Tag Archives: Tom Cleverley

United we Fell

Masina preparing to take a throw-in

It was an early start for this game, and I couldn’t believe how many people were on the Central Line at 7:30 on a Sunday morning.  The journey to Manchester was uneventful.  Our usual group were going to be split between two pre-match pubs, one nearer the city centre, the other near the ground.  I met up with Pete at Piccadilly and, since the bar in Salford Quays wasn’t opening until midday and we were somewhat earlier than that, we headed to Deansgate to meet Graham and the Happy Valley Hornets.  Graham had arrived early and gone for breakfast.  While wandering in the area, he encountered a group of young men in hoodies and quickly realised that it was the lads out for a constitutional after their breakfast.

Our usual haunt didn’t open until midday, so an alternative had been chosen.  A quick look at TripAdvisor had shown a large number of one star reviews.  When we arrived it seemed OK, apart from the Man United memorabilia, but it went quickly downhill.  For what appeared to be a local pub, it was a bit surprising that the beer was at London prices.  But the clincher was when the barman, while clearing plates, knocked a pint of beer over the daughter of one of our group, claimed that she had done it and refused to provide a replacement.  It was a relief to take refuge in our usual haunt, I don’t think that we will be going back to the White Lion.

The decision to go to the more central pub looked even more misguided when I couldn’t fight my way on to a tram.  When I finally found a space to get on to one, it was the least crowded that had passed through so at least it was a relatively comfortable journey.

Doucoure on the ball

Knowing how restrictive the bag policy is at Old Trafford, I had packed carefully, only bringing things that I needed, but I still had a couple of things in a small bag.  As I passed through the first phalanx of stewards, I asked one of them if I could take my bag in.  He said that I could, and I passed through the next layer of security until I reached the one just before the turnstiles.  At that point I was told I couldn’t take the bag in.  I asked if it was OK to empty the bag into my pockets.  They were fine with that but said that I couldn’t take the actual bag in even though it was a nylon drawstring bag that could be tucked into a pocket.  At that point I gave up trying to reason and went back through the security cordons to the bag drop in the car park opposite.  There I found a young lad with an even smaller drawstring bag telling the attendants that he didn’t have the £5 they were demanding to leave his bag there.  I said that I would pay for him.  The woman behind the counter kindly said that we could put our bags together so that I would only have to pay once, and I had to point out that I didn’t know this boy so we wouldn’t be returning together.

I was livid when I got into the ground.  My mood wasn’t helped when I told my story only to find that two of our party had played the elderly card and brought in two bags that were considerably larger than mine and Mike had a Swiss army knife in his pocket!!  So much for their stringent security.

Doucoure and Masina

Team news was that Pearson had made just the one change with Hughes in for Chalobah.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Hughes, Capoue; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney.

Prior to kick-off, there was a minute’s silence for Harry Gregg, survivor and hero of the Munich air disaster, who had passed away during the week.  The silence was impeccably observed.

Watford had an early chance to take the lead as a defensive mistake allowed Deeney to escape, he broke into the box, but delayed taking a shot giving Shaw time to get back and make the clearance.  It was a golden chance that went to waste.  Troy had another chance to break, but Fred, while lying on the ground, managed to make a tackle allowing United to break and Greenwood to take a shot that was straight at Foster.  The Hornets created another decent chance as Deulofeu crossed for Doucouré, but the Frenchman could only find the side-netting.  Watford had a decent spell without testing the keeper, the next effort came from the home side and was a cross-cum-shot from James that Foster punched clear, it fell to Wan-Bissaka who shot into the side-netting.

Dawson on the ball as Capoue looks on

Watford threatened again as Doucouré went on a good run, his cross was knocked down to Deeney whose shot flew wide of the far post.  At the other end, a low shot by Shaw from the edge of the area was straight at Foster.  It has to be said that, at this stage of the game, the United fans were uncharacteristically noisy.  Martial went on a tremendous break but it came to nothing as his shot was well over the target.  In the away end, a new song got an airing as the travelling Hornets appropriated “Tequila” from Tranmere, but the climax of the song became a shout of “Masina”.  It was rather catchy.  Doucouré then went on a run and tried his luck, but de Gea got a hand to the shot and pushed it out for a corner.  Then Pereyra played in Masina, but he was slipping as he crossed and it was easily gathered by de Gea.  At the other end, James cut inside and shot well wide of the target.  The home side threatened again, this time James played the ball back to Fred just inside the area, but his shot was well over the bar.  Capoue then provided some light relief winning a free kick with what could only be described as a swallow dive.  It was elegant and effective, and the travelling faithful sang his name with some gusto.  Just as we thought we would make it to half time with no score, James played in Fernandes, Foster came out to meet him and took him down.  The United man made the most of it, but it was an obvious penalty.  Fernandes took the spot kick himself, taking a stuttering run up before sending Foster the wrong way and putting the home side ahead.  It could have been two after a mistake from Pereyra gave Fernandes another chance to score, but his shot was just wide of the target.

We were a little unlucky to be behind at half time, United had been poor but, as so often this season, Watford had not taken their chances.

Doucoure and Deeney celebrate the goal that never was

The Hornets created the first half-chance of the second period as Doucouré crossed for Deeney, but Shaw intervened to put the ball out for a corner.  From the corner, Deeney turned the ball in for what we thought was the equaliser.  We had celebrated, the players had celebrated, but then I saw Martin Atkinson in discussion with Harry Maguire who was indicating that he thought there had been a handball.  After consulting the VAR, Atkinson indicated upfield and I was momentarily hopeful until I realised that he was indicating a goal kick.  Apparently, the ball had come off Dawson’s arm in the build-up, so the goal didn’t stand.  The Hornets then won another corner but, on this occasion, the delivery from Hughes was easily caught by de Gea.  The home side threatened again as James played a through ball to Greenwood, whose shot across goal was put out for a corner.  Martial scored United’s second just before the hour mark.  Foster blocked the initial shot, but the Frenchman picked up the rebound and cleverly lofted the ball over Foster and in from a tight angle.  They had a decent chance for a third as Greenwood broke into the box and tried a shot that Foster saved with his feet.  The first booking of the game went to Cathcart for a foul on Martial.  United threatened again as Fernandes crossed for Maguire who headed wide.

Capoue, Masina and Deeney race upfield

With 20 minutes to go, Pearson made his first substitution, bringing Sarr on for Pereyra.  The youngster went on a run almost immediately, but his cross was put out for a corner that came to nothing.  With 15 minutes to go United were three up after Deulofeu lost the ball, Greenwood broke forward and played a one-two with Fernandes before finishing off the underside of the crossbar.  It was a quality goal and you couldn’t see any way back for the Hornets.  Pearson made a second substitution bringing Welbeck on for Deeney, who had had a disappointing game.  The Hornets had a great chance to pull a goal back as Hughes fed Deulofeu but the shot rebounded off the crossbar.  With ten minutes remaining, United made a triple substitution replacing Fred, Greenwood and Martial with McTominay, Chong and Watford old boy, Ighalo.  Pearson also made a final substitution bringing Cleverley on for Doucouré.  Ighalo immediately created a chance after picking up a poor header from Masina, that was meant for Foster, he rounded the Watford keeper but took the ball too wide and could only hit the outside of the post.  I was glad that he had missed as a goal against us from Ighalo would have been very hard to take.  Watford had one last chance to reduce the deficit when Deulofeu took a free kick that flew over the wall but was an easy catch for de Gea.  United could have scored a fourth when Matic released Chong who cut inside but he curled his shot just wide of the target.

Hughes prepares to take a free kick

The final whistle went on a comprehensive defeat for the Hornets.  Unlike the Brighton game, I did applaud the players off and there was a surprisingly good atmosphere among the travelling Hornets.  The Masina-Tequila song was getting a late airing, but the volume increased considerably with a rendition of “Ighalo-oh” for old times’ sake.  Odion seemed to appreciate the gesture as he turned and applauded the Watford fans.

On leaving the ground, I went to pick up my bag, which looked pitiful sitting on the shelf.   We then headed for the bar in Salford Quays to drown our sorrows.  On the way, Richard (wearing Watford gear) was called upon to give directions to some people wearing United scarves.  Bl**dy tourists!  The bar was much more hospitable than our pre-match venue and, after a nice glass of wine, something to eat and a good moan about the football, I felt a lot better.

It had been a disappointing afternoon, especially as United didn’t play particularly well.  The Watford performance had been better than the previous week, particularly in the first half, but once the goal was disallowed, all the fight seemed to go out of the lads and the result was never in doubt.  There were a lot of subpar performances and the wisdom of playing both Deulofeu and Pereyra was questioned.  They can both be luxury players and, in a scrap, as we are at the moment, we can’t afford that.  Pereyra, in particular, had an odd afternoon seeming to wander all over the place leaving Dawson exposed.  One of the topics of conversation was the Winter break.  Given the staggered nature of it, it doesn’t affect all teams equally.  Oddly, the Watford players looked rather rusty after their week off, while the United players, who should have been fatigued after a game in midweek, seemed a lot fresher.

With the visit of Liverpool next week, it is hard to see when the upturn will come and I am beginning to believe that the season will finish with the team being relegated.  At least if Leeds do get promoted it will mean we won’t have to go there. Every cloud and all that!

