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96/97: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 2, 3/12/96
Bristol City 1(0)
Scorers: Barnard (pen, 71)
Watford 1(0)
Team: Miller 4, Gibbs 3, Robinson 2, Palmer 3, Millen 3, *Page 4*, Bazeley 2, Mooney 3, Noel Williams 4, Penrice 4, Slater 3
Subs: White (for Slater) 3, Easton, Andrews (for Noel-Williams) 0
Scorers: Noel-Williams (56)
Not very impressed
Report by Rory Jiwani

By way of brief introduction, I am a lifelong Horns fan from East London who is fortunate enough to be studying at Bristol University. The only consolation for me last season was that I would get the chance to see my beloved Watford play Bristol's two sides. The Rovers match took place during the summer vacation but I was delighted to see that on December 3rd Watford would be coming to Ashton Gate. I managed to get another couple of 'Orns fans (there's quite a few in Bristol), a QPR fan, a Cambridge Utd.(?!) fan and a couple of others to come along to the game.

Who said us footie supporters aren't a hardy bunch? There we were, freezing to death in the icy wind. My mates opted for the burger which did not look particular appetising. Anyway, we got into the away end and I was greeted with the old 'Yellow,Yellow' chant. You might have seen me at the game unless there is another black Watford supporter about with bleached blonde hair. Honestly, I didn't bleach my hair out of allegiance to Watford but merely as a fashion experiment.

Sat down and was struck but the angle and miniscule size of the structures masquerading as seats as we waited eagerly for the players to come out onto the pitch. Cheered heartily as the PA announced that Devon White was not playing (sorry, the man is a donkey) and settled down to watch the game.

From the start things did not look good as City had a shot straight from the kickoff but after a scrappy first ten minutes in which neither team did much the game took a pattern which remained for pretty much the rest of the match: City attacking most of the time with Watford only having the occasional foray upfield. I was disappointed to see Darren Bazeley playing on the left side of midfield. Just because he scored that wonder goal against Northampton in the Cup doesn't mean he can use his left foot. He's always been a predominantly right-footed player and he is a right-winger. We have the perfect left-sided midfielder in Tommy Mooney but I haven't got a clue where he was supposed to be playing.

City always looked dangerous when their speedy right-winger Goodridge had the ball but to be fair Paul Robinson did as well as can be expected for someone so inexperienced at this level. I had been looking forward to seeing Gifton Noel-Williams for some time now and he did not disappoint. He's quick, holds the ball up well, makes good runs and is a real prospect (he'll probably go in a couple of season's time like Brucie). Unfortunately, his good work was not backed up by support from the midfield and quite often he was crossing into the box with no yellow shirts in there. Slater looked off the pace but Penrice was excellent all night. My main gripe was that no-one in midfield wanted to test the keeper from 20-25 yards. There were plenty of shooting opportunities but instead we passed and then subsequently lost the ball. Say what you like about Rambo but at least he'd be willing to have a dig from outside the area.

In the first half, City had a couple of very good chances to open the scoring and were unlucky not to go in front when they had a freekick on the right side of the area which beat Miller but hit the crossbar. Their Australian striker Agostino had a couple of half-chances but was well marshalled by the impressive Robert Page. Like most of the people at our end I couldn't see the incident when we had a goal disallowed but I wouldn't have been surprised if it was legal since the referee was pretty abysmal and gave very few decisions our way. All in all, a pretty dull first half.

The second half was slightly more exciting with Watford not really showing the form of a team which is supposed to go straight back up to the First. Mooney had an acrobatic volley which, on a good day would have gone flying into the top corner but ended up slicing harmlessly into the crowd. We took an undeserved lead when Penrice whipped in a dangerous free-kick form the left and Noel-Williams headed the ball over their keeper. There was what seemed a split-second of silence (shock, probably) before the inevitable delirium. Then Jackett brings White on, presumably to turn our joy into disbelief. He didn't do much wrong but the point is he didn't do much right either (although he had a firm shot from outside the area which went a yard wide - one of our few long range efforts). Also, he seemed to get penalised for simply challenging for aerial balls by the blatantly home supporting referee.

