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04/05: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 06/11/04, 3.00pm
Derby County
A Typical Matchday Experience
By Pete Bradshaw

I don't know how many words there are in Icelandic for goal, but there must be quite a few for determination. Inspired by Brynjar Gunnarsson and Heidar Helguson, this match was another example of the extraordinary spirit that flows through this Watford team.

As Matt said in his preview, it is very unnerving to play the same team in such a short space of time. One thing it did for me was make it very difficult to have any certainty about my pre-match feelings. Here were Derby - again. The Derby that I had dismissed as fairly easy opponents before the Pride Park game. The Derby that sees itself as a big club but which, in reality are now one of the mass of teams with similar records of beating everyone else, while at the same time losing to them. The Derby that rarely does well at Vicarage Road. Normally I would have been confident before the game. But this year it felt different. We had seen their resolve in the game a few weeks ago. We had kept an eye on their results, knowing that we'd be playing them again (too) soon. And what would normally have felt like a home banker turned into a pre-match too-close-to-call.

It was a funny old day all round really. Not just the fact that the fixture computer programmers had failed to produce a logical sequence of games - will we ever play Wolves? But also because I was both the BSaD nominated reporter and a volunteer for the Watford Museum's Goalden Years exhibition's latest venture - an online exhibition of fans' stories. This latter required me to come to Vicarage Road armed with camera, as well as notebook, to record my typical matchday experience. As if there was such a thing as a typical experience - Wigan? Burnley? Still some things are constant - meeting with mates before the game. The tea hut. The pies.

So armed with a camera, notepad, pen and umbrella, I struggled to my seat in the Rookery, disturbing the Norfolk Hornets on the way. Some things are constant. In trying to juggle all my accessories, drink a cup of tea and eat a pie I missed the kick off…

The game started brightly and the first few minutes were notable for a full length save by Richard Lee from "Spaniard" Inigo Idiakez - probably Basque with a name like that, but a good striker of the ball wherever he came from. Lee is making a habit of producing commanding performances, and although this was a fairly quiet game for him, this early save was crucial in helping us settle.

In the opening quarter of an hour we began to see a pattern emerging. Persistence and distribution from Darlington and Doyley, Ardley full of running and pinging crosses, Gunnarsson dogged and defiant in the middle. This is a team that plays for each other and doesn't know how to give up. Excellent. And it wasn't just going forward that we impressed - the four Ds at the back showed excellent team play with Doyley and Darlington tracking back and making good tackles when it mattered.

Also showing deft touches was Dyer, first to Ardley, then to Young; the latter followed by our young right winger beating three players before feeding Helguson. The Icelander returned the compliment, winning a ball in the air, playing it to Young who crossed for Ardley but the chance was wasted. A bright opening though.

On twenty minutes Marco Reich showed well on the wing, but was excellently stopped by Doyley. This led to a quick break that finished with a move between Ardley and Dyer, resulting in an Ashley Young missing a good shooting opportunity. Doyley or Darlington seemed to be at the instigation of much of what we were doing, Gunnarsson or Young often involved too, as we approached the midway point of the first half. Despite all this the man behind made some remark about how we should have started Bouazza and not Dyer. Very harsh, and fairly typical of the man, who after all didn't have Webber to moan about today - his usual target.

The next action saw a slow build up that involved Ardley, Young and Doyley before Gunnarsson won the first corner of the game - Demerit heading over from a good position. Then it was Derby's turn with Idiakez with a couple of corners to test our defence, which was ably supplemented by Helguson as usual.

The next ten minutes saw us continue to dominate, without ever threatening to overrun a strong Derby team who were restricted to effective spoiling play and the odd counter attack. Darlington providing the highlight with a charging run down three quarters of the field following two ball winning tackles from Doyley. The crowd seemed to be urging everyone to shoot at any opportunity, and this was probably reflecting the only disappointment. Despite our possession we hadn't really got into many good positions to shoot, and no amount of "SHOOOOT!" would make the ball fall right. Mahon did get on the end of a Doyley cross though, to see his shot blocked. Reich then caused a momentary and atypical hesistancy in the centre of our defence and beat Demerit, but the danger was soon averted.

Ten minutes or so from half time Helguson went up in a challenge with Johnson that resulted in treatment for them both. Not surprisingly the Derby defender came off worse and had to be stretchered off after laying prone for a few minutes. This won't have endeared Heidar to the visiting fans, nor, I suspect their players who exacted some revenge, which may have unfortunate repercussions for us. More of this later.

Shortly after this incident Helguson had a shot off target, but the reprieve was shortlived. Ardley backheeled sublimely, Young crossed and Helguson was there to torment Lee Camp in the Derby goal once more as he headed Watford firmly into a half time lead. It could have been more in the time added on for Johnson's injury as a sweeping move started and finished by Dyer saw him put a shot across the face of goal.

