Tag Archives: Tom Carroll

Year Ends with Disappointment against the Swans

Ben Watson waiting to take a free kick

After our return to winning ways on Boxing Day, I entered the West Herts on Saturday with a more positive attitude than of late.  The Boxing Day absentees were mostly back in attendance and I was delighted to arrive in plenty of time to see Don before he left for the ground.  Mike was back from his Christmas trip and, it being a year since we lost lovely Dee, there was a heartfelt toast to absent friends.

Team news was that Silva had made one change from Boxing Day with Okaka coming in for Pereyra, who was fit enough to make the bench.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Wagué, Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Doucouré, Watson; Carrillo, Cleverley, Richarlison; Okaka.  Swansea were facing their first game under new manager, Carlos Carvalhal, so fingers were crossed in the home end that this wouldn’t result in a new lease of life for the struggling team.

The first action of the game was a yellow card for Fernández after he stopped a break by Richarlison.  That poor lad must be black and blue by the end of each game.  The first chance fell to the visitors as a shot from distance from Ayew rattled the crossbar with Gomes rooted to the spot.  But Watford soon had a chance of their own as Okaka headed the ball down to Cleverley who turned and curled a shot just wide of the target. 

Celebrating Carrillo’s goal

The home side had another decent chance when Doucouré released Richarlison who advanced before shooting just wide of the far post.  Watford took the lead on 11 minutes as Okaka found Richarlison whose shot was parried by Fabianski but the ball rebounded to Carrillo who headed home from close range.  I was hopeful that this would calm the Watford nerves and set up a comfortable win for the Hornets, but it all went a bit quiet and the next shot came from a Swansea boot, although the shot from Mesa didn’t trouble Gomes, however it did trouble my sister in Row QQ of the Rookery, who had to duck out of the way to avoid injury.  There were a couple of bookings around the half hour mark as Carrillo was cautioned, rather harshly, for tripping Ayew as they battled for the ball.  Then Carroll was booked for a pull on Doucouré’s shirt.  Kabasele did a sterling job in defence stopping a dangerous looking run by Ayew by getting in front of the Swansea man and shepherding the ball back to Gomes.  The effort was well worthy of the applause that it received.  Watford threatened again as a deep cross from Janmaat was met by the head of Richarlison, but the Brazilian’s effort was straight at Fabianski.  Watford had another chance to increase their lead late in the half as Doucouré shot just wide from the edge of the box.  So the Watford team went into the break a goal to the good and looking in control although without really testing Fabianski.  Swansea really had been poor and it was apparent why they are in the relegation zone.

Crowding for a corner

The visitors made a change after the break replacing Mesa with Narsingh.  The second half started brightly for the Hornets as a dangerous cross almost reached Carrillo, but Fabianski was first to the ball.  The Hornets had a great chance to increase their lead as Cleverley released Richarlison whose cross was just inches in front of Okaka’s boot as he slid in.  The home side had the ball in the net when a Cleverley corner was headed home by Wagué, but the whistle had already gone for an infringement and the goal was disallowed.  Swansea’s second substitution saw McBurnie coming on for Abraham, who appeared to have an injury.  Swansea fashioned a rare chance as Mawson met a corner from Carroll and headed just over the bar.   Gomes was called on to make his first save of the game on the hour mark, after a shot from Ayew was cleared only as far as Narsingh, but the shot was straight at the Watford keeper.  Watford’s first substitution came as Prödl replaced Wagué.  The second change saw Okaka making way for Gray.  This change came 13 minutes after the first, sadly nothing of interest had happened in that period.  The visitors also made a change as Dyer replaced Clucas.  Into the last 10 minutes and there was finally something to quicken the pulse as a cross from Richarlison was deflected to Doucouré whose shot was blocked.

Doucoure in action

Silva’s final change saw Carrillo make way for Pereyra.  The Argentine made an immediate impact playing a gorgeous ball to Gray who only had the keeper to beat, I nervously glanced at the lino, but Gray beat himself shooting straight at the keeper with the goal at his mercy, prompting howls from the Rookery.  A voice behind me had been expressing his concern at the narrow lead for some time and there was a certain inevitability when the visitors launched a counter attack and a header from McBurnie found Ayew who poked the ball past Gomes.  I was hoping that there would be a repeat of the end of the game at the Liberty Stadium when the Hornets snatched a last minute goal to secure the win.  Instead, this was Palace all over again as a shot from Dyer was parried by Gomes and Narsingh grabbed the winner.  Watford had a chance to reclaim a point in time added on, but Doucouré’s shot was wild and flew well wide of the target.

The reaction of the Watford fans at the final whistle ranged from stunned silence to vociferous anger as a large volley of abuse was directed at the players, who made a quick exit from the pitch, with the admirable exception of Heurelho Gomes who did his usual lap applauding each of the stands.  He was given a hero’s ovation by most, apart from one individual at the front of the Rookery who decided to have a go at him.  He listened to the concerns and responded, but neither he nor the fan appeared happy with the conclusion.

Attacking at a corner

It is difficult to put into words how I felt after the game.  It had been incredibly frustrating as Watford were so much better than their opponents who showed little in the way of threat.  But the longer the game stayed at 1-0, the more likely it appeared that Swansea would leave Vicarage Road with at least a point.  It had been incredibly dull for most of the ninety minutes and Pete’s observation that the second half appeared as if it was being played at London Colney summed it up perfectly.  There was no sense of urgency or pressing to get a second goal and it cost us dearly.

