Main Menu
What's New
03/04: Reports:

Nationwide League Division One, 28/02/04, 3.00pm
Franchise FC
Stand up...
By Ian Grant

"The move to Milton Keynes is WFC's last chance of financial survival. If it is allowed to move it may then look with some optimism at its future and is expected to develop its true potential and compete equally with other clubs of its standing and with the hope of promotion and further success. If it is not it will simply drop down the divisions, it will go into liquidation."
- "The Club's case" from the FA Commission report, May 2002

That worked, then.

It remains a fascinating document - as works of extravagantly imaginative fiction sometimes are, I suppose. Of course, hindsight does it no favours...but then, it has to be said that foresight didn't exactly work to its advantage too much either. Because, for all that it attempts covers itself by waffling on about giving Wimbledon FC the "opportunity" to survive and prosper in Milton Keynes without guarantee of success, it's impossible to escape one fundamental and crucial effect of the decision taken by the FA's independent commission.

As it says in summing up what might happen if the move were ruled out, "Even if liquidation was somehow avoided now, the Club would be consigned to bump along a financial tightrope with no stadium of its own from which to develop."

Which is entirely different from the current reality, clearly.

Or not. In truth, whatever might or might not have happened to Wimbledon FC if its application had been refused, the report managed to create precisely what it had so feared. That is, a club that's apparently in permanent administration, with constant rumour of liquidation. A club with no practical plans for the future, beyond distant dreams of a supermarket tie-in. A club that's sold everything that it had to sell and so is destined to "simply drop down the divisions" with what is effectively the patched-up remnants of a reserve team. A club that only a handful of demented fanatics and a few more half-interested locals care about. A club, in other words, that is everything that the burnt-out shell of the Selhurst Park-based Dons might've been by now...and a whole load more besides.


And so, in some respects, this particular four-nil was as pedestrian and curiously underwhelming as any that you'll ever see. The easiest three points of the season, gained with a performance that ambled around for long periods to general disinterest before casually stuffing another goal past an utterly shambolic Franchise defence. There are notable plus points, naturally...but you wouldn't want to get too carried away, given that we won't face such poor opposition again this season. Or, you suspect, for quite a number of seasons. On the other hand, this particular four-nil was about as righteously enjoyable as football gets, in that this isn't always a game in which justice is done....

That's quite enough about them, though. They'll be gone soon enough, after all...and they won't be coming back, hopefully. For our part, however, we continue to tiptoe towards some kind of stability, at least until next season...and that's plenty to celebrate, on the basis that many were predicting relegation as an inevitability not so very long ago. And even if that was an overly bleak outlook, it wasn't without some justification. A few more points, just a few, and we'll be able to stop worrying. To live on for another season, even if that season might again be a considerable struggle. It'll do.

And this'll do as well. Certainly, there was nothing here to disturb the pulse rate, particularly during a first half that was almost absurdly low-key right from kick-off. Which isn't to say that we didn't approach the fixture in a professional manner, merely that we didn't exactly need to over-do it. In many ways, that this was the third part of Heidar Helguson's suspension was entirely apt, for his insanely committed and often dangerous hurtling about would've been rather at odds with everything else.

The only off-key note came from the handful of visiting supporters, vociferously backing their team regardless of the fact that they were too few to be heard clearly and, besides, it really wasn't that kind of occasion. You have to earn a local derby...and bringing more than a few dozen supporters might be a start. It's a dedicated hardcore, undeniably, but there are plenty of dedicated hardcores that I'd cross the street to avoid, and I fear that time may well reduce it to one red-faced lunatic bellowing "STAND UP IF THE EARTH IS FLAT!" as his team, if it still exists, rattles around the bottom of Division Three.

Anyway, while we always wanted the second goal to make things certain, the competitive contest effectively ended in the fifth minute. Then Scott Fitzgerald, ever on the look-out for mugging opportunities, managed to claim the ball from general confusion involving Gier and Lewington on the halfway line, leaving fifty yards of green grass and brown mud to run into. Pleasingly, for it indicates that he is gradually becoming more of an all-round player, he judged the situation well, choosing a fairly early cross to pick out his fellow strikers in a sparsely-populated penalty area. Paul Devlin knocked the ball across to Lee Cook, Lee Cook took a touch and buried it in the bottom corner. Generous defending, certainly...but unusually efficient finishing too.

It was just what we needed. The rest of the half was thoroughly scrappy and immensely tedious...and it didn't much matter, as long as we preserved the lead. Far from impressive, sure, but we don't really need impressive just now. We just need points. And so, although much of our football was too fragile to survive the Vic Road pitch, we did about enough to suggest that there were further goals available at some stage, as Paul Devlin's left wing cross took a deflection and hit the near post with Scott Fitzgerald distracting Banks, and the keeper claimed well from Neil Cox after extensive passing and a lovely Micah Hyde through-ball. It was rubbish, mainly. But winning still has a certain novelty.

And, although we continued the pushing-our-luck theme from last week, our opponents proved to be in no way equipped to take advantage. When Warren Barton is your midfield lynchpin, it ain't good. It wasn't good. It would be easy, I think, to over-play the importance of Lenny Pidgeley's two-handed save from a Chorley header just a minute after the opening goal...for, though it would indeed have been a minor disaster if it had gone in, it was a rather more comfortable save than it was made to appear. And, apart from a wild swing from Chorley later on, it was their only goal attempt of the first forty minutes.

