Thursday evening was another Tales from the Vicarage event. Coming hot on the heels of the last one, as well as being on Maundy Thursday meant that the tickets were slow in selling. I have to say that did me a favour as it meant that when I logged on as soon as they went on sale, I was able to bag front row seats. The line-up was Pat Jennings, Pat Rice, Gerry Armstrong and John McClelland. I am too young to have seen Pat Jennings in a Watford shirt, but he was a player that I admired. The other three were all favourites but I have a particularly soft spot for McClelland, an intelligent defender who was blessed with deceptive pace that meant he was rarely beaten. I have been to all of these evenings and this was certainly one of the best. Four intelligent, articulate men with interesting stories to tell. They spoke with great affection of their time at Watford and, for the guys who played in the 80s, their interactions with GT. Even though Jennings was such a small part of our history, his contributions were fascinating. He was so softly spoken, but had such stories to tell. The boy who left Ireland for the first time to play in a tournament including facing a formidable England team at Wembley. At 17 years old, he moved to Watford and was so grateful to Bill McGarry who made sure that he could go home regularly. This is something that Pat has ensured happens for a new generation of youngsters who are far away from home. He also roomed with George Best for years when playing for Northern Ireland, which probably gives him a whole evening of stories, which was encapsulated in “it gave a whole new meaning to room service”. At the end of the evening, we were slow leaving the auditorium and the lads reappeared on the stage for their group photo. Pat Jennings smiled at us and asked if we had enjoyed the evening and I came over all star-struck at the fact that Pat Jennings had spoken to me. Then Johnny Mac appeared and was asked if we could have a photo with his biggest fan. He came down off the stage for a cuddle and a photo and I am still ever so slightly weak at the knees.
I was hoping that the evening had been recorded, so that I could relive it. In answer to my prayers, the “From the Rookery End” podcast appeared on Friday evening which was an hour of the lads telling their stories. I listened to this on the train up to Huddersfield and it was so good that, when it finished, I immediately listened to it again. When I got to Huddersfield, I told everyone that I met to do the same. The link is below. You won’t regret it.
When I arrived, Huddersfield was bathed in gorgeous sunshine and I was in the pub very early doors so nabbed a table, only to find out that there had been an advance party who were sitting in the garden enjoying the lovely weather with the East Anglian and Norfolk Hornets. As it was Toddy’s birthday, it was especially lovely to see his friends out in force and Jerry Ladell proposed a toast that was echoed by all Toddy’s friends in the garden. We were also joined by Rich Walker, Watford FC’s Communications Director, who put money behind the bar for the Hornets fans to have a drink, which was a lovely thing to do.
At the appointed time, we wandered to the ground, where there was much less of a queue for security than there had been last year, so we were soon inside where we met up with Becky and Lynn. Becky had arrived early to find somewhere to display her flag, and was rather surprised to find that there would be no spare seats over which to drape the flag. Like me, she had thought that the away crowd would be small on Easter Saturday. In the event, she was able to hang the flag in front of the wheelchair enclosure, once Don had confirmed that it wouldn’t obstruct his view.
Team news was three changes from Monday with Mariappa, Sema and Deulofeu in for Janmaat, Kabasele and Deeney who failed to win his appeal against the red card. So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Mariappa, Masina; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Sema; Deulofeu, Gray. Lovely Jonathan Hogg started for Huddersfield.
After the teams came out, I was pleased to note that as Ben Foster appeared in the goal in front of the travelling Hornets, his name was sung with gusto, so there were no hard feelings after his mistake on Monday.
The Huddersfield stadium is really gorgeous. Unlike most of the new soulless bowls, it is just lovely with open concourses and seats near to the action while the ground, even though it is only a short walk from the town is surrounded by trees. After admiring my surroundings, it was time to concentrate on the match and hopefully winning a crucial three points.
The game started brilliantly for the Hornets as Hogg lost the ball in midfield, Doucouré advanced and was tackled, but the ball fell to Deulofeu who dwelled on it, picking his spot and, in a very similar manner to his first at Wembley, guided it in with a low shot that went in off the post. It was a great way to settle the nerves. Watford threatened again as an attack by Gray was stopped with a tackle, the ball broke to Doucouré who found Sema in space, but the shot was straight at Lössl in the Huddersfield goal. Then Deulofeu played a one-two with Hughes, but the shot was blocked. The first chance of the game for the home side came following a sloppy pass from Femenía that was picked up by Bacuna, but his shot was well over the target. The first caution of the game went to Capoue for a foul on Bacuna on the edge of the area. Mooy stepped up to take the free kick but hit it wide of the near post. Huddersfield threatened again as a great ball released Durm whose cross was cut out by a timely interception from Mariappa. Hogg was then booked for a foul on Deulofeu. It should have been two for the Hornets as Gray played a cross field ball to Sema who advanced and crossed back for Andre, but the shot was well over the target. Huddersfield had their best chance of the game so far as Smith cut the ball back to Mbenza on the edge of the box, he unleashed a powerful shot that Foster did very well to get behind and push to safety. Deulofeu was causing all sorts of problems for the home side and Bacuna was the next to be booked for fouling him. The free kick was from a dangerous position, but Lössl was able to punch it to safety.