The Wait for a Win Continues

Winners of the WFC Quiz

The Wednesday before this game was the Quiz Night at the football club.  It is always a good evening, with an interesting set of questions, but I generally go for the craic.  There is a team called the Untouchables, who are not Watford fans but quiz fiends, who turn up every year and usually win, having the trophy presented to them by a football player that they have no interest in.  Of late, Shaun Wallace from the Chase has become a regular on one of the teams and another team included Beth Webster, one of the Eggheads, who is a Watford fan.  Against all odds, our team (City ‘Orns) ran out winners.  I am still not sure quite how this happened, but I was rather pleased with my winner’s medal and the prize of hospitality on New Year’s Day.

Friday night, I had a lovely meal in London with some of our usual crew, so decided to stay over, rather than heading home.  This allowed me to spend the morning at the Royal Academy catching the Helene Schjerfbeck exhibition before it finished.  I reached Euston only slightly later than I usually do, but disruptions to the trains meant that I was still waiting around when a friend arrived and observed that I was late on parade.  So late that I arrived at the West Herts to find that Don had already left for the ground.  The good news was that there was a free seat at our table and a bag of pork scratchings, which was my appetiser as I waited for my jerk chicken, which was excellent and plentiful and set me up for the afternoon.

Gathering for a corner

Team news was that Quique had made only the two enforced changes from the Tottenham game with Masina and Deulofeu replacing the suspended Holebas and the injured Welbeck.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Kabasele, Dawson, Cathcart; Masina, Chalobah, Cleverley, Doucouré, Janmaat; Pereyra, Deulofeu.  Bournemouth’s line-up included the lovely Nathan Aké, who had the chance to catch up with his former manager, Quique.  It still upsets me that we didn’t manage to sign him.

The Hornets had an excellent start to the game and could have opened the scoring in the first minute as a cross from Deulofeu was parried by the Bournemouth keeper, Ramsdale, Doucouré latched on to the rebound, but could not keep his shot down and it flew over the bar.  Bournemouth also had an early chance with a shot from Lerma which was just wide of the target.  The Hornets threatened again from a corner, Deulofeu’s delivery almost sneaked in, but hit the post and rebounded to Dawson whose shot was blocked.  Pereyra was the next to try his luck with a low shot that was easily gathered by Ramsdale.  For the second game in a row, Watford lost a player to injury early in the game.  On this occasion it was Tom Cleverley who was forced to leave the field, a big blow to us as he has been magnificent so far this season.  Will Hughes came on in his place.

Pereyra escapes upfield with Masina in pursuit

On 15 minutes, Bournemouth had a great chance to take the lead from a corner that was met by the head of Cook, but rebounded off the crossbar.  The Watford faithful were yelling for a free kick when Aké pulled Deulofeu to the ground rugby-style but referee, Mike Dean, decided that it was a legitimate challenge.  The Hornets threatened again as Janmaat hit a cross into the box, but there was no Watford player to challenge for it, so it was an easy catch for Ramsdale.  At the other end, Billing tried a shot, but Foster was equal to it.  Then Masina played a lovely cross-field ball to Janmaat who put in a low cross, the ball bounced around the box, but no one could turn it in.  Lerma went down under a very benign challenge from Deulofeu, prompting a chant of “Same old Bournemouth, always cheating” from the home fans.  Rico took the free kick which was deflected off the wall for a corner.  The corner was cleared to Rico whose shot was stopped by a great save from Foster.  A good move from the Hornets came to nothing when Gerry passed the ball out to Pereyra who hit a very poor shot that flew high and wide of the target.  The first yellow card of the game was awarded to Dawson who was booked for taking down the escaping Callum Wilson.  The resulting free kick was blocked.  Pereyra and Deulofeu launched another promising break, but this one ended with Deulofeu giving the ball away.  The visitors should have taken the lead in the last minute of the half when a cross from King reached Danjuma at the back post, but Foster was able to make a point blank save.

Man of the match, Ben Foster

So, we went into half time with the game goalless.  After a good start from the Hornets, Bournemouth had the majority of the possession and the better of the chances.  After his mistake for the Spurs goal last week, Foster had redeemed himself with a couple of great saves to preserve a clean sheet.

The only change at the break was one of the linos, who had picked up an injury so had to swap places with the fourth official.

The Hornets made a bright start to the second half as Deulofeu went on a dangerous run down the left and put in a shot, but Ramsdale was down to make the save.  The next action of note came just before the hour mark when each side made a substitution as Chalobah made way for Gray for the Hornets and Harry Wilson replaced Danjuma for the visitors.  The Hornets created a half chance as Deulofeu played a back heel to Gray who couldn’t fashion a shot but managed to win a corner.  There was a protracted period of handbags soon after.  I am not sure what set it off, but Callum Wilson was booked for his part.

Kabasele lines up a free kick

Watford looked to break the deadlock as Gray played a ball through for Deulofeu, but Aké kept pace with the Spaniard and shepherded the ball back to Ramsdale.  Doucouré then tried his luck with a shot from distance that was high and wide of the target.  The visitors then broke downfield, but it came to nothing as King shot straight at Foster.  There was another booking as Rico was penalised for sliding in on Hughes.  With 15 minutes remaining, each side made a change with Masina making way for Foulquier for the Hornets and Callum Wilson was replaced by Solanke for the Cherries.  The best chance since the start of the half came when the ball broke to Hughes whose shot required a decent save from the Bournemouth keeper.  The corner from Deulofeu didn’t beat the wall, but it rebounded to him, he cut in to get into scoring position and hit a terrible shot over the bar.  Bournemouth had an appeal for a penalty (of course they did) as Fraser claimed that the ball had hit a Watford arm.  The referee did not agree but Deulofeu was booked for dissent in the discussions.  There was another booking for the visitors as Billing fouled Pereyra.  Watford looked to make the breakthrough with a lovely low cross from Gray that flew across the front of goal, but Deulofeu was unable to reach it to apply the finishing touch.

Kabasele, Pereyra and Dawson anticipate a corner

Watford had a great chance to take the lead when a free kick from Deulofeu was flicked on by Pereyra, Gray was closing in at the far post, but couldn’t get a foot to it.  At this point, the rain had become torrential which was obscuring our view of the proceedings on the pitch.  Not only that, but the problems with the Rookery roof meant that those in the middle of the stand were standing in the middle of a downpour.  Bournemouth were awarded a free kick in a dangerous position and Doucouré was booked when he fouled Lerma on the edge of the box.  Harry Wilson took the free kick which hit the outside of the post with Foster a spectator.  Wilson was causing the Hornets problems, but an attempt to break forward was stopped by a foul from Hughes, who was booked for his trouble.  The Hornets picked up another booking as Pereyra was cautioned for a foul on Smith.  In time added on, Bournemouth could have snatched the points when they launched one last break, Fraser tried a shot from a tight angle, but Foster was equal to it and the game ended goalless.

Chalobah and Dawson

The final whistle was greeted with some half-hearted boos from the home supporters.  The Hornets had the better of the second half but, after the promise of the performance against Tottenham, it had proved to be a very disappointing game.  The good news is that we are now three games unbeaten and the defence is looking far more solid.  Losing Cleverley early in the game was a big blow to us, his replacement, Hughes, was guilty of misplacing a lot of passes, although he also had one of our best chances.  But the main problems were with the forward line.  While I enjoy watching both Pereyra and Deulofeu, having the two of them upfront seems like a luxury that we cannot afford.  Their decision making is often poor.  Deulofeu should have done much better with a couple of chances, as should Gray.  If they had been more clinical, we would have been much happier after the game.  That said, a draw was a fair result, but the wait for a win is getting increasingly concerning.

As we walked up Occupation Road, a young girl was asking her Mum why they were going to Everton mid-week.  We have watched this girl grow up and her family are regulars at the away games.  They are going because that is what they (and I) do.  I just hope that we have something to cheer on Tuesday as this season has been far too short on enjoyment.

VAR Is Not Our Friend

Seeing the new stadium for the first time

Unfortunately, on Friday evening, I turned my ankle walking home from the station.  It was very painful, and I struggled to get home.  On Saturday morning my ankle was swollen and I was finding it difficult to walk, so I had to decide on my plan for the day.  The pub that we were meeting at was a 15 minute walk from the stadium, so I decided that it would be better to go straight to the ground.  I briefly considered missing the match completely, as my hopes were not high.  But the last time I missed a match due to ill health, we beat Chelsea in a terrific game, and this was our first visit to a new stadium, so I decided that I had to go.

I drove to the station for the first time in years and got the train, tube and bus that I needed to get to the stadium.  My journey plan indicated that I would have only a minute’s walk from the bus stop but there were matchday diversions which meant a slow hobble up Tottenham High Road.  The stadium could be seen from a distance and looked very impressive.  Needless to say, I had to walk around the stadium to the away end and climb a flight of steps to the entrance, so was feeling very sorry for myself by the time that I reached the turnstiles.  I had listened to the advice regarding the bag policy and only brought a small drawstring bag.  Thankfully, this passed their inspection and I went through the airport screeners to get in.  I was stopped as my camera was in my pocket and had triggered the alarm, but I was soon allowed to the turnstiles and finally inside the ground.

The rather lovely view of the roof from our seats

Inside, I met up with a lot of familiar faces.  The story of my injury had got around and was met with exactly the level of sympathy that I was expecting (none).  I soon headed for my seat to catch up with the family.  The new stadium is very impressive inside and we had terrific seats.  They have the rail seats that are suitable for safe standing, which was quite a relief as it meant that I had a barrier to lean on during the game.  I did think that the seats were very narrow for a new stadium, but I guess they have to pack the punters in.

