Tag Archives: Tim Ream

Ole, Andre

Cathcart and Capoue

Having had to work on a planned day off last week, I decided to recoup some of that time by leaving early for the game.  On checking into the hotel in Watford, the manager commented on my scarf, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there was a match in town that evening.  The bar man, a fellow Hornet, joined in the conversation and said that he was sacrificing this game in order to be able to go to the semi-final.  It seemed like the right choice to me.  We had a chat about our prospects at Wembley and then I headed to the West Herts.  I arrived to see that Don’s car wasn’t in its usual place, which caused me a momentary panic, until I saw him sitting in his usual place inside.  Some interloper was in his space when he arrived.  Poor show indeed.  I settled down with a pint and to anticipate the evening ahead.  This was an odd prospect as, playing struggling Fulham, it should have been a game to enjoy, but every moment would be analysed with Sunday in mind.

On the walk along Vicarage Road, we found ourselves among Fulham fans who, given that a defeat would relegate them, were chanting, “The Whites are going down … and now you’re gonna believe us.”

Pre-match speculation was that certain key players would be rested, possibly to be brought on during the game if needed.  Needless to say, Gracia did the unexpected with the four changes from Saturday being the entire back four reverting to what most would consider to be our first choice.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenia, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.  I had everything crossed that there would be no injuries.

Celebrating Doucoure’s goal

As it is the 25th anniversary of the formation of Kick it Out, tonight was Watford’s game dedicated to the cause and the “No room for racism” message was all over the hoardings.  Sadly, recent events show that this message is needed now more than ever.

The first chance of the game went to the visitors as Mitrović got his head to a cross and diverted it wide of the target.  At this point, the Fulham fans were in very good voice indeed.  The first chance for the Hornets came on 15 minutes as Pereyra tricked his way into the box, but his shot was blocked.  The visitors had a great chance to take the lead as Babel played a lovely ball over to Sessegnon in the box, but the Fulham youngster was unable to connect.  Some rushed play from the Hornets allowed the ball to reach Mitrović whose shot was easily gathered by Foster.  Watford then had a great chance to break the deadlock as Femenía broke forward before crossing for Deeney but the header was wide of the near post.  The Hornets took a somewhat undeserved lead on 23 minutes as Doucouré picked up the ball, ran to the edge of the box and hit a sweet strike into the near corner of the Fulham net.

Holebas prepares for a corner

The next action of note came 10 minutes later and was an equaliser for the visitors as Sessegnon found Babel who rounded the onrushing Foster to score.  It was frustrating, but no more than the visitors deserved.  The Fulham faithful greeted the goal with “We are staying up” followed by “We’ve f*cking scored”.  Fair play to them.  This was greeted with a round of applause from the Rookery, as we’ve all been there.  The visitors threatened again as a bit of head tennis in the Watford box led to the ball falling to Babel whose shot was blocked.  Sessegnon had a great chance to grab the lead after a break, but his shot was easy for Foster.  The visitors looked sure to take the lead after Deulofeu overplayed and gave the ball away allowing them to break but, when he looked sure to score, Mitrović totally mishit his shot which flew high and well wide of the near post.  The first booking of the game came late in the half as Mariappa was booked for a foul on Mitrović.  The half time whistle was greeted with boos from some Watford supporters.  Granted it had been a poor half of football from the Hornets, but all of our minds were on the semi-final on Sunday, so it was a ridiculous reaction.

The half time guest was Marco Cassetti, who immediately apologised for giving away the penalty in the play-off final against Palace.  There was another penalty that he didn’t need to apologise for, given what it led to.  Knockaert’s dive was shown from multiple angles before we got to enjoy the terrific goal from the play-off semi-final.  He said what a great memory that was and how it makes him smile.  He seemed a bit baffled when the conversation turned to the subject of his beard.  It was lovely to see him back to hear how much he enjoyed his time with us.

Gracia made a double substitution at the break bringing Janmaat and Gray on for Pereyra and Deulofeu.

