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Nationwide Division One, 2/1/01
An apology
By Nick Grundy, with EJ Thribb

In common with other reporters over the past few months, I may inadvertently have given the impression that Watford Football Club was in some sense afflicted with a grievous and deep-seated malaise, that dressing-room morale was low, that player confidence was at rock bottom, and that many of the current playing staff were wholly inadequate as professional footballers. Lines like "so intense was their collective awfulness" and "bloody terrible" may have contrived to present a misleading picture of my view of the team to the impartial observer, and even to suggest that they were somewhat embarrassing. In addition, well-intentioned comments aimed at Graham Taylor such as "GT was a bit of an arse" possibly contributed to the overall effect.

After the events of last Tuesday evening, I now realise that the team's taking one point from twenty-four was a mere blip, that a hale and hearty Watford Football Club is riding the crest of a wave which will roll us back to the Premiership, that dressing-room morale is excellent, player confidence sky-high, that the current playing staff are better than the Brazilian national side, and that Graham Taylor is the most saintly man that ever lived.

[Private Eye ripoff ends]

Or at least, we looked good against a good side, rather than abysmal against a pisspoor side (Huddersfield) or hopeless against an excellent side (Fulham). Taylor kept faith with the team that had played up at Barnsley, which meant Carlton Palmer and Allan Nielsen continued to keep Steve Palmer and Paolo Vernazza on the bench, Peter Kennedy continued on the left of midfield, and Gifton Noel-Williams partnered Tommy Mooney up front.

We were slow out of the blocks; Wimbledon pressed early on, and Euell's tendency to drop off and receive the ball saw him find more space (that "Watford Gap" between midfield and defence) than I was happy with. Then, we started to look better, with Robbo and Cox pushing forward and so denying Wimbledon width. Peter Kennedy hit a tame half-volley at poor Kelvin Davis (I for one get the feeling PK is still range-finding with his shots at the moment: he very rarely hits one off-target. Can't wait for him to start really striking them), and we won a corner, from which Wimbledon broke quickly and accurately down our left side, switched the ball over to the right where Cox, covering in the centre, had left Gayle unmarked. He carried the ball into the box, and hammered a shot into the very top corner of Alec's near post.

At this point, I imagine the majority of the home fans were thinking something along the lines of:


Here we go again.

God knows I was. But luckily, we were all wrong. About a minute later, from an outswinging Cox corner, Ward headed back across goal, I think Gifton headed back the other way, and there was Mooney, all sinew and intent, to put the ball past Davis. Checking Trefor Jones' excellent books, it turns out that is officially the first time any Watford side has won three consecutive headers in the opposition penalty area since 1985. At this point I would like to retract the comment in my last match report about Tommy Mooney not looking like anything for much of the game. Clearly, my intent was not to defame Mr. Mooney in any way, shape or form: to clarify, my intent was to express the fact that any striker without service of any sort will look like nothing terribly much. I sincerely hope Sir Thomas will not be calling on m'learned friends.

Service, though, was what was stamped on this game. Perhaps our recent problems stem from something very simple: maybe in the heady excitement of being bloody good and viciously dangerous on the attack early on in the season, we forgot that the purpose of a game is actually to deliver ball which allows your strikers to score, not just pretty crossfield passes which get us nowhere. We weren't as beautiful as we have been at other times this season on Tuesday, and we certainly weren't as fluent. But the defence wellied it out when they needed to - by the end of the game I was so happy I was even enjoying Darren Ward kicking balls into the roof of the Rous Stand - and knocked it forward creatively where possible. They still missed some of those cross-field runs - this time not from Allan Smart but from Tommy Smith - but at least picked up some of them.

We had shape. And purpose. The central midfield of Carlton Palmer and Allan Nielsen scrapped away tirelessly and destructively, and when they got the ball they fed the wings or the the forwards rather than just passing the ball to them. Balls found players behind their marker, or were played in down the lines for players to run onto so that at worst we ended up with a throw or a corner rather than just someone sitting on their arse (cf: Huddersfield) while Wimbledon came away with the ball.

Rather pleasingly, when we fed the wings, we were devastating. Tommy Smith, for me, pipped Palmer to man of the match purely because he was so effective. He's figured out how to use his acceleration not just to get past defenders, but to give himself space for a cross as well, and what crosses they were - pacy, accurate, and bewildering. Actually, just ignore all those adjectives: I can't think of more than one or two of his and PKs crosses that went to the goalkeeper. This is a giant leap forward.

By the way: here is a song for Peter Kennedy. We must use it. It's to the tune of the Addams Family:

Good passing and good shooting
He always puts the boot in
He pissed all over Luton
He's Peter Kennedy
der der der der (clap, clap)
der der der der (clap, clap)
der der der der, der der der der, der der der der (clap, clap).

Speaking of them oop the road, the Luton component of the Dons team was restricted to 'keeper Kelvin Davies, with John Hartson (one Dons fan on the train back "f***ing hates him") out with a pie-related injury, and Chris Wilmott warming the bench. However, the Watford fans rose to the occasion, with Davies getting sporadic abuse throughout the first half. This reached a crescendo after a dirty, dirty hench on Tommy Smith. Played in down the right, he reached the ball some time ahead of Davies, who had raced out of his area to try and clear. As Tommy played the ball past him, Davies flew in at knee height, comprehensively flattening the forward. It was worth a red card just for the dreadfulness of the tackle, but the ref only showed him a yellow. Davies was vigorously booed for the remainder of the game, along with brief references to the 4-0 drubbing in which he'd played. Which was nice.

Before that, though, we decided to score a couple more goals. Ours and the Moonster's second came after an Allan Nielsen long throw had been headed back out to Neil Cox, who whipped a left-foot cross back into a packed Wimbledon penalty area where Tommy rose imperiously between two defenders to head past Davies from six yards. NB: it is possible to score from crosses which are not hit from the byline after fourteen passes. Good work, Coxy.

Next, a shambling, deceptive run from Gifton ended in Tommy Smith passing the ball in to Nielsen, who was blocked on the edge of the box. Gifton picked up the loose ball, glided between Nielsen's markers, feinted to shoot, took the ball on a step past Mark Williams, and placed a shot past Davies into the far corner. Marvellous, marvellous stuff.

In the second half, Wimbledon switched to 4-3-3, bringing on Patrick Agyemang for Andy Roberts (a man possessed of one of the most vile footballing cvs in existence - with only the omission of Luton redeeming it). Agyemang, unlike the former Millwall and Crystal Palace chopper, was impressive: the ball seemed to stick to him, he made some intelligent runs and looked slippery. However, Wardy and Page dealt with him fairly comfortably - and a word at this point on the influence of Page - we look twice the side with him in, both offensively and defensively. In the light of our recent defensive performances, his on Tuesday made him a candidate for man of the match. Colin Foster? Who's bloody silly idea was that?

Other than that, the second half was quieter. Given the second halves we've had to endure recently, this was an absolute blessing.