Tag Archives: Wolverhampton Wanderers FC

An Impressive Start to the New Year

The quiz winners

Last October, the City ‘Orns team won the Watford Quiz Night (I am still not sure how that happened).  Our prize was hospitality for the Wolves game on New Year’s Day.  As I couldn’t find a taker for my season ticket, I released it.  When I received the email acknowledging my ‘non-attendance’, it was all I could do not to respond to tell them that it wasn’t that I wouldn’t be attending, but I had a ticket for hospitality.  Thankfully I was able to convince myself that that may come across as just a little obsessive.

I arrived in Watford at my usual time for a matchday but, unlike the bustle of a Saturday, the town was deserted.  As Thursday was a workday, I decided to stay in Watford, so I dropped my bag at the hotel before heading to the ground.  As I reached Market Street, the crowds increased but they were all wearing Wolves shirts and scarves and I realised that the away supporters’ coaches had arrived.  As I was a little too early for the opening of the hospitality lounge, I went into the Hornet shop.  I was looking for programme binders and searched high and low, but they were nowhere to be seen.  However, I did find some oven gloves.  For someone who rarely cooks and almost never uses the oven, I don’t know why I was so attracted to them, but they were a thing of beauty and I had to have them.  I then found the programme binders, and all was right with my world.  As I approached the till, I noticed the signs indicating “tax free” purchases.  I asked the woman behind the counter if we really have that many tourists visiting Vicarage Road.  Apparently, we do.  What has become of football?

With Tommy Smith

I was not (quite) the first in the Horizons lounge and was quickly joined by Alice, so we bought a couple of bottles of wine for the table (one red, one white) and toasted the new year.  Our party soon gathered.  As well as the quiz winners, Mike Raggett was there celebrating winning the Supporter of the Season.  He had brought Jacque as his plus one, so there was a good number of the West Herts contingent in attendance.

As part of the pre-match entertainment in the lounge there was an interview with Tommy Smith talking about the current squad and being very positive.  When he was finished, he was invited to our table and stayed for a long chat about anything and everything.  I liked his description of himself as a “lazy winger”, not quite the way that I remember him.  He never fancied being a coach or a manager, so went into estate agency and the business seems to be doing really well.  He seems pretty happy with life and is enjoying the ambassador/guest role as a way of staying connected with football.  I still think of Tommy Smith as a youngster, after all we went to the same secondary school, but I left the school the year after he was born.  It was a bit of a shock to realise that he will be 40 in May.

Team news was that Pearson had made two enforced changes with Dawson and Chalobah in for Mariappa (suspended) and Hughes (injured).  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Dawson; Capoue, Chalobah; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Sarr; Deeney.

The Rocket Men banner

We left the lounge in good time to find our seats, but the signs in the Upper GT concourse were somewhat misleading so we wandered around for a while before finding someone who could point us in the right direction.  When we finally found the seats, they were in the front row of the new overhang at the end of the stand right next to the 1881 in the Rookery, so a great spot.  I could see my family sitting in the middle of the Rookery and tried to attract their attention, but they were not looking in my direction and by the time I found my glasses to send a message they were in match mode and concentrating on events on the pitch.

As the teams came out, a RocketMan surfer banner featuring Elton and GT appeared over the centre of the Rookery.  On a normal day, I would have been under it, so it was nice to see the revelation of a new banner for once.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  I was a little late snapping the picture, so it doesn’t do it justice.

We had been told that there was a strict dress code in the lounge regarding replica shirts, but I had brought mine with me anyway and, as we were sitting in a Watford section rather than in the Directors’ area, I decided to put it on to watch the game and felt a whole lot better.

Dawson on the ball

Wolves came into the game having beaten Man City and run Liverpool very close, so my hopes of getting anything out of the game were pretty low, but it would certainly give us an indication of how the team were developing under Pearson.

The first chance of note came in the 12th minute and fell to the visitors as Coady played Doherty in and, with only Foster to beat, he looked odds on to open the scoring, but Ben came to meet him and made the save.  Jiménez then had a great chance and really should have scored, but his shot from the edge of the box flew wide of the far post.  Watford’s first meaningful attack came as Deulofeu played the ball out to Femenía who put in a lovely low cross but there was nobody there to meet it.  The Hornets threatened again as a shot from Deulofeu was blocked, the ball eventually found its way to Chalobah outside the box, his shot cleared the crossbar.  The first caution of the game went to Dawson for a foul on Neto.  The same two players then tangled in the Watford box, this time the referee booked the Wolves man for simulation.  Needless to say, there was a VAR check for a penalty, but the man in Stockley Park upheld the decision.

Celebrating Deulofeu’s strike

Watford had their best chance of the game so far when Deulofeu found Sarr who hit a decent shot which was saved by Rui Patricio.  We were not left to rue that miss for long as we took the lead a minute later.  This time Sarr played in Deulofeu who shot across the keeper into the opposite corner.  Cue mad celebrations in the posh seats.  Watford were in the ascendancy at this point and a lovely move deserved more, but the Wolves defence prevented the shot.  Then, from a throw, Deeney nodded the ball on to Deulofeu who could only shoot over the bar.  There was a great chance to increase the Hornets’ lead just before half time when a lovely flick from Deeney found Sarr but he could only hit the side netting.

The guest at half time was Filippo Galli, but I am ashamed to say that I headed into the lounge for dessert and another glass of wine.  I thought I was keeping an eye on the time, but suddenly the screen next to our table was showing the Wolves players coming back onto the pitch and so we had to make a rapid return to our seats.