Will Hughes has his eyes on Babel

Janmaat’s first contribution was to earn a booking for a foul on Cairney.  Watford had an early chance to regain the lead when a cross from Holebas was headed on towards his own goal by Chambers and Rico had to stretch to tip it over and save his teammate’s blushes.  Holebas caused more problems for the Fulham defence, winning a free kick that he took himself which had to be punched clear by Rico.  A lovely exchange of passes between Janmaat and Gray ended with the Dutchman bearing down on goal, but Rico came out to smother the ball and was injured in the process.  Babel came to complain to the referee, trying to get Janmaat booked, which seemed harsh as he had every right to go for the ball.  Doucouré had a chance to grab a second goal, but took too long to take the shot and it was blocked.  Gray was the next Watford player to try his luck, but his shot from distance deflected wide.  My neighbour in the Rookery had been nervously bemoaning the fact that the players were acting as though they had already won the game.  His nerves were eased somewhat when a corner was headed clear to Hughes who belted a volley past Rico from outside the box.  It was a terrific goal and very welcome.  Fulham had a half chance to break back as an awkward header from Mitrović had to be tipped over the bar by Foster.

Celebrating Deeney’s strike

On 69 minutes, Watford made the scoreline a bit more comfortable as Gray broke forward before cutting the ball back for Deeney to score Watford’s third of the evening.  It may have been Deeney who applied the finishing touch, but the crowd was chanting “Olé, Andre.”  Harry the Hornet’s goal celebration was a little too enthusiastic and led to some repairs being needed for the corner flag.  At this point, the visitors made their first substitution replacing Ream with Seri.  Watford could have increased their lead as Doucouré found Holebas whose shot was pushed around the post by the keeper.  I swear that, as he walked in front of the Rookery to take the corner, Jose was smiling.  With 15 minutes remaining, Gray turned provider again, this time for Femenía, who scored Watford’s fourth and surely confirmed Fulham’s relegation.  Despite the comfortable lead, the home side continued to attack and Hughes got into a great position, but chose to tee up Gray whose shot was deflected wide.  At this point, Gracia made his final substitution bringing Quina on for Capoue.  Needless to say, every time the youngster got the ball there were shouts for him to shoot.  The visitors had a chance to pull a goal back as Mitrović found Seri whose close range shot was stopped by a brilliant save from Foster.  There was a second substitution for the visitors as Babel made way for Schürrle.  Watford threatened again as a lovely cross from Janmaat was met by the head of Doucouré, but Rico was equal to the effort.  Scott Parker made a final change with McDonald coming on for Cairney.   Gray had another chance to add a goal to his assists, but the keeper was down to make the save.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, Holebas earned his inevitable booking.  I am not sure whether it was for the foul on Sessegnon or his reaction to being penalised, but he risked further censure by refusing to speak to the referee.  Eventually Deeney had to take him over and make the peace.

A group hug among the goal scorers

The full time whistle went to terrific celebrations from the Watford faithful.  It was a testament to his contribution after coming on that Gray was named the man of the Match, a decision that went down well with the home crowd.  At the other end of the ground, a banner announcing “Fulham Relegation Party” was being waved.  I must admit to some regret at our relegating Fulham as it is a club that I like and I love going to Craven Cottage, but the win was needed both to keep up our fight for seventh place and to give us some momentum before the FA Cup semi-final on Sunday.

It was an odd game.  After a poor performance in the first half that seemed to result from the players not wanting to get hurt, they went for it in the second half and we were royally entertained.  Gray was everywhere, with the two assists and plenty of chances to score himself.  It was a very positive performance indeed.  At the same time Wolves were beating Man Utd, so also going in to the weekend on a positive note.  Sunday will be a very interesting game.  Two evenly matched teams who both play decent football.  It should be entertaining, whatever the result.  But I am really hoping that it is a repeat of our performance at Molineux, which was superb.  I am also hoping to get at least a few hours sleep between now and the game, but that is not guaranteed.

We have to be loud and proud on Sunday.  This is our best chance of reaching a cup final since 1984 and I would love my youngest sister and nieces to experience that as Rose and I did all those years ago.  These are the days that we dream about.  They should be savoured and I, for one, with endeavour to enjoy every minute.

