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02/03: Reports:

Pre-Season Friendly, 16/07/02
Brentford 1(0)
Scorers: Somner (87)
Watford 0(0)
Team: Baardsen, Doyley, Robinson, Williams, Dyche, Hughes, Hyde, Hand, Smith, Foley, Norville
Subs: Lee (for Baardsen, 45), McNamee (for Norville, 45), Gayle (for Foley, 62), Swonnell (for Hughes, 62), Wright (for Hand, 79), Langston (for Williams, 79), Godfrey (for Smith, 84)

Compost, Concorde...and complete codswallop
By Ian Grant

It's remarkable, when it comes to it, how much further the walk home from work seems when you're carrying a large bag of compost. What's usually a quick fifteen minute stroll turns into a lengthy trek up hills and down valleys, and what started the journey as a reasonably portable solid lump rapidly turns itself into completely unhelpful saggy bag of loose earth. And it all leads to the inexorable conclusion that there is some point to owning a car after all.

This has some relevance to our current situation. Although not much, granted. But, whatever else might concern us, it seems to me that we're no longer lugging a metaphorical bag of compost on our way to wherever it is that we're going. The distance to be travelled is exactly the same, of course...but it feels, well, a little less as if every step is an effort. And, really, I don't know whether that can be described as optimism, or whether it's merely a slight-but-noticeable sense of well-being. But I quite like it, anyway.

Naturally, those wishing to use last night's friendly as an indicator of future fortunes would have finished the evening in a state of near-suicidal despair. Which serves them right for taking it all too seriously, frankly. For, while it would be hard to find much encouragement in the events described below, the patchwork line-up, the striking lack of match sharpness and the near-month before the season kicks off make it all rather inconclusive. Besides, I'd be deeply suspicious of a team that didn't indulge itself in a complete duffer of a performance during the pre-season warm-up. That's what it's for.

It's also for exploring the strengths and weaknesses of the squad and the players within it. In which case, we discovered - gasp! - that we're rather thin on defensive cover, with a nervous and error-prone Nick Williams gaining valuable experience, but not yet ready to stake a convincing claim to a first team place, alongside the pleasingly shouty Sean Dyche. That said, the late arrival of Matt Langston revealed a player who very much looks like an impressive, classy defender - Ramon Vega without the fancy dress, if you like - even if it has yet to be established whether appearances are deceptive in this instance. Meanwhile, Lloyd Doyley and Paul Robinson were, well, Lloyd Doyley and Paul Robinson...including an obligatory, and slightly fortunate, booking for the latter.

In midfield, Jamie Hand continues to supply unprovoked brutality as a way of making himself useful, in the absence of a more clearly identifiable role. Micah Hyde was tremendously anonymous in the centre, betraying the need for match practice and contributing significantly to our general lack of forward momentum. That's not a criticism, merely an observation - Hyde, more than most others, rarely sparkles when he's not at peak fitness. Stephen Hughes' main contribution was a petulant kick at a grounded opponent, which caused a decidedly unfriendly, if rather half-hearted, bout of pushing and shoving and resulted in him, again slightly fortunately, being booked. Still, it seemed to endear him to the faithful, and he needs all the help that he can get in that respect. On the left, various willing volunteers took their turn, to no particular effect.

We played with forwards, names listed above. I supply this information only for the sake of accuracy, for it has no particular relevance to the game itself.

Anyway, the football. Repetitive, to say the least. At no point during the ninety minutes could we claim to have been dominant, nor to have retained possession for longer than the blink of an eye. Throughout, although less so in the second half, Brentford went through an impressive and entertaining repertoire of atrocious finishing, before finally winning the game with what must've been close to their twentieth clear-cut chance. Had there been anything at stake, the simmering bad feeling might've boiled over and made it a rather stirring affair... but, there being nothing to play for, it was simply an immensely scrappy, forgettable game.

To record a full list of Brentford's first half misses seems almost unnecessarily cruel, this being a warm-up report as well as a warm-up match. There being nothing else worth describing, we'll rush through them to avoid embarrassment....

Constantine twice pounced on defensive errors - a weak back-pass from Paul Robinson and a slip by Nick Williams - and twice failed to strike on goal with any power. On the latter occasion, the ball rolled past Espen Baardsen and, faced with an open goal, Hunt managed to miscue completely and allow Lloyd Doyley to effect a stumbling, surprised clearance. Earlier, Hunt had also contrived to lift the ball over the bar from the edge of the six yard box, albeit with the aid of a high bounce. Two yards out, McCammon threw himself at a cross and, despite there being plenty of him to connect with, missed it entirely. And, as the half drew to its dismal conclusion, Hunt prodded awkwardly wide when sent clear.

While Espen Baardsen made a couple of saves in addition, neither could be considered especially difficult. His two-handed stop to Rowland's free kick, which followed an unabashed hack by Jamie Hand, was competent enough, as was his save from Evans in the same attack. He, and we, could thank good fortune on one occasion, as McCammon's looping header bounced on top of the crossbar. Really, Brentford had all of the play and all of the chances, and shouldn't feel too pleased with themselves when reflecting on the result.

After the break, the countless substitutions, allied to lack of practice and general ineptitude, restricted attacking openings at both ends. McCammon bounced a free header wide from a left wing cross, their Williams sent in a crisp shot to keep Richard Lee on his toes. Concorde roared overhead, offering momentary distraction from idle day-dreaming.

And, yeah, we had two shots too. Which, looking on the positive side, is two more than we started with. The first spent forty minutes stuck arriving, and rolled tamely wide from Stephen Hughes' boot. The other, a smart effort on the turn from Dominic Foley that required a save of sorts from Gottskalksson, began the second half in comparatively thrilling fashion.

Otherwise, various changes to attacking personnel during the second period made no substantial difference. A couple of fierce crosses from Anthony McNamee's left boot were watched rather than attacked; Tommy Smith laboured in a workmanlike fashion most unsuited to him; Marcus Gayle showed some encouragingly competitive intent at times; Nick Wright just looked heavy...not fat, just somehow weighed down, in comparison with the bouncy, carefree player of times past. Really, it was all a bit...unpolished, I suppose. Such is pre-season.

Naturally, the winning goal arrived just as Matt was reflecting on our good fortune in keeping a clean sheet. A long throw from the right, ricochets in various directions from various limbs of various people...and an improbably, bearing in mind the context, clinical finish from Somner, belting the ball past Richard Lee from close range. It was, really, the least that Brentford deserved. And still rather more than we had any right to claim.

Oh, I've probably made it sound awful....

It was. And yet, it wasn't. It was football, of sorts. It was Watford...far more so, in a way, than before. It was a thoroughly pleasant evening, of unchallenging viewing, delightful weather and good company. It was what I'd come for. More or less.

We will have to do better, obviously. We will do better. All in good time.