Tag Archives: Tom Heaton

Ending the Decade on a High

A festive Hornet shop

I left home bright and early aiming to be at the West Herts at midday.  Unfortunately, a signalling problem at West Drayton meant that the train that I had planned to catch from Slough was cancelled and I ended up on a train that had made an unscheduled stop due to congestion and kindly opened its doors to let the stranded passengers on.  It was slow progress and I finally arrived in the West Herts nearly three hours after leaving home and just in time to see Don leaving for the ground.

Most of our usual crowd were gathered at ‘our’ table with the addition of Jacque’s colleague, Adam, who is a Villa fan and was not relishing the prospect of the game, while the Watford contingent were fired up with some newfound optimism after the last couple of results.

The decision about what to have for lunch is usually quite simple but, on this occasion, I was in the horns of a dilemma.  I do love the jerk chicken but, for some reason, I had ordered sausage and chips before the Man United game, so that now qualified as the lucky lunch and had to be my order.

Capoue barking instructions

My sister had been unable to buy a ticket for the game, having left it late before finding that it was (surprisingly) sold out.  Luckily a friend wasn’t using hers and kindly offered to lend it to her.  We had arranged to meet Pete outside the Red Lion to pick up the spare ticket and I had handed my ticket to my sister so that she could sit with her daughter, so I left the West Herts not having a ticket for the game on my person, which induced a ridiculous mini panic until I spotted Pete and had Julie’s ticket in my hands (thank you, Julie).

Team news was that Pearson had made only one change with Chalobah making way for Doucouré on his return from suspension.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Capoue, Hughes; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Sarr; Deeney.

I tried to take a spare seat in my usual row to sit with the family, but the lad who usually sits there turned up just after kick-off so I belatedly made my way to the back of the Rookery to sit with Pete and experience a different (elevated) view of the field of play.

Celebrating Troy’s first goal

The Hornets started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead as a corner from Hughes was headed on by Deeney to Kabasele whose shot was stopped by a reaction save from Heaton in the Villa goal.  Then Deulofeu played a cross-field ball to Sarr, whose shot was blocked by a defender for a corner that came to nothing.  There was little more action of note until the 26th minute when Villa launched a counterattack, Hourihane crossed for Wesley who looked to have scored with a header from close range, but a brilliant save from Foster kept him out.  The visitors had a shout for a penalty when Wesley went down in the box following a challenge by Cathcart.  It was an age before the VAR check came up on the big screen and there were loud cheers when the referee indicated that we were to play on.  The Hornets fashioned another chance when a free kick from Hughes was punched clear by Heaton, but only as far as Doucouré whose shot was well over the bar.  Soon after, a free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Sarr but the ball ended up on the roof of the net.  Then Mariappa released Sarr who played a lovely low cross into the box but there was no Watford player to meet it, so it was easily gathered by Heaton.  Hughes was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance, but it was well over the target.  A lovely cross-field ball from Capoue found Sarr who cut into the box, but his shot was deflected for a corner.  Watford nearly broke the deadlock from the set piece when the ball dropped to Deeney, but he hit his shot straight at Heaton.  Watford finally took the lead in the 42nd minute when Villa gave the ball away, Doucouré tried a shot that was parried by Heaton to Deeney who put the ball under the Villa keeper and into the net.  So the Hornets went into half time with a narrow lead.  It was well deserved as, apart from the early shot from Wesley, it had been all Watford.

Gathering for a corner

The half time guest was Bill Shipwright, who played for Watford in the 50s so was way before my time and I couldn’t hear the interview.  There was also the added bonus of Christian Battochio who was on ticket duty for the 50/50 draw.

Pearson was forced to make a substitution at the break.  Hughes had picked up an injury towards the end of the first half and was replaced by Chalobah.  Villa also made a change bringing El Ghazi on for Jota.  The Hornets started the half in a positive manner with a shot from Doucouré that was deflected for a corner.  Watford threatened again as Capoue crossed for Sarr whose shot was blocked.  The first booking of the game went to Mariappa for a foul on Grealish.  Chalobah then had a chance to extend the Watford lead with a shot from distance that cleared the bar.  Disaster then befell the home side as Mariappa was shown a second yellow for a supposed foul on former Watford loanee, Lansbury.  From my vantage point it appeared that Lansbury ran into Mariappa (who doesn’t have a bad bone in his body), but pleas to the referee fell on deaf ears and the Hornets were reduced to 10 men with over half an hour of the game to go.  Pearson immediately made a change and you had to feel for Chalobah who was sacrificed for Dawson.

Sarr and Capoue are under there somewhere

Just as the nerves were starting to jangle, Deeney ran into the box and was brought down by Luiz.  It looked a bit soft from behind the goal but, having seen it later from another angle (as the VAR did), it was nailed on as Deeney was shoved to the ground.  There was a delay before the spot kick could be taken as Targett had been down injured.  There were some complaints from Villa players that the Hornets had played on around him, but they had had the opportunity to put the ball out of play when he first went down and had not done so, so their complaints were unwarranted.  Targett was replaced by Guilbert before the penalty could be taken.  Then Troy stepped up and blasted the ball down the middle to put the Hornets two goals up and ease my nerves somewhat.  The nerves were properly calmed on 70 minutes when Deeney released Capoue who played a gorgeous cross for Sarr who sped into the box to meet it and shot past Heaton.  My heart sank when VAR was invoked for a possible foul in the build-up and I begged for that gorgeous goal not to be disallowed.  After an agonising wait, the referee pointed to the centre circle and I punched the air again.  On 72 minutes, GT’s face came up on the big screen adorned with both Watford and Villa badges and the great man’s name was sung with gusto as I wiped a tear from my eye.

