Tag Archives: Wes Morgan

40 Years On

Gerard Deulofeu

I am normally pretty irritated when our games are moved to stupid times for television, and it has to be said that there is no more stupid time for football than midday on a Sunday.  However, on this occasion, I was actually quite pleased as it meant that I would attend a game on the 40th anniversary of my first matchday at Vicarage Road.  On that occasion, Chesterfield were the visitors for a third division game.  My friends and I went to the Wimpy for lunch before the game (a great treat in those days), we won the game 2-0 with goals from Ian Bolton and Ross Jenkins and I was officially hooked.

Work commitments in the US meant that I was unable to go to Liverpool for the midweek game.  I must say that, as I followed the game from afar and the goals started going in, my regret at not being at Anfield dissipated a little.  This is only the second league game that I have missed this season, in those games we have failed to score while conceding nine goals.  I will do everything within my power to ensure that I am ever present from now until May.

Etienne Capoue

Given the early start, I decided to forego a pre-match beer and head straight for the ground.  All the more time to spend with the family, a particular pleasure on this occasion as my niece, Maddie, was making a rare visit to Vicarage Road.  I had given her my season ticket seat and intended to sit in the vacant seat of a friend who couldn’t make it, but one of our neighbours kindly moved and we were able to all sit together.

Leicester’s decision to dispense with the services of Claude Puel and appoint Brendan Rodgers meant that this was the third home game in a row in which we would face a former manager.  It also ensured a better atmosphere than may have been expected on a Sunday lunchtime as Mr Integrity returned to Vicarage Road.

Team news was that Gracia had made just the one change with the return of Holebas from suspension meaning that he took the place of Masina.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu and Deeney.  After the away team was announced, Tim Coombs asked the Watford fans to give a big welcome to our former manager, which had the predicted response of a loud chorus of boos.

Deeney looks pretty happy to have opened the scoring

The Hornets started brilliantly and should have taken the lead in the second minute when Mariappa met a Holebas free kick with a shot from close range that Schmeichel did brilliantly to stop, the follow-up from Deulofeu was deflected wide.  But the Hornets were not to be denied for long and in the fifth minute Deeney rose to meet a free kick from Deulofeu and head past Schmeichel.  That certainly settled the early nerves.  Our first indication that we would have a typically torrid time with Jon Moss came in the 13th minute when the referee deemed a challenge from Mariappa on Vardy as deserving of a yellow card.  Vardy then found himself in the wars again as he and Foster came for a free kick and collided heavily.  They were both down for a while with Foster taking the longer to recover.  When Ben finally sat up he looked into the television camera that was directly in front of him and stuck out his tongue.  I breathed a sigh of relief at that point.  Leicester then had a dominant spell but the only chance of note came as Ricardo played a ball across the penalty area for Chilwell to cut back for Barnes who shot high and wide of the target.  Watford had a good chance to score a second goal, as Capoue released Deeney who put in a decent cross for Doucouré, but the Leicester defenders stopped the shot.  The Hornets fashioned another chance as Pereyra found Deulofeu who went on a run into the box but could only shoot straight at Schmeichel.  At the other end Ricardo put in a low cross that looked dangerous until Mariappa met it with a powerful clearance that went out for a throw.  Watford had the last chance of the half as a long pass released Pereyra who crossed for Deeney, but there were two Leicester defenders in attendance who stopped him getting a shot in.

Holebas takes a free kick

So the half time whistle went after a really decent half of football that was quite unexpected as Sunday lunchtime television games are not exactly known for their entertainment value.  The game had gone in waves of possession, but Foster had yet to make a save.

The players had warmed up for the game wearing shirts showing the Man of Men which is the symbol for the Prostate Cancer UK charity.  Mike Parkin of the From the Rookery End podcast was on the pitch at half time talking about the charity.  Last year he did the March for Men, which I did a couple of years ago, in order to raise funds for research into prostate cancer, a disease that has affected his father as it has friends and family of mine so it is a cause very close to my heart and I was delighted to see the efforts at this game to raise awareness of a horrible disease that affects so many men.

 

Deeney waiting for the ball to drop

The visitors had the first chance of the second half with a shot from distance that was straight at Foster.  The first chance of the half for the Hornets should have led to them increasing their lead as Pereyra played the ball out to Doucouré on the edge of the box, he hit a gorgeous shot that needed a brilliant one-handed save from Schmeichel to keep it out.  Jon Moss was increasingly attracting the ire of the Watford fans as he blew up for a series of innocuous looking fouls (by the Hornets) while waving play on for infringements from Leicester that looked far more obvious.  The annoyance was compounded when he booked Capoue for a nothing foul.  At this point, the Leicester fans decided to serenade Troy with a chorus of “Troy Deeney, what a w*nk*r.”  Troy just laughed and applauded them.  There was another clash of striker and goalkeeper, this time a ball was played over the top to Deeney, Schmeichel came out to clear and they collided.  Troy was booked which seemed harsh as he had every right to go for that ball.  Both teams made their first substitution within minutes of each other and, in each case, a player called Gray took the field, in the place of Barnes for the visitors and Deulofeu for the Hornets.  Gerry looked very unhappy at the decision.  Leicester came close with a speculative shot from Ndidi that rebounded off the crossbar.

Doucoure, Hughes and Cathcart gathering for a free kick

Watford fans were shouting for a free kick as Deeney was fouled, at least I believe a big defender leaning on your back is a foul, Jon Moss clearly does not, so waved play on allowing Tielemans to release Vardy who broke forward and chipped Foster to get the equalizer.  At this point the nerves really set in and I was sure that Leicester would get a winner.  Rodgers made a double change with Tielemans and Vardy making way for Mendy and Iheanacho.  The visitors having drawn level, Moss relented and finally awarded a free kick to the Hornets and booked Pereira for a foul on Deeney, decisions that earned the referee an ironic standing ovation from the Watford fans.  The visitors threatened to get a winner with a dangerous looking cross from Chilwell, but Foster was down to make a comfortable save.  They had another decent chance as Morgan met a cross from Maddison but the header was wide of the target.  Gracia made a final change bringing Cleverley on for Hughes just as the fourth official held up the board indicating that there were four minutes of added time.  Following the equaliser, Leicester had looked the more likely winners, but it was the Hornets who snatched a late goal as Deeney played a lovely ball through to Gray and, with the Rookery screaming encouragement, he shrugged off the attentions of the defender and finished past Schmeichel to send the home fans into a wild celebration.  Our little group were bouncing up and down in a lovely family group hug.  Gray was booked for taking his shirt off.  It was worth it.  My heart was pounding for the remainder of the added time, but the final whistle went and the celebrations started again.

