corner was repelled to Britos, who belted a shot that was blocked by Giroud.  Janmaat was the next to try his luck, meeting a cross from Deeney with a shot that required a great save from Cech to keep it out.  Capoue, who was playing a blinder, again won the ball in midfield before finding Janmaat who crossed for Niang, whose first shot for the Hornets flew over the bar.  There was a rare foray by the home side into the Watford box, but Sánchez’s effort was well over the bar.  The Chilean had another chance to threaten the Watford goal when he received the ball in the box, but Cathcart just took it off his feet.

The half time whistle went to finish a breathtaking half of football from the Hornets.  The slow, ponderous performance we witnessed in the Millwall game had been replaced with all action attacking married to a pressing defence, and it was an absolute joy to watch. At half time, the fans in the concourse were bouncing and celebrating loudly.  I saw Pam.  Her response to my question “Where did that come from?” was an emotional, “GT.”

Deeney and Niang waiting for the ball to drop

Deeney and Niang waiting for the ball to drop

Wenger made a substitution at the start of the second half, replacing Giroud with Walcott.  The substitute was involved almost immediately as a ball from Koscielny found him on the right of the box, but his shot was wide of the near post.  Arsenal were a changed team since the restart and Iwobi beat Cathcart on the wing before crossing for Walcott whose shot was blocked by Gomes.  The Watford keeper was in action again soon after, stretching out a hand to grab a shot from Iwobi.  Özil was the next to threaten the Watford goal with a shot from the edge of the box, but Gomes was equal to it.  The home side finally got the breakthrough on 58 minutes as Sánchez chipped a ball over the defence to Iwobi who volleyed in off the post.  Mazzarri’s first substitution was an odd one, replacing Behrami, who had been excellent, with Doucouré.  I can only think that Behrami was flagging as I would have preferred his defensive presence.  Watford had a rare second half attack as Deeney ran into the box before going to ground, but the referee waved play on.  Both sides made substitutions around the midpoint of the half with Lucas replacing Coquelin for Arsenal and Watford new boy, Niang, making way for Success.  The customary chants and applause for GT rang out soon after, although they were a minute early by my reckoning.  Arsenal’s next goal chance came with a shot from distance by Gabriel, which flew a mile over the bar.  At the other end a corner from Capoue was headed well wide by Cathcart.

Deeney

Deeney

At this point, my nerves were shot and I turned to my niece, “I’m too old for this!”  “I’m too young for this!” was the retort.  Into the last 10 minutes and Arsenal won a free kick on the edge of the Watford box.  It was in a dangerous position, so I was greatly relieved when it hit the wall and went out.  The resultant corner was headed out, but only as far as Monreal whose shot was, thankfully, well wide of the post.  Mazzarri’s second change was to replace Deeney with Okaka.  After the Italian’s poor showing on Sunday, I was doubtful about this change as well.  Lucas had a great chance to grab the equalizer as he latched on to a throw and unleashed a powerful shot that rebounded out from under the crossbar.  Having been counting the seconds since the Arsenal goal, it was almost physically painful to see the board held up informing us that we would have to survive for another five minutes.  But the nearest the home side came to the equalizer in time added on was a weak shot from Lucas that was easily gathered by Gomes.  As the various injury time stopwatches among the away crowd ran down to zero, Watford won a corner and there was hardly time to take it before the final whistle went to ecstatic cheers from the away end.  “That was for you, Graham,” yelled my sister, echoing the thoughts of every Watford fan in the ground.

Cleverley lines up a free kick

Cleverley lines up a free kick

As we applauded the players, I spotted a bloke in a black puffer jacket with a huge smile on his face.  Flipping heck, that’s Walter!  Although it has to be said that Paolo de Toffol completely outdid him in the mental celebration category.  All of the players came over to applaud the fans and to give their shirts away.  It had been a magnificent performance by the whole team.  The energy and attacking purpose in the first half had Arsenal in disarray.  In the second half, when the home side were in the ascendancy, the defence had been solid and well organized and Gomes was rarely troubled.  A special mention must go to Capoue who, having been largely anonymous for some time now, put in a man of the match performance running the Arsenal defence ragged, particularly in the first half.  The newcomer, Niang’s, debut was very pleasing with one particularly memorable moment when he beat Gabriel on the wing and went on a run that was only stopped when he was fouled.  On tonight’s showing, I am expecting great things from him.

