Two form teams still in the lower reaches of the Championship met head to head (is there any other way?) at Fratton Park on January 2nd, 2012. Was it only eight weeks earier that a woeful Pompey had visited Vicarage Road for their first outing under newly appointed gaffer, Michael Appleton, and been sent peremptorily packing by the Golden Boys? Yes.
Watford used that victory to go on a great run (unbeaten in eight, but too many draws) while Appleton seems to have got to grips with Portsmouth as they had also shown good form since. So a tough match was expected, as well as a great atmosphere at famous Frattom Park.
It was a delight to drive round a largely traffic free M25 and A3 (cleverly skirting an accident by diverting for a junction along the M3 before diverting south past Woking on the lesser known A322 before rejoing the A3) so we arrived in plenty time to watch the Golden Boys warm up in front od the away fans who were exercising their lungs in preparation for kick off. Also exercising were the referee and his two assistants, who stretched their legs and showed their class in front of us.
Here, the Watford Faithful made their fateful error. Not once but twice they loudly drew attention to the onanistic proclivities of “the referee”. I saw him give a knowing look at his accusers and thought to myself: there could be trouble ahead.
Sure enough once the game started it was clear this would be no stroll in the park. Neither team was able to stroke the ball around as they might have liked. Portsmouth seemed to be a team full of young giants as their international forward line of Marko Futacs and Erci (the Viking) Huseklepp towered above our mere 6 footers, Mariappa and Nosworthy. It was Hungary and Iceland against Fiji and Jamaica here – who says one needs to watch Premier League football to see international stars?
In truth, Watford were frequently second to the ball but it seemed that whenever a 50-50 decision was required, the ref favoured the home team. If a Portsmouth forward backed into a Watford defender, he won a free kick. Mariappa picked up a Yellow for a harmless-looking tackle. Deservedly Portsmouth went ahead in the 2nd half, Scott Loach having made four or five good stops from on-target shots before this. Loach also covered all of his 18 yard box in a creditable manner.
1-0 in the Championship means all to play for. With some 15 minutes to go, a ball was played through in the direction of an advancing Futacs on the Portsmouth right. It was a 50-50 chase to reach the ball, as Scott Loach dashed off his line to the edge of his box and beyond. From our vantage point in the away end, there was a coming together of forward and goalkeeper who both ended in a heap on the turf. The linesman unsurpisingly waved for a foul to Watford. Seizing his opportunity to demonstrate just how he can put his right hand to use, however, referee Iain Williamson immediately reached into his pocket for his……..red card and sent off the hapless Loach. I didn’t think the ref had a good game and it seems Watford fans are not alone as some elementary googling demonstrated.
Soon afterwards, after young Jonathan Bond had admirably caught a high cross, Portsmouth created another chance which Hayden Mullins finished off giving Bondy no chance, and it was game over at 87 minutes despite gthere being 6 added minutes.
In addition to sending off Loach, Williamson booked four players: Mariappa and Dickinson, Kitson and Futacs. Beware his right hand.
From the Watford perspective, perhaps as the team was unchanged for another outing just 48 hours after their previous outing, perhaps the lads were a little tired. Having said this, I took positives from the performances of Buaben (grows in confidence and seemingly physique each game) and Deeney, as well as in fact Loach. Eustace looked sharp when he came on.
We bid a sad farewell at Fratton Park to both Nyron Nosworthy and Michael Kightly, both of whom have given their all for Watford and showed great skill in their play, too. Looking at the state of the table, assuming Sordell is sold Watford could well be in the throes of a relegation battle during the 2nd half of the season. Then again, we might sign new players, permanently or on loan, and one or more of our youngsters could step up. All we know is, it will be interesting.