As the referee left the field, he was roundly booed by the home fans.  It was no more than he deserved, but it annoyed me as we should have been cheering our lads after that win.

A family of Watford fans

Back to the West Herts for a post-match pint.  I had been warned that, prior to the game, “our” table had been taken over by a group of Scandinavians.  It turns out that this was a large group of Norwegians who were old friends of Don, who had met them on a pre-season tour of Norway in the early 80s, which was when he had first met his good friend, Trond (now a Watford resident and season ticket holder).  One of the visitors had been to our match at Kaiserslautern, so these were not tourists jumping on the Premier League bandwagon at Watford.

Consensus after the game was that we would have lost that one last year … and the year before … and probably the year before that.  Leicester had more possession during the game, but the Watford defence had been steadfast, restricting their shooting opportunities such that, the goal apart, Foster wasn’t tested.  The Hornets played some lovely football and it was Schmeichel who had made the more impressive saves.  Deeney put in a superb Captain’s performance that was capped with his goal and assist.  What has been particularly pleasing this season is that the second half slump has not materialized.  We continue to be challenging opposition for (almost) all of our opponents.  We now have 43 points and look likely to surpass all of our previous premier league totals making this a season to remember and cherish.

The forty years that I have been watching the Hornets have provided me with some incredible experiences.  Our small town club has punched above its weight for most of that time and given us a team to be proud of.  I have met many lovely people, made great friends and have so many happy memories.  But one of the loveliest things is to see the next generation of fans coming to games.  So many of my friends and those who sit around me in the Rookery are now bringing children and grandchildren to games and sharing the joy with them.  Our family group is one of those and the highlight of this game for me was seeing our Maddie celebrating the goals.  She may not go very often, but she is definitely a Watford fan.  It proves the adage that you can take the girl out of Watford, but you can’t take Watford out of the girl.

Pride in the Solidarity Off the Field

The tribute banner makes its way around the stand

It is a nice short journey from London to Leicester and the rail connections are excellent, but I was still surprised to arrive at St Pancras and see that there were two trains leaving within 3 minutes of each other, so took another look at my ticket to ensure I was on the one I had booked.  I took my allocated seat and found myself opposite a young Watford fan who was wearing rainbow laces in support of the Stonewall campaign to stop homophobia in the game.  I admired his choice while feeling somewhat ashamed that my boots were zipped, so I was not able to join in.

Arriving in the designated pub before midday, it was already very busy and there were a number of the Watford regular away travellers in situ.  The pub has a great selection of real ale and there was a chocolate orange stout on offer that seemed to be a particular favourite with that group, but I went for the safer option of the local bitter.  Our party soon gathered and one or two did sample the stout, but there were eyebrows raised at my sister’s tipple.  Raspberry gin just doesn’t seem right pre match.

Team news was that Gracia had made two changes bringing Holebas and Success in for Masina and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu and Success.

Doucoure and Capoue

Prior to the teams taking the field, the 1881 unveiled two banners that they had crowdfunded to pay tribute to Khun Vichai and the other victims of the tragic helicopter crash.  When the large one was unfurled, I found myself under it, but I could see the Leicester fans in the stand to the left of us and they were all on their feet applauding.  After a short time the banner was surfed across the stand and it was lovely to see it move from the away to the home stand and to be moved around as it would have been in the Rookery.  The appreciation of the home fans was reflected by the Leicester announcer who started his reading of the team sheets with “To the Watford fans, thank-you.”

Watford had the first chance of the game as Deulofeu and Pereyra combined to advance before finding Doucouré whose shot was deflected for a corner that came to nothing.  But disaster struck for the Hornets on 11 minutes as Vardy ran on to a through ball in to the box, Foster came out to challenge, Vardy went down and the referee pointed to the spot.  The challenge was right in front of us and looked like a definite penalty, although the Leicester man did go down rather easily.  Vardy doesn’t miss those chances and powered past Foster to give the home side an early lead.

Holebas takes a corner

The visitors tried to strike back immediately as some great work led to a corner, the delivery from Holebas was met by the head of Success, but Schmeichel got a hand to it and it went out for another corner.  Watford were two goals down soon after as a mistake in the midfield gifted the ball to the opposition, Albrighton played a long pass to Maddison, who shook off the attentions of the Watford defenders with a bit of ball juggling before volleying past Foster.  The Foxes had a chance to increase their lead further, but Pereira shot over the target.  They threatened again as the ball was played through the legs of Doucouré to Demarai Gray whose shot was deflected for a corner.  This was taken short and turned into a chance for the Hornets when an attempted forward pass hit Deulofeu who broke at speed, and found Success, who should have done better, but shot over the target.  At this point, word spread through the away end that Vichai’s son, Khun Top, would pay for all the food and drink consumed by the away fans at half time.  A lovely gesture.  But there was still action on the pitch and in the last minute of the half Watford won a free kick.  It took an age to take as the referee insisted that it was taken from a certain spot, inches from where it had originally been placed, and Deulofeu’s delivery disappointingly cleared the bar.

So we reached half time two goals down due to Leicester making the most of the few chances that they had.  A decent contingent of the away support made their way to the concourse to drown their sorrows and, as promised, the beer (and tea and coffee) flowed and the tills were closed.

