Tag Archives: Valon Behrami

A Miserable End to the Season

GT’s bench

When I embarked on the train to Watford, the carriage was packed with people in costume on their way to the Harry Potter experience.  All I could see of the person a couple of rows in front of me was a crooked hat.  On arrival at Watford Junction, I had somewhere more important to go.  My usual walk to the West Herts took a slight detour as I entered Cassiobury Park on a mission to find GT’s bench.  It wasn’t long before I spotted a brand new bench in a little oasis and I headed over.  I was disappointed to find someone already there, but gratified when I noticed the Watford top and we soon fell into conversation.  As we sat there, a number of people came past and commented on what a lovely gesture the bench was, the Watford fans among them taking the chance to have their photos taken and to remember the great man.

After paying my respects, I headed to the West Herts for the last pre-game drinks of the season.  Top of the agenda was Mazzarri’s sacking.  Most in attendance were happy at the news.  While I can’t say that I was a big fan of the football we’ve been watching for most of this season, I can’t help feeling that Mazzarri was a little hard done by.  By all accounts Flores was dispensed with as he was too soft on the players.  Mazzarri had come in to instil some discipline but, very much like Sannino, his methods did not find favour with the players, which seemed to lead to performances well below the standard that should have been expected from a squad of that quality.  The other discussion surrounded Holebas who was on track to achieve a premier league record of 15 bookings in a season.  Of course, this would lead to him missing three games at the start of next season although, due to a bizarre loophole, I was assured that, if he was booked twice, he would only serve a one match suspension.  I found that difficult to believe.

Gomes takes a free kick

Team news came through and our problems in central defence were highlighted by the fact that Mariappa was the only recognised central defender in the team.  There was worse news soon after when a correction was made removing Mariappa from the line-up with Behrami filling his position in the back line.  As if that wasn’t enough to provoke discussion, Deeney had been left on the bench where he was to be joined by both Pantilimon and Gilmartin.  Mazzarri was going out in style!  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Behrami, Holebas; Amrabat, Cleverley, Doucouré, Capoue, Mason; Niang and Okaka.

There was almost a disaster in the first minute as Gomes delayed a clearance, he lost out to Agüero who crossed for Jesus whose header was cleared off the line by Holebas before the danger was cleared.  But the respite was brief and the Hornets were a goal down on 4 minutes as a corner from De Bruyne was met by Kompany who was allowed a free header to finish past Gomes.  After witnessing constant pressure from the visitors in the first 10 minutes, it was a relief to see a Watford attack, although it finished with Niang cutting inside and shooting just over the target.

Mason, Cleverley and Holebas being watched by Harry

It appeared that a second City goal was inevitable when Jesus broke down the left and squared the ball for Agüero who had an open goal to aim at, but Behrami put in a terrific tackle to avert the danger.  Gomes then pulled off a terrific save to deny Agüero from point blank range.  But the Argentine wasn’t to be denied for long as he latched on to a through ball from De Bruyne and finished clinically past Gomes.  Soon after there was a rousing chant for Troy Deeney who, at the time, was sitting somewhere towards the back of the bench.  Gomes was in action again claiming a ball over the top from Otamendi as Silva challenged.  Mason incurred the wrath of the referee, although escaped a booking, after sending Jesus into the hoardings.  The first sight of Deeney warming up was greeted with a standing ovation, which was as much anti Mazzarri as it was pro Deeney.  The visitors claimed their third on 36 minutes as Sané broke down the wing before squaring the ball for Agüero to score his second.  Watford’s defensive woes continued as Janmaat went down with an injury and had to be replaced by Eleftheriou, who was making his Watford debut in the worst possible circumstances.  The fourth goal came as Fernandinho exchanged passes with Agüero before holding off the challenge of Mason and finishing past Gomes.  The goal was greeted with boos and streams of people heading for their half-time refreshments or, possibly, the exit.  The first caution was earned by Doucouré for pulling Agüero back.  The resultant free-kick was blocked for a corner from which the ball was cleared to Agüero who, thankfully, shot wide of the near post.

Eleftheriou making his debut

The half time whistle went to loud boos.  It was noticeable that Deeney spent the break warming up, he appeared to be doing it off his own bat rather than training with a coach.  The half time distractions included a brief interview with Bill Shipwright, a defender from the 50s, who did the half time draw.  Also the introduction to the crowd of Chris Williams, a steward retiring after many years of service.  Sacred Heart beat Bushey Heath in the penalty shoot-out which gave us some excitement as it went to a sudden death finish involving the goalkeepers.  It was all a pleasant diversion from what had been an abysmal half of football.

The seats behind me were occupied by a father and two young children, who were friends of the season ticket holders who have those seats.  There had been a number of incredulous questions to the father about why he was still supporting Watford in the game and why the players weren’t trying (slightly unfair given the opposition).  So I was disappointed that they were still in the concourse when Watford had their best chance of the game as Okaka went on a run and blasted the ball at Caballero who pushed it out for a corner.  There was another chance for the home side as Fernandinho lost out to Niang whose shot was deflected into the side netting.

Cleverley on the ball

There was a bizarre incident 10 minutes into the half as the referee strode over to the Watford bench to have words with Mazzarri, whose English must be better than we all thought unless the fourth official is fluent in Italian.  This was greeted with loud chants of “Off, off, off” from the Rookery that made me cringe.  When the referee returned without sending Mazzarri to the stands, it was to a chorus of “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

City’s fifth goal came just before the hour mark as Cleverley failed to clear a cross from Agüero, Jesus lifted the ball over Gomes and it hit the net despite Eleftheriou’s best efforts to head it off the line.  Before the restart Deeney replaced Amrabat.  Agüero’s chance for a hat trick was stopped with a tackle from Behrami.  The crowd’s chants against the head coach continued with “Walter Mazzarri get out of our club.”  City made a double substitution bringing Navas and Sagna on for Touré and Sané, leading one of my neighbours to quip, “They’ve gone all defensive, they ‘re scared of us.”  Agüero threatened again with a shot that was tipped over by Gomes.  At this point, there were chants for Rene Gilmartin, which were certainly not a judgement on the performance of the incumbent in goal.

Deeney can’t get the decisive touch

Gomes denied Agüero again dropping to block and getting injured in the process.  What a relief that there were two goalkeepers on the bench.  Despite the chants for Gilmartin, it was Pantilimon who readied to come on but, after treatment, Gomes was fit to continue.  With 20 minutes to go, Agüero left the field to applause from all corners of the ground after a tremendous showing, he was replaced by Iheanacho who was wearing 72, so was greeted with a chant of “One Graham Taylor.”  As we reached the 72nd minute, the influence of GT was felt as the Watford players suddenly sprung into life.  Doucouré came close with a shot that was cleared off the line.  Then a Capoue shot was blocked, the ball fell to Okaka who had a chance to score from close range, but he was being challenged so couldn’t get a clean contact and the ball bounced off him into the arms of Caballero.  Watford’s final substitution saw Pereira come on for Niang.  The youngster gave the Watford crowd a brief moment of joy as he combined with Eleftheriou on the overlap, but the cross was cleared.  As the clock wound down, there was little on the pitch to amuse the 1881 so their attention turned to Thierry Henry who was in the corner next to them waiting to do the post-match summary for the TV, and was serenaded with chants of “Sign him up” and “Henry for Watford”.

Mason lines up a free kick

It was a relief when the final whistle went and, as a soppy old woman, I was pleased that enough people stayed for the “lap of appreciation” to make it worthwhile.  Troy’s daughter, dressed in her tutu, was performing for the cameras and I was happy to see that the person who wanted a word with Troy at the end appeared to be congratulating him.  Both Heurelho and Troy said a few words, but they were understandably downbeat and I think we were all happy to see the season come to an end.

Back to the West Herts and there were some heated exchanges between those who had left promptly on (or before) the final whistle and those who stayed to applaud the team.  With Watford having nothing to play for and City needing the points, this was always going to be a difficult game, but for many it was the final straw after the six successive defeats that followed our achievement of 40 points.  Added to that, the fall from mid-table to just above the relegation zone in a season when we were never really in a relegation battle had angered a lot of people.