Congratulating Doucoure

The visitors started the second half brightly as Neto broke forward but could only find the side netting with his shot.  Then Jiménez tried a shot from distance, but it cleared the bar.  Instead it was the Hornets who scored with their first shot of the half as Deulofeu went on a run and played in Doucouré whose shot took a slight deflection and beat Rui Patricio.  It was lovely to see Abdoulaye score on his birthday, so very kind of him to give us all a present.  My family had received the text with my location, so it was rather lovely to see them turn towards me so we could celebrate the goal together.  The visitors made an early double substitution with Neves and Vinagre replacing Bennett and Jonny.  Then there was disappointment for the home fans as Femenía, who has been brilliant lately, was forced to go off after tweaking a hamstring.  There seemed to be some confusion on the bench regarding his replacement as both Holebas and Masina appeared to be readying themselves to come on.  In the interim, Watford were playing with 10 men and Wolves were looking to pull a goal back.  First Traoré fed Moutinho, who hit a low shot which Foster was down to gather.  Then Vinagre tried his luck but, again, Foster was equal to it.  The Watford fans were yelling for someone to put the ball out so that the substitution could be made and there was a sigh of relief when Kabasele belted the ball into the stand and Holebas finally took to the field.

Troy wants the ball

But, as soon as we were back to full strength, the visitors pulled a goal back, as Neto hit a shot from distance that took a wicked deflection and beat Foster.  Wolves made their final substitution at the midpoint of the half, replacing the goalscorer, Neto, with Jota.  The substitute was soon involved as an attempt to escape upfield was stopped when he was pulled back by Kabasele.  The referee showed a yellow card, but the decision was referred to VAR which indicated that a red card should be shown and Kabasele was given his marching orders.  I have to say that this is the most ridiculous use of VAR.  The on-pitch referee had a good view of the incident and decided to book the player.  The referee in Stockley Park viewed the same infraction and decided it was worthy of a red card.  Had the original decision been a clear and obvious error?  Would the on-pitch referee have made a different decision had they seen the same footage as the VAR?  We have no idea, but the subjective decision of the VAR now overrules that of the man who is supposed to be refereeing the game.  On this occasion they made the mistake of playing footage of the incident on the big screen and this prompted howls of anger from the Rookery.  Interestingly the Wolves fans had been expressing their feelings about VAR while the incident was being reviewed.  They cheered briefly at the decision and then continued with their original theme at which point the whole ground was singing “F*ck VAR”.  Having expressed our frustration, we were then resigned to having 20 minutes left to play with 10 men.

The two goalscorers, Deulofeu and Doucoure

At this point, getting anything out of the game was looking very unlikely.  Thankfully, we passed the first hurdle as the free kick resulting from Kabasele’s foul hit the wall and was caught by Foster.  Unlike the Villa game when Pearson made a bold change after the sending off, his substitution on this occasion was more defensive as Masina took to the field in place of Deulofeu.  As they had in the previous game, a photo of GT was shown on the big screen on 72 minutes, this time with Watford and Wolves badges superimposed.  Many Wolves fans have very fond memories of GT and it had been lovely before the game seeing a number of them having their photos taken with his statue.  The visitors created a great chance after the ball appeared to be going out for a goal kick, but Vinagre belted after it and managed to keep it in play before putting in a lovely cross for Doherty whose header looked sure to level the score but Foster got a hand to it and kept it out.  Vinagre then had a chance of his own to draw the visitors level, but his shot was high and wide.  The Wolves man threatened again with a dangerous looking cross that almost caught Foster out, but the Watford keeper was fouled by Jiménez to relieve the pressure, if only briefly.

Troy holding the ball up as the clock wound down

The fourth official indicated five minutes of time added on.  At this time, it was all hands to the pump.  The Watford faithful were in excellent voice urging their team on as they tried to run the clock down.  Pearson tried to use up some time by making a substitution as Sarr was replaced by Pereyra.  When the board went up, the Watford youngster was near the corner flag between the Rookery and the GT stands so, under the new law, should have left the field on that side of the ground, but Deeney was chatting away to referee which distracted his attention allowing the youngster to amble off at his own pace.  Deeney had been trying to keep the ball in that area and was successful in winning a corner to waste some time.  He was instructing the young ball boy to take as long as possible to return the ball when it went off and took a short corner himself with no attacking intent.  Eventually he attracted the ire of the referee and was booked for his delaying tactics.  With a minute of added time remaining, Traoré was fouled by Doucouré giving the visitors a free kick to the right of the box from our perspective at the other end of the ground.  Capoue threw himself in front of the free kick which went out for a throw.  The visitors tried to get the ball back in play quickly, but were penalised for a foul throw, much to the amusement of the home crowd.  The visitors had one last chance to grab a point, but the shot from Neves flew over the bar and the final whistle went on an unlikely and very hard-fought victory for the Hornets.

The cheers were heartfelt and intense and, as I always do, I made sure to cheer every player off the pitch.

Pereyra makes a late appearance

We returned to the lounge and a celebratory glass or two of wine.  It had been a terrific game and a very impressive win against a Wolves team who are very good indeed.  Femenía had done a tremendous job in keeping Traoré quiet and we were under the cosh a bit after the double blow of his injury and the dismissal of Kabasele, but the team worked hard to keep their shape and were well worth the three points.  Deulofeu appears to be a new player under Pearson, an arm around his shoulder has given him more confidence in both himself and his team mates to the benefit of all of us.  Capoue was magnificent running the midfield and Chalobah put the disappointment of the early withdrawal on Saturday behind him to put in an assured performance.  Birthday boy Doucouré was back to his best and topped it off with a goal.