The Beautiful Game

Layun takes the kick-off

Layun takes the kick-off

Since it was FA Cup 5th round day, I waited to book my train to this game until we were knocked out of the cup.  Needless to say, I’d completely ignored the fact that our opponents were still in the competition so was sweating during their 4th round replay.  An added complication was that, at the time that I booked my tickets, there was signalling work planned for the West Coast line so I had booked a slow cross-country train which would get me in later than I would usually plan for.  In the interim there had been a landslip that meant that my already long train journey was interrupted with a bus between Banbury and Leamington adding another hour with the consequence that there would be no time for a pre-match pint.  Bulletins picked up on the way indicated that there were also problems on the roads so the away contingent could be severely depleted.  The final leg of the journey was another rail replacement bus and, as we reached the stadium with less than half an hour to kick off, I could see that the official supporters’ coach was just parking.  Relief all round.

When we arrived outside the turnstiles, one of the stewards asked what we thought the score would be.  “Depends which Watford turns up,” “Yes, we’re a bit like that too.”  An interesting game in prospect.

The main item of team news was that Troy had been dropped to the bench with Vydra taking his place.  He was joined by Hoban and Tözsér who were replaced by Ekstrand and Abdi, both returning after spells on the sidelines.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Angella, Ekstrand, Cathcart, Anya, Watson, Layun, Abdi, Paredes, Vydra and Ighalo.

Paredes passes

Paredes passes

The first goal attempt of the game went to the home side as Clough played the ball back to Le Fondre in the box, he always scores against us, but this time his shot was high and wide.  There was an early yellow card for Cathcart who was penalized for pulling Feeney back as he tried to escape down the wing.  For the visitors, Abdi played the ball out to Anya whose cross was blocked, the ball found its way to Vydra whose shot went out for a goal kick.  Janko broke into the box with Angella in close attendance ensuring that the ball ran through to Gomes.  Anya broke forward and crossed, but there was no Watford player in the box to take advantage.  We waited 18 minutes for Watford’s first goal attempt and then two came at once.  Anya broke forward again, played the ball back to Vydra who found Abdi in the box whose shot was blocked by Lonergan.  The clearance fell to Anya who played it back in, it finally reached Vydra on the edge of the box but his shot was gathered by the Bolton keeper.  Watford put themselves in danger as a mix up between Angella and Gomes resulted in a corner and Gomes needing treatment.  From Feeney’s set piece, Wheater had a free header that flew just wide.  Then Vydra gave the ball away to Wheater who released Le Fondre, he found Janko who fired a shot wide of the target when he really should have done better.

Ighalo gives thanks for his goal

Ighalo gives thanks for his goal

It was the visitors who took the lead on 25 minutes through who else but Ighalo.  The Nigerian had received a pass from Watson, appeared to get the ball stuck under his feet but recovered to shoot and the ball seemed to enter the net in slow motion.  The home side had a great chance to break back soon after as a Gomes punch fell to Le Fondre whose shot was blocked on the line by Watson.  Bolton’s first yellow card went to Bannan who was booked for pulling Abdi back.  Bolton should have equalized with a curling shot from Bannan that was tipped over the bar by Gomes.  Watford threatened again as Vydra exchanged passes with Ighalo, the ball was played to Paredes who just passed it to the keeper.  Bolton equalized in controversial circumstances.  The lino was flagging for offside against Le Fondre so the Watford players and fans took little notice when Feeney crossed and Clough turned the ball into the net.  I was baffled to see the home fans celebrating as they must have seen the flag.  Then the realization hit that the lino had lowered his flag and the referee had signalled for the goal.  There were heartfelt appeals from the Watford players and strong opinions being expressed by the fans, but the goal stood.  This knocked the stuffing out of the Hornets and the home side took advantage.  From a free kick, Ream shot into the side netting.  Then Bolton took the lead as Feeney broke forward and crossed for Le Fondre (who always scores against us) to shoot past Gomes.  We were all feeling pretty aggrieved at half time, but the players and the fans just needed to forget the injustice and get on with the game.