Huddersfield threatened again as a cross from Smith reached Kachunga, but a great block from Mariappa averted the danger. The last action of the half was an early substitution for Huddersfield as Hogg made way for Daly. So we reached half time a goal to the good, but I couldn’t help feeling that we really needed another goal as Huddersfield were creating chances of their own.
The first action of note in the second half came as Gray was penalised for a very soft foul on Kongolo. He was clearly furious so, when the Huddersfield man got back to his feet, he pushed him over. Now that’s a foul! There was a great chance for the Hornets to increase their lead as Deulofeu nipped into the box and tried a shot that was just off target, Gray stretched but couldn’t apply the crucial touch that would have turned it in to the net. Another great chance for the home side came from a corner, the initial shot was blocked, the follow up was an acrobatic kick from Mounié that cleared the target. At this stage it has to be said that, despite already being relegated, the Huddersfield fans were making a great noise in support of their team.
Another shot from Deulofeu was claimed by a low save from Lössl, but Gray challenged and his attempts to turn it into the goal as the Huddersfield keeper scrambled to keep hold of the ball did not go down well with Schindler, the Terriers’ captain. But no action was taken beyond the award of a free kick. Another chance came for the Hornets when Sema played the ball back to Deulofeu who tried a curling shot from distance that was an easy catch for Lössl. Huddersfield threatened as Smith played a ball across the face of the goal where it went begging, but eventually reached Mooy whose shot was straight at Foster. Each side made a substitution with Grant replacing Mounié for the home side and Gray making way for Success for the visitors. Sadly, despite working hard, it really hadn’t been Andre’s day. Deulofeu had another chance to increase Watford’s lead as a free kick from Foster reached him just outside the area, but his shot was over the target. The second goal came with 10 minutes to go as Sema went on a run on the left wing, cut the ball back to Doucouré, whose shot was blocked, but the ball fell to Deulofeu who didn’t bother with anything fancy this time, he just buried it. That was his work done as, a couple of minutes later he was replaced by Chalobah. There was a feeling in our party that it is a bit mean to replace a player who is on a hat trick and Geri never likes being substituted, so it was nice to see him come out of the dug out to acknowledge the chants of his name from the away end. Just before this change, the home side had also made a substitution replacing Mbenza with Lowe.
There was a half shout for a penalty for the Hornets as Capoue appeared to be fouled just inside the box but he had a looked off-balance just before going down, so I wasn’t too surprised when the appeal was waved away. The visitors were still trying to increase their goal difference and won a free kick in a dangerous position that Capoue took and hit just over the target. Doucouré was then through on goal, but the flag went up for offside, he went for the shot anyway and was booked for his trouble (and the ball rebounded off the post). Gracia made his final substitution bringing Navarro on for Hughes. Almost immediately the home side pulled a goal back from a header from Grant. I looked at the clock and saw that it was showing 90 minutes. I hadn’t seen the board go up with the added time, so was unaware that the goal had actually come two minutes into the three that had been added, so I was mightily relieved when the whistle went for full time.
At the end of the game, a number of the players came over to give their shirts to fans. Ben Foster was one of them. He had hit a youngster with a ball in the warm up and was clearly concerned that he had hurt the child, so made a point of coming over the hoardings to give him his shirt. A lovely gesture that was clearly much appreciated by the boy and his father.
We headed back to the pub for a swift drink before catching the train home. It had been a frustrating game, we really should have had a more convincing win, but Deulofeu is a joy to watch at the moment. Capoue is also putting in great performances that must make him one of the favourites for Player of the Season. In previous seasons, he has been a player with a great deal of talent that wasn’t always on show. Gracia has got the best out of him and it has been a pleasure to witness. While it wasn’t the best team performance of the season, it saw Watford back in seventh position in the table (at least until Everton’s win on Sunday) and with their position at the end of the season in their own hands. We have three home games remaining, which are all must wins.
I will really miss going to Huddersfield. It is a lovely ground and the pre-match pub is excellent, with good beer, good food and plenty of friendly, efficient bar staff. I hope that they return to the Premier League very soon.