Tag Archives: Willian

Ben Foster Almost a Hero in Both Boxes

Daryl Janmaat

Our games this season have been mostly Saturday 3pm kick-offs, which has been a bit of a relief, but the visit of Chelsea meant an evening game and the stress that change to the matchday routine causes.  Having a commitment in Hertfordshire on Sunday meant that I decided to drive to Watford and stay over after the game.  This meant that I was leaving home horribly late for a matchday and arriving in Watford around normal kick-off time.  Thankfully, I arrived to very light traffic so knew that I hadn’t made a mistake.  I arrived at the West Herts just as Don was leaving for the ground so got to say Hello and congratulate him on his appearance in the club’s anti hate crime video which I had only caught up with this week.  Our usual crowd were depleted, but Elaine was there having been forced to take a detour for some Christmas shopping when she was alerted to the late kick-off, the news of which had passed her by.

We left the West Herts a bit later than was comfortable so, despite my recurring thought that I should really stay in the pub, I was rushing so that I wouldn’t miss kick-off.  We arrived in Vicarage Road to be greeted with a number of touts and one merchandise stand that had exclusively Chelsea scarves and tat, which irritated me immensely.

Our complaints about the leak in the Rookery roof had led to us being relocated for this game, so we headed for the SEJ stand where our seats were in the area where the players’ families are usually located.  My sister’s opinion when I arrived was, “The view is great, but it is a bit touristy.”

Ben Foster takes a goal kick

Team news was that Quique had made only the one enforced change from the Bournemouth game with Gray replacing the injured Cleverley.  Masina retained his place with Holebas left on the bench.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Kabasele, Dawson, Cathcart; Masina, Chalobah, Doucouré, Janmaat; Pereyra, Deulofeu; Gray.  There appeared to be a change in shape with Pereyra and Deulofeu playing behind Gray who was in the lone striker role.

Prior to kick-off, there was a minute’s silence to remember the fallen as this was the nearest home game to Remembrance Day.

The game did not start well for the Hornets as, in the fifth minute, Jorginho played a lovely defence-splitting pass to Abraham who ran on and finished past Foster.  There was a cheer from a lad sitting behind us, which irritated me immensely, and then Abraham slid to celebrate in front of us and I was moved to suggest to him that he celebrated somewhere else (I’m paraphrasing here).  It was not the start that we wanted or needed.  Chelsea had another chance soon after with a free kick from Mount that flew over the bar.  Ten minutes into the game, after it had been clear for a while that Cathcart was struggling, he went down needing treatment.  It was a concerning sight.

Mariappa takes a throw-in

Watford’s first goal attempt came on 14 minutes when a ball rebounded to Pereyra, he unleashed a shot but Kepa, in the Chelsea goal, was equal to it.  Abraham had a chance to increase Chelsea’s lead after a shot from Mount was deflected into his path, but this time Foster made a great save from close range.  From a corner Pulisic was left alone and Foster made a brilliant save to tip the header wide.  Twenty minutes into the game, Cathcart was unable to continue and was replaced with Mariappa.  This is the fourth game in a row that we have been forced into an early change.  There was a rare Watford attack as Janmaat released Gray, but Tomori made a tackle to stop the shot.  Then Chalobah tried a shot from distance, but, again, Tomori was on hand this time making a headed clearance.  On 38 minutes, the Hornets had a great chance to grab an equaliser as, from a corner, the ball was played out to Deulofeu who hit a lovely shot that curled just wide of the far post.  The Hornets had another late chance in the half with a shot from Doucouré which was blocked.  At the other end, Foster prevented the visitors extending their lead before half time as he tipped a shot from Mount onto the crossbar.

Steve Sherwood, the half time guest

So, despite going behind so early, we reached half time only a goal down thanks to some heroics from Foster.  It was also encouraging to note that the attacking play had been a little more promising late in the half.  The first half time interview was with a Kenyan Maasai warrior.  I missed the start, so I am not sure what the context was and why he was a Watford fan, but it was lovely to see him wearing our colours.  Then we were promised a Watford legend.  I saw this guy being escorted round and tried to work out when he had played for us.  I couldn’t put a name to the face and realised why when he was introduced as being from American Airlines, who are a new partner for the club.  He was there to meet a fan who had won two free tickets to any destination in the US.  It turned out that she and her husband were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary, so it was a timely treat.  Finally, I spotted Steve Sherwood coming past us, and all was right with my world.  He is a proper legend.


Nathaniel Chalobah

The second half started with a caution for Kabasele for a foul on Emerson.  The Hornets also had the first chance of the half as Deulofeu sped into the Chelsea area and squared for Gray whose shot was blocked.  I was then more than a little distracted as Seb Prödl had appeared and taken a seat behind us for the second half.  How on earth was I supposed to concentrate on the game?  The visitors threatened again as Willian broke forward and squared for Mount whose powerful shot drew a decent save from Foster.  Chelsea scored their second goal ten minutes into the half, a through ball released Abraham who cut the ball back to Pulisic who finished from six yards out.  It was a simple goal and a frustrating one.  The visitors had a chance to increase their lead further as Pulisic had a shot across goal, but Foster was able to get a foot to it to keep it out.  Then a cross from Azpilicueta was cleared to Kovacic whose shot was straight at Foster.  Chelsea should have had a third when a cross-cum-shot from Kovacic reached Abraham, but he was unable to turn it in.  Watford made their second substitution half-way through the second half bringing Hughes on in place of Chalobah.  Nate tried to head straight for the dugout, but the referee indicated that he should leave the field on the GT side of the ground.  This had the benefit (for him) of sending him past the Chelsea fans who greeted him with warm applause.