Abdi takes a free kick

Abdi takes a free kick

Thankfully, the players started the second half on the front foot.  Abdi and Ighalo combined to find Vydra who was fouled on the edge of the box.  Abdi’s free-kick was heading for the top corner until Lonergan got a hand to it to keep it out.  Vydra played the ball to Anya who juggled it to get some space before taking the shot which was saved.  Abdi tried a shot from the edge of the area that flew wide.  On 56 minutes, Jokanovic made an attacking substitution taking Angella off for Deeney.  Troy’s first act was to play a ball to Paredes whose dangerous cross was headed clear.  Soon after, Deeney got the ball in the box, he turned to shoot but the shot was blocked.  There was danger for the visitors as Watson lost out to Clough who passed to Le Fondre who was one on one with Gomes who did very well to block the shot.  Clough broke forward and again fed Le Fondre who looked sure to score but hit a dreadful chip over Gomes and wide.  At the other end, there was a scramble in the Bolton box as first Deeney and then Watson had shots blocked.  Then Deeney and Ighalo exchanged passes but the shot was deflected for a corner.  Jokanovic made two more substitutions bringing Forestieri on for Vydra and Tözsér for Watson.  Another decent shot from Abdi was stopped by Lonergan who also saved Ighalo’s follow-up, although the flag was up anyway.  A ball reached the dangerous Feeney in the box but Gomes came out to gather.

Ighalo congratulates Ekstrand

Ighalo congratulates Ekstrand

Watford’s equalizer was a thing of beauty as, just as he did at Fulham, Abdi curled a ball into the top corner in front of the Watford fans.  Thankfully this time I was not behind a pillar so had a perfect view.  It was no more than we (and Almen) deserved.  Bolton tried to hit back immediately from the restart and it took heroics from Gomes to deny them as he parried a shot from distance by Feeney, blocked the follow-up from Le Fondre and somehow got across the goal to deny Clough.  A remarkable effort.  At the other end a corner was headed straight at Cathcart, the ball dropped to Deeney who tried to turn it in but the effort was blocked.  Watford regained the lead in style as a cross from Abdi was met with a gorgeous header from Ekstrand.  A wonderful way to mark his return from injury.  Abdi tried another shot from distance, but Lonergan was equal to this one.  Bolton’s first substitution saw Gudjohnsen come on for Janko.  We were waiting for Neil Cox to join him.  The home side drew level again on 84 minutes as Feeney, who had been a menace on the right all afternoon, crossed for Clough who fired past Gomes.  Watford continued to attack as Anya advanced to the by-line and tried a cut back that was cleared.  Abdi then tried a shot from distance that just cleared the crossbar.  There was pandemonium in the away end as Ighalo played the ball across to Deeney who fired past Lonergan just as the clock hit 90 minutes.  Obviously the celebrations were mighty and Ighalo was booked for his part.  The fourth official’s board went up during the celebrations so I didn’t see it, but someone nearby reckoned there were 4 additional minutes.  Bolton did have the ball in the net again through Wheater, but the flag had been raised before it reached him and thankfully on this occasion the lino kept the flag up.

The players had given their all by the final whistle

The players had given their all by the final whistle

When the final whistle went, a couple of the Watford players dropped to the ground as did a number of the Bolton players.  They all looked dead on their feet and certainly those of us in the stands were completely drained.  What a terrific game of football.  There were ecstatic grins in the away end and hugs between friends and, most likely, complete strangers.  The players came over and were greeted as the heroes that they were.  Ighalo, Layun, Forestieri and Deeney thanked us by nipping over the advertising hoardings to give their shirts to the crowd.

I have always found the people of Bolton to be lovely and this was shown again as an official walking around the pitch while we retrieved Becky’s flag commented to us that it had been a good match.  We also saw our friendly steward on the way out and he was equally gracious.

