Tag Archives: Wayne Rooney

Revenge on the Toffees is Sweet

Terry Challis painting/collage of GT

With the game kicking off at 5:30pm and it being the last day of the Graham Taylor exhibition at the museum, there was no question about how I would start my afternoon in Watford.  My sister, Rose, joined me and we spent a lovely hour looking at the exhibits and reminiscing.  There were a couple of new additions since my previous visit, including a beautiful painting/collage by Terry Challis, which was well worth the repeat visit all on its own.  Rose had not seen the exhibition before, so dutifully went around with the list of exhibits ticking them off.  We also had the added unexpected pleasure of Sarah Priestley being on hand to talk us through the collection and her lovely meetings with Rita while putting it together.  Apparently, Rita has visited on a few occasions and had fans chatting to her about their memories of Graham before they realised who they were talking to.  I have to say that brought a tear to all of our eyes.

As we walked to the West Herts, we encountered a group of Everton fans piling off a coach at the traffic lights at the junction of Vicarage Road so that they could visit the Oddfellows.  When one started a chorus of “Hi ho Silva lining”, I remembered that this was a grudge match.  When we met up with our pre-match crew, Elaine was there without her Everton-supporting husband in tow.  “He’s banned.  He couldn’t get a ticket in the away end and I wouldn’t give him his Fan ID.”  Brilliant!

Doucoure on the ball

The main talking point surrounding the Watford team selection focused on the goalkeeping position.  With Gomes back from injury would Gracia grant him an immediate return to the starting XI or keep faith with Karnezis who has been performing well and has certainly overcome the doubts raised by his performance when he came on as substitute at Goodison Park?  When the team was announced, Karnezis was indeed retained, Gracia’s only change was to bring in Pereyra for Zeegelaar.  So, the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Mariappa, Prödl, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Deulofeu, Pereyra, Richarlison; Deeney.  I must say that I was very pleased indeed to see Femenía named among the substitutes.  We have missed him.

Despite the forecast of bitter cold, I had left home without a scarf.  I agonised about buying a new one as the scarf that I wore at Goodison Park had never been seen at a game before and we all know what happened that afternoon.  But it was far too cold to do without, so I took the risk.

Before kick-off, the 1881 launched streamers into the Rookery.  With the flags also out in force I am sure that it was a great spectacle for those watching on television.

Pereyra and Deulofeu preparing for a free kick

The first half-chance of the game came from an Everton free-kick which fell for Niasse, who failed to connect and the chance was lost.  Watford’s first chance came from a corner which fell to Doucouré whose shot was way off target.  Everton threatened again as Niasse tried to sneak the ball in from a narrow angle, but Karnezis was alert and blocked the attempt.  The next chance for the visitors fell to Sigurdsson, but his shot was soft and straight at Karnezis.  There were howls for a yellow/red card as Keane put in a rather robust challenge on Doucouré, but the referee waved play on.  Than a dangerous looking cross from the visitors was dealt with by a wonderful header from Mariappa.  Watford should have done better after launching a dangerous looking break, but Deulofeu’s shot was blocked and Capoue’s follow-up was high and wide.  And that was it for the first half.  It had been a remarkably dull game with most of the excitement of the first half deriving from having to fight off streamers that had detached themselves from the roof.

Okaka and Prodl challenging at a corner

At half time, Academy Day at Vicarage Road was marked with the under 9s being put through their paces before parading around the ground.  We also had Under 23 player Andrew Eleftheriou talking about his progression through the academy and stressing the need for hard work.

The second half started brightly and there was an early chance for the Hornets as a corner reached Prödl, but his header was over the target.  There was danger from the visitors as a cross from Walcott found Keane unmarked, but his header flew wide, much to my relief.  Given some of the tackles that had passed without caution in the first half, it was a little surprising that the first card of the game went to Capoue for a challenge on Walcott that was clumsy rather than malicious.  Watford had a decent chance to open the scoring as a lovely cross from Pereyra was met by the head of Deeney, but Pickford was able to gather.  Just before the hour mark, Gracia made his first changes as Pereyra and Richarlison made way for Okaka and Femenía.  At the same time, Tosun replaced Niasse for the visitors.  I must admit that I can’t help but feel sad when Richarlison is replaced, but it was immediately apparent that the substitutes made a difference.  On a day when we were celebrating the return from injury of a couple of players, it was frustrating to see Deulofeu go down needing treatment.  He came back on, but his first attempt at a run resulted in him dropping to the ground again and he had to be replaced by Carrillo, who is now a bottle blond.

