Tag Archives: Watford

Our First Pre-season Defeat

The new stand at Meadow Park

The new stand at Meadow Park

Six days after our last visit, we were back at Meadow Park for a game against Coventry.  Ticketing arrangements for this had been a bit of a shambles, with the original plans being for segregation and allocated seating with no concession prices offered for children or OAPs in seated areas, the groups most likely to want to sit.  This had been revised in the week before the game, although the claimed reduction in prices was a bit cheeky given that they had actually increased the price for adults who wanted to stand.  The message about unreserved seating had not been relayed to the stewards inside the ground, one of whom was directing people to their allocated area despite them insisting that the website told them that they could go where they wanted (as had the woman on the turnstile I went through).

Dyer on the ball

Dyer on the ball

Watford’s starting line-up was Gomes, Doyley, Angella, Tamas, Pudil, Tözsér, Abdi, Battocchio, Dyer, Vydra and Anya.  Deeney and new signing Ighalo were both on the bench.  Our vantage point for the first half was the South Terrace, which was mostly populated with Coventry fans, despite the fact that their team were attacking the other end.  There was an early chance for the Hornets, but Dyer poked the ball wide under a challenge.  At the other end, Gomes had to drop to gather a shot.  On 8 minutes, Coventry went a goal up as Tudgay nipped between the two central defenders and poked the ball past Gomes, the first goal that he has conceded in a Watford shirt.

Angella up for a corner

Angella up for a corner

Watford tried to hit back.  First Anya attempted a shot that went over the bar.  Then an Abdi shot from distance which also cleared the target.  Coventry had a great chance for a second goal, but Tudgay could only head Miller’s cross on to Pugh and his shot was closer to the corner flag than the goal.  On the half hour, Tudgay curled a shot towards the top corner, but Gomes pulled off an excellent save to deny him.  The only action that made its way into my notebook in the last 15 minutes of the half was a shot from Miller that flew wide of the far post.  After a lively start, it had been a poor half from Watford with Coventry having the best of the play and, but for wasteful finishing, they could have been three goals up.

We joined the players in swapping ends at half-time.  There were wholesale changes at the start of the second half as Hoban, Ekstrand, Murray, McGugan, Deeney, Ranegie and Fabbrini replaced Pudil, Tamas, Abdi, Battocchio, Dyer, Vydra and Anya.  Andrews had come on for Tözsér sometime during the first half, but I had completely missed that happening.  Watford started the second period strongly, as Fabbrini went on a run into the area and shot just wide.  Ranegie also went close.

Deeney on the ball

Deeney on the ball

On the hour Deeney tried a shot, but it was weak and didn’t trouble the keeper.  Bond replaced Gomes for the final half hour and was given little to do.  Fabbrini played a one-two with Ranegie then put in a lovely low cross, but Ranegie was falling and couldn’t make a decent contact.  McGugan was next to threaten as he went on a run and but his shot was easily caught.  Chances had been at a premium for Coventry in the second half, so it was concerning when they won a free-kick in a decent position.  Fortunately for us it was launched into the trees outside the ground.  Sean Murray was the next to try a shot from distance, but it was easily gathered by the keeper.  Soon after, he was replaced by Ighalo.  McGugan deserved better as he controlled the ball and shot goalwards, but the keeper caught it under his foot.

Oghalo warming up

Ighalo warming up

Ighalo also had a chance to equalize, but his shot was blocked.  The last notable action of the game was a foul on Fabbrini that so incensed the Italian, he ran after the culprit and pushed him over.  As silly as this action was, it was nice to see a bit of fight from Fabbrini, who had been excellent since he came on.  Last season, he tended to disappear after a defender clattered him.  If he can add a bit of steel to his game, it will be like a new signing as he is certainly an exciting talent.

So the game finished with a Coventry win, our first defeat of this pre-season.  The second half had been an improvement on the first, mostly because there was a bit of movement upfront that had been missing in the first half, but there hadn’t been much entertainment.

So now it is back to Vicarage Road on Saturday for the visit of Udinese.  Who will the Pozzos be supporting?