Team news was that Quique had made 2 changes from the draw against Sheffield United with Dawson and Chalobah replacing Prödl and Gray.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Kabasele, Dawson, Cathcart; Holebas, Chalobah, Cleverley, Doucouré, Janmaat; Welbeck, Pereyra.  I had checked the kit that we would be wearing before leaving the house and was a little surprised to find that we were in the navy, which meant that we would be wearing the same colour shorts as Spurs.  It seems that the rules regarding colour clash only apply to shirts and socks, so matching shorts are not considered to be a problem.

Talking of odd colour choices, Alice turned up wearing an orange jumper.  I swear she only does it to upset me!

I failed to get a picture of the goal celebrations due to the arms aloft in front of me, so here are Doucoure and Chalobah

The game started with a setback for the Hornets as Danny Welbeck went down with a hamstring injury.  He was treated for a short time but was unable to continue.  He left the field, to boos from the home fans due to his Arsenal history, and was replaced by Deulofeu.  Rather unbelievably, Watford took the lead after 6 minutes.  Cathcart played a gorgeous cross-field ball to Janmaat, who put in a great cross that Doucouré turned home (although the stadium announcer gave it to Cleverley).  My celebration had to be a little muted as I was incapable of jumping up and down.  I made up for it with extra fist pumping and hugging!  The home side had a chance to hit back almost immediately as Sissoko hit a powerful shot from just outside the area, but it cleared the bar.  The first caution of the game went to Sanchez for a nasty tackle on Pereyra.  There was a shout for a penalty from the home side as Danny Rose tumbled in the box under a challenge from Pereyra.  It was right in front of us and was unconvincing.  The referee and VAR both agreed with my assessment and we played on.  The best chance of the first half for the home side came with a low shot from distance from Dele, but Foster made the save.  At the other end, Doucouré broke into the box and put in a lovely cross, but there was no Watford player there to get on the end of it.  My nerves were tested when a ball came into the Watford box and Dawson dived towards it.  I was fearful of another own goal but, thankfully, Foster made the catch.  I had barely caught my breath when Foster was caught with the ball at his feet, Dele came in to make a challenge, but Ben made a slick turn away from the forward and made the clearance.  Watford had a penalty call as Deulofeu went down in the area under a challenge from Vertonghen.  The referee waved play on and, while Deulofeu protested, the VAR check was performed and confirmed the referee’s decision.  Having seen this on television after the game, Vertonghen slid in and had a couple of chops at Geri before he took him down.  I am baffled that this was considered to be a fair challenge by multiple officials.  At the other end, Spurs had a chance to grab an equaliser before half time as Alderweireld crossed for Moura, but the header flew over the bar.

Holebas cherishing the ball before a throw-in

The half time whistle went to boos from the Spurs fans.  The mood among the travelling Hornets was much better than it has been in recent weeks as it had been a spirited performance with some lovely football being played.

After the half-time break, the Spurs players took to the pitch considerably earlier than the Watford men and had made a substitution bringing Son on for Sanchez.  Given how much trouble we have had from the South Korean in recent seasons, this looked to be bad news for the Hornets.  This feeling was intensified when Son blasted a shot that, thankfully, rebounded off the crossbar and out for a throw-in.  The Hornets had a great chance to increase their lead as Deulofeu was in on goal, but the one time I wanted him to be selfish he decided instead to square for Pereyra, who was being shadowed by Aurier who managed to block the shot conceding a corner that came to nothing.  A terrible attempt at a clearance by Gazzaniga let to the ball looping into the air, but Pereyra was unable to capitalise.  Watford threatened again as Doucouré played in Janmaat who went for goal when maybe he should have passed, his attempt was blocked.  Son had another attempt to equalise, this time a shot from a narrow angle, but Foster was able to make the save.

Cathcart waiting to take a free kick

Another great chance for the Hornets as Pereyra went on a brilliant run before crossing for Deulofeu whose shot was wide of the far post when he really should have hit the target.  Just after the hour mark, Spurs made their second change bringing Lamela on for Moura.  The Hornets had another opportunity to increase their lead when Doucouré picked up a loose ball and shot from the edge of the area, but his effort was just wide of the target.  From the opposite end of the ground, a Spurs equaliser looked imminent as Kane got behind the Watford defence, but Dawson was on hand to make the crucial tackle.  Janmaat had another chance to extend Watford’s lead after he received a pass from Pereyra, but he tried to switch feet before taking the shot and the chance was gone.  That was his last contribution to the game as he was also forced to leave the field with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Femenía.  Spurs also made a change as Winks made way for Ndombele.  Spurs threatened with a cross into the Watford box, but Kabasele was imperious, rising to head it away.  Then a lovely cross from Lamela was met with a shot from Dele, but it was an easy save for Foster.  Watford’s next chance came from a poor clearance by Gazzaniga which was picked up by Doucouré who found Deulofeu, but his run into the box was stopped by a foul from Sissoko, who was booked for the challenge.  Our SLO was less than impressed with the intervention by the Spurs man and let all around him know it.  Geri look the free kick himself.  His delivery was on target but an easy catch for Gazzaniga.

Foster prepares to take a free kick

Rose had another shout for a penalty when he went down under a challenge from Kabasele but, again, the challenge was soft, and the penalty was not given.  Into the last 10 minutes and Pereyra had been struggling for a while and clearly needed to be replaced.  As Quique was not getting the message, he went down with cramp and lay in the box for a while with his leg in the air, as the referee insisted that he left the field.  Eventually, he was replaced by Hughes and left the pitch, but not before he had been booked for time-wasting.  The Spurs equaliser was just heartbreaking.  With four minutes left on the clock, Foster came for a cross, failed to deal with it, it dropped to Dele, who controlled it and turned it into the empty net.  There was a VAR check to see whether there had been an offence committed in the build-up.  The referee signalled that the goal stood, and the players went to prepare for the restart.  Then the big screen indicated that the decision was ‘No Goal’.  There were lots of celebrations around me, but the players were still lined up to kick-off again and, sure enough, a new ‘decision’ appeared on the screen indicating that the goal had been given.  It was an utterly ludicrous situation.  It all got a bit heated after that.  First Rose was booked for a foul on Hughes.  Then Dele was taken down and handbags ensued, which finished with Holebas and Dele both receiving yellow cards.  The resulting free kick was hit straight into the wall.  A number around me were voicing my fear that Spurs would go on to win it, but the closest that they came to a winner was a dangerous cross from Aurier that was cleared by Dawson.  My nerves were in shreds at this point and, when a number of the players collapsed on to the pitch, it took me a while to realise that the final whistle had gone.

The Watford players must have been gutted, but they left the field to warm applause from the travelling fans.

Tom Cleverley just brilliant again

Having heard horror stories about the wait to get into Seven Sisters station after the game, and seen the barriers already in place up the street when I arrived, I decided to join the others for a post-match drink, even if, having driven to the station, I was not able to sample the beer.  It was definitely the right decision as the company was great and we caught up with some other friends that we hadn’t seen in the stadium.  The general consensus was that this had been our best performance of the season.  While Spurs had the lion’s share of the possession, the Watford defence were very well organised and Foster barely had a save to make.  All of the dangerous chances had fallen to the Hornets but, as too often this season, we had been wasteful.  A team with more confidence may have taken a couple of those shots earlier and the result would have been different.  But, in contrast to the games earlier this season, this was a gutsy performance with the players working with and for each other and it was a joy to watch.  While all the players played their part, I have to pick out Cleverley, who was absolutely magnificent yet again.  But the highlight for me was the performance of Doucouré.  He has been a shadow of his former self in most of the games this season, but on Saturday he was working hard, snapping into tackles and then starting moves, the misplaced passes that have been all too frequent this season were not in evidence.  While Spurs are on a terrible run, it is still very pleasing to come away from their ground feeling aggrieved that we only took a point.

Dawson looking unimpressed with the referee after the final whistle

I was home in time for Match of the Day and, for possibly the first time this season, I decided to watch it live.  Now I will start by saying that I was very much against the introduction of VAR.  I didn’t see the need for it and using it in a game that flows made no sense to me. Those who argued for the implementation told me that it would rule out errors.  My argument has always been that many of the decisions in football are subjective and will still be subjective when viewed at Stockley Park.  From the footage on Match of the Day it seemed clear that the challenge on Deulofeu should have resulted in a penalty.  But even worse was the equalising goal.  There appeared to be a push on Kabasele in the build-up and it was clear that Dele controlled the ball using his upper arm.  Spurs fans have argued that the ball hit his shoulder, but the footage also shows the player’s face after he scored the goal and he looked haunted.  He knew that he had controlled it with his arm and was waiting for it to be ruled out.  Those reviewing at Stockley Park would have seen all of this and the conclusion should have been that the goal would not stand.  The decision that was broadcast in the ground was that it was not a goal.  What is still not clear to me is whether they sent through an erroneous decision or whether the referee overruled the VAR official and they kow-towed.  Whichever is the case, the involvement of VAR provoked a lot more anger than would have come following a mistake by a referee.  VAR is supposed to level the playing field, but the current feeling is that it is just enforcing the ‘big club bias.’  The decisions today along with the Newcastle goal that should not have stood, but was not reviewed, are leading Watford fans to conclude that VAR is not our friend.

But I don’t want to finish on that note as, for the first time this season, I am feeling really positive.  If we continue to play as well as we did on Saturday, we won’t be in the relegation zone for long.  This was the first time that we have seen a convincing performance from the whole team.  I hope that we bring that into the Bournemouth game and have Vicarage Road bouncing again.  I will certainly ensure that I rest this week so that my ankle is up to bouncing.

