Once inside the ground, we headed for our usual spot in the Rookery (if not our usual seats). The first notable difference was the big screens which have been added to the Vicarage Road and Rookery Stands. They look very good and should be visible from all areas of the ground. Hopes that Z-cars would be reinstated were cruelly dashed as the players took the field to “I’m Still Standing” and, as has happened at all games since the change, the pulse failed to quicken. I remain baffled at this decision which has no apparent benefit but has been a detriment to the matchday experience for many. Before the game, Rita Taylor and her grandson, Jake, were on the pitch for the minute’s applause for GT. They were then introduced to the players as GT’s favourite song, Buddy Holly’s Raining in my Heart, was played over the tannoy. I must admit to having tears in my eyes at this point.
Referee:Andy Davies Attendance:9,265
There are certain prerequisites when it comes to the early stages of the Rumbelows Cup. Some of these are met in sunny Berkshire tonight… a half-empty stadium (albeit a respectable enough 2500 make the short journey from Hertfordshire), much-changed starting line-ups (eleven changes for the Golden Boys in the green away kit’s first outing). Check, check.
Team news was that Gracia had made 11 changes with debuts for Navarro, Masina, Wilmot and Quina and the return of Chalobah, so the starting line-up was Gomes; Navarro, Mariappa, Prödl, Masina; Femenía, Chalobah, Wilmot, Quina, Sema; Success. I have to say that looked like a pretty decent team. Reading had also made 8 changes, but the main Watford connection with the opposition was in the dug out in the person of Sir Nigel Gibbs.
Watford’s record in this competition is infamous. In the past ten seasons we’ve been knocked out by lower league opposition a total of eight times. So it’s no wonder I was surprised when Watford won comfortably away at Reading on Wednesday evening.
Referee:Anthony Taylor Attendance:20,014
Wilfried Zaha struck 12 minutes from time at Vicarage Road to raise hopes of a visiting fightback but the hosts held on as Roberto Pereyra’s 53rd-minute strike and Jose Holebas’s freak second (71) proved enough.
Graham Taylor never managed three straight wins at the start of a first division season, a run that carried Gracia’s team to second place ahead of Chelsea’s game against Newcastle United and pegs Watford above champions Manchester City for the week. They might not have played any of the title contenders yet, but amongst those for whom survival is the first thought – Brighton, Burnley and now Crystal Palace – Watford have been ruthless.
This snarl of a game was deep into stoppage time when Luka Milivojevic swung over one last hopeful corner kick and, with the majority in the arena anxiously holding their breath, Joel Ward leapt unchallenged into the six-yard box only to head wide of the post. The locals’ outpouring of relief at the miss was almost as deafening as the raucous delight which greeted the final whistle moments later.
The build-up to this game was all about Harry Hornet who, in answer to a question from a journalist, had been branded a ‘disgrace’ by Roy Hodgson for an incident two years ago that I doubt Hodgson had actually ever seen, when Harry collapsed behind Zaha while the post-match handshakes were happening. Sticking up for your player is all well and good but Roy lost all credibility when he claimed, with a straight face, that Zaha didn’t dive. Sorry, Roy he gets booked for it, which was what provoked Harry’s action. You couldn’t help but feel that Roy’s words would come back to haunt him.
It feels more like March than August bank holiday weekend. Palace have brought the traditional Croydon microclimate with them and it dampens our quick start before it gets going. Only the hissing, spitting hot fat of this fixture burns on unperturbed, and it hadn’t needed Roy Hodgson ambling into a Harry-shaped animal trap in the visitors’ pre-match press conference to ignite it. Our encounters have a bad-tempered, even spiteful undercurrent all of their own.
It only took four minutes for the game’s first talking point to occur. As Capoue tripped Zaha in the middle of the pitch, the referee awarded the midfielder a yellow card. At the time and due to where I was sitting I thought this decision was harsh. Replays show however that Capoue may have been lucky to stay on the pitch, after a potentially dangerous challenge.
Referee:Paul Tierney Attendance:18,822
Watford took advantage of leggy-looking hosts, who alarmingly ran out of steam in what was their sixth competitive game in 25 days at the outset of the campaign, thanks to their ongoing attempts to qualify for the group stages of the Europa League.
Gracia paid tribute to his strikers. “When you score three times it makes it easier to manage the game,” he said. “I know it is not easy to get points here, but I can only be pleased at the start we have made.” Gracia had not even seen an away goal since becoming Watford manager but he had to wait only three minutes for his side to nose in front, Andre Gray scoring against his old club after pushing the ball out to Troy Deeney on the right and moving up to meet the return with a sweetly struck right-foot volley.
As I was on a flight to the US last Saturday for work, I missed the Brighton game, so I was really looking forward to my season starting properly. But, as Watford hadn’t scored away from home since January 2nd and we never get anything at Burnley, my expectations were pretty low prior to kick-off.
Referee:Jonathan Moss Attendance:20,051
It was all too comfortable for Watford, who controlled the game impressively in the second half, while Brighton have plenty of work ahead after failing to register a single shot on target throughout the 90 minutes.
If, as most bookmakers have predicted, this is the season Watford’s stay in the Premier League comes to an end, then somebody had better tell their players. Judging by the manner of their victory here, they have not seen the odds or have done so and been fuelled by a sense of defiance.
Watford had never previously won an opening day fixture in the Premier League yet came through this one with little alarm. Roberto Pereyra, the former Juventus winger, scored both goals on a day when Brighton rarely troubled Ben Foster in the home goal.
In many respects the question on Brighton is quite how bad they were, versus how bad we made them look. The goal is an example… someone should have been keeping an eye on Pereyra but he arrived late to fill the space on the edge of the box vacated by decoy runs to the near post. Yes, Albion were dozy but we forced the issue. Similarly in midfield, Albion were overrun and perhaps even complacent but it was in the face of our relentless and disciplined pressing that it crumpled. When we broke, particularly in the first half having regained possession deep we hurtled through the midfield; there’s maybe a concern that we didn’t capitalise but with Deulofeu’s pace and Chalobah’s awareness to return you’ve got to fancy us away from home.
A relatively stress free afternoon on the opening day. I’m happy to say that all the nerves I had before the game were put to rest fairly early on.
Watford looked sharp and hungry. The pressure that Deeney and Gray applied to the Brighton back line was telling and the visitors couldn’t cope. Capoue bossed the midfield whilst the centre back pairing of Kabasele and Cathcart gave Foster little to do all afternoon.