It is such a shame that this season will be looked back on with such disappointment.  There were certainly highlights.  Those who travelled to Arsenal and West Ham or saw the home game against Man United will cherish those memories.  But, ultimately, despite retaining our place in the top division, it was not a season to remember.  It remains to be seen who will take charge of the team next season, since neither the iron fist nor the velvet glove seems to have worked, let’s hope that Gino can find a coach who can strike the right balance between the two approaches.

Despite how thoroughly fed up I felt after the game, it won’t be long until I am counting the days to the release of the fixture list and the start of pre-season.  Head coaches come and go, but the fans who go week in, week out will still be there cheering the team on.  Let us hope that there is a lot more to cheer next season.

Belgians and Brides

Walter Mazzarri, he bought me a drink!

With the game moved to Friday evening so that Sky could show our match with Chelsea on Monday, Friday morning was spent trying to get everything at work in order so that I could enjoy my afternoon off.  A text from Pete brought my planned departure forward to give me time to meet him for a lunchtime pint in the Doric Arch.  As we queued to board the train we spotted Paolo de Toffol, prompting speculation as to why he hadn’t travelled with the rest of the team on the previous day’s flight.

On checking in to the hotel in Liverpool, I was told that I had been upgraded to a superior room, which meant there was a little gift basket in my room containing chocolate, jelly beans and crisps.  I also had a great view of the Liver Building and the Mersey which was rather lovely.  But we weren’t there for the view so, having dumped our overnight things, we headed for the pre-match pub.  We were not the first to arrive as some of the North-West ‘Orns were already in situ and, as is always the case, our group quickly grew and the beer and conversation flowed.  There has been a lot of discussion about our poor away form lately, but it was still a shock when Andy, who is a regular at our Northern excursions, said that he hadn’t seen us win all season.

Banner in support of Aaron Lennon

When we got off the bus at Goodison Park, the rain was starting so we made a rapid beeline for the turnstiles, an extra motivation being the announcement on social media before the game that “the first drink” would be on Walter this evening.  I have to say that having enjoyed a pint at Euston, red wine in first class on the train and more beer at the pre-match gathering, this was most certainly not my first of the day, but I am not one to pass up a free drink so I picked up my voucher from the steward inside the turnstiles and exchanged it for a (small) bottle of red wine.  The atmosphere in the concourse was particularly jovial with chants of “Beers up, if you love Walter” and “Walter Mazzarri, he bought me a beer.”

On reaching our seats, there was an appreciation of what a great (proper) ground Goodison Park is.  So much nicer than the soulless bowls that so many teams are moving to.  It was also lovely to see a banner in the home stands supporting Aaron Lennon who has been hospitalized due to mental health issues.  I wish him a speedy recovery.

Capoue over to take a corner

Team news was that Mazzarri had made three changes with Holebas, Behrami and Deeney replacing Amrabat, Cleverley (who was ineligible to play against his parent club) and Niang.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kabasele, Prödl, Mariappa; Janmaat, Doucouré, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Okaka and Deeney.

Everton had the first chance of the game with a shot from Barkley but Gomes was down quickly to make the save.  Watford’s first goal attempt came from a corner as Holebas crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked.  The next chance for the home side also came from a corner which Jagielka flicked goalwards needing Gomes to pull off a decent save to keep it out.  Okaka was the next to threaten, going on a run before unleashing a shot that flew wide of near post.  The Hornets nearly got themselves into trouble with a short back pass that Mirallas chased but, thankfully, Gomes was first to the ball.  The rather impressive youngster, Tom Davies (to whom I took an instant dislike, possibly due to his resemblance to Robbie Savage), then hit a cracking shot from distance that Gomes met with a flying save.  A lovely passing move featuring Okaka and Deeney finished with Doucouré shooting straight at Robles.  The Hornets came closer to opening the scoring as a Holebas cross was headed just over by Mariappa.

Waiting for the corner to be taken

Watford’s ridiculous run of injuries to defenders continued when Kabasele went down with an apparent hamstring pull.  Given that we had no central defender on the bench, there was some speculation in the away end about who would replace him, the answer was Zúñiga, who took Kabasele’s place in the back three until Holebas told him not to be ridiculous and swapped places.  Towards the end of the half, a Behrami tackle led to some handbags as Janmaat stupidly got involved until Prödl stepped in and pushed him away.  Both Behrami and Janmaat were booked for their trouble.  Towards the end of the half, Watford won a free kick in a decent position but, instead of directing it goalwards, Capoue chose to pass to Holebas on the wing and any possibility of a goal attempt disappeared.  So we reached the break goalless after an enjoyable half in which the visitors had put on a decent performance.

At half time, there were celebrations on the pitch as the Everton U23s received their trophy for winning Premier League 2.  The stewards then took to the pitch to celebrate being voted best stewards in the Premier League for the eighth year in succession.  An impressive record and, it has to be said, they are rather lovely so I was happy to join the applause.

Zuniga pretends to line up a free kick that Holebas will take

The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as a cross was punched by Gomes to Schneiderlin who belted the ball over the bar.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came as Janmaat exchanged passes with Okaka before feeding Deeney who, under challenge from Jagielka, could only direct his shot just wide of the near post.  But it was the home side who took the lead just before the hour mark, as Barkley picked up the ball and was allowed a free run at goal, Prödl failed to put in a tackle and actually moved away from the shot before it flew past the diving Gomes.  Another frustrating goal to give away.  Everton then had a decent shout for a penalty as Gomes spilled a long-range shot from Mirallas, Lukaku looked ready to pounce but was brought down by Janmaat.  The referee waved play on, but I couldn’t help thinking that Watford got away with that one.  Everton had another chance to increase their lead as Schneiderlin met a corner from Baines, but he headed it over the bar.  Okaka, who was being given no protection by the referee, broke into the box, he was tackled but did very well to win the ball back at which point he was adjudged to have committed a foul, a ridiculous decision.   Holebas picked up his 13th yellow card of the season for complaining about something (nothing new there).  During the game we had been regaled by chants for José from Colin and Flo who were sitting behind us.  “Hole, Hole, Hole, bas bas bas” was good, but “He always wins the ball, he never smiles at all” won my vote.

Deeney and Davies

With 20 minutes to go Mazzarri made another substitution with Amrabat coming on in place of Behrami.  Nordin was in action almost immediately crossing for Okaka, whose goalbound header was blocked.  At the other end, a shot from Lukaku was cleared off the line by Mariappa.  As the travelling Hornets started the 72nd minute chorus of “One Graham Taylor”, it was lovely to see the Everton fans in the block to our left getting to their feet to join in with the applause.  There was then a rather bizarre pitch invasion as a couple of 10 year olds went belting across the pitch towards Robles, they were hugged by the smiling keeper before one ran off behind the goal while the other headed back to his seat in the block next to us to chants of “Sign him up” from the away fans.  They were both escorted from the ground and the stewards doubled up around the perimeter of the pitch.  Watford had a decent chance to equalize as Mariappa met a corner from Capoue with a header that flew just wide.  Into the last 10 minutes of the game and each side made substitutions.  Goalscorer, Barkley, and Mirallas made way for Barry and Koné for the home side while Niang replaced Capoue for the visitors.  Okaka had a great chance to level the score as he received the ball in the box with his back to goal, turned and shot but Robles was equal to it.  Watford continued to push for the equalizer as Niang curled a shot towards the far corner, but Barry got his head in the way to block it.  At the other end Gomes stopped a shot from Valencia.  There was one last attack from the visitors in time added on, but a cross from Amrabat flew over Okaka’s head and the Hornets fell to their fourth defeat in a row.

