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
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
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.