As the crowd and the players celebrated together at the end of a wonderful night of football, there was only one chant that seemed appropriate and “One Graham Taylor” rang out from the away end.  This was a performance that he would have been proud of and there is no higher praise for a Watford team than that.

Pereyra Strikes in a Game of Two Halves

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

As I boarded the train at Euston on my way to the game, I assumed that it was standing room only as the vestibules were packed with blokes holding cans of beer.  Not at all, the Arsenal lads were starting the day as they meant to go on but were very polite as they moved to let the tutting old woman through to take her seat.  I thought I had timed things perfectly this week, but still managed to arrive at the West Herts before the doors opened.  There had been a recent change in their catering that meant, on the last two visits, all food was delivered in styrofoam cartons with plastic cutlery.  The horrors of adding to landfill meant that I bought lunch on the way to the game, only to find that they had reverted to using plates and metal cutlery.  Hoorah!!  Even better, after the brief loneliness of Tuesday evening, all the usual suspects were back in position.

Team news was that there were two changes from the Chelsea game.  Both in defence and both enforced (Cathcart had a groin injury and Britos’s partner was about to give birth).  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Kabasele; Amrabat, Guedioura, Capoue, Behrami, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.

Guedioura and Kaboul

Guedioura and Kaboul

The first notable action of the game was a foul by Amrabat on Sánchez in the box.  It was an age before the referee pointed to the spot which provoked fury among the home fans.  It has to be said that, even from our vantage point just behind the goal, we didn’t really see the challenge and it appeared that the dramatic reaction by the Arsenal player had influenced the referee, but footage of the incident showed that it was the correct decision.  Cazorla stepped up and sent Gomes the wrong way giving Arsenal an early lead and the Hornets a mountain to climb.  Kevin Friend, the referee, didn’t endear himself to the home crowd as Walcott appeared to run into Prödl and the Austrian was shown a yellow card.  Arsenal could have been two up as a cross from Bellerin was cleared off the line, then a shot from Walcott was saved.  Watford’s first goal chance came following a break from Amrabat whose cross was almost turned home by Koscielny but Cech managed to keep it out.  Deeney’s follow-up was just wide.  Soon after, a shot-cum-cross from Amrabat landed on the roof of the net.  Mr Friend had been very quick to blow his whistle for anything remotely resembling a challenge on an Arsenal player, so there was annoyance when Amrabat was knocked to the ground with no consequences.  This was compounded when the next challenge on Nordin, which looked powder puff, was punished with a free kick.  Watford had had a really good spell around the half hour culminating with a corner from Capoue that was headed just wide by Kabasele.

Capoue takes a corner

Capoue takes a corner

At the other end, Sánchez broke into the box and shot, but Gomes saved with his feet.  Against the run of play, Arsenal increased their lead with five minutes of the half remaining, as Sanchez met a cross from Walcott, the shot appeared to have been cleared off the line but, for the second game running, the goalline technology indicated that a goal had been scored.  The visitors could have been further ahead as Walcott had a shot from a tight angle saved by Gomes.   The third goal came in time added on at the end of the half as Özil appeared out of nowhere to head a Sánchez cross home.  It was a quality goal, but the scoreline was very harsh on the Hornets who had made a game of it once they had gone behind.  My reaction at half time was “Please make it stop.”  Most others among the home fans were booing the referee.

At the start of the second period we saw the introduction of Pereyra in place of Guedioura.  The lad who sits next to me remarked, “Unless he can walk on water, I’m not sure that he can live up to these levels of expectation.”  Soon after, the less heralded Janmaat replaced Kabasele.  Watford had a great chance to pull one back after some great work from Ighalo who beat a couple of challenges before passing to Amrabat who found Capoue whose powerful shot was saved by Cech.