Capoue, Doucoure and Femenia prepare for a free kick

The visitors made a final change bringing Kodja on for Lansbury.  The referee’s card was out again as Capoue was booked for an altercation with Grealish.  On 77 minutes, Villa had their first on-target shot of the half as Hourihane tried his luck from the edge of the area, but his shot was straight at Foster.  There was another booking for the Hornets as Sarr was cautioned for trying to stop a Villa free kick.  When they finally took it, the ball was played out to Grealish whose shot flew wide of the near post.  The final change for the Hornets saw Masina on to replace Cathcart, who had been treated for an injury shortly before.  Grealish had another chance to pull a goal back with a shot from outside the area but, again, his effort flew wide of the near post.  There were two late bookings, one for each side.  First Deeney for bundling Luiz over.  Then Grealish for kicking the ball at Sarr as he lay on the ground.  The booking for the Villa captain was not before time as he had been behaving petulantly all afternoon.  There was a touch of handbags at this point, but no more cards were shown and the final whistle went on a very satisfying win for the Hornets.

Capoue readying to take a corner

I had rather enjoyed my afternoon watching the game from the gods.  It is nice to have a different perspective and it was noisier up there with the contribution of the few from the 1881 that moved just behind us.  My neighbours were rather lovely too.  A man with his two small daughters, which I always love to see.  Needless to say, when the crowd rose to their feet, which they did less often than they do further down where I usually sit, the father would lift the girl next to me off her seat so that she could see and I made myself useful by putting the seat down for her to stand on.  We had it down to a fine art by the end of the game.

Back to the West Herts and we were all smiles, apart from poor Adam who was very gracious in defeat admitting that they deserved nothing from the game.  It had been a tremendous performance from the Hornets who had run the show all afternoon.  The game took place less than 48 hours after the end of the United game and yet the players were all working very hard for the win and were resilient when down to 10 men.  Deulofeu worked his socks off and was unlucky not to have more influence on the game.  Femenía was tremendous again in the left back position.  Deeney was back to his battling self and was thoroughly enjoying answering the jeers of the Villa fans with his goals.  But it was Sarr who deservedly won man of the match for a wonderful performance.  It took him a while to learn how to play the English game, but he is now showing why the Pozzos paid all that money for him.  A month ago we felt doomed, now we are only 3 points away from safety and our prospects for the new year are looking increasingly positive.

So, following the last game of this decade, I can’t help but reflect on the past 10 years.  We started 2010 with Malky in charge and an unhappy ownership who were struggling for money.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, we then had the horror of Bassini’s reign, and I am so thankful that there were still good people on the board and among the staff who kept the club going.  The arrival of the Pozzos had some concerned about foreign ownership, but they have built the team and the infrastructure into one that can compete in the Premier League while still maintaining the feel of a community club and for that I will be eternally grateful.  While the start to this season was dreadful, we go into 2020 with a spirit of optimism and I look forward to more wonderful adventures over the next 10 years following my team.

Legends Remembered, Football Forgotten

Cate and I with GT

I arrived bright and early at the West Herts where only Don was waiting outside the door.  It hadn’t got properly cold at this point, but we were certainly very grateful when the doors were opened a little early and we took our seats at our usual table with our beverages of choice to wait for the rest of our party to arrive.

The build-up to the game had been dominated by Dyche’s comments about Watford to the Burnley Telegraph.  His statement, “The club is a radical shift from when I was there, absolutely chalk and cheese, from a community club built on the community to now built on a model,” was somewhat baffling given that Dyche was manager during Bassini’s tenure which goes down as the most depressing period off the field that I have experienced during 40 years of being a Watford supporter.  The arrival of the Pozzos not only saved the club but, during their ownership, the community feel around the club has returned with a vengeance.  The comparison between now and then is certainly chalk and cheese, but not in the way that was implied.  I can only conclude that Sean hasn’t been paying attention to what has been happening in Watford over the past 6 years.

Etienne Capoue

As we arrived in the ground, I was initially surprised to see that the Rookery concourse was heaving as it is not usually like that.  Then I remembered that the club had promised everyone a free drink to toast Graham Taylor two years after his passing.  It was a lovely gesture.  Somehow I had managed to miss my voucher, but was quite glad to escape the crowd and take my seat.

Team news was that Gracia had made three changes due to injury with Kabasele, Cleverley and Sema in for Cathcart, Doucouré and Hughes.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Kabasele, Mariappa, Holebas; Sema, Cleverley, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu and Deeney.  I must admit that, much as I love Kabasele, the absence of Cathcart caused me some concern.  Burnley had former loanee, Cork, in their starting line-up, former management, Dyche and Woan, in their dugout and lovely Matěj Vydra on the bench.

As the teams took the field, the crowd (including a number of Burnley fans) raised their scarves in honour of GT (the fellow next to me was given my spare so he could join in).  It really was quite a sight.  That was followed by a minute’s applause for both GT and Duncan Welbourne who passed away this week.  Chopper’s family were guests of honour of the club for the afternoon.