Femenia congratulating Deeney

The first caution for Everton was earned by Gueye who took down Okaka as he tried to break.  The next goal chance fell to Rooney, who tried a volley from the edge of the box, thankfully he didn’t make a good contact and the ball flew over the target.  This was followed by a lovely move from the Hornets which finished with a cross from Okaka that went begging.  Soon after, a cross from Femenía was cleared only as far as Capoue, but his shot was off target.  Then a clearance from Pickford hit Deeney and rebounded to Femenía whose shot needed a decent save from the Everton keeper to keep it out.  But the Hornets were not to be denied as Femenía broke forward and fed Okaka who crossed for Deeney who powered an absolute beast of a shot past Pickford.  It was one of those moments when I love sitting behind the goal as that ball was coming straight for us as we rose as one to celebrate.  Allardyce immediately made a couple of changes replacing Rooney and Sigurdsson with Calvert-Lewin and Bolasie.  But it was Watford who continued to attack as Holebas went on a terrific run up the wing, he played in Okaka who beat a defender before shooting but Pickford was able to make the save.  As the clock ticked down, the Hornets were looking to keep the ball in the corner, but this is always a risky tactic and, needless to say, the visitors launched one last attack and won a corner.  I heard “Here we go,” from behind me which matched my thoughts and fears exactly.  Pickford went up to join the attack and there was an almighty scramble in the Watford box and, as Karnezis dropped to make a save, I thought the ball had gone in, so was mightily relieved when I realised that the Watford keeper had smothered the ball and the three points had gone to the Hornets.

Deulofeu ready to take a corner

There was an almighty roar at the final whistle and much celebration as the players did their lap of honour.  As always, Deeney was the last to reach the Rookery and was given a well-deserved hero’s welcome.  We left the ground with smiles on our faces and Elton’s “I guess that’s why They Call it the Blues” ringing in our ears!

The post match consensus was that it had been a terrible game, but a great three points.  Watford ended the day in 10th place (back in the top half) and, while we are only 6 points off the relegation zone, you have to think that the win has ensured safety for this season.  It was a match of little quality, but Watford made the majority of the chances that there were and just about deserved the win based on the second half performance.  I blow hot and cold with Okaka, but he was`excellent, making forward moves when many of his team mates were happy to pass sideways and backwards.  He provided the assist for Deeney, as well as nearly scoring a second.  It was also wonderful to see Femenía back on the pitch.  He certainly showed why we have missed him.

With West Brom the visitors next week, I have that sinking feeling about a banana skin, but there is certainly a new spirit around the club, so I hope that the players show what they can do.  Another three points will certainly calm a lot of nerves and allow us to enjoy the end of the season.

 

Cruel Defeat in the Z-Cars Derby

Poppy display at the box office

One of my oldest and dearest friends lives on Merseyside, so I took the opportunity of the game away at Everton to spend a weekend by the seaside.  Saturday afternoon we had a lovely walk along the beach to Southport finishing in the Arts Centre there.  As we enjoyed some refreshments, it was approaching 3pm and I had my usual panic that I was supposed to be somewhere else.  My phone took an age to connect and confirm that ours was not one of the games that had kicked off and I could happily spend the rest of my afternoon wandering around the exhibitions.

Having heard of the travel chaos on the West Coast line on Sunday, it was a relief to have a short trip on local rail to meet up with friends.  The pre-match pub appeared surprisingly empty until I made my way to the back room and found it packed with Hornets.  At the appointed time, we piled out of the pub on to the bus to the ground, where we found ourselves sitting with some young Everton fans who bemoaned their season so far and, a little surprisingly for me, the loss of Tom Cleverley.

On arrival at Goodison Park, the steward outside the turnstiles was lovely, although I suspect that her decision not to perform a thorough search of my bag was influenced by my pointing out that my huge rucksack was full of dirty clothes.  After taking our seats, I was rather perturbed to see a man in a Sparta Prague hat a couple of rows behind me.  Talk about a bad omen.  I fixed him with a very cross stare, but he remained oblivious.