Gathering for a corner

Watford had the first chance of the second half as the ball was crossed to Success in the box, but he had no space and just side footed it into an area occupied by Leicester players.  Then Deulofeu found Success in space in the box and, with an open goal in front of him, he passed the ball to Schmeichel.  Deulofeu broke again, this time finding Pereyra whose shot was agonizingly just wide of the far post.  Gracia made a double substitution at this point with Deulofeu, who had created a great deal, and Pereyra, who had another quiet game, making way for Gray and Deeney.  It was an attacking substitution, but the home side had the next chance and I was mightily relieved to see Demarai Gray’s shot rebound off the post.  The first caution of the game went to Albrighton for handball.  The Hornets should have pulled a goal back when Holebas crossed for Andre Gray, who had a free header but managed to direct it wide of the target.  The Watford man had another chance soon after as Success played the ball back to him, but he wasn’t expecting it and hit a shot that looked more like a cross and drifted wide.  The home side made a couple of substitutions with first Söyüncü replacing Gray and then Iheanacho coming on for Vardy.  Watford had another promising chance as Femenía crossed for Success, he played it back to Gray who horribly miskicked the ball and the danger was gone.  Gracia made his last change bringing Chalobah on for Hughes.  Watford had another chance to get on the scoresheet from a corner as the ball was headed out to Doucouré, but his shot flew over the bar.  Then there was more frustration for the travelling Hornets as a cross from Femenía was blocked, the ball fell to Chalobah but his shot was also blocked.  The first card for the visitors was shown to Success for a high boot, although he didn’t seem to make much contact, so it appeared rather harsh. Puel made his final substitution bringing Iborra on for Evans.  In time added on, the Hornets were reduced to ten men as Capoue was dismissed for a coming together with Iheanacho.  I didn’t see the contact at the time, but the television pictures indicated that it was a very harsh decision.  The last chance of the game fell to the home side as Maddison tried a shot from distance, but Foster was equal to it.

Holebas takes a throw-in

As the players came over to thank the fans they faced the additional challenge of a phalanx of mowers that had been employed to trim the pitch.  Leicester stewards have a reputation for being inflexible and aggressive but this level of weaponry was a new one on me.

After another defeat for the Hornets, the overwhelming feeling among the away following was frustration.  It had not been a bad performance, but our defence had been unable to cope with the Leicester counter attacks, while our domination of the possession and goal attempts did not lead to one on target shot.  For all the complaints about tactics and personnel, all the ‘strikers’ had their chances and not one of them tested the Leicester keeper.  It is hard to know how to remedy that.  We face Manchester City on Tuesday and, given their form, I am sorely tempted to go to the Herts Senior Cup game in Leverstock Green instead (I won’t).

But, despite the disappointment on the pitch, what we will remember from this game is the kindness of the 1881 in commissioning a banner to pay tribute to Leicester’s chairman and the reaction that this provoked from both his family and the fans.  It was an emotional moment as the banner was unfurled in the away end, but when I saw Top’s reaction on Match of the Day, it was clear how much it meant to him.  There are bitter rivalries on the pitch, but we are all football fans and that camaraderie between fans of different teams in times of trouble is what makes being a football fan special.  Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was not a Leicester native, but he made a tremendous difference to the lives of the people of that city and will be fondly remembered for what he did for both the football team and the city.  May he rest in peace.

Success in the Boxing Day Fox Hunt

Wague making his first start

After a lovely Christmas day with the family, it was off to Vicarage Road to see if we could arrest the recent slump.   The Boxing Day game is one of the first that I look for when the fixtures come out.  I always look forward to them, even if they rarely give us anything to cheer (I am still smarting from the injury time goal by Kirk Stephens in 1979).  I had anticipated traffic and trouble parking but, once I had negotiated the classic car rally in Sarratt, it was plain sailing and I was surprised to be waved into the car park at the West Herts and find it almost empty.  Happily, our table was pleasantly populated although, as he likes to make sure he doesn’t miss anything, Don had already made his way to the ground.

Team news was that Wagué was to make his first start for the Hornets in place of Prödl.  Holebas and Gray also made way for Zeegelaar and Doucouré on their return from suspension.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Wagué, Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Doucouré, Watson; Carrillo, Cleverley, Pereyra; Richarlison.  The team selection was described as ‘random’ by one of our party.  It was noticeable that there was no striker in the starting XI but, given the lack of end product from the current incumbents, that was an option that had been discussed after the game on Saturday.  As we walked along Vicarage Road to the ground, Glenn predicted a 3-1 win.  He was feeling a lot more positive than I was.

Heurelho Gomes

Following the coin toss, the teams swapped ends, an event that is seen by many as a bad omen.  But my brother-in-law pointed out that having a female lino usually leads to good fortune, so the omens cancelled each other out.

The first fifteen minutes of the game was notable for the three yellow cards that were shown.  The first to Leicester’s Maguire, before Watson and Kabasele followed him into the referee’s book.  The first goal chance went to the visitors after a slack defensive header by Janmaat was intercepted, Chilwell’s cross was headed goalwards by Okazaki, but Gomes pulled off a flying save, tipping it over the bar.  A lovely move by the Hornets saw Carrillo beat a player to get into the box and pull the ball back to Pereyra who tried a back-heel towards the goal which was blocked.  Carrillo gave the ball away in midfield allowing Albrighton to release Vardy, who broke forward but, with only Gomes to beat, managed to find the side netting at the near post, much to the relief of the home fans.  Watford had a decent chance from a free kick which dropped to Doucouré, but his shot was blocked.  The next caution was earned by Dragović, who pulled Pereyra to the ground to stop him escaping.

Celebrating Wague’s goal

The visitors threatened with a shot from Mahrez which probably looked more dangerous than it was as it flew through a crowd of players who may have unsighted Gomes, so I was relieved to see it nestle in the keeper’s arms.  Leicester took the lead in the 37th minute as Albrighton crossed for Mahrez to head past Gomes.  It was a sickener as it followed a decent spell of play by the Hornets.  After recent set-backs, you could only see one result following, but the Hornets reacted well and should have equalised almost immediately as Carrillo played a lovely through-ball to Richarlison. With only Schmeichel to beat, an instinctive shot would probably have done the job, but the young Brazilian overthought it, delayed the shot and found the side-netting.  There was some light relief as a coming together between Pereyra and Ndidi resulted in the Leicester man tumbling over the hoardings.  I know that it could have ended in injury, but it always make me laugh and, thankfully, he returned to the field with no harm done.  That proved to be the Argentine’s last involvement in the game as he was withdrawn due to a knock and replaced by Okaka.  A change that was greeted with approval by the home fans.  The Hornets equalised as the clock reached 45 minutes when a corner from Cleverley was met with an overhead kick from Richarlison that was blocked, but it fell to Wagué who finished past Schmeichel.  The home side could have taken the lead in time added on at the end of the half as a lovely move finished with Cleverley finding Richarlison on the left of the box, his shot was powerful and cannoned off the post, but it sent the Vicarage Road faithful into the break with smiles on their faces.