Congratulating the new boy, Pereyra, on his goal

Congratulating the new boy, Pereyra, on his goal

Watford finally made the breakthrough on 57 minutes as a shot from Capoue was blocked, but the ball dropped to Pereyra who beat Cech to score with his first shot for the Hornets.  The home side could have pulled another one back when a lovely cross from Janmaat was met by Holebas whose shot required a good save from Cech to keep it out; Ighalo’s follow-up was blocked.  Watford had another great chance as a throw was headed on by an Arsenal player to Ighalo whose overhead kick was only just over the bar.  Amrabat’s last action of the game was a foul on Wilshere.  As he was about to be substituted he ran off the pitch and had to be recalled from the depths of the dugout to be shown the yellow card.  Well it made me smile.  Success was the player who took his place, and he almost made an immediate impact as he met a corner from Capoue with a header that flew just wide.  Pereyra, who had made an impressive debut, turned provider as he laid the ball off to Behrami who shot just wide.  At the other end, there was a rare second half chance for the Gunners as a mistake from Kaboul allowed Sánchez a shot on goal, but a flying save from Gomes stopped it.  As we reached time added on at the end of the second half, Arsenal received their first booking of the game as Wilshere was punished for a foul on Capoue.  This was met by loud, ironic cheers from the Rookery faithful.  In a game that was far from dirty, Watford had managed to amass 6 yellow cards while, Sánchez, who stats showed had committed the most fouls in the game, remained card-free.

An attacking corner

An attacking corner

The game finished to applause for the second half performance and boos for the officials.  As the players congratulated each other, it was interesting to see Gomes and Cech deep in conversation and then swapping shirts.

It had been a very encouraging performance from the Watford lads, especially in the second half.  Some commented that Arsenal were already three up at the start of the half so didn’t have to do much, but that seemed rather churlish and unfair to the guys who worked so hard and didn’t let their heads drop when 3 goals behind.  Amrabat and Capoue continue to perform well and the new guys all looked good.  If Pereyra didn’t actually walk on water he certainly showed why he is so widely admired within the game.  I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do once he gets to know his team mates.  Ighalo also had an encouraging game creating a couple of decent chances, which was pleasing to see.

Sadly, there was also confirmation of the news that Vydra had moved to Derby, so those that believed he was saying goodbye as he was substituted on Tuesday were proved correct.  This was rather disappointing if not surprising.  I must admit that, while I have very fond memories of that stunning half season, I have been a little surprised at the hero’s welcome that he has had on every appearance this season.  It is a real shame that he never built on the great start that he had.  He has a chance of a new start at Derby.  I wish him well and hope that he finally realizes his potential.

After the international break, we have the last of our run of nightmare games to start the season and it will be in the following run of games that we see what this team is capable of.  On the basis of this performance, I am very much looking forward to it.

A Day to Forget at the Emirates

Welcome to the Clock End

Welcome to the Clock End

Groundhog Day.  Three weeks after the trip to the Emirates for the FA Cup match, we were back in the league.  We arrived for pre match drinks to see a couple of early arrivals and, as time went on, others arrived and we gathered a good group before leaving for the game.  My niece, Amelia, was present for the pre-match festivities and I looked at her surrounded by all the old folk and commented, “This is the worst part of your day.”  How wrong I was.

On the tube to Arsenal, I met a former colleague.  After catching up on our career moves since last we met, he asked my prediction for the game.  “We won’t win.”

Arsenal’s new home is a bit of an oddity.  As you emerge from Arsenal station, it feels like a proper old school ground with narrow streets and lots of food outlets, as well as the requisite ticket touts.  Then you turn a corner and are faced with the bright shiny new stadium, which is an estate in and of itself.  As you walk past the statues and the celebratory cladding on the stadium, you have to weave in and out of the tourists taking selfies, something that would never have happened when we were regulars in the 80s.  We made our way to the away turnstiles to be greeted with a sign welcoming us.  Again, I couldn’t help thinking that wouldn’t have happened in the 80s.

Daddy and mascot Myles

Daddy and mascot Myles

As we found our seats in the stand, one immediately apparent difference from the cup game was that, due to the smaller allocation, we were only allocated seats in the lower tier, which has very shallow raking and would not be my choice.  Our one benefit was that we were near the corner flag so at least had some view of the game.

Team news was that Flores had made three changes bringing Prödl, Watson and Abdi in for Britos, Behrami and Jurado.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Suárez, Watson, Capoue, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.  Former loanee, Hector Bellerin, started for the Gunners and it has been a delight to see him establishing himself in the first team as that has been a rare experience for our former loanees from the ‘Top 4’.

As the teams came out I didn’t see the Watford mascot and it was only as they were kicking about that it was apparent that Myles Deeney had accompanied his Dad on to the pitch.  I was a bit disappointed that the only photo that I had was of the two of them walking away from me for the coin toss.  The disappointment disappeared when I saw the photo of Myles with “Daddy 9” on his shirt.  How lovely.