It is hard to believe that, up until the Saturday before Christmas we were winless at home.  We now have three home wins in a row and, given that the opposition included Man Utd and Wolves, that is very impressive indeed.  Similarly, having been concerned that we were becoming marooned at the foot of the table, we are now only two points off safety and are looking up the table with some confidence.  I have always thought this team were much better than the results indicated, but something was lacking.  Nigel Pearson seems to have given them a confidence in their abilities and a resilience that was too often missing earlier in the season.  There is a sense now that they playing as a team rather than as a collection of individuals and they now have the crowd back onside with them and football is fun again.  It looks like being a very happy new year for the Hornets.

Another Defeat Despite Domination

Statue of Jack Hayward outside Molineux

Having been utterly miserable after the City game, the midweek win against Swansea cheered me up somewhat, so I was in a better mood for the journey to Wolverhampton.  I left London early and met Jacque on the train.  As has been usual for recent trips to Wolves, we were to have our pre-match refreshments in Birmingham.  Our ridiculously early arrival time confirmed that, due to a late decision about where to meet, both of us had booked a train based on its scheduled arrival in Wolverhampton rather than Birmingham.  Still, by the time we got to the pub it was a respectable hour to have a drink.  The pub was actually packed due, in part, to the presence of passengers of a Midland Red bus, that was parked outside.  I assume that they were on a tour of the city and the opportunity to mix with Villa fans having a pre-match pint was too much of a temptation.  Mike met us for lunch, and then we headed back to New Street to get the train to Wolverhampton and take the short walk to the ground.  We met the rest of our party inside where we were regaled with stories of traffic delays for those who had driven.  Luckily (?) they all made it in time for kick-off.

Team news was that Quique had made four changes from the side who were humiliated by Manchester City, with Janmaat, Cathcart, Welbeck and Sarr replacing Femenía, Mariappa, Foulquier and Hughes.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Dawson, Cathcart, Janmaat; Capoue, Doucouré; Deulofeu, Cleverley, Sarr; Welbeck.  The initial reaction was that this was the team that people wanted to see.  But I was rather surprised that Welbeck was included, having played 90 minutes in midweek.  In other news, today would see the first outing of our new away kit.  I hoped that it would be lucky for us.

Holebas takes a throw-in

Watford started well and, in the first minute, Sarr found Welbeck, but the shot was wide of the target.  Wolves also had an early chance as Boly released Jiménez who shot into the side netting.  The Hornets put themselves in trouble when a short corner routine broke down allowing Neto to break at pace and play a low cross for Jiménez who shot wide of the far post.  The home side opened the scoring in the 18th minute when a low cross from Neto was turned in by Doherty.  It was yet another poor goal to give away as the defence were nowhere to be seen.  It feels as though we have seen the same goal scored against us repeatedly this season and still have no idea how to stop it.  Deulofeu tried to hit back as he cut into the box but could only shoot into the side netting.  Deulofeu threatened again from a free kick, but his delivery was headed clear.  Wolves had a chance to increase their lead as Traoré beat Holebas to put in a cross, but no Wolves player could get on the end of it.  Sarr really should have done better after receiving a ball from Deulofeu in the box, but he turned and shot well wide of the target.  The Wolves fans were shouting for a penalty as a cross from Traoré was blocked by Holebas, but the referee was unmoved by their pleas.  Welbeck got into a decent position in the box, but his shot was blocked for a corner that came to nothing.  The end of the half was dominated by a couple of lengthy stoppages for injuries to Wolves players, but there was one final chance for the Hornets to draw level as Cleverley flicked a pass to Sarr in a dangerous position but, yet again, the shot was blocked.

Pereyra takes a corner

The half time whistle went to sighs of resignation in the away end.  It hadn’t been pretty.  Watford had had more of the possession but were ponderous and reluctant to shoot.  In contrast, Wolves were quick on the break and the Watford defence always looked vulnerable. The home side had scored with the only on-target shot of the half.

Looking at things off the field, I couldn’t help but notice that the stand behind the goal at one end and half of the other have been converted for safe standing.  It looked great and it will be interesting to see whether this becomes commonplace.

At the break Deulofeu was replaced by Pereyra.  The Hornets started the second half quite brightly.  Pereyra put in a lovely cross that Holebas met with a header that was blocked by the Wolves keeper, the first time he had been called into action.  The ball dropped to Cleverley, who tried to turn it in, but Rui Patricio was able to get a foot to it and put it out for a corner.  The corner summed up our afternoon as Pereyra’s delivery didn’t even make it onto the pitch before it flew behind the goal line.  Wolves had their first chance of the half as Neto broke forward but shot straight at Foster and was immediately replaced by Gibbs-White.

Waiting for the delivery at a corner

The Hornets had dominated the start of the second half, so it felt cruel when, on the hour mark, a cross from Doherty was flicked on by Gibbs-White, and Janmaat turned it past Foster.  There appeared no way back at that point.  Holebas tried to hit back with a shot through the area that flew just wide of the near post.  It was unsurprising to see José pick up the first booking of the game for a foul on Traoré.  Flores made his second substitution with twenty minutes to go as Sarr made way for Gray.  Andre made an immediate impact and the Hornets had a great chance to pull one back when Welbeck received a ball from Gray and unleashed a shot that required a decent save from Rui Patricio to keep it out.  Wolves had a chance to score a third as Traoré put a deep cross over to Jonny but he could only find the side netting.  Wolves made a second substitution bringing Cutrone on for Jiménez.  The substitute had a chance to make an immediate impact as he charged toward the Watford goal, but was stopped by a wonderful sliding tackle from Foster.  At the other end, Gray made a break into the Wolves box but his shot was poor and straight at the keeper.  Doucouré then tried his luck with a low shot from the edge of the area, but it was an easy catch for Rui Patricio.  There was one last chance for the Hornets as a corner from Holebas reached Welbeck but he could only head over the bar.  Santo made his final change bringing Neves on for Traoré.  There were three minutes of added time, which were rather soul destroying as, despite Hornets having plenty of possession, they just played it around on the halfway line with the Wolves defence happily lined up in front of them.  The final whistle went to half-hearted boos from a few among the Watford following, but most of us just felt as defeated as the team.