A Soggy Stalemate

Welbeck and Gray waltzing with the opposition defenders

Due to evening commitments in London last week, my commuting time was at a minimum, this meant that I hadn’t listened to the “From the Rookery End” podcast.  So, I made it my accompaniment for the train journey to Watford and wished that I hadn’t.  When even the ultra-positive Colin sounds exasperated, and that game at Wolves was enough to try the patience of a saint, you know that we are in trouble.

I arrived at the West Herts later than usual to find my sister at the bar.  She had arrived early for a chat and was somewhat put out to find that I wasn’t there yet.  We joined the usual suspects at our table before the Norfolk ‘Orns made an appearance.  They were on one of their days out, which generally means an early start on the beer and shots in the West Herts.  It has to be said that they were already very jolly when they arrived, but their early start meant that there were no pork scratchings in Glenn’s goodie bag to the consternation of all.

Pereyra preparing for a corner

On arrival at the Rookery turnstiles, I was patted down by a steward, I don’t believe that has happened before.  It was noticeable that, as there was only a female steward at that end of the turnstiles, while I was being searched, the men were streaming past unmolested, which was a source of some irritation.  On arrival in the Rookery, we found, as we had for the Swansea game, a pool of water under our seats.  We asked a steward for assistance in clearing it, his solution was to tell us we could find another seat if any were available.  We had seen one of the cleaning staff with a mop and a bucket further down the stand, so I went and asked him to assist us.  This meant that we missed joining in the “Forza” display prior to kick-off.  Even after the man with the mop had done his (much appreciated) thing, the floor was too wet to place my bag down, so I was relieved when the guy that sits next to me did not appear and I was able to use his seat for my bag.  To add insult to injury, when I tried to take a photograph for the blog, I found that my camera battery was drained.  Thankfully I had a charger with me so was able to remedy the situation and just hoped that there would be something worth photographing.

Team news was that Quique had made 4 changes with Prödl, Kabasele, Pereyra and Gray replacing Dawson, Capoue, Sarr and Deulofeu.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Prödl, Kabasele; Holebas, Cleverley, Doucouré, Janmaat; Pereyra; Welbeck, Gray.

Challenging at a corner

Watford had a great chance to open the scoring in the 8th minute after a terrific run from Pereyra, he put in a low cross for Gray who managed to blast the ball into the Vicarage Road stand when it looked much easier to score.  Soon after, Pereyra won a corner that was taken short but eventually led to a cross by Janmaat that was headed over by Prödl.  There was almost a disaster of our own making at the other end as Cathcart turned a cross from Baldock towards his own goal, but Foster pulled off a smart save to stop it.  The visitors had another chance to open the scoring with a low shot from Fleck, but it was an easy save for Foster.  The Blades threatened again as McBurnie slid in trying to convert a low cross from Basham, but Foster was able to gather.  Doucouré got himself into a great position for a shot, but there was a body in the way of his effort from the edge of the box.  The Hornets had one last chance to take a lead into the break as Prödl met a cross from Cleverley with a header that dropped to Kabasele who tried to turn it in, but Henderson was able to make the save.

It had been an incredibly dull half of football, which had done nothing to improve my mood.  The half time celebrity guest was Alan Smart.  Being reminded of the awful season that he was involved in at this level didn’t help.  The high point for him was scoring the winner against Chelsea.  Unfortunately, the prospect of any similar results this season are currently looking very remote.

Janmaat takes a free kick

The second half started promisingly for the Hornets as a misplaced header dropped to Welbeck who powered downfield with Gray running alongside.  As Henderson came out to meet him, he decided to take the shot himself and it was blocked by the keeper.  From our perspective in the Rookery, passing to Gray looked like a better option but, given his earlier miss, the outcome may well have been the same.  The Hornets had a really good spell, which galvanised the crowd, but they couldn’t fashion a goal attempt worthy of note.  The visitors had the next chance as Robinson volleyed goalwards, but Foster was able to make the save.  Watford made two substitutions in quick succession.  Prödl limped off due to a hamstring injury to be replaced by Dawson, a great shame as the presence of Seb in the back three had been a positive.  Then Gray made way for Deulofeu.  In between the substitutions McBurnie was booked for a foul on Kabasele.  Soon after being cautioned he was replaced by Mousset.  Next there was a break in play due to an injury to Holebas.  José was down for a while being treated but, once back on his feet, he walked off the pitch while giving the evil eye to his assailant, who had my sympathy.

Foster prepares to take a free kick

The visitors made a second substitution, replacing Robinson with Billy Sharp, who was once heralded as “the answer” by a section of Hornet fans.  Flores also made a change bringing Sarr on for Welbeck.  Deulofeu impressed as he ran to keep an impossible ball in play, advanced and crossed, but it was just too high for Doucouré and Henderson was able to make the catch.  Deulofeu created a half chance as he cut in from the left and tried a shot, but it was easy for the keeper.  As the clock struck 90 minutes, a break by Deulofeu was stopped by a foul by Lundstram, who was shown a yellow card for his trouble.  The Hornets had a great chance to snatch the three points when the free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Dawson, but Henderson managed to make the save.  There was one final chance for the Hornets as Doucouré was urged to shoot by the crowd, but the shot from distance was woeful and nearly hit the corner flag.  So, the game ended goalless.

As I walked back to the West Herts, I bumped into another regular.  He was very philosophical, reasoning that we’ve both been watching Watford for a long time and have seen a lot worse than this.  He was right, but the current winless streak is still a great cause for concern.

Man of the Match Kabasele calling the shots

The main positive from the afternoon was that this was the first clean sheet since February.  Our defence has been dreadfully leaky and we looked much stronger with three at the back, although this improvement at the back may have been helped by the opposition being Sheffield United.  Still, Prödl had a great game, he is much more of a commanding presence at the back than either Cathcart or Dawson.  Kabasele was immense and was named man of the match by the sponsors and thoroughly deserved it.  The strikers are still struggling, but at least they are making chances and we really should have won this game.  Sadly, I have felt that after most of the games this season, Brighton and Man City notwithstanding.  Most of the teams that we have played this season have been poor to mediocre and yet we find ourselves with only 3 points from 8 games.  The big problem with this team, as many have been saying for weeks is a lack of confidence and leadership.  Troy is badly missed and you can’t help thinking that a scrambled goal or one bouncing off someone would make a huge difference.

So we go into an international break for a much needed breather and the hope that we will soon see an upturn.  My dear friend, Don, always urges us to “Keep the Faith”.  It is becoming increasingly hard.

 

Another Defeat Despite Domination

Statue of Jack Hayward outside Molineux

Having been utterly miserable after the City game, the midweek win against Swansea cheered me up somewhat, so I was in a better mood for the journey to Wolverhampton.  I left London early and met Jacque on the train.  As has been usual for recent trips to Wolves, we were to have our pre-match refreshments in Birmingham.  Our ridiculously early arrival time confirmed that, due to a late decision about where to meet, both of us had booked a train based on its scheduled arrival in Wolverhampton rather than Birmingham.  Still, by the time we got to the pub it was a respectable hour to have a drink.  The pub was actually packed due, in part, to the presence of passengers of a Midland Red bus, that was parked outside.  I assume that they were on a tour of the city and the opportunity to mix with Villa fans having a pre-match pint was too much of a temptation.  Mike met us for lunch, and then we headed back to New Street to get the train to Wolverhampton and take the short walk to the ground.  We met the rest of our party inside where we were regaled with stories of traffic delays for those who had driven.  Luckily (?) they all made it in time for kick-off.

Team news was that Quique had made four changes from the side who were humiliated by Manchester City, with Janmaat, Cathcart, Welbeck and Sarr replacing Femenía, Mariappa, Foulquier and Hughes.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Dawson, Cathcart, Janmaat; Capoue, Doucouré; Deulofeu, Cleverley, Sarr; Welbeck.  The initial reaction was that this was the team that people wanted to see.  But I was rather surprised that Welbeck was included, having played 90 minutes in midweek.  In other news, today would see the first outing of our new away kit.  I hoped that it would be lucky for us.

Holebas takes a throw-in

Watford started well and, in the first minute, Sarr found Welbeck, but the shot was wide of the target.  Wolves also had an early chance as Boly released Jiménez who shot into the side netting.  The Hornets put themselves in trouble when a short corner routine broke down allowing Neto to break at pace and play a low cross for Jiménez who shot wide of the far post.  The home side opened the scoring in the 18th minute when a low cross from Neto was turned in by Doherty.  It was yet another poor goal to give away as the defence were nowhere to be seen.  It feels as though we have seen the same goal scored against us repeatedly this season and still have no idea how to stop it.  Deulofeu tried to hit back as he cut into the box but could only shoot into the side netting.  Deulofeu threatened again from a free kick, but his delivery was headed clear.  Wolves had a chance to increase their lead as Traoré beat Holebas to put in a cross, but no Wolves player could get on the end of it.  Sarr really should have done better after receiving a ball from Deulofeu in the box, but he turned and shot well wide of the target.  The Wolves fans were shouting for a penalty as a cross from Traoré was blocked by Holebas, but the referee was unmoved by their pleas.  Welbeck got into a decent position in the box, but his shot was blocked for a corner that came to nothing.  The end of the half was dominated by a couple of lengthy stoppages for injuries to Wolves players, but there was one final chance for the Hornets to draw level as Cleverley flicked a pass to Sarr in a dangerous position but, yet again, the shot was blocked.