Ake takes a throw

Ake takes a throw

The Arsenal onslaught started in the first minute with the first real threat on goal being an early cross that was taken off the head of Welbeck by Cathcart.  But the Gunners were ahead on 4 minutes as a cross from Iwobi found Sánchez in space, Gomes saved the header but Alexis buried the rebound.  It was not a good start but, even that early in the game, it had been coming.  Watford spirits rose briefly as Suárez went on a run but his cross went begging as there was nobody in the box to meet it.  Arsenal had another decent chance, but this time Monreal headed a cross from Sánchez over the bar.  Then Welbeck broke into the box but his shot was between the legs of Nyom, which slowed it, allowing Gomes to gather easily.  Arsenal could have been two up when Welbeck played the ball back to Iwobi but his shot was stopped by a terrific save from Gomes who tipped it clear.  Arsenal had yet another chance as Özil played the ball back to Welbeck whose shot was deflected just wide.  So, with 15 minutes gone, the home side could have been three goals ahead.  Watford finally had an attempt on goal as Deeney connected with a cross from Nyom, but the shot was straight at Ospina.  Arsenal threatened again from a free kick that Sánchez curled over the wall and Gomes had to push to safety.  Just before the half hour, Suárez found Deeney who played a ball over the top to Ighalo but the Nigerian was offside.

Watson lays the ball off to Guedioura

Watson lays the ball off to Guedioura

At the other end, Welbeck squared a ball for Sánchez, but Cathcart was on hand to clear.  A rare foray into the Arsenal half saw Nyom cross for Abdi who was stretching to meet the ball and couldn’t manage a shot.  Arsenal had completely dominated the half but, just as it appeared that we would reach half time trailing by a single goal, Sánchez received the ball in space in the Watford box before cutting it back to Iwobi who buried the ball past Gomes.   Watford did try to strike back but Watson’s header down to Deeney found the striker in an offside position.  Flores made a substitution just before half time as Anya replaced Capoue who, due to his history with Spurs, left the field to boos from the home fans.  Arsenal had a late chance to increase their lead but Iwobi’s shot from outside the box was easy for Gomes.

It had been a terrible half for the Hornets who had shown next to nothing, but were being taken apart by an excellent Arsenal team.  Last Tuesday I joined Jeff Stelling’s Men United March for Prostate Cancer UK, where we walked from Kenilworth Road to the Vic via Clarence Park.  The From the Rookery End guys had arranged to meet me for an interview at half time so I had little time to brood.

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

Due to the interview, I missed the start of the second half.  As I returned to my seat, I witnessed Anya winning a corner, but it was a poor delivery from the normally reliable Watson.  Soon after Amrabat, who had replaced Ighalo at the start of the half, went on a decent run but shot wide of the near post.  The home side then increased their lead as a shot from Bellerin took a nasty deflection to beat Gomes.  The Gunners had a great chance to increase their lead further a couple of minutes later but Iwobi’s shot came back off the crossbar and Özil put the rebound wide.  Gomes was in action again soon after as, first, a shot from Özil was saved by his feet, then a curling shot from Sánchez was parried, finally a header from Welbeck that flew straight into the keeper’s arms.   There was a brief respite for Watford fans as Suárez found Amrabat, but he was at a narrow angle when he shot so it drifted out for a throw.  Watford’s best chance of the game came on 56 minutes as Deeney met a Watson free kick with a header on to Prödl whose header was cleared off the line by Monreal.  The clearance fell to Aké whose shot was wide of the far post.  The first booking of the game went to Nyom for a kick on Özil that was borne of frustration.  There was a substitution for each side on 69 minutes as Abdi made way for Guédioura while Giroud replaced Welbeck.  The Arsenal substitution provoked the comment from the guys behind me that it wasn’t getting any easier.

