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05/06: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 28/01/06, 3.00pm
Crewe Alexandra
Starting to believe
By Adrian Barrett

Over the last week, a number of the old wounds that have evidently not been healed seemed to re-open in WML correspondence. Some readers of this website will know what I'm talking about already, some won't. To summarise, a spat or two developed following the fantastic win at Norwich last week after a few ill-considered "I told you so" e-mails: some people took umbrage, passionate exchanges took place, some people over-reacted, some people fell out. Now, I have my own opinion about what happened in March and subsequent months, and I am not going to try and tell anyone that they ought to move on or what they should think, nor would I congratulate anyone for being able to predict that certain players/members of the Vicarage Road staff might succeed at the club, it does not take much intuition to work that out. Whether by luck, judgement, both or something else, Adrian Boothroyd has been an inspired appointment. He has impressed from day one with his straight, no-nonsense talk and accurate predictions of what we will do. He said, to some ridicule, that we could be the surprise package this season, and he was right. What he says does, surprisingly so sometimes, tend to happen.

One thing the Norwich result showed us (or at least me) was that we really have a side right in the thick of the promotion race and that we are likely to stay there or at least thereabouts. People really can start to believe. The very nature of the game had me on the edge of my seat; I was at home listening to Simon Oxley on Three Counties Radio and was jumping around the living room like a lunatic when Matthew Spring's winner went in, and it is a while since that happened. Earlier on, when Darius Henderson scored his and our second, I had been berating my seven year old daughter and four year old son for bickering and the dialogue went something like, "Stop it, both of you, you have been playing so well together for the last hour and.... Blimey, we've equalised again that's great, isn't it, fantastic, did you hear that, wow we could win this game". Not perfect parenting but the realisation that Adrian Boothroyd was right again when he said that there is more to come from this team was beginning to sink in. My kids were fine and only one of them required hospital treatment. (Note to social services: the last bit is not strictly true.)

Now we shouldn't become blasé about this great form, we can be fairly sure that Boothroyd will not allow any of the players to get complacent and the build up to this game against Crewe was given the full "our most important game" treatment, which sometimes comes over as a manager trying to convince himself as much as anyone else. Not our Aidy.

Watford lined up with two changes from the win at Carrow Road: Ben Foster was a surprise absentee having picked a leg injury in training and was replaced by Alec Chamberlain, while Ashley Young returned from suspension and replaced Anthony McNamee with the latter moving to the bench. While some people think that there is some kind of conspiracy against them by not being informed of the truth, it is probably not letting the opposition know how we may play, and that is surely a good thing?

Crewe had one change to the side beaten by Plymouth, Stephen Foster replacing the injured Adie Moses. They came into this game bottom of the Championship table without a win since November 5th.

The opening exchanges did not really give a clue to the total domination Watford would achieve in this game. In fact, the first skirmishes led to near openings for Crewe: Lunt had the first shot, tame and at Chamberlain as early as the second minute, and six minutes later a Mahon back pass almost let in Steve Jones. Watford's first attack didn't come until the ninth minute when Henderson headed over a Mahon cross, but they looked purposeful with the ever lively Marlon King chasing every cause, lost or not. Eagles also shot wide after his cross had been headed out for a corner.

Matthew Spring then spent eleven minutes changing the whole nature of the game. It would be unfair to say he did it on his own as he quite plainly did not, but the whole side stepped up a gear and took the game away from Crewe's fragile grasp.

Spring's first notable contribution was quite bizarre, really. On fifteen minutes Steve Jones was released by a Lunt through ball, Jones moved past Stewart, beat Chamberlain with his shot but with ball seemingly heading for the bottom left hand corner of the goal, there was Matthew Spring in the right place, as the last defender, to blast the ball onto his own bar, and Doyley cleared any further danger. That was the last time Crewe looked like they could get anything from the game, for three minutes later Spring scored Watford's first goal.

Henderson rolled the ball into HUTBASBHAN's (work it out) path and from thirty yards out, he thumped the ball home just inside Turnbull's right hand post from a central position. It didn't seem that Spring had hit it that hard, although it was placed to perfection.

The crowd woke up and Watford started to pile on the pressure.

On twenty-six minutes it was 2-0, a Spring shot fell to Henderson whose own effort was well saved by Turnbull in the Crewe goal, Doyley made a hash of the rebound but Spring pounced to side-foot the ball home for his second of the game. The replay also clearly shows that the keeper got a touch to deflect the ball away from the defender on the line. As scrappy a goal as the first was stylish but with exactly the same result.