Deulofeu waits to take the penalty

Janmaat was booked for a foul on Pulisic before putting a cross over for Hughes whose header had no power and was easily dealt with by Kepa.  Chelsea had another decent chance with a shot from Mount, but Foster dropped to make the save.  When the board went up for Watford’s final substitution indicating that Janmaat was to make way for Femenía, boos rang out through Vicarage Road.  The boos stopped long enough for Janmaat to be cheered as he left the field, but started again as Femenía was introduced, and Quique was serenaded with “You don’t know what you’re doing.”  The boos were clearly born of frustration at Quique swapping full backs when we were two goals down and Success was sitting on the bench.  Even so, it seemed unfair on Femenía as he took the brunt of the boos.  There was then an extraordinary occurrence.  Deulofeu broke into the box, was challenged and the ball went just the wrong side of the post.  The referee indicated a goal kick, while we were shouting for a corner.  Then it became apparent that the referee was checking with the VAR.  Surely VAR don’t make decisions regarding corners.  Then it came up on the big screen “VAR checking penalty”.  I took this with a pinch of salt as there was no way that it would be awarded to us.  The decision took an age to come through and finally, the big screen announced the penalty and the referee pointed to the spot.  It turned out that Jorginho was adjudged to have tripped Geri as he tried to take the shot.  Having seen footage of it, there was contact, but it was nowhere near as clear cut as the challenge at Spurs which wasn’t given.  There was disbelief around us.  “We only wanted a corner.”  Deulofeu stepped up but had to wait an age to take it as Azpilicueta continued to argue with the ref.  When Geri finally got the chance to take the shot, he sent the keeper the wrong way and, suddenly and unexpectedly, Watford were back in the game.

No time to celebrate, Deulofeu returns the ball for the restart

The next booking for the Hornets went to Dawson for a robust challenge on Emerson.  It looked like a decent tackle to win the ball, but the man went down due to the challenge and those tackles are sadly no longer permitted.  Lampard made his first change bringing Hudson-Odoi on for Pulisic.  Watford were looking to draw level when Masina tried a shot from distance, but it was nowhere near the target.  With two minutes left on the clock, Batshuayi replaced Abraham.  He has scored every time he has faced the Hornets, so Mariappa was taking no chances and was booked for pulling him back.  The visitors won a late free kick, which Jorginho delayed until the referee cautioned him for time wasting.  Batshuayi was determined to maintain his goal scoring record against the Hornets so went on a dangerous run but his shot was blocked by Masina.  Pleasingly, Watford were continuing to attack, the next chance came from Doucouré who went on a run and took an early shot, but it was blocked.  Doucouré had another chance when he met a cross from Deulofeu, but his header was blocked.  Chelsea made their last substitution in time added on as James came on for Willian who dawdled off the field.  Watford had a couple of late chances to snatch a point.  First, Masina met a cross from Femenía with a header that flew wide of the near post.  Then, in the last minute of the game, Doucouré was fouled by Mount, who was booked for his trouble.  Foster came up for the free kick.  Deulofeu’s delivery was flicked on by Doucouré and we were all on our feet as Foster’s diving header looked to have won us a point, but Kepa managed to keep it out and the final whistle went on another defeat for the Hornets.

Gathering to defend a set piece

We headed back to the West Herts for a post-match drink where we were joined by a colleague of Jacque’s who is a Chelsea fan and was quite complimentary about the Hornets.  I have to say that it was a much better performance than midweek, but we are still far too weak up front.  I have my doubts about whether Success is the answer, but at least it would have shown some attacking intent to have brought him on late in the game.  Instead, Gray struggled again.  However, I have to say that Foster’s late header meant I left Vicarage Road with a huge smile on my face.

While we didn’t expect anything from this game, as the current Chelsea team are playing rather well, the wait for a win is becoming increasingly concerning.  We are not cut adrift yet, but we desperately need a win to kick start our season before it is too late.  We now have a run of games from which we should be expected to pick up some points, starting with the trip to Carrow Road on Friday.  It is the birthday of Amy, one of the Norfolk ‘Orns, next weekend, so they will be out in force.  It promises to get very messy off the pitch, we can only hope that the lads on the pitch give her a birthday to remember (in a good way).

A Tale of Two Penalties

Ben Foster about to launch the ball upfield

I always look forward to the Boxing Day game, so the news that it had been moved to an evening kick-off for the television cameras was met with some irritation.  A lovely afternoon walk through the Hertfordshire countryside proved a pleasant distraction from the action at the other grounds, but I was soon back to following our changing position in the table and worrying about what time to arrive for a 7:30 kick-off on a bank holiday.  Thankfully the roads were quiet and there were still seats in the West Herts when we arrived.  It was lovely to have Amelia back with us as her university studies and Saturday job have limited her attendance this season.

As we walked to the ground, it still seemed very quiet until we reached Vicarage Road and encountered a group of noisy Chelsea fans.  I was rather surprised only to see one tout on the way, they obviously take Christmas off too.  We didn’t arrive long before kick-off, but it was clear from the number of empty seats that a good number of people had decided to stay at home and watch this one on television.

Team news was that there were no changes from the win at West Ham.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Sema, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deeney and Deulofeu.  But the hottest news as the team arrived was that Pereyra disembarked from the bus wearing a santa hat.  He is a little bonkers.