Just before 10pm I boarded a rail replacement bus at Leamington Spa with the prospect of three further trains before I was home.  Soon after, a father and son got on and I was greeted with a “You Orns”.  That perked me up and we were soon waxing lyrical about the terrific game we had seen.  I finally arrived home over 16 hours after I had left.  It had been a very long day but one that I will remember for a very long time.

As the match was coming to an end, the thought had gripped me that this must be a terrific game for the neutral and I felt a twinge of regret that I couldn’t see it through their eyes.  In the cold light of day I realise what a ridiculous thought that was.  No neutral would experience the joy and despair that I did yesterday.  The rollercoaster that ranged from anger at the injustice to the sheer lunacy of the goal celebrations that had me leaping up and down punching the air long after the ball had hit the net.

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend about the season so far and the fact that, despite being in the play-off places, it had not been an enjoyable season.  That has been completely turned on its head since.  The character and the passion on show in the past few games have made this team one to love.  We even saw some emotion from our usually impassive manager at the final whistle.  I can’t wait for next week.

Off to a Winning Start

Luther and Gifton

Luther and Gifton

Having seen my first pre-season game on 5th July, it feels like I’ve already seen a lot of football, so the dawning of the first day of the season seemed less exciting than it should have been.  Works on the line around Watford Junction meant that the journey took longer than usual but, on boarding the slow train to Watford at Queens Park, I met the lovely John of Ossett who accompanied me on the rest of my trip.  As the West Herts starting filling up with familiar faces, it was lovely to see Curtis from Denver.  He’d not managed to see a game last season so as far as he was concerned Vydra had never left.  I did warn him that, if we won, he would be our lucky charm and wouldn’t be allowed to go home.

First huddle of the new season

First huddle of the new season

I must admit that I wasn’t convinced when I heard the starting line-up.  I was surprised that Dyer wasn’t starting and it seemed risky to start Paredes when he hadn’t participated in pre-season.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Angella, Ekstrand, Tamas, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Adbi, Parades, Deeney and Vydra.  Usually, the first game of the season sees a lot of people still on holiday so the crowd can be a bit sparse.  This was certainly not the case on Saturday as there wasn’t a spare seat to be found in our section.  There was a change in the pre-match personnel as Richard Short and Tim Coombs made way for Luther Blissett and Lee Partridge.  I’ve seen Luther working in the lounge in the past and it certainly adds an interesting element having a legend interviewing returning players.  On Saturday we were treated to Luther wandering up the pitch chatting to Gifton Noel-Williams, a real joy.

Deeney receives his team mates' congratulations

Deeney receives his team mates’ congratulations

The fans in the Rookery were on their feet in the first minute as Deeney unleashed a shot, but we soon sat down again when we realised that it had hit the net from behind.  Deeney then found Pudil on the left, but his shot was wide of the far post.  After the dreadful performances at the end of last season, it was good to see a bit of fight and team work and I noted an early incident in which Vydra was back in defence fighting for the ball, which made me very happy.  Bolton threatened a break but Tamas was on hand to stop them.  Parades then tried to escape, but was sent flying.  “Welcome to England,” said my neighbour.  On 17th minutes, we were a goal up as a Bolton attack was snuffed out and we played a succession of short passes to bring the ball out of defence before Angella went on a run then lofted a pass to Deeney who buried the ball past Lonergan.  The Rookery went mental.  I was too busy watching the goalscorer but my sister turned with a beaming smile and informed me that Gomes’s celebration was pretty mental too.

Heurelho Gomes

Heurelho Gomes

Bolton tried to hit back immediately but Gomes came for the ball, gathered it comfortably and, as Medo was in his way, flattened the Bolton player for good measure.  No messing.  I loved it.  A cross from Paredes fell to Pudil whose chip was wide of the target.  A chant of “sexy football” started up.  That always worries me as it is often a precursor to a fall, so my heart sank when Neil Danns broke into the box but Tamas took the ball off him and was then pushed over for his trouble, so won a free kick and the danger passed.  We were two goals to the good soon after as Vydra received a lovely ball over the top from Tözsér, cut back from the bye-line, he nearly went down as he skipped past the defender, but recovered and fired the ball past Lonergan.  I am told when asked why he hadn’t gone down under the challenge he replied that if he’d done that Troy would have taken the penalty so he decided to take the chance himself.