Pereyra takes a corner

The half time whistle went to sighs of resignation in the away end.  It hadn’t been pretty.  Watford had had more of the possession but were ponderous and reluctant to shoot.  In contrast, Wolves were quick on the break and the Watford defence always looked vulnerable. The home side had scored with the only on-target shot of the half.

Looking at things off the field, I couldn’t help but notice that the stand behind the goal at one end and half of the other have been converted for safe standing.  It looked great and it will be interesting to see whether this becomes commonplace.

At the break Deulofeu was replaced by Pereyra.  The Hornets started the second half quite brightly.  Pereyra put in a lovely cross that Holebas met with a header that was blocked by the Wolves keeper, the first time he had been called into action.  The ball dropped to Cleverley, who tried to turn it in, but Rui Patricio was able to get a foot to it and put it out for a corner.  The corner summed up our afternoon as Pereyra’s delivery didn’t even make it onto the pitch before it flew behind the goal line.  Wolves had their first chance of the half as Neto broke forward but shot straight at Foster and was immediately replaced by Gibbs-White.

Waiting for the delivery at a corner

The Hornets had dominated the start of the second half, so it felt cruel when, on the hour mark, a cross from Doherty was flicked on by Gibbs-White, and Janmaat turned it past Foster.  There appeared no way back at that point.  Holebas tried to hit back with a shot through the area that flew just wide of the near post.  It was unsurprising to see José pick up the first booking of the game for a foul on Traoré.  Flores made his second substitution with twenty minutes to go as Sarr made way for Gray.  Andre made an immediate impact and the Hornets had a great chance to pull one back when Welbeck received a ball from Gray and unleashed a shot that required a decent save from Rui Patricio to keep it out.  Wolves had a chance to score a third as Traoré put a deep cross over to Jonny but he could only find the side netting.  Wolves made a second substitution bringing Cutrone on for Jiménez.  The substitute had a chance to make an immediate impact as he charged toward the Watford goal, but was stopped by a wonderful sliding tackle from Foster.  At the other end, Gray made a break into the Wolves box but his shot was poor and straight at the keeper.  Doucouré then tried his luck with a low shot from the edge of the area, but it was an easy catch for Rui Patricio.  There was one last chance for the Hornets as a corner from Holebas reached Welbeck but he could only head over the bar.  Santo made his final change bringing Neves on for Traoré.  There were three minutes of added time, which were rather soul destroying as, despite Hornets having plenty of possession, they just played it around on the halfway line with the Wolves defence happily lined up in front of them.  The final whistle went to half-hearted boos from a few among the Watford following, but most of us just felt as defeated as the team.

Holebas and Pereyra lining up a free kick

As there is nothing to stay in Wolves for, we made a rapid retreat to the station to get the train home and we bumped into a couple of fellow Hornets.  There was a lot of head shaking and failure to understand what is going wrong this season.  Our team still looks great on paper, but we continue to fail to attack with enough intent or defend convincingly.  On the evidence of the games so far, most of the teams in the Premier League are pretty poor (the obvious exception notwithstanding), but we have been unable to beat any of them.  The consensus was that we are desperately missing Deeney as there is no leadership on the pitch, which is a very sorry state of affairs.  It is difficult to see how we will turn this around, but football is a confidence game and maybe we just need a few balls to drop kindly and a couple of shots to creep inside the post for the belief to resurface.

As I left work on Friday, I had a chat with one of my colleagues about our chances for the weekend.  He reminded me that going to football was supposed to be fun.  He is so right and, sadly, the games really aren’t fun at the moment.  I hope that changes very soon.

Capitulation at the Etihad

Captain Mariappa

When I sent out the e-mail to our group asking who wanted tickets for this game, I couldn’t help noticing that there were more apologies for absence than usual.  I can’t say that I blamed them as the memory of the cup final is still rather raw and, given our start to the season, this was not a game that I was looking forward to.

I left London at a reasonable time and was joined on the train by Jacque when we reached Milton Keynes.  One topic of discussion was the no bag policy that we had heard about the previous day.  I don’t know how they expect people travelling for over two hours each way not to bring any possessions with them.  Luckily, I was staying overnight in Manchester, so was able to drop my bag (and Jacque’s) off at the hotel.  Despite it being a warm sunny day, I left the hotel carrying a waterproof coat which had pockets filled with the essentials for the game (notebook, pen, camera, purse, lipstick).  We then headed to meet up with the rest of our party for lunch.  On arrival, I was surprised to see Pete there.  I was sure that he had declined the invitation.  Sure enough, he had made a late decision to travel following the tremendous second half against Arsenal last week.

While enjoying lunch, I realised that I had left my distance glasses in my rucksack at the hotel, so I headed back to retrieve them.  Not the smartest thing that I have ever done.  Once they were in another of my pockets, I joined the others at the pub.  We left plenty of time to get to the ground.  The first tram leaving was packed and there was a father with a young boy on his shoulders standing near me.  I heard the father comment, “Maybe you’ll see six goals.”  I couldn’t help but exclaim, “Oh, I do hope not.”  We then had a chat and, as is usually my experience in Manchester, he was lovely.

Dawson, Capoue and Deulofeu preparing for kick-off

On arrival at the ground, we saw Mick, our Police liaison, and I asked how many bags he was looking after.  It seemed that there had been no issues by that point, which was a relief.  It seemed that the stewards were being pragmatic regarding the policy, so some bags did make it into the away end.

Team news was that Quique had made two changes from the Newcastle game with Foulquier and Mariappa in for Gray and Kabasele.  Clearly the selection of Foulqier, for his debut, in place of Gray was not a direct swap, Femenía was pushed forward and Deulofeu was to play alone up front.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Foulquier, Mariappa, Dawson, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Femenía, Cleverley, Hughes; Deulofeu.  Again. there were some puzzled reactions to the team selection, but the Arsenal game meant that Quique had a lot of brownie points.

When we took our seats in the away end, I noticed that we were very close to the home fans on our left.  I then turned and realised that they were almost as close on the right.  I don’t know how many Watford fans travelled, but it appeared to be a very small group.

Gathering for a rare Watford corner

A couple of seasons ago, a late departure from the pub and a delay on the tram meant that we missed Sterling scoring in the first minute.  On this occasion, we were comfortably in our seats when De Bruyne crossed for David Silva to finish past Foster to open the scoring.  Watford had a chance for an immediate equaliser as Deulofeu ran into the City box, but Ederson saved at his feet.  Deulofeu threatened again, beating Otamendi before dinking a shot that deflected wide off the City keeper.  We weren’t to know it at the time, but that would be pretty much it for our chances.  The second City goal came after 7 minutes.  Mahrez had the ball in the box, he was running out of space and the ball was rolling out for a goal kick, but Foster had committed himself and took him down, so the referee pointed to the spot.  Agüero stepped up to take the spot kick and powered the ball down the middle while Foster dived.  It got even worse on 12 minutes after Doucouré fouled Mahrez on the edge of the box.  The Algerian took the free kick himself, the Watford wall parted, but the ball took a deflection off one of the defenders and beat Foster for City’s third.  At this point I bemoaned the fact that we are not allowed to take hip flasks into football stadia, as I definitely needed a shot of something strong.  The fourth City goal came from a corner which was flicked on to Bernardo Silva who stooped to head home.

Femenia takes a throw-in

We were 5 down after 18 minutes when Agüero put a low cross in for Otamendi to finish at the back post.  It could have been 6 after 25 minutes as Agüero broke forward, but Foster narrowed the angle and the shot was wide of the far post.  When Watford won a free kick after a foul on Cleverley, the travelling Hornets sang “We’ve got the ball.”  Sadly, we didn’t have it for long as Deulofeu’s delivery was straight into the arms of Ederson.  There was an immediate break from the home side, and I feared the worst, but Agüero’s shot took a ricochet off Foster for a corner.  Flores made his first substitution on 33 minutes cutting Foulquier’s debut short as he was replaced by Pereyra.  Fair play to Don Fraser who was still shouting encouragement to the team at this point.  On 38 minutes the Hornets had a rare foray into the City half, Deulofeu’s shot was blocked, the ball fell to Pereyra who could only win a corner that came to nothing.  The home side impressed again as a perfect cross field pass from Fernandinho reached De Bruyne who crossed for Agüero whose header was saved by Foster, Mahrez picked up the loose ball and crossed for Bernardo Silva who headed just wide.  There were three minutes of added time at the end of the half.  Every second was agony, but at least there was no further score.

Abdoulaye Doucoure

At half time, I noted that City had had 6 shots on target and scored 5 of them.  This looked like it could be a record score, although the scoreboard looked as though it couldn’t display double figures, so we could end up back at 0-0.

City made a change at the break bringing Angeliño on for Mendy.  It appeared that the second half would also see a goal in the first minute, but Walker’s shot was high and wide.  Sadly, the sixth goal wasn’t long in coming as, three minutes into the half, the Watford defence went missing yet again and the ball bounced around the Watford box before Bernardo Silva scored his second.  At the break, Pete had come to stand in the row behind us.  I expected the guys who had been there to return, they didn’t and a good few more departed after this goal.  Guardiola made a second substitution as Cancelo replaced Walker.  City should have scored a seventh when they won a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery from De Bruyne flew just over the bar.  Flores made his second substitution bringing Sarr on for Hughes.  The Hornets were then shown two yellow cards in quick succession, first Deulofeu was booked after a foul on Rodrigo, then Femenía was cautioned for a foul on Bernardo Silva.