Holebas preparing for a throw-in

There was an early chance for the Hornets as Deulofeu went on a terrific run and found himself one on one with Heaton in the Burnley goal, but the keeper was able to keep the shot out.  Another chance soon after as a cross from Femenía eluded Deulofeu and dropped for Pereyra whose cross was nodded down by Deeney to Sema, but the Swede couldn’t get a strong enough connection and the ball was cleared.  Burnley’s first chance came on 10 minutes as a corner from McNeil was headed wide.  Burnley then had a period of pressure without troubling Foster, the next chance falling to the Hornets on 23 minutes as the ball reached Holebas who hit a shot from distance over the target.  Just before the half hour mark, the sight of Vydra warming up provoked applause from those in the Rookery, which was acknowledged by Matěj.  Foster was then called into action as a cross from Westwood was headed goalwards by Barnes but Ben stood tall and blocked the effort.  Burnley got closer to opening the scoring with free kick from McNeil which hit the side netting.  There was another let off for the Hornets as a defensive header from Mariappa dropped to Barnes whose shot was just wide of the target.  Then a rare bit of quality from the Hornets as Capoue played a through ball to Pereyra who found Deulofeu who curled a shot just wide of the far post.  There was some controversy as a panicked bit of Burnley defending sent the ball back into the arms of Heaton.  There were howls of “back pass” from the Rookery, but the referee wasn’t interested.  Burnley threatened again through Wood but, again, the shot found the side netting.  Watford could have taken the lead just before half time as a cross from Femenía found Deeney in the box, I was already on my feet as his shot flew towards the goal, but Heaton was able to make the save, so we went into half time with the game goalless.

Adrian Mariappa

After a bright start, it had been an awful half of football.  Burnley had the better of the play without causing Foster too many concerns.

At half time, the family of Thomas Sawyer, a young soldier who was killed in Afghanistan 10 years ago, were on the pitch and Thomas’s father paid heartfelt tribute to his son.  Then, as the players came out for the second half, the 1881 lads unfurled the Legends banner which we held over our heads in the Rookery in the knowledge that it features both GT and Duncan Welbourne.  Both events were touching tributes and a clear sign that the club has not lost its community focus.

The visitors should have taken the lead in the first minute of the second half as a ball through a defender’s legs led to a shot from Barnes that rolled across the front of the goal with no Burnley player able to turn it in.  The Clarets threatened again as a cross from Wood found Hendrick in the Watford box, but Foster was off his line to make the block.  Then a corner was headed back by Mee to McNeil whose shot was over the target.  Watford’s first chance of the half came as Femenía crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked.

Capoue waits for the ball to drop watched by Cleverley, Success and Britos

The first substitution of the game was made on 56 minutes as Sema, who had been struggling playing out of position on the right, was replaced by Success.  The substitute’s first action was to find Pereyra in a dangerous position, but the shot was high and wide.  Soon after, Success was flattened by Mee, who was booked for his trouble.  The Hornets were doing much better at this stage and Cleverley tried a shot from just outside the area, but it was an easy save for Heaton.  On the 72nd minute, GT’s picture appeared on the big screen and the crowd rose to cheer him.  I couldn’t quite decide whether I should be applauding or raising my scarf, so I tried to do both by applauding with the scarf draped over my arms.  I probably looked very strange, but it made me feel as though I was doing my part.  Gracia was then forced into a second substitution as Femenía left the field with an injury and was replaced by Britos.  There followed a booking for each side.  First a silly yellow for a display of petulance by Deulofeu when a throw was given to the opposition (choose your battles, Gerard).  Then Bardsley was booked for a foul on Success.  There was a major let off for the Hornets in time added on as, with the Rookery screaming for a foul in the build-up, McNeil’s shot was parried by Foster and fell to Barnes who found the net but was denied by the linesman’s flag.  I haven’t seen the incident again, but it seems that we were a bit fortunate with the decision.

Holebas readies for a corner with Cleverley in attendance

The final whistle went to a half-hearted chorus of boos in the Rookery.  It was a terrible game of football, but I still don’t understand the need to boo your own team.  As so often this season, we cannot play against teams set up to defend.  Burnley are masters of this art, but it is horrible to watch.  They also have a nasty habit of backing into defenders trying to get to high balls.  A dangerous tactic that won them numerous undeserved free kicks.  I also couldn’t help feeling sorry for the fourth official who must have been driven to despair by the constant moaning from Dyche and Woan.  To be honest, this is not a new tactic from Dyche, he honed his skills complaining to the officials from the touchline when he was in charge of our reserves (when such a team existed).

But enough about the opposition.  We missed Cathcart and Doucouré, so I was pleased to hear that their absence was due to minor injuries.  The absence of Doucouré seems to have an adverse effect on Capoue, who has more to think about and less freedom.  There is also less creativity going forward which may have played a part in Deulofeu and Pereyra having off days, although each had shots that were not that far off.  If one of those had gone in, it would have been a very different story.  On the way back to the West Herts I was told of a chap in the Rookery who declared that he had been watching Watford for 61 years and that this afternoon had felt as though it lasted all of those 61 years.  Still, looking at the positives, we don’t have to face Burnley again this season and are still 7th in the table.

So to St James’ Park next week for another crack at Newcastle.  I suspect that the crowd will be much depleted, but I hope that the lads give those who do travel something to cheer.  We owe Newcastle a beating, let us hope that it comes next week as a cup run would be rather good fun.

The Second Good Win in a Week

Order of service for Graham Taylor's funeral

Order of service for Graham Taylor’s funeral

The week running up to this match had been an emotional rollercoaster for fans of the Hornets.  The dreadful cup defeat to Millwall had been followed by a magnificent win at Arsenal.  But both events were overshadowed on Wednesday as we said goodbye to Graham Taylor.  The family were very gracious in allowing the funeral to be broadcast to those who gathered outside the church.  The service was very sad but also uplifting.  His children and grandchildren all spoke beautifully about the family man that they knew.  I thought the club and the council did them proud with the little details.  The One Bell, which is boarded up had been decorated with pictures and quotes from GT.  There was also a gorgeous order of service that was handed to those outside, allowing us to join in with the hymns, which included “Abide with Me”.  A scanned copy of the order of service is available at http://www.wfc.net/files/GT/GT_Order_of_Service.pdf.