Guedioura taking a corner

Guedioura taking a corner

Almost immediately there was another decent chance for the visitors as Aké crossed for Deeney who turned and unleashed a shot that required a good save from Ospina to keep his clean sheet.  At the other end, an Arsenal corner was met by a header from Giroud, but Gomes was equal to it.  Wenger made another change bringing Walcott on for Iwobi.  Another brief moment of positivity from the visitors as a cross from Aké was met by an overhead kick by Deeney which Amrabat was just unable to reach and so the ball went out for a goal kick.  Arsenal’s final change saw Campbell replacing Sanchez.  Watford had been brighter since the break and Amrabat came charging into the Arsenal box with Anya alongside him, but his pass was disappointingly short and went out for a goal kick.  Elneny stopped a break by Amrabat and was booked for his trouble.  Watson played the free kick short to Guédioura whose shot was deflected wide.  From the corner, Guédioura hit a shot from distance that went just wide of the near post.  Another Watford chance went begging as a cross fom Amrabat reached Anya, who opted to head back across goal instead of trying to hit the target and the ball was cleared.  Arsenal scored their fourth goal on 90 minutes as Campbell crossed for Walcott who finished past Gomes.

Ake on the wing

Ake on the wing

It was a relief for the travelling support when the final whistle went and, despite the poor performance, the players were applauded off with chants of “Wemberley” ringing in their ears.  It is hard to critique a game like that as, bad as Watford were, they were playing an Arsenal team who were on fire and, we were never going to be able to compete with that.  Arsenal had shown plenty of skill in our cup game, but there had been a lack of organisation and leadership.  In this game, they fought for everything and their passing was incisive, meaning we had no chance.  As an Arsenal fan, you would have to ask why they couldn’t have put that performance in during the cup game, which was their last realistic chance of silverware.

We walked back down the Caledonian Road to convene for our post match drinks.  The game had not been fun to watch, but it was never one that we would expect to win so there were no recriminations.  It was the first real tonking that we had experienced and that fact alone makes this season a success so far.  I was also interested to note that, despite complaints of recent relegation form (and it has been awful), there are still three teams below us in the table who have a worse record over the last 10 games.  So, while we can’t be complacent, relegation still looks highly unlikely and we have a cup semi-final to look forward to.  However you look at this, it remains our most successful season since the 80s.

 

1987 All Over Again

The pre match huddle

The pre match huddle

The build-up to this game had been distinctly odd.  There was some annoyance when the draw for the quarter final paired us against the winner of the only game in the previous round that required a replay.  This irritation was exacerbated by the fact that there was a full Premier League programme in the midweek that the replay would normally have been played, meaning that we only knew our opponents late on the Tuesday night prior to the quarter final weekend.  Hearts, if not wallets, wanted an away tie at Hull, but Arsenal’s comprehensive win meant that wouldn’t be the case, so we had an easy journey but considerably more formidable opponents.  Watford committed to take an allocation of 9000 tickets which, with only 4 days to sell them, was a risk as they were committed to pay for them.  They also subsidised the cost of adult tickets in the upper tier, so made a financial commitment towards ensuring that a large number of fans followed the team and that faith was repayed with a high take up and only around 700 tickets remaining unsold.

Social media indicated that there was a lot of excitement building up before the tie.  But I was not relishing the prospect.  Much as I enjoyed reliving the 1987 win in the build-up to the match, while wondering how we escaped Highbury in one piece.  That win was not unexpected as we always beat Arsenal in those glory years.  This season they are a different proposition and, while they lack consistency, the comprehensive defeat at Vicarage Road filled me with pessimism for the outcome and meant that I awoke on Sunday morning with a feeling of impending doom.

Lovely Paddy Rice

Lovely Paddy Rice

The day did not start well as we arrived at the pre-match pub to find that they were only serving soft drinks until midday and we could not move on as this was the designated venue for distributing the tickets for the City ‘Orns.  Given the state of my nerves, a caffeinated beverage would not have been a good idea, so I was parched by the time all tickets had been collected and we only had time for a swift pint at Kings Cross before leaving for the match.  The tube journey was remarkable only for the delightfully polite and gracious Arsenal fans that we met on the way.  It is always a pleasure to go to an away ground and feel like a guest rather than the enemy.  On arrival at the stadium, as we walked around to get to the away turnstiles, I was drawn to the photo of lovely Pat Rice, a man who is, deservedly, a legend at both clubs.

As the inclusion of Pantilimon in goal had been announced earlier in the week, it was a surprise when Gomes was named in the starting line-up.  However this was corrected prior to kick-off, and there were 3 further changes from the last game with Cathcart, Behrami and Guedioura in for Holebas, Suarez and Amrabat.  So we started with Pantilimon, Aké, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Behrami, Watson, Guedioura, Deeney, Capoue and Ighalo.