Holebas and Pereyra lining up a free kick

As there is nothing to stay in Wolves for, we made a rapid retreat to the station to get the train home and we bumped into a couple of fellow Hornets.  There was a lot of head shaking and failure to understand what is going wrong this season.  Our team still looks great on paper, but we continue to fail to attack with enough intent or defend convincingly.  On the evidence of the games so far, most of the teams in the Premier League are pretty poor (the obvious exception notwithstanding), but we have been unable to beat any of them.  The consensus was that we are desperately missing Deeney as there is no leadership on the pitch, which is a very sorry state of affairs.  It is difficult to see how we will turn this around, but football is a confidence game and maybe we just need a few balls to drop kindly and a couple of shots to creep inside the post for the belief to resurface.

As I left work on Friday, I had a chat with one of my colleagues about our chances for the weekend.  He reminded me that going to football was supposed to be fun.  He is so right and, sadly, the games really aren’t fun at the moment.  I hope that changes very soon.

Tears, Hugs and a Wonderful Win at Wembley

The pre-match display at Wembley

My build-up to the semi-final had been less than ideal as I had woken up in the middle of the night after the Fulham game with a streaming cold and felt rotten for the rest of the week.  For this reason, it seemed sensible to have a quiet Saturday at home to prepare for the game.  Big mistake.  I don’t know how many times I checked the fixture lists to confirm that the game wasn’t actually on Saturday and I was missing it.  I felt jumpy all day and settling down to watch the other semi-final didn’t help.  Sadly, that game was a non-event.  City scored early and that was it.  It was a very dull game but provided confirmation that we would be playing for the chance to meet City in the final.  My viewing on Saturday evening had to be carefully chosen and I opted for “I Believe in Miracles” the documentary about Clough’s Forest and their run to becoming European Cup winners.  It was just brilliant and set me up nicely for the next day (after I watched the segment on the Premier League show featuring Gracia, Deulofeu and Luther).

So, finally, the day of the FA Cup semi-final dawned, and I was up bright and early and facing the dilemmas that come on the day of an important match.  What top should I wear under my replica shirt?  What mug should I use for my coffee?  I was tempted to use my Hornets mug, but eventually plumped for the Luther8 one.  It seemed only right.  On social media in the morning there was a lovely exchange between Nigel Gibbs and Tony Coton about going to the game and the fact that they had bought tickets to be in with the fans.  Legends, both of them.  It had also been heart-warming to see Woking FC wishing us luck.  It was where the journey began.

The 1881 Singing Section

After ensuring that my (regulation size) bag was packed with everything that I would need (don’t forget your tickets) and that my lucky seashell from Woking was still in my pocket, I left to catch the train to London.  On the first leg from Windsor to Slough I noticed a guy looking at me, but assumed it was my loud scarf that had attracted his attention, so didn’t take much notice.

On arrival at Paddington, I spotted a flash of yellow, turned and realised it was actually the old gold of Wolves, so walked on.  My journey to our meeting place took me past Marylebone, which was surrounded with Wolves fans.  The first Watford scarves that I spotted were outside the designated pre-match pub and worn by the friends that I was meeting.  We had arrived before opening time and quite a crowd was gathering, so we were thankful that Richard had booked a table for us.  As we waited, some Wolves fans appeared and were absolutely lovely.  None of us was confident of a win, but all thought that it would be a good game.

As our group gathered, it was an occasion to remember absent friends.  Dee and Toddy were both with us on our last visit to Wembley and their absence was keenly felt.  We hoped that the lads would do them proud.

Gomes and Deeney

After we had been fed and watered, we left in plenty of time to get to Wembley as I had one final ticket to drop off and, after an easy journey, we were outside Entrance P.  I immediately bumped into Adam to hand over the ticket and then saw that the rest of our party, who had come from the Watford direction, were all in the queue just in front of us.  At this point, all was right with my world.

As we took our seats, Farzana handed out the A4 bags that she had made from Watford FC curtains and we draped the Rocket Men and Golden Gomes banners in front of our seats.  She had also knit Gomes and Deeney dolls, but sadly they were too large to bring into the stadium so had been left at home.  As we waited for kick-off, it was lovely to see our Emma and Tim on the pitch representing Watford.

We then got to see the pre-match displays.  The one planned by Wolves had been advertised the previous day and it had looked as though it would be impressive.  When we got to our seats, we found yellow flags.  I was concerned that they were a little too much on the amber side and it wouldn’t be a match for what Wolves had planned.  Then the Watford crowd started waving the flags and the yellow, red and black display with the movement was absolutely fantastic and the energy meant that the Wolves display looked far too static.

There had been a lot of discussion about the possible team selection, especially the goalkeeping position.  When the starting XI was announced, we found that Gracia had kept faith with Gomes and had decide to bring Gray in for Deulofeu after his terrific performance against Fulham.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Gray, Deeney.