Richarlison and Wague challenging at a corner

The guest for the half-time draw was Nigel Gibbs, who commented that he had been home for Christmas earlier than expected after the managerial change at Swansea.  It is always lovely to see Gibbsy back at Vicarage Road and, as he approached the Rookery on his way back into the stand, he was given a tremendous reception, which he clearly appreciated.

Early in the second half, a lovely ball over the top from Watson reached Richarlison who looked as though he’d escape, but his first touch was too heavy and the chance was gone.  The first goal attempt of the second half fell to the home side as Carrillo found Doucouré on the edge of the box, he had time to swap feet and pick his spot, but his shot sailed well over the bar.  Leicester had a great chance to regain the lead as a dangerous cross looked as though it would drop nicely for Vardy, but Gomes was first to the ball.  At the other end Richarlison found Okaka, who tried an overhead kick which flew wide of the post.  A dangerous counter attack by the visitors was foiled as Watson did well to get back and cut out Albrighton’s cross before it reached Vardy.

Congratulating Doucoure after the winner

The Hornets took the lead on 65 minutes following a Cleverley free-kick.  From our vantage point at the opposite end of the ground, Doucouré’s shot appeared to have been cleared off the line.  There was a pause as the Watford players claimed the goal, the referee looked at his ‘watch’ and, as I held my breath, pointed to the centre circle, sending the Rookery into wild celebrations.  Leicester made two substitutions replacing Okazaki and Dragović with Slimani and Gray.  It appeared that Glenn’s score prediction would be spot on as Cleverley robbed Chilwell and advanced on goal, but his shot was just wide of the far post.  Puel’s last change saw Ulloa coming on for King.  The visitors had a great chance to draw level from a corner as the ball dropped to Morgan, but Gomes did brilliantly to block the shot.  The keeper was called into action again from the resultant corner, dropping to save Ulloa’s header, and the danger was averted.  Silva made a couple of late substitutions, bringing Prödl on for Watson, followed by Carrillo, who had another great game, making way for Sinclair.  I must admit that it was a relief to see only three minutes of added time.  There was time for a lovely passing move up the wing which finished with a cross to Okaka, who won a corner and used up some of the remaining seconds.  The last action of the game was a cross from Albrighton that was gathered by Gomes under a challenge from Maguire that he did not appreciate, he was raging at both the player and the referee.  But he was to end the game with a smile on his face as Watford grabbed a win that was probably deserved based on the quality of the play, if not the tally of shots on target.

This game wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a pleasing return to some kind of form.  Following a couple of lack lustre performances, the work rate that had been such a pleasing aspect of the play in the early part of the season was back, with players pressuring their opponents, giving them no space to play and causing them to make mistakes.  Wagué played well on his full debut, topping it off with a goal.  What had appeared to be a bit of a makeshift team had given us the best ninety minutes for some time and provided a rather lovely finish to this Christmas.  We just need to continue in the same vein against Swansea.

Beating the Champions

The pathetic haul for the adults in the game

The pathetic haul for the adults in the game

After the international break, it was lovely to be back home for the game against Leicester.  The week off had provided some precious time to recover from the horror of the defeat to Liverpool, we could only hope that the players had also recovered.  There was a lot made pre-game of the fact that we were facing the current champions, but their form so far this season meant that we went into the match hopeful of getting a result.

As we gathered in the West Herts, we made this another sort of game day.  Our party occasionally play a game for which everyone brings in a number of wrapped ‘gifts’ with a certain theme.  They are placed in the centre of the table then a pack of cards is dealt to the participants.  As the cards from a second pack are revealed, if you match that card you take a gift.  When all the gifts are gone, you start stealing from other participants.  Everyone has their strategy in this game.  Some like the gifts in very shiny paper, another, who will remain nameless, targets the girls to steal their gifts.  It can get rather rowdy at times.  But this game (with the theme being ‘J’) took on a very different tone to usual when five-year-old Holly decided to take part.  She was an early winner (never a good thing), but it was a hard-hearted soul who was going to steal from her stash (the look of horror when someone tried was a picture), so she continued to amass gifts while the rest of us swapped the pitiful remainder between ourselves.  It has to be said that the unwrapped gifts are not a patch on the shiny packages and she was less than impressed when she opened a set of men’s underwear (jockey shorts) but a stash of jelly babies and jaffa cakes meant that she went home happy.

The opening scorer lines up for the restart

The opening scorer lines up for the restart

Mazzarri made two changes from the Liverpool game with Ighalo and the suspended Holebas making way for Zúñiga and Prödl.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Janmaat, Pereyra, Behrami, Capoue, Zúñiga; Amrabat and Deeney.

No sooner had we taken our seats after kick-off but we were out of them again as Capoue opened the scoring after Pereyra had broken forward and delivered a cross that was knocked down by Deeney for the Frenchman to hit home.  All of a sudden the cobwebs were swept away, the horror of Liverpool was forgotten and football was fun again.  I had a slight panic as the ball went in and I realized that my camera and notebook were still in my bag.  I am usually able to retrieve them at leisure during the first few minutes of the game.  Pereyra impressed again with some lovely skill to beat a defender on the wing.  It isn’t often that the big screen shows a replay of a player beating an opponent, but this was well worth repeated viewings.  He produced something even better soon afterwards as he cut into the box and curled an exquisite shot into the top corner.  Just when it was looking like it would be our day, Vardy broke into the box.  He was going nowhere but Britos couldn’t resist putting in a tackle, the Leicester striker went down and the referee pointed to the spot.  Despite encouraging chants from the Rookery for Gomes, Mahrez sent him the wrong way and reduced the deficit.