By then, we'd added the second to finish the job, even if it was in slightly dubious circumstances. Really, it was impossible to tell from afar what contact and where had taken place between Darlington and Lee Cook as the latter chased onto Jerel Ifil's long clearance and eventually stumbled. That the referee declined to so much as caution the defender still seems extraordinary, unless the contact was deemed to be somehow accidental...but then, this wasn't a referee who inspired great confidence. Still, Neil Cox seems to have banished his penalty gremlins at a very welcome moment, thumping in his second fine spot-kick of the last few weeks to end what contest there had been.

Well, almost. A brief and spirited flurry of Franchise resistance followed before the interval, Lenny Pidgeley again called into action to push away a Harding free kick that missed everyone and nearly skidded in at the far post. And then to worry everyone by slicing a punch from a corner narrowly over his own crossbar. But this was all that they had to offer, just five minutes to prove that they're not quite relegated yet. They will be very soon, of course...and it's really not hard to see why, frankly. Remove all of the senior players from the Watford squad, sell most of the promising youngsters, and work out what team you'd be putting out every week. "The hope of promotion and further success" seems some considerable distance away....

And it's only receding further. Here, having finished an unimpressive first half with a two-goal lead, we ensured that the scoreline flattered us slightly less by producing our brightest, sharpest spell of the game just after the interval. Finally, we were in complete charge, with a chance to boost confidence and improve our goal difference, and we were arguably unfortunate not to go further than we did. It was nothing special, but it didn't need to be, for any sustained passing and movement pulled the Franchise defence into all kinds of unusual shapes and forced it into moments of wild panic, such as when Darlington received a misplaced pass in midfield and simply walloped it across the pitch into the Rous Stand from fully forty yards away.

As I say, we were a bit unlucky to have to wait so long for the third. With the steady but penetrative passing of Gavin Mahon and Neal Ardley increasingly to the fore, we suddenly created a whole bunch of chances, starting when Mahon's cleverly dummied pass set up Lee Cook for a wobbling volley that Banks pushed over. Five minutes later, Paul Devlin blazed over from ten yards after fine work on the right from Neil Cox and Neal Ardley had turned the defence inside out once more. And there was a disallowed goal for Scott Fitzgerald, pouncing from an offside position after Banks' superb one-handed save had kept out Sean Dyche's header from a corner. And almost immediately there was another opening for Fitzgerald, his stabbed finish from Lee Cook's scuffed cross unluckily deflected straight to the keeper.

And, long overdue, there was a third goal. The best of the bunch as well, starting when Neal Ardley bravely ignored Paul Devlin's darting run, accompanied by characteristic pointing and shouting, into space on the right. If you do that and then cross the ball into the keeper's chest, you're going to get an earful. But this was a perceptive moment, picking out Lee Cook's cross-field run with a perfect ball that just enabled the youngster to get ahead of the on-rushing Banks. Having done so, he still had the awareness to ignore the temptation of the goal, guarded by a defender and obscured by an unhelpful angle, and to roll the ball across for Jack Smith to score unopposed from six yards. A fine goal, that.

From there, we could relax. And did a little too much, allowing the visitors to get out of their own half and seek a consolation goal...which they were rather close to getting, particularly when Kamara's drifting long-range drive beat Lenny Pidgeley, struck the inside of the post and bounced away through the crowd. At that moment, we were just plain lucky. At other moments, we were merely lucky that our opponents were so utterly hapless, for their finishing, whether it was Gray exchanging neat passes with Mackie and then dragging a woeful shot at the keeper, or Jarrett darting enthusiastically around on the left before slicing wildly wide of the near post, or Mackie miscontrolling a pass that would've sent him clean through in injury time, left absolutely everything to be desired.

They should've scored, really. Significant though it is, three consecutive clean sheets doesn't really tell the full story. But, even if he continues to terrify in some other respects, it does pay tribute to the shot-stopping abilities of Lenny Pidgeley, whose late, point blank save to deny Mackie after Jack Smith's sliced clearance had landed at the striker's feet was truly magnificent. Defensively, we continue to look as if we might struggle against some of the division's better sides...but we're applying ourselves more purposefully than before, building gradually towards something that's more composed and more organised than for some time. In that, Jerel Ifil will clearly play a huge role, but, while he's still here, we should also note the contribution of Sean Dyche, working damn hard to finish an often frustrating Watford career with some commanding, determined performances.

And so, for all of this stuff at the other end, the only further addition to the scoreline came in front of the Rookery, where Neal Ardley trundled in at the far post to turn in a curling Paul Devlin cross from the left. Four, then. A scoreline that probably flatters both sides, if that's possible...but it matters little, since the points will contribute significantly to our survival fund. There have been and will be forty-five sterner tests than this during the 2003/04 campaign, but it'll still do no harm whatsoever...and we can head up to Bradford on Tuesday in the knowledge that we just have to keep going as we have been, that it's entirely in our hands now.

If we achieve it, it still won't have been a great season. And four excellent results, accompanied by one or two encouraging performances, haven't suddenly turned Ray Lewington from a clueless dimwit into a marvellous manager either, nor the players from hopeless cloggers into stylish world-beaters. As ever, the truth is somewhere in the shades of grey between black and white....

And the truth is in the league table, still.