Gathering for a corner

The game started brightly for Wolves who had their first chance on 23 seconds with a shot from Otto that flew over the bar.  Watford won an early corner, but Ruddy was up to punch it clear, Pereyra picked up the ball and put in a cross, but Ruddy made the catch.  Wolves then won a free kick in a dangerous position after Hughes fouled Otto.  Moutinho stepped up to take it and it landed on the roof of the net, much to my relief.  The first booking of the game went to Saïss for a foul on Pereyra.  Wolves threatened again as a cross from Otto was touched on by Jota, but they couldn’t get a shot away.  Neves was the next to go into the referee’s book, again for a foul on Pereyra.  Holebas took the free kick, but Hughes met it with a dreadful mishit shot that sent the ball ballooning away.  Some nice passing between Gray and Pereyra led to the ball reaching Deeney on the edge of the area, but his shot was high and wide of the target.  Watford should have taken the lead on the half hour as Deeney flicked the ball over to Gray who, with only Ruddy to beat, got his foot under the ball and it looped over the bar when it looked easier to score.  That miss looked all the more costly as Wolves took the lead soon after.  A shot from distance from Dendoncker was tipped over by Gomes.  The resulting corner was played short to Jota who crossed for Doherty to head past Gomes.  Wolves had their tails up now and threatened again as Boly found Jota who advanced and, thankfully, shot just wide.  Watford then had a corner which they also took short, but Femenía’s cross was a comfortable catch for Ruddy.  Gray had a chance to grab an equaliser just before half time, but this time Coady made the block when Gray looked sure to score.  So we reached half time a goal down, feeling rather hard done by after what had been an even half of football.

Heurelho Gomes at Wembley

Luther was the Watford representative at half time.  I still look back with sadness at seeing him walk around the pitch before the 1984 Cup Final, which came at the end of his gap year.  We passed our time in the stands enjoying half-time samosas to keep our strength up for the rest of the game.

Wolves nearly had a great start to the second half as Saïss played a ball over to Jiménez, who beat the defence, but not Gomes who was down to make the block.  Watford created an opening as Femenía crossed for Doucouré, but the Frenchman couldn’t make a firm connection, so his header looped wide.  Jota then beat Cathcart (I know!!!) before crossing for Jiménez, but the shot was easy for Gomes.  Deeney then got the ball just outside the box and played a low cross, but it was too heavy and flew past Gray and wide of the target.  The first booking for the Hornets went to Cathcart for a foul on Jota just outside the box.  Neves took the free kick which flew well wide of the far post.  Watford then had a free kick in a dangerous position, Pereyra’s delivery reached Deeney who headed just wide.  Watford had another decent chance to equalise as Pereyra played a through ball to Gray, but the shot was poor and over the bar.

Pereyra takes a free kick

Holebas received his booking of the afternoon for stopping a break by Jota.  From the free kick, Jiménez took the ball down and poked it past Gomes to put Wolves two goals ahead.  So frustrating to concede again after a really good spell for the Hornets.  There was still half an hour to go, but it wasn’t looking good for the Hornets.  We hadn’t taken our chances and it looked as though we would be punished for it.  Gracia made his first substitution bringing Deulofeu on for Hughes.  Soon after, while waiting for a throw-in, there was an announcement that a VAR check was underway for a red card.  Nobody had any idea what this related to until my brother-in-law, who listens to the commentary during the game, said that it was due to Deulofeu putting his head into Moutinho’s face.  It had looked rather innocuous from where we were sitting and, thankfully, the decision was not to show a card.  There was another identical announcement soon after, I have no idea whether it was related to the same incident, but it was extremely irritating.  Watford threatened again when Gray got on the end of a cross from Femenía, but again it was headed over the bar.  There were then a number of half chances for the Hornets.  Deulofeu put in a cross which Ruddy gathered under challenge from Doucouré.  Holebas crossed again for Doucouré, but his shot was blocked.  It had been a good spell, but we just didn’t look like we would get the breakthrough.

Deulofeu goes to celebrate with Deeney after the penalty

Then a throw-in from Holebas was knocked back to Deulofeu, it didn’t look particularly dangerous for the opposition until Gerry nonchalantly lifted the ball into the top far corner.  It was a gorgeous goal out of nothing and suddenly it was game on with 10 minutes remaining.  Watford’s next chance came from a corner, the delivery from Holebas was good, but it was headed behind for another corner.  This one was flicked on by Deeney to Holebas, but his shot was blocked.  Wolves made their first substitution as Bennett replaced Neves.  Watford threatened again with a great cross from Kiko, but Ruddy just got to it.  Then the ball fell to Holebas in a great position, but he blasted it over the bar.  It wasn’t going to be our day.  As Wolves made a late substitution, replacing Jota with Cavaleiro, I prepared myself for defeat.  But, when the four minutes of added time was announced, I joined with my fellow Watford fans in roaring our encouragement to the team.  Then, just as the four minutes were almost up, Deeney got the ball in the box and fell under a challenge from Dendoncker.  Referee Oliver continued his habit of awarding late, dramatic penalties, but this one had to wait for the VAR review.  I was beside myself at this point.  After what seemed like an age, VAR confirmed the referee’s decision.  Luckily, I was able to take a seat to watch it, as my legs were jelly.  Troy’s weren’t, he stepped up and the ball hit the net in front of us and the crowd went properly wild.  Screams and hugs and tears greeting the goal we thought would never come.  The game restarted, but the whistle soon went for the end of normal time and we had earned ourselves another 30 minutes.