Holebas in deep conversation with the referee

The travelling Chelsea fans immediately endeared themselves to me with a first minute chant of “We’ve won it all.”  At times like this my mind goes back to the mid-eighties when they used to stop the clock at Stamford Bridge 10 minutes before the end of the game so that the fans didn’t get on the backs of their struggling team.  The visitors had the first chance of the game as Pedro exchanged passes with Willian before curling a shot wide of the far post.  Watford’s first chance came from a howler by the Chelsea keeper, Arrizabalaga, who gave the ball away to Deulofeu, but the Spaniard tried a back heel that went to no one and the chance was gone.  There was a nasty incident 10 minutes into the game, as Willian rounded Foster and hit the post, Kabasele slid in to try to cut out the shot and collided heavily with the post.  He needed lengthy treatment and the stretcher was brought around, but he was able to get to his feet and return to the field.  Unfortunately, that didn’t last long and he was soon replaced by Mariappa.  Watford had a half chance as a cross from Femenía was headed down by Doucouré but the ball rolled through to the keeper.  Then Doucouré and Deulofeu combined before the Frenchman hit an angled shot that was blocked.

A very blurred celebration of Pereyra’s strike

There was an even better chance after Deeney did well to win the ball and release Pereyra who crossed for Doucouré who was in a great position, but his shot was disappointingly high and wide.  The action was straight down the other end where Azpilicueta hit a low cross which flew across the front of the goal with no Chelsea player there to apply the finishing touch.  Watford attacked again as Deulofeu intercepted a pass and broke forward before squaring for Deeney, whose shot was blocked.  The visitors were being frustrated by some great defending as first Cathcart and then Capoue (twice) snuffed out chances with brilliant tackles.  Towards the end of the half, Chelsea were forced to make a substitution replacing Pedro with Hudson-Odoi.   We were then distracted by the sight of Kabasele being wheeled out on a stretcher wearing an oxygen mask.  The Rookery rose to applaud him.  I suspect that his team mates were as perturbed as we were as, almost immediately, Capoue played a poor pass to Doucouré, Kovačič intercepted and fed Hazard who advanced and rounded Foster to open the scoring.  We were already in time added on at the end of the half, but there was still time for Watford to equalize.  Doucouré broke into the box, but the keeper dived at his feet to concede a corner.  The corner was taken short by Deulofeu, Holebas crossed and Pereyra volleyed brilliantly past Arrizabalaga.  Hopefully the cheers for the goal would have brightened Kabasele up as he made his way next door to the hospital.

So we reached half time with honours even after a decent enough half of football, even if all the shots on target had come in injury time.  My sister had kindly packed turkey sandwiches for us, which certainly hit the spot.

Deulofeu running on to a ball

Watford were shouting for a penalty after 54 minutes as Luiz flattened Deulofeu in the box.  Television pictures suggested that there was some wrestling between them, but you can’t help thinking that, had the same incident occurred in the Watford box, a penalty would have been awarded.  Needless to say, the next passage of play saw Hazard breaking into the box, Foster had no need to come out as Cathcart had it covered, but he did and pushed Hazard over.  There was no arguing with that one, it was an obvious penalty even from the opposite end of the ground, and Hazard made no mistake from the spot allowing Chelsea to regain the lead.  Foster was also booked for the foul.  It was very frustrating to be behind at this stage as the Hornets had dominated the start of the second half.  Watford fought back and Doucouré tried to find Deulofeu in the box, but the keeper just got there first.  Gracia made a second change half way through the half replacing Sema, who had a great game, with Quina.  The visitors had a decent chance to increase their lead as Willian had the ball on the edge of the box but whipped his shot wide.  Deulofeu then tried a shot from distance, but it was weak and easy for the keeper.   A mistake from Holebas allowed Hazard to break and find Kanté who shot wide of the far post.  There was a great chance for the Hornets to equalize as Doucouré played the ball in to Deeney at the near post, but Troy flicked his shot just over.  With 10 minutes to go, each side made changes as Kovačič and Hudson-Odoi (who had been the first Chelsea substitute) made way for Barkley and Emerson, and Success replaced Deulofeu for the Hornets.  Chelsea had a couple of late chances to increase their lead as, first, a corner came out to Jorginho who shot over the target.  Then Willian hit a low shot that Foster pushed around the post.  In time added on, Watford won a corner and Foster came up for it.  As the ball bounced around the box, Foster tried an overhead kick, such a shame that didn’t go in, but it certainly made me smile.  So the final whistle went on a narrow defeat for the Hornets.

Femenia, Sema and Doucoure keep an eye on Willian

Yet again, we were ruing missing our chances as we could easily have won a point in that game.  But, on the positive side, we were reflecting on a game in which we had matched one of the best teams in the country.  Watford no longer look like plucky underdogs in these games, but are playing with a similar quality to these household names.  There were regrets regarding the two penalties.  Watford’s would have been given on another day.  Chelsea’s was an unnecessary challenge by Foster but, given how well he has done for us this season, it is hard to criticise.

So we reach the half way stage of the season in the top half of the table with over twice as many points as the team in 18th place, so allowing us to continue to look up rather than down.

But the best news came this morning with a tweet from Kabasele that announced that he didn’t think that there was anything broken and “Great gesture of the goal post who visited me at hospital.”  I do love his sense of humour and it was wonderful that he let the fans know that he is better than might have been expected when we saw him taken out of the ground.  I wish him a full and speedy recovery.

Robbery at the Bridge

Toddy’s bunting

Toddy’s funeral took place on Wednesday.  It has to be said that his family and many friends gave him a magnificent send off and it was fitting that the wake was held in the Captain’s bar at Vicarage Road.  The help given to Toddy’s family by his friends at the club, especially Dave Messenger, has been outstanding and a testament to what he meant to the people there.