Challenging in the box

Despite the result, most of the 680 Watford fans who had travelled to Everton appreciated the efforts of the players.  It had been a lively performance which was only let down by the finishing.  Mariappa, who had kept Lukaku pretty quiet after the departure of Kabasele, looked really disappointed as he applauded the fans, and he certainly cheered me up no end by taking his shirt off and giving it to a fan.  Deeney followed suit and gestured to the other players around him to do the same.  Sadly there was one among the travelling fans who thought it appropriate to abuse the players.  There was a look of horror on the faces of the Everton stewards as Deeney crossed the hoardings into the away stand.  He listened to what the fella had to say and then headed over to talk to Flora, one of our young disabled fans, and hand her his boots.  Sadly, Mr Angry couldn’t leave it and carried on abusing the Watford captain at which point he was grabbed by the police and stewards and escorted out of the ground.  On a more pleasant note, as the Everton fans applauded their team on their end of season lap of honour, they also took time to applaud the Watford crowd and we replied in kind.

Behrami versus Barkley

We headed back to the city for a post-match pint.  The highlights of the game were showing in the pub and backed up my impression that Watford had made some decent chances.  We were also engaged in conversation with some Everton fans, all of whom were delightful.  Liverpool really is a fantastic city.

Then it was back to the hotel for the late night shenanigans in the bar.  Notable sights were a woman draped in a Belgian flag, no idea if she was supporting Lukaku and Mirallas or Kabasele.  Then a bride in full white dress appeared to get a round in, leaving the bar with a tray of drinks.  We were then joined by another group of Watford fans, so our attention went back to the post-match analysis which went on until we closed the bar at 3am.

Considering the Everton game in isolation, it would be seen as a decent performance against a good team.  But, at this stage of the season and with the poor run of late, it was just another in a series of disappointing results.  Mazzarri comes in for a lot of criticism, but so many of our defeats have been down to individual mistakes and he cannot be held responsible for that.  With Chelsea having won the league title on Friday evening, we can only hope that they are on the beach by Monday and that Hull don’t beat Palace.  Having to face Manchester City next Sunday needing points just doesn’t bear thinking about.

Forty Points Achieved against the Swans

The legends flag greets the players

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

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

Challenging for a ball into the box

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

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

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

Celebrating Capoue’s goal

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

Capoue and Cleverley line up a free kick

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

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

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

Doucoure and Amrabat chase the ball

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

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

Gomes with a goal kick

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

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

Pitiful Performance against Palace

On Tuesday, I was lucky enough to spend a cracking evening listening to Luther Blissett, Tony Coton, Sean Dyche and Paul Wilkinson reminiscing with Adam Leventhal in Tales from the Vicarage.  As well as the anecdotes, there were some interesting musings on modern football, especially the penchant for diving.  Coton said that, in his day, cheats would be called out by their team mates as well as the opposition.  An interesting thought going into an afternoon with Wilfried Zaha.

As if to punish me for having such a great time, I woke up the next morning with a nasty case of vertigo, which has plagued me for the rest of the week.  As I left home to walk to the station for the journey to Selhurst Park, I was a little unsteady and wondered whether I should stay at home but, since this was our only game in three weeks, I certainly wasn’t going to miss it.

As it was a London game, the City ‘Orns were allowed a block booking of tickets, so we duly met in Croydon for our pre-match drinks.  Whenever two or three (or twelve) football fans are gathered together, the conversation often turns to superstitions and we soon discovered that a number of our group were wearing their “lucky socks”, although the evidence that these articles of clothing were actually lucky was almost as scanty as the shorts that Paul Wilkinson brought along on Tuesday.

Britos takes a throw

Team news was that Mazzarri had made two changes with Cathcart and Janmaat coming in for Holebas and Okaka.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Behrami; Janmaat, Cleverley, Capoue, Niang; and Deeney.

The first incident of the game involved Cathcart stopping a run by Zaha on the edge of the Watford box, allowing the Palace man to take a tumble in the area.  Needless to say, the home fans were yelling for a penalty, while the away fans were berating him for diving.  The first action resembling a goal attempt came from the home side as Sakho headed a Cabaye corner over the bar.  The Hornets fashioned a much better chance as Niang advanced before taking a shot, but it was straight at Hennessey in the Palace goal.  That was it for the first half hour of the game.  The next thing that I deemed worthy of noting down was a chant of “You wrecked your own bus” from the Watford crowd following the report that the Middlesbrough team bus that was covered in Palace graffiti on their visit to Selhurst Park had been loaned from their hosts.  Palace’s best chance of the game so far came on 36 minutes as Zaha advanced down the left, his cross was headed clear by Kaboul, but only as far as Cabaye whose shot was deflected for a corner.

Niang and Deeney looking for the ball

The first caution of the game went to Cleverley for a late foul on Zaha.  A nice passing move between Zaha and Townsend led to a cross that was headed clear by Britos under challenge by Sakho.  Soon after, the ball fell to Zaha on the edge of the box, but his shot was well over the target.  The visitors had the last chance of the half as a header from Janmaat dropped to Behrami whose volley was high and wide.

The whistle went to end a dreadful half of football.  Watford had dominated the early part of the game, with the hosts coming into it towards half time, but the only shot on target had been the tame effort from Niang and most of the entertainment was coming from the stands.  During the half time entertainment, t-shirts were thrown into the crowd.  A number in the away end chose to throw them back.  A poor move as one young lad who opened his was soon sporting a “Cult Heroes” shirt with Luther’s face on it.  Although, after that first half, to remind us of the team of the early 80s was rubbing salt in the wound.

Capoue, Doucoure and Amrabat waiting for a Britos throw

Mazzarri was forced into a substitution at the start of the second half bringing Doucouré on to replace Behrami, who had been struggling with an injury.  The first chance of the second half fell to the visitors as Capoue launched a shot from distance over the bar.  Just before the hour mark, there was a frission of excitement in the away end as Amrabat appeared to be getting ready to come on.  The tension mounted and dissenting voices were heard as he was sent on a warm up run down the touchline.  But, finally, he donned a white shirt and entered the field of play in place of Janmaat who had had an absolute mare.  Zaha was lucky to escape a caution as his reaction to being dispossessed by Prödl was to knock the Austrian to the ground.  There was a scare for the Hornets as Britos gave the ball away, not for the first time, Townsend crossed for Zaha but, yet again, the shot was over the bar.  Palace took the lead on 68 minutes.  Due to the sightlines at Selhurst Park when the crowd are standing, I didn’t see either the incident that led to the goal or the strike that beat Gomes, but I am reliably informed that Prödl fouled Zaha (a tactical move that earned him a yellow card), Cabaye took the free kick and, as Deeney attempted to head clear, the ball went in off the post.  So Palace had managed to take the lead in a game in which they hadn’t had a shot on target.

Kaboul

Watford had a great chance to equalize as Doucouré hit a shot from distance that Hennessey just managed to tip around the post for a corner.  At this point Jacque leaned over and suggested a ritual burning of our lucky socks, which had let us down very badly on this occasion.  Mazzarri made another popular substitution bringing on Success, although many around me were questioning why Cleverley had been the man to make way.  My feeling was that Tom had been becoming increasingly frustrated and was a foul away from a second yellow.  Others saw it as a tactical move as he changed the formation.  Anyhow, the next attack came from the home team as Benteke ran half the length of the pitch before sending a dreadful shot well wide of the target.  Palace had a much better chance as Britos lost the ball, again, Cathcart came to the rescue blocking a shot from Zaha, but the rebound reached Cabaye who shot wide.  Another decent chance to equalize came to nothing as Niang did really well to get into the box but, instead of playing a square ball to one of his teammates, opted to cut the ball back to an area populated with Palace defenders.  As the clock reached 90 minutes Doucouré fed Success inside the area, I just wanted one of them to try a shot, but it wasn’t to be as they were smothered by the Palace defence and the ball rolled out for a goal kick.  There was one final chance to grab a point in the last minute of time added on as Hennessey came out to deal with a high cross towards Deeney in the box, he collided with the Watford man, the ball fell to Niang, but his shot just cleared the bar and the points stayed in South London.