Holebas prepares for a corner

I have to say that we thoroughly deserved that.  A draw seemed like a fair result, and surely the Hornets would have the momentum going into extra time.  However, it was the Wolves side who had the upper hand in the early exchanges and the first goal opportunity came from a decent shot from Otto that Gomes managed to tip over.  There was some bad news for Watford as Holebas went down injured.  He tried to carry on, but eventually limped off to be replaced by Masina.  I was concerned at this point as Holebas had been terrific.  There was another booking for the Hornets as Capoue was cautioned for a foul on Dendoncker.  Santo made another substitution as Traore came on for Moutinho.  Then, in the last minute of the first period of extra time, Watford broke forward, Gray released Deulofeu who beat a defender before shooting into the far corner past Ruddy to send the Watford fans wild again.  Wolves tried to hit back immediately, but their break was foiled by a great tackle from Mariappa.  The resultant corner was easily gathered by Gomes.   There was a substitution for each side as Vinagre replaced Otto for Wolves and Femenía made way for Janmaat for the Hornets.  Wolves had a chance to level the game but the header from Jiménez flew wide of the near post.  Then the goal hero, Deulofeu, picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Sema.  Watford tried to consolidate their lead as Deeney got into the box and tried to lay the ball off to Doucouré, but the pass was intercepted.  Then Traore tried a shot from a tight angle, but it was an easy catch for Gomes.  Wolves had one last chance to take the game to penalties, and it was a great one, as Cavaleiro beat Mariappa and rounded Gomes, but Heurelho did enough to put the Wolves man off and he lost control of the ball allowing Mariappa to clear the danger.  The whistle went to euphoria mixed with disbelief in the Watford end.  There was a lot of tearful hugging among our group.  I couldn’t quite believe what I had seen.  Amelia was the clearest thinking as she commented that maybe they should rethink the Man of the Match award (that had been given to Jiménez some time before the end of normal time).

The family at the semi-final

After the game, there were rapturous celebrations both on and off the pitch.  We stayed in the stand to cheers the lads on and witness their joy.  It was lovely to see that this meant as much to the players as it did to us.  The cheers of the fans who had remained in their seats were finally rewarded as the players came together to rush towards the crowd behind the goal.  It was just joyous.  We seemed to be there for an age, but it still took us a long time to leave the ground as we kept bumping into friends for more hugs and expressions of disbelief.

A number of us headed back to central London for a celebratory beverage and to raise a glass to Dee and Toddy who would have loved the day.  There was nothing but pride in the team and what they had achieved against a very good Wolves side.  The Wolves fans that we had met before the game had returned to the pub and, as they left, wished us well.

I stayed rather longer in the pub than was sensible, so missed the last train from Slough to Windsor.  As the taxi dropped me off at the end of my road, I heard a voice.  “Excuse me.  Were you at Wembley today?  Is that your car with the Watford stuff in the back?”  It was the guy that I had seen on the train this morning.  Turns out I am not the only Hornet in my small street in Windsor.  Who knew?

Golden Gomes

A day later and I have still not quite come to terms with what I witnessed yesterday.  To come back from two goals down against a team like Wolves shows the tremendous spirit in this team.  They seem to be a group of players who love each other and the manager and that love has transmitted to the fans.  This has been the best season that I can remember for decades and it will end with an FA Cup final at Wembley.  As someone who has supported an unfashionable team for 40 years, I find it amazing that in that time I have been to six FA Cup semi-finals.  On 18th May, I will attend my second FA Cup final and will be accompanied by a large group of family and friends.  I have met so many lovely people while following the Hornets and it is really special to share these great times with them.

When Watford lost the Play-off final in 2013, my niece Amelia was in tears and I was devastated.  Yesterday she was in tears again, but they were tears of joy and it made the day all the more special.  Her Mum and I were at Villa Park for the semi-final against Plymouth and at Wembley for the final against Everton.  Now we will all be at Wembley for this year’s final and we can dare to dream.  Whatever the outcome, this season will live long in the memory.

Back to Winning Ways at Wolves

Masina, Mariappa and Cathcart

Thankfully I chose the weekend of the Bournemouth game to travel to the Turks & Caicos for a week’s diving.  Although I made the mistake of listening to the game, which was not a good start to the holiday.  But it has to be said that, despite the recent poor run of results, this seemed to be the first bad performance of the season and it was good that the lads had the international break to give them time to recover.  Since Watford’s downturn started after Javi won the Manager of the Month award, I was hoping that the curse would now transfer to Nuno.

A trip to Molineux evoked awful memories of our last visit which ended with one of our regular travelling fans, Nic Cruwys, fighting for his life following an attack after the game.  Having previously witnessed an attack on the Watford fans’ coaches (which are generally used by families and the elderly), I was not looking forward to this trip.  Our party decided to delay our arrival by meeting in our pre-match pub of choice in Birmingham instead.  When I arrived early doors, Graham was already in place, but the pub was otherwise almost empty.  Then, suddenly, there was an invasion of Morris Dancers.  The bells were driving me crazy.  Having thought we had found a quiet spot, the rest of our party arrived to find a dance taking place in front of our table.  I couldn’t help reflecting on the irony that the two Morris dancers in our usual away crowd had decided to give this game a miss.

The Wolves Pyro Display

We left Birmingham in plenty of time to make the journey to Wolverhampton.  On arrival at the station, we were met by a phalanx of police who directed us behind the station and on a rather circuitous route as they didn’t want Watford fans walking through the city centre.  I must say that the route that we took seemed a little too out of the way for my liking, but there were police officers stationed at various points on the way and we arrived at the ground with no sign of any trouble.

Team news was that, in addition to the suspensions of Kabasele and Holebas, Deeney had picked up a minor injury and Gracia had decided to drop Gray to the bench, the replacements being Mariappa (who also captained the team), Masina, Deulofeu and Success.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart. Mariappa, Masina; Deulofeu, Hughes, Capoue, Doucouré, Pereyra; Success.  Wolves were unchanged for the ninth game this season.

As the teams came out prior to kick-off, there were some very impressive pyrotechnics.  Our pitch side seats meant there was a danger of scorching, my eyebrows may never recover.  When it was over, we couldn’t see the pitch for the smoke.  It seems that Wolves subscribe to the adage “no pyro, no party”.