Proof that we had a corner in the second half

The seventh goal came on the hour mark as De Bruyne crossed to the far post and Bernardo Silva finished from close range to seal his hat trick and claim the match ball.  At this point the City fans very reasonably asked, “Why are you still here?”  Pete’s comment was, “For the same reason that you would be.”  City’s final substitution saw Garcia come on for Otamendi.  Mahrez should have scored the 8th with a header that rebounded off the bar.  As City claimed the rebound an exasperated shout of “Get the second ball” came from behind me.  I think that was the least of our problems at this point.  The City fans were having fun with the group to our right taunting the group to our left with, “Where were you when we were sh*t?”  I have to admit that made me smile.  There was a brief moment of quality possession from the Hornets as Sarr found Cleverley who played in Deulofeu but he could only win a corner off the keeper.   Soon after, Gerry was replaced by Gray and you have to ask what Andre had done to deserve being put into the fray.  Just before the substitution the ball had flown into the Watford crowd.  There were shouts of “keep it” and it was a while before it was returned, eliciting boos from the away end.  A chant from the travelling Hornets of “7 nil and you still don’t sing” was countered with “We only sing at 6 nil.”  Ouch!!  De Bruyne, who had been a menace all afternoon, finally got his goal with five minutes left on the clock as his shot from the edge of the area hit the top corner.  He should have had a second soon after as he ran through the Watford defence before shooting just wide.  There was a half chance for a consolation as a Holebas throw was headed goalwards by Gray, but it was an easy catch for Ederson and a goal would have been more than the Hornets deserved.

Etienne Capoue

The final whistle finally went to put us out of our misery.  There were a surprising number of Watford fans still in the ground as the players came over to thank us and the majority of fans applauded them back.  Not for anything impressive in their performance, but more in empathy as that cannot have been any more fun for them than it was for us.  Pete was asked whether he regretted his late decision to attend the game but reasoned that he was much happier to have been there than he would have been if he had listened to it on the radio.

On the way back to the City centre, Ashley was checking the scores in the other games and a City fan asked if he knew the Stevenage score.  It turned out that this lad had managed Stevenage in Football Manager and taken a shine to them.  In a couple of weeks, when City are playing Wolves, he is giving his season ticket to a friend so that he can see Stevenage play in Colchester.  He also consoled us with, “We only scored two more than we put past United.”

As we sat in the pub after the game, it felt more like a support group than anything else.  Between us we could not find any positives to take from the game.  While City had been very good, Watford had been utterly dreadful.  This is a team that has long struggled with confidence and it was clear that it had completely drained from them as soon as the second goal went in.  I still think that we are a much better side than our results indicate, but we need to start showing that against Swansea in midweek and then at Wolves.  Otherwise, I may finally find myself deciding to stay in the pub instead of heading to the ground.

 

Fun in the Sun with Flores

Quique back in the Watford dug-out

I hate it when matches are moved to a Sunday.  It completely changes the pattern of the weekend and is very disconcerting.  However, the change of time for this game did have the benefit that I was able to take up the offer of hospitality for the Ashes game on Saturday.  Although I must admit to checking the fixture list while on the train to the Oval, just to make sure that Watford were not playing.  I was further reassured when I spotted Johnno in the queue for the coffee.  I was desperate to ask him his opinion on the changes at the club but resisted as I didn’t want to spoil his day.

As usual when there is a change in routine, I wasn’t sure what time to arrive in the West Herts.  I aimed for soon after 1pm and was pleased (and unsurprised) to see Don and Jacque already at our usual table.  Needless to say the primary topic of conversation was the change in head coach.  The departure of Javi had seemed inevitable after the Newcastle game, but it was very sad.  He has left us with some very happy memories, not just of the football but of what a lovely man he was.  He will always have a place in my heart.  The return of Flores was a total shock.  He was another lovely chap and his season was a lot of fun, but it had run out of steam in much the same way that Javi’s did, so I wondered what extra he had to offer and had been feeling a bit numb about it all last week.  One benefit of his return was that we wouldn’t have to learn a new song for the head coach.

Rita and GT

There was an added poignancy to the occasion as the game was taking place on what would have been GT’s 75th birthday, so I made the effort to say hello to his statue before the game.

Team news was that Quique had made three changes from the Newcastle game with Holebas, Capoue and Deulofeu in for Cathcart (who was injured), Janmaat and Pereyra.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Kabasele, Dawson, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Hughes, Cleverley, Deulofeu; Gray.  The selection caused some puzzlement among the inhabitants of the West Herts.  The decision not to put Welbeck on the bench elicited a lot of comment.

But, as we took our seats in a packed Rookery to see the teams take the field to Z-cars (hoorah!), the atmosphere was very positive and the crowd was soon chanting the name of Quique Sanchez Flores.

Gathering for a corner

The game started brightly enough for the Hornets who created an early chance as Deulofeu curled a shot from the edge of the box, but it was straight at Leno in the Arsenal goal.  The visitors created their first chance soon after, but Özil’s free-kick was headed clear by Dawson.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead in the 11th minute as Cleverley hit a powerful shot that required a flying save from Leno to keep it out.  From the corner, the ball reached Cleverley again, but his curling shot was easily caught by Leno.  Watford had another chance as a gorgeous cross-field pass found Deulofeu on the wing, he played in Holebas, but the shot was poor.  At the other end, Guendouzi released Pépé who advanced and shot wide of the far post.  The visitors took the lead in the 21st minute.  Hughes appeared to be fouled in the midfield and the Watford players stopped, anticipating the whistle, while Kolašinac broke forward before finding Aubameyang who fired past Foster.  While the Watford players protested, the goal was (presumably) checked via VAR and was confirmed, to loud boos from the Watford faithful.  It was a devastating blow as the goal had been totally against the run of play.  Sadly, as has happened far too often, this seemed to drain confidence from the Watford players and a terrible pass from Kabasele allowed the visitors to attack again, this time the shot from Aubameyang was deflected for a corner.

Handbags

The Gunners were two up after 31 minutes as Özil played in Maitland-Niles, who squared for Aubameyang who had an easy tap in for his second.  It was a decently worked goal, but the Watford defence had gone completely missing and the game looked lost.  Watford had a chance to pull one back as Femenía crossed for Hughes, but the shot was poor and flew wide of the near post.  A mistake from the visitors almost gifted the Hornets a goal, but the shot from Deulofeu was blocked and the follow-up from Gray hit the side netting.  The first booking of the game went to Kolašinac for a poor foul on Hughes.  Sadly, the free kick from Holebas was straight at Leno.  It all looked very promising when Deulofeu went on a dangerous run, but he was pushed wide and ran out of space.  Just before half time, there was a bit of handbags which led to Holebas and Guendouzi being booked.  We could see that José was complaining about an elbow. TV pictures showed that this had come from Pépé, which started the melee, but the instigator escaped without punishment.  The half time whistle went to a chorus of boos aimed at the officials.

At half time, I was feeling utterly miserable.  A friend came for a chat.  She is normally very measured and level-headed, so I was a little surprised to hear her say that we were being cheated out of the game but, judging by the half time boos, there were many that agreed with her.

Doucoure congratulates Cleverley on his goal

I cheered up a little when Jay DeMerit appeared as the half time guest.  He spoke about how the “Rise and Shine” film (on which I am credited as an Executive Producer) had led to a number of ventures including camps for youngsters that combine sporting pursuits with leadership training.  It was lovely to see him back at Vicarage Road.

The second half started with a run from Femenía that finished with a cross that was an easy catch for Leno.  Then Deulofeu found Hughes who, under challenge, put his shot over the bar.  A promising move by the Hornets finished with a dreadful shot from Doucouré, which drifted out for a throw.  The Hornets pulled a goal back on 53 minutes after a dreadful mistake from the visitors.  Leno tried a short goal kick to Sokratis, he was challenged by Deulofeu, the ball broke to Cleverley who finished past Leno to raise the temperature at the (already rather warm) Vic.  Suddenly all was right with the world and there was a new confidence both on the pitch and in the stands.  Immediately after the goal, Flores made his first change bringing Sarr on for Gray.  This would be interesting (we hoped).  There was another caution for the Hornets as Femenía was booked for a foul on Özil.

Pereyra enjoys the cheers from the Rookery

Deulofeu had a great chance to level the game after cutting in from the left, but his shot was just wide of the far post.  Femenía then tried his luck with a shot from the right, but it cleared the bar.  Emery made his first substitution bringing Willock on for Ceballos.  The visitors had a rare second half chance as Aubameyang tried a shot from distance, but it was easily dealt with by Foster.  Just after the hour mark, Flores made his second change replacing Hughes with Pereyra.  There was an absolutely gorgeous chance for an equaliser as Deulofeu played the ball through the legs of Guendouzi to Sarr who turned and shot just wide.  He may have missed the target, but that brought a huge smile to my face.  Femenía then went on a threatening run and put in a great cross, Pereyra met it with a back heel that rolled wide of the target.  Arsenal made a second substitution bringing Torreira on for Guendouzi.  Deulofeu had another chance to level the score, but his shot was deflected wide.  The corner was deep and just too high for Kabasele whose header was wide of the target.  Emery made his final substitution replacing Özil with Nelson.  The substitute almost made the perfect start, but his shot from outside the area was easily gathered by Foster.  There was danger for the Hornets as Doucouré lost out allowing an Arsenal break, but he redeemed himself by regaining the ball with a great tackle in the box.  This allowed the Hornets to mount a break of their own which finished with a shot from Deulofeu but, again, it was straight at the keeper.

