Tag Archives: Victor Ibarbo

A Game Best Forgotten

The Southampton crest on the footbridge to the ground

The Southampton crest on the footbridge to the ground

This game was going to be a different experience from the start as Toddy and I had been invited as guests of Ross Wilson, who is currently the Director of Scouting and Recruitment at Southampton, having started his career in England with Watford. Due to poor planning and miscommunication on my part, we didn’t get to the ground until about 10 minutes before kick-off, so missed the pre-match jolly. When we took our seats in the corporate section on the half way line, I had to admire the fantastic view, but I was missing being in the middle of the band of away supporters who were packed in the corner. Although my first thought on seeing the away fans was that there wasn’t a lot of yellow on show. The rain had been torrential on the way to the ground, so raincoats were obscuring the brightly coloured replica shirts.

Team news was that Flores had made 4 changes from the cup game, which translated to only one change from our last league game with Prödl, who had been excellent on Saturday, coming in for Cathcart, who would miss a league start for the first time this season. The starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Prödl, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.

The Ted Bates statue

The Ted Bates statue

The first chance of the game fell to the home side as Capoue lost out to Clasie whose cross was blocked by Britos, but fell to Romeu who shot high and wide. The Saints took the lead on 16 minutes as a cross from Targett was met with a glancing header from Long which directed the ball past Gomes. It was not a good start and it never really looked like getting any better. There was a brief reaction as Jurado broke forward before finding Nyom who crossed towards Deeney, but van Dijk took the ball off Troy’s head. The home side should have been two up on 20 minutes as Mané unleashed a shot that Gomes pushed wide. From the corner, Gomes punched the ball only as far as Targett, whose shot from the edge of the area was blocked. A botched attempt by Nyom to win a goal kick saw the ball rebound into the area allowing Long to shoot from a tight angle. Thankfully Gomes was able to block the shot before Holebas cleared. There was a break in play as Holebas went down after a foul by Cédric, who was booked. You could see from the player’s reaction that he was clearly hurt, but the home fans thought it was appropriate to boo Holebas as he limped off and then booed every subsequent touch. There was a brief moment of hope for the Watford fans as Capoue released Ighalo, it looked promising as Odion executed a couple of his trademark scoops, but his shot was blocked for a corner. Watford nearly gifted a goal to the Saints as a cross from Targett was turned goalwards by Holebas, but Gomes was able to make the save. Southampton threatened again as Capoue lost out in midfield and Romeu played a through ball to Long whose shot was into the side netting but the flag was already up for offside. A hospital ball from Jurado was picked up by Mané and it took good work from Gomes to put him off his shot which rebounded off the post. Then a clearance from Watson only went as far as Fonte who shot over the target. Southampton attacked again as Cédric’s cross reached Long in the box but, under pressure from Prödl, his header was weak and easily gathered by Gomes. Jurado, caught in possession, played a panicked back pass and, again, Gomes was forced to save from his own player. It was a relief when the half time whistle went. It had been a truly dreadful half of football from the Hornets. Capoue and Watson, normally so reliable, seemed to have been replaced with their non-footballer twins and Jurado was back to his early season form. Every pass we made found a Southampton player and they, in turn, seemed to be able to break at will. Only Gomes stood between us and a tonking.

Deeney and Ighalo in the Southampton box

Deeney and Ighalo in the Southampton box

During the interval we met with lovely Ross Wilson, who is clearly loving his role at Southampton. I was particularly grateful to him as, on a filthy night, I was able to partake of a nice glass of red wine in the comfort of the Matt Le Tissier Suite to get my strength back before the restart.

There was an early second half scare for the Hornets as Mané challenged for a header in the box, he clashed with Gomes, who needed treatment, and Prödl had to clear off the line. On the hour, Flores made his first substitution as Anya replaced Abdi. The Scotsman was soon involved in the best Watford move of the game so far as he ran down the right wing and put in a cross that only just evaded the head of Ighalo. Southampton had the ball in the net for a second time as Davis latched on to a through ball before finishing past Gomes, but the flag had been raised for some time so it didn’t count. Then Romeu tried a shot from the edge of the area, but Gomes was equal to it. Watford’s first booking came when Prödl clashed with Long in what looked like a 50-50 challenge, but the Irishman went down and Prödl was shown a yellow card.