However, thanks to Huddersfield only claiming a point on Saturday, we finish the year in the top half of the table, although we are now nervously looking down rather than up.  It is sad to end the year this way after such a terrific start to the season.  My niece, who had ended the game slumped forward with her head in her hands followed it up by tweeting “I hate football.”  I sympathise with that sentiment and only hope that the return in the new year of some of the missing players will mean an upturn in form and we can enjoy the second half of the season as much as we did the early months.

I wish you and your families a very happy new year and much joy in following the Hornets.

That Was For You, Toddy

Toddy and I in happier times

This week, the Watford family lost someone very special. Stephen Todd, known to his football friends as Toddy, was a lifelong Watford fan. He regularly travelled to away games and was a stalwart at club events. He was an enthusiastic member of the Norfolk Hornets and a regular contributor to various fanzines over the years, where his quirky sense of humour shone through. More than that, he was one of my closest friends, someone who always added laughter to a social occasion. Sadly, he has had a number of health issues over the past year, but has bravely soldiered on and travelled to see the tremendous game at Southampton before his final appearance at last week’s defeat to Manchester City. As the news of his passing reached the club, I was very moved to see a tweet from Troy on how much he would be missed. Similar sentiments were expressed on social media by Luther, Gibbsy, Nick Cox, Ross Wilson, Dave Messenger and Jon Marks. The kind words from the great and the good were echoed by many fellow fans and this outpouring of love has bought great comfort to his family and friends. I will miss him terribly.

Doucoure on the ball

As is my usual practice, I booked the train to Swansea some time before the match tickets went on sale. So, when my usual e-mail to ask who wanted tickets was met with a chorus of ‘no thanks’, I began to regret booking the early train as this meant that I would be spending rather a long time sitting alone in a pub with my thoughts. I have to say that the pre-match pub was pleasant and welcoming and I quite enjoyed my solitary pints before the walk to the ground. I was feeling a little empty as I entered the stadium, but it wasn’t long before I encountered familiar faces and was able to share happy memories of Toddy and his exploits.

Team news was that Silva had made two changes from the heavy defeat to City with Femenía and Capoue replacing Janmaat and Chalobah, who had picked up an injury in training. So the starting line-up was Gomes, Femenía, Mariappa, Kabasele, Holebas; Doucouré, Cleverley; Carrillo, Capoue, Richarlison; Gray. Swansea’s Watford connection was in the dug out in the form of Hornet legend Nigel Gibbs.

Celebrating Gray’s first goal for the club

After the heavy defeat last week, there was a fear that the early season spirit may have been crushed, but the concerns were eased as Watford started brilliantly and had an early chance to open the scoring as Doucouré played a through ball to Femenía, he crossed for Gray whose shot was deflected just wide. The visitors took the lead in the 13th minute as the ball broke to Gray, he played it out to Carrillo whose cross evaded the Swansea defence and found its way back to the former Burnley man who blasted home for the first goal of his Watford career. It was great to see Andre get off the mark at last. Not so great was the fact that the goal was celebrated with a flare. There is an irony in the fact that it is always at the grounds at which the searches are most stringent (the steward who searched me could feel what I had for breakfast) that flares are smuggled in. Swansea nearly equalized almost immediately from their first chance of the game as a corner was almost poked home by Fernandez, but Gomes made the block to preserve the lead. Watford threatened again, as Holebas played a brilliant pass down the touchline to Richarlison who crossed for Capoue who belted a shot from distance just wide of the near post. At the other end, Bony met a free kick from Carroll with a header that flew just wide of the target.

Carrillo picking a pass

Carrillo then went on a fantastic run before putting in a cross that was half cleared to Femenía, his volley was parried by Fabianski, the ball dropped to Richarlison, who crossed back for Carrillo to tap the ball home. Sadly, and correctly, the celebrations in the away end were curtailed by the linesman’s flag. The first booking of the game came as Capoue slid into a tackle, he was hurt in the process and, to add insult to injury, the referee showed him the yellow card. Swansea’s next half chance came as a looping cross from Naughton was pulled out of the air by Gomes. Then Olsson broke into the box, Mariappa tripped as he went to make the tackle, so the cross reached Bony who could only direct a soft shot straight at Gomes. Watford had a great chance to increase their lead as a poor back pass was intercepted by Gray, who advanced into the box, but the keeper, Fabianski, narrowed the angle and the shot drifted across the face of the goal. Swansea had another chance to draw level from a free kick that was headed wide by Bony. The last action of the half was a caution for Doucouré for pulling Fer back as he tried to escape. So Watford went into the break a goal to the good. The visitors had been brilliant for the first half hour, playing the ball around and showing some sublime moments of skill, Swansea couldn’t get near us. But I was concerned that we hadn’t made more of our chances and the flurry of activity from the home side towards the end of the half clearly demonstrated that the game was far from over.

New boy, Wague, and Mariappa

Both sides made substitutions at the break with Abraham and Mesa replacing van der Hoorn and Clucas for Swansea. For the visitors, Marco Silva gave Wagué his first appearance in place of Capoue, a defender for a midfielder.

The change of formation benefitted the home side, who started the second half as they had finished the first. They had an early chance to draw level as Fer headed over from a Carroll corner. The equaliser came in the next move as Watford failed to clear a ball into the box allowing Bony to shoot, the strike was stopped by Gomes, who appeared to have it under control, but it spilled to Abraham who finished from close range, much to the frustration of the Watford keeper. The home side threatened again as a cross reached Abraham, who was about to shoot from close range when Mariappa made a brilliant saving tackle. Watford’s first real attack of the second half came as Richarlison made a brilliant run into the box which deserved a better finish than him slipping before he could shoot. Silva made a second substitution with 15 minutes to go, bringing Pereyra on for Carrillo. Watford’s improved showing continued as a cross from Cleverley was met by a lovely header from Gray that was deflected wide.