Celebrating Pereyra's fantastic goal

Celebrating Pereyra’s fantastic goal

There followed chances from corners at both ends of the field in quick succession.  First Kaboul met a delivery from Capoue with a header that flew wide of the near post.  Then Albrighton’s corner was headed over the bar by Huth.  It had been a breathless first 20 minutes and one of my neighbours commented on the notes that I had made so far hoping that I had the energy to keep up.  But it calmed down after that and I was able to notice other aspects of the day such as the fact that there was a huge number of blue and white beanie hats on show in the away end.  It was confirmed after the game by some Leicester fans, that these had been left on the seats, a gift from the owner (who regularly plies them with pints and doughnuts).  They commented that most of them were on the ground by the end of the game, but one of them had kept his as it was proudly on display on the table in the West Herts.  The home side received a couple of bookings, first Zúñiga for a foul on Vardy that looked fairly innocuous (but don’t they always due to his propensity for falling), then a puzzling caution for Britos which could only have been for complaining about the Leicester wall at a free kick.  Watford had a great chance to increase the lead in the 37th minute as Deeney went on a run before playing a square ball to Amrabat in the box.  Sadly, with the goal at his mercy, the Dutchman failed to connect and the chance went begging.  There were boos at half time but, on this occasion, they were aimed at the referee as the performance of the Hornets had been very pleasing indeed.

Lining up in the box waiting for a corner

Lining up in the box waiting for a corner

The start of the second half was considerably calmer and it was the 64th minute before there was a real goal chance as Amrabat battled past a defender to get into the box, cut the ball back for Janmaat whose cross was headed goalwards by Pereyra, but Zieler was able to make the save.  Watford had another chance to increase the lead as Pereyra delivered a corner that Kaboul headed just wide.  The visitors made the first substitutions bringing Schlupp and Gray on for Fuchs and Okazaki.  Another great chance went begging for the Hornets as Capoue delivered a perfect corner, but Prödl failed to connect.  Amrabat should have done better as he burst in to the box and hit a quick shot that flew wide when Deeney was in space.  Troy could not hide his frustration with his team mate.  Leicester’s final substitution saw Albrighton make way for Musa.  Leicester had a flurry of chances to grab a late equalizer, but the Hornet defence stood strong blocking all attempts to play the ball into the box.  Mazzarri’s first change came in the 87th minute as Amrabat made way for Guedioura.  Nordin looked annoyed at being replaced, even though he had been limping after a tackle a little earlier.  The final change saw Okaka on for Deeney, again the player leaving the field did not look happy with his manager’s decision.  As the fourth official indicated five additional minutes, there were some nerves in the away end, but the only Leicester attempt in time added on was a shot from Vardy that flew high and wide, not troubling Gomes in the Watford goal.

Challenging in the Leicester box

Challenging in the Leicester box

Unlike the end of the game at Liverpool when, understandably, almost all of the players disappeared straight down the tunnel, there was a lap of the stands by the whole team, even those who usually make do with a perfunctory clap towards the crowd.  It was appreciated as it gave us a chance to congratulate them all as we celebrated a terrific win.

This was the best performance that Watford have put in for some time.  The fast start and the early goals set us up well, but the game could not continue at that pace.  However Watford had the best of the later chances and, when challenged, the defence resisted everything that was thrown at them meaning that Gomes didn’t have to make a save worthy of the name.  Deeney was more involved than he has been for a few weeks and, had he been a little more selfish, may well have scored his 100th goal.  Behrami was back on form in the midfield, which always helps both the attack and the defence.  Then there was Pereyra who gave us a couple of moments that were worth the price of admission on their own.  Watford now have 18 points from the first 12 games, which is a 10 point improvement on their haul in the same games last season, and are sitting pretty in eighth place in the table and are there on merit.  This season is just getting better and better.

A Narrow Loss to the League Leaders

Amrabat and Ighalo line up to kick off

Amrabat and Ighalo line up to kick off

After the narrow (and frustrating) defeat midweek, we were back at Vicarage Road for the visit of the team that were currently top of the table.  I thought that I had arrived at the West Herts ridiculously early, but there was already a good crowd inside, including a bloke in a Leicester shirt sitting on his own watching the Spurs vs Arsenal game, hoping for a draw.  Needless to say he was very happy as he left for the ground.

When the team was first announced, there were three changes from midweek as Aké, Suárez and Amrabat came in for Holebas, Behrami and Abdi.  However, Britos was injured during the warm-up, meaning that Holebas was reinstated in the starting line-up and Aké was moved to central defence.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Aké, Prödl, Nyom, Suárez, Watson, Capoue, Deeney, Amrabat and Ighalo.  Former loanee, Danny Drinkwater, started for the visitors.

I had been told before the game that there was to be a foil display in the Rookery, but there was nothing in evidence when I arrived until a banner appeared over my head as the teams came out.  It is always a bit of an anti-climax when you find yourself under the banner, but my sister quickly found the image on social media and it was another triumph for the 1881.

Flores and Ranieri in the dug outs

Flores and Ranieri in the dug outs

Watford had the first chance of the game as Holebas exchanged passes with Deeney before his shot was deflected into the arms of Schmeichel.  At the other end, Vardy latched on to a long ball and beat Prödl, but his shot was blocked by Aké.  Following a Leicester corner, Watford failed to clear and the ball fell to Fuchs whose shot was saved by Gomes.  From a Watson free kick, Aké rose above the defence and headed on to the back of the crossbar.  Leicester’s next attack came as Vardy advanced to the left of the box but, with Prödl in attendance, he took a quick shot which flew wide of the far post.  Watson gave the ball away in midfield but redeemed himself by tracking back and winning the ball on the by line before coolly playing it out of defence.  Drinkwater received a ball in the box, but his shot was blocked by Watson.  Then Prödl failed to stop a Leicester break when he lost sight of the ball which reached Mahrez, who passed to Vardy who shot wide of the near post.  Ighalo rode a nasty tackle before breaking down the right wing and crossing for Deeney who shot into the arms of Schmeichel.  The first booking of the game came when Amrabat appeared to be pulled over on the edge of the box, but was booked for a dive.  Leicester failed to test Gomes when Morgan met a Simpson cross with a weak header that was straight at the Watford keeper.  At the other end, Ighalo touched the ball into the path of Deeney who was bearing down on goal, but his shot was high and wide.