Will Hughes making his first league start for the Hornets

Team news was two changes from the Stoke game with Hughes making his first league start for the Hornets in place of Capoue and Gray in for the suspended Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Kabasele, Britos, Holebas; Cleverley, Doucouré; Carrillo, Hughes, Richarlison; Gray.  As the Watford team was announced, Cleverley’s name was cheered by the home fans, which was rather lovely, as was seeing the team run out to Z-cars at an away ground.  I know that piece of music has more significance in Liverpool than Watford, but it still makes me feel at home.

Just before kick-off, they held a minute’s silence for Remembrance Day, but the accompanying rendition of the last post caused some confusion meaning the crowd erupted when the music finished while the players and officials were still standing with bowed heads.

Once the game kicked off, there was an early chance for the visitors as Femenía crossed for Richarlison who was unable to connect.  There was very little action then until the 21st minute when Everton broke and Gomes reacted well to stop the shot from Baines.  The home side had another chance after Carrillo lost out in midfield allowing Davies to advance on goal, but he decided to shoot from distance and his effort was high and wide.  It was Watford’s turn to attack then as Hughes played the ball out to Femenía whose low cross went begging.  The Spaniard then went for goal himself but his shot from distance flew well over the bar.

Celebrating Richarlison’s goal with an over- attentive steward

Watford’s best chance of the half came from a lovely move as Gray held off a defender, turned and advanced before feeding Richarlison who beat the goalkeeper, but his shot, from an acute angle, hit the side netting.  Doucouré was the next to threaten but, in the process, he lost his 100% record of scoring from shots on target as Pickford made the save.

As has been the case a number of times this season, it had been a rather dull first half.  The Hornets had a good spell late on, but didn’t test Pickford in the Everton goal.

Watford started the second half brilliantly as Gray fed Carrillo who passed to Richarlison, the young Brazilian rounded the keeper and found the net to send the away fans crazy, with the possible exception of those who had not returned from getting their half time refreshments.  The visitors threatened again as Holebas crossed from a deep position, but Gray was unable to connect.  Jose then tried a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  Everton really should have equalized after Niasse beat Britos and crossed for Sigurdsson, but Gomes pulled off a great save to frustrate the Icelander, Rooney hit a follow-up shot, but Gomes was equal to that as well.  Sadly the Watford keeper was injured while performing his heroics.  He was down receiving treatment for a considerable time before emerging with a bandage around his head.  Brief hopes that he would carry on were dashed when he was escorted to the dugout and replaced by Karnezis, making his Watford debut.  Everton also made their first substitution at this time, replacing Baningime with Lookman.

Gray jostling for position in the Everton box

The Hornets had a great chance to increase their lead as Gray went on a run and put in a decent cross for Hughes, but Will met it at an angle and couldn’t direct his header towards the goal.  But Watford were not to be denied for long and the second goal came on 63 minutes when Kabasele rose to meet a corner from Holebas and headed home.  At this point, the Everton fans started streaming out and it all looked very positive for the Hornets.  However, there was a note of caution from a young boy behind us who nervously commented that there were 26 minutes left.  I thought that he was rather young to be so fatalistic, but there turned out to be a wise head on those young shoulders as Everton pulled a goal back within minutes.   Niasse advanced towards the Watford box and, for some inexplicable reason, Karnezis decided to come out of his box to meet him, the Everton man skipped around him and was facing an open goal, Kabasele slid in to make a tackle but the ball drifted in to the net.  It has to be said that, had Niasse missed, the ref would have had to give a penalty and Kabasele would probably have been sent off.  It went from bad to worse on 73 minutes as a shot from Kenny was blocked by Holebas for a corner which Baines delivered and Calvert-Lewin (on for Rooney) headed home for the equaliser.