Gray and Carrillo congratulate Richarlison

Nerves were jangling in the away end as Mariappa was penalised for what looked like a good tackle on the edge of the box. Our vantage point at the opposite end of the ground was such that we could visualize the perfect shot for the home side to take the lead. Instead, Carroll directed the free kick into the wall and we breathed again. The first caution for the home side came as Bony was booked for a foul on Holebas. That was the Swansea man’s last action of the game as he was replaced by Sanches. Watford’s last change came at the same time, as Deeney came on for Gray. The Watford captain made an immediate impact as Pereyra crossed for Doucouré, who played the ball back to Deeney, but Fabianski was equal to the shot. Watford were to snatch all three points in the last minute of the game as a misplaced Swansea pass was picked up by Richarlison, who bore down on Fabianski. With only the keeper to beat, you worried that the Brazilian had too much time to think, but his shot went in off the crossbar sending the travelling Hornets into raptures and the home fans towards the exits. The scorer ripped his shirt off to celebrate and was booked for his trouble, but it was worth the card to see the passion. The fourth official indicated five minutes of added time, but there was no further excitement and the Hornets secured all three points.

Femenia

There were loud celebrations at the final whistle. Watford had started the game superbly, but once Swansea started closing us down and denying us space, we started to struggle. During that period, we also seemed to stand back and let Swansea play. In the last 15 minutes, we started reasserting ourselves. The tenacious tackling was back and it unnerved the opposition players causing them to make mistakes. Going forward, we were taking more time to pick passes, and stopped playing the aimless balls that had been getting us into trouble. If I’m honest, a draw would have been a fair result, and winning a point away at a rival has got to be a positive thing. But it was a measure of the spirit of this team that they kept battling for the three points. I have to pay tribute to Deeney here as his cameo showed the strength and battling spirit that he brings to the team. As is usual, Troy was the last to come and applaud the fans and, after his kindness in paying tribute to Toddy this week, I sang his name even louder and prouder than I usually do.

As I waited for my train, I picked up a voicemail from a friend who’d been listening to Three Counties and had heard Jon Marks mention that we were one short today and how much Toddy would be missed. That epitomised what I will take from this week. The Premier League and the clubs that make it up have become so corporate that it is apparent that the fans who go to matches week-in, week-out don’t matter any more. But the actions of the people in and around Watford Football Club this week have shown that, in our little corner of Hertfordshire, they still have time to show that they care. That is why I am especially proud to be a Watford fan this week.

That win was for you, Toddy.  Sleep well, dear friend, you will be greatly missed.

 

Forty Points Achieved against the Swans

The legends flag greets the players

Due to the lack of an Easter programme in the Premier League, we only had one game this weekend, so I felt oddly cheated but determined to make the most of the one that we had.  The sun was shining when I reached the West Herts and joined the usual suspects at ‘our’ table.  Mike and Toddy were slumming with us before taking their place in the posh seats as a result of winning the Supporters Trust draw.  The rest of us enjoyed our more modest surroundings as much as we always do.

Discussion pre-match was about whether the next two games were must wins.  I must admit that, looking at the table with only 7 games to go, Watford’s 37 points and 10th place was starting to convince me that safety had already been achieved and so maybe we wouldn’t need any further points.  But it would be very reassuring to reach the holy grail of 40 points and this game had to be our best chance to do so.

Challenging for a ball into the box

The visit of Swansea also meant a return to Vicarage Road for legend and all round good egg Nigel Gibbs, who is on their coaching staff.  So it was a nice touch when Tim Coombs prefaced his reading of the away team with a welcome back for Gibbsy and the crowd gave him a very warm welcome indeed.

Team news was that Deeney was restored to the starting line-up alongside Prödl and Capoue replacing Okaka, Cathcart and Success.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Prödl, Mariappa, Holebas; Cleverley, Doucouré, Capoue; Amrabat, Deeney and Niang.

The first goalmouth action of the game was a cross from Amrabat that was headed clear by Mawson.  The first actual goal attempt fell to the visitors as Sigurdsson broke into the box, his first shot was blocked, his second required a decent save from Gomes at the near post.  Swansea fashioned another dangerous chance as Sigurdsson launched a free kick into the box, the punch from Gomes flew into the air and fell for Fernández whose header, thankfully, landed on the roof of the net.  Watford’s first attempt on target came as Niang went on a run and tried a low shot from distance, but it was easy for Fabianski in the Swansea goal.

Celebrating Capoue’s goal

A lovely passing move from the Hornets finished with Amrabat shooting wide of the far post.  The Hornets had a great chance to open the scoring as Capoue played a lovely through ball towards Deeney in the box, but Fabianski was first to the ball.  There was good work from Doucouré to nick the ball before releasing Niang who was fouled on the edge of the area.  The Frenchman took the set piece himself, shooting through the wall but Fabianski dropped to make the save.  Then Janmaat won the ball and went on a tremendous run before crossing for Deeney whose shot was tipped over by Fabianski.  Despite the dominance of the Hornets, the visitors should have taken the lead on the half hour as Narsingh found Ki Sung-Yueng who only had Gomes to beat from close range, but he hesitated and then, as a defender appeared, shot straight at Gomes.  Sigurdsson was the next to try his luck, but his shot from distance was easy for Gomes.  Just when it looked as though the game would reach half time goalless, Capoue nicked the ball from Mawson and broke into the box, his first shot was blocked, but he buried the rebound to send the Rookery and particularly my niece, his biggest fan, into raptures.

Capoue and Cleverley line up a free kick

So the Hornets were leading at the break.  They had dominated possession without threatening Fabianski’s goal on too many occasions.  Swansea had a few decent chances, but they were clearly bereft of confidence and looked very unlikely to get back into the game.