Gomes takes a goal kick

Gomes takes a goal kick

So we reached half time goalless after an even half of few chances, but some lovely football.  On the pitch at half time were Nic Cruwys and Ollie Floyd.  Nic thanked the club and the fans for the support that they had given him during his recovery and alerted us to a fundraiser for Headway Hertfordshire that will be held at Hemel Town at the end of July.

Ranieri made two changes at the start of the second half, replacing Okazaki and Albrighton with King and Schlupp.  There was an early chance for the Hornets as Suárez went on a dangerous looking run, but his shot was deflected and saved by Schmeichel.  The visitors took the lead on 56 minutes as a poor clearance dropped to Mahrez who hit a lovely curling shot that beat Gomes.  While the clearance that reached Mahrez could have been better, sometimes you just have to admire the strike that led to the goal and it was a beauty.  Watford had a chance to break back almost immediately as Deeney received a knock down from Ighalo, but his shot was blocked.  Watford then had a period when they looked vulnerable.  First a cross from Kanté was headed goalwards by Huth and it took a good save from Gomes to keep it out.  Then a low cross from Vardy that was cleared by Aké.  But the home side continued to challenge with a ball over the top which hit Ighalo, so the chance was gone, when it may have been better for him to duck out of the way to allow it to reach Amrabat who was lurking behind him.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

A Leicester break came to nothing as the cross was stopped by Aké.  Then Amrabat crossed towards Ighalo but the ball was cleared back to the Dutchman who fell over before recovering to hit a shot that was easy for Schmeichel.  Watford’s first substitution came on 65 minutes when Abdi replaced Suárez.  Mahrez had a chance to increase the lead, but this time his shot was caught by Gomes.  Leicester threatened again as a free kick from Fuchs was headed well wide by Huth.  Fuchs was then booked for a cynical foul on Amrabat.  Watford had a great chance to equalize as a Nyom cross was helped on by Deeney to Ighalo who headed straight at Schmeichel when he should have done better.  Watford’s second substitution saw Nyom replaced by Anya.  Another chance for an equalizer went begging as a cross from Amrabat was cleared to Abdi who put a poor shot wide of the near post.  With five minutes remaining, Mahrez, who had pulled up with an injury, was replaced by Amartey.  Leicester had another chance, but failed to test Gomes with a poor shot from Schlupp that flew in to the side-netting.  Watford’s final substitution saw Oularé replace Capoue.  He was immediately involved, heading the ball down to Amrabat who passed to Ighalo, who was crowded out before he could shoot.  Watford had another late chance to equalize as Ighalo played the ball out to Aké, but the youngster shot over the target.  In time added on, Watford won a free kick which Watson hit wide of the far post.  It has to be said that his set pieces had been poor on the day, but that didn’t justify the level of abuse that was coming from the rows behind me in the Rookery.

Deeney and Ighalo waiting for a goal into the box

Deeney and Ighalo waiting for a goal into the box

It was another disappointing loss but we had matched the league leaders in all areas of the field except the strikeforce.  Ighalo and Deeney had struggled again and, while Vardy had been fairly quiet, Mahrez won the game with a beautiful strike.  There was a lot of negative comment after the game, but I came home with a number of positives.  The combination of Capoue and Holebas on the left wing had been a joy at times.  Aké had been excellent in his stand-in role in the centre of defence.  Amrabat’s contribution grows with every game.  His booking notwithstanding, he appears to have learned that referees in the Premier League are less likely to give a free kick if you fall down so he has become a stronger battler and is impressing.  Suárez also continues to impress with his lovely touch.  We just need a goal for one of our forwards and the floodgates could open.  Still, despite those around us winning points, that was not the case for those in the relegation places so we look safe this season.  It would just be nice to pick up a few more points to consolidate our mid table position.  In August, I never thought I would be saying that.

 

Punished by Our Mistakes

One small step for the Hornets ...

One small step for the Hornets …

I left home ridiculously early to get into London for the train to Leicester.  After experiencing over-running engineering works and a closed tube line, I was glad that I did as my plan of a leisurely coffee did not come to fruition.  The delays did, however, give me plenty of time to read the chapter about *that goal* in Tales from the Vicarage 4, and a cracking chapter it is too.  After a short train journey north and a walk in the drizzle, we found our pre-match meeting place locked up.  Since there were a couple of others hanging around we waited and five minutes later the doors were opened and we bagged a prime spot in a large corner with a number of tables to accommodate what was likely to be a large group.  The décor was very interesting, the walls being decorated with framed sets of stamps with a space theme, including Star Wars, Star Trek and proper space travel.  There was even a space suit in the opposite corner.

A number of us had been to the At Our Place event in the week, so happily updated the others on the sterling performances from delightful Quique, from whom I demanded and received the promised hug, hilarious and straight-forward Troy Deeney, reassuring Scott Duxbury and Luke Dowling, who is having a ball.

One of the blackboards in the pub welcomed the Bochum 1848 Blue Army alongside a list of their Oktoberfest beers and, sure enough, we were soon joined by a group of blue shirted fans speaking German.  When the time was right, they went into the ‘square’ outside the pub for their photo opportunity that, following German tradition, included pyrotechnics.

The Last Post sounds

The Last Post sounds

As we left to walk to the ground, the rain had stopped and the sun had come out.  This appeared to be a welcome development until we got inside the ground and realized that we would have to spend the first half shielding our eyes if we were to see anything.  Photography was almost impossible.  There were the usual ceremonies for Remembrance Day, with the added oddity of the match ball being delivered by a helicopter.  The home fans held up cards which created a poppy, which was displayed as the Last Post sounded and there was a Watford FC Remembers banner on the side of the pitch in front of the travelling fans.  Sadly neither were positioned such that I could get a decent photo.