Femenia takes a throw in

Watford’s injury woes continued as Kabasele went down in the Everton box and stayed down as the game continued for some time.  After he finally received treatment, he left the field on a stretcher and Mariappa came on in his place.  Watford pushed to regain the lead and Richarlison should have done better from a Holebas corner, but he headed over the target.  Then Hughes put in a low cross that was blocked when maybe a shot would have been the better option.  Watford had another chance from a corner but this time it was Mariappa who headed wide.  Then disaster struck as Holebas chased Lennon and appeared to slip and take him down just inside the box and the referee pointed to the spot.  Had Gomes still been in goal, I would have hoped for a penalty save, but Baines made no mistake and Watford, from being two goals ahead found themselves going in to time added on a goal down.  When the fourth official indicated that there would be 12 minutes added time, there was no predicting the final score.  Three minutes into injury time, Okaka emerged from the wilderness to replace Hughes, even though Holebas was still limping after the challenge on Lennon (thankfully, he soon ran it off).  The Italian substitute had an opportunity to show Silva what he had been missing as he went for a cross into the box, but Pickford made the save before he could connect.  Watford were given a lifeline as Pickford took Richarlison down in the box.  I was a little surprised when Cleverley stepped up to take the spot kick and totally devastated when he hit it well wide of the target.

Carrillo and Kabasele challenging

The final whistle was met with jubilation from the Everton fans and disbelief from the travelling Hornets.  I am assured that it was a great game for the neutral, for those of us who bleed yellow, it was incredibly painful.  Watford looked to be cruising and would probably have won had Gomes not been injured.  The two penalties pretty much summed up our day.  Conceding an unnecessary penalty due to a player slipping, then being awarded one that was nailed on and failing to covert.

The day didn’t get any better when we arrived back at Lime Street to find that both the train that I was booked on and the previous train (the 18:47, which should have left already) were delayed and there was a massive queue already in place.  By the time that we left Liverpool, the train was transporting those booked on three different services, so was a little cosy.  I found myself surrounded by a Liverpool fan and two Everton fans who, to be fair, couldn’t have been more pleasant.  We were soon joined by Jim White of Sky Sports/Talksport, who was fresh from the Everton boardroom and was pressed by a number of people for his opinions on the managerial rumours that were going around.  He was happy to chat and pose for selfies and it ended up being a very pleasant journey.  I even found myself sharing photos with the lad next to me as he showed one of him (as a small boy) with the last trophy that Everton had won and I dug out an even older one of me before the cup final.

It is very hard to take any conclusions from that game.  The defence didn’t cover themselves in glory, but it was the departure of Gomes that precipitated the collapse.  Had Cleverley not hit such a terrible penalty, we would have left Liverpool with another point (one that I would have been happy with before the game).  So we go into the international break on the back of three defeats and knowing that we will face a West Ham team trying to impress their new manager.  After the wonderful start to the season, the last few games have been a cruel reality check.  It will be very interesting to see if the players have the character to turn it around.  Now what shall I do at 3pm next Saturday?

 

Beating the Reds After a 30 Year Wait

The pre match huddle

The pre match huddle

With the early kick-off, I was torn on whether to drive or take the train to the game.  I decided on the latter option meaning that I left home rather early to give myself plenty of time to get to Watford.  Contrary to what we had heard on our last visit, they made a late decision to open the West Herts before the game, but I was glad I had left the car at home as I arrived to see that the football matches going on at the sports club meant that the car park was already full soon after 10:30.  It also allowed me to have the breakfast of kings, a pint and a hot dog, to set me up for the day.  As we walked to the ground, there were touts galore in Vicarage Road most of whom appeared to be trying to buy tickets to sell on.  There were also the eponymous half and half scarves on sale, one hawker was actually standing outside the Hornet Shop, which was ridiculous.  I can’t believe that they weren’t cleared out of there.

Team news was just the one change from the West Ham game as a slight injury to Kaboul meant that Prödl was drafted in to take his place.  So, the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos; Janmaat, Pereyra, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.  For the visitors, Watford Academy graduate, Ashley Young, was on the bench.  I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that little Ashley is in his thirties.  Where did all those years go?

Capoue and Fellaini

Capoue and Fellaini

When I took my seat I was a little perturbed to see a stranger in the seat next to me.  I am always wary at a game against a ‘big club’ when I see a new face, especially if they are not wearing colours, but he had the season ticket of the guy who usually sits there and it was quickly apparent that he was a fellow Hornet.  As the teams came out, our view was obscured as the 1881 flag with the angry moose made its way up the stand over our heads, a wonderful sight for the television cameras.  Prior to kick-off the guy who sits behind me said that he thought it would be 2-1 today … to us.  As always, I didn’t share his confidence, but he wasn’t the first Watford fan who had predicted a victory and United’s recent form did not bode well for them.