The half time draw was made by Kenny Jackett.  As always it was lovely to see him back at Vicarage Road and he said all the right things when asked what he wanted from the meeting of two of his former clubs.

As the players came out for the start of the second half, instead of taking his place in goal in front of the Rookery, Fabianski remained on the half-way line.  I thought we were in for a very unusual kick-off but it turned out that he was just waiting for the referee to reappear with the matchball, so that he could have a cuddle of the ball before continuing.

Doucoure and Amrabat chase the ball

There was an early second half chance for the visitors as Sigurdsson tried a shot from just outside the area that flew wide.  At the other end Doucouré had a sight of goal so hit a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  Then Janmaat went on a great run into the box and unleashed a powerful shot that Fabianski did very well to divert from its intended path to the top corner.  Watford’s first substitution came just after the hour mark when Amrabat, who was waiting to take a throw-in on the opposite side from the dugouts, was replaced by Kabasele.  Nordin looked furious as he walked the width of the pitch and the message from Mazzarri was that his aim was to preserve the lead, a tactic that hasn’t always worked for us.

The 72nd minute was greeted with the customary chant of “One Graham Taylor” and the picture on the big screen showed Rita with her granddaughter in the Directors’ box.  So lovely to see her at Vicarage Road and I hope that the continued expressions of love for Graham bring her some comfort.

Gomes with a goal kick

Mazzarri’s second substitution saw Okaka replacing Niang.  The Italian looked to have sealed the game for the Hornets soon after when he received a lovely cross from Janmaat, controlled the ball on his chest and volleyed past Fabianski.  Sadly the goal was ruled out for offside.  Okaka turned provider soon after, crossing for Capoue whose shot cleared the bar.  There was danger for the home side as Sigurdsson swung a free kick towards goal, but Gomes was able to punch clear.  Then Ayew broke forward and crossed for Carroll whose shot found the side netting.  Mazzarri’s final change was to bring Behrami on in place of Cleverley.  Watford had one last chance to ensure the win as Doucouré tried a shot from outside the area, but Fabianski was equal to it.  The visitors had two chances to retrieve a point in time added on.  First a mistake from Prödl allowed them to advance, Borja crossed for Sigurdsson whose header was poor and flew wide of the near post.  The Icelander had one last chance, going on a dangerous run that was stopped by a crucial tackle from Doucouré.  So the final whistle went on the third home win in a row with the Hornets sitting pretty in 10th place having amassed 40 points.

The second half had been a poor spectacle and, with only the one goal lead, they seemed to make heavy weather of the game, but the three points has all but guaranteed that Watford will be a Premier League club for the third season in a row so the crowds leaving Vicarage Road did so with a spring in their step and those of us who had secured our season tickets for next season were feeling very happy indeed.

A Battering at White Hart Lane

The teams line up for the handshake

The teams line up for the handshake

After an encouraging performance at home to Chelsea, we made the trip to White Hart Lane.  The feeling of injustice after the last minute offside winner at Vicarage Road still rankled, but I really wasn’t expecting anything from this game.

Team news was that Flores had made five changes which included a full debut for Suárez and resting Deeney, a player that I can never imagine needing a rest, although it was reported that he had failed a fitness test before the game.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Capoue, Watson, Suárez, Abdi, Jurado and Ighalo.  It looked like a fairly defensive line-up and there were questions about how Ighalo would fare without his pal.

Prior to the match, we’d been warned to get there by 2pm because of the “enhanced security”.  As it was, the searching process was no worse than at Swansea, although I do object to being treated like a criminal when going to a place of entertainment, and we were soon in our seats.

As the teams emerged from the tunnel, I struggled to spot the Watford players as we were wearing our black away kit, while the Spurs team came out in black track suit tops, so the teams appeared to merge into one.  Prior to kick off there was a minute’s applause for Peter Baker who was part of the double winning side in 60/61.  It was beautifully observed by both sets of fans.

Ake preparing for a throw

Ake preparing for a throw

The first attack of the match came from Harry Kane, who broke into the box with Aké in attendance who couldn’t stop the shot, but helped to ensure that it was weak and easy for Gomes to gather.  A Britos miskick put the Hornets in danger, but Gomes came charging out of the area to clear.  Then Chadli met a Trippier cross with a header that bounced off Nyom’s head and out for a corner.  Spurs continued to dominate as a corner was met with a defensive header that dropped to Dembélé who shot wide of the near post.  On the half hour, Davies hit a dangerous shot that took a deflection off Nyom which, thankfully, took it into the side netting.  Davies played a lovely one-two with Chadli before unleashing a shot that Gomes got a hand to before it was eventually cleared after a scramble.  A free kick from Lamela was met by a header from Chadli that was terribly weak and flew wide of the target.  Watford’s first chance came in the 35th minute as Lloris came out for a clearance prompting Abdi to try to chip him, but the shot ended up on the roof of the net.  The Spurs onslaught continued as a Nyom tackle broke to Davies who advanced and shot, but Gomes saved.  The resulting corner reached Lamela but, again, Gomes was equal to the shot.  Harry Kane was the next to threaten the Watford goal but, with Britos challenging, he shot over the bar.  Towards the end of the half, there was a glimmer of hope for Watford fans with a lovely period of passing but, sadly, it finished with a through ball from Jurado to Ighalo being intercepted by the defence.

Capoue challenging

Capoue challenging

The first half had been very disappointing.  Playing Ighalo alone upfront had left him isolated and ineffectual.  But he wasn’t the only one struggling as, every time Watford tried to break, there seemed to be a Spurs player available to intercept the pass.  Spurs were playing very well, not giving us any time on the ball and forcing misplaced passes.  The much anticipated debut from Suárez had been very disappointing, he has a great touch but made no impact on the game.  After the break he made way for Behrami and Deeney replaced Abdi.