The returning Vydra and new boy Paredes

The returning Vydra and new boy Paredes

We were on fire at this point.  Paredes played a ball over the top to Vydra, he passed back to Abdi who fired over the bar.  On the half hour, Medo had a shot for Bolton that flew over the bar.  That was their first goal attempt of the game.  With 10 minutes of the half remaining, Bolton had a free kick in a dangerous position, but the header from Mills bounced into Gomes’s arms.  There was a bit of handbags just before half time when Medo wouldn’t give the ball back after being rather harshly penalized for a foul.  We had one more chance in the half as Abdi tried a low shot that was straight at Lonergan.

Noel-Williams senior and junior

Noel-Williams senior and junior

So, the home crowd were very happy indeed at half time.  We’d seen two excellent goals, some lovely football and we’d barely given Bolton a sniff of the ball.  I am also pleased to report that my concerns at the inclusion of Paredes had been groundless as he had put in a thrilling first half performance.  Drawing the 50-50 tickets at half-time were Gifton and Dejon Noel-Williams.  With junior currently in our academy, we can only hope that he has his father’s talent and becomes a star of the future.

At the start of the second half, Feeney replaced Pratley for the visitors.  Within 30 seconds, Parades had a terrific chance to get a third and I was already jumping for joy when the ball cannoned back off the crossbar.  Bolton then won their first corner to loud, ironic cheers from their fans.  Spearing had a shot deflected wide and the resulting corner was easily gathered by Gomes.

Angella wants the ball

Angella wants the ball

For the home side, Paredes found Vydra who was tackled, but fought back and regained possession before playing the ball back to Abdi whose shot was deflected for a corner.  Abdi threatened again, playing a one-two with McGugan before taking a shot that Lonergan saved.  Gomes was really tested for the first time just before the hour as he pushed Feeney’s shot from distance around the post when it was heading for the top corner.  Bolton’s second substitution saw Moxey replaced by Dervite.  Bolton had had a decent spell, so it was good to see Deeney in shooting position again but he fired the ball straight at Lonergan.  At the other end, Lee tried to lob Gomes, but the keeper got his fingertips to it and tipped it over the bar.  With 20 minutes to go, Beckford replaced Danns for Bolton and Sannino’s first substitution saw Munari make his debut in place of McGugan.  Vydra went on a run and tried to play Deeney in, but his pass was just behind his team mate and the chance was gone.  Substitute Beckford was the next to threaten, but he shot in to the side netting.

Forestieri congratulated for a goal within seconds of coming on

Forestieri congratulated for a goal within seconds of coming on

At this point Vydra left the field to ecstatic applause and was replaced by Forestieri.  Fernando was barely on the pitch before he latched on to a ball over the top from Angella and slotted it past Lonergan.  I’d been a little nervous that Bolton would get back into the game, so that goal settled my nerves.  Bolton again tried an immediate response with a point-blank header from Lee that was pushed out by Gomes.  From the corner, Dervite’s header flew over the bar.  Sannino’s final substitution saw Dyer coming on for Pudil.  Forestieri had another great chance but his enthusiasm got the better of him.  He looked like a little puppy as he went scampering after the ball and then tripped over his own feet.

Deeney and Vydra in striking position

Deeney and Vydra in striking position

Dyer and Deeney exchanged passes then Troy shot well over the bar when he probably should have passed to Dyer.  The last two chances of the game fell to Bolton, but neither troubled Gomes, as first a misplaced header fell to Lee who shot over the crossbar.  Then a soft shot from Davies drifted wide of the near post.

The final whistle went to great applause from the home fans.  We had been masterful in the first half and, even if Bolton got back into it a bit in the second, it was a convincing win.  Even better than that, we had quality all over the pitch.  It was a joy to witness.  The horror show that was the end of last season is now a distant memory.  I’m really trying not to be over-optimistic, but I can’t help feeling that this could be a very exciting season indeed.