The home side started the game very brightly and had a great chance to take the lead in the ninth minute when a free-kick from Holebas was headed on by Prödl, Deeney slid in to try to meet the ball and only just missed connecting.  There was an even better chance a couple of minutes later, as De Gea collided with a team mate and the ball dropped to Ighalo who appeared to have the goal at his mercy but hit it wide leaving the Watford fans with heads in hands.  To be fair to him, the replay showed De Gea was in a much better position than was originally apparent, but you get so few chances in games like this that any miss from a decent position causes concern.

Cathcart takes a throw in

Cathcart takes a throw in

The attacking threat continued for the Hornets as a deep cross from Janmaat was met with a header from Deeney that was kept out by a wonderful flying save from De Gea.  Soon after, a cross from Cathcart was met with a header from Ighalo that flew over the bar.  The first real chance for the visitors came in the 20th minute when a Rashford cross was met by Ibrahimovic who directed his shot into the side netting.  There was an extended break in play following a collision between Martial and Janmaat.  First impressions were that Martial could have been badly hurt as he was flat on his back and didn’t move for some time.  There was less concern for Janmaat who had walked to the edge of the pitch with his hand clutched to his head.  It looked worrying for a while but, thankfully, both players were soon fit to restart the game.  Just before the half hour there was action in the row in front as the bloke who usually goes for coffee in the 41st minute made an early move.  There were meaningful glances all around as the inhabitants of the centre of the Rookery came to terms with this drastic change to usual practice.  Early kick-offs have a lot to answer for.  On the half hour, neither Gomes nor those behind the goal in the Rookery were particularly concerned when Pogba hit a shot from distance as it appeared to be flying well over the bar, so I nearly had a seizure when the ball smacked back off the crossbar.

A bundled celebration for Capoue's goal.

A bundled celebration for Capoue’s goal.

Watford took the lead in the 34th minute.  Martial was dispossessed by a robust tackle by Britos, United appeals for a foul were waved away, the ball fell to Janmaat who played it back to Capoue who powered his shot in off De Gea.  Martial had remained on the ground as the goal was scored and, after finally receiving treatment, was unable to continue so was replaced by Ashley Young whose appearance was applauded by fans on all sides of the ground.  A rare mistake from Behrami allowed Ibrahimovic to break forward but the danger was snuffed out by a brilliant challenge by Prödl.  Just before half time, Capoue was fouled on the edge of the box.   Holebas stepped up to take the free kick, his shot went through the wall but was saved by De Gea.  In time added on, a bit of pinball following a tackle led to a lucky break for the visitors but Rashford’s run was stopped by another great tackle from Prödl.

So Watford went into the break a goal to the good.  It was a thoroughly deserved lead which should have been larger.

Watford legends Jackett and Page

Watford legends Jackett and Page

At half time it was lovely to see Kenny Jackett and Robert Page having a chat with Emma Saunders and making the 50-50 draw.  Both players are much loved by the Watford faithful and it was good to hear how impressed they were with the changes at Vicarage Road, both on and off the pitch.  The draw was followed by the schools’ penalty competition.  The perception that they had started rather late was confirmed when Troy and the lads appeared for the second half as the shoot-out reached sudden death.  Thankfully one of the kids hit a winner before the TV directors had to intervene.

In the first minute of the second half, a defensive header fell to Ibrahimovic who shot well wide of the target.  Mazzarri made his first substitution in the 50th minute bringing Amrabat on to replace the injured Janmaat.  There had been little in the way of chances in the first quarter hour of the second half but suddenly, out of nothing, the Watford defence failed to clear a cross from Ibrahimovic and Rashford finished past Gomes.  I’d spotted a bloke in the Lower GT wearing a Man Utd shirt and scarf, he was looking very smug at this point.  Watford tried to hit back immediately as a free kick from Capoue was cleared to Holebas whose shot was just wide of the target.