Early in the second half, there was a penalty appeal for the home side as Kane went down after a challenge with Gomes.  Thankfully the referee waved the appeals away.  There followed another worrying period for the Hornets as every attempted clearance came back, so it was a relief finally to see the ball in the arms of Gomes.  There was another chance for Spurs as Lamela played the ball out to Kane whose shot was parried by Gomes.  Less than 10 minutes into the half Britos, who had earlier had treatment for an injury, could no longer continue and was replaced by Prödl.  Soon after, there was a rare attack from the Hornets as Capoue battled past a couple of challenges before releasing Ighalo who, sadly, was flagged offside.  At the other end Cathcart did very well to turn a Trippier cross out for a corner.  The first booking of the game came as Capoue lost the ball to Trippier and then fouled him trying to win it back.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

Spurs made their first substitution on the hour replacing Chadli with Alli.  The youngster’s first act was to pass to Lamela who was falling as he attempted his shot which was easy for Gomes to gather.  Spurs took the lead on 64 minutes as Trippier converted a cross from Alli.  It appeared to be a poor goal to give away but it felt like a miracle that we had held out that long.  Watford tried to strike back immediately as a ball over the top into the box was met with a defensive header that dropped to Deeney who shot over the bar.  At the other end, Lamela latched on to a through ball but shot past the near post.  Almost immediately he was replaced by Son.  Spurs had a good chance to increase the lead as a cross from Erikson reached Wimmer who played the ball back across the box instead of towards the goal and Nyom was able to clear.  A ball over the top to Deeney was cleared before it reached him, then Jurado played in Ighalo whose shot was blocked.  At the other end Son tried his luck but his shot was saved by Gomes.  Then a ball into the Spurs box was headed clear by Wimmer before Deeney could convert.  Gomes was in action again soon after saving a shot from Erikson.  Then Capoue played a ball over the top to Deeney, but there were two defenders on him before he could shoot so he passed to Ighalo whose shot was deflected for a corner.  The set piece from Watson was too deep and came to nothing.  Watford threatened again as Capoue found Ighalo who tried an overhead kick that flew well wide.  On 90 minutes, Jurado tried a shot but Lloris was equal to it.  Then a cross from Nyom was headed down by Deeney to Ighalo whose shot was saved but the flag was up anyway.  The final action of the game was a throw from Aké which was headed on by Deeney, but Lloris gathered.

Gomes lines up a free kick

Gomes lines up a free kick

It was a relief when the final whistle went.  Watford had put in a better performance in the second half and could have nicked an equalizer, but we had been battered by Spurs over the 90 minutes.  It was testament to the defence and, particularly, Gomes, that we had only conceded the one goal.  Flores had set us up to contain Spurs in the first half and, while I didn’t enjoy that any more than I enjoyed the game at Man City when he employed the same  tactics, the result was as expected and our goal difference didn’t suffer which is a positive that I took from the result.

Being second best to this Spurs team is no disgrace and, now that the dust has settled, I reflect that 25 games into the season we are still in 10th place, 10 points clear of the relegation zone and with a better goal difference than anyone below us (and Liverpool).  We have some very winnable games coming up and probably only need two more wins to guarantee survival.  If you’d told me at the start of the season that that would be the case at this point in the season, I would have bitten your hand off.

A Valiant Effort Against the Spurs

Capoue passes under a challenge from Alli

Capoue passes under a challenge from Alli

There’s no rest for the wicked so, two days after the trip to Stamford Bridge, we were back at Vicarage Road for the game against Spurs.  I arrived at the West Herts early doors to see Don and a number of others milling around outside as the doors were not yet open.  My reason for getting there early was that I had completely forgotten to get a calendar this year.  I always have a Watford calendar on my office wall at work, so it was essential that was rectified.  I am not a shopper, I only ever venture into town when I have something particular to buy, so it is a while since I’ve been in the Hornet shop and my calendar ended up costing me over £150 as other Watford related delights caught my eye.  I walked to the ground with Karoline and other members of the Vicarage Roadies and we reflected on the Boxing Day game and the season so far, both topics bringing smiles to our faces.  On reaching Vicarage Road, a smartly dressed man caught my eye and then asked if I had any spare tickets.  Don’t you love the Premier League?

Today was going to be a very tough test and it was amusing to reflect that three matches into the run of Christmas games that we had all been dreading at the start of the season, this was the first one in which we would face a club above us in the table.

Ighalo leaps for a corner

Ighalo leaps for a corner

Team news was that Aké regained his place in the side and Nyom was rested in favour of Anya.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Britos, Cathcart, Anya, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.  The Tottenham team included former loanee, Danny Rose.  When I got to my seat, I found one of the 1881 flags that hadn’t been claimed by anyone else so I joined in the pre-match flag waving.

There was a lively start from the visitors as Kane came running into the box but was stopped by a great tackle from Aké.  The next tackle of note was less impressive as Alli slid through Capoue to earn himself a yellow card.  Watford’s first goal attempt came as Ighalo connected with a cross from Anya, but he was poorly positioned and directed his header wide, although the flag was up for offside anyway.  The next threat from the visitors came from a cross from Trippier that was headed clear by Watson.  Watford then had a couple of decent chances both of which fell to Capoue.  The first came from a corner that was cleared to the Frenchman, who shot high and wide.  Then Watson found Deeney whose shot was blocked, again it dropped to Capoue who shot well wide of the target prompting chants of “that’s why we sold you” from the Tottenham fans.  The visitors took the lead on 16 minutes as Cathcart lingered too long on a ball in the midfield, Lamela stole it and advanced upfield, Britos stood off and allowed him to shoot past Gomes.  It was a gift of a goal, but it is hard to criticise Cathcart who has been a rock this season.