Sarr in the Arsenal box

Flores made his final substitution replacing Holebas with Janmaat.  Arsenal had a chance to increase their lead through a powerful shot from Torreira, but Foster was equal to it.  Instead, at the other end, Pereyra was tripped by Luiz and the referee pointed to the spot.  From the middle of the Rookery it appeared that the foul had taken place outside the box, so we held our breath as the referee checked with his mate at VAR headquarters, when he received the verdict and pointed to the spot we cheered, then remembered that Deeney was injured.  Pereyra stepped up and placed the ball on the spot, sent Leno the wrong way and hit the back of the net sending the Watford fans wild with joy.  There were nine minutes remaining at this point and the Hornets were going for the victory as Janmaat played a lovely cross to Cleverley whose shot was blocked before Deulofeu hit the rebound just wide.  Cleverley then received a pass from Doucouré and hit a shot that was deflected over the bar via the head of Luiz.  The corner was played out to Janmaat whose shot was high and wide.  Arsenal had a rare chance as the ball was played to Xhaka at the back post but he couldn’t control.  Cleverley had a shot blocked allowing Willock to break but Capoue pulled him over and was booked for his trouble.  From the free kick, Willock made his way into the Watford box and I had a horrible feeling that all our heroics would be for nothing, but Kabasele was on hand to stop him shooting.  There was one final chance for the Hornets to snatch the victory as Doucouré went on a tremendous run before exchanging passes with Sarr but his shot was low and easily caught by Leno.

Holebas takes a corner

The final whistle went to rapturous cheers.  As the players applauded the crowd, Quique’s name was being sung and he responded with a broad smile and an enthusiastic wave.

There were broad smiles among the crowd who gathered at the West Herts.  It seems that I wasn’t the only one who had been miserable at half time, as Jacque mentioned that she had seriously thought about going home at that point.  Of course, she didn’t and was rewarded with a thoroughly enjoyable game.

The second half had been a sustained onslaught on the Arsenal goal, but I was still surprised to hear that we had 31 shots on goal, something that would have made GT very happy. It was a tremendous performance all round.  Deulofeu, who I often find incredibly frustrating, had a wonderful afternoon and was a constant threat to the Arsenal defence.  Pereyra was another who was on his game and was a joy to watch.  Cleverley was absolutely magnificent, running the show and he deserved more than the one goal.  But it was probably the introduction of Sarr that ultimately changed the game.  He is clearly an incredible talent and his presence meant that there was finally an outlet for the excellent build-up play that has been a feature of most of our games this season.  A couple of his moves were just a joy to watch and I am really looking forward to seeing more from him.

What a difference a couple of weeks makes.  My report from Newcastle was among the most miserable that I have written, but Sunday’s game reminded me why I go to football.  It was a joyous afternoon of football and showed what this team can do.  Despite the slow start, I am now much more confident for the rest of the season.  Well, maybe after we get the Man City game out of the way.

A Slog on the Tyne

The statue of Bobby Robson that caused my fall

After a promising performance in midweek, I was feeling a bit more positive on the long journey up to Newcastle.  My mood was improved immensely by the gorgeous dog who was accompanying the woman sitting the other side of the aisle from me.

I arrived at the pub a little later than is my habit, by this I mean that it was already open, and was surprised to find that it was not as busy as it usually is, so our party plus the Happy Valley and North West Horns were able to gather in the lovely alcove.  As usual, the beer and the ambience were wonderful, setting us up nicely for the trek uphill to the ground.  As we arrived at St James’ Park, my companions were extolling the virtues of the stadium and I was admiring the statue of Bobby Robson, so I completely missed the fact that there was a kerb in front of me and went flying.  It was mostly my pride that was hurt, but my bruised knees made me start to consider taking the lift up the 14 flights to our seats.  The woman who searched my bag at the turnstiles told me I was gorgeous, which was Geordie for, “You are old and safe looking, so I won’t search your person.”  We entered through the turnstiles and I looked for the lift, quickly realising that it was actually behind the turnstiles in the next block.  So we started up the stairs.  Alice was counting the steps, calling out milestones, as I just counted the flights.  I would have yelled, “Yay, 14!!” at the top if I had any breath left.  As we took our seats, I was thankful that I had recently taken delivery of new prescription distance glasses as it meant that I had a remote possibility of recognising some of the Watford players.

The view from the away end with no zoom employed

The team news had come through in the pub and was …. Interesting.  Gracia had made three changes from the West Ham game, with Kabasele, Janmaat and Pereyra in for Holebas, Capoue and Deulofeu.  I was surprised that Capoue had been dropped, but this was apparently due to illness.  What was more surprising was that Femenía was still in the team, although the formation had been changed to three at the back.  Playing as a wing-back rather than in a back four would likely be a better use of his skills.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Dawson, Kabasele; Femenía, Janmaat; Cleverley, Doucouré, Hughes; Pereyra, Gray.

Due to a clash of colours, the lads were resplendent in our green away shirt from last season.  Thankfully this news had been communicated before I left home, so I was able to bring the correct shirt with me (sad, I know).

 

Celebrating the opener from Hughes

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets as Pereyra went on a great run before picking out Cleverley, his shot was blocked, but rebounded to Hughes who finished past Dúbravka to send the travelling Hornets wild with joy.  The home side had a chance to break back almost immediately, Kabasele missed the chance to clear a cross from Atsu leaving Almirón with only the keeper to beat, but Foster came out and made the clearance.  Femenía had a great chance to increase Watford’s lead after the ball fell to him on the edge of the area, but his effort was just over the bar.  Then Pereyra found Gray, who really should have grabbed a second for the Hornets, but his shot was wide of the far post.  Newcastle won a free kick some distance from goal, Longstaff lofted the ball into the box and Foster punched for a corner.  Doucouré was the first into the referee’s book for what looked to be a clumsy challenge on Atsu.  He was soon joined by Hayden who was booked for taking down Pereyra.  Hayden’s afternoon didn’t get any better as he raced into the Watford box to latch on to a pass but was frustrated by a brilliant tackle from Kabasele.  From the corner, Cathcart made a double block on shots from Joelinton and Hayden.  Almirón had the ball in the Watford net after rounding Foster, but he had been flagged offside as he started his run.  It was clear that he had seen the flag before putting the ball in the net, so I don’t know why he wasn’t booked.  Watford had another chance to increase their lead when a corner from Femenía was knocked on to Dawson whose attempted bicycle kick was blocked.  Newcastle equalised on 41 minutes after a counterattack finished with Krafth’s cross being knocked down by Hayden to Schär who scored past Foster.  It was a scrappy goal and so frustrating to concede.  Late in the half, there was a booking for each side as both Dawson and Dummett were cautioned for rash tackles.

A corner from Femenia

The Watford fans were not happy at half time.  Despite a promising start, it had been a dreadful half of football with each team scoring with their only on target shot.  Watford spent far too much time trying to find Gray with long balls that he was never going to win, and the passing was generally poor.  A friend commented that it was the sort of game in which both teams were likely to be booed off at half time.  We could only hope for an improvement in the second half.

We were to be disappointed.  The home side had an early chance to take the lead as Dawson gave the ball away allowing Almirón to release Atsu, but the shot was terrible and straight at Foster.  Cathcart was the next to be booked for a foul on Almirón.  Newcastle should have done better from the resulting free kick as Schär got on the end of Longstaff’s delivery, but the header was awful and didn’t trouble Foster.  The home side created a much better chance soon after as Atsu ran the length of the field before cutting the ball back to Almirón, but Kabasele put in an excellent block to stop the shot.  Newcastle had a great chance to take the lead as Hayden unleashed a powerful shot from distance which Foster did well to turn over the bar.

Goalscorer, Hughes, leaves Janmaat to take the throw

At this point, an hour into the game, the travelling Hornets started chanting “We want subs,” but Gracia was unmoved by our plea.  Newcastle threatened again, this time with a shot through a crowd of legs that Foster was down to save.  The Hornets had their first half chance of the second period when the ball bobbled through to Cleverley who had time to control and pick his shot but snatched at a volley which flew wide of the near post.  At the other end, Joelinton went down in the box after a challenge, but the referee deemed the tackle to be fair.  There was a rare decent move from the Hornets as Doucouré broke forward, but his cross was deflected to Dúbravka.  Gracia finally made a double substitution with 20 minutes to go, and it was not the change that the crowd had been calling for as Doucouré made way for Chalobah and Success replaced Hughes.  I have to admit that even I booed the removal of Hughes who had been the best player on the pitch.  Will left the field on the side opposite the dugout, so walked in front of the away fans and his name was sung with some gusto.  Success showed his worth to us naysayers as he received a ball over the top and put in a low cross for Gray, but it was intercepted.  Not satisfied with the changes so far, the away fans were chanting for Deulofeu to make an appearance.  Bruce made his first change at this point bringing Manquillo on for Krafth.

Roberto Pereyra

Watford created a decent chance as Cleverley put in a lovely cross for Success who headed goalwards, but Dúbravka pushed the ball out for a corner.  Dawson met the delivery with a header that was blocked, the ball rebounded to Chalobah whose shot was closed down.  Each side made a substitution with 10 minutes to go as Muto came on for Atsu and the travelling fans finally got their wish as Deulofeu came on in place of Gray.  The home side looked as though they were going to take the lead as a low cross from a corner led to a scramble in the Watford box, it seemed inevitable that the ball would be turned into the net, so I was massively relieved when Foster claimed the ball.  The next chance fell to the Hornets as a shot from Cleverley took a wicked deflection off one of his teammates and flew just wide.  It has to be said that, had the ball flown into the net, a flukey winner would have been in keeping with the poor quality of the game.  Newcastle made a final change as Fernández replaced Schär.  The Hornets had a late chance to grab a winner as Success played a lovely ball to Pereyra whose shot was decent, but Dúbravka was able to make the save.  The last chance of the game fell to the home side, Chalobah had appeared to be fouled and was waiting for a free kick as Muto escaped downfield, but the Newcastle man was tracked all the way by Cathcart and could only find the side netting with his shot.  Despite 5 minutes of added time, there were no further chances and the game finished in a draw.