Watching the U21s in Llanelli

Welcome to Llanelli

Welcome to Llanelli

A couple of weeks ago, when I booked my train tickets for the trip to Llanelli, travelling to support our U21s in the cup had seemed like a fun idea.  Yesterday, as I explained to colleagues why I was taking today off, I questioned my sanity.  My arrival in Llanelli didn’t do anything to lift my mood.  Having passed the grandeur of the Liberty Stadium on the train, the area outside Llanelli station looked positively second rate and the walk up and down hills through housing estates made me wonder where I was going to end up.  However, when I finally reached Stebonheath Park, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s a lovely little ground.  I was also happy to see the Watford team coach as confirmation that I was in the right place. As I entered the ground, I saw three other fans

The stand at Stebonheath Park

The stand at Stebonheath Park

walking around the perimeter.  When I caught up with them, I was delighted to see that that one was Robin, a friend from WML, who introduced me to Steve, another WML stalwart, and his friend, Jane, who is a Swansea fan.  As Bernard Mensah is a friend of Robin’s family, I asked if the youngster would be missing out due to his appearance on Saturday and was pleased to be told that he would be playing.  Another pleasant discovery was that the seats in the stand were yellow and red, surely a good omen.

When the team was announced, it was a young group without the permitted overage player.  I believe the oldest in the squad was 19.  The line-up, 1 to 11, was Wilks, Barnum-Bobb, Doherty, Byers, O’Nien (c), Kyprianou, Cumberbatch, Hope, Ikpeazu, Mensah and Martin.  Tom Rosenthal was on the bench, so we were joined in the crowd by Rocket Ronnie.

Pre-match greetings

Pre-match greetings

We had an early scare as Cumberbatch gave the ball away, Bray interchanged passes with Lucas but fortunately his shot went into the side netting.  Soon after, Swansea threatened again as Meade went on a run down the wing where he was stopped by a foul from Doherty.  He took a low free kick, which was diverted over the bar by Ikpeazu.  Then Swansea launched another good break, Sheehan put in a decent cross, but Jones headed it back across goal when it looked easier to score.  On 15 minutes, Watford’s youngsters had their first attack of note as Ikpeazu robbed Shephard, but his cross was cut out.  Swansea were immediately on the offensive as a cross from Donnelly was knocked wide by Bray.  Then Sheehan played a through ball to Bray who found Donnelly in front of goal.

Defending a set piece

Defending a set piece

He looked certain to score, but just tapped the ball towards goal and Wilks gathered safely.  Donnelly turned provider as he fed Jones, but his shot was gathered easily by Wilks.  On 24 minutes, Martin went on a run down the wing and found himself boxed in close to the bye-line with two defenders on him.  Somehow he managed to flick the ball into the box, it reached Ikpeazu, who had his back to goal and was unable to get into a shooting position.  Then Martin lost out to Bray in midfield, he advanced and whipped in a dangerous looking cross which was cut out by O’Nien.  Just before the half hour, a through ball was played to Donnelly running into the box, but Wilks dived at his feet to

Waiting for a goal kick

Waiting for a goal kick

gather the ball before he could shoot.  Soon after, a chance fell to Loveridge who shot just over the bar.  With 8 minutes to half time, Byers gave the ball away to Donnelly, Kyprianou pushed him over to stop the attack and was booked for his trouble.  Jones put the resulting free kick wide of the target.  We had our best chance of the half as the clock reached 45 minutes.  Ikpeazu was through on goal, but was being pulled back, which put him off and his shot went harmlessly into the side netting. So, we reached half-time goalless.  Swansea had had most of the play and the majority of the chances, but our defence had done well, particularly Wilks.  During the interval, we met Alan Cozzi in the tea bar, who confidently predicted a draw with us nicking it on penalties.

Hope on the attack

Hope on the attack

At the start of the second half, Swansea were immediately on the attack and a dangerous cross was headed off the line.  On 50 minutes, O’Nien just failed to cut out a ball to Donnelly whose shot was brilliantly kept out by Wilks.  Then Sheehan broke into the box, but Barnum-Bobb did a great job in dispossessing him and averting the danger.  Next Mensah was on the attack with a run down the left wing, but his shot was across the area and did not test Davies in the Swansea goal.  Watford were having a decent spell of possession and the next attack was a lovely passing move that culminated in a shot from Ikpeazu straight at the keeper.  Loveridge for Swansea then had a shot from distance that went over the bar.  The next incident that went in my notebook was a Swansea player being penalized for a foul on Ikpeazu.  This may not seem worthy of note but, for those that