Arsenal started the game very brightly, and crafted a chance in the first couple of minutes as Chambers put in a dangerous cross that was just missed by Sánchez.  Watford, in contrast, looked nervous and some sloppy play almost put us in trouble on 9 minutes as Watson gave the ball away, Prödl missed a chance to clear and allowed Sánchez to play a through ball to Giroud, but the flag was up before he slotted it past Pantilimon.  Watford’s first chance came soon after through Ighalo, but his shot was blocked.  Capoue had the next chance as a cross from Nyom was headed back by Deeney, but he was unable to shoot and, given his misfortune in front of goal, would probably have missed anyway.

Guedioura and Nyom appearing pensive

Guedioura and Nyom appearing pensive

Ighalo got the ball in the box again, but held onto it a little too long, losing out in a tackle when Deeney was in space.  For the home side, Chambers hit another cross, but this one was an easy catch for Pantilimon.  Gibbs was the next to threaten with a cross that caused some panic in the Watford box, but the danger was snuffed out by a decisive tackle from Aké.  Ighalo was frustrated again as he tried to latch on to a Deeney header, but the keeper, Ospina, was first to the ball.  Arsenal had been a constant danger down the right and Chambers threatened again, but his cross was safely gathered by Pantilimon.  At the other end, Guedioura whipped in a cross which was caught by Ospina, with Deeney lurking just behind him.  Then Capoue played a lovely ball to Ighalo and the man who never passes opted to play the ball towards Deeney, allowing Mertesacker to intercept, while every fan in the away end was devastated that, for once, he hadn’t gone for goal himself when it seemed the better option.  Just before the half hour, what appeared from our vantage point to be a 50-50 challenge in the middle of the pitch, left Deeney needing treatment.  Replays showed that Gabriel had launched a two footed tackle on the Watford captain, who was lucky to avoid serious injury while the Arsenal man was fortunate still to be on the pitch.  The home side had a decent chance to take the lead as a corner was cleared to Elneny who shot over the bar with a horrible miskick.  Capoue released Ighalo who, again, passed instead of shooting, this time a dreadful ball that rolled behind Deeney so the chance was gone.  One of our party declared that he was doing it deliberately so that nobody would ever again berate him for shooting instead of passing to a team mate.  Aké was nutmegged by Özil who found Elneny but the Egyptian, again, shot over from the edge of the box.  Arsenal had one last chance to go in at the break with a lead as Campbell got behind the defence, but Pantilimon was able to put him off and he fired over the target.

The celebration for Ighalo's goal

The celebration for Ighalo’s goal

So we reached the break goalless.  Arsenal had much the better of the first half and had looked very dangerous on the break.  There had been far too many misplaced passes from the Hornets.  Particular culprits were Prödl, who appeared to have put his boots on the wrong feet, and Guedioura, who was looking very rusty.  However the Gunners had failed to capitalize on the mistakes from Watford and neither goalkeeper had faced a shot worthy of the name.

The home side came out early for the second half and they had the first chance with a corner from Özil that was headed over by Giroud.  But it was Watford who took the lead on 50 minutes.  It started with a dangerous cross from Guedioura which was taken off the head of Deeney and put out for a throw-in, which Aké took, it was headed on by Deeney to Ighalo who held off the defender, turned and fired past Ospina to send the away end into rapture.  It was so good to see Ighalo on the score sheet again and a joy that the players were celebrating directly in front of the away fans.  The goal unnerved Arsenal and injected a new confidence into the visitors and Ighalo could have had a second soon after as a Nyom cross was headed down by Deeney but, this time, Ighalo shot over the bar.  Just before the hour, Deeney and Ighalo came storming up the field with a lovely exchange of passes, it was a great shame when a tackle stopped the break.

Pantilimon lines up a goal kick

Pantilimon lines up a goal kick

There was another great chance for the Nigerian as Capoue released Aké who broke forward and crossed for Ighalo but he couldn’t quite connect.  It wasn’t all Watford, though, as a cross from Campbell found Giroud whose close range shot was stopped by a decent save from Pantilimon.  The second goal was a thing of beauty.  Deeney did tremendously well to hold the ball up in the box then he passed it out to Guedioura and WELLY!!!  The shot nearly burst the net and would have knocked out someone in the upper tier if it had.  If the first goal celebration had been joyous, this one was truly mental and, suddenly, the Watford fans started thinking that we could actually win this, and those of us who had been calling for Adlene’s replacement were left with egg on our faces.  Arsenal had a rare second half foray into the Watford box as a Sánchez shot was deflected wide before Giroud’s volley from the corner missed the target.  Wenger had seen enough and made three substitutions with a quarter of the game remaining as Elneny, Campbell and Giroud were replaced by Iwobi, Welbeck and Walcott.  Soon after, Flores also rang the changes replacing Capoue and Guedioura, both of whom left the field to loud cheers from the travelling Hornets, with Anya and Abdi.  In between the substitutions, Özil had been booked for a late challenge on Behrami.