Doucoure and Britos

The away crowd had been getting increasingly irate throughout the game and a number of fans gathered at the front of the stand to make their feelings known to the players.  Unfortunately the two who were applauding the crowd when the volley of abuse was aimed their way were Cathcart, who had done pretty well against Zaha, and Prödl, who was also pretty blameless and looked far from impressed at the reception.

It had been an appalling game.  Palace were dreadful and were there for the taking, but we didn’t test them at all.  I had high hopes when both Amrabat and Success came on, but each time I was disappointed.  I was just thankful that, even with a diverted train, it was a fairly easy journey home.  This season is becoming increasingly frustrating.  We have a very talented group of players at our disposal who have no excuses for putting in a lacklustre performance against such a poor side.  We can only be grateful that there are some truly awful teams in this division.  One of those is up next at Vicarage Road.  We have to be expect much better from that game or the post-match threats from some in our party only to turn up for the pre-match pints and forego the actual game may well come to pass.

Seven Goals, but Not a Thriller

Celebrating Deeney's 105th Goal

Celebrating Deeney’s 105th Goal

After the frustrating draw against West Ham last Saturday evening, we were back to Vicarage Road for a three o’clock kick-off.  The pre-match gathering of City Orns and Norfolk Horns was as convivial and entertaining as would be expected.

As we walked down Vicarage Road, a group of Southampton fans behind us started chanting.  With some visiting teams, this would have felt quite aggressive and intimidating, but from Southampton it was quite endearing.

Team news was that Mazzarri had made two changes from the West Ham game replacing the injured Janmaat and Zárate with Prödl and Okaka.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Cleverley, Behrami, Capoue; Niang; Deeney and Okaka.

For the second week running Watford took the lead within the first five minutes, this time through open play as, from a Kaboul throw-in, Deeney headed the ball down to Okaka who returned it for the Watford captain to volley home.  This was Troy’s 105th goal in a Watford shirt which brought him level with Cliff Holton at 4th in the all-time goal scoring charts.  A great achievement.

Cleverley Takes a corner

Cleverley takes a corner

I am sure that I wasn’t the only person in the stadium who hoped that we wouldn’t repeat our mistake of the previous week when we sat back and defended our lead for most of the game.  The next chance fell Southampton’s way as Ward-Prowse tried a shot that was pushed clear by Gomes.  Southampton’s new star, Gabbiadini, had his first chance of the game as he latched on to a through ball and hit a shot that was easy for Gomes.  The visitors came closer to drawing level with a shot from distance by Redmond that flew just wide of the target.  At the other end Watford had a chance to increase the lead as a corner from Holebas was headed just wide by Okaka.  The next to threaten was Capoue who went on a run before cutting inside and trying a shot from distance that was just wide of the near post.  Southampton’s equalizer came in the 27th minute and resulted from a defensive mistake as a clearance from Britos went straight to Tadić who shot into the far corner.  Watford tried to hit back from a throw as Prödl headed the ball on to Kaboul whose shot was blocked.  Watford’s first booking came in very bizarre circumstances as Okaka was blatantly pulled back by Stephens.  No action was taken for the foul, but the Italian was booked for his complaints.  Southampton took the lead in time added on at the end of the first half.  The goal came out of nothing as a good passing move finished with Tadić playing the ball back to Redmond who found the far corner.  The half time whistle went to boos from some in the Rookery.

Deeney challenges Romeu for a header

Deeney challenges Romeu for a header

At half time there was a brief interview with Marcus Gayle who will always be Wonder Woman to me.  Also, as it was Disabled Access Day at Vicarage Road, there was an interview with a young man called George who was a passionate advocate of increasing disabled access everywhere.  His speech asking for support in ensuring that disabled fans are given equal access to facilities was met with unusually enthusiastic applause from a half time crowd that is usually otherwise occupied.  There was also a contribution from David Butler, the chair of the WFC Enables supporters group, who encouraged any interested fans to get involved (http://www.wfcenables.co.uk/home).

The first chance of the second half came as Niang played a long ball to Deeney who headed it down to Okaka, but Yoshida made a decisive tackle, taking the ball off his feet and putting it out for a throw.  Southampton had a couple of decent chances to increase their lead.  First, from a corner, the ball was cleared to Tadić whose terrific shot was tipped over by Gomes.  Then a Tadić free kick was prodded goalwards by Yoshida but Gomes again made a decent save to keep it out.  At the other end, a looping ball fell to Niang who didn’t have time to control it, so his volley flew a mile over the bar.

Holebas preparing for a free kick

Holebas preparing for a free kick

Mazzarri’s first substitution was to replace Capoue with Success, who was down needing treatment almost immediately but, thankfully, was able to continue.  In the 72nd minute, the applause for GT rang out and, if I am not mistaken, the Southampton goalkeeper, Forster, joined in, which was rather lovely.  The Hornets launched a promising move as Cleverley won the ball in midfield before passing it out to Okaka whose shot was blocked.  Then a dangerous cross into the Southampton box flew over a couple of heads before dropping to Deeney at the back post.  My scream of “Come on, Troy” must have put him off as he shot into the side netting.  The equalizer came with 11 minutes remaining as Success put in a low cross for Okaka who powered home.  Watford should have taken the lead a couple of minutes later as Okaka broke forward with Behrami alongside him, from our vantage point behind the goal he appeared to have space to shoot but delayed and was tackled by Stephens, the Saints immediately broke down the other end where Boufal’s shot should have been easy for Gomes, but he dropped the ball to the feet of Gabbiadini who poked the ball past Gomes.  So frustrating!  That was the last action of the game for the Italian talisman as he was replaced by Shane Long.

Britos, Holebas, Behrami and Okaka waiting for the ball to drop

Britos, Holebas, Behrami and Okaka waiting for the ball to drop

To add insult to injury for the home side, the visitors scored a fourth goal two minutes later as Redmond broke forward and belted a lovely shot past Gomes.  At this point, many in the Rookery had seen enough and there was a mass exodus.  Needless to say, I stayed.  The referee had been irritatingly fussy about blowing up for even the most innocuous challenges so, when Britos sent an opponent flying into the advertising hoardings, I feared that he would see red, but Mr Moss did not see any offence and waved play on.  Baffling!  Watford’s second substitution saw Doucouré coming on for Okaka.  Southampton looked certain to complete Watford’s humiliation with a fifth goal, but Boufal wasted his chance putting the shot into the side netting.  Surprisingly it was Watford who scored the last goal of the game in the final minute as a Niang cross was hit home by Doucouré to rather muted celebrations from the home fans who had stayed to the end of the game.

The scoreline could fool you into thinking that this was a seven goal thriller.  Sadly, it was nothing of the sort as the entertainment had come in bursts.  It was another frustrating game from the Hornets who are a good side that are only playing in fits and starts.  Southampton are a decent team, they were very well organized and capable of attacking at pace, which was where all of their goals came from.  Watford started and finished brightly, but there was a long period in the middle of the game when they seemed to disappear, which seems to be becoming a pattern.  As was the case last week, we were revitalized when Success came on.  I can’t help but hope that he regains full fitness very soon as I would very much like to see what he can do when given a whole 90 minutes.  So we go in to another enforced break with a trip to Selhurst Park to look forward to.  Oh the glamour of the Premier League!

Few Chances but a Decent Point

Niang challenging for a header

Niang challenging for a header

After a week free of live football, with the distraction of the thrills and spills of the FA Cup, it was great to be back at a game, although there was the usual stress that comes with a late kick-off as I worry that I have misremembered the kick-off time and will arrive in Watford with the game already underway or over. Thankfully, my journey took me down Vicarage Road at 3pm, where it was clear that they were preparing for a match but it was some time before kick-off. My smug feeling was soon wiped out as I arrived at the West Herts to find that it was already packed and my companions remarked that they didn’t think I was coming, being a part-timer. I was so insulted that I had to have a pint to calm down.

As with our previous game, we had happy memories of the reverse fixture early in the season, but West Ham had been on a good run of form recently so I wasn’t at all hopeful of a similar result. On the positive side, the results in the games earlier in the day meant that we wouldn’t finish the evening below 13th in the table.

