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02/03: Reports:

Nigel Gibbs' testimonial, 03/08/02
Watford IFC 1(1)
Team: Perahia, Messenger, Labbett, Holliman, Fincham, Owen, Spender, Evans, Duffy, Wenham, Sterry
Subs: Fellas (for Holliman), Eustice (for Wenham), Woodard (for Sterry), Sear (for Messenger), Devon (for Duffy), Carrera (for Labbett)
Scorers: Owen
Watford Old Boys 4(2)
Team: Sherwood, Gibbs, Patching, Putney, Terry, Blissett, Allen, Richardson, Gilligan, Porter, Barnes
Subs: Norton (for Gilligan)
Scorers: Allen, Richardson, Spender (og), Sear (og)

Watford 0(0)
Team: Chamberlain, Doyley, Robinson, Gayle, Dyche, Cox, Hyde, Hand, Nielsen, Foley, Norville
Subs: Cook (for Norville), Johnson (for Hand), Glass (for Hyde), Gibbs (for Doyley), Ifil, Lee, Swonnell, McNamee, Godfrey, Gibbs
Tottenham Hotspur 1(0)
Team: Sullivan, Henry, Thatcher, Ricketts, Doherty, Bortolozzo, Leonhardsen, Redknapp, Bo, Etherington, Rebrov
Subs: Ziege (for Ricketts), Sheringham (for Bortolozzo), Sherwood (for Redknapp), O'Donaghue (for Henry), Hirschfield, Jackson, Barnard
Scorers: Sherwood

Here's to the future
By Ian Grant

We all needed this, I think.

A very Watford day, really. Much as the occasion was in honour of Nigel Gibbs, a very Watford person, the benefit was shared with typical generosity. Here, we brought a traumatic summer to an end, we thumped the full stop key to halt a particularly complicated, grammatically-chaotic sentence. And it felt, well, all right again.

Somehow, even though you believed that Vicarage Road would still be there, it was reassuring to find that it hadn't disappeared during the summer. While we seem to have flogged the big screen and the electronic substitute board at the local market and used the advertising hoardings as fuel for the central heating, everything else remains much the same. There's still a team, on assertive, positive form against Premiership opposition, and there's still a sense of identity. We're not out of the woods. But we're learning to live in them.

In many ways, Nigel Gibbs could not have picked a better moment to hold his second testimonial. There's a noticeable, and extremely Gibbsy-ish, knuckling down going on at present, and it's more than welcome. For the future will be about getting on with the job. It will be about players growing into roles, rather than lazily forgetting things that they should've mastered years ago. It will be a learning process, a lot of work. But it might be fun.

At the end of the game, even as he took one final bow in front of the Rookery, you got the distinct impression that Nigel Gibbs was eager to get into the dressing room for the post-match analysis, to be part of the preparations for the new season. He might be hanging up his boots, but he's not hanging up that apparently ever-lasting desire to do his very best for Watford Football Club. An emotional day, sure...but a working day too.

Earlier, the work was mainly done by the Watford Internet team, chasing after the ball as it was stroked about by crowd favourites from happier times. The years might've added a few pounds and stolen a few yards of pace...but class is class, always. And, although it appeared as if any further punishment might have fatal consequences for one or two, the team of supporters did itself proud in competing throughout the most one-sided match that the Vic has seen since the visit of Stockport last season. And, well, if it hadn't been for a couple of unfortunate own goals in the second half, they might just have managed the same result.

Indeed, they could've taken the lead in the first half, as the Old Boys' attractive pass-and-move football lacked end product inside the penalty area. Instead, the efforts came from further out - Malcolm Allen curled a shot over, Jimmy Gilligan and Gary Porter both struck efforts at Dave Perahia in the WIFC goal, and Ian Richardson came closest with a fierce, swerving drive from twenty-five yards that scraped the outside of the post. But a rare attack at the Rookery end saw Richard Wenham supply Rob Sterry, whose audacious chip floated over Steve Sherwood, but also cleared the bar by a yard or so.

A minute later, the first goal, as Malcolm Allen twisted past Matt Holliman and finished with a precise shot into the top corner from the edge of the box. Fine strike...although probably not from Holliman's point of view, as he'd pulled his hamstring in attempting to stop Allen and played no further part. Attempts at defensive reorganisation were rather hampered by the second goal, scored by Ian Richardson barely a minute after the re-start with a low, bouncing shot into the bottom corner.

Still, the WIFC reply was almost as immediate. With the first half soon to end, Nigel Gibbs betrayed his inexperience with a backpass to Steve Sherwood, and a free kick was awarded eight yards from goal. The ball was touched across to Martin Owen, who took his time before blasting it through a gap in the wall to bring the WIFC team back into the game.

The two-goal cushion was soon restored after the change of ends, however. An excellent move, with an unlucky conclusion...John Barnes nonchalantly supplying a nosebleed-free Nigel Gibbs, advancing swiftly down the right and whipping in a pacy cross that was turned in by Adrian Spender's shin from the edge of the six yard box. Say what you like, that Gibbs chap knows how to cross a ball. Trevor Putney and Malcolm Allen nearly sealed the result with a couple of close shots in the following minutes, while Gary Porter and Jimmy Gilligan failed to hit the target with headed attempts. At the other end, Lee Evans hit a long-range drive at Steve Sherwood.