On Saturday we were back at Vicarage Road for the visit of Burnley.  Those who had been at the mid-week game were waxing lyrical about the performance, but there was a niggling feeling that this Watford team tends to raise its game for the big clubs and that Burnley, despite their failure to win on the road this season, were just the sort of team to cause us problems.

Team news was that Mazzarri made two changes from the team that won at the Emirates with Britos and Janmaat replaced by Holebas and Zárate, both of whom were returning from suspension, which seemed a little bizarre given that this was the Argentine’s debut.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kaboul, Prödl, Holebas; Behrami; Niang, Cleverley, Capoue, Zárate; Deeney.  The 4-1-4-1 formation that had served us well in the previous game making another appearance.

Deeney and Niang celebrate the first goal

Deeney and Niang celebrate the first goal

The notable action in the first few minutes of the game was all related to cards.  First, Niang was booked after flying into a tackle on Ward.  A minute later, Hendricks was shown a straight red card for a nasty foul on Holebas.  Playing against 10 men isn’t always easy, especially when the team is as well organized as Burnley, so it was a relief when Watford took the lead in the tenth minute as a lovely cross from Niang was headed home by Deeney from close range.  With Troy now having scored three goals in the last four games, it seems hard to believe that such a long period elapsed between his 99th and 100th goals.  There was another booking soon after as Holebas was penalised for a high foot as he challenged Barton.  Watford had a great chance for a second goal as Niang exchanged passes with Deeney before unleashing a shot that Heaton tipped over.  Then, from a throw, Zárate hit a lovely shot from the edge of the area that Heaton managed to catch.  Burnley’s first on-target shot came just before the half hour as Lowton tried his luck, but it was an easy catch for Gomes.  The Watford keeper was called into action again soon after tipping over a free kick that Barton hit from the edge of the area.  Niang threatened again, going on a lovely run before taking a shot from the edge of the box that was blocked, the ball rebounded back to him and his second shot was comfortably saved by Heaton.  Watford had another decent chance as Cleverley passed the ball out to Zárate on the wing, he burst into the box before shooting just wide of the far post.  Then Holebas took a short corner, exchanging passes with Zárate before crossing for Capoue whose shot was blocked by the face of Barnes.  As we reached time added on at the end of the half, I was beginning to worry that we had wasted too many chances, then Holebas whipped in a lovely cross that Niang met with a superb header and the Hornets went in to the break two goals to the good.

Celebrating Niang's goal

Celebrating Niang’s goal

The second half started with the Hornets on top.  A lovely early move finished with a cross from Holebas, but no Watford player was on hand to finish.  There was a better chance soon after as a cross from Capoue was just a fraction too far in front of Deeney for him to apply the finishing touch.  At the other end, a Burnley corner was headed goalwards by Keane, but Gomes dropped to push it around the post.  Sean Dyche was the first to make a substitution, replacing Gray with new signing, Brady.  Mazzarri’s first change was to bring Doucouré on for Behrami.  I was much more comfortable with that change on this occasion than I had been midweek.  Watford continued to threaten the Burnley goal as Capoue received a cut back from Holebas, but his shot was saved.  Burnley threatened briefly as Barnes had the ball in the Watford box but Cleverley just took it off his feet.  The Hornets created another excellent chance as Niang crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked on the line.  As we reached the 72nd minute, the Watford crowd got to their feet to applaud and sing Graham Taylor’s name.  It was very pleasing to see that both those in the Director’s box and a good portion of the visiting crowd joined in.  Burnley had a rare shot with a powerful strike from Arfield, which was blocked by Gomes.  That was the last act for the Burnley man as he was replaced by Westwood.

Zarate waits for a corner

Zarate waits for a corner

There was a flurry of activity in the Watford box following a corner as a shot from Barnes was cleared off the line, the ball reached Barton on the edge of the area, his shot was also blocked and the ball went out for a corner.  When I saw Prödl arguing with the referee, I thought that he was disputing the corner.  Then the awful realization dawned that a penalty had been awarded and Prödl had been shown the yellow card for handball.  Barnes stepped up to take the spot kick and, on this occasion, the Gomes psychology did not work and the shot went in off the post.  It was very frustrating as, despite a flurry of activity, Burnley really hadn’t looked like scoring, but Watford would have to keep it tight for the remaining 12 minutes.  Mazzarri made a second substitution as Niang, who had put in another terrific performance, made way for Success.  But the next chance fell to the visitors as Brady broke forward and unleashed a shot that was straight at Gomes.  There were two late substitutions as Vokes replaced Boyd for the visitors and Janmaat came on for Zárate.  In time added on, the Watford players seemed determined to push the self-destruct button.  First Gomes decided to dribble after receiving a back pass instead of wellying upfield, and was almost caught out.  Then Cathcart gave the ball away to Barnes on the edge of the box and Gomes had to make a smart save to stop the shot.  The keeper was so furious with his defender that he had to be held back by Prödl.

Zarate and Deeney wait for a throw-in

Zarate and Deeney wait for a throw-in

So it was a relief to see Watford on the attack in the final minute, Success crossed and Deeney powered the ball home to secure the win.  Or so we thought.  I was in mid-celebration when I turned back to the pitch to see a Burnley player flying upfield and it became apparent that the goal had been disallowed and the points were still up for grabs.  Thankfully a late free kick for the visitors came to nothing and the Hornets achieved their second win in a week.  The manner of the win had been rather frustrating as, after looking really comfortable for most of the game, we really shouldn’t have been holding on at the end.