Holebas takes a throw in

Holebas takes a throw in

Team news was two changes with Cathcart and Prödl making way for Janmaat and Behrami. So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Kaboul, Britos, Holebas; Cleverley, Behrami, Capoue; Zárate, Deeney and Niang.

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets. In the second minute, Cleverley played a ball over the top to Deeney who found Zárate in the box, the Argentine was bundled over by Kouyaté and the referee pointed to the spot. Deeney stepped up and powered the ball to Randolph’s right and into the bottom corner. There was a great chance to double the lead soon after as Niang won the ball in the midfield, went on a run and unleashed a powerful shot from outside the area that flew just over the target. At the other end a dangerous cross from Antonio was cleared by Britos in the middle of the box although, from our vantage point behind the goal, it looked as though it just bounced off the Watford man and could have flown anywhere. The first 15 minutes had contained some wonderful passing from the Hornets that, at one point, prompted a standing ovation. Capoue was the next to threaten the West Ham goal with a lovely turn and a shot that was just wide of the target.

Lining up for a corner

Lining up for a corner

The visitors had a decent chance to draw level as Arbeloa played the ball back to Snodgrass in the box, but Kaboul made a great block to avert the danger. Snodgrass threatened again, but this time his cut back in the box only reached Gomes. The West Ham man tried his luck again with a shot from distance that flew way over the bar. The visitors won a free kick in a dangerous position as Janmaat fouled Antonio on the left of the box earning himself a yellow card for his trouble. But Lanzini’s delivery was terrible, flying high and wide. As the half wound down, my gaze was drawn to the TV studio to our left where the pundits were having their hair and make-up done, the first time that I have seen beauty treatments in a football ground. In time added on at the end of the half, there was a dangerous chance for an equalizer as a cross-cum-shot from Cresswell was parried by Gomes, fortunately Holebas was the first to the loose ball and made the clearance. As I had been watching the action in the goal area, I had completely missed Zárate going down with an injury. It was quickly apparent that he was in a bad way as he received oxygen and, after a considerable period of treatment, the physios very carefully strapped him to the stretcher before they carried him off. Very worrying indeed. As he left the field, it was very gratifying to see the West Ham fans on their feet applauding and singing the name of their former player. He was replaced by Doucouré, much to the displeasure of those around me who would much rather have seen Success brought on. The last action of the half was a booking for Antonio for a nasty foul on Behrami that could easily have led to a sending off.

Britos lines up a free kick

Britos lines up a free kick

So Watford went in at the break with a one goal lead after a fairly even half. The Hornets had started brilliantly and played some lovely football, particularly in the first fifteen minutes, but, the penalty aside, neither keeper had to make a save worthy of the name.

Saturday was Academy Day at Vicarage Road and at half time Brandon Mason and Michael Folivi received commemorative match balls marking their Premier League debuts. Brandon said that he hoped to kick on and contribute a lot more to the first team. We all hope that comes to pass.

Early in the second half, the visitors were appealing for a penalty as Kouyaté and Niang tangled in the Watford box, but the decision was given to the home side. Mazzarri was forced into a second substitution due to injury as Janmaat made way for Cathcart. West Ham had a great chance to draw level on the hour mark as a free kick was headed back across goal and met with a header from Fonte that was kept out by a wonderful flying save from Gomes.  The first substitution for the visitors saw Snodgrass replaced by Ayew.

Cleverley taking a free kick

Cleverley taking a free kick

Watford had been sitting far too deep in the second half and, while they had done a great job of frustrating the Hammers, it is always a dangerous tactic. It looked to have backfired as a Cresswell cross was headed just wide of the target by Antonio. Then, with the Watford fans on their feet for the minute’s applause for GT on the 72nd minute, Antonio went on a surging run, his shot bounced off both posts rebounding to Ayew who finished past Gomes. It was frustrating, but had been coming as the Hammers had dominated possession in the second half. Just as I started to worry that the visitors would get a second and win the game, Mazzarri made a late substitution bringing Success on for Niang who, after a very bright start had completely disappeared. It was a very popular change among the Watford crowd and the excitement in the stands extended to the pitch as a lovely quick passing move finished with Success breaking into the box where, sadly, Reid was on hand to stop him. The Hammers finished the game with 10 men as Antonio went down in the box and handled the ball earning a second yellow card. Britos could have won the game for the Hornets as he rose to meet a corner, but he was being challenged and the header flew just over. I was pleasantly surprised when the fourth official indicated that there were only three minutes of added time. Watford should have scored right at the death as a corner from Cleverley led to a bit of pinball, finishing with Deeney heading the ball down to Success who shot just wide from a couple of yards out.

A draw was a fair result and I would certainly have taken a point before the game, but I was disappointed that we didn’t build on a lovely start to the game when the visitors looked distinctly second best. But we have come a long way if a draw against West Ham is a bit of a disappointment. Mid table obscurity will do me just fine.

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.

That Was for You, Graham

Pre-match huddle at the Emirates

Pre-match huddle at the Emirates

In Graham Taylor’s first period in charge, wins against the Gunners were commonplace, but times have changed and we travelled to the Emirates with very little hope of anything other than a harsh defeat.  After the dreadful game on Sunday, I had spent my day at work with a very heavy heart, wondering why I was subjecting myself and, more importantly, my niece to another night of misery.  The fact that the club had decided not to move the game to Wednesday, despite playing on Sunday, seemed to indicate that they had written it off and would concentrate their efforts on Saturday’s game at home to Burnley.

The match had taken on an extra significance as it was on the eve of GT’s funeral.  For that reason, the scarf that I bought from Peter Percy in Hemel in 1979, which has not left the house in many a year, got an airing.

Pre-match the City Orns gathered and shared predictions.  Most were for a heavy defeat.  Mike mentioned that he had got in the habit of betting on 2-1 for every game, but thought he’d give it a miss for this one.

Team news was that there were nine changes from Sunday, with only Britos and Kaboul keeping their places.  This would be our first chance to see our intriguing new signing, M’Baye Niang.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Behrami; Janmaat, Cleverley, Capoue, Niang; and Deeney lining up in a 4-1-4-1 formation.

Returning upfield for the restart after taking the lead

Returning upfield for the restart after taking the lead

There was a positive start to the game from the Hornets, but it took us all by surprise when Cleverley played a short free kick to Kaboul who, with the assistance of a slight deflection, fired past Cech to put the Hornets into a totally unexpected lead.  I couldn’t help but despair at the modern football fan, as the away crowd decided that the most appropriate chant to celebrate going a goal up against Arsenal at the Emirates was “How sh*t must you be, we’re winning away.”  The voice of reason/Cassandra next to me warned, “It’s too early.”  But, no sooner had we come to terms with the fact that we had scored, than we had a second.  Capoue went on a storming run from the halfway line, his shot was blocked by Cech, but rebounded to Deeney who poked it into the empty net.  This goal was greeted with a mental celebration and “This is the best trip I’ve ever been on.”  Much better.  There was a long way to go, but this was incredibly impressive from the Hornets.  The home side were forced into an early substitution as Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for the Ramsey, who had picked up an injury.  The Arsenal players were becoming increasingly frustrated as Watford continued to dominate, and Gabriel was booked for hacking down Niang.  My heart was in my mouth as Monreal went down in the Watford box.  The referee blew up and I thought he was about to point to the spot but, instead, he pointed at the Arsenal man and brandished a yellow card for diving.

Cleverley takes a free kick

Cleverley takes a free kick

Watford continued to threaten the Arsenal goal as Janmaat played a short pass to Capoue on the edge of the area, but his shot was comfortably saved by Cech.  The Frenchman then went on another run, this time down the wing to the byline, before crossing for Prödl whose header had to be tipped over by Cech.  Watford had another great chance to increase their lead after a corner was repelled to Britos, who belted a shot that was blocked by Giroud.  Janmaat was the next to try his luck, meeting a cross from Deeney with a shot that required a great save from Cech to keep it out.  Capoue, who was playing a blinder, again won the ball in midfield before finding Janmaat who crossed for Niang, whose first shot for the Hornets flew over the bar.  There was a rare foray by the home side into the Watford box, but Sánchez’s effort was well over the bar.  The Chilean had another chance to threaten the Watford goal when he received the ball in the box, but Cathcart just took it off his feet.