Due to some friends travelling in to London from distance and arriving early, I made a late choice to find a pre-match establishment in which to meet up.  So I found myself at 9:50 with a group of other Hornets waiting for the pub to open.  When we were finally admitted, it was only to find that they were not serving beer until 11.  However, the breakfast menu looked good, so I decided to have a coffee and something to eat.  I must say that smoked salmon, avocado and scrambled eggs is not my usual pre-match meal, but it was very nice indeed.  I then headed to another pub (for beer) and met some of our party at the bar.  It was a good crowd that gathered before kick-off, and rather lovely to be joined by Watford’s matchday announcers, Tim Coombs and Emma Saunders, travelling as fans for the day along with Emma’s Watford supporting family.

Gathering for a corner

Despite the weather warnings that had come due to Storm Brian (what sort of name is Brian for a storm?) it was a pleasant walk to the ground.  We saw signs for the Upper Shed so passed through security (a cursory look in my bag) only to find that we were at the entrance to the home section of the ground.  When we reached the away entrance, the security was considerably stiffer.  We had to negotiate repeating phalanxes of stewards before the final search.  I pointed out to the woman searching me that a physical search had not been deemed necessary at the home end, but she was having none of it.  I wonder if they ever find anything (apart from Mike’s Swiss Army knife).

To the seats and Dave M had secured a cracking view for the City Orns and was kindly sitting at the end of our row to keep an eye on us. Team news was just one change from the Arsenal game with Deeney, who had done so well after coming on as substitute, replacing Gray.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Kabasele, Britos; Femenía, Cleverley, Doucouré, Holebas; Pereyra, Deeney, Richarlison.

Holebas takes a free kick

After the recent runs of form for both Watford and Chelsea, we travelled to Stamford Bridge in an uncharacteristically positive mood.  But disaster struck after 12 minutes.  The ball clearly went out for a goal kick to the visitors, but the lino wasn’t paying attention.  He hesitated before making the decision, decided to take the advice of the Chelsea fans sitting behind him and awarded a corner. The delivery was taken short and found its way to Pedro who powered in off the far post, much to the anger of the travelling Hornets who let the linesman know exactly what they thought of him.  As did Jose Holebas, who was booked for his trouble.  The home side should have been two goals ahead side soon after as Fàbregas found himself in space with only Gomes to beat, but he tried to chip the keeper who reached up a hand and snuffed out the danger.  There was then a booking for either side, Mariappa for a foul on Hazard and Rüdiger for tripping Richarlison.  Both fouls looked rather soft.  Chelsea then had a couple of half chances.  Pedro tried a shot from distance that flew just wide of the far post.  Then David Luiz tried another shot from distance, but it was straight at Gomes.

Doucoure haring down the pitch to celebrate with the Watford fans

Watford came into the game on the half hour when Cleverley curled a free-kick over the wall and Courtois had to be smart to push the shot wide of the target.  Richarlison then threatened for the first time, firing over from outside the area.  The Brazilian then exchanged passes with Doucouré before shooting straight at Courtois.  At the other end, Luiz tried a shot from outside the area, but Gomes pushed the ball clear.  In time added on at the end of the half, Watford won a thrown-in in line with the penalty box.  I couldn’t believe that the players were taking so much time to take it.  First Femenía left the ball for Holebas, who took his time finding his space, he even had an aborted run-up.  I was sure that he had delayed too long and the ref would blow for half time as soon as he released the ball.  But he didn’t, it dropped for Doucouré, who fired past Courtois and the Hornets were level on the stroke of half time.  Gomes did his usual goal celebration in front of the Watford fans and Doucouré ran the length of the pitch to celebrate with us.

So it was honours even at half time, which was certainly no more than Watford deserved.

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal

Chelsea had a great chance to strike back at the start of the second half, but Mariappa was on hand to turn Azpilicueta’s cross over the bar from close range.  Then Femenía crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked allowing Chelsea to break and Pedro to send a shot from distance wide of the target.  Richarlison had a great chance to put Watford into the lead as he received a cross from Femenía, but he was a bit off balance and hit it with his left foot so it flew wide.  Had he been able to get it on to his other foot, it would have been in the net.  But the Hornets weren’t to be denied for long as a fantastic move finished with Richarlison finding Pereyra in space and he didn’t miss.  This time, the players were able to celebrate right in front of us before running to the dug-out and celebrating with the manager and the subs (and Pereyra with the medical staff).  It should have been 3-1 soon afterwards as Britos crossed for Richarlison, but the Brazilian headed just wide.  There was another booking for the home side as Morata was cautioned for a foul on Kabasele before being replaced with Batshuayi.  Sadly, Pereyra’s day was over soon after, as he took a knock winning a corner and had to be replaced by Carrillo.  The referee, who had done us no favours all afternoon allowed the corner to be taken before Carrillo came on.  The substitute made an early impression as he received a pass from Deeney before cutting back to Richarlison whose shot was deflected wide.  The home side made another substitution replacing Alonso with Willian.

A corner at the Shed end

With 20 minutes to go, and completely against the run of play, the home side levelled as Pedro crossed for Batshuayi to head past Gomes.  Watford looked to strike back as a Cleverley free-kick was met by the head of Kabasele who, sadly, directed the ball straight at the keeper.  The visitors then had another chance, this time from a corner but, again, Richarlison headed wide.  With 10 minutes to go Silva made rather an odd substitution replacing Deeney with Watson.  Chelsea had a great chance with a low free kick that reached Batshuayi who tuned it over the bar.  At the other end, Femenía’s cross was headed wide by Kabasele.  But it was the home side who took the lead as a cross from Willian reached Azpilicueta who headed home.  My reaction at the time was that this was a travesty.  The Chelsea fans started singing “That’s why we’re Champions’ which did make me laugh.  The arrogance, when they should have been somewhat shame-faced.  Silva made one last roll of the dice replacing Mariappa with Gray.  But it was Chelsea that made the further breakthrough.  There was time wasting both on and off the pitch as the ball was caught by an idiot in the crowd who decided to hold on to it, while Gomes waited for it to be returned.  There were two stewards within feet of the fool, but neither of them moved to allow the game to continue.  But more important for the outcome of the game was a moment of madness on the pitch as Britos dallied with the ball on the edge of the Watford area, then gave it away allowing Batshuayi to advance and score Chelsea’s fourth.  A scoreline that was extremely flattering to the home side.

