Main Menu
What's New
01/02: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 31/01/02
Preston North End
Thursday night excuses
By Jon Woolfe

As Marcus Gayle wisely pointed out in the week, he had not previously played on a Thursday evening (and until five minutes from the end that remained the case). Equally I can't recall going to a live match on a Thursday evening either.

Taking away my prejudice against all things to do with ITV Sport, it's not really all that bad. You have the distinctive atmosphere of an evening game. But it's far easier to explain away being half-asleep at work the next morning. On a Friday morning, you can cover it by the excuse that it's been a tough week, and nothing to with lengthy away trips and not getting to bed until 2 am. It's harder to get away with this on a Wednesday morning and also you only have to get thru' one more day until the weekend.

On the subject of excuses, both managers know that after a live TV game that they are going to have a microphone thrust in their face thirty seconds after the final whistle blows and must surely rehearse their excuses for a poor performance. David Moyles had already complained that this was Preston's third game in six days, and Luca could no doubt claim ring-rustiness after eleven days without a game.

A brief look at the stats would give some encouragement to these excuses, Preston dominating the first half and Watford coming back into the game in the last twenty minutes. But really this wouldn't reflect the whole truth.

Not for the first time this season, there was confusion among the five hundred or so Watford faithful when the line-up was announced. It appeared that Gifton would be playing up-front on his own with support from Jermaine Pennant. However it quickly became clear that no-one had communicated this to Gifton as he spent most of the time hovering on the half-way line down the left hand side. It was usually David Noble who was Watford's furthest player upfield.

The result as you might imagine was not a single shot on target in the first half. There was some neat passing movements, but it was as though the Preston groundsman had erected an invisible electric fence around the Preston penalty area, so afraid were any of our players to enter it. Preston took advantage of this and it became a question of when rather than if they would break the deadlock. This was achieved by a sweetly struck thirty-five yard shot from Alexander. You could criticise the abscence of any Watford players in the immediate vicinity, but no complaints on the quality of the finish, the power and accuracy giving Alec no chance.

The half finished with Watford hanging on and much sorting out to be done in the dressing room at half-time.

Lucky Half-Time Chocolate - None. Friday evening is shopping night, so you can't really expect to have anything left by Thursday evening (Preston hot dogs were very nice though - correct temperature and choice of ketchup or mustard - Beeton Rumford, take note).

The second half started off in the much the same manner, until some inspiration from the bench. A welcome return from Lee Cook and a first appearance for Wayne Brown following his loan arrival from Ipswich to replace Allan Nielsen (not surprising, again Mr. Invisible) but more surprisingly Lloyd Doyley. The fourth official took an age to sort out the numbers on the board and Patrick Blondeau was already walking towards the touchline before Doyley was replaced instead. After the initial concerns over Doyley, he continues to improve and looks more assured with each game he plays.

About ten seconds after coming on, Brown in the left-back position received a first touch and played a fifty yard ball perfectly into Gifton's path who rounded the keeper and finished accurately, albeit a bit slowly , but the ball just won the race over the goal-line ahead of the covering Preston defenders. And so Wayne Brown whether he goes back to Ipswich in a few weeks never to be seen again or displaces Robbo as our left-back for the next twelve years will not be forgotten.

From then on, it was all Watford, but a winner would have been harsh on Preston. The away end sprung into voice, helped by the discovery that we had Allan Smart amongst our number. If you were cruel you would say that after thumping his new team-mates and assorted hotel staff in Oldham he's got no friends up there and nothing else to do on a Thursday evening, but the fact that he sat with us and I would guess paid his fifteen quid like us has certainly helped erase the memories in my mind of his disappointing final few months as a Watford player. He also seemed highly embarrased that we'd discovered him and started the old "Allan Smart is wonderful" chant.

The plus points on the evening were a point that at half-time we had looked incapable of achieving. Lee Cook returned and immediately rekindled glimpses of the player who briefly lit up the meaningless (at least on the pitch) last few games of last season. Ramon Vega had another solid game at the back and was probably our best player. Jermaine Pennant again looked dangerous, but I've a nagging doubt that he must have spent too much time in Spain in the company of Nordin Wooter. He runs straighter than Nordin but too often beat three players and tried to beat a fourth rather than play the ball to a better placed teammate.

On the downside, Blondeau again didn't perform and the invisible Allan Nielsen transmitted some of his invisibilty to the rest of the midfield. The referee was annoying - five Watford bookings in what wasn't a dirty game - but at least his decisions didn't affect the result.

So never mind the excuses from Messrs Vialli and Moyles, the optimistic statistician in me says that there is still over one third of the season to go. The negative statistician in me says that although the Fat Lady isn't singing yet, she's certainly bashing furiously on her calculator to see how on earth we're going to get to the 74-77 points mark for a play-off place.