Returning from the goal celebration

Returning from the goal celebration

Spurs threatened again as Kane broke forward, fighting off the attentions of Cathcart, he cut the ball back to Lamela who mishit his shot which flew well wide of the target.  At the other end, Deeney flicked the ball to Ighalo in the box, but Dier was on hand to clear.  Then Deeney connected with a cross from Capoue and headed it down for Ighalo, but the defenders closed him down and prevented the shot.  The Nigerian had another chance soon after as Jurado played the ball out to Aké on the left wing, he crossed for Ighalo who volleyed wide.  For the visitors, Alli tried a shot from distance that was well wide.  Rose tackled Abdi and fed Kane who advanced on goal but his shot was well over the target.  Jurado tried a low shot from distance but Lloris was down to save.  Gomes was called into action to deal with a cross-cum-shot from Trippier that he pushed clear.  At the other end Lloris had to deal with a cross from Aké that was also tipped clear.  It was almost half time when Jurado found Abdi on the edge of the box, his shot was blocked, but the ball wasn’t cleared and suddenly Ighalo had the ball and was beyond the defence and shooting past Lloris.  Just remarkable.  Tottenham had a chance just before half time as a defensive header by Deeney reached Trippier, but he could only shoot wide.

So we reached half time level.  Spurs had done a good job of snuffing out Watford’s attack but, apart from the goal which was the result of poor defending from Watford, Gomes had not been tested.

Anya takes a throw-in

Anya takes a throw-in

At the start of the second half, Behrami replaced Abdi.  Spurs had also made a change just before the end of the first half replacing the injured Dembélé with Erikson.  The first action of note in the second period was the award of a yellow card to Britos for a foul on Trippier.  The tackle was right in front of Flores who did not look impressed with the decision.  Erikson played a ball over the top to Kane, but the England man shot straight at Gomes.  Watford fans’ impression of the referee was not improved when Jurado was booked for a foul on Alli that could easily have gone the other way.  Just before the hour mark, Kane met a cross from Trippier with a diving header that flew wide of the target.  Flores made his second substitution soon after bringing Prödl on for Britos.  Watford’s first goal attempt of the half came as a Cathcart free kick was met by a header from Deeney that was cleared.  On the hour, the Hornets were reduced to ten men.  From our angle in the Rookery, Aké appeared to make a good tackle on Lamela who went down dramatically, the Spurs players surrounded the referee and the youngster was shown a red card.  Deeney was then shown a yellow for protesting.  Subsequent television pictures indicated that the foot was high, but Lamela’s dramatic fall wasn’t the first time that we had seen theatrics from the Spurs players so, subsequently, every touch by a visitor was booed.

Britos lines up a free kick

Britos lines up a free kick

The mood in the home end was not helped when Ighalo was penalized for trying to shake off the attentions of a Spurs defender as he tried to break down the right.  Odion was also shown a yellow card, I can only think that he had let the lino know exactly what he thought of him.  Thankfully I wasn’t on the pitch as my reaction would have earned me a straight red.  I wasn’t the only one to be angry as the Rookery rang out with “You’ve only got 12 men.”  Each side made a substitution as Nyom replaced Jurado and Son came on for Carroll.  Spurs threatened for the first time since the sending off as Erikson played the ball through to Son, but Gomes was out to save at his feet.  There were cheers from the home fans as the referee finally gave a free kick Watford’s way, although he really couldn’t ignore Alderweireld’s wrestling move on Capoue which finished with the Frenchman being thrown to the ground and the Spurs man’s name in the referee’s book.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead as a corner from Watson was headed goalwards by Deeney, Lloris punched the ball into the air which led to a goalmouth scramble but it was eventually cleared.  Danny Rose was the next to earn the wrath of the Watford faithful as he went down near the Watford box in an attempt to stop an attack by Deeney.  The referee had words.  With 5 minutes of normal time remaining, Watford had a series of corners and thought they had scored when Watson’s delivery was cleared from inside the goal by Lloris, but the ref’s watch didn’t go off so the ball can’t fully have crossed the line.

Watson takes a free kick

Watson takes a free kick

As Watford had looked the most likely winners, it was heartbreaking to see the ball in the net at the other end as a cross from Trippier reached Son who back-heeled the ball past Gomes.  I was looking for a flag that never came and replays showed that my instincts were correct.  The guy standing next to me just shook his head and lamented “after all that wonderful defending.”  My comments were written in my notebook and have had to be omitted from this report on the grounds of decency.  In time added on, Deeney had a chance to grab a point for the Hornets but his shot was blocked and the points went to North London.  There were boos for the referee at the final whistle.  Ighalo collapsed to the ground in disappointment (and exhaustion) and was helped to his feet by Flores who then went to the referee and had a few words.  The officials left the pitch to loud boos that were accompanied by applause for the efforts of the players.  Once he had reached the tunnel, the cheers started for the disappointed players who were still out applauding the crowd.

Gomes ready to launch the ball

Gomes ready to launch the ball

The result felt like a great injustice.  After Ake’s sending off I had feared that Spurs would take control, but the Hornets had defended magnificently and the visitors had never really looked like getting a winner so for them to win it at the death seemed so unfair.  This game felt like a flashback to our last visit to the top division when decisions seemed to go against us and every mistake was punished.  But the fact that it has taken until the 19th game of the season for me to feel like that is a cause for celebration.