Amrabat and Pereyra celebrate setting up Zuniga's goal

Amrabat and Pereyra celebrate setting up Zuniga’s goal

For the next ten minutes, there was constant pressure from the visitors, but they didn’t manage a shot to test Gomes and the next chance fell to the home side as a Holebas free kick was met with a clever flick from Pereyra, but the United defence was able to clear.  Up until the 75th minute, Michael Oliver had been pretty good in letting the play flow but, suddenly he seemed to be giving soft free kicks and, with this period of the game being played primarily in the Watford half, they mostly went to United.  With ten minutes to go, it looked as though the visitors had taken the lead as a brilliant header from Ibrahimovic was flying in until Gomes appeared out of nowhere to make an equally brilliant save.  It looked as though we would be hanging on until Deeney put in a great tackle on the wing which sparked a change in the momentum of the game.  While the tackle was trivial in the context of the game, something about his energy seemed to inject new life into his team mates.  Mazzarri’s second change saw Zúñiga on for Capoue who went off to rapturous applause.  The Colombian’s first touch proved to be decisive.  Amrabat played a lovely through ball to Pereyra, he cut the ball back to Zúñiga who powered into the net and went on a run with a celebration as passionate as any in the Rookery.

Pereyra congratulates Deeney on his penalty

Pereyra congratulates Deeney on his penalty

Watford’s final substitution came as the clock reached 90 minutes and saw Success come on for Ighalo who, as is his wont, politely shook the referee’s hand before leaving the field.  The Hornets indulged in some time wasting at this point, winning a couple of corners and taking them short to keep the ball by the corner flag.  Rooney was getting increasingly irate at this tactic, so the second time we did it, he just kicked Pereyra conceding a free kick and earning himself a yellow card.  Highly amusing.  The ball didn’t stay in that corner, though, and there was time for some icing on the cake as Success went on a run down the left before playing the ball to Zúñiga in the box, who was taken down by Fellaini.  The appointment of Michael Oliver as referee had attracted some comment before the game including a poll by From the Rookery End on when he would award Man Utd’s first penalty in which ‘pre-match warm up’ attracted 57% of the vote.  To be fair to him, I thought his performance was excellent on the day and not just because he went against tradition in awarding an injury time penalty against United.  Deeney had to wait to take the spot kick as Zúñiga was down injured, his team mates, having come up to congratulate him on winning the penalty, had offered the poor lad very little in the way of sympathy for his pain.  When the Colombian was back on his feet, Deeney kissed the match ball, placed it on the penalty spot and powered it down the middle beating De Gea and sending the Watford fans into delirium.  Soon after the final whistle went prompting further great celebrations.

Britos, Pereyra, Pogba and Behrami anticipate a ball forward

Britos, Pereyra, Pogba and Behrami anticipate a ball forward

As we left the ground, we passed Gino Pozzo.  Our Cate shook his hand and thanked him for all that he has done for the club and was rewarded with a warm smile.  She then spotted Glyn Evans, who is a former colleague of hers, so gave him a kiss.  I asked whether she had noticed the bloke behind Glyn, but she had been so busy greeting her old friend that she didn’t spot Bobby Charlton.

My friend, Toddy, had been unable to get to the game being held captive at Watford General after a routine op.  So I popped in to share the post-match celebrations with him to be told that the commentary that he’d been listening to had been lagging behind the noise from the ground so he and his pal in the bed opposite would hear a cheer and then have to wait to hear the details.  The tension hadn’t done either of them any good in aiding recovery.

 

The players celebrate the win

The players celebrate the win

It was then back to the West Herts to join the rest of our crew for the analysis of the game.  There were broad smiles on the faces of all the Watford fans we encountered.  All agreed that this had been a consummate performance and a well deserved win.  While it seems unfair to single out any one player, I have to say that Prödl was absolutely magnificent keeping Ibrahimovic quiet for most of the game.  Pogba was almost invisible and, apart from a spell in the second half after United scored, Watford had been on top.  My only concern had been that we missed Janmaat when he went off, as Amrabat does not have his defensive abilities, but he more than made up for it with the magnificent pass for the second goal.

It is beginning to feel as though we have entered a new era.  At the end of the Liverpool game last season, I was in tears as I never thought my niece would see a performance like that.  Now she is getting rather used to it.  When the fixture list came out I thought that it was quite possible that we would have no points on the board after the first five games.  To reach this stage with seven points and a team that is looking better each week is just wonderful.  Apart from the first half against Arsenal we have looked at least the equals of all our opponents this season and even a pessimist like me is starting to think that we now have a team that can compete with anyone in this division.  It feels like the 80s all over again and I never thought I would be able to say that.  Now let’s just see if they can do it on a wet Monday night in Burnley.