But what a difference a week makes.  After the abject performance in the cup against Millwall and some very disappointing showings over the past few weeks, most of us were looking nervously down the table.  Two wins in a week and we are back in the top half and looking forward to the rest of the season.  The club have done some terrific business in the transfer window.  It was very sad to see both Ighalo and Guedioura go, they were terrific servants to the club.  But the return of Cleverley and the addition of Niang and Zárate seems to have strengthened the squad considerably.  Zarate did well on his first showing.  Niang was superb, scoring one goal and creating the other, and he already seems to have built up an understanding with Deeney.  Cleverley was named man of the match and deservedly so.  The smiles are now back on the faces of Watford fans as we seem to be over our slump and can look forward to the rest of the season with some optimism.

Can They Do It On a Wet Night in Burnley?

Dyche & Mazzarri

Dyche & Mazzarri

As I left work to catch the train to Burnley, I bumped into a colleague who, on spotting my overnight bag, asked where I was going.  My response left her confused, “Burnley?  Where is Burnley?”  I tried to describe the location adding that it is not the nicest of towns but I was going there for football.  “Why not watch it in the comfort of your own home?”  A good question, but I don’t particularly enjoy watching football on television and don’t have Sky TV at home, so off to Burnley it was.

My journey included an hour ‘layover’ at Preston.  There was a time not so long ago when I was travelling though Preston very regularly but, since our promotion, it has become a rare occurrence and, for some inexplicable reason, I’ve actually missed it.  On arrival, Burnley was grey and damp.  After a brief detour to check in to the surprisingly pleasant hotel, I set off for the cricket club spotting a good few familiar faces on the way.  My first thought when this game was moved for television was that it would a bit of a throw-back to our Championship days when the midweek away crowd was mostly the hard core.  But the club having subsidized the tickets and laid on cheap coaches meant that we had sold over 1400 tickets, so there would be a very impressive turn out for a Monday TV game.

Ighalo waiting for the ball to drop

Ighalo waiting for the ball to drop

The Cricket Club had been spruced up and our usual corner was already occupied by a couple of our party.  Our welcome to the North was cask ale at £1.50 a pint and “Annie’s kitchen” was doing a roaring trade in the pie, chips peas and gravy.  The side room where we had gathered soon filled up with familiar Watford faces.  So, as Angela started telling us that her daughter had bought her a copy of “On this Day” by one of the BSaD guys, I was a little bit confused.  I assumed that everyone there knew everyone else, but she was totally oblivious to the fact that the author of her lovely birthday present was at the other end of table.  So, of course, I introduced them.

Team news was just the one change with Amrabat in for the injured Janmaat.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos; Amrabat, Capoue, Behrami, Pereyra, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.  Rather oddly, for the second away game in a row the Hornets faced a team in claret and blue wearing their white away kit which meant that both teams were wearing the same coloured shorts and Gomes was in a purple shirt that would have been deemed a clash in a bygone age.  After our last two convincing performances, confidence was high among the fans before the game.  But there was a question in the back of my mind as to whether this team could do it on a wet Monday night in Burnley.  With former Watford boss, Dyche, in charge, our hosts were not going to be a pushover.

Behrami

Behrami

The first chance of the game was a warning of things to come from the home side as, from a corner, the ball fell to Boyd whose shot drew a decent save from Gomes who tipped it over the bar.  Watford were a little lucky to escape a penalty appeal as a ball hit Holebas on the upper arm.  It was definitely a case of ball to arm, but I have seen them given.  After 20 minutes, I made a note that it had been mostly Burnley on top.  I wasn’t to know at that point that I could have made the same note at almost any time in the game.  The first sign that the Watford players were rattled came when Pereyra fouled Boyd and was booked for arguing with the referee.  It was a really stupid booking to attract.  Despite their dominance, Burnley didn’t threaten again until the 23rd minute when Gudmundsson took a shot from the edge of the area that flew just wide.  Watford’s first chance on goal came soon after as a corner from Capoue reached Holebas whose shot was blocked on the line.  In the 38th minute, Burnley won a disputed corner, Holebas was booked for protesting and many around me were unhappy at the decision although, to be fair, most of them had been unhappy since kick-off.  Burnley took the lead from the corner as Defour’s deep delivery was headed home by Hendricks.  It was a poor goal to give away, but the home side’s lead was well deserved on the balance of play.  Watford’s best chance of the half came in time added on as a free kick reached Pereyra whose cross was headed goalwards by Ighalo, but Heaton gathered easily.  It was a relief to hear the half time whistle.  It had been an utterly dreadful performance from the Hornets but that had a lot to do with the opposition.  Sean Dyche had done a tremendous job in organizing his team to stop the Watford players, who had no space to play in, although I’m not sure that excuses them not being able to string two passes together or defend set pieces.