Although City had most of the game they never really looked like getting an equaliser and I felt that the only way they would was going to be down to the referee. After a couple of unbelievable handball decisions (greeted with sarcasm from our end who proceeded to shout handball every time we touched the ball) the referee gave a very controversial penalty. Penrice clearly slipped (TV replays confirm this) on the difficult surface (rain and hail affected most of the game) and the City forward went down. I don't think Penrice was even trying to make a challenge as the situation was not too threatening and I'm not sure he made contact with the player. Another harsh decision against, in my opinion, our best player on the night who was booked in the first half for an inocuous challenge. Barnard put the kick away and that was that. City pressed for the winner and Andrews looked threatening when he came on for the last couple of minutes but the decisive goal never came and 1-1 it was.

If we're going to get promotion we're going to have to play a darn sight better than this. We lack ambition in midfield and edge up front. Noel-Williams is a fine player who works tirelessly but he needs assistance from someone like Connolly or Phillips; someone who can stick the ball in the net. Our defence is fine and Gibbs is still a class act despite his age and injuries. Hopefully, Connolly, Phillips and Ramage will return soon and add some zest in the attacking third of the field. If we don't start winning soon we might have to settle for a play-off place.

Round in circles
Report by Ian Lay

Aaaaaahhhhh!!!!! I don't think I have had so much trouble getting to a ground in my life. I suppose it doesn't help that is was my first visit to Ashton Gate, but hell I went to Walsall's new ground for the first time this season and never had this problem!

Things didn't go well from start to finish. First of all I was supposed to be picked up by my brother, from my workplace at Harlington Corner near Heathrow at 3.45pm. He finally arrived with our friend John at 4.35pm. I had been waiting 50 minutes out in the cold, and I wasn't feeling that well to start with. So I'm in a pretty bad mood already. The M4 was fine. A flaming miracle. No hold ups. Only a minor decrease in speed necessary to get through some road works. Then we got to the M32 and short drive done into Bristol. So far so good. We had made good time and were in the centre of Bristol at 6.30pm. This is where the directions in the program went wrong. It's not Watford FC's fault, they get the info from Bristol..... I think..... I hope. The instructions said follow the M32 into the city and then take the A38 towards Taunton. There is no such sign. At the first roundabout there is no mention of the A38. At the second it is marked A38 North??? We have just come off the M32 which should go straight onto the A38. According to my brother's map the A38 only goes SOUTH from the M32. There were no signs saying Bristol City Football Ground or anything like that. They should take a page out of Walsall's book. Now that was a well signed posted ground. Anyway after about 20 minutes we found the ground. No thanks to the locals who led us round in circles with their directions.

So into the ground. A quick stop for a burger..... very nice and I was feeling a little better. Went through the oldest looking turnstiles I have ever seen in my life. I mean I've seen better ones at non-league grounds. Much better ones.

Got searched by a steward on the way in. Seemed very interested in my keys, my watch, my packet of three, the kitchen sink.... everything but the 4 inch blade I had in my back pocket.... only joking!

When he put his hand on an object strapped on my belt, he suddenly stopped, looked slightly surprised, then relaxed as I revealed that it was in fact a mobile phone. "Thought you were a copper for a moment mate," he said. Next time I'll bring a bloody truncheon and really scare the **** out of someone.

So the ground. Sat down drinking my tea. And then suddenly realised that my seat was a bit dodgy. Felt like it was going to give way any minute. So I moved to the vacant one next to it. Same feeling of slowly slipping of the edge. Then I realised that they were all like this. The seats tilted down a few degrees so that it looked like you were literally on the edge of your seat. Maybe this a marketing ploy by Bristol City for any live games that might be shown. The commentator might say something like "This game is really hotting up. Just look at all those Watford supporters getting behind their team, on the edge of their seats..... Oh what's happened here, all the Watford supporters are on their knees. Are they praying for a goal..... No, it looks like they all fell off their seats." So... what do we have so far.... set off late....crap directions.... lousy seats.... oh nearly forgot, another football ground with a lousy PA. But then again that's no surprise really.

So onto the game. Let's be fair. Bristol played well. I knew they were going to be a difficult team to beat at Ashton Gate. They have only lost two games there all season. One of which was a narrow defeat to Brentford when they were playing at their best. Also they have only conceded six goals at home this season. That's less than anybody else except Bury.

