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05/06: Reports: Friendlies:

Alec Chamberlain's Testimonial, 30/07/05
Watford 1(0)
Charlton Athletic 2(0)
Team: Chamberlain, Doyley, DeMerit, Blizzard, Stewart, Young, Diagouraga, Bangura, King, Junior, McNamee
Subs (used): Sietes, Griffiths, Devlin, Bouazza
Subs (not used): Lee, Devaney
Scorer: King

Thanks, Alec
By Asher Peters

A strange game to approach, this one - although the result of a pre-season friendly is rarely taken that seriously, with all the upheaval over the summer and the risks taken, there was a more competitive air about it than those against First Division sides have recently been held in. Some progress and style was expected of Watford by the assembled, a heavy defeat would not do. Yet the small crowd and hushed atmosphere took away some of that perceived importance.

Alongside all of this was the need to show respect and gratitude to Alec himself, well served by numerous rounds of applause and a fair majority of the few songs sung. Reading the souvenir programme once again impressed on me the wisdom of his signing, for a relative pittance, and how often his steadying presence has helped us.

A fairly strong Charlton side were first to show and test the host of honour. After a couple of scares with long balls through, Danny Murphy curled in a free kick from the right that Chamberlain had to parry round the post. The visitors then gained a succession of corners, not gaining a clear opportunity but causing some consternation in our young back four, with Blizzard a perhaps surprising choice to start alongside DeMerit in the centre. We tended to blunder the ball clear rather than maintain control of it, but the more agricultural approach to defending will have been welcomed by anyone who saw us gift Northwood a goal on Tuesday.

Wingers to the fore, we began to come into the game around ten minutes in. McNamee found space and swung over a ball to Young who cut inside and brought a comfortable save from Kiely. The big screen, of which large sections had not been working anyway, giving us a view of the game through a badly played game of Tetris, was switched off. No replays and no names on shirts! Apologies in advance for any subsequent misidentifications. No chance of getting our diminutive wide-men confused though, and they continued to work hard, Young beating Hreidarsson to earn a corner for McNamee on the right. Corners were again wasted for us for most of the game, however; playing them short and not accurately enough so that with some regularity no cross was made. With the obvious emphasis on getting balls into the box, the persistence with short, ineffectual set pieces is a puzzle.

Charlton continued to have some threat in what was a decent match. Doyley's tackle on Hreidarsson was effective but left McNamee to defend against Thomas, who linked well with Murphy only for a clever back-heel to find the winger offside. However, now Bangura was starting to put in some crunching challenges and we began to keep them away from our area more consistently. Further forward, Marlon King came to the fore. He looks to relish the role of authority he has over the youngsters around him, as anyone close enough to the McNamee goal at Northwood will have heard. Here he prowled the edge of the opposition box, winning and dispensing possession like nuggets of worldly wisdom to his young followers on the wing. McNamee could not take advantage on twenty five minutes, his shot well wide, but the confidence flowed to deliver testing crosses and try inventive moves.

Murphy remained a notable dead-ball threat, setting up Darren Bent well for a free header he perhaps ought to have converted, but the probing determination of King was a more consistent handful, his great run across the defence setting up McNamee to beat Hreidarsson but send his cross too far over those in the middle. By contrast King's first half partner Junior looked almost half-interested, not without skill but slow to react and quick to give up on a half chance. After another couple of decent crossing chances, one for either of our wingers, had come to nothing, Bent drove a shot wide from the edge of our area from Fortune's long lofted pass. The visitors were now not getting much success from their neat passing but were more effective the more directly they challenged our defence.

The half finished with a series of useful Watford possessions, Young not putting enough power on a free kick he'd won himself, and Doyley getting forward well to cross for Junior who could only head over under pressure. Then both sides excelled in the best passage of football of the half: first, Diagouraga, all stylish touches and perceptive passes, flicked on for McNamee to play the ball in low. King stepped over it and Young took it on wide on our right, beat his man and crashed in a low cross that Junior could not quite connect cleanly with, Kiely grabbing it at the second attempt. Almost immediately Murphy was up the other end, taking advantage of some defensive hesitation to play a great one-two with Smertin but drag his shot just wide from a decent shooting position.

Chamberlain had not been forgotten: the half time Crossbar Challenge was rigged nicely in his favour by the fan contestants being in drinking uniform rather than football kit. Their woeful attempts made his near misses all the more impressive, although whoever was in the Harry Hornet costume must have been glad to be hidden from view when missing with a basketball-style shot from on the goal line.