Holebas and Capoue readying for a free kick

Holebas and Capoue readying for a free kick

It was hoped that Mazzarri would make changes at half time, but the only change in personnel was to bring Zúñiga on for Cathcart.  Watford started the half brightly with a lovely passing move ending in a shot from Deeney that was blocked and then cleared for a corner before he could connect with the follow-up.  But the good play didn’t last long and the home side increased their lead on 51 minutes as Defour’s corner was returned to him, his follow-up cross was met by Keane who was allowed a free header to beat Gomes.  Watford never really looked like getting back in the game after that, although there was some hope with the second substitution which saw Success come on for Amrabat.  That change went down very well among the away support who had been berating Nordin throughout the game.  On the hour, the Hornets had Gomes to thank for keeping the score respectable as he did brilliantly to save a shot from Defour.  At the other end Deeney met a Pereyra cross with a header that Heaton saved, but it would have been off target anyway.  Success had been lively since he came on and a run at the Burnley defence drew a foul and a free kick in a decent position.  Holebas stepped up to take it and shot into the wall, the ball rebounded to Capoue whose shot was blocked and Deeney’s follow-up was saved.  Watford were having a lot of possession during this period but too often were passing sideways or backwards, any forward passes seemed to be from Gomes launching the ball upfield, much to the frustration of those around me who were letting their feelings be known.

Kenedy makes an appearance

Kenedy makes an appearance

Mazzarri’s final change saw Kenedy on for Pereyra who had been lucky to avoid a second yellow card after a petulant challenge.  Into the last ten minutes and the involvement of Success and Kenedy had introduced some energy on the field that transferred itself to the stands and the travelling Hornets started making some positive noise.  Deeney went on a run and found Success who cut in, beating a couple of defenders, but his shot was from a tight angle and no Watford player could connect with the ball as it rolled along the goal line before it was put out by a defender.  The resulting corner came to Behrami on the edge of the box whose shot flew just wide.  Success had one final chance to reduce the deficit in the last minute of time added on, but his shot from an angle flew over the bar.  The final whistle was greeted with boos from the away stand.  Although this was followed by some sympathy applause for the players from the soft-hearted among us.  Deeney looked livid as he applauded the crowd and he certainly did not hold back in his post-match comments.

Deeney, Pereyra, Behrami and Britos

Deeney, Pereyra, Behrami and Britos

There was a lot of grumbling on the way out about the players being able to motivate themselves for the big teams while capitulating against Burnley.  There is a sad irony in fans criticising the players for arrogance while taking it as a given that we should beat a team like Burnley.  Personally, I am rather heartened that this division is competitive, so results cannot easily be predicted.  But I hope that future performances are a bit more entertaining to reward those who travel.  As I saw the fans piling on to the coaches for the long journey home, I was very happy that I had decided to stay over so only had a short walk back to my hotel room.

On checking out of the hotel the next morning, the woman on reception asked if I’d been to the football.  I bemoaned our performance, but we then had an interesting conversation about Sean Dyche.  She was definitely a fan, praising the efforts that he has put into developing the infrastructure of the club, so that they are set up for a future in the Premier League.  I’m told they have a nice new training ground and that the academy has grown under his leadership.  While he’s not a local he seems to have taken the club to his heart much as he did at Watford, which has gone down very well.

Saturday we will be back to Vicarage Road and there needs to be no complacency from either the players or the fans.  Bournemouth will be tough opposition and we will need to be at our best to ensure that we get a result against a team that we have had little success against recently.  This has been a great start to the season, so I sincerely hope that Monday was just a blip and we can return to winning ways very soon.

The Return of Dyche and Attwell

 

Watford managers past and present

Watford managers past and present

All the talk before this game was about the return of two men, the much loved former manager, Sean Dyche, and equally much reviled referee, Stuart Attwell, who was making his first appearance at Vicarage Road since awarding the ghost goal.

On arrival at my seat in the Rookery, I was delighted to see the elderly couple who sit in front of my sister. They have been absent for a considerable time and we feared the worst.  As so often with the people you see at every game, we only knew their first names, so had no way of finding out how they were.  It was such a relief to see them back where they belong.

Waiting for a ball into the box

Waiting for a ball into the box

Team news was that Beppe had made only one change from the win at Sheffield Wednesday with Cassetti coming in for the injured Doyley, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Battocchio, Anya, Ranegie and Deeney.  Former Watford loanees, Chris Baird and Michael Kightly, started for Burnley.

There had been much pre-game talk on social media about giving Attwell a hard time and, sure enough, the first time that the ball went out for a goal kick it was greeted with cheers and a rendition of 1-0 to the Golden Boys.  This elicited a smile from the referee.  Early in the game, Burnley won a free-kick in a dangerous position but Treacey delivered it

Celebrating Deeney's goal

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

straight into the arms of Almunia.  On 9 minutes, Watford were ahead as Deeney hit a shot from distance, which took a nasty deflection and looped over Heaton and into the net for Troy’s 20th league goal of the season.  The visitors appeared to have equalized almost immediately as a cross from Treacey was booted into the net from point blank distance by Barnes, so we were relieved to see that the flag was up for offside.  Immediately the Rookery started a chorus of “There’s only one Stuart Attwell.”  We had a couple of great chances to increase the lead.  First, McGugan brought the ball down and hit a lovely curling shot that was just wide of the far post.  Then Battocchio found Ranegie with his back to goal on the edge of the box, he played a short pass to Deeney

Anya on a run

Anya on a run

but his shot was just over the bar.  Then McGugan put a dangerous cross into the box but Ranegie couldn’t quite get his head to it.  At the other end, Barnes got on the end of a Kightly cross, but the presence of Angella ensured that his header was wide of the target.  Battocchio then played a ball over to Pudil, who didn’t have time to control and poked it wide.  Ten minutes before half-time Battocchio collided with a Burnley player and stayed down.  It was a while before play stopped and the physio could come on.  The treatment went on for some considerable time before the stretcher was waved on and Cristian was carried off and straight out through the gap between the Rookery and the Main Stand.  It is horrible to see a player carried off like that and it put a dampner on the rest of the half.  Abdi took his place in the midfield.  There were 6 minutes added on at the end of the half, during which a Tözsér corner was flying around the Burnley box as a number of shots were blocked, but McGugan’s final attempt flew over the bar.