Cleverley lines up a free kick

I was furious at the end of the game.  But we had been our own worst enemies.  In this division you cannot expect to win games if you don’t take your chances.  Watford missed some sitters, while Chelsea were clinical.

But, what the hell, there have been enough occasions in recent years when I have left Stamford Bridge fuming because we had been humiliated.  On this occasion, we were easily the equal of the home side and deserved at least a point.

When we were promoted, I really didn’t believe that we would find ourselves in such a position.  We are sixth in the table on merit, having already played 4 of the “top 6” and only been second best to Manchester City.  So I will continue to enjoy the football whether we win or lose and marvel at what a great team we are currently watching.

A Thrilling Goalless Draw


Ben Watson lining up a free kick

Ben Watson lining up a free kick

When Guus Hiddink took over at Chelsea, just before our game on Boxing Day, I certainly didn’t expect that when our home game came around they would still be unable to catch us in the table regardless of the result.  Since this was a televised game, we were able to watch the build-up on TV in the West Herts, but unable to hear what Flores had to say in the pre-match interview although the pictures were rather evocative showing his flamenco dancing aunt and plenty of Flores hugs.

Team news was that Flores had made just the two forced changes, with Britos unwell and Aké ineligible, Holebas and Prödl were in to replace them.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart Prödl, Paredes, Capoue, Watson, Behrami, Jurado, Deeney and Ighalo.

Watford started well as a promising attack from Costa was stopped by Prödl, his forward pass to Deeney was headed down to Ighalo whose shot was deflected for a corner.  Costa’s reputation goes before him, so it was pleasing from a Watford perspective to see an early dramatic fall ignored by Mike Dean, leaving him sitting on the turf while Watford broke back upfield.  He stayed on his feet in his next move and broke into the box, but Cathcart was on hand to block.

Capoue hits a free kick

Capoue hits a free kick

At the other end, Jurado released Capoue who won a corner from which there was a bit of a goalmouth scramble with three attempted shots, but the ball ended up in the arms of Courtois.  The first booking of the game went to Prödl who was penalized for a late challenge on Oscar.  A dangerous free kick from Holebas was deflected in the direction of Capoue but Courtois gathered.  The first sight of Watford substitutes warming up is usually greeted with polite applause, but the reaction this evening was more enthusiastic than usual due to the presence of our new signing Mario Suárez.  There were some hopeful shouts for a penalty from the home fans as Jurado appeared to be tripped in the box by Matic, but all appeals were waved away.  The Watford forwards combined as Deeney found Ighalo in the box, but his shot was blocked.  There followed a lovely sequence of passes around the midfield from the Hornets which drew cheers from the fans before Holebas broke forward and crossed towards Ighalo who was unable to connect.  Ighalo then battled into the box but his shot was blocked for a corner which was taken by Watson and met by the head of Prödl, but Courtois leapt to catch.  There was another chance for the Hornets as Deeney flicked the ball on to Ighalo but the Nigerian didn’t connect properly so it was easy for the keeper to gather.  Jurado, who had been impressive, beat a couple of players before feeding Capoue who unleashed a fierce shot that drew an instinctive save from Courtois.

Deeney on the ball

Deeney on the ball

A Watford free-kick was cleared only as far as Jurado who tried an overhead kick that was easily caught.  At the other end a long pass from Fabregas released Costa whose shot was deflected wide.  Chelsea had another chance with a shot from Oscar that was blocked by Prödl.  Then a moment of brilliance from Ighalo, who looked to be in a hopeless situation with two Chelsea players on him, but somehow managed to escape upfield before letting himself down by playing a terrible ball that was intercepted.  “That’s why he doesn’t pass” was the conclusion of a wit behind me.  With 5 minutes remaining of the half the Chelsea fans could finally be heard, but they were belting out a lengthy song about Frankie Lampard, which seemed rather odd under the circumstances.  Another break into the box by Holebas ended when he was tripped, but nothing given.  Then there was danger for the Hornets as Paredes played a poor pass to Capoue who failed to control which allowed Oscar to escape with the ball before finding Azpilicueta who, much to the relief of the home fans, shot wide of the far post.  The fourth official indicated a minute of added time at the end of the half, but that was extended considerably following an off the ball incident between Costa and Paredes.  I didn’t see what happened, but the Ecuadorian had collapsed holding his face and many around me were calling for a red card.  Costa had to be calmed down by a number of people, including Flores, and, eventually, both players ended in the referee’s book.  The post match consensus seemed to be that Paredes had over dramatized the contact.  Much as I dislike that aspect of the game, it was hard to sympathize with Costa, a definite case of the biter bit.

Ighalo preparing for a corner

Ighalo preparing for a corner

When the half time whistle finally sounded, Watford had been the better team.  We were playing some lovely football, but I was particularly pleased to see that our defence was organized and joining with the midfield to harry the Chelsea players and not allow them to get comfortable on the ball.  Also, Jurado, who is a marmite player for the Watford fans, was combining really well with Ighalo and Deeney.  It had all been very pleasing apart from our inability to score.