Finding a shady spot to celebrate Capoue’s goal

As well as the overheating prior to kick-off, the stand had no leg room (I am 5ft6in and could not sit comfortably, even if the people in front had allowed me to do so) and was also bathed in bright sunlight, which made it incredibly difficult to watch the game.  The first half chance of the match came as a free-kick from Neves was headed over by Masina. The resultant corner was met with a looping header from Bennett that was pushed over the bar by Foster.  The second corner led to a quick break by the Hornets as Femenía hared upfield before finding Deulofeu whose cross was straight into the arms of the Wolves keeper, Patricio.  After an even start that had been short on chances, Watford took the lead on 20 minutes.  The move started with some really good work from Deulofeu before Doucouré played the ball out to Capoue who blasted a low shot from distance into the Wolves net.  There was a momentary delay before the celebration as we couldn’t quite believe what we had seen.  It was a terrific strike.  We had hardly stopped bouncing when the second goal went in.  Straight from the restart, the ball found its way to Pereyra on the left from where he effortlessly curled a shot over the keeper and into the opposite corner.  Well, that was unexpected!

Man of the match, Capoue, lining up a free kick

Wolves seemed a bit shell shocked at that point and the next Watford attack finished with Success being taken out.  The travelling Hornets were shouting for a penalty, but the referee indicated that the foul had been committed outside the area.  It was in a dangerous position, but Deulofeu’s free-kick was disappointingly straight into the wall.  The first booking of the game went to Neves after a foul on Hughes.  Watford continued to dominate and some lovely passing around the Wolves box finished with Doucouré playing the ball back to Pereyra who curled his shot over the bar.  There was a rare attack from the home side as Jiménez broke forward and got into a dangerous position, but his shot was poor and flew wide of the far post.  After another lovely passing move involving Femenía and Hughes, the ball reached Doucouré whose shot was saved by Patricio dropping low to gather.  The half time whistle went with the Hornets two goals ahead and in total control of the game.  It had been an impressive half of football from the visitors.  The two goals in quick succession had shocked the home side, but it had been a performance of assurance and skill.

Pereyra put in a shift at both ends of the pitch

Wolves made a substitution at the restart bringing Vinagre on for Jonny.  Watford started the half well as Success latched on to a through ball and surged forward, but his shot was wide of the target.  There was an early chance for the home side as Vinagre tried a shot, but Foster was down to block and the ball was cleared.  Foster was taking his time to restart the game, which enraged the Wolves fans behind the goal who were already on his case for his West Brom connections.  Ben couldn’t have cared less.  Nuno made a second substitution on the hour mark bringing Cavaleiro on for Jiménez.  Wolves had a half chance as, from a Moutinho free kick, Boly tried a backheel in the direction of the goal, but Foster was able to make the save.  Watford made a rare second half break as Success found Doucouré whose shot was blocked.  Hughes was the first Watford player to be cautioned after he pulled back Vinagre as he tried to escape upfield.  Gracia’s first substitution saw Gray coming on for Deulofeu, who had run the first half, but had faded since the break.  Wolves continued their attempts to break back as Moutinho tried a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  The home side then made their last change bringing Traore on for Doherty.  Gracia’s next substitution was a defensive one as Prödl replaced Success.

Pereyra and Gray preparing for a corner

At about this time, with 15 minutes to go, the sun disappeared behind the stand and I could finally see the game without having to shield my eyes or being blinded by the glare from my glasses.  Wolves were getting closer to reducing the deficit as a cross from Vinagre was headed just over by Cavaleiro.  It felt as though the Watford goal was leading a charmed life at this point, but the home side were incredibly wasteful as another free kick from a dangerous position was launched high and wide by Neves.  Watford were still making occasional attempts to increase their lead, on this occasion a shot from Gray was blocked, so Hughes tried to score with a tackle, but Patricio was able to gather.  With the clock running down, the next chance for Wolves to get something from the game fell to Costa who again directed his shot over the bar.  Prödl’s appearance was short lived as he left the field limping and was replaced by Wilmot who was making his Premier League debut.  Wolves had one last chance from a free-kick which was met by a glancing header that flew wide.  The fourth official indicated four additional minutes, but they were painless for the Hornets who finished the game as deserved winners.

Ben Foster beaming after the final whistle

The post-match celebrations were very enjoyable.  Clearly Ben Foster, who had been the target for dog’s abuse for most of the game, was delighted.  His fist pumping was almost Gomes-esque!  It was also lovely to see players coming over to the fans to present them with shirts, the first being Deulofeu who jumped the barriers to hand his shirt to a fan.  But I must admit that the one that got to me was when Aidy Mariappa came over to Flora, one of our wheelchair fans.  Aidy also jumped the barriers to reach Flora to hand her his shirt and have a chat with a beaming smile on his face.  I had to wipe away a tear.

Before the game, the Watford fans I spoke to had all been of the opinion that a point would have been a good result, but nobody seemed at all confident of that outcome.  That two goal first half minute decided the game but, despite the rearguard effort in the second half, Watford were in control for the full ninety minutes and Wolves never looked like getting back in the game.  As good at the forward play was in the first half, and there were some absolutely gorgeous moves, the defensive performance in the second half was equally good, with some brilliantly timed tackling and a general sense that Wolves had nowhere to go meaning that they were reduced to long range efforts and set pieces.  Deulofeu’s first start of the season was excellent, it was lovely to see him back.  But the highlight for me was the fact that, although Capoue and Pereyra will be lauded for their goals, they both put in a shift at the back as well.  It was a real team effort.