The second half saw Watford kick off. There were at least two more occasions when Watford had to restart proceedings this afternoon, and it is very pleasing to note that we have dispensed with the long boot up the left wing, usually resulting in a despairing leap by Helguson. That's not the Watford of 2004/05 though. Now we have the carefully worked ball back to ever more impressive Darlington and any number of positive options from that. From the first of these, Ardley swung a cross over which caused a comment from the man behind about his lack of a left foot - perlease!!! We have to suffer his comments, week in week out - it is a typical matchday experience - although he did surprise us with the astute and accurate "that Helguson never gives up, does he?" .Indeed not. A typical…

The game was more even now. Derby won a corner, Helguson clearing Idiakez's telling ball. Then Smith, quietly effective today rather than explosive, was felled. Boos from the Rookery. Oh ye of short memories - I still remember the euphoria of his first goal at Loftus Road. Back came Watford. Good play in midfield from Gunnarsson following a lay off by Helguson. All four midfielders involved as we tried to look for an opening. Mahon, encouragingly, shooting but it was over the bar.

You may remember that Helguson was involved when Johnson was stretchered off. I think the Derby players did. For when Heidar lunged in clumsily with both feet, Ian Taylor ran fully 20 yards to push him back to floor with both arms. How this isn't a red card offence I'll never know. Yes, our man deserved to be booked, but his reaction was nothing compared to the pre-meditated red mist that caused the Derby player to bundle him over. And it was fairly inevitable what was going to happen once Taylor stayed on the pitch, even if we had wait a while for it. What is now sadly inevitable is that H will miss either the Southampton or Sheffield Utd games - either of which will be big blow.

One thing though, this evident passion brought the crowd to life and the atmosphere was as good as it has been for a Saturday game. The passion came out in loud boos as our friend Peschisolido was thrown into the fray. Why do we boo players like him? It just makes them try harder… see later. But it is a typical matchday experience.

Derby won a corner, after great covering by Doyley. The shot clearly missed and hit the stanchion. Our man behind took great delight in telling everyone how lucky we were, as they had hit the post. Even after the replay on the big screen.

Then came the Derby equaliser. And another goal to file under "great strikes by the opposition" although in this case a big deflection made it look better than it was, Smith worked well down the left and Bolder produced another piece of athleticism from Lee. Just as we were congratulating our young keeper, Taylor, lucky to be on the pitch, thumped it into net off of Gavin Mahon. A lucky break, but a very well hit shot nevertheless.

Still we pressed. Dyer and Mills were having a great battle. Doyley and Young connecting well. Mahon, Gunnarsson and Ardley supplying the forwards with Darlington continually joining in the attacks down the left. One day we will turn some team over - as Ian Bolton always used to promise in the early eighties. 8-0 anyone? The best move of the half saw Gunnarsson start an interplay between Young and Doyley that involved three one-twos. Great for the mathematicians amongst us.

A Shot from Demerit, encouragingly joining the attack was followed by the introduction and homecoming of Fitzgerald. Scott came on, to cheers, for the well-marked Dyer, as Lewington looked to find another way through. Almost immediately, though, it was Derby's sub - Mr Karren Brady - who found the net, spurred on by our boos no doubt. Smith was involved again as was Bolder and a fine move saw Peschisolido score. Another one to file under "great strikes by the opposition". We do seem to be conceding rather more than our overall play deserves. 2-1 down and a defence that has been equal to everything, undone by two very good goals. Sometimes life isn't fair - but it is a typical matchday experience.

Bouazza replaced Young as we tried one last go. Derby were playing with solidly as they had done all game, but maybe playing just a little bit deeper, inviting Gunnarsson in particular to push on. It was to be their undoing.

Watford exploited the extra space that they had been given and produced some flowing moves:

Ardley - Bouazza - Ardley - Helguson.

Mahon - Fotzgerald - Bouazza - Helguson.

Gunnarsson - Mahon - Ardley - Gunnarsson - Doyley - Ardley - Mahon

Gunnarsson - Doyley - Bouazza - Mahon - Fitzgerald.

Helguson - Doyley - Helguson - Ardley.

Exhilarating stuff. Let's hope this becomes a typical matchday experience.

Into the last ten minutes and Helguson had a great chance from another pinpoint Ardley cross but put his header just wide of the post. And then argued with the woodwork. It didn't matter though because moments later up popped Gunnarsson to finish of another move with a slightly mishit shot that beat Camp as much by deception as by accuracy. Derby probably fans filed it under "slightly fortunate shots by the opposition", and will curse their luck. Truth is though more goals are like the ones we scored than the ones they scored. It was us who were unlucky to concede two of them in one game.

And so the game ended even. Again - that's umpteen draws in the last umpteen-plus-not-very-many games. So that's a typical matchday experience at Vicarage Road… I wonder what a typical matchday experience in Iceland is like?

PS One player not mentioned throughout this report is our captain Sean Dyche. Unfairly castigated by some for not adding to our attacks (we await his first goal), he has become a legend this season. Such is his dominance and leadership, it is no surprise that the games he has missed include Burnley (H), Cambridge (H) and Crewe (A) - three of the most insipid team displays we are likely to see. He is not mentioned partly because he just gets on and does things in his own way, but partly so I could write this postscript!