The half time draw was carried out by Nathan Aké.  The usual interview was rather engaging, so I think he was a little taken aback when Tim finished by asking whether if Chelsea got relegated there was a clause in his contract that allowed us to sign him permanently.  He laughed that off, but we can only hope.

Gomes had nothing to do in the first half, but was called into action early in the second period as a shot from Mikel took a nasty deflection and appeared to be looping in when the Brazilian leaped to tip it over the bar.  At the other end, Behrami’s pass towards Ighalo was met by Zouma who could only head clear as far as Deeney whose volley was just wide of the target.

Cathcart and Behrami ready for a free kick

Cathcart and Behrami ready for a free kick

Holebas made a menacing run into the box, exchanged passes with Capoue but his run gave him too narrow an angle and he shot into the side netting.  Watford looked to be in trouble as Gomes left his goal to try to stop Costa on the byline, but the striker succeeded in cutting the ball back to Oscar who, thankfully, put his shot wide.  There was a lovely break from Jurado, but his cross was too deep, flying over Ighalo’s head, and there was no other Watford player in the box to meet it.  At the other end, a clearance dropped to Matic whose shot was easily gathered by Gomes.  For Watford, Holebas found Ighalo who was prevented from doing any damage by a challenge from Terry.  At the other end, Costa was equally frustrated by Prödl, who was having an excellent game.  Just after the hour mark, Flores made two substitutions in quick succession.  First Abdi replaced Jurado, who had been superb so went off to loud cheers.  Then Nyom replaced Paredes.  Oscar tried to threaten the Watford goal as he cut inside and shot, but Gomes made the save.  Chelsea’s first change came with 20 minutes to go and saw Matic replaced by Hazard.  The Belgian was immediately involved, playing a ball to Ivanovic whose shot was tipped around the post by Gomes.  The Watford keeper was having a much busier second half and had to be alert again as Willian found Hazard, but Gomes was out to save at his feet.  My nerves were becoming a little frayed at this point at the possibility of Chelsea nicking the game, and were severely tested when Hazard crossed to the far post but, thankfully, Costa shot into the side netting.  Flores gave new signing Suárez a brief run out as he came on to replace Capoue to great cheers.  Chelsea nearly won it at the death as a cross from Willian was headed goalwards by Costa.  From the opposite end of the ground it looked in all the way until a purple blur appeared and there was Gomes flying through the air to make a superb save and ensure that the Man of the Match award went his way.

Man of the Match Gomes

Man of the Match Gomes

So a second point won from the defending Champions this season in the most entertaining 0-0 you will ever see.  While the visitors had the better of the second half, as the Hornets tired, a draw was probably a fair result.  It had been a tremendous performance from the Watford lads who never looked out of place against their supposedly more illustrious opponents.  The memory of watching Costa charging into the box to be met by Cathcart who then calmly took the ball off his feet still makes me smile.  The point took us to 9th in the table and we are 12 points clear of the drop zone with 14 games remaining, which is a position that would have been beyond my wildest dreams at the start of the season.

When I got back from the game, I was finally able to watch the pre-match interview with Flores and fill in the blanks.  It didn’t disappoint as he spoke of the pride in his family and the emotion when his lovely aunt was commemorated with a Google doodle in Spain.  He spoke of the fact that, with many nationalities and mentalities in the squad, you have to touch the players’ hearts to make them most effective.  His last comment of the piece was in relation to his time at Watford and he said, “This is the right place to be happy.”  And so say all of us, Quique.

Boxing Day at the Bridge

The pre-match huddle

The pre-match huddle

When the ticket prices for this game were announced, I sent the usual message to my regular travelling companions to see who wanted tickets only to receive a raft of refusals due to the excessively high price.  Luckily for me, I have a lovely niece who has never been to Stamford Bridge and was very excited at the prospect.  I thought long and hard before inviting her, as recent trips to Chelsea have meant pretty brutal defeats and I didn’t want to give her the worst Christmas present ever.  As it was Boxing Day and there were no trains, I decided to go on the club coach for the first time in a number of years.  It was nice to catch up with some old friends and, as luck would have it, we ended up sitting close to a couple of friends for the short journey to West London.  As we approached the turnstiles, Amelia asked if they didn’t want us to go in as there were lines of stewards blocking our path.  Thankfully, our turkey sandwiches passed the inspection and we were allowed entry.

Team news was that the only change was the replacement of the ineligible Aké with Holebas.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.  Prior to kick-off there was a nice tribute to Don Howe who, sadly, died this week.

Challenging at a corner

Challenging at a corner

Most Watford fans I know were pretty unhappy when Mourinho left, as Chelsea’s current position in the table seems to have more to do with the players’ dislike of Jose than any lack of talent.  The consensus was that, following their win against Sunderland and the appointment of Hiddink, we could be in for a very difficult game.  The home side certainly started very well and had an early chance as Costa met a corner from Pedro but diverted it over the bar.  Soon after Willian had a shot from the edge of the area that was blocked by Britos for a corner.  The home side completely dominated the first 10 minutes, but Watford then gained a foothold in the game and the first chance for the visitors was a shot from Jurado that was put out for a corner.  Then Deeney fed Ighalo who was tripped on the edge of the box, but the foul was given the other way.  Some good build-up play finished with a cross from Holebas that was put out for a corner.  Jurado then found Ighalo in a great position in front of goal, but he completely mishit his shot and it flew well wide.  There was danger at the other end as Costa broke forward, but Gomes was out to save at his feet.  Deeney, again, found Ighalo in the box but, in the words of the bloke behind me, he took one scoop too many and the ball went out for a goal kick.  A dangerous cross from Holebas was calmly chested back to Courtois in the Chelsea goal.