Deeney gets into position

Deeney gets into position

As the game entered the last 10 minutes, Gibbs had a chance to reduce the deficit, but his back header was straight at Pantilimon.  Flores made his final substitution replacing Ighalo with Amrabat as the home fans left the ground in droves.  Arsenal had a decent chance as Sánchez cut the ball back to Chambers but he shot well wide.  At this point, Lynn commented that it looked like it was our day.  My look of horror was greeted with, “I hope I haven’t jinxed it.”  So did I.  My heart was pounding at this point and I couldn’t bring myself to join in the chants of “Que sera, sera”.  Watford then threatened again as Anya released Amrabat who broke forward before cutting the ball back to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  Deeney then turned provider playing a through ball to Anya who tried a shot from a narrow angle, which was stopped by Ospina, when a pull back to Amrabat may have been a better decision.  The count down to the 90th minute was stopped short at 88 when Welbeck pulled a goal back with a close range shot past Pantilimon and the nervous tension in the away end went up a (large) notch.  It was a relief that the next attack came from the Hornets, but Amrabat’s shot from distance was well wide of the near post.  There was almost collective heart failure among the travelling fans as a shot from Iwobi rebounded off the inside of the post and hit Pantilimon before Welbeck turned the loose ball wide when he really should have buried it.

The celebration run towards the crowd

The celebration run towards the crowd

The fourth official indicated an additional four minutes, which was the minimum we could have expected.  Welbeck had another chance to equalize as he latched on to a long pass, but Prödl and Pantilimon combined to ensure that his shot was off target.  There was one final chance for Arsenal as a shot from Iwobi was deflected for a corner which came to nothing.  I didn’t hear the final whistle over the thumping of my heart, but I did see the referee catch the ball and the Watford bench belting on to the pitch and over to celebrate with the Watford fans.  Ighalo’s beaming smile was back, I don’t think I have ever seen him so happy, and Capoue was dancing joyously while I was trying to choke back happy tears.

The celebrations in the ground continued as the players finished the handshakes with the opposition and the officials and the hugs among themselves and the players lined up to do one of those German-style rush to the crowd celebrations, which clearly hadn’t been practiced so was endearingly rubbish which, strangely, added to the joy.  The advertising continued on the big screen in the ground and I couldn’t help but laugh when it flashed up “Next match: Arsenal vs Watford.”  They even played “Yellow” over the tannoy.  But I must give a special mention to the Arsenal fans who hadn’t left with 10 minutes to go as there was still a decent number who stayed to applaud the Watford players.

The Cally

The Cally

As we left the ground there was a large group singing and celebrating outside, which was all rather lovely.  We decided to walk back to King’s Cross (it was only a couple of miles and I am down to do 27 in a couple of weeks).  It seemed oddly fitting to pass a pub called “The Cally” and we were congratulated by numerous people on the way, all of whom I assumed were Spurs fans.  We arrived back to the pub to see a lot of familiar faces and a number of strangers in yellow, red and black who elicited big smiles.  Everyone there, in their own way, was trying to come to terms with what had just happened.  Because, the apparently one sided stats notwithstanding, we came away feeling that we had thoroughly deserved that victory as we had created (and finished) the best of the chances and had shown incredible strength of character in holding out after Arsenal scored.  I have seen too many Watford teams that would have collapsed at that point.

A day later, I have been congratulated by so many neutrals (as well as the odd lovely Arsenal fan) and have to keep pinching myself.  When I started following a small town club in the late 70s, I could never have known how much joy they would bring me.  We have had so many ups and downs over the years, they have made me ecstatic and broken my heart.  But, in March 2016, I find myself supporting a little club that appears to be about to have a second season in the Premier League and I am planning to attend my fifth FA Cup semi-final.  Plus we are doing this while still feeling that our owners respect the history of our small town club.  And that is just remarkable.