 

Nat Lofthouse Saved my Day

The spirit of sport statue

The spirit of sport statue

I felt like Franny-no-mates at Euston on Saturday morning as there was not another Watford scarf or shirt anywhere to be seen.  I hate that when I’m travelling to an away game as I find myself wondering if I’ve got the wrong day/time/venue.  Thankfully, when the train stopped at Milton Keynes, my usual travelling companions appeared and the journey passed with discussions of games recent and in distant memory.  Every stop on the way to Manchester elicited different recollections.  As we changed trains, they were discussing going for pre-match beers in Manchester, but I’d arranged to meet friends in a pub near the stadium and convinced them that there was somewhere to get a drink in that wasteland.  When we arrived at Horwich Parkway and they found themselves walking through a deserted industrial area, I sensed that they were doubting my word.  But we turned a corner and there was the promised pub just a short walk to the ground and everyone was happy.  On reaching the Reebok, we found Section H which was marked on our tickets, but all the turnstiles in that section were closed.  Thankfully we soon found the ‘proper’ entrance for the away fans.  There were no female stewards outside the ground, so I escaped the frisking, and the friendly male steward who searched my bag was only interested in whether I had any chocolate.  The inevitable question about flares seemed to be an afterthought.

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

Team news was that we would see Park’s debut.  The starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Anya, Merkel, Tözsér, Murray, Faraoni, Park and Deeney.  As the teams emerged from the tunnel, I was puzzled that I could only see Bolton players then noticed that there were two tunnels.  It was one of those days.

Jutkiewicz gave Watford an early scare as he broke into the box but Almunia was quickly down to save at his feet.  Tözsér delivered a lovely free kick for Watford but Baptiste put it out for a corner which came to nothing.  At this stage, Cassetti spent some time off the pitch receiving treatment and came back with his leg strapped up.  Bolton threatened again as Davies played a through ball to Mason who was one-on-one with Almunia but the Spaniard got down to thwart him.  From the corner, Mason headed over the bar.  At the other end, Angella met a free-kick from Tözsér with a header

Deeney waiting for the ball to drop

Deeney waiting for the ball to drop

that was straight at Bogdan.  Then Anya broke down the left and put in a cross from the bye-line, Deeney headed goalwards and Bogdan pulled off a smart save to keep it out.  From the corner, the ball broke to Mason who ran the length of the pitch before Ekstrand tackled him in our box to prevent a shot.  Mason threatened again as he latched on to a ball over the top into the area but this time Faraoni was on hand to make a saving tackle.  From the corner Mason’s header was straight at Almunia.  Then a backheader fell to Deeney on the edge of the box, but his shot was horrible, flying well wide of the near post.  It was all rather frantic, but had been quite entertaining.  On 23 minutes, Bolton made a substitution replacing the injured Pratley with Danns.  Soon after, Faraoni intercepted a clearance and went for goal, but Bogdan was on hand to save again.  Murray then played a lovely ball to Faraoni whose progress was stopped on the edge of the box by a foul from Medo, who earned a yellow card.  Tözsér’s free-kick cannoned off the wall, his follow-up was

Ream on the ball

Ream on the ball

narrowly wide, rippling the side-netting from the outside.  The masked man, Ream, then took a free-kick which was met with a header from Jutkiewicz straight at Almunia.  Just before the half hour, Danns tried a looping shot but, again, it was straight at Almunia.  Watford’s next attack finished with a shot from Murray that was well wide of the target.  On 33 minutes, Medo beat Merkel on the right and fed Jutkiewicz, who looked well offside as he hit a shot off the crossbar and then the follow-up past Almunia.  I thought he would be booked for time wasting, but the referee brought play back for a free-kick, presumably for a foul by Merkel in the build-up. From the free kick, Spearing crossed for Jutkiewicz who turned and shot past Almunia to put the home side a goal up.  The anger in

Park in action

Park in action

the away area at this turn of events was mainly aimed at the ‘cheating’ referee.  Five minutes before half time, Ream took a free-kick which Wheater headed over the bar.  Soon after Faraoni was penalized for hand ball and stupidly protested.  The referee let him know in no uncertain terms why he had blown up and pointed out the fouls that he had committed up to that point. We were two goals down just before half time as Mason outran the defence and placed his shot under Almunia and into the net.  At this point, Graham was texting to update one of our friends.  He said he only needed two words … ‘Dreadful defending.’  The other female in our party articulated the two words that had come immediately to her mind. They were the same as mine and a lot less polite than Graham’s.