Capoue plays a pass

Capoue plays a pass

Flores then made a totally unexpected change replacing Nyom with Ibarbo who was supposed to be on his way out of the club. The home fans sitting behind us were all laughing and saying, “Who? None of us know who you are.” I couldn’t help thinking that many Watford fans would have been equally baffled. Southampton really should have been two up with 20 minutes to go as van Dijk played a ball across the box, Long failed to connect but it reached Mané whose shot, thankfully, hit the side netting. The home side had another decent chance after Jurado was tackled by Long, who advanced before cutting the ball back to Mané who shot wide of the target. That was his last contribution to the game as he was replaced by Tadic. Watford’s second substitution saw Cathcart come on for Britos. There was a rare attack by the visitors as Watson launched a free-kick into the Southampton box, but nobody could get a head to it and the ball was hooked clear. Southampton’s second goal came on 73 minutes and it was the substitute, Tadic, who latched on to a long ball, with both Prödl and Anya challenging him he still found space for a shot and beat Gomes to the delight of all in the posh seats except Toddy and I. But it was no more than they deserved. After a trip on Ighalo was waved on by the referee, Deeney saw a bit of red mist and was booked for a strong challenge on Romeu. The home side threatened again as Davis crossed for Long, but Prödl ensured that he couldn’t make it count.

The away fans at St Mary's

The away fans at St Mary’s

With 10 minutes remaining, Watford finally had their first shot on target, but a deflection took the pace off Deeney’s effort and Forster was able to save. The Watford faithful in the corner started a chant of “We’ve had a shot.” Ighalo was the next to try his luck with a couple of scoops, but his shot was blocked. Then Cathcart decided to take charge as he picked up a Southampton clearance, advanced and tried a shot but Forster was behind it. It was probably our best chance of the game and inspired the away fans to bounce much to the confusion of the Southampton fans around us. Tadic had a chance to increase the lead as he latched on to a weak clearance from Prödl, but he shot over the target. Yet again a Watford attack was turned into defence as a Deeney cross was headed clear and the ball reached the other end of the field, Long was about to shoot when a brilliant saving tackle from Holebas stopped him. The fourth official held the board up indicating the addition of 5 minutes, my only thought was ‘please make this stop.’ Thankfully, when it did stop, we had not done ourselves any further damage.

I have seen a number of comments since the game expressing the concern that teams are now working out how to play against us. I couldn’t help recalling that, when we played Southampton in August, they didn’t allow us a single shot on target so, statistically, we had done better in this game. So saying, this was the worst Watford performance that I have witnessed all season. In the post-match interviews Flores apologized to the fans for the performance and Deeney gave his usual honest perspective. I can’t get too worked up about the abject performance as it was the first time this season that I have seen us playing so dreadfully. But we have now lost three league games in a row so need to kick start our second half of the season. Next Monday in Swansea will be very interesting indeed.

A Tale of Two Goalkeepers

Luther Blissett, a hero to Hornets and Cherries alike

Luther Blissett, a hero to Hornets and Cherries alike

It has been a gorgeous week weather wise and, for once, I was only carrying a small bag, so I decided to leave my scarf at home.  Then I stepped out of my front door and felt the Autumn nip in the air, so went straight back indoors to collect it.  While on the train, I received a text from Toddy informing me that there was a beer festival at the pre-match pub of choice, so this rather lovely venue was enhanced with some great ciders.  My only disappointment was that I was not able to get a view of the antique urinals that were the talk of the males in the bar!  It was only a short walk to the ground and, on arrival, we mistakenly took the long way around to get to the away end.  Luckily this had the benefit of allowing us to walk past the wall of fame outside the ground and spot the picture of Luther.  A thing of beauty.

Team news was that Jurado was injured, so Anya slotted into his position and Aké started as full back.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Anya, Deeney, Abdi, Ighalo.  Pre-match the thoughts were of a couple of recent frustrating encounters memorable for two incorrect dismissals of Angella and some gamesmanship from the Cherries which left a sour taste in the mouth.

Bournemouth started the better of the two teams and were soon threatening the Watford goal.  Gomes comfortably caught an early cross from King, but then Murray was allowed a free header that he directed over the bar when he really should have got it on target.  A free kick from the right was easily gathered by Gomes before Cathcart got his body in the way to block a shot from King.