The first shot was from Bristol which came about fifteen seconds after the kick off, a low 25 yard shot which Miller took comfortably. For the next ten minutes it was all Watford. We camped in their half. Got a couple of corners, a shot over the bar. And then we lost our way a little. Bristol took over and for about half an hour they dictated the play. They had a good chance with a header at the near post which if it had gone either side of Miller it would have been in. Luckily it came straight at him. They also had a volley that went just wide. But the biggest heart stopping moment came when the Ref (or should I say prat, coz that's what he was) gave a free kick to Bristol about five yards outside our area for a very dodgy hand ball decision. The ball looked like it was going to go easily over (I think Miller thought this too) and then it dipped at the last moment and bounced off the bar for a goal kick. So we survived that one. In the middle of all this Penrice got booked for a tackle which, though a little late, was no worse than the one made on Robinson a few minutes earlier which went unpunished. The Ref was definitely a 'homer' and got on my and everyone else's nerves all night. We ended the half slightly stronger, a couple of good runs by Slater. We got the ball in the net but it was disallowed for a foul on the keeper. Couldn't really tell if it was a foul or not, as it was done the other end and my eyesight isn't that good! We should have had a penalty when Slater ( I think ) was pushed blatantly in the area. But he made a meal out of it so that's probably why he didn't get it. Bet Ramage would've though!!!

The second half was much the same pattern. Bristol did most of the attacking, we tried to catch them on the break. But, I felt the way the game was going that it was going to end 0-0. I thought both sides had wasted the best chances they were going to get. However, I was wrong.... shock ... horror. On 55 minutes we won a free kick on the left side, about 5 yards in from the touch line. Penrice whipped in a great cross, and Gifton Noel-Williams (fanfare please) rose above all the Bristol defenders and sent a looping header over their goalkeeper. We went potty.

Shortly after Jackett made a tactical switch. He took off Slater, who I must admit was looking tired, and brought on Devon. Presumably for Dev's extra height to defend set pieces. We absorbed a lot of pressure for the next 10 or so minutes, but eventually something had to give.

At first I thought the penalty decision was a bad one. It looked like the Bristol player made a meal of it. But both my brother and John thought that it was very blatant. So I didn't argue. They scored, of course, and with 20 minutes still left, anybody's game. But I still had a nagging feeling that the penalty should never have been........

Well it was crazy mayhem for the remainder of the game. Bristol again providing most of the attacking play, but we created our own chances. We would have scored if the Ref hadn't blown up for a foul which no one around me could see or even guess at. But then that was the Ref for you. He was useless. For example..... White went up with one of their guys. A fairly good 50-50 challenge. The Bristol player falls in a heap. The Ref blows for what I thought was a foul. He lectures White, I thought he was going to book him. Then ... wait for it... gives a drop ball and makes the Bristol player kick it back to us because we had possession!!! I'm not complaining ... but.....

So we escaped with a draw. Bristol will say that they created enough chances to win. And they are right. But they didn't. We defended well. Page in particular was excellent. Our defence looks so more secure when he's playing. Millen was sound as usual, and looked happy to have his partner back with him. Gibbs also had fairly good game, but Robinson struggled most of the evening with Bristol's lively right winger Goodridge. Having said that he did have his good moments, but generally a poor day's work considering how well he has been playing. But then he's only played about five first team games, so you can't be too hard in him. In the midfield, Bazeley had his most ineffective game for a number of weeks. Palmer was solid and comfortable back in his normal holding role in front of the back four. Penrice was delightful as ever. Good control, nice turns. Set up Devon with a chance late on. And Dev was unlucky not to score. Slater didn't play as well as he did on Saturday, but two games in the space of four days probably took its toll on a player who isn't yet match fit.

Up front Mooney worked hard giving his normal 110% and Gifton... well Noel had a very good game. Held the ball up well. Laid off nice passes. Scored a good goal. What more can you ask from a guy who is only 16. Offer him 10 year contract somebody please.. Jackett are you listening to me.....

Devon played well while he was on, could have had a goal and comitted his normal bit of incompetance which nearly lead to Bristol goal. Andrews came on for Gifton with about 3 minutes to go. And nearly created a half chance for himself but it wasn't to be.

So, a good point. Many will lose at Bristol City this year. We may have dropped down to eighth in the table but it is very tight up there. We are only four points off the top two. Who we have a game in hand against.

Going home was about as good as coming. We took about 1/2 hour to get out Bristol and I slumped into bed... knackered at about 1am. As my brother lives in Watford, I went back to my mum's for the night rather than go back to Hounslow. So I had to be up early to get into work.

....... you remember that penalty.... well I was reading the paper in the morning and I was right. According to the report , Penrice slipped and fell, accidentally caught their player who made a meal out of the dive... and the Ref... well enough said.

See you all on Saturday for Ashford.