At half-time, there was much satisfaction in a good first half performance tinged with worry about Battocchio’s injury.  Cristian had been playing really well before he went off.  Deeney was playing like a man possessed and the often maligned McGugan had been excellent.  In addition, Almunia did not punch a single cross, each time assuredly catching the ball.

A Watford attack

A Watford attack

At the start of the second half, the Watford players were out early and found themselves kicking their heels waiting for their opponents.  It nearly started badly for Watford as a clearance by Ekstrand rebounded off Barnes and went just wide.  Then a shot from Arfield curled just wide of the far post. At the other end, Ranegie released Deeney who played a low cross to McGugan who shot wide.  A scramble in the Watford box that appeared to include a handball by the home side, finished with Kightly shooting into the side-netting.  McGugan received a pass from Abdi but his shot from distance was well over the bar.  Then Anya exchanged passes with Deeney who crossed for McGugan, but Baird cut it out.  Then a Tözsér cross was met with a lovely header from

Ranegie challenged for a header

Ranegie challenged for a header

Ranegie, but Heaton was equal to it.  With 15 minutes to go, Faraoni replaced Ranegie for the home side and Burnley brought on Stock for Jones.  There was anger in the home stands as a ball crossed the sideline, but play was allowed to go on and Burnley won a free-kick in a dangerous position.  It could have spelled disaster as the deep free-kick was on target, but Abdi headed the ball off the line.  From Kightly’s corner, Ben Mee sent a header goalwards, but Almunia pulled off a fabulous save to keep it out.  McGugan then played a brilliant through ball to Anya, who rounded the goalkeeper, but his shot lacked pace and Baird had time to get back to clear.    From the corner, Pudil’s header was well saved by Heaton.  At the other end Edgar’s header flew just wide.  The Clarets got the equalizer with five minutes remaining as Arfield found space on the edge of the box and shot into the

The lovely Stuart Attwell

The lovely Stuart Attwell

corner past the diving Almunia.  Riera came on in place of the excellent McGugan for the last minutes of the game.  The first booking of the game went to Faraoni after what looked like a soft foul, although I was informed that he threw the ball away.  In the last minute of time added on, Angella released Pudil who advanced and found Deeney who played a one-two with Anya before shooting just wide.

After the final whistle, Sean Dyche graciously applauded all four stands and the Watford faithful loudly applauded him in return.  It was disappointing to come away from that game with only a point, but pleasing to see such a positive performance against a team that will likely claim the second automatic promotion spot.  If we continue to build and key players stay fit, next season could be very interesting indeed.

 

A Gutsy Performance at Turf Moor

Lighting my way

Lighting my way

The trip to Burnley is not high on my list of favourite away days.  When the game falls on a Tuesday night, it makes it even less appealing.  Given our recent run of form, I found myself questioning my sanity in taking a day and a half off work and spending a small fortune on train and hotel.  Still, there is always that niggling feeling in the back of your mind that it could be 7-4 again and you’d kick yourself if you were sitting at home.

The first challenge in planning the trip had been where to stay.  The hotel at which I’d stayed on a previous visit had closed down and hotels in central Burnley were conspicuous by their absence from the usual booking websites.  But then I found a boutique hotel located a short walk from Manchester Road station.  A boutique hotel in Burnley?  That I had to see.  When I arrived, I was delighted to find a characterful place with lots of art on display including a print of one of Matisse’s blue nudes.  Very pleasant indeed.

Welcome to Burnley

Welcome to Burnley

Pre-match there wasn’t a lot of confidence among the Watford faithful, but the team news indicated a switch in formation to 4-5-1 with Faraoni coming in for Pudil and Battocchio replacing Forestieri.  As the Burnley manager emerged from the tunnel, it was great to see Sean Dyche turn and applaud the Watford fans behind the goal and receive a warm reception from the travelling Hornets.

Burnley started strongly with an early foray into the Watford box that was smothered by Bond.  Then Bond was in action again, coming out to punch a free kick clear.  On 7 minutes, Treacy had a shot from distance but it was straight at Bond.  The next attack saw the young keeper come out of his penalty area to take the ball down on his chest and clear.  It was a confident move that was a sign of things to come.  On 8 minutes a corner by Stanislas flashed across the Watford goal, but there was no Burnley player near enough to apply the finishing touch.

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

On 10 minutes, Watford had their first attack with Murray passing to McGugan whose shot was blocked.  It has to be said that there were some pretty robust tackles coming in from the Burnley boys, but the ref let those go while he seemed to blow up for the slightest infringement by a Watford player.  On 14 minutes, the ball fell to Arfield on the edge of the box, but his shot flew well over the crossbar.  Then McGugan put a dangerous cross into the Burnley box, but Heaton reached the ball just before Battocchio.  On 19 minutes, Burnley won a free-kick for a minor infringement, Trippier took the kick and hit it straight at Bond.  Soon after, the referee blew up to penalize a Burnley player for climbing.  A decision that was met with ironic cheers from the travelling Hornets.