The half time whistle went to finish a breathtaking half of football from the Hornets.  The slow, ponderous performance we witnessed in the Millwall game had been replaced with all action attacking married to a pressing defence, and it was an absolute joy to watch. At half time, the fans in the concourse were bouncing and celebrating loudly.  I saw Pam.  Her response to my question “Where did that come from?” was an emotional, “GT.”

Deeney and Niang waiting for the ball to drop

Deeney and Niang waiting for the ball to drop

Wenger made a substitution at the start of the second half, replacing Giroud with Walcott.  The substitute was involved almost immediately as a ball from Koscielny found him on the right of the box, but his shot was wide of the near post.  Arsenal were a changed team since the restart and Iwobi beat Cathcart on the wing before crossing for Walcott whose shot was blocked by Gomes.  The Watford keeper was in action again soon after, stretching out a hand to grab a shot from Iwobi.  Özil was the next to threaten the Watford goal with a shot from the edge of the box, but Gomes was equal to it.  The home side finally got the breakthrough on 58 minutes as Sánchez chipped a ball over the defence to Iwobi who volleyed in off the post.  Mazzarri’s first substitution was an odd one, replacing Behrami, who had been excellent, with Doucouré.  I can only think that Behrami was flagging as I would have preferred his defensive presence.  Watford had a rare second half attack as Deeney ran into the box before going to ground, but the referee waved play on.  Both sides made substitutions around the midpoint of the half with Lucas replacing Coquelin for Arsenal and Watford new boy, Niang, making way for Success.  The customary chants and applause for GT rang out soon after, although they were a minute early by my reckoning.  Arsenal’s next goal chance came with a shot from distance by Gabriel, which flew a mile over the bar.  At the other end a corner from Capoue was headed well wide by Cathcart.

Deeney

Deeney

At this point, my nerves were shot and I turned to my niece, “I’m too old for this!”  “I’m too young for this!” was the retort.  Into the last 10 minutes and Arsenal won a free kick on the edge of the Watford box.  It was in a dangerous position, so I was greatly relieved when it hit the wall and went out.  The resultant corner was headed out, but only as far as Monreal whose shot was, thankfully, well wide of the post.  Mazzarri’s second change was to replace Deeney with Okaka.  After the Italian’s poor showing on Sunday, I was doubtful about this change as well.  Lucas had a great chance to grab the equalizer as he latched on to a throw and unleashed a powerful shot that rebounded out from under the crossbar.  Having been counting the seconds since the Arsenal goal, it was almost physically painful to see the board held up informing us that we would have to survive for another five minutes.  But the nearest the home side came to the equalizer in time added on was a weak shot from Lucas that was easily gathered by Gomes.  As the various injury time stopwatches among the away crowd ran down to zero, Watford won a corner and there was hardly time to take it before the final whistle went to ecstatic cheers from the away end.  “That was for you, Graham,” yelled my sister, echoing the thoughts of every Watford fan in the ground.

Cleverley lines up a free kick

Cleverley lines up a free kick

As we applauded the players, I spotted a bloke in a black puffer jacket with a huge smile on his face.  Flipping heck, that’s Walter!  Although it has to be said that Paolo de Toffol completely outdid him in the mental celebration category.  All of the players came over to applaud the fans and to give their shirts away.  It had been a magnificent performance by the whole team.  The energy and attacking purpose in the first half had Arsenal in disarray.  In the second half, when the home side were in the ascendancy, the defence had been solid and well organized and Gomes was rarely troubled.  A special mention must go to Capoue who, having been largely anonymous for some time now, put in a man of the match performance running the Arsenal defence ragged, particularly in the first half.  The newcomer, Niang’s, debut was very pleasing with one particularly memorable moment when he beat Gabriel on the wing and went on a run that was only stopped when he was fouled.  On tonight’s showing, I am expecting great things from him.

As the crowd and the players celebrated together at the end of a wonderful night of football, there was only one chant that seemed appropriate and “One Graham Taylor” rang out from the away end.  This was a performance that he would have been proud of and there is no higher praise for a Watford team than that.

Saying Goodbye to Our Hero

Don & I with Graham & Rita

Don & I with Graham & Rita

The first time I ‘met’ Graham Taylor was one Summer in the early 80s.  I had heard that the Hornets trained at Shendish, which was a short walk across the fields from our house.  We headed over there a couple of times, while walking the dog, before the golden day when we saw the Watford players streaming on to the training pitch.  We were awestruck.  As they played a training game, every time the ball rolled off the pitch towards her, my young sister would pick it up and hold it for one of the players to collect.  After she had done this a few times, GT gently said, “You can throw it, you know.”  She started doing that and the practice flowed more smoothly.  Then my attention switched to Nigel Callaghan who was practising his ball skills when our Border Collie decided to challenge him.  When I look back on that day, I am horrified.  We were a group of children disrupting their training session, and GT would have been totally justified in sending us packing, but he didn’t once make us feel as though we shouldn’t be there.  That was just one of a number of encounters that I have had over the years with Graham Taylor that have always left me walking on air and adoring the man.  When I heard about his death this week, I felt as though I had lost a favourite uncle and discussions with fellow fans and those throughout the football world who had been lucky enough to come into contact with him showed that my feelings were shared by many.

Suddenly Saturday’s game with Middlesbrough had taken on a great significance and the tickets that were unsold as of Thursday morning were soon snapped up.

Graham Taylor, We Love You

Graham Taylor, We Love You

As always on an important football day, I took some time choosing my outfit for the game.  I could not find my “Golden Boy Forever” t-shirt, but did find “Elton John’s Taylor-made Champions” from 97-98.  I also took my Cup Final replica shirt to wear in the ground so that both eras were covered.

I left home earlier than usual so that I could get to the Hornet Shop to sign the book of condolence before the crowds descended.  On the train journey, I listened (again) to the 5Live tribute show.  The outpouring of love was just remarkable and it was wonderful to know that it wasn’t just Watford fans that loved the man so much.

As I walked along Market Street, I saw a friend coming in the opposite direction.  No words were exchanged as we met, just a heartfelt hug.  That would become a feature of the day.  I arrived at the ground at about 11:30 and took a while to admire the tributes that had already been left before joining the queue to sign the book.  It was lovely to see that the display in the windows of the club shop had been changed to feature shirts and tracksuits from GT’s time at the club.

There's only one Graham Taylor

There’s only one Graham Taylor

We took up residence at our usual table in the West Herts which soon filled up with the regulars and with some more occasional visitors, each arrived looking bereft and was greeted with warm hugs.  The build up to the Spurs v WBA game was being shown on the televisions and I was not taking much notice when suddenly I became aware of the sound of clapping.  I looked up to see Graham Taylor’s picture displayed on the screen at the ground and the players and crowd taking part in a minute’s applause.  All conversation in the bar ceased and you could have heard a pin drop until the referee’s whistle went on the television when we applauded the gesture and went back to our previous discussions.

I am usually guilty of getting to my seat just in time for Z-cars, but on this occasion, I wanted to be there early to pay my respects, particularly as Graham’s family would be in attendance, which I thought was incredibly brave given how recently they had lost him.  But, as Pete pointed out, “It’s what Graham would have done.”  As we got to the ground, the size of the crowds and the floral tributes had grown considerably since my earlier visit.  So many flowers and shirts with lovely messages and each of the bollards had Watford scarves tied around them.  Arriving inside the Rookery I saw yet another queue to sign the condolence book which brought tears to my eyes.