Anya taking a throw-in

Anya taking a throw-in

Straight from kick-off in the second half, Jutkiewicz broke forward but Faraoni was on hand to clear.  Soon after, Cassetti’s injury got the better of him and he was replaced by Pudil with Ekstrand taking up position in the middle of the back three.  On 55 minutes, Ekstrand pulled Danns over then yelled at the ref when he penalised him and received his tenth booking of the season.  Medo took the free kick putting it just over the bar. Just before the hour, Jutkiewicz crossed for Danns whose volley was caught by Almunia.  On the hour, Sannino made a double substitution replacing Merkel and Park, both of whom had been disappointing, with Battocchio and Ranegie.  The chances were still coming for the home side as Mason played a low ball across the box, but Faraoni was on hand to clear.  At the other end Ranegie headed a ball towards Deeney, it came back to him off a defender

Defending a free kick

Defending a free kick

and he shot tamely wide. From another Bolton corner, a weak header from Wheater was easy for Almunia.  For the visitors, a long ball from Angella reached Deeney, but he couldn’t control it and was tackled so the ball went out for a corner.  From the set piece, Battocchio received the ball on the edge of the area and, to the exasperation of the travelling Hornets, just launched it way over the bar.  At the other end, the ball fell to Danns on the edge of the Watford area, but his shot was also well over.  Pudil then played the ball into the box, it was cleared as far as Murray who unleashed a decent shot but it was blocked by Bogdan.  Battocchio tried another shot from distance but it just looped into Bogdan’s arms.  Bolton’s next attack started when Ranegie lost the ball to Danns, he released Mason who was one-on-one with Almunia but the Spaniard dropped to block at his feet. A cross from Anya was met with a header from Ranegie that was cleared. With 12 minutes remaining, Davies was replaced by Chung-Yong Lee.  Into the last ten minutes, Anya

Bogdan launches a free-kick

Bogdan launches a free-kick

went on a run and crossed for Ranegie, but Bogdan was first to the ball.  Then Bolton seemed to play the ball about in our box for an age before it was finally cleared. With four minutes left on the clock, Trotter replaced the excellent Mason.  Watford pushed again as Ranegie passed to Deeney in the box, but there were two defenders on him and the ball was cut out.  Then Ranegie and Deeney both battled challenges to keep possession but when the ball was played to Pudil, he just gave it away.  Then Battocchio found Deeney whose shot was blocked, Anya’s follow-up cross was cleared.  The board went up indicating 6 minutes of time added on at which point Faraoni passed the ball into Bogdan’s arms and I just wished that we could do what the curlers did and put an end to the misery.  In time added on, Angella was booked for taking Trotter down on the edge of the area.  The free kick came straight back off the wall. Frustration got the best of Faraoni as he jostled with Ream who was trying to waste some time by the corner flag and the Italian was booked for his actions.   The final action of the game was Ekstrand lumping the ball into the box where it was caught by Bogdan.

Nat Lofthouse

Nat Lofthouse

The final whistle went to boos from the travelling fans. I didn’t boo but neither did I applaud at the end.  That display was not worth taking my hands out of my pockets.  To be fair, I’d enjoyed the first half hour of the game.  But once Bolton scored the rest had been just dreadful.  A number of people commented after the game that if Deeney’s early header had gone in, it would have hit Bolton’s confidence and the game would have been totally different.  But it didn’t and we were left with a long trip home wondering why this talented team is putting in such abject performances.

Still, to end on a positive note, the Nat Lofthouse statue is lovely.