O'Nien sharing a joke with Mensah

O’Nien sharing a joke with Mensah

haven’t seen Ikpeazu play, he’s a big gangly lad and referees seem to pull him up unfairly, particularly in 50-50 situations.  I think this was the first time I’d seen him win a free-kick.  Just before the hour, a Swansea corner was headed up by Doherty and Wilks had to punch it over.  Soon after, we won a free kick wide on the right, Doherty shot for goal and Davies had to stretch to keep it out.  On 65 minutes, Swansea should have been ahead.  First a shot was cleared off the line by Ikpeazu.  In the follow-up, Donnelly was fouled and the ref pointed to the spot.  Loveridge stepped up to take the penalty.  He hit it to Wilks’s right, but the young keeper dived and kept it out.  The resultant corner was poor and Watford launched a promising counter attack, but a pass through to Martin was short and the chance was gone.  On 69 minutes, Swansea had another corner that was met with a point blank header from Donnelly, but Wilks stood tall and blocked the chance.  Soon after, Ikpeazu was replaced by Rosenthal.  Young Tom’s first contribution of note was to break forward and be taken down by Lucas, who was booked.  On 78 minutes, a quick Swansea attack finished with Donnelly hitting an audacious chip goalwards catching Wilks off his

Rosenthal and Mensah

Rosenthal and Mensah

line.  Fortunately for us, the ball bounced wide.  Then Donnelly broke again but Wilks pulled off a great save to deny him.  On 81 minutes, Bray was replaced by Gorre.  Swansea’s last chance of normal time fell to Loveridge whose cross was easily gathered by Wilks.  Watford pressed for a winner in the last couple of minutes.  First a shot from distance by Hope was kept out by Davies.  Then, the final action of the game when Mensah went on a dangerous run, but his cross was cut out.

Huddle before extra time

Huddle before extra time

Extra time in the Bristol Rovers game had been a worry as the lads all looked out on their feet.  Today, they looked a lot fresher and eager for the extra period, while I congratulated myself on remembering to book a late train home.  In the second minute of extra time, Gorre tried a shot from distance that went well wide.  Then Mensah went on a run and dinked past two players before Shephard took him down and earned a yellow card.  On 102 minutes, Watford hearts were in their mouths as a dangerous ball into our box was almost turned into his own net by O’Nien.  Soon after, the dangerous Donnelly sent a glancing header wide.  Mensah had taken a knock in the first half of extra time and looked likely to be replaced at the break.  He started the second period, but was soon replaced by Bawling, who was named on the teamsheet as Alfred.  Surely Bobson Bawling isn’t actually an Alfred!  O’Nien was then booked for kicking Jones as he ran past.  The only attempt on goal in the second period of extra time was a cross from Sheehan that Donnelly nodded wide.  There was a final substitution as Joseph Jones replaced Meade, but the tie was to finish goalless and go to penalties.

Watford took the first penalty as our captain, Luke O’Nien, stepped up but skyed his kick (0-0).  It was heartbreaking for the lad, who had performed brilliantly during the game.

Blurred celebrations

Blurred celebrations

Gorre took Swansea’s first spot kick, putting it to Wilks’s right as the young keeper went the wrong way (1-0).  Doherty was up next and his shot went in off the crossbar with one of the Swansea crew by pitchside jokingly asking for goalline technology to prove that it had crossed the line (1-1).  Alfei stepped up next and put his penalty to the keeper’s left, just past Wilks’s stretching arm (2-1).  Hope hit a very cool penalty straight down the middle (2-2).  Donnelly hit his penalty to the right of the keeper with Wilks going the wrong way (3-2).  Martin hit a lovely penalty high to Davies’s left (3-3).  Then, with Robin shouting at Dan to go to his right, Loveridge hit a penalty to the keeper’s left and Wilks dropped to save it (3-3).  Byers hit a lovely penalty to the keeper’s left with Davies going the wrong way and we were ahead with only one spot kick remaining (3-4).  Lucas stepped up to take the penalty and the Watford contingent was delighted to see it end up behind the goal.  On the balance of play, that was cruel for the Swansea boys, but the defensive heroics, particularly by the wonderful Dan Wilks, meant the Watford youngsters were through to the final 16.