The tribute in the Rookery (many thanks to Sarah Priestley for the photo)

The tribute in the Rookery (many thanks to Sarah Priestley for the photo)

On the way through the concourse, I bumped into more and more friends, all in or on the verge of tears.  As we reached our seats, GT’s picture was on the big screen and “There’s only one Graham Taylor” was rolling across the electronic hoardings and being sung by the crowd.  Then I noticed other little details such as the black corner flags and that Harry Hornet was wearing the CTX shirt from the 97-98 season.  As we waited for kick-off, they were playing GT’s favourite songs and the big screen was showing highlights from past triumphs.  They then cut to show Rita, Joanne and Karen in the GT stand and I lost it completely.  Just before the teams came out, they played GT’s favourite song which is Buddy Holly’s “Raining in my Heart.”  If there was anybody in the ground who had kept it together until that point, I expect that finished them off.

As Z-cars was played and the teams came on to the pitch, the big screen was showing GT leading the team out at Wembley on cup final day.  The 1881 had arranged a foil display and as we held them up, I managed to catch a glimpse of the big screen.  The design GT on a yellow background was just perfect and those holding them were loudly singing “There’s only one Graham Taylor”.  The pre-match tribute continued as the foils were lowered and the legends flag was displayed in the centre of the Rookery.

The players lined up for the minute's applause

The players lined up for the minute’s applause

There had been some discussion before the game about whether a minute’s silence or applause was the most appropriate.  Tim Coombs closed the discussion with the statement that, at the family’s request, a minute’s applause would be held.  This had the benefit of allowing all in the ground to belt out “One Graham Taylor”, at least those who were capable of chanting through the tears.  It was wonderful to see that the Middlesbrough fans joined in with both the applause and the singing.

After all that, it was easy to forget that a game was taking place.  Team news was that Mazzarri had made five changes from the Burton game with Gomes, Prödl, Behrami, Holebas and Okaka coming in for Pantilimon, Cathcart, Mason, Sinclair and Ighalo.  So, the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Kabasele, Doucouré, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney and Okaka.  Returning loan signing, Tom Cleverley was on the bench.

Capoue lines up a free kick

Capoue lines up a free kick

Watford had a great chance to open the scoring in the 9th minute as Capoue went on a run, a defender attempted a tackle but the ball rebounded in the direction of the goal, Etienne continued his run while the ball took an age to drop, sadly the Frenchman’s first touch was poor and Boro keeper, Valdés, had time to save at his feet.  At the other end, a ball into the box was headed down to Stuani who poked it home but, much to the relief of the Watford fans, the flag was up for offside, so it didn’t count.  The next action of note was on the 26th minute as Okaka nodded the ball down for Doucouré, whose lovely strike was blocked by Valdés.  Soon after, the same players combined again as Okaka broke forward and fed Doucouré whose shot was blocked, a cross back into the box was just missed by the head of Okaka.  The Italian launched another attack, beating two players before putting in a cross that Chambers cleared just before Deeney could connect.  The visitors threatened again as a ball was flicked into the Watford box and Stuani chipped over Gomes but, thankfully, also over the bar.  A guy near the front of the Rookery stood up to remonstrate with the Watford keeper who, to everyone’s surprise, gave the fan a piece of his mind.  Just before half time, some more good work from Okaka allowed Doucouré to try another shot but, again, it was just over the bar.

The former players at half time

The former players at half time

There were boos at the half time whistle.  It had been a poor half, although Watford had the better of the chances.

I felt very sorry for the children taking part in the half-time penalty shoot-out in front of the Rookery as all attention was on the former players gathered on the side of the pitch being interviewed by Tim and Emma.  Ian Bolton, Les Taylor, Nick Wright, Allan Smart, Tommy Mooney and Luther Blissett all spoke about the great man and, as he has done a number of times this week, it fell to Luther to pay the most perfect tribute, “He is the greatest man I’ve known.”

The second half started with a great chance for the Hornets, but Kabasele headed Capoue’s cross just wide of the near post.  The home side had another half chance as a free kick from Capoue was headed goalwards by Okaka, but Valdés dropped to make the save.  At the other end a Prödl clearance found Fabio who forced Gomes into a flying save.

Waiting for a ball into the box

Waiting for a ball into the box

Capoue should have opened the scoring with a lovely curling shot that was just wide of the far post.  On 65 minutes, Gomes had to be replaced after picking up an injury when he fell awkwardly making a save.  Pantilimon took the field to chants of “Mackem reject” from the Boro faithful.  At the same time, the visitors brought Gestede on to make his debut in place of De Roon.  The substitute keeper’s first test came from a free kick that he gathered safely.  At the other end, Deeney played the ball out to Kabasele whose cross was headed just wide by Doucouré.  At this point (the 72nd minute) another minute’s applause started with the accompanying chants for Graham Taylor, again the Boro fans joined in.  Watford’s next substitution saw Tom Cleverley making his second debut for Watford in place of Behrami.  The Watford fans were screaming for a penalty as Okaka battled with a defender in the box before being pulled to the ground.  Instead, the referee awarded a free kick to the visitors and showed Okaka a yellow card.  Boro substitute, Gestede, tried his luck from 25 yards, but his shot flew over the bar.  Watford’s substitute had a much better chance and we were already on our feet celebrating when Cleverley’s shot rebounded off the post, Capoue’s follow-up cleared the bar.  Nothing was going our way.

Kaboul and Okaka

Kaboul and Okaka

Deeney had a great chance in the last few minutes as he ran on to a lovely ball over the top from Cleverley, with only Valdés to beat, the keeper stuck his leg out and the shot deflected wide of the far post.  From the corner, Prödl headed goalwards, but Valdés was able to make the save.  Watford’s final substitution saw Zúñiga take the place of Holebas, who took an age to leave the field, much to the displeasure of the Watford fans.  Watford had one final chance from a corner in time added on, but Kabasele’s header was saved.  There was just time for some handbags as Fabio and Deeney clashed after Britos had been booked for a foul on the Middlesbrough man.  So a disappointing game ended goalless.

There were a number of complaints after the game, but we had a considerably improved second half and had made enough chances to have won the game easily.  There were a number of positives for me.  There had been some good signs from Okaka.  Doucouré had an excellent game playing as the box-to-box midfielder that we had been promised.  Capoue was much improved with some good deliveries from set pieces and a couple of decent chances himself.  Finally, it was nice to see Tom Cleverley back, he made some lovely touches and almost grabbed the winner.  Off the pitch, the fans had been magnificent, both the 1881 for the pre-match displays, which were remarkable given the short time that they had to organize them, and the fans as a whole for singing Graham Taylor’s name for most of the ninety minutes.  I hope that Rita and the rest of the family took a little comfort from the outpouring of love from the fans.

The tributes outside Vicarage Road

The tributes outside Vicarage Road

We left the ground through the stand named after the great man, taking the time to remember all his achievements that are commemorated there.  We then stopped outside the shop to admire all the tributes that had been left.  It was a beautiful display.

Back in the West Herts, the post-match analysis was soon replaced with talk of Graham Taylor.  Unusually, perhaps, there were no reminiscences about great games, but all the talk was about encounters with him and the legacy that he has left for the club and the town.  We went back to the 80s when football grounds were generally nasty places to be and yet families were flocking to Vicarage Road to watch football in safety on the family terrace that had been built after GT raised money for it by running the London marathon.  At away games, we watched football from inside cages, but there were never any fences separating the fans from the players at the Vic.  He had also refused to have a covered dugout built until the fans in the Vicarage Road end had a roof.  At a time when football fans were treated like criminals, Graham Taylor refused to take this stance.  He treated the fans as he would want to be treated and the fans responded in kind.  The football club was built in his image and was a wonderful warm place to be.

Many Watford fans have talked this week about how much influence Graham Taylor had on their lives.  He was a man of great kindness and integrity who was a great role model to us all.  As a fan meeting GT, he had an incredible knack of making you feel that it was his pleasure to be speaking you.  He built a football club that still retains the family ethos that he instilled.  Last week that club lost its father.  We will miss him terribly.