A Brace of Watford Managers

A Brace of Watford Managers

On 26 minutes, a string of lovely passes across the pitch finished with Faraoni beating the defender on the right and whipping in a cross that was blocked.  Then Trippier crossed for Arfield, whose shot was easily gathered by Bond.  Another cross from Trippier reached Jones, whose shot was blocked and put out for a corner which was headed over by Shackell.  At this point, I was distracted by an advertisement on the big screen.  On previous visits, I have marvelled at the unlikelihood of a “Clarets Wine Club”, so imagine my delight at the iPie advertisement.  Yes, Burnley have an app with which you can order your half time pie with a ‘click and collect’ service.  Will the wonders of technology

Thorne and Arfield wait for the ball to drop

Thorne and Arfield wait for the ball to drop

ever cease?  On 40 minutes, Burnley should have been ahead as Arfield met a cross from Stanislas with a close range header, but Bond leapt to his left to keep it out.  Then McGugan and Murray combined to feed Faraoni whose shot was wide of the far post.  Treacy then went on a run across the top of the area and unleashed a stinging shot that Bond first parried and then caught.  Just before half-time, Battocchio intercepted a ball in midfield and advanced on the Burnley goal, but his shot was blocked.  Then Cassetti won a free-kick close to the bye-line.  McGugan put a deep cross into the box which was met with a defensive header back to Heaton.  The half-time whistle went and, for the first time in weeks, the Watford players left the pitch to applause from their fans and chants of “Johnny Bond” and “Yellow Army” following them down the tunnel.  Burnley had been the better team in the half, but there was a pleasing resilience to Watford’s play and Bond had been superb.

Pre-corner jostling

Pre-corner jostling

A Burnley fan came to chat to us at half time to hear our opinion of our team and ask whether we thought Zola’s position was in danger.  He said that we had been the best passing team that they’d seen last season.  We said that we could still pass, but we were lacking the pace and penetration we had last season.  He said that they have a first eleven and then a bench full of kids so their current position was unlikely to be maintained at the end of the season.

We started the second half brightly.  An early shot from Battocchio went just past the far post.  Then a Burnley shot was met by a bicycle kick from Deeney to clear.  On 53 minutes, Battocchio went on a run down the wing, his cross was cut out and Burnley launched a counter-attack, Arfield shot goalwards and Bond had to drop smartly to gather.  Then Murray

Bond takes a goal kick

Bond takes a goal kick

broke into the box, but was closed down and lost the ball.  On 54 minutes, we had a great chance to take the lead as Battocchio passed the ball to Cassetti on the left and the Italian’s cross was met with a shot from close range by McGugan that Heaton did very well to keep out of the bottom corner.  Then a ball over the top reached Deeney, he passed it out to Murray whose cross was just missed by the leaping Bellerin.  Next Bellerin headed the ball down to McGugan who crossed for Murray to shoot, but again the shot was blocked.  Then a dangerous cross into the Watford box by Trippier was put wide by Mee under the attentions of a defender.  He was injured in the process and, after a spell of treatment on the pitch, went off and changed his shirt and came back numberless.  On 63 minutes, McGugan lifted a pass in the direction of Ekstrand, but the Swede did not react and Stanislas intercepted the ball but his shot was deflected for a corner.  Then a Watford shot from distance was deflected wide.  From McGugan’s corner, the ball bounced up and hit a defender’s hand, but the shouts for a penalty from the travelling ‘Orns fell on deaf ears.  On 66 minutes, a Murray cross was, again, too high for Bellerin but the ball fell to McGugan whose shot was cleared off the line.  From the throw-in, Murray fed Bellerin, but the Arsenal

Ready to defend a corner

Ready to defend a corner

youngster’s header was easy for Heaton.  On 68 minutes, our friend from half-time’s claim that they had the youth team on the bench was contradicted as Kightly replaced Treacy.  The former Watford loanee was involved in the next attack as he received a ball from Mee, but his shot landed on the netting on top of the goal.  On 74 minutes, Murray battled to keep the ball, he was tripped, fell over, got up still with the ball at his feet and was finally taken down to win a free kick.  At this point, he was replaced by Fabbrini.  McGugan took the free-kick which was deep into the box, but cleared.  Then Fabbrini passed to McGugan whose cross was headed out for a corner.  He took the corner which reached Faraoni who put the shot wide.  With 10 minutes remaining, Hewitt replaced Stanislas and Pudil came on for Cassetti.  Soon after, a deep shot straight at Bond did not test the young

Post-match congratulations

Post-match congratulations

keeper.  I have to say that our defence were doing a great job of closing the Burnley players down and restricting their shooting opportunities.  In the 87th minute, a cross from Trippier was met by a clearance from Fabbrini for a corner.  From the corner, the shot went harmlessly wide.  Then Fabbrini brought the ball down on his chest, went on a great run, but when he released the ball his pass was too far in front of Bellerin and the attack broke down.  It had been a frantic last five minutes, but the game remained scoreless.  At the start of the 4 minutes of injury time, we were taking time over our set pieces and Nosworthy, who’d shaped to take a free kick and then left it for Bond, was booked for time wasting.  We almost snatched the win in time added on as McGugan and Deeney exchanged passes and the former Forest man’s shot was deflected into the side-netting.  Pudil got a head to the resulting corner, but the ball was cleared and the game ended with honours even

This was such a contrast to Saturday both on and off the pitch.  Gone were the on field nervousness and the hostility from the stands.  Instead we had a brave, committed performance on the pitch which was cheered on enthusiastically by the 274 travelling Hornets.  The players spent some time on the pitch at the end thanking the fans for their support.  Zola looked a lot happier than he did at the weekend and must have been gratified to hear his name chanted again.  As a final gesture of thanks, Daniel Pudil removed his shirt, climbed over the advertising hoardings into the disabled enclosure and handed it to Gavin Ricketts.

All in all, it had been a very enjoyable evening and a timely reminder of why I go to these games.