The suspension was extended until 30th April.
In the week after our game with Crystal Palace the Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak that had started in January and had rapidly spread around the world started to effect football in England. Nottingham Forest’s owner tested positive followed two days later by Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta. Three Leicester players reported symptoms and at a meeting of the Premier League on 13th March it was agreed to postpone all remaining games until April. It was the first time football had been suspended since the Second World War.
Before the decision was announced Nigel Pearson gave his usual pre-match press conference ahead of our planned game with Leicester which was due to be played on 15th March.
In a bitty and niggly encounter with eight yellow cards, including one for Wilfried Zaha who was in the thick of things not for the first time against Watford, Jordan Ayew’s stunning first-half goal (28) separated the teams.
The match had begun in the style of two zealously polite individuals standing in a doorway; after you, sir; no, please, after you. With both teams preferring to counterattack, neither really wanted the ball. For a while this suited Watford better as they created the early chances. But the clarity they showed in driving forward was not matched by decisiveness in front of goal.
So, after the euphoria of last week, this was an unwelcome return to what has been the reality of most of this season. It was a very disappointing game. The Hornets had been the better team for most of the first half but, as so often this season, did not make the most of their chances and the home side scored after a counterattack. Once they were ahead, Palace defended well and, apart from a brief spell in the second half, Watford never really looked like winning the point that their performance deserved. Thankfully results elsewhere meant that we stayed out of the relegation zone on goal difference, but it felt like a wasted opportunity and, again, I worry that we won’t get the points that we need from the upcoming “winnable” games.
The morning after Watford visited Selhurst, Jon, Mike and Colin (via Skype on a train) discuss the inclusion of Roberto Pererya on the left, how the team could break down teams better and if there is much need for tinkering… Oh and corners. Plus they share their thoughts and worries about a potential new stadium for the Hornets, as reported by Adam Leventhal on the Athletic this week.
Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer defends Watford after ‘disrespectful’ comments by journalist
United certainly do the counter punch well, and the game’s highlight was a sublime pass from Shaw for Rashford’s goal, but Watford had 20 shots all told and as many on target – eight – as their opponents had efforts at all.
We were absolutely fabulous, to a man and from the very off. Not least the “reserves” at the back; Janmaat, only arguably a downgrade on Kiko in any case, and the dogged, focused Adam Masina in comfortably the best I’ve seen him in a Watford shirt rampaged up the wings. Miguel Britos has been unfairly demonised over the last twelve months, splendid that if he is to return to Uruguay in the summer as trailed it’ll be on the back of thoroughly solid, competent displays like this. And Christian Kabasele… he’s good at the stuff he’s good at, the brainfarts are what lets him down there was none of that today. Aggressive, disciplined defending, as aggressive in fact as any situation permitted, often quite enjoyably so.
Despite their disappointment at the defeat, the travelling Hornets roared their appreciation of the team’s performance with the songs reaching a crescendo as Gracia came over to applaud the crowd. It had been a tremendous performance by the Watford lads. It isn’t often that you play away against one of the top six and find the home team playing a defensive game hoping to score on the break. The Watford midfield ran the game and, in a season in which Capoue and Doucouré have excelled on a weekly basis, it was great to see Hughes put in a superb performance.
Gray’s goal 11 minutes from time booked Watford’s place at Wembley for the second time in four years after a passionate quarter-final at Vicarage Road, which the hosts were good value for edging. They took advantage of increasing first-half momentum to move ahead on the half-hour when Etienne Capoue was teed up by Craig Cathcart after Vincent Guiata missed a punch from a corner. But Michy Batshuayi then levelled after half-time following a horrible mistake from Adrian Mariappa.
Nearly 35 years since their solitary appearance in the FA Cup final under Graham Taylor, Watford now have the chance under Gracia to emulate that famous side by reaching the Wembley showpiece match in May for a second time. The Spaniard’s name reverberated around the stadium at the final whistle as the veteran goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes – who is planning to take up a new career as a pastor at the end of the season – wept tears of joy. “When the team was suffering in the second half they were very important for the team,” Gracia said of his club’s fans. “I think they really lifted our players.”
It had been a long time coming, but finally Watford have their revenge. After losing to Crystal Palace in the 2013 Championship play-off final and the 2016 FA Cup semi-final, they have made it past their bogey team. As the crowd sang loud at the final whistle, Javi Gracia’s side are on their way to Wembley. And in the process they have consigned Roy Hodgson to another season without an FA Cup semi-final appearance.
The tide of confidence was rolling by 11.15. That’s when “it’s bloody Palace, isn’t it?” was swept over and crushed. But in effect the build up to that wave, the little ripples, started at least a week earlier as Palace lost to Brighton, Southampton and Newcastle earned unlikely wins and the Eagles started looking over their shoulders again. So when Zaha pulled a calf muscle in training it was never going to be risked.
The 1881 had put incredible efforts into making sure that there would be a tremendous atmosphere. When we took our seats, the ground was already full of people waving flags. The big screen was showing footage of earlier quarter-finals. I enjoyed watching John Barnes lobbing Tony Coton in 1984, but it is the Arsenal game in 1987 that always comes to mind. I loved that day out at Highbury.
Prior to the game there was a lot of talk about Watford refusing to give Crystal Palace fans the entire Vicarage Road End and instead allocate them the absolute minimum number of tickets they could. This involved a lot of netting having to be put out in the stand…