Really, the man-of-the-match award remained undecided until the final minutes, when Dave Perahia's heroics repeatedly saved his tiring team. First, Jimmy Gilligan appeared certain to score from a deflected cross, only for the keeper's right hand to push away his close-range header. The save of the match came within a minute, as an unselfish pass from Luther Blissett left Trevor Putney in front of goal - he struck his finish well, yet was somehow denied by an instinctive save that diverted the ball just a couple of inches over the bar. To complete the set, Perahia also managed to punch Malcolm Allen's bouncing header around the post in the last minute...although he could do nothing when the resulting corner ended up in his net via Steve Terry's boot and Darren Sear's knee, among other deflections.

So, a fine curtain-raiser. Indeed, the main event proved to be something of an anticlimax for a while, in terms of goal-mouth action at least. Nevertheless, there was much encouragement to be found here, in a Watford side finding its natural shape, pressing the opposition hard, playing with considerable purpose. There is much potential, and, even if the lack of an obvious source of goals is some cause for concern, the whole thing has a sense of clear direction about it. With a week until it all starts, it doesn't look so bad. Not so bad at all, in fact.

Certainly, there are things to be worked on...but, increasingly, they are just that, rather than issues to be resolved. Given time, you can see that Marcus Gayle might evolve into a stylish, elegant left-sided defender, capable of making significant contributions elsewhere on the pitch. If Tommy Mooney could do it.... And you can imagine that Jason Norville, with a bit of extra strength and weight, might have enough enthusiastic energy about him to upset a few opponents. And you can hope that Dominic Foley might actually, finally, be ready to make his mark on the first team. And none of these things is certain...but we're not, and never were, the Manchester United of the division, and we don't live on certainties.

The closest efforts of the first period came from dead-ball situations, which may prove to be a recurring theme in the weeks to come. After nineteen minutes, Dominic Foley whipped a superb free kick around the wall with his left foot, and was extremely unfortunate to see it fly just wide of the post rather than rip into the net. That might be useful, you thought to yourself. Five minutes later, Marcus Gayle took a turn, lifting his shot over the wall and narrowly over the bar from twenty-five yards. That should've been more useful last season, you thought to yourself....

For the most part, Spurs were contained well. Marcus Gayle, and anyone else who fills the role of third defender, will benefit greatly from the presence of Neil Cox and Sean Dyche, both assertive and communicative players. Really, it has the appearance of a solid, yet flexible, unit, with the bounding Lloyd Doyley and the aggressive Paul Robinson covering the flanks. You have to worry about the lack of cover...and I'm sure that Ray Lewington is. Still, it's coming along nicely. We lost control of a situation just once, as Etherington skipped past Robinson to strike a shot that was deflected into the side netting. Otherwise, a couple of efforts from Redknapp, a bobbling shot just wide early on and swerving drive that missed the top corner by not-very-much-at-all later on, were the only other notable Spurs efforts.

Not terribly exciting, then. Pleasing, though. Notably, the midfield has expanded, visibly filled out, since the disappointing showing at Brentford, with Micah Hyde particularly invisible then and especially prominent yesterday. The same cannot be said of Allan Nielsen...but, in his defence, his pre-season has been disrupted, and he must also re-adjust to a more central, and far more suitable, position. And, while he has yet to look commanding in the role, Jamie Hand has an advantage as a defensive midfielder, in that no-one in their right mind would venture into his territory without first checking that their medical insurance is up-to-date. So, yeah, it's got a bit of focus about it, this team. A bit of direction.

The second half was more eventful...and again encouraging, in that we were marginally the better side until the closing stages. It began in bizarre circumstances, with Gary Doherty emerging from the tunnel to find that the teams had already kicked off without him. And it picked up after about ten minutes, as Micah Hyde drilled a low shot well wide and a Neil Cox header from a Paul Robinson free kick was blocked by a defender's back. Rebrov looped a header at Alec Chamberlain, before Micah Hyde pounced on an error and embarked on a wonderful, skating run across and into the penalty area before his final shot was blocked by Sullivan's left boot.

And suddenly, it was a fine game. Jamie Hand's cross from the right wing was cleared only to Lloyd Doyley...who belted it back whence it came with an enormous amount of power and an equally enormous lack of accuracy, except that Dominic Foley got in the way, which must've hurt, and nearly deflected it into the top corner. Another five minutes, and Bo climbed high at the far post to head a left wing cross back towards goal, watching it hit the foot of the post and rebound out to be fought for and eventually cleared by a crowd of defenders and attackers.

We'll pause for a moment to reflect upon the return of Richard Johnson, given an ovation to equal that for the arrival of Nigel Gibbs himself a few minutes later. God knows, he needs plenty of time to play his way back to match fitness...and, as substitute appearances are hardly an ideal platform for a dominant midfielder, it may be some time before we see his best. But we've missed him...and not only that, we've missed the type of player that he is, a pivotal presence, a reader of the game. Heavy artillery. And you can't escape the fact that there are things to look forward to right now, things to be excited about. The gloom is lifting.

The rest? Well, Dominic Foley shot over from the edge of the box, after an improbable, surging break through the middle from Neil Cox. And Allan Nielsen shot weakly wide after another promising break. And Nigel Gibbs came on to a huge welcome, to ply his very considerable trade on that right flank for one last time. And finally, Bo headed a corner back across goal, and Sherwood scrambled the ball in from close range. Which was a bit of a shame, and no more.

The day belonged to Nigel Gibbs, a player and a person as fine as any that Watford Football Club has ever employed. But it continues to employ him, and it will do for many years yet, if it has any sense at all. And so, while celebrating the past, the day was also about the future, about those things that we have to look forward to. Perfect, really.

Here's to you, Gibbsy. Here's to the future.