Holebas lines up a free kick

Holebas lines up a free kick

Holebas then exchanged passes with Deeney on the wing and whipped in another cross that was put out for a corner.  From Watson’s delivery, Ighalo had a free header but directed it wide of the target.  There was another decent chance for Watford as Jurado went on a great run and crossed for Ighalo whose shot unfortunately bounced off Deeney to safety.  Then Watson intercepted a pass in the midfield and fed Abdi whose shot from distance was high and wide.  Just after the half hour mark, Chelsea took the lead against the run of play.  Costa broke forward and tried a cross that was put out for a corner from which Terry headed the ball down, it bounced off Cahill’s back and dropped for Costa to rifle home.  It was a cruel blow at a time in the game when Watford had been on top.  The Watford heads dropped a bit after the goal and I feared that Chelsea would increase their lead.  Willian, who had been a menace down the Chelsea right, broke forward, but his cross was deflected wide by Britos.  Then Oscar received a cross from Ivanovich that he hit wide.

Holebas and Ighalo congratulate Deeney on his penalty

Holebas and Ighalo congratulate Deeney on his penalty

Watford hit back just before half time after Ighalo was brought down just outside the box.  Jurado took the free-kick which deflected off the wall for a corner.  Watson’s delivery looked like it would come to nothing until it was handled by Matic.  It was a nonsensical thing to do as no Watford player was anywhere near the ball, but the referee had no choice but to point to the spot.  Deeney stepped up and coolly sent Courtois the wrong way to draw the Hornets level.  It was no more than we deserved and there was a spot of joyful bouncing in the away end.  The home side had a couple of chances to regain the lead in the dying minutes of the half.  First when Britos fouled Costa just outside the box and received a card for his trouble.  Willian took the free kick which flew a mile over the bar.  Then a heart-stopping moment as Pedro broke forward and put in a cross that evaded all the Watford defenders in the box but, thankfully, no Chelsea player could get near it either and it flew wide of the far post.

So honours even at half time after an exciting and pretty even half.

Anya and Behrami run to join the goal celebrations

Anya and Behrami run to join the goal celebrations

Hiddink made a change at half time bringing Mikel on for Fabregas.  There was an early scare for the Hornets as Azpilicueta was allowed to get into the Watford box, but his cross was cleared.  At the other end, Jurado played a ball out to Holebas whose cross was put out for a corner.  Nothing came of the set piece as Deeney was floored in the box, but the referee saw no infringement.  A break by Chelsea was stopped by Cathcart, who earned a yellow card for the foul.  From a Chelsea corner, there were shouts of hand ball from the home fans as a shot was blocked, but it had been a hopeful shout and nothing was given.  Capoue had a great chance to take the lead for the visitors with two stunning shots in quick succession, the first saved by Courtois, the second blocked by Terry.  The disappointment didn’t last too long, however, as a minute later Ighalo dribbled into the box and hit a shot past Courtois from an angle.  Cue mayhem in the away end and the trademark Ighalo celebration by the corner flag right in front of us.  The celebration again continued with a spot of bouncing and chants of “We’re all going on a European tour”.  The Chelsea fans had another go at winning a penalty for their side after Oscar took a tumble as the ball was rolling harmlessly through to Gomes.  Thankfully the referee was unmoved by the shouts.  Back on his feet, Oscar played the ball back to Pedro whose shot was blocked brilliantly by Watson.  Another cross from Willian was claimed by Gomes.  Willian threatened again as he ran on to a lovely cross-field ball but Gomes saved the resulting shot.

Cathcart, Capoue and Britos

Cathcart, Capoue and Britos

The home side were level on 64 minutes after Jurado lost the ball in midfield, Willian played a through ball to Costa who finished past Gomes to claim his and Chelsea’s second.  This prompted chants of “We are staying up” from some of the Chelsea fans near us.  Good on them!  Chelsea had a decent chance to take the lead with a dangerous cross from Oscar that Costa nearly finished, but the attentions of Gomes and two defenders were enough to make him put the ball wide.  There were a series of substitutions as Behrami and Anya replaced Abdi and Jurado for the visitors and Hazard came on for Pedro for the home side.  With 15 minutes remaining, Willian went down rather easily on the edge of the box, but justice was done as he fired the ball well over the bar.  Watford nearly handed Chelsea the three points as Behrami made a rash challenge on Hazard and the referee pointed to the spot.  There were chants of “Heurelho Gomes Baby” ringing out in the away end, but he didn’t need to get involved as Oscar slipped just as he was about to hit the penalty and put the ball into orbit sparking yet more celebrations in the Watford end.  More Chelsea gamesmanship as a decision to award a throw-in to the Hornets was revised after Ivanovich rolled about a bit, the referee over-ruled his linesman and gave a free kick and a yellow card to Holebas.  Soon after, Behrami also found his way into the referee’s book, this time deservedly, after a poor challenge on Azpilicueta.

Deeney and Ighalo in the Chelsea box

Deeney and Ighalo in the Chelsea box

A lovely break by Anya was stopped by the linesman’s flag.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead as Ighalo and Deeney both broke into the box, Odion was the first take a shot that was blocked and rebounded to Troy, whose follow-up was also blocked.  A nasty tackle on Cathcart earned Costa a yellow card with the Hornet faithful screaming for a red.  As we reached injury time, the home fans were streaming out while the visitors were on their feet chanting “Watford FC” encouraging the lads to go for a winner.  There was a final substitution in time added on as Deeney made way for Guedioura, handing the captain’s armband to Ben Watson on his way off.  There was one last chance to win the game and it fell to the home side, so it was a relief to see Mikel hit a shot just wide.