Anya holds off Daniels

Anya holds off Daniels

For the first 20 minutes, it was all Bournemouth, who were attacking at will while we were penned back in our own half.  In Watford’s first foray forward, a Nyom cross found Ighalo with his back to goal, he juggled the ball around until he was facing the right way, but was closed down before he could shoot.  A blocked shot from Capoue rebounded to King who sprinted upfield where he was stopped by a superb tackle by Cathcart.  Pugh was the next to threaten the Watford goal, but Gomes dropped to make an easy save.  The Bournemouth goal had been coming, but the manner of it was irritating in the extreme.  A cross came in from Ritchie, Murray rose to meet it and head past Gomes while Prödl, who appeared to be in a position to at least attempt to cut it out, stood and watched.  In contrast to last week when the Palace goal was met with a wall of encouraging noise from the Watford fans, there was an icy silence in the away stand.  However, the next attack of note did come from the visitors as Deeney played a one-two with Ighalo but, instead of shooting, he appeared to just pass the ball to a Bournemouth defender.

A blurred celebration, excuse my shaking hands

A blurred celebration, please excuse my shaking hands

The frustration was building in the away stand and there were boos as Capoue played the ball back to Prödl in our half.  There was some handbags as Murray went down dramatically after a coming together with Capoue which prompted a chorus of “Same old Bournemouth, always cheating.”  The home fans countered with “Championes” although, to be fair to them, it had taken them 40 minutes to crow.  Soon after, the same two players met again and, on this occasion, Capoue went flying and Murray was booked.  Watford scored a totally undeserved equalizer on the stroke of half time as Boruc received a back pass and, for some unfathomable reason, passed it to Ighalo who rounded him and slotted home.  It was a truly ridiculous goal which meant that, despite the dreadful performance of the Hornets in the first half, they left the pitch to cheers at the break.

The home side were first out of the dressing room at the start of the second half and there were loud cheers from the travelling Hornets for Boruc as he took his place in goal.  The Hornets retook the field having made no changes in personnel and my heart sank.

Challenging for an incoming ball at a corner

Challenging for an incoming ball at a corner

The first incident of the half was a lovely tackle from Aké which, because Ritchie went down hard, earned him a talking to from the referee.  As Michael Oliver lectured the youngster, Troy Deeney was standing by his side shaking his head.  Five minutes into the half Murray was allowed another free header, but this time Gomes gathered.  Ighalo received the ball on the left of the Bournemouth box, feinted a couple of times before dribbling past the defender, but his shot was turned behind for a corner.  From the set piece the ball dropped to Watson whose shot rebounded off the crossbar and came out to Abdi on the left who shot well wide of the far post.  I don’t know what Flores did at half time, because there were no changes in personnel, but whether it was a rocket or an arm around the collective shoulders it worked as, suddenly, Watford were playing with confidence, snapping into tackles, closing the Bournemouth players down and generally competing in a way that they hadn’t earlier on.  During the first half, the fans around us had moaned incessantly (for good reason), but nine minutes into the second period the travelling Hornets were so encouraged that they started bouncing.

Anya with a throw in

Anya with a throw in

On 55 minutes, the Bournemouth fans had planned a minute’s applause for Mick Cunningham, a former club photographer and programme editor who recently passed away.  As his photo was displayed on the big screen, those in the home stands rose to applaud and were joined by enthusiastic applause from the Watford fans.  While this was happening, Anya went storming through the middle, played the ball out to Ighalo who crossed back for Anya but he could only head wide.  Deeney and Ighalo exchanged passes, but the ball was taken off Troy’s feet before he could shoot.  An Abdi free kick was headed out only as far as Ben Watson whose shot was blocked.  Then Abdi released Anya, who was one on one with the keeper, but Boruc managed to block the shot and put it out for a corner.  Murray then broke forward but, seeing the Watford defence marshalled in front of him, could only attempt a shot from distance that was straight at Gomes.  Watford’s first substitution saw Ibarbo replacing Nyom.  Abdi found Ighalo who tumbled on the edge of the box, but nothing was given.  The Nigerian was then in action at the other end as he charged down Ritchie’s shot following a short free kick.  Back on duty in attack, his next shot was poor and wide of the target.

Gomes looking unbelievably calm after his heroics

Gomes looking unbelievably calm after his heroics

An injury meant that Anya had to be substituted, he was replaced by Paredes.  The hosts threatened as Francis was allowed to break forward and cross for Murray whose header was just wide of the target.  They had an even better chance soon after as the ball fell to Cook on the edge of the box where he launched an audacious overhead kick that was heading for the top corner until Gomes pulled off a superb save.  It appeared that Heurelho’s heroics were to be for nothing as the inevitable Bournemouth penalty was awarded.  The first player to tumble in the box had his appeal waved away by Michael Oliver and, when Capoue and Smith came together I was confident that the free kick would go our way, but the referee pointed to the spot.  Murray stepped up to take it but there were to be more heroics from Gomes as he saved the penalty before Cathcart cleared the rebound.  The resulting corner was punched clear by Gomes, Gosling’s follow-up flew wide and the travelling Hornets could breathe again.  As Watford also pushed for a winner, Ighalo played the ball back to Abdi, but his shot was blocked.