After the wobble in recent weeks, that was certainly a performance to put smiles back on the faces of Hornets fans and to give us renewed confidence for the rest of the season.  Football is fun again.

Defeat to Wolves in the Rain

The teams take to the field

The teams take to the field

My niece, Amelia, has been coming to occasional games for years.  This season she has become a regular, so a half season ticket seemed a perfect Christmas present and Boxing Day’s game against Wolves was her first match as a season ticket holder.  Since the game was at an odd time, I wasn’t sure what time to leave, but wanted to get to the West Herts early to ensure a decent parking space.  When we arrived the car park was oddly deserted.

The rain was pouring down as we made our way to the ground, it was cold and wet and nasty.  Not the best conditions for football.

Jokanovic made three changes from the Reading game.  Doyley was in for the suspended Angella, Munari and Paredes returned in place of Guédioura and Pudil.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Bassong, Cathcart, Doyley, Anya, Abdi, Tözsér, Munari, Paredes, Deeney and Vydra.  For the visitors, Kuszczak and Danny Graham were on the bench for Wolves, the latter getting a tremendous reception from the home crowd when his name was announced.  The Wolves dugout also contained a Watford legend, in the person of their manager, Kenny Jackett.

Kenny Jackett in the visitors' dugout

Kenny Jackett in the visitors’ dugout

The pre-match build-up was a bit of a shambles.  When the player photo went up on the screen for the number seven, there was Battocchio smiling out at us instead of Guédioura.  Then the music system malfunctioned, so there was an eerie silence and I found myself humming Z-cars as the teams came out.  As a final straw, there were boos following the toss as the players changed ends.  There is a superstition that we never do well when we attack the Rookery in the first half.

Wolves had the best of the early exchanges.  From a corner, Gomes punched the ball as far as Iorfa who, luckily for the home side, opted to pass instead of shooting.  Paredes lost the ball to Sako who played it to Van La Parra whose shot from distance was just wide.  Iorfa exchanged passes with McDonald in the Watford box before shooting wide.  A low cross from van La Parra was almost turned in at close range by Edwards, but Gomes dropped to push it around the post.  From the corner, the ball squirmed out of Gomes’s hands but was thankfully cleared.  At this point, Paredes took his gloves off, it looked like he meant business but, sadly, it didn’t improve his performance.

A throw from Anya

A throw from Anya

Watford threatened the Wolves goal for the first time from a Tözsér free-kick, but the keeper, Ikeme, dropped and gathered the ball.  Wolves were completely dominant at this point.  They were strong and their passing was effective, in contrast to the sloppy play that the home side were demonstrating.  Wolves should have taken the lead in the 17th minute with a strong shot from Hause that was curling in when Gomes pushed it over the bar.  From the corner, the ball was headed out to van La Parra whose shot was pushed clear by the keeper.  In a rare Watford attack, Vydra found Deeney who advanced and shot, but it was blocked, the ball came back in to Munari who played it to Tözsér whose shot was also blocked.  Deeney played the ball out to Paredes whose shot was deflected wide.  Then Anya played the ball back to Abdi but again the shot was deflected wide.  This had been a better spell from the Hornets, but they hadn’t really threatened the Wolves goal.  The visitors had another chance to take the lead as Sako broke through the defence but Gomes came out to challenge and caused him to shoot wide.  Deeney stretched to play a ball on the sidelines, Hause fell over him and Troy was booked.  In time added on, Gomes had to be alert again to punch a corner clear.  The half-time whistle went after a dreadful first half performance from the home side who, if not for the brilliance of Gomes, could have been three goals behind.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

The visitors threatened early in the second half as a corner was punched out by Gomes, it was headed back in by Price but the keeper was able to gather.  Watford had their first shot on target as Vydra received a cross from Paredes but Ikeme caught the ball.  A lovely passing move featuring Deeney, Vydra and Anya finished with a low shot from Tözsér which was caught by Ikeme.  It felt like we were punished for finally showing a moment of quality as van La Parra immediately broke upfield and crossed for Dicko to hit the ball past Gomes.  After the keeper’s first half heroics, it was a terrible shame that he was beaten by what was rather a poor effort.  Another ball into the Watford box, this time by Sako, was met with a weak overhead kick from Edwards that went wide of the near post.  Just after the hour Jokanovic made two changes bringing Ighalo on for Vydra and replacing Munari with Forestieri.  Stearman was the first Wolves player to be booked as he handled to stop a Watford break.

Watford on the attack

Watford on the attack

A Tözsér free-kick led to a goalmouth scramble, but no Watford player was able to apply the finishing touch.  Then Doyley headed a Tözsér corner down for Bassong, but Ikeme saved on the line.  Tözsér was the next player to be booked as he delayed passing and was tackled by Edwards so pulled him back to prevent a break.  He was substituted almost immediately with Guédioura coming on.  Deeney got in a great position to try for an equalizer but his shot drifted wide of the far post.  Ighalo then stung Ikeme’s hands, Doyley’s follow-up was blocked.  At the other end Doyley chested the ball down to Gomes, but Dicko was close by and the keeper had to be quick to gather.  There was some head tennis in the Wolves box, but it didn’t result in a shot.  In time added on, we thought we’d rescued a point as Ighalo’s powerful shot was heading for the goal but clattered off the crossbar.  It was disappointing but, despite the improved performance in the second half, Wolves were worthy winners.

It was cold and wet as we trudged back to the car.  Thankfully, despite the crowd of over 17K, there was no traffic and we were home in the warm in no time.  I spent most of the journey apologising to Amelia and suggesting that she would have been better off watching it on TV.  But, when we said our goodbyes, I got a big hug and thanks for her lovely Christmas present.  What have I done?