Team news was that Flores had kept faith with the team that defeated Stoke and West Ham, so the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Anya, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.  The Leicester starting line-up included former Watford loanee, Danny Drinkwater, and Jamie Vardy, who was aiming to score in the ninth game in a row.

Cathcart on the ball

Cathcart on the ball

The first on-target shot of the game came from the visitors as Anya cut the ball back to Capoue whose shot was smothered by Schmeichel.  The Watford fans soon started baiting their counterparts with “Did you cry when Deeney scored?” to which the response was “Did you cry at Wembley?”  Oddly I think my answers to those questions would be yes and no.  Does that make me a Leicester fan?  In Watford’s next attack Cathcart played a ball forward for Anya but Schmeichel was first to it.  At the other end, Gomes had his first involvement getting down to stop a shot from Albrighton which, from behind the goal, appeared to be going wide.  Gomes was soon in action again, pulling off a terrific save to keep out Huth’s glancing header from an Albrighton free-kick, he wasn’t to know that the flag was already up for offside.  Most of those in the away stand believed that we had taken the lead in the 20th minute as Deeney played the ball to Ighalo whose shot appeared to hit the net, but actually rebounded out off the inside of the post.  I am reliably informed that Schmeichel did well to save a follow-up volley from Abdi, but I didn’t see it as I was jumping up and down celebrating the ‘goal’.  Capoue was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that flew well wide.  The home side threatened as Gomes got a hand to a cross from Fuchs, the ball eventually reached Albrighton but Gomes was equal to his shot.  A decent passing move from the Hornets finished with a cross from Abdi that went begging.  Goal machine Jamie Vardy had his first chance in the 37th minute, but his shot was weak and easy for Gomes.  In Watford’s next attack a cross from Ighalo was headed clear by Morgan before it reached Deeney.  So we reached half-time goalless, it had been a pretty even half with Ighalo’s shot the closest to breaking the deadlock.

The Italian faces a Spaniard he would like to kill

The Italian faces a Spaniard he would like to kill

There was an early second half scare for the Hornets as Mahrez robbed Abdi and played the ball through to Albrighton who advanced to shoot, but it was an easy catch for Gomes.  Leicester took the lead on 51 minutes and it was a dreadful mistake from Gomes, who should have dealt with Kanté’s shot easily, but it squirmed away from him and into the net.  I hate it when goals like that are scored, it just seems unfair.  It was made worse as I had to listen to the lad behind me going on and on about how unacceptable such a mistake was, so I was glad when an older head in his group reminded him how brilliant Gomes has been for us this season.  Watford tried to strike back as Ighalo exchanged passes with Abdi before putting in a cross that was gathered by Schmeichel.  Just before the hour, Capoue played a back heel to Nyom whose shot was high and wide.  Watford nearly shot themselves in the foot again as Capoue played a hospital ball that Vardy latched on to but he was stopped from threatening the goal by a great tackle from Britos.  On 64 minutes, Ighalo lost the ball deep in the Leicester half and, instead of fighting back as he usually does, played for a free-kick.  It wasn’t given and the Leicester break finished with Vardy being taken down by Gomes just inside the area.  The referee pointed to the spot and showed Gomes a yellow card.  Vardy hit the penalty down the middle and scored for his ninth successive game, which really hadn’t looked on the cards given his ineffectual performance on the day.

Troy steps up to take the penalty

Troy steps up to take the penalty

With 20 minutes to go, Flores made his first substitution replacing Capoue with Paredes.  The Ecuadorian made an impact soon after as he was sent tumbling in the box.  Deeney stepped up and, despite the prediction of Cassandra standing behind me, buried the penalty.  Troy didn’t waste time celebrating, instead he picked up the ball and ran back to the centre circle.  Flores immediately made a second substitution bringing Diamanti on for Nyom and dropping Anya into the full back position.  Leicester tried to regain their two goal margin as Mahrez dribbled into the box, but Gomes saved his shot.  At this point, the Watford crowd woke up and the whining behind me was drowned out by singing.  There was even a spot of bouncing which only served to demonstrate that the crisp bowl (or whatever it is called now) is a bit rickety.  The Rookery doesn’t move under my feet when we bounce.  The last chance of the game came 10 minutes from the end as Paredes appeared to be tripped, but he’d managed to pass to Deeney whose shot from outside the area was caught by Schmeichel.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

So, we were defeated, which was disappointing as we deserved a point from the game.  Leicester have had a great start to the season, but the only difference between the teams was that their misplaced passes rebounded to their own players more often than ours did.  Gomes earned massive respect from the travelling fans by coming straight over to us, pointing to himself and mouthing “It was me.”  As he turned to leave the pitch, he was serenaded with “Heurelho Gomes Baby” which pleased me greatly and hopefully gave him some comfort.  Everyone there knew what he has contributed so far this season and that, despite his mistakes in this game, his account is still very much in the black.

Some consolation for the result came with the knowledge that we would go into the next international break in 11th position with a points total that is equidistant between the Champions League places and the relegation zone.  When you look at it that way there can be no complaints.

An Unexpected Point

Taking the field

Taking the field

The success against Brighton last week gladdened the heart, but we could have done without following it up with a trip to Leicester.  Based on their performance at Vicarage Road earlier this season, they are the best team in this division by a considerable margin and the Championship table certainly backs that view.  Leaving the station on arrival, I was confronted by high winds that made walking difficult and didn’t bode well for the game, but I was soon tucked up in a warm pub with a pint of real ale wondering whether I should stay there all afternoon.

On arrival at the ground, I was told that the official supporter coach hadn’t made it.  Terrible traffic had meant that it arrived for the pick-up in Watford ridiculously late and that the driver was out of time by the time they got to Toddington, so they turned around after he’d had his break.  I really feel for those who use the coach, a number of whom are friends, as they missed a cracking game.

Tozser lines up a free kick

Tozser lines up a free kick

When the team was announced, I was disappointed to hear that Hall, who had been immense on Sunday, had been dropped to the bench with Cassetti moving back to take his place in the centre of the back three.  Merkel was the other to make way with Faraoni and Murray the replacements, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Anya, Tözsér, Murray, Battocchio, Faraoni, Forestieri and Deeney.