Ake about to go in for a challenge

Ake about to go in for a challenge

In the last minute of normal time, O’Kane cut inside and shot goalwards but it was an easy stop for Gomes.  Watford’s last chance for a winner was a free-kick from distance from which Abdi decided to go for goal but hit it wide of the target.  Guedioura came on in the last minute of time added on to replace Abdi.  The game finished with honours even and the name of Heurelho Gomes ringing out in the away stand.

It was a classic game of two halves.  We had been completely woeful in the first period, Bournemouth having most of the possession and any time that Watford did pass the ball forward, it was swept up by the Bournemouth defence.  In the second half, we were snapping in to tackles and not allowing the opposition to have any time on the ball while our balls upfield were finding their men with Ighalo and Deeney finally having some success in holding the ball up.  Bournemouth won’t have won any more friends among the Watford faithful as they lived up to their reputation for theatrics.  But a draw was a fair result and I was more than happy to leave with a point.

All the way home I found myself suddenly bursting into song, alternating “Heurelho Gomes baby” with “Lo, lo, lo,lo Quique Sanchez Flores.”  Great stuff.

Palace Victors on The Box

Abdi in action

Abdi in action

We haven’t faced Palace since the play-off final two years ago and there is a lingering resentment that we were mugged that day.  While Palace’s spoiling tactics made for an unpleasant game, too many of our players didn’t turn up and we didn’t really deserve anything out of the match.  In all honesty, I am delighted that we had a couple more seasons in the Championship and were promoted at a time when we were better prepared for survival in the top division.

The late kick off on Sunday ensured that I had time for lunch with my Dad before the game.  Neither roast pork nor a glass of Malbec play any part in my usual pre-match ritual, so maybe what ensued is all my fault.

The usual suspects were gathered in the West Herts when I arrived and there was time for a pint of ale and a resumption of proper pre-match stuff.  While there we were entertained by the sight of Diego Fabbrini scoring for Middlesbrough (he fell over while doing so).  I must admit to having a soft spot for Diego following a sterling performance in a Herts Senior Cup game on a freezing cold night in Royston a couple of years ago, so I was glad to see that he is doing well at the Riverside.

Cathcart and Nyom

Cathcart and Nyom

It was a gorgeous afternoon and as we walked down Occupation Road, it was lovely to see Lloyd Doyley with his son, even if he was wearing a Jeter shirt.  I was (pleasantly) surprised then to see a smiling Matej Vydra, although it is a shame that he is not available for selection.

Team news was that there were no changes from Newcastle so the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Prödl, Cathcart, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi, Ighalo.  The Palace substitutes included the lovely Adrian Mariappa, whose name was greeted with warm applause from the Hornet faithful.

In his programme notes, Troy Deeney made mention of the sterling efforts of the 1881 and they were on top form pre-match putting on a show for the cameras.  As the teams emerged from the tunnel, the Legends flag was unfurled in the Rookery (or should that be upfurled as it went up the stand and over our heads).  I’m sure it looked amazing from the other stands and on TV.

Anya and Jurado

Anya and Jurado

Watford had a lively start to the game without threatening the Palace goal as a Capoue shot from outside the area and a Prödl header following a corner from Abdi were both wide of the target.  Hennessey’s first involvement came when Anya played the ball out to Deeney but Troy’s shot caused the keeper no problems.  Palace had a great chance to take the lead as Hangeland met a Cabaye free kick with a powerful header that was stopped by a great save from Gomes.  There was then a break in the game while Watson was treated for what appeared to be a dislocated thumb.  While I was concerned because Ben was clearly in a lot of pain, the loud bloke who sits a couple of rows behind me was more interested in speculating on why a penalty hadn’t been awarded, as he’d clearly handled in the box!  Palace threatened again as Cabaye blasted a free kick into the wall, the ball rebounded to Puncheon who shot wide of the target.  At the other end, Jurado played the ball out to Anya who dribbled along the by line before putting in a cross that Ledley headed out for a corner.  A cross from Jurado was then safely headed back to the Palace keeper.  The Hornets had a decent spell of pressure around the Palace box, but the nearest they came to threatening Hennessey was a Nyom shot that was blocked.  On the half hour Jurado found Abdi on the right, his first cross was blocked and came back to him, the second was headed tamely wide by Deeney.  Palace broke again as Sako muscled past Anya on his way towards goal, but his shot was straight at Gomes.  The first booking of the game was earned by Abdi for a late tackle on Bolasie that prompted a chant of “Dirty Northern Bastards” from the away fans.  The resultant free kick from Cabaye flew wide of the far post.  Bolasie, who had caused us problems all half, outpaced the defence to run on to a ball played over the top, Gomes came out to meet him and launched the ball over the SEJ stand to cheers.  Ighalo did really well to battle past a couple of robust challenges before the ball reached Anya by way of Jurado but the cross was cut out by Hangeland before it reached Ighalo who had made a run into the box.  In time added on at the end of the half, Ighalo won a free kick on the edge of the box.  Abdi took the set piece which was deflected for a corner.