The half time subs brought a little more experience, Sietes for Stewart at left back and Devlin, on the right, replacing Junior, for Young to go up front. This stifled a little of our inventiveness; Young is far less of a threat in the middle, and it was noticeable that Devlin very rarely switched wings with McNamee, where the first half pairing had swapped regularly and effectively, fluid in their interplay.

Lloyd Sam was amongst the half time changes for Charlton, and he immediately began to give our veteran full back a hard time. Bangura had to come across to cover, barely five minutes into the half, and his late tackle gave Murphy another deadball opportunity. Swinging in from their right, it looked a goal all the way onto Jeffers' head but the ex-Everton man must have been watching the Crossbar Challenge, and his unbelievable miss was another favour for Chamberlain. Sam quickly beat Sietes again, only to overhit his cross.

King once more charged into the fray, finding Devlin this time but his testing if perhaps over-hit cross was too much for McNamee to get hold of, his shot flying wide. Having seen a number of our crosses in the first half not make the necessary distance, Devlin was over-compensating and put another cross over all targets a couple of minutes later. At the other end, DeMerit mis-hit a clearance badly but Rommedahl (or Johansson? More typical of Rommedahl if his performance in my fantasy football team last year is a guide) struck a decent chance horribly wide. Murphy then burst through in the manner of his ex-colleague Gerrard but Thomas could not match his class, also shooting wide. The testimonial feel extended to generous applause for all departing Charlton subs, but there was perhaps some familiarity in the sight of the yellow-shirted Icelander Hreidarsson going off that got him more than most.

Now the visitors really meant business though, and whilst Young hit a poor shot after a good run into the box, the referee had seen a tug on his shirt. Jeffers was far more at home with this kind of opportunity and rolled home a confident penalty, close to Alec but not giving that much of a present on his big day.

Back came the home side, and from Bangura's meaty challenge, McNamee found King but his goal was well after the whistle had gone for a clear offside. The midfield pairing was interesting: Bangura with tenacity but virtually no mobility on the ball, purely there to find it, win it and lay it off, with very few touches. Diagouraga was much more the playmaker, wonderfully confident with the ball but still perhaps not quite up to the pace of the game in that he lost possession before he fully had it at times. A magnificent prospect but the bustle of the Second Division may present even more of a challenge, and if we are truly competitive it may occur to certain other managers that a very physical approach to our youngsters might bring dividends.

King took the goal deficit as a personal affront, and once more came to the fore. He just failed to find McNamee in acres of space on sixty-five minutes, then shortly after laid the ball off nicely to Devlin on the other side. The winger's subsequent, well-aimed cross looked a little too floated, like a good point tentatively put, but King, hanging well in a style possibly learned recently from Les Ferdinand, still got a downwards header in. Kiely may not be too proud of his efforts to keep it out, it looked a slightly soft goal but nonetheless well-worked.

Chamberlain was tested again within a moment by Thomas, diving well to save to his left. The visitors had the better of the second half in general, though, and made it pay; DeMerit's challenge on Jeffers looking arguably a professional foul, and giving Murphy his best chance yet with a dead-ball, slightly straight on the right hand side but at a nice distance. He smacked a curling shot into almost the same part of the net Jeffers had hit, beating Alec for pace and with the element of surprise off a short run-up.

Jeffers wasted another chance presented by DeMerit, slicing wildly wide from a poor header. McNamee was lively as ever, sprinting half the pitch's length on seventy-three minutes in playing a swift one-two with King, leaving Sietes to swing over a decent cross that Young felt Fortune impeded him to head clear. Young, happier getting wide as ever, swung in a great cross that Spector cleared in front of Doyley. McNamee found the exact range from the resultant corner but disappointingly no-one challenged for the ball in the middle. The Charlton defence began to treat Young as the biggest threat, and he faded a little under heavier challenges.

King, who surely must play the vast majority of this season for it to be a successful one for us, was withdrawn late on for Bouazza. The young Frenchman looked a little moody in his short appearance, quickly moaning at Bangura for his choice of pass and less hungry for the ball than his team-mates. You have to hope he does not let the established first team squad place he has, go to his head.

The game ended with a first mass shake of fists at the referee - good to get in the practice for the crowd as much as the players, these games - for failing to award a corner, and a two minute cameo appearance for Adam Griffiths, who I was sad to notice doesn't quite have a haircut as wild as the website photo suggested.

There was plenty of promise here but no clear signs of that much strength in depth, or physical resilience against the challenge the league season will inevitably impose. I was pleased enough with the performance to gladly join in one final round of applause for Chamberlain, though. What a servant, here's hoping he doesn't need restructuring any time soon. Thanks, Alec.