The next game will be very interesting.  In the game away at Man City we set up to defend and hardly crossed the half way line.  Facing them at home is likely to be a much different proposition and one I am relishing, even if I’m not expecting anything from the game.  But our season does not depend on our results against teams like City and Spurs and, if the second half of the season is anything like as good as the first half, we are in for a treat.

Happy New Year!

 

Behind Enemy Lines

Taking the field at Loftus Road

Taking the field at Loftus Road

I must admit that I love going to Loftus Road, but it smacked of over enthusiasm to arrive in Shepherds Bush before the pubs opened.  The lush hanging around waiting for admission was denied entry to our hostelry of choice by a bouncer demanding to see a QPR season ticket.  Thankfully, the next place that I tried hadn’t quite organized themselves, so I breezed in and found a table only to see each of my companions denied entry.  Twice I ran to the door to plead them to let my friends join me.  The lady was immediately admitted, the “old fella” took a bit more persuasion, but we were ultimately successful and the beer and the lunch were well worth the hassle.  While supping our pints, our attention was drawn to Police riot vans parked on the Green which heralded a group of Watford fans being escorted to the ground.  Quite why that was necessary, I have no idea.  But it was rather incongruous to see a bunch of Watford youths giving it large to a group of their fellow fans who were enjoying another pint before strolling in the sunshine to the away entrance.

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

There were two changes from the team that beat Ipswich on Saturday as Hoban made way for Cassetti, who was returning from suspension, and Pudil replaced Faraoni meaning that Riera swapped wings.  So the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Abdi, Riera, Ranegie and Deeney.

We started the game very brightly with a McGugan shot from distance and a Deeney volley both of which flew over the bar.  Then Ranegie got on the end of a cross from McGugan but a defender’s challenge ensured he shot over.  Deeney latched onto a backheader from Dunne and Green had to be smart to push his shot wide.  QPR’s first attempt was a soft shot from Austin that was straight at Almunia.  Then Abdi intercepted the ball and passed to Deeney who broke forward, but the defence closed ranks before he could shoot, so he passed back to McGugan who shot way over.

Dunne launches a clearance

Dunne launches a clearance

McGugan played a lovely cross towards Ranegie, but he couldn’t get a touch on it.  Another cross, this time from Angella, appeared to have reached Deeney, but Onuoha took it off his feet.  Just before the half hour, Austin was tripped and tumbled in the box, appealing for a penalty, as the ball was cleared to Simpson who tried a shot from distance that was easily gathered by Almunia.  Watford launched a counter attack but McGugan’s shot took a deflection and was easy for Green to deal with.  Everyone in the away stand was screaming at Ekstrand to pass to Pudil, who had a free run, but he delayed which allowed the defence to get back to block Pudil’s shot.  Watford had dominated the half, but QPR nearly made the breakthrough on the stroke of half time as Carroll curled a free-kick goalwards but, fortunately, Almunia was equal to it.

Almunia on the ball

Almunia on the ball

Half time entertainment was an interview with Phil Parkes, who I’ve always rather liked, made all the more entertaining as it was conducted while he tried to dodge being showered by the sprinklers.  I was also intrigued to see advertisements for the QPR stadium tours that were available in English and Korean.  Given the impossibility of sitting during the game, half time was also an opportunity to rest tired legs ready for the second half.

The only change at the start of the second period was the removal of Angella’s head bandage.  It had been moving around his head during the first half, so he clearly decided he was better off without it.  We had an early chance as Ranegie knocked Angella’s cross back to

Deeney congratulating Ranegie

Deeney congratulating Ranegie

Abdi but his shot hit the bloke in front of me in the upper tier.  Ranegie then sent a cross towards Deeney but Barton headed it for a corner.  The Frenchman was sporting a rather bizarre top knot so, while waiting for the corner to be taken, he was regaled with “Your hair’s embarrassing.”  He turned to the crowd and asked whether we were referring to him or Onuoha, whose hair was immaculate.  Tözsér took a quick free kick that was met with a powerful volley from Deeney that Green did really well to keep out.  A minute later we were ahead as Deeney nodded an Ekstrand cross down to Ranegie who swept it past Green.  There was a fairly mental celebration in the stand, which was in danger of tipping some of us into the lower tier.  Watford continued to push as Angella battled to keep the ball in on the sideline, passed to Riera who found Abdi whose shot flew wide of the target.  Ranegie was booked as Onuoha bounced off him.  McGugan tried to

Angella and Doyle tussle

Angella and Doyle tussle

release Ranegie, but the Swede was flagged offside.  Then Abdi was booked for a soft foul on Morrison.  From the free kick, Barton shot over the bar.  On the hour McGugan was replaced by Battocchio and was applauded off by Cassetti and Tözsér, which was a nice touch.  Battocchio’s first contribution was a lovely pass to Pudil whose shot was caught by Green.  From a corner, Morrison evaded a couple of tackles before shooting straight at Almunia.  Austin connected with a Barton corner, but his header was blocked and the follow-up was punched clear by Almunia.  At this stage I noted worriedly that we were sitting deep and inviting them to attack us, which would only become more risky as Zamora and Hoilett replaced Doyle and Simpson.  The next chance for the home side fell to Austin whose terrific shot was well saved by Almunia.  With quarter of an hour to go, QPR were level as Barton took a free-kick just outside the area which he hit through the ragged end of our wall

Attacking a corner

Attacking a corner

into the opposite corner.  Watford tried to strike back immediately as a shot from Deeney was parried by Green, the ball reached Abdi whose shot was headed off the line by Onuoha.  Austin then broke free of the defence but shot wide of the far post.  Ranegie played a through ball to Deeney who shot just wide of the far post, but the flag was already up for offside.  Austin broke into the Watford box, but Almunia dropped to save.  Austin was then booked for a very late tackle on Riera.  In the final minute of normal time, with Watford having failed to make the most of a couple of corners, QPR broke forward, there was a bit of goalmouth pinball, Watford failed to clear the ball and it fell to Austin who curled a shot past Almunia to win the game for the hosts.