A Spirited Performance Spoiled by Defensive Lapses

The teams emerge from the tunnel in Stoke

The teams emerge from the tunnel in Stoke

Memories of the recent dreadful performance at Vicarage Road against the Potters and the capitulation to Spurs on Sunday meant that I set off on my journey to Stoke with no hope of any pleasure to be gained from the evening’s entertainment.  But the afternoon started rather well, as I unexpectedly encountered a friend at Euston so we spent a very pleasant journey chatting about our various activities over the Christmas period.

The designated pre-match pub (for the two of us) had signs on the doors indicating that it was home fans only.  However, a previous visit had shown that they did not enforce this terribly strictly.  This was very pleasing as the real ale, the food and the atmosphere were all first class and it was no surprise that it was soon populated with familiar faces from our travels.  We decided to take the bus to the ground which, due to traffic, seemed to be within touching distance of the stadium lights for quite some time before we were dropped off.  Once in the ground, I donned my Watford regalia (scarf, shirt and socks) and was wrapped up warm at a stadium notorious for being cold at the best of times.  The pre-match flag wavers around the ground were not kitted out in Stoke uniforms, but appeared to be a random selection of local children in colourful coats and bobble hats which was rather nice.

Kabasele and Kaboul

Kabasele and Kaboul

Team news was that Mazzarri had made three changes from Sunday with Cathcart and Ighalo replaced by Britos and Kabasele, and Behrami, who was rumoured still to be carrying an injury, taking the place of the (presumably more severely) injured Amrabat.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Kabasele, Britos; Doucouré, Guedioura, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney.  The chants in the concourse prior to the game were all about parking the bus.  Whatever the tactics, we needed to see a far more committed performance than on Sunday.

The news that Behrami was starting, injured or not, had me punching the air and that reaction was justified as soon as he took the pitch as he was immediately organizing and harrying the players.  We really miss him when he is not there.  But the first chance of the game fell to Stoke as Crouch headed wide after a corner.  Watford’s first shot came from a Guedioura free kick that was repelled to Holebas who, unfortunately, launched his effort over the bar.  The home side were almost gifted a goal due to a misunderstanding between Behrami and Prödl, who went for the same ball then left it for each other allowing Allen to sneak in and feed Arnautovic who went on a dangerous run into the area where he was stopped by a great tackle from Britos.

Capoue and Guedioura line up a free kick

Capoue and Guedioura line up a free kick

The first card of the game went to Diouf who stopped a break from Holebas by pulling him to the ground.  A great header from Kabasele reached Prödl who battled his way into the box, but his shot flew harmlessly across the front of the goal.  There were loud appeals from the away stand for a penalty as a cross from Kabasele appeared to be handled in the box, but the referee waved play on.  There was a scary moment for the Hornets as a header from Crouch was parried by Gomes and ricocheted off Behrami back in the direction of the goal before it was finally cleared.  At the other end, there was a gilt-edged opportunity for the visitors as a lovely through ball from Holebas reached Doucouré in space but, instead of going for goal, he hesitated before cutting the ball back to Guedioura and the chance was lost.  I was becoming increasingly frustrated at this point as the lads seemed to be determined to score the perfect goal when taking a shot would at least give us a chance of scoring.  With four minutes to go to half time Behrami, who had been limping for a while, went down in need of treatment.  On a number of occasions this season, it has taken far too long for the substitute to get ready to replace an injured player.  In this instance, Ighalo was stripped and ready on the touchline before Behrami had left the field, only for Valon to turn around and come back on leaving Odion to return to the bench.  Just as it appeared that the game would reach half-time goalless, the Watford defence fell asleep at a corner and Shawcross was given the freedom of the area to finish past Gomes.  It was almost the last kick of the half as the whistle went straight after the restart.  I braced myself for the crowd’s reaction to this setback and was very pleased that as the players walked towards the tunnel, which was in the corner in front of us, they were greeted by loud, encouraging applause and chants of “Watford FC.”

Guedioura 'assisting' Holebas at a corner

Guedioura ‘assisting’ Holebas at a corner

The goal felt like a real kick in the teeth after a very even half in which my major criticism of the team was that they were reluctant to shoot when getting a sight of the goal.  With all the injury woes, the players didn’t deserve that.

As expected, Ighalo replaced Behrami at the start of the second half which began brilliantly for the visitors as Doucouré unleashed a terrific curling shot that Grant did really well to keep out of the net.  Sadly, Watford were two goals down a couple of minutes later as a routine cross into the box was inexplicably missed by Prödl and Crouch, lurking behind him, had an easy finish.  The crowd’s frustration started to build in the away end.  Their ire was particularly provoked by the corner routine that consisted of a second player standing just in from the touchline, but playing no role in the delivery which was launched straight into the box.  I can only assume that the tactic was designed to draw defenders out of the box, but the single defender standing just outside the box didn’t seem to create any advantage that would outweigh the presence of another Watford head to meet the corner.

Folivi joins his team mates waiting for a corner

Folivi joins his team mates waiting for a corner

In contrast to the reaction on Sunday after conceding, Watford heads did not go down and they were making every effort to pull a goal back.  From a free kick, Capoue played a short ball to Guedioura whose powerful shot was blocked.  Then Kaboul played a through ball to Deeney who crossed for Ighalo, but the Nigerian’s shot was into a group of Stoke defenders.  Each side made a substitution at the half way mark in the second period with Afellay replacing Diouf for the home side and Sinclair coming on for Guedioura for the visitors.  With 20 minutes to go, there were chances at both ends as a decent free-kick from Holebas had to be punched clear by Grant and then a lovely shot from Stoke substitute, Afellay, curled just wide of the near post.  Stoke had a great chance of a third as a cross was headed down by Crouch to Walters, but Gomes smothered the shot.  Watford then had a couple of great chances of their own as Capoue’s corner was met with a header from Sinclair that was cleared off the line, Capoue sent the ball back in to the box and this time it was headed just wide by Prödl.  Then a punched clearance from Grant was headed down by Deeney to Igahlo whose shot was disappointingly weak and easily saved.  Mazzarri’s final change saw Folivi come on in place of Prödl.  In the times that I have seen Folivi play for the U18s and development teams, I have enjoyed watching him, so was delighted to see him make his debut for the first team, although it was under very difficult circumstances.  From pre-match songs about parking the bus, the travelling faithful were now extolling the benefits of having four strikers on the pitch.  Sadly it wasn’t to lead to a change in fortunes in front of goal.  The final chances of the game fell to the home side as Walters got the wrong side of Holebas and bore down on goal before Gomes made an excellent save to deny him.  From the resulting corner, Shawcroft fired wide.

Folivi leaves the pitch after his debut

Folivi leaves the pitch after his debut

There was disappointment at the final whistle.  Unusually Mazzarri applauded and waved to the crowd as he left the pitch, although the position of the tunnel right in front of us was likely the prime reason for this.  The players looked despondent but many of them showed their appreciation by giving their shirts to some of the travelling fans.  The post-match reaction among those that travelled was generally positive.  The team had picked itself due to the dearth of fully fit players.  Mazzarri also admitted that he had played Behrami knowing that he wasn’t fully fit but, assuming that it doesn’t mean a lengthier lay-off for the player, it was a gamble worth taking as he brings leadership and organization to the midfield that has been lacking in recent weeks and he ran his socks off.  Doucouré was also a different player when in the position that he was expecting to play, and he fashioned Watford’s best chances of the game.  The disappointing thing was that, yet again, we were punished for a couple of defensive mistakes.  No tactical game plan can overcome a lapse in concentration.  Still, we asked for a reaction after the Tottenham game and we certainly got what we asked for as there was no lack of effort among the players on show.

We now have a couple of weeks to regroup as it is likely that the Burton game will see more of the youngsters given a chance.  We have some tricky fixtures coming up, so both players and supporters need to band together to get through this sticky patch.  With the transfer window open, hopefully we can bring some players in to make up for some of the longer term injuries.  But I truly believe that a positive support from the stands is an essential element and it is the only thing that the fans can do to help the team so let us all make this our new year’s resolution.