Jurado takes a free kick

Jurado takes a free kick

The half ended with both sides having had just a single shot on target.  It had been a disjointed half constantly interrupted by the referee’s whistle as the Palace players tumbled under the slightest challenge.

The best chance of the game so far came at the start of the second half and fell to the home side as Jurado hit the crossbar with a free kick, Deeney met the rebound but headed it over the bar.  Watford put together another good move as Deeney fed Ighalo who chested the ball down to Abdi whose shot was saved.  There was a scare for the Hornets as a free-kick from Sako was deflected just wide of the target.  And another as Gayle bore down on goal, but the attentions of Cathcart ensured that the shot hit the bar and rebounded safely into the arms of Gomes.  Around the hour mark, there was a substitution for each side as Zaha replaced Sako for the visitors and Berghuis came on for Abdi.  The Palace substitution proved to be the decisive one as Zaha fell in the corner of the box under a challenge from Nyom and the referee pointed to the spot.  It was a very soft penalty and one of those that irritates as it was given for an offence that certainly didn’t prevent a goal scoring opportunity.  In the aftermath, Jurado was booked for his protests.  Cabaye stepped up to take the spot kick which went in off the post.  There was a spirited reaction to the goal, both on the pitch and in the stands.  The Rookery were on their feet chanting while Deeney headed the ball down to Ighalo who was tackled before he could shoot.

Gomes with a Watford legend in the background

Gomes with a Watford legend in the background

Watford’s second substitution saw Nyom make way for Aké.  The first booking for the visitors came as Cabaye took down Jurado as he bore down on goal.  Palace threatened to increase their lead as Zaha crossed to the back post where Bolasie headed the ball down to Gayle who shot wide of the target.  A free kick from Puncheon flew over the wall, but was comfortably caught by Gomes.  The Palace midfielder was then booked for sending Watson flying well after the ball had gone.  That was Ben’s last involvement in the game as he was replaced by Ibarbo.  A counter attack from the visitors finished with a shot from Gayle which was well wide and soon after he was replaced by Campbell.  There was a lovely exchange of passes between Ibarbo and Aké on the wing, the ball was crossed for Deeney who headed down to Ighalo but the Nigerian was being wrestled away from the ball which was permitted on this occasion, rather bizarre given the referee’s previous sensitivity to challenges of any kind.  Puncheon threatened with a run along the by line, but Gomes was there to snuff out the danger.  There was a flurry of activity in injury time.  First the ever-threatening Bolasie had a decent chance with another break and a shot that flew just over the bar.  Then Anya crossed for Ibarbo whose shot was turned around for a corner.  Just before the final whistle there was a bit of a scramble in the Palace box, but each of the attempts to shoot was blocked.  There were late shouts for a Watford penalty as Prödl went down in the box, but the referee (correctly) gave the free kick the other way.

Lining up a free kick

Lining up a free kick

It was a disappointing loss, but Pardew had got the tactics right particularly through the Palace wide men who had given Anya and Nyom a torrid time.  One plus point was a considerably improved performance from Jurado who showed what Flores sees in him, although his set pieces still leave something to be desired, but he is not alone in that regard.

As the only game played on Sunday we were, of course, the featured game on Match of the Day.  I wondered whether to bother watching, but was glad that I did as the montage that they showed at the start of the game featuring Blissett, Barnes, Callaghan and co. brought the smile back to my face.  I look back on those glory days with great fondness while being well aware that they must have featured frustrating days like today.  I can’t help wondering which of today’s team will achieve legend status.  Based on performances to date, I feel it will be the majority.