The final whistle went to the customary celebrations.  I don’t think I will ever get tired of seeing Flores with a huge smile on his face hugging his players (and the odd member of the opposition) and then waving and blowing a kiss to the fans in the away stand.  As we got back on the coach for the journey home, there were big smiles.  Although it is a measure of the season that we’ve had that there was disappointment that we hadn’t taken all three points and concern that we’d shown the opposition a bit too much respect at the start.  Certainly we had misplaced more passes than usual.  To reflect on the positives, we are in 7th position, 3 points off the Champions League places and 12 points from the relegation zone (Don asked me to check that one).  Already we have taken 4 points from the first two of our ‘difficult Christmas fixtures’ and even I am moving from my usually super cautious viewpoint and acknowledging that we could get something from the next two games.  But, even if we don’t, it will still have been a remarkable start to the season.  Best of all, I didn’t spoil Amelia’s Christmas and the memory of bouncing with her at Stamford Bridge is one to be treasured.

A View from the Bridge

Angella late to the pre-match huddle

Angella late to the pre-match huddle

I love the third round of the FA Cup as it can give an opportunity to play unfamiliar opposition and visit a new ground.  I was on a flight to the US when the draw was made.  On landing I eagerly checked who we’d be playing and my heart sank when I saw it was Chelsea.  How terribly dull.  Still, the pre-match pub had good beer and decent pies and we had a lovely stroll through Brompton Cemetery on the way to the ground.  There we were met by a ridiculous security cordon.  There were so many checking the tickets of those trying to enter the away end that it was almost impossible to find a space to walk between them.  Inside the stadium, I marveled at the array of banners declaring the support of fans from all over the place.  The Cornish flag emblazoned with “East Cornwall” was particularly bizarre.  Oddly enough there were no banners for Chelsea fans that actually come from London.  I much preferred Stamford Bridge when we stood on that open terrace with the hut selling wagon wheels at the back.  It had a bit of character then.

Team news was that there were three changes from the Cardiff game with Bond, Deeney and Tözsér coming in for the injured Gomes, the departed Guedioura and the rested Abdi.  The starting line-up was Bond, Angella, Cathcart, Hoban, Pudil, Forestieri, Tözsér, Munari, Paredes, Deeney & Ighalo.  There was a nice touch from the announcer when he welcomed Jokanovic back to Stamford Bridge.

Challenging for a ball into the box

Challenging for a ball into the box

The first five minutes were awful to watch for a Watford fan as Chelsea played the ball about between themselves as if the Watford players were not there.  Pete commented that we should have kicked off because at least that would have meant a touch.  The home side’s first goal attempt came as a free kick reached Cahill but he volleyed it over the bar.  Thankfully, the visitors soon began to get a foothold in the game and had their first shot on goal with a Tözsér attempt from distance that was easily held by Cech.  Soon after a Tözsér free-kick was headed clear by Drogba.  At the other end a shot from Remy curled past the top corner.  Paredes was booked for jumping into Schürrle much to the disgust of those around me, but it had been a silly challenge.  Deeney tried a shot from distance but Cech was behind it.  Chelsea’s first on target attempt was a decent one as Drogba got his head to a cross from Remy, Bond dropped and did well to keep it out.  Drogba held the ball up and played it square to Schürrle who fired over the target.  Just before half time, Forestieri went on a run into the box but his shot was deflected for a corner.  Watford could have taken the lead on the stroke of half time as Pudil was released and crossed for Ighalo who disappointingly scuffed his shot wide of the near post.

So we reached half time having matched Chelsea, actually having the majority of the three on-target shots.  Mourinho was clearly not impressed with his side’s first half showing as he replaced Schürrle and Oscar with Willian and Diego Costa.

Troy wants the ball

Troy wants the ball

Ten minutes into the half, there was a brilliant reaction save from Cech who stuck out a foot to prevent a Deeney shot deflecting into the far corner.  Chelsea took the lead a couple of minutes later as Willian got the ball on the edge of the box and looped it into the top corner.  Watford tried to strike back immediately as Deeney exchanged passes with Ighalo and unleashed a shot, but Cech was behind it.  Jokanovic made his first substitution replacing Ighalo with Vydra.  Watford’s second booking came as Tözsér knocked Ramires over in an innocuous looking coming together.  A free-kick from distance looped into Bond’s arms.  Chelsea increased their lead on 69 minutes as a shot from Costa was charged down, the ball dropped to Remy who hit it past Bond.  Forestieri, who had been guilty of some poor decision making throughout the game, hit a shot from the edge of the box when a pass to Vydra may have been the better option.  Chelsea’s third came on 73 minutes as Zouma got on the end of a cross to the back post and headed it past Bond.  Jokanovic immediately made his second substitution replacing Tözsér with Abdi.

Abdi lines up a free-kick

Abdi lines up a free-kick

There were loud shouts for a penalty both on the pitch and in the away end as a cross from Forestieri appeared to be handled by Zouma, but the referee waved the appeals away.  Watford pushed for a goal as a shot from Vydra was pushed over by Cech who punched the resulting corner clear while Angella challenged.  Watford’s final change saw Murray come on for Munari.  Chelsea had a great chance for a fourth as Costa hit a free kick over the wall but Bond got a hand to it to push the ball clear.  In the final minute Cathcart exchanged passes with Vydra but his shot was over the target.

While the result may have been expected, the performance had been excellent and the score flattered our hosts.  The Watford fans had been on their feet singing for 90 minutes so deserved the gratitude of the players who came over to thank us.  I looked beyond them to see no Chelsea player on the pitch and the home stands deserted.  What a shame to be so complacent that a 3-0 win is not worthy of celebration.  I’m glad we have that over and done with.  We can now concentrate on the league and look forward to a trip to Huddersfield on Saturday.