On Friday night I had a date with Chekhov at the National Theatre. After taking my seat, I turned around to see Watford director Stuart Timperley sitting in the row behind me. Two of my passions collided as we had a chat about the play that we were seeing as well as the Southampton game and our prospects for Saturday.
I arrived early at the West Herts to find Don waiting in the foyer as doors were not opening until midday. By the time we reached opening time there was quite a crowd waiting outside. When finally we entered, we took up our usual spots at ‘our’ table and, as the usual suspects gathered, I felt as though I was home again. There is something very special about the first home game of the season and a guest appearance by Kevin le Belge was the icing on the cake.
On arrival at the ground, I had my first view of the new Hornet shop on the corner, which looks fabulous. Inside the stadium, it was very pleasing to see that the South West corner, which seems to have been under construction forever, was finally finished. It looked lovely. At last we have a ground that does not look like a building site and is fit for purpose. Thank you, Gino.
Team news was that there were no changes from the Southampton game, so the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos; Amrabat, Behrami, Capoue, Guedioura, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo. As the Chelsea team was announced and I was thinking that there were not too many likeable names on the list they got to the substitutes and the inclusion of Chalobah, whose name was greeted with a huge round of applause from the Watford faithful.
The game started very well for the Hornets who created their first chance in the seventh minute when Britos played a lovely ball down the left to Holebas whose shot was saved by Courtois. The Hornets had an even better chance in the 24th minute as Amrabat went on a run down the right where he appeared to have been stopped by Azpilicueta, but escaped and put in a cross for Ighalo who, under challenge, turned the ball over the bar. A Holebas cross was headed clear just before it reached Ighalo, it fell to Guedioura and I can’t have been the only one who was willing him to repeat his strike at Arsenal but, sadly, his shot was well wide of the target. Chelsea’s best chance of the half came in time added on when Hazard won a free kick on the edge of the area. He took it himself, but it was a poor effort struck low and straight at Gomes.
It had been an impressive first half for the Hornets who had most of the goal chances while keeping Chelsea at bay with some good defending. Amrabat, in particular, had been superb both going forward and when tracking back. Also, for the traditionalists among us, there was a certain pleasure in watching a game featuring goalkeepers wearing red and green shirts and a referee in black.
Watford took the lead ten minutes into the second half as a throw-in from Amrabat reached Guedioura who crossed for (goal machine) Capoue who controlled the ball before blasting it into the roof of the net. Chelsea tried to hit back almost straight away with a shot from Hazard that was caught by Gomes. The visitors threatened again as Costa broke into the box but Gomes saved at his feet. Watford had been sitting very deep and letting Chelsea attack so there was a certain inevitability when they got the equalizer with 10 minutes to go, although it took a mistake from the Watford keeper as a Hazard shot from distance was spilled by Gomes and the substitute, Batshuayi, turned it in. Suddenly the Chelsea fans in the Vicarage Road end started making some noise.
Another Chelsea attack was stopped by a brave tackle from Capoue who was injured in the process and, after a period of treatment, limped off to be replaced by Doucouré. Hearts were in mouths in the Rookery as we watched a scramble in the box at the other end but, thankfully, the ball ended up with Gomes. It was a brief respite as a promising Watford move broke down when Guedioura played a poor pass to Doucouré that was intercepted by Fabregas who played a sublime ball to Costa who advanced before beating Gomes. This was followed by the very odd sight of fighting in the Family Stand as a number of away fans who had secured seats there were ejected. Mazzarri made a couple of late substitutions replacing Guedioura and Holebas with Vydra and Zúñiga, but it was the visitors who had the final chance of the game when Batshuayi rattled the crossbar. The final whistle went signalling a frustrating defeat for the Hornets. A number of the Watford players walked straight off at the end, but it was interesting to see Vydra joining Deeney and Gomes on their usual comprehensive lap of appreciation.
The post-game analysis took one of two themes. Either we were robbed or we gave Chelsea the victory. Some argued that Costa who, television pictures confirmed, was guilty of ‘simulation’ having already been booked should not have been on the pitch to score the winning goal. But it was mistakes by a tiring Watford team and the tendency to sit back and defend the lead that led to the goals. Also, given that the Chelsea substitutions changed the game, you have to wonder why we didn’t introduce some fresh legs to challenge them. But, taking a positive view, it says a lot for the progress of the team that we are bemoaning a narrow loss to Chelsea, having been the better side for the first 70 minutes. I was expecting nothing from this game so, having seen an entertaining match with no little quality from the Watford players, while I was disappointed I left the stadium with no complaints.
Next up we have Arsenal visiting Vicarage Road. While I will go to that game with low expectations, I am no longer expecting us to be turned over by the ‘big’ clubs and that is progress.