At the end of the game, we applauded the lads off, although they were soon back out for a warm down.  Bernard Mensah came over to talk to Robin, so I was introduced and the lad gave me a hug and thanked me for coming to support them.  As we walked around the pitch to leave the ground, we were chatting about what an enjoyable game it had been when we saw the Watford players all running in our direction.  I was confused as the tunnel was the other way, then I realized that they were coming over to us and each of them, along with David Hughes and the other coaches, shook our hands and thanked us for being there.  Luke O’Nien apologized for missing the penalty, but said he would step up and take another if necessary, a good leader as well as a great little player.  The lads were all beaming and so was I.

Early this morning, I wondered why I was taking a day off work to travel to Wales for this game.  After an enjoyable afternoon, with good company, watching a competitive game in a lovely little ground and seeing the reaction of the boys at the end, I have to say it was a day well spent.

Out-foxed

The flag passing along the Lower Rous

The flag passing along the Lower Rous

The early kick-off (I hate Sky) meant a meeting for breakfast in the West Herts to welcome Toddy home after his adventure on the high seas.  He certainly had some great tales from his adventures and we had to admit that he hadn’t missed much while he’d been away. The build-up to the game was all about our last meeting with Leicester in that infamous play-off game.  I hadn’t watched *that* goal for some time, but revisiting it brought back all the emotions.  I arrived in the Rookery just in time to see the rerun of the goal with Jon Marks’s brilliant commentary followed by that brilliant moment from Johnny Phillips.  The pre-match entertainment continued with Harry Hornet re-enacting the goal.  Sadly, I only noticed him when he was in the middle of the Anya run, but that, the Hogg header and the Deeney shot were uncannily accurate and he ‘scored’ to a shout of “HARRYYYYYYYYY” from the crowd.  Priceless!!

Pre-match huddle

Pre-match huddle

Zola only made one change from Monday with Anya replacing Faraoni, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Angella, Doyley, Pudil, McEachran, McGugan, Murray, Anya, Forestieri and Deeney.  When Knockaert’s name was announced in the starting line-up for Leicester, it was roundly booed.  I couldn’t help thinking that we should be grateful to him as his dive was the starting point for one of the most memorable moments in Watford’s history.  Others were clearly not inclined to be so charitable as, when he stepped up to take an early free kick, he was greeted with shouts of “Cheat, cheat, cheat,” and “He’s gonna dive in a minute.”  In my experience, such targeting of an opposition player goes one of two ways.  Either they lose their nerve or they are encouraged to play better and end up on the scoresheet.  Sadly the latter is the more frequent and that was the case yesterday, although the aforementioned free kick was headed over by Wasilewski.  An early Watford break saw Pudil feed Anya, but his shot was over the bar.  The next Watford

Knockaert attacking

Knockaert attacking

threat was a Forestieri cross to Deeney who fell over after a nudge from behind, but the referee waved away appeals for a penalty.  The resultant Leicester break came to nothing, Anya passed the ball back to Almunia, I looked down at my notepad to finish the description of the previous attack, then looked up to see the ball in our net.  I’d missed Almunia’s clearance hitting Wood in the face and rebounding.  I always have a rather childlike sense of injustice when we concede stupid goals like that.  My initial reaction is that the referee should disallow the goal BECAUSE IT ISN’T FAIR!!  This particular travesty was made all the more irritating by seeing the despicable Knockaert standing in front of the Rookery laughing at us.  I have to say that I don’t hold with those who complained about his reaction.  If I’d had a crowd winding me up in a similar way, my gestures would have been a lot less polite than his were.  Annoying as the goal was, there was still a long way to go so I wasn’t too dispirited.  However, it looked like game over a couple of minutes later as a through ball from Nugent reached Dyer, who rounded Almunia and tapped the ball into the net.  Thankfully, the linesman’s flag saved us on that occasion.