Leicester fans started their taunting early with “Did you cry at Wembley?” which was a bit foolish as it was immediately answered with “Did you cry when Deeney scored?”  Well, one of their players did.  Pre-match predictions were confounded as we went a goal up within 10 minutes, Deeney and Forestieri exchanged

Forestieri receives congratulations after scoring

Forestieri receives congratulations after scoring

passes before Troy crossed and Forestieri headed past Schmeichel.  Yes, really, a header from Forestieri!  Leicester had a great chance to equalize soon after as a corner reached Wasilewski in the middle of the box, but he headed wide when it looked easier to score.  Then Murray played a lovely long ball to Deeney who squared to Forestieri, but the Argentine was quickly closed down before he could shoot.  At the other end, a cross from Drinkwater was met with a back flick from Vardy which went wide.  Vardy threatened again soon after, this time meeting a cross from Konchesky with a header which flew over the bar.  Konchesky then made his way into the referee’s book after hacking down Faraoni.  On 24 minutes, Watford won their first corner of the game.  Tözsér’s delivery reached Deeney who headed down to Faraoni but he shot into the side netting.  The jeers from the home crowd that greeted this seemed to be down to relief on their part as there had not

Attacking a corner

Attacking a corner

been great celebrations in the away end.  On the half hour, a pass from Angella that Ian Bolton would have been proud of reached Forestieri on the edge of the area, he cut the ball back to Deeney whose powerful shot flew well over the bar.  The wind then threatened an equalizer as an innocuous looking corner from James changed direction and Almunia had to get a hand to it to divert it for a corner.  Then Dyer ran in to the box and cut the ball back for Nugent (he always scores against us) who wellied over (phew!).  Knockaert put a dangerous ball into the box and Angella did well to intercept and avert the danger.  Watford had a great chance for a second as a Tözsér corner reached Angella who took the ball down and hit an overhead kick that required a good save from Schmeichel to

Murray celebrating his goal

Murray celebrating his goal

keep it out.  We were not to be denied for long, though, as on 40 minutes, Forestieri battled to win the ball in the corner cut back to Anya who found Murray whose low shot from distance beat Schmeichel to nestle in the bottom corner.  At this point there was a mass exodus from the home stand to join the queue for a half-time cuppa.  More fool them as a couple of minutes later James got on the end of a cross from De Laet to cut the deficit.  It was disappointing to concede so soon after our second, but the build up for the goal was excellent.

Ekstrand in control

Ekstrand in control

Early in the second half, Almunia came to gather a cross from Konchesky, but Nugent was challenging with Ekstrand in attendance, the Swede clattered into the keeper so there was a delay as both Watford players received treatment.  Almunia needed a clear head almost immediately as Forestieri played a long ball in the direction of Deeney, which Morgan reached first and launched back for Vardy to break, he was one-on-one with the keeper but Almunia came out and made the clearance.  Then a flick from Faraoni found Forestieri in the box, he tried a shot that landed on the top of the net but had been flagged offside anyway.  Then Konchesky launched a speculative shot from distance that was well over the bar.  Konchesky threatened again with a deep cross that Almunia punched clear.  On 65 minutes, there was a brilliant break for Watford as Ekstrand released Forestieri but, instead of shooting, he opted to pass and put too much weight on it so Deeney received the ball at a tight angle and the chance was gone.  The Watford defending remained resolute as a shot from James was blocked by Murray and looped safely into Almunia’s arms.  Leicester

Watford on the attack

Watford on the attack

really should have equalised in the 70th minute as Dyer cut a cross back to Nugent but his point-blank header was wide of the target.  At this point, Pudil replaced Faraoni.  Nugent had another chance but his header was straight at Almunia.  Then Cassetti was booked for barging Vardy out of the way.  Vardy soon made way for Kevin Philips and my heart sank.  Dyer was also withdrawn for Mahrez.  Watford’s next counter attack came through the substitute, Pudil, who went on a run down the left but his shot was straight at Schmeichel.  With five minutes to go, Sannino opted to shore up the defence as Hall replaced Forestieri, who left the field to boos from the home crowd.  We changed to a 4-4-2 formation with Anya moving further forward.  Leicester’s next substitution was an attacking one bringing Woos on for Wasilewski.  Leicester’s quest for a second goal continued as

Almunia takes a free kick surrounded by litter

Almunia takes a free kick surrounded by litter

Almunia pulled off a brilliant save from a close range shot from Phillips after good work from Nugent, but he needn’t have bothered as the flag was up for offside.  In time added on, Cassetti pulled the ball back to Murray but his short was poor and well wide of the target.  Leicester were pushing hard for the equaliser as first a shot from Phillips and then the follow-up from James were blocked.  Philips then crossed for Mahrez whose header was blocked by Ekstrand.  Alas, we could not survive the onslaught.  Leicester’s equalizer came in the fourth minute of added time as the ball fell to Drinkwater outside the box and his shot flew past Almunia.  It has to be said that this was not the former Watford player that we were expecting to get the winner.  Knockaert came over to goad the travelling Hornets and the home fans suddenly woke up.  Last roll of the dice for Watford was the introduction of Merkel for Battocchio.  In the last couple of minutes, Leicester could have won the game as Nugent found James in the box but a lovely sliding tackle from Pudil saved the day.  From the corner Nugent shot wide and it ended honours even.

A fair challenge?

A fair challenge?

I realise that my notes of the chances make it sound as if the second half had been even, when in fact it felt like a 45 minute onslaught from Leicester with Watford restricted to counter attacks.  But our defence deserves great credit for the fact that the Leicester possession did not translate into clear cut chances.  Special mention must go to the travelling fans who made a tremendous noise throughout the ninety minutes.  Also to the Leicester fans whose chant of “We’ll never play you again” betrayed a quite staggering level of delusion and prompted a conversation about whether they are the smallest club to believe they are a big club.  At the end of the game, despite the fact that we’d thrown away a two goal lead for the third game in four, most Watford fans left the ground happy with a point away at the league leaders, particularly as it had taken them until the 94th minute to win the point.  This had been another well-organized effort from the Hornets which augurs well for the remainder of the season.