Nathaniel Chalobah

Our first point of the season should have been cause for celebration, but the performance was so disappointing that it was hard to muster any enthusiasm.  It was a pretty terrible game of football between two teams who struggled to string more than a couple of passes together.  So many Watford attacks broke down after a long ball to Gray, or rather, the defender marking Gray, which is no criticism of Andre at all as he is not tall enough to outjump the defenders.  Either that or a pass was hit straight at a defender.  It was a much poorer performance than against either West Ham or Everton, although not as abject as the Brighton showing.  But, at the end of a challenging week, this did not improve my mood at all and left me wondering where our next points would come from.  Particularly as our next two games are home to Arsenal and away to Manchester City.  While I will, of course, be in attendance at both, I am also planning to do other things on those weekends so that I have something to distract me from the football as I am not expecting any enjoyment from either game.  I just hope that the lads prove me wrong.

A Goal at Last, but No Points

Gathering for a corner

After the poor start to the season, the last thing that I needed to hear before this game was that Deeney was out after surgery and Doucouré and Pereyra were both doubtful due to injury.  I had not been very hopeful anyway, but any vestiges of confidence disappeared completely.

I arrived at the West Herts at my usual time to see Don already in place, the rest of our crew gathered slowly.  When the team news came through, a bloke at the other end of the table told his friends that they wouldn’t want to see it.  So, I was rather relieved to discover that Gracia had been forced to make only the two changes with Cleverley and Gray coming in for Pereyra and Deeney.  Doucouré had passed a late fitness test.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Dawson, Femenía; Capoue, Doucouré; Deulofeu, Cleverley, Hughes; Gray.  Record signing, Sarr, was to make his first appearance on the bench.

As the teams came out, the Audentior banner was run up the centre of the Rookery.

After the past few games, when Foster has been wearing a disturbing shade of orange, it was good to see him sporting a blue shirt.  Maybe this would herald a change in our fortunes.

Cleverley congraulates Gray on his goal

Those hopes were dashed in a mad first couple of minutes.  First Deulofeu tumbled in the West Ham box, the penalty appeal was waved away.  The visitors then broke down the other end of the pitch, Cathcart put in a welcome tackle, but the ball broke to Lanzini who went down under a challenge from Doucouré and the referee pointed to the spot.  The crowd in the Rookery behind the goal, tried their best to put Noble off, but he sent Foster the wrong way and the visitors were ahead.  The Hornets had a great chance for an equaliser when Femenía surged down the wing, the ball reached Deulofeu by way of Hughes and Gray, but his shot hit the top of the crossbar, I felt that he should have done better.  Watford had a really good spell of possession at this point, but the next chance fell to the visitors as Anderson broke forward and found Lanzini whose flicked shot was just wide.  From the goal kick, Watford had a great chance to level the score, but Deulofeu’s shot was blocked by Diop.  A lovely passing move from the Hornets finished with a shot from Doucouré being put behind for a corner which came to nothing.  The equaliser came in the 17th minute when Hughes played in Gray who shot across Fabianski into the opposite corner.  It was lovely to have a goal to celebrate at last and, given the positive way that we were playing, I now felt that we could get something from this game.

Cleverley getting into position while Kiko is distracted

Gray had a decent chance to grab a second soon after, but his shot was wild and flew high and wide.  At the other end, West Ham’s record signing Haller attempted an overhead kick, but Foster was equal to it.  On 25 minutes, there was a break in the game for the players to take on water and cool down a bit.  The rehydration was certainly needed, as the game had been end-to-end and played at quite a pace.  The match restarted with a decent chance for the Hornets as Holebas put a great cross in for Gray, but the shot was terrible and flew wide of the near post.  At the other end, Anderson tried his luck with a shot from distance that was deflected over the bar.  The corner was met by the head of Ogbonna, but it was an easy catch for Foster.  There were appeals for a penalty as Gray appeared to be fouled in the box while attempting to get on the end of a cross from Holebas.  It was clear that the referee was checking via VAR, but he indicated that the previously awarded throw-in should go ahead.  Watford created another good chance as Deulofeu played the ball out to Femenía, who put in a lovely cross for Doucouré whose header was deflected for a corner.  The delivery from Holebas fell to Cleverley who shanked it way over the bar.  The visitors should have increased their lead from a corner as Anderson’s shot came back off the inside of the far post, much to my relief.

So, the half-time whistle went with the score level.  It had been an entertaining half of football with some lovely play from the Hornets but, as is so often the case, the finishing was wasteful.

During the break, there was a presentation about the WFC Community Trust’s Golden Memories programme.  This is aimed at people with mild to moderate dementia and “will use a host of memorabilia and magic moments to stimulate the senses and evoke personal memories”.  This was introduced by Hannah Foster who is the contact point for the programme (Hannah.foster@watfordfc.com) with a guest appearance by Watford legend Tom Walley, who is suffering from dementia.  I was delighted at the reception that Tom was given as he waved appreciatively to the crowd.

Capoue and Cleverley wait for the ball in

The first attack of the second half came from the Hornets, Deulofeu’s shot was blocked with a number in the Rookery claiming that it was stopped by a hand.  The referee did not agree.  At the other end Yarmolenko tried a looping shot, but Foster parried and then gathered at the second attempt.  The Hornets should have taken the lead ten minutes into the half when a lovely ball from Deulofeu released Gray who rounded the goalkeeper before crossing for Hughes, who looked to have an easy tap in from close range but managed to knock the ball wide.  West Ham made their first substitution as Antonio replaced Yarmolenko.  The substitute almost made an immediate impact as he bore down on goal, but Foster came out to block the shot and then followed up to make a tackle outside the box and clear the ball.  Watford had another excellent chance as Hughes played a lovely ball back to Deulofeu in the box, but the shot was straight at Fabianski.  The first booking of the game went to Holebas (of course) for a poor tackle on Antonio.  A minute later, the visitors retook the lead with a goal that was gifted to them by poor defending.  Anderson was allowed to waltz into the box without a challenge before pulling the ball back for Haller to score.  It was incredibly dispiriting after some excellent attacking work by the Hornets.  The home side had a chance to hit back almost immediately as a free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Gray whose effort was just wide of the far post.

Sarr and Welbeck waiting to come on

The Hornets threatened again after Cleverley made a tackle in midfield and advanced down the wing, the ball found its way to Deulofeu whose shot was easily caught by Fabianski.  A nasty looking foul on Cleverley was not penalised, allowing the visitors to break, the resultant shot was deflected for a corner.  Antonio was allowed a free header from Anderson’s delivery, Foster made an excellent save to keep it out, but he conceded another corner.  Again, from the corner, Foster was equal to the header from Antonio, but he could only tip it onto the bar and Haller scored the rebound.  While all this was going on, Welbeck and Sarr had been on the sidelines waiting to come on.  They finally replaced Deulofeu and Hughes, but it looked like the substitutions were too late for the Hornets.  Welbeck’s first meaningful attack was stopped short as he was taken down by Ogbonna, who was booked for his trouble.  The visitors made a second substitution with Fornals replacing Anderson who angered the home fans by walking across the pitch instead of leaving at the touchline where he had been standing.  Some good work from Sarr created a chance for Cleverley who spun and shot just over the target.  Cleverley then turned provider, playing in Doucouré whose shot was saved by Fabianski.  Watford continued to create chances as a corner reached Gray, who held off the defender before hitting a shot that was just wide of the target.  Each side made a final substitution as Quina replaced Cleverley for the home side and Lanzini made way for Sanchez for the visitors.  The Hornets had one last chance to reduce the deficit after a foul on Welbeck, but the free kick from Holebas was cleared to Capoue whose shot from distance flew over the bar.  The final whistle went to boos from a good number of the home fans who had remained in the ground.

Our first sight of record signing, Sarr

Back at the West Herts, our numbers were depleted as some of our group had made a rapid departure.  But, as Jacque and I were going to have to get trains home that were likely to be packed with celebrating West Ham fans, we decided to have a couple of drinks to let the crowds disperse.

The post-match mood was sombre.  As last week against Everton, we faced a team that we could and should have beaten, but we were undone by our lack of clinical finishing and the generosity of our defence.  Dawson is getting a lot of criticism, but he was left exposed by Femenía who certainly adds to our attacking options but is so often missing in defence.  I was encouraged by a lot of the forward play but, too often, the players wait for the perfect sight of goal and end up losing out to a defender.

As I sat there sulking, I commented to one of the West Herts regulars that I hate football.  This started a conversation in which the complaints about the current performances were followed by reminiscences of watching football in the Furphy years, terrible pitches and away trips to Workington and Torquay with less than friendly welcomes from the locals.  We then got on to a discussion of recent owners and how close we were to not having a club at all and suddenly the day’s defeat didn’t seem so bad.  I have watched with horror the goings on at Bolton and Bury in recent months.  Knowing how easily that could have been our fate, I find it hard to get too despondent about a couple of Premier League defeats.  I have every confidence that we can turn this poor run of form around and in years to come we will be looking back on these as the good old days.

 

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.