I must admit that I left the ground furious that we’d sat back and let them get back into the game.  My notes don’t back up that version of events, but it was certainly the case that we had prevented QPR getting a sniff of goal for over an hour and, while the winner came after we’d committed forward for a corner, they had a number of chances in the last 25 minutes.  Still, on the plus side, we had played some lovely football and looked the better team on the day.  It is just a shame that we don’t capitalize on our periods of dominance.  If we did, it would have been us confirming a play-off place instead of languishing in mid-table.

A Good Point Against Rangers

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

Despite the tremendous performance and result against Millwall on Boxing Day, the visit of QPR would be a completely different prospect and I approached the game with some trepidation.  The derby nature of this match was indicated by the increased Police presence at the Junction and the huge Met Police van in Shady Lane, which I assume had brought the horses to town.  Pre-match we heard rumours of trouble in the town centre pubs and I was told that there were QPR youngsters chanting in the Rookery concourse but, fortunately, I didn’t witness any trouble either inside or outside the ground.

Team news was of injuries to Anya and Forestieri, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Angella, Doyley, Bellerin, McGugan, Thorne, Murray, Cassetti, Fabbrini and Deeney.

Fabbrini receives a pass

Fabbrini receives a pass

It was the visitors who had the first shot on goal, in the 6th minute, although I use that term loosely as Kranjcar’s attempt almost hit me as it flew into the Rookery.  The Croatian was responsible for the next two shots that I noted: a curler that was easily gathered by Almunia and then another that went wide of the far post.  Watford’s first goal attempt came on 21 minutes as the ball broke to Fabbrini who fed McGugan, but his shot was wayward and didn’t come near to troubling Green.  Then a cross from Cassetti was chested goalwards by Deeney, but was easily caught by Green.  At the other end Hoilett put in a cross which flew over the heads of all gathered in the Watford box.  Soon after, the ball was given away to Kranjcar, but his shot was wide of the target.  Then Fabbrini attempted a

McGugan lines up a free-kick

McGugan lines up a free-kick

run into the QPR box but was met with a robust, but fair, tackle.  Just before the half hour came Watford’s best move of the game so far as Bellerin passed to Deeney who exchanged passes with Murray as they advanced towards the QPR goal.  Murray shot from just outside the box but Green was able to gather the ball safely.  Then there was danger at the other end as Thorne gave the ball away to Hoilett who exchanged passes with Kranjcar who found space to shoot between two Watford defenders, but his shot was just wide.  Next Phillips skipped through the defence but shot wide of the near post.  On 38 minutes, Angella was booked for knocking Kranjcar over in the centre circle.  With five minutes remaining, Carroll delivered a dangerous cross into the box which Almunia parried, the ball bounced about dangerously in the resulting melee and was cleared after which Almunia required treatment.  There was one final goal chance in time added on as Phillips played a low cross in from the right towards Hoilett, but Doyley was on hand to stop the shot, the ball reached Carroll on the left, who crossed it in again, but Hoilett could not connect and we reached half-time goalless.  It hadn’t been pretty, but both teams were defending effectively.

Angella on the ball

Angella on the ball

At the start of the second half, Thorne released McGugan, who was battling the attentions of two defenders as he shot from distance way over the bar.  Almunia was called into action to punch a shot from Phillips clear.  On 51 minutes, Deeney and Fabbrini exchanged passes, the Italian shot goalwards but Green was down to gather the ball.  On 58 minutes, there was a great move down the pitch ending with Deeney putting a through ball to Cassetti who hit a cross off Assou-Ekotto to win a corner.  Angella connected with McGugan’s corner, but his header was over the bar.  On the hour, Phillips was booked for a foul on Fabbrini.  It was good to see the referee take some action at last as he had let a lot go, including some ridiculously blatant pushes.  Barton was then booked as he took Thorne down, although from the other end of the ground it appeared that Thorne

Acuna's appeals fall on deaf ears

Acuna’s appeals fall on deaf ears

fell over him and that booking looked rather harsh, even if it was Barton.  With 20 minutes to go, Johnson replaced Carroll.  On his first foray into the box, he was accompanied by Angella and Doyley who gave him no space to cross or shoot so the ball went out for a goal kick.  Benayoun was then replaced by O’Neil.  Johnson was on the attack again soon after as he ran on to a through ball from Kranjcar, but he was flagged offside.  More substitutions followed as Acuna replaced Fabbrini and Hoilett made way for Traore.  Soon after, McGugan attempted an audacious back heel, but Deeney wasn’t expecting it and stopped his run so the chance was gone.  Then Murray unleashed a long range shot that took a deflection, but Green was behind it.  Acuna was then booked for what appeared to be

Jostling for position at a corner

Jostling for position at a corner

a tame foul.  A spell of attack and counter-attack finished with a back header by Phillips that was well wide of the target.  Then Johnson met a cross from Phillips with a header that flew wide, but the linesman had his flag raised anyway.  With 4 minutes remaining, Battocchio replaced Murray.  In time added on, a free-kick by Barton was deflected into the side netting.  The resultant corner was punched clear by Almunia.  The final action was a cross from Deeney on the run which flew well wide.

It has to be said that this game did not deliver much in the way of entertainment, but it was a very pleasing point and I came away immensely impressed by our defensive efforts against a team that will likely win automatic promotion this season.