Gathering to attack a corner

Gathering to attack a corner

We were grateful to the linesman again on 25 minutes as a shot from Knockaert rebounded off Pudil to Wood who headed it past Almunia, but was also denied by the flag.  Just after the half-hour, Watford had their first (and second) shot on target.  Anya found McGugan whose shot was saved by Schmeichel, but the former Forest player latched onto the rebound and took another shot from a narrow angle, which required a smart save from Schmeichel to prevent the equalizer.  It was end to end stuff then.  First Wood went down in the Watford box to chants of “Are you Knockaert in disguise”, then McGugan put a ball out to Anya whose shot was just wide of the top corner.  Soon after, Forestieri lost the ball to King so pulled him over in frustration and earned a booking for his trouble.  Watford then had a decent looking break as a through ball from McEachran reached Pudil, but the Czech was flagged offside.  Just before half time, Wasilewski headed over from a Knockaert corner.  The half time whistle went to loud boos from the home fans.

Forestieri and Nugent share a joke

Forestieri and Nugent share a joke

Fabbrini replaced Murray at the start of the second half.  The Italian almost made an immediate impact as he went on a run through the middle, his path to goal appeared open from our vantage point in front of him, but the defence converged and instead of passing out to Anya in space, he turned in and the chance was lost.  Soon after, we won a free-kick for a Knockaert foul on Pudil.  McGugan went for goal but his shot was just over.  On 50 minutes, Knockaert went on a dangerous run, played a one-two with Wood but his shot was wide of the far post.  The Frenchman wasn’t to be denied a couple of minutes later as Schlupp shrugged off the challenge of Doyley to break into the box and cut the ball back for Knockaert to power past Almunia.  He was booked for his

Waiting for a throw

Waiting for a throw

celebration.  Moments later we were nearly three down as Nugent met a cross with a header that was thankfully well over the bar.  Ten minutes into the half, McEachran found space and played a ball in to Forestieri whose shot was blocked.  Leicester then broke, and Dyer found himself in space on the left but shot wide of the far post.  Then Pudil attacked the Leicester box, left the ball for Forestieri whose shot came off the outside of the post.  The ref judged that there had been a deflection, so a corner was awarded.  McGugan’s cross was met with a header from Angella that was wide of the target.  Then Anya found Forestieri in front of goal, but his shot was kept out by Schmeichel.  On 62 minutes, Cassetti replaced Doyley.  Soon after, Anya had a great chance as he latched on to a

McGugan takes a free-kick

McGugan takes a free-kick

ball from Forestieri but his shot just missed the target.  Soon after, Anya and Deeney combined to feed Forestieri whose shot deflected off a defender which took the sting out so it was easy for Schmeichel.  On 68 minutes, Anya went on a terrific forward run and crossed for Deeney, but Troy was stretching for the shot and poked it wide.  Then McGugan found Pudil whose shot hit Deeney in the face and flew over.  Soon after Pudil made way for Faraoni.  Then Knockaert was replaced by Hammond, milking the applause of the travelling Leicester fans as he left the pitch.  Much as it pains me to say it, he deserved the ovation as he had been excellent all afternoon.  With 6 minutes remaining, Forestieri stuck a foot out and flicked the ball back to Deeney who was in a great position, but his shot was weak and didn’t trouble Schmeichel.  Leicester then broke and Dyer got on the end of a through ball from Taylor-Fletcher to compound Watford’s misery.  At this point,

The new 1881 signage

The new 1881 signage

a large number of the home crowd decided to leave.  I couldn’t help but smile when I noticed that they were walking out into a rain shower (the sun shone on those of us who stayed to the final whistle).  I was also very impressed with the 1881 group who continued singing and had a number in the centre of the Rookery joining in.  Just before full time, Angella let fly from distance, but the shot was straight at Schmeichel.  There were no boos at the full-time whistle as those who indulge in such things were already on their way home.

Angella's reaction at the final whistle

Angella’s reaction at the final whistle

So, a very disappointing afternoon, but we weren’t three goals worse than Leicester, who are a very good side.  Had Forestieri’s two chances gone in against Brighton and had Schmeichel not made that tremendous double save from McGugan in the first half of this game, the mood among the Watford faithful would be a lot better.  Still, we remain 7th in the table without having played well at all this season.  It has to be said that, while this season hasn’t been as much fun as I thought it would be, I’d rather be us than Palace at the moment.  A quick check of the Watford ticketing system suggests that only 200 tickets have been sold for next week’s trip to Middlesbrough.  Let’s hope the fanatics are treated to a performance that will make that long journey worthwhile.