Watford were well on top now with plenty of Young and Eagles crosses raining into the Alexandra area, Spring wasted a great chance of securing a first half hat-trick when he shot wide after half an hour. The Rookery did ask "what on earth was that?" or words to that effect, but Spring was outstanding; there were also good performances throughout the Watford side. Jay Demerit showed that the defence had learnt their lesson from Steve Jones' earlier opportunity when he moved in intelligently as the Crewe striker moved in on goal again. Chris Eagles produced some showboating trickery on the right but his cross was cut out by Turnbull before Henderson could strike.

Crewe replaced their goalkeeper after half-time, Tomlinson replacing Turnbull who had apparently complained of a tight hamstring, any rumours that he was scared of a second half hammering are purely scurrilous. Tomlinson gets special credit for starting the applause as he approached his Rookery end goal to take his starting place for the second half before we in that end afforded him our customary welcome. He still received the standard abuse every time he took a goal kick, received a back pass or did anything after that, though.

The first effort of the second half came from Marlon King who fired across the face of the Alex goal after a pass on the left from Matthew Spring. Six minutes into the half and a rare foul throw was awarded against Crewe but Tomlinson saved Henderson's resultant shot. A minute after and Crewe had their first notable effort of the second period when Otsemobor shot fiercely but straight at Chamberlain. Great name Otsemobor, looks hard to pronounce when you first read it but it then seems to roll off the tongue.

Ten minutes into the half and Aidy Boothroyd made his first change, as Hameur Bouazza replaced Darius Henderson. Bouazza seems to be part of the plan again after a spell at Swindon on loan, he does offer pace but doesn't score often enough to be an out and out striker. Only time will tell what role he will play in the future but it is hard to see anything other life on the bench, as his song would suggest.

Just before the hour and Watford moved out of reach when Marlon King scored his first goal since signing permanently for the club. King received an Eagles header with his back to the goal and accompanying defender Walker, then turned and shot from inside the area, through Walker's legs, across Tomlinson and into the bottom left hand corner of the net. It really was a quality finish and a goal out of nothing. King proceeded to celebrate with Lloyd Doyley, both applauding the Rookery end of the Lower Rous stand; fine people in that area of the ground no doubt, but I don't really know why. It was, I can confirm though, Marlon's thirteenth of the season.

Three minutes later and it was 4-0, a long Chamberlain clearance was nodded on by a Crewe defender and Eagles used his outstanding pace to latch onto the ball on the right hand edge of the penalty area on the by-line, looked up and crossed the perfect ball into the path of the on-rushing Ashley Young, who slotted home from close range.

Otsemobor almost added a fifth when he nearly turned a King cross into his own net. King was replaced a minute later in the 67th by Al Bangura as Boothroyd ensured his top scorer would be available for the forthcoming Sheffield United game, barring him doing anything silly that is....

The Hornets looked to rub salt into a rather gaping wound and Crewe looked a badly spent force; Bouazza stole the ball on the halfway line as the visiting midfield were hesitant, he homed in on goal but fired across the face and past the right hand post. With quarter of an hour to go, James Chambers became the third and final Watford substitution replacing Chris Eagles, and only two minutes later he almost added a spectacular goal when he volleyed a great Ashley Young left sided cross a foot or so over the bar.

Varney and Rodgers replaced Taylor and Roberts for Crewe, and Rodgers had only been on for four minutes when he scored that ever frequent consolation goal: Jones played a Vaughan cross into the path of Rodgers on edge of the six yard area and he slotted home, much to the annoyance of Alec Chamberlain. Now I am not going to moan too much about conceding a single goal when we already had four of our own, but it does get a little frustrating and let us hope we do not regret these goals at the business end of the season.

James Chambers had a couple of late efforts but no more goals were added and Watford thoroughly deserved their comprehensive 4-0 victory. Shame they had to settle for 4-1, but still a job well done.

Oh, and was it that cold? I have often heard the term "wind chill" and wondered what it really meant. Now, if you were one of the 11,722 at this game you will be in no doubt what it means, it felt freezing. Yeah, yeah, Scarborough, etc...but it was cold to me.

Adrian Boothroyd has said we are beginning to play the type of football he wants us to play, I personally believe him and I know a lot of other fans who feel the same. He has been right before and he has said "beginning to play". Even if you have "issues", go and watch an exciting team play flowing attacking football. Don't regret misjudging this current manager's team after it is too late to go back